Archive for the ‘Capital Gains’ Tag

Back to Basics Part XXXV – Form 8959 Additional Medicare Tax and Form 8960 – Net Investment Income Tax

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

March 25, 2016

Forms 8959 and 8960 are two relatively new forms that started with the 2014 tax year.  These are two of quite a number of tax increases that are being used to help fund ObamaCare.  Both of these forms affect people with income in excess of $200,000 for Single filers or 250,000 for Married Filing Jointly.

Form 8959 is the Additional Medicare Tax.  It is an additional 0.9% Medicare Part A tax on combined W-2 and self-employment wages in excess of the above stated thresholds.  Note that it is not based on  W-2 box 1 taxable wages, but on Medicare wages which are often higher for most people.  Pretax deductions such as contributions to retirement plans are included in Medicare wages, whereas they are not included in box 1 taxable wages.

Employers have to start collecting this additional tax once your wages hit the thresholds.  However, if you changed jobs during the year, the second employer will not withhold until the wages your earn with that employer reaches the thresholds.  This means that you could owe additional tax when you file your tax returns for the shortfall, since the new employer and old employer do not communicate to coordinate this tax.  For self-employed people, you would of course be sending in quarterly estimates of your income and self-employment tax liability, and the calculation of this new tax would be made on your income tax returns at year-end.

The Form 8960 is the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT).  Once your income meets the thresholds previously discussed, you will also have an additional 3.8% tax on all investment related income.  This would include income sources such as interest income, dividend income, annuities, rents, royalties, capital gains distributions from mutual funds and capital gains from the sale of investments such as stocks and bonds.  Even real estate professionals would be subject to NIIT on their own rental real estate activities, unless they meet the material participation test specifically in rental real estate, which is a separate test from time spent in real estate sales activities, for instance.

If you own an interest in a business and you are not materially participating in the business, this income will also be subject to the net investment income tax.  Material participation generally means 500 hours or more during the year.  The sale of rental property and even second homes are also subject to NIIT.  If you sell an interest in a partnership or s-corporation and do not materially participate in the business, you will also be subject to NIIT on any gains from those sales.  Investment income from your children that are taxed on your returns through Form 8814 are also subject to NIIT.

Wages, unemployment compensation, alimony, Social Security benefits, tax-exempt interest income, income subject to self-employment taxes, and income from qualified retirement plan distributions are specifically excluded from the tax.

There are also some deductions that can be used to offset NIIT.  These expenses included investment interest expense, investment advisory and brokerage fees, expenses related to rental and royalty income, tax preparation fees, fiduciary expenses (in the case of an estate or trust) and state and local income taxes.

Regarding trusts and estate, it is important to note that the thresholds for NIIT are much lower.  Due to the compressed income tax bracket structure, NIIT kicks in when the trust or estate reaches the highest income tax bracket at only $12,300 of income (2015).  This provides additional incentive for trustees to push income out to the beneficiaries since many trusts will be subject to NIIT, but the beneficiaries are often not subject due to the much higher thresholds for individuals.

Planning can be an important tool to lower the impact of NIIT.

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. Travis can be reached at 831-333-1041. This article is for educational purposes.  Although believed to be accurate in most situations, it does not constitute professional advice or establish a client relationship.

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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.

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 www.tlongcpa.com/blog 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.

We Buy Gold…FIFA World Cup Trophies

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

June 27, 2014

As a young lad, I played a lot of soccer.  The first team I was on was called the “Half-Pints.”  I think I was four or five years old, but I can still remember our green and white uniforms and the coach wearing jacked-up tube socks with colored stripes along the top.  When I was six and seven I played on the “Chiefs” – I am not sure that team name and logo with the Native American headdress would be allowed today.  Around that time, I also played on the “Jedis” – probably because the original Star Wars trilogy was in its heyday.

By the time I was in middle school, my brother and I were both on traveling soccer teams often playing at opposites ends of the state on any given Saturday.  We played a fall outdoor season, a winter indoor season, a spring outdoor season, and then attended soccer camps during the summer.  In high school I played on regular club teams as well as the high school team.  One very vivid memory was winning the state championship my junior year in high school.  The opposing team had two players that went on to play in the MLS, one of which even played on two U.S. World Cup teams.  I went to college and played a few more years there until other priorities began to emerge.

Throughout my time playing soccer, there was one thing that eluded me – a real gold trophy!   Cheap plastic trophies at the end of a season, or after winning a tournament remained pretty consistent.  They seemed like treasures when I was young and most survived through the years with only minor dents and scratches.  A few unlucky ones had lost an appendage or their fake gold hair paint had rubbed off leaving the embarrassing white plastic beneath.  Eventually, they all got round-filed save one early trophy as a momento.

