All posts by Kaitlin.Gruenewald@VerticalAdvisors.com

The next estimated tax deadline is September 16: Do you have to make a payment?

If you’re self-employed and don’t have withholding from paychecks, you probably have to make estimated tax payments. These payments must be sent to the IRS on a quarterly basis. The third 2019 estimated tax payment deadline for individuals is Monday, September 16. Even if you do have some withholding from paychecks or payments you receive, you may still have to make estimated payments if you receive other types of income such as Social Security, prizes, rent, interest, and dividends.

Pay-as-you-go system

You must make sufficient federal income tax payments long before the April filing deadline through withholding, estimated tax payments, or a combination of the two. If you fail to make the required payments, you may be subject to an underpayment penalty, as well as interest.

In general, you must make estimated tax payments for 2019 if both of these statements apply:

  1. You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting tax withholding and credits, and
  2. You expect withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of 90% of your tax for 2019 or 100% of the tax on your 2018 return — 110% if your 2018 adjusted gross income was more than $150,000 ($75,000 for married couples filing separately).

If you’re a sole proprietor, partner or S corporation shareholder, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe $1,000 or more in tax when you file your return.

Quarterly due dates

Estimated tax payments are spread out through the year. The due dates are April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 of the following year. However, if the date falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline is the next business day (which is why the third deadline is September 16 this year).

Estimated tax is calculated by factoring in expected gross income, taxable income, deductions and credits for the year. The easiest way to pay estimated tax is electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. You can also pay estimated tax by check or money order using the Estimated Tax Payment Voucher or by credit or debit card.

Seasonal businesses

Most individuals make estimated tax payments in four installments. In other words, you can determine the required annual payment, divide the number by four and make four equal payments by the due dates. But you may be able to make smaller payments under an “annualized income method.” This can be useful to people whose income isn’t uniform over the year, perhaps because of a seasonal business. For example, let’s say your income comes exclusively from a business that you operate in a beach town during June, July and August. In this case, with the annualized income method, no estimated payment would be required before the usual September 15 deadline. You may also want to use the annualized income method if a large portion of your income comes from capital gains on the sale of securities that you sell at various times during the year.

Determining the correct amount

Contact us if you think you may be eligible to determine your estimated tax payments under the annualized income method, or you have any other questions about how the estimated tax rules apply to you.

© 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

Considering an investment in a Qualified Opportunity Fund?

A Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) is an economically distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.  These can be found via an internet search for state Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZ). QOZ were added to the tax code by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on December 22, 2017. The Federal government created income tax incentives to enhance the taxpayer incentives to invest in QOZ which is meant to spur the economy and renovate these areas. So, let’s discuss the basics of a QOF. A QOF is a Corporation or a partnership which holds Qualified Opportunity property. The QOF would complete IRS Form 8996 to self-certify the QOF status. It is most beneficial to read the tax laws to understand the requirements.

The income tax benefits of these QOF are getting a lot of attention from wealthy investors. Why? Because the law allows a taxpayer to defer gain on capital gains and provides the ability to exclude the gain ultimately, based on the rules and regulations. The gain would have to be invested into a QOF within 180 days from the date of the sale. Based on the current rules, the gain would be shown gross on the taxpayer’s tax return and then the amount invested in the QOF would be shown as a loss. This method allows the IRS to review the transaction and see the investment into the QOF. Thus, the net of the transaction invested in the QOF would be taxable.

The tax benefits are:

  • Investors can defer tax on any prior capital gains invested in a QOF until the earlier of the date on which the investment in the QOF is sold or exchanged, or December 31, 2026.
  • If the investment is held for longer than 5 years, there is a 10% exclusion of the deferred gain.
  • If the investment is held for more than 7 years, the 10% exclusion becomes 15% of the deferred gain.
  • If the investment is held for at least 10 years, the investor is eligible for an increase in basis of the QOF investment equal to its fair market value on the date of the QOF investment is sold or exchanged. This is the tax benefit that everyone is talking about. This part of the law allows for 100% gain exclusion. However, if someone invests in 2019, how will they get to a 10-year hold? The tax law is set to expire on December 31, 2026, and 10 years from 2019 is 2029. This means most taxpayers are not planning on being able to fully benefit from the 100% exclusion unless the tax law is revised.

