Archive for January, 2015|Monthly archive page

Back to Basics – Part VIII – Schedule D

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

January 23, 2015

Imagine yourself on Antiques Roadshow and they tell you that an old porcelain mug you found in your attic last summer is worth $8,000-$10,000 dollars!  You are of course elated, and decide to sell the mug.  Fast forward to February, and your accountant starts asking you questions about this sale, such as your adjusted cost basis and your holding period.  You really have no idea how you even got it.  You know it was in the family for a long time, and you think that maybe it was in a box of things your mom left for you when she moved to Palm Springs where she now resides.  What do you do?  I don’t know exactly, but I know this much – it will go on your Schedule D in some form.

In this issue, we are discussing Schedule D – Capital Gains and Losses.  Prior articles are republished on my website at if you would like to catch up on our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns.

Schedule D is used to report gains or losses from the sale or exchange of capital assets.  Capital assets consist of a variety of things.  The personal use items you own – such as your home, your vehicles, household items etc. are capital assets.  Gains from the sale of personal items are taxed.  Losses, however, are generally disallowed. Your personal investments such as stocks, bonds, or real property held as an investment are also capital assets.  Gains and losses are allowed on personal investments.

The same types of items used in your trade or business, however, would be reported on a Form 4797 and would be taxed differently as well.

Assets that have a mix of personal use and business use can have elements reported on both forms.

To determine your gain or loss on a capital asset, you must know your cost basis in it.  If it is something you bought, your cost basis is generally the amount you paid for it; if it is something you inherited, your cost basis is often the fair market value at the date of death; or if it was something given to you, your cost basis is generally the same as that of the prior owner.

There can also be adjustments to this basis, such as when you make improvements to your home – the money you spend would be an adjustment upwards.  Once you know your adjusted cost basis, you simply subtract it from the sales price to determine your gain or loss.  If you scrapped it, your sales price is zero.  Sometimes it can be quite challenging to determine the cost basis, especially if records no longer exist.  Technically, if you cannot prove your basis, the IRS can take the position that your basis is zero.  This could be very unfavorable, especially if you just sold a $10,000 mug with unknown origins!

It is also important to know the length of your “holding period.”  The date you purchase the property is generally the beginning of your holding period and the date you dispose of the property is the end of your holding period.  For property received as a gift, you include the holding period of the person who gave it to you.

If your holding period is over a year, it is subject to favorable long-term capital gains rates – basically a 15 percent federal rate for most people.  (Although it could be as low as zero percent or as high as 20 percent depending on your tax bracket and the amount of capital gains you have.  Also, collectible items you sell such as old coins or antique vehicles are taxed at a 28 percent rate.)  If your holding period for the asset is a year or less, it is considered a short-term holding and is taxed like ordinary income (a higher rate for most people).  Inherited property is always considered to have a long-term holding period.  California does not have a special rate for long-term holdings and treats all capital gains as ordinary income on its tax return.

As mentioned before, there is no deduction for losses on your personal use items.  You can, however, take a loss on your personal investments.  They would reduce any other capital gains, first, and then if there are still losses remaining, you can use $3,000 to offset any other type of income you have on your tax returns.  The rest would get carried over to future years.

The Schedule D itself is essentially a summary of capital gain and loss activity that are mostly determined by other forms that feed into the Schedule D.  Part I summarizes short-term gains and losses, and Part II summarizes long-term gains and losses.  Form 8949 is the main supporting form used in both of these sections.  It was added a few years ago after changes to broker cost basis reporting requirements occurred.  The Form 8949 sorts out long-term and short-term transactions for which cost basis is reported to the IRS and not reported to the IRS, and handles the actual transactional reporting.

Parts I and II also have areas were short-term and long-term gains can be reported from other forms such as installment agreements, business casualty and theft losses, like-kind exchanges, as well as pass through entities such as partnerships, S-corporations, estates, and trusts.  Long-term capital gains distributions from mutual funds on a 1099-DIV are reported in Part II.  (Short-term capital gains distributions from mutual funds are actually included as ordinary dividends on the 1099-DIV, and are reported on Schedule B instead.)  In addition, short-term and long-term loss carryovers from prior years are added into their respective parts on Schedule D.

Part III nets the short-term gains or losses against the long-term gains or losses.  It then helps you determine the gain or loss to enter on the 1040.  It also walks you through several worksheets to determine the amount of tax and tax rates you will pay on any gains.

