Do You Still Need to Worry About the AMT?

There was talk of repealing the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) as part of last year’s tax reform legislation. A repeal wasn’t included in the final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but the TCJA will reduce the number of taxpayers subject to the AMT.

Now is a good time to familiarize yourself with the changes, assess your AMT risk and see if there are any steps you can take during the last several months of the year to avoid the AMT, or at least minimize any negative impact.

AMT vs. regular tax

The top AMT rate is 28%, compared to the top regular ordinary-income tax rate of 37%. But the AMT rate typically applies to a higher taxable income base and will result in a larger tax bill if you’re subject to it.

The TCJA reduced the number of taxpayers who’ll likely be subject to the AMT in part by increasing the AMT exemption and the income phaseout ranges for the exemption:

  • For 2018, the exemption is $70,300 for singles and heads of households (up from $54,300 for 2017), and $109,400 for married couples filing jointly (up from $84,500 for 2017).
  • The 2018 phaseout ranges are $500,000–$781,200 for singles and heads of households (up from $120,700–$337,900 for 2017) and $1,000,000–$1,437,600 for joint filers (up from $160,900–$498,900 for 2017).

You’ll be subject to the AMT if your AMT liability is greater than your regular tax liability.

AMT triggers

In the past, common triggers of the AMT were differences between deductions allowed for regular tax purposes and AMT purposes. Some popular deductions aren’t allowed under the AMT.

New limits on some of these deductions for regular tax purposes, such as on state and local income and property tax deductions, mean they’re less likely to trigger the AMT. And certain deductions not allowed for AMT purposes are now not allowed for regular tax purposes either, such as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor.

But deductions aren’t the only things that can trigger the AMT. Some income items might do so, too, such as:

  • Long-term capital gains and dividend income, even though they’re taxed at the same rate for both regular tax and AMT purposes,
  • Accelerated depreciation adjustments and related gain or loss differences when assets are sold,
  • Tax-exempt interest on certain private-activity municipal bonds, and
  • The exercise of incentive stock options.

AMT planning tips

If it looks like you could be subject to the AMT in 2018, consider accelerating income into this year. Doing so may allow you to benefit from the lower maximum AMT rate. And deferring expenses you can’t deduct for AMT purposes may allow you to preserve those deductions. If you also defer expenses you can deduct for AMT purposes, the deductions may become more valuable because of the higher maximum regular tax rate.

Please contact us if you have questions about whether you could be subject to the AMT this year or about minimizing negative consequences from the AMT.

Close-up on the New QBI Deduction’s Wage Limit

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides a valuable new tax break to non-corporate owners of pass-through entities: a deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI). The deduction generally applies to income from sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations, and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). It can equal as much as 20% of QBI. But once taxable income exceeds $315,000 for married couples filing jointly or $157,500 for other filers, a wage limit begins to phase in.

Full vs. partial phase-in

When the wage limit is fully phased in, at $415,000 for joint filers and $207,500 for other filers, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of:

  • 50% of the amount of W-2 wages paid to employees during the tax year, or
  • The sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified business property (QBP).

When the wage limit applies but isn’t yet fully phased in, the amount of the limit is reduced and the final deduction is calculated as follows:

  1. The difference between taxable income and the applicable threshold is divided by $100,000 for joint filers or $50,000 for other filers.
  2. The resulting percentage is multiplied by the difference between the gross deduction and the fully wage-limited deduction.
  3. The result is subtracted from the gross deduction to determine the final deduction.

Some examples

Let’s say Chris and Leslie have taxable income of $600,000. This includes $300,000 of QBI from Chris’s pass-through business, which pays $100,000 in wages and has $200,000 of QBP. The gross deduction would be $60,000 (20% of $300,000), but the wage limit applies in full because the married couple’s taxable income exceeds the $415,000 top of the phase-in range for joint filers. Computing the deduction is fairly straightforward in this situation.

The first option for the wage limit calculation is $50,000 (50% of $100,000). The second option is $30,000 (25% of $100,000 + 2.5% of $200,000). So the wage limit — and the deduction — is $50,000.

