The July 15th Deadline Is Fast Approaching, and it Isn’t Just for the 2019 Individual Tax Return

The July 15th Deadline Is Fast Approaching, and it Isn’t Just for the 2019 Individual Tax Return

Article Highlights:

 

  • Extensions
  • Contributions to IRAs
  • Estimated Tax Payments for the First Two Quarters of 2020
  • Individual Refund Claims for the 2016 Tax Year
  • Foreign Account Reporting Requirements

Due to the COVID-19 emergency, the IRS provided taxpayers with an automatic three-month extension to July 15 to file their 2019 tax returns and pay the 2019 tax, among other tax actions normally due on April 15. So, with July 15th fast approaching, it is important to understand that the day is more than just the deadline for filing your 2019 tax return. It is also the deadline for other things tax. Here is a rundown.

  • 1040 Extension – Those who are unable to file their 2019 individual 1040 tax return by the July 15th deadline need to file a Form 4868 extension, which will give them until October 15th to file the return. The tax liability shown on the extension should be paid with the extension form to avoid late payment penalties and interest. Penalties, interest, or additions to tax for failure to pay federal income taxes were disregarded during the April 15–to–July 15 extension-period window, but these will begin to accrue on July 16, 2020.

CAUTION: While the Form 4868 extension is an extension for filing, it is not an extension for paying your tax liability. The Form 4868 instructions say (and tax courts have ruled) that for an extension to be valid, a taxpayer must properly estimate their tax liability, enter that tax liability on the form, and file the extension by the due date of the return, which is July 15th this year.

The monthly penalty for not filing the 1040 tax return by the July 15th due date is 4½ percent of the tax due for late filing and ½ percent of the tax due for late payment. The maximum cumulative penalty rate is 25%; however, the ½ percent per month for late payment continues until the tax is paid.

There is also a minimum penalty for 2019 returns not filed within 60 days of the return due date, including extensions. That penalty is the lesser of $435 or the amount due on the 2019 tax return.

Importantly, if you do not owe or if you are getting a refund, there is no penalty because the penalties are based on a percentage of the tax due—if no tax is due, then no penalty is assessed.

The IRS also charges interest on late payments and penalties. The rate is subject to quarterly adjustment and is currently at an annual rate of 5% of the amount owed, with interest accumulating daily.

  • Contributions to a Roth or Traditional IRA for the 2019 Tax Year – July 15th is the last day for making 2019 contributions to Roth or traditional IRAs. Form 4868 does not provide an extension for making IRA contributions.

 

  • Individual Estimated Tax Payments for the First Two Quarters of 2020 – Normally, the first installment of estimated taxes for a tax year is due on April 15th, and the second installment comes due on June 15th. For 2020, the IRS extended these due dates to July 15th, to coincide with the other COVID-19-related extensions. Taxpayers who fail to prepay the minimum (“safe harbor”) amount may be subject to a penalty for underpayment of the estimated tax. This penalty is based on the interest on the underpayment, which is calculated using the short-term federal rate plus 3 percentage points. The penalty is computed on a quarter-by-quarter basis, so even people who have prepaid the correct overall amount for the year may be subject to the penalty if the amounts are not paid proportionally or in a timely way. However, for 2020, penalties for failure to pay federal income taxes during the April 15–to–July 15 period will be disregarded.

Federal tax law does provide ways to avoid the underpayment penalty. For instance, if the underpayment is less than $1,000 (referred to as the de minimis amount), no penalty is assessed. In addition, two options exist for safe-harbor prepayments:

  1. The first is based on the total tax on the current year’s return. There is no penalty when prepayments (including both withholding and estimated payments) equal or exceed 90% of the current year’s tax.
  2. The second is based on the total tax amount (not including credits for prepayments) on the return for the preceding tax year. This is generally set at 100% of the prior year’s tax liability. However, taxpayers with adjusted gross income exceeding $150,000 (or $75,000 for married taxpayers filing separately) must pay 110% of the prior year’s tax liability to meet the safe-harbor test.
  • Individual Refund Claims for the 2016 Tax Year – The regular three-year statute of limitations for 2016 tax returns normally would have expired on April 15th of this year. However, due to the COVID-19 emergency, the statute of limitations was extended to July 15th. Thus, no refund will be granted for 2016 returns (original or amended) filed after July 15th. An exception is if a net operating loss is being carried to 2016; in this case, the usual three-year limitation for claiming a refund won’t apply as long as the statute is still open for the year when the net operating loss (NOL) occurred. However, taxpayers could risk missing out on the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, the refundable American Opportunity Tax Credit for college tuition, and the refundable child credit for the 2016 tax year if they do not file before the statute of limitations ends. Caution: The statute does not apply to balances due for unfiled 2016 returns.
  • Foreign Account Reporting Requirements (FBAR) – For each United States person who has a financial interest in, signature, or other authority over any foreign financial accounts, including bank, securities, or other types of financial accounts in a foreign country, if the aggregate value of these financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year, that person must report that relationship to the U.S. government during each calendar year. This reporting requirement is commonly referred to as FBAR, and the due date is the same as that for individual 1040 returns.

