An “innocent spouse” may be able to escape tax liability

When a married couple files a joint tax return, each spouse is “jointly and severally” liable for the full amount of tax on the couple’s combined income. However, in some cases, a married couple files a joint tax return and one spouse is unaware of all the income or delinquent tax liabilities of the other spouse. The spouse who is in the dark still must generally pay the tax bill even if the couple divorces or the spouse passes away. But there may be “innocent spouse” relief.

More often than not, we have worked on such cases and received great outcomes. The innocent spouses were left with unexpected tax liabilities after life-changing events such as divorce or spouse’s sudden passing. We received their sincere thank you for restoring their shattered lives and alleviating their financial burdens.  

Innocent spouse relief

To qualify, you must show not only that you didn’t know about the understatement, but that there was nothing that should have made you suspicious. In addition, the circumstances must make it inequitable to hold you liable for the tax. This relief is available even if you’re still married and living with your spouse.

In addition, spouses may be able to limit liability for any tax deficiency on a joint return if they’re widowed, divorced, legally separated or have lived apart for at least one year.

Election to limit liability

If you make this election, the tax items that gave rise to the deficiency will be allocated between you and your spouse as if you’d filed separate returns. For example, you’d generally be liable for the tax on any unreported wage income only to the extent that you earned the wages.

The election won’t provide relief from your spouse’s tax items if the IRS proves that you knew about the items when you signed the return — unless you can show that you signed the return under duress. Also, the limitation on your liability is increased by the value of any assets that your spouse transferred to you in order to avoid the tax.

An “injured” spouse

In addition to innocent spouse relief, there’s also relief for “injured” spouses. What’s the difference? An injured spouse claim asks the IRS to allocate part of a joint refund to one spouse. In these cases, an injured spouse has all or part of a refund from a joint return applied against past-due federal tax, state tax, child or spousal support, or a federal nontax debt (such as a student loan) owed by the other spouse. If you’re an injured spouse, you may be entitled to recoup your share of the refund.

Whether, and to what extent, you can take advantage of the above relief depends on the facts of your situation. If you’re interested in trying to obtain relief, there’s paperwork that must be filed and deadlines that must be met. We can assist you with the details.

Also, keep “joint and several liability” in mind when filing future tax returns. Even if a joint return results in less tax, you may choose to file a separate return if you want to be certain of being responsible only for your own tax.

Contact us with any questions or concerns.

Don’t forget income taxes when planning your estate

As a result of the current estate tax exemption amount ($12.06 million in 2022), many estates no longer need to be concerned with federal estate tax. Before 2011, a much smaller amount resulted in estate plans attempting to avoid it. But now, because many estates won’t be subject to estate tax, more planning can be devoted to saving income taxes for your heirs.

While saving both income and transfer taxes has always been a goal of estate planning, it was more difficult to succeed at both when the estate and gift tax exemption level was much lower. Here are three considerations.

Plan gifts that use the annual gift tax exclusion. One of the benefits of using the gift tax annual exclusion to make transfers during life is to save estate tax. This is because both the transferred assets and any post-transfer appreciation generated by those assets are removed from the donor’s estate.

As mentioned, estate tax savings may not be an issue because of the large estate exemption amount. Further, making an annual exclusion transfer of appreciated property carries a potential income tax cost because the recipient receives the donor’s basis upon transfer. Thus, the recipient could face income tax, in the form of capital gains tax, on the sale of the gifted property in the future. If there’s no concern that an estate will be subject to estate tax, even if the gifted property grows in value, then the decision to make a gift should be based on other factors.

For example, gifts may be made to help a relative buy a home or start a business. But a donor shouldn’t gift appreciated property because of the capital gain that could be realized on a future sale by the recipient. If the appreciated property is held until the donor’s death, under current law, the heir will get a step-up in basis that will wipe out the capital gain tax on any pre-death appreciation in the property’s value.

