Tax Reform 2.0 Is in the Works

The dust has not yet settled from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), passed into law in December 2017, and the House Ways and Means Committee is already considering another round of tax changes. The committee chair, Kevin Brady, Republican from Texas, wants to include input from stakeholders such as business groups, think tanks and other relevant organizations. Historically, major tax reforms have been decades apart, so the committee chair is looking for another approach to the way Washington deals with tax policy.

Read more

accounting firm, portland, oregon

Do You Need to Renew Your ITIN?

The IRS has announced that more than 2 million Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) are set to expire at the end of 2018. An ITIN is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS to individuals who are required for U.S. federal tax purposes to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have and are not eligible to get a Social Security number (SSN).

Read more

accountants, isler northwest, portland

Tax Reform Eases the Alternative Minimum Tax – But It’s Still There

Although Congress has been promising to repeal the alternative minimum tax (AMT), they failed to do that when they passed tax reform in 2017. Instead, they lessened the effects of the AMT by increasing AMT exemptions (an amount of income exempt from AMT taxation) and raising the income thresholds for when the exemptions are phased out. These two steps and some other changes covered below lessen your chances of being hit by the AMT, but it is still there, so it is wise to be aware of how the AMT is determined and the things that might trigger it.

There are two ways to determine your tax: the regular way, which most everyone is familiar with, and the alternative method. Your tax will be the higher of the two.

So, what is the alternative tax and why might you get hit with it? Well, many, many years ago, Congress, in an effort to curb tax shelters and tax preferences of wealthy taxpayers, created an alternative method for computing tax that disallows certain deductions and adds preference income and called it the AMT. Although originally intended to apply to the wealthy, years of inflation caused more than just wealthy taxpayers to be caught up in the tax.

What Triggers the AMT? The list of tax deductions and preferences not allowed when computing the AMT is substantial and, at times, complicated. However, the typical taxpayer does not encounter most of them. In the past, the seven following items routinely caused taxpayers to be hit by the AMT. As you will note, tax reform has lessened or eliminated the impact of some of these.

  1. Medical Deductions – For many years, medical deductions were allowed to the extent they exceeded 7.5% of a taxpayer’s income for regular tax purposes and 10% for the AMT computation. The 2.5% difference was one of the items that added to the AMT tax. (For 2013 through 2016, the percentage for taxpayers under age 65 was 10% for both regular tax and AMT, and they had no AMT adjustment.) For 2017 and 2018, tax reform made the medical limit 7.5% for both regular and AMT purposes. After 2018, the percentage of income that reduces medical expenses will be 10% for both regular tax and AMT. Therefore medical expenses also will not impact the AMT in 2019 and later years.
  2. Deduction for Taxes Paid – When itemizing deductions on a federal return, a taxpayer is allowed to deduct a variety of state and local taxes, including real property, personal property, and state income or sales tax. But, for AMT purposes, none of these taxes is deductible, thus creating an AMT adjustment. However, tax reform imposed a $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions, lessening the difference in the regular tax and AMT adjustment, especially for higher income taxpayers and those living in states with high taxes. However, when combined with other triggering items, the state and local taxes deducted for regular tax can still create an AMT.
  3. Home Mortgage Interest – For both the regular tax and AMT computations, interest paid on a debt to acquire or substantially improve a main home or second home is deductible as long as the $1 million debt limit ($750,000 for loans incurred after 2017) isn’t exceeded. Prior to 2018, for regular tax purposes, the interest on up to $100,000 of equity debt on first and second homes was also deductible, creating a difference between the regular tax and AMT deduction, as equity debt interest is not allowed for AMT purposes. Additionally, interest on debt to acquire a motor home or boat that is used as a taxpayer’s home or second home is deductible for regular tax purposes but not for AMT purposes.

Starting in 2018, tax reform no longer allows homeowners to deduct the interest on equity debt, which eliminates another difference between what is deductible for regular tax and the AMT and reduces the chances of being saddled with the AMT.

