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Tax-Saving Ways to Help Pay for College – Once Your Child Starts Attending

If you have a child or grandchild in college — congratulations! To help pay for the expenses, many parents and grandparents saved for years in tax-favored accounts, such as 529 plans. But there are also a number of tax breaks that you may be able to claim once your child begins attending college or post-secondary school.

Tuition tax credits 

You can take the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) of up to $2,500 per student for the first four years of college — a 100% credit for the first $2,000 in tuition, fees, and books, and a 25% credit for the second $2,000. You can take a Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) of up to $2,000 per family for every additional year of college or graduate school — a 20% credit for up to $10,000 in tuition and fees.

The AOTC is 40% refundable up to $1,000 (meaning you can get a refund if the credit amount is greater than your tax liability). Both credits are phased out for married couples filing jointly with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) between $160,000 and $180,000, and for singles with MAGI between $80,000 and $90,000.

Only one credit can be claimed per eligible student in any given year. To claim the education tax credits, a taxpayer must receive a Form 1098-T statement from the school. Other rules may apply.

Scholarships 

Scholarships are exempt from income tax if certain conditions are satisfied. The most important is that the scholarship generally can’t be compensation for services, and it must be used for tuition, fees, books and supplies (not for room and board).

However, a tax-free scholarship reduces the amount of expenses that may be taken into account in computing the AOTC and LLC and may reduce or eliminate those credits.

Employer educational assistance

If your employer pays your child’s college expenses, the payment is a fringe benefit, and is taxable to you as compensation, unless it’s part of a scholarship program that’s “outside of the pattern of employment.” Then, the payment will be treated as a scholarship (if the requirements for scholarships are satisfied).

Tuition payments by grandparents and others 

If someone gives you money to pay your child’s college expenses, the person is generally subject to gift tax, to the extent the payments exceed the annual exclusion of $17,000 per recipient for 2023. Married donors who split gifts may exclude gifts of up to $34,000 for 2023.

However, if the person (say, a grandparent) pays your child’s tuition directly to an educational institution, there’s an unlimited exclusion from gift tax for the payment. This unlimited gift tax exclusion applies only to direct tuition costs (not room and board, books, supplies, etc.).

Retirement account withdrawals 

You can take money out of your IRA or Roth IRA any time to pay college costs without incurring the 10% early withdrawal penalty that usually applies to distributions before age 59½. However, the distributions are subject to tax under the usual IRA rules.

You also may be able to borrow against your employer retirement plan or take withdrawals from it to pay for college. But before you do so, make sure you understand the tax implications, including any penalties that you may incur.

Plan ahead

Not all of the above breaks may be used in the same year, and some of them reduce the amounts that qualify for other breaks. So it takes planning to determine which should be used in any given situation. Contact us if you’d like to discuss any of the above options, or other alternatives.

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Employers Should Be Wary of ERC Claims That Are Too Good To Be True

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) was a valuable tax credit that helped employers that kept workers on staff during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the credit is no longer available, eligible employers that haven’t yet claimed it might still be able to do so by filing amended payroll returns for tax years 2020 and 2021.

However, the IRS is warning employers to beware of third parties that may be advising them to claim the ERC when they don’t qualify. Some third-party “ERC mills” are promising that they can get businesses a refund without knowing anything about the employers’ situations. They’re sending emails, letters and voice mails as well as advertising on television. When businesses respond, these ERC mills are claiming many improper write-offs related to taxpayer eligibility for — and computation of — the credit.

These third parties often charge large upfront fees or a fee that’s contingent on the amount of the refund. They may not inform taxpayers that wage deductions claimed on the companies’ federal income tax returns must be reduced by the amount of the credit.

According to the IRS, if a business filed an income tax return deducting qualified wages before it filed an employment tax return claiming the credit, the business should file an amended income tax return to correct any overstated wage deduction. Your tax advisor can assist with this.

Businesses are encouraged to be cautious of advertised schemes and direct solicitations promising tax savings that are too good to be true. Taxpayers are always responsible for the information reported on their tax returns. Improperly claiming the ERC could result in taxpayers being required to repay the credit along with penalties and interest.

