Disaster-Related Tax Losses May Be Less Than Expected

Disaster-Related Tax Losses May Be Less Than Expected

The late-2017 tax-reform package changed the rules for personal casualty losses, which now are only deductible if they occur in a federally declared disaster area. As a result, if a home is destroyed in a forest fire or other disaster within a declared disaster zone, the homeowner can claim a casualty loss on that year’s tax return.

However, if a home is destroyed as a result of a normal accident – or is destroyed in a natural disaster but lies outside of a disaster zone – the homeowner cannot claim a casualty loss. These rules may not be fair, but there is nothing that can be done about them (other than calling congressional representatives to indicate your displeasure). Currently, the rules are only in effect for the years 2018 through 2025. Because of these rules, you should also make sure that your home insurance coverage is adequate.

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The IRS Is Cracking Down on Cryptocurrency Tax Transactions

The IRS Is Cracking Down on Cryptocurrency Tax Transactions

The IRS announced in late July 2019 that it is ramping up its campaign to ensure that taxpayers with cryptocurrency transactions report these transactions on their income tax returns – and report them correctly – by sending “educational” letters to approximately 10,000 taxpayers who either didn’t report their crypto-transactions or may have reported them incorrectly.

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States’ SALT Deduction Workarounds Shot Down

States’ SALT Deduction Workarounds Shot Down

The Treasury Department and the IRS have essentially shot down efforts by several states to help their residents circumvent the $10,000 cap on the itemized deduction for state and local taxes (SALT).

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How Does Combining a Vacation with a Foreign Business Trip Affect the Tax Deduction for Travel Expenses of a Self-Employed Individual?

How Does Combining a Vacation with a Foreign Business Trip Affect the Tax Deduction for Travel Expenses of a Self-Employed Individual?

Note: effective for years 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 suspended the deduction of miscellaneous itemized expenses that must be reduced by 2% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. Employee business expenses, including travel expenses, fall into this category. Therefore, this discussion only applies to self-employed individuals for years 2018-2025.

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June Estimated Tax Payments Are Just Around the Corner

June Estimated Tax Payments Are Just Around the Corner

June 15th falls on the weekend this year, so the due date for the second installment of estimated taxes is the next business day, June 17, which is just around the corner. So, it is time to determine if your estimated tax payment should be lowered if you overestimated your income for 2019 or increased if you underestimated it.

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Why Tax Basis Is So Important

Why Tax Basis Is So Important

For tax purposes, the term “basis” refers to the original monetary value that is used to measure a gain or loss. For instance, if you purchase shares of a stock for $1,000, your basis in that stock is $1,000; if you then sell those shares for $3,000, the gain is calculated based on the difference between the sales price and the basis: $3,000 – $1,000 = $2,000. This is a simplified example, of course—under actual circumstances, purchase and sale costs are added to the basis of the stock—but it gives an introduction to the concept of tax basis.

The basis of an asset is very important because it is used to calculate deductions for depreciation, casualties, and depletion, as well as gains or losses on the disposition of that asset.

The basis is not always equal to the original purchase cost. It is determined in a different way for purchases, gifts, and inheritances. In addition, the basis is not a fixed value, as it can increase as a result of improvements or decrease as a result of business depreciation or casualty losses. This article explores how the basis is determined in various circumstances.

Cost Basis – The cost basis (or unadjusted basis) is the amount originally paid for an item before any improvements and before any business depreciation, expensing, or adjustments as a result of a casualty loss.

Adjusted Basis – The adjusted basis starts with the original cost basis (or gift or inherited basis), then incorporates the following adjustments:

  • increases for any improvements (not including repairs),
  • reductions for any claimed business depreciation or expensing deductions, and
  • reductions for any claimed personal or business casualty-loss deductions.

Example: You purchased a home for $250,000, which is the cost basis. You added a room for $50,000 and a solar electric system for $25,000, then replaced the old windows with energy-efficient double-paned windows at a cost of $36,000. The adjusted basis is thus $250,000 + $50,000 + $25,000 + $36,000 = $361,000. Your payments for repairs and repainting, however, are maintenance expenses; they are not tax deductible and do not add to the basis.

Example: As the owner of a welding company, you purchased a portable trailer-mounted welder and generator for $6,000. After owning it for 3 years, you then decide to sell it and buy a larger one. During this period, you used it in your business and deducted $3,376 in related deprecation on your tax returns. Thus, the adjusted basis of the welder is $6,000 – $3,376 = $2,624.

Keeping records regarding improvements is extremely important, but this task is sometimes overlooked, especially for home improvements. Generally, you need to keep the records of all improvements for 3 years (and perhaps longer, depending on your state’s rules) after you have filed the return on which you report the disposition of the asset.

Gift Basis – If you receive a gift, you assume the doner’s adjusted basis for that asset; in effect, the doner transfers any taxable gain from the sale of the asset to you.

Example: Your mother gives you stock shares that have a market value of $15,000 at the time of the gift. However, your mother originally purchased the shares for $5,000. You assume your mother’s basis of $5,000; if you then immediately sell the shares, your taxable gain is $15,000 – $5,000 = $10,000.

There is one significant catch: If the fair market value (FMV) of the gift is less than the doner’s adjusted basis, and if you then sell it for a loss, your basis for determining the loss is the gift’s FMV on the date of the gift.

