deductions

IRS Clarifies Deductible Expenses

The Internal Revenue Service has updated the rules to reflect changes resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This article will help you zero in on changes involving deductible expenses and make sure you’re in compliance.

The IRS is offering some updated rules as guidance for deductible expenses that may have been murky as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The rules being updated involve using optional standard mileage rates when figuring the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving expense purposes, among other issues.

There are more succinct rules to substantiate the amount of an employee’s ordinary and necessary travel expenses reimbursed by an employer using the optional standard mileage rates. But know that you’re not required to use this method and that you may substantiate your actual allowable expenses, provided you maintain adequate records.

The TCJA suspended the miscellaneous itemized deduction for most employees with unreimbursed business expenses, including the costs of operating an automobile for business purposes. However, self-employed individuals and certain employees, armed forces reservists, qualifying state or local government officials, educators, and performing artists may continue to deduct unreimbursed business expenses during the suspension.

The TCJA also suspended the deduction for moving expenses. However, this suspension doesn’t apply to a member of the armed forces on active duty who moves pursuant to a military order and incident to a permanent change of station.

The IRS has also made it clear that the TCJA amended prior rules to disallow a deduction for expenses for entertainment, amusement or recreation paid for or incurred after Dec. 31, 2017. Otherwise, allowable meal expenses remain deductible if the food and beverages are purchased separately from the entertainment, or if the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment.

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The Ongoing Problem: Abusive Tax Shelters

As long as there have been taxes, shady promoters have tried to sell taxpayers on schemes to get out of paying their fair share. Learn about abusive tax shelters, and how to recognize and avoid them.

Tax avoidance? Accelerating tax deductions, deferring income, changing one’s tax status through incorporation, and setting up a charitable trust or foundation. All of these are legal tax shelters.

Tax evasion – that’s a different story. In tax evasion, you plan to reduce tax payable through illegal means. Abusive tax shelters reduce taxes, promoting the promise of tax benefits with no meaningful change in your income or net worth.

Turns out that in the 1990s, because penalties were too small to have a deterrent effect, tax shelters became quite popular to cushion one-time large capital gains. But these days, the tide has turned against promoting abusive tax shelters. Today, Treasury regulations and IRS rules dealing with tax shelters note that certain types of transactions will no longer pass muster.

The bottom line? Talk to a professional about legitimate ways to reduce your tax burden. Don’t go to some shady guy your brother-in-law knows, or follow advice in a book written by someone with no distinguished credentials such as “CFP,” “CPA” or “JD” after their names. Various trusts can help with long-term tax planning. And even modest families can legally game the tax system with such vehicles as IRAs, 401(k) plans and 529 plans.

Just in case you’re already considering something not too kosher, note that the IRS has its Dirty Dozen list of tax scams – schemes that encourage the use of phony tax shelters designed to avoid paying what is owed. The IRS warns that you could end up paying a lot more in penalties, back taxes and interest than the phony tax shelter saved you in the first place.

Don’t Try This at Home

One such tax scam on the IRS radar is abusive micro-captive structures: crooked promoters persuade owners of closely-held entities to participate in poorly structured or illegal insurance arrangements. For example, coverages may insure implausible risks, fail to match genuine business needs, or duplicate the taxpayer’s commercial coverages. Premium amounts may be unsupported by underwriting or actuarial analysis may be geared to a desired deduction amount or may be significantly higher than premiums for comparable commercial coverage, according to the IRS. It’s all in the name of illusory tax savings. So only work with qualified professionals.

There is a fine line between legitimate tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion. The IRS says it won’t hesitate to impose penalties on both participants and promoters of abusive tax shelters. Tax fraud convictions can mean fines or even prison. In brief, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Steps for Reconciling IRS Form 941 to Payroll

Form 941 is a crucial tool for ensuring your payroll data is accurately reported to the government and for balancing payroll in general. Get insight into reconciling Form 941 with your payroll on a quarterly and a year-end basis.

Most employers must report employees’ wages paid and taxes withheld plus their own share of certain payroll taxes quarterly to the IRS. Additionally, employers must report each employee’s wages and taxes annually, on Form W-2, to the Social Security Administration. Employers use Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, to report income taxes, Social Security tax or Medicare tax withheld from employees’ paychecks and to pay their portion of Social Security or Medicare tax.

