News & Articles

IRS Announces Changes for Personal Use of Employer-Provided Vehicles

Posted on Tue, May 14, 2019

The free use of a company car is one of the best perks an employee may receive as part of a compensation package. But the benefit to the employee isn't completely "free" under current tax law. Essentially, personal use of a company car is treated as a taxable noncash fringe benefit, subject to income tax obligations.

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Tags: Vehicle, IRS, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

Delinquent Taxpayers May Experience Passport Issues

Posted on Wed, Mar 27, 2019

Let's say a person is planning to take a plane trip out of the country. And further suppose that individual owes the federal government a fair amount of back taxes. The person may not be able get a passport if he or she owes the government a significant amount of back taxes. The IRS is now reminding taxpayers that legislation passed in 2015 allows the tax agency to revoke passports or deny new ones to major debtors.

Taxpayers Free to Go Overseas

The IRS says it won't certify a taxpayer as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt or will reverse the certification for an individual who: 

  • Is in bankruptcy;
  • Has been identified by the IRS as a victim of tax-related identity theft;
  • Has an account the IRS has determined is currently not collectible due to hardship;
  • Is located within a federal disaster area;
  • Has a request pending with the IRS for an installment agreement;
  • Has a pending offer in compromise with the IRS; or
  • Has an IRS accepted adjustment that will satisfy the debt in full.

Background of the Law

Under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act of 2015, a highway spending measure, the IRS was granted the authority to notify the State Department about taxpayers who have "seriously delinquent tax debts." The State Department is then tasked with denying the individual their passport application or renewal. It took awhile to put the wheels in motion, but the IRS began enforcing this provision of the law last year.

For these purposes, a seriously delinquent tax debt is defined as $50,000 or more, indexed for inflation. The threshold for 2019 is $52,000. This includes back taxes, penalties and interest for which the IRS has filed a tax lien or issued a levy.

How It Works

If a taxpayer is certified as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt, he or she receives a Notice CP508C from the IRS. This notice explains the steps that must be taken to resolve the debt. For instance, IRS representatives may help a taxpayer set up a payment plan or explain other payment alternatives. People who owe back taxes shouldn't delay — especially if they're planning a trip abroad.

Once the tax obligations are met, the IRS will reverse the taxpayer's certification within 30 days. Matters may be expedited under certain circumstances.

Before denying a passport renewal or new passport application, the State Department will hold a taxpayer's application for 90 days to allow him or her to resolve any erroneous certification issues, make full payment of the tax debt or enter into a satisfactory payment arrangement with the IRS.

In an IRS announcement, the agency presents several ways that an individual can avoid having the State Department notified of a seriously delinquent tax debt, including the following:

  • Pay the tax debt in full;
  • Pay the tax debt in a timely manner under an approved installment agreement;
  • Pay the tax debt in a timely manner under an accepted offer in compromise (OIC);
  • Pay the tax debt in a timely manner under the terms of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ);
  • Have requested or have a pending collection due process appeal with a levy; or
  • Have collection suspended because you've made an innocent spouse election or requested innocent spouse relief.

The IRS also has provided details on two key relief programs available to taxpayers who could have their passports revoked or denied.

1. Payment agreements. A taxpayer can formally request to use a payment plan by filing Form 9465. This form can be sent with a tax return bill or notice or a taxpayer can arrange a monthly payment agreement online.

2. Offers in compromise. With an OIC, a taxpayer settles up with the IRS for an amount that's less than the actual tax liability. The IRS will examine the individual's income and assets to determine his or her ability to pay. An individual can use an online pre-qualifier to see if he or she is likely to qualify for an OIC.

Other special rules apply to taxpayers who are currently serving in a combat zone.

Moral of the story: As you can see, there are several available options for avoiding a worst-case scenario. With assistance from a tax advisor, a person who owes back taxes should be able to find a happy tax landing.

