Archive for July, 2015|Monthly archive page

Back to Basics Part XIX – Form 4797 – Sales of Business Property

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

July 24, 2015

Imagine you are reviewing your recently completed personal tax returns in great detail…oh, wait – I am dreaming…imagine that just before fanning all the pages of your returns and stuffing them in a drawer with half used rolls of Scotch tape, a bag of cotton balls, and a few cat toys, your eye happens to land on line 14 on the first page of your tax returns – other income, with a $4,440 figure in it!

You are scratching your head trying to remember getting $4,440 for something. Your cat, perched above, is just staring at you…or maybe judging you.  You take the bait and crack open the return to find the referenced Form 4797.  “Oh, of course, the office equipment I sold!  But wait, I bought it for $15,000 and sold it for $10,200 – isn’t that a loss?  Why do I have $4,440 of income?”

Anyone that has ever had his or her own business or a rental property has almost definitely sold or disposed of an asset related to the activity.  Some do it every few years, and others do it every year.  Perhaps it was a piece of equipment as in our example above, or maybe it was an office desk, a vehicle, or a rental home.  Whatever it was, and every year you did it, you were required to file a Form 4797 – Sales of Business Property – our topic for discussion today.   If you would like to catch up on our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns, prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

Although only a two-page form, the Form 4797 can be complicated to tame as it requires an understanding of a lot of concepts and code sections in order to put it to rest.  There are also unique rules that apply to different industries, such as day-traders, farmers, financial institutions, and all of you that are in an industry generating deferred gains from qualifying electric transmission transactions (who has ever even heard of that?!).  Reading much beyond the first page of the instructions will either put you to sleep or leave you with more questions than when you started.

The form itself can require you to be a bit of a “code head.”  Tax accountants that memorize and relate everything to the Internal Revenue Code section numbers sometimes get this label.  The whole second page of the form is a dedication to code heads and is meaningless to the average person.  To fill out this page you have to know what code section the property you are disposing falls under.

Aside from the challenges presented in preparing the form, what most people need to know is that when business assets are disposed they are generally going to wind up on this form.  It is also key to understand the interplay with past depreciation expense claimed.

Getting back to our example, the question remains why you had $4,440 of income related to selling equipment for less than it was purchased?

In this case, a $15,000 piece of equipment was purchased for your business.  Under the normal rules, you are not allowed to take a $15,000 deduction in the year of purchase.  Instead, you depreciate the equipment and spread the expense out over a number of tax years.  You can elect a “straight-line” amount – meaning the same amount each year, but most people stick with the standard accelerated schedules which allow you to take the majority of the expense deduction in the early years.

In this case it would be MACRS 5-Year Property (which actually gets depreciated over six years).  The first year you get to take 20 percent of the purchase price as an expense ($3,000).  In the second year you get to take 32 percent ($4,800).  So after two years you have already depreciated over half the cost – $7,800.  This depreciation expense taken reduces your cost basis in the asset.  So instead of saying your cost was $15,000, your new adjusted cost basis is $7,200 ($15,000-$7,800)

On the first day of the third year you decide to sell it.  Due to depreciation rules you are allowed another $1,440 of depreciation expense for selling it in the third year further reducing your basis to $5,760.  A buyer pays you $10,200.  The sale price less the adjusted cost basis yields a taxable gain of $4,400 ($10,200 – $5,760).  This gain is also taxed at ordinary rates (not lower capital gains rates) since when you took the deductions, you were able to deduct them against ordinary income.  This is called depreciation recapture.

Be glad it was only $4,440 of taxable income.  If you had taken a section 179 deduction to elect to write off the entire amount in the year it was placed in service, your basis would have been zero, and you would have had $10,200 of ordinary income.

If for some reason you were able to sell the equipment for more than you bought it for – say $16,000, you would have had the $4,400 of depreciation recapture at ordinary rates, plus a $1,000 long term capital gain. Tangible property such as this is called Section 1245 property.

The first section of the form generally deals with sales of items that have been held over one year.  The second section generally deals with the sale of assets held less than a year, and the third section generally deals with calculating depreciation recapture for various types of property.  You can also have asset sales that show up in parts one or two, but also in part three.  Part four deals with recapturing depreciation under section 179 and when business use of assets drops below 50 percent.

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.

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Back to Basics – Part XVIII – Form 4684 – Casualties and Thefts

July 10, 2015

My colleague next door enjoys kidding me every two weeks when my next installment of Back to Basics comes out!  Although there will not be 10,000 parts as he suggests, there could be!  CCH, one of the leading publishers on tax research materials has about 75,000 pages in its Standard Federal Tax Reporter – a product which includes the code, regulations, court case cites, commentary, and other related information.  So, if I cover it in 35 articles or so, I probably can’t even call it the “basics” – maybe introductory remarks would be more fitting!

