When inheriting money, be aware of “income in respect of a decedent” issues

Once a relatively obscure concept, “income in respect of a decedent” (IRD) may create a surprising tax bill for those who inherit certain types of property, such as IRAs or other retirement plans. Fortunately, there may be ways to minimize or even eliminate the IRD tax bite.

Basic rules

For the most part, property you inherit isn’t included in your income for tax purposes. Items that are IRD, however, do have to be included in your income, although you may also be entitled to an IRD deduction on account of them.

What’s IRD? It is income that the decedent (the person from whom you inherit the property) would have taken into income on his or her final income tax return except that death interceded. One common IRD item is the decedent’s last paycheck, received after death. It would have normally been included in the decedent’s income on the final income tax return. However, since the decedent’s tax year closed as of the date of death, it wasn’t included. As an item of IRD, it’s taxed as income to whomever does receive it (the estate or another individual). Not just the final paycheck, but any compensation-related benefits paid after death, such as accrued vacation pay or voluntary employer benefit payments, will be IRD to the recipient.

Other common IRD items include pension benefits and amounts in a decedent’s individual retirement accounts (IRAs) at death as well as a decedent’s share of partnership income up to the date of death. If you receive these IRD items, they’re included in your income.

The IRD deduction

Although IRD must be included in the income of the recipient, a deduction may come along with it. The deduction is allowed (as an itemized deduction) to lessen the “double tax” impact that’s caused by having the IRD items subject to the decedent’s estate tax as well as the recipient’s income tax.

To calculate the IRD deduction, the decedent’s executor may have to be contacted for information. The deduction is determined as follows:

  • First, you must take the “net value” of all IRD items included in the decedent’s estate. The net value is the total value of the IRD items in the estate, reduced by any deductions in respect of the decedent. These are items which are the converse of IRD: items the decedent would have deducted on the final income tax return, but for death’s intervening.
  • Next you determine how much of the federal estate tax was due to this net IRD by calculating what the estate tax bill would have been without it. Your deduction is then the percentage of the tax that your portion of the IRD items represents.

In the following example, the top estate tax rate of 40% is used. Example: At Tom’s death, $50,000 of IRD items were included in his gross estate, $10,000 of which were paid to Alex. There were also $3,000 of deductions in respect of a decedent, for a net value of $47,000. Had the estate been $47,000 less, the estate tax bill would have been $18,800 less. Alex will include in income the $10,000 of IRD received. If Alex itemizes deductions, Alex may also deduct $3,760, which is 20% (10,000/50,000) of $18,800.

We can help

If you inherit property that could be considered IRD, consult with us for assistance in managing the tax consequences.

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Establish a tax-favored retirement plan

If your business doesn’t already have a retirement plan, now might be a good time to take the plunge. Current retirement plan rules allow for significant tax-deductible contributions.

For example, if you’re self-employed and set up a SEP-IRA, you can contribute up to 20% of your self-employment earnings, with a maximum contribution of $61,000 for 2022. If you’re employed by your own corporation, up to 25% of your salary can be contributed to your account, with a maximum contribution of $61,000. If you’re in the 32% federal income tax bracket, making a maximum contribution could cut what you owe Uncle Sam for 2022 by a whopping $19,520 (32% times $61,000). 

More options

Other small business retirement plan options include:

  • 401(k) plans, which can even be set up for just one person (also called solo 401(k)s),
  • Defined benefit pension plans, and
  • SIMPLE-IRAs.

Depending on your circumstances, these other types of plans may allow bigger deductible contributions.

Deadlines to establish and contribute

Thanks to a change made by the 2019 SECURE Act, tax-favored qualified employee retirement plans, except for SIMPLE-IRA plans, can now be adopted by the due date (including any extension) of the employer’s federal income tax return for the adoption year. The plan can then receive deductible employer contributions that are made by the due date (including any extension), and the employer can deduct those contributions on the return for the adoption year.

