Archive for the ‘basis’ Tag

Back to Basics Part XXVI – Form 8606 – Nondeductible IRAs

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

October 30, 2015

If you have traditional or Roth IRAs, you owe it to yourself to understand what is meant by having “basis in your IRA.”  This is especially important for people that have switched tax preparers over the years or prepared returns themselves, as they may not have transferred or tracked the amounts properly from year-to-year, or preparer-to-preparer.  Failure to understand this concept could result in oversights that cost you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in tax when you start withdrawing and using the money from those accounts.

Having basis in your IRA means that you have made a contribution to your IRA at some point over the years for which you did not receive a tax deduction when you made the contribution.  Since you did not get a tax deduction when you contributed the money, you should not have to pay tax when you withdraw the money.  Roth contributions, by nature, are those for which you receive no tax deduction when you put the money in, so all contributions create basis.  With traditional IRAs, you create basis when contributing if your income is too high and you are therefore disallowed from taking the tax deduction.  Having high income would not prohibit you from making the contribution to the account, but you would just not be allowed to take the tax deduction on the tax returns.

If you are unfamiliar with the related calculations and forms and do not review them carefully or discuss them with your return preparer (or just plain have no interest in doing so!), you could easily assume you are getting a deduction when you are not.  Financial advisors generally have no idea if you have basis in your IRAs because they do not typically obtain copies of your tax returns and verify the deductions each year – it is just not part of their job description.  Basis to them generally means, what did you pay for the stock, bond, or mutual fund (a different concept of basis relevant for regular brokerage accounts).

And you do not really need a lot of income to be phased out from the deduction; it is not just a problem for the rich.  For tax year 2015, people filing single or head of household that also contributed to a retirement plan through their work during the year (even if a trivial amount) or were eligible for a pension, are allowed to take the deduction in full until they reach only $61,000 of income.  Then the deduction starts to phase out and is completely phased out once they have $71,000 of income.  For married couples filing jointly, the combined income (of both spouses) phase out range is only $98,000 to $118,000 when determining the deductibility of a contribution when both spouses participates in a work plan.  In situations where one spouse participates in a work plan, and the other does not, the phaseout range for the deductibility of the contribution by the spouse that does not participate in a work plan is a combined income (of both spouses) of $181,000 – $191,000.  If neither spouses participates in a work plan during the year, there is no income phase out for the deduction that year.

The other way people get basis in their IRAs is if they are inherited.  Since IRAs do not get a step-up in basis upon the death of a decedent, you receive the basis the decedent had in the IRA (if any).  So it becomes very important to make sure you know what this is and hopefully have some documentation supporting it.

When you start withdrawing money out of your IRAs, the tax preparer determines the tax free portion of your withdrawal by dividing your total historical IRA basis by the total year-end values of all your SEP, SIMPLE and Traditional IRAs and multiplying that ratio by your IRA withdrawal amount.  If you or your past preparer(s) did not carefully track and pass this basis number on over the years, then your current preparer will generally assume there is no basis.  As such you have just set yourself up to be double taxed – once when the money was put in and you did not get the deduction and now again, when you take the distributions.

Sadly, I regularly see new clients come through my doors whose basis is missing, drastically lower than it should be, or at least suspect of being low; the client often has no idea why it even matters, has not kept records, and has changed investment advisors and tax preparers several times.  It becomes time consuming and expensive to recreate, if it can be done at all, or is even noticed in the first place.  Unless a nondeductible contribution is made during the year, the Form 8606 used to track the nondeductible contributions, is not filed and therefore not part of the return you may hand to your new preparer.  That individual has to have the presence of mind to ask about these carryovers.  I see these problems mostly with do-it-yourself and discount tax service chains.  Those options certainly have a right place and serve a need, but as a consumer, you need to understand the more you have at stake, the more detrimental is a mistake.

