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Monthly Archives: February 2020

The tax aspects of selling mutual fund shares

Perhaps you’re an investor in mutual funds or you’re interested in putting some money into them, as a part of your tax strategy. You’re not alone. The Investment Company Institute estimates that 56.2 million households owned mutual funds in mid-2017. But despite their popularity, the tax rules involved in selling mutual fund shares can be complex.

Tax basics

If you sell appreciated mutual fund shares that you’ve owned for more than one year, the resulting profit will be a long-term capital gain. As such, the maximum federal income tax rate will be 20%, and you may also owe the 3.8% net investment income tax.

When a mutual fund investor sells shares, gain or loss is measured by the difference between the amount realized from the sale and the investor’s basis in the shares. One difficulty is that certain mutual fund transactions are treated as sales even though they might not be thought of as such. Another problem may arise in determining your basis for shares sold.

What’s considered a sale

It’s obvious that a sale occurs when an investor redeems all shares in a mutual fund and receives the proceeds. Similarly, a sale occurs if an investor directs the fund to redeem the number of shares necessary for a specific dollar payout.

It’s less obvious that a sale occurs if you’re swapping funds within a fund family. For example, you surrender shares of an Income Fund for an equal value of shares of the same company’s Growth Fund. No money changes hands but this is considered a sale of the Income Fund shares.

Another example: Many mutual funds provide check-writing privileges to their investors. However, each time you write a check on your fund account, you’re making a sale of shares.

Determining the basis of shares

If an investor sells all shares in a mutual fund in a single transaction, determining basis is relatively easy. Simply add the basis of all the shares (the amount of actual cash investments) including commissions or sales charges. Then add distributions by the fund that were reinvested to acquire additional shares and subtract any distributions that represent a return of capital.

The calculation is more complex if you dispose of only part of your interest in the fund and the shares were acquired at different times for different prices. You can use one of several methods to identify the shares sold and determine your basis.

  • First-in first-out. The basis of the earliest acquired shares is used as the basis for the shares sold. If the share price has been increasing over your ownership period, the older shares are likely to have a lower basis and result in more gain.
  • Specific identification. At the time of sale, you specify the shares to sell. For example, “sell 100 of the 200 shares I purchased on June 1, 2015.” You must receive written confirmation of your request from the fund. This method may be used to lower the resulting tax bill by directing the sale of the shares with the highest basis.
  • Average basis. The IRS permits you to use the average basis for shares that were acquired at various times and that were left on deposit with the fund or a custodian agent.

As you can see, mutual fund investing can result in complex tax situations. Contact us if you have questions. We can explain in greater detail how the rules apply to you.

© 2020

The SECURE Act changes the rules for employers on retirement plans

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act is the first significant retirement-related legislation in more than a dozen years. It brings many changes that affect employers of all sizes, including some that could be particularly beneficial for smaller employers that sponsor retirement plans. Some of the changes, however, may increase the burden on employers. Here are some of the most important developments for employers, many of which took effect for plan years beginning after December 31, 2019. Please read and see how it can help you design tax strategies for this year

Greater access to multiple employer plans

Multiple employer plans (MEPs) allow small and midsize unrelated businesses to team up to provide their employees a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) or SIMPLE IRA plan. By pooling plan participants and assets in one large plan, rather than several separate plans, it’s possible for small businesses to give their workers access to the same low-cost plans offered by large employers. Employers enjoy reduced fiduciary duties and administrative burdens by using outside administrators to manage the plan.

Currently, MEPs generally are limited to participating employers that share some commonality — for example, being in the same industry or geographic location or using the same professional employer organization. The SECURE Act creates a new type of “open MEP” that covers employees of employers with no relationship other than their joint participation in the MEP. These pooled employer plans (PEPs) will be administered by a pooled plan provider (PPP), such as a financial services company. The PPP also will be the named fiduciary of the plan, but each employer is responsible for choosing and monitoring the PPP.

PEPs will be permitted for plan years starting in 2021 or later. The U.S. Department of Labor and the IRS are expected to provide guidance before then, as PEPs generally are subject to the same Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and Internal Revenue Code rules as single-employer plans.

In addition, the SECURE Act eliminates the so-called “one bad apple” rule that deterred some employers from taking advantage of MEPs. Under the rule, a regulatory violation by one employer participant (such as failing to make contributions to the plan on schedule) could jeopardize the MEP’s tax-qualified status. The SECURE Act lays out certain requirements that a PEP can satisfy to protect its status in such a situation.

The SECURE Act also provides an alternative to MEPs for small employers seeking the economies of scale they provide regarding administration. It allows a group of plans with a common plan administrator to file a consolidated Form 5500 annual report, with a single audit report, if certain conditions are met.

Looser notice and amendment rules on safe harbor plans

As of January 1, 2020, plan sponsors no longer are required to give notice to plan participants before the beginning of the plan year when the sponsor is making qualified nonelective contributions — that is, contributions an employer makes regardless of whether an employee contributes — of at least 3% to all eligible participants. The requirement to provide advance notice when making safe harbor matching contributions continues.

