Archive for the ‘1040’ Tag

Back to Basics Part III – More Sch. A

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

November  14, 2014

Two weeks ago we discussed the purpose of schedules and forms in a tax return and then began a discussion on Schedule A – Itemized Deductions.  We discussed that itemizing deductions is an option if you have more than what the IRS allots as a standard deduction to everyone for things like medical expenses, taxes, charitable donations, and other miscellaneous deductions.  This week we are going to look more closely at the different types of deductions that you can itemize on Schedule A and how these deductions can get a shave and a haircut and look like less than when you started.

The first section on Schedule A covers out-of-pocket medical expenses (not reimbursed by insurance).  Things like doctors, dentists, chiropractors, Christian Science practitioners, hospital bills, prescription drugs (not over the counter), eyeglasses, contacts, copays, etc. all fit into this category.  Health insurance is also deductible here unless it is for self-employed people, in which case it can get potentially better treatment as an adjustment to income on page one of the 1040 instead.  Health insurance would include your Medicare payments which most people see deducted from their Social Security checks.

Sometimes people are surprised to learn that substantial expenditures on your home can be deductible if done to improve accessibility – such as widening doors and bathrooms, installing ramps, hand rails, etc. (there are a number of rules to be aware of, however).  You can also deduct medical related miles at 23.5 cents per mile and even deduct overnight travel expenses if you must drive to a hospital that is not local, for instance. The problem with medical expense deductions is that for the vast majority of people, none of the expenses even make it towards counting as an itemized deduction. 

You have to have in excess of 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (the bottom number on page one of your 1040) in medical expenses before a single dollar counts.  So, if your adjusted gross income is $100,000, and you have $10,500 of out-of-pocket medical expenses, only $500 counts towards your itemized deductions.  If you or your spouse are over 65 you have a 7.5 percent threshold through 2016, and then you will jump to ten percent as well.  A really nice planning opportunity around this dilemma is having a health savings account in connection with a high deductible plan.  It has the ability to effectively convert some or all of your nondeductible medical expenses to deductible expenses.  Ask your tax preparer or insurance agent about this.

The second section on Schedule A covers deductible taxes you have paid. This includes state income taxes you paid during the year, SDI withholdings from your CA paycheck, real estate taxes on your personal residence(s), personal property taxes assessed on value such as annual vehicle taxes (license fee on your CA DMV renewal), boat, aircraft, etc.  Remember, as a cash basis taxpayer, these (as with generally all income and expenses on your tax returns) count in the year you actually pay them (or charge them in the case of a credit card), so it doesn’t matter what year they are supposed to cover – just look at when they were paid.  There has been an option in past years to deduct sales taxes you paid during the year if they were greater than the state income taxes you paid, but that is currently not an option for 2014, unless Congress takes action.

In two weeks we will continue our discussion regarding Schedule A.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

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 II – Schedule A

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

October 31, 2014

Two weeks ago we discussed a general overview of the Form 1040 – a personal income tax return.  The 1040 can be thought of as a two-page summary of your taxes in a nutshell.  (I should mention also there are two other shorter forms that could be filed instead: a 1040A and a 1040EZ.  These are for simpler returns and have income limits and other restrictions.  In practice, however, anyone using tax software does not really have to decide which form to use and the software will generally optimize as appropriate.  For our discussion we will focus on the 1040.)

The details for many of the items on the Form 1040 are actually determined on subsequent Schedules and Forms.   Schedules are labeled with letters of the alphabet and additional forms are generally four digit numbers.  Schedules are generally more major topical areas.  For instance, Schedule C – Profit or Loss from Business, which is a summary of all the activity of a sole proprietorship.  It may in turn have subsequent forms that support it.  Forms are often more narrowly focused and would generally support other schedules or forms.  For instance Form 4572 Depreciation, could support the calculation of depreciation expense for a business on Schedule C, a rental property on Schedule E, a farm on Schedule F, etc.  I have not counted them all, but I have read the IRS has over 800 forms and schedules.  The reality is that most people are covered by 30 or 40 of those 800!

Let’s start at the beginning of the alphabet – Schedule A.  (I am sure this saddens you, but we will not be going through all 800 in this series of articles, but we will hit on a number of the most common ones!)  Schedule A is for itemized deductions.  You probably hear lots of people justify expenses by tossing around the phrase, “it’s deductible.”  However, just because something may be deductible, does not mean it will benefit you. This is easily seen with Schedule A.  Schedule A covers a host of “expenses” that most people have that our tax code has graced as good behavior and therefore allows a deduction for it.  Medical expenses, state and local taxes, real estate taxes, mortgage interest, charitable deductions, unreimbursed employee business expenses, my favorite – tax preparation fees, investment expenses, etc.

Since Congress realized that everyone had some of this, and it would be a pain for people to track it, they decided to allow as an option a “standard deduction” for everyone in lieu of tracking and itemizing all those deductions.  The standard deduction was created to generally cover what many people would have on the average anyway.  For 2014 this standard deduction is $6,200 if you file as Single or Married Filing Separate, $12,400 if you file Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Widow(er), and $9,100 if you are filing Head of Household status.  If you believe you would have more than this, then you would itemize the deductions using Schedule A.

