Tax reform that affects both individuals and businesses was enacted in December 2017. It’s commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, TCJA or simply tax reform. In addition to nearly doubling standard deductions, TCJA changed several itemized deductions that can be claimed on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. (more…)
Posts tagged ‘deductions’
Before starting a summer job, taking a vacation or sending the kids off to camp, the Internal Revenue Service wants taxpayers to know that some summertime activities may qualify for tax credits or deductions. (more…)
Passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in December 2017 has led to confusion over some longstanding deductions. In response, the IRS recently issued a statement clarifying that the interest on home equity loans, home equity lines of credit and second mortgages will, in many cases, remain deductible. (more…)
The Tax Court has found that a taxpayer, a patent attorney by trade, was entitled to substantiated business expense deductions stemming from his automobile restoration business, as he intended to make a profit from the activity (R.B. Main, TC Memo. 2016-127). The taxpayer successfully proved that the primary objective of his automobile activity, the restoration and then sale of 1955 and 1956 Plymouth automobiles, was to make a profit under the standards of Code Sec. 183(b). (more…)
Taxpayers that invest in a trade or business or an activity for the production of income can only deduct losses from the activity or business if the taxpayer is at risk for the investment. A taxpayer is at risk for the amount of cash and the basis of property contributed to the activity. Taxpayers are also at risk for amounts borrowed if the taxpayer is personally liable to pay the liability, or if the taxpayer has pledged property as security for the loan (other than property already used in the business).
At-risk or not?
A taxpayer is not at risk for a nonrecourse loan, since there is no personal liability. However, amounts at risk include “qualified nonrecourse financing” used in connection with the holding of real estate. A taxpayer also is not at risk for contributions that are protected against loss by a guarantee, stop loss arrangement, or other similar arrangement. For certain activities, such as farming, oil and gas exploration, motion pictures, and the leasing of Code Sec. 1245 property, a taxpayer is not at risk for amounts borrowed from related persons or from persons who have an interest in the activity (other than as a creditor).
Scope of at-risk rules
The at-risk rules apply to all trade or business activities and to activities for the production of income. The rules apply to individuals, partners, S corporation shareholders, estates, trusts, and certain closely-held corporations. The at-risk rules generally do not apply to widely-held C corporations, whether public or private. There also is an exception for equipment leasing activities of closely-held corporations.
Deduction of losses
The taxpayer’s amount at risk limits the allowable loss from the activity. The loss subject to the at-risk limitation is the excess of allowable deductions over the income received from the activity for that year. Under proposed regulations under Code Sec. 465, losses that are allowed as deductions for the tax year reduce the taxpayer’s at-risk amount for the activity for the succeeding year. Losses that are denied under the at-risk rules can be carried over to subsequent years and deducted against amounts at risk in the subsequent years.
Adjustment of amount at risk
The amount at risk must be adjusted each year. At the close of the tax year, the following procedures are used to determine the amount at risk:
- As stated above, amounts at risk at the end of the prior year must be reduced by the amount of loss allowed in that prior year;
- Amounts at risk are increased by items, such as contributions of money or property, that add to the amount at risk; and
- Amounts at risk are decreased by items, such as withdrawals of money or property, which reduce the amount at risk.
Every year the IRS publishes a list of projects that are currently on its agenda. For example, the IRS may indicate through this list that it is working on a new set of procedures relating to claiming business expenses. The new 2014–2015 IRS Priority Guidance Plan, just released this September, has indicated that IRS is working on guidance relating to whether employer-provided meals offered on company premises are taxable as income to the employee. In the Priority Guidance Plan’s Employee Benefits Section B.3, the IRS listed: “Guidance under §§119 and 132 regarding employer-provided meals” in its list of projects for the upcoming year.
This could be significant for many employees who could potentially have to report as taxable income what they formerly thought were free meals provided by their employer. Currently, an employer may offer meals to employees on the work premises as a tax-free perk, if the meals are provided for the employer’s convenience. The question of whether the meals are provided for the convenience of the employer is determined, however, on the basis of all the facts and circumstances. Clearer guidance from the IRS may signal that in the future, examiners will pay closer attention to meals provided by employers.
