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Tax-wise ways to save for college

Tax-wise ways to save for college

If you’re a parent or grandparent with college-bound children, you may want to save to fund future education costs. Here are several approaches to take maximum advantage of the tax-favored ways to save that may be available to you.

Savings bonds 

Series EE U.S. savings bonds offer two tax-saving opportunities when used to finance college expenses:

  1. You don’t have to report the interest on the bonds for federal tax purposes until the bonds are cashed in, and
  2. Interest on “qualified” Series EE (and Series I) bonds may be exempt from federal tax if the bond proceeds are used for qualified college expenses.

To qualify for the college tax exemption, you must purchase the bonds in your own name (not the child’s) or jointly with your spouse. The proceeds must be used for tuition, fees, etc. — not room and board. If only some proceeds are used for qualified expenses, only that part of the interest is exempt.

If your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds certain amounts, the exemption is phased out. For bonds cashed in 2023, the exemption begins to phase out when joint MAGI hits $137,800 for married joint filers ($91,850 for other returns) and is completely phased out if MAGI is $167,800 or more for joint filers ($106,850 or more for others).

Qualified tuition programs or 529 plans 

Typically known as a “529 plans,” these programs allow you to buy tuition credits or make contributions to an account set up to meet a child’s future higher education expenses. 529 plans are established by state governments or private institutions.

Contributions aren’t deductible and are treated as taxable gifts to the child. But they’re eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion ($17,000 in 2023). A donor who contributes more than the annual exclusion limit for the year can elect to treat the gift as if it were spread out over a five-year period.

Earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free until the college costs are paid from the funds. Distributions from 529 plans are tax-free to the extent the funds are used to pay “qualified higher education expenses,” which can include up to $10,000 in tuition for an elementary or secondary school. Distributions of earnings that aren’t used for “qualified higher education expenses” are generally subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty.

Coverdell education savings accounts (ESAs)

You can establish a Coverdell ESA and make contributions of up to $2,000 for each child under age 18. This age limitation doesn’t apply to beneficiaries with special needs.

The right to make contributions begins to phase out once AGI is over $190,000 on a joint return ($95,000 for single taxpayers). If the income limit is an issue, the child can make a contribution to his or her own account.

Although contributions aren’t deductible, income in the account isn’t taxed, and distributions are tax-free if spent on qualified education expenses. If the child doesn’t attend college, the money must be withdrawn when the child turns 30 and any earnings will be subject to tax plus a penalty. However, unused funds can be transferred tax-free to a Coverdell ESA of another member of the family who hasn’t reached age 30. The age 30 requirement doesn’t apply to individuals with special needs.

We can help

These are just some of the tax-favored ways to save a college fund for your children. In a future article, we’ll discuss possible tax breaks once your child is already in college. Contact us if you wish to discuss these issues.

© 2023

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Employers should be wary of ERC claims that are too good to be true

Employers should be wary of ERC claims that are too good to be true

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) was a valuable tax credit that helped employers that kept workers on staff during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the credit is no longer available, eligible employers that haven’t yet claimed it might still be able to do so by filing amended payroll returns for tax years 2020 and 2021.

However, the IRS is warning employers to beware of third parties that may be advising them to claim the ERC when they don’t qualify. Some third-party “ERC mills” are promising that they can get businesses a refund without knowing anything about the employers’ situations. They’re sending emails, letters and voice mails as well as advertising on television. When businesses respond, these ERC mills are claiming many improper write-offs related to taxpayer eligibility for — and computation of — the credit.

These third parties often charge large upfront fees or a fee that’s contingent on the amount of the refund. They may not inform taxpayers that wage deductions claimed on the companies’ federal income tax returns must be reduced by the amount of the credit.

According to the IRS, if a business filed an income tax return deducting qualified wages before it filed an employment tax return claiming the credit, the business should file an amended income tax return to correct any overstated wage deduction. Your tax advisor can assist with this.

Businesses are encouraged to be cautious of advertised schemes and direct solicitations promising tax savings that are too good to be true. Taxpayers are always responsible for the information reported on their tax returns. Improperly claiming the ERC could result in taxpayers being required to repay the credit along with penalties and interest.