 

 

Here is an example to review the application of the law:

  1. A taxpayer sells 1,000 shares of ABC stock. The shares were purchased in 2009 for $300,000. The sale of the stock is for $700,000 which results in a capital gain of $500,000.
  2. The Federal income tax on the gain would be $119,000 (23.8% which includes 20% federal capital gains tax and 3.8% NIIT).
  3. If the taxpayer instead rolls the gain of $500,000 into a QOF within 180 days of the sale then the gain of $500,0000 is deferred until the earlier of the date of the QOF investment is sold or exchanged, or December 31, 2026.
  4. If the taxpayer holds the QOF investment for at least 5 years, then the basis of the original investment is increased by 10% of the deferred gain. The calculation is $500,000 multiplied by 10% = $50,000 is added to the basis.
  5. A sale after 5 years will reduce the original deferred gain of $500,000 to $450,000.
  6. If the taxpayer holds the QOF investment for another 2 years (total of 7 years), then the basis in the original investment is increased by an additional 5%. So, a sale after 7 years will reduce the original deferred capital gain of $500,000 to $425,000.
  7. If the investor holds the QOF investment for a total of 10 years, all appreciation on the investment in the Fund will be excluded from income tax entirely. Let’s assume the value of the original $300,000 investment has now appreciated to $1,000,000 at the 10-year mark. The gain of $700,000 will be exempt from any capital gains tax. Note that the taxpayer will have to pay the deferred capital gains tax as of December 31, 2026, even if their investment in the Fund continues. The amount included in taxable income should be added to the taxpayer’s basis in the fund.

Most taxpayers are focused on the 10-year full exemption of the tax. However, based on the expiration date, it doesn’t seem practical, since the taxpayer will not get a full tax exclusion unless the tax law is changed. Also, if a taxpayer is trying to implement any estate tax planning and they own a QOF investment, a deferred gain could be triggered if not done correctly. Also, most holdings of QOF’s in an estate will not be able to receive a step up. Please be careful with this and speak with your estate planner or tax advisor, as the law gets complicated here.

Plan for Estate tax NOW!

What will happen if a different president is elected?

Due to the Trump Administration, the estate tax exemption was increased as of 1/1/2018 – up to $10,000,000 per taxpayer.  This goes up annually and for 2019, the estate tax exemption is $11,400,000.   So, a married couple would get a combined total of $28,000,000.  Any estates above this amount are taxed at a Federal tax rate of 40%.  This is a LARGE amount, and one should seriously focus on utilizing the estate tax exemption before it changes.  The estate tax exemption amount is scheduled to expire at the end of 2025, after which it would be reduced to $5MM per taxpayer.

Consider that even though the estate tax exemption is high, it expires AND it could change.  There seems to be more and more conversation about increasing tax on the wealthy, but we also have the United States national debt to consider.  If political parties change in power, there could be a push to increase taxes on the wealthy and thus lower the estate tax exemption.  Recently, the IRS issued the following Proposed Regulation https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/11/23/2018-25538/estate-and-gift-taxes-difference-in-the-basic-exclusion-amount, which explains that if a taxpayer uses the larger estate tax exemption rules and when they die the estate tax exemption is lower, the estate tax calculation will not claw back or recalculate to the lower estate tax at death.  Thus, we recommend that wealthy individuals review using the larger estate tax exemption while it is still law.

As always, income tax and estate tax can be very complex and individual taxpayers need to work with their tax adviser to customize an approach that will work for them.  There are many different strategies to consider, and each strategy should be reviewed in detail with the proper professionals.

Vertical Advisors is a boutique CPA, Accounting, and Business Advisory firm that focuses primarily on privately held businesses and their owners.

You may have to pay tax on Social Security benefits

During your working days, you pay Social Security tax in the form of withholding from your salary or self-employment tax. And when you start receiving Social Security benefits, you may be surprised to learn that some of the payments may be taxed.

