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Tax Payment Deadline Delayed by 90 Days

There has been much speculation surrounding the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the U.S. tax filing deadline. At a Tuesday White House briefing, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced new relief measures that are effective immediately.

The Internal Revenue Services (IRS) has extended the tax payment deadline for 2019 income taxes for individuals who owe up to $1 million and corporations that owe up to $10 million.

Eligible taxpayers can defer payment for up to 90 days without accruing interest or penalties. This puts the new tax payment deadline at July 15. As of now, the tax filing deadline remains April 15, though this could still change.  Regardless of a change in deadline, our firm continues to operate on a remote basis with the goal of completing tax filings timely.

We remain on alert to any news about this situation. If the IRS announces a filing extension, we will contact you as soon as possible. It is expected that many states will follow suit in granting similar payment relief. We will be sure to keep you apprised of any new updates at both the federal and state levels.

In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you have regarding these circumstances.

Jeffrey S. Bleacher, CPA, CGMA

Managing Partner

Employee Spotlight – Mary Stelmach

mary-mcdevitt-2-of-6_39031705141_oMary Stelmach joined the Ross Buehler Falk (RBF) team at the beginning of 2017. She was hired shortly after graduating from college, which means she has spent her entire professional career with RBF.  Mary currently serves as a staff accountant (level 2). A self-described “hybrid accountant,” she works on both audit and tax engagements. Specifically, she performs the detail work for audits, reviews, and compilations and prepares the related financial statements. She also prepares federal and state income tax returns for individuals, C Corporations, S Corporations, partnerships, and non-profits. Mary is involved with year-end tax planning for businesses and individuals, as well as the preparation of quarterly and annual payroll returns, Forms W-3 and W-2, and Forms 1096 and 1099. While RBF is Mary’s first “real” job, she did get some real-world experience during her senior year of college, when she interned at a tax office in Radnor, PA. She also gained experience preparing tax returns at a firm in Wyomissing, PA in 2016.

A summa cum laude graduate of Cabrini University, Mary earned a Bachelor of Science in accounting in 2015 and a master’s degree in accounting in 2017. She was the top member of her master’s class and was given the honor of carrying the school banner in the graduation procession. In addition to earning a GPA of 4.0 in both degree programs, Mary set a new record for the school. She explained, “I was the first Cabrini master of accounting graduate to pass all four sections of the CPA exam prior to graduating!”

Mary is a Pennsylvania native and loves getting to live close to her family. Her father is a cabinet maker at Birchcraft Kitchens in Reading, PA and her mother is a homemaker. Her sister, Natalie, and her Aunt Nancy also live nearby—they are a tight-knit group. Mary and her husband live together in Shillington. “My favorite thing about living in Shillington is my family,” she explained.

In addition to her human family members, Mary calls her many cats family. She claims Previous and Muffin, who live with her parents, Magic and Paris, who live with her and her husband, and Sammy, who lives with her aunt. When asked what question she would most like to know the answer to, Mary responded, “Why does my cat Paris like to push my adorable (and breakable!) Thanksgiving turkey napkin holder all the way to the edge of the table so that it looks like it will fall off? I feel like the answer is ‘because she can,’ but still.” Despite their sometimes-mischievous behavior, Mary loves her cats dearly. When asked what she would do with the extra time if she didn’t ever have to sleep, her quick response was “I would watch Hallmark movies with my cats.”

Want to get to know Mary even better? We asked a variety of silly questions, and here’s what we learned:

  • Mary taught herself how to juggle during high school—an accomplishment of which she is still proud. “Three is my max,” she explained.
  • Her favorite smell is “the first real day of Spring when you can smell all the flowers and the fresh air.”
  • The most unusual thing that Mary has ever eaten? Alpaca hot dogs. “My husband’s mom has an alpaca farm.”
  • Costa Rica is the farthest from home that Mary has ever travelled. “I went there over Spring Break to learn about Free and Fair Trade in college.”

When asked one of the classic get-to-know-you questions—”If you could have any super power, what would you choose?”—Mary gave a response that really speaks to her character: “I would choose the power to make people happy and give them a reason to be happy.” In light of this, it certainly makes sense that Mary’s husband describes her as thoughtful, clever, and caring.

6 Ways to Keep Safe When Using Mobile Banking

For the most part, smartphones are your lifeline to the world. You connect with friends and family, shop and update your status on social media. However, you also store all your personal information on them and, these days, use them to do your banking. That’s why you need to take precautions. Here are a few critical things to do to make sure your information isn’t compromised.

Protect Your Smartphone 

Your desktop and laptop are secure with anti-virus software and firewalls; the same should go for your phone. Here are five basic things you need to do ASAP: 1) Use a 4-digit PIN to lock your screen. If your phone is stolen, it’s harder for a thief to unlock it. Also, check to see if your phone has a feature that allows you to locate and remotely lock or erase data, should you lose it. This is called a “kill switch.” 2) Back up your data. Kind of basic, but it’s always important to be reminded. 3) Use location-based software to find your lost phone. 4) Install an antivirus app and software to erase the contents of a lost phone. And finally, 5) Update your apps to the latest versions and when downloading them, only choose those from publishers you trust.