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Tags: Filing Taxes, IRS, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

It's Not Too Late for Some Business Owners to Lower Their 2018 Taxes

Posted on Mon, Mar 25, 2019

Most businesses will owe less tax for the 2018 tax year than they would have under prior law, thanks to changes brought by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). But have you done everything possible to lower your business tax bill for last year? Even though 2018 is in your review mirror, there are some possibilities for business owners to consider if your return for the last tax year hasn't been prepared yet.

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Tags: Deductions, C corporation, LLC, Sole Propietorship, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), Qualified Business Income (QBI)

2018 Income Tax Withholdings: Too Much, Too Little or Just Right?

Posted on Mon, Jan 21, 2019

Did you withhold enough money from your regular paychecks in 2018? If you withheld too little — or, didn't pay enough estimated taxes if you're self-employed — you could have an unpleasant surprise when you file your 2018 return.

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Tags: Tax Credits, Individual, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), Theft

Estate Tax Planning Tips for Married Couples

Posted on Wed, Nov 28, 2018

The TCJA sets the unified federal estate and gift tax exemption at $11.4 million per person for 2019 (up from $11.18 million for 2018). For married couples, the exemption is effectively doubled to $22.8 million for 2019 (up from $22.36 million for 2018). The exemption amounts will be adjusted annually for inflation from 2020 through 2025. In 2026, the exemption is set to return to an inflation-adjusted $5 million, unless Congress extends it.

What's the GST Tax?

The generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax generally applies to transfers made to people two generations or more below you, such as your grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Transfers made both during your lifetime and at death can trigger this tax — and it's above and beyond any gift or estate tax due.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the GST tax continues to follow the estate tax. So, the GST tax exemption also increases under the TCJA. For 2018, both exemptions are $11.4 million per person, or effectively $22.8 million for a married couple. The GST exemption can be a valuable tax-saving tool for taxpayers with large estates whose children also have large estates. With proper planning, they can use the GST exemption to make transfers to grandchildren and avoid any estate or gift tax at their children's generation.

Taxable estates that exceed the exemption amount will have the excess taxed at a flat 40% rate. In addition, cumulative lifetime taxable gifts that exceed the exemption amount will be taxed at a flat 40% rate. Taxable gifts are those that exceed the annual federal gift tax exclusion, which is $15,000 for 2018 and 2019. If you make gifts in excess of what can be sheltered with the annual gift tax exclusion amount, the excess reduces your lifetime unified federal estate and gift tax exemption dollar-for-dollar.

Under the unlimited marital deduction, transfers between spouses are federal-estate-and-gift-tax-free. But the unlimited marital deduction is available only if the surviving spouse is a U.S. citizen.

Important: Some states also charge inheritance or death taxes, and the exemptions may be much lower than the federal exemption. Discuss state tax issues with your tax advisor to avoid an unexpected tax liability or other unintended consequences of an asset transfer.

Exemption Portability

For married couples, any unused unified federal estate and gift tax exemption of the first spouse to die can be left to the surviving spouse, thanks to the so-called "exemption portability" privilege. The executor of the estate of the first spouse to die must make the exemption portability election to pass along the unused exemption to the surviving spouse.

The portability privilege — combined with the increased unified exemption amounts and the unlimited marital deduction — will make federal estate and gift tax bills for married folks a rarity, at least through 2025. That's because the portability privilege effectively doubles your estate and gift tax exemption to a whopping $22.8 million for 2019 (with inflation adjustments for 2020 through 2025).

Important: Exemption portability isn't a new privilege under the TCJA. It existed under prior law, and it will continue to exist after the increased estate and gift tax exemptions expire at the end of 2025.  

Estates below $11.4 Million

If your joint estate is worth less than $11.4 million, there won't be any federal estate tax due even if you and your spouse both die in 2019. That's because the unified estate and gift tax exemption allows either of you to leave up to $11.4 million to your children and other relatives and loved ones without federal estate tax or any planning moves.