If I had only managed to keep playing, gain citizenship in a powerhouse soccer country, join the national team, and then win the World Cup, my dream could have been realized! With the World Cup currently in full swing, some country is only two-and-a-half weeks away from holding the world’s most valuable trophy. Not only in symbolic worth to the world, but also in perceived collectible value and sheer melt value, the FIFA World Cup Trophy is the world’s most valuable trophy.

The trophy is not gold-plated as most other major sports trophies are, but its 13.6 pounds is made almost entirely of 18k gold.  If you took the championship trophies from the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB and melted them all down, their combined value would be worth only about 28 percent of the melt value of the World Cup Trophy, which currently has about $200,000 of gold in it with an estimated collectible value of $10 – $20 million.

What does this have to do with taxes? – Not a whole lot, but it was a good excuse to talk about soccer. I will say this: buying and selling gold has been quite popular since the markets bottomed out in 2009.    It seems that everybody has a sign that says, “We buy gold.”  I think I even saw that written on the back of an “Anything will help” sign from a panhandler.

There are a lot of special tax and regulatory rules surrounding gold sales, so you need to make sure you get the right advice before you buy a bunch of gold or gold coins thinking you are making a solid investment to protect you from inflation.  For instance, if you owned the FIFA World Cup Trophy, you would be subject to special collectibles tax rates of 28 percent if you tried to sell it, as opposed to lower long-term gain rates even if held over a year.   People wanting to hold gold directly in their IRAs also have special rules to follow regarding the purity of the gold they purchase, in order to maintain the tax deferral.

So, scout it out before you buy gold!  Besides, it’s better to just win the gold.  Go USA!

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 III

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

November 29, 2013

During the past two columns I laid the groundwork of some of the basics on revocable and irrevocable trusts, I discussed the new tax rates that affect many trusts, and I discussed the distinction between income and principal transaction and their relations to capital gains.

In a short summary of the past two articles, 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.  There are commonly two types of beneficiaries of irrevocable trusts: 1) current beneficiaries – who often receive the trust accounting income (and principal to an extent if needed) during their lifetime, and 2) remainder beneficiaries – who receive the principal upon the death of the current beneficiary.

The trust document has the power to define what type of revenues get classified to trust accounting income or principal, thus determining which beneficiary ultimately receives the money.  If the trust document does not define how a particular revenue is to be treated, as is often the case with capital gains, then the state’s principal and income act governs.  In California this means capital gains are considered a principal transaction and would not go to the current beneficiary. Federal tax rates on the highest income bracket earners have effectively risen by up to 8.8% on capital gains and 4.6% to 8.4% on other types of income. For irrevocable trusts, the highest bracket sets in at only $11,950 of income, so taxation to the trust is not generally desirable!

Picking up from that point in the last article, we can now discuss how that affects taxation.  If trust accounting income is supposed to go to the current beneficiary, then for tax purposes that income will be “pushed out” of the trust and reported on the tax returns of the current beneficiary instead of the trust.  To the extent that revenues are considered principal transactions, and are therefore slated for the remainder beneficiaries down the road, the trust pays the taxes instead.  Capital gains used to be taxed at the same rate whether the income was pushed out to the current beneficiary, or taxed in the trust.  Now, with the potential 8.8% additional tax on capital gains taxed to the trust, it matters a lot!

If there is a genuine concern that the remainder beneficiary should ultimately receive the money from gains due to appreciation, then the 8.8% additional tax would be worth it.  For many grantors that set up trusts, however, a big concern is minimizing the tax impact, and they would rather structure the trust to distribute the gains to the current beneficiary to save taxes.  This would be especially true when there is a close relation between the current beneficiary and the remainder beneficiary, such as a parent and a child, and even more so if there is a presumption that the parent will eventually give the money to the child anyway either during life or upon death.

If you are in the process of setting up a trust, I think this subject is an essential conversation that should be had between you, your attorney, and your tax professional.  The attorney can draft language to allow the trustee the power to allocate the gains on sales to trust accounting income.  It is worth mentioning that the underlying Treasury Regulation 1.643(a)-3 examples and Private Letter Ruling 200617004 place heavy emphasis on consistency by the trustee.  In other words, you cannot flip back and forth each year between allocating capital gains to income or principal; you pick a method and stick with it. I think there will be resistance from some attorneys out of habit, or rote concern for the remainder beneficiaries in considering something like this.  It is true, it may not always be the right choice, but I think given the changed landscape, it could be right for many people.