Take spouses’ estates into account. In the past, spouses often undertook complicated strategies to equalize their estates so that each could take advantage of the estate tax exemption amount. Generally, a two-trust plan was established to minimize estate tax. “Portability,” or the ability to apply the decedent’s unused exclusion amount to the surviving spouse’s transfers during life and at death, became effective for estates of decedents dying after 2010. As long as the election is made, portability allows the surviving spouse to apply the unused portion of a decedent’s applicable exclusion amount (the deceased spousal unused exclusion amount) as calculated in the year of the decedent’s death. The portability election gives married couples more flexibility in deciding how to use their exclusion amounts.

Be aware that some estate exclusion or valuation discount strategies to avoid inclusion of property in an estate may no longer be worth pursuing. It may be better to have the property included in the estate or not qualify for valuation discounts so that the property receives a step-up in basis. For example, the special use valuation — the valuation of qualified real property used for farming or in a business on the basis of the property’s actual use, rather than on its highest and best use — may not save enough, or any, estate tax to justify giving up the step-up in basis that would otherwise occur for the property.

If you’d like to discuss these strategies and how they relate to your estate plan, contact us.

Separating your business from its real estate

Does your business need real estate to conduct operations? Or does it otherwise hold property and put the title in the name of the business? You may want to rethink this approach. Any short-term benefits may be outweighed by the tax, liability and estate planning advantages of separating real estate ownership from the business.

Tax implications

Businesses that are formed as C corporations treat real estate assets as they do equipment, inventory and other business assets. Any expenses related to owning the assets appear as ordinary expenses on their income statements and are generally tax deductible in the year they’re incurred.

However, when the business sells the real estate, the profits are taxed twice — at the corporate level and at the owner’s individual level when a distribution is made. Double taxation is avoidable, though. If ownership of the real estate were transferred to a pass-through entity instead, the profit upon sale would be taxed only at the individual level.

Protecting assets

Separating your business ownership from its real estate also provides an effective way to protect it from creditors and other claimants. For example, if your business is sued and found liable, a plaintiff may go after all of its assets, including real estate held in its name. But plaintiffs can’t touch property owned by another entity.

The strategy also can pay off if your business is forced to file for bankruptcy. Creditors generally can’t recover real estate owned separately unless it’s been pledged as collateral for credit taken out by the business.

Estate planning options

Separating real estate from a business may give you some estate planning options, too. For example, if the company is a family business but some members of the next generation aren’t interested in actively participating, separating property gives you an extra asset to distribute. You could bequest the business to one heir and the real estate to another family member who doesn’t work in the business.

Handling the transaction

The business simply transfers ownership of the real estate and the transferee leases it back to the company. Who should own the real estate? One option: The business owner could purchase the real estate from the business and hold title in his or her name. One concern is that it’s not only the property that’ll transfer to the owner, but also any liabilities related to it.

Moreover, any liability related to the property itself could inadvertently put the business at risk. If, for example, a client suffers an injury on the property and a lawsuit ensues, the property owner’s other assets (including the interest in the business) could be in jeopardy.

An alternative is to transfer the property to a separate legal entity formed to hold the title, typically a limited liability company (LLC) or limited liability partnership (LLP). With a pass-through structure, any expenses related to the real estate will flow through to your individual tax return and offset the rental income.

An LLC is more commonly used to transfer real estate. It’s simple to set up and requires only one member. LLPs require at least two partners and aren’t permitted in every state. Some states restrict them to certain types of businesses and impose other restrictions.

Proceed cautiously

Separating the ownership of a business’s real estate isn’t always advisable. If it’s worthwhile, the right approach will depend on your individual circumstances. Contact us to help determine the best approach to minimize your transfer costs and capital gains taxes while maximizing other potential benefits.

Inflation Reduction Act provisions of interest to small businesses

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law by President Biden on August 16, contains many provisions related to climate, energy and taxes. There has been a lot of media coverage about the law’s impact on large corporations. For example, the IRA contains a new 15% alternative minimum tax on large, profitable corporations. And the law adds a 1% excise tax on stock buybacks of more than $1 million by publicly traded U.S. corporations.