This report is submitted online to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), and the FBAR’s annual due date is April 15th. However, FinCEN grants an automatic extension to October 15th each year, so if you missed the April due date this year, you still have until October 15th to file the FBAR.

Penalties for failing to file a FBAR are severe, and individuals should not overlook overseas family accounts on which they are named as account holders, or online foreign gambling accounts. If in doubt, call this office for further details.

If your income tax return is still pending because of missing information, please forward that information to this office as quickly as possible so that we can ensure your return meets the July 15th deadline. Keep in mind that the last week before the due date can be very hectic, and your returns may not be completed in time if you wait until the last minute. If you know that the missing information will not be available before the July 15th deadline, please let us know right away so that we can prepare an extension request (and 2020 estimated tax vouchers, if needed).

If you have not yet completed your returns, please call this office right away so that we can schedule an appointment, estimate your taxes, and/or file an extension.

 

Congress Liberalizes PPP Loan Forgiveness

 

Article Highlights:

  • Loan Forgiveness Confusion
  • Covered Period Extended
  • Loan Maturity Extended
  • Limit on Expenses other than Payroll Reduced
  • Exemptions for Those Unable to Rehire or Replace Employee
  • Both Loan forgiveness and Payroll Tax Deferral Allowed

If you are the owner of a small business that was able to obtain a Paycheck Projection Program (PPP) Loan, you have probably already started worrying about how you are supposed to spend the loan proceeds to maximize loan forgiveness.

When these loans were first offered, the key word business owners heard was “forgiveness,” and that created a national stampede to apply for these loans. Most potential borrowers had little or no knowledge of how the loan proceeds were to be used to qualify for loan forgiveness. This, combined with the lack of initial guidance from the Treasury and Small Business Administration (SBA), added to the confusion.

The CARES Act, the legislation that created this loan program, specified that loan proceeds were to be used for business payroll, lease payments, mortgage interest, and utility payments. It also specified the loan funds were to be used during the eight-week “covered period” that commenced immediately after receiving the loan proceeds. That meant the forgiveness clock started ticking the day the loan proceeds were deposited in the employer’s bank account.

To add to the confusion, the SBA decided to limit uses other than payroll to 25% of the amount forgiven—a limitation not included in the CARES Act.

Because the CARES Act includes generous unemployment benefits that, in many cases, provide income in excess of what the employer was paying as wages, many employees are resisting returning to work. This makes it difficult for employers to maintain their pre-COVID payroll and head count, which are also requirements for forgiveness.

Seeing the confusion and consternation caused by the forgiveness issue, Congress has passed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (PPPFA) of 2020, which makes substantial changes to the program:

  • The covered period has been extended from 8 weeks to 24 weeks after the origination of the loan or December 31, 2020, whichever occurs first, giving employers substantially more time to comply with the forgiveness requirements and other terms of the loan. If the loan was received before the enactment of the PPPFA, the borrower may choose either the original 8-week period or the new 24-week/December 31, 2020 period.
  • Loan maturity has been increased from 2 years to a minimum of 5 years, giving borrowers a longer amount of time to pay back the portion of the loan that is not forgiven. For loans finalized prior to the PPPFA, the lender and borrower can agree to change to the longer term.Congress has rebutted the administration’s attempt to limit the uses of the funds for other than payroll to no more than 25% of the forgiveness. The Act instead requires at least 60% of the loan proceeds to be used for payroll for full forgiveness and up to 40% can be used for business rent, mortgage interest (but not for pre-payment of the interest or for payment of principal) and utility payments.
  • To alleviate employers’ rehiring problems, the Act provides an exemption for employers that are unable:
    • To rehire an employee who was working for the employer on February 15, 2020,
    • To hire similarly qualified employees on or before December 31, 2020, or
    • To return to the same level of business activity as such business was operating at before February 15, 2020, due to compliance with requirements established or guidance issued by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the period beginning on March 1, 2020, and ending December 31, 2020, related to the maintenance of standards for sanitation, social distancing, or any other worker or customer safety requirement related to COVID–19.
  • The deferral of payments of the PPP loan principal, interest and fees that was originally 6 months to one year is changed by the Act to be until the date the loan forgiveness amount is remitted to the bank by the SBA.
  • The original rules of the CARES Act prevented employers who received PPP loan forgiveness from being able to defer payment of payroll tax, another provision of the CARES Act. The PPPFA changes that rule to allow qualified employers to take advantage of deferring 2020 payroll tax payments even if they’ve received PPP loan forgiveness. The deferral allows 50% of the eligible payroll taxes to be deferred until December 31, 2021 and the balance to December 31, 2022. Taxes that can be deferred include the 6.2% employer portion of the Social Security (OASDI) payroll tax, and the employer and employee representative portion of Railroad Retirement taxes (that are attributable to the employer’s 6.2% Social Security (OASDI) tax rate), effective for wages paid March 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

Since the PPPFA was passed, the SBA has revised the PPP loan forgiveness application and added an EZ application. Here are the links to the applications and instructions:

If you have questions about how these changes might apply to your situation or need assistance completing your forgiveness application, please give this office a call.