What if Chris and Leslie’s taxable income falls within the phase-in range? The calculation is a bit more complicated. Let’s say their taxable income is $400,000. The full wage limit is still $50,000, but only 85% of the full limit applies:

($400,000 taxable income – $315,000 threshold)/$100,000 = 85%

To calculate the amount of their deduction, the couple must first calculate 85% of the difference between the gross deduction of $60,000 and the fully wage-limited deduction of $50,000:

($60,000 – $50,000) × 85% = $8,500

That amount is subtracted from the $60,000 gross deduction for a final deduction of $51,500.

That’s not all

Be aware that another restriction may apply: For income from “specified service businesses,” the QBI deduction is reduced if an owner’s taxable income falls within the applicable income range and eliminated if income exceeds it. Please contact us to learn whether your business is a specified service business or if you have other questions about the QBI deduction.

What You Can Deduct When Volunteering

Because donations to charity of cash or property generally are tax deductible (if you itemize), it only seems logical that the donation of something even more valuable to you — your time — would also be deductible. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Donations of time or services aren’t deductible. It doesn’t matter if it’s simple administrative work, such as checking in attendees at a fundraising event, or if it’s work requiring significant experience and expertise that would be much more costly to the charity if it had to pay for it, such as skilled carpentry or legal counsel.

However, you potentially can deduct out-of-pocket costs associated with your volunteer work.

The basic rules

As with any charitable donation, for you to be able to deduct your volunteer expenses, the first requirement is that the organization be a qualified charity. You can use the IRS’s “Tax Exempt Organization Search” tool (formerly “Select Check”) at https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search to find out.

Assuming the charity is qualified, you may be able to deduct out-of-pocket costs that are:

  • Unreimbursed,
  • Directly connected with the services you’re providing,
  • Incurred only because of your charitable work, and
  • Not “personal, living or family” expenses.

Supplies, uniforms, and transportation

A wide variety of expenses can qualify for the deduction. For example, supplies you use in the activity may be deductible. And the cost of a uniform you must wear during the activity may also be deductible (if it’s required and not something you’d wear when not volunteering).

Transportation costs to and from the volunteer activity generally are deductible, either the actual cost or 14 cents per charitable mile driven. But you have to be the volunteer. If, say, you drive your elderly mother to the nature center where she’s volunteering, you can’t deduct the cost.

You also can’t deduct transportation costs you’d be incurring even if you weren’t volunteering. For example, if you take a commuter train downtown to work, then walk to a nearby volunteer event after work and take the train back home afterwards, you won’t be able to deduct your train fares. But if you take a cab from work to the volunteer event, then you potentially can deduct the cab fare for that leg of your transportation.

Volunteer travel

Transportation costs may also be deductible for out-of-town travel associated with volunteering. This can include air, rail, and bus transportation; driving expenses; and taxi or other transportation costs between an airport or train station and wherever you’re staying. Lodging and meal costs also might be deductible.

The key to deductibility is that there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel. That said, according to the IRS, the deduction for travel expenses won’t be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. But you must be volunteering in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip. If only a small portion of your trip involves volunteer work, your travel expenses generally won’t be deductible.

Keep careful records

The IRS may challenge charitable deductions for out-of-pocket costs, so it’s important to keep careful records. If you have questions about what volunteer expenses are and aren’t deductible, please contact us.

The TCJA Changes Some Rules for Deducting Pass-through Business Losses

Tax losses generated buy businesses are not uncommon, but the losses that can be deducted are limited by tax law in some situations. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) further restricts the amount of losses that sole proprietors, partners, S corporation shareholders, and, typically, limited liability company (LLC) members can currently deduct — beginning in 2018. This could negatively impact owners of start-ups and businesses facing adverse conditions.

Before the TCJA

Under pre-TCJA law, an individual taxpayer’s business losses could usually be fully deducted in the tax year when they arose unless:

  • The passive activity loss (PAL) rules or some other provision of tax law limited that favorable outcome, or
  • The business loss was so large that it exceeded taxable income from other sources, creating a net operating loss (NOL).

After the TCJA

The TCJA temporarily changes the rules for deducting an individual taxpayer’s business losses. If your pass-through business generates a tax loss for a tax year beginning in 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct an “excess business loss” in the current year. An excess business loss is the excess of your aggregate business deductions for the tax year over the sum of:

  • Your aggregate business income and gains for the tax year, and
  • $250,000 ($500,000 if you’re a married taxpayer filing jointly).

The excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for NOLs.

For business losses passed through to individuals from S corporations, partnerships and LLCs treated as partnerships for tax purposes, the new excess business loss limitation rules apply at the owner level. In other words, each owner’s allocable share of business income, gain, deduction or loss is passed through to the owner and reported on the owner’s personal federal income tax return for the owner’s tax year that includes the end of the entity’s tax year.

Keep in mind that the new loss limitation rules apply after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your business or rental activity loss, you don’t get to the new loss limitation rules.

Expecting a business loss?

The rationale underlying the new loss limitation rules is to restrict the ability of individual taxpayers to use current-year business losses to offset income from other sources, such as salary, self-employment income, interest, dividends and capital gains.

The practical impact is that your allowable current-year business losses can’t offset more than $250,000 of income from such other sources (or more than $500,000 for joint filers). The requirement that excess business losses be carried forward as an NOL forces you to wait at least one year to get any tax benefit from those excess losses.

If you’re expecting your business to generate a tax loss in 2018, contact us to determine whether you’ll be affected by the new loss limitation rules. We can also provide more information about the PAL and NOL rules.

Be Aware of Tax Consequences Before Selling Your Home

In many parts of the country, summer is peak season for selling a home. If you’re planning to put your home on the market soon, you’re probably thinking about things like how quickly it will sell and how much you’ll get for it. But don’t neglect to consider the tax consequences.

Home sale gain exclusion

The U.S. House of Representatives’ original version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act included a provision tightening the rules for the home sale gain exclusion. Fortunately, that provision didn’t make it into the final version that was signed into law.

As a result, if you’re selling your principal residence, there’s still a good chance you’ll be able to exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain. Gain that qualifies for exclusion also is excluded from the 3.8% net investment income tax.

To qualify for the exclusion, you must meet certain tests. For example, you generally must own and use the home as your principal residence for at least two years during the five-year period preceding the sale. (Gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.) In addition, you can’t use the exclusion more than once every two years.

More tax considerations

Any gain that doesn’t qualify for the exclusion generally will be taxed at your long-term capital gains rate, as long as you owned the home for at least a year. If you didn’t, the gain will be considered short-term and subject to your ordinary-income rate, which could be more than double your long-term rate.

Here are some additional tax considerations when selling a home:

Tax basis. To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain thorough records, including information on your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed based on business use.

Losses. A loss on the sale of your principal residence generally isn’t deductible. But if part of your home is rented out or used exclusively for your business, the loss attributable to that portion may be deductible.

Second homes. If you’re selling a second home, be aware that it won’t be eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 exchange. Or you may be able to deduct a loss.

A big investment

Your home is likely one of your biggest investments, so it’s important to consider the tax consequences before selling it. If you’re planning to put your home on the market, we can help you assess the potential tax impact. Contact us to learn more.

Home-Related Tax Breaks Valuable on 2017 Returns; Less So for 2018

Home ownership is a key element of the American dream for many, and the U.S. tax code includes many tax breaks that help support this dream. If you own a home, you may be eligible for several valuable breaks when you file your 2017 return. But under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, your home-related breaks may not be as valuable when you file your 2018 return next year.

Here’s a look at various home-related tax breaks for 2017 vs. 2018:

  • Property tax deduction: For 2017, property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). For 2018, your total deduction for all state and local taxes, including both property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes, is capped at $10,000.
  • Mortgage interest deduction: For 2017, you generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. However, for 2018, if the mortgage debt was incurred on or after December 15, 2017, the debt limit generally is $750,000.
  • Home equity debt interest deduction: For 2017, interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. (If home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes). For 2018, the TCJA suspends the home equity interest deduction. But the IRS has clarified that such interest generally still will be deductible if used for home improvements.
  • Mortgage insurance premium deduction:  This break expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.
  • Home office deduction: For 2017, if your home office use meets certain tests, you may be able to deduct associated expenses or use a simplified method for claiming the deduction. Employees claim this as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, which means there will be tax savings only to the extent that the home office deduction plus other miscellaneous itemized deductions exceeds 2% of adjusted gross income. The self-employed can deduct home office expenses from self-employment income. For 2018, miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor are suspended, so only the self-employed can deduct home office expenses.
  • Home sale gain exclusion: When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Changes to this break had been proposed, but they weren’t included in the final TCJA that was signed into law.
  • Debt forgiveness exclusion:  This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.

Additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. To learn more, contact us. We can help you determine which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim on your 2017 return and how your 2018 tax situation may be affected by the TCJA.

The Fine Line Between a Small Business & a Hobby

It’s a matter of work vs. fun, right?  No, the difference – at least from a tax perspective – is that you can fully deduct business expenses from income.  Under the new tax law, you can’t deduct any hobby expenses.

No single factor is determinative, but you’re probably operating a business if:

  •  You have a profit motive.
  • You keep accounting, inventory, and other records.
  • You invest significant time and effort.
  • You need the income you make from it.
  • It’s been profitable for at least three of the past five years (two out of the past seven years for horse-related activities).
  • You’ve conducted similar, profitable activities in the past.
  • You expect assets that you use to appreciate in the future.
  • You consult professional advisers to help improve profitability.

 

Many businesses start as hobbies.  If you want to make the formal transition to a business:

  1. Write a business plan.
  2. Open business banking accounts.
  3. Begin collecting state sales tax (if applicable).
  4. Choose a business entity.
  5. Engage a CPA and other advisers.

Casualty Losses Can Provide a 2017 Deduction, but Rules Tighten for 2018

If you suffered damage to your home or personal property last year, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your 2017 federal income tax return. For 2018 through 2025, however, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspends this deduction except for losses due to an event officially declared a disaster by the President.

What is a casualty? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses on your 2017 return:

  • When to deduct:  Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss on your return for the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.
  • Amount of loss:  Your loss is generally the lesser of (1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or (2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty.  This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive.  If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.
  • $100 rule:  After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.
  • 10% rule:  You must reduce the total of all your casualty losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).  In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.

Note that special relief that affects some of these rules has been provided to certain victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria; and California wildfires.  For details on this relief or other questions about casualty losses, please contact us.

Size of Charitable Deductions Depends on Many Factors

Whether you’re claiming charitable deductions on your 2017 return or planning your donations for 2018, be sure you know how much you’re allowed to deduct. Your deduction depends on more than just the actual amount you donate.

Type of gift

One of the biggest factors affecting your deduction is what you give:

  • Cash
    • You may deduct 100% gifts made by check, credit card or payroll deduction.
  • Ordinary-income property
    • For stocks and bonds held one year or less, inventory, and property subject to depreciation recapture, you generally may deduct only the lesser of fair market value or your tax basis.
  • Long-term capital gains property
    • You may deduct the current fair market value of appreciated stocks and bonds held for more than one year.
  • Tangible personal property
    • If the property isn’t related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated for a charity auction), your deduction is limited to your basis.
    • If the property is related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated to a museum for its collection), you can deduct the fair market value.
  • Vehicle
    • Unless the vehicle is being used by the charity, you generally may deduct only the amount the charity receives when it sells the vehicle.
  • Use of property
    • Examples include use of a vacation home and a loan of artwork. Generally, you receive no deduction because it isn’t considered a completed gift.
  • Services
    • You may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.

Other factors

First, you’ll benefit from the charitable deduction only if you itemize deductions rather than claim the standard deduction. Also, your annual charitable donation deductions may be reduced if they exceed certain income-based limits.

In addition, your deduction generally must be reduced by the value of any benefit received from the charity. Finally, various substantiation requirements apply, and the charity must be eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

2018 planning

While December’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) preserves the charitable deduction, it temporarily makes itemizing less attractive for many taxpayers, reducing the tax benefits of charitable giving for them.

Itemizing saves tax only if itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction — plus, it limits or eliminates some common itemized deductions.  As a result, you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction, in which case your charitable donations won’t save you tax.

You might be able to preserve your charitable deduction by “bunching” donations into alternating years, so that you’ll exceed the standard deduction and can claim a charitable deduction (and other itemized deductions) every other year.

Let us know if you have questions about how much you can deduct on your 2017 return or what your charitable giving strategy should be going forward, in light of the TCJA.