[IRS Tax Tip] Here’s why taxpayers should have an IRS online account

Here is a tax tip recently released by the IRS we find super helpful for our clients!

An IRS online account is an safe an easy way for individual taxpayers to view specific details about their federal tax account. Here are some of the benefits and features of this online system.

Taxpayers can view:

  • Their payoff amount, which is updated for the current day.
  • The balance for each tax year for which they owe taxes.
  • Their payment history.
  • Key information from the their most current tax return as originally filed.
  • Payment plan details if they have one.
  • Digital copies of select IRS notices.
  • Economic Impact Payments if they received any.
  • Their address on file.

After viewing their information, a taxpayer can:

  • Select an electronic payment option.
  • Set up an online payment agreement.
  • Go directly to Get Transcript.

New authorization feature

The new the “authorization” option in Online Account allows taxpayers to control who can represent them before the IRS or view their tax records. They can also approve and electronically sign Power of Attorney and Tax Information Authorization requests from their tax professional.

Taxpayer’s balance will update no more than once every 24 hours, usually overnight. Taxpayers should also allow 1 to 3 weeks for payments to show up in the payment history.

To access their information online, taxpayers must register through Secure Access. This is the agency’s two-factor authentication process that protects personal info. Taxpayers can review the Secure Access page process prior to starting registration.

Please reach out to Team Encore if you have any questions or need assistance to create or access your IRS account.

There’s currently a “stepped-up basis” if you inherit property — but will it last?

If you’re planning your estate, or you’ve recently inherited assets, you may be unsure of the “cost” (or “basis”) for tax purposes.

The current rules

Under the current fair market value basis rules (also known as the “step-up and step-down” rules), an heir receives a basis in inherited property equal to its date-of-death value. So, for example, if your grandmother bought stock in 1935 for $500 and it’s worth $1 million at her death, the basis is stepped up to $1 million in the hands of your grandmother’s heirs — and all of that gain escapes federal income tax.

The fair market value basis rules apply to inherited property that’s includible in the deceased’s gross estate, and those rules also apply to property inherited from foreign persons who aren’t subject to U.S. estate tax. It doesn’t matter if a federal estate tax return is filed. The rules apply to the inherited portion of property owned by the inheriting taxpayer jointly with the deceased, but not the portion of jointly held property that the inheriting taxpayer owned before his or her inheritance. The fair market value basis rules also don’t apply to reinvestments of estate assets by fiduciaries.

Gifting before death

It’s crucial to understand the current fair market value basis rules so that you don’t pay more tax than you’re legally required to.

For example, in the above example, if your grandmother decides to make a gift of the stock during her lifetime (rather than passing it on when she dies), the “step-up” in basis (from $500 to $1 million) would be lost. Property that has gone up in value acquired by gift is subject to the “carryover” basis rules. That means the person receiving the gift takes the same basis the donor had in it ($500 in this example), plus a portion of any gift tax the donor pays on the gift.

A “step-down” occurs if someone dies owning property that has declined in value. In that case, the basis is lowered to the date-of-death value. Proper planning calls for seeking to avoid this loss of basis. Giving the property away before death won’t preserve the basis. That’s because when property that has gone down in value is the subject of a gift, the person receiving the gift must take the date of gift value as his basis (for purposes of determining his or her loss on a later sale). Therefore, a good strategy for property that has declined in value is for the owner to sell it before death so he or she can enjoy the tax benefits of the loss.

Change on the horizon?

Be aware that President Biden has proposed ending the ability to step-up the basis for gains in excess of $1 million. There would be exemptions for family-owned businesses and farms. Of course, any proposal must be approved by Congress in order to be enacted.

These are the basic rules. Other rules and limits may apply. For example, in some cases, a deceased person’s executor may be able to make an alternate valuation election.

Contact us for tax assistance when estate planning or after receiving an inheritance. We’ll keep you up to date on any tax law changes.

There are a lot of complexity involved here and tax laws are ever evolving. We are here to help and we also work very closely with subject matter advisors we frequently refer our clients to.

Feel free to reach out to us for resources and consultation.

[IRS Tax Tip] Things you do during the summer may affect your tax return next year

It’s summertime and for many people, summertime means change. Whether it’s a life change or a typical summer event, it could affect incomes taxes. Here are a few summertime activities and tips on how taxpayers should consider them during filing season.

Getting marriedNewlyweds should report any name change to the Social Security Administration. They should also report an address change to the United States Postal Service, their employers, and the IRS. This will help make sure they receive documents and other items they will need to file their taxes.

Sending kids to summer day campUnlike overnight camps, the cost of summer day camp may count towards the child and dependent care credit.

Working part-timeWhile summertime and part-time workers may not earn enough to owe federal income tax, they should remember to file a return. They’ll need to file early next year to get a refund for taxes withheld from their checks this year.