In the end, the information on your quarterly 941s must match your submitted Form W-2s. By reconciling your 941 forms with your payroll, you can verify the accuracy of these filings. For best results, reconciliation should be done on a quarterly and a year-end basis.

Quarterly 941 Reconciliation

Step 1: Run a payroll register for the quarter. The register should show wages and deductions for each employee during that quarter.

Step 2: Compare the data on the payroll register with your 941 for the quarterly period.

Areas to check are:

  • Number of employees who received wages, tips or other compensation.
  • Total compensation paid to employees.
  • Federal income tax withheld from employees’ wages.
  • Taxable Social Security wages and tips.
  • Taxable Medicare wages and tips.
  • Total tax payments made for the quarter, including federal income tax, Social Security tax and Medicare tax withheld from employees’ wages plus your own share of Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Step 3: Fix discrepancies as soon as you find them. For example, you might need to correct the employee’s wages and taxes in your payroll system and file an amended Form 941 for the quarter with the IRS.

Year-End 941 Reconciliation

Step 1: Run a report that shows annual payroll amounts. Compare those figures with the totals reported on all four 941s for the year.

Step 2: Make sure the amounts reported on all the 941s for the year match the respective data fields for your W-2 forms.

For example:

  • For compensation, compare Line 2 of all your 941s with Box 1 of your W-2s.
  • For federal income tax withheld, compare Line 3 of all your 941s with Box 2 of your W-2s.
  • For Social Security wages, compare Line 5a Column 1 of all your 941s with Box 3 of your W-2s.
  • For Social Security tips, compare Line 5b Column 1 of your 941s with Box 7 of your W-2s.
  • For Medicare wages, compare Line 5c Column 1 of your 941s with Box 5 of your W-2s. Also, make sure your total Social Security and Medicare taxes for the year are correct.

Step 3: Perform the necessary adjustments. For example, you may need to file a corrected W-2 form with the SSA and/or an amended 941 with the IRS.

As you can see, this form can get complicated, so it’s a good idea to get professional help with it.

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Worker Classification: Pay Attention

It isn’t easy deciding whether a worker should be treated as an employee or an independent contractor. But the IRS auditors will look at the distinction closely.

Tax Obligations

For an employee, a business generally must withhold income and FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes from the employee’s pay and remit those taxes to the government. Additionally, the employer must pay FICA taxes for the employee (currently 7.65% of earnings up to $137,700).*

The business must also pay unemployment taxes for the worker. In contrast, for an independent contractor, a business is not required to withhold income or FICA taxes. The contractor is fully liable for his or her own self-employment taxes, and FICA and federal unemployment taxes do not apply.

Employees Versus Independent Contractors

To determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee, the IRS examines factors in three categories:

  • Behavioral control — the extent to which the business controls how the work is done, whether through instructions, training, or otherwise.
  • Financial control — the extent to which the worker has the ability to control the economic aspects of the job. Factors considered include the worker’s investment and whether he or she may realize a profit or loss.
  • Type of relationship — whether the worker’s services are essential to the business, the expected length of the relationship, and whether the business provides the worker with employee-type benefits, such as insurance, vacation pay, or sick pay, etc.

In certain cases where a taxpayer has a reasonable basis for treating an individual as a non-employee (such as a prior IRS ruling), non-employee treatment may be allowed regardless of the three-prong test.

If the proper classification is unclear, the business or the worker may obtain an official IRS determination by filing Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.

Year-End Statements

Generally, if a business has made payments of $600 or more to an independent contractor, it must file an information return (Form 1099-MISC) with the IRS and send a corresponding statement to the independent contractor.

Consequences of Misclassification

Where the employer misclassifies the employee as an independent contractor, the IRS may impose penalties for failure to deduct and withhold the employee’s income and/or FICA taxes. Penalties may be doubled if the employer also failed to file a Form 1099-MISC, though the lower penalty will apply if the failure was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.

