Archive for the ‘itemized deductions’ Tag

Back to Basics Part XXII – Form 6251 – AMT

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

September 4, 2015

AMT, or “Alternative Minimum Tax” was enacted in 1969 in response to a disturbing report by the Secretary of the Treasury that 155 taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes over $200,000 paid zero tax on their 1967 tax returns.

In its simplest form, AMT is a separate taxation system with its own set of rules that runs parallel to the regular tax system.  You are supposed to run the calculations under both systems, and if the AMT system says you owe more tax than the regular system, then you pay the incremental difference as “AMT.”  That incremental difference shows up as additional tax on Line 45 (2014) of your Form 1040.  The calculation of AMT is summarized on Form 6251 and accompanying worksheets, as well as AMT versions of traditional schedules.

The irony of the AMT system is that most of the loopholes it was originally designed to prevent, no longer exist, and it has become a tax that affects the middle and upper-middle class more than the wealthy, yet we still have it and all of its complications.  Today, those who are subject to it, despise its existence, and not many people fully understand it, tax practitioners included.

For people still preparing returns by hand, AMT is an absolute nightmare since many of your other schedules have to be calculated a second time using AMT rules.  For instance, depreciation rules differ between the AMT system and the regular system, as accelerated depreciation methods are generally not allowed.  This means you have to keep an entirely separate set of depreciation schedules just for AMT.  And to make matters more complicated, California does not conform to all of the Federal AMT rules either.  So now you end up with four sets of depreciation schedules – Federal regular, CA regular, Federal AMT, and CA AMT.

I do not think I have ever seen a hand-prepared return done correctly when AMT is involved.  (Actually, in the last ten years, I do not think I have seen any hand-prepared returns done correctly!)

So when do you hit AMT?  It depends.  AMT is calculated on taxable income under about $185,000 at a flat 26 percent rate, and income over that mark at 28 percent.  There is a $53,600-$83,400 AMT exemption amount depending on filing status.

Compared to the regular system, the standard deduction is thrown out (meaning itemizing is your only option), your normal exemptions for yourself, spouse and dependents get the boot, as do many itemized deductions such as state taxes, real estate taxes, mortgage interest on home equity debt (if the funds were not used to improve your home), unreimbursed employee business expenses, tax preparation fees, investment advisory fees and more.

As mentioned before, depreciation methods are not as generous, also ISOs and ESPPs have less tax-friendly rules, investment interest can be hacked, and a whole bunch of other specific differences that apply to certain situations.

Since some people will have more AMT adjustments and preferences than other people, there is no set dollar threshold that will trigger AMT.  That said, I feel that I rarely see it for a Married Filing Joint return with under $100,000 of adjusted gross income.  It also starts phasing out for people with high incomes.  The top AMT rate is 28 percent, but has fewer deductions than the regular system.  Besides a handful of lower brackets, the regular system also has 33, 35 and 39.6 percent brackets, but with more deductions.  At some point, however, the higher tax rates outweigh the additional deductions and the regular system results in more tax than the AMT system. You may pay no AMT once you get to $600,000 or $700,000 of income, depending on your AMT adjustments.

People in AMT that are employees often feel trapped, especially those in the sales industry that are used to generating a lot of deductions from vehicle mileage and other expenses their employers do not reimburse.  It does not matter how many unreimbursed expenses they come up with, they will all get thrown out in the AMT system.

For people that flip back and forth between years of AMT and no AMT, there can be a minimum tax credit generated by the AMT you paid that can be helpful.  If you paid AMT in one year, and the next year the regular tax system is higher than the AMT system, you can get a credit against your regular tax to the extent of the difference between the two tax systems limited to the credit amount generated by certain deferral type AMT adjustments/preferences.  Got it?  Just trust me, sometimes it can help!  There are also sometimes when flipping can be a negative…fairness is not always the result of our tax system.

The best news we have had about AMT in recent years was that in 2013 Congress finally legislated an annual inflation adjustment for the AMT exemption.  For years Congress was in a habit of passing an AMT patch in late December or January to make up for the fact that the exemption was not inflation adjusted, and would return to 1993 levels if nothing was done.

Tax professionals were biting their nails some years wondering if it would happen.  The impacts on middle class Americans would have been tremendous, and many were oblivious.  I read estimates in 2011 that 4 million taxpayers were subject to the AMT, but without a patch that number would have swelled to 31 million!  I can remember running scenarios for a family making around $100,000 and realizing they would have a surprise tax bill of an additional $2,000 or so without a patch.