If you already have a trust, but have no explicit language in the trust document allowing for capital gains allocation to income, Treasury Regulation 1.643(a)-3 provides some leeway to do so anyway if done consistently.  But it is questionable whether you can begin treating capital gains as income if you have not been doing so in the past.  Perhaps a one-time change with a signed statement by the trustee of the intent from that point going forward would add credence.  Another approach would be to amend the trust document providing the power to allocate capital gains to income from that point forward.  If the grantor is still alive and consents to the change along with all of the beneficiaries, amending the “irrevocable trust” should not generally be a problem.  If the grantor is not living, but all the beneficiaries agree, you may be able to successfully petition the court.

Of course you do all this, and the tax rates could just change again.

Please keep in mind there are many other rules and exceptions surrounding the ideas discussed in this article which I have not space to mention.  Consulting with qualified professionals regarding your specific situation is always your best course of action.

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 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.

American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

January 11, 2013

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 was signed into law January 2, 2013.  There was lots in the bill, but I am going to hit on a few that are notable and others that having meaning to a lot of people.  I think making the Alternative Minimum Tax patch permanent and indexed for inflation was a huge victory for many taxpayers.  That patch has been kicked down the road for years.  The indexing will certainly alleviate concerns of a similar problem down the road.  Many middle class people do not realize they were on the cusp of paying thousands of dollars more on their 2012 tax returns due in April without this fix.

The estate tax exemption being set permanently at $5 million and also indexed for inflation is huge, especially for Californians that own property.  In a lot of ways, this simplifies estate planning for most individuals and will bring into question the need of the typical A-B split for many people that currently have it.  Having a B trust, or bypass trust, would require additional tax work in the future, so the ability to eliminate it, could be worth the cost of amending your trust.  Family dynamics may of course still dictate a B trust is prudent.

Various other temporary provisions we have been enjoying that were made permanent included marriage penalty relief for joint filers, better rules for student loan interest deductions and dependent care credit rules.

Quite a few things were extended but not made permanent.  A big one was extending the exclusion from income of cancelled debt on personal residences for another year.  This could be a lifesaver for those still struggling with mortgages that are “underwater.”  Deductions for grade school teacher expenses and an above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses were other items extended through 2013.  More important than the deduction for tuition was the extension of the American opportunity tax credit through 2018 which saves taxpayers up to $2,500 each year as a result of education costs.  Enhanced provisions of the child tax credit were also extended through 2018.

Small businesses have had the luxury of writing off high dollar amounts of many capital asset purchases through code section 179.  This was slated to return to $25,000, but has been extended through 2013 at $500,000.  Bonus depreciation and accelerated expensing of qualified leasehold, restaurant and retail improvements on a 15 year schedule instead of returning to a 39.5 year schedule was also extended.

Bush-era tax rates and capital gains rates have been retained for everyone but the wealthy.  For people making over $400,000, their marginal bracket rose from 35% to 39.6%, and their capital gains tax went from 15% to 20%.  There is also a new 3.8% medicare tax on investment income for people generally making over $200,000 and a new hospital insurance tax of .9% for people generally making over $200,000.  Itemized deduction phaseouts have also returned for high income earners.

Everyday wage earners will be negatively impacted by the return of a 6.2% tax for Social Security rather than 4.2% tax we have had for the past two years, as they will see two percent less in their paychecks as a result.  Another negative impact for people with high uninsured medical expenses, is that the threshold for medical itemized deductions has moved from 7.5% of your adjusted gross income to 10%.  Individuals 65 and up will still enjoy the 7.5% rate for another three years.

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.

Your Future Tax Return: Romney Versus Obama

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

November 2, 2012

If tax positions would sway your Tuesday vote, here is what Obama and Romney would like to see.  Keep in mind, however, you don’t always get what you want!

Tax brackets: Romney reduce to 80% of current levels. Obama keep the same as 2012 except allow top bracket to split into two higher brackets like pre-2001. (Romney, Current 2012 Rates, Obama, 2013 rates if no congressional action ) (8%, 10%, 10%, 15%), (12%, 15%, 15%, 15%), (20%, 25%, 25%, 28%), (22.4%, 28%, 28%, 31%), (26.4%, 33%, 33%, 36%), (28%, 35%, 36% and 39.6%, 39.6%)

Capital gains, interest, dividends: Romney reduce tax rate to zero for AGI below $200K.  15% max if AGI above $200K. Obama increase long-term capital gains rate to 20% max and up to 39.6% on dividends – leave interest taxed at ordinary bracket rates.