ERC Basics

The ERC is a refundable tax credit designed for businesses that:

  • Continued paying employees while they were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or
  • Had significant declines in gross receipts from March 13, 2020, to September 30, 2021 (or December 31, 2021 for certain startup businesses).

Eligible taxpayers could have claimed the ERC on an original employment tax return or they can claim it on an amended return.

To be eligible for the ERC, employers must have:

  • Sustained a full or partial suspension of operations due to orders from an appropriate governmental authority limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19 during 2020 or the first three quarters of 2021,
  • Experienced a significant decline in gross receipts during 2020 or a decline in gross receipts during the first three quarters of 2021, or
  • Qualified as a recovery startup business for the third or fourth quarters of 2021.

As a reminder, only recovery startup businesses are eligible for the ERC in the fourth quarter of 2021. Additionally, for any quarter, eligible employers cannot claim the ERC on wages that were reported as payroll costs in obtaining Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness or that were used to claim certain other tax credits.

How to Proceed

If you didn’t claim the ERC, and believe you’re eligible, contact us. We can advise you on how to proceed.

© 2023

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SECURE 2.0 law may make you more secure in retirement

SECURE 2.0 law may make you more secure in retirement

A new law was recently signed that will help Americans save more for retirement, although many of the provisions don’t kick in for a few years. The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement 2.0 Act (SECURE 2.0) was signed into law on December 29, 2022.

SECURE 2.0 is meant to build on the original SECURE Act of 2019, which made major changes to the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules and other retirement provisions.

Here are some of the significant retirement plan changes and when they’ll become effective:

  • The age for beginning RMDs is going up. Employer-sponsored qualified retirement plans, traditional IRAs and individual retirement annuities are subject to RMD rules. They require that benefits start being distributed by the required beginning date. Under the new law, the age distributions must begin increases from age 72 to age 73 starting on January 1, 2023. It will then increase to age 75 starting on January 1, 2033.
  • There will be higher “catch-up” contributions for 401(k) participants ages 60 through 63. Currently, participants in certain retirement plans can make additional catch-up contributions if they’re age 50 or older. The limit on catch-up contributions to 401(k) plans is $7,500 for 2023. SECURE 2.0 will increase the 401(k) plan catch-up contribution limits for individuals ages 60 through 63 to the greater of $10,000 or 150% of the regular catch-up amount. The increased amounts will be indexed for inflation after 2025. This provision will take effect for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2024. (There will also be increased catch-up amounts for SIMPLE plans.)
  • Tax-free rollovers will be allowed from 529 accounts to Roth IRAs. SECURE 2.0 will permit beneficiaries of 529 college savings accounts to make direct trustee-to-trustee rollovers from a 529 accounts in their names to their Roth IRAs without tax or penalty. Several rules apply. This provision is effective for distributions after December 31, 2023.
  • “Matching” contributions will be permitted for employees with student loan debt. The new law will allow an employer to make matching contributions to 401(k) and certain other retirement plans with respect to “qualified student loan payments.” The result of this provision is that employees who can’t afford to save money for retirement because they’re repaying student loan debt can still receive matching contributions from their employers into retirement plans. This will take effect beginning after December 31, 2023.

Non-retirement plan provision

There are also some parts of the law that aren’t related to retirement plans, including a change to Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts. Tax-exempt ABLE programs are established by states to assist individuals with disabilities. Currently, in order to be the beneficiary of an ABLE account, an individual’s disability or blindness must have occurred before age 26. SECURE 2.0 increases this age limit to 46, which will make more people eligible to benefit from an ABLE account. This provision is effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2025.

Just the beginning

These are only some of the many provisions in SECURE 2.0. Contact us if you have any questions about your situation.

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The standard business mileage rate is going up in 2023

The standard business mileage rate is going up in 2023

Although the national price of gas is a bit lower than it was a year ago, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible cost of operating an automobile for business will be going up in 2023. The IRS recently announced that the 2023 cents-per-mile rate for the business use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck is 65.5 cents. These rates apply to electric and hybrid-electric automobiles, as well as gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles.

