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Enter California at Your Own Risk (for business, at least)

California can be a great market for selling goods with its large and diverse population. However, entering this market is fraught with additional tax requirements and fees. For instance, Corporations are taxed at 8.84% in additional to their minimum $800 yearly minimum franchise tax. Additionally, pass-through entities such as S Corporations are taxed at 1.5% plus an $800 yearly fee and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) must pay taxes ranging from $800 to $6,800 each year. If you’re an individual residing in California this pass-through income is then taxed again at up to 13.3%, the highest state income tax rate in the country!

It can come as a surprise to some businesses with no sales or business assets in California that there could still be a filing requirement and of course tax due. For instance if a business is headquartered in any state such as Nevada or Arizona, performs all work in their home state, but makes the mistake of hiring some employees that reside in California, then they are considered “doing business” in California. If California considers that you are doing business in their state then tax filings and minimum fees are required. Another example is if you’re a Nevada LLC that has a small ownership in a California company that could also be considered doing business in California.

Most of the time selling goods profitably in California are worth the extra expense and headaches. An individual can easily avoid having all their income, including social security, pensions, business income from outside California, or investment income being taxed by California by becoming a nonresident. There are many tests that California uses to determine if a person is a resident of California. The main qualifiers to be classified as a nonresident and avoid California’s onerous taxes, are to spend less than six months in California, keep your main home outside of California and moving various business contacts, bank accounts, automobile registrations, and professional services such as your CPA outside of the State.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has done a stellar job of removing all or part of the “deduction” from the Meals and Entertainment Deduction.

Entertainment Expenses

Business related entertainment deductions turned out to be a big loser when the dust settled after the passage of the TCJA in late December 2017. Entertainment expenses were hit particularly hard as the TCJA completely eliminates the deduction for entertainment expenses (including food purchases), for activities such as taking clients or prospective clients to concerts, movies, the theater, sporting events or amusement parks. The Act also eliminates deductions for amounts paid for memberships in any club organized for business, pleasure, recreation or social purposes.

One entertainment expense that did survive the new law is expenses employers incur for recreational, social, or similar activities primarily for the benefit of employees, such as expenses incurred for an annual holiday party or summer outing or picnic.

Meal Expenses

Businesses are allowed a 50% deduction for amounts paid for meals in conjunction with the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business. However, we must take note of two changes made by the new tax act relating to meals.

First, a definition for “business meal” has been removed, and meals provided to employees traveling on business are still deductible at 50%. However, beginning in 2018 through the end of 2025, the cost of meals provided for the convenience of the employer, such as meals provided to employees who need to be available throughout the mealtime, are only deductible at 50%. Prior to TCJA these types of meals were deductible at 100%. Also, the new tax law expands the definition of meals for the convenience of the employer subject to the 50% limitation to include meals provided in the employer’s on-site dining facility. Further, beginning in 2026, no deduction will be allowed for meals for the convenience of the employer and for the cost, including meals, of operating an on-site dining facility.

Let’s Look on the Bright Side

While the new law ratchets down on the meals and entertainment deduction that we have become used to over the years, the deduction does survive in some forms. While customers and clients will likely enjoy fewer trips to the ball field or concert venue, employees should continue to look forward to a nice summer picnic and festive holiday party with their coworkers.

 

One of the changes to itemized deductions because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was the suspension of the deduction on interest on up to $100,000 of home equity indebtedness. The Internal Revenue Service announced that in many cases taxpayers will be able to continue deducting interest paid on home equity loans.

Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers were able to deduct interest on up to $1 million in mortgage debt and also up to $100,000 of home equity debt. Under the new law, taxpayers are now limited to $750,000 of home acquisition debt with no separate carve out for home equity debt. However, tax filers with mortgage debt taken out prior to December 14, 2017, are still allowed to deduct interest on up to $1 million in mortgage debt (not inclusive of home equity debt).

So, how do you determine if interest on home equity debt is deductible for tax years beginning after 2017? Here are a couple of guidelines:

It is good to see that interest on home equity debt is still available for deduction. Check the IRS’ announcement for some examples to illustrate the new limits.

On December 20, the House approved H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a sweeping tax reform measure. While much still needs to be determined for tax planning opportunities, we can look at the new income tax rates and how they compare to the pre-Act law.