The form itself is only two pages.  Part I is a summary of all the adjustments and preferences that differ from the regular tax system, to arrive at Alternative Minimum Taxable Income (AMTI).  Part II deals with calculating your AMT exemption, your Tentative Minimum Tax (tax calculation under the AMT system), and then the AMT itself (the amount your Tentative Minimum Tax exceeds the regular tax system amount).  Part III is a supplemental calculation that feeds into Part II when your return includes capital gains, qualified dividends, or the foreign earned income exclusion.

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 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 V – Schedule A Wrap-Up

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

December 12, 2014

In this issue, we are finishing our discussion on Schedule A – Itemized Deductions.  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.

The fifth section of Schedule A is for personal casualty and theft losses.  This is designed to help people with major losses.  The deduction on schedule A is calculated by taking the amount of the loss, subtracting $100, then subtracting 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.  Any amount left over will be an itemized deduction (if any).  There are several ways to calculate the amount of the loss but it is generally limited to the lesser of your adjusted cost basis or the decrease in the fair market value.  Sometimes appraisals are necessary to establish the decrease, but in all cases, the amount of any insurance proceeds received would reduce the loss.  Another salient point is that the loss generally has to be sudden, unexpected, and permanent in nature; it is not the result of degrading over time.  For instance, a car accident or theft would qualify; termite damage would not qualify.  Losing something does not qualify either.  Business casualty losses are not reported on Schedule A.

The next section deals with miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to two percent.  This means you take all the deductions in this section, subtract two percent of your adjusted gross income, and the left over amount is your itemized deduction for this section (if any).  Some of the deductions here include unreimbursed employee business expenses, union dues, investment expenses, income tax consultations and preparation, legal expenses related to your job or to the extent they deal with tax issues or the protection of future taxable income, job search or education expenses (if they relate to your current field), etc.

Unreimbursed employee business expenses are those which are ordinary and necessary and the employer expects the employee to pay for the expenses.  If the employer has a reimbursement plan, but the employee simply fails to request reimbursement, the expense will not qualify.  It is best if the employer has a written policy, or as part of the employment agreement, spells out what things the employee is expected to cover.  Sales people can often have high deductions in this area through business miles on their vehicles and meals and entertainment for clients.  If a company provides no office space for an employee and the person has an office in his or her home, deductions can be taken for that as well.

Investment expenses paid to financial advisors or even IRA fees can be deductible.  Financial advisor fees must be prorated if you have taxable investment income and tax free investment income such as municipal bond interest.  Only the portion allocated to taxable income is deductible.  For IRA fees to be deductible, they must be paid with funds outside the retirement plan.  This is preferred anyway so as not to deplete your retirement account by using IRA funds to pay the fees.

The last section of deductions on Schedule A is called “Other Miscellaneous Deductions.”  These are NOT subject to the two percent of adjusted gross income floor, and the full amount become itemized deductions.  These are less frequently encountered and include things like Federal estate tax on income in respect of decedent, gambling losses up to the amount of winnings, losses from Ponzi schemes, casualty and theft losses on income-producing assets, amortizable bond premiums, unrecovered investments in annuities and other items.

The final part of Schedule A is one more “gotcha.”  If your income is over $305,050 for Married Filing Joint or $254,200 Single, part of your deductions begin to phase out.  Medical expenses, investment interest, casualty, theft, and gambling losses are not subject to the phase out.  The rest of the deductions can be reduced by as much as 80 percent!  The amount is determined by taking your adjusted gross income, subtracting the above figure based on your filing status, and multiplying the result by three percent.  That is your adjustment capped at the 80 percent maximum.

In two weeks we will continue our Back to Basics series with Schedule B – Interest and Ordinary Dividends.

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.

Home Improvements as Medical Deductions

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

September 6, 2013

Unless you have a tax favored plan such as a Health Savings Account, Flexible Spending Account or the like, you have probably found that medical deductions have generally eluded your tax returns.

The main reason for this is the floor of 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income which your medical expenses must exceed before even one dollar becomes an itemized deduction.  This floor of 7.5 percent is now ten percent starting with the 2013 tax year.  If you or your spouse are 65, you get a grace period through the end of 2016 to remain at 7.5 percent.  If either of you turn 65 before 2016 you will then qualify for the 7.5 percent rate for that tax year and any subsequent ones through 2016.

Due to the high threshold, many people do not even bother to track the expenses, especially, if they make a decent income.  If people are close to the threshold, one common strategy is to bunch expenses into one year to get as high of a deduction as possible in that year.

Something else to be aware of, is that some improvements to your home, which can be substantial in cost, are considered medical expenses if medically required.  For people in the grace period through 2016 of 7.5 percent, it would be good to think about having any of these types of improvements done before 2017 in order to yield the greatest tax benefit.

