Blog: Ask A CPA

Attention Small Business Owners: Don’t Forget Your Franchise Tax Report

Everyone seems to remember their federal tax returns, but for small business owners, state tax returns are also due. If you have a small business and you filed Articles with the Secretary of State to get state law protection in some form, such as an LLC, or a corporation, or another form of protection suitable to your needs, then you will need to file a Texas Franchise Tax Report and a Public Information Report by May 15, 2018.

These reports must be filed electronically and to file electronically you must have your Webfile Number. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts sent you a reminder last week that your Franchise Tax Report is coming due. This reminder will have all the information your CPA (or you) will need to file the return electronically, including your Webfile Number. Please be sure to keep this form and get it to your CPA as soon as possible along with your federal tax information — and definitely before May 15.

Hurricane Harvey Casualty Loss and Form 4684

As Tax Day draws nearer, I’ve had a number of questions about Hurricane Harvey and casualty loss. Today, I’ll walk you through what you need to file Form 4684 for casualty loss deductions with your 2017 tax return.

Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts was designed especially for storms like Hurricane Harvey. In 2017, you will be able to take an itemized deduction by completing the form and attaching it to your Form 1040. Also, it’s important to know that twenty counties along the Texas Gulf Coast, including Harris County, were Presidentially Declared Disaster Areas. Once the President declares an area a Presidentially Declared Disaster Area, then the IRS can administratively make temporary changes to the law, such as extending the due dates of returns and estimated tax payments, and they can lift the 10% of AGI threshold for casualty losses. And that is what they did. If your home was flooded and your personal possessions were lost in the flood, then you need to complete Form 4684.

Here is what you will need to complete the form:

  • The cost or basis of your home
  • Your insurance or other reimbursement (ie: FEMA)
  • Your fair market value before the storm
  • Your fair market value after the storm

This is the information you will need to complete your casualty loss deduction. If you struggle with any of these items, such as the FMV of your home after the storm, don’t hesitate to ask your realtor or real estate appraiser, or contact the Harris County Appraisal District. If you need any help with any of this, then please give me a call.

That is all today. I look forward to visiting with you next week. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions — you can call my office at (713) 785-8939 or leave a comment on this post to get in touch.

Effects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on the Wealthy

Let’s discuss the impact the new tax law will have on two high levels of income. The first example is an attorney making $500,000 who is married with no children. In 2017, the household will have itemized deductions made up of state and local taxes of $37,285, home mortgage interest of $39,000, and business expenses exceeding 2% of AGI of $10,000. Their itemized deductions will be $80,699 after the Pease deduction (this is a stealth tax from the ACA). Their personal exemptions are totally phased out. Their taxable income will be $419,301 and their regular tax will be $113,638, but their AMT will be $122,671. The effect of the additional Medicare tax from the ACA will not be considered because it is the same in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, their tax liability will be $122,671.  

In 2018, if our same family makes $500,000, then they will have state and local taxes limited to $10,000, they will get all their home mortgage interest of $39,000, and their business expenses from Form 2106 are no longer deductible. Personal and dependent exemptions are repealed.  Their taxable income will be $451,000 and their regular tax liability will be $109,229. AMT is less than the regular tax because the AMT exemption is greater and doesn’t begin to phase out until $1M for couples. Their 2018 tax liability is $109,229. This is a tax savings of $13,442 or put another way, a savings of 11% from 2017 to 2018.

In our second example, we have a married couple with no children. They file jointly and in 2017 they make $1,500,000. They live in beautiful, sunny California and they own their home. Because beautiful California has a 13.3% state income tax and they own their home, they will have $300,000 in state and local tax; they also have $39,000 in home mortgage interest, and their Form 2106 Employee Business Expenses do not exceed 2% of AGI. After the Pease deduction, their itemized deductions are $303,414, their exemptions are phased out and their taxable income is $1,196,586.  Their regular tax liability is $419,079. AMT is not even in the picture.