Correcting Mistakes

Employers with misclassified workers may be able to correct their mistakes through the IRS’s Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP). For employers that meet the program’s eligibility requirements, the VCSP provides the following benefits:

  • Workers improperly classified as independent contractors are treated as employees going forward.
  • The employer pays 10% of the most recent tax year’s employment tax liability for the identified workers, determined under reduced rates (but no interest or penalties).
  • The government agrees not to raise the issue of the workers’ classification for prior years in an employment-tax audit.

Your tax advisor can help you sort through the IRS rules and fulfill your tax reporting obligations. *Internal Revenue Service. For 2020, the Social Security tax rate is 6.2% and is applied to earnings up to $137,700. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45% on the first $200,000 and 2.35% above $200,000.

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What’s Taxable to an S Corporation Shareholder?

S corporation shareholders have an added reason to worry about their company’s annual performance: It has a direct impact on their own income taxes.

How It Works

Unlike a regular C corporation, an S corporation usually doesn’t pay federal income taxes itself. Instead, each shareholder is allocated a portion of the corporate income, loss, deductions, and credits on a special “K-1” tax form. The shareholder then must report the items listed on the K-1 on his or her personal tax return.

The K-1 allocations are based on stock ownership percentages. So, for example, if an S corporation has $100,000 of taxable business income for the year, a person who owns 75% of the stock in the corporation would be allocated 75% of that income, or $75,000.

This scheme can get complicated thats why we recommend the accountant Sydney services to help you in the process. Case in point: The K-1 may show more income than the shareholder actually received from the company during the year. That’s because the K-1 figure is based on the corporation’s actual taxable income — not on the distributions made to the shareholder.

Here’s an example: Tom starts a new corporation, electing S status. In the first year, Tom draws a $30,000 salary and receives no other distributions from the company. The company’s ordinary business income (after deducting his salary) is $10,000. Since Tom is the only shareholder, all the company’s $10,000 of income is allocated to him on his K-1. Tom must include both the $30,000 of salary and the $10,000 on his personal income tax return, even though all he actually received from the corporation was his salary.

This result seems harsh, but it’s not the end of the story. Special rules in the tax law prevent the same income from being taxed again. Essentially, Tom will be credited with already having paid taxes on the $10,000 so that any future distribution of the funds will not be taxable.

Tracking Basis

To determine whether non-dividend distributions are tax free, S corporation shareholders must keep track of their stock basis.* The computation generally starts with a shareholder’s initial capital contribution (or the stock’s cost if it was purchased) and changes from year to year as the shareholder is allocated corporate income, loss, etc. Non-dividend distributions that don’t exceed a shareholder’s stock basis are tax free.

Note that S corporation shareholders may be eligible to deduct up to 20% of their S corporation pass-through income. Eligibility depends on taxable income and other factors. S shareholders will want to consult their tax advisor to see if they can take advantage of the deduction to lower the taxes on their business income.

*Most distributions made from an S corporation are non-dividend distributions. Dividend distributions can occur if the company was previously a regular C corporation (or in other limited situations).

 

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“Extender” Legislation Impacts Individuals and Small Businesses

Tax Tip: Extenders - Ketel Thorstenson, LLP

The federal spending package that was enacted in the waning days of 2019 contains numerous provisions that will impact both businesses and individuals. In addition to repealing three health care taxes and making changes to retirement plan rules, the legislation extends several expired tax provisions. Here is an overview of several of the more important provisions in the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2019.

Deduction for Mortgage Insurance Premiums

Before the Act, mortgage insurance premiums paid or accrued before January 1, 2018, were potentially deductible as qualified residence interest, subject to a phase-out based on the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI). The Act retroactively extends this treatment through 2020.

Reduction in Medical Expense Deduction Floor

For 2017 and 2018, taxpayers were able to claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses to the extent that such expenses were greater than 7.5% of AGI. The AGI threshold was scheduled to increase to 10% of AGI for 2019 and later tax years. Under the Act, the 7.5% of AGI threshold is extended through 2020.

Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses Deduction

The above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education, which expired at the end of 2017, has been extended through 2020. The deduction is capped at $4,000 for a taxpayer whose modified AGI does not exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for those filing jointly) or $2,000 for a taxpayer whose modified AGI is not greater than $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers). The deduction is not allowed with a modified AGI of more than $80,000 ($160,000 if you are a joint filer).