ERC Basics

The ERC is a refundable tax credit designed for businesses that:

  • Continued paying employees while they were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or
  • Had significant declines in gross receipts from March 13, 2020, to September 30, 2021 (or December 31, 2021 for certain startup businesses).

Eligible taxpayers could have claimed the ERC on an original employment tax return or they can claim it on an amended return.

To be eligible for the ERC, employers must have:

  • Sustained a full or partial suspension of operations due to orders from an appropriate governmental authority limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19 during 2020 or the first three quarters of 2021,
  • Experienced a significant decline in gross receipts during 2020 or a decline in gross receipts during the first three quarters of 2021, or
  • Qualified as a recovery startup business for the third or fourth quarters of 2021.

As a reminder, only recovery startup businesses are eligible for the ERC in the fourth quarter of 2021. Additionally, for any quarter, eligible employers cannot claim the ERC on wages that were reported as payroll costs in obtaining Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness or that were used to claim certain other tax credits.

How to Proceed

If you didn’t claim the ERC, and believe you’re eligible, contact us. We can advise you on how to proceed.

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Renting to a Relative? Watch Out for Tax Traps

If you own a home and rent it to a relative, you may be surprised to find out there could be tax consequences.

Quick rundown of the rules

Renting out a home or apartment that you own may result in a tax loss for you, even if the rental income is more than your operating costs. You’ll be entitled to a depreciation deduction for your cost of the house or apartment (except for the portion allocated to the land). However, if your tenant is related to you, special rules and limitations may apply. For this purpose, “related” means a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent or sibling.

No limitations apply if:

  • You rent a home to a relative who uses it as his or her principal residence (that is, not just as a second or vacation home) for the year, and
  • The home is rented at a fair market rent amount (not at a discount).

In these cases, you can deduct all the normal rental expenses, even if they result in a rental loss for the year. (If you have a loss, however, it’s a “passive” loss, which may be subject to a different set of limitations.)

Below fair market rent

Problems arise if you set the rent below the fair market rental value. The reason is this then becomes a rental property that you’re treated as using personally. So you’d have to allocate the expenses between the personal and rental portions of the year. Even more seriously, however, since all of the rental days (at a bargain rate to a relative) are treated as personal days, the rental portion would be zero. Thus, you’d have to report all of the rent you receive in income, but none of your expenses for the home would be deductible. (You’d still be able to deduct the mortgage interest, assuming it otherwise qualifies as deductible, and property taxes. These items are deductible even for nonrental homes.)

Given the above problems, it’s important to set the rent at a fair rate. Factors to look at include comparable rentals in the area and whether you made any “side” gifts to your relative (to help pay the rent) that could reasonably be interpreted to be a bargain element.

Contact us if you have any questions or would like to discuss any of these matters in more detail.

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Do You Qualify for the QBI Deduction? And Can You Do Anything by Year-End to Help Qualify?

If you own a business, you may wonder if you’re eligible to take the qualified business income (QBI) deduction. Sometimes this is referred to as the pass-through deduction or the Section 199A deduction.

The QBI deduction is:

  • Available to owners of sole proprietorships, single member limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships, and S corporations, as well as trusts and estates.
  • Intended to reduce the tax rate on QBI to a rate that’s closer to the corporate tax rate.
  • Taken “below the line.” In other words, it reduces your taxable income but not your adjusted gross income.
  • Available regardless of whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction.

Taxpayers other than corporations may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20% of their QBI. For 2022, if taxable income exceeds $170,050 for single taxpayers, or $340,100 for a married couple filing jointly, the QBI deduction may be limited based on different scenarios. For 2023, these amounts are $182,100 and $364,200, respectively.

The situations in which the QBI deduction may be limited include whether the taxpayer is engaged in a service-type of trade or business (such as law, accounting, health or consulting), the amount of W-2 wages paid by the trade or business, and/or the unadjusted basis of qualified property (such as machinery and equipment) held by the trade or business. The limitations are phased in.