In 2018, the same family making $1,500,000 will have taxable income of $1,451,000.  Remember SALT deductions are limited to $10,000 plus home mortgage interest of $39,000, and personal and dependency exemptions were repealed. Their tax in 2018 will be $476,249. This is a tax increase of $57,170.  

Please remember that there are those who oppose any type of tax cut for the American people. For most Americans the new law is a tax cut, especially if you live in a low-tax state like Texas. But if you live in a high-tax state like California or you own expensive real estate, then you will very likely have a tax increase. In my experience, most high income taxpayers own a successful small business and they use any tax savings to hire someone young and tech savvy to make their business more efficient. Remember, the American people can allocate their capital and spend their money more equitably and efficiently in the marketplace than the federal government, which is wasteful, inefficient, and inclined toward political favors for special interests.      

That is all today. I look forward to visiting with you next week. In the meantime, please let me know if you have a question. You can call my office at (713) 785-8939 or leave a comment on this post. 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – The Middle Class

Let’s discuss the impact the new tax law will have on two levels of middle class income. The first example is a school teacher who is single with no children and is making $60,000. In 2017, she will get a standard deduction of $6,350 and a personal exemption of $4,050, so her statutory deductions will total $10,400 and her taxable income will be $49,600. In 2017 her tax liability will be $8,139.

In 2018, if our same teacher makes $60,000, she will get a standard deduction of $12,000 and no personal exemption. Her taxable income will be $48,000 and her tax liability will be $6,500. This is a tax savings of $1,639, or put another way, a savings of 20.1% from 2017 to 2018.

In our second example we have a married couple with two children under age 17. They file jointly and together they make $250,000. They own their home and they have $20,000 in home mortgage interest, $21,000 in real estate tax and sales tax (state and local tax), and $10,000 in charitable contributions. In 2017, their taxable income is $182,800 and their tax liability is $38,069. In 2018, the same family making $250,000 will have taxable income of $210,000 ($250,000 -$20,000 -$10,000 -$10,000). Remember, they only get $10,000 for SALT deductions and personal and dependency exemptions were repealed. Their tax in 2018 will be $34,979. They get a $2,000 child tax credit for each child and the phase-out for joint filers begins at $400,000. This is a tax savings of $3,090 or a savings of 8.1% from 2017 to 2018.

Remember, you can deduct all of your real estate taxes in your business or when related to income-producing property. State and local income taxes are not deductible for a business and only to the extent of $10,000 when combined with all state and local taxes for individuals.

Next week, we will discuss the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and how it affects those taxpayers with income over $500,000.

That is all today. I look forward to visiting with you next week. In the meantime, let me know if you have a question. Feel free to leave a comment on this post or give me a call to get in touch.

Three Exceptions to the Three-Year Statute of Limitations for Tax Assessments & Refund Claims

Statutes of limitations are provisions of law that require actions to be initiated for prior events within a certain maximum prescribed time period. Therefore, if an action is to be brought or pursued for a prior event, it typically must be initiated before the maximum prescribed time period expires. The purpose of statutes of limitations is to allow for the best evidence that is available to be presented in the pursuit of the action. As time expires, evidence may become lost or unavailable, witnesses may no longer be available, and prosecuting such untimely actions and defending them will become very difficult. Therefore, statutes of limitations are designed to compel action be initiated before evidence becomes unavailable. Failure to initiate such action within this specified maximum prescribed time period is a valid defense and precludes the pursuit of the action.

Statutes of limitations apply for federal income tax matters, as well as other legal matters, civil and criminal. The Internal Revenue Code prescribes specific provisions for when prior tax matters may be pursued by either the IRS or the taxpayer. It depends on whether the IRS is seeking an additional assessment of tax or the taxpayer is seeking a claim for refund. The general rule for imposing additional tax or claiming a refund is three years from the date the tax return is filed or the due date, whichever is later.

As with any rule, there are exceptions.