Credit for Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

The 10% credit for certain qualified energy improvements (windows, doors, roofs, skylights) to a principal residence has been extended through 2020, as have the credits for purchases of energy-efficient property (furnaces, boilers, biomass stoves, heat pumps, water heaters, central air conditions, and circulating fans), subject to a lifetime cap of $500.

Empowerment Zone Tax Incentives

Businesses and individual residents within economically depressed areas that are designated as “Empowerment Zones” are eligible for special tax incentives. Empowerment Zone designations, which expired on December 31, 2017, have been extended through December 31, 2020, under the new tax law.

Employer Tax Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave

A provision in the tax code permits eligible employers to claim an elective general business credit based on eligible wages paid to qualified employees with respect to the family and medical leave. This credit has been extended through 2020.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit

Employers who hire individuals who belong to one or more of 10 targeted groups can receive an elective general business credit under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program. The recent tax law extends this credit through 2020.

For details about these and other tax breaks included in the recent law, please consult your tax advisor.

ST Louis Vehicle Law and Deductions for Long-Term Care Insurance

Many people are taking a closer look at buying long-term care insurance to protect themselves and their families — just in case. If you are thinking about buying bear river insurance, you’ll be interested to know that, within limits, premiums paid for qualified policies are deductible as an itemized medical expense. Medical expenses can be very expensive and even more with surgery mistakes, that’s why you can talk with a Houston surgical error lawyer and prevent that from happening. For 2019, premiums for qualified policies are tax-deductible to the extent that they, along with other unreimbursed medical expenses, exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.

The typical long-term care insurance policy will pay for the nursing home, home care, or other long-term care arrangements after a waiting period has expired, reimbursing expenses up to a maximum limit specified in the policy, you better check with a Contractor Cover professional indemnity insurance expert to make sure if everything is on track. Eligibility for reimbursement usually hinges on the covered individual’s inability to perform several activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing.

Premiums are eligible for a deduction only up to a specific dollar amount (adjusted for inflation) that varies depending upon the age of the covered individual. The IRS limits for 2019 are:

Long-Term Care Insurance Premium Deduction Limits, 2019
Age Premium Limit
40 or under $420
41-50 $790
51-60 $1,580
61-70 $4,220
Over 70 $5,270

Source: Internal Revenue Service

These limits apply on a per-person basis. If you plan on applying this on a mortgage, I’ve found a mortgage site here that’ll help you with it. For example, a married couple over age 70 filing a joint tax return could potentially deduct up to $10,540 ($5,270 × 2). Keep in mind, however, that, for individuals under age 65, itemized medical expenses are deductible only to the extent that they, in total, exceed 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI).

IRS rules and exceptions abound, but there are some questions we can answer simply.

Next to your home, your car is probably the most expensive investment you make. And the costs of paying for and maintaining it can be considerable. Can you recoup some of your investment by claiming vehicle expenses on your tax return, it also depends where you have purchased the car since many people do car deals and the car is not in the best condition

 

Sometimes. The IRS has many restrictions on the business use of a vehicle, and those restrictions have many exceptions. Better to know these upfront than to have to correct a tax return after you’ve filed it. 

Here are some questions and answers that may help you decide whether you’re eligible.

How does the IRS identify a “vehicle”?
A car, van, pickup, or panel truck.

What are transportation expenses?
These are “ordinary and necessary expenses” incurred when you, for example:

  • Visit customers,
  • Attend a business meeting held at a location other than your regular workplace, or
  • Go from home to a temporary workplace that is not your company’s principal location.

The daily commute to and from your regular office is not deductible. The IRS considers this personal commuting expenses.

What if I’m on an overnight business trip away from home?
The IRS considers these travel expenses, and they’re reported differently. Your car expense deduction, though, is calculated the same way in both situations.

What if I use my car for both business and personal purposes?
You’ll calculate the expenses incurred for each by determining how many miles you drive for business and how many you drive for personal reasons.

I work in a home office. Can I deduct any driving expenses?
Yes, you can deduct the cost of driving to “another work location in the same trade or business.”

