Richard A. Lindsey, CPA

Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants

  • 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 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.♦

  • Feb 3

    How The Tax Code Makes Regular Taxpayers Angry

    Many people think that preparing taxes for a living is a somewhat easy assignment.

    Bless their hearts.

    It’s NOT just “filling in the boxes” and having the spreadsheets or the software spit out the results. I WISH it were so simple. There are three big reasons why it’s much harder than that — even for many professionals.

    1) The tax code is incredibly long. The version of the tax code we are using right now is more than 75,000 pages long (and that is about 186 times LONGER than it was back in 1913 when we started with it) — and it will likely be getting longer this coming year.

    2) The code also happens to be pretty complicated and laden with contradictory incentives. Take this credit, and watch that other credit go bye-bye. Fail to deduct this item, and then you won’t be able to deduct that other item. You get the picture.

    Sorting through all of them is most definitely NOT a task for a computer software program. It requires sitting down with an individual, a business owner, a family, determining what they most care about, and then use that complicated code to plan for it all properly. Really, that’s the only way to do it. Everything else is just “after the fact” clean-up work.

    Which is why it’s so critical to meet with someone before the end of the year to make sure that you’re set up to hold a tax position which represents the real picture of where you really want to be going.

    This is the essence of tax planning. Some may say that this is overstating it — but, after years of doing this, I’ve become convinced that it’s the truth. I’m in the business of helping you fulfill your dreams by helping you hold on to as much income/revenue as possible!

    3) Oh, and as I alluded to previously, there is one more big reason this job is no cupcake — staying up to date with how the law is constantly changing.

    And I’m as patriotic as the next person … but, Congress makes THIS task no cupcake.

    Despite what certain fringe voices might claim (and they cite all kinds of “facts” behind their claims), the truth is that we don’t have the choice to “not file” or “not pay” what the tax laws say we owe. That’s why the IRS audits returns and has all sorts of “encouragements” (liens, refund offsets) to encourage us to file by each April 15, and to do so correctly.

    But, even with automatic payroll deductions, etc. we U.S. taxpayers are trusted to fill out the forms, ensure the correct amount was withheld and let the IRS know what our true final bill was. That’s called tax filing. And if we discover that we owe the U.S. Treasury, then our system (as it stands now) relies on us to send in the necessary payments. This, of course, is what we spend much of our time on around here at Team Lindsey — helping YOU do this ethically, but ensuring you’re not overpaying.

    But, Congress makes this much harder than they need to.

    They do this — probably unintentionally — by tinkering with our tax laws so much. They change them, sometimes slightly, sometimes quite a bit, and they do so constantly. What’s worse is the annual rite of procrastination in the House and Senate. I see this all the time. As a regular course of business.

    And these delays in tax changes — or the decision to make some laws retroactive months later (extenders, estate tax, etc.) — totally screw up basic tax planning, sometimes negating options that could have been used to legally lower a tax bill.

    (Which, incidentally, is why I have to pay so much attention to what’s happening in the legislation NOW, during the offseason. I do this so you don’t have to.)

    So some people fudge their returns. And, unfortunately, they feel justified in doing so.

    One recent example was the first-time homebuyer credit that was created a few years back … then revised … and revised again. Many homebuyers had to “pay back” a credit that was taken under existing law — then later canceled.

    And I know (from conversations with real people) how many felt justified in finding ways to “skim back” (i.e. fudge) that $500 back into their returns because they were annoyed at how Congress handled it.

    And there are plenty of other tax laws with similar histories that tick off filers enough so that they look for ways of getting payback when they fill out their 1040s.

    Now, I’m not condoning these taxpayers’ decisions to “even up” the tax code where they may find it unfair. Life can be unfair and taxes are a part of that often unfair life.

    But, Congress can do a lot to prevent these “they hurt me, so I’ll hurt the tax system right back” attitudes, by doing its tax-writing job in a more rational and professional manner.

    Until it does, well, then, Capitol Hill is going to keep creating bad attitudes.

    But, here’s where some hope comes in…

    For my clients and contacts, you can rest assured that we are paying attention … and that we will be on top of even these woefully-procrastinating legislators. We’ll do all that is ethically possible to make sure you don’t make moves that you’ll regret after the fact.

    And the best way to help us help YOU, is by giving us a call to talk things through NOW, while we can still make a difference with 2016 returns.

