2014 Year-End Tax Planning

Year-end tax planning is especially challenging this year because Congress has yet to act on a host of tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013. Some of these tax breaks may be retroactively reinstated and extended, but Congress may not decide the fate of these tax breaks until the very end of this year (and, possibly, not until next year).

These breaks include, for individuals: the option to deduct state and local sales and use taxes instead of state and local income taxes; the above-the-line-deduction for qualified higher education expenses; tax-free IRA distributions for charitable purposes by those age 70- 1/2 or older; and the exclusion for up-to-$2 million of mortgage debt forgiveness on a principal residence.

For businesses: tax breaks that expired at the end of last year and may be retroactively reinstated and extended include: 50% bonus first year depreciation for most new machinery, equipment and software; the $500,000 annual expensing limitation; the research tax credit; and the 15-year write off for qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvement property.

Higher-income-earners have unique concerns to address when mapping out year-end plans. They must be wary of the 3.8% surtax on certain unearned income and the additional 0.9% Medicare (hospital insurance, or HI) tax that applies to individuals receiving wages with respect to employment in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly and $125,000 for married couples filing separately).

The surtax is 3.8% of the lesser of: (1) net investment income (NII), or (2) the excess of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over an unindexed threshold amount ($250,000 for joint filers or surviving spouses, $125,000 for a married individual filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case). As year-end nears, a taxpayer’s approach to minimizing or eliminating the 3.8% surtax will depend on his estimated MAGI and net investment income (NII) for the year. Some taxpayers should consider ways to minimize (e.g., through deferral) additional NII for the balance of the year, others should try to see if they can reduce MAGI other than NII, and other individuals will need to consider ways to minimize both NII and other types of MAGI.

The additional Medicare tax may require year-end actions. Employers must withhold the additional Medicare tax from wages in excess of $200,000 regardless of filing status or other income. Self-employed persons must take it into account in figuring estimated tax. There could be situations where an employee may need to have more withheld toward year end to cover the tax. For example, an individual earns $200,000 from one employer during the first half of the year and a like amount from another employer during the balance of the year. He would owe the additional Medicare tax, but there would be no withholding by either employer for the additional Medicare tax since wages from each employer don’t exceed $200,000. Also, in determining whether they may need to make adjustments to avoid a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax, individuals also should be mindful that the additional Medicare tax may be overwithheld. This could occur, for example, where only one of two married spouses works and reaches the threshold for the employer to withhold, but the couple’s income won’t be high enough to actually cause the tax to be owed.

We have compiled a checklist of additional actions based on current tax rules that may help you save tax dollars if you act before year-end. Not all actions will apply in your particular situation, but you (or a family member) will likely benefit from many of them. We can narrow down the specific actions that you can take once we meet with you to tailor a particular plan. In the meantime, please review the following list and contact us at your earliest convenience so that we can advise you on which tax-saving moves to make:

Year-End Tax Planning Moves for Individuals

  • Realize losses on stock while substantially preserving your investment position. There are several ways this can be done. For example, you can sell the original holding, then buy back the same securities at least 31 days later. It may be advisable for us to meet to discuss year-end trades you should consider making.
  • Postpone income until 2015 and accelerate deductions into 2014 to lower your 2014 tax bill. This strategy may enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2014 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income (AGI). These include child tax credits, higher education tax credits, and deductions for student loan interest. Postponing income also is desirable for those taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year due to changed financial circumstances. Note, however, that in some cases, it may pay to actually accelerate income into 2014. For example, this may be the case where a person’s marginal tax rate is much lower this year than it will be next year or where lower income in 2015 will result in a higher tax credit for an individual who plans to purchase health insurance on a health exchange and is eligible for a premium assistance credit.
  • If you believe a Roth IRA is better than a traditional IRA, and want to remain in the market for the long term, consider converting traditional-IRA money invested in beaten-down stocks (or mutual funds) into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your adjusted gross income for 2014.
  • If you converted assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA earlier in the year, the assets in the Roth IRA account may have declined in value, and if you leave things as is, you will wind up paying a higher tax than is necessary. You can back out of the transaction by recharacterizing the conversion, that is, by transferring the converted amount (plus earnings, or minus losses) from the Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA via a trustee-to-trustee transfer. You can later reconvert to a Roth IRA, if doing so proves advantageous.
  • It may be advantageous to try to arrange with your employer to defer a bonus that may be coming your way until 2015.
  • Consider using a credit card to pay deductible expenses before the end of the year. Doing so will increase your 2014 deductions even if you don’t pay your credit card bill until after the end of the year.
  • If you expect to owe state and local income taxes when you file your return next year, consider asking your employer to increase withholding of state and local taxes (or pay estimated tax payments of state and local taxes) before year-end to pull the deduction of those taxes into 2014 if doing so won’t create an alternative minimum tax (AMT) problem.
  • Take an eligible rollover distribution from a qualified retirement plan before the end of 2014 if you are facing a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax and having your employer increase your withholding isn’t viable or won’t sufficiently address the problem. Income tax will be withheld from the distribution and will be applied toward the taxes owed for 2014. You can then timely roll over the gross amount of the distribution, i.e., the net amount you received plus the amount of withheld tax, to a traditional IRA. No part of the distribution will be includible in income for 2014, but the withheld tax will be applied pro rata over the full 2014 tax year to reduce previous underpayments of estimated tax.
  • Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for 2014, keeping in mind that many tax breaks allowed for purposes of calculating regular taxes are disallowed for AMT purposes. These include the deduction for state property taxes on your residence, state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions. Other deductions, such as for medical expenses, are calculated in a more restrictive way for AMT purposes than for regular tax purposes in the case of a taxpayer who is over age 65 or whose spouse is over age 65 as of the close of the tax year. As a result, in some cases, deductions should not be accelerated.
  • You may be able to save taxes this year and next by applying a bunching strategy to “miscellaneous” itemized deductions (i.e., certain deductions that are allowed only to the extent they exceed 2% of adjusted gross income), medical expenses and other itemized deductions.
  • You may want to pay contested taxes to be able to deduct them this year while continuing to contest them next year.
  • You may want to settle an insurance or damage claim in order to maximize your casualty loss deduction this year.
  • Take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA or 401(k) plan (or other employer-sponsored retired plan) if you have reached age 70- 1/2. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn. If you turned age 70- 1/2 in 2014, you can delay the first required distribution to 2015, but if you do, you will have to take a double distribution in 2015—the amount required for 2014 plus the amount required for 2015. Think twice before delaying 2014 distributions to 2015—bunching income into 2015 might push you into a higher tax bracket or have a detrimental impact on various income tax deductions that are reduced at higher income levels. However, it could be beneficial to take both distributions in 2015 if you will be in a substantially lower bracket that year.
  • Increase the amount you set aside for next year in your employer’s health flexible spending account (FSA) if you set aside too little for this year.
  • If you are eligible to make health savings account (HSA) contributions in December of this year, you can make a full year’s worth of deductible HSA contributions for 2014. This is so even if you first became eligible on Dec. 1, 2014.
  • Make gifts sheltered by the annual gift tax exclusion before the end of the year and thereby save gift and estate taxes. You can give $14,000 in 2014 to each of an unlimited number of individuals but you can’t carry over unused exclusions from one year to the next. The transfers also may save family income taxes where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax.

Year-End Tax-Planning Moves for Businesses & Business Owners

  • Businesses should buy machinery and equipment before year end and, under the generally applicable “half-year convention,” thereby secure a half-year’s worth of depreciation deductions for the first ownership year.
  • Although the business property expensing option is greatly reduced in 2014 (unless legislation changes this option for 2014), don’t neglect to make expenditures that qualify for this option. For tax years beginning in 2014, the expensing limit is $25,000, and the investment-based reduction in the dollar limitation starts to take effect when property placed in service in the tax year exceeds $200,000.
  • Businesses may be able to take advantage of the “de minimis safe harbor election” (also known as the book-tax conformity election) to expense the costs of inexpensive assets and materials and supplies, assuming the costs don’t have to be capitalized under the Code Sec. 263A uniform capitalization (UNICAP) rules. To qualify for the election, the cost of a unit-of-property can’t exceed $5,000 if the taxpayer has an applicable financial statement (AFS; e.g., a certified audited financial statement along with an independent CPA’s report). If there’s no AFS, the cost of a unit of property can’t exceed $500. Where the UNICAP rules aren’t an issue, purchase such qualifying items before the end of 2014.
  • A corporation should consider accelerating income from 2015 to 2014 where doing so will prevent the corporation from moving into a higher bracket next year. Conversely, it should consider deferring income until 2015 where doing so will prevent the corporation from moving into a higher bracket this year.
  • A corporation should consider deferring income until next year if doing so will preserve the corporation s qualification for the small corporation alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption for 2014. Note that there is never a reason to accelerate income for purposes of the small corporation AMT exemption because if a corporation doesn’t qualify for the exemption for any given tax year, it will not qualify for the exemption for any later tax year.
  • A corporation (other than a “large” corporation) that anticipates a small net operating loss (NOL) for 2014 (and substantial net income in 2015) may find it worthwhile to accelerate just enough of its 2015 income (or to defer just enough of its 2014 deductions) to create a small amount of net income for 2014. This will permit the corporation to base its 2015 estimated tax installments on the relatively small amount of income shown on its 2014 return, rather than having to pay estimated taxes based on 100% of its much larger 2015 taxable income.
  • If your business qualifies for the domestic production activities deduction for its 2014 tax year, consider whether the 50%-of-W-2 wages limitation on that deduction applies. If it does, consider ways to increase 2014 W-2 income, e.g., by bonuses to owner-shareholders whose compensation is allocable to domestic production gross receipts. Note that the limitation applies to amounts paid with respect to employment in calendar year 2014, even if the business has a fiscal year.
  • To reduce 2014 taxable income, consider deferring a debt-cancellation event until 2015.
  • To reduce 2014 taxable income, consider disposing of a passive activity in 2014 if doing so will allow you to deduct suspended passive activity losses.
  • If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation consider whether you need to increase your basis in the entity so you can deduct a loss from it for this year.