Year-end planning tip

Some taxpayers may be able to achieve significant savings with respect to this deduction (or be subject to a smaller phaseout of the deduction), by deferring income or accelerating deductions at year-end so that they come under the dollar thresholds for 2022. Depending on your business model, you also may be able to increase the deduction by increasing W-2 wages before year-end. The rules are quite complex, so contact us with questions and consult with us before taking the next steps.

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Strategies for Investors to Cut Taxes as Year-End Approaches

The overall stock market has been down during 2022 but there have been some bright spots. As year-end approaches, consider making some moves to make the best tax use of paper losses and actual losses from your stock market investments.

Tax rates on sales

Individuals are subject to tax at a rate as high as 37% on short-term capital gains and ordinary income. But long-term capital gains on most investment assets receive favorable treatment. They’re taxed at rates ranging from 0% to 20% depending on your taxable income (inclusive of the gains). High-income taxpayers may pay an additional 3.8% net investment income tax.

Sell at a loss to offset earlier gains 

Have you realized gains earlier in the year from sales of stock held for more than one year (long-term capital gains) or from sales of stock held for one year or less (short-term capital gains)? Take a close look at your portfolio and consider selling some of the losers — those shares that now show a paper loss. The best tax strategy is to sell enough losers to generate losses to offset your earlier gains plus an additional $3,000 loss. Selling to produce this loss amount is a tax-smart idea because a $3,000 capital loss (but no more) can offset the same amount of ordinary income each year.

For example, let’s say you have $10,000 of capital gain from the sale of stocks earlier in 2022. You also have several losing positions, including shares in a tech stock. The tech shares currently show a loss of $15,000. From a tax standpoint, you should consider selling enough of your tech stock shares to recognize a $13,000 loss. Your capital gains will be offset entirely, and you’ll have a $3,000 loss to offset against the same amount of ordinary income.

What if you believe that the shares showing a paper loss may turn around and eventually generate a profit? In order to sell and then repurchase the shares without forfeiting the loss deduction, you must avoid the wash-sale rules. This means that you must buy the new shares outside of the period that begins 30 days before and ends 30 days after the sale of the loss stock. However, if you expect the price of the shares showing a loss to rise quickly, your tax savings from taking the loss may not be worth the potential investment gain you may lose by waiting more than 30 days to repurchase the shares.

Use losses earlier in the year to offset gains 

If you have capital losses on sales earlier in 2022, consider whether you should take capital gains on some stocks that you still hold. For example, if you have appreciated stocks that you’d like to sell, but don’t want to sell if it causes you to have taxable gain this year, consider selling just enough shares to offset your earlier-in-the-year capital losses (except for $3,000 that can be used to offset ordinary income). Consider selling appreciated stocks now if you believe they’ve reached (or are close to) the peak price and you also feel you can invest the proceeds from the sale in other property that’ll give you a better return in the future.

These are just some of the year-end strategies that may save you taxes. Contact us to discuss these and other strategies that should be put in place before the end of December.

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Year-End Giving to Charity or Loved Ones

The holiday season is here and many people plan to donate to their favorite charities or give money or assets to their loved ones before the end of the year. Here are the basic tax rules involved in these transactions.

Donating to charity 

In 2022, in order to receive a charitable donation write-off, you must itemize deductions on your tax return. What if you want to give gifts of investments to your favorite charities? There are a couple of points to keep in mind.

First, don’t give away investments in taxable brokerage accounts that are currently worth less than what you paid for them. Instead, sell the shares and claim the resulting capital loss on your tax return. Then, give the cash proceeds from the sale to charity. In addition, if you itemize, you can claim a full tax-saving charitable deduction.

The second point applies to securities that have appreciated in value. These should be donated directly to charity. The reason: If you itemize, donations of publicly traded shares that you’ve owned for over a year result in charitable deductions equal to the full current market value of the shares at the time the gift is made. In addition, if you donate appreciated stock, you escape any capital gains tax on those shares. Meanwhile, the tax-exempt charity can sell the donated shares without owing any federal income tax.

Charitable donations from your IRA 

IRA owners and beneficiaries who’ve reached age 70½ are permitted to make cash donations totaling up to $100,000 annually to IRS-approved public charities directly out of their IRAs. You don’t owe income tax on these qualified charitable distributions (QCDs), but you also don’t receive an itemized charitable contribution deduction.