If you’re getting close to retirement age, you may be wondering if your benefits are going to be taxed. And if so, how much will you have to pay? The answer depends on your other income. If you are taxed, between 50% and 85% of your payments will be hit with federal income tax. (There could also be state tax.)

Important: This doesn’t mean you pay 50% to 85% of your benefits back to the government in taxes. It means that you have to include 50% to 85% of them in your income subject to your regular tax rates.

Calculate provisional income

To determine how much of your benefits are taxed, you must calculate your provisional income. It starts with your adjusted gross income on your tax return. Then, you add certain amounts (for example, tax-exempt interest from municipal bonds). Add to that the income of your spouse, if you file jointly. To this, add half of the Social Security benefits you and your spouse received during the year. The figure you come up with is your provisional income. Now apply the following rules:

If you file a joint tax return and your provisional income, plus half your benefits, isn’t above $32,000 ($25,000 for single taxpayers), none of your Social Security benefits are taxed.
If your provisional income is between $32,001 and $44,000, and you file jointly with your spouse, you must report up to 50% of your Social Security benefits as income. For single taxpayers, if your provisional income is between $25,001 and $34,000, you must report up to 50% of your Social Security benefits as income.
If your provisional income is more than $44,000, and you file jointly, you must report up to 85% of your Social Security benefits as income on Form 1040. For single taxpayers, if your provisional income is more than $34,000, the general rule is that you must report up to 85% of your Social Security benefits as income.
Caution: If you aren’t paying tax on your Social Security benefits now because your income is below the floor, or you’re paying tax on only 50% of those benefits, an unplanned increase in your income can have a significant tax cost. You’ll have to pay tax on the additional income, you’ll also have to pay tax on (or on more of) your Social Security benefits, and you may get pushed into a higher tax bracket.

For example, this might happen if you receive a large retirement plan distribution during the year or you receive large capital gains. With careful planning, you might be able to avoid this tax result.

Avoid a large tax bill

If you know your Social Security benefits will be taxed, you may want to voluntarily arrange to have tax withheld from the payments by filing a Form W-4V with the IRS. Otherwise, you may have to make estimated tax payments.

Contact us to help you with the exact calculations on whether your Social Security will be taxed. We can also help you with tax planning to keep your taxes as low as possible during retirement.

© 2019

Cryptocurrency US Tax laws and Foreign Reporting Requirements.

Is Cryptocurrency (i.e. Bitcoin) reportable if held in a foreign jurisdiction under the Foreign Bank and Financial accounts (FBAR) regulations? The quick answer is NOT CURRENTLY.  However, be prepared for possible changes.

Ever since the creation of cryptocurrency, income tax and reporting laws have been confusing, changing and a lot of people might not want to accept the laws.  Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notice 2014-21 stated that the following highlights:

  1. Virtual currency may be used to pay for good and services or held for investments but does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction.
  2. Virtual currency that has an equivalent value in real currency or that acts as a substitute for real currency is referred to as “convertible” virtual currency.
  3. The sale or exchange of convertible virtual currency or the use of convertible virtual currency to pay for goods or services in a real-world economy has tax consequences that may result in a tax liability.
  4. The IRS treats virtual currency as property.  Thus, if property is mined, income should be reported at the FMV of the property less the mining expenses.  A mining operation may trigger income subject to self-employment tax.
  5. If virtual currency is received as payment for goods or services, the taxpayer must report the payment based on the FMV.
  6. Does a taxpayer have gain or loss upon the exchange of virtual currency for other property?  The IRS says yes.
  7. Do payments in virtual currency require information reporting using W-2’s and 1099’s?  Yes, if payment is considered wages or 1099 reportable, then those documents are required.
  8. Notice 2014-21 didn’t really take a position on the question about reporting virtual currency in a foreign account, so fortunately there is updated information.