How do I calculate my deductible expenses?
There are two options. Using the standard mileage rate, you can claim 54 cents per mile (2016 tax year figure). You are required to use this method for the first year you use the vehicle for business purposes. After that initial year, you can choose between the standard mileage rate and actual car expenses. These include depreciation, oil and gas, insurance, and repairs.

Depreciation? Isn’t that difficult to calculate?
Yes, especially for cars. If you plan to take this kind of deduction, please let us handle your tax preparation for you. Depreciation is very, very complex, and sometimes requires more than one calculation method.

Can I take a Section 179 deduction for my vehicle?
Possibly, if you use the car for business more than 50 percent of the time — and only for the first year.

What kind of vehicle expense records do I need to maintain?
You know the drill here. If the IRS ever wants to examine your return, it will expect evidence like receipts, cancelled checks, and credit card statements. You’ll need to document the date and location where you incurred the expense. You’ll need accurate mileage records (milesdriven, purpose of trip, etc.).

These requirements scream for some kind of organized computer log or written diary, along with a safe place for any paper receipts, bills, etc. There are numerous mobile apps that can help you with this task. We can steer you in the right direction.

If you’re planning to deduct car expenses, it’s important that you keep careful paper or electronic records.

Where will I be reporting transportation expenses?
If you are self-employed, you will report business-related vehicle expenses on Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040). Farmers should use Schedule F (Form 1040). You’ll also want to complete a Form 4562, which is used to report depreciation and the Section 179 deduction.

If you cause a wreck in your personal vehicle, you are liable for your damages and the other party or parties’ damages.

However, if you were driving as part of a work-related task at the time of the accident, your employer might also have liability. That does not take away your liability, however.

After any car accident, no matter who is at fault and whether you were driving for work or personal business, you should speak with an attorney. A car accident lawyer can advise you of your rights, help shield you from liability, and work with you to pursue compensation for your damages;

When Is My Employer Liable for My Car Accident Damages?

Under certain circumstances, your employer has vicarious liability for your actions behind the wheel, meaning that if you cause damages to another person or property, whether you were negligent or not, your employer may be liable alongside you.

The circumstances under which your employer could have vicarious liability for your car accident damage are as follows:

  • You were on the job and onthe clock when the accident occurred.
  • You were driving as part of a work-related task.
  • You were driving tocarry out a task your boss or employer asked you to do.
  • You took part in an activityfrom which your employer stood to benefit.

In other words, if you were on the clock, completing an activity that your employer asked you to do, then your employer probably has vicarious liability for your car accident.

Not only that, but your employer could be liable for your injuries — even if the car accident were your fault. If you sustain injuries doing anything work-related, you might be able to file a workers’ compensation claim and pursue damages from your employer. Your personal injury attorney can review your situation and offer advice on this process.

Maintaining accurate records for car and truck expenses is time consuming and detail intensive. And that’s once you understand all of the IRS’s rules and exceptions surrounding this deduction. To avoid having to fix completed tax documents that the IRS has questioned, talk to us before you put a vehicle into business use. We’ll be happy to evaluate your transportation situation and guide you through the process.

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Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As everyone’s situation is different, consider contacting your tax and legal professionals to discuss your personal circumstances.

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Should You Sell Your Under Performing Stock and then Buy it Back?

You sold one of your stock investments at a profit, so now you’ll have to report a capital gain on this year’s income tax return. Since another stock you own has been losing ground lately, you’re thinking of selling it to claim a capital loss on your return to offset your gain.

However, because you believe the company will bounce back eventually, you’re reluctant to part with your stock for the proven best forex indicators blog. What would happen if you sold your stock to claim the loss and then bought it back again right away?

Wash-Sale Rules

At first glance, it might appear to be the perfect plan. But it won’t work because of the tax law’s wash-sale rules. These rules prevent you from claiming a capital loss on a securities sale if you buy “substantially identical” securities within 30 days before or after the sale. If you want to claim the loss, you’ll have to wait more than 30 days to repurchase stock in the company.

Gone for Good?

Wondering what happens to wash-sale losses you can’t deduct? They don’t just disappear from your tax calculations. Instead, you’re allowed to add the losses to the cost basis of the shares you reacquire. This increase in cost basis will mean a smaller capital gain (or a larger loss) when you eventually sell your shares.