Nonetheless, it is designed to be an overview for commonly used Schedules and Forms.  It is also interesting to note with today’s connectivity that people all over the country and the world find the articles reposted on my website and I regularly receive calls and e-mails.  Earlier this week I received this response, “Just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your blog. I wish you were in my hometown in Louisiana!”  Thanks for the message, Dianne!

This week we will touch on Form 4684 – Casualties and Thefts.  If you would like to catch up on our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns, prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

Casualty and theft sounds like language stolen from an insurance agent, and like a good insurance agent, Uncle Sam wants to help you too…sometimes.  If you have a large personal financial catastrophe resulting from something like a fire, storm, wreck, robbery, embezzlement, etc. you can claim the loss on Form 4684.  Hopefully you have insurance, but if not, or to the extent that it is not covered, such as your deductible, you can claim the unreimbursed portion on this form.

The wheels are already turning – “Wow, I have had several car accidents in the past and I had to pay a $500 deductible – you mean I could have claimed that?”  The answer is, “Yes.”  However, it likely would not have done you any good since the loss of personal use property has to be in excess of 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) plus $100.  That is a relatively big number for most people.  If your AGI is $100,000, for example, that would equate to a $10,100 out-of-pocket loss threshold.   Everything over that amount would then go to Schedule A as an itemized deduction.  But, if you are retired and not actively earning income that threshold could be much smaller.

Q. “What about a stock market crash, where my portfolio drops by 40 percent – can I claim my losses from that as a casualty/theft loss?”  A. – If you have not sold anything, then no.  When you do sell, that loss gets reported on Schedule D instead along with gains and losses from capital assets.

Q. “I parked my Ferrari at a sports event and my insurance had lapsed.  There were so many parking lots, I never could find it.  Can I deduct that loss?”  A. – Losing or misplacing money or things (stupidity) is not deductible.  Hopefully you will have realized it was stolen, filed a police report, and then the answer would be, “Yes,” assuming there was no reasonable expectation of recovery.  If you claim the loss on your tax return, and then two years later the police locate it three states away you would then have to claim it as income when recovered.

Q. “I have been using my yacht for twenty-five years and it has finally worn out and has stopped working.  Can I claim that as a loss?”  A. – Wear and tear and breakage from normal use are not deductible.

The area where I have seen Form 4684 actually come to significant aid for taxpayers over the years has been regarding financial theft.  It is often large and there is generally no insurance reimbursement.  Caretakers that get access to accounts, telephone or e-mail scams, and Ponzi schemes are all examples of items that find some relief on the 4684.  Local residents may recall Jay Zubick’s $16 million financial investment scheme in Monterey in 2007.  Cedar Street Funding would be another example, as well as Bernard Madoff’s massive national scam.

Ponzi schemes are considered business or investment losses since the original intent was to earn a profit.  As such they are not subject to the 10 percent threshold.  The same would be true for other casualty/theft losses related to business or income-producing property.  Caretaker financial abuse, telephone and e-mail scams bilking people out of their personal financial resources, however, are theft of personal assets, and the 10 percent threshold would apply.

Anyone who uses e-mail regularly has no doubt received a fake e-mail from a friend that is stranded in another country and needs money ASAP.  This type of fraud would certainly go on the Form 4684. The IRS has warned of numerous scams of people posing as IRS collections agents.  Sometimes scams are quite elaborate involving long time periods and multiple con-artists all painting a picture of legitimacy.  Fake lottery and other winnings are common fodder for scams where they claim money is needed for fees to transport cash across state borders, or to pay taxes.  Often the scammers will start with requests for small amounts of money.  They are probing for susceptible people.  When they find someone who bites, they start working other scams and raising the stakes each time to soak you for more money.

I have had several occasions to work with people that have had hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen through such means.  In these situations, the Form 4684 allows the taxpayer to get a large deduction which can even create a net operating loss on the current year tax return.  This net operating loss can then be carried back several years to recoup past taxes paid and/or carried forward to the future to reduce taxes then as well.

The Form 4684 is a three-page form.  The first page deals with casualties and thefts related to personal property, and helps you calculate the amount of loss after the 10 percent plus $100 deduction to carry to Schedule A as an itemized deduction.

The second page helps you calculate the losses related to business or income-producing property.  Depending on the exact type of business or income producing property, the loss could carry over to the Form 4797 and eventually make its way to page one of the Form 1040 and directly offset ordinary income and lower adjusted gross income.  Other types still go to Schedule A where they may not be quite as beneficial, but still helpful.

The third page deals specifically with Ponzi type schemes.  Note that there are many types of financial investment schemes out there, but to be deductible on the Form 4684 as such, they must fall under the definition the IRS uses.  There are also special ways to calculate the losses since Ponzi schemes generally wind up in court for years while the records are sorted out and funds are attempted to be recovered.

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.