    “You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” – Dale Carnegie

  • Oct 28

    In what may come as a shock to many of you, the country is broke and is looking for additional revenues. You should know, it will be looking in every nook and cranny to replenish the federal coffers. What you may not know is the Internal Revenue Service seems already to be engaged in revenue-finding-missions. Among the objects of their affection – in the tax audit – are sole proprietors filing Schedule C, and substantiation requirements for every possible deduction.

    The IRS now views the Schedule C as the repository of all manner of evil taxpayer intentions to reduce their tax liabilities (and, from the perspective of the IRS, federal revenues). IRS agents are reportedly beating the bushes of sole proprietors primarily to reduce, or eliminate, claimed deductions as unsubstantiated to increase both income and self-employment tax liabilities.

    All deductions are a matter of legislative grace, and that grace comes with a price: at a minimum to maintain books and records to support the expenditure, and, in many cases, to meet more exacting substantiation standards than the Code imposes as a condition to deductibility in various circumstances. One might not think of charitable contributions as a source of major contention with the IRS, but in the case of non-cash contributions, the taxpayer is technically required to establish, both the fair market value of the property and the property’s adjusted basis. In some cases, the Code requires an appraisal of property (where the value exceeds $5,000) contributed to a charity.

    However, the property’s adjusted basis comes into question in two cases: first in most cases where the property is inventory in the hands of the donor, and secondly, if tangible personal property that is unrelated to the charity’s exempt function, the amount of the contribution is limited to the donor’s adjusted basis in the property. For example, if a taxpayer donates used clothing to a charity that does not distribute them to poor or indigent individuals, the deduction is limited to the lesser of your basis or fair market value. Now, it may seem like common sense that the current value of almost all used clothing is less than what was paid for it but technically, a claim for a deduction of such items requires some proof of both the fair market value and the cost basis of the property.

    And such was the case I recently read about in Surgent’s Tax Issues Newsletter where a taxpayer was denied a claimed $850 deduction for clothing donated to charity. Yes $850! The return was under audit and the taxpayer submitted photographs of all the clothing donated and matched them up to the current list of retail prices published by The Salvation Army and recognized by the IRS– but that wasn’t enough. The auditor wanted purchase receipts of each item to establish the cost basis. Even if the taxpayer was in the 35 percent tax bracket, the amount of tax at issue was only $298. The IRS correctly assumed the taxpayer would throw in the towel rather than incur additional time, effort and costs to substantiate the deduction. So, the IRS pressed the issue hard enough to deny any deduction. Hooray, the deficit was reduced $300!

    From a practical standpoint, trying to establish the cost of most any item of personal property even shortly after its purchase, much less a couple of years down the road, is extremely difficult. So, nothing prevents the IRS from using similar audit strategies where larger sums of money are involved.

    Echoing the motivation Willie Sutton once famously gave for robbing banks, the Internal Revenue Service knows where the money is.

  • Oct 14

    Q. My husband and I sold our home on Fowl River that we purchased in 1973 for $459,000, and reinvested the profits in a smaller condo in town. Will we be required to pay the new 3.8% Medicare surtax (now referred to as the net investment income tax) on the gain? I understand it applies when your income is above $250,000.

    A. The 3.8% net investment income tax applies to the lesser of the net investment income for the year, or the excess of modified adjusted gross income over the $250,000 threshold. However, it does not apply to items, such as the gain on the sale of your personal residence, which do not have to be reported on your tax return.

    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.

  • Sep 16

    Since 2002, the above-the-line deduction for certain classroom expenses of elementary and secondary schoolteachers was in doubt nearly every other year. The temporary provision was renewed six times as an “extender” item – each time retroactively – until late last year when Congress made it permanent, expanded the deduction to cover professional development expenditures and indexed its $250 maximum amount for inflation. Now, qualifying educators can rely on the deduction each year and potentially realize a greater benefit from it.

    Qualified expenses include ordinary and necessary expenses paid in connection with books, supplies, equipment (including computer equipment, software, and services), and other materials used in the classroom. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your educational field. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your profession as an educator. An expense does not have to be required to be considered necessary. Expenses incurred to meet the minimum requirements of the educator’s present job or to qualify for a new profession may not be deductible.

    Qualified expenses do not include expenses for home schooling or for nonathletic supplies for courses in health or physical education.

    An eligible educator is a kindergarten through grade 12 teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide in school for at least 900 hours during a school year.

    Naturally, the IRS recommends that educators keep all receipts and other documentation in order to substantiate their qualified expenses.

    Any unreimbursed educator expenses that exceed the $250 ceiling may be claimed as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income- (AGI) floor.

  • Aug 19

    Don’t you just love Congressional tricks?

    One of my personal “favorites” is when they cram a bunch of unrelated business into their bills.