The upside is that the tax-free treatment of QCDs equates to an immediate 100% federal income tax deduction without having to worry about restrictions that can potentially delay itemized charitable write-offs. Contact your tax advisor if you want to hear about the full benefits of QCDs. If you’re interested in taking advantage of this strategy for 2022, you’ll need to arrange with your IRA trustee or custodian for money to be paid out to one or more qualifying charities before year end.

Giving to loved ones

The principles for tax-smart gifts to charities also apply to gifts to family members and loved ones. That is, you should sell investments that are currently worth less than what you paid for them and claim the resulting tax-saving capital losses. Then, give the cash proceeds from the sale to your children, grandchildren or other loved ones.

Likewise, you should give appreciated stock directly to those to whom you want to give gifts. When they sell the shares, they’ll pay a lower tax rate than you would if they’re in a lower tax bracket.

In 2022, the amount you can give to one person without gift tax implications is $16,000 per recipient (increasing to $17,000 in 2023). The annual gift exclusion is available to each taxpayer. So if you’re married and make a joint gift with your spouse, the exclusion amount is doubled to $32,000 per recipient for 2022.

Tax-smart gifts

Whether you’re giving to charity or loved ones (or both) this holiday season, it’s important to understand the tax consequences of gifts. Contact us if you have questions about taxes and any gifts you want to make.

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Computer Software Costs: How Does Your Business Deduct Them?

These days, most businesses buy or lease computer software to use in their operations. Or perhaps your business develops computer software to use in your products or services or sells or leases software to others. In any of these situations, you should be aware of the complex rules that determine the tax treatment of the expenses of buying, leasing or developing computer software.

Software you buy

Some software costs are deemed to be costs of “purchased” software, meaning it’s either:

  • Non-customized software available to the general public under a nonexclusive license, or
  • Acquired from a contractor who is at economic risk should the software not perform.

The entire cost of purchased software can be deducted in the year that it’s placed into service. The cases in which the costs are ineligible for this immediate write-off are the few instances in which 100% bonus depreciation or Section 179 small business expensing isn’t allowed, or when a taxpayer has elected out of 100% bonus depreciation and hasn’t made the election to apply Sec. 179 expensing. In those cases, the costs are amortized over the three-year period beginning with the month in which the software is placed in service. Note that the bonus depreciation rate will begin to be phased down for property placed in service after calendar year 2022.

If you buy the software as part of a hardware purchase in which the price of the software isn’t separately stated, you must treat the software cost as part of the hardware cost. Therefore, you must depreciate the software under the same method and over the same period of years that you depreciate the hardware. Additionally, if you buy the software as part of your purchase of all or a substantial part of a business, the software must generally be amortized over 15 years.

Software that’s leased

You must deduct amounts you pay to rent leased software in the tax year they’re paid, if you’re a cash-method taxpayer, or the tax year for which the rentals are accrued, if you’re an accrual-method taxpayer. However, deductions aren’t generally permitted before the years to which the rentals are allocable. Also, if a lease involves total rentals of more than $250,000, special rules may apply.

Software that’s developed

Some software is deemed to be “developed” (designed in-house or by a contractor who isn’t at risk if the software doesn’t perform). For tax years beginning before calendar year 2022, bonus depreciation applies to developed software to the extent described above. If bonus depreciation doesn’t apply, the taxpayer can either deduct the development costs in the year paid or incurred, or choose one of several alternative amortization periods over which to deduct the costs. For tax years beginning after calendar year 2021, generally the only allowable treatment is to amortize the costs over the five-year period beginning with the midpoint of the tax year in which the expenditures are paid or incurred.

If following any of the above rules requires you to change your treatment of software costs, it will usually be necessary for you to obtain IRS consent to the change.

We can help

Contact us with questions or for assistance in applying the tax rules for treating computer software costs in the way that is most advantageous for you.