Create a Strong Password 

This is a no-brainer, but it’s imperative. Don’t use any part of your name or numbers from your birthday, or anything remotely personal. Make your password as complex and obscure as you can. Thieves can be smart. Don’t give them any chance to wreak havoc in your life.

Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi to Access Your Bank 

Public Wi-Fi doesn’t have heightened levels of security, so make sure you use your phone’s data network or a secured Wi-Fi network when accessing sensitive information. If you don’t do this, you become vulnerable to hackers. You can never be too careful. 

Don’t Save Usernames and Passwords in Your Browser 

Sometimes, browsers give you the option to save your username and password. As convenient as this is, don’t do this. It could be easy for someone to gain direct access to your bank account if your phone is lost or stolen. 

Don’t Follow Links 

If you get an email or text from your bank, don’t click. It could be a phishing scam and could lead you to a “spoofed” website, which is a fake site created to look just like your bank’s official site. Always go to your bank’s site directly. Enter your bank’s web address into your phone and bookmark it. This way, you’ll avoid bogus sites and keep your money safe.

Log Out After Use 

Even if you haven’t saved your credentials, it’s always important to do this when you’re finished banking. While this is convenient for the next time you do your banking, it’s leaving thieves an easy way in to steal all your assets should you leave your phone unattended, or worse, if it’s lost or stolen.

In a world that’s getting more and more digitized every day, shoring up your personal banking information just makes good sense. No one wants to put all that they’ve worked so hard for in jeopardy.

Sources

https://www.discover.com/online-banking/banking-topics/how-to-stay-safe-with-mobile-banking/

https://money.howstuffworks.com/personal-finance/online-banking/5-mobile-banking-security-tips.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing

https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/tech-tips/story/tech-tips-wifi-can-be-used-to-hack-your-phone-here-s-how-to-prevent-it-1397211-2018-11-27

https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-wifi-why-hackers-love-public-wifi.html

The Difference Between an Audit, a Review, and a Compilation

When it comes time for financial documents to be corroborated, the three options available are a compilation, a review, and an audit. Each of these represents a very different degree of effort and investigation, and therefore each provides differing levels of confidence for investors and lenders. Let’s take a closer look at all three.

The Compilation

A compilation requires the least amount of work from an auditor, and though it is likely to cost the least of the three and take the least amount of time, it also provides the lowest level of assurance about the accuracy of the information presented. This is because in a compilation, the auditor does little more than hand over the original financial statements that were prepared internally by the company’s management, with no due diligence performed even to determine whether the information contained in the documents is accurate or true. It relies entirely on the information originally presented.

The Review

A review demands significantly more work on the part of the auditor, who is expected to determine the accuracy of the information contained in the financial documents presented to them through a series of inquiries and analytical procedures. Because some of the information contained in the financial documents presented by management has been tested, a review provides a moderate degree of assurance that the information is correct and can be trusted.

The Audit

An audit requires a much greater degree of due diligence than either a compilation or a review. It represents a significant amount of time spent making sure that all of the disclosures and ending balances that are contained in the organization’s financial statements are accurate, including time spent testing internal controls, confirming the engagement and statements from third parties, and examining all source documents in order to make sure that they are representative of the true situation at hand. An audit will often include a physical inspection where appropriate, as well as other procedures that are designed to confirm or refute the information that management has presented.

Though an audit will take the most time and be the most expensive procedure, it also provides the highest level of assurance for those considering investing in an organization or lending it money.

Feel free to contact our office with any questions relating to the different options for financial documents to be corroborated.

Employer’s Pension Startup Credit Substantially Increased

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the Appropriations Act of 2020, which included a number of tax law changes, including retroactively extending certain tax provisions that expired after 2017 or were about to expire, a number of retirement and IRA plan modifications, and other changes that will impact a large portion of U.S. taxpayers as a whole. 

If you are considering establishing a qualified pension plan for your business, you may be entitled to the Credit for Small Employer Pension Startup Costs. Eligible small employers that adopt a new plan, such as a 401(k), a SIMPLE plan, or a simplified employee pension plan (SEP), may claim a nonrefundable credit.

The first credit year is the tax year that includes the date when the plan becomes effective or, electively, the preceding tax year. Examples of qualifying expenses include the costs related to changing the employer’s payroll system, consulting fees, and set-up fees for investment vehicles.

There are some qualification rules, the most predominant being:

  • The business did not employ, in the preceding year, more than 100 employees with compensation of at least $5,000.
  • The plan must cover at least one non–highly compensated employee.
  • The plan must be a new plan; during the three prior years, the employer must not have had a qualified employer plan for which contributions were made or in which benefits accrued for substantially the same employees who are in the plan for which the credit is being claimed.
  • If the credit is for the cost of a payroll-deduction IRA plan, the plan must be made available to all employees who have worked with the employer for at least three months.

Prior to 2020, this non-refundable credit was limited to the lesser of $500 or 50% of administrative and retirement-education expenses for the plan, for each of the plan’s first three years.

The Appropriations Act of 2020 increased the maximum credit for years beginning after 2019 to the greater of $500 or the lesser of (a) $250 multiplied by the number of non-highly compensated employees of the eligible employer who are eligible to participate in the plan or (b) $5,000.