Just recently, the AICPA contacted the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to ask if virtual currency in a foreign account would need to be reported on form FATCA and 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets.  FinCEN informed the AICPA that currently, virtual currency held in an offshore account is not reportable pursuant to 31 C.F.R Reg. 1010.50(c).  FinCEN did state that the discussion with IRS on this issue continues to be evaluated.

Vertical Advisors, LLP is a boutique accounting and tax firm, that has experience with virtual currency and taxation.  Please contact us if you have additional questions.

Donating your vehicle to charity may not be a tax-wise decision

You’ve probably seen or heard ads urging you to donate your car to charity. “Make a difference and receive tax savings,” one organization states. But donating a vehicle may not result in a big tax deduction — or any deduction at all.

Trade in, sell or donate?

Let’s say you’re buying a new car and want to get rid of your old one. Among your options are trading in the vehicle to the dealer, selling it yourself or donating it to charity.

If you donate, the tax deduction depends on whether you itemize and what the charity does with the vehicle. For cars worth more than $500, the deduction is the amount for which the charity actually sells the car, if it sells without materially improving it. (This limit includes vans, trucks, boats and airplanes.)

Because many charities wind up selling the cars they receive, your donation will probably be limited to the sale price. Furthermore, these sales are often at auction, or even salvage, and typically result in sales below the Kelley Blue Book® value. To further complicate matters, you won’t know the amount of your deduction until the charity sells the car and reports the sale proceeds to you.

If the charity uses the car in its operations or materially improves it before selling, your deduction will be based on the car’s fair market value at the time of the donation. In that case, fair market value is usually set according to the Blue Book listings.

In these cases, the IRS will accept the Blue Book value or another established used car pricing guide for a car that’s the same make, model, and year, sold in the same area and in the same condition, as the car you donated. In some cases, this value may exceed the amount you could get on a sale.

However, if the car is in poor condition, needs substantial repairs or is unsafe to drive, and the pricing guide only lists prices for cars in average or better condition, the guide won’t set the car’s value for tax purposes. Instead, you must establish the car’s market value by any reasonable method. Many used car guides show how to adjust value for items such as accessories or mileage.

You must itemize

In any case, you must itemize your deductions to get the tax benefit. You can’t take a deduction for a car donation if you take the standard deduction. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, fewer people are itemizing because the law significantly increased the standard deduction amounts. So even if you donate a car to charity, you may not get any tax benefit, because you don’t have enough itemized deductions.

If you do donate a vehicle and itemize, be careful to substantiate your deduction. Make sure the charity qualifies for tax deductions. If it sells the car, you’ll need a written acknowledgment from the organization with your name, tax ID number, vehicle ID number, gross proceeds of sale and other information. The charity should provide you with this acknowledgment within 30 days of the sale.

If, instead, the charity uses (or materially improves) the car, the acknowledgment needs to certify the intended use (or improvement), along with other information. This acknowledgment should be provided within 30 days of the donation.

Consider all factors

Of course, a tax deduction isn’t the only reason for donating a vehicle to charity. You may want to support a worthwhile organization. Or you may like the convenience of having a charity pick up a car at your home on short notice. But if you’re donating in order to claim a tax deduction, make sure you understand all the ramifications. Contact us if you have questions.

© 2019

IRS updates rules for personal use of employer-provided vehicles

The IRS recently announced the inflation-adjusted maximum value of an employer-provided vehicle under the vehicle cents-per-mile rule and the fleet-average value rule. Employers can use the rules to value an employee’s personal use of such a vehicle for income and employment tax purposes.

The new values reflect vehicle-related amendments in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and the IRS’s intent to make the rules more widely available to employers. The IRS is also temporarily loosening some of the consistency requirements for 2018 and 2019.

