Richard A. Lindsey, CPA

Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants

  • Nov 22

    Most of our clients have never received that dreadful notice from the IRS, initiating an audit — or, much worse, the KNOCK on the door! If you never have, you might not keep much financial documentation.

    If you have, you are probably terrified to part with a single receipt.

    But remember, either way, we’re in your corner.

    However, the IRS is one of the few courts where failure to produce proof of your claims results in the assumption that you are guilty of tax fraud.

    (This is part of the reason why you ALWAYS want a professional on your side in these matters. Would you go to court without an advocate? Would you go before a court with a software-generated defense? “Your honor, here is my lawyer, Siri.”)

    It’s imperative that you are able to protect yourself. And, as great as we are — some of this still does fall in your court. That’s why you must save all the financial documents used to create your tax returns in order to defend yourself in the case of an audit.

    Firstly (and perhaps this goes without saying), retain a paper copy or receipt of any tax-relevant transaction. Scan these documents and archive them electronically, or acquire them in an electronic format. If the purchase has a manual or warranty, store all the documents in the same electronic and physical location.

    Sadly, the IRS has ruled bank or credit card records to be insufficient documentation. As a result, just keep your statements long enough to reconcile your account.

    If the purchase was a business or tax-deductible expense, record the expense and why it justifies the deduction. Store this information with, or on, the receipts.

    Second, keep brokerage statements indefinitely for taxable accounts. You are responsible for reporting the cost basis of any security you sell to calculate the capital gains tax. For a mutual fund with 30 years of reinvested dividends, each dividend payment is part of the cost basis. As a result, the cost basis can sometimes be computed only if you have the complete transaction history.

    Without knowing the cost basis, the IRS could argue that the entire value of the investment be treated as gain.

    If you have lost the record of how much you originally paid for an investment, instead of selling and paying 15% or more of the value in taxes, you can use that investment as part of your charitable giving. Gifting appreciated stock avoids the tax owed and still qualifies for a full deduction. Oddly enough, the IRS still asks for the original purchase date and price for gifted securities, but leaving these blank has no effect on your tax owed.

    Many custodians keep several years of electronic copies of brokerage statements available. And they are now required to send any known cost basis electronically when you transfer securities to a new custodian. If your current custodian has the correct cost basis of your securities, you probably no longer need to keep brokerage statements. However, an approach of “better safe than sorry” is always advisable with the IRS.

    Third, keep IRA nondeductible contribution records forever. You may need those records every year that you withdraw money in retirement to show that a portion of the withdrawal is not tax deductible.

    Or to avoid the hassle, clear out nondeductible IRA contributions by converting all of your IRA accounts to Roth accounts.

    Fourth, keep partnership documents, contracts, commission, or royalty structures forever. This includes property records, deeds and titles, especially those relating to intellectual property. It also includes any transfers of value for estate planning purposes.

    Finally, save all of your tax returns. After you file, save the paper, and/or electronic, copies with the rest of that year’s financial documents.

    Tax returns and all the supporting documentation must be kept at least seven years. The IRS can audit your return for up to three years from your filing date. However, the three-year limit only applies to good-faith errors.

    If the IRS suspects you underreported your gross income by 25% or more, they have up to six years to challenge your return. And because you may file for an extension and then file your return at the October 15 deadline, you must keep your records for at least seven years.

    Regardless of those rules, though, if the IRS suspects you filed a fraudulent return, no statute of limitations applies. Because the IRS is run and organized by fallible people (with all of their attendant biases, emotions, etc.), we suggest keeping your tax returns and documents forever.

    Unfortunately, whenever the IRS challenges you, the burden of producing evidence that your claims are true rests entirely with you, so you had better have your documentation in order.

    Taxpayers collectively spend six billion hours, or 8,758 lifetimes, annually trying to comply with the tax code. Fortunately, as I previously mentioned, YOU don’t have to be the one to do all the heavy lifting. We are on your side…

    “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” – John Wooden

  • Oct 13

    As we transition from our income earning years to our retirement years we begin to realize that each period has a different set of tax pitfalls. Here are 5 of the most common. Each of which can be avoided with a little planning.