A growing trend among employers is to provide free gourmet meals to their employees. Employers argue this is for their convenience, which if true would make the meals non-taxable. But in some instances the IRS and others have posited that such meals more closely resemble income.
The Tax Code currently sets forth some basic guidelines for how to determine whether meals are being provided “for the convenience of the employer.” First of all, an employment contract or state statute are not determinative of whether the meals are intended as compensation. Secondly, the meals must be provided for a substantial noncompensatory business reason.
Factors indicating that meals are furnished for the convenience of the employer include:
- A short time available for lunch due to legitimate business reasons and not just to shorten the work day;
- The need for availability of employees for emergencies;
- Insufficient other eating facilities nearby; and
- A standard charge for meals regardless of whether they are eaten.
The IRS has also noted in its existing regulations that meals provided simply to promote morale or goodwill of employees, to attract new employees or as a means of providing additional compensation are not considered to be furnished for the convenience of the employer.
The IRS’s current regulations contain examples of meals that the IRS has considered to be legitimately provided to employees, tax-free, because they are provided for the employer’s conveniences. These include:
- Meals provided by a bank to its bank tellers to retain them on the premises during the lunch hour because the bank’s peak workload occurs during the normal lunch period; and
- Meals provided to casino workers, who are required to eat their meals on the premises in order to minimize the security searches they undergo as they come and go, and to ensure that staff does not succumb to the temptations of nearby casinos rather than promptly returning to work.
Conversely, meals provided by a restaurant to a waitress on her days off are not tax-free because they are perks and not for the employer’s convenience.
The arrival of year end presents special opportunities for most taxpayers to take steps in lowering their tax liability. The tax law imposes tax liability based upon a “tax year.” For most individuals and small business, their tax year is the same as the calendar year. As 2013 year end gets closer, most taxpayers have a more accurate picture of what their tax liability will be in 2013 than at any other time during the current year. However, if you don’t like what you see, you have until year end to make improvements before your tax liability for 2013 is permanently set in stone.
A good part of year-end tax planning involves techniques to accelerate or postpone income or deductions, as your tax situation dictates. Efforts are generally focused on keeping projected tax liability for 2013 slightly lower than that anticipated for 2014, not overweighing projected tax liability for any one year. Having spikes in taxable income in any one tax year puts you in a higher average tax bracket than you would be in if you had evened out the amount of taxable income between the current and subsequent year.
Right to income versus cash receipt
Generally, a cash-basis taxpayer (which includes most individuals) recognizes income when it is received and takes deductions when expenses are paid. There is a subtle but important difference between the two:
- Income is generally taxable in the year that it is received, by cash or check or direct deposit. You cannot postpone tax on income by refusing payment until the following year once you have the right to that payment in the current year. However, if you make deferred payments a part of the overall transaction, you may legitimately postpone both the income and the tax on it into the year or years in which payment is made. Postponement in this context usually takes place in a business setting. Examples include: installment sales, on which gain is prorated and taxed based upon the years over which installment payments are made; like-kind exchanges through which no gain is realized except to the extent other non-like-kind property (including cash) may change hands; and, on a higher level, tax-free corporate reorganizations pursuant to special tax code provisions.
- Deductions, on the other hand, are generally not allowed until you pay for the item or service for which you want to take the deduction. Merely accepting the liability to pay for a deductible item does not make it deduction. Therefore, a doctor’s bill does not become a medical expense deduction necessarily in the year that services are rendered or the bill is sent for payment. Rather, it is only considered deductible in the year in which you pay the bill. Determining when you pay your bills for tax purposes also has its nuances. A bill may be paid when cash is tendered; when a credit card is charged; or when a check is put in the mail (even if it is delivered in due course a few days into a new calendar year).