But there are also provisions that provide tax relief for small businesses. Here are two:

A payroll tax credit for research

Under current law, qualified small businesses can elect to claim a portion of their research credit as a payroll tax credit against their employer Social Security tax liability, rather than against their income tax liability. This became effective for tax years that begin after December 31, 2015.

Qualified small businesses that elect to claim the research credit as a payroll tax credit do so on IRS Form 8974, “Qualified Small Business Payroll Tax Credit for Increasing Research Activities.” Currently, a qualified small business can claim up to $250,000 of its credit for increasing research activities as a payroll tax credit against the employer’s share of Social Security tax.

The IRA makes changes to the credit, beginning next year. It allows for qualified small businesses to apply an additional $250,000 in qualifying research expenses as a payroll tax credit against the employer share of Medicare. The credit can’t exceed the tax imposed for any calendar quarter, with unused amounts of the credit carried forward. This provision will take effect for tax years beginning after December 31, 2022.

A qualified small business must meet certain requirements, including having gross receipts under a certain amount.

Extension of the limit on excess business losses of noncorporate taxpayers

Another provision in the new law extends the limit on excess business losses for noncorporate taxpayers. Under prior law, there was a cap set on business loss deductions by noncorporate taxpayers. For 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limited deductions for net business losses from sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers). Losses in excess of those amounts (which are adjusted annually for inflation) may be carried forward to future tax years under the net operating loss rules.

Although another law (the CARES Act) suspended the limit for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 tax years, it’s now back in force and has been extended through 2028 by the IRA. Businesses with significant losses should consult with us to discuss the impact of this change on their tax planning strategies.

We can help

These are only two of the many provisions in the IRA. There may be other tax benefits to your small business if you’re buying electric vehicles or green energy products. Contact us if you have questions about the new law and your situation.

Self-employed? Build a nest egg with a solo 401(k) plan

Do you own a successful small business with no employees and want to set up a retirement plan? Or do you want to upgrade from a SIMPLE IRA or Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan? Consider a solo 401(k) if you have healthy self-employment income and want to contribute substantial amounts to a retirement nest egg.

This strategy is geared toward self-employed individuals including sole proprietors, owners of single-member limited liability companies and other one-person businesses.

Go it alone

With a solo 401(k) plan, you can potentially make large annual deductible contributions to a retirement account.

For 2022, you can make an “elective deferral contribution” of up to $20,500 of your net self-employment (SE) income to a solo 401(k). The elective deferral contribution limit increases to $27,000 if you’ll be 50 or older as of December 31, 2022. The larger $27,000 figure includes an extra $6,500 catch-up contribution that’s allowed for these older owners.

On top of your elective deferral contribution, an additional contribution of up to 20% of your net SE income is permitted for solo 401(k)s. This is called an “employer contribution,” though there’s technically no employer when you’re self-employed. (The amount for employees is 25%.) For purposes of calculating the employer contribution, your net SE income isn’t reduced by your elective deferral contribution.

For the 2022 tax year, the combined elective deferral and employer contributions can’t exceed:

  • $61,000 ($67,500 if you’ll be 50 or older as of December 31, 2022), or
  • 100% of your net SE income.

Net SE income equals the net profit shown on Form 1040 Schedule C, E or F for the business minus the deduction for 50% of self-employment tax attributable to the business.

Pros and cons

Besides the ability to make large deductible contributions, another solo 401(k) advantage is that contributions are discretionary. If cash is tight, you can contribute a small amount or nothing.

In addition, you can borrow from your solo 401(k) account, assuming the plan document permits it. The maximum loan amount is 50% of the account balance or $50,000, whichever is less. Some other plan options, including SEPs, don’t allow loans.

The biggest downside to solo 401(k)s is their administrative complexity. Significant upfront paperwork and some ongoing administrative efforts are required, including adopting a written plan document and arranging how and when elective deferral contributions will be collected and paid into the owner’s account. Also, once your account balance exceeds $250,000, you must file Form 5500-EZ with the IRS annually.

