Tax Tips and Alerts


May
5
2021
Why it’s important to meet the tax return filing and payment deadlines

The May 17 deadline for filing your 2020 individual tax return is coming up soon. It’s important to file and pay your tax return on time to avoid penalties imposed by the IRS. Here are the basic rules.

Failure to pay

Separate penalties apply for failing to pay and failing to file. The failure-to-pay penalty is 1/2% for each month (or partial month) the payment is late. For example, if payment is due May 17 and is made June 22, the penalty is 1% (1/2% times 2 months or partial months). The maximum penalty is 25%.

The failure-to-pay penalty is based on the amount shown as due on the return (less credits for amounts paid through withholding or estimated payments), even if the actual tax bill turns out to be higher. On the other hand, if the actual tax bill turns out to be lower, the penalty is based on the lower amount.

For example, if your payment is two months late and your return shows that you owe $5,000, the penalty is 1%, which equals $50. If you’re audited and your tax bill increases by another $1,000, the failure-to-pay penalty isn’t increased because it’s based on the amount shown on the return as due.

Failure to file

The failure-to-file penalty runs at a more severe rate of 5% per month (or partial month) of lateness to a maximum of 25%. If you obtain an extension to file (until October 15), you’re not filing late unless you miss the extended due date. However, a filing extension doesn’t apply to your responsibility for payment.

If the 1/2% failure-to-pay penalty and the failure-to-file penalty both apply, the failure-to-file penalty drops to 4.5% per month (or part) so the total combined penalty is 5%. The maximum combined penalty for the first five months is 25%. After that, the failure-to-pay penalty can continue at 1/2% per month for 45 more months (an additional 22.5%). Thus, the combined penalties could reach 47.5% over time.

The failure-to-file penalty is also more severe because it’s based on the amount required to be shown on the return, and not just the amount shown as due. (Credit is given for amounts paid via withholding or estimated payments. So if no amount is owed, there’s no penalty for late filing.) For example, if a return is filed three months late showing $5,000 owed (after payment credits), the combined penalties would be 15%, which equals $750. If the actual tax liability is later determined to be an additional $1,000, the failure to file penalty (4.5% × 3 = 13.5%) would also apply for an additional $135 in penalties.

A minimum failure to file penalty will also apply if you file your return more than 60 days late. This minimum penalty is the lesser of $210 or the tax amount required to be shown on the return.

Reasonable cause

Both penalties may be excused by IRS if lateness is due to “reasonable cause.” Typical qualifying excuses include death or serious illness in the immediate family and postal irregularities.

As you can see, filing and paying late can get expensive. Furthermore, in particularly abusive situations involving a fraudulent failure to file, the late filing penalty can reach 15% per month, with a 75% maximum. Contact us if you have questions.

© 2021

Apr
21
2021
Home sales: How to determine your “basis”

The housing market in many parts of the country is strong this spring. If you’re buying or selling a home, you should know how to determine your “basis.”

How it works

You can claim an itemized deduction on your tax return for real estate taxes and home mortgage interest. Most other home ownership costs can’t be deducted currently. However, these costs may increase your home’s “basis” (your cost for tax purposes). And a higher basis can save taxes when you sell.

The law allows an exclusion from income for all or part of the gain realized on the sale of your home. The general exclusion limit is $250,000 ($500,000 for married taxpayers). You may feel the exclusion amount makes keeping track of the basis relatively unimportant. Many homes today sell for less than $500,000. However, that reasoning doesn’t take into account what may happen in the future. If history is any indication, a home that’s owned for 20 or 30 years appreciates greatly. Thus, you want your basis to be as high as possible in order to avoid or reduce the tax that may result when you eventually sell.

Good recordkeeping

To prove the amount of your basis, keep accurate records of your purchase price, closing costs, and other expenses that increase your basis. Save receipts and other records for improvements and additions you make to the home. When you eventually sell, your basis will establish the amount of your gain. Keep the supporting documentation for at least three years after you file your return for the sale year.