The term “highly compensated employee” generally means any employee who (a) was a 5% owner at any time during the year or the preceding year, or (b) had compensation from the employer in excess of $130,000 (2020 amount, which is inflation adjusted for future years) during the year.

If you have questions related to starting a company pension plan or qualifying for this credit, please give this office a call.

Will Independent Contractors Become Extinct?

The California legislature recently passed landmark labor legislation that essentially makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for a worker to be classified as an independent contractor (self-employed). Governor Newsom was quick to sign it into law, and it generally became effective on January 1, 2020. Many believe this legislation will suppress entrepreneurship and innovation.

Although this issue currently pertains to California, other smaller states are sure to follow, and this will ultimately become an issue for employers nationwide.

Background: The distinction between employee and independent contractor is governed by both federal law and state law. It has always been a complicated issue at both the federal and state levels, and the state and federal guidelines often differ. However, because of the significant payroll tax revenues involved, the states are generally the most aggressive in classifying workers as employees.

In the California case, the legislation was prompted by a labor case that was ultimately settled by the California Supreme Court. In that case, Dynamex Operations West, a trucking company, was treating its drivers as employees. It started classifying them as independent contractors to reduce costs, which caught the eye of the California Employment Development Department and ultimately reached the California Supreme Court. The court determined the drivers were employees and not independent contractors. However, in making that decision, the California Supreme Court adopted the so-called “ABC test” used by some other states to make their determination.

As a result of this decision, the California Legislature passed legislation (AB-5) codifying, with some exceptions, the ABC test for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor.

The ABC Test: Several states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, have also adopted this so-called ABC test. The test is a broad means of determining a worker’s status as either an employee or a contractor by considering three factors. If a worker passes all three, then he or she is an independent contractor:

(A) That the worker is free from the hirer’s control and direction, in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact;

(B) That the worker performs work outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

(C) That the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.

The objective of the ABC test is to create a simpler, clearer test for determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. It presumes that a worker hired by an entity is an employee and places the burden on the employer to establish that the worker meets the definition of an independent contractor. But California’s AB-5 legislation did not just adopt the ABC test; it also added numerous and complicated exceptions to using the ABC test, which will surly enrich California labor attorneys.

Impacts on Employers: Employers who have been treating a worker as an independent contractor but must treat him or her as an employee must pay at least minimum wage and provide sick time, meal and rest periods, and health insurance. The employer will also have to pay worker’s compensation benefits and health insurance. On top of that, California has severe monetary penalties for misclassifying workers. Impacts on Workers: The impacts on workers vary by occupation. Some workers incur significant amounts of expenses, and under the tax reform, they can no longer deduct employee business expenses on their tax returns. Thus, for example, an Uber driver who must provide the vehicle and pay for the gas, insurance and upkeep would be unable to deduct these substantial costs of providing the service and would have to pay taxes on his or her gross income.

Large Employers Are Fighting Back: Some larger employers are fighting back and challenging AB-5. Uber and Doordash have joined forces with some contract drivers to file a suit in the U.S. District Court for Central California alleging that AB-5 violates individuals’ constitutional rights and unfairly discriminates against technology platforms. The California Trucking Association (CTA) successfully obtained a temporary injunction against AB-5 for CTA drivers by contending that AB-5 is in direct conflict with several federal laws related to motor carriers. Regardless of the outcomes of these cases, they will be appealed, and the ultimate outcome is no doubt months, if not years, away.

This leaves few choices for smaller employers other than to carefully assess the provisions of AB-5 when treating a worker as an independent contractor. For those who are unsure, it might be wise to consult a labor attorney. Of course, the safe-harbor option is to treat all workers as employees until all of the legal challenges to AB-5 have run their course.

Please give our office a call if you have further questions.

Congress Passes Last-Minute Tax Changes

Congress, at almost the last minute, has passed a large number of tax changes, including retirement plan issues that will become effective in 2020, as well as extensions through 2020 of a number of tax provisions that had expired or were about to end. The list of changes is quite large, so we have only included those that are most likely to affect individual tax returns. Here is a run-down on some of the new tax provisions:

TAX EXTENDERS

The tax changes retroactively revive a number of provisions that had previously expired or were going to at the end of 2019, and extend them through 2020. So, review them carefully to see if any of them provide you with an opportunity to amend your return for a refund.

Discharge of Qualified Principal Residence Indebtedness – When an individual loses his or her principal residence to foreclosure, abandonment, or short sale or has a portion of their loan forgiven under the HAMP mortgage-reduction plan, they will generally end up with cancellation-of-debt (COD) income. COD income is equal to the amount of debt on the home that is forgiven by the lender. To the extent that the mortgage debt becomes COD income, it is taxable income unless the taxpayer can exclude it based on specific provisions in the tax code.

After the housing market crash a few years back, Congress added the qualified principal residence COD exclusion, which allowed taxpayers to exclude up to $2 million ($1 million if married filing separately) of COD income, to the extent it was discharged debt used to acquire the home, termed acquisition debt. Equity debt was not eligible for the exclusion. However, equity debt is deemed to be discharged first, thus limiting the exclusion if both equity and acquisition debt are involved in the transaction.

This COD exclusion was temporarily added in 2007, was extended, and then expired at the end of 2017. Under the current legislation, the exclusion for qualified principal residence indebtedness is retroactively extended through 2020. Thus, if you paid taxes on principal residence COD income in 2018, be sure to call attention to that fact so your return can be amended for a refund.