 

2017 2018
Single
Up to 9,325.00 10.0% Up to 9,525.00 10.0%
Up to 37,950.00 15.0% Up to 38,700.00 12.0%
Up to 91,900.00 25.0% Up to 82,500.00 22.0%
Up to 191,650.00 28.0% Up to 157,500.00 24.0%
Up to 416,700.00 33.0% Up to 200,000.00 32.0%
Up to 418,400.00 35.0% Up to 500,000.00 35.0%
Over 418,400.00 39.6% Over 500,000.00 37.0%
MFJ
Up to 18,650.00 10.0% Up to 19,050.00 10.0%
Up to 75,900.00 15.0% Up to 77,400.00 12.0%
Up to 153,100.00 25.0% Up to 165,000.00 22.0%
Up to 233,350.00 28.0% Up to 315,000.00 24.0%
Up to 416,700.00 33.0% Up to 400,000.00 32.0%
Up to 470,700.00 35.0% Up to 600,000.00 35.0%
Over 470,700.00 39.6% Over 600,000.00 37.0%
As you can see, the majority of the tax rates are lower, where we start to see some discrepancies is when we get to Single filers making over $200,000. With the pre-tax law, an individual making in the range of $200,000 – $420,000, will be taxed at a 33% marginal rate. Under the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”, a single person making between $200,000-$420,000 will be taxed at a 35% marginal rate. It appears on its face that these individuals will be paying more in taxes. So let’s look at the real world numbers.

It isn’t until we get to $387,000 where we see the 2018 tax surpass that of the 2017 tax rates. From this point on there is a window of taxpayers (Single filers) who make between $387,000 and $417,000 who, with no other changes, will see their taxes go up for 2018. For the remaining filers, it appears that for the next 8 years you should see a tax rate decrease.

 

 

 

Having just lost my mother this year, there were many lessons I learned.

My mother did not have much in assets when she passed away but she did get a will prepared several years ago. I would strongly encourage that you make sure your parents have a will or trust in place and that you are informed as to their intentions. This can sometimes be a difficult conversation. My mother was 95 years old when she passed away and I was still struggling to get her to even bring up the subject of the eventuality of her death. Not until she was under the care of Hospice did she start informing me of what she wanted done with some of her personal effects.

My mother was a hoarder and had lived in her home for 46 years. One of the things she told me a few weeks before her death was that she felt bad for my husband who would have to deal with all of her things. As it turns out I am the one dealing with all of her things. Note to self – Do not do this to your kids. After this experience I am determined not to leave a mess for my children. My sister shared a Facebook post with me – ‘Death Cleaning’ is the newest way to declutter. Many are decluttering to save their loved ones stress down the road. Highly recommended.

In connection with my going through her things, I have found there is much that I wished we had talked about. Photos found that look precious and old that I don’t know anything about. I always wanted to make time to go through memories with her but never did. This is one of my deepest regrets. Find the time to spend with your parents to document these memories.

And finally, make sure you don’t make any tough decisions until you have had time to get through the grieving process. I was surprised at how hard her death hit me, even though as I said she was 95, and I knew it was eventually going to happen. Make sure you have a support team to help you through any immediate decisions you have to make. I was fortunate to have my daughter and husband with me that first week when I was making arrangements. It was difficult to make even what you would think are easy decisions.

When you lose a loved one, reach out to your Trusted Advisor when you are looking to make any financial decisions. This could be your attorney, financial advisor, or your CPA. I am now a firm believer that you should also have a family or friend support member of your team. Decisions are hard when you are grieving. Take the time to heal. And reach for support.

 

It may not be the first thing on everyone’s mind as we head in to the holiday season but for your local CPA, taxes are certainly on the mind. Year end tax planning is always a good idea for a proactive business owner or individual but this year it may be even more important than ever with tax reform coming down the pipeline.

You can’t open a newspaper lately without seeing talks about tax reform. The back and forth and uncertainties surrounding tax legislation is making for an entertaining situation for your local tax nerd. Both the House and Senate have their own plans that are changing by the second; odds are the analysis you read one day will completely change a week later and many details we are hearing about now may be totally different by the time legislation comes across the President’s desk (if that even happens). As your average everyday business owner and taxpayer, you care about the financial well being of you and your company, but chances are you don’t have the time or patience to keep up on the constant changes happening on Capitol Hill. While you may not think any legislation will affect you in the short term, you may be wrong and there may be moves you need to make by the end of 2017.

With uncertainty in the air and the year quickly coming to an end, right now is a great time to get in touch with your accountant. We can educate you about tax reform and its specific effects on you, and help you make sure you make the right moves by year end. Having a good CPA as part of your advisory team is an invaluable resource during times like this.

 

It’s only November but there’s still time to make the filing of your 2017 tax return less taxing in 2018.

Withholding and Estimated Taxes. Make sure enough taxes are withheld to avoid surprises at tax time. Generally taxes are withheld from wages and other income such as pensions, bonuses, commissions and gambling winnings. Taxpayers with interest, dividends, capital gains, rents and royalties will usually make additional tax payments by making estimated tax payments. Self-employed individuals who do not pay tax through withholding will also pay estimated taxes.

  1. Employees starting a new job must fill out a Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Use the IRS Withholding Calculator to figure out how much tax to withhold.
  2. Taxpayers expecting to owe $1,000, or more than taxes that are withheld, will need to make estimated tax payments to avoid penalties.
  3. Martial status changes, birth of a child or the purchase of a home may change the amount of taxes a taxpayer owes. Employees should submit a new Form W-4 to their employer when necessary.