  1. Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions – The category of miscellaneous deductions, which includes employee business expenses and investment expenses, is not deductible for AMT purposes. For certain taxpayers with deductible employee business expenses or high investment advisor fees, this has created a significant AMT. Here again, tax reform has eliminated these same miscellaneous deductions for regular tax beginning in 2018, thus eliminating another difference between the AMT and the regular tax computation.
  2. Personal Exemptions – Through 2017, a deduction for personal exemptions was allowed for regular tax but not for the AMT, creating a difference in the computation and adding to the chance of being subject to the AMT. As of 2018, exemptions are no longer allowed for regular tax, which eliminates yet another difference.
  3. Standard Deduction – For regular tax purposes, a taxpayer can choose to itemize their deductions or use the standard deduction. However, for the AMT, only itemized deductions are allowed. Tax reform substantially increased the standard deduction used to figure regular tax, and this can increase chances of being affected by the AMT. There is a strategy that can be used to mitigate the AMT for taxpayers who would normally use the standard deduction, which is forcing itemized deductions even if they total an amount that is less than the standard deduction amount. Even the smallest of charitable deductions will benefit at a minimum of 26% (the lowest bracket for the AMT). This strategy is tricky and best left to a tax professional to figure out.
  4. 7. Exercising Incentive Stock Options and Holding the Stock – Many employers offer stock options to their employees. One type of option is called a qualified or incentive stock option. The taxpayer does not recognize income when the options are exercised and becomes qualified for long-term capital gain treatment upon sale of the stock acquired from the option if the stock is held more than a year after the option was exercised and two years after the option was granted. However, for AMT purposes, the difference between the option price and the exercise price is AMT income in the year the option is exercised, which frequently triggers an AMT tax when large blocks of stock are exercised. Tax reform did not change this provision.

Although your chances of being snagged by the AMT have significantly diminished, there is still a possibility you can be affected by it, especially if you have investment or business interests that are subject to AMT adjustments not encountered by the average taxpayer (and not discussed in this article). The AMT is an extremely complicated area of tax law that requires careful planning to minimize its effects. Please contact this office for further assistance.


Isler Northwest LLC is a firm of certified public accountants and business advisors based in Portland, Oregon. Our local, regional, and global resources, our expertise, and our emphasis on innovative solutions and continuity create value for our clients. Our service goals at Isler Northwest is to earn our clients trust as their primary business and financial advisors.

Isler Northwest

(503) 224-5321

1300 SW 5th Avenue
Suite 2900
Portland, Oregon 97201

cpa, business advisors, portland, oregon

States Sue U.S. to Void $10,000 Cap on State and Local Tax Deduction

Four states – New York, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey – have sued the federal government to void the tax-reform cap on the federal itemized deduction for state and local taxes, contending that limiting the deduction is unconstitutional. The taxes at issue include state and local income taxes, real property (real estate) taxes and personal property taxes.

These states – all Democratic (blue states), with some of the highest state and local tax rates in the nation – saw this deduction limitation as political retribution from the Republican-controlled Congress and have passed state legislation attempting to circumvent the tax reform provision limiting the federal itemized deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) to $10,000.

Both NY and NJ have created charitable funds that their state constituents can contribute to and allows them to receive a credit against their state and local taxes. NY’s legislation allows 85% of the amount contributed to the fund as a credit against taxes, while NJ allows 90%. The Connecticut law allows municipalities to create charitable organizations that taxpayers can contribute to in support of town services, from which they then receive a corresponding credit on their local property taxes. Each of these measures essentially circumvents the $10,000 limitation on SALT deductions.

However, two big questions are whether a donation for which a donor receives personal benefit is really a deductible charitable contribution and whether the state legislatures really thought this through. These work-arounds overlook one of the long-standing definitions of a deductible charitable contribution: the donor cannot receive any personal benefit from the donation.

Recently, the IRS waded into the issue with Notice 2018-54 and an accompanying news release, informing taxpayers that it intends to propose regulations addressing the federal income tax treatment of certain payments made by taxpayers to state-established “charitable funds,” for which the contributors receive a credit against their state and local taxes – essentially, the work-arounds adopted or proposed by the states noted above and others. In general, the IRS indicated that the characterization of these payments would be determined under the Code, informed by substance-over-form principles and not the label assigned by the state.

The proposed regulations will:

  1. “Make clear” that the requirements of the Code, informed by substance-over-form principles (see below), govern the federal income tax treatment of such transfers; and
  2. Assist taxpayers in “understanding the relationship between the federal charitable contribution deduction and the new statutory limitation” on the SALT deduction.

Substance over form is a judicial doctrine in which a court looks to the objective economic realities of a transaction, rather than to the particular form the parties employed. In essence, the formalisms of a transaction are disregarded, and the substance is examined to determine its true nature.