Important: The SECURE Act provision didn’t change the deadline to establish a SIMPLE-IRA plan. It remains October 1 of the year for which the plan is to take effect. Also, the SECURE Act change doesn’t override rules that require certain plan provisions to be in effect during the plan year, such as the provisions that cover employee elective deferral contributions (salary-reduction contributions) under a 401(k) plan. The plan must be in existence before such employee elective deferral contributions can be made.

For example, the deadline for the 2021 tax year for setting up a SEP-IRA for a sole proprietorship business that uses the calendar year for tax purposes is October 17, 2022, if you extend your 2021 tax return. The deadline for making the contribution for the 2021 tax year is also October 17, 2022. However, to make a SIMPLE-IRA contribution for the 2021 tax year, you must have set up the plan by October 1, 2021. So, it’s too late to set up a plan for last year.

While you can delay until next year establishing a tax-favored retirement plan for this year (except for a SIMPLE-IRA plan), why wait? Get it done this year as part of your tax planning and start saving for retirement. We can provide more information on small business retirement plan alternatives. Be aware that, if your business has employees, you may have to make contributions for them, too.

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Lost your job? Here are the tax aspects of an employee termination

Despite the robust job market, there are still some people losing their jobs. If you’re laid off or terminated from employment, taxes are probably the last thing on your mind. However, there are tax implications due to your changed personal and professional circumstances. Depending on your situation, the tax aspects can be complex and require you to make decisions that may affect your tax picture this year and for years to come.

Unemployment and severance pay

Unemployment compensation is taxable, as are payments for any accumulated vacation or sick time. Although severance pay is also taxable and subject to federal income tax withholding, some elements of a severance package may be specially treated. For example:

  • If you sell stock acquired by way of an incentive stock option (ISO), part or all of your gain may be taxed at lower long-term capital gain rates rather than at ordinary income tax rates, depending on whether you meet a special dual holding period.
  • If you received — or will receive — what’s commonly referred to as a “golden parachute payment,” you may be subject to an excise tax equal to 20% of the portion of the payment that’s treated as an “excess parachute payment” under very complex rules, along with the excess parachute payment also being subject to ordinary income tax.
  • The value of job placement assistance you receive from your former employer usually is tax-free. However, the assistance is taxable if you had a choice between receiving cash or outplacement help.

Health insurance

Also, be aware that under the COBRA rules, most employers that offer group health coverage must provide continuation coverage to most terminated employees and their families. While the cost of COBRA coverage may be expensive, the cost of any premium you pay for insurance that covers medical care is a medical expense, which is deductible if you itemize deductions and if your total medical expenses exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

If your ex-employer pays for some of your medical coverage for a period of time following termination, you won’t be taxed on the value of this benefit. And if you lost your job as a result of a foreign-trade-related circumstance, you may qualify for a refundable credit for 72.5% of your qualifying health insurance costs.

Retirement plans

Employees whose employment is terminated may also need tax planning help to determine the best option for amounts they’ve accumulated in retirement plans sponsored by former employers. For most, a tax-free rollover to an IRA is the best move, if the terms of the plan allow a pre-retirement payout.

If the distribution from the retirement plan includes employer securities in a lump sum, the distribution is taxed under the lump-sum rules except that “net unrealized appreciation” in the value of the stock isn’t taxed until the securities are sold or otherwise disposed of in a later transaction. If you’re under age 59½, and must make withdrawals from your company plan or IRA to supplement your income, there may be an additional 10% penalty tax to pay unless you qualify for an exception.

Further, any loans you’ve taken out from your employer’s retirement plan, such as a 401(k)-plan loan, may be required to be repaid immediately, or within a specified period. If they aren’t, they may be treated as if the loan is in default. If the balance of the loan isn’t repaid within the required period, it will typically be treated as a taxable deemed distribution.

Contact us so that we can chart the best tax course for you during this transition period.

