Monday, September 11, 2017

Tax Aspects of Self-Employment

As a sole proprietor, there are several important rules that you should be aware of:

(1) For income tax purposes, you'll report your income and expenses on Schedule C of your Form 1040. The net income will be taxable to you regardless of whether you withdraw cash from the business. Your business expenses will be deductible against gross income (i.e., "above the line") and not as itemized deductions. If you have any losses, the losses will generally be deductible against your other income, subject to special rules relating to hobby losses, passive activity losses, and losses in activities in which you weren't "at risk."

(2) You may be able to deduct office-at-home expenses. If you'll be working from an office in your home, performing management or administrative tasks from an office-at-home, or storing product samples or inventory at home, you may be entitled to deduct an allocable portion of certain of the costs of maintaining your home. And if you have an office-at-home, you may be able to deduct commuting expenses of going from your home to another work location.

(3) You'll be required to pay self-employment taxes. For 2017, you'll pay self-employment tax (social security and Medicare) at a 15.3% rate on your net earnings from self-employment of up to $127,200, and Medicare tax only at a 2.9% rate on the excess. An additional 0.9% Medicare tax (for a total of 3.8%) will be imposed on self-employment income in excess of $250,000 for joint returns; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns; and $200,000 in all other cases. Self-employment tax is imposed in addition to income tax, but you can deduct half of your self-employment tax as an adjustment to income.

(4) You'll be allowed to deduct 100% of your health insurance costs as a trade or business expense. This means your deduction for medical care insurance won't be subject to the limitation on your medical expense deduction that is based on a percentage of your adjusted gross income.

(5) You'll be required to make quarterly estimated tax payments. Self-employed individuals are required to pay their income taxes in quarterly using the estimated tax payment guidelines, in order to avoid an underpayment penalty.

(6) You'll have to keep complete records of your income and expenses. In particular, you should carefully record your expenses in order to claim the full amount of the deductions to which you are entitled. Certain types of expenses, such as automobile, travel, entertainment, meals, and office-at-home expenses, require special attention because they're subject to special recordkeeping requirements or limitations on deductibility.

(7) If you hire any employees, you'll have to get a taxpayer identification number and will have to withhold and pay over various payroll taxes.

(8) You should consider establishing a qualified retirement plan. The advantage of a qualified retirement plan is that amounts contributed to the plan are deductible at the time of the contribution, and aren't taken into income until the amounts are withdrawn. Because of the complexities of ordinary qualified retirement plans, you might consider a simplified employee pension (SEP) plan, which requires less paperwork. Another type of plan available to sole proprietors that offers tax advantages with fewer restrictions and administrative requirements than a qualified plan is a "savings incentive match plan for employees," i.e., a SIMPLE plan. If you don't establish a retirement plan, you may still be able to make a contribution to an IRA.

If you’d like any additional information regarding the tax aspects of your business, or if you need assistance in satisfying any of the reporting or recordkeeping requirements, please contact us.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Independent Contractor vs. Employee

The question of whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee for federal income and employment tax purposes is a complex one. It is intensely factual, and the stakes can be very high. If a worker is an employee, the company must withhold federal income and payroll taxes, pay the employer's share of FICA taxes on the wages plus FUTA tax, and often provide the worker with fringe benefits it makes available to other employees. There may be state tax obligations as well. These obligations don't apply for a worker who is an independent contractor. The business sends the independent contractor a Form 1099-MISC for the year showing the amount paid to the contractor (if the amount is $600 or more), and that's it.

Who is an "employee?" There is no uniform definition of the term.

Under the common-law rules (so-called because they originate from court cases rather than from a statute), individuals are generally employees if the enterprise they work for has the right to control and direct them regarding the job they are to do and how they are to do it. Otherwise, the individuals are independent contractors.

Some employers that have misclassified workers as independent contractors are relieved from employment tax liabilities under Section 530 of the 1978 Revenue Act (not the Internal Revenue Code). In brief, Section 530 protection applies only if the employer: filed all federal returns consistent with its treatment of a worker as an independent contractor; treated all similarly situated workers as independent contractors; and had a "reasonable basis" for not treating the worker as an employee. For example, a "reasonable basis" exists if a significant segment of the employer's industry has traditionally treated similar workers as independent contractors. Section 530 doesn't apply to certain types of technical services workers.