As mentioned before, with Roth IRAs, basis is created with every contribution.  What becomes important to track with Roth IRAs is the total amount of direct contributions made to the Roth versus Roth conversions and rollovers from traditional IRAs.  If you take any distributions before reaching age 59 1/2, or are over 59 1/2 but have had a Roth IRA for less than five years, these amounts become critical in order to calculate if a portion of your distribution is taxable.  There is a specific ordering method for withdrawals which is favorable.  As with traditional IRAs, Roth IRA basis is often forgotten about over the years.

The Form 8606 – Nondeductible IRAs does several things: 1)  it is used to calculate and track nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs, 2) it is used to calculate the taxability of SEP, SIMPLE, and traditional IRA distributions when there is basis, 3) it is used to calculate the tax on Roth conversions, and 4) it is used to calculate the any possible tax on Roth distributions.  Part I of the is used for items 1) and 2) above.  Part II of the form is used 3), above and part III of the form is used to calculate item 4).

The instructions to the form also explain how to handle recharacterizations – this is where you  contribute money to an IRA and then later for that same tax year decide you want to “recharacterize” it as a contribution to a Roth IRA instead, or vice versa – it’s like a “do-over.”  In addition the instructions explain how to handle excess contributions or a return of contributions made during the year.

Even though the taxing authorities have theoretically received all your 8606s since 1987 when nondeductible IRAs were first permitted, I have never seen them point out to a taxpayer that he had basis in the past that was overlooked.  In fact, in the instructions to the form the IRS puts the burden on the taxpayer to retain the supporting documents from inception of your IRAs until your retirement accounts are fully distributed (plus at least three years for audit possibilities).

They ask that for the purpose of proving your basis in IRAs, you keep the first page of all 1040s, keep all Form 8606s,  keep all Form 5498s from your custodian showing the amounts contributed each year, as well as all 1099-Rs showing any distributions.  Now you know why, when people ask me how long I suggest keeping tax returns, I say, “Forever.”  I actually have scans of every one of my personal tax returns dating back to when I was 16, mowing greens, raking bunkers, and driving tractors in the summer for a golf course.

If you have questions about other schedules or forms in your tax returns, prior articles in our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

Travis H. Long, CPA, Inc. 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.

Gifts Given and Received – Taxable?

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

December 27, 2013

I remember when I was growing up, every year for Christmas, my grandfather would send a check to my brother and I for $75 each.  That seemed like an incredible amount of money to me at the time, and it really boosted my treasury each year!  One of those years, I can remember going to the bank with my mom to cash the check, and wanting to see what $75 felt like in my own two hands; I asked the teller to give it to me…all in ones.  She smiled, pulled some crisp ones from under her drawer, and counted them out for me.  I had never felt a wad of bills like that in my hands!  I tried folding them over, but I could not get them all in my pocket it was so thick, so I put them in lengthwise, and they just about stuck out the top of my pants pocket – I was a rich man!

After a week or so, we came back and deposited about half of them back into my bank account.  My dad had always encouraged us to save half of whatever we received or earned when we were growing up.  I admit, that ratio did not quite remain when I got into high school, and discovered a new and expensive hobby called, girls, but saving was ingrained in me.  When I left for college I had a measurable chunk of change in my bank account.

Throughout those years, it never occurred to me to wonder about the tax implications of the gifts I received.  Now, however, I think a lot about those things!

I do not know anyone that would hesitate to put a gift of $75 into his or her bank account.  But if you throw two or three zeroes on the end, then I definitely get questions from people wondering if it they will have to pay tax.  As the recipient of a gift, whether it is $75 or $75 million dollars, you do not have to pay taxes or report the receipt of the gift (with one exception that I can think of to be explained later).  If you receive something other than cash, such as stocks, real estate, or tangible property, you could have tax if you sell it.  The catch is that when you receive noncash gifts, you also receive the giftor’s cost basis, and when you sell you have taxable gain on the difference between the sales price and the cost basis.  For example, if someone gives you a share of stock worth $100, and that person bought it for only $10, you have to pay tax on the $90 gain if you sell it.