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There still may be time to cut your tax bill with an IRA

If you’re getting ready to file your 2021 tax return, and your tax bill is more than you’d like, there might still be a way to lower it. If you’re eligible, you can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA right up until the April 18, 2022, filing date and benefit from the tax savings on your 2021 return.

Do you qualify?

You can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA if:

  • You (and your spouse) aren’t an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or
  • You (or your spouse) are an active participant in an employer plan, but your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) doesn’t exceed certain levels that vary from year-to-year by filing status.

For 2021, if you’re a joint tax return filer and you are covered by an employer plan, your deductible IRA contribution phases out over $105,000 to $125,000 of modified AGI. If you’re single or a head of household, the phaseout range is $66,000 to $76,000 for 2021. For married filing separately, the phaseout range is $0 to $10,000. For 2021, if you’re not an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but your spouse is, your deductible IRA contribution phases out with modified AGI of between $198,000 and $208,000.

Deductible IRA contributions reduce your current tax bill, and earnings within the IRA are tax deferred. However, every dollar you take out is taxed in full (and subject to a 10% penalty before age 59½, unless one of several exceptions apply).

IRAs often are referred to as “traditional IRAs” to differentiate them from Roth IRAs. You also have until April 18 to make a Roth IRA contribution. But while contributions to a traditional IRA are deductible, contributions to a Roth IRA aren’t. However, withdrawals from a Roth IRA are tax-free as long as the account has been open at least five years and you’re age 59½ or older. (There are also income limits to contribute to a Roth IRA.)

Another IRA strategy that may help you save tax is to make a deductible IRA contribution, even if you don’t work. In general, you can’t make a deductible traditional IRA contribution unless you have wages or other earned income. However, an exception applies if your spouse is the breadwinner and you’re a homemaker. In this case, you may be able to take advantage of a spousal IRA.

How much can you contribute?

For 2021, if you’re eligible, you can make a deductible traditional IRA contribution of up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re 50 or over).

In addition, small business owners can set up and contribute to a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan up until the due date for their returns, including extensions. For 2021, the maximum contribution you can make to a SEP is $58,000.

Contact us if you want more information about IRAs or SEPs. Or ask about them when we’re preparing your return. We can help you save the maximum tax-advantaged amount for retirement.

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The election to apply the research tax credit against payroll taxes

The credit for increasing research activities, often referred to as the research and development (R&D) credit, is a valuable tax break available to eligible businesses. Claiming the credit involves complex calculations, which we can take care of for you. But in addition to the credit itself, be aware that the credit also has two features that are especially favorable to small businesses:

  1. Eligible small businesses ($50 million or less in gross receipts) may claim the credit against alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability.
  2. The credit can be used by certain even smaller startup businesses against the employer’s Social Security payroll tax liability.

Let’s take a look at the second feature. Subject to limits, you can elect to apply all or some of any research tax credit that you earn against your payroll taxes instead of your income tax. This payroll tax election may influence you to undertake or increase your research activities. On the other hand, if you’re engaged in — or are planning to undertake — research activities without regard to tax consequences, be aware that you could receive some tax relief.

Why the election is important

Many new businesses, even if they have some cash flow, or even net positive cash flow and/or a book profit, pay no income taxes and won’t for some time. Thus, there’s no amount against which business credits, including the research credit, can be applied. On the other hand, any wage-paying business, even a new one, has payroll tax liabilities. Therefore, the payroll tax election is an opportunity to get immediate use out of the research credits that you earn. Because every dollar of credit-eligible expenditure can result in as much as a 10-cent tax credit, that’s a big help in the start-up phase of a business — the time when help is most needed.

Eligible businesses

To qualify for the election a taxpayer must:

  • Have gross receipts for the election year of less than $5 million and
  • Be no more than five years past the period for which it had no receipts (the start-up period).

In making these determinations, the only gross receipts that an individual taxpayer takes into account are from the individual’s businesses. An individual’s salary, investment income or other income aren’t taken into account. Also, note that an entity or individual can’t make the election for more than six years in a row.