Mortgage interest and real estate taxes are the two areas that push most Californians into the itemizing zone.  In other words, if you do not own a home, there is a good chance you won’t be itemizing.  This is not always true: sometimes people don’t own a home, but make a lot of money and pay a lot of deductible state income taxes which would push them over the standard deduction, or maybe they work in sales jobs where they have lots of unreimbursed employee business expenses, or have major unreimbursed medical expenditures, or are perhaps like you dear reader, and have a heart of gold giving away buckets of money to charitable organizations each year!  Or it could be a combination of things – paid some income taxes, have a stingy boss that won’t reimburse, and maybe you have a heart of bronze.

Next week we will discuss more specifically the deductions on Schedule A and how they can come out looking a little thin after running the Schedule A gauntlet.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

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.

New Tax Impacts for Trusts with Capital Gains – Part II

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

November 15, 2013

Two weeks ago I laid the groundwork of some of the basics on revocable and irrevocable trusts in order to start discussing new implications due to law changes in 2013.  Revocable trusts such as the common revocable living trust most people use for estate planning is disregarded for tax purposes as separate from the owner – in other words all of the income generated by its assets gets reported on your personal 1040 tax return.  Irrevocable trusts, such as a bypass trust commonly used in estate planning, or a gifting trust, are treated as separate tax paying entities, get their own taxpayer identification number, and file their own tax returns.

In early 2013 new laws were passed that increased the personal income tax rates from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on people in the highest tax bracket ($400,000 filing single or $450,000 married filing joint).  It also raised the capital gains rate to 20 percent for these same people (up from 15 percent).  In addition, a new 3.8 percent Medicare surtax is assessed on net investment income (think interest, dividends, capital gains, among others) for people making over $200,000 single or $250,000 filing joint.  Most people do not make $450,000 or even $250,000 a year, so this seems innocuous to many.

However, many people making less than these thresholds do have irrevocable trusts – most commonly after a spouse has passed away.  The problem with irrevocable trusts is that the thresholds to be impacted are so much lower.  Once your trust has just $11,950 (2013) of income, you have hit the top bracket and will be subject to the 39.6 percent income tax rate, 20 percent capital gains rate, and the 3.8 percent Medicare surcharge!  One stock sale could easily put you in the top bracket!  This effectively means an 8.8 percent tax increase on capital gains and 4.6 percent to 8.4 percent increase on other types of income.  That is a big hit every year, and will be something new to battle.

If you can avoid having the income taxed to the trust, and instead have it distributed out and taxed to the beneficiaries, you can probably save a chunk of taxes since it will be taxed at the lower rates on the beneficiary tax returns – assuming your individual beneficiaries are not in the top tax bracket!

Whether or not you have discretion or are required to distribute income to beneficiaries is defined in your trust document.  Even the very definition of “income” itself, for trust accounting purposes, is governed by your trust document primarily and the state’s principal and income act, secondarily.  The proper allocation of income and expenses to trust accounting income or principal is very important to beneficiaries (whether they realize it or not), since trust accounting income generally goes to one beneficiary, and the principal often goes to a different beneficiary down the road…so it determines the amount the beneficiaries receive.  Many common irrevocable trusts are written to require the distribution of trust accounting income each year to the current beneficiaries with rights to dip into principal as needed to maintain an ascertainable standard of living.  Upon death, the remaining principal goes to the remainder beneficiaries.

The California Uniform Principal and Income Act does not define capital gains as income, but as a principal transaction – basically an asset changing form – for instance from real estate to cash.  I hardly ever see trusts that even mention capital gains, much less defining it as a part of income.  In the absence of trust language, the principal and income act governs, therefore many trusts in California are not permitted to distribute capital gains to the beneficiaries.

It is amazing to me how many trust tax returns I have seen over the years that violate this – often because the preparer does not really understand trust taxation rules.  I have even run into cases where the prior preparer has never even asked for the trust document, and thus relies on the default settings in their tax software in conjunction with “the way we’ve always done it” to govern!  This would be analogous to creating a detailed shopping list and asking your neighbors to go shopping for you; in lieu of taking your list, they go on the internet and print out a list of common things people buy, and then supplement it with things they have bought for other neighbors in the past! Chances are pretty good; you will not get what you need!  Enforcement of correct trust income tax preparation comes much more often by threats of lawsuit against the trustee than by IRS audit. Keep in mind the remainder beneficiary’s attorney would be happy to sue the trustee for shorting his client’s share by not following the terms of the trust.

In two weeks we will conclude our discussion.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

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.

New Tax Impacts for Trusts with Capital Gains – Part I

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

November 1, 2013

In order to discuss the new challenge trustees have regarding capital gains, let us first review some basics regarding revocable and irrevocable trusts.

A revocable living trust is a trust created during your lifetime that spells out what you want to happen with, and who you want to control, your assets if you become incapacitated or pass away.  This is the most common type of trust, and many people set these up because it has many advantages over just having a will upon death: the chief reasons are that it provides more control, has more tax advantages, it is more private, it is faster, and it is less expensive than the default court process called probate.