In 2022, the business cents-per-mile rate for the second half of the year (July 1 – December 31) was 62.5 cents per mile, and for the first half of the year (January 1 – June 30), it was 58.5 cents per mile.

How rate calculations are done

The 3-cent increase from the 2022 midyear rate is somewhat surprising because gas prices are currently lower than they have been. On December 29, 2022, the national average price of a gallon of regular gas was $3.15, compared with $3.52 a month earlier and $3.28 a year earlier, according to AAA Gas Prices. However, the standard mileage rate is calculated based on all the costs involved in driving a vehicle — not just the price of gas.

The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It’s based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, including gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. Occasionally, if there’s a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the cents-per-mile rate midyear, as it did in 2022.

Standard rate versus actual expenses

Businesses can generally deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases, certain limits apply to depreciation write-offs on vehicles that don’t apply to other types of business assets.

The cents-per-mile rate is beneficial if you don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this method, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses. However, you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.

Using the cents-per-mile rate is also popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal vehicles. These reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who drive their personal vehicles a great deal for business purposes. Why? Under current law, employees can’t deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their own income tax returns.

If you do use the cents-per-mile rate, keep in mind that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t comply, the reimbursements could be considered taxable wages to the employees.

The standard rate can’t always be used

There are some cases when you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. It partly depends on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past. In other situations, it depends on if the vehicle is new to your business this year or whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation tax breaks on it.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider in deciding whether to use the standard mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. We can help if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2023 — or claiming 2022 expenses on your 2022 income tax return.

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Renting to a relative? Watch out for tax traps

Renting to a relative? Watch out for tax traps

If you own a home and rent it to a relative, you may be surprised to find out there could be tax consequences.

Quick rundown of the rules

Renting out a home or apartment that you own may result in a tax loss for you, even if the rental income is more than your operating costs. You’ll be entitled to a depreciation deduction for your cost of the house or apartment (except for the portion allocated to the land). However, if your tenant is related to you, special rules and limitations may apply. For this purpose, “related” means a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent or sibling.

No limitations apply if:

  • You rent a home to a relative who uses it as his or her principal residence (that is, not just as a second or vacation home) for the year, and
  • The home is rented at a fair market rent amount (not at a discount).

In these cases, you can deduct all the normal rental expenses, even if they result in a rental loss for the year. (If you have a loss, however, it’s a “passive” loss, which may be subject to a different set of limitations.)

Below fair market rent

Problems arise if you set the rent below the fair market rental value. The reason is this then becomes a rental property that you’re treated as using personally. So you’d have to allocate the expenses between the personal and rental portions of the year. Even more seriously, however, since all of the rental days (at a bargain rate to a relative) are treated as personal days, the rental portion would be zero. Thus, you’d have to report all of the rent you receive in income, but none of your expenses for the home would be deductible. (You’d still be able to deduct the mortgage interest, assuming it otherwise qualifies as deductible, and property taxes. These items are deductible even for nonrental homes.)

Given the above problems, it’s important to set the rent at a fair rate. Factors to look at include comparable rentals in the area and whether you made any “side” gifts to your relative (to help pay the rent) that could reasonably be interpreted to be a bargain element.

Contact us if you have any questions or would like to discuss any of these matters in more detail.

© 2022

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How to minimize the S corporation LIFO recapture tax

How to minimize the S corporation LIFO recapture tax

If you’re considering converting your C corporation to an S corporation, be aware that there may be tax implications if you’ve been using the last in, first out (LIFO) inventory method. That’s because of the LIFO recapture income that will be triggered by converting to S corporation status. We can meet to compute what the tax on this recapture would be and to see what planning steps might be taken to minimize it.

Inventory reporting

As you’re aware, your corporation has been reporting a lower amount of taxable income under LIFO than it would have under the first in, first out (FIFO) method. The reason: The inventory taken into account in calculating the cost of goods sold under LIFO reflects current costs, which are usually higher.