Gig economy workTaxpayers may earn summer income by providing on-demand work, services or goods, often through a digital platform like an app or website. Examples include ride sharing, delivery services and other activities. Those who do are encouraged to visit the Gig Economy Tax Center at IRS.gov to learn more about how participating in the sharing economy can affect their taxes.

Normally, employees receive a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, from their employer to account for the summer’s work. They’ll use this to prepare their tax return. They should receive the W-2 by January 31 next year. Employees will get a W-2 even if they no longer work for the summertime employer.

Summertime workers can avoid higher tax bills and lost benefits if they know their correct status. Employers will determine whether the people who work for them are employees or independent contractors. Independent contractors aren’t subject to withholding, making them responsible for paying their own income taxes plus Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Share this tip on social media — #IRSTaxTip: Things people do during the summer that might affect their tax return next year. https://go.usa.gov/x6zMa

Can taxpayers who manage their own investment portfolios deduct related expenses?

Do you have significant investment-related expenses, including the cost of subscriptions to financial services, home office expenses and clerical costs? Under current tax law, these expenses aren’t deductible through 2025 if they’re considered investment expenses for the production of income. But they’re deductible if they’re considered trade or business expenses.

For years before 2018, production-of-income expenses were deductible, but they were included in miscellaneous itemized deductions, which were subject to a 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor. (These rules are scheduled to return after 2025.) If you do a significant amount of trading, you should know which category your investment expenses fall into, because qualifying for trade or business expense treatment is more advantageous now.

In order to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses, you must be engaged in a trade or business. The U.S. Supreme Court held many years ago that an individual taxpayer isn’t engaged in a trade or business merely because the individual manages his or her own securities investments — regardless of the amount or the extent of the work required.

A trader vs. an investor

However, if you can show that your investment activities rise to the level of carrying on a trade or business, you may be considered a trader, who is engaged in a trade or business, rather than an investor, who isn’t. As a trader, you’re entitled to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses. A trader is also entitled to deduct home office expenses if the home office is used exclusively on a regular basis as the trader’s principal place of business. An investor, on the other hand, isn’t entitled to home office deductions since the investment activities aren’t a trade or business.

Since the Supreme Court decision, there has been extensive litigation on the issue of whether a taxpayer is a trader or investor. The U.S. Tax Court has developed a two-part test that must be satisfied in order for a taxpayer to be a trader. Under this test, a taxpayer’s investment activities are considered a trade or business only where both of the following are true:

  1. The taxpayer’s trading is substantial (in other words, sporadic trading isn’t considered a trade or business), and
  2. The taxpayer seeks to profit from short-term market swings, rather than from long-term holding of investments.

Profit in the short term

So, the fact that a taxpayer’s investment activities are regular, extensive and continuous isn’t in itself sufficient for determining that a taxpayer is a trader. In order to be considered a trader, you must show that you buy and sell securities with reasonable frequency in an effort to profit on a short-term basis. In one case, a taxpayer who made more than 1,000 trades a year with trading activities averaging about $16 million annually was held to be an investor rather than a trader because the holding periods for stocks sold averaged about one year.

Contact us if you have questions or would like to figure out whether you’re an investor or a trader for tax purposes.

Are you a nonworking spouse? You may still be able to contribute to an IRA

Married couples may not be able to save as much as they need for retirement when one spouse doesn’t work outside the home — perhaps so that spouse can take care of children or elderly parents. In general, an IRA contribution is allowed only if a taxpayer earns compensation. However, there’s an exception involving a “spousal” IRA. It allows contributions to be made for nonworking spouses.

For 2021, the amount that an eligible married couple can contribute to an IRA for a nonworking spouse is $6,000, which is the same limit that applies for the working spouse.

IRA advantages

As you may know, IRAs offer two types of advantages for taxpayers who make contributions to them.

  • Contributions of up to $6,000 a year to an IRA may be tax deductible.
  • The earnings on funds within the IRA are not taxed until withdrawn. (Alternatively, you may make contributions to a Roth IRA. There’s no deduction for Roth IRA contributions, but, if certain requirements are met, distributions are tax-free.)

As long as the couple together has at least $12,000 of earned income, $6,000 can be contributed to an IRA for each, for a total of $12,000. (The contributions for both spouses can be made to either a regular IRA or a Roth IRA, or split between them, as long as the combined contributions don’t exceed the $12,000 limit.)

Boost contributions if 50 or older

In addition, individuals who are age 50 or older can make “catch-up” contributions to an IRA or Roth IRA in the amount of $1,000. Therefore, for 2021, for a taxpayer and his or her spouse, both of whom will have reached age 50 by the end of the year, the combined limit of the deductible contributions to an IRA for each spouse is $7,000, for a combined deductible limit of $14,000.

