Blog

Monthly Archives: August 2019

Congress acts to reform the IRS, enhance taxpayer protections

The U.S. Senate has passed, and President Trump is expected to sign into law, a broad package of reforms aimed at the IRS. Among other things, the Taxpayer First Act contains several new protections for taxpayers, along with provisions intended to improve the IRS’s customer service.

Stronger safeguards against identity theft

Several of the bill’s provisions address tax-related identity theft. For example, the bill generally requires the IRS to notify a taxpayer as soon as practicable when it suspects or confirms an unauthorized use of the individual’s identity. The IRS also must:

  • Provide the taxpayer instructions on how to file a report with law enforcement on the unauthorized use,
  • Identify any steps the individual should take to permit law enforcement to access his or her personal information during the investigation,
  • Provide information regarding the actions the taxpayer can take to protect him- or herself from harm, and
  • Offer identity protection measures, such as the use of an “identity protection personal identification number” (IP PIN).

The bill also requires the IRS to establish a program within five years that allows all taxpayers to request IP PINs to better secure their identity when filing their tax returns. This protection currently is available only to victims of tax-related identity theft.

The IRS must provide a suspected victim with additional notifications regarding whether it has initiated an investigation into the unauthorized use and whether the investigation has substantiated such unauthorized use. It also must notify the individual of whether any action has been taken against someone relating to the unauthorized use or whether any referral for criminal prosecution has been made.

And the IRS must ensure that victims of tax-related identity theft have a single point of contact at the agency throughout the processing of their cases. That contact must track the taxpayer’s case to completion and coordinate with other IRS employees to resolve the taxpayer’s issues as quickly as possible.

Greater appeals rights

The Taxpayer First Act codifies into law the IRS’s already-existing, independent Office of Appeals. It also expands taxpayers’ rights of appeal regarding tax matters.

For example, under the law, the IRS must provide certain taxpayers who request a conference with the Office of Appeals with access to the non privileged portions of the case file on the disputed issues no later than 10 days before the scheduled conference date. Currently, taxpayers must file a Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to their case files.

The resolution process available through the appeals office generally is available to all taxpayers. If a taxpayer’s request to appeal an IRS notice of deficiency is denied, the IRS must give the taxpayer a written notice with a detailed description of the facts involved, the basis for the denial and a detailed explanation of how the basis applies to the facts. The notice also must describe the procedures for protesting the denial.

Customer service improvements

The bill gives the IRS one year to develop and submit to Congress a comprehensive customer service strategy. The strategy must include a plan to extend assistance to taxpayers that’s secure and designed to meet reasonable taxpayer expectations. The plan must adopt appropriate customer service best practices from the private sector, including online services, telephone callback services and training of customer service employees.

Separately, the bill requires the IRS to supply helpful information to taxpayers who are on hold during a telephone call to any IRS help line. That information includes common tax scams, where and how to report tax scams, and additional advice on how taxpayers can protect themselves from identity theft and tax crimes.

Additional provisions

The Taxpayer First Act tackles many other areas, including:

Structuring. The bill establishes new protections from IRS enforcement abuses of so-called “structuring laws.” Those laws let the agency seize taxpayer assets when a taxpayer appeared to make bank deposits in amounts just under the $10,000 trigger for bank reporting requirements.

Whistleblower reforms. The bill permits the IRS to disclose to a whistleblower tax return information related to the investigation of any taxpayer about whom the whistleblower has provided information (to the extent necessary to obtain information that isn’t otherwise reasonably available). It also mandates certain updates to whistleblowers on investigations and adds anti retaliation provisions.

Electronic filing. The IRS generally must eventually require individuals filing 10 or more returns — down significantly from the current 250-return threshold — to file electronically. The lower threshold will be phased in, falling to 100 returns for 2021 and 10 returns in 2022. Special rules apply to partnerships.

And that’s not all

The far-reaching bill will affect a variety of other areas, such as cybersecurity, innocent spouse relief, private debt collection and misdirected tax refund deposits. We’ll keep you abreast of these and other relevant tax developments.

© 2019

The “nanny tax” must be paid for more than just nannies

You may have heard of the “nanny tax.” But even if you don’t employ a nanny, it may apply to you. Hiring a housekeeper, gardener or other household employee (who isn’t an independent contractor) may make you liable for federal income and other taxes. You may also have state tax obligations.

If you employ a household worker, you aren’t required to withhold federal income taxes from pay. But you may choose to withhold if the worker requests it. In that case, ask the worker to fill out a Form W-4. However, you may be required to withhold Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes and to pay federal unemployment (FUTA) tax.