Individuals who are "statutory employees," (that is, specifically identified by the Internal Revenue Code as being employees) are treated as employees for social security tax purposes even if they aren't subject to an employer's direction and control (that is, even if the individuals wouldn't be treated as employees under the common-law rules). These individuals are agent drivers and commission drivers, life insurance salespeople, home workers, and full-time traveling or city salespeople who meet a number of tests. Statutory employees may or may not be employees for non-FICA purposes. Corporate officers are statutory employees for all purposes.

Individuals who are statutory independent contractors (that is, specifically identified by the Internal Revenue Code as being non-employees) aren't employees for purposes of wage withholding, FICA, or FUTA and the income tax rules in general. Qualified real estate agents and certain direct sellers are statutory independent contractors.

Some categories of individuals are subject to special rules because of their occupations or identities. For example, corporate directors aren't employees of a corporation in their capacity as directors, and partners of an enterprise organized as a partnership are treated as self-employed persons.

Under certain circumstances, you can ask the IRS (on Form SS-8) to rule on whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee.

If you would like to discuss how these complex rules apply to your business, to make sure that none of your workers are misclassified, please contact us.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cancellation of Student Loans

In general, if a loan or other debt you owe is canceled, you must report the cancellation as income. This means that you will generally have income if your student loan is canceled. But if your student loan qualifies for the exception described below, you won't have income from the cancellation.

Many student loans contain a provision that all or part of the debt will be canceled if the student works for a certain period of time in certain professions for any of a broad class of employers. If cancellation of all or part of your student loan is contingent on your fulfilling this type of service requirement, you won't have income if any part of the loan is canceled because you performed the required services. Student loans that qualify for this exception are loans that are made to a student to help him attend a tax-exempt educational institution.

Qualifying student loans may be made by government entities (e.g., the U.S., or a state), by tax-exempt public benefit corporations, or by tax-exempt educational institutions out of funds the institution received from a government entity or tax-exempt public benefit corporation. That is, loans made with government funds may qualify.

Loans made by tax-exempt educational institutions out of private, nongovernment funds also qualify, but only if the loan imposes a public service requirement. The institution must have made the loan under a program designed to encourage students to serve in occupations or areas with unmet needs, and the services provided by the student (or former student) must be for or under the direction of a governmental unit or a tax-exempt organization.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is a federal program that forgives the remaining balance on your federal direct loans if you meet certain requirements. You must work full-time for a qualifying employer and make 120 qualifying monthly loan payments while doing so. Therefore, it is possible to have a loan forgiven after as little as 10 years. Qualifying employers include government organizations, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, and other types of nonprofit organizations if their primary purpose is to provide certain types of qualifying public services.  You can find additional information regarding this program and all of its requirements at https://teststudentaid2.ed.gov/testise2/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service.

With the change in federal administration at the beginning of 2017, it is important to be aware that changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program may be possible in the future. The most recent proposed White House budget would end the program for loans issued on or after July 1, 2018, unless the loan was provided to help the student finish their current course of study. The budget also proposed changes to an income-based repayment plan, which includes forgiving student loan debt sooner, but at the cost of higher monthly payments. Also, income-based loan forgiveness is taxable to the borrower. Any proposed changes must be approved by Congress.

Many states also have student loan forgiveness programs. These may be general or for specific fields of employment, such as teaching or law. You can find additional information regarding student loan forgiveness programs for a specific state at http://thecollegeinvestor.com/student-loan-forgiveness-programs-by-state/.

It is important to remember that the exception described above is tied to a public service requirement. You will have income from the cancellation of your student loan if you don't fulfill your public service obligation, or if the service obligation doesn't qualify for the exclusion.

Please contact us if you have any questions or would like more information.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tax Deductions for College Expenses