There are two exceptions from the general rule for IRS assessment of additional tax. The first exception applies to the substantial omission of income. In the case of substantial omission of income, the statute of limitation for the general rule described above is extended to six years. For this exception to apply, substantial omission of income is defined as more than 25% of the gross income is omitted on the tax return. For example, if the taxpayer has $126,000 of gross income and only reports $100,000, then this will trigger the six-year statute of limitation. If the taxpayer had reported $102,000, then the general rule three year statute of limitation would still apply. It is noteworthy to recognize that the six-year statute of limitation applies only to the substantial omission of income and not to other items such as claiming excessive deductions, etc.

The second exception to the general rule for assessments applies to fraud (the willful intent to evade tax) or to tax returns not filed at all. In either of these cases there is no statute of limitations. There is no time limit for the IRS to assess additional tax or initiate a court action. The burden of proof generally remains with the IRS in cases of fraudulent tax returns or tax returns not filed.

The third exception has to do with how long a taxpayer has to claim a refund for the overpayment of tax. A claim for refund must generally be made within three years from the date the tax return was filed or the due date, whichever is later. If no tax return is filed, then the claim for refund must be made within two years from the date the tax was paid. Any tax deducted and withheld from the wages of a taxpayer is treated as paid on April 15. My advice: If you have a refund, then be sure to file within two years of the due date of the return.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

The new tax law took effect on January 1st, and it is a big win for the American taxpayer. It is too big to cover in one post, so we will be discussing various provisions throughout the year. You will feel it immediately both in your federal withholding and in your quarterly estimated tax payments. The basics include:

  • Rate cuts for all brackets
  • A doubling of the standard deduction
  • A doubling of the child tax credit and a raising of the phaseout starting at $400,000 for MFJ (married, filing jointly)
  • The exemption for the AMT (alternative minimum tax) is increased to $109,400
  • The phaseout begins at $1M for MFJ
  • The phaseout of itemized deductions is gone
  • The unified credit for estates and gifts is doubled to $11.1M per person and the 40% rate stays the same

High income individuals that live in high tax states such as NY, NJ, and CA will not get much of a break. The rate reduction is significantly offset by the fact that they cannot deduct the high state and local taxes that they previously deducted. Say you make $2M and pay $100,000 in state and city tax and then save $40,000 in federal income tax. Now, that deduction and the tax savings are gone, so you cannot say this is a windfall for the wealthy. It is also good economic policy because it does not subsidize high tax states at the expense of the American taxpayer in low tax states. The $10,000 limit on the deduction of state and local tax does not apply to your business or other income producing property.

Regular corporations are getting a rate reduction from 35% to 21%. You may have noticed the stock market is factoring in the new bottom line. Also, foreign profits held overseas are being deemed repatriated at a rate of 15.5% for cash and 8% on other assets. The market gets to figure the effect that will have on values also. For S Corporations, sole proprietors, LLCs, and partnerships, there is a 20% deduction based on the lower of three amounts which is designed to achieve parity with the C corporations. This 20% break is phased out for professional service firms with taxable income between $315,000 and $415,000 for MFJ. The section 179 deduction is being doubled to $1M and bonus depreciation is being increased to 100%. My advice is get in the market.

This is all for today.  If you need more information, please feel free to give me a call at (713) 785-8939 or leave a comment on this post.

Important Update on Corporate Tax Reform

A new tax plan recently passed through the House, and this week, everyone in Washington is talking about corporate tax reform. I parsed the legislation and have summarized some key points below. The implications for S and C Corporations are especially great.

Tax Reform – Don’t Get Excited Unless You’re a “C Corporation”

Unfortunately that’s true. It appears the only real winners are your regular corporations, or C corporations as they are called. Their rate reduction is expected to go from 35% down to 20%. Individual taxpayers may discover that they, depending on your circumstances, got very little from this version of tax reform. I’m not saying your tax liability won’t go down at all, I’m just saying that the House bill takes away too many deductions and the rates are not significantly different from the rates we now have. There are other changes that make the bill good such as repeal of the AMT, a significant increase in the unified credit (for estates and gifts), and the doubling of the standard deduction, but rate reduction is the true solution to creating jobs.