Start with the purchase price

The main element in your home’s basis is the purchase price. This includes your down payment and any debt, such as a mortgage. It also includes certain settlement or closing costs. If you had your house built on land you own, your basis is the cost of the land plus certain costs to complete the house.

You add to the cost of your home expenses that you paid in connection with the purchase, including attorney’s fees, abstract fees, owner’s title insurance, recording fees and transfer taxes. The basis of your home is affected by expenses after a casualty to restore damaged property and depreciation if you used your home for business or rental purposes,

Over time, you may make additions and improvements to your home. Add the cost of these improvements to your basis. Improvements that add to your home’s basis include:

  • A room addition,
  • Finishing the basement,
  • A fence,
  • Storm windows or doors,
  • A new heating or central air conditioning system,
  • Flooring,
  • A new roof, and
  • Driveway paving.

Home expenses that don’t add much to the value or the property’s life are considered repairs, not improvements. Therefore, you can’t add them to the property’s basis. Repairs include painting, fixing gutters, repairing leaks and replacing broken windows. However, an entire job is considered an improvement if items that would otherwise be considered repairs are done as part of extensive remodeling.

The cost of appliances purchased for your home generally don’t add to your basis unless they are considered attached to the house. Thus, the cost of a built-in oven or range would increase basis. But an appliance that can be easily removed wouldn’t.

Plan for best results

Other rules and requirements may apply. We can help you plan for the best tax results involving your home’s basis.

© 2021

Apr
9
2021
Tax advantages of hiring your child at your small business

As a business owner, you should be aware that you can save family income and payroll taxes by putting your child on the payroll.

Here are some considerations. 

Shifting business earnings

You can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income by shifting some business earnings to a child as wages for services performed. In order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.

For example, suppose you’re a sole proprietor in the 37% tax bracket. You hire your 16-year-old son to help with office work full-time in the summer and part-time in the fall. He earns $10,000 during the year (and doesn’t have other earnings). You can save $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to your son, who can use his $12,550 standard deduction for 2021 to shelter his earnings.

Family taxes are cut even if your son’s earnings exceed his standard deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to him beginning at a 10% rate, instead of being taxed at your higher rate.

Income tax withholding

Your business likely will have to withhold federal income taxes on your child’s wages. Usually, an employee can claim exempt status if he or she had no federal income tax liability for last year and expects to have none this year.

However, exemption from withholding can’t be claimed if: 1) the employee’s income exceeds $1,100 for 2021 (and includes more than $350 of unearned income), and 2) the employee can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return.

Keep in mind that your child probably will get a refund for part or all of the withheld tax when filing a return for the year.

Social Security tax savings  

If your business isn’t incorporated, you can also save some Social Security tax by shifting some of your earnings to your child. That’s because services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent isn’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes.

A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA (unemployment) tax, which exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 employed by a parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting only of his or her parents.

Note: There’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or is a partnership that includes non-parent partners. However, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work you’d pay someone else to do.

Retirement benefits

Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement savings, depending on your plan and how it defines qualifying employees. For example, if you have a SEP plan, a contribution can be made for the child up to 25% of his or her earnings (not to exceed $58,000 for 2021).

Contact us if you have any questions about these rules in your situation. Keep in mind that some of the rules about employing children may change from year to year and may require your income-shifting strategies to change too.

© 2021

Apr
7
2021
Who qualifies for “head of household” tax filing status?

When you file your tax return, you must check one of the following filing statuses: Single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household or qualifying widow(er). Who qualifies to file a return as a head of household, which is more favorable than single?

To qualify, you must maintain a household, which for more than half the year, is the principal home of a “qualifying child” or other relative of yours whom you can claim as a dependent (unless you only qualify due to the multiple support rules).

A qualifying child?