This benefit of LIFO over FIFO is equal to the difference between the LIFO value of inventory and the higher value it would have had if the FIFO method had been used. In effect, the tax law treats this difference as though it were profit earned while the corporation was a C corporation. To make sure there’s a corporate-level tax on this amount, it must be “recaptured” into income when the corporation converts from a C corporation to an S corporation. Also, the recapture amount will increase the corporation’s earnings and profits, which can have adverse tax consequences down the road.

Soften the blow

There are a couple of rules that soften the blow of this recapture tax to some degree.

  1. The increase in tax imposed on the C corporation in its final tax year because of the LIFO recapture may be paid over a four-year period.
  2. The basis of the corporation’s inventory will be increased by the amount of income recognized. So, the net effect may be one primarily of timing — because of the basis increase, the corporation may realize less income in later years, though only if there are decrements in the adjusted LIFO layer.

We can help you gauge your exposure to the LIFO recapture tax and can suggest strategies for reducing it. Contact us to discuss these issues in detail.

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Save for retirement by getting the most out of your 401(k) plan

Save for retirement by getting the most out of your 401(k) plan

Socking away money in a tax-advantaged retirement plan can help you reduce taxes and help secure a comfortable retirement. If your employer offers a 401(k) or Roth 401(k), contributing to the plan is a smart way to build a substantial nest egg.

If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions can have a major impact on the amount of money you’ll have in retirement.

With a 401(k), an employee makes an election to have a certain amount of pay deferred and contributed by an employer on his or her behalf to the plan. The amounts are indexed for inflation each year and not surprisingly, they’re going up quite a bit. The contribution limit in 2023 is $22,500 (up from $20,500 in 2022). Employees age 50 or older by year end are also permitted to make additional “catch-up” contributions of $7,500 in 2023 (up from $6,500 in 2022). This means those 50 and older can save a total of $30,000 in 2023 (up from $27,000 in 2022).

Contributing to a traditional 401(k) 

A traditional 401(k) offers many benefits, including:

  • Contributions are pretax, reducing your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which can also help you reduce or avoid exposure to the 3.8% net investment income tax.
  • Plan assets can grow tax-deferred — meaning you pay no income tax until you take distributions.
  • Your employer may match some or all of your contributions pretax.

If you already have a 401(k) plan, take a look at your contributions. In 2023, you may want to try and increase your contribution rate to get as close to the $22,500 limit (with an extra $7,500 if you’re age 50 or older) as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by the amount of the contribution only, because the contributions are pretax — so, income tax isn’t withheld.

Contributing to a Roth 401(k)

Employers may also include a Roth option in their 401(k) plans. If your employer offers this, you can designate some or all of your contributions as Roth contributions. While such amounts don’t reduce your current MAGI, qualified distributions will be tax-free.

Roth 401(k) contributions may be especially beneficial for higher-income earners, because they don’t have the option to contribute to a Roth IRA. That’s because your ability to make a Roth IRA contribution is reduced or eliminated if your adjusted gross income exceeds certain amounts.

Looking ahead

Contact us if you have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth 401(k) contributions. We can also discuss other tax and retirement-saving strategies in your situation.

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2023 Q1 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

2023 Q1 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2023. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. If you have questions about filing requirements, contact us. We can ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines.

January 17 (The usual deadline of January 15 is on a Sunday and January 16 is a federal holiday)

  • Pay the final installment of 2022 estimated tax.
  • Farmers and fishermen: Pay estimated tax for 2022. If you don’t pay your estimated tax by January 17, you must file your 2022 return and pay all tax due by March 1, 2023, to avoid an estimated tax penalty.

January 31

  • File 2022 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • Provide copies of 2022 Forms 1099-NEC, “Nonemployee Compensation,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
  • File 2022 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7, with the IRS.
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2022. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2022. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944, “Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2022 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 15

Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2022. You can use the appropriate version of Form 1099 or other information return. Form 1099 can be issued electronically with the consent of the recipient. This due date applies only to the following types of payments:

  • All payments reported on Form 1099-B.
  • All payments reported on Form 1099-S.
  • Substitute payments reported in box 8 or gross proceeds paid to an attorney reported in box 10 of Form 1099-MISC.

February 28

  • File 2022 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if: 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is March 31.)

