IRS

Well-Traveled? Don’t Get Tripped Up on Tax Day

Cross-border issues to remember while filing U.S. taxes (first in a series)


Key Takeaways:

  • The IRS takes the definition of “global” seriously. All global income, including employee stock option plans, must be reported.

  • There is an increased focus on offshore income tax compliance.

  • The IRS also expects to hear from all U.S. citizens and green card holders living overseas.

  • Taxpayers might be failing this compliance simply because they are not aware of the rules.

  • Make sure your advisors are staying up to date on offshore income rules. 

 

As you get ready to put the final touches on your tax return, here are some important things that you and your financial advisors should remember with respect to global income compliance.

All global income must be reported

If you are a U.S. resident or U.S. citizens (whether NRI, PIO or OCI), you must pay taxes in the U.S. on all global income. A U.S. resident is a green card holder and/or someone who has been physically present in the United States for at least 31 days during the current year and for at least 183 days during the three-year period that includes the current year and the two preceding years. To satisfy the 183-day requirement, count all the days that you were present in the current year, add one-third of the days you were present in the first year before the current year, and then add one-sixth of the days you were present in the second year before the current year.

Global income will include:

  • Any salary partly received in another country.

  • Any income received overseas for freelance or consulting work.

  • Interest on bank deposits and other securities held overseas.

  • Dividends from shares and mutual funds.

  • Capital gains from sale of assets.

  • Rent from property.

Remember, your global income will be taxed in the U.S. as per rules that apply to similar income in the U.S. For instance, while dividends may be tax-free in India, they are taxed in the U.S., and hence your dividends from India will be taxed in the U.S. The same goes for capital gains. According to U.S. law, the definition of “long term” is one year for all assets, but it may be different in other countries. When you file tax returns in the U.S., you must take into account this difference and treat overseas capital gains as per the time period specified in U.S. law.

If you have paid tax in the overseas country from which the income described above is derived, you must check the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement to see if you are eligible to claim a foreign tax credit.

Tip: When you fill in Schedule B of your tax return Form 1040, pay close attention to line 7. Line 7 asks if the taxpayer had, during the tax year, held any financial interest in or signature authority over a foreign financial account (such as a bank account, securities account or brokerage account). Make sure you confirm that you indeed had overseas investments.

ESOP taxation

Did you exercise an employee stock option plan (ESOP) in 2017? If so, that’s one more thing you must declare on your U.S. tax return. In the U.S., the value of ESOPs granted is taxed at the time when the employee exercises the option.

You must add the total value of their ESOP compensation to your total income in the U.S. Since you may have also paid tax in the country where the ESOP originated, you will be eligible to claim a tax credit in their U.S. tax returns. You must refer to the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement.

Tip: You can disclose this as other income in Form 1040. You can claim foreign tax credit using Form 1116.

U.S. citizens and green card holders living overseas

In this connected world, you may be constantly on the move. This is a red flag.

Regardless of where you live, all U.S. citizens and green card holders must file tax returns in the U.S. based on their total global income. You must pay taxes on such foreign income unless a treaty or statutory exclusion or foreign tax credit applies to reduce your U.S. tax liability to zero.

In such cases, if you are a U.S. citizen or a green card holder residing overseas, on the regular due date of your return, you are allowed an automatic two-month extension to file your return and to pay any amount due without requesting an extension. So this year, the automatic two-month extension goes to June 15. But remember, while no penalty is charged, interest is still charged on the balance due between April 15 and June 15.

If you are unable to file a return by the automatic two-month extension date, you can request an additional extension to October 15 by filing Form 4868 before the automatic two-month extension date. However, any tax due payments made after June 15 will be subject to both interest charges and failure-to-pay penalties.

Tip: Filing U.S. tax returns from overseas can be quite a challenge. Not all software is equipped to handle foreign tax issues such as earned income exclusions—Form 2555, foreign tax credit—Form 1116, Form 8938, Form 8833 and so on. In such cases, you and your advisors will need to file a paper return.

Conclusion

Foreign income compliance is becoming increasingly important to the IRS. As the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) gathers steam, opportunities to come into compliance without harsh penalties will diminish. The sooner you act the better.

