Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Posts tagged ‘income tax’

How Do I Shift Taxable Income into 2016?

As the calendar approaches the end of 2015, it is helpful to think about ways to shift income and deductions into the following year. For example, spikes in income from selling investments or other property may push a taxpayer into a higher income tax bracket for 2015, including a top bracket of 39.6 percent for ordinary income and short-term capital gains, and a top bracket of 20 percent for dividends and long-term capital gains. (more…)

Congress leaves tax law up in the air

Lawmakers have departed Washington to campaign before the November 6 elections and left undone is a long list of unfinished tax business.  In many ways, the last quarter of 2012 is similar to 2010, when Congress and the White House waited until the eleventh hour to extend expiring tax cuts. Like 2010, a host of individual and business tax incentives are scheduled to expire.  Unlike 2010, lawmakers are confronted with massive across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect in 2013.

Unfinished business

Since the start of 2012, the list of tax measures waiting for Congressional action has remained unchanged. Among the individual tax provisions scheduled to expire after 2012 are:

  • Reduced individual income tax rates
  • Reduced capital gains and dividend tax rates
  • Temporary repeal of the limitation on itemized deductions and the personal exemption phaseout for higher income taxpayers
  • Reduced estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer tax rates
  • Enhancements to many education tax incentives, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Coverdell education savings accounts, and more.

Also scheduled to expire at the end of 2012 is the payroll tax holiday.  The employee share of Social Security taxes is 4.2 percent rather than 6.2 percent, up to the Social Security earnings cap of $110,100 for 2012.  Self-employed individuals benefit from a similar reduction.

Additionally, many so-called tax extenders for individuals expired after 2011.  They include the state and local sales tax deduction, the teachers’ classroom expense deduction, and more.  The most recent alternative minimum tax (AMT) “patch” expired after 2011.

The list of expiring or expired tax incentives for businesses is just as long.  They include:

  • Enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing (after 2012)
  • 100 percent bonus depreciation (generally after 2011)
  • 50 percent bonus depreciation (generally after 2012)
  • Research tax credit (after 2011)
  • Production tax credit for wind energy (after 2012)
  • Enhanced Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for veterans (after 2012)
  • Regular WOTC (after 2011)
  • A lengthy laundry list of business tax extenders, such as special expensing rules for television and film productions, the Indian employment credit, and more (after 2011).

Along with all of the expiring provisions are even more pending proposals. They include proposals by the White House to enact tax incentives to encourage employers to hire long-term unemployed individuals, impose a minimum tax on overseas profits and more. The likelihood of any of these proposals being enacted before year-end is slim, but they could be revisited in 2013 depending on the outcome of the November elections. Comprehensive tax reform, including any reduction in the individual tax rates below their 2012 levels and a reduction in the corporate tax rate, is also expected to wait until 2013 or beyond.

Behind the scenes talks

The lame-duck Congress, which will meet after the November elections, may tackle some or all of the expiring tax incentives, or it could do nothing and punt them to the next Congress.  Behind the scenes, some Democrats and Republicans in Congress are reportedly talking about a short-term extension of the expiring/expired provisions, for six months or one year, which would give lawmakers and the White House more time to reach an overall agreement.  However, the dynamic could and likely will change if the GOP takes the White House and wins control of the Senate.

In the Senate, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, has told reporters that he and several other senators from both parties have been discussing whether or not to extend the expiring tax cuts. Conrad, who is retiring at the end of 2012, has acknowledged that Democrats and Republicans are far apart on revenue raisers and spending cuts.  Reports of informal talks among the members of the House Ways and Means Committee have also circulated but no concrete proposals have so far been revealed.

Sequestration

The imminent spending cuts (called sequestration) are the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The 2011 Act imposes approximately $110 billion in spending cuts, impacting defense and non-defense spending, for 2013.  Almost every area of federal spending, including tax enforcement, will be affected.

In recent months, some lawmakers have proposed to mitigate the spending cuts by raising revenues elsewhere.  One area targeted for tax increases is the oil and gas industry.  However, several attempts to repeal tax preferences for the oil and gas industry failed in Congress in 2012.

Any extension of the expiring tax breaks will have to take into account the looming across-the-board spending cuts. Tax reform and debt reduction will go hand-in-hand.  However, it is unclear if debt reduction will drive tax reform or vice-versa.  Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414, if you have any questions about pending federal tax legislation.

FAQ: Pay estimated tax or withhold?