    Which is just what happened about a year ago, and it could affect you…

    H.R. 3236, popularly known as “The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015” (yes, that’s how these things are named) brought some tax-law-related changes.

    Individual tax returns are still due on April 15th — and a six month extension period is still available. But …

    * Partnership tax returns are due March 15, NOT April 15 as in the past. If your partnership isn’t on a calendar year, the return is due on the 15th day of the third month following the close of your tax year.

    * C corporation tax returns are due April 15, NOT March 15. For non-calendar years, it is due on the 15th day of the fourth month following the close of the tax year.

    * S corporation tax returns remain unchanged–they are still due March 15, or the third month following the close of the taxable year.

    On TOP of that, another doozy: audits can get you for six years now, instead of three. Without going into all of the details, essentially if you withhold reporting of 25% or more of your income, the IRS has six years to figure it out. They’ve always had unlimited time for fraud or criminality … but there was some wiggle room for underreporting in the past. No longer.

    All this (and MORE!) in one measly highway bill.

    So, it pays even more to work with a pro, yes?

    These sort of issues are what we specialize in worrying all about — so you don’t have to. Because YOU have to keep your head in a bigger picture.

    Entrepreneurs know that hard work and a great idea don’t guarantee success. Fortunately, most of them also know that failure isn’t final — almost every successful business owner client of mine has crashed and burned at least once in his/her career.

    One of the best ways to pick yourself, or your business, back up off the ground is to take a fresh look at things that you “thought” were set in stone. Here are some strategies I compiled for you to possibly give your business a fresh lease on life, come fall, or into 2017…

    Re-target your market. In the heat of start-up passion, entrepreneurs frequently try to interest too broad a market: “Everyone will want to buy this!” The result: getting lost in the crowd. The more closely you define your market, the more success you will experience.

    Re-examine your price. Price is obviously supremely important. See how you can lower your overhead or cut production costs. Perhaps there’s a new way to package your products, so that your average transaction value can go up?

    Identify and push your best product. Focus on what works. If your hot product is coffee cups, look for ways to highlight and expand that niche instead of veering into new territory. How about different colors and holders for those cups?

    Make your marketing materials more memorable. Emphasize the benefits — SPECIFICALLY how features of your product or service will improve business or the quality of life for your customer. And scrutinize your advertising. Using big media is not always the answer, especially when you have narrowed your market. Don’t overlook narrowly-targeted marketing efforts or joint promotions.

    Keep promoting! Make sure your message sinks in. Find affordable ways to reach your target market, and use these avenues as often as you can. Try social advertising!

    These ideas are to get you started. There may be longer conversations to be had. If so, that’s what we’re here for.

  • Jul 21

    NOTICE OF INTENT TO LEVY.

    Admittedly, it’s an intention-grabbing way to start a letter, especially when the return address says Internal Revenue Service. And grab Greg’s attention, it did.

    The Athens, Georgia, veteran said the notice, which arrived earlier this year, cited taxes on three months of income he had failed to include on his 2013 tax return – and this was the first he’d heard of it.

    After leaving the military, then 27-year-old Greg, had taken a job in information technology. “I guess when I filled out my taxes for 2013 I messed something up, so I didn’t get my private sector job included into the taxes owed,” he said. Now he owed the IRS more than $1,700.

    The IRS doesn’t keep track of how many millennials incur tax debt, but a survey by NerdWallet found that they are more afraid of filing their taxes than any other generation. 80% of millennials, defined by the survey as 18 to 34-year-olds, fear they will make a mistake, underpaying or overpaying.

    Millennials are generally financially inexperienced and, increasingly, part of a gig economy—driving for Uber, YouTube ad sales,–that requires more care with their taxes than some are able, or willing, to take. For example, people who work in contract jobs typically don’t have any taxes withheld and need to set up estimated tax payments on their own.

    While 38% of all taxpayers will seek help from a tax pro, fewer than 10% of millennials go to the IRS when they have a tax question, and only about a quarter seek help from a tax professional, the survey found. Instead, they tend to turn to a largely unreliable, if well-meaning, group—friends and family. Millennial taxpayers in particular bemoan the long wait times on the phone with the IRS and the agency’s weird penchant for mail (like, so yesterday).

    If the multiple letters from the IRS urging debtors to set up payment plans are ignored, the IRS will use its resources to grab whatever resources debtors have. If you don’t contact them, the IRS will take action to collect the taxes.

    Someone facing a tax bill that can’t pay can usually set up a payment agreement online. No contact with the IRS necessary.