Mortgage Insurance Premiums – For tax years 2007 through 2017, taxpayers could deduct the cost of premiums for mortgage insurance on a qualified personal residence as an itemized deduction. The premiums were deducted as home mortgage interest on Schedule A. To be deductible:

  • The premiums must have been paid in connection with acquisition debt (note: acquisition debt includes refinanced acquisition debt).
  • The mortgage insurance contract must have been issued after Dec. 31, 2006.
  • It must be for a qualified residence (first and second homes).
  • The deductible amount of the premiums phases out ratably by 10% for each $1,000 by which the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $100,000 (10% for each $500 by which a married separate taxpayer’s AGI exceeds $50,000).

Qualified mortgage insurance means mortgage insurance provided by the:

  • Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA),
  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA), or
  • Rural Housing Services (RHS), as well as
  • Private mortgage insurance.

This deduction was previously allowed through 2017 and has retroactively been extended through 2020.

Above-the-Line Deduction for Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses – An above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education has been available since 2002 and was previously extended through 2017. For purposes of the higher education expense deduction, “qualified tuition and related expenses” has the same definition as for the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning credits for higher education expenses – that is, with certain exceptions, tuition and fees paid for an eligible student (the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, or a dependent) at an eligible higher education institution. The deduction – up to $2,000 or $4,000, depending on AGI – is not allowed for joint filers with an AGI of $160,000 or more ($80,000 for other filing statuses), except no deduction is allowed for taxpayers using the married filing separate status. The phase-out amounts are not inflation-adjusted. The same expenses can’t be used for both an education credit and the tuition and fees deduction.

This deduction was previously allowed through 2017 and has retroactively been extended through 2020.

Medical AGI Limits – For 2017 and 2018, individuals could claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses, to the extent that such expenses exceeded 7.5% of their AGI. For post-2018 years, the percent of AGI has been increased to 10%. The provision retroactively extends the lower threshold of 7.5% through 2020.

Residential Energy (Efficient) Property Credit – This non-refundable credit has been available in one form or another since 2006 and through 2017, with credit amounts varying from 10% to 30% and the maximum credit ranging from $500 to $1,500. Most recently, the credit percentage was 10%, with a lifetime credit amount limited to $500. This credit is best described as an energy-saving credit since it applies to improvements to the taxpayer’s existing primary home to make it more energy efficient. Generally, it applies to insulation, storm windows and doors, and certain types of energy-efficient roofing materials, energy-efficient central air-conditioning systems, water heaters, heat pumps, hot water systems, circulating fans, etc., but the expenses eligible for the credit do not include installation costs.

The recent legislation extends this credit through 2020, with a lifetime credit cap of $500.
Caution: The lifetime credit extends to returns going all the way back to 2006.

Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave – This credit provides an employer with credit for paid family and medical leave, which permits eligible employers to claim an elective general business credit based on eligible wages paid to qualifying employees with respect to family and medical leave. The maximum amount of family and medical leave that may be taken into account for any qualifying employee is 12 weeks per taxable year. The credit is variable and only applies if the leave wages are at least 50% of the individual’s normal wages. The credit percentage is 12.5% and increases by 0.5%, up to a maximum of 25%, for each percentage point that the payment rate exceeds 50%.

The credit was originally only for 2018 and 2019 but has been extended through 2020.

RETIREMENT PLAN AND IRA CHANGES

Maximum Age Limit for Traditional IRA Contributions – The legislation repeals the maximum age for making traditional IRA contributions, which, prior to this legislation, prohibited traditional IRA contributions after an individual reached the age of 70½. The provision is effective for contributions made for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019.

Penalty-Free Pension Withdrawals in Case of Childbirth or Adoption – The legislation allows a penalty free but taxable distribution of up to $5,000 from a qualified plan made within one year of birth or in the case of a finalized adoption of an individual aged 18 or younger or an individual who is physically or mentally incapable of self-support. Distributions can later be repaid to avoid the tax on the distribution.

Increase in Age for RMDs – For decades, individuals were required to begin taking distributions from their traditional IRAs and qualified plans once they reached age 70½. These distributions, commonly referred to as a required minimum distribution or RMD, have never been adjusted to account for increases in life expectancy. The legislation changes the required beginning date for mandatory distributions to age 72, effective for distributions required to be made after December 31, 2019, with respect to individuals who attain the age of 72 after this date.

Special Rule – Difficulty of Care Payments – Many home health-care workers do not have a taxable income because their only compensation comes from “difficulty of care” payments that are exempt from taxation under Code Section 131. Because such workers do not have taxable income, they cannot save for retirement in a defined contribution plan or IRA. This provision will allow home health-care workers to contribute to a qualified plan or IRA by amending the tax code so that tax-exempt difficulty of care payments are treated as compensation, for purposes of calculating the contribution limits to defined contribution plans and IRAs. This is effective for plan years after December 31, 2015, and IRA contributions after the act’s date of enactment (December 20, 2019).