Example: Again, say that your mother purchased stock shares for $5,000. However, this time, the shares were worth $4,000 when she gave them to you, and you subsequently sold them for $3,000. In this case, your tax-deductible loss is only $1,000 (the sales price of $3,000 minus the $4,000 FMV on the date of the gift), not $2,000 ($3,000 minus your mother’s $5,000 basis).

Inherited Basis – Generally, a beneficiary who inherits an asset uses its FMV on the date when the owner died as the tax basis. This is because the tax on the decedent’s estate is based on the FMV of the decedent’s assets at the time of death. Normally, inherited assets receive a step up (increased) in basis. However, if an asset’s FMV is less than the decedent’s basis, then the beneficiary’s basis is stepped down (reduced).

Example: You inherit your uncle’s home after he dies. Your uncle’s adjusted basis in the home was $50,000, but he purchased the home 25 years ago, and its FMV is now $400,000. Your basis in the home is equal to its FMV: $400,000.

Example: You inherit your uncle’s car after he dies. Your uncle’s adjusted basis in the car was $50,000, but he purchased the car 5 years ago, and its FMV is now $20,000. Your basis in the car is equal to its FMV: $20,000.

An inherited asset’s FMV is very important because it is used when determining the gain or loss after the sale of that asset. If an estate’s executor is unable to provide FMV information, the beneficiary should obtain the necessary appraisals. Generally, if you sell an inherited item in an arm’s-length transaction within a short time, the sales price can be used as the FMV. A simple example of not at arm’s length is the sale of a home from parents to children. The parents might wish to sell the property to their children at a price below market value, but such a transaction might later be classified by a court as a gift rather than a bona fide sale, which could have tax and other legal consequences.

For vehicles, online valuation tools such as Kelly Blue Book can be used to determine FMV. The value of publicly traded stocks can similarly be determined using Website tools. On the other hand, for real estate and businesses, valuations generally require the use of certified appraisal services.

The foregoing is only a general overview of how basis applies to taxes. If you have any questions, please call this office for help.


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

Tax Treatment of a Room Rental

Tax Treatment of a Room Rental

With the shortage of affordable housing these days, many homeowners are renting out rooms in their homes, providing themselves with some additional cash. Questions that are often raised in regard to room rentals include: Is the income taxable? If so, how is it reported? What deductions are allowed? Can a loss be claimed? Answers to these questions follow.

If a taxpayer rents rooms or other space in a home and the rented portion does not have facilities (a bathroom and a kitchen) that would make it a dwelling unit on its own, the taxpayer and the renter may be considered to be occupying one dwelling unit. Thus, the “landlord” is mixing personal expenses with business expenses, a situation in which the tax code does not permit a loss.

As a result, the income and expenses are treated under the same rules as vacation home rentals and are reported on Schedule E, with prorated expenses deductible against the rental income in a specific order and no loss being allowed.

The deductions are claimed in the following order:

  1. First, mortgage interest and taxes.
  2. Next, operating expenses (examples: advertising, repairs, utilities, maintenance, insurance).
  3. Finally, depreciation.

If the result is a loss, the expenses are only allowed until the income is reduced to zero.

But some unusable expenses may be carried over to the next year, where again they and the next year’s expenses will be limited to the next year’s rental income.

Tax Treatment of a Room Rental
Because the expenses are taken in a specific order, home mortgage interest and property taxes paid for the home (which, for many taxpayers, would be deductible anyway) are first deducted from the rental income. Next come the operating expenses, of which only $1,300 of $1,417 is deductible in this example because that amount reduces the rental income to zero. Thus, $117 of the operating expenses and the depreciation are not deductible.

Any reasonable method for dividing the expenses may be used. The two most common methods for allocating expenses, such as mortgage interest and heat for the entire house, are based on the number of rooms in and square footage of the home.

If you have questions related to renting a room or a vacation home, or about short-term rentals of your home, please give this office a call.

Some Electric Vehicle Credits Are Phasing Out!

Some Electric Vehicle Credits Are Phasing Out!

The IRS recently announced that the tax credit for purchasing the popular Tesla is being phased out and that the credit will drop to $3,750 after December 31, 2018, and will drop again to $1,875 after June 30, 2019. Then, the credit will no longer be available for a Tesla after December 31, 2019. But Tesla is not the only plug-in electric vehicle eligible for the credit, and a full list of vehicles qualifying for credit is available on the IRS’s website.

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Filing a 1099-MISC May Now Apply to Landlords. Are You Collecting the Needed W-9s?

Filing a 1099-MISC May Now Apply to Landlords. Are You Collecting the Needed W-9s?

If you use independent contractors to perform services for your business or your rental that is a trade or business, for each individual whom you pay $600 or more for the year, you are required to issue the service provider and the IRS a Form 1099-MISC after the end of the year, to avoid losing the deduction for their labor and expenses. (This requirement generally does not apply to payments made to a corporation. However, the exception does not extend to payments made for attorney fees and for certain payments for medical or health care services.)

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IRS Giving a Break to Some Taxpayers Who Under-prepaid Their 2018 Taxes

IRS Giving a Break to Some Taxpayers Who Under-prepaid Their 2018 Taxes

Taxpayers are required to pre-pay their taxes for any tax year through payroll withholding, estimated tax payments or a combination of the two. Employees and retirees generally accomplish this through withholding, and self-employed individuals and those with investment income by paying quarterly estimated payments.

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