A child is considered qualifying if he or she:

  • Lives in your home for more than half the year,
  • Is your child, stepchild, adopted child, foster child, sibling stepsibling (or a descendant of any of these),
  • Is under age 19 (or a student under 24), and
  • Doesn’t provide over half of his or her own support for the year.

If a child’s parents are divorced, the child will qualify if he meets these tests for the custodial parent — even if that parent released his or her right to a dependency exemption for the child to the noncustodial parent.

A person isn’t a “qualifying child” if he or she is married and can’t be claimed by you as a dependent because he or she filed jointly or isn’t a U.S. citizen or resident. Special “tie-breaking” rules apply if the individual can be a qualifying child of (and is claimed as such by) more than one taxpayer.

Maintaining a household

You’re considered to “maintain a household” if you live in the home for the tax year and pay over half the cost of running it. In measuring the cost, include house-related expenses incurred for the mutual benefit of household members, including property taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, insurance on the property, repairs and upkeep, and food consumed in the home. Don’t include items such as medical care, clothing, education, life insurance or transportation.

Special rule for parents

Under a special rule, you can qualify as head of household if you maintain a home for a parent of yours even if you don’t live with the parent. To qualify under this rule, you must be able to claim the parent as your dependent.

Marital status

You must be unmarried to claim head of household status. If you’re unmarried because you’re widowed, you can use the married filing jointly rates as a “surviving spouse” for two years after the year of your spouse’s death if your dependent child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child lives with you and you “maintain” the household. The joint rates are more favorable than the head of household rates.

If you’re married, you must file either as married filing jointly or separately, not as head of household. However, if you’ve lived apart from your spouse for the last six months of the year and your dependent child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child lives with you and you “maintain” the household, you’re treated as unmarried. If this is the case, you can qualify as head of household.

We can answer questions if you’d like to discuss a particular situation or would like additional information about whether someone qualifies as your dependent.

© 2021

Apr
5
2021
From FFCRA to ARPA: the latest on paid COVID-related leave

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was among the first major laws enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It allows employees paid sick time and paid family leave time to care for themselves or loved ones during the ongoing public health crisis. In turn, eligible employers can claim tax credits to offset the costs of providing the leave.

FFCRA paid leave has been subject to various guidance over the past year, and the rules have changed yet again under the recently signed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Changes under the ARPA apply to amounts paid during calendar quarters beginning after March 31, 2021. Here are some highlights:

  • The FFCRA paid sick time and paid family leave credits have been extended from March 31, 2021, through September 30, 2021.
  • Paid sick and paid family leave credits may each be increased by the employer’s share of Social Security tax (6.2%) and employer’s share of Medicare tax (1.45%) on qualified leave wages.
  • Credits for paid sick and family leave can be structured as a refundable payroll tax credit against Medicare tax only (1.45%), beginning after March 31, 2021.
  • The amount of wages for which an employer may claim the paid family leave credit in a year has increased from $10,000 to $12,000 per employee.
  • The paid family leave credit has been expanded to allow employers to claim the credit for leave provided for the reasons included under the previous employer mandate for paid sick time. For the self-employed, the number of days for which individuals can claim the paid family leave credit has been increased from 50 to 60 days.
  • The paid sick and family leave credit can be claimed by employers who provide paid time off for employees to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination or recover from an illness related to the immunization.
  • The paid sick and family leave credit has been increased by the cost of the employer’s qualified health plan expenses. It has also been increased by the employer’s collectively bargained contributions to a defined benefit pension plan (as defined under the tax code) and the amount of collectively bargained apprenticeship program contributions.
  • A nondiscrimination requirement has been established whereby no credit will be permitted to any employer who discriminates in favor of highly compensated employees (as defined under the tax code), full-time employees or other employees on the basis of employment tenure.
  • The 10-day limitation on the maximum number of days for which an employer can claim the paid sick leave credit with respect to wages paid to an employee has been reset. The current 10-day limitation runs from the start of the credits in 2020 through March 31, 2021. For the self-employed, the 10-day reset applies to sick days after January 1, 2021.