If your business has one or more employees, you can’t have a solo 401(k). Instead, you must have a multi-participant 401(k) with all the resulting complications. The tax rules may require you to make contributions for those employees. However, there’s an important loophole: You can exclude employees who are under 21 and employees who haven’t worked at least 1,000 hours during any 12-month period from 401(k) plan coverage.

Bottom line: For a one-person business, a solo 401(k) can be a smart retirement plan choice if:

  • You want to make large annual deductible contributions and have the money,
  • You have substantial net SE income, and
  • You’re 50 or older and can take advantage of the extra catch-up contribution.

Before you establish a solo 401(k), weigh the pros and cons of other retirement plans — especially if you’re 50 or older. Solo 401(k)s aren’t simple but they can allow you to make substantial and deductible contributions to a retirement nest egg.

Contact us before signing up to determine what’s best for your situation.

2022 Q3 Estimated payment due by 9/15

As you are all very well aware of, individuals must pay 25% of a “required annual payment” by April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year, to avoid an underpayment penalty.

So the third quarter estimated tax payments for 2022 is due on Wednesday, September 15.

The required annual payment for most individuals is the lower of 90% of the tax shown on the current year’s return or 100% of the tax shown on the return for the previous year. However, if the adjusted gross income on your previous year’s return was more than $150,000 ($75,000 if you’re married filing separately), you must pay the lower of 90% of the tax shown on the current year’s return or 110% of the tax shown on the return for the previous year.

Due to the current financial, market fluctuation and many other factors, you may not rely on the safe harbor method (based on 2021 tax liabilities) estimates. It is a critical time to find out where you stand with your 2022 tax liabilities and revisit your tax strategies for the year.

Moreover, now that the Inflation Reduction Act has been passed, we should understand its various tax implications and consider the timing of tax planning.

If you need a taxable income projection for your Q3 payment and the rest of the year, please contact us immediately.

Why an LLC might be the best choice of entity for your business

The business entity you choose can affect your taxes, your personal liability and other issues. A limited liability company (LLC) is somewhat of a hybrid entity in that it can be structured to resemble a corporation for owner liability purposes and a partnership for federal tax purposes. This duality may provide you with the best of both worlds.

Like the shareholders of a corporation, the owners of an LLC (called “members” rather than shareholders or partners) generally aren’t liable for business debts except to the extent of their investment. Thus, they can operate the business with the security of knowing that their personal assets are protected from the entity’s creditors. This protection is far greater than that afforded by partnerships. In a partnership, the general partners are personally liable for the debts of the business. Even limited partners, if they actively participate in managing the business, can have personal liability.

Check-the-box rules

LLC owners can elect under the check-the-box rules to have the entity treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes. This can provide a number of important benefits to them. For example, partnership earnings aren’t subject to an entity-level tax. Instead, they “flow through” to the owners, in proportion to the owners’ respective interests in profits, and are reported on the owners’ individual returns and are taxed only once. To the extent the income passed through to you is qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the Section 199A pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations.

In addition, since you’re actively managing the business, you can deduct on your individual tax return your ratable shares of any losses the business generates. This, in effect, allows you to shelter other income that you (and your spouse, if you’re married) may have.

An LLC that’s taxable as a partnership can provide special allocations of tax benefits to specific partners. This can be an important reason for using an LLC over an S corporation (a form of business that provides tax treatment that’s similar to a partnership). Another reason for using an LLC over an S corporation is that LLCs aren’t subject to the restrictions the federal tax code imposes on S corporations regarding the number of owners and the types of ownership interests that may be issued.

Explore the options

In summary, an LLC would give you corporate-like protection from creditors while providing you with the benefits of taxation as a partnership. Be aware that the LLC structure is allowed by state statute and states may use different regulations. Contact us to discuss in more detail how use of an LLC might benefit you and the other owners.