Some individuals must pay estimated taxes or face a penalty in the form of interest on the amount underpaid. Self-employed persons, retirees, and nonworking individuals most often must pay estimated taxes to avoid the penalty. But an employee may need to pay them if the amount of tax withheld from wages is insufficient to cover the tax owed on other income. The potential tax owed on investment income also may increase the need for paying estimated tax, even among wage earners.

The trick with estimated taxes is to pay a sufficient amount of estimated tax to avoid a penalty but not to overpay. The IRS will refund the overpayment when you file your return, but it will not pay interest on it. In other words, by overpaying tax to the IRS, you are in essence choosing to give the government an interest-free loan rather than invest your money somewhere else and make a profit.

When do I make estimated tax payments?

Individual estimated tax payments are generally made in four installments accompanying a completed Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals. For the typical individual who uses a calendar tax year, payments generally are due on April 15, June 15, and September 15 of the tax year, and January 15 of the following year (or the following business day when it falls on a weekend or other holiday).

Am I required to make estimated tax payments?

Generally, you must pay estimated taxes in 2012 if (1) you expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting tax withholding (if you have any) and (2) you expect your withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of 90 percent of your 2012 taxes or 100 percent of the tax on your 2011 return.  There are special rules for higher income individuals.

Usually, there is no penalty if your estimated tax payments plus other tax payments, such as wage withholding, equal either 100 percent of your prior year’s tax liability or 90 percent of your current year’s tax liability. However, if your adjusted gross income for your prior year exceeded $150,000, you must pay either 110 percent of the prior year tax or 90 percent of the current year tax to avoid the estimated tax penalty. For married filing separately, the higher payments apply at $75,000.

Estimated tax is not limited to income tax. In figuring your installments, you must also take into account other taxes such as the alternative minimum tax, penalties for early withdrawals from an IRA or other retirement plan, and self-employment tax, which is the equivalent of Social Security taxes for the self-employed.

Suppose I owe only a relatively small amount of tax?

There is no penalty if the tax underpayment for the year is less than $1,000. However, once an underpayment exceeds $1,000, the penalty applies to the full amount of the underpayment.

What if I realize I have miscalculated my tax before the year ends?

An employee may be able to avoid the penalty by getting the employer to increase withholding in an amount needed to cover the shortfall. The IRS will treat the withheld tax as being paid proportionately over the course of the year, even though a greater amount was withheld at year-end. The proportionate treatment could prevent penalties on installments paid earlier in the year.

What else can I do?

If you receive income unevenly over the course of the year, you may benefit from using the annualized income installment method of paying estimated tax. Under this method, your adjusted gross income, self-employment income and alternative minimum taxable income at the end of each quarterly tax payment period are projected forward for the entire year. Estimated tax is paid based on these annualized amounts if the payment is lower than the regular estimated payment. Any decrease in the amount of an estimated tax payment caused by using the annualized installment method must be added back to the next regular estimated tax payment.

Determining estimated taxes can be complicated, but the penalty can be avoided with proper attention. This office stands ready to assist you with this determination. Please contact us if we can help you determine whether you owe estimated taxes.

Timing gains and losses: selloff before rising rates

In 2012, many taxpayers will have additional considerations when analyzing whether to sell investments before the end of the year or retain them in 2013. First, the Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. This affects ordinary income rates, as well as rates on capital gains and dividends. Second, under the health care law, a new 3.8 percent Medicare tax on unearned income, including interest, dividends and capital gains, will take effect in 2013. Together, these real and potential changes may add up to hefty new taxes in 2013, unless Congress takes action otherwise.

Income tax rates

Current income tax rates continue through the end of 2012.  These include the overall individual income tax rates, currently at 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent. If Congress does not take any action, these rates revert to the higher rates that used to apply: 15, 28, 31, 36, and 39.6 percent. Republicans favor retaining all of the Bush-era rates. President Obama and many Democrats support retaining the 10, 15, 25, and 28 percent rates for lower- and middle-income taxpayers, while reinstating the 36 and 39.6 percent rates for taxpayers with income over $200,000 (single taxpayers) or $250,000 for joint filers.

Additionally, there are calls for tax reform and for an overall lowering of income tax rates, in exchange for ending unspecified tax deductions and benefits. For example, House Republicans have called for replacing current income tax rates with two brackets, of 10 and 25 percent.

