5 Tax implications of divorce

Are you in the early stages of divorce? In addition to the tough personal issues that you’re dealing with, several tax concerns need to be addressed to ensure that taxes are kept to a minimum and that important tax-related decisions are properly made. Here are five issues to consider if you’re in the process of getting a divorce.

  1. Alimony or support payments. For alimony under divorce or separation agreements that are executed after 2018, there’s no deduction for alimony and separation support payments for the spouse making them. And the alimony payments aren’t included in the gross income of the spouse receiving them. (The rules are different for divorce or separation agreements executed before 2019.)
  2. Child support. No matter when the divorce or separation instrument is executed, child support payments aren’t deductible by the paying spouse (or taxable to the recipient).
  3. Personal residence. In general, if a married couple sells their home in connection with a divorce or legal separation, they should be able to avoid tax on up to $500,000 of gain (as long as they’ve owned and used the residence as their principal residence for two of the previous five years). If one spouse continues to live in the home and the other moves out (but they both remain owners of the home), they may still be able to avoid gain on the future sale of the home (up to $250,000 each), but special language may have to be included in the divorce decree or separation agreement to protect this tax exclusion for the spouse who moves out.
    If the couple doesn’t meet the two-year ownership and use tests, any gain from the sale may qualify for a reduced exclusion due to unforeseen circumstances.
  4. Pension benefits. A spouse’s pension benefits are often part of a divorce property settlement. In these cases, the commonly preferred method to handle the benefits is to get a “qualified domestic relations order” (QDRO). This gives one spouse the right to share in the pension benefits of the other and taxes the spouse who receives the benefits. Without a QDRO the spouse who earned the benefits will still be taxed on them even though they’re paid out to the other spouse.
  5. Business interests. If certain types of business interests are transferred in connection with divorce, care should be taken to make sure “tax attributes” aren’t forfeited. For example, interests in S corporations may result in “suspended” losses (losses that are carried into future years instead of being deducted in the year they’re incurred). When these interests change hands in a divorce, the suspended losses may be forfeited. If a partnership interest is transferred, a variety of more complex issues may arise involving partners’ shares of partnership debt, capital accounts, built-in gains on contributed property, and other complex issues.

A variety of other issues

These are just some of the issues you may have to deal with if you’re getting a divorce. In addition, you must decide how to file your tax return (single, married filing jointly, married filing separately or head of household). You may need to adjust your income tax withholding and you should notify the IRS of any new address or name change. There are also estate planning considerations. We can help you work through all of the financial issues involved in divorce.

Thinking about converting your home into a rental property?

In some cases, homeowners decide to move to new residences, but keep their present homes and rent them out. If you’re thinking of doing this, you’re probably aware of the financial risks and rewards. However, you also should know that renting out your home carries potential tax benefits and pitfalls.

You’re generally treated as a regular real estate landlord once you begin renting your home. That means you must report rental income on your tax return, but also are entitled to offsetting landlord deductions for the money you spend on utilities, operating expenses, incidental repairs and maintenance (for example, fixing a leak in the roof). Additionally, you can claim depreciation deductions for the home. You can fully offset rental income with otherwise allowable landlord deductions.

Passive activity rules

However, under the passive activity loss (PAL) rules, you may not be able to currently claim the rent-related deductions that exceed your rental income unless an exception applies. Under the most widely applicable exception, the PAL rules won’t affect your converted property for a tax year in which your adjusted gross income doesn’t exceed $100,000, you actively participate in running the home-rental business, and your losses from all rental real estate activities in which you actively participate don’t exceed $25,000.

You should also be aware that potential tax pitfalls may arise from renting your residence. Unless your rentals are strictly temporary and are made necessary by adverse market conditions, you could forfeit an important tax break for home sellers if you finally sell the home at a profit. In general, you can escape tax on up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain on the sale of your principal home. However, this tax-free treatment is conditioned on your having used the residence as your principal residence for at least two of the five years preceding the sale. So renting your home out for an extended time could jeopardize a big tax break.

Even if you don’t rent out your home so long as to jeopardize your principal residence exclusion, the tax break you would have gotten on the sale (the $250,000/$500,000 exclusion) won’t apply to the extent of any depreciation allowable with respect to the rental or business use of the home for periods after May 6, 1997, or to any gain allocable to a period of nonqualified use (any period during which the property isn’t used as the principal residence of the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s spouse or former spouse) after December 31, 2008. A maximum tax rate of 25% will apply to this gain (attributable to depreciation deductions).