Valuation methods for personal use
When an employer provides an employee with a vehicle that’s available for personal use, it must include the value of the personal use in the employee’s income. Employers generally have four methods available to value an employee’s personal use of a company car:

  1. General valuation rule. This involves the fair market value (FMV), which is defined as the amount the employee would have to pay a third party to lease the same or similar vehicle on the same or comparable terms in the geographic area where the employee uses the vehicle.
  2. Commuting valuation rule. This is the amount of each one-way commute, from home to work or from work to home, multiplied by $1.50. (This method’s availability is subject to stringent requirements, including having a written policy limiting the employee’s use to commuting and “de minimis” personal use.)
  3. The cents-per-mile rule. Employers can use the business standard mileage rate (58 cents for 2019, less up to 5.5 cents if the employer doesn’t provide fuel) multiplied by the total miles the employee drives the vehicle (including cars, trucks and vans) for personal purposes.
  4. The automobile annual lease valuation rule. With this method, employers use the annual lease value of the automobile (including trucks and vans) — as specified by an IRS table that bases annual lease value on an automobile’s FMV — multiplied by the percentage of personal miles out of total miles driven by the employee. This amount also is subject to a fuel adjustment.

The fleet-average value rule allows employers operating a fleet of 20 or more qualifying automobiles to use an average annual lease value for every qualifying vehicle in the fleet when applying the automobile annual lease valuation rule.

The fleet-average value rule or the simple cents-per-mile rule isn’t available, though, if the FMV of the vehicle exceeds a certain base value, adjusted annually for inflation, on the first date the vehicle is made available to the employee for personal use. In 2017, the maximum value for the cents-per-mile rule was $15,900 for a passenger automobile and $17,800 for a truck or van. The maximum value for the fleet-average value rule that year was $21,100 for a passenger automobile and $23,300 for a truck or van.

The role of the TCJA
The base values were raised significantly earlier this year, in IRS Notice 2019-08, to reflect amendments made by the TCJA. The law changes the price inflation measure for automobiles (including trucks and vans). It also substantially increases the maximum annual dollar limitations on the depreciation deductions for passenger automobiles, basing the latter on the depreciation of a passenger automobile with a cost of $50,000 (up from $12,800), inflation adjusted annually, over a five-year recovery period.

The IRS announced in the guidance that it intended to amend the tax regulations to incorporate a base value of $50,000 for both the cents-per-mile and the fleet-average value rules, effective for the 2018 calendar year. It also intended to amend the regulations to provide that the base value will be adjusted annually for 2019 and future years using the new price inflation measure.

The latest news
Now, in Notice 2019-34, the IRS has announced the adjusted values for 2019. For vehicles and automobiles first made available to employees for personal use in calendar year 2019, the maximum value under both rules is $50,400. Under planned amendments to the applicable regulations, these maximum values will be the same as the maximum standard automobile cost that determines eligibility to set reimbursement allowances under a fixed and variable rate (FAVR) plan — an alternative to the business standard mileage rate.

The IRS also shared its intention to amend the tax regulations to provide relief to employers that previously didn’t qualify for the cents-per-mile rule because, under the earlier rules, the vehicle’s FMV exceeded the permissible maximum value. Under amended regulations, the employer may first adopt the cents-per-mile valuation rule for 2018 or 2019 based on the maximum value of a vehicle for 2018 or 2019.

Note, though, that employers that adopt the cents-per-mile rule generally must continue to use it for all subsequent years in which the vehicle qualifies for it. An employer can, however, use the commuting valuation rule for any year the vehicle qualifies.

Similarly, employers that didn’t qualify for the fleet-average value rule before 2019 because of the pre-2018 maximum value limit can adopt the rule for 2018 or 2019 if it falls under the applicable maximum value.

The new notice confirms that employers can use the flexible guidelines in Announcement 85-113 to determine the timing for when personal use income is deemed paid. That means employers may use the rules in that guidance, the adjustment process, or the refund claim process to correct any over-payment of federal employment taxes resulting from application of the notice’s transition relief.

Additional requirements
Satisfying the maximum value limit isn’t enough for an employer to use the cents-per-mile rule or the fleet-average value rule to value an employee’s personal use of a vehicle. Both rules come with other requirements that can prove difficult to meet. For example, the cents-per-mile rule generally is available only if the employer reasonably expects the vehicle to be regularly used in its trade or business throughout the calendar year or the vehicle meets the mileage test. We can help you determine the appropriate valuation method for your circumstances.
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