Limits on the election

The research credit for which the taxpayer makes the payroll tax election can be applied only against the Social Security portion of FICA taxes. It can’t be used to lower the employer’s lability for the “Medicare” portion of FICA taxes or any FICA taxes that the employer withholds and remits to the government on behalf of employees.

The amount of research credit for which the election can be made can’t annually exceed $250,000. Note, too, that an individual or C corporation can make the election only for those research credits which, in the absence of an election, would have to be carried forward. In other words, a C corporation can’t make the election for the research credit that the taxpayer can use to reduce current or past income tax liabilities.

The above are just the basics of the payroll tax election. Keep in mind that identifying and substantiating expenses eligible for the research credit itself is a complex area. Contact us about whether you can benefit from the payroll tax election and the research tax credit. 

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Are you ready for the 2021 gift tax return deadline?

If you made large gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs last year, it’s important to determine whether you’re required to file a 2021 gift tax return. And in some cases, even if it’s not required to file one, it may be beneficial to do so anyway.

Who must file?

The annual gift tax exclusion has increased in 2022 to $16,000 but was $15,000 for 2021. Generally, you must file a gift tax return for 2021 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:

  • That exceeded the $15,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion for 2021 (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse),
  • That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $30,000 annual exclusion for 2021,
  • That exceeded the $159,000 annual exclusion in 2021 for gifts to a noncitizen spouse,
  • To a Section 529 college savings plan and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($75,000) into 2021,
  • Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount, or
  • Of jointly held or community property.

Keep in mind that you’ll owe gift tax only to the extent that an exclusion doesn’t apply and you’ve used up your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption ($11.7 million for 2021). As you can see, some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax.

Why you might want to file

No gift tax return is required if your gifts for 2021 consisted solely of gifts that are tax-free because they qualify as:

  • Annual exclusion gifts,
  • Present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse,
  • Educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, or
  • Political or charitable contributions.

But if you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, you should consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.

The deadline is April 18

The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2021 returns, it’s April 18, 2022 — or October 17, 2022, if you file for an extension. But keep in mind that, if you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is April 18, regardless of whether you file for an extension. If you’re not sure whether you must (or should) file a 2021 gift tax return, contact us.

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Can you deduct the costs of a spouse on a business trip?

If you own your own company and travel for business, you may wonder whether you can deduct the costs of having your spouse accompany you on trips.

The rules for deducting a spouse’s travel costs are very restrictive. First of all, to qualify, your spouse must be your employee. This means you can’t deduct the travel costs of a spouse, even if his or her presence has a bona fide business purpose, unless the spouse is a bona fide employee of your business. This requirement prevents tax deductibility in most cases. 

A spouse-employee

If your spouse is your employee, then you can deduct his or her travel costs if his or her presence on the trip serves a bona fide business purpose. Merely having your spouse perform some incidental business service, such as typing up notes from a meeting, isn’t enough to establish a business purpose. In general, it isn’t sufficient for his or her presence to be “helpful” to your business pursuits — it must be necessary.

In most cases, a spouse’s participation in social functions, for example as a host or hostess, isn’t enough to establish a business purpose. That is, if his or her purpose is to establish general goodwill for customers or associates, this is usually insufficient. Further, if there’s a vacation element to the trip (for example, if your spouse spends time sightseeing), it will be more difficult to establish a business purpose for his or her presence on the trip. On the other hand, a bona fide business purpose exists if your spouse’s presence is necessary to care for a serious medical condition that you have.

If your spouse’s travel satisfies these tests, the normal deductions for business travel away from home can be claimed. These include the costs of transportation, meals, lodging, and incidental costs such as dry cleaning, phone calls, etc.