Selling at a loss

Some homeowners who bought at the height of a market may ultimately sell at a loss someday. In such situations, the loss is available for tax purposes only if the owner can establish that the home was in fact converted permanently into income-producing property. Here, a longer lease period helps an owner. However, if you’re in this situation, be aware that you may not wind up with much of a loss for tax purposes. That’s because basis (the cost for tax purposes) is equal to the lesser of actual cost or the property’s fair market value when it’s converted to rental property. So if a home was bought for $300,000, converted to a rental when it’s worth $250,000, and ultimately sold for $225,000, the loss would be only $25,000. The question of whether to turn a principal residence into rental property isn’t easy. Contact us to review your situation and help you make a decision.

Married couples filing separate tax returns: Why would they do it?

If you’re married, you may wonder whether you should file joint or separate tax returns. The answer depends on your individual tax situation.

In general, it depends on which filing status results in the lowest tax. But keep in mind that, if you and your spouse file a joint return, each of you is “jointly and severally” liable for the tax on your combined income. And you’re both equally liable for any additional tax the IRS assesses, plus interest and most penalties. That means that the IRS can come after either of you to collect the full amount.

Although there are “innocent spouse” provisions in the law that may offer relief, they have limitations. Therefore, even if a joint return results in less tax, you may want to file separately if you want to only be responsible for your own tax.

In most cases, filing jointly offers the most tax savings, especially when the spouses have different income levels. Combining two incomes can bring some of it out of a higher tax bracket. For example, if one spouse has $75,000 of taxable income and the other has just $15,000, filing jointly instead of separately can save $2,499 on their 2021 taxes, when they file this year.

Filing separately doesn’t mean you go back to using the “single” rates that applied before you were married. Instead, each spouse must use “married filing separately” rates. They’re less favorable than the single rates.

However, there are cases when people save tax by filing separately. For example:

One spouse has significant medical expenses. Medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). If a medical expense deduction is claimed on a spouse’s separate return, that spouse’s lower separate AGI, as compared to the higher joint AGI, can result in larger total deductions.

Some tax breaks are only available on a joint return. The child and dependent care credit, adoption expense credit, American Opportunity tax credit and Lifetime Learning credit are only available to married couples on joint returns. And you can’t take the credit for the elderly or the disabled if you file separately unless you and your spouse lived apart for the entire year. You also may not be able to deduct IRA contributions if you or your spouse were covered by an employer retirement plan and you file separate returns. And you can’t exclude adoption assistance payments or interest income from series EE or Series I savings bonds used for higher education expenses.

Social Security benefits may be taxed more. Benefits are tax-free if your “provisional income” (AGI with certain modifications plus half of your Social Security benefits) doesn’t exceed a “base amount.” The base amount is $32,000 on a joint return, but zero on separate returns (or $25,000 if the spouses didn’t live together for the whole year).

Circumstances matter

The decision you make on filing your federal tax return may affect your state or local income tax bill, so the total tax impact should be compared. There’s often no simple answer to whether a couple should file separate returns. A number of factors must be examined. We can look at your tax bill jointly and separately. Contact us to prepare your return or if you have any questions.

Smooth sailing: Tips to speed processing and avoid hassles this tax season

The IRS began accepting 2021 individual tax returns on January 24. If you haven’t prepared yet for tax season, here are three quick tips to help speed processing and avoid hassles.

Tip 1. Contact us soon for an appointment to prepare your tax return.

Tip 2. Gather all documents needed to prepare an accurate return. This includes W-2 and 1099 forms. In addition, you may have received statements or letters in connection with Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) or advance Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments.

Letter 6419, 2021 Total Advance Child Tax Credit Payments, tells taxpayers who received CTC payments how much they received. Since the advance payments represented about one-half of the total credit, taxpayers who received CTC payments need to file a return to collect the rest of the credit. Letter 6475, Your Third Economic Impact Payment, tells taxpayers who received an EIP in 2021 the amount of that payment. Taxpayers need to know the amount to determine if they can claim an additional amount on their tax returns.

Taxpayers who received an EIP or CTC payments must include that information on their returns. Failure to include this information, according to the IRS, means a return is incomplete and will require additional processing, which may delay any refund owed to the taxpayer.

Tip 3. Check certain information on your prepared return. Each Social Security number on your tax return should appear exactly as printed on the Social Security card(s). Likewise, make sure that names aren’t misspelled. If you’re receiving your refund by direct deposit, check the bank account number.