The implication of the IRS’s reference to the substance-over-form doctrine is likely that the formal mechanisms for implementing the state work-arounds – e.g., charitable contributions to “charitable gifts trust funds” – will not dictate their tax treatment. That is to say, the IRS will not recognize a charitable contribution deduction that is a disguised SALT deduction.

While the notice only mentions work-arounds involving transfers to state-controlled funds, another type of work-around has been enacted, and others have been proposed. In addition to the “charitable gifts trust funds” described above, New York also created a new “employer compensation expense tax” that essentially converts employee income taxes into employer payroll taxes. The IRS stated in Information Release 2018-122 that it is “continuing to monitor other legislative proposals” to “ensure that federal law controls the characterization of deductions for federal income tax filings.”

Allowing these work-arounds to stand would open Pandora’s Box to other schemes to circumvent the charitable contribution rules. For example, a church could take donations and then give the parishioner credit for the parishioner’s children’s tuition at the church’s school – something that is not currently allowed.

Have these states set their citizens up for IRS troubles if they utilize these work-arounds? Are these states now concerned that their work-arounds might not pass muster and will be ruled invalid after several years in the courts, so they are now pre-emptively suing the federal government?

Taxpayers in states with work-arounds should carefully consider all potential ramifications when deciding whether to get involved with something that could drag through the courts for years, with potential interest and penalties on taxes owed if (more likely, when) the IRS prevails.


Isler Northwest LLC is a firm of certified public accountants and business advisors based in Portland, Oregon. Our local, regional, and global resources, our expertise, and our emphasis on innovative solutions and continuity create value for our clients. Our service goals at Isler Northwest is to earn our clients trust as their primary business and financial advisors.

Isler Northwest

(503) 224-5321

1300 SW 5th Avenue
Suite 2900
Portland, Oregon 97201

133,000 Injured Veterans Entitled to Tax Refunds

133,000 Injured Veterans Entitled to Tax Refunds

As a result of the 2016 Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act, more than 133,000 injured veterans may qualify for a federal tax refund. The minimum refund is estimated at $1,750, meaning the government will be paying out an estimated minimum of $228 million.

Read more

Offer in Compromise

Offer in Compromise

Offer in Compromise FAQs

We’re all responsible for paying our fair share of taxes each year. But what happens when the amount that you owe is simply out of reach? What happens if you failed to make payments in a timely manner and your financial circumstances have shifted to the point where your cumulative debt is beyond your ability to pay? In the face of this untenable position, your best option for paying the IRS may be what is known as an Offer in Compromise.

The Goal of the Offer in Compromise

The Offer in Compromise, or OIC, was created to accomplish two goals: it allows American taxpayers who are unable to pay the full amount of their tax debt a way to negotiate a payment that is in keeping with their ability to pay, while at the same time providing the IRS with the ability to collect at least a portion of the amount that is owed to them. The process is neither simple nor fast: it generally takes at least one to two years for both sides to come to an agreement on an amount to be paid.

Even so, it has certain advantages for both sides.

An Offer in Compromise generally allows for resolution to be accomplished outside of court, with the agreed-to payment reflective of income and assets rather than the actual amount of debt that has accrued. Though it may seem a loss for the IRS, the agency ends up recovering more as a result of settling than they are likely to through a strong-arm collection process.

Understanding the Available Offer in Compromise Options

Taxpayers interested in pursuing an Offer in Compromise generally have three different options available to them under federal law. They are to suggest that they do not actually owe the tax debt that they are being charged with; to indicate that there simply are not enough assets or income to make a payment on the debt that has accrued; or to pursue a compromise based on either exceptional circumstances or economic hardship. This last option falls under the category of “effective tax administration,” and is notable because the taxpayer makes no argument as to either their ability to pay or whether they, in fact, owe the named amount.

Applying for an Offer in Compromise

The OIC process is both time-consuming and complicated. Applications require specific forms as well as extensive documentation, and all must be accurately prepared in keeping with IRS regulations. When mistakes are made or forms are incomplete the applications are quickly returned without the benefit of a review. To minimize both delay and frustration, it is strongly suggested that taxpayers looking to avail themselves of an OIC employ tax professionals for both the preparation of their paperwork and the negotiation of its terms.

Not Every OIC Application is Approved

It is also important to remember that an application for an OIC by no means guarantees the desired outcome. Submitting the specifics of your situation to a qualified tax professional will provide you with the ability to have your case reviewed by an expert who understands the process and the IRS criteria for approval, and who will be able to give you a reasoned perspective on the viability of your request.