The paid leave originally introduced under the FFCRA and now updated under the ARPA remains an important relief measure for employers and employees alike. 

© 2021

Mar
31
2021
Need a new business vehicle? Consider a heavy SUV

Are you considering buying or replacing a vehicle that you’ll use in your business? If you choose a heavy sport utility vehicle (SUV), you may be able to benefit from lucrative tax rules for those vehicles.

Bonus depreciation 

Under current law, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that’s acquired and placed in service in a calendar year. New and pre-owned heavy SUVs, pickups and vans acquired and put to business use in 2021 are eligible for 100% first-year bonus depreciation. The only requirement is that you must use the vehicle more than 50% for business. If your business usage is between 51% and 99%, you can deduct that percentage of the cost in the first year the vehicle is placed in service. This generous tax break is available for qualifying vehicles that are acquired and placed in service through December 31, 2022.

The 100% first-year bonus depreciation write-off will reduce your federal income tax bill and self-employment tax bill, if applicable. You might get a state tax income deduction, too. 

Weight requirement

This option is available only if the manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is above 6,000 pounds. You can verify a vehicle’s GVWR by looking at the manufacturer’s label, usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door where the door hinges meet the frame.

Note: These tax benefits are subject to adjustment for non-business use. And if business use of an SUV doesn’t exceed 50% of total use, the SUV won’t be eligible for the expensing election, and would have to be depreciated on a straight-line method over a six-tax-year period.

Detailed, contemporaneous expense records are essential — in case the IRS questions your heavy vehicle’s claimed business-use percentage.

That means you’ll need to keep track of the miles you’re driving for business purposes, compared to the vehicle’s total mileage for the year. Recordkeeping is much simpler today, now that there are apps and mobile technology you can use. Or simply keep a small calendar or mileage log in your car and record details as business trips occur.

If you’re considering buying an eligible vehicle, doing so and placing it in service before the end of this tax year could deliver a big write-off on your 2021 tax return. Before signing a sales contract, consult with us to help evaluate the right tax moves for your business.

© 2021

Mar
29
2021
Is an S corporation the best choice of entity for your business?

Are you thinking about launching a business with some partners and wondering what type of entity to form? An S corporation may be the most suitable form of business for your new venture. Here’s an explanation of the reasons why.

The biggest advantage of an S corporation over a partnership is that as S corporation shareholders, you won’t be personally liable for corporate debts. In order to receive this protection, it’s important that the corporation be adequately financed, that the existence of the corporation as a separate entity be maintained and that various formalities required by your state be observed (for example, filing articles of incorporation, adopting by-laws, electing a board of directors and holding organizational meetings).

Anticipating losses

If you expect that the business will incur losses in its early years, an S corporation is preferable to a C corporation from a tax standpoint. Shareholders in a C corporation generally get no tax benefit from such losses. In contrast, as S corporation shareholders, each of you can deduct your percentage share of these losses on your personal tax returns to the extent of your basis in the stock and in any loans you make to the entity. Losses that can’t be deducted because they exceed your basis are carried forward and can be deducted by you when there’s sufficient basis.

Once the S corporation begins to earn profits, the income will be taxed directly to you whether or not it’s distributed. It will be reported on your individual tax return and be aggregated with income from other sources. To the extent the income is passed through to you as qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the 20% pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations. Your share of the S corporation’s income won’t be subject to self-employment tax, but your wages will be subject to Social Security taxes.

Are you planning to provide fringe benefits such as health and life insurance? If so, you should be aware that the costs of providing such benefits to a more than 2% shareholder are deductible by the entity but are taxable to the recipient.

Be careful with S status

Also be aware that the S corporation could inadvertently lose its S status if you or your partners transfers stock to an ineligible shareholder such as another corporation, a partnership or a nonresident alien. If the S election were terminated, the corporation would become a taxable entity. You would not be able to deduct any losses and earnings could be subject to double taxation — once at the corporate level and again when distributed to you. In order to protect you against this risk, it’s a good idea for each of you to sign an agreement promising not to make any transfers that would jeopardize the S election.