Failure to file or pay on time

What if you don’t file on time or can’t pay your tax bill? Separate penalties apply for failing to pay and failing to file. The penalties imposed are a percentage of the taxes you didn’t pay or didn’t pay on time. If you obtain an extension for the filing due date (until October 17), you aren’t filing late unless you miss the extended due date. However, a filing extension doesn’t apply to your responsibility for payment. If you obtain an extension, you’re required to pay an estimate of any owed taxes by the regular deadline to avoid possible penalties.

The penalties for failing to file and failing to pay can be quite severe. (They may be excused by the IRS if your lateness is due to “reasonable cause,” such as illness or a death in the family.) Contact us for questions or concerns about how to proceed in your situation.

Stock market investors: Year-end tax strategies to consider

Year-end is a good time to plan to save taxes by carefully structuring your capital gains and losses.

Consider some possibilities if you have losses on certain investments to date. For example, suppose you lost money this year on some stock and have other stock that has appreciated. Consider selling appreciated assets before December 31 (if you think their value has peaked) and offsetting gains with losses.

Long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. Similarly, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains. You may use up to $3,000 ($1,500 for married filing separately) of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income (AGI).

Individuals are subject to federal tax at a rate as high as 37% on short-term capital gains and ordinary income. But long-term capital gains on most investments receive favorable treatment. They’re taxed at rates ranging from zero to 20% depending on your taxable income (inclusive of the gains). High-income taxpayers pay an additional 3.8% net investment income tax on their net gain and certain other investment income.

This means you should try to avoid having long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains since those losses will be more valuable if they’re used to offset short-term capital gains or up to $3,000 per year of ordinary income. This requires making sure that the long-term capital losses aren’t taken in the same year as the long-term capital gains.

However, this isn’t just a tax issue. Investment factors must also be considered. You don’t want to defer recognizing gain until next year if there’s too much risk that the investment’s value will decline before it can be sold. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to risk increasing a loss on investments you expect to decline in value by deferring a sale until the following year.

To the extent that taking long-term capital losses in a different year than long-term capital gains is consistent with good investment planning, take steps to prevent those losses from offsetting those gains.

If you’ve yet to realize net capital losses for 2021 but expect to realize net capital losses next year well in excess of the $3,000 ceiling, consider accelerating some excess losses into this year. The losses can offset current gains and up to $3,000 of any excess loss will become deductible against ordinary income this year.

For the reasons outlined above, paper losses or gains on stocks may be worth recognizing this year. But suppose the stock is also an investment worth holding for the long term. You can’t sell stock to establish a tax loss and buy it back the next day. The “wash sale” rule precludes recognition of a loss where substantially identical securities are bought and sold within a 61-day period (30 days before or 30 days after the date of sale).

However, you may be able to realize a tax loss by:

  • Selling the original holding and then buying the same securities at least 31 days later. The risk is interim upward price movement.
  • Buying more of the same stock, then selling the original holding at least 31 days later. The risk is interim downward price movement.
  • Selling the original holding and buying similar securities in different companies in the same line of business. This trades on the prospects of the industry, rather than the particular stock.
  • Selling an original holding of mutual fund shares and buying shares in another fund with a similar investment strategy.

Careful handling of capital gains and losses can save tax. Contact us if you have questions about these strategies.

California Property Tax Deferment

Property owners in California can apply for property tax deferment for the 2021-2022 tax year. The CA Property Tax Postponement (PTP) Program is administered by the Controller’s Office. It allows qualified homeowners to postpone the property tax on their primary residence. Applicants must be seniors, blind, or have a disability and meet certain income and equity requirements. Funding for the PTP Program is limited, so applications will be processed in the order received, beginning on Oct. 1. It’s necessary to reapply each year. The household income limit has been raised to $45,810 (up from $45,000 for 2020-2021). Here’s more: https://bit.ly/3hBACzh

Selling a home: Will you owe tax on the profit?

Many homeowners across the country have seen their home values increase recently. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of homes sold in July of 2021 rose 17.8% over July of 2020. The median home price was $411,200 in the Northeast, $275,300 in the Midwest, $305,200 in the South and $508,300 in the West.

Be aware of the tax implications if you’re selling your home or you sold one in 2021. You may owe capital gains tax and net investment income tax (NIIT).

Gain exclusion

If you’re selling your principal residence, and meet certain requirements, you can exclude from tax up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain.

To qualify for the exclusion, you must meet these tests:

  • You must have owned the property for at least two years during the five-year period ending on the sale date.
  • You must have used the property as a principal residence for at least two years during the five-year period. (Periods of ownership and use don’t need to overlap.)

In addition, you can’t use the exclusion more than once every two years.