    Missing the tax impact on Social Security
    A portion of your Social Security benefits may be taxable. The formulas are complicated (see example later), but in general terms, if your “Modified Adjusted Gross Income” (MAGI) exceeds $25,000 ($32,000 for joint filers) then it’s likely 15% of your Social Security benefits will be taxable at your ordinary income rates. If your “provisional income” exceeds $34,000 ($44,000 for joint filers) then up to 85% of your benefits could be taxable. Receiving income such as retirement benefits or IRA distributions which cause your income to jump from one level to the next can have a severe impact. You’ll pay income tax on the distribution, plus you’ll increase the portion of Social Security benefits which are taxable, sometimes doubling the tax burden.

    Missing the difference between growth, income, and cash flow
    Growth is what you need your portfolio to do in order to have enough money to last your entire retirement. Income is what you will have to pay taxes on, and cash flow is the after tax cash you have to spend on your needs and desires. The goal is to have sufficient cash flow to live your life like you want while paying the least amount of tax possible, and, at the same time, leaving enough in your portfolio for it to continue to grow at a rate that keeps up with, or exceeds, inflation.

    Missing a required minimum distribution
    Failure to take a required minimum distribution could subject you to penalties as high as 50 percent of the missed distribution. You must take required minimum distributions from any qualified plan or traditional IRA once you reach age 70 ½, and every year thereafter. Don’t rely on your bank, or broker, or anybody else to remind you about this. They will not pay the penalty for you! Roth IRAs are exempt from this requirement.

    Missing beneficiaries on qualified accounts
    Without a named beneficiary, the money in a qualified account reverts to your estate. The name, or names, listed on the account supersedes anything named in your will or trust, so it’s also a good idea to name a successor beneficiary.

    Missing the right beneficiaries
    It is generally best to name individuals as beneficiaries instead of your estate or a trust. You also want to avoid multiple beneficiaries with wide age differences. The minimum distribution will be determined using the “life span” of the oldest beneficiary. To avoid this pitfall, consider dividing your IRAs into separate accounts, each with a different beneficiary.

    For those two of you who are interested, here’s the example I promised:
    John and Jane Smith have an adjusted gross income of $44,000 for 2016. John receives Social Security benefits of $7,200 per year and together they receive $6,000 a year in interest from tax-exempt municipal bonds. On their joint return, the couple would make the following calculations:

  • Sep 29

    Claiming Your Homestead Exemption Can Save You Thousands

    Sometimes you rock along from year-to-year doing the same ole thing because it’s what worked in the past… or someone once told you that’s the way things were. Well, things change. Every day. If you’re over 65, or disabled, and are still paying the property taxes you were paying before that milestone, you may be paying too much.

    According to information obtained from the Mobile County (AL) Revenue Commissioner’s office, all property owners 65 or older are eligible for an exemption from all State property taxes. County, School, and Municipal taxes still apply. The exemptions apply even if only one of the owners of a jointly owned property meet the qualifications.

    To apply for this exemption:

    • You must be 65 years old,
    • Own and occupy the property as your primary residence, and
    • You must visit one of the Revenue Commissioner’s offices to present proof of age and sign an assessment sheet.

    Low income property owners 65 and older may also be eligible
    to claim exemption from a certain portion of the County, School,
    and Municipal property taxes. To qualify you must be 65 years
    old, own and occupy the property as your primary residence,
    and your taxable income must not exceed $12,000 – bring your
    tax return as proof.

    If either you or your spouse is totally and permanently disabled or legally blind, you may be eligible for a complete exemption from all property taxes on your residence regardless of your age or income.

    Homestead exemptions granted on the basis of income or disability must be renewed each year and it is the responsibility of the property owner to claim the renewal. If you do not receive an exemption renewal form by mail, you will need to contact the County Revenue Commissioner to have a duplicate form sent to you, or you may visit an office in person.

    Exemptions cannot be granted retroactively or after the December 31 deadline.

    For more information, contact our office or your local County Revenue Commissioner.

  • Sep 15

    In his book: How Rich People Think, Steve Siebold (http://www.amazon.com/Rich-People-Think-Steve-Siebold/dp/1608102793), explores the thoughts, habits, and philosophies among the rich, as opposed to the middle class, when it comes to wealth:

    • Rich people focus on earning, not saving;
    • They understand that leverage creates wealth, not hard work;
    • See that they are in control of their wealth, not luck or fate;
    • Know that money is earned from focused thought, not hard labor;
    • Don’t see money with emotion, but with logic;
    • Are Action-Takers (as opposed to having a lottery mindset).