Sec. 529 Plan Modifications – Sec. 529 plans (also referred to as qualified state tuition plans) were originally created to allow tax-free accumulation saving accounts for a child’s education but generally limited the funds’ use to post-secondary education tuition and certain college fees. Since then, Congress has continued to expand the use of funds to include supplies, books, equipment, and reasonable room and board expenses for attending college. With the passage of the tax reform at the end of 2017, Congress allowed up to $10,000 a year to be used for elementary and secondary school tuition expenses. This new legislation adds the following to the list of qualified expenses:

  • Qualified higher education expenses associated with registered apprenticeship programs certified by the Secretary of Labor under Sec. 1 of the National Apprenticeship Act
  • Payment of education loans, up to a maximum of $10,000 (reduced by the amount of distributions so treated for all prior taxable years), including those for siblings

These changes are effective for distributions made after December 31, 2018.

RMDs for Designated Beneficiaries – The legislation modifies the required minimum distribution rules with respect to defined contribution plan and IRA balances upon the account owner’s death. Under the legislation, distributions to individuals other than the surviving spouse of the employee (or IRA owner), disabled or chronically ill individuals, individuals who are not more than 10 years younger than the employee (or IRA owner), or a child of the employee (or IRA owner) who has not reached the age of majority must generally be distributed by the end of the tenth calendar year following the year of the employee’s or IRA owner’s death. A special rule for children requires any remaining undistributed funds to be distributed within 10 years after they reach the age of maturity.

This is a major change since beneficiaries previously had options to take certain lifetime payouts. This will require careful planning to minimize the tax on the distributions. The change applies to distributions with respect to employees or IRA owners who die after December 31, 2019.

Penalty for Failure to File – The legislation increased the minimum penalty for failure to file a tax return within 60 days of the return’s due date to $435, up from $330, for returns with a due date (including extensions) after December 31, 2019. Thus, the $435 penalty will apply to 2019 returns and will be inflation adjusted for future years.

Kiddie Tax – The tax reform enacted late in 2017 changed how the income of dependent children is taxed, causing a child’s unearned income to be taxed at fiduciary rates that very quickly reach the maximum tax rate of 37%. That change created an unintentional tax increase for survivors of service members and first responders who died in the line duty. This last-minute change reverts the kiddie tax computation to the pre–tax reform method for years beginning in 2020. It also allows taxpayers to choose whichever method provides the lowest tax for 2018 and 2019. Taxpayers can amend their 2018 return if doing so will provide a better outcome.

The changes are extensive and, in many cases, open the door to amending prior years’ returns. If you have any questions or think any of these changes might benefit you for a prior year, please give our office a call.

Understanding Tax Lingo

When discussing taxes, reading tax related articles or interpreting instructions, one needs to understand the lingo and acronyms used by tax professionals and authors to be able to grasp what they are saying. It can be difficult to understand tax strategies if you are not familiar with the basic terminologies used in taxation. The following provides you with the basic details associated with the most frequently encountered tax terms.

  • Filing Status – Generally, if you are married at the end of the tax year, you have three possible filing status options: married filing jointly, married filing separately, or, if you qualify, head of household. If you were unmarried at the end of the year, you would file as single, unless you qualify for the more beneficial head of household status. A special status applies for some widows and widowers.

    When using the married joint status, the income, deductions and credits of the spouses are combined for reporting on the tax return. If the spouses file using the married separate status, they each file a separate tax return, and if they reside in a separate property state, each spouse includes just his or her own income and deductions on their individual return. In community property states, generally the incomes and deductions of the spouses are combined and then split 50%/50% for married separate tax return reporting purposes.

    Head of household is the most complicated filing status to qualify for and is frequently overlooked as well as incorrectly claimed. Generally, the taxpayer must be unmarried AND:

    • pay more than one half of the cost of maintaining as his or her home a household that was the principal place of abode for more than one half of the year of a qualifying child or certain dependent relatives, or
    • pay more than half the cost of maintaining a separate household that was the main home for a dependent parent for the entire year.

A married taxpayer may be considered unmarried for the purpose of qualifying for head of household status if the spouses were separated for at least the last six months of the year, provided the taxpayer maintained a home for a dependent child for over half the year.

Surviving spouse (also referred to as qualifying widow or widower) is a rarely status used only for a taxpayer whose spouse died in one of the prior two years and who has a dependent child at home. Joint rates are used. In the year the spouse passes away, the surviving spouse may file jointly with the deceased spouse if not remarried by the end of the year. In rare circumstances, for the year of a spouse’s death, the executor of the decedent’s estate may determine that it is better to use the married separate status on the decedent’s final return, which would then also require the surviving spouse to use the married separate status for that year.

  • Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) – AGI is the acronym for adjusted gross income. AGI is generally the sum of a taxpayer’s income less specific subtractions called adjustments (but before the standard or itemized deductions). The most common adjustments are penalties paid for early withdrawal from a savings account, and deductions for contributing to a traditional IRA or self-employed retirement plan. Many tax benefits and allowances, such as credits, certain adjustments, and some deductions are limited by a taxpayer’s AGI.
  • Modified AGI (MAGI) – Modified AGI is AGI (described above) adjusted (generally up) by tax-exempt and tax-excludable income. MAGI is a significant term when income thresholds apply to limit various deductions, adjustments, and credits. The definition of MAGI will vary depending on the item that is being limited.
  • Taxable Income – Taxable income is AGI less deductions (either standard or itemized). For years 2018 through 2025, another item that is subtracted when figuring taxable income is the deduction for qualified business income (generally 20% of qualified income from pass-through businesses such as partnerships, rentals and sole proprietorships). Your taxable income is what your regular tax is based upon using a tax rate schedule specific to your filing status. The IRS publishes tax tables that are based on the tax rate schedules and that simplify the tax calculation, but the tables can only be used to look up the tax on taxable income up to $99,999.
  • Marginal Tax Rate (Tax Bracket) – Not all of your income is taxed at the same rate. The amount equal to your standard or itemized deductions is not taxed at all. The next increment is taxed at 10%, then 12%, 22%, etc., until you reach the maximum tax rate, which is currently 37%. When you hear people discussing tax brackets, they are referring to the marginal tax rate. Knowing your marginal rate is important because any increase or decrease in your taxable income will affect your tax at the marginal rate. For example, suppose your marginal rate is 24% and you are able to reduce your income $1,000 by contributing to a deductible retirement plan. You would save $240 in federal tax ($1,000 x 24%). Your marginal tax bracket depends upon your filing status and taxable income. You can find your marginal tax rate using the table below.

    Keep in mind when using this table that the marginal rates are step functions and that the taxable incomes shown in the filing-status column are the top value for that marginal rate range.

2019 MARGINAL TAX RATES
TAXABLE INCOME BY FILING STATUS
Marginal Tax Rate Single Head of Household Joint* Married Filing Separately
10% 9,700 13,850 19,400 9,700
12% 39,475 52,850 78,950 39,475
22% 84,200 84,200 168,400 84,200
24% 160,725 160,700 321,450 160,725
32% 204,100 204,100 408,200 204,100
35% 510,300 510,300 612,350 306,175
37% Over 510,300 Over 510,300 Over 612,350 Over 306,175

 

* Also used by taxpayers filing as surviving spouse

  • Capital Gains Tax Rates – Lower tax rates apply for gains upon sale of most property, such as stocks and real estate, held for over one year. These rates are 0%, 15% and 20%. Which rate applies depends on the amount of your taxable income.
  • Taxpayer & Dependent Exemptions – Prior to the changes made by the 2017 tax reform you were allowed to claim a personal exemption for yourself, your spouse (if filing jointly), and each individual qualifying as your dependent. The deductible exemption amount was adjusted for inflation annually; the amount for 2019 is $4,200. However, the tax reform suspended the deduction for exemptions for 2018 through 2025.
  • Dependents – To qualify as a dependent, an individual must be the taxpayer’s qualified child or pass all five dependency qualifications: the (1) member of the household or relationship test, (2) gross income test, (3) joint return test, (4) citizenship or residency test, and (5) support test. The gross income test limits the amount a dependent can make if he or she is over 18 and does not qualify for an exception for certain full-time students. The support test generally requires that you pay over half of the dependent’s support, although there are special rules for divorced parents and situations where several individuals together provide over half of the support.
  • Qualified Child – A qualified child is one who meets the following tests:

(1) Has the same principal place of abode as the taxpayer for more than half of the tax year except for temporary absences;
(2) Is the taxpayer’s son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any such individual;
(3) Is younger than the taxpayer;
(4) Did not provide over half of his or her own support for the tax year;
(5) Is under age 19, or under age 24 in the case of a full-time student, or is permanently and totally disabled (at any age); and
(6) Was unmarried (or if married, either did not file a joint return or filed jointly only as a claim for refund).

  • Deductions –  A taxpayer generally can choose to itemize deductions or use the standard deduction. The standard deductions, which are adjusted for inflation annually, are illustrated below for 2019.
Filing Status Standard Deduction
Single $12,200
Head of Household $18,350
Married Filing Jointly $24,400
Married Filing Separately $12,200
  • The standard deduction is increased by multiples of $1,650 for unmarried taxpayers who are over age 64 and/or blind. For married taxpayers, the additional amount is $1,300. The extra standard deduction amount is not allowed for elderly or blind dependents. Those with large deductible expenses can itemize their deductions in lieu of claiming the standard deduction. The standard deduction of a dependent filing his or her own return will oftentimes be less than the single amount shown above.

    Itemized deductions generally include:

  • (1) Medical expenses which are limited to those that exceed 10% of your AGI for 2019.
    (2) Taxes consisting primarily of real property taxes, state income (or sales) tax, and personal property taxes, but limited to a total of $10,000 for the year.
    (3) Interest on qualified home acquisition debt and investments; the latter is limited to net investment income (i.e., the deductible interest cannot exceed your investment income after deducting investment expenses).
    (4) Charitable contributions, generally limited to 60% of your AGI, but in certain circumstances the limit can be as little as 20% or 30% of AGI.
    (5) Gambling losses to the extent of gambling income, and certain other rarely encountered deductions.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) – The Alternative Minimum Tax is another way of being taxed that has often taken taxpayers by surprise. The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is a tax that was originally intended to ensure that wealthier taxpayers with large write-offs and tax-sheltered investments pay at least a minimum tax. However, even taxpayers whose only “tax shelter” is having a large number of dependents or paying high state income or property taxes were being affected by the AMT. Your tax must be computed by the regular method and also by the alternative method. The tax that is higher must be paid. The following are some of the more frequently encountered factors and differences that contribute to making the AMT greater than the regular tax.
    • The standard deduction is not allowed for the AMT, and a person subject to the AMT cannot itemize for AMT purposes unless he or she also itemizes for regular tax purposes. Therefore, it is important to make every effort to itemize if subject to the AMT.
    • Itemized deductions:

      Interest in the form of home equity debt interest that cannot be traced to a deductible use. For years 2018–2025, interest paid on home equity debt is also not allowed for regular tax purposes.