As a parent of a college-age child, your goal is to pay for current or imminent college bills. We would like to address this concern by suggesting several approaches that seek to take maximum advantage of tax benefits to minimize your expenses. (Please note that the following suggestions are strictly related to tax benefits. You may have non-tax-related concerns that make the suggestions inappropriate.)
Tuition tax credits. You can take an 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 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.
Both credits are phased out for higher-income taxpayers. The American Opportunity tax credit is phased out for couples with income between $160,000 and $180,000, and for singles with income between $80,000 and $90,000. The Lifetime Learning credit is phased out (for 2017) for couples with income between $112,000 and $132,000, and for singles with income between $56,000 and $66,000. The phase-out range for the Lifetime Learning credit is adjusted annually for inflation.
Only one credit can be claimed for the same student in any given year.
Statement from institution required before tuition credits or qualified tuition deduction can be claimed. To claim the tuition tax credits, a taxpayer must receive a Form 1098-T payee statement from the educational institution. For purposes of this requirement, if a person the taxpayer claims as a dependent receives the Form 1098-T, the statement is treated as received by the taxpayer.
Scholarships. Scholarships are exempt from income tax, if certain conditions are satisfied. The most important are that the scholarship must not be compensation for services, and it must be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies, and similar items (and not for room and board).  Scholarships used for room and board would be taxable to the student.
Although a scholarship is tax-free, it will reduce the amount of expenses that may be taken into account in computing the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning credits, above, and may therefore reduce or eliminate those credits.
Employer educational assistance programs. If your employer pays your child's college expenses, the payment is a fringe benefit to you, and is taxable to you as compensation, unless the payment is part of a scholarship program that's "outside of the pattern of employment." Then the payment will be treated as a scholarship (if the other requirements for scholarships are satisfied).
Tuition reduction plans for employees of educational institutions. Tax-exempt educational institutions sometimes provide tuition reductions for their employees' children who attend that educational institution, or cash tuition payments for children who attend other educational institutions. If certain requirements are satisfied, these tuition reductions are exempt from income tax.
College expense payments by grandparents and others. If someone other than you pays your child's college expenses, the person making the payments is generally subject to the gift tax, to the extent the payments and other gifts to the child by that person exceed the regular annual (per donee) gift tax exclusion of $14,000 for 2017. Married donors who consent to split gifts may exclude gifts of up to $28,000 for 2017.
However, if the other person pays your child's school tuition directly to an educational institution, there's an unlimited exclusion from the gift tax for the payment. The relationship between the person paying the tuition and the person on whose behalf the payments are made is irrelevant.
The unlimited gift tax exclusion applies only to direct tuition costs. There's no exclusion (beyond the normal annual exclusion) for dormitory fees, board, books, supplies, etc. Prepaid tuition payments may qualify for the unlimited gift tax exclusion under certain circumstances.
Student loans. You can deduct interest on qualifying loans used to pay for college education expenses. The maximum deduction is $2,500. However, the deduction phases out for taxpayers who are married filing jointly with AGI between $135,000 and $165,000 (between $65,000 and $80,000 for single filers).
Bank loans. In order to take the student loan interest deduction, the loan must be a “qualifying” student loan.  Therefore, interest on non-qualifying bank student loans will be nondeductible. However, if you use a home equity loan, the interest is deductible for regular income tax purposes (although not for alternative minimum tax purposes). Interest on home equity debt would be reported on Schedule A.
Borrowing against retirement plan accounts. Many company retirement plans permit participants to borrow cash. This option may be an attractive alternative to a bank loan, especially if your other debt burden is high. However, the loan must carry an interest rate equal to the prevailing commercial rate for similar loans, and, unless you qualify for the deduction for education loan interest (described above), there's no deduction for the personal interest paid. Moreover, unless strict requirements are satisfied, a loan against a retirement account is treated as a premature distribution (withdrawal) that's subject to regular income tax and an additional penalty tax.
Withdrawals from retirement plan accounts. IRAs and qualified retirement plans represent the largest cash resource of many taxpayers. You can pull money out of your IRA (including a Roth IRA) at any time to pay college costs without incurring the 10% early withdrawal penalty that usually applies to withdrawals from an IRA before age 59½. However, the distributions are subject to tax under the usual rules for IRA distributions.
Not all of the above breaks may be used in the same year, and use of some of them reduces the amounts that qualify for other breaks. So it takes planning to determine which should be used in any given situation. If you would like to discuss one or more of the above payment possibilities, or any other alternatives, in more detail, please contact us.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Planning for College Expenses

As a parent with college-bound children, you are concerned with setting up a financial plan to fund future college costs. We would like to address this concern by suggesting several approaches that seek to take maximum advantage of tax benefits to minimize your expenses. (Please note that the following suggestions are strictly related to tax benefits. You may have non-tax-related concerns that make the suggestions inappropriate.)
 
In some cases, transferring ownership of assets to children can save taxes. You and your spouse can transfer up to $28,000 (in 2017) in cash or assets to each child with no gift tax consequences. And if your child isn't subject to the "kiddie tax," he or she is taxed on income from assets entirely at his or her lower tax rates-as low as 10% (or 0% for long-term capital gain).
 