Working with a professional will also provide you with reasonable expectations regarding the amount of time that the process will take and what your chances are of having your initial offer accepted. The program generally takes about two years from start to finish, and it is common for the IRS to make a counteroffer when the agency believes it will be able to collect more than the amount proffered by the applicant.

In evaluating your case, the Internal Revenue Service will likely pay less attention to the actual amount that is owed than the amount that the taxpayer is able to pay. This determination will be made on the basis of numerous factors, including income, assets, previous earnings capacity and anticipation of your earnings capacity in the future. Living expenses will also be taken into consideration.

The good news is that from the time that an application is sent in and while an IRS evaluation is taking place, most collection efforts are frozen. This generally provides tremendous relief from stress for taxpayers who have fallen behind in their payments and who feel unable to submit the amount that they owe.

If you have found yourself in this situation, contact us today to discuss your options. An experienced and knowledgeable tax expert will help you to understand, anticipate, and prepare for all aspects of the Offer in Compromise process, and will act as your advocate during sensitive negotiations.


Isler Northwest LLC is a firm of certified public accountants and business advisors based in Portland, Oregon. Our local, regional, and global resources, our expertise, and our emphasis on innovative solutions and continuity create value for our clients. Our service goals at Isler Northwest is to earn our clients trust as their primary business and financial advisors.

Isler Northwest

(503) 224-5321

1300 SW 5th Avenue
Suite 2900
Portland, Oregon 97201

10 Mistakes Most Small Business Owners Miss When Starting Out

10 Mistakes Most Small Business Owners Miss When Starting Out

The process of starting a small business can be an arduous one; there are numerous steps that need to be taken — and often in a precise order — to legally establish a business. As a result, the process can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to overlook some important details and steps along the way. By being aware of a few of the most common legal and compliance mistakes made by small business owners when starting out, you can be better prepared for future success.

  1. Misclassifying Employees as Independent Contractors

Regulators are coming down hard on misclassifications. The IRS estimates that this problem includes millions of workers. It is best to talk this through with an expert, but you can get some background on the guidelines at the United States Department of Labor website.

  1. Choosing the Wrong Business Structure

One of the first major decisions you’ll need to make in regards to your small business is the type of business structure you will select. This can range anywhere from a basic sole proprietorship (which doesn’t require any special forms or paperwork) to a more complex structure, such as a corporation or LLC. Keep in mind that different types of business structures offer different tax benefits and other protections, so it’s important to thoroughly explore your options and select the structure that’s best for your unique needs. You’ll also need to go through the legal process of establishing your business under your desired structure, which may require help from a legal or other type of professional.

  1. Failing to Apply for an Employer Identification Number

Unless you plan on operating your business strictly as a sole proprietorship (in which case, you will use your personal Social Security number when filing taxes), you’ll also need to apply for a unique Employer Identification Number (EIN). This number will be specifically associated with your business, and it can be helpful to think of it as a business Social Security number of sorts; it’s used to file your business taxes, open up dedicated business bank accounts, and the like.

  1. Overlooking Important Permits and Licenses

Depending on the specific industry in which your business will be operating and your location, you may also be required to obtain specialized licenses and/or permits in order to legally operate. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of being shut down or finding yourself in serious legal trouble down the road. Take some time to research the specific types of permits or licenses that you may need to obtain, as well as the steps you’ll need to take in order to acquire them. Sometimes, this process can be time-consuming and even costly, so it’s not something you’ll want to put off until the last minute.

  1. Not Knowing When to Speak to a Professional

When starting up a small business, it’s not uncommon to run a one-man (or woman) operation. After all, you may not have the cash flow or even the need to hire outside help in the early stages. Still, when it comes to making sure your business is squared away from a legal/compliance standpoint, it can certainly be worth the money to consult with tax and accounting professionals early in the game. You don’t necessarily need to onboard these experts full-time, but being able to turn to them for advice and guidance when you need it will help you avoid serious legal issues later on.

  1. Putting Off Domain Name Registration

As soon as you have your business name picked out and registered, it’s also in your best interest to go ahead and register your website domain as soon as possible. Even if you don’t plan on setting up and launching your website any time soon, domain names are cheap, and having yours registered now will help you avoid a situation where the domain name you want is taken by somebody else later on.