In the next installment of this article series, we’ll look at the various additional forms that must be included with the 1040 to be compliant with global income reporting.



DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily express the views of our firm and should not be construed as professional tax advice.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

9 Places to Find Free Money

Here is a nice article provided by the Editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance:

 

By the Editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance | August 2017 

 

State treasuries and other agencies are holding more than $40 billion in unclaimed assets, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). Some of it could be yours.

Unclaimed assets, often from accounts that have been inactive for a certain period of time, can include checking and savings, payroll checks, utility deposits and tax refunds. They may also include stock certificates, certificates of deposit, insurance benefits, pension payments and safe-deposit-box contents.

This article will point you toward resources that will help you track down your missing money.

 

The Unclaimed Property Clearinghouse

 

Whether you’re just curious or you suspect that you or someone in your family has missing assets, the best place to start your treasure hunt is Missingmoney.com. The national database is endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), as well as 41 U.S. states. You just need to enter a last name and state to start your nationwide search.

 

Your State's Unclaimed Property Program

 

For a more targeted search, you can try NAUPA's www.unclaimed.org. The site connects you directly to each state's program. It also includes links to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and a few Canadian provinces. The specific search can help you avoid getting overwhelmed by MissingMoney's nationwide results, especially if you have a common name. Just be sure to check all the states in which you've ever lived.

 

The Internal Revenue Service

 

The Internal Revenue Service is a treasure trove of lost loot. In 2017, the IRS reported that more than $1 billion in refunds were waiting to be claimed by people who had not filed 2013 returns. The average unclaimed check is for $763. You have three years to file past returns and claim your refund—so you have until April 17, 2018, to file your 2014 return. And you will not be penalized at all for filing late if you get a refund.

If you did file your return and have yet to receive your expected refund, go to the IRS's Where’s My Refund? page. You need to enter your Social Security number, your filing status and the amount you were due as shown on your tax return.

 

Your Old Insurance Policy

 

Over the past decade, some major insurers, such as John Hancock, MetLife and Prudential, have demutualized. That is, they converted from mutual life insurance companies, owned by their policyholders, into publicly traded firms, owned by shareholders. In this process, the firms give their policyholders shares of stock or cash. The size of the payout depends on the face value of the policy, the length of time the policy has been in force, and the total amount of premiums paid.

However, many of the insurers couldn’t find policy owners. If you suspect that you or family members might be affected, contact the insurance company and ask about the possibility of missing demutualization money. The firm may have already surrendered the unclaimed assets to the state, in which case you can try tracking it down via Missingmoney.com or www.unclaimed.org.

 

Your Forgotten Stock Portfolio

 

Another common missing asset, old stock certificates, may be harder to track down. If you have the CUSIP number—an identification number used for stocks and bonds—call your broker and find out the value of the security. If you don’t have the CUSIP number but know the name of the company, try the investor-relations department of the firm and ask the registrar to help you.

If the company already surrendered your unclaimed assets to the state—if it failed to locate you after it was acquired, for example—again you can check for the funds through Missingmoney.com or www.unclaimed.org. Just be sure to look for your name in three states: where you lived at the time of purchasing the stock, where the company was based and where it was incorporated.

 

Your Former Employer's Pension Plan

 

Were you a participant in a pension plan offered by a company that went out of business or closed its plan? Millions of dollars of pension benefits go unclaimed because those owed the money can't be found.

When your former employer can't find you, your pension money goes to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a government agency that protects retirement income. Check the PBGC's unclaimed pensions database to see if you're on its list of people owed benefits.

 

Your Old Bank

 

If your bank or financial institution closed and you didn't claim the funds in your account, you still might be able to get your money. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has a list of unclaimed insured deposits at firms that were shut between 1989 and 1993. Post-1993 bank assets go directly to state treasuries.

Using the FDIC's BankFind tool, you can also trace what became of the old bank—for example, if it was absorbed by an existing financial institution that you can contact.

 

The Treasury Department

 

Savings bonds are more often forgotten than lost—billions of dollars of matured savings bonds have never been cashed.

To track down lost bonds, submit the Fiscal