These are just some of the year-end steps that can be taken to save taxes. Again, by contacting us, we can tailor a particular plan that will work best for you. We also will need to stay in close touch in the event Congress revives expired tax breaks, to assure that you don’t miss out on any resuscitated tax saving opportunities.

Do not hesitate to call us to set up an appointment before end of the year to make sure you are taking the right steps for year-end tax preparation. You are also always welcome to give us a call with any questions. 317-549-3091 or email us at cpa@cwmcf.com

 

Health Care Reform: Financial Impact 2013 and Beyond

As the third year of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) approaches, employers need to be aware of additional fees that will be assessed on insurers and plan administrators of self-insured plans beginning in 2013. In addition, reporting health care costs to the government begins.

The new fees will increase the cost of providing group health plans for employees. They include:

  • Fees to fund research on patient-centered outcomes
  • Transitional reinsurance fees
  • Pay or play penalties
  • Cadillac tax

Fees to fund research on patient-centered outcomes
Health care reform created the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which is charged with promoting research to evaluate and compare the health outcomes and clinical effectiveness, risks, and benefits of medical treatments, services, procedures, and drugs. PCORI is to be funded in part by fees assessed on health insurers and sponsors of self-insured group health plans. This fee is commonly referred to as the “comparative effectiveness fee” or “PCORI fee.” The PCORI fee will be assessed at $1.00 times the average number of covered lives (employees and dependents) for the first plan or policy year ending on or after October 1, 2012. Employer plan sponsors must choose a method for calculating the average number of covered lives for their required annual fees by December 31, 2012, for calendar year plans.

Transitional reinsurance fees
The transitional reinsurance program will require health insurance issuers, as well as certain plan administrators on behalf of self-insured group health plans, to make contributions to a transitional reinsurance program for the three-year period beginning January 1, 2014. This fee is likely to result in additional costs for employer plan sponsors and – depending on whether the plan at issue is self-administered – certain additional reporting obligations.

Pay or play penalties
In 2014, large employers with fifty or more full-time equivalent employees could be subject to two potential penalties: the No Coverage Penalty and the Unaffordable Coverage Penalty. The No Insurance Penalty subjects certain employers to a $2,000 per full-time employee penalty (excluding the first thirty full-time employees) under specific conditions. The Unaffordable Coverage Penalty applies if an employer offers its full-time employees the opportunity to enroll in coverage under an employer plan that either is unaffordable (relative to an employee’s household income) or does not provide minimum value. This penalty is $3,000 for every full-time employee who receives a subsidy for coverage in a state exchange.

In some cases, the total cost of these penalties may be less than the total cost of providing coverage. CliftonLarsonAllen’s Health Insurance and Penalty Calculator provides information about the impact of reform on individual companies.

Cadillac tax
Starting in 2018, insurers of employer-sponsored plans or companies that self-insure their own plans will be subject to an excise tax if their premiums are in excess of $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. Roughly 60 percent of large employers believe their plans would trigger the tax unless they take action to avoid it, according to a 2011 survey by Mercer, a human resources consulting firm. Although the tax is to be imposed on insurers, the effects are likely to trickle down to consumers.

Many health care reform provisions will impact the cost to provide health care coverage for employees. Employers should be aware of the additional fees and reporting requirements and work with their benefits consultants to determine the financial impact of health care on their businesses. Plan sponsors should have already verified that they have the systems in place to determine and report the aggregate cost of applicable employer-sponsored coverage for 2012 on employees’ Forms W-2.