Capital gains and dividends

Current income tax rates that extend through the end of 2012 also include the 15 percent rate on capital gains and qualified dividends for qualified taxpayers. If Congress does not act, these rates revert to much higher ordinary income rates, in the case of dividends, and to the 20 percent rate that formerly applied to capital gains. Again, the President and the Republicans would both extend the current rates, but disagree on whether to apply the extensions to all taxpayers (the Republicans) or only to lower- and middle-income taxpayers under the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds (the President).

3.8 percent tax

Adding to the mix is the impending 3.8 percent tax on unearned income. Under the health care law, this tax will apply to 2013 income (and beyond) of single taxpayers with income exceeding $200,000 and joint filers with income exceeding $250,000. The tax is imposed on the lesser of net investment income or the excess of adjusted gross income about the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds.

Net investment income also includes rents, royalties, gain from disposing of property used in a passive activity, and income from a trade or business that is a passive activity. The tax does not apply to distributions from retirement plans and IRAs. Taxpayers cannot necessarily avoid the tax by moving assets to a trust, because the tax will apply if trust income exceeds a threshold currently set at only $11,200.

Sell or hold

Generally, taxpayers should make investment decisions based on economics, holding on to a “good” investment and selling a “bad” investment. This involves looking at past performance and perhaps gazing into a crystal ball. Taxpayers that are debating whether to sell appreciated assets or assets that pay qualified dividends may want to act in 2012, when income tax rates are lower and before the 3.8 percent tax takes effect. Taxpayers considering the sale of declining assets may want to consider holding off until 2013, when losses can offset more highly-taxed gains and reduce the income potentially subject to the 3.8 percent tax.

Because the 3.8 percent tax does not apply to tax-free income, such as municipal bonds and distributions from a Roth IRA, taxpayers may want to shift some of their investments to yield nontaxable income. While the income from converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA would be included in the income calculations, qualifying distributions after the conversion would not be included.

Again, the decision must make economic sense. If the taxpayer expects an asset to continue to decline in value during 2012, he or she should sell the asset soon and not wait until 2013. Another consideration is the bunching of income. Taxpayers that sell substantial capital gains assets in 2013 may push their income up to the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds that trigger higher taxes. If the taxpayer is considering a sell-off of assets, it may make more sense to sell assets before 2013.

If a taxpayer wants to shift to more conservative investments, income yields may decline, but so will the incidence of the dividend, capital gains, and unearned income taxes described above. On the other hand, taxpayers looking at more speculative investments should understand that a successful investment may generate income taxed at higher rates in 2013.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414 if you have any questions.

No resolution to Bush-era tax cuts and more…

Hopes for a pre-election resolution to the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts, extenders and other tax incentives are quickly fading as summer approaches.  This year is increasingly looking like a replay of 2010, the last time the Bush-era tax cuts were facing imminent expiration.  The White House, the Democratic-controlled Senate and the GOP-controlled House all have different opinions on the fate of these tax incentives and negotiations, which have been few and far between, and have quickly bogged down.  One solution, which is being talked about more and more, is a temporary extension of the tax cuts.  While this would punt the issue to the next Congress, it does little to ease taxpayers’ concerns about tax planning in a climate of constant uncertainty.

Bush-era tax cuts

Unless extended, the tax cuts in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) (as extended by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010) will sunset after December 31, 2012.  The list of expiring tax incentives is long and includes reduced individual income tax rates and capital gains/dividends tax rates; the $1,000 child tax credit; enhancements to the earned income tax credit (EIC); and much more.

On May 15, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that the House will vote before the November elections on legislation to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.  Boehner gave no timetable for a vote.  It is unclear at this time if the GOP plans to vote on making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent or merely to extend them one or two more years. Also unclear is whether or not any extension would be offset with revenue raisers elsewhere.  Even if the House votes on the tax cuts, there is no guarantee the Senate will take them up.

Complicating matters is the federal budget deficit.  After months of partisan wrangling last year, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA).  The BCA imposes mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts through sequestration.  The BCA’s spending cuts are scheduled to take effect in 2013.  The GOP wants to repeal the BCA and on May 10, the House approved legislation to effectively do that.  The GOP bill has no chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  So the BCA remains, for now, law.

Few Capitol Hill observers expect Congress to take any meaningful action on the Bush-era tax cuts before the November elections. This leaves the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts to the lame duck Congress.  Depending on the outcome of the November elections, the lame duck Congress could do nothing and allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire, make the tax cuts permanent, or – and this appears to be the most likely scenario – extend the tax cuts for one year. Either way, the uncertainty complicates tax planning for 2012 and beyond.