The House Bill and S Corporations – A Major Tax Increase and More Complication

The House Bill passed last week has a top rate of 25% for S Corporations and other pass-through businesses, but in many cases the real rate is significantly higher. S Corporation shareholders need to pay attention. If you are a professional service firm, the 25% rate doesn’t apply to professional service businesses. Specifically, the bill excludes businesses engaged in “the performance of services in the fields of health, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, any trade or business where the principal asset of such trade or business is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees, or investing, trading, or dealing in securities, partnership interests, or commodities.”

What this means is that the top tax rate prescribed in H.R. 1 is the new rate for personal service corporations. For active owners of non-professional services corporations, the bill imposes a separate limitation on the 25% pass-through rate. It would cap the owner’s profit eligible for the 25% rate at 30% of the sum of their wages and profits from the business. The remaining 70% would be subject to the higher personal rates. It gets even more complicated, because H.B. 1 makes S Corporation profits subject to the self-employed payroll tax and your state and local income, sales, and property taxes are not deductible.

Next Week

Next week we will discuss Records Retention and how long you need to keep those old tax records. We will also review H.B. 1 changes to tax credits and other tax items related to paying for college.

Thanks for reading. Wishing you and your family a happy Thanksgiving.

Is That Knock at the Door Someone From the IRS, or Someone Scary?

Happy Halloween! Read on for an update on the federal aid package for hurricane and wildfire victims. Plus, I teach you how to distinguish an IRS employee form a common scammer—or a neighborhood trick-or-treater.

Disaster Aid Package is Signed by the President

In my October 17 post, I discussed the $36.5 billion aid package for hurricane and wildfire victims that had passed in the House. It finally passed in the Senate and President Trump signed the bill on October 26, 2017. I also mentioned that the financially troubled National Flood Insurance Program would be bailed out—it received approximately $17 billion. I have heard people complain that their loss far exceeded their insurance reimbursement and I have also heard the uninsured speak of how difficult it was to get paid for their loss from FEMA. We now understand that there wasn’t enough aid to go around. Due to this current infusion of aid for disaster relief in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, California, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, I would suggest you go online again.

It’s Halloween! Is That Knock at the Door Someone From the IRS, or Someone Scary?

Children knock on doors pretending to be spooks and movie characters. Scammers don’t limit their impersonations to just one day. People can avoid falling victim to scammers by knowing how and when the IRS does contact a taxpayer in person. These 8 tips can help you determine if an individual is truly an IRS employee.

1. The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the USPS.
2. There are special circumstances when the IRS will come to a home or business. These are:

  • When a taxpayer has an overdue bill.
  • When the IRS needs to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent payroll tax payment.
  • To tour a business as part of an audit.
  • As part of a criminal investigation.

3. Generally, home or business visits are unannounced and are made by IRS Revenue Officers.
4. IRS Revenue Officers carry two forms of identification. Both forms have serial numbers, and taxpayers can ask to see both IDs.
5. The IRS can assign certain cases to private debt collectors, but the IRS does this only after giving written notice to the taxpayer or their appointed representative. Private debt collection agencies will never visit a taxpayer at their home or business.
6. The IRS will not ask a taxpayer to make a payment to anyone other than the “United States Treasury.”
7. IRS employees conducting audits may call taxpayers to set up appointments, but only after notifying them by mail.
8. IRS criminal investigators may visit a taxpayer’s home or business unannounced while conducting an investigation. These are federal law enforcement agents and they will not demand any sort of payment. At this stage, you should have a tax attorney and privileged communication.

Taxpayers who believe they were visited by someone impersonating the IRS can visit IRS.gov for information on how to report it.

