Archive for Individual Taxes

Don’t forget income taxes when planning your estate

As a result of the current estate tax exemption amount ($12.06 million in 2022), many estates no longer need to be concerned with federal estate tax. Before 2011, a much smaller amount resulted in estate plans attempting to avoid it. But now, because many estates won’t be subject to estate tax, more planning can be devoted to saving income taxes for your heirs.

While saving both income and transfer taxes has always been a goal of estate planning, it was more difficult to succeed at both when the estate and gift tax exemption level was much lower. Here are three considerations.

Plan gifts that use the annual gift tax exclusion. One of the benefits of using the gift tax annual exclusion to make transfers during life is to save estate tax. This is because both the transferred assets and any post-transfer appreciation generated by those assets are removed from the donor’s estate.

As mentioned, estate tax savings may not be an issue because of the large estate exemption amount. Further, making an annual exclusion transfer of appreciated property carries a potential income tax cost because the recipient receives the donor’s basis upon transfer. Thus, the recipient could face income tax, in the form of capital gains tax, on the sale of the gifted property in the future. If there’s no concern that an estate will be subject to estate tax, even if the gifted property grows in value, then the decision to make a gift should be based on other factors.

For example, gifts may be made to help a relative buy a home or start a business. But a donor shouldn’t gift appreciated property because of the capital gain that could be realized on a future sale by the recipient. If the appreciated property is held until the donor’s death, under current law, the heir will get a step-up in basis that will wipe out the capital gain tax on any pre-death appreciation in the property’s value.

Take spouses’ estates into account. In the past, spouses often undertook complicated strategies to equalize their estates so that each could take advantage of the estate tax exemption amount. Generally, a two-trust plan was established to minimize estate tax. “Portability,” or the ability to apply the decedent’s unused exclusion amount to the surviving spouse’s transfers during life and at death, became effective for estates of decedents dying after 2010. As long as the election is made, portability allows the surviving spouse to apply the unused portion of a decedent’s applicable exclusion amount (the deceased spousal unused exclusion amount) as calculated in the year of the decedent’s death. The portability election gives married couples more flexibility in deciding how to use their exclusion amounts.

Be aware that some estate exclusion or valuation discount strategies to avoid inclusion of property in an estate may no longer be worth pursuing. It may be better to have the property included in the estate or not qualify for valuation discounts so that the property receives a step-up in basis. For example, the special use valuation — the valuation of qualified real property used for farming or in a business on the basis of the property’s actual use, rather than on its highest and best use — may not save enough, or any, estate tax to justify giving up the step-up in basis that would otherwise occur for the property.

If you’d like to discuss these strategies and how they relate to your estate plan, contact us.

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Seller-paid points: Can homeowners deduct them?

In its latest report, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) announced that July 2022 existing home sales were down but prices were up nationwide, compared with last year. “The ongoing sales decline reflects the impact of the mortgage rate peak of 6% in early June,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. However, he added that “home sales may soon stabilize since mortgage rates have fallen to near 5%, thereby giving an additional boost of purchasing power to home buyers.”

If you’re buying a home, or you just bought one, you may wonder if you can deduct mortgage points paid on your behalf by the seller. The answer is “yes,” subject to some important limitations described below.

Basics of points

Points are upfront fees charged by a mortgage lender, expressed as a percentage of the loan principal. Points, which may be deductible if you itemize deductions, are normally the buyer’s obligation. But a seller will sometimes sweeten a deal by agreeing to pay the points on the buyer’s mortgage loan.

In most cases, points that a buyer pays are a deductible interest expense. And seller-paid points may also be deductible.

Suppose, for example, that you bought a home for $600,000. In connection with a $500,000 mortgage loan, your bank charged two points, or $10,000. The seller agreed to pay the points in order to close the sale.

You can deduct the $10,000 in the year of sale. The only disadvantage is that your tax basis is reduced to $590,000, which will mean more gain if — and when — you sell the home for more than that amount. But that may not happen until many years later, and the gain may not be taxable anyway. You may qualify for an exclusion for up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a married couple filing jointly) of gain on the sale of a principal residence.

Important limits

There are some important limitations on the rule allowing a deduction for seller-paid points. The rule doesn’t apply:

  • To points that are allocated to the part of a mortgage above $750,000 ($375,000 for married filing separately) for tax years 2018 through 2025 (above $1 million for tax years before 2018 and after 2025);
  • To points on a loan used to improve (rather than buy) a home;
  • To points on a loan used to buy a vacation or second home, investment property or business property; and
  • To points paid on a refinancing, home equity loan or line of credit.

Tax aspects of the transaction

We can review with you in more detail whether the points in your home purchase are deductible, as well as discuss other tax aspects of your transaction.

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Is your income high enough to owe two extra taxes?

High-income taxpayers face two special taxes — a 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and a 0.9% additional Medicare tax on wage and self-employment income. Here’s an overview of the taxes and what they may mean for you.

3.8% NIIT

This tax applies, in addition to income tax, on your net investment income. The NIIT only affects taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeding $250,000 for joint filers, $200,000 for single taxpayers and heads of household, and $125,000 for married individuals filing separately.