    • Nontaxable interest from private activity bonds is tax free for regular tax purposes, but some is taxable for the AMT.
    • Statutory stock options (incentive stock options) when exercised produce no income for regular tax purposes. However, the bargain element (difference between grant price and exercise price) is income for AMT purposes in the year the option is exercised.
    • Depletion allowance in excess of a taxpayer’s basis in the property is not allowed for AMT purposes.

A certain amount of income is exempt from the AMT, but the AMT exemptions are phased out for higher-income taxpayers.

AMT EXEMPTIONS & PHASE OUT – 2019
Filing Status Exemption Amount Income Where Exemption Is Totally Phased Out
Married Filing Jointly $111,700 1,467,400
Married Filing Separate $55,850 $797,100
Unmarried $71,700 $733,700

 

AMT TAX RATES—2019
AMT Taxable Income Tax Rate
0 – $194,800 (1) 26%
Over $194,800 (1) 28%

(1) $97,400 for married taxpayers filing separately
Your tax will be whichever is the higher of the tax computed the regular way and by the Alternative Minimum Tax. Anticipating when the AMT will affect you is difficult, because it is usually the result of a combination of circumstances. In addition to those items listed above, watch out for transactions involving limited partnerships, depreciation, and business tax credits only allowed against the regular tax. All of these can strongly impact your bottom-line tax and raise a question of possible AMT. Fortunately, due to tax reform that the increased AMT exemption amounts and set higher thresholds before the exemption is phased out, fewer taxpayers are now paying AMT. Tax Tip: If you were subject to the AMT in the prior year, you itemized your deductions on your federal return for the prior year, and had a state tax refund for that year, part or all of your state income tax refund from that year may not be taxable in the regular tax computation. To the extent that you received no tax benefit from the state tax deduction because of the AMT, that portion of the refund is not included in the subsequent year’s income.

  • Tax Credits – Once your tax is computed, tax credits can reduce the tax further. Credits reduce your tax dollar for dollar and are divided into two categories: those that are nonrefundable and can only offset the tax, and those that are refundable. In addition, some credits are not deductible against the AMT, and some credits, when not fully used in a specific tax year, can carry over to succeeding years. Although most credits are a result of some action taken by the taxpayer, there are some commonly encountered credits that are based simply on the number or type of your dependents or your income. These and another popular credit are outlined below.
    • Child Tax Credit –  Thanks to tax reform the child tax credit has been increased to $2,000 per child (up from $1,000 in 2017). If the credit is not entirely used to offset tax, the excess portion of the credit, up to the amount that the taxpayer’s earned income exceeds a threshold of $2,500, but not more than $1,400, is refundable. The credit begins to phase out at incomes (MAGI) of $400,000 for married joint filers and $200,000 for other filing status. The credit is reduced by $50 for each $1,000 (or fraction of $1,000) of modified AGI over the threshold.
    • Dependent Credit – A nonrefundable credit is available to taxpayers with a dependent who isn’t a qualifying child, and like the increased child tax credit is designed to offset the loss of the exemption deduction as a result of tax reform. The dependent credit is $500. A qualifying child, the taxpayer, and if married, the spouse are not eligible for this credit. A child who isn’t a qualifying child but who qualifies as a dependent under the dependent relative rules would qualify the taxpayer to claim this credit.
    • Earned Income Credit – This is a refundable credit for a low-income taxpayer with income from working either as an employee or a self-employed individual. The credit is based on earned income, the taxpayer’s AGI, and the number of qualifying children. A taxpayer who has investment income such as interest and dividends in excess of $3,600 (for 2019) is ineligible for this credit. The credit was established as an incentive for individuals to obtain employment. It increases with the amount of earned income until the maximum credit is achieved and then begins to phase out at higher incomes. The table below illustrates the phase-out ranges for the various combinations of filing status and earned income and the maximum credit available.
2019 EIC PHASE-OUT RANGE
Number of Children Joint Return Others Maximum Credit
None $14,450 – $21,370 $8,650 – $15,570 $529
1 $24,820 – $46,884 $19,030 – $41,094 $3,526
2 $24,820 – $52,493 $19,030 – $46,703 $5,828
3 $24,820 – $55,952 $19,030 – $50,162 $6,557
  • Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit – This credit is generally for energy-producing systems that harness solar, wind, or geothermal energy, including solar-electric, solar water-heating, fuel-cell, small wind-energy, and geothermal heat-pump systems. These items qualify for a 30% credit with no annual credit limit. Unused residential energy-efficient property credit is generally carried over through 2021.The credit rate reduces to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021. The credit expires after 2021.
  • Withholding and Estimated Taxes – Our “pay-as-you-earn” tax system requires that you make payments of your tax liability evenly throughout the year. If you don’t, it’s possible that you could owe an underpayment penalty. Some taxpayers meet the “pay-as-you-earn” requirements by making quarterly estimated payments. However, when your income is primarily from wages, you usually meet the requirements through wage withholding and rely on your employer’s payroll department to take out the right amount of tax, based on the information shown on the Form W-4 that you filed with your employer. To avoid potential underpayment penalties, you are required to deposit by payroll withholding or estimated tax payments an amount equal to the lesser of:

1) 90% of the current year’s tax liability; or

2) 100% of the prior year’s tax liability or, if your AGI exceeds $150,000 ($75,000 for taxpayers filing as married separate), 110% of the prior year’s tax liability.