Gain above the exclusion amount 

What if you have more than $250,000/$500,000 of profit? Any gain that doesn’t qualify for the exclusion generally will be taxed at your long-term capital gains rate, provided you owned the home for at least a year. If you didn’t, the gain will be considered short term and subject to your ordinary-income rate, which could be more than double your long-term rate.

If you’re selling a second home (such as a vacation home), it isn’t eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 like-kind exchange. In addition, you may be able to deduct a loss.

The NIIT

How does the 3.8% NIIT apply to home sales? If you sell your main home, and you qualify to exclude up to $250,000/$500,000 of gain, the excluded gain isn’t subject to the NIIT.

However, gain that exceeds the exclusion limit is subject to the tax if your adjusted gross income is over a certain amount. Gain from the sale of a vacation home or other second residence, which doesn’t qualify for the exclusion, is also subject to the NIIT.

The NIIT applies only if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds: $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and surviving spouses; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately; and $200,000 for unmarried taxpayers and heads of household.

Two other tax considerations

  1. Keep track of your basis. To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain complete records, including information about your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed for business use.
  2. You can’t deduct a loss. If you sell your principal residence at a loss, it generally isn’t deductible. But if a portion of your home is rented out or used exclusively for business, the loss attributable to that part may be deductible.

As you can see, depending on your home sale profit and your income, some or all of the gain may be tax free. But for higher-income people with pricey homes, there may be a tax bill. We can help you plan ahead to minimize taxes and answer any questions you have about home sales.

Is your parent moving into a nursing home?

Long-term care, including nursing home care, can be very expensive. Fortunately, there may be tax breaks if your parent is moving into a nursing home.

One of our top, long-time clients is a national leader in developing and managing Class A senior housing communities and we feel very privileged to work with them.

Here are five tax implications.

1. Long-term medical care

The costs of qualified long-term care, including nursing home care, are deductible as medical expenses to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).

Qualified long-term care services are necessary diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic, curing, treating, mitigating and rehabilitative services, and maintenance or personal-care services required by a chronically ill individual that is provided under care administered by a licensed healthcare practitioner.

To qualify as chronically ill, a physician or other licensed healthcare practitioner must certify an individual as unable to perform at least two activities of daily living (eating, toileting, transferring, bathing, dressing, and continence) for at least 90 days due to a loss of functional capacity or severe cognitive impairment.

2. Long-term care insurance

Premiums paid for a qualified long-term care insurance contract are deductible as medical expenses (subject to limitations explained below) to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed the percentage-of-AGI threshold. A qualified long-term care insurance contract covers only qualified long-term care services, doesn’t pay costs covered by Medicare, is guaranteed renewable and doesn’t have a cash surrender value.

Qualified long-term care premiums are includible as medical expenses up to certain amounts. For individuals over 60 but not over 70 years old, the 2021 limit on deductible long-term care insurance premiums is $4,520, and for those over 70, the 2021 limit is $5,640.

3. Nursing home payments

Amounts paid to a nursing home are deductible as a medical expense if a person is staying at the facility principally for medical, rather than custodial care. If a person isn’t in the nursing home principally to receive medical care, only the portion of the fee that’s allocable to actual medical care qualifies as a deductible expense. But if the individual is chronically ill, all qualified long-term care services, including maintenance or personal care services, are deductible.

If your parent qualifies as your dependent, you can include any medical expenses you incur for your parent along with your own when determining your medical deduction.

4. Head-of-household filing status 

If you aren’t married and you meet certain dependency tests for your parent, you may qualify for head-of-household filing status, which has a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates than single filing status. You may be eligible to file as head of household even if the parent for whom you claim an exemption doesn’t live with you.

5. The sale of your parent’s home. 

If your parent sells his or her home, up to $250,000 of the gain from the sale may be tax-free. In order to qualify for the $250,000 exclusion, the seller must generally have owned the home for at least two years out of the five years before the sale, and used the home as a principal residence for at least two years out of the five years before the sale. However, there’s an exception to the two-out-of-five-year use test if the seller becomes physically or mentally unable to care for him or herself during the five-year period.

These are only some of the tax issues you may deal with when your parent moves into a nursing home.

Our team is very knowledgeable on this topic, so please contact us if you need more information or assistance.

Planning for year-end gifts with the gift tax annual exclusion

As we approach the holidays and the end of the year, many people may want to make gifts of cash or stock to their loved ones. By properly using the annual exclusion, gifts to family members and loved ones can reduce the size of your taxable estate, within generous limits, without triggering any estate or gift tax. The exclusion amount for 2021 is $15,000.