    So why do I emphasize that last one? Simple — I’m suggesting you take an action now, which could make a big difference on your 2017 bottom line...

    You know how good coaches are usually famous for making adjustments during the halftime of big games? Well, here I am — acting as your financial coach in matters tax-related, and we’ve hit the halftime mark for 2017.

    You have six months of financial info to use for some quick math about your year as a whole, and to prepare for a pleasant upcoming tax season.

    To begin, all you have to do is take your cash flow for the first half of the year, and multiply by two. Add up your wages, dividends, interest, and any other income, and then–if this represents approximately what you’re expecting for the second half of the year — double the sum.

    Once you have your estimated 2017 income, you can give us a call: 251-633-4070 (or send me an email), and we’ll help you determine the appropriate tax rate and deductions to apply. Because once you’re armed with this info, we can help you determine the amount of taxes you might expect to owe for 2017.

    By then comparing this against your projected withholding, you can adjust the withholding on your paycheck in advance as needed, and ensure a happy visit to our office in the winter.

    This can also be a good time to organize your financial papers and/or get started with some financial software. Getting organized now can make gathering a report of all those deductions a breeze, come tax time.

    We’ve been promised tax changes by the Trump administration. That makes it all the more important to review Uncle Sam’s highest-impact tax breaks, such as donations of appreciated assets, tax-free exchanges and capital-loss harvesting.

    Unlike obvious moves, such as contributing to an Individual Retirement Account or a 401(k) plan, these strategies require a higher degree of awareness and active planning.

    Not all high-impact breaks are for the wealthy. Any homeowner can benefit from a provision allowing taxpayers to pocket tax-free income from renting a residence for as long as two weeks, and low-bracket taxpayers can pay zero tax on long-term capital gains.

    Other important moves can help minimize estate, gift, and inheritance taxes. Really, there are a variety of moves we can make to help you with your planning for the year … but you have to let us help you. It is, after all, why we are here.

    “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” – Steve Jobs

  • Aug 3

    In the flurry of launching a new business, filing your taxes may well be one of the last things on your mind. But, you don’t want to wait until the last minute to figure things out. At best, you could leave money on the table – at worst, suffer penalties or other legal ramifications.

    Avoiding these common startup bloopers can ensure your new business is on the right track to handling its tax obligations properly.

    1. Not keeping track of all of your expenses
    From the moment you launch a business, you can deduct “all ordinary and necessary” business expenses such as office supplies, professional fees, and business mileage. Your biggest mistake is not keeping track of these expenses throughout the year, and trying to gather every receipt when it’s time to file. The bottom line is you can’t deduct what you can’t document, and failing to record as you go most likely means you’re forgetting expenses and leaving money on the table.

    Find a method for documenting expenses that works for you. An accounting program, such as QuickBooks®, will let you record and manage revenue and expenses. In addition, there are dedicated apps such as Expensify for tracking expenses, MileBug for recording mileage, or Shoeboxed for capturing paper receipts. The best method is whichever one you will consistently use.

    2. Mixing personal and business
    New startups and small business owners often invest so much of themselves, their time and their money, into their new company that it’s hard to separate them. But separate them you must! The mixing of business and personal funds makes it extremely difficult to make sure you deduct all of your business expenses and only your business expenses. At the very least, you must have separate business and personal checking accounts. Just imagine the look on an IRS auditor’s face when she finds out you can’t tell your business and personal expenses apart.

    3. Choosing the wrong legal entity
    Your business’ legal structure affects how you report your taxes and how much you pay, so it’s important to choose the right entity. For example, many start out as a sole proprietor or partnership because it’s easiest, but soon find themselves paying way too much in self-employment taxes. Creating a corporation can help lower their tax bill significantly.

    4. Mixing equipment and supplies
    Both first-time and experienced business owners get tripped up by what is considered equipment versus supplies. Equipment are often higher value items that will typically last longer than one year, while supplies are generally things that you use up during the year.

    When it comes to equipment, there are a couple of approaches: 1) You can recover a portion of the cost each year, or 2) you may qualify to write-off the full amount in the year of purchase. There are, naturally, some restrictions on the ability to deduct the full amount. Be sure you talk to us first to find out if you qualify.

    If you mistakenly deduct your equipment or other capital item as an operating expense such as supplies, the IRS could determine that you’re not entitled to any deduction.

