Business or Hobby?

Credit Score Ingredients

When you incorrectly claim your favorite hobby as a business, it’s like waving a red flag that says “Audit Me!” to the IRS. However, there are tax benefits if you can correctly categorize your activity as a business.

Why does hobby versus business activity matter?

Chiefly, you’re allowed to reduce your taxable income by the amount of your qualified business expenses, even if your business activity results in a loss.

On the other hand, you cannot deduct losses from hobby activities. Hobby expenses are treated as miscellaneous itemized deductions and don’t reduce taxable income until they (and other miscellaneous expenses) surpass 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Here are some tips to determine whether you can define your activity as a business.

BUSINESS versus HOBBY
You have a reasonable expectation of making a profit. Profit Motive You may sell occasionally, but making money is not your main goal.
You invest significant personal time and effort. You depend on the resulting income. Effort and Income It’s something you do in your free time; you make the bulk of your money elsewhere.
Your expenses are ordinary and necessary to run your business. Reasonable Expenses Your expenses are driven by your personal preferences and not strictly necessary.
You have a track record in this industry, and/or a history of making profits. Background You don’t have professional training in the field and have rarely or never turned a profit.
You have multiple customers or professional clients. Customers You have few customers, mainly relatives and friends.
You keep professional records, including a separate checkbook and balance sheet; you have business cards, stationery and a branded business website. Professionalism You don’t keep strict professional records of your activities; you don’t have a formal business website or business cards.

The IRS will consider all these factors to make a broad determination whether you operate your activity in a businesslike manner. If you need help ensuring you meet these criteria, reach out to schedule an appointment.

 

Marriage Tax Tips

Credit Score Ingredients

If you recently got married, plan to get married, or know someone taking the matrimonial plunge, here are some important tax tips every new bride and groom should know.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Notify Social Security. Notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of any name changes by filling out Form SS-5. The IRS matches names with the SSA and may reject your joint tax return if the names don’t match what the SSA has on file.
1 Address change notification. If either of you are moving, update your address with your employer as well as the Postal Service. This will ensure your W-2s are correctly stated and delivered to you at the end of the year. You will also need to update the IRS with your new address using Form 8822.
1 Review your benefits. Getting married allows you to make mid-year changes to employer benefit plans. Take the time to review health, dental, auto, and home insurance plans and update your coverage. If both of you have employer health plans, you need to decide whether it makes sense for each of you to keep your plans or whether it’s better for one to join the other’s plan as a spouse. Pay special attention to the tax implication of changes in health savings accounts, dependent childcare benefits and other employer pre-tax benefits.
1 Update your withholdings. You will need to recalculate your payroll withholdings and file new W-4s reflecting your new status. If both of you work, your combined income could put you in a higher tax bracket. This can result in reduced and phased-out benefits. This phenomenon is known as the “marriage penalty.”
1 Update beneficiaries and other legal documents. Review your legal documents to make sure the names and addresses reflect your new marital status. This includes bank accounts, credit cards, property titles, insurance policies and living wills. Even more importantly, review and update beneficiaries on each of your retirement savings accounts and pensions.
1 Understand the tax impact of your residence. If you are selling one or two residences, review how capital gains tax laws apply to your situation. This is especially important if one of you has been in your home for only a short time or if either home has appreciated in value. This review should be done prior to getting married to maximize your tax benefits.
1 Sit down with an expert. It is natural for newlyweds to focus their attention on the big day. There are so many decisions to be made from selecting a venue to planning the honeymoon. Because of this, reviewing your tax situation often is an afterthought. Do not make this mistake. A simple tax and financial planning session prior to the big day can save on future headaches and avoid potentially expensive tax mistakes.

If you’d like a review of how marriage will affect your tax and financial situation, call at your earliest opportunity.

 

 

Taxation Without Representation is Alive and Well

Taxation Without Representation is Alive and WellOur forefathers launched the Revolutionary War with the claim “taxation without representation.” What few of us realize is that taxing the other guy who has no say in the matter is now a prevalent technique. Here are some examples.

 Bullet Item 1 Hotel taxes to fund sports stadiums. New professional sports stadiums across the country are using hotel taxes to fund their construction. This tax is added to every visitors’ bill without input on whether they agree to the tax or not. In perhaps the most brazen example, supporters of a potential new NFL stadium referendum in San Diego are promoting getting fans from competing football teams to pay for their new stadium through hotel taxes.
Bullet Item 2 High property tax on vacation property. Own a cabin or other vacation property? The property tax you pay for this property is set by local officials. Temporary residents do not have a vote in electing these people. So out-of-town cabin owners end up footing the bill for local initiatives without a vote.