Potential Trap

Keep track of any share purchases you make through a stock dividend reinvestment plan or by having mutual fund distributions automatically reinvested.  Selling shares of the same stock or mutual fund at a loss within 30 days of the automatic purchase (before or after) will trigger the wash-sale rules, and part of your loss will be disallowed. We recommend to check out this review of Cryptohopper which explains how to use the platform properly.

Is There a Plan B?

Is there any way you can take your tax loss and still maintain your position in the stock? You may be able to double up on the loss securities, then wait 30 days and sell your original securities at a loss. Be sure to consult your tax advisor before taking this, or any, action.

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Keeping Up With Your IRA: Tax Season Checklist

If you’re one of the millions of American households who own either a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) or a Roth IRA, then the onset of tax season should serve as a reminder to review your retirement savings strategies and make any changes that will enhance your prospects for long-term financial security. It’s also a good time to start an IRA if you don’t already have one. The IRS allows you to contribute to an IRA up to April 15, 2019, for the 2018 tax year.

This checklist will provide you with information to help you make informed decisions and implement a long-term retirement income strategy.

Which Account: Roth IRA or Traditional IRA?

There are two types of IRAs available: the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. The primary difference between them is the tax treatment of contributions and distributions (withdrawals). Traditional IRAs may allow a tax deduction based on the amount of a contribution, depending on your income level. Any account earnings compound on a tax-deferred basis and distributions are taxable at the time of withdrawal at then-current income tax rates. Roth IRAs do not allow a deduction for contributions, but account earnings and qualified withdrawals are tax-free .1

In choosing between a traditional and a Roth IRA, you should weigh the immediate tax benefits of a tax deduction this year against the benefits of tax-deferred or tax-free distributions in retirement.

If you need the immediate deduction this year — and if you qualify for it — then you may wish to opt for a traditional IRA. If you don’t qualify for the deduction, then it’s almost certainly a better idea to fund a Roth IRA.

Case in point: Your ability to deduct traditional IRA contributions may be limited not only by income but by your participation in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. (See callout box below.) If that’s the case, a Roth IRA is likely to be the better solution.

On the other hand, if you expect your tax bracket to drop significantly after retirement, you may be better off with a traditional IRA if you qualify for the deduction. You could claim an immediate deduction now and pay taxes at the lower rate later. Nonetheless, if your anticipated holding period is long, a Roth IRA might still make more sense. That’s because a prolonged period of tax-free compounded earnings could more than makeup for the lack of a deduction.

Traditional IRA Deductible Contribution Phase-Outs
Your ability to deduct contributions to a traditional IRA is affected by whether you are covered by a workplace retirement plan.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, your deduction for contributions to a traditional IRA will be reduced (phased out) if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is:

  • Between $101,000 and $121,000 for a married couple filing a joint return for the 2018 tax year.
  • Between $63,000 and $73,000 for a single individual or head of the household for the 2018 tax year.

If you are not covered by a retirement plan at work but your spouse is covered, your 2017 deduction for contributions to a traditional IRA will be reduced if your MAGI is between $189,000 and $199,000.

If your MAGI is higher than the phase-out ceilings listed above for your filing status, you cannot claim the deduction.

Roth IRA Contribution Phase-Outs
Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is affected by your MAGI. Contributions to a Roth IRA will be phased out if your MAGI is:

  • Between $189,000 and $199,000 for a married couple filing a joint return for the 2018 tax year.
  • Between $120,000 and $135,000 for a single individual or head of the household for the 2018 tax year.

If your MAGI is higher than the phase-out ceilings listed above for your filing status, you cannot make a contribution.

Should You Convert to Roth?

The IRS allows you to convert — or change the designation of — a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, regardless of your income level. As part of the conversion, you must pay taxes on any investment growth in — and on the amount of any deductible contributions previously made to — the traditional IRA. The withdrawal from your traditional IRA will not affect your eligibility for a Roth IRA or trigger the 10% additional federal tax normally imposed on early withdrawals.

The decision to convert or not ultimately depends on your timing and tax status. If you are near retirement and find yourself in the top income tax bracket this year, now may not be the time to convert. On the other hand, if your income is unusually low and you still have many years to retirement, you may want to convert.