Three tax breaks for small businesses

Sometimes, bigger isn’t better: Your small- or medium-sized business may be eligible for some tax breaks that aren’t available to larger businesses. Here are some examples.

1. QBI deduction

For 2018 through 2025, the qualified business income (QBI) deduction is available to eligible individuals, trusts and estates. But it’s not available to C corporations or their shareholders.

The QBI deduction can be up to 20% of:

  • QBI earned from a sole proprietorship or single-member limited liability company (LLC) that’s treated as a sole proprietorship for federal income tax purposes, plus
  • QBI passed through from a pass-through business entity, meaning a partnership, LLC classified as a partnership for federal income tax purposes or S corporation.

Pass-through business entities report tax items to their owners, who then take them into account on their owner-level returns. The QBI deduction rules are complicated, and the deduction can be phased out at higher income levels.

2. Eligibility for cash-method accounting

Businesses that are eligible to use the cash method of accounting for tax purposes have the ability to fine-tune annual taxable income. This is accomplished by timing the year in which you recognize taxable income and claim deductions.

Under the cash method, you generally don’t have to recognize taxable income until you’re paid in cash. And you can generally write off deductible expenses when you pay them in cash or with a credit card.

Only “small” businesses are potentially eligible for the cash method. For this purpose under current law, a small business includes one that has no more than $25 million of average annual gross receipts, based on the preceding three tax years. This limit is adjusted annually for inflation. For tax years beginning in 2022, the limit is $27 million.

3. Section 179 deduction 

The Sec. 179 first-year depreciation deduction potentially allows you to write off some (or all) of your qualified asset additions in the first year they’re placed in service. It’s available for both new and used property.

For qualified property placed in service in tax years 2018 and beyond, the deduction rules are much more favorable than under prior law. Enhancements include:

Higher deduction. The Sec. 179 deduction has been permanently increased to $1 million with annual inflation adjustments. For qualified assets placed in service in 2022, the maximum is $1.08 million.

Liberalized phase-out. The threshold above which the maximum Sec. 179 deduction begins to be phased out is $2.5 million with annual inflation adjustments. For qualified assets placed in service in 2022, the phase-out begins at $2.7 million.

The phase-out rule kicks in only if your additions of assets that are eligible for the deduction for the year exceed the threshold for that year. If they exceed the threshold, your maximum deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the excess. Sec. 179 deductions are also subject to other limitations.

Bonus depreciation

While Sec. 179 deductions may be limited, those limitations don’t apply to first-year bonus depreciation deductions. For qualified assets placed in service in 2022, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available. After this year, the first-year bonus depreciation percentages are scheduled to start going down to 80% for qualified assets placed in service in 2023. They will continue to be reduced until they reach 0% for 2028 and later years.

Contact us to determine if you’re taking advantage of all available tax breaks, including those that are available to small and large businesses alike.

The kiddie tax: Does it affect your family?

Many people wonder how they can save taxes by transferring assets into their children’s names. This tax strategy is called income shifting. It seeks to take income out of your higher tax bracket and place it in the lower tax brackets of your children.

While some tax savings are available through this approach, the “kiddie tax” rules impose substantial limitations if:

  1. The child hasn’t reached age 18 before the close of the tax year, or
  2. The child’s earned income doesn’t exceed half of his or her support and the child is age 18 or is a full-time student age 19 to 23.

The kiddie tax rules apply to your children who are under the cutoff age(s) described above, and who have more than a certain amount of unearned (investment) income for the tax year — $2,300 for 2022. While some tax savings on up to this amount can still be achieved by shifting income to children under the cutoff age, the savings aren’t substantial.

If the kiddie tax rules apply to your children and they have over the prescribed amount of unearned income for the tax year ($2,300 for 2022), they’ll be taxed on that excess amount at your (the parents’) tax rates if your rates are higher than the children’s tax rates. This kiddie tax is calculated by computing the “allocable parental tax” and special allocation rules apply if the parents have more than one child subject to the kiddie tax.