Consult with us before finalizing your choice of entity. We can answer any questions you have and assist in launching your new venture.

© 2021

Mar
26
2021
New law tax break may make child care less expensive

The new American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides eligible families with an enhanced child and dependent care credit for 2021. This is the credit available for expenses a taxpayer pays for the care of qualifying children under the age of 13 so that the taxpayer can be gainfully employed.

Note that a credit reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar.

Who qualifies?

For care to qualify for the credit, the expenses must be “employment-related.” In other words, they must enable you and your spouse to work. In addition, they must be for the care of your child, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister or step-sibling (or a descendant of any of these), who’s under 13, lives in your home for over half the year, and doesn’t provide over half of his or her own support for the year. The expenses can also be for the care of your spouse or dependent who’s handicapped and lives with you for over half the year.

The typical expenses that qualify for the credit are payments to a day care center, nanny or nursery school. Sleep-away camp doesn’t qualify. The cost of kindergarten or higher grades doesn’t qualify because it’s an education expense. However, the cost of before and after school programs may qualify.

To claim the credit, married couples must file a joint return. You must also provide the caregiver’s name, address and Social Security number (or tax ID number for a day care center or nursery school). You also must include on the return the Social Security number(s) of the children receiving the care.

The 2021 credit is refundable as long as either you or your spouse has a principal residence in the U.S. for more than half of the tax year.

What are the limits?

When calculating the credit, several limits apply. First, qualifying expenses are limited to the income you or your spouse earn from work, self-employment, or certain disability and retirement benefits — using the figure for whichever of you earns less. Under this limitation, if one of you has no earned income, you aren’t entitled to any credit. However, in some cases, if one spouse has no actual earned income and that spouse is a full-time student or disabled, the spouse is considered to have monthly income of $250 (for one qualifying individual) or $500 (for two or more qualifying individuals).

For 2021, the first $8,000 of care expenses generally qualifies for the credit if you have one qualifying individual, or $16,000 if you have two or more. (These amounts have increased significantly from $3,000 and $6,000, respectively.) However, if your employer has a dependent care assistance program under which you receive benefits excluded from gross income, the qualifying expense limits ($8,000 or $16,000) are reduced by the excludable amounts you receive.

How much is the credit worth?

If your AGI is $125,000 or less, the maximum credit amount is $4,000 for taxpayers with one qualifying individual and $8,000 for taxpayers with two or more qualifying individuals. The credit phases out under a complicated formula. For taxpayers with an AGI greater than $440,000, it’s phased out completely.

These are the essential elements of the enhanced child and dependent care credit in 2021 under the new law. Contact us if you have questions.

© 2021

Mar
22
2021
Business highlights in the new American Rescue Plan Act

President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on March 11. While the new law is best known for the provisions providing relief to individuals, there are also several tax breaks and financial benefits for businesses.

Here are some of the tax highlights of the ARPA.

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC). This valuable tax credit is extended from June 30 until December 31, 2021. The ARPA continues the ERC rate of credit at 70% for this extended period of time. It also continues to allow for up to $10,000 in qualified wages for any calendar quarter. Taking into account the Consolidated Appropriations Act extension and the ARPA extension, this means an employer can potentially have up to $40,000 in qualified wages per employee through 2021.

Employer-Provided Dependent Care Assistance. In general, an eligible employee’s gross income doesn’t include amounts paid or incurred by an employer for dependent care assistance provided to the employee under a qualified dependent care assistance program (DCAP).

Previously, the amount that could be excluded from an employee’s gross income under a DCAP during a tax year wasn’t more than $5,000 ($2,500 for married individuals filing separately), subject to certain limitations. However, any contribution made by an employer to a DCAP can’t exceed the employee’s earned income or, if married, the lesser of employee’s or spouse’s earned income.