Maximize Contributions

If possible, try to contribute the maximum amount allowed by the IRS: $5,500 per individual, plus an additional $1,000 annually for those age 50 and older for the 2018 tax year. Those limits are per individual, not per IRA.

Of course, not everyone can afford to contribute the maximum to an IRA, especially if they’re also contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. If your workplace retirement plan offers an employer’s matching contribution, that additional money may be more valuable than the amount of your deduction. As a result, it might make sense to maximize plan contributions first and then try to maximize IRA contributions.

Review Distribution Strategies

If you’re ready to start making withdrawals from an IRA, you’ll need to choose the distribution strategy to use: a lump-sum distribution or periodic distributions. If you are at least age 70½ and own a traditional IRA, you may need to take required minimum distributions every year, according to IRS rules.

Don’t forget that your distribution strategy may have significant tax-time implications if you own a traditional IRA because taxes will be due at the time of withdrawal. As a result, taking a lump-sum distribution will result in a much heftier tax bill this year than taking a minimum distribution.

The April filing deadline is never that far away, so don’t hesitate to use the remaining time to shore up the IRA strategies you’ll rely on to live comfortably in retirement.

Source/Disclaimer:

1Early withdrawals (before age 59½) from a traditional IRA may be subject to a 10% additional federal tax. Nonqualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA may be subject to ordinary income tax as well as the 10% additional tax.

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Finding the right route: special topics for LGBT couples

Tax-Saving Tips for LGBT Couples

The issues around marriage equality caused lots of debate, but it was federal tax laws that finally prompted the Supreme Court to take a look. Prior to the 2013 United States v. Windsor decision, same-sex couples who were legally married in states or countries that recognized their union were unable to take advantage of certain federal benefits. For example, individuals in same-sex marriages were ineligible for the insurance benefits of their spouses who worked in government, and they could not receive social security survivor’s benefits or file joint tax returns.

The 2013 United States v. Windsor decision and the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decisions changed these practices, and LGBT couples became eligible for federal tax savings that were previously unavailable. The Amazon Best Selling book, The Great Tax Escape, offers a comprehensive look at making the most of these programs to enjoy greater tax savings.

Choosing Your Filing Status

The first tax-related issue to consider after you are married is how you will file your returns. Depending on your income, “married filing separately” could offer larger savings than “married filing jointly”. There is a phenomenon knows as “the marriage penalty”. This references the tax increase that many couples face when filing joint returns versus single returns.

Tax specialists can assist with significantly reducing tax liability through a combination of smart financial planning, examination of the impact of each filing status, and a review of all possible deductions. Filing status is expected to be particularly relevant for the 2018 tax year, as new tax regulations with revised tax brackets may reduce or eliminate the marriage penalty.

Quick Tips to Avoid Tax Filing Pitfalls

Completing your tax returns after you are married is not necessarily more complicated than filing as single, but there are a few differences to keep in mind. Small errors can lead to major frustration if your returns are rejected or you have to file an amended form. These are the most common pitfalls – and how to avoid them:

  • You must either choose “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately”. Other filing statuses are not permitted, including “head of household”. (Note: There is an exception available for married couples who have lived apart for six months or more.)
  • Your spouse cannot be listed as your dependent.
  • If you choose “married filing separately”, only one spouse can claim each dependent child.
  • Married couples must choose the same option with regard to itemizing deductions versus claiming the standard deduction.

Your Certified Tax Coach can provide the guidance you need to complete your returns correctly.

New Options for Reducing Estate Taxes

The underlying issue that prompted United States v. Windsor was the application of federal estate tax regulations. In short, married couples pay far less when a spouse dies than they would if no marriage existed. The individual who brought the suit wanted the same benefits as married couples who are opposite-sex. Today, all married couples can enjoy the tax savings that come with careful estate planning thanks to a estate planning attorney. Your Certified Tax Coach is an excellent resource for putting a tax minimization strategy in place to protect your wealth after one partner passes away.

For more tips on how LGBT couples can increase tax savings, visit our consultation form for your copy of our new release, The Great Tax Escape.