So what would you do about the mug?  Hopefully mom would have some recollection of the history.  Maybe there was a somewhat recent time when it was passed by inheritance and would have received a step-up in basis.  Of course, you should have figured that out before you sold it, and then had an appraisal done to support it!  Otherwise, if it had just been gifted from one person to the next, the mug probably had very little if any cost basis, and you might be stuck with a big taxable gain.

In two weeks we will discuss Schedule E – Supplemental Income and Loss.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Back To Basics Part VII – Schedule C

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

January 9, 2015

In this issue, we are discussing Schedule C -Profit or Loss from Business.  Prior articles are republished on my website at if you would like to catch up on our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns.

Schedule C is generally used to report income and expenses for your self-employment activities for which no partnership exists or no entity has been established (such as a C or S-Corporation or LLC) – in other words, it is used for a sole proprietorship.  Of course there are exceptions and wrinkles to the rules.  Here are a few common ones.  In most states, a husband and wife which own and operate a business together would file a partnership return instead of a Schedule C.  However, since California is a community property state, a husband and wife should generally file two Schedule Cs and split the income and deductions based on their distributive shares, even if filing a joint return.

One important reason for doing this is that two Schedule SEs would also be filed reporting the Social Security and Medicare taxes separately for each spouse.  They would each be subject to the full taxable wage base for Social Security, but they would also each receive credit for their earnings which would figure into their Social Security checks in retirement.

An LLC with only one member that is operating a business would also report the business activity on a Schedule C instead of a 1065 Partnership return.  Since you can’t have a partnership between you and yourself, the formal entity structure is disregarded for federal tax purposes and reported like a sole proprietorship.  In community property states such as California, a husband and wife that both own and operate the business are actually considered one member for LLC purposes.  If they were the only two owners, the entity would be disregarded, but they would then report on two Schedule Cs as discussed above.

Now that we have discussed who uses the form, let’s move to the form itself.  The initial section of Schedule C asks for identifying information – the name of the business, the type of business, address, etc.  If you have an employer identification number you can enter that as well.  This would be required if you have employees on payroll.  You can also obtain one if you simply do not want to hand out your Social Security number whenever a formal taxpayer identification number is needed – such as for filing 1099-Misc forms for independent contractors.

There are also some other direct questions regarding your basis of accounting, level of participation, and filing compliance.  Most small businesses under $10 million in annual revenues operate by the cash method of accounting as it has many advantages.  Material participation is a tightly defined standard  by the IRS which can affect your ability to take losses in a down year.  The questions on 1099 filings are loaded questions designed to help the IRS easily identify businesses that are not filing required 1099s for payments to independent contractors, for interest received, etc.

In Part I Income, you list your gross receipts, subtract sales returns and allowances, subtract cost of goods sold (which are detailed in Part III) and then add other income such as interest income or certain credits.  Part III Cost of Goods Sold is mainly geared towards retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers.  It provides a place to detail beginning and ending inventory and any associated labor and material costs associated with production of the goods.  Even taxpayers on a cash basis are generally required to track inventory.  Cash basis typically means you get the deduction when you spend the cash, and you record the income when you get the cash.  But with inventory, you do not get the deduction until the inventory is sold or disposed.

In Part II you detail all your expenses.  The instructions to Schedule C do a pretty good job of explaining what types of expenses they want on each line.  Some of the lines are supported by additional forms such Form 4562 Depreciation and Amortization feeding into Schedule C line 13 for Depreciation.  Line 24b for Meals and Entertainment is unique as most qualified meals and entertainment are allowed only a 50 percent deduction.  Another unique aspect is that preset per diem rate deductions are allowed for self-employed individuals (and employees) for meals, entertainment, and incidental expenses in lieu of tracking actual receipts.  Some of these per diems are quite generous depending on the location of travel, and taxpayers can sometimes get a much larger deduction than the amount they actually spend.

Line 30 for expenses for business use of your home is another example where an entirely separate form (Form 8829) is used to calculate the deduction.  There is also an alternative simplified method introduced with the 2013 returns that gives you $5 square foot for business space (up to $1,500) without having to track actual expenses on Form 8829.

Line 32 contains a few questions about whether your investment in the business is “at-risk” or not.  Basically they are asking if you are financially liable if things go south, and could you lose the money you have injected into the business in the past.  This affects your ability to take losses in down years.

Part IV details your vehicle deduction for standard mileage rate users.  For 2014, this amount is 56 cents a mile.  If you track actual expenses instead, you would not fill out this part.

Part V is for any additional expenses not discussed in Part II.

In two weeks we will continue our Back to Basics series with Schedule D – Capital Gains and Losses

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.