I would say the one major drawback of a trust administration process compared to probate is that you do not have the standardized court oversight and genuine closure that you have with the probate process.  If there are difficult problems with trust administration, it often stems from that fact that most people appoint one of the recipients of their assets (beneficiaries) as the person responsible for carrying out the trust terms (the trustee).

Money does strange things to people, and I have witnessed it lead to families ripped apart when the non-trustee siblings start questioning the integrity of the sibling appointed as trustee.  Generally, beneficiaries want their money yesterday!  And they do not understand that it still takes a good bit of time, effort, and expense to handle everything.  That said, I would still choose to have a trust 98 percent of the time, instead of just a will.  If there are concerns about the solidarity of the beneficiaries, a corporate trustee could always be a solution.

Another characteristic of a revocable living trust is that it can be changed or even scrapped at anytime while you are alive – hence the name “revocable.”  As a result of this control feature, of being able to terminate the trust and retain the assets, the trust is disregarded as a separate taxpaying entity, and you just report all the eligible income and expenses of the trust on your personal 1040.  Everything gets reported under your Social Security Number instead of having a separate taxpayer identification number.

Now let us turn the tables and speak about irrevocable trusts.  These are trusts that generally cannot be changed once they are created.  (Of course, nothing is set in stone, and well drafted trusts with trust protector language can assist in making changes, or if all the beneficiaries agree and the court approves a petition, changes or even revocation of an irrevocable trust are possible!)

An example of  an irrevocable trust would be your revocable living trust after you pass away.  At that point, your wishes regarding the disposition of your assets are irrevocable – locked-in as you specified – and the trustee must carry out your wishes.  Often a revocable living trust will contain provisions to set up other trusts.  For married couples, it has been very common to create an irrevocable trust called a bypass trust, (aka credit shelter trust, ‘B’ Trust, etc.).

Prior to some new “permanent” laws passed in January ($5 million indexed-for-inflation estate tax exemption with portability), it was important for estate inheritance tax reasons for many people to create bypass trusts. For most people estate inheritance tax will not be a concern now, but bypass trusts, or similar types of trusts, can still be important for controlling where the deceased spouse’s assets end-up, especially in blended family situations with children from prior marriages.  In other words, dad doesn’t want mom to disinherit the children he had from a prior marriage once he dies!

Another type of common irrevocable trust is a gifting trust.  These are commonly created by a parent or a grandparent to permanently move assets out of their estate and into a trust for the benefit (or future benefit) of a child or grandchild with certain stipulations and protections governing the assets in the trust.  We saw a lot of these set up in 2012 due to the uncertainty of the estate tax laws and the possibility of missing an opportunity to save estate inheritance tax down the road.

Due to the fact that you have relinquished a lot of control with an irrevocable trust, and it will no longer be included in your estate, the taxing authorities view this trust as a separate tax paying entity.  This means it has its own tax return each year and gets its own taxpayer identification number.

In two weeks we will begin discussing the new tax rate changes and their impacts on trusts.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

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.

Can’t Finish Returns by October 15 Deadline?

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

October 5, 2012

If you placed your 2011 personal tax returns on extension, you have 10 days left to complete the returns and get them filed.  This is especially important if you did not withhold enough tax or make enough estimated tax payments during the year to cover your tax liability that was technically due on April 17.  Penalties are assessed based on the unpaid balance of tax that was due on that date.  There are several penalties assessed, but the hefty penalty is the late filing penalty which equates to five percent of your unpaid tax as of April 17 for each month or part of a month the return is late (capped at 25 percent).

In the past, I have had problematic situations where a client did not receive tax documents until after October 15.  This is sometimes seen when a client is invested in a partnership or has an interest in an S-Corporation or LLC and that entity is filing their returns late – causing all the others to be late as well.  There are even situations when other entities are filing timely and it can cause you to be late.  An example of this would be if you were a beneficiary of an irrevocable trust.  These types of trusts generally have the same due dates that your personal returns do – April 15, with a six month extension to October 15.  What if the trust is completed at the end of the day on October 15?  Will the beneficiary be able to get their K-1 tax document and provide to their accountant to finish before midnight!!  Maybe not!

So what do you do if you still cannot file by October 15?  Is there any hope?  There are some specific exceptions for military service members and taxpayers working abroad, but if you do not qualify for those exceptions, what then?  One option would be to wait until the information is received and then file the return requesting penalty relief for reasonable cause.  This is a tough row to hoe in actuality, because the IRS places a high degree of responsibility on the taxpayer:  I can almost guarantee you that what you feel is reasonable will not be the same as what the IRS feels is reasonable!  You will be categorized as delinquent from the outset, and then you will start on the defensive.

A better solution in many cases would be to go ahead and file a tax return with the information available and your best estimate of any missing information.  (There are provisions in the code that allow for estimates under certain circumstances.)  A statement should be included with the return explaining the situation and the efforts made to obtain the information.  You should also state the intent to amend the return if materially different from the actual information when it is available.  This would prevent a late filing penalty from being assessed, and you would be categorized as timely filed unless the return is challenged by audit.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

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.