But there are still many reasons for you to create (or review) your estate plan. For example, if you have minor children, you need a will to appoint someone to be their guardian if you die. Or you might want to draft a will to designate specific assets for specific individuals. Likewise, if you're concerned about leaving money to a spouse or other individual who isn't financially astute, you might want to set up a trust to manage assets that person will inherit.

Estates between $11.4 Million and $22.8 Million

Couples with joint estates between $11.4 million and $22.8 million are positioned to benefit greatly from exemption portability. If you die in 2019 before your spouse, you can direct the executor of your estate to give any unused exemption to your surviving spouse. If your spouse dies before you, he or she can do the same.

The portability privilege effectively doubles your exemption. That means you and your spouse can transfer up to $22.8 million for 2019 (with inflation adjustments for 2020 through 2025) without incurring estate or gift tax. 

Estates over $22.8 Million

What if your joint estate is worth more than $22.8 million? The generous $11.4 million federal estate tax exemption, the unlimited marital deduction and the exemption portability privilege will work to your advantage. But you may need to take additional steps to postpone (or minimize) federal estate taxes.

For example, Leon and Lucy are a married couple with adult children and a joint estate worth $30 million. They both die in 2019.

Leon dies in February 2019, leaving his entire $15 million estate to Lucy. The transfer is federal-estate-tax-free, thanks to the unlimited marital deduction. Leon also leaves Lucy his unused $11.4 million exemption.

When Lucy dies in November 2019, how much can she leave to her loved ones without incurring federal estate tax? Lucy's estate tax exemption is $11.4 million; she also has the portable exemption ($11.4 million) that Leon left when he died in February. So, she can leave up to $22.8 million to her beneficiaries without incurring any federal estate tax. Minimizing federal estate taxes on the remaining $7.2 million in Lucy's estate would require some additional estate planning moves.

Alternatively, Leon could leave $11.4 million to his children (federal-estate-tax-free thanks to his $11.4 million exemption) and $3.6 million to Lucy (federal estate-tax-free thanks to the unlimited marital deduction). That way, when Lucy dies in November 2019, her estate would be worth $18.6 million (her own $15 million plus the $3.6 million from Leon). Then her exemption would shelter $11.4 million from the federal estate tax. Again, minimizing federal estate tax on the remaining $7.2 million in Lucy's estate would require some additional steps.

Important: The same considerations apply if Lucy is the first to die.

Smart Moves for Big Estates

People with joint estates worth more than $22.8 million should consider planning strategies designed to lower federal estate and gift taxes. Here are a few:

Make annual gifts. Each year, you and your spouse can make annual gifts up to the federal gift tax exclusion amount. The current annual federal gift tax exclusion is $15,000. Annual gifts help reduce the taxable value of your estate without reducing your unified federal estate and gift tax exemption.

For example, suppose you have two adult children and four grandkids. You and your spouse could give them each $15,000 in 2019. That would remove a grand total of $180,000 from your estate ($15,000 × six recipients × two donors) with no adverse federal estate or gift tax consequences. This strategy can be repeated each year, and can dramatically reduce your taxable estate over time.

Pay college tuition or medical expenses. You can pay unlimited amounts of college tuition and medical expenses without reducing your unified federal estate and gift tax exemption. But you must make the payments directly to the college or medical service provider. These amounts can't be used to pay for college room and board expenses, however.

Give away appreciating assets before you die. In 2019, a married couple, combined, can give away up to $22.8 million worth of appreciating assets (such as stocks and real estate) without triggering federal gift taxes (assuming they've never tapped into their unified federal estate and gift tax exemption before). This can be on top of 1) cash gifts to loved ones that take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion, and 2) cash gifts to directly pay college tuition or medical expenses for loved ones.

To illustrate, say you give stock worth $2 million to your adult son in 2019. That uses up $1.985 million of your $11.4 million lifetime unified federal estate and gift tax exemption ($2 million – $15,000). Your spouse does the same. When it comes to gifts of appreciating assets, using up some of your lifetime exemption can be a smart tax move, because the future appreciation is kept out of your taxable estate.