However, where the kiddie tax applies, the child's investment income above $2,100 (for 2017) is taxed at your tax rates and not the child's rates. The kiddie tax applies if: (1) the child hasn't reached age 18 before the close of the tax year or (2) the child's earned income doesn't exceed one-half of his or her support and the child is age 18 or is a full-time student age 19 to 23.
 
A variety of trusts or custodial arrangements can be used to place assets in your children's names. Note, it's not enough just to transfer the income, e.g., dividend checks, to your children. The income would still be taxed to you. You must transfer the asset that generates the income to their names.
 
Tax-exempt bonds. Another way to achieve economic growth while avoiding tax is simply to invest in tax-exempt bonds or bond funds. Interest rates and degree of risk vary on these, so care must be taken in selecting your particular investment. Some tax-exempts are sold at a deep discount from face and don't carry interest coupons. Many are marketed as college savings bonds. A small investment in these so-called zero coupon bonds can grow into a fairly sizable fund by the time your child reaches college age. "Stripped" municipal bonds (munis) provide similar advantages.
 
Series EE U.S. savings bonds. Series EE U.S. savings bonds offer two tax-savings opportunities when used to finance your child's college expenses: first, you don't have to report the interest on the bonds for federal tax purposes until the bonds are actually cashed in; and second, interest on "qualified" Series EE (and Series I) bonds may be exempt from federal tax if the bond proceeds are used for qualified college expenses.
 
To qualify for the tax exemption for college use, you must purchase the bonds in your own name (not the child's) or jointly with your spouse. The proceeds must be used for tuition, fees, etc., not room and board. If only part of the proceeds are used for qualified expenses, then only that part of the interest is exempt.
 
If your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain amounts, the exemption is phased out. For bonds cashed in during 2017, the exemption begins to phase out when joint AGI hits $117,250 for joint return filers ($78,150 for all other returns) and is completely phased out if your AGI is at $147,250 ($93,150 for all other returns).
 
Qualified tuition programs. A qualified tuition program (also known as a 529 plan) allows you to buy tuition credits for a child or make contributions to an account set up to meet a child's future higher education expenses. Qualified tuition programs can be established by state governments or by private education institutions.
 
Contributions to these programs aren't deductible. The contributions are treated as taxable gifts to the child, but they are eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion ($14,000 for 2017). A donor who contributes more than the annual exclusion limit for the year can elect to treat the gift as if it were spread out over a five-year period.
 
The earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free until the college costs are paid from the funds. Distributions from qualified tuition programs are tax-free to the extent the funds are used to pay qualified higher education expenses. Distributions of earnings that aren't used for qualified higher education expenses will be subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty tax.
 
Coverdell education savings accounts. You can establish Coverdell ESAs (formerly called education IRAs) and make contributions of up to $2,000 for each child under age 18. This age limitation doesn't apply to a beneficiary with special needs, defined as an individual who because of a physical, mental or emotional condition, including learning disability, requires additional time to complete his or her education.
 
The right to make these contributions begins to phase out once your AGI is over $190,000 on a joint return ($95,000 for singles). If the income limitation is a problem, the child can make a contribution to his or her own account.
 
Although the contributions aren't deductible, income in the account isn't taxed, and distributions are tax-free if spent on qualified education expenses. If the child doesn't attend college, the money must be withdrawn when the child turns 30, and any earnings will be subject to tax and penalty, but unused funds can be transferred tax-free to a Coverdell ESA of another member of the child's family who hasn't reached age 30. These requirements that the child or member of the child's family not have reached 30 do not apply to an individual with special needs.
 
The above are just some of the tax-favored ways to build up a college fund for your children. If you wish to discuss any of them, or other alternatives, please contact us.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Adjusting your income tax withholding


If you typically receive a large refund from IRS after you file your income tax return, or you owe the IRS a substantial amount at that time, you should consider adjusting your income tax withholding.

Your employer withholds income tax from your paycheck based on the number of withholding allowances you claim on Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate. You must give your employer a Form W-4 when you first begin work.

If your tax circumstances change, it's up to you to give your employer a new W-4. Many employees neglect to take this step, resulting in withholding that is either too high or too low.

If your withholding is too high, you are in effect giving the government an interest-free loan. Although the overpaid tax will be refunded once you file your return, you would have been better off using the money during the year to generate income or for personal purposes. In this case, you should reduce the amount your employer withholds to increase your regular take-home pay.