There’s one catch, however. If, in 2021, the working spouse is an active participant in either of several types of retirement plans, a deductible contribution of up to $6,000 (or $7,000 for a spouse who will be 50 by the end of the year) can be made to the IRA of the nonparticipant spouse only if the couple’s AGI doesn’t exceed $125,000. This limit is phased out for AGI between $198,000 and $208,000.

Contact us if you’d like more information about IRAs or you’d like to discuss retirement planning.

The first step of good tax planning is good recordkeeping [Source: IRS Newsletter]

Year-round tax planning is for everyone. An important part of that is recordkeeping. Gathering tax documents throughout the year and having an organized recordkeeping system can make it easier when it comes to filing a tax return or understanding a letter from the IRS.

Good records help:

  • Identify sources of income. Taxpayers may receive money or property from a variety of sources. The records can identify the sources of income and help separate business from nonbusiness income and taxable from nontaxable income.
  • Keep track of expenses. Taxpayers can use records to identify expenses for which they can claim a deduction. This will help determine whether to itemize deductions at filing. It may also help them discover potentially overlooked deductions or credits.
  • Prepare tax returns. Good records help taxpayers file their tax return quickly and accurately. Throughout the year, they should add tax records to their files as they receive them to make preparing a tax return easier.
  • Support items reported on tax returns. Well-organized records make it easier to prepare a tax return and help provide answers if the return is selected for examination or if the taxpayer receives an IRS notice.

In general, the IRS suggests that taxpayers keep records for three years from the date they filed the tax return. Taxpayers should develop a system that keeps all their important information together. They can use a software program for electronic recordkeeping. They could also store paper documents in labeled folders.

Records to keep include:

  • Tax-related records. This includes wage and earning statements from all employers or payers, interest and dividend statements from banks, certain government payments like unemployment compensation, other income documents and records of virtual currency transactions. Taxpayers should also keep receipts, canceled checks, and other documents – electronic or paper – that support income, a deduction, or a credit reported on their tax return.
  • IRS letters, notices and prior year tax returns. Taxpayers should keep copies of prior year tax returns and notices or letters they receive from the IRS. These include adjustment notices when an action is taken on the taxpayer’s account, Economic Impact Payment notices, and letters about advance payments of the 2021 child tax credit. Taxpayers who receive 2021 advance child tax credit payments will receive a letter early next year that provides the amount of payments they received in 2021. Taxpayers should refer to this letter when filing their 2021 tax return in 2022.
  • Property records. Taxpayers should also keep records relating to property they dispose of or sell. They must keep these records to figure their basis for computing gain or loss.
  • Business income and expenses. For business taxpayers, there’s no particular method of bookkeeping they must use. However, taxpayers should find a method that clearly and accurately reflects their gross income and expenses. Taxpayers who have employees must keep all employment tax records for at least four years after the tax is due or paid, whichever is later.
  • Health insurance. Taxpayers should keep records of their own and their family members’ health care insurance coverage. If they’re claiming the premium tax credit, they’ll need information about any advance credit payments received through the Health Insurance Marketplace and the premiums they paid.

Share this tip on social media — #IRSTaxTip: The first step of good tax planning is good recordkeeping. https://go.usa.gov/x6m9w

Don’t Miss Q2 Estimated Payment Deadline – June 15

Hope you all are excited about summer and how things are slowly getting back to normal, or maybe “new normal.”

As we always want our clients to stay ahead with their taxes, this is an important reminder that the Q2 estimated payment due date is right around the corner (June 15th).

As you know very well, the US tax system operates on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. If you earn money that isn’t subject to withholding from an employer, you will have to pay taxes every quarter on those earnings.

This can include earnings from the sale of an investment, rental income, dividends, interest, and self-employment income.

Even if you are withholding taxes from your paycheck, you might have to pay quarterly taxes if your withholdings don’t cover enough.

We can project your taxable income and related estimated income tax liability for the second quarter based on information you provide to us. In addition to the income tax projection, we can provide you with a summary of tax planning strategies that may reduce your 2021 tax liability.

Tax compliance and tax strategies are certainly not for tax filing season only and this is why Team Encore stays busy all year round.

Let’s stay proactive about your tax planning and complete your tax projections for the second quarter.

Cheers!

Still have questions after you file your tax return?

Even after your 2020 tax return has been successfully filed with the IRS, you may still have some questions about the return. Here are brief answers to three questions that we’re frequently asked at this time of year.

Are you wondering when you will receive your refund?

The IRS has an online tool that can tell you the status of your refund. Go to irs.gov and click on “Get Your Refund Status.” You’ll need your Social Security number, filing status and the exact refund amount.

Which tax records can you throw away now? 