Compensation arrangements carry their own special set of tax rules. The timing of the inclusion and deduction of compensation is largely governed by the employee’s and the employer’s normal methods of accounting. Under the cash method of accounting, amounts are includible in income when they are actually or constructively received and deductible when they are paid. Most employees are on the cash method.
Cash-basis employers can only deduct the cost of compensation the employee actually or constructively received. Constructive receipt comes into play when an employee attempts to decline offered compensation in order to defer its receipt and thereby postpone tax. Under the constructive receipt rule, the employee is currently taxed in this situation. However, there is no analogous constructive payment rule. Thus, a cash-basis employer may not take a deduction for amounts that it is willing to pay, and that it may have debited on its corporate books, but that it has not actually paid.
Deferred compensation plans, however, may be used to modify these general rules. There are basically two kinds of deferred compensation plans: qualified plans (such as 401(k) plans) and nonqualified plans or arrangements (common in executive compensation packages). Qualified plans are tax favored in that an employer can take an immediate deduction even though the employee might not recognize the income for years. With a nonqualified plan, the employer cannot take its deduction until the employee recognizes the income.
Particularly relevant to employers at year end is an annual bonus rule. Bonuses paid within a brief period of time after the end of the employer’s tax year may be deducted in that tax year. Compensation is generally considered to be paid within a brief period of time if it is paid within two and one-half months of the end of the employer’s tax year.
For a customized examination of what deferral or acceleration planning at year end may work best for you, please contact this office at (908) 725-4414.
A business can deduct only ordinary and necessary expenses. Further, the amount allowable as a deduction for business meal and entertainment expenses, whether incurred in-town or out-of-town is generally limited to 50 percent of the expenses. (A special exception that raises the level to 80 percent applies to workers who are away from home while working under Department of Transportation regulations.)
Related expenses, such as taxes, tips, and parking fees must be included in the total expenses before applying the 50-percent reduction. The 50-percent reduction is made only after determining the amount of the otherwise allowable deductions. However, allowable deductions for transportation costs to and from a business meal are not reduced.
The 50-percent deduction limitation also applies to meals and entertainment expenses that are reimbursed under an accountable plan to a taxpayer’s employees. In that case, it doesn’t matter if the taxpayer reimburses the employees for 100 percent of the expenses.
Employee-only meals. If the value of any property or service provided to an employee is so minimal that accounting for the property or service would be unreasonable or administratively impracticable, it is a de minimis fringe benefit that is excluded for income and employment tax purposes. Such benefits that are food-related may include occasional parties or picnics, occasional supper money due to overtime work, and employer-furnished coffee and doughnuts.
A subsidized eating facility can be a de minimis fringe if it is located on or near the business premises and the revenue derived from it normally equals or exceeds direct operating costs. Further, if more than one-half of the employees are furnished meals for the convenience of the employer, all meals provided on the premises are treated as furnished for the convenience of the employer. Therefore, the meals are fully deductible by the employer, instead of possibly being subject to the 50-percent limit on business meal deductions, and excludable by the employees.
As the end of the calendar year approaches, taxpayers ordinarily prefer to minimize current-year income by deferring the inclusion of taxable income to the following year, while accelerating deductions to the current year. However, as many taxpayers are aware, individual income tax rates may increase in 2013, with the potential for dramatic increases for higher-income individuals (if not all individuals).
While it is unclear how many taxpayers will see tax increases in 2013, it is certain that rates will not be any lower than they are in 2012. Thus, some, if not all, individuals will have an incentive to accelerate income into 2012.
Annual bonuses for 2012
Employees earning annual bonuses for services performed in 2012 ordinarily would receive the bonus in 2013. And generally the employer would take the deduction in 2013. However, some employees may prefer to receive the bonus in 2012, to take advantage of the lower current tax rates. An employer may want to deduct the bonus in the earlier year, to reduce taxable income. The IRS recently issued Chief Counsel Advice (CCA 201246029) on the treatment of a bonus that illustrates some of the practical obstacles to accelerating bonus income.
