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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, 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 […]

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4 new law changes that may affect your retirement plan

If you save for retirement with an IRA or other plan, you’ll be interested to know that Congress recently passed a law that makes significant modifications to these accounts. The SECURE Act, which was signed into law on December 20, 2019, made these four changes, lets read about these changes and see how they can benefit in Tax return preparation. Change #1: The maximum age for making traditional IRA contributions is repealed. Before 2020, traditional IRA contributions weren’t allowed once you reached age 70½. Starting in 2020, an individual of any age can make contributions to a traditional IRA, as long he or she has compensation, which generally means earned income from wages or self-employment. Change #2: The required minimum distribution (RMD) age was raised from 70½ to 72. Before 2020, retirement plan participants and IRA owners were generally required to begin taking RMDs from their plans by April 1 of the year following the year they reached age 70½. The age 70½ requirement was first applied in the early 1960s and, until recently, hadn’t been adjusted to account for increased life expectancies. For distributions required to be made after December 31, 2019, for individuals who attain age 70½ after that date, the age at which individuals must begin taking distributions from their retirement plans or IRAs is increased from 70½ to 72. Change #3: “Stretch IRAs” were partially eliminated. If a plan participant or IRA owner died before 2020, their beneficiaries (spouses and non-spouses) were generally allowed to stretch out the tax-deferral advantages of the plan or IRA by taking distributions over the beneficiary’s life or life expectancy. This is sometimes called a “stretch IRA.” However, for deaths of plan participants or IRA owners beginning in 2020 (later for some participants in collectively bargained plans and governmental plans), distributions to most non-spouse beneficiaries are generally required to be distributed within 10 years following a plan participant’s or IRA owner’s death. That means the “stretch” strategy is no longer allowed for those beneficiaries. There are some exceptions to the 10-year rule. For example, it’s still allowed for: the surviving spouse of a plan participant or IRA owner; a child of a plan participant or IRA owner who hasn’t reached the age of majority; a chronically ill individual; and any other individual who isn’t more than 10 years younger than a plan participant or IRA owner. Those beneficiaries who qualify under this exception may generally still take their distributions over their life expectancies. Change #4: Penalty-free withdrawals are now allowed for birth or adoption expenses. A distribution from a retirement plan must generally be included in income. And, unless an exception applies, a distribution before the age of 59½ is subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the amount includible in income. Starting in 2020, plan distributions (up to $5,000) that are used to pay for expenses related to the birth or adoption of a child are penalty-free. The $5,000 amount applies on an individual basis. Therefore, each spouse in a married couple may […]

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Congress gives a holiday gift in the form of favorable tax provisions

A good news for all of those who are planning their Tax Return preparation, as part of a year-end budget bill, Congress just passed a package of tax provisions that will provide savings for some taxpayers. The White House has announced that President Trump will sign the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 into law. It also includes a retirement-related law titled the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. Here’s a rundown of some provisions in the two laws. The age limit for making IRA contributions and taking withdrawals is going up. Currently, an individual can’t make regular contributions to a traditional IRA in the year he or she reaches age 70½ and older. (However, contributions to a Roth IRA and rollover contributions to a Roth or traditional IRA can be made regardless of age.) Under the new rules, the age limit for IRA contributions is raised from age 70½ to 72. The IRA contribution limit for 2020 is $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re age 50 or older (the same as 2019 limit). In addition to the contribution age going up, the age to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) is going up from 70½ to 72. It will be easier for some taxpayers to get a medical expense deduction. For 2019, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), you could deduct only the part of your medical and dental expenses that is more than 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). This floor makes it difficult to claim a write-off unless you have very high medical bills or a low income (or both). In tax years 2017 and 2018, this “floor” for claiming a deduction was 7.5%. Under the new law, the lower 7.5% floor returns through 2020. If you’re paying college tuition, you may (once again) get a valuable tax break. Before the TCJA, the qualified tuition and related expenses deduction allowed taxpayers to claim a deduction for qualified education expenses without having to itemize their deductions. The TCJA eliminated the deduction for 2019 but now it returns through 2020. The deduction is capped at $4,000 for an individual whose AGI doesn’t exceed $65,000 or $2,000 for a taxpayer whose AGI doesn’t exceed $80,000. (There are other education tax breaks, which weren’t touched by the new law, that may be more valuable for you, depending on your situation.) Some people will be able to save more for retirement. The retirement bill includes an expansion of the automatic contribution to savings plans to 15% of employee pay and allows some part-time employees to participate in 401(k) plans. Also included in the retirement package are provisions aimed at Gold Star families, eliminating an unintended tax on children and spouses of deceased military family members. Stay tuned These are only some of the provisions in the new laws. We’ll be writing more about them in the near future. In the meantime, contact us with any questions. © 2019