 

 

The IRS Is Issuing Some Stimulus Payments by Debit Card;

Some Are Being Mistaken as Junk Mail and Thrown Out

 

Article Highlights:

 

  • Junk Mail
  • Stimulus Payment
  • Debit Card

If you are like most Americans, you receive tons of junk mail, which you tend to discard without ever reading. Well, if you haven’t already received your stimulus payment from the feds, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to throw away those envelopes from unknown senders, at least until you have received your stimulus payment.

It seems the government has begun sending out its stimulus payments on debit cards mailed in plain white envelopes, which some people have discarded, thinking it was junk mail.

The Treasury has decided to send the 4 million or so individuals still waiting for their stimulus payments a Visa debit card, issued by a financial institution that the general public is generally not familiar with, in a plain envelope from Money Network Cardholder Services, also a name few will recognize. After years of counseling by the IRS and others, people have become very diligent in watching out for scams and false advertising, and mail from an unknown source in a plain envelope appears to be just another advertisement for a credit card or, even worse, a scam. As a result, many people discarded the envelope, not realizing that it contained their stimulus payment.

The taxpayers who would receive a debit card were determined by the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, a part of the Treasury Department that works with the IRS to handle distribution of the payments.

The IRS website does caution that some payments will be issued on a prepaid debit card mailed in a plain envelope from Money Network Cardholder Services. The Visa name will appear on the front of the card; the back of the card has the name of the issuing bank, MetaBank®,

N.A. Information included with the card will explain that the card is the recipient’s Economic Impact Payment Card. The IRS asks the individuals to whom the cards were sent to go to EIPcard.com for more information.

Bottom line: if you are still waiting for your stimulus payment, be careful not to throw it in the trash.

 

Post-Pandemic Trends Shifting the Economy for Small Businesses Everywhere

 

While it’s absolutely true that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for small and large businesses alike, there are also some changes happening that can be viewed as less negative.

 

Behaviors have changed during the Coronavirus outbreak, and some of these could end up being positive for small businesses in particular moving forward. In fact, there are a few core trends in particular that are nothing if not opportunities just waiting to be taken advantage of by a savvy entrepreneur that knows what he or she is doing.

The Shift Towards Digital is Picking Up Speed

With so many people spending more time indoors (even as lockdowns lift), it should come as no surprise that the shift towards digital business is picking up speed. Now, more than ever before, companies operating in the digital space are getting more and more successful – in large part because the options to do almost anything else were severely limited during stay-at-home phases and we’re still not back to pre-pandemic norms.

This means that if you’re a small business owner, the barrier to actually get your organization off the ground has never been lower. You don’t need to worry about finding an ideal location and renting physical office space. Really, once you have your goods and/or services accounted for, all you need is a computer (or mobile device) and an Internet connection.

Likewise, a lot of companies are enjoying success right now integrating e-commerce channels into their business that didn’t exist in the past. If you have a product that can be shipped (or even hand delivered), you can integrate a digital storefront into your existing website and allow people to place orders that way.

Not only is it a great way to remain operational as COVID-19 drags on, but it’s also an opportunity to “future-proof” your operations in case mass shutdowns occur again in the future.

The Flexibility of Location Independence

Teleconferencing software like Skype and Zoom is certainly nothing new – the technology has existed in some form or another dating all the way back to the 1990s. But one thing that COVID-19 has ushered in is an era where businesses actually leverage this tech to create a whole new era of location independence in terms of HOW they offer their goods and services.

One of the best examples of this is taking place in gyms across America as you read this. Fitness classes are regularly moving online so that people can still work out and stay healthy right from the comfort (and safety) of their own homes. Healthcare professionals are offering therapy and similar services over technologies like Teladoc and Apple’s FaceTime. You’re also even seeing a digital shift for professional services like this office holding online consultations and meetings – something that saves all parties a tremendous amount of time, effort and travel in exchange for a few quick mouse clicks and the use of a video camera for their computer.

City Partnerships Give Businesses an Interesting Boost

Another fascinating trend brought about in the wake of COVID-19 has to do with the unique business boosts taking place in cities across America. Case in point: restaurants.

Even as states begin to open back up again, a lot of restaurants in particular are dealing with the fact that they’re only allowed to operate at 50% capacity (if that). Likewise, there are probably less-than-normal numbers of patrons who are enthusiastic right now about going into a physical restaurant to enjoy a “care-free night out on the town,” with virus fears and anxieties so high.

So, what has happened? A lot of cities have partnered with restaurants to close streets for specific periods of time at night and on weekends so that those businesses can set up tables outdoors (yes ­– some even in the middle of the street). Not only does this allow them to serve far more people than they could with their actual indoor option, but it’s a great way to promote social distancing and other safety measures while boosting small businesses as well.

The Era of Remote Work is Upon Us

Everyone knew that remote work had been getting more and more popular over the last several years, to the point where one recent study said that about 42% of the people who worked exclusively from home said that they’d been doing so for more than five years. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has certainly acted as an accelerant for this particular fire, however, and this is one factor that creates interesting implications for small businesses in particular moving forward.

With so many Americans under strict stay-at-home orders at one point and with all non-essential businesses closed, more people were working remotely than ever before. Not only did employees realize that they actually enjoyed the freedom and flexibility that came with it, but their employers are also quickly realizing that most of them are just as productive at home – if not more so.

