Archive for the ‘exemption’ Tag

Unmarried with Children – Head of Household

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

March 8, 2013

Article on Unmarried People Living Together with Children

I cannot write the title of this article without thinking about the 80s and 90s sitcom, Married with Children, about a dysfunctional American family starring Ed O’Neill, Katey Sagal, David Faustino, and Christina Applegate.  With all the problems the Bundy family had in its 11 years on television, one thing they did not have to deal with were tax determinations when you are unmarried with children!

When I speak of unmarried people, I am not referring to divorced individuals, but people who have never been married.  Different rules apply to divorced and legally separated individuals, and I am not speaking from that perspective.

Many questions arise about who gets to claim dependency exemptions, child tax credits, head of household filing status, dependent care expenses, etc. in situations where unmarried people are living together with children.  This article could not begin to scratch the surface of the issues that exist as there are so many situations that could yield different tax results. In this issue I am going to focus on the head of household filing status.

For an unmarried individual to claim head of household, he or she has to maintain a household for more than half the year that is the principal residence of an unmarried qualifying child (or qualifying relative) for dependency exemption purposes.

A qualifying child is someone who must generally be under 19 (24 if full-time student).  The person must also be your child, step-child, sibling, step-sibling, or a descendant of any of these, or an adopted or foster child.  The child cannot provide over half of his or her own support, and the child cannot file a joint return.

Unmarried parents often both meet the criteria to consider a shared biological child a qualifying child, and then they can decide who will claim the qualifying child for the dependency exemption.  (If they cannot decide, tie-breaker rules exist.)  Whoever claims the child as a dependent gets the child tax credits, credit for child and dependent care expenses, exclusion for dependent benefits, earned income credit, and the possibility of filing as head of household.  You cannot split up the benefits between parents.

If there is more than one shared biological child, one parent may be able to claim one child as a dependent and the other may be able to claim a different child as a dependent.  Or maybe one or both have children from prior partners that live with them and could qualify them as well.  (Side note: if unmarried person A earned less than $3,800 (2012) and lived for the entire year with unmarried person B in the household maintained by B, then A could be a dependent of B as a “qualifying relative,” as well as any of A’s children that lived with A and B and are supported by B.  This also qualifies B for head of household.)

Let us assume both unmarried people living together each have a qualifying child.  Can they both claim head of household?  If their households are maintained in separate dwellings, the answer is almost always yes.  But what if they live under the same roof?  Can you maintain separate households in the same house?

The answer to this depends on whether they are acting as a family unit or not.  IRS Chief Counsel Memorandum SCA (Service Center Advice) 1998-041 addresses this issue and basically says that all facts  and circumstances are considered, and if you are conducting your lives like a single family, then only one individual can file with the head-of-household status, and the other must file single.   But if you are basically like roommates sharing dwelling costs (but not bedrooms!), and lead separate lives with your own respective children, then you could be considered as each maintaining your own household, and then both people can file as head of household.  If you share a biological child as well, it will be nearly impossible for you to make this argument.  But never say never!

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.

Divorce Taxation – Part III

Originally published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

July 4, 2012

Since it is July 4th, and we are discussing divorce, I suppose it would be appropriate to say, “Happy Independence Day!”

Tax Carryforwards

When going through a divorce it is important to realize you may have valuable “tax assets” that need to be divided according to tax law or negotiated between spouses.  Capital loss carryforwards (such as those generated by stock sales) are supposed to be allocated based on whose assets from the past created the losses.   Net operating loss carryforwards (such as those generated by a large business loss) are supposed to be determined by recalculating what the losses would have been if you had been filing separate.  Minimum tax, general business credit, and investment interest expense carryforwards can be negotiated.

Suspended passive activity losses (such as those generated by rental properties) go with the individual receiving the property, however, there are some pitfalls to avoid that could require the passive activity losses to be added to basis, rather than becoming immediately available to the spouse receiving the property.  If you happen to have bought a house with the $8,000 homebuyer credit that has to be repaid, the person who takes the home becomes solely responsible for repayment.