Small businesses

Lawmakers are also dueling over competing small business tax bills. The House has approved the GOP-sponsored Small Business Tax Cut Act.  The GOP bill would, among other provisions, provide a deduction for 20 percent of qualified domestic business income of the taxpayer for the tax year, subject to limitations. In the Senate, the Democrats’ small business bill would give a 10 percent income tax credit to small employers that increase wages or create jobs in 2012 and extend 100 percent bonus depreciation through 2012 (which had expired at the end of 2011).   If the Senate approves the Democratic bill, the two chambers could iron-out the differences in the bills in conference.

Tax extenders

Since January, supporters of the tax extenders have tried several times, all unsuccessfully, to attach the extenders to other bills.  Some of the extenders were initially attached to the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which extended the employee-side payroll tax cut for all of calendar year 2012, but were subsequently dropped. Supporters also tried to include many of the extenders, especially energy-related tax incentives, to the Senate’s highway funding bill: the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act.  At the last minute, the extenders were removed from the Senate bill.

A drag on the extenders is their estimated cost to the federal budget.  According to the Congressional Research Service, renewing all of the extenders for 2012 would cost $35 billion. This is one reason why supporters have tried to move only some of the extenders.  There have also been calls in Congress to let some of the extenders expire permanently; but every extender has its supporter.

Federal estate tax

Another big question mark hovers over the federal estate tax.  Unless Congress acts, the federal estate tax is schedule to revert to its pre-EGTRRA levels (a top tax rate of 55 percent with a $1 million exclusion).  In 2010, the White House and the GOP agreed on a top tax rate of 35 percent with a $5 million exclusion (indexed for inflation) for decedents dying in 2011 and 2012 (special rules applied to decedents dying in 2010).  The GOP has proposed to eliminate the estate tax entirely or, if not abolished, to retain the 35/$5 million amounts for decedents dying after 2012; the White House has proposed to reduce the exclusion amount to $3.5 million.

Our office will monitor developments and keep you posted of any changes. If you have any questions about legislative developments, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

How do I? Amend a return

Sometimes in a rush to file your income tax return, you may unintentionally overlook some income that had to be reported, or a deduction that you should or should not have taken.  Now what?  The solution is usually straightforward: you should file what is called an amended return.

Taxable income is measured on an annual basis so you cannot generally wait on correcting a mistake by “making up the difference” on the return that you file next year.  You need to make the correction(s) directly on a revised return for the same tax year.  Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, is used to amend any individual income tax return.  Income tax returns other than individual income tax returns or returns filed on Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return, or Form 1120-A, U.S. Corporation Short Form Income Tax Return, are amended by filing the same form originally used to file the return.  Partnerships may use Form 1065X.  Amended returns should clearly be marked as such.  Some return forms such as Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts, contain a box to be checked if it is being filed as an amended return.  For returns other than income tax returns, Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement, is used to claim a refund.

To amend a non-income tax return other than to claim a refund, the same form originally used to file the return generally should be used.  Estate tax returns cannot be amended after they are due.  However, supplemental information may be filed that can change the amount of estate tax due from the amount shown on the return.

When to file an amended return.  A taxpayer must file an amended return and pay the additional tax due if the taxpayer omitted an item of income or incorrectly claimed a deduction for a tax year for which the limitation period is still open.  A tax year ordinarily remains open for three years from the filing of a return.  The three-year period starts running the day after the return is filed.  A return that is filed early is treated as filed on the due date of the return.  The limitations period on assessment for which a return remains open does not start over if an amended return is filed.

If you realize that you made a mistake on your return that is not in IRS’s favor, it is best to correct it through filing an amended return as soon as possible.  If the IRS starts to audit you and finds the mistake first before you file your amended return, it can assess penalties on the original amount and treat you as if you had not come forward voluntarily on your own.

Special disaster loss option.  Not all amended returns are filed to correct a mistake.  One in particular –claiming a disaster loss—may be filed to effectively accelerate a casualty-loss deduction.  A taxpayer may elect to deduct a disaster loss in the year of occurrence or the immediately preceding year.  To qualify for the election, the loss must occur in a federally-declared disaster area.  The election is made on a return (if you have not filed your return yet for the preceding tax year), an amended return or a refund claim.  The amount of the deduction is determined using the casualty loss limitations.