Name changes. Taxpayers with name changes due to a marital status change should notify the Social Security Administration. SSA should also be notified if there’s a name change for a dependent. Notifying the SSA with name changes will ensure that the new name on the tax return matches the SSA records to avoid any delay in the processing.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers. Taxpayers who use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers which have expired or are due to expire should apply to renew their ITIN to avoid processing delays next year. A Form W-7 must be completed as well as submission of original or certified copies of identity documents to renew an ITIN.

With the passing of another tax deadline, I thought it would be helpful to go over the consequences of not filing your tax return on time. If you have not filed your 2016 tax return, file it as soon as possible to minimize the penalties that you may owe.

There are three types of payments that could be assessed if you do not pay the tax owed on time. These are late filing penalties, late payment penalties, and interest.

If you owe taxes and don’t file your tax return or extension by the original due date, or if you filed an extension but fail to file your return by the extension due date you will be subject to late filing penalties.

The late filing penalty is 5% of the tax owed for every month your return is late, up to a maximum of 25%. If you fail to file your return for over 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the lesser of $205 (for 2016) or 100% of the unpaid tax due.

Late payment penalties could be assessed if you do not pay all of the taxes you owe. These apply if you do not pay all of the taxes owed by the original due date, regardless of whether or not you filed an extension. The late filing penalty is 0.5% of the tax owed for each month the tax remains unpaid, up to a maximum of 25%.

If both penalties apply to you the monthly penalty would be 5%, up to maximum penalty of 25%.

You will also be charged interest on any unpaid taxes starting the day after the return’s due date.

If you correctly expect to get a refund there is no penalty. You have three years to file from the due date or you will no longer be eligible for your refund.

 

 

Recently I had the delight to visit Graceland, Elvis Presley’s former home and now an excellent place to reflect on Elvis’ life and get taken back in time to the 1970s. There I viewed many of Elvis’ cars including his pink Cadillac, a couple Rolls Royce’s and Mercedes, Lincolns and his Ferrari. His home was just how he left it back in 1977 with his dozen TVs scattered throughout the home, shag carpeting and roof, the colorful kitchen, his dad’s old office, and many other furnishings that were a flashback to the 70s.

As a CPA and tax guy, I was also fascinated with the financial documents that were displayed detailing many of Elvis’ large purchases and even his dad’s tax return after he was born showing he paid 1% tax on his income . Elvis must have trusted his dad immensely as there were dozens of checks signed by Elvis’ father Vernon as Vernon took care of all of his son’s finances. This is surprising given that Vernon spent a year in jail during Elvis’s childhood for check forgery and only had an eighth grade education.

Elvis would have benefited immensely if he would have utilized a CPA to assist his dad in tax planning and financial management. Even though Elvis was the largest U.S. taxpayer in 1973 and the highest paid entertainer for many years, he died with an estate worth “only” $10.2 million dollars. Apparently Elvis didn’t like to utilize pertinent tax deductions and had a horrible deal with his manager Colonel Tom Parker, who received over 50% of Elvis’ earnings . Parker even convinced Vernon to pay him 50% of the income from the Elvis’ estate after he died! With this mismanagement, Elvis’ estate lost $9 million in value over two years, and was only worth $1 million in 1979.

Many lessons can be learned with Elvis, but one financially is the importance of trusts for estate planning in which attorneys can be invaluable and utilizing competent and qualified CPAs to assist with tax, estate and financial planning.

In September of 2016, the IRS announced that it would start using private debt collectors to recover certain overdue federal tax debts in the spring of 2017. To implement this new program, the IRS contracted with four private collection agencies: CBE Group, Conserve, Performant, and Pioneer. In carrying out their collection efforts, these four companies are required to respect taxpayer rights and obey the consumer protection regulations established in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

How does this new program work?

Considering the continual mail and phone scams that keep emerging, the IRS Commissioner warned taxpayers to be alert for new scams related to this program. When a taxpayer’s account is transferred to a private debt collection agency, the IRS will give the taxpayer written notice of the transfer. In addition, the private collection agency will then send a second, separate letter to the taxpayer verifying this transfer. The private collection agency will not ask for payments to be made on a prepaid debit card or for checks to be made out to the collection agency. All checks should be made payable to the U.S. Treasury. The IRS emphasized that even with private debt collection, taxpayers should not be receiving phone calls from the IRS insisting on immediate payment. The IRS always mails multiple collection notices before making phone calls.

There are several types of accounts that the IRS will not transfer to private collection agencies. Some of these accounts include taxpayers who are deceased, in designated combat zones, victims of identity theft, or in presidentially declared disaster areas and requesting relief from collection. If a taxpayer does not want to work with a private collection agency appointed to his or her account, he or she must notify the private collection agency in writing. Also, the IRS urges taxpayers who are unsure if they have unpaid taxes due from a previous year to check their account balances on www.irs.gov/balancedue.

For more information on private debt collection visit the Private Debt Collection page on the IRS website.

 





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