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GAAP Memo

REVENUE RECOGNITION For 2019, there is a new accounting rule for revenue recognition that applies to non-public companies. In addition, there are other accounting rules for coming years.  It is important to know these changes as they will change your accounting and financials and will help in Tax preparation services.  Most banks, lenders, and investors want to see Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) financial statements.  Having GAAP financial statements allows a reader to use standard GAAP reporting to understand your financial statements, apply financial ratios and compare to industry ratios.  Be prepared and contact us if we can assist. Background In May 2014, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) issued substantially converged final standards on revenue recognition. These final standards were the culmination of a joint project between the Boards that spanned many years. The FASB’s Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606), provides a robust framework for addressing revenue recognition issues, and upon its effective date, replaces almost all pre-existing revenue recognition guidance in current U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Implementation of the robust framework provided by ASU 2014-09 should result in improved comparability of revenue recognition practices across entities, industries, jurisdictions and capital markets. The effective dates for the new guidance are staggered. Public entities have already implemented the new guidance, and nonpublic entities are required to implement the new guidance in their first annual reporting period beginning after December 15, 2018. Scope All customer contracts fall within the scope of ASC 606 except those for which other guidance is provided in the ASC (e.g., leases, insurance contracts, financial instruments, guarantees, non-monetary exchanges). Core principle and key steps Revenue is now recognized in a five-step process: Identify the contract with the customer Identify the performance obligations in the contract Determine the transaction price Allocate the transaction price to the performance obligations Recognize revenue when (or as) each performance obligation us satisfied.         LEASES Starting in 2021, there is a new accounting rule for leases that applies to non-public companies. Early adoption is allowed and recommended. Although this new standard doesn’t need to be implemented for private companies until 2021, we are recommending applying it for 2020, so the company will have comparable financial statements for 2021.  We feel this law is mean to get the lease liability on the balance sheet.  For income taxes, a different method will probably apply. Background In February 2016, the FASB issued Accounting Standards Update No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842). The new standard requires that all leases should result in an asset and corresponding liability be recognized on the balance sheet. This asset reflects the right to use an asset that is owned by someone else. A corresponding liability reflecting future lease payments is also recognized on the balance sheet. Scope All leases with a lease term of over 12 months Core principle and key steps Capital leases are now called finance leases and the reporting of these types of leases […]

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3 last-minute tips that may help trim your tax bill

If you’re starting to fret about your 2019 tax bill, there’s good news — you may still have time to reduce your liability if you do your tax return preparation carefully. Three strategies are available that may help you cut your taxes before year-end, including: 1. Accelerate deductions/defer income. Certain tax deductions are claimed for the year of payment, such as the mortgage interest deduction. So, if you make your January 2020 payment this month, you can deduct the interest portion on your 2019 tax return (assuming you itemize). Pushing income into the new year also will reduce your taxable income. If you’re expecting a bonus at work, for example, and you don’t want the income this year, ask if your employer can hold off on paying it until January. If you’re self-employed, you can delay your invoices until late in December to divert the revenue to 2020. You shouldn’t pursue this approach if you expect to land in a higher tax bracket next year. Also, if you’re eligible for the qualified business income deduction for pass-through entities, you might reduce the amount of that deduction if you reduce your income. 2. Maximize your retirement contributions. What could be better than paying yourself instead of Uncle Sam? Federal tax law encourages individual taxpayers to make the maximum allowable contributions for the year to their retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs and SEP plans, 401(k)s and deferred annuities. For 2019, you generally can contribute as much as $19,000 to 401(k)s and $6,000 for traditional IRAs. Self-employed individuals can contribute up to 25% of your net income (but no more than $56,000) to a SEP IRA. 3. Harvest your investment losses. Losing money on your investments has a bit of an upside — it gives you the opportunity to offset taxable gains. If you sell under-performing investments before the end of the year, you can offset gains realized this year on a dollar-for-dollar basis. If you have more losses than gains, you generally can apply up to $3,000 of the excess to reduce your ordinary income. Any remaining losses are carried forward to future tax years. We can help The strategies described above are only a sampling of strategies that may be available. Contact us if you have questions about these or other methods for minimizing your tax liability for 2019. © 2019

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Business year-end tax planning in a TCJA world