If you put yourself in the shoes of the person giving the gift, there are different rules you need to follow.  As long as you give less than $14,000 (2013 and 2014) a year in combined cash or noncash items to any one person, you have nothing to worry about, except providing the person evidence of your cost basis if the items are noncash items.  (You are doing a disservice if you do not provide proof of cost basis, since the person you give the noncash items to could potentially be held liable for tax on the entire amount of the gift if they sell it, and cannot prove your cost basis – this is often overlooked.)  You could give $14,000 to every person on earth each year and not have to file a gift tax return.

If you give $14,001 to just one person, then you have to file a Form 709 United States Gift Tax Return.  The portion in excess of $14,000 per person is then subtracted from your combined gift and estate tax exemption (currently $5.25 million and indexed for inflation).  For most people this is just an informational filing as they will never reach the limits, but it is required (and limits have gone up and down in the past).  If you exceed the limits, however, the person giving the gift has a tax liability at a rate as a high as 40 percent.  The only possible time I can think of that the IRS could pursue the recipient of a gift for taxes would be if the giftor gave away so much money that he or she had a tax liability and could not pay it.  The IRS in that case, could pursue the person receiving a gift for tax.

Keep in mind that a gift is different from inheriting when someone passes away.  You generally do not have tax on inherited amounts either, with the exception of tax liability on any earnings the assets you are entitled to accumulate between the date of the peron’s passing, and the date you receive the property.  Your cost basis with inherited assets is also generally more favorable as the cost basis you receive is typically the fair market value at the date the person passed away, and not their old, often lower, cost basis.

Crafty minds will sometimes think of schemes to call income a gift since gifts are not taxable.  Be careful of this – substance over form will rule the day.  Yes, it would be nice if I would do your tax preparation for free, and you also happen to be kind enough to give me money, but it ain’t gonna fly!

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.

When Can I Throw Out My Tax Returns?

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

May 3, 2013

It is time to do some spring cleaning!  Do not miss your opportunity as summer is coming quickly, at which point you will be required to keep everything for another year.  Perhaps you will find that old pair of muddy tennis shoes in the garage – now the home to three indignant spiders as you turn their palace upside down.  Or maybe you will find that half-used bottle of hotel shampoo under the sink – a small, but satisfying entitlement for a $300 room charge.  Ah, and then there are those tax returns you filed way back in April – is it time to get rid of those too?!

You can do whatever you want, but my advice is to keep them.  In fact, I would say you may want to keep every tax return (and the supporting documents) you have ever filed – I know I have.  Record retention is always an interesting debate and you hear a lot of people say three, five, or seven years as a rule of thumb for many types of documents.  Regarding tax returns, the real answer is unique to each person depending on his or her tax circumstances and risk tolerance.

Someone that works a W-2 job, has no other sources of income, no investments, contributes to no retirement plans, and files the returns correctly would have little risk if discarding the returns after four years.  If you do make retirement plan contributions, depreciate any assets, have an installment sale agreement, or a host of other things, it would not really be wise to discard the returns in accordance with a rule of thumb.

The IRS generally has three years from the later of the due date (or extended due date) or the date you file to audit your returns.  The California FTB has four years from the later of the non-extended original due date or the date you file in order to audit.  You should never throw out returns or source documents until you are outside of these statutes of limitation.  If you have understated your gross income by more than 25 percent (even if by accident), then the IRS has six years to audit you.  People can get tripped up on this pretty easily if they fail to report stock sales.  I have seen this before with people preparing their own tax returns that ignore the 1099-B issued year-after-year because they did not really understand it.  If you filed a false tax return or there was any kind of fraud, there is no statute of limitations.

Even if you are outside the statute of limitations, however, you may still need prior tax returns to support positions you are taking on current tax returns that are inside the statute of limitations.  Think about someone that has been contributing to an IRA for many years and was unable to take deductions due to income limitations.  Each of these nondeductible contributions would have created basis in the IRA which would lower the taxable amount of distributions while in retirement.  If the IRS audited your returns in retirement and questioned your basis, having all the past tax returns showing the nondeductible contributions would be a saving grace.