Under the ARPA, for 2021 only, the exclusion for employer-provided dependent care assistance is increased from $5,000 to $10,500 (from $2,500 to $5,250 for married individuals filing separately).

This provision is effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2020.

Paid Sick and Family Leave Credits. Changes under the ARPA apply to amounts paid with respect to calendar quarters beginning after March 31, 2021. Among other changes, the law extends the paid sick time and paid family leave credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act from March 31, 2021, through September 30, 2021. It also provides that paid sick and paid family leave credits may each be increased by the employer’s share of Social Security tax (6.2%) and employer’s share of Medicare tax (1.45%) on qualified leave wages.

Grants to restaurants. Under the ARPA, eligible restaurants, food trucks, and similar businesses that provide food and drinks may receive restaurant revitalization grants from the Small Business Administration. For tax purposes, amounts received as restaurant revitalization grants aren’t included in the gross income of the person who receives the money.

Much more

These are only some of the provisions in the ARPA. There are many others that may be beneficial to your business. Contact us for more information about your situation.

© 2021

Mar
19
2021
New law: Parents and other eligible Americans to receive direct payments

The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law on March 11, provides a variety of tax and financial relief to help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the many initiatives are direct payments that will be made to eligible individuals. And parents under certain income thresholds will also receive additional payments in the coming months through a greatly revised Child Tax Credit.

Here are some answers to questions about these payments.

What are the two types of payments?

Under the new law, eligible individuals will receive advance direct payments of a tax credit. The law calls these payments “recovery rebates.” The law also includes advance Child Tax Credit payments to eligible parents later this year.

How much are the recovery rebates?

An eligible individual is allowed a 2021 income tax credit, which will generally be paid in advance through direct bank deposit or a paper check. The full amount is $1,400 ($2,800 for eligible married joint filers) plus $1,400 for each dependent.

Who is eligible?

There are several requirements but the most important is income on your most recently filed tax return. Full payments are available to those with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of less than $75,000 ($150,000 for married joint filers and $112,500 for heads of households). Your AGI can be found on page 1 of Form 1040.

The credit phases out and is no longer available to taxpayers with AGIs of more than $80,000 ($160,000 for married joint filers and $120,000 for heads of households).

Who isn’t eligible?

Among those who aren’t eligible are nonresident aliens, individuals who are the dependents of other taxpayers, estates and trusts.

How has the Child Tax Credit changed?

Before the new law, the Child Tax Credit was $2,000 per “qualifying child.” Under the new law, the credit is increased to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under age 6 as of the end of the year). But the increased 2021 credit amounts are phased out at modified AGIs of over $75,000 for singles ($150,000 for joint filers and $112,500 for heads of households).

A qualifying child before the new law was defined as an under-age-17 child, whom the taxpayer could claim as a dependent. The $2,000 Child Tax Credit was phased out for taxpayers with modified AGIs of over $400,000 for joint filers, and $200,000 for other filers.

Under the new law, for 2021, the definition of a qualifying child for purposes of the Child Tax Credit includes one who hasn’t turned 18 by the end of this year. So 17-year-olds qualify for the credit for 2021 only.

How are parents going to receive direct payments of the Child Tax Credit this year?

Unlike in the past, you don’t have to wait to file your tax return to fully benefit from the credit. The new law directs the IRS to establish a program to make monthly advance payments equal to 50% of eligible taxpayers’ 2021 Child Tax Credits. These payments will be made from July through December 2021.

What if my income is above the amounts listed above?

Taxpayers who aren’t eligible to claim an increased Child Tax Credit, because their incomes are too high, may be able to claim a regular credit of up to $2,000 on their 2021 tax returns, subject to the existing phaseout rules.

Much more

There are other rules and requirements involving these payments. This article only describes the basics. Stay tuned for additional details about other tax breaks in the new law.

© 2021

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