Some of these employers have started to wonder if – even when things go “back to normal” – they should bother calling everyone back into the office again, or allow the remote work to continue.

If employees are allowed to work from home a larger percentage of the time (or entirely, in some cases), small businesses can potentially save an enormous amount of money on utilities alone. They likely won’t need to invest in massive office spaces if far fewer people are actually using it, representing an additional cost savings and money that can be funneled into other areas of the business.

Plus, some studies indicate that people are actually more productive when working from home – thus increasing not only the quality of the work being done but the revenue those employees are able to generate as well.

The Future of Payments

Last but not least we arrive at another trend that COVID-19 has highlighted over the last several months: the popularity of cashless and contactless payments.

With the concern around germs changing hands, there’s no question that paying with cash is less popular in the time of coronavirus. Many businesses have even gone “cashless” – refusing to accept cash at all.

“Contactless” payments take this one step further. Along with the various smartphone options (like Apple Pay and Google Pay), many debit and credit cards now include a contactless option where consumers simply wave or tap their card on the reader to pay. That’s it. No waiting for your card to register, no PIN, no signature – just a fast and seamless transaction.

In an April Mastercard survey spanning 19 countries, 82% of respondents said they view contactless payments as “the cleaner way to pay.”

The benefits of this for small businesses are as enormous as they are immediate. For starters, younger generations in particular actually prefer this to traditional payments – meaning that offering it as an option could be your ticket to attracting an entirely new audience.

Likewise, research indicates that contactless transactions are far faster than their traditional counterparts – to the tune of 12.56 seconds on average compared to about 33.7 seconds for cash transactions and 26.7 seconds for conventional card transactions.

So, not only are you giving people additional options in terms of how they pay for your goods and services, but you’re also creating an environment where you can execute more transactions in a faster, more secure way as well. It truly is a win-win situation, regardless of how you choose to look at it.

In the end, it’s absolutely clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do business – likely for good. But for every struggle that the coronavirus brought with it, it’s also clear that it unlocked a world of new opportunities for businesses, too. That’s why, as more and more states are opening up and things are slowly returning “to normal,” a lot of small businesses are asking themselves how they can continue applying some of these new strategies for the long-term.

Rather than return to the limitations of an era that has officially ended, they’re eager to embrace the opportunities that are now suddenly in front of them. The small business owners who are most successful through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond will likely be the ones who seize this chance to pivot and keep up with the changing demands of their customers.

 

Here’s What Could Happen If You Try to Short-Change the IRS

 

 

Article Highlights:

 

  • Self-employed taxpayers
  • Underreported income
  • Unscrupulous tax preparers
  • Phony deductions or credits
  • Inflating the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Taking fake education credits
  • Petty cheating

 

Some refer to it as “creative accounting” or just “a little fudging here and there,” but if your tax return is missing some income that should have been reported or includes overstated deductions, regardless of whether you prepared your own return or had it prepared, you are the one who is ultimately responsible. If you get caught, there can be very unpleasant consequences – including substantial monetary penalties and the possibility of jail time for blatant cases.

 

Those who fudge on their taxes may think that they are just cheating the government out of money. In actuality, however, the government is going to get the taxes it needs from somewhere, so those who fudge on their taxes are causing others to pay more.

Currently, just short of 50% of all U.S. taxpayers pay no income tax. In fact, a large percentage of these folks actually get money back from the government because their income is low and they qualify for certain refundable tax credits. How many of those not paying any tax are doing so because they are either not reporting all of their income or exaggerating their deductions? There are no statistics on the issue, but it would seem to be a large number.

One of the biggest areas of cheating involves self-employed individuals not reporting cash payments. Some will even go so far as to offer discounts for cash payments; these discounts, of course, are attractive, and customers often opt for them, thus enabling the self-employed individuals to cheat on their taxes. However, if self-employed individuals get caught – perhaps because their lifestyles aren’t supported by their reported income – they can end up with a nasty tax bill and penalties. Plus, when the IRS finds a cheater, it usually audits that person’s or company’s returns for other years.

Especially troubling is knowing that some individuals who underreport their income are not just avoiding income taxes, but qualifying for low-income tax credits and other subsidies meant for those who really need them.

Unscrupulous tax preparers also cheat, and you could end up being the victim. Here are some of the schemes they pull:

  • Adding phony deductions or credits – They do your return correctly and tell you what your refund is. Then, before they e-file it, the preparer adds phony deductions or credits to inflate the refund. The refund amount you expect is direct-deposited to your account, but the extra amount is sent to their bank account.
  • Inflating the Earned Income Tax Credit – Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit for low-income taxpayers that is based upon the amount of the taxpayer’s income from working (earned income). The credit increases up to a point as the taxpayer’s earned income increases, then phases out for higher-income taxpayers. This credit is the frequent target of scams, and one of the most common is to create earned income by fabricating self-employment income of an amount that will result in the maximum EITC. Even though this may create more taxes, the EITC is greater than the taxes, netting an increase in the taxpayer’s refund.
  • Taking fake education credits – Another frequent scam is to claim a higher education tax credit, especially the partially refundable American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), using made-up education expenses. The AOTC can be as much as $2,500, and $1,000 of that amount is refundable.

If you were a victim of an unscrupulous tax preparer and need assistance, please call this office.