    5. Not sending Forms 1099
    When you pay any freelancer, contractor, attorney or other non-corporate entity $600 or more for services over the course of the year, you’re required to issue Form 1099-MISC and send copies to both the entity (business, contractor, individual, etc.) and the IRS. If you fail to do so on time the penalty can be as high as $520 per occurrence.

    6. Deducting too much for gifts
    Maybe you sent some of your best clients a holiday present, or sent them a closing gift after a large purchase, or sent a colleague a thank you gift for an especially nice referral. Great! Business gifts are deductible, but there’s a big catch. You can only deduct $25 per gift. So, if you send Paula a $150 fruit basket, you only get to deduct $25 for it.

    Documentation is going to be important. If you report $2,500 in business gifts, you need to be able to have documentation that shows you gave gifts to 100 different people.

    7. Not making estimated tax payments
    If your business is any legal form other than a C corporation you are personally going to be liable for paying taxes on the profits you earn. Business owners are required to pay in sufficient taxes to cover their expected tax obligations. Those payments can be in the form of payroll withholding – if you or someone in your household qualifies – or through quarterly estimated tax payments. Even if it wasn’t required, it is generally easier to make smaller payments on a quarterly basis than to have to pay the entire bill at year end.

    The best way to stay on top of your estimated tax payments is to get into the habit of setting aside a percentage of your revenue on a regular basis. Then, on a quarterly basis, review your revenue and expenses, calculate your tax liability, and make the appropriate payments.

  • Jul 7

    How to Write Off Katie’s Soccer Camp

    Yes, it is quite do-able. But, like many things in the tax code, the devil is in the details. Let’s see if I can cut through the Tax Mumbo Jumbo for you.

    If Katie (or Bruce) is younger than 13 and goes to a DAY camp (overnight doesn’t work), and you are both working (or “looking for work”) then,…

    Cha-ching.

    You can then choose to pay for the camp using a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or you can take the child care credit. Remember credits are better than deductions. With both the FSA and the child care credit, other eligible expenses include the cost of day care or preschool, before or after school care, and a nanny or other babysitter while you work.

    The size of the credit depends on your income and the number of children you have who are younger than 13. You can count up to $3,000 in child care expenses for one child, or up to $6,000 for two or more children.

    There are some limitations. The credit is only good for families of a certain income range and the percentage of eligible costs varies with income.

    All told, it’s a good deal which you should take advantage of, if you qualify.

    Bonus… If you have two or more children and child care costs exceed $5,000 for the year, you can benefit from both accounts. You can set aside up to $5,000 in pretax money in your FSA for child care costs, then claim the child care credit for up to $1,000 in additional expenses.

     

    Other strange, but true deductions

    You can pay your significant other (pay attention now) to do legitimate work for you and take a deduction.

    Bruce hired his live-in girlfriend to manage his rental properties. Her duties included finding furniture, overseeing repairs, and running his personal household. He went to Tax Court and fought the IRS which had disallowed the entire deduction. He won a deduction for the portion of his payments which could legitimately be tied to her business work.

    A married couple owned a junk yard and put out cat food to attract wild cats. Why, you might ask? The feral cats they were trying to attract dealt with snakes and rats on the property. That made for a safer junkyard for customers.

    And that made cat food a business deduction. The IRS first thought this was ridiculous, but before the case reached the Tax Court the IRS agreed!

    The details are always important, so be careful and ask us for advice first.

  • Jun 23

    Question: Like many students, I am looking forward to some time off from school and perhaps a summer job. What are the most important things I should know before I get that first job?

    Answer: Here are seven of the most important tips I could think of:

    1. Taxpayers fill out a W-4 when starting a new job. This form is used by employers to determine the amount of tax that will be withheld from your paycheck. Taxpayers with multiple summer jobs will want to make sure all their employers are withholding an adequate amount of taxes to cover their total income tax liability. To make sure your withholding is correct; visit the Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov. If you don’t expect to owe taxes, then you can choose to write “exempt” on the W-4 and not have any taxes withheld.
    2. Whether you are working as a waiter or a camp counselor, you may receive tips as a part of your summer income. All tip income you receive is taxable income and therefore subject to income tax.
    3. Many students do odd jobs over the summer to make extra cash. Earnings you receive from self-employment are subject to income tax. These earnings include income from odd jobs like baby-sitting and lawn mowing.
    4. If you have net earnings of $400 or more from self-employment, you will also have to pay self-employment tax. This tax pays for Social Security benefits. Social Security and Medicare benefits are available to individuals who are self-employed the same as they are to wage earners who have Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from their wages. The self-employment tax is figured on Form 1040, Schedule SE.
    5. Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.
    6. Special rules apply to services you perform as a newspaper carrier or distributor. You are a direct seller and treated as a self-employed for federal tax purposes if you meet the following conditions:
      – You are in the business of delivering newspapers; – All your pay for these services directly relates to sales rather than to the number of hours worked; You perform the delivery services under a written contract which states that you will not be treated as an employee for federal tax purposes.
    7. Generally, newspaper carriers or distributors under age 18 are not subject to self-employment tax.