Early planning can make 2012 filing season easier

The new year brings a new tax filing season. Mid-April may seem like a long time away in January but it is important to start preparing now for filing your 2011 federal income tax return.  The IRS expects to receive and process more than 140 million returns during the 2012 filing season.  Early planning can help avoid any delays in the filing and processing of your return.

Records

Initially, you will need to gather your records for 2011. A helpful jumping-off point is to review your 2010 return. Your personal situation may be unchanged from when you filed your 2010 return or it may have changed significantly.  Either way, your 2010 return is a good vantage point for assembling the materials you will need to prepare your 2011 return.

If you need a copy of your previous year(s) return information, you have several options. You can order a copy of your prior-year return. Alternatively, you may order a tax return transcript or a tax account transcript.  A tax return transcript shows most line items from your return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules.  However, a tax return transcript does not reflect any changes you or the IRS made after the return was filed. A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed.

If you changed your name as a result of marriage or divorce since you filed your 2010 return, you must advise the IRS. Your name as it appears on your return needs to match the name registered with the Social Security Administration. A mismatch will likely delay the processing of your return.

Forms W-2

Many taxpayers cannot begin preparing their 2011 income tax returns until they have their Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Employers have until January 31, 2012 to send you a 2011 Form W-2 earnings statement.  If you do not receive your W-2 by the deadline, contact your employer. If you do not receive your W-2 by mid-February, contact the IRS.  You still must file your return or request an extension to file even if you do not receive your Form W-2. In certain cases, you may be able to file Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement.

Filing deadline

April 15, 2012 is a Sunday. Returns would normally be due the next day, April 16, 2012. However, April 16 is a holiday in the District of Columbia (Emancipation Day). As a result, the due date for 2011 returns is April 17, 2012.  If the mid-April tax deadline clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file through October 17. However, this extension of time to file does not give you more time to pay any taxes due.  To obtain an extension, you need to file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Casualty losses

Many taxpayers experienced family, business and personal losses from hurricanes, tropical storms, wild fires, floods, and other natural disasters in 2011.  For federal tax purposes, a casualty loss can result from the damage, destruction or loss of your property from any sudden, unexpected, or unusual event such as a hurricane, tornado, fire, or other disaster.

Casualty losses are generally deductible in the year the casualty occurred. However, if you have a casualty loss from a federally-declared disaster, you can choose to treat the loss as having occurred in the year immediately preceding the tax year in which the disaster happened. This means you can deduct a 2011 loss on your 2011 return or amended return for that preceding tax year (2010).   If you have any questions about a casualty loss, please contact our office.

Retirement savings

Just because the calendar moved from 2011 to 2012 doesn’t necessarily mean you missed out on contributing to a retirement savings plan. You can contribute up to $5,000 to a traditional IRA for 2011 and you can make the contribution as late as April 17, 2012. However, if you or your spouse is covered by an employer retirement plan, this will affect how much, if any, of your contribution is tax deductible.  Individuals age 50 and older may qualify for a catch-up contribution of $1,000 on top of the $5,000 maximum.  Different rules apply to other types of retirement savings plans.  Our office can review these rules in detail with you.

IRS Fresh Start Initiative

In 2011, the IRS announced a new program, called the Fresh Start Initiative, to help distressed taxpayers. The IRS adjusted its lien policies, increased the dollar threshold when liens are generally issued, made it easier for taxpayers to obtain lien withdrawals, and extended the streamlined offer-in-compromise program.  Previously, the IRS had given its employees greater authority to suspend collection actions in certain hardship cases where taxpayers are unable to pay. This includes instances where a taxpayer has recently lost a job, is relying solely on Social Security, or is paying significant medical bills.

If you are experiencing hardship, the most important thing you can do is to remain in compliance with your tax obligations. If you owe back taxes, now is the time to pay them, if possible, or enter into an installment agreement, if you qualify, with the IRS. The IRS wants to see you making a good faith effort to pay your taxes.

Tax law changes

Along with assembling records and reviewing activities in 2011, it’s a good idea to review some of the tax law changes in 2011 that may affect your return.  Our office can review your 2010 return and see which areas may have been affected by tax law changes for your 2011 return.  In some cases, popular tax incentives that were available in 2010 were extended into 2011. You don’t want to miss out on any available tax breaks.

If you have any questions about preparing for the 2012 filing season, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.