Petty cheating is also prevalent. The following lists common areas of cheating and the steps that the IRS takes to counter them.

  • Inflating the value of noncash goods donated to charity – This is probably one of the most commonly inflated tax deductions.
    IRS Countermeasures: The IRS requires documentation from the charity, and if the value of the donation is more than $500 for the year, a detailed list of the items that the taxpayer contributed. The IRS will generally include charitable contributions in every audit, no matter what triggered the audit in the first place.
  • Claiming fictitious cash contributions – This typically involves claiming that cash was donated through a house of worship’s collection plate or holiday charity kettle.
    IRS Countermeasures: All cash contributions must be verified with a bank record or a written record from the charity. Without such a record, no deduction is allowed.
  • Purchasing an item at a charity event – Generally, when you receive something of value for making a donation, the value of that item is not a deductible charitable contribution. Thus, the cost of pancake breakfasts, charity auctions, Girl Scout cookies, car washes, and the like are not deductible as charitable contributions.
    IRS Countermeasures: The IRS requires charities to include the value of goods or services provided to the donor on the charity’s receipt, making it easy for the IRS to detect when improper deductions are being taken when it examines the receipts during an audit.
  • Donating cars to charity – At one time, individuals were donating vehicles that were close to being scrapped and then deducting the blue book value for the vehicle as if it were in good or better condition. This trend became so prevalent that Congress actually stepped in and limited the vehicle contribution to $500 (generally).
    IRS Countermeasures: The IRS now requires the charity to issue a Form 1098-C to the donor; this form includes the information that needs to be reported if the vehicle contribution meets the requirements for a contribution greater than $500.
  • Using a business vehicle for personal purposes – Have you seen pickups and other trucks with company logos on their doors towing boats and trailers down the highway? There is a good chance that the drivers of these trucks are writing off the mileage through their businesses.
    IRS Countermeasures: The IRS generally requires businesses, especially closely held ones, to verify the business use of their vehicles (particularly those that are suitable for personal use) with a log, including the odometer readings for the start and finish of each business use.
  • Deducting more home mortgage interest than entitled – Tax law limits the amount that can be deducted for home mortgage interest to the interest paid on $1 million in debt ($750,000 for debt incurred after December 15, 2017) from purchasing or improving a home. This limit applies to a taxpayer’s first and second homes only. Many taxpayers simply take the mortgage interest from the Form 1098 provided by the lender without any regard to these limitations.
    IRS Countermeasures: IRS Form 1098 requires lenders to include additional information that will allow the IRS computer to determine whether the limits have been exceeded.
  • Making repairs on a personal home and deducting the expenses on a rental or business property – It is pretty easy for landlords or owners of business real estate to make repairs on their personal homes and then deduct those repairs on their rental or business properties.
    IRS Countermeasures: An auditor will look at the dates and addresses on receipts to ensure that they make sense. If an auditor catches such a violation, expect him or her to become very aggressive in other areas and to possibly invoke substantial penalties due to the intentional disregard of laws and regulations.
  • Falsifying investment costs to minimize gain – Until a few years ago, it was up to taxpayers to track their basis in the securities they owned. Inflating the cost was prevalent before the IRS required brokers to begin tracking basis. IRS Countermeasures: The IRS modified Form 1099-B, issued by brokers when stocks, bonds, etc., are sold, to include the basis if known, and to indicate otherwise if basis was unknown. Then, the IRS developed Form 8949 to separate investment sales into those for which the broker was tracking the basis and those for which the broker did not know the basis or wasn’t required to track the basis. The information included on these forms allows the IRS to focus on those sales for which the taxpayer was tracking the basis.

If you have an acquaintance who has been less than honest on their tax returns in the past or has been the victim of a dishonest or inept tax preparer, please have them give this office a call.

 

 

A Novel Way to Make COVID-19 Relief Donations

 

Article Highlights:

 

  • Donating unused vacation time, sick leave and personal time
  • Employer’s Function
  • Great Donation Opportunity

On March 13, 2020 the President issued an emergency disaster declaration under the Stafford Act as a result of the coronavirus disease pandemic. The disaster area covers all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. Territories. As a result, and as was done in the past in the wake of major disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey and Maria, the IRS is providing special relief that allows employees to donate their unused paid vacation, sick leave, and personal leave time to COVID-19 relief efforts.

Here is how it works: if your employer is participating, you can relinquish any unused and paid vacation time, sick leave and personal leave for cash payments which your employer will donate to COVID-19 relief charitable organizations. The cash payment will not be treated as wages to you and your employer can deduct the amount donated as a business expense. However, since the income isn’t taxable to you, you will not be allowed to claim the donation as a charitable deduction on your tax return. Even so, excluding income is often worth more as tax savings than a potential tax deduction, especially if you generally claim the standard deduction* or you are subject to AGI-based limitations.

This special relief applies to all donations made before January 1, 2021, giving individuals plenty of time to forgo their unused paid vacation, sick and leave time and have the cash value donated to a worthy cause.

This is a great opportunity to provide sorely needed help in the ongoing COVID-19 emergency without costing you anything but time.  Contact your employer to make a donation.  If your employer is unaware of his program refer them to IRS Notice 2020-46 for further details.