Set up an irrevocable life insurance trust. Life insurance death benefits are federal-income-tax-free. However, the death benefit from any policy on your own life is included in your estate for federal estate tax purposes if you have so-called "incidents of ownership" in the policy. It makes no difference if all the insurance money goes straight to your adult children or other beneficiaries.

It doesn't take much to have incidents of ownership. For example, you have incidents of ownership if you have the power to:

  • Change beneficiaries,
  • Borrow against the policy,
  • Cancel the policy, or
  • Select payment options.

This unfavorable life insurance ownership rule can inadvertently cause unwary taxpayers to be exposed to the federal estate tax.

To avoid this pitfall, a married individual can name his or her surviving spouse as the life insurance policy beneficiary. That way, under the unlimited marital deduction, the death benefit can be received by the surviving spouse free of any federal estate tax. However, this maneuver can cause too much money to pile up in the surviving spouse's estate and expose it to a major federal estate tax hit when he or she dies.

Alternatively, large estates can set up an irrevocable life insurance trust to buy coverage on the lives of both spouses. The death benefits can then be used to cover part or all of the estate tax bill. This is accomplished by authorizing the trustee of the life insurance trust to purchase assets from the estate or make loans to the estate. The extra liquidity is then used to cover the estate tax bill.

The irrevocable life insurance trust is later liquidated by distributing its assets to the trust beneficiaries (your loved ones). Then, the beneficiaries wind up with the assets purchased from the estate or with liabilities owed to themselves. And the estate tax bill gets paid with money that wasn't itself subject to federal estate tax.

Bottom Line

The TCJA generally improves the federal estate tax posture of taxpayers for 2018 through 2025. But, to achieve optimal results and cover all your bases, you may need to meet with your EHTC Tax Advisor and legal advisor to create or update your estate plan.      

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Tags: Gifts, Estate Planning, Tax Rates, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

7 Year-End Tax Planning Moves for Small Businesses

Posted on Mon, Oct 29, 2018

Business owners still have time to significantly reduce their tax bills for 2018. Here are seven year-end moves to consider, taking into account changes included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

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Tags: Tax Planning, Business Owner, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

Employers: IRS Updates Business Travel Per Diems

Posted on Mon, Oct 08, 2018

Under current tax law, employees aren't allowed to claim miscellaneous itemized deductions — including unreimbursed business expenses — on their personal tax returns for 2018 through 2025. So, it may be more important than ever for employers to set up expense reimbursement plans for business-related travel costs.

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Tags: Business Travel, Travel, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

QBI Deduction Provides Tax Break to Pass-Through Entity Owners

Posted on Fri, Aug 24, 2018

The IRS recently issued proposed reliance regulations to help clarify the new qualified business income (QBI) deduction that was introduced as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This guidance is complex and hundreds of pages long. As part of the proposed regs, the IRS explained that, if certain requirements are met, individuals, estates and trusts (all referred to as "individuals" by the proposed regs) that own interests in more than one qualifying trade or business can (but aren't required to) aggregate them, by treating them as a single trade or business.

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Tags: IRS, Business Owner, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), Qualified Business Income (QBI)

New ACA Legal Battle Could Affect Individual and Employer Health Coverage

Posted on Tue, Jul 10, 2018

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been controversial since it was enacted in 2010. The latest legal attack calls into question whether insurance carriers will still be required to issue coverage to individuals without regard to pre-existing medical conditions, and the degree of pricing flexibility that carriers will have based on the demographics of a covered group.

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Tags: Health Insurance, Changes in ACA, ACA, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

6 Cool Ways to Save Taxes During the Hot Summer Months

Posted on Wed, May 30, 2018

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) may have put a crimp in some of your summer plans by eliminating or scaling back certain tax breaks. But individuals and small business owners still have plenty of opportunities to save taxes. Here are six ideas to consider this summer.

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Tags: Vacation Home, Federal Taxes, Business Tax Savings, Rental Property, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)