People that have rental properties or home offices may find tax returns from twenty-five years ago helpful in proving the basis in the property when it is eventually sells due to depreciation deductions taken on each past return.  I have also had situations where clients had no idea what their cost basis was for a stock sale, and we were able to help recreate and substantiate the cost basis by reinvested dividends reported on tax returns stretching back several decades.

The safest thing to do is just keep them, or at least scan them and maintain the electronic files through the years.

One other pointer – be sure you do not throw out purchase records, refinance documents, or receipts of improvements to any type of property you own as you will likely need this information if you ever sell it.

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.

Sale of a Residence After Death – Part II

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

April 5, 2013

Two weeks ago we discussed the sale of a personal residence after someone passes away when held as joint tenants or community property.  We also discussed the concept of a cost basis step up (or down) to the current fair market value at death as it relates to joint tenancy, community property, and tenancy in common.  If you missed this article you can find it on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.  This week we are going to discuss what happens when a sole owner or tenant in common passes away and the house or fractional interest in a house goes to their trust or estate.

Often children are tasked with figuring out what to do with mom or dad’s house after the second spouse passes.  Names like executor, executrix, and trustee get thrown around and sometimes you get to know your accountant and attorney better than if you had gone on a fishing trip together!  After death, the house typically become part of the estate if there was no trust in place, and if there was, then it becomes part of an irrevocable trust that has the task of winding up affairs and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries (or trusts for the beneficiaries).

If the surviving spouse held the house as a sole owner or in his or her revocable trust before death, the house receives a full step-up (or down) in basis to the current fair market value at death.  If the house is distributed outright to a beneficiary (or beneficiaries) and then the beneficiary immediately sells the home, you often will have a loss due to the real estate commissions and other sales expenses (or perhaps even a market decline between date of death and the sale as we saw so often over the past five years).  This loss, however, will generally be a nondeductible personal loss unless you first convert it to a rental property, and then sell it later.

If, however, it is decided the house needs to be sold while it is still in the estate or trust in order to pay debts or to distribute the proceeds to various beneficiaries, you may have a case to take a deductible loss on the sale of the property (which would offset other taxable income in the estate or trust, or perhaps flow through to the beneficiaries reducing their personal taxes).  Fair warning, the IRS and the courts disagree on this issue!

The IRS has taken the position that even a trust or estate cannot take a loss unless it is a rental property or converted to a rental property and then sold.  However, this conflicts with some of the instructions they provide regarding capital assets held by trusts and estates. The courts, on the other hand, have held that a trust or estate does not hold personal assets, and thus is allowed to take a loss on the sale of what used to be the decedent’s personal residence as long as no beneficiaries live in the property in the interim.  There are other issues to consider here, but in the right circumstances, strategic planning could create some large tax savings.

If a tenant in common passes away, his or her ownership percentage receives a step in basis to the current fair market value and the interest flows through to the estate or trust.  Similar results would occur as those just discussed for sole owners.  It is less common to find someone holding a personal residence as a tenant in common, especially with unrelated people.  It also comes with other, more complicated issues, since fractionalizing ownership in a house diminishes the value – basically, who wants to buy a house with other people you don’t know?  In all cases after someone passes away, date-of-death appraisals are requisite, and you may need specialized appraisers for fractional interest properties.

This really just scratches the surface of the issues you can encounter, and it is always best to find a CPA and attorney team that is equipped to handle these issues appropriately.

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.

Sale of a Residence After Death – Part I

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

March 22, 2013

When a living individual sells a personal residence that results in a gain, many people are familiar with the rules which may allow an exclusion of the taxable gain of up to $250,000 ($500,000 if married filing joint) if the taxpayer lived in the property two out of the last five years as his or her primary residence.  In the depressed real estate markets over the past few years, many people have also learned (sometimes to much dismay) that a loss on a personal residence is not deductible.

But what happens when a house is sold after someone passes away?

The first thing we need to do is determine the cost basis.   At the date of death, the cost basis of the property changes to whatever the current fair market value (FMV) is (an appraisal is required – not a market analysis by a real estate agent).  If the house is held in joint tenancy or tenancy in common, only the decedent’s share of the home gets a step up (or down) in basis to the current FMV, and the basis for the survivor’s original share does not change.