FICA and FUTA tax

In 2019, you must withhold and pay FICA taxes if your household worker earns cash wages of $2,100 or more (excluding the value of food and lodging). If you reach the threshold, all the wages (not just the excess) are subject to FICA.

However, if a nanny is under age 18 and child care isn’t his or her principal occupation, you don’t have to withhold FICA taxes. So, if you have a part-time babysitter who is a student, there’s no FICA tax liability.

Both an employer and a household worker may have FICA tax obligations. As an employer, you’re responsible for withholding your worker’s FICA share. In addition, you must pay a matching amount. FICA tax is divided between Social Security and Medicare. The Social Security tax rate is 6.2% for the employer and 6.2% for the worker (12.4% total). Medicare tax is 1.45% each for both the employer and the worker (2.9% total).

If you want, you can pay your worker’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you do, your payments aren’t counted as additional cash wages for Social Security and Medicare purposes. However, your payments are treated as additional income to the worker for federal tax purposes, so you must include them as wages on the W-2 form that you must provide.

You also must pay FUTA tax if you pay $1,000 or more in cash wages (excluding food and lodging) to your worker in any calendar quarter. FUTA tax applies to the first $7,000 of wages paid and is only paid by the employer.

Reporting and paying

You pay household worker obligations by increasing your quarterly estimated tax payments or increasing withholding from wages, rather than making an annual lump-sum payment.

As a household worker employer, you don’t have to file employment tax returns, even if you’re required to withhold or pay tax (unless you own your own business). Instead, employment taxes are reported on your tax return on Schedule H.

When you report the taxes on your return, you include your employer identification number (not the same as your Social Security number). You must file Form SS-4 to get one.

However, if you own a business as a sole proprietor, you include the taxes for a household worker on the FUTA and FICA forms (940 and 941) that you file for your business. And you use your sole proprietorship EIN to report the taxes.

Keep careful records

Keep related tax records for at least four years from the later of the due date of the return or the date the tax was paid. Records should include the worker’s name, address, Social Security number, employment dates, dates and amount of wages paid and taxes withheld, and copies of forms filed.

Contact us for assistance or questions about how to comply with these employment tax requirements.

© 2019

Summer: A good time to review your investments

You may have heard about a proposal in Washington to cut the taxes paid on investments by indexing capital gains to inflation. Under the proposal, the purchase price of assets would be adjusted so that no tax is paid on the appreciation due to inflation.

While the fate of such a proposal is unknown, the long-term capital gains tax rate is still historically low on appreciated securities that have been held for more than 12 months. And since we’re already in the second half of the year, it’s a good time to review your portfolio for possible tax-saving strategies.

The federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains recognized in 2019 is 15% for most taxpayers. However, the maximum rate of 20% plus the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) can apply at higher income levels. For 2019, the 20% rate applies to single taxpayers with taxable income exceeding $425,800 ($479,000 for joint filers or $452,400 for heads of households).

You also may be able to plan for the NIIT. It can affect taxpayers with modified AGI (MAGI) over $200,000 for singles and heads of households, or $250,000 for joint filers. You may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.

What about losing investments that you’d like to sell? Consider selling them and using the resulting capital losses to shelter capital gains, including high-taxed short-term gains, from other sales this year. You may want to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.

If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, the result would be a net capital loss for the year. A net capital loss can also be used to shelter up to $3,000 of 2019 ordinary income (or up to $1,500 if you’re married and file separately). Ordinary income includes items including salaries, bonuses, self-employment income, interest income and royalties. Any excess net capital loss from 2019 can be carried forward to 2020 and later years.

Consider gifting to young relatives

While most taxpayers with long-term capital gains pay a 15% rate, those in the 0% federal income tax bracket only pay a 0% federal tax rate on gains from investments that were held for more than a year. Let’s say you’re feeling generous and want to give some money to your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or others. Instead of making cash gifts to young relatives in lower federal tax brackets, give them appreciated investments. That way, they’ll pay less tax than you’d pay if you sold the same shares.

(You can count your ownership period plus the gift recipient’s ownership period for purposes of meeting the more-than-one-year rule.)

Even if the appreciated shares have been held for a year or less before being sold, your relative will probably pay a much lower tax rate on the gain than you would.

Increase your return

Paying capital gains taxes on your investment profits reduces your total return. Look for strategies to grow your portfolio by minimizing the amount you must pay to the federal and state governments. These are only a few strategies that may be available to you. Contact us about your situation.

© 2019