Bullet Item 3

Small business taxes. While the legal system treats corporations as legal entities, they have no voting rights. In addition, millions of small businesses are taxed on individual tax returns as flow-through entities, but the owners have no voting authority to represent their business if they do not live in the same community as their business. This means things like property taxes and sales taxes are set without representation.
Bullet Item 4 Out-of-state taxes despite no physical presence. Many states are taxing non-resident individuals and businesses with new legislation. For example, a consultant working for a California company may be subject to California income tax, even if residing and working in another state. Out-of-state businesses are challenged with newly defined “nexus” rules. As non-residents, these new taxpayers have no voice in the matter.

What’s the big deal?

Unfortunately, the pace of targeting taxes towards people and businesses with no voting rights is increasing. This is often due to legislatures taking the path of least resistance. Why not place the tax burden on someone who does not vote? Here are some suggestions on what you can do to manage this problem for you.

Bullet Item 1 Manage your stay. Know which cities have hotel taxes to support construction projects. Vote with your wallet by selecting your location for business and vacation stays. Sometimes the tax only applies to select counties around a stadium. This is the case with the tax to fund the construction of the Minnesota Twins baseball stadium. So select a nearby county that does not collect the tax.
Bullet Item 2 Shop wisely. When looking for a new vacation home or cottage, pay attention to the property tax. There are cases where two similarly valued properties on the same lake have different property taxes because the lake is in two different communities.
Bullet Item 3 Squeak. While you have no vote, you can still try to apply influence. If a community is not business-friendly in their tax proposals, getting the word out is often your only approach. Visit city council meetings and voice your concerns. Support local candidates that understand your plight. Consider challenging property valuations to minimize the impact of tax increases.

Every state, county, and community is different. Know the tax climate before you buy, move, or work in a community that is not your primary residence. It is often your only defense when you are subject to taxation without representation.

 

 

The IRS is Not Always Right

Quotes from actual IRS correspondence received by clients:

“Our records show we received a 1040X…for the tax year listed above. We’re sorry but we cannot find it.”
“Our records show you owe a balance due of $0.00. If we do not receive it within 30 days, appropriate collection steps will be taken”.
“Payment is due on your account. Please submit payments on or before June 31st to avoid late payment penalties and interest.”

IRS mistakesIt’s pretty tough to pay a balance due of $0 on June 31st when June only has 30 days. The message should be clear. If you receive a notice from the IRS do not automatically assume it is correct and submit payment to make it go away. The same is true for any state notices. They are often in error. So what should you do?

Bullet Item Stay calm. Try not to overreact to the correspondence. This is easier said than done, but remember the IRS sends out millions of notices each year. The vast majority of them correct simple oversights or common filing errors.
Bullet Item Open the envelope. You would be surprised at how often clients are so stressed by receiving a letter from the IRS that they cannot bear to open the envelope. If you fall into this category try to remember that the first step in making the problem go away is to open the correspondence.
Bullet Item Careful review. Review the letter. Make sure you understand exactly what the IRS thinks needs to be changed and determine whether or not you agree with their findings. Unfortunately, the IRS rarely sends correspondence to correct an oversight in your favor, but it sometimes happens.
Bullet Item Respond timely. The correspondence received should be very clear about what action the IRS believes you should take and within what timeframe. Ignore this information at your own risk. Delays in responses could generate penalties and additional interest payments.
Bullet Item Get help. You are not alone. Getting assistance from someone who deals with this all the time makes going through the process much smoother.
Bullet Item Correct the IRS error. Once the problem is understood, a clearly written response with copies of documentation will cure most of these IRS correspondence errors. Often the error is due to the inability of the IRS computers to conduct a simple reporting match. Pointing the information out on your tax return might be all it takes to solve the problem.
Bullet Item Certified mail is your friend. Any responses to the IRS should be sent via certified mail. This will provide proof of your timely correspondence. Lost mail can lead to delays, penalties, and additional interest on your tax bill.
Bullet Item Don’t assume it will go away. Until a definitive confirmation that the problem has been resolved is received, you need to assume the IRS still thinks you owe the money. If no correspondence confirming the correction is received, a written follow-up will be required.