The exclusion covers gifts you make to each recipient each year. Therefore, a taxpayer with three children can transfer $45,000 to the children every year free of federal gift taxes. If the only gifts made during a year are excluded in this fashion, there’s no need to file a federal gift tax return. If annual gifts exceed $15,000, the exclusion covers the first $15,000 per recipient, and only the excess is taxable. In addition, even taxable gifts may result in no gift tax liability thanks to the unified credit (discussed below).

Note: This discussion isn’t relevant to gifts made to a spouse because these gifts are free of gift tax under separate marital deduction rules.

Gift-splitting by married taxpayers

If you’re married, a gift made during a year can be treated as split between you and your spouse, even if the cash or gift property is actually given by only one of you. Thus, by gift-splitting, up to $30,000 a year can be transferred to each recipient by a married couple because of their two annual exclusions. For example, a married couple with three married children can transfer a total of $180,000 each year to their children and to the children’s spouses ($30,000 for each of six recipients).

If gift-splitting is involved, both spouses must consent to it. Consent should be indicated on the gift tax return (or returns) that the spouses file. The IRS prefers that both spouses indicate their consent on each return filed. Because more than $15,000 is being transferred by a spouse, a gift tax return (or returns) will have to be filed, even if the $30,000 exclusion covers total gifts. We can prepare a gift tax return (or returns) for you, if more than $15,000 is being given to a single individual in any year.)

“Unified” credit for taxable gifts 

Even gifts that aren’t covered by the exclusion, and that are thus taxable, may not result in a tax liability. This is because a tax credit wipes out the federal gift tax liability on the first taxable gifts that you make in your lifetime, up to $11.7 million for 2021. However, to the extent you use this credit against a gift tax liability, it reduces (or eliminates) the credit available for use against the federal estate tax at your death.

Be aware that gifts made directly to a financial institution to pay for tuition or to a health care provider to pay for medical expenses on behalf of someone else do not count towards the exclusion. For example, you can pay $20,000 to your grandson’s college for his tuition this year, plus still give him up to $15,000 as a gift. Annual gifts help reduce the taxable value of your estate. There have been proposals in Washington to reduce the estate and gift tax exemption amount, as well as make other changes to the estate tax laws. Making large tax-free gifts may be one way to recognize and address this potential threat. It could help insulate you against any later reduction in the unified federal estate and gift tax exemption.

Scholarships are usually tax free but they may result in taxable income

If your child is fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship, you may wonder about the tax implications. Fortunately, scholarships (and fellowships) are generally tax free for students at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as those attending college, graduate school or accredited vocational schools. It doesn’t matter if the scholarship makes a direct payment to the individual or reduces tuition.

Requirements for tax-free treatment

However, scholarships are not always tax free. Certain conditions must be satisfied. A scholarship is tax free only to the extent it’s used to pay for:

  • Tuition and fees required to attend the school and
  • Fees, books, supplies and equipment required of all students in a particular course.

For example, expenses that don’t qualify include the cost of room and board, travel, research and clerical help.

To the extent a scholarship award isn’t used for qualifying items, it’s taxable. The recipient is responsible for establishing how much of an award is used to pay for tuition and eligible expenses. Maintain records (such as copies of bills, receipts and cancelled checks) that reflect the use of the scholarship money.

Payment for services doesn’t qualify

Subject to limited exceptions, a scholarship isn’t tax free if the payments are linked to services that your child performs as a condition for receiving the award, even if the services are required of all degree candidates. Therefore, a stipend your child receives for required teaching, research or other services is taxable, even if the child uses the money for tuition or related expenses.

What if you, or a family member, are an employee of an education institution that provides reduced or free tuition? A reduction in tuition provided to you, your spouse or your dependents by the school at which you work isn’t included in your income and isn’t subject to tax.

What is reported on a tax return?

If a scholarship is tax free and your child has no other income, the award doesn’t have to be reported on a tax return. However, any portion of an award that’s taxable as payment for services is treated as wages. Estimated tax payments may have to be made if the payor doesn’t withhold enough tax. Your child should receive a Form W-2 showing the amount of these “wages” and the amount of tax withheld, and any portion of the award that’s taxable must be reported, even if no Form W-2 is received.

These are just the basic rules. Other rules and limitations may apply. For example, if your child’s scholarship is taxable, it may limit other higher education tax benefits to which you or your child are entitled. As we approach the new academic year, best wishes for your child’s success in school.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss these or other tax matters further.