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Investor Confidence in US Companies Inching Upward

On September 19, the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ) released its sixth annual “Main Street Investor Survey,” which shows that investor confidence in capital markets has increased 4 percentage points since 2011, with 65 percent saying they have “a great deal of confidence, quite a bit of confidence, some confidence, very little confidence, or at least some confidence.” The survey defines “investors” as those with $10,000 or more in such investments as mutual funds, stocks, IRAs, 401(k)s.

By way of comparison, confidence in capital markets outside the United States fell 8 percentage points, to 35 percent.

Confidence in investing in US publicly traded companies leveled off at 71 percent this year, a 1-point drop from 2011, and a 5-point drop from years 2008 through 2010.

CAQ Executive Director Cindy Fornelli said, “Individual investors, as a group, have confidence in audited financial information released by public companies and believe that auditors are effective in looking out for investors’ interests.”

Other findings:

  • 69 percent of those surveyed say they have confidence in audited financial information released by public companies.
  • 70 percent believe the American economy will either stay the same or improve over the next year; 20 percent believe it will get worse.
  • 25 percent expect their personal financial situation to improve; 64 percent expect it to stay the same over the next year.
  • The top four economic concerns are: (1) not having enough money for retirement, (2) not being able to afford health care in case of serious illness or injury, (3) not being able to maintain their current standard of living, and (4) fear of losing their jobs
  • .

The survey was conducted after some disappointing news that was expected to dampen consumer confidence but didn’t: the lackluster initial public offering of Facebook and news that JPMorgan Chase and Co. lost more than $4 billion in derivatives trading. But, according to an InvestmentNews.com report, Fornelli said, “I don’t know that the average investor is that attuned to individual companies and individual stocks.”

The CAQ conducted just one of a flurry of consumer confidence surveys. The National Association of Home Builders says the “builder confidence index” is at its highest point since 2006, and new-home construction is up nearly 30 percent from a year ago, New York magazine reports.

In his New York magazine article, “The Confidence Game: The Economy Is Recovering, Most of Us Think,” Kevin Roose says, “So, with a pile of imperfect polls and statistics mostly pointing in the same direction, it’s relatively safe to say that four years after the near-collapse of the financial system, we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – or at least we think we are.”

Yet another survey indicates that perceptions don’t always match the facts. BusinessWeek reported on a survey by Franklin Templeton that asked individual investors about their perception of markets since the previous year. In 2011, 48 percent of investors said the markets were down over the course of 2010, when the Standard & Poor (S&P) 500-stock index rose more than 15 percent. Data released September 18 shows that 53 percent thought the S&P had dropped 2011, but it actually rose 2 percent.

Full article: http://www.accountingweb.com/article/investor-confidence-us-companies-inching-upward/219889

FASB Proposes Changes to Presentation of Reclassified Income

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has issued for public comment a proposed Accounting Standards Update (ASU) that is intended to improve the presentation of reclassifications out of accumulated other comprehensive income. The proposed amendments balance the benefits to users of financial statements without imposing significant additional costs to preparers, according to FASB’s In Focus documents. The proposed update would apply to all public and private organizations that issue financial statements in conformity with US GAAP and that report other comprehensive income.

The ASU Comprehensive Income (Topic 220), Presentation of Items Reclassified Out of Accumulated Other Comprehensive Income, would require a tabular disclosure of the effect of items reclassified, which presents, in one place, information about the amounts reclassified and a road map to related financial disclosures. This information is currently presented throughout the financial statements under US GAAP.

Other comprehensive income includes gains and losses that are initially excluded from net income for an accounting period. Those gains and losses are later reclassified out of accumulated other comprehensive income into net income.

Some items of other comprehensive income that are reclassified after a reporting period, and which FASB uses in its presentation examples, include cash flow hedges, unrealized gains and losses on available-for-sale securities, and foreign currency translation adjustments. US GAAP disclosure requirements already require this information to be disclosed, the Exposure Draft (ED) of the amendments states.

The ED provides examples of tabular formats and addresses the needs of life insurers. It also refers to US GAAP requirements for defined benefit pension costs.

“Stakeholders raised concerns that certain requirements about the reclassification of items out of accumulated other comprehensive income would be costly for preparers and add unnecessary complexity to financial statements,” said FASB Chairman Leslie F. Seidman. “Based on this new feedback, the Board is proposing a revised approach that will present information about other comprehensive information in a useful way that is more cost-effective.”