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Adopting a Child? Bring Home a Tax Break Too

Two tax benefits are available to offset the expenses of adopting a child. In 2022, adoptive parents may be able to claim a credit against their federal tax for up to $14,890 of “qualified adoption expenses” for each child. This will increase to $15,950 in 2023. That’s a dollar-for-dollar reduction of tax.

Also, adoptive parents may be able to exclude from gross income up to $14,890 in 2022 ($15,950 in 2023) of qualified expenses paid by an employer under an adoption assistance program. Both the credit and the exclusion are phased out if the parents’ income exceeds certain limits.

Parents can claim both a credit and an exclusion for expenses of adopting a child. But they can’t claim both a credit and an exclusion for the same expenses.

Qualified expenses 

To qualify for the credit or the exclusion, the expenses must be “qualified adoption expenses.” These are the reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, travel expenses (including meals and lodging), and other expenses directly related to the legal adoption of an “eligible child.”

Qualified expenses don’t include those connected with the adoption of a child of a spouse, a surrogate parenting arrangement, expenses that violate state or federal law or expenses paid using funds received from a government program. Expenses reimbursed by an employer don’t qualify for the credit, but benefits provided by an employer under an adoption assistance program may qualify for the exclusion.

Expenses related to an unsuccessful attempt to adopt a child may qualify. Expenses connected with a foreign adoption (the child isn’t a U.S. citizen or resident) qualify only if the child is actually adopted.

Taxpayers who adopt a child with special needs are deemed to have qualified adoption expenses in the tax year in which the adoption becomes final, in an amount sufficient to bring their total aggregate expenses for the adoption up to $14,890 for 2022 ($15,950 for 2023). They can take the adoption credit or exclude employer adoption assistance up to that amount, whether or not they had those amounts of actual expenses.

Eligible child 

An eligible child is under age 18 at the time a qualified expense is paid. A child who turns 18 during the year is eligible for the part of the year he or she is under age 18. A person who is physically or mentally incapable of caring for him- or herself is eligible, regardless of age.

A special needs child refers to one who the state has determined can’t or shouldn’t be returned to his or her parents and who can’t be reasonably placed with adoptive parents without assistance because of a specific factor or condition. Only a child who is a citizen or resident of the U.S. is included in this category.

Phase-out amounts 

The credit allowed for 2022 is phased out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) over $223,410 ($239,230 for 2023) and is eliminated when AGI reaches $263,410 ($279,230 for 2023).

Note: The adoption credit isn’t “refundable.” So, if the sum of your refundable credits (including any adoption credit) for the year exceeds your tax liability, the excess amount isn’t refunded to you. In other words, the credit can be claimed only up to your tax liability.

Get the full benefit

Contact us with any questions. We can help ensure you get the full benefit of the tax savings available to adoptive parents.

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How Inflation Will Affect Your 2022 and 2023 Tax Bills

The effects of inflation are all around. You’re probably paying more for gas, food, health care and other expenses than you were last year. Are you wondering how high inflation will affect your federal income tax bill for 2023? The IRS recently announced next year’s inflation-adjusted tax amounts for several provisions.

Some highlights

Standard deduction. What does an increased standard deduction mean for you? A larger standard deduction will shelter more income from federal income tax next year. For 2023, the standard deduction will increase to $13,850 for single taxpayers, $27,700 for married couples filing jointly and $20,800 for heads of household. This is up from the 2022 amounts of $12,950 for single taxpayers, $25,900 for married couples filing jointly and $19,400 for heads of household.

The highest tax rate. For 2023, the highest tax rate of 37% will affect single taxpayers and heads of households with income exceeding $578,125 ($693,750 for married taxpayers filing jointly). This is up from 2022 when the 37% rate affects single taxpayers and heads of households with income exceeding $539,900 ($647,850 for married couples filing jointly).

Retirement plans. Many retirement plan limits will increase for 2023. That means you’ll have an opportunity to save more for retirement if you have one of these plans and you contribute the maximum amount allowed. For example, in 2023, individuals will be able to contribute up to $22,500 to their 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans and most 457 plans. This is up from $20,500 in 2022. The catch-up contribution limit for employees age 50 and over who participate in these plans will also rise in 2023 to $7,500. This is up from $6,500 in 2022.

