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.

Read more

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

The Tax Benefits of Going Green

The Tax Benefits of Going Green

Congress uses tax deductions and tax credits to influence taxpayers’ actions. For instance, it seeks to stimulate taxpayers to reduce their energy consumption and moving away from the use of fossil fuels. In this article, we explore the benefits and drawbacks of two major incentives: the home-solar credit and the electric-vehicle credit.

Read more

Gift and Estate Tax Primer

Gift and Estate Tax Primer

The tax code places limits on the amounts that individuals can gift to others (as money or property) without paying taxes. This is meant to keep individuals from using gifts to avoid the estate tax that is imposed upon inherited assets. This can be a significant issue for family-operated businesses when the business owner dies; such businesses often have to be sold to pay the resulting inheritance (estate) taxes. This is, in large part, why high-net-worth individuals invest in estate planning.

Read more

May 2019 Due Dates

May 2019 Individual Due Dates

May 10 – Report Tips to Employer

If you are an employee who works for tips and received more than $20 in tips during April, you are required to report them to your employer on IRS Form 4070 no later than May 10. Your employer is required to withhold FICA taxes and income tax withholding for these tips from your regular wages. If your regular wages are insufficient to cover the FICA and tax withholding, the employer will report the amount of the uncollected withholding in box 12 of your W-2 for the year. You will be required to pay the uncollected withholding when your return for the year is filed.

May 31 –  Final Due Date for IRA Trustees to Issue Form 5498

Final due date for IRA trustees to issue Form 5498, providing IRA owners with the fair market value (FMV) of their IRA accounts as of December 31, 2018. The FMV of an IRA on the last day of the prior year (Dec 31, 2018) is used to determine the required minimum distribution (RMD) that must be taken from the IRA if you are age 70½ or older during 2019. If you are age 70½ or older during 2019 and need assistance determining your RMD for the year, please give this office a call. Otherwise, no other action is required and the Form 5498 can be filed away with your other tax documents for the year.

May 2019 Business Due Dates

May 10 – Social Security, Medicare and Withheld Income Tax

File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2019. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

May 15 – Employer’s Monthly Deposit Due

If you are an employer and the monthly deposit rules apply, May 15 is the due date for you to make your deposit of Social Security, Medicare and withheld income tax for April 2019. This is also the due date for the non-payroll withholding deposit for April 2019 if the monthly deposit rule applies.


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

Are You Missing a W-2?

Are You Missing a W-2?

Have you received all of your W-2s? These documents are essential for completing individual income tax returns, as they include the taxable amount of your wages and the amount withheld for federal and (if applicable) state income tax, along with pension plan and other information that is needed to prepare your return.

Read more

Tax Tips for IRA Owners

Tax Tips for IRA Owners

There are both opportunities and pitfalls for IRA owners, and while you definitely don’t want to get caught up in a pitfall, you may want to take advantage of the opportunities. IRAs come in two varieties: the traditional and the Roth. The traditional generally provides a tax deduction for a contribution and tax-deferred accumulation, with distributions being taxable. On the other hand, there is no tax deduction for making a Roth contribution, but the distributions are tax-free.

Read more

The Tax Filing Deadline Is Around the Corner

As a reminder to those who have not yet filed their 2018 tax returns, April 15, is the due date to either file a return (and pay the taxes owed) or file for an automatic six-month extension (and pay the an estimate of the taxes owed). Caution should be exercised when preparing the extension application, which is IRS Form 4868. Even though this form is described as “automatic,” the extension is automatically granted only if it includes a reasonable estimate of the 2018 tax liability and only if that anticipated liability is paid along with the extension voucher. It is not uncommon for taxpayers to enter zero as the estimated tax liability without figuring the actual estimated amount. These taxpayers risk the IRS classifying their forms as having been improperly completed, which in turn makes the extensions invalid. If you need an extension, please contact this office so that we can prepare a valid extension for you.

 

The extension must be filed in a timely manner; at this office, we can file your extension electronically before the due date. If you are mailing an extension, be advised that the envelope with the extension form must only be postmarked on or before the April 15 due date. However, there are inherent risks associated with dropping an extension form in a mailbox; for instance, the envelope might not be postmarked in a timely fashion. Thus, those who have estimated tax due should mail their extension forms using registered or certified mail so as not to risk late-filing penalties.

In addition, the April 15 deadline also applies to the following:

  • Balance-Due Payments for the 2018 Tax Year – Be aware that Form 4868 is an extension to file, NOT an extension to pay. The IRS will assess late-payment penalties (with interest) on any balance due, even when the extension has been granted. Taxpayers who anticipate having a balance due need to estimate this amount and include payment for that balance, either along with the extension request (as indicated above) or electronically (through the IRS website).
  • Contributions to a Roth or Traditional IRA for the 2018 Tax Year – April 15 is the last day for 2018 contributions to either a Roth or a traditional IRA. Form 4868 does not provide an extension for making IRA contributions.
  • Individual Estimated Tax Payments for the First Quarter of 2019 – Taxpayers – especially those who have filed for extension – should be aware that the first installment of estimated taxes for the 2019 tax year is due on April 15. Taxpayers who fail to prepay the minimum (“safe-harbor”) amount can be subject to a penalty for the 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.

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, there are two safe-harbor prepayments:

  1. The first safe-harbor prepayment is based on the tax owed on the current year’s return. There is no penalty when the prepayments (including both withholding and estimated payments) equal or exceed 90% the owed amount.
  2. The second safe-harbor prepayment is based on the total tax amount (not including credits for prepayments) on the return for the immediately 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.
  • Individual Refund Claims for the 2015 Tax Year – The regular three-year statute of limitations expires for the 2015 tax return on April 15 of this year. Thus, no refund will be granted for a 2015 return (original or amended) that is filed after April 15. 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 2015 tax year if they do not file before the statute of limitations ends. Caution: The statute does not apply to balances due for unfiled 2015 returns.

If your return is still pending because of missing information, please forward that information to this office as quickly as possible so that we can ensure that your return meets the April 15 deadline. Keep in mind that the last week of tax season is 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 April 15 deadline, then please let us know right away so that we can prepare an extension request (and 2019 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 and/or file an extension.


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

Defer Gains with Qualified Opportunity Funds

Defer Gains with Qualified Opportunity Funds

If you have a large capital gain from the sale of a stock, asset, or business and would like to defer that gain with the possibility of excluding some of it from taxation, you may want to check out the new investment vehicle created by tax reform, called a qualified opportunity fund (QOF).

Read more

Checking the Status of Your Federal Tax Refund Is Easy

Checking the Status of Your Federal Tax Refund Is Easy

If your 2018 federal return has already been filed and you are due a refund, you can check the status of your refund online.

Read more