By Erika Hoppe, CPA, JD firstname.lastname@example.org
Each year, the Statistics of Income Division of the IRS compiles data and produces a wide range of statistics measuring various components of the U.S. tax system. With the federal estate tax exemption increasing from $5,490,000 ($10,980,000 for married couples) in 2017 to $11,200,000 ($22,400,000 for married couples) in 2018 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, fewer estate tax returns are expected to be filed in the future. While it is true that fewer taxpayers will be subject to the estate tax, there are many other reasons why estate planning remains important. One example is charitable giving.
The most recent statistics published by the IRS regarding charitable giving are from 2016. For tax purposes, there were 12,411 estates worth $192,218,976,000 gross across the country with 2,718 charitable bequests totaling $19,296,922,000 gross. California had the highest number of estates, specifically, 2,419 estates worth $38,300,167,000 gross with 454 charitable bequests totaling $4,599,647,000 gross. Florida came in second with 1,451 estates worth $32,881,907,000 gross with 334 charitable bequests totaling $1,662,045,000 gross. The state with the fewest number of estates was Alaska, which had 18 estates worth $236,663,000 gross. Since there were so few estates, the IRS did not release information on charitable bequests to protect individual taxpayer data. Vermont had the highest ratio of charitable bequests to gross estates with 17 charitable bequests totaling $92,387,000 gross and 41 gross estates worth $378,858,000.
To see these statistics as well as prior year statistics on charitable bequests by state of residence, click here. To find additional statistics relating to other areas of the tax system, visit the IRS website.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was approved by Congress and signed into law on December 22, 2017. It provides drastic changes to the Internal Revenue Code and affects taxpayers of all different types, including individuals, corporations, partnerships, estates, and trusts. Following are some of the key changes with regard to trusts and estates.
Prior to the TCJA, there were five tax brackets for trusts. The TCJA eliminated one tax bracket and decreased the overall tax rates for each bracket, reducing the top tax rate for trusts from 39.6% to 37%. Under the new law, if taxable income is:
Not over $2,550, the tax is 10% of taxable income;
Over $2,550 but not over $9,150, the tax is $255 plus 24% of the excess over $2,550;
Over $9,150 but not over $12,500, the tax is $1,839 plus 35% of the excess over $9,150;
Over $12,500, the tax is $3,011.50 plus 37% of the excess over $12,500.
While the overall tax rates are now reduced, the tax brackets are still very compressed with the top tax rate taking effect at $12,500.
The TCJA did not change the exemption amounts for trusts and estates. Estates, simple trusts, and complex trusts are still allowed a $600, $300, $100 exemption, respectively.
There are additional changes to trusts and estates under the TCJA, such as the deductibility of some expenses. For instance, trusts and estates are no longer able to deduct miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of AGI limitation, such as investment management fees. For additional changes under the TCJA, check the IRS website.
A few weeks ago, the Internal Revenue Service issued a notice stating they would be preparing regulations and guidance to clarify the treatment of income re-characterized for purposes of working around the new $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. So far, several states including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have passed legislation designed to enable high-income taxpayers to bypass the cap, with legislation pending elsewhere. In the notice, the IRS emphasized the “substance over form” doctrine, meaning they care about the actual substance of a payment, and not the name or form it may be given.
While the direct guidance remains to be seen, this is clearly bad news for the charitable contributions in lieu of taxes approach that California was looking into to, and will greatly reduce the itemized deductions of CA residents for 2018. The IRS has made clear in this notice that it is concerned with whether a payment is made in satisfaction of a tax liability, and not whether it is re-characterized in some other way. The impact on other workarounds, such as New York’s optional payroll tax swap or Connecticut’s entity-level tax swap, is not immediately clear, though both approaches could be at risk as well.
We should continue to practice skepticism of any SALT deduction cap avoidance schemes until we receive the IRS guidance. Most agree that existing statutes, case law, and regulations are fairly clear on this matter and states have just muddied the waters. Formal IRS guidance will help protect taxpayers, so hopefully they do not rely on state-endorsed strategies, which could result in penalties and increased liability.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Tax Cut and Jobs Act – How does it affect non-corporate taxpayers with business income?
The Tax Cut and Jobs Act decreased the tax rate for corporations from graduated rates of up to 35% to a flat rate of 21% beginning after December 31, 2017. The Act also added a 20% deduction for non-corporate taxpayer with domestic qualified business income from sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC) and S corporations, effective for tax years after December 31, 2017 and before January 1, 2026.
The 20% deduction is allowed as a deduction reducing taxable income and not allowed in computing adjusted gross income. The deduction is limited to the greater of:
The 20% deduction is also limited to qualified non-personal service businesses income. Qualified non-personal service income is defined as the net amount of domestic qualified items of income, deduction and loss from trade or business other than health, law, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services or any business where the main asset of the business is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees or owners.
The above limitations do not apply for taxpayers with taxable income below the “threshold amount” ($315,000 for couples filing jointly, $157,000 for other individuals). The 20% deduction is phased in for individuals with taxable income exceeding the threshold amount, over the next $100,000 of taxable income for married individuals filing jointly, $50,000 for other individuals.
Basically, non-corporate taxpayers with taxable income below the $157,000 or $315,000 threshold may generally claim the full 20% deduction. Non-corporate taxpayers with taxable income above the threshold with non-personal service business income may claim the deduction, but may be limited by the wage and capital limit exception or may be completely phased out.
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.
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.
Between Hurricane Harvey, the fast-approaching Hurricane Irma and the various wildfires ravaging the west, unfortunately natural disasters have been all too common this summer.
The last thing on anyone’s mind living in those areas is taxes, but nonetheless, there are various tax aspects of a disaster that people should be aware of. Fortunately, this is one area that the IRS makes rapid decisions to help those in need. Below is a sampling of the latest relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey from the IRS. Those impacted by disasters should check the IRS’s page frequently as other disasters may get similar relief from the IRS in the near future.
Finally, for those who want to help and support those victims of any natural disaster, be cautious of who you make donations to. In order for donations to be tax deductible, they must be made to recognized charitable organizations under the IRS. For instance, Go Fund Me donations are typically not deductible as they go to a person and not a charitable organization. If you are donating online, make sure you are on the legitimate website for the charity. Unfortunately, it is all too common for charity scams to pop up during disasters with fake websites that are very similar to legitimate ones. You should ensure that the organization clearly has their Employee Identification Number (EIN) posted and you can use that and their name to check their exempt status on the IRS website. If you are donating a significant sum, that little bit of homework on your part is well worth it.
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.