The first tax-filing season under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was a time of uncertainty for many businesses as they struggled with the implications of the law’s sweeping changes for their bottom lines. With the next filing season on the horizon, you can incorporate the lessons learned into your Tax return preparation. Several areas in particular are ripe with opportunities to reduce your 2019 federal tax liability. Entity choice The creation of the qualified business income (QBI) deduction for pass-through entities, paired with the reduction of the corporate tax rate to a flat 21% rate from a top rate of 35%, make it worthwhile to re-evaluate whether your current entity type is the most tax-favorable. Pass-through entities, including sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations, traditionally have been seen as a way to avoid the double taxation C corporations are subject to at the entity and dividend levels. Pass-through entities are taxed only once, at an individual tax rate, but that rate can be as high as 37%. If they qualify for the full 20% QBI deduction — not always a sure thing (see below) — their effective tax rate is about 30%. The deduction for state and local taxes also plays a role in the entity choice. The TCJA limits the amount of the deduction for individual pass-through entity owners, but not for corporations. Bear in mind, too, that the reduced corporate tax rate is permanent (or as permanent as any tax cut can be), while the QBI deduction is slated to end after 2025. Ultimately, your business’s individual circumstances will determine the optimal structure. The QBI deduction Pass-through entities can take several steps before December 31 to maximize their QBI deduction. The deduction is subject to phased-in limitations based on W-2 wages paid (including many employee benefits), the unadjusted basis of qualified property and taxable income. You could boost your deduction, therefore, by increasing wages (for example, by hiring new employees, giving raises or making independent contractors employees). To increase your adjusted basis, you can invest in qualified property by year end. If the W-2 wages limitation doesn’t limit the QBI deduction, S corporation owners can increase their QBI deductions by reducing the amount of wages the business pays them. (This tactic won’t work for sole proprietorships or partnerships, because they don’t pay their owners salaries.) On the other hand, if the W-2 wages limitation limits the deduction, they might be able to take a greater deduction by increasing their wages. Tax credits Some of the most popular tax credits for businesses survived the tax overhaul, including the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), the Small Business Health Care tax credit, the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) and the research credit (also referred to as the “research and development,” “R&D” or “research and experimentation” credit). Smaller businesses may qualify for a credit for starting new retirement plans. The WOTC, generally worth a maximum of $2,400 per employee (although for certain employees that can increase to $9,600), is currently scheduled […]

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It’s not too late to trim your 2019 tax bill

Fall is in the air and that means it’s time to turn your attention to year-end tax planning. While several clear strategies and tactics emerged during the first tax filing season under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), 2019 and subsequent years bring potential twists that must be considered, too. Let’s take a closer look at year-end tax planning strategies that can reduce your 2019 income tax liability. Deferring income and accelerating expenses Deferring income into the next tax year and accelerating expenses into the current tax year is a time-tested technique for taxpayers who don’t expect to be in a higher tax bracket the following year. Independent contractors and other self-employed individuals can, for example, hold off on sending invoices until late December to push the associated income into 2020. And all taxpayers, regardless of employment status, can defer income by taking capital gains after January 1. Be careful, though, because by waiting to sell you also risk the possibility that your investment might become less valuable. Bear in mind, also, that there may be other reasons that taking the income this year can be more beneficial. For starters, future tax rates can go up. It’s possible that income tax rates might increase substantially by 2021, especially for those with higher incomes, depending on 2020 election results. In any event, in 2026, the higher tax rates that were in place for 2017 are scheduled to return. Moreover, taxpayers who qualify for the qualified business income (QBI) deduction for pass-through entities (that is, sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations) could end up reducing the size of that deduction if they reduce their income. It might make more sense to maximize the QBI deduction — which is scheduled to end after 2025 — while it’s available. Timing itemized deductions The TCJA substantially boosted the standard deduction. For 2019, it’s $24,400 for married couples and $12,200 for single filers. With many of the previously popular itemized deductions eliminated or limited, some taxpayers can find it challenging to claim more in itemized deductions than the standard deduction. Timing, or “bunching,” those deductions may make it easier. Bunching basically means delaying or accelerating deductions into a tax year to exceed the standard deduction and claim itemized deductions. You could, for example, bunch your charitable contributions if it means you can get a tax break for one tax year. If you normally make your donations at the end of the year, you can bunch donations in alternative years — say, donate in January and December of 2020 and January and December of 2022. If you have a donor-advised fund (DAF), you can make multiple contributions to it in a single year, accelerating the deduction. You then decide when the funds are distributed to the charity. If, for instance, your objective is to give annually in equal increments, doing so will allow your chosen charities to receive a reliable stream of yearly donations (something that’s critical to their financial stability), and you […]