If you had a significant change in income during the year, we can assist you in projecting your tax liability to maximize the tax benefit and delay paying as much tax as possible before the filing due date.

Please call if our office can be of assistance with your tax planning needs.

Is Your Will or Trust Up-to-Date?

When was the last time you or your attorney reviewed or updated your will or trust? If it was before the passage of the 2017 tax reform legislation, or the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), your documents may be out of date. Among the many changes in that law was a more than doubling of the estate tax exemption. Prior to the TCJA, if the value of an individual’s estate at his or her death was about $5.5 million or more, it was subject to the estate tax. For deaths in 2020, and based on the TCJA inflation-adjusted amounts, just over $11.5 million is exempted from estate tax. So, if your will or trust was premised on the lower value, it may need to be revised so that it provides the appropriate estate tax results for your situation.

No doubt your will or trust was prepared with not just estate taxes in mind but so that your assets will be distributed after your death according to your wishes. However, certain events besides the tax laws being revised can cause these documents to become outdated.

Life’s ever-changing circumstances make estate planning an ongoing process. If you don’t keep your will or trust up to date, your money and assets could end up in the wrong hands. That’s why a periodic review of your will or trust is an essential part of estate planning. Here is a partial list of occurrences that could cause your will or trust to be outdated:

  • Your marital status has changed.
  • Your heirs’ marital status has changed.
  • You have relocated to another state.
  • You’ve had or adopted children.
  • Your children are no longer minors.
  • Your children are now mature enough to handle their own financial matters.
  • Your assets have significantly changed in value.
  • You have sold or acquired a major asset(s).
  • Your personal representative (executor, trustee) has changed.
  • You wish to delete or add heirs.
  • Your health status has changed.
  • Estate laws have changed.

Are your named beneficiaries up to date on your life insurance policies, IRA accounts, and pension plans? For example, did you forget to remove your ex-spouse or a deceased relative as your beneficiary?

You should never overlook or put off these issues because once you pass on, it will be too late to make changes.

If you have questions about how your changed circumstances may impact your estate taxes, please give our office a call.

How to Calculate and Analyze Return on Equity

When it comes to evaluating a business, especially one that is publicly traded, determining its return on equity (ROE) is one way to see how it’s performing.

What is Return on Equity? 

Return on equity is a ratio that gives investors insight into how effectively a company’s management team is taking care of the shareholders’ financial investments in the company. The greater the ROE percentage, the better the business’ management staff is at making income and creating growth from shareholders’ investments.

How ROE is Determined 

In order to calculate ROE, a company’s net income is divided by shareholder equity. To arrive at net income, businesses account for the cost of doing business, which includes the cost of goods sold, sales, operating and general expenses, interest, tax payments, etc. and then subtracts these costs of doing business from all sales. Similarly, the free cash flow figure can be substituted in place of net income.

There are some caveats when it comes to calculating net income. It is determined prior to paying out dividends to common shareholders, but loan interest and preferred shareholder dividend obligations must be met before starting this calculation.

The other part of the equation is the shareholder equity or stockholders’ equity. One way to determine this is to subtract existing liabilities from a business’ assets. The remainder is what owners of a corporation, or its shareholders, would be able to claim as their equity in the company. Whether the calculations is done year over year or quarter over quarter, traders and investors can see how well a company performs over different time periods.

Return on equity can also help determine if a business’ net income and equity are in the black. The net income is found on the income statement – the ledger of the company’s financial transactions. Shareholders’ equity is found on the balance sheet – which details the business’ assets and financial obligations.

Analyzing a Business’ ROE 

Another consideration that industry experts recommend to determine if a company’s ROE is poor or excellent is to see how it compares to the S&P 500 Index’s performance. With the historical rate of return being 10 percent annually over the past decade, if a ROE is lower than 10 percent, it can give a good indication as to a particular business’ performance. However, a particular company’s ROE also needs to be compared against the industry’s ROE to see if the company is outperforming its sector.

For example, according to Yahoo Finance!, the ROE on Microsoft’s stock is 42.80 percent. This means that the management team running Microsoft is returning just shy of 43 cents for every dollar in shareholders’ equity. Compared to its industry (Software System & Application) ROE of 13.47 percent – as cited by New York University’s Stern School of Business – Microsoft has a much higher ROE compared to the industry average. This is just one metric to measure the company’s performance, but it is an important one.

While looking at a company’s return on equity is not the end all or be all, it’s a good start to determine a company’s present and future financial health.

Sources

https://us.spindices.com/indices/equity/sp-500

https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/MSFT/key-statistics?p=MSFT

http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/New_Home_Page/datafile/roe.html