March 15

  • If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2022 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2022 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

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Do you qualify for the QBI deduction? And can you do anything by year-end to help qualify?

Do you qualify for the QBI deduction? And can you do anything by year-end to help qualify?

If you own a business, you may wonder if you’re eligible to take the qualified business income (QBI) deduction. Sometimes this is referred to as the pass-through deduction or the Section 199A deduction.

The QBI deduction is:

  • Available to owners of sole proprietorships, single member limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships, and S corporations, as well as trusts and estates.
  • Intended to reduce the tax rate on QBI to a rate that’s closer to the corporate tax rate.
  • Taken “below the line.” In other words, it reduces your taxable income but not your adjusted gross income.
  • Available regardless of whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction.

Taxpayers other than corporations may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20% of their QBI. For 2022, if taxable income exceeds $170,050 for single taxpayers, or $340,100 for a married couple filing jointly, the QBI deduction may be limited based on different scenarios. For 2023, these amounts are $182,100 and $364,200, respectively.

The situations in which the QBI deduction may be limited include whether the taxpayer is engaged in a service-type of trade or business (such as law, accounting, health or consulting), the amount of W-2 wages paid by the trade or business, and/or the unadjusted basis of qualified property (such as machinery and equipment) held by the trade or business. The limitations are phased in.

Year-end planning tip

Some taxpayers may be able to achieve significant savings with respect to this deduction (or be subject to a smaller phaseout of the deduction), by deferring income or accelerating deductions at year-end so that they come under the dollar thresholds for 2022. Depending on your business model, you also may be able to increase the deduction by increasing W-2 wages before year-end. The rules are quite complex, so contact us with questions and consult with us before taking the next steps.

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Answers to your questions about taking withdrawals from IRAs

Answers to your questions about taking withdrawals from IRAs

As you may know, you can’t keep funds in your traditional IRA indefinitely. You have to start taking withdrawals from a traditional IRA (including a SIMPLE IRA or SEP IRA) when you reach age 72.

The rules for taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) are complicated, so here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

What if I want to take out money before retirement? 

If you want to take money out of a traditional IRA before age 59½, distributions are taxable and you may be subject to a 10% penalty tax. However, there are several ways that the 10% penalty tax (but not the regular income tax) can be avoided, including to pay: qualified higher education expenses, up to $10,000 of expenses if you’re a first-time homebuyer and health insurance premiums while unemployed.

When do I take my first RMD?

For an IRA, you must take your first RMD by April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 72, regardless of whether you’re still employed.

How do I calculate my RMD?

The RMD for any year is the account balance as of the end of the immediately preceding calendar year divided by a distribution period from the IRS’s “Uniform Lifetime Table.” A separate table is used if the sole beneficiary is the owner’s spouse who is 10 or more years younger than the owner.

How should I take my RMDs if I have multiple accounts?

If you have more than one IRA, you must calculate the RMD for each IRA separately each year. However, you may aggregate your RMD amounts for all of your IRAs and withdraw the total from one IRA or a portion from each of your IRAs. You don’t have to take a separate RMD from each IRA.

Can I withdraw more than the RMD?

Yes, you can always withdraw more than the RMD. But you can’t apply excess withdrawals toward future years’ RMDs.

In planning for RMDs, you should weigh your income needs against the ability to keep the tax shelter of the IRA going for as long as possible.

Can I take more than one withdrawal in a year to meet my RMD?

You may withdraw your annual RMD in any number of distributions throughout the year, as long as you withdraw the total annual minimum amount by December 31 (or April 1 if it is for your first RMD).

What happens if I don’t take an RMD?

If the distributions to you in any year are less than the RMD for that year, you’ll be subject to an additional tax equal to 50% of the amount that should have been paid out, but wasn’t.

Plan ahead wisely

Contact us to review your traditional IRAs and to analyze other aspects of your retirement planning. We can also discuss who you should name as beneficiaries and whether you could benefit from a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs are retirement savings vehicles that operate under a different set of rules than traditional IRAs. Contributions aren’t deductible but qualified distributions are generally tax-free.

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