In practice, I have not seen the IRS come down heavily on how carryforwards are divided, but it is important to know what you are entitled to, so you do not miss out on something that could save you money down the road.

Children

Children present a number of planning issues in a divorce.  Tax benefits related to children include the child’s exemption, child tax credits, dependent care credits, exclusion of income related to dependent care benefits, earned income credits, education credits, and head of household filing status.  The custodial parent (defined for tax purposes as the parent who lived with the child most during the year) is generally the one eligible for these benefits, although the custodial parent may release two of those (the exemption and child tax credits) to the noncustodial parent by filing Form 8332, and keep the remaining benefits. As discussed in a previous issue in this series, it is also possible for both spouses to claim head of household if the abandoned spouse rules are met.  If both parents meet certain qualifying child rules, they can also each claim medical and health insurance expense deductions they pay for the child and can distribute money from HSAs, MSAs, etc. for the child’s benefit.  When multiple children are involved, planning can be done to preserve the head of household status for both spouses.

Child support payments are not taxable income to the recipient parent, nor are they deductible by the parent paying the child support.  Alimony on the other hand is income to the recipient, and deductible by the paying parent.  Be sure your divorce decree is clear and specific on the payment of alimony and child support.  Alimony is a tricky area and you must be very careful about how it is paid.

To be continued next issue…

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.

I’m Having a Baby!

Originally published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

Decembery 7, 2011

Well, not me, technically, but my wife is.  After 12 years of wedded bliss, we are entering the baby business.  Like most future parents we are excited, but being a CPA takes it to a whole new level of joy!  There are so many planning opportunities around children.

Planning can start well before birth or even years before conception.  For example, the highly tax savvy high school senior could think, “Someday, I am going to have a family of my own.  Knowing the high cost of college I am about to incur, I should really start saving for my future child’s education now to maximize tax-deferred growth!  That raucous week in Cancun is really a waste of money, anyway.”  Instead this high schooler opens a section 529 plan and names his older sister’s child as a beneficiary.  After four years in a frat house, a year traveling after school, a few years bouncing around finding himself, falling in love, getting married, and finally having a child, this new parent then renames the beneficiary to his own child with a ten-year jump start on tax deferred education saving!

What about the expense of having the child?  This natural process which has gone on quite successfully for a few million years or so at no cost, mostly outdoors in the dirt, can now be quite pricey, and sterile.  It may cost $5,000 if you use a midwife or $25,000 in a hospital!  You will likely go over your deductible and insurance will pick up the rest.  A great option is to have a high deductible health plan going forward with a health savings account.  This setup makes virtually all of your family medical expenses deductible whereas people with traditional plans are stuck itemizing with a 7.5 percent of AGI floor – meaning most people do not get any tax benefit.  It also allows the deductibility of more types of expenses and alternative care.

Next, there is the additional exemption deduction to get excited about – we are talking $3,700!  You are also eligible for child tax credits – up to a $1,000 per child.  And if you are low income, the child may help qualify you for a larger earned income credit: up to $3,094 with one child or $5,751 with three or more!  Child tax credits and earned income credits can be refundable – meaning, even if you do not pay a dime in tax, the federal government will “refund” the money to you anyway – but having children is not a great way to get rich.   For advanced tax planning, you aim to have your child near the end of December and still receive the exemption and credits for the whole year.  No expense, but full benefit – brilliant!

Do not forget about dependent care credits and education credits either.  Dependent care credits will save you up to $1,050 for one child or $2,100 for two or more children.   Education credits for college age children such as the Hope credit can save you up to $2,500 in tax.

My favorite planning opportunity which I have yet to implement with a client is baby modeling.  If you can get your baby into print or TV commercials, then I feel you would have a strong case to say the baby has earned income.  Maybe the “talent’s” agent, a.k.a. mom or dad, would need to be paid out a heavy agent fee since it really required a lot of work on their part – but then again, I am sure that many famous actors and actresses have to be babied by their agents too!  Once your baby has earned income, you can establish a Roth-IRA for retirement!  Think about 18-22 years of additional investment compounding!  (Call me if you have a child in this situation – I want to put this in action!!)

So when is our baby due – LATE April…we hope!

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.