2017 Health Savings Account Limits Announced

Stethescope around hunderd dollar bills

The savings limits for the ever-popular Health Savings Accounts (HSA) are now set for 2017. The new limits are outlined here with current year amounts noted for comparison purposes.

What is an HSA?

An HSA is a tax-advantaged savings account to pay for qualified health care costs for you, your spouse, and your dependents. When contributions are made through an employer, they are made on a pre-tax basis. There is no tax on the withdrawn funds, the interest earned, or investment gains as long as the funds are used to pay for qualified medical, dental, and vision expenses. Unused funds may be carried over from one year to the next. To qualify for this tax-advantaged account you must be enrolled in a “high deductible” health insurance program as defined by HSA rules.

The limits

Health Savings Account (HSA) Limits NEW! 2017 2016 Change
Maximum Annual Contribution Self $3,400 $3,350 +$50
Family $6,750 $6,750 nc
Add: 55+ catch up
contribution
$1,000 $1,000 nc
Health Insurance Requirements
Minimum Deductible Self coverage $1,300 $1,300 nc
Family coverage $2,600 $2,600 nc
Out-of-pocket Maximum Self coverage $6,550 $6,550 nc
Family coverage $13,100 $13,100 nc

Source: IRS Rev Proc 2016-28

Note: To qualify for an HSA you must have a qualified High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). A plan must meet minimum deductible requirements that are typically higher than traditional health insurance. In addition, your coverage must have reasonable out-of-pocket payment limits as set by the above noted maximums.

Not sure what an HSA is all about? Check with your employer. If they offer this option in their health care benefits, they will have information discussing the program and its potential benefits.

 

 

You Still May Wish to File a Tax Return

1040 form and IRS logo

Too many taxpayers fail to file a tax return under the false notion that one is not required to pay income tax. This assumption can cause problems. Here are some examples of when to file a tax return even when not required to do so.

Check mark Wish to qualify for Premium Tax Credit. This tax credit helps reduce the cost of health insurance for those who purchase their insurance through the new health insurance marketplace. Without a filed tax return you cannot have the Premium Health Credit applied towards your monthly premiums. In fact, non-filing could limit your ability to receive this credit in future tax years as the IRS continues to place controls on the payment of this credit.
Check mark Receive refundable tax credits. There are certain tax credits that will provide refunds even if you do not owe income tax. The most common of these is the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Check mark You wish to limit potential audits. The IRS typically has three years to audit a filed tax return. If no tax return is filed, this audit time limit never starts.
Check mark You are applying for financial aid or loans. Banks and colleges will often use tax return information to qualify you for loans and financial aid. Even if not required to file, it is nice to provide this information if requested.
Check mark You are filing a final tax return for a loved one. The IRS will eventually receive death information through the Social Security Administration. By filing a final tax return, you can put the breaks on unwanted communication from the IRS as they wait for this confirmation.
Check mark You want withholdings returned to you. Always file a tax return if an employer or other supplier withheld tax funds. It is the only way you will receive them back from the federal government.
Check mark You wish to protect against someone else filing a tax return. With the vast increase in identity theft from the IRS, filing a tax return can close the door on would-be thieves. Your filed tax return can block attempts by someone else who files a second tax return with fake information.

IRS Now Required to Use Collection Agencies

Collection agency In a 1,300 page Transportation Bill signed into law in December, 2015, there are eight pages that require the IRS to assign unpaid tax bills to outside collection agencies. This means that third party companies will now be calling taxpayers as representatives of the IRS to collect unpaid taxes.

What you need to know

Icon What has changed. Prior to this bill, the IRS had the option, but not the requirement, to use other companies to try to collect past due tax bills. The IRS is now required to assign some of these unpaid taxes to outside companies for collection whether it is cost effective or not.
Icon Non-IRS companies may call you. If the IRS thinks you owe money and the statute of limitations for collection is approaching, you may have your tax bill assigned to a debt collector. This means you could receive phone calls and communication from a third party company that has your tax information.
Icon Your fraud alert senses should go up. This debt collector requirement may open the door to more tax fraud as thieves know they can falsely represent themselves as an agent of the IRS. Please be vigilant to this risk.
Icon The $900 million problem? The IRS acknowledges over $900 million in premium health care credits during 2014 will need to be repaid by taxpayers. There is the possibility of having some of this collection activity assigned to third party companies due to lack of IRS resources.
Icon There are rules. While the IRS may assign any unpaid debt to collection agencies, the “required transfer” of unpaid debts has specific rules. You may NOT be asked to pay tax bills from a third party debt collector if:

Check You are under age 18
Check The taxpayer is deceased
Check You are a victim of identity theft
Check You have an innocent spouse case
Check Your tax case is active within the IRS
Remember to be cautious if you are contacted by someone representing themselves as an agent of the IRS. When in doubt ask for help before providing any information.