Note: Different rules applied for the 2018 and 2019 tax years, when the kiddie tax was computed based on the estates’ and trusts’ ordinary and capital gain rates, instead of the parents’ tax rates.

Be aware that, to transfer income to a child, you must transfer ownership of the asset producing the income. You can’t merely transfer the income itself. Property can be transferred to minor children using custodial accounts under state law.

Possible saving vehicles

The portion of investment income of a child that’s taxed under the kiddie tax rules may be reduced or eliminated if the child invests in vehicles that produce little or no current taxable income. These include:

  • Securities and mutual funds oriented toward capital growth;
  • Vacant land expected to appreciate in value;
  • Stock in a closely held family business, expected to become more valuable as the business expands, but pays little or no cash dividends;
  • Tax-exempt municipal bonds and bond funds;
  • U.S. Series EE bonds, for which recognition of income can be deferred until the bonds mature, the bonds are cashed in or an election to recognize income annually is made.

Investments that produce no taxable income — and which therefore aren’t subject to the kiddie tax — also include tax-advantaged savings vehicles such as:

  • Traditional and Roth IRAs, which can be established or contributed to if the child has earned income;
  • Qualified tuition programs (also known as “529 plans”); and
  • Coverdell education savings accounts.

A child’s earned income (as opposed to investment income) is taxed at the child’s regular tax rates, regardless of the amount. Therefore, to save taxes within the family, consider employing the child at your own business and paying reasonable compensation.

If the kiddie tax applies, it’s computed and reported on Form 8615, which is attached to the child’s tax return.

Two reporting options

Parents can elect to include the child’s income on their own return if certain requirements are satisfied. This is done on Form 8814 and avoids the need for a separate return for the child. Contact us if you have questions about the kiddie tax.

Interested in an EV? How to qualify for a powerful tax credit

Sales and registrations of electric vehicles (EVs) have increased dramatically in the U.S. in 2022, according to several sources. However, while they’re still a small percentage of the cars on the road today, they’re increasing in popularity all the time.

If you buy one, you may be eligible for a federal tax break. The tax code provides a credit to purchasers of qualifying plug-in electric drive motor vehicles including passenger vehicles and light trucks. The credit is equal to $2,500 plus an additional amount, based on battery capacity, that can’t exceed $5,000. Therefore, the maximum credit allowed for a qualifying EV is $7,500.

Be aware that not all EVs are eligible for the tax break, as we’ll describe below.

The EV definition

For purposes of the tax credit, a qualifying vehicle is defined as one with four wheels that’s propelled to a significant extent by an electric motor, which draws electricity from a battery. The battery must have a capacity of not less than four kilowatt hours and be capable of being recharged from an external source of electricity.

The credit may not be available because of a per-manufacturer cumulative sales limitation. Specifically, it phases out over six quarters beginning when a manufacturer has sold at least 200,000 qualifying vehicles for use in the United States (determined on a cumulative basis for sales after December 31, 2009). For example, Tesla and General Motors vehicles are no longer eligible for the tax credit. And Toyota is the latest auto manufacturer to sell enough plug-in EVs to trigger a gradual phase out of federal tax incentives for certain models sold in the U.S.

Several automakers are telling Congress to eliminate the limit. In a letter, GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota asked Congressional leaders to give all electric car and light truck buyers a tax credit of up to $7,500. The group says that lifting the limit would give buyers more choices, encourage greater EV adoption and provide stability to autoworkers.

The IRS provides a list of qualifying vehicles on its website and it recently added some eligible models. You can access the list here: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/irc-30d-new-qualified-plug-in-electric-drive-motor-vehicle-credit.

Here are some additional points about the plug-in electric vehicle tax credit:

  • It’s allowed in the year you place the vehicle in service.
  • The vehicle must be new.
  • An eligible vehicle must be used predominantly in the U.S. and have a gross weight of less than 14,000 pounds.

These are only the basic rules. There may be additional incentives provided by your state. If you want more information about the federal plug-in electric vehicle tax break, contact us.