A lesson learned
In the CCA, the employer awarded bonuses for the calendar year (the year of service) based on company performance. The total bonus amount accrued for financial accounting purposes at the end of the year. The bonuses were paid early in the following year, after the employer finalized the amounts, provided that the employee still worked for the company.
In Rev. Rul. 2011-29, the IRS determined that the employer can accrue liability, and take a deduction, for bonuses in the earlier year, where the employer can establish the fact of the liability for bonuses paid to a group of employees, even though the recipients’ identities and amounts payable were determined in the following year. In contrast, in the CCA, the IRS concluded that the taxpayer’s liability to pay bonuses was not fixed until the contingency was satisfied – the employee had to be still employed on the date of payment. Therefore, the bonuses were not deductible until the following year, when they were paid.
While the CCA does not discuss it, presumably if the employer paid the bonuses in the year of service (2012), they would be deductible in that same year. The employees would take the bonuses into income in 2012, when tax rates were lower. Furthermore, the income would avoid the new 0.9 percent additional Medicare tax on earned income, which takes effect in 2013.
Important timing exception
In the CCA, the timing was identical for the employer and the employee. Under Code Sec. 404, concerning deferred compensation, the employer may not deduct the bonus until the same time that the employee takes it into income. Under an exception, however, if the employer pays the bonus in 2013 but within 2 ½ months after the end of 2012, an accrual basis taxpayer can deduct the payment in the current year, even though the employee would not include it in income until it is paid in 2013. This presumes that the bonuses are fixed at the end of 2012 and that the employer does not use a plan like the one described in the CCA.
Certain planning techniques involve the use of interest rates to value interests being transferred to charity or to private beneficiaries. While the use of these techniques does not necessarily depend on the interest rate, low interest rates may increase their value.
Taxpayers can obtain a deduction by giving a partial interest in property to a charity, using a trust. Two types of trusts for this purpose are charitable lead trusts and charitable remainder trusts. In a charitable lead trust, the taxpayer funding the trust gives an income interest to charity and the remainder interest to a family member or other preferred beneficiary. In a charitable remainder trust, an individual receives trust income and a charity is entitled to the remainder interest.
The IRS’s applicable federal rate (AFR) is used to value these different interests in trusts. Right now, AFRs are relatively low. For example, for December 2012, the AFR for determining the present value of an annuity, an interest for life or a term of years, or a remainder or reversionary interest is only 1.2 percent, a very low rate.
When AFRs are low, certain transfer mechanisms become even more useful. In a charitable lead trust (CLT), a low AFR increases the present value of the charity’s income interest. This increases the value of the charitable deduction for the income interest, and reduces the value of the remainder interest passing to private individuals. (For a charitable remainder trust, the same mechanism increases the present value of the individual beneficiary’s income interest, and reduces the value of the remainder interest going to charity.)
Another device is a personal residence trust (PRT), where the grantor retains the right to live in the house, instead of receiving income payments, and gives the remainder interest in the property to charity. This provides a current charitable deduction. The amount of the charitable contribution is the fair market value of the property, discounted by the AFR. The lower the AFR, the higher is the value of the remainder interest, and the greater the charitable deduction.
A PRT can also be used to give the remainder interest to a family member or other individual. In this case, the transfer of the remainder interest is subject to gift tax. The lower the AFR, the greater is the value of the remainder interest, and the greater the gift tax.
Loans to family members
Another situation in which low interest rates can work to a taxpayer’s advantage is a loan between family members. For the loan to be bona fide, interest generally must be charged on the loan. However, the lower the AFR, the lower will be the market rate for interest that has to be charged to the borrower. If the interest rate is too low, the IRS may impute a higher rate of interest on the loan, which could result in a gift of the foregone interest to the borrower. Again, when the AFR is low, the lender can make a loan at a lower interest rate.
If you are interested in exploring further how any of the above-mentioned planning techniques can benefit your tax situation especially while interest rates remain low, please do not hesitate to contact this office at (908) 725-4414.