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DOL expands retirement plan options for smaller businesses

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has released a final rule which should make it easier for smaller businesses to provide retirement plans to their employees. According to the DOL, the rule will enable more small and midsize unrelated businesses to join forces in multiple employer plans (MEPs) that provide their employees a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) plan or a SIMPLE IRA plan. Certain self-employed individuals also can participate in MEPs. In October 2018, the DOL issued a proposed rule to clarify when an employer group or association, or a professional employer organization (PEO), can sponsor a MEP. (A PEO is a company that contractually assumes some human resource responsibilities for its employer clients.) The final rule, effective September 30, 2019, is similar to the proposal, but not entirely. The appeal of MEPs According to the DOL, businesses that participate in a MEP can see lower retirement plan costs as a result of economies of scale. For example, investment companies may charge lower fund fees for plans with greater asset accumulations. By pooling plan participants and assets in one large plan, rather than multiple small plans, MEPs make it possible for small businesses to give their workers access to the same low-cost funds offered by large employers. MEPs also let participating employers avoid some of the burdens associated with sponsoring or administering their own plans. Employers retain fiduciary responsibility for selecting and monitoring the arrangement and forwarding required contributions to the MEP, but they can effectively transfer significant legal risk to professional fiduciaries who are responsible for managing the plan. Although many MEPs already exist, the DOL believes that previous guidance, as well as uncertainty about the ability of PEOs and associations to sponsor MEPs as “employers” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), may have hindered the formation of plans by smaller employers. The final rule clarifies when an employer group or association or a PEO can sponsor a MEP. Permissible MEP sponsors Under the final rule, a group or association, a PEO, and self-employed people can qualify as employers under ERISA for purposes of sponsoring MEPs by satisfying different criteria. Groups and associations: Among other requirements, groups and associations of employers must have a “commonality of interest.” This means that the employers in a MEP must either: Be in the same trade, industry, line of business or profession, or Have a principal place of business in the same geographic region that doesn’t exceed the boundaries of a single state or metropolitan area. (A metropolitan area can include more than one state.) Thus, a MEP could, for example, comprise employers in a national trade group or a local chamber of commerce. But the rule prohibits an employer group or association from being a bank, trust company, insurance issuer, broker-dealer or other similar financial services firm (including a pension record keeper or a third-party administrator) and from being owned or controlled by such an entity or its subsidiary or affiliate. Such entities can, however, participate in their […]

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Uncle Sam may provide relief from college costs on your tax return

We all know the cost of college is expensive. The latest figures from the College Board show that the average annual cost of tuition and fees was $10,230 for in-state students at public four-year universities — and $35,830 for students at private not-for-profit four-year institutions. These amounts don’t include room and board, books, supplies, transportation and other expenses that a student may incur. Two tax credits Fortunately, the federal government offers two sizable tax credits for higher education costs that you may be able to claim: 1. The American Opportunity credit. This tax break generally provides the biggest benefit to most taxpayers. The American Opportunity credit provides a maximum benefit of $2,500. That is, you may qualify for a credit equal to 100% of the first $2,000 of expenses for the year and 25% of the next $2,000 of expenses. It applies only to the first four years of postsecondary education and is available only to students who attend at least half time. Basically, tuition, course materials and fees qualify for this credit. The credit is per eligible student and is subject to phaseouts based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). For 2019, the MAGI phaseout ranges are: Between $80,000 and $90,000 for unmarried individuals, and Between $160,000 and $180,000 for married joint filers. 2. The Lifetime Learning credit. This credit equals 20% of qualified education expenses for up to $2,000 per tax return. There are fewer restrictions to qualify for this credit than for the American Opportunity credit. The Lifetime Learning credit can be applied to education beyond the first four years, and qualifying students may attend school less than half time. The student doesn’t even need to be part of a degree program. So, the credit works well for graduate studies and part-time students who take a qualifying course at a local college to improve job skills. It applies to tuition, fees and materials. It’s also subject to phaseouts based on MAGI, however. For 2019, the MAGI phaseout ranges are: Between $58,000 and $68,000 for unmarried individuals, and Between $116,000 and $136,000 for married joint filers. Note: You can’t claim either the American Opportunity Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit for the same student or for the same expense in the same year. Credit for what you’ve paid So which higher education tax credit is right for you? A number of factors need to be reviewed before determining the answer to that question. Contact us for more information about how to take advantage of tax-favored ways to save or pay for college. © 2019

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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: You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting tax withholding and credits, and 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 […]

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