If, however, it is held as community property, the entire interest in the house gets a step in basis to the current FMV.  If the property is held “with rights of survivorship” then the house passes immediately to the survivor which in turn inherits the new stepped up (or down) basis of the decedent to add to his or her own basis-in the case of joint tenancy or tenancy in common, or he or she takes the new FMV as the new basis if it was community property.

When the property is sold, the survivor reports the sales price less the new basis and selling expenses.  If it was sold soon after death, the survivor often realizes a loss due to sales expenses if they got a full step-up in basis (albeit nondeductible if maintained as a personal residence).  If the survivor realizes a gain, then, the survivor is eligible for the $250,000 exclusion assuming he or she meets all the normal rules.  If it was a spouse that passed away, then the widow or widower would have two years from the date of death to sell the house and still be eligible for the $500,000 exclusion.

In two weeks we will discuss the more interesting scenarios that play out when the property is not held “with rights of survivorship” and the property goes to the individual’s estate or trust, such as is often the case at the death of a single individual or the death of the second spouse.

Remember, it is always best to seek competent advice as everybody’s tax situation is unique and there are more rules that could affect you than just those mentioned in this article.

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.

Losses on 401(k)s, IRAs, and 529 Plans

Originally published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

September 21, 2011

 

The stock market seems like a pinball these days bumping off financial forecasts and being paddled by fiscal policy promises.  Unable to stomach some of the lows over the past few years more than a few people gave up the game and pulled money out of investments seeking the “security” of cash.   Others may have felt they had no choice, and cashed out their retirement savings to live on; some realizing they contributed more money to the plan than they got back!  Perhaps this happened to your retirement or education savings accounts, or will happen at some point.  But can you get a tax deduction for the loss in value you have incurred?

Well, it depends.  The chief determining factor is whether or not you have basis in your account.  Basis in a retirement or education account is created if you make contributions for which you receive no tax deduction when contributed.  For example – Roth-IRA contributions are not deductible when they are made, so the original contribution amount each year adds to your basis.  Education savings through section 529 plans and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are the same way.   Many employers now offer a Roth contribution option within a 401(k) plan.  These contributions also create basis.

Traditional 401(k), SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, and traditional IRA contributions provide you with an immediate tax deduction, so they provide no basis.  However, if you were over a certain income threshold and tried to make traditional IRA contributions, you may have been allowed to contribute to the account, but prohibited from taking the deduction.  This is termed a “nondeductible IRA contribution;” it would have created basis; and it is tracked on Form 8606 in your tax returns.

If it is determined you do have basis, and for a strategic reason (or by necessity) you end up liquidating the IRA (all IRAs of the same type must be liquidated for this to work), and the value of the IRA is less than your basis in the account, then you are eligible to take the loss as a miscellaneous itemized deduction subject to the two percent threshold.  If you have more than one section 529 plan, the calculation is a little different.

Liquidating your retirement accounts to get a possible tax deduction is not typically an advisable course of action for many reasons, and you would want to discuss this with your tax professional and investment advisor first.  However, sometimes, this can be a strategic move.  More often, it will have been done out of perceived necessity or by accident.  If it happens, however, you certainly want to make your tax professional aware of your losses and take the deduction if you are eligible.

Two quick examples:  1) Melissa, a parent, starts a 529 account (only has one) and contributes $10,000 towards her child’s future education.  A year later, the investments have fallen, and the account is only worth $6,000.  Melissa could liquidate the account and take a $4,000 loss on Schedule A.  Then she could start a new 529 plan putting the $6,000 back into the plan.  Melissa has just harvested a $4,000 loss. 2) Joseph opened his first Roth-IRA three years ago and contributed $14,000 over the three years.  He received some bum advice from a friend and invested most of it in a penny stock mail-order belly-dancer business that went belly-up.  Joseph’s account is now only worth $1,000.  He could liquidate his Roth-IRA and take a $13,000 loss on Schedule A.

There may be other circumstances and specific rules that affect you, and you should consult with a qualified tax professional regarding your tax situation.  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. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.