2013 3.8% Medicare surtax on net investment income and existing 0.9% medicare surtax for married filers over $250K AGI and others over $200K: Romney repeal.  Obama keep.

Itemized deductions: Romney cap itemized deductions (maybe $17,000-$50,000 cap) and maybe eliminate completely for high income.  Obama reduce your itemized deductions by 3% of your AGI in excess of $250K married, $225K HOH, $200K single, and $125K MFS (up to 80% reduction of itemized deductions) and limit the effective tax savings to 28% even if you are in a higher bracket.

Income exclusions: Romney keep as is. Obama cap the effective tax savings to 28% on exclusions from income for contributions to retirement plans,  health insurance premiums paid by employers, employees, or self-employed taxpayers, moving expenses, student loan interest and certain education expenses, contributions to HSAs and Archer MSAs, tax-exempt state and local bond interest, certain business deductions for employees, and domestic production activities deduction.

AMT: Romney repeal. Obama keep but set exclusion to current levels and index for inflation.

2009 expanded Child Tax Credit, increased Earned Income Credit, and American Opportunity Credit: Romney – Allow to expire as scheduled 12/31/12.  Obama – Make permanent.

Buffett Rule: Romney “Not gonna do it.” Obama households making over $1 million should not pay a smaller percentage of tax than middle income families.  This is accomplished by raising the rates on capital gains and dividends as discussed earlier.

Temporary two percent FICA cut you have been enjoying in 2011 and 2012: Both candidates favor allowing to expire at 12/31/12.

Estate tax: Romney repeal.  Obama set at $3.5 million and index for inflation with top rate of 45% on excess.

Top corporate tax rates: Romney 25%. Obama – keep at 35% for 2013 but maybe reduce to 28% in the future.

Corporate international tax: Romney don’t tax U.S. companies on income earned in foreign countries. Obama discourage income shifting to foreign countries.

Corporate tax preferences: Romney extend section 179 expensing another year, create temporary tax credit, expand research and experimentation credit. Obama increase domestic manufacturing incentives, impose additional fees on insurance and financial industries, reduce fossil fuel preferences.

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.

Tax Changes on the Horizon?

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

October 19, 2012

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you are sure to have heard the hubbub surrounding potential tax increases in 2013.  These tax increases do not require Congress to take action, but to gridlock and do nothing, which is why they stand a much better chance of actually occurring than a concerted effort to raise taxes. Most of the increases are the result of the expiration of the temporary tax decreases dubbed “The Bush Tax Cuts,” passed in 2001 and 2003 while George W. Bush was in office.  There was also a two percent reduction in payroll taxes a few years ago that was meant to be a temporary stimulus for the economy.  The Tax Policy Center estimates that nearly 90% of American households will face an average tax increase of $3,500 if the tax cuts expire.

If current legislation stays in place, ordinary income tax brackets will jump 3-5%, depending on your bracket.  Capital gains tax will increase 5-15%, depending on your bracket, and there will be a new Medicare surtax, generally for people making over $200,000, of another 3.8% on net investment income.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is another big issue that could affect most Americans.  AMT is a parallel tax calculation that runs alongside the normal system, cutting out common deductions, and if it results in a higher overall tax liability, you pay the incremental difference as additional tax.

Estate and lifetime gift tax will also get hit hard.  Currently, there is a $5,120,000 exemption for the combined estate and gift tax.  If you have a taxable estate above that and you pass away by December 31, the excess will be taxed at a top rate of 35%. Next year, this exemption reverts to $1,000,000 with a maximum tax rate of 55% on your taxable estate above that figure.

This certainly presents questions for you, your tax professional, and your estate planner to analyze.  If you knew ordinary tax rates, capital gains, and estate tax rates were going to rise next year, you would likely try to push expected income from next year to this year, sell your stocks now that could result in a gain in the future, and gift money from your estate to your heirs.  It is not quite this simple, and you should get professional assistance, but it is something to think about now rather than December 31st.

Related to the estate and gift tax issue, on Saturday morning, October 27th, I will be presenting with local attorney, Kyle A. Krasa, and local investment advisor, Henry Nigos, in a free seminar titled “Opportunities and Clawbacks – Taking Advantage of the Once-in-a-Lifetime 2012 Estate/Gift Tax Rules” from 10:00 am to 11:30 am at 700 Jewell Avenue, Pacific Grove.  The seminar is sponsored by Krasa Law – please RSVP at 831-920-0205.

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.