If you have questions related to donating leave time for COVID-19 relief efforts or other charitable contributions, please contact this office.

*Normally, charitable contributions are deductible only if you itemize your deductions on Schedule A as part of your 1040 return. This means you wouldn’t get a tax benefit from your donations if you claim the standard deduction instead of itemizing. However, the CARES Act, passed in late March, 2020, allows up to $300 of cash charitable contributions made in 2020 to be deducted from your income even if you use the standard deduction. Of course, as noted above, you can’t deduct the value of COVID-19 relief donations made through leave-based donation programs in any case. Instead the leave time is non-taxable.

 

Unique IRA Opportunities for 2020

 

Article Highlights:

 

  • 2020 Tax Saving Opportunities
  • Traditional IRA to Roth IRA Conversions
  • Paying the Conversions Tax
  • Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)
  • 2020 RMD Waiver
  • Coordinating Distributions with 2020 Income

As bad as it has been financially for many individuals, 2020 does provide some unique tax opportunities for those who have traditional IRA accounts. These range from converting traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs, retirees making larger-than-normal IRA withdrawals and the decision whether to take advantage of the required minimum distribution suspension for 2020. Let’s look at these prospective tax strategies to see if they might apply to you.

CONVERSION OF A TRADITIONAL IRA TO A ROTH IRA

The first opportunity to explore is converting your traditional IRA account to a Roth IRA account. The reason you might want to do that is a Roth IRA provides tax-free accumulation and, once you reach retirement age, tax-free distributions. A traditional IRA provides tax deferral of earnings, and the distributions are taxable.

Since distributions from a Roth IRA are not taxable but those from a traditional IRA would be, you generally pay tax on the amount converted (after all, the government isn’t going to allow both the tax deduction when contributing to a traditional IRA and tax-free withdrawal from the Roth on the converted amount). Thus, a conversion provides the most benefit in a year when your income is low, and as a result, you receive a lower tax rate. Timing is key, and 2020 may be a low-income year when you might find it appropriate to convert some portion of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

Example: Suppose you are normally in the 32% tax bracket but find yourself in the 12% tax bracket for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means you can convert some portion of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at a tax cost of only 12% (or $120 per $1,000 converted) as opposed to $320 per $1,000 under normal circumstances.

When considering a conversion, one concern is where the money to pay the conversion tax comes from. Generally, it must come from separate funds. If it is taken from the IRA being converted, for individuals under age 59½, the funds withdrawn to pay the tax will also be subject to the 10% early distribution penalty in addition to being taxed.

Conversions can be tricky, and once made, they cannot be undone. If you reside in a state with state income tax, the conversion may also be taxable by the state. If you are considering a conversion, it might be appropriate to call for an appointment so that this office can help you analyze your conversion options properly or develop a conversion plan that fits your particular circumstances.

 

REQUIRED MINIMUM DISTRIBUTION SUSPENSION

For 2020, the government has suspended the requirement for certain older* taxpayers to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from their retirement plans and traditional IRAs. Just because the requirement to take RMDs has been suspended doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a distribution in 2020. That decision should be based on two issues:

(1) Primarily, on your need to pay for living expenses, and

(2) Secondly, sound tax planning.

Issue number one speaks for itself. However, there are times when your income is low compared to normal, and it may be beneficial tax-wise to take a distribution even if you are not required to. This may be true even if you aren’t of an age for the RMD to apply. In these situations, the amount of a distribution can be coordinated with your tax liability to provide a beneficial tax outcome. In some cases, the distribution could even be free from tax or at least subject to a tax substantially lower than in a normal year.

Generally, this strategy is for individuals older than 59.5 and not subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty. However, there are times when paying the 10% penalty may even be worth it for younger individuals when the tax saving is large enough.

It is important to understand that we are talking about retirement funds; just because they can be gotten out of a traditional IRA or qualified plan for a low tax doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be set aside in a savings account for future retirement needs.

These opportunities are easily overlooked, and it can be complicated to figure out the conversion or distribution amount to optimize the tax benefits. If you have questions or would like this firm to assist you in determining the strategy that best fits your needs, please give this office a call.

*If not for the COVID-19 suspension, 2020 RMDs would be required by taxpayers who turned age 70½ prior to 2020 or reach age 72 in 2020.

 

What You Need to Know About the People First Initiative

The global COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges for American citizens from both the health and financial perspectives. Many individuals are looking for ways to reduce the financial impact of layoffs or furloughs they have experienced as a result of the shutdown in the economy.

In an effort to relieve some of this burden, the Internal Revenue Service introduced the People First Initiative on March 25, 2020.

The initiative outlines provisions for suspension of certain tax payments and reduction or suspension of IRS representative enforcement actions during this time. The initiative is effective for the time period of April 1st, 2020 to July 15th, 2020 and covers a number of IRS processes.

Installment Agreements

An installment agreement is a payment plan set up with the Internal Revenue Service that allows you to pay your outstanding taxes over time.

For taxpayers who currently have an installment agreement with the IRS, payments will be suspended on their accounts between April 1st, 2020 and July 15th, 2020.  In addition, installment agreements will not be considered to be in default during this time.