At the other extreme are taxpayers who have too little withheld and who owe substantial amounts come April 15th. While they enjoy the "extra" amounts received in each paycheck, they must pay back the taxes owed in April, and will likely be tacking on extra in the form of penalties. If this is your situation, you should increase your withholding. As a rough guideline, you should owe less than 10% of your tax bill come April.

Even if you have had too little tax withheld for most of the year, you still may be able to avoid a penalty by asking your employer to withhold additional amounts for the rest of the year. This is because the increased withholding at year's end will be treated as paid equally throughout the year.

You should check your withholding whenever significant personal or financial changes occur in your life, including the following:
 
       Changes in filing status or exemptions: You get married or divorced; you have a new child; a child goes off on his or her own.

       Changes in wage income: You or your spouse start or stop working, or start or stop a second job.

       Changes in income not subject to withholding: You have an increase or decrease in rental income, interest income, dividends, capital gains, or IRA distributions.

       Changes in deductions and credits: You take out or pay off a mortgage; you become entitled to the dependent care credit, child tax credit, or the higher education credit; you have changes in medical, alimony, or job expenses.

       Changes in other taxes: You owe self-employment tax or employment taxes for your household workers.

Unfortunately, the procedures for arriving at the proper withholding amounts are among the more complex ones taxpayers confront. A wide array of factors play a role: exemptions, deductions, credits, marital status, your spouse's income, and others. The Form W-4 includes three worksheets that you may have to complete to determine the proper withholding. If you think your situation calls for a withholding adjustment (up or down), and you would like some guidance in getting through this maze, please contact us 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Deductibility of Job-Search Expenses

If you or someone in your family is looking for a new job, you should be aware of the income tax deduction that may be available with respect to job-search costs. Qualifying expenses are deductible even if they don't result in a new position being offered or accepted.

 What are job hunting expenses?  Expenses of seeking new employment can encompass a broad range of items. Some of the more common expenses for which deductions have been allowed are:
·         the cost of resumes, including postage for sending them to prospective employers;
·         job counselling and referral fees;
·         employment agency fees;
·         telephone charges related to seeking new employment;
·         local as well as out-of-town travel for interviews, to the extent not reimbursed by the prospective employer.

 Nondeductible items include a loss incurred on forfeiture of a deposit for a home in an area where a new job was anticipated, and a real estate broker's commission on the sale of a home in connection with a move to a new job location.

For job-search expenses to be deductible, you must be looking for employment in the same trade or business in which you are engaged. For this purpose, a corporation's secretary-treasurer seeking a position as assistant to the vice president of finance at another corporation was seeking employment in the same trade or business. But an artist seeking work in the business end of the art field was held to be looking for a job in a new trade or business. The IRS also says any job in the private sector is a new trade or business for a retired military officer.

 Accepting temporary employment in another line of work won't affect your deduction for expenses in searching for permanent employment in your regular line of work. But job hunting costs aren't deductible if you are looking for a job in a new trade or business, even if you find employment as a result of the search.

First time job seekers. The IRS says that job hunting expenses incurred in seeking employment for the first time are not deductible. This rule can be tough on students and others entering the job market for the first time. But it may be possible to avoid the impact of this rule through an internship or other employment during the student's senior year. In addition to looking good on a resume, this type of work experience can be a trade or business in which the student is engaged (thus avoiding the first time job seeking rule).

 Reentry into job market. If an individual is temporarily unemployed, expenses of seeking employment in the field in which he or she was previously employed are deductible. But the IRS takes the position that if there is a substantial time break between earlier employment and the current search, you cannot deduct the expenses of looking for a job. Thus, if there has been a gap of several years since the last employment, for example, to take care of small children or to return to school to pursue post-graduate studies, the cost of seeking employment is not deductible.

 Other limitations on deductibility. Deductible expenses in seeking employment are claimed as miscellaneous itemized deductions. As a result, individuals who take the standard deduction cannot claim such expenses. In addition, miscellaneous itemized deductions are deductible only to the extent that, in the aggregate, they exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income. Thus, unless your job hunting costs are large or you have other significant miscellaneous deductions, you may not be able to derive any tax benefit from these expenses.

 We hope that this overview of the tax treatment of job search expenses is helpful. If you have any specific questions, or need additional information regarding this or other tax related matters, please contact us.