No decision has been made regarding an effective date. Stakeholders are asked to provide their written comments on the proposed ASU by October 15, 2012.

Full article: http://www.accountingweb.com/article/fasb-proposes-changes-presentation-reclassified-income/219733

Sales Tax on Online Purchases Is On the Rise

This holiday season, online shoppers will find more states are looking to make sure gift givers also give their state its fair share – in terms of sales tax for online purchases, according to CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business and a global provider of tax, accounting and audit information, software, and services. Last year, online shoppers spent more than $1 billion just on Cyber Monday, and online shopping this holiday season is expected to continue to grow at a double-digit rate.

“Whether people shop online or in stores, states expect them to pay sales tax on their purchases,” said Daniel Schibley, JD, CCH senior state tax analyst. “However, few online shoppers comply, unless the tax is collected by the merchant.”

Under existing laws, retailers are required to collect sales taxes for purchases made in states in which they have a physical presence, or nexus. As more sales head online, it is projected that states are losing billions of dollars annually in sales tax revenue they once collected from local retailers, and they are increasingly looking for ways to shore up their tax base.

Two ways to do this, according to CCH, are to require more online retailers to collect sales tax through broader nexus rules and to require consumers to pay the required use tax portion of sales tax. Sales tax has two parts – the sales portion paid by the retailer and the use portion paid by the consumer. Under existing rules, individuals are required to pay use tax in states with a sales tax if the retailer does not collect the tax.

State Sales Tax Collection Approaches

Overall, 45 states currently have a sales tax. This includes every state with the exception of Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon. The District of Columbia also imposes a sales tax.

Several states also are more aggressively enacting rules to help ensure more retailers and consumers pay sales tax, as outlined below. For a chart of state sales tax activities, click here.

Eleven states have enacted broader nexus rules that require online retailers to collect sales and use tax even if the retailer does not have a physical presence in the state but does solicit sales through online links or pays commissions to an in-state business (known as click-through nexus); or if the retailer has an affiliation with a company doing business in the state (known as affiliate-nexus laws). These states include: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas and Vermont. The California, Texas and Vermont provisions are not yet in force, however. Four other states have legislation for these rules pending: Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

“Each of these laws increase the likelihood that if you live in these states, some online retailers will be charging you sales taxes when you make online purchases,” said Schibley.

Additionally, Colorado law requires retailers selling into the state but not collecting sales tax to send the state an annual reporting notification statement of everyone in the state it shipped to and the value of those purchases so that it can pursue collection of use taxes. However, a federal court in Denver has put enforcement of this law on hold for now.

Several states also require online retailers to provide explicit notifications on their websites letting consumers know about their obligation to pay their state sales tax. States with these website notification rules include Colorado, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Vermont.

States collecting sales tax also have information on their websites about how to pay uncollected use tax. Many states provide a line item on their income tax return where consumers can report the amount of use tax they owe.

Full version at at AccountingWeb.com – Sales Tax on Online Purchases Is On the Rise

Congress Salutes Veterans with New Hiring Tax Credits

By Ken Berry

Just a week after this year’s Veterans Day, President Obama signed new legislation providing a tax credit to employers who hire military veterans. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act is a small piece of a much larger jobs bill that has stalled in Congress.

According to White House data, approximately 240,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain unemployed, while a total of 850,000 veterans overall are out of work. To compound the problem, the Obama administration reports that 1 million other service members are expected to return to civilian life by 2016. “No veteran who fought for our nation should have to fight for a job when they come home,” said the president.

The new law allows a company to claim a tax credit of up to $2,400 if it hires veterans who have been looking for work for at least one month. The maximum credit is increased to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been searching for work at least six months. And employers may be granted a $9,600 tax credit for hiring out-of-work veterans with service-related disabilities. The new legislation also provides job training to help returning vets return to work.

Under prior law, qualified veterans are included as one of the target groups eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). The WOTC is currently scheduled to expire after December 31, 2011.

A Department of Defense official said that the agency will expand its programs to help returning veterans.”Combat is incredibly tough business, and we are finding that the human toll on a 10-year veteran, the physical and mental toll, it is incredible,” said Philip Burdette, principal director of the Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy. “As we end the war in Iraq and wind down in Afghanistan, we are absolutely planning for returning service members.”

Finally, in a separate provision, the new legislation repeals the three percent withholding requirement for payments made by federal, state, and local governments to contractors for goods and services. The withholding requirement, which was established by a 2006 law, was scheduled to take effect in 2013.

Full Version at AccountingWeb.com – Congress Salutes Veterans with New Hiring Tax Credits