A non-employee spouse

Even if your spouse’s travel doesn’t satisfy the requirements, however, you may still be able to deduct a substantial portion of the trip’s costs. This is because the rules don’t require you to allocate 50% of your travel costs to your spouse. You need only allocate any additional costs you incur for him or her. For example, in many hotels the cost of a single room isn’t that much lower than the cost of a double. If a single would cost you $150 a night and a double would cost you and your spouse $200, the disallowed portion of the cost allocable to your spouse would only be $50. In other words, you can write off the cost of what you would have paid traveling alone. To prove your deduction, ask the hotel for a room rate schedule showing single rates for the days you’re staying.

And if you drive your own car or rent one, the whole cost will be fully deductible even if your spouse is along. Of course, if public transportation is used, and for meals, any separate costs incurred by your spouse wouldn’t be deductible.

Contact us if you have questions about this or other tax-related topics.

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Married couples filing separate tax returns: Why would they do it?

If you’re married, you may wonder whether you should file joint or separate tax returns. The answer depends on your individual tax situation.

In general, it depends on which filing status results in the lowest tax. But keep in mind that, if you and your spouse file a joint return, each of you is “jointly and severally” liable for the tax on your combined income. And you’re both equally liable for any additional tax the IRS assesses, plus interest and most penalties. That means that the IRS can come after either of you to collect the full amount.

Although there are “innocent spouse” provisions in the law that may offer relief, they have limitations. Therefore, even if a joint return results in less tax, you may want to file separately if you want to only be responsible for your own tax.

In most cases, filing jointly offers the most tax savings, especially when the spouses have different income levels. Combining two incomes can bring some of it out of a higher tax bracket. For example, if one spouse has $75,000 of taxable income and the other has just $15,000, filing jointly instead of separately can save $2,499 on their 2021 taxes, when they file this year.

Filing separately doesn’t mean you go back to using the “single” rates that applied before you were married. Instead, each spouse must use “married filing separately” rates. They’re less favorable than the single rates.

However, there are cases when people save tax by filing separately. For example:

One spouse has significant medical expenses. Medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). If a medical expense deduction is claimed on a spouse’s separate return, that spouse’s lower separate AGI, as compared to the higher joint AGI, can result in larger total deductions.

Some tax breaks are only available on a joint return. The child and dependent care credit, adoption expense credit, American Opportunity tax credit and Lifetime Learning credit are only available to married couples on joint returns. And you can’t take the credit for the elderly or the disabled if you file separately unless you and your spouse lived apart for the entire year. You also may not be able to deduct IRA contributions if you or your spouse were covered by an employer retirement plan and you file separate returns. And you can’t exclude adoption assistance payments or interest income from series EE or Series I savings bonds used for higher education expenses.

Social Security benefits may be taxed more. Benefits are tax-free if your “provisional income” (AGI with certain modifications plus half of your Social Security benefits) doesn’t exceed a “base amount.” The base amount is $32,000 on a joint return, but zero on separate returns (or $25,000 if the spouses didn’t live together for the whole year).

Circumstances matter

The decision you make on filing your federal tax return may affect your state or local income tax bill, so the total tax impact should be compared. There’s often no simple answer to whether a couple should file separate returns. A number of factors must be examined. We can look at your tax bill jointly and separately. Contact us to prepare your return or if you have any questions.

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Making withdrawals from your closely held corporation that aren’t taxed as dividends

Do you want to withdraw cash from your closely held corporation at a minimum tax cost? The simplest way is to distribute cash as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax-efficient since it’s taxable to you to the extent of your corporation’s “earnings and profits.” It’s also not deductible by the corporation.

Five alternatives

Fortunately, there are several alternative methods that may allow you to withdraw cash from a corporation while avoiding dividend treatment. Here are five areas where you may want to take action:

1. Capital repayments. To the extent that you’ve capitalized the corporation with debt, including amounts you’ve advanced to the business, the corporation can repay the debt without the repayment being treated as a dividend. Additionally, interest paid on the debt can be deducted by the corporation. This assumes that the debt has been properly documented with terms that characterize debt and that the corporation doesn’t have an excessively high debt-to-equity ratio. If not, the debt repayment may be taxed as a dividend. If you make future cash contributions to the corporation, consider structuring them as debt to facilitate later withdrawals on a tax-advantaged basis.