It is important to note that interest will continue to accrue during this time and all missed payments will be due once the extension period has expired.

Offer in Compromise

An offer in compromise is an agreement with the IRS that allows taxpayers experiencing financial hardship to settle their tax debts for less than the total amount owed.  Depending on where a taxpayer is in the offer in compromise application process, there are several remedies available.

If you currently have an offer in compromise agreement, you may opt to suspend your payments owed between April 1, 2020 and July 15th, 2020. Similarly to installment agreements, interest will continue to accrue and any payments missed during the relief period will become due at the end of the extension timeframe.

If your application for an offer in compromise is still pending, you may have until July 15th in order to provide any additional requested information. The initiative also provides that applications for an offer in compromise may not be closed without the taxpayer’s permission during the covered period.

For those with delinquent tax filings for the 2018 tax year, these late filings will not result in a defaulted offer in compromise agreement if the outstanding tax returns are filed prior to July 15th, 2020.

Automated and Field Collection Activities

Collection activities including liens and levies will be halted during the initiative period in most cases. It should be noted, however, that Internal Revenue Service representatives will continue to pursue actions related to high-income taxpayers as necessary.

IRS Passport Certifications

The IRS will suspend the submission of passport certifications to the State Department for seriously delinquent taxpayers. These certifications seek to prevent taxpayers with severely outstanding tax liabilities from renewing or receiving a new passport.

IRS Collection Activity

During the People First Initiative coverage period, the IRS will cease forwarding taxpayer accounts to third party collection agencies.

IRS Audits

The IRS is modifying its policies related to conducting audits in light of the current coronavirus pandemic. Where possible, IRS agents will conduct their audits remotely and any in-person meetings will be suspended during this time, although taxpayers are still encouraged to respond to outstanding requests to the extent possible.

Some taxpayers may have received requests to verify their income information in order to confirm their qualification for the Earned Income credit. These individuals have until July 15th, 2020 to respond to this request.

While provisions have been made to provide taxpayers with financial relief during the initiative period, the statute of limitations on the Internal Revenue Service will still apply.

The IRS will take action to protect its interests should the expiration of the statute occur during this time.

While the People First Initiative can offer much needed tax relief during an unprecedented time in our country, it is important to look closely at the details of the provisions and how they may apply to your circumstances.

We can help you with understanding your current options.

The July 15th deadline is quickly approaching, but it isn’t too late to take action.

If you would like to learn more about the People First Initiative and how we can help sort out your IRS tax problems, please feel free to contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment.


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

Don’t Throw Away That Notice 1444

Article Highlights:

 

  • Notice 1444
  • You May Qualify for Additional Credit on the 2020 Return
  • Tax Records

The IRS is mailing all recipients of Economic Impact Payments a Notice 1444 that provides information about the amount of their payment, how the payment was made and how to report any payment that wasn’t received. If you’ve already received your economic impact payment, you’ve probably already received this document too. This notice was issued from The White House and looks more like a letter than a traditional IRS notice, but the notice number is in the upper right of the heading, just below the date.

For security reasons, the IRS mails this notice to each recipient’s last known address within 15 days after the payment goes out. Don’t discard this notice, as you may need it when your 2020 tax return is prepared. The economic impact payment is actually an advance payment of a refundable tax credit based upon your 2020 tax return. In order to get the money into people’s hands during the time of the greatest need, these payments generally were made based upon each individual’s 2019 return, or in some cases their 2018 return.

However, your filing status, income and dependents may be different in 2020, and if the advance payment was less than what you are entitled to based upon the 2020 return, you will qualify for the difference as a refundable credit on your 2020 return.

Example: Don and Shirley, whose AGI is less than $150,000, are newlyweds with no children and filed a joint return in 2019. They receive an advance economic impact payment of $2,400. In 2020, they have a baby, and when their credit is determined on the 2020 return, it is $2,900 ($1,200 + $1,200 + $500). Since they only received $2,400 as an advance payment, they will be entitled to a $500 refundable credit on their 2020 return. The credit will first be used to reduce their tax, and then any excess credit will be refunded.

As you can see, it is important for you to keep Notice 1444 – Your Economic Impact Payment, with your tax records since it documents the payment you actually received. You should keep this notice filed with all your other important tax records, including W-2s from employers, 1099s from banks and other payers, other income documents and records to support tax deductions.

If you have any questions regarding your economic impact payment, please call.

 

 


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

What You Need to Know About the People First Initiative

What You Need to Know About the People First Initiative

The global COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges for American citizens from both the health and financial perspectives. Many individuals are looking for ways to reduce the financial impact of layoffs or furloughs they have experienced as a result of the shutdown in the economy.

In an effort to relieve some of this burden, the Internal Revenue Service introduced the People First Initiative on March 25, 2020.

The initiative outlines provisions for suspension of certain tax payments and reduction or suspension of IRS representative enforcement actions during this time. The initiative is effective for the time period of April 1st, 2020 to July 15th, 2020 and covers a number of IRS processes.

Read more

Unique IRA Opportunities for 2020

Unique IRA Opportunities for 2020

As bad as it has been financially for many individuals, 2020 does provide some unique tax opportunities for those who have traditional IRA accounts. These range from converting traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs, retirees making larger-than-normal IRA withdrawals and the decision whether to take advantage of the required minimum distribution suspension for 2020. Let’s look at these prospective tax strategies to see if they might apply to you.