IRS Erroneously Denies Educator Deduction Claims

During its annual review of the tax filing season, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) discovered the IRS was incorrectly denying educator expense deductions for some taxpayers.

Teacher DeskThe deduction

In 2014, qualified educators could reduce their income by up to $250 for classroom related expenses. This deduction is available whether or not a taxpayer itemizes their deductions.

The problem

The IRS was denying the deduction if the taxpayer could be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return. This denial impacted young teachers and others who could use the tax benefit.

What you need to know

The $250 educator expense deduction is one of the tax provisions that is repeatedly expiring only to be extended once again by late Congressional action. As of now the benefit is not available in 2015. In all likelihood, the benefit will be available once again. In the meantime,

Paperclip Bullet Point If you took the deduction in 2014 and you are challenged by the IRS, ask for help. A quick review and clarifying letter should help you retain your deduction.
Paperclip Bullet Point If the tax law is extended unchanged into 2015, remember you can take the deduction even if you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

 

 

States Becoming Tax Thieves?

Small business consultants beware

Over the past few years, state revenue departments have been getting creative in making new tax laws to capture non-resident income taxes. If you are an individual operating as a sole-proprietor consultant or service provider, here is what you need to know.

This could be you

Point You could owe state income taxes to a state you never visited or worked in.
Point Non-resident employees doing the same work you do as a consultant may not have to pay state income taxes while you must.
Point Federal law protects non-residents from state revenue attacks, but only if you sell tangible property (like pencils, watches and other physical property). It generally does not protect those who provide services.
Point Every state can be different. Just because you know your state’s rules, do not assume other states follow the same guidelines. Nor should you assume other state laws are logical or reasonable.

What can you do?

If you are a consultant providing services to out-of-state customers, here are some tips.

1 Research the states rules. Research your customers’ state tax laws for non-resident service businesses. Also review that state’s non-resident employee wage rules. See if they treat them both the same way.
2 Become a temporary employee. If non-resident rules are different for consultants versus employees, consider becoming a part-time employee or temp employee. Adjust your bill rate to allow for the employer paying half of your Social Security and Medicare.
3 Physical presence. If you conduct your work in the out-of-state location, a non-resident tax return is usually due. But this is not always the case.
4 Service or product? Remember, selling product across state lines is different than providing a service. Nexus laws and tax cases make physical presence required. But here too, there can be exceptions.
5 If in doubt, ask for help. The best advice is to ask for help. This area of tax code is rapidly evolving. There are no national guidelines and states like California and Michigan are very aggressive. Exceptions in state rules make mistakes easy to happen. This can lead to you owing taxes to another state based on your out-of state activities.

 

Small service businesses cannot readily defend themselves against large state revenue departments so they are becoming victims as one state tries to take another state’s income tax revenue. While you may receive a credit in your home state for taxes paid to another state, it is not always easy to do and penalties are often applied. Your best defense is knowledge.

ACA Strikes Again

Are you prepared?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues to evolve as the IRS begins to address challenges faced during the past tax season. A recent IRS announcement warns taxpayers who use the Premium Tax Credit to file their 2014 tax return immediately. Failing to do so may cause the IRS to deny using the Premium Care credit during 2016. Here is what you need to know.

Who? Anyone who uses the Marketplace to purchase their health insurance and receives the Premium Tax Credit. The IRS announcement applies to;

Affordable Care Act Premium Tax Credit

Advanced Premium Tax Credit Users

This IRS warning impacts anyone who has their Premium Tax Credit paid directly to their health insurance provider to help lower their monthly health insurance premium payments. And…

No 2014 Tax Return on File

notice specifically impacts those who use the tax credit and have not filed a 2014 tax return.

What happens. If you are impacted by this announcement you will no longer be eligible to receive pre-payment of the Premium Tax Credit in 2016. You will need to come up with the money to pay for your entire health insurance premium each month.

Action to take. If you do not want this to impact you, file your 2014 tax return as soon as possible. File now even if you filed a tax extension giving you until October 15, 2015 to file your tax return.

To learn more please review IRS Health Care Announcement: IRS 2015-40