2. Salary. Reasonable compensation that you (or family members) receive for services rendered to the corporation is deductible by the business. However, it’s also taxable to the recipient. The same rule applies to any compensation in the form of rent that you receive from the corporation for the use of property. In both cases, the amount of compensation must be reasonable in relation to the services rendered or the value of the property provided. If it’s excessive, the excess will be nondeductible and treated as a corporate distribution.

3. Loans. You may withdraw cash from the corporation tax-free by borrowing from it. However, to avoid having the loan characterized as a corporate distribution, it should be properly documented in a loan agreement or a note and be made on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would lend money to you. This should include a provision for interest and principal. All interest and principal payments should be made when required under the loan terms. Also, consider the effect of the corporation’s receipt of interest income.

4. Fringe benefits. Consider obtaining the equivalent of a cash withdrawal in fringe benefits that are deductible by the corporation and not taxable to you. Examples are life insurance, certain medical benefits, disability insurance and dependent care. Most of these benefits are tax-free only if provided on a nondiscriminatory basis to other employees of the corporation. You can also establish a salary reduction plan that allows you (and other employees) to take a portion of your compensation as nontaxable benefits, rather than as taxable compensation.

5. Property sales. Another way to withdraw cash from the corporation is to sell property to it. However, certain sales should be avoided. For example, you shouldn’t sell property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a loss, since the loss will be disallowed. And you shouldn’t sell depreciable property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a gain, since the gain will be treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain. A sale should be on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would purchase the property. You may need to obtain an independent appraisal to establish the property’s value.

Keep taxes low 

If you’re interested in discussing any of these approaches, contact us. We’ll help you get the most out of your corporation at the minimum tax cost.

© 2022

 

Did you give to charity in 2021? Make sure you have substantiation

If you donated to charity last year, letters from the charities may have appeared in your mailbox recently acknowledging the donations. But what happens if you haven’t received such a letter — can you still claim a deduction for the gift on your 2021 income tax return? It depends.

The requirements

To prove a charitable donation for which you claim a tax deduction, you need to comply with IRS substantiation requirements. For a donation of $250 or more, this includes obtaining a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the donation, whether you received any goods or services in consideration for the donation and the value of any such goods or services.

“Contemporaneous” means the earlier of:

  1. The date you file your tax return, or
  2. The extended due date of your return.

Therefore, if you made a donation in 2021 but haven’t yet received substantiation from the charity, it’s not too late — as long as you haven’t filed your 2021 return. Contact the charity now and request a written acknowledgment.

Keep in mind that, if you made a cash gift of under $250 with a check or credit card, generally a canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement is sufficient. However, if you received something in return for the donation, you generally must reduce your deduction by its value — and the charity is required to provide you a written acknowledgment as described earlier.

Temporary deduction for nonitemizers is gone

In general, taxpayers who don’t itemize their deductions (and instead claim the standard deduction) can’t claim a charitable deduction. Under the COVID-19 relief laws, individuals who don’t itemize deductions can claim a federal income tax write-off for up to $300 of cash contributions to IRS-approved charities for the 2021 tax year. This deduction is $600 for married joint filers for cash contributions made in 2021. Unfortunately, the deduction for nonitemizers isn’t available for 2022 unless Congress acts to extend it.

Additional requirements

Additional substantiation requirements apply to some types of donations. For example, if you donate property valued at more than $500, a completed Form 8283 (Noncash Charitable Contributions) must be attached to your return or the deduction isn’t allowed.

And for donated property with a value of more than $5,000, you’re generally required to obtain a qualified appraisal and to attach an appraisal summary to your tax return.

We can help you determine whether you have sufficient substantiation for the donations you hope to deduct on your 2021 income tax return — and guide you on the substantiation you’ll need for gifts you’re planning this year to ensure you can enjoy the desired deductions on your 2022 return.

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