Archive for the ‘real estate taxes’ 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.

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Back to Basics Part III – More Sch. A

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

November  14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Back to Basics Part II – Schedule A

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

October 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Do You Own Inches of Land in the Yukon?

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

July 25, 2014

When I was growing up, I remember my Dad once telling me that he owned eight square inches of land in Canada.  He said he got the land as a promotion when buying cereal as a young boy.  At the time, I thought that was kind of cool, and just accepted it at face-value.

As I look back on that now from my perspective as an accountant, dealing with all kinds of financial related issues on a daily basis, a lot more questions come to mind.  For instance, where are the deeds to the property, and how would we find the right recorder’s office to get copies of the deeds if needed? Were the deeds ever even recorded?  Was it a fee simple interest?  Did he have mineral rights?  Eight square  inches may be just enough to drill a very small oil well!  Or maybe there is gold!

How would that impact his retirement planning? What about real estate taxes?  Typically land requires the annual or semi-annual payment of property taxes or the land is taken back or sold to settle the outstanding debt if unpaid.  Are there any laws regarding foreign ownership of land or any new requirements to look into regarding foreign asset holdings?

Could we lease the land, and what would the tax impacts be?  Should my Dad have included it in his estate planning so that loose ends would not pop up at some point which could result in title problems or perhaps probate?  Would there be any liability associated with this land, and should he have carried a general liability or perhaps an umbrella insurance policy in case his eight inches contained a stone on which someone could have tripped?!

What was his cost basis on these inches and how much profit would be recognized if we sold it?  All of these questions and more find their way to my door step for other client issues. As an accountant, we often end up as the independent advisor –  like the hub in a wheel with spokes running out to the financial planner, investment advisor, insurance agent, attorney, banker, etc.  Almost every profession leads back to taxes and tax planning in some way.

In my Dad’s case, I found we did not have any real concerns, but there is a fantastic story to go along with these inches of land which you can read all about at: http://www.yukoninfo.com/dawson-city-yukon/the-klondike-big-inch/.  The gist of the story is that this was a marketing plan in 1955 developed by Bruce Baker to get children to buy Quaker Oats Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat cereals.

Baker decided to tie-in a popular radio and television show which Quaker Oats sponsored, “Sergeant Preston of the Ukon” by offering children the opportunity to own one square inch of land in the Yukon in Canada if they bought cereal.  The attorneys thought the idea was crazy, but Baker persisted and even flew to the Yukon and secured a 19.11 acre parcel to be divided up into 21 million one-square-inch parcels.  The company eventually agreed to the idea and thus began their most successful campaign ever.  Cereal boxes flew off the shelves as deeds were printed and inserted into each box, and every one inch parcel was given away.  They did a second campaign and Baker had four tons of Yukon riverbed sand sifted and packaged into tiny promotional pieces as well.

As the years rolled on, the inquiries about these hard-earned plots of land kept coming in by owners that wanted to know more about their plot of land, or its worth, and also by estate planning attorneys that were trying to figure out what to do with these deeds!  One child was said to have sent four toothpicks and a string and asked the Quaker Oats company to put a fence up around his property!  One person collected over 10,000 of these from people around the country and asked Quaker Oats to pick out a quiet place for him along a lake or river, if possible!

The reality of what happened is that the company that was created to handle all the deeds – The Klondike Big Inch Land Company, Inc. realized it would be way to expensive to record all the deeds in each child’s name, so with the opinion of a Canadian attorney they decided to send the deeds out and never have them officially registered.  The Klondike Big Inch Company, Inc. did not pay the $37.20 property tax bill in 1965, so the land reverted back to the Canadian government.  The company then shut its doors.

Still, to this day, however, nearly 60 years later, Canada and Quaker Oats receive hundreds of communications each year regarding the land!

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

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.