If your AGI is above the threshold that applies ($250,000, $200,000 or $125,000), the NIIT applies to the lesser of 1) your net investment income for the tax year or 2) the excess of your AGI for the tax year over your threshold amount.

The “net investment income” that’s subject to the NIIT consists of interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, rents and net gains from property sales. Wage income and income from an active trade or business isn’t included. However, passive business income is subject to the NIIT.

Income that’s exempt from income tax, such as tax-exempt bond interest, is likewise exempt from the NIIT. Thus, switching some taxable investments to tax-exempt bonds can reduce your exposure. Of course, this should be done after taking your income needs and investment considerations into account.

How does the NIIT apply to home sales? If you sell your principal residence, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of gain ($500,000 for joint filers) when figuring your income tax. This excluded gain isn’t subject to the NIIT.

However, gain that exceeds the exclusion limit is subject to the tax. Gain from the sale of a vacation home or other second residence, which doesn’t qualify for the exclusion, is also subject to the NIIT.

Distributions from qualified retirement plans, such as pension plans and IRAs, aren’t subject to the NIIT. However, those distributions may push your AGI over the threshold that would cause other types of income to be subject to the tax.

Additional 0.9% Medicare tax

Some high-wage earners pay an extra 0.9% Medicare tax on part of their wage income, in addition to the 1.45% Medicare tax that all wage earners pay. The 0.9% tax applies to wages in excess of $250,000 for joint filers, $125,000 for a married individuals filing separately and $200,000 for all others. It applies only to employees, not to employers.

Once an employee’s wages reach $200,000 for the year, the employer must begin withholding the additional 0.9% tax. However, this withholding may prove insufficient if the employee has additional wage income from another job or if the employee’s spouse also has wage income. To avoid that result, an employee may request extra income tax withholding by filing a new Form W-4 with the employer.

An extra 0.9% Medicare tax also applies to self-employment income for the tax year in excess of the same amounts for wage earners. This is in addition to the regular 2.9% Medicare tax on all self-employment income. The $250,000, $125,000, and $200,000 thresholds are reduced by the taxpayer’s wage income.

Reduce the impact

As you can see, these two taxes may have a significant effect on your tax bill. Contact us to discuss these taxes and how their impact could be reduced.

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The Inflation Reduction Act: what’s in it for you?

You may have heard that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law recently. While experts have varying opinions about whether it will reduce inflation in the near future, it contains, extends and modifies many climate and energy-related tax credits that may be of interest to individuals.

Nonbusiness energy property

Before the IRA was enacted, you were allowed a personal tax credit for certain nonbusiness energy property expenses. The credit applied only to property placed in service before January 1, 2022. The credit is now extended for energy-efficient property placed in service before January 1, 2033.

The new law also increases the credit for a tax year to an amount equal to 30% of:

  • The amount paid or incurred by you for qualified energy efficiency improvements installed during the year, and
  • The amount of the residential energy property expenditures paid or incurred during that year.

The credit is further increased for amounts spent for a home energy audit (up to $150).

In addition, the IRA repeals the lifetime credit limitation, and instead limits the credit to $1,200 per taxpayer, per year. There are also annual limits of $600 for credits with respect to residential energy property expenditures, windows, and skylights, and $250 for any exterior door ($500 total for all exterior doors). A $2,000 annual limit applies with respect to amounts paid or incurred for specified heat pumps, heat pump water heaters and biomass stoves/boilers.

The residential clean-energy credit

Prior to the IRA being enacted, you were allowed a personal tax credit, known as the Residential Energy Efficient Property (REEP) Credit, for solar electric, solar hot water, fuel cell, small wind energy, geothermal heat pump and biomass fuel property installed in homes before 2024.

The new law makes the credit available for property installed before 2035. It also makes the credit available for qualified battery storage technology expenses.

New Clean Vehicle Credity

Before the enactment of the law, you could claim a credit for each new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle placed in service during the tax year.

The law renames the credit the Clean Vehicle Credit and eliminates the limitation on the number of vehicles eligible for the credit. Also, final assembly of the vehicle must now take place in North America.

Beginning in 2023, there will be income limitations. No Clean Vehicle Credit is allowed if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for the year of purchase or the preceding year exceeds $300,000 for a married couple filing jointly, $225,000 for a head of household, or $150,000 for others. In addition, no credit is allowed if the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the vehicle is more than $55,000 ($80,000 for pickups, vans, or SUVs).

Finally, the way the credit is calculated is changing. The rules are complicated, but they place more emphasis on where the battery components (and critical minerals used in the battery) are sourced.

The IRS provides more information about the Clean Vehicle Credit here: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/plug-in-electric-vehicle-credit-irc-30-and-irc-30d

Credit for used clean vehicles

A qualified buyer who acquires and places in service a previously owned clean vehicle after 2022 is allowed a tax credit equal to the lesser of $4,000 or 30% of the vehicle’s sale price. No credit is allowed if your MAGI for the year of purchase or the preceding year exceeds $150,000 for married couples filing jointly, $112,500 for a head of household, or $75,000 for others. In addition, the maximum price per vehicle is $25,000.