    Do you have a question for the Taxpert that you’d like to see answered in a future Taxing Times? Or perhaps just an issue you’d like the Taxpert to address? Send the Taxpert a note to Taxing Times, 1050 Hillcrest Rd., Ste A, Mobile, AL 36695 or an email to taxpert@CPAMobileAL.com.

  • Jun 9

    Congress recently enacted significant changes to partnership audit and adjustment rules. The changes are expected to dramatically increase the audit rates for partnerships, and will require partners to carefully review, if not revise, their partnership’s operating agreement.

    The new rules generally apply to partnership returns filed after 2018, but careful planning today will help mitigate any unfavorable consequences.

    Important new provisions that may impact you:

    • The IRS may collect any additional tax, interest, and penalty directly from the partnership rather than from the partners (the tax could be collected at the highest individual tax rate).
    • Current partners could be responsible for tax liabilities of prior partners.
    • New elections and opt-outs will be available and your agreement may need revision to specify who makes these decisions.
    • There are many new tax terms and concepts that will likely require you to adjust your partnership’s operating agreement.

    Particularly, the new term “partnership representative” replaces the prior “tax matters partner.” The partnership representative is critical; they will act as the single point of contact between the IRS and the partnership and will have full authority to bind the partnership and the partners during an audit.

    Potential opportunities and the need for planning today

    Certain partnerships with 100 or fewer partners may elect out of the provisions. To do so, the partnership may make an annual “opt-out” election with their timely filed tax return (Form 1065).

  • May 12

    I’ve written before about what a good tax planning technique hiring your children can be. (See “Hiring Your Children for the Summer: The Job of Last Resort or Just Good Tax Planning,” Taxing Times, June 2015.) It can be an effective way of shifting income from your high rate to as low as zero percent! It can also be good for the kids. However, as a recent tax court decision demonstrates, it’s important to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

    The case involved Lisa Fisher, a New York attorney, faced with a common dilemma to find summer care for her children, all under the age of nine. So, during the summer, she brought them into her office two or three days a week where they shredded waste, mailed letters, answered phones, greeted clients, and copied documents.

    Fisher took deductions for the $28,770 in wages she paid her kids over a three year period. But, she didn’t keep any payroll files or issue any W-2s. She didn’t keep any records substantiating the work they did or establishing that she paid “reasonable compensation” for the work performed. Nor could she present any documentary evidence, such as cancelled checks or bank statements, to verify that she actually paid them the wages she deducted.

    You know where this is headed. The IRS disallowed the deductions for the children’s wages and imposed an accuracy related penalty. The Tax Court affirmed that decision.

    Bottom line: Hiring your children to work for your business, or rental properties, can be perfectly legal tax planning. But, you have to follow the rules and document everything in order to protect the benefits.

  • Mar 31

    Just prior to Christmas 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act which permanently extended several tax provisions, which had been on a cycle of being temporarily extended for one or two years at a time. (See “Congress Takes a New Tack on Extenders” in the February 2016 issue of “Taxing Times”.) While there were some very important items that were permanently extended by the PATH Act, not everything was. Some provisions which expired at the end of 2016 and may be important to you include:

    • the exclusion from gross income of the discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness income,
    • the treatment of mortgage insurance premiums as qualified residence interest, which permits a taxpayer whose income is below certain thresholds to deduct the cost of premiums on mortgage insurance purchased in connection with acquisition indebtedness on the taxpayer’s principal residence,
    • the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses, and
    • the 7.5% adjusted-gross-income floor for deducting medical expenses, applicable to individuals age 65 and older and their spouses, which increases to 10% in 2017.

    It is possible Congress will retroactively extend some, or all, of these provisions, but as it currently stands, these provisions have seen the end of the road.♦