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Does Your Business Qualify for the Research Tax Credit?

Does Your Business Qualify for the Research Tax Credit?

For businesses, the tax code provides a tax credit of up to 20% of qualified expenditures to encourage businesses to develop, design or improve products, processes, techniques, formulas or software and similar activities. In the past, this credit—called the Credit for Increasing Research Activities—had to be reauthorized by Congress yearly, but as part of the 2015 PATH Act, this credit was made permanent.

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Delaying Payment of Old Tax Bills Is A Big Mistake

Delaying Payment of Old Tax Bills Is A Big Mistake

You know that long list of ways that the coronavirus has affected our lives? Well, here’s another one. The Internal Revenue Service has completely flipped a switch on its priorities, and it is not even looking at paper tax returns that are being sent to it. The idea of all those envelopes piling up somewhere is a bit mind-boggling, but it’s apparently what’s happening as the Treasury Department focuses on generating the stimulus checks that American taxpayers need to get through the crisis.

If you don’t owe the IRS money and you’re not looking to amend a previously filed tax return, this shift won’t mean much to you. You can rest easy knowing that the tax return and payments that would have been due in April are now not due until July 15th. But if you were hoping to get a refund from a previous year’s return via a return you amended (or need to amend), or if you owe the IRS money, you need to pay attention.

For the first of these two categories – the folks with amended returns – what you need to know is that you’re not likely to see any kind of response for quite a while. There’s no way to find out what the status is and the agency is pointedly advising people not to interpret the lack of response as a need to send in a new one. Doing so would just confuse things more. You need to sit tight.

If, however, you owe the IRS money from before the crisis occurred, there are no breaks on the penalties and interest that are stacking up. It may take the agency a while to get around to figuring it out, but if you decide to sit and wait ‘til you hear from them, you’re going to be in for a big shock. Your liability is not only still there, it’s adding on interest from the time that it was due. This is true on amended returns that reflect a liability as well.

How much could the interest and penalty add up to?

In a word – it could add up to a lot. Not only do you owe the original amount, you are also subject to accruing interest and a failure-to-pay penalty of 0.5% of your original liability for each month (or partial month) that it hasn’t been paid. That can rack up to 25% of the liability. There’s also a penalty if you failed to file on time, and that can add up to another 5% of the amount that you owe each month. Even if you can’t afford to pay your entire liability all at once, you’re much better off paying small parts over time than waiting and having all of that interest added to your debt. You can contact the IRS online to arrange for one of their installment agreements.

Remember that mountain of returns piling up somewhere? Keep that in mind when you’re ready to send the IRS your money. If you write a check it’s going to just sit there, and your interest is going to keep adding up. Opt for paying electronically via direct payment. Don’t worry about the fact that the paperwork is sitting in that big pile. The agency will eventually get around to going through it, and they’ll figure out which payment goes with which amended return.

If you have any questions about your old tax bills or current IRS operations, please contact this office.

Are You Eligible For a 2018 Tax Refund?

Are You Eligible For a 2018 Tax Refund?

You may be one of the many taxpayers eligible for a refund from their 2018 tax return. Last December, tacked on to an Appropriations Act, Congress passed the long-awaited extenders bill. This bill had been lingering in Congress for about 2 years and extended several beneficial tax provisions that had expired after 2017.

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Congress Does Away with the Stretch IRA

Some members of Congress have, for some time, expressed their displeasure with the so-called stretch IRAs that have permitted some beneficiaries, such as a young child or a grandchild, to extend the payout period from the IRAs they inherited for decades.

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Congress Removes IRA Contribution Age Restriction

Congress Removes IRA Contribution Age Restriction

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the Appropriations Act of 2020, which included a number of tax law changes, including retroactively extending certain tax provisions that expired after 2017 or were about to expire, a number of retirement and IRA plan modifications, and other changes that will impact a large portion of U.S. taxpayers as a whole. This article is one of a series of articles dealing with those changes and how they may affect you.

In the past, unlike Roth IRAs, which have no age restriction associated with making a contribution, taxpayers were unable to make a traditional IRA contribution in and after the year they reached the age of 70½. This is primarily because a Roth IRA contribution is not tax deductible, while a traditional IRA is, unless it is phased out for higher income taxpayers.

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New Twist for Kiddie Tax with a Refund Opportunity

New Twist for Kiddie Tax with a Refund Opportunity

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the Appropriations Act of 2020, which included a number of tax law changes, including retroactively extending certain tax provisions that expired after 2017 or were about to expire, a number of retirement and IRA plan modifications, and other changes that will, as a whole, impact a large portion of U.S. taxpayers. This article is one of a series of articles dealing with those changes and how they may affect you.

Your dependent child who worked during the year or had investment income, such as interest or dividends, may be required to file a tax return, depending upon the type and amount of the income. Years ago, to prevent parents from putting their investments in their children’s names to avoid or significantly reduce the tax on their investment income, Congress passed what is commonly referred to as the kiddie tax. The kiddie tax taxes children’s income in excess of a small allowance at the parent’s top tax rate.

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