Plan sponsors also can amend 401(k) plans that don’t use a matching contribution safe harbor to include a 3% nonelective contribution safe harbor any time before the 30th day before the end of the plan year. The amendment can be made later than that only if it provides for a qualified nonelective contribution of at least 4% of compensation, rather than 3%, and the amendment is done no later than the close of the following plan year.

Annuity options

Annuities can help reduce the risk that retirees will run out of money before the last years of their lives, when health care expenses can run high. But many employers have been reluctant to offer annuities for fear of facing lawsuits alleging breach of fiduciary duty if the annuity providers they selected run into financial problems down the road. The SECURE Act preempts this hurdle by immunizing employers from liability if they choose a provider that meets certain requirements, starting December 20, 2019.

The SECURE Act, however, also requires employers to include a lifetime income disclosure on a plan participant’s benefit statements at least annually. The disclosure will show the estimated monthly payments the participant would receive if the total account balance were used to purchase an annuity for the participant and his or her surviving spouse. Before employers can implement this requirement, the U.S. Department of Labor must issue applicable guidance.

Participation by part-time employees

Employers generally have been allowed to exclude employees who work fewer than 1,000 hours per year from defined contribution plans, including 401(k) plans. Starting in 2021, the SECURE Act generally expands the rule by requiring employers to allow not just those who work at least 1,000 hours in one year (about 20 hours per week) to participate, but also those who work at least 500 hours in three consecutive years and are at least age 21 at the end of the three-year period.

Employer contributions aren’t a requirement of the new participation rules for part-time employees. And employers can exclude the latter category of part-time employees from testing under the nondiscrimination and coverage rules, as well as from the application of the top-heavy rules.

Expanded tax credits

The SECURE Act establishes a new tax credit of up to $500 per year to offset start-up costs for new 401(k) and SIMPLE IRA plans with an eligible automatic contribution arrangement (EACA), beginning in 2020. This credit is on top of the plan start-up credit already available and is available for three years. It’s also available to employers that convert an existing plan to one with an EACA.

The new law also boosts the amount of the credit available for small employer pension plan start-up costs. (A “small employer” is one with no more than 100 employees.) The new law changes the calculation of the flat dollar amount limit on the credit to the greater of 1) $500 or 2) the lesser of:

  • $250 multiplied by the number of non-highly compensated employees who are eligible to participate in the plan, or
  • $5,000.

Like the automatic enrollment tax credit, it’s available beginning in 2020 and applies for up to three years.

Higher automatic enrollment safe harbor cap

Even before the SECURE Act, employers could automatically enroll employees in a 401(k) plan under a safe harbor with a qualified automatic contribution arrangement (QACA). However, elective deferrals for QACAs have been limited to 10% of compensation.

The SECURE Act increases the maximum amount of an employee’s compensation that can be automatically deferred after the employee’s first plan year, from 10% to 15%. (The cap for the first year in the plan is 10%.) The increase is effective for plan years beginning after December 31, 2019.

Adoption deadlines

Previously, many types of retirement plans were required to be set up during the tax year for which they were to take effect. The SECURE Act extends the adoption deadline for a tax year to the due date of the employer’s tax return (including extensions), providing more flexibility to make contributions and reduce tax liabilities.

Costlier penalties

The SECURE Act increases the penalties for failing to file retirement plan tax returns, as follows:

  • The penalty for failing to file a Form 5500 is $250 per day, not to exceed $150,000 (up from $25 per day, with a maximum of $15,000).
  • The penalty for failing to file a registration statement (IRS Form 8955-SSA) is $10 per participant per day, not to exceed $50,000 (up from $1 per participant per day, with a maximum of $5,000).
  • The penalty for failure to provide a notification of change of certain information (for example, the plan name, sponsor or administrator) is $10 per day, not to exceed $10,000 (up from $1 per day, with a maximum of $1,000).
  • The penalty for failing to provide a required withholding notice is $100 for each failure, not to exceed $50,000 for all failures during any calendar year (up from $10 for each failure, with a maximum of $5,000).

The penalty hikes apply for filings, registrations and notifications required after December 31, 2019.

Promising, but complicated

These and other changes in the SECURE Act are intended to make it easier and less expensive for employers to offer retirement plans to their employees. (The law also contains a number of significant changes for individuals.) The applicable laws and regulations can prove tricky to navigate. Please contact us with any questions regarding the SECURE Act.

© 2020

There still might be time to cut your tax bill with IRAs

If you’re gearing up for your Tax return preparation to file your 2019 tax return, and your tax bill is higher than you’d like, there may still be an opportunity to lower it. If you qualify, you can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA right up until the Wednesday, April 15, 2020, filing date and benefit from the resulting tax savings on your 2019 return.

Do you qualify?