At a minimum, keep tax records related to your return for as long as the IRS can audit your return or assess additional taxes. In general, the statute of limitations is three years after you file your return. So you can generally get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2017 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2017 return, hold on to your records until at least three years from when you filed the extended return.)

However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%.

You should hang on to certain tax-related records longer. For example, keep the actual tax returns indefinitely, so you can prove to the IRS that you filed legitimate returns. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.)

When it comes to retirement accounts, keep records associated with them until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years. And retain records related to real estate or investments for as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return. (You can keep these records for six years if you want to be extra safe.)

If you overlooked claiming a tax break, can you still collect a refund for it?

In general, you can file an amended tax return and claim a refund within three years after the date you filed your original return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.

However, there are a few opportunities when you have longer to file an amended return. For example, the statute of limitations for bad debts is longer than the usual three-year time limit for most items on your tax return. In general, you can amend your tax return to claim a bad debt for seven years from the due date of the tax return for the year that the debt became worthless.

Year-round tax help

Contact us if you have questions about retaining tax records, receiving your refund or filing an amended return. We’re not just here at tax filing time. We’re available all year long.

Why it’s important to meet the tax return filing and payment deadlines

The May 17 deadline for filing your 2020 individual tax return is coming up soon. It’s important to file and pay your tax return on time to avoid penalties imposed by the IRS. Here are the basic rules.

Failure to pay

Separate penalties apply for failing to pay and failing to file. The failure-to-pay penalty is 1/2% for each month (or partial month) the payment is late. For example, if payment is due May 17 and is made June 22, the penalty is 1% (1/2% times 2 months or partial months). The maximum penalty is 25%.

The failure-to-pay penalty is based on the amount shown as due on the return (less credits for amounts paid through withholding or estimated payments), even if the actual tax bill turns out to be higher. On the other hand, if the actual tax bill turns out to be lower, the penalty is based on the lower amount.

For example, if your payment is two months late and your return shows that you owe $5,000, the penalty is 1%, which equals $50. If you’re audited and your tax bill increases by another $1,000, the failure-to-pay penalty isn’t increased because it’s based on the amount shown on the return as due.

Failure to file

The failure-to-file penalty runs at a more severe rate of 5% per month (or partial month) of lateness to a maximum of 25%. If you obtain an extension to file (until October 15), you’re not filing late unless you miss the extended due date. However, a filing extension doesn’t apply to your responsibility for payment.

If the 1/2% failure-to-pay penalty and the failure-to-file penalty both apply, the failure-to-file penalty drops to 4.5% per month (or part) so the total combined penalty is 5%. The maximum combined penalty for the first five months is 25%. After that, the failure-to-pay penalty can continue at 1/2% per month for 45 more months (an additional 22.5%). Thus, the combined penalties could reach 47.5% over time.

The failure-to-file penalty is also more severe because it’s based on the amount required to be shown on the return, and not just the amount shown as due. (Credit is given for amounts paid via withholding or estimated payments. So if no amount is owed, there’s no penalty for late filing.) For example, if a return is filed three months late showing $5,000 owed (after payment credits), the combined penalties would be 15%, which equals $750. If the actual tax liability is later determined to be an additional $1,000, the failure to file penalty (4.5% × 3 = 13.5%) would also apply for an additional $135 in penalties.

A minimum failure to file penalty will also apply if you file your return more than 60 days late. This minimum penalty is the lesser of $210 or the tax amount required to be shown on the return.

Reasonable cause

Both penalties may be excused by IRS if lateness is due to “reasonable cause.” Typical qualifying excuses include death or serious illness in the immediate family and postal irregularities.

As you can see, filing and paying late can get expensive. Furthermore, in particularly abusive situations involving a fraudulent failure to file, the late filing penalty can reach 15% per month, with a 75% maximum.

Contact us if you have questions or need an appointment to prepare your return.

Income tax deadline is extended, but estimated tax payment is still due on April 15

As you have already heard, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government extended this year’s federal income tax filing deadline from April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021. This extension is automatic and applies to filing and payments. The Franchise Tax Board (FTB) also announced that, consistent with the Internal Revenue Service, it has postponed the state tax filing and payment deadline for individual taxpayers to May 17, 2021 and most of other states have extended income tax filing and payment deadlines to May 17 as well.

However, please be reminded that the estimated tax payments are still due on April 15 and the IRS has not extended the due date for estimated income tax payments.  The same is for FTB and the postponement only applies to individual taxpayers, and it does not apply to estimated tax payments, which are still due on April 15.

Taxes must be paid as taxpayers earn or receive income during the year, either through withholding or estimated tax payments. If you receive the income that isn’t subject to income tax withholdings such as self-employment income, interest, dividends, alimony or rental income, you must make estimated tax payments to the IRS quarterly.

We are always here to help. If you haven’t done so yet, please reach out to us today.