So what types of improvements can qualify as medical expenses? Well, if the primary purpose is to serve the medical needs of you, your spouse, or your dependent, then just about anything could qualify.   (You should be prepared to provide supporting documentation that your healthcare provider agrees with your needs assessment.)  The catch, however, is that if the improvement increases the value of your home, you have to deduct the increase in value from the amount you spent to arrive at your deductible portion.

But how in the world do you know the exact answer to that question?  Short of having before-and-after appraisals prepared, it could be a bit of an arm-wrestling match with the taxing authorities if ever questioned.  Fortunately, however, the IRS has come up with a list of items in Revenue Ruling 87-106 which they have agreed generally will not increase the value of your home (thus fully deductible), and they will rarely pursue if done for medical reasons.  These items include installing entrance or exit ramps or lifts, regrading the land to provide access, widening doorways and hallways, modifying stairs, installing railings or support bars, lowering kitchen cabinets, moving electrical outlets and fixtures, modifying smoke alarms and other warning systems, or modifying door hardware.  Other similar modifications can also be fully deductible, but are not specifically listed.

One sticky area is that additional cost to satisfy personal motivations such as architectural or aesthetic compatibility with your existing home is not deductible.  In other words, if throughout your house you have ornate solid gold hand railings, and you need some additional ones installed for handicapped purposes, the IRS is only going to let you deduct what it would have cost to put in some ugly, basic aluminum railings!  They don’t care about things blending in: it is purely a functional consideration.  I suppose you may have a legitimate argument if a strict architectural review board refuses to allow you to build something that doesn’t blend well.  I would save all documentation regarding a rejection.

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.

Home Office Part I – New Option for 2013

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

July 26, 2013

In January, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2013-13 which discusses a new option for calculating the home office deduction.  (You may want to clip this article and put it in your tax file as a reminder.) Instead of tracking the actual expenses of operating your home office such as water, utilities, garbage, repairs and maintenance, depreciation, etc., you can now elect a safe harbor $5 per square foot of qualified office space, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).  It is kind of like taking a standard mileage deduction on your car instead of tracking gas and repair receipts, and calculating depreciation expense.  Unlike vehicles, however, you can switch methods back and forth from one year to the next.

There are a few interesting provisions that will make it a good option for some people, and a bad option for others.  In other words, when preparing your return you will need to analyze the short and long term impacts, and determine which method is best each year. Since the $5 per square foot figure is not adjusted by region or for inflation, individuals living in high cost states like California are at a disadvantage.

If there is more than one person in the house, such as a spouse or roommate, they can each use the safe harbor as long as they are not counting the same space.  If one person has more than one office in the home for more than one business, the person can either use actual expenses for all the businesses, or the person must use the safe harbor for all the businesses.  However, the maximum deduction allowed is still $1,500 for all the businesses in the home combined, which may have to be allocated pro rata to the businesses based on square footage used by each. If one person has qualified home offices in more than one home, the person can use the safe harbor for one home, but must use actual expenses for the other home.

When claiming the safe harbor deduction, you are allowed to take your property taxes and mortgage interest in full as itemized deductions on Schedule A as well as claiming the safe harbor deduction.  On the surface this sounds like a plus, but for self-employed individuals you are effectively converting expenses that used to be on your Schedule C reducing self-employment taxes to itemized deductions which do not reduce self-employment taxes, and perhaps do not even reduce income taxes if you do not itemize.

Another big difference when claiming the safe harbor deduction is that no depreciation expense is allowed to be taken.  Traditionally, any depreciation expense taken on your home is required to be recaptured at the time you sell your house, and you must pay tax on it.  Even the section 121 exclusion ($250,000 tax-free gain for single/$500,000 for married couples) when living in the house for two out of the last five years will not exempt you from recapture taxes.  Occasionally that can produce negative results, but it is usually helpful because it often helps people avoid income AND self-employment tax which are typically higher than recapture rates.  Nonetheless, I regularly see tax returns where no depreciation was taken on a home office, to “avoid recapture.”  This is incorrect as recapture rules require you to recapture any depreciation “allowed or allowable.”  It does not matter whether you took the deduction or not, you are technically still on the hook for the recapture.

One other notable exception in the 15 pages of new rules explaining the safe harbor is that carryover expenses are not allowed for safe harbor years.  Ordinarily, if your business produces a loss, you are not allowed to create a bigger loss from business use of home expenses with the exception of the portion of mortgage interest, property taxes, or casualty losses which would have been allowed as itemized deductions even if you had no business.  The rest of the expenses get carried over to future years until you make a profit and can use the losses.  Using the safe harbor, any loss generated by the safe harbor disappears forever.  You would be better off in these years using actual expenses in order to preserve the losses for the future.

At the end of the day, you might as well just continue to track the actual expenses, and let your tax professional figure out which method will give you the best benefit each year.

In two weeks, we will go over the basic requirements in order to claim a home office deduction.

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.