You can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA if:

  • You (and your spouse) aren’t an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or
  • You (or your spouse) are an active participant in an employer plan, and your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) doesn’t exceed certain levels that vary from year-to-year by filing status.

For 2019, if you’re a joint tax return filer covered by an employer plan, your deductible IRA contribution phases out over $103,000 to $123,000 of modified AGI. If you’re single or a head of household, the phaseout range is $64,000 to $74,000 for 2019. For married filing separately, the phaseout range is $0 to $10,000. For 2019, if you’re not an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but your spouse is, your deductible IRA contribution phases out with modified AGI of between $193,000 and $203,000.

Deductible IRA contributions reduce your current tax bill, and earnings within the IRA are tax deferred. However, every dollar you take out is taxed in full (and subject to a 10% penalty before age 59 1/2, unless one of several exceptions apply).

IRAs often are referred to as “traditional IRAs” to distinguish them from Roth IRAs. You also have until April 15 to make a Roth IRA contribution. But while contributions to a traditional IRA are deductible, contributions to a Roth IRA aren’t. However, withdrawals from a Roth IRA are tax-free as long as the account has been open at least five years and you’re age 59 1/2 or older.

Here are a couple other IRA strategies that might help you save tax.

1. Turn a nondeductible Roth IRA contribution into a deductible IRA contribution. Did you make a Roth IRA contribution in 2019? That may help you years down the road when you take tax-free payouts from the account. However, the contribution isn’t deductible. If you realize you need the deduction that a traditional IRA contribution provides, you can change your mind and turn that Roth IRA contribution into a traditional IRA contribution via the “recharacterization” mechanism. The traditional IRA deduction is then yours if you meet the requirements described above.

2. Make a deductible IRA contribution, even if you don’t work. In general, you can’t make a deductible traditional IRA contribution unless you have wages or other earned income. However, an exception applies if your spouse is the breadwinner and you manage the home front. In this case, you may be able to take advantage of a spousal IRA.

How much can you contribute?

For 2019 if you’re qualified, you can make a deductible traditional IRA contribution of up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re 50 or over).

In addition, small business owners can set up and contribute to a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan up until the due date for their returns, including extensions. For 2019, the maximum contribution you can make to a SEP account is $56,000.

If you’d like more information about whether you can contribute to an IRA or SEP, contact us or ask about it when we’re preparing your return. We’d be happy to explain the rules and help you save the maximum tax-advantaged amount for retirement.

© 2020

Answers to your questions about 2020 individual tax limits

Right now, you may be more concerned about your 2019 tax bill than you are about your 2020 tax situation. That’s understandable because your 2019 individual tax return is due to be filed in less than three months.

However, as Business Consultant we suggest that it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with tax-related amounts that may have changed for 2020. For example, the amount of money you can put into a 401(k) plan has increased and you may want to start making contributions as early in the year as possible because retirement plan contributions will lower your taxable income.

Note: Not all tax figures are adjusted for inflation and even if they are, they may be unchanged or change only slightly each year due to low inflation. In addition, some tax amounts can only change with new tax legislation.

So below are some Q&As about tax-related figures for this year.

How much can I contribute to an IRA for 2020?

If you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,000 a year into a traditional or Roth IRA, up to 100% of your earned income. If you’re age 50 or older, you can make another $1,000 “catch up” contribution. (These amounts are the same as they were for 2019.)

I have a 401(k) plan through my job. How much can I contribute to it?

For 2020, you can contribute up to $19,500 (up from $19,000) to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. You can make an additional $6,500 catch-up contribution if you’re age 50 or older.

I sometimes hire a babysitter and a cleaning person. Do I have to withhold and pay FICA tax on the amounts I pay them?

In 2020, the threshold when a domestic employer must withhold and pay FICA for babysitters, house cleaners, etc. is $2,200 (up from $2,100 in 2019).

How much do I have to earn in 2020 before I can stop paying Social Security on my salary?

The Social Security tax wage base is $137,700 for this year (up from $132,900 last year). That means that you don’t owe Social Security tax on amounts earned above that. (You must pay Medicare tax on all amounts that you earn.)

I didn’t qualify to itemize deductions on my last tax return. Will I qualify for 2020?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the tax benefit of itemizing deductions for many people by increasing the standard deduction and reducing or eliminating various deductions. For 2020, the standard deduction amount is $24,800 for married couples filing jointly (up from $24,400). For single filers, the amount is $12,400 (up from $12,200) and for heads of households, it’s $18,650 (up from $18,350). So if the amount of your itemized deductions (such as charitable gifts and mortgage interest) are less than the applicable standard deduction amount, you won’t itemize for 2020.

How much can I give to one person without triggering a gift tax return in 2020?

The annual gift exclusion for 2020 is $15,000 and is unchanged from last year. This amount is only adjusted in $1,000 increments, so it typically only increases every few years.

Your tax picture

These are only some of the tax figures that may apply to you. For more information about your tax picture, or if you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.