Home Equity Loans and Proposition 2

A proposed amendment to the Constitution of the State of Texas that would loosen restrictions on home equity borrowing comes to a vote on Tuesday, November 7. Known as Proposition 2, this amendment should hold serious interest for homeowners. Below, I outline the history of home equity loans in Texas and analyze this new proposition.

Home Equity Loan and Line of Credit

In the early 1990s, Texans amended the state constitution to allow home equity lines of credit. Prior to the amendment, Texans could only borrow on the equity in their home to finance home improvements. A home equity loan/LOC includes any indebtedness that is secured by a home if the proceeds were not used to purchase, construct, or substantially improve a home. Under the tax law rules, a taxpayer can deduct interest on up to $100,000 of home equity indebtedness that is secured by the taxpayer’s main home or one other home. The proceeds of the loan may be used for any purpose, including the payment of a child’s college expenses, paying off credit cards, or paying for a new car.  

Proposition 2 

On November 7, 2017, voters will again have the chance to amend the Texas constitution regarding home equity loans. I have included the ballot wording and some explanatory comments.  

The proposition reads as follows:

“The constitutional amendment to establish a lower amount for expenses that can be charged to a borrower and removing certain financing expense limitations for a home equity loan, establishing certain authorized lenders to make a home equity loan, changing certain options for the refinancing of home equity loans, changing the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, and allowing home equity loans on agricultural homesteads.”

After talking to my mortgage banker (www.capitalabcfunding.com), I can tell you that this amendment will help reduce your borrowing costs by removing some of the many fees that you pay when you borrow on your home and limiting some of the fees that lenders charge for credit checks, loan applications, and others, as well as making it easier to get a home equity loan. It will also expand the types of agricultural properties that can borrow on their equity.

This amendment will be effective on January 1, 2018, if it is approved by the voters. It takes a 2/3 majority of the Texas House and Senate to get a proposition on the ballot. Then, it is submitted for approval to the qualified voters of the state. A proposed amendment becomes a part of the constitution if a majority of the votes cast in an election on the proposition are cast in its favor.

Now, it is up to you.

FAFSA Tips and Post-Harvey Aid

It’s time to be thinking about Federal Student Aid. If you need help filling out the FAFSA form, please read on or give me call. Also below, I unpack a few of the tax implications of a House bill designed to provide hurricane and wildfire relief.

Let’s begin.

Helpful Tips on the FAFSA

Do you have children in college? Then the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the form that you will complete if you want to enter the federal financial aid system. Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov to electronically file if you want a Stafford Loan, a work-study job for your student on campus, a federal grant, or maybe even a little scholarship money from the endowment. You will need your 2016 Form 1040 and a list of your assets. If you need help, please give me a call at (713) 785-8939.

U.S. House Approves $36.5 Billion Aid Package

Last Thursday, October 12th, the House approved a bill that will provide Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria relief as well as wildfire relief, and will bail out the financially troubled National Flood Insurance Program. The bill now awaits consideration by the Senate.

The bill also includes a few tax changes that might benefit you. This legislation allows you to take a casualty loss from these storms without having to itemize. You will also be able to deduct your uninsured personal losses in excess of a $500 threshold without regard to the 10% of adjusted gross income offset that generally applies to get that deduction. I don’t need to tell you how big that could be.

Also of note, the 10% penalty on pre-age-59 ½ withdrawals from retirement accounts is waived, as long as the IRA or retirement plan withdrawals are not greater than $100,000. The regular income tax due on these distributions can be paid over three years. You can also borrow more from your 401(k), up to $100,000, and loan repayments can be deferred. These are some of the changes that may affect you.

Tax Records Lost During Harvey?

If you lost your tax records during the hurricane you can use the Get Transcript tool on IRS.gov to print a summary of your W-2, 1099, and 1098 information. A tax transcript is a summary of key information and not a copy of your return. If you want a copy of an actual return, you must file Form 4506. If you want a copy of your transcript by mail, then you must file Form 4506-T. To expedite the processing and waive the customary fees, write “Hurricane Harvey” on the top of the form.