We can answer your questions

Contact us if you have questions about taking advantage of these new and revised tax credits.

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Home sweet home: Do you qualify for office deductions?

If you’re a business owner working from home or an entrepreneur with a home-based side gig, you may qualify for valuable home office deductions.

But not everyone who works from home gets the tax break. Employees who work remotely can’t deduct home office expenses under current federal tax law.

To qualify for a deduction, you must use at least part of your home regularly and exclusively as either:

  • Your principal place of business, or
  • A place to meet with customers, clients or patients in the normal course of business.

In addition, you may be able to claim deductions for maintaining a separate structure — such as a garage — where you store products or tools used solely for business purposes.

Notably, “regular and exclusive” use means you must consistently use a specific identifiable area in your home for business. However, incidental or occasional personal use won’t necessarily disqualify you.

Rules for employees

What if you work remotely from home as an employee for an organization? Previously, people who itemized deductions could claim home office deductions as a miscellaneous expense, if the arrangement was for their employer’s convenience.

But the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended miscellaneous expense deductions for 2018 through 2025. So, employees currently get no tax benefit if they work from home. On the other hand, self-employed individuals still may qualify if they meet the tax law requirements.

Direct and indirect expenses

If you qualify, you can write off the full amount of your direct expenses and a proportionate amount of your indirect expenses based on the percentage of business use of your home.

Indirect expenses include:

  • Mortgage interest,
  • Property taxes,
  • Utilities (electric, gas and water),
  • Insurance,
  • Exterior repairs, maintenance, and
  • Depreciation or rent under IRS tables.

Important: If you itemize deductions, mortgage interest and property taxes may already be deductible. If you claim a portion of these expenses as home office expenses, the remainder is deductible on your personal return. But you can’t deduct the same amount twice as a personal deduction and again as a home office expense.

Calculating your deduction 

Typically, the percentage of business use is determined by the square footage of your home office. For instance, if you have a 3,000 square-foot home and use a room with 300 square feet as your office, the applicable percentage is 10%. Alternatively, you may use any other reasonable method for determining this percentage, such as a percentage based on the number of comparably sized rooms in the home.

The simplified method 

Keeping track of indirect expenses is time-consuming. Some taxpayers prefer to take advantage of a simplified method of deducting home office expenses. Instead of deducting actual expenses, you can claim a deduction equal to $5 per square foot for the area used as an office, up to a maximum of $1,500 for the year. Although this method takes less time than tracking actual expenses, it generally results in a significantly lower deduction.

When you sell

Keep in mind that if you claim home office deductions, you may be in for a tax surprise when you sell your home.

If you eventually sell your principal residence, you may qualify for a tax exclusion of up to $250,000 of gain for single filers ($500,000 for married couples who file jointly). But you must recapture the depreciation attributable to a home office for the period after May 6, 1997.

Contact us. We can address questions related to writing off home office expenses, the best way to compute deductions and the tax implications when you sell your home.

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When a married couple files a joint tax return, each spouse is “jointly and severally” liable for the full amount of tax on the couple’s combined income. Therefore, the IRS can come after either spouse to collect the entire tax — not just the part that’s attributed to one spouse or the other. This includes any tax deficiency that the IRS assesses after an audit, as well as any penalties and interest. (However, the civil fraud penalty can be imposed only on spouses who’ve actually committed fraud.)

Innocent spouse relief

In some cases, spouses are eligible for “innocent spouse relief.” This generally involves individuals who were unaware of a tax understatement that was attributable to the other spouse.

To qualify, you must show not only that you didn’t know about the understatement, but that there was nothing that should have made you suspicious. In addition, the circumstances must make it inequitable to hold you liable for the tax. This relief is available even if you’re still married and living with your spouse.

In addition, spouses may be able to limit liability for any tax deficiency on a joint return if they’re widowed, divorced, legally separated or have lived apart for at least one year.

Election to limit liability

If you make this election, the tax items that gave rise to the deficiency will be allocated between you and your spouse as if you’d filed separate returns. For example, you’d generally be liable for the tax on any unreported wage income only to the extent that you earned the wages.

The election won’t provide relief from your spouse’s tax items if the IRS proves that you knew about the items when you signed the return — unless you can show that you signed the return under duress. Also, the limitation on your liability is increased by the value of any assets that your spouse transferred to you in order to avoid the tax.

An “injured” spouse

In addition to innocent spouse relief, there’s also relief for “injured” spouses. What’s the difference? An injured spouse claim asks the IRS to allocate part of a joint refund to one spouse. In these cases, an injured spouse has all or part of a refund from a joint return applied against past-due federal tax, state tax, child or spousal support, or a federal nontax debt (such as a student loan) owed by the other spouse. If you’re an injured spouse, you may be entitled to recoup your share of the refund.

Whether, and to what extent, you can take advantage of the above relief depends on the facts of your situation. If you’re interested in trying to obtain relief, there’s paperwork that must be filed and deadlines that must be met. We can assist you with the details.

Also, keep “joint and several liability” in mind when filing future tax returns. Even if a joint return results in less tax, you may choose to file a separate return if you want to be certain of being responsible only for your own tax. Contact us with any questions or concerns.

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