For those with IRA accounts, the limit on annual contributions will rise for 2023 to $6,500 (from $6,000). The IRA catch-up contribution for those age 50 and up remains at $1,000 because it isn’t adjusted for inflation.

Flexible spending accounts (FSAs). These accounts allow owners to pay for qualified medical costs with pre-tax dollars. If you participate in an employer-sponsored health Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you can contribute more in 2023. The annual contribution amount will rise to $3,050 (up from $2,850 in 2022). FSA funds must be used by year end unless an employer elects to allow a two-and-one-half-month carryover grace period. For 2023, the amount that can be carried over to the following year will rise to $610 (up from $570 for 2022).

Taxable gifts. Each year, you can make annual gifts up to the federal gift tax exclusion amount. Annual gifts help reduce the taxable value of your estate without reducing your unified federal estate and gift tax exemption. For 2023, the first $17,000 of gifts to as many recipients as you would like (other than gifts of future interests) aren’t included in the total amount of taxable gifts. (This is up from $16,000 in 2022.)

Thinking ahead

While it will be quite a while before you have to file your 2023 tax return, it won’t be long until the IRS begins accepting tax returns for 2022. When it comes to taxes, it’s nice to know what’s ahead so you can take advantage of all the tax breaks to which you are entitled.

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You May Be Liable For “Nanny Tax” For All Types of Domestic Workers

You’ve probably heard of the “nanny tax.” But even if you don’t employ a nanny, it may apply to you. Hiring a house cleaner, gardener or other household employee (who isn’t an independent contractor) may make you liable for federal income and other taxes. You may also have state tax obligations.

If you employ a household worker, you aren’t required to withhold federal income taxes from pay. But you can choose to withhold if the worker requests it. In that case, ask the worker to fill out a Form W-4. However, you may be required to withhold Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes and to pay federal unemployment (FUTA) tax.

2022 and 2023 thresholds

In 2022, you must withhold and pay FICA taxes if your household worker earns cash wages of $2,400 or more (excluding the value of food and lodging). The Social Security Administration recently announced that this amount will increase to $2,600 in 2023. If you reach the threshold, all the wages (not just the excess) are subject to FICA.

However, if a nanny is under age 18 and childcare isn’t his or her principal occupation, you don’t have to withhold FICA taxes. So, if you have a part-time student babysitter, there’s no FICA tax liability.

Both an employer and a household worker may have FICA tax obligations. As an employer, you’re responsible for withholding your worker’s FICA share. In addition, you must pay a matching amount. FICA tax is divided between Social Security and Medicare. The Social Security tax rate is 6.2% for the employer and 6.2% for the worker (12.4% total). Medicare tax is 1.45% each for the employer and the worker (2.9% total).

If you want, you can pay your worker’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you do, your payments aren’t counted as additional cash wages for Social Security and Medicare purposes. However, your payments are treated as additional income to the worker for federal tax purposes, so you must include them as wages on the W-2 form that you must provide.

You also must pay FUTA tax if you pay $1,000 or more in cash wages (excluding food and lodging) to your worker in any calendar quarter. FUTA tax applies to the first $7,000 of wages paid and is only paid by the employer.

Making payments 

You pay household worker obligations by increasing your quarterly estimated tax payments or increasing withholding from wages, rather than making an annual lump-sum payment.

As an employer of a household worker, you don’t have to file employment tax returns, even if you’re required to withhold or pay tax (unless you own your own business). Instead, employment taxes are reported on your tax return on Schedule H.

When you report the taxes on your return, include your employer identification number (not the same as your Social Security number). You must file Form SS-4 to get one.

However, if you own a business as a sole proprietor, you include the taxes for a household worker on the FUTA and FICA forms (940 and 941) that you file for the business. And you use your sole proprietorship EIN to report the taxes.

Keep careful records 

Keep related tax records for at least four years from the later of the due date of the return or the date the tax was paid. Records should include the worker’s name, address, Social Security number, employment dates, dates and the amount of wages paid and taxes withheld, and copies of forms filed.

Contact us for assistance or questions about how to comply with these requirements.

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