  1. Lack of a Comprehensive Business Plan

One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make when first starting out is that of not having a well thought-out and articulated business plan. A business plan is an important document that outlines in detail what your goals for your business are and how you will achieve them. This document is important not just for you and other members of your immediate team, but for potential investors as well. Should you seek financing for your company at any point, an investor is going to want to see and scrutinize your business plan — and it will likely have a major impact on the final decision.

  1. Not Having Finances Squared Away

Another common mistake new business owners make is that of poor financial planning, which can lead to a lack of funding to get you through your first months successfully. Ideally, you’ll want to make sure your business plan accounts for all the company-related expenses you’ll incur during the first year of operation, as well as any personal expenses as well. Unfortunately, this is something that many small business owners overlook or miscalculate with disastrous results. The easiest way to avoid this mistake is to consult with a small business accountant during the early stages of drafting your business plan.

  1. Failing to File Patents on Products or Ideas

It’s (hopefully) no surprise that you’ll want to be proactive about filing for patents for any unique products, prototypes or designs you may have. However, what many small business owners first starting out don’t realize is that they’ll also want to file patents on ideas, such as intellectual property, that could otherwise be stolen or copied and used by other entrepreneurs. After all, intellectual property can be just as valuable as a product prototype — so you’ll want to plan and protect these kinds of ideas accordingly.

Be careful to also avoid the mistake of waiting too long to file for relevant patents; the process can often be long and drawn out, so getting started as early as possible will be in your best interest.

  1. Being Blind to Important Compliance Requirements

Last, but not least, make sure you’re aware of any and all compliance requirements that may apply to your business based on its structure, location, industry or other factors. For example, even if you’re keeping things “simple” by operating as a sole proprietorship, you’re going to be required to file and pay quarterly estimated taxes under that structure. Failing to meet compliance and other requirements can result in serious legal trouble, including fines and penalties, down the road.

When it comes to compliance requirements, such as annual reporting and tax filing, it’s always a good idea to keep a calendar of important dates, so you don’t forget anything. After all, you’ll have enough deadlines to worry about and remember on your own — especially during that first year of business operation. This is yet another situation where having a compliance expert, such as a tax or accounting professional, can really come in handy. He or she can assist you with annual compliance reviews, reminders on impending deadlines and the like.

From selecting a name and business structure to making sure your small business remains in compliance at all times, there are, unfortunately, a lot of opportunities to make mistakes as a new business owner. By keeping this information in mind and by working alongside the right types of professionals as you prepare to launch your new business, hopefully, you’ll be able to avoid these issues. From there, you can maximize your chances for success in the first year of operation and beyond.


Isler Northwest LLC is a firm of certified public accountants and business advisors based in Portland, Oregon. Our local, regional, and global resources, our expertise, and our emphasis on innovative solutions and continuity create value for our clients. Our service goals at Isler Northwest is to earn our clients trust as their primary business and financial advisors.

Isler Northwest

(503) 224-5321

1300 SW 5th Avenue
Suite 2900
Portland, Oregon 97201

Health Savings Accounts Fill Multiple Tax Needs

Health Savings Accounts Fill Multiple Tax Needs

The Health Savings Account (HSA) is one of the most misunderstood and underused benefits in the Internal Revenue Code. Congress created HSAs as a way for individuals with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) to save for medical expenses that are not covered by insurance due to the high-deductible provisions of their insurance coverage.

Read more

IRS Clergy Tax Changes

Clergy Tax Benefits Under Fire

Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code provides that a minister of the gospel’s gross income doesn’t include the rental value of a home (parsonage) provided; if the home itself isn’t provided, a rental allowance paid as part of compensation for ministerial services is excludable. The benefit is generally referred to as a parsonage allowance. Thus, a minister can exclude the fair rental value (FRV) of the parsonage from income under IRC Sec. 107(1), or the rental allowance under Sec. 107(2), for income tax purposes. The Sec. 107(2) rental allowance is excludable only to the extent that it is for expenses such as rent, mortgage payments, utilities, repairs, etc., used in providing the minister’s main home, and only up to the amount of the FRV of the home.

Read more

Big Changes to the Kiddie Tax

Big Changes to the Kiddie Tax

Years ago, to prevent parents from transferring their investment accounts into their children’s name to avoid taxes, Congress created what is referred to as the kiddie tax. This counteracted the strategy of taking income from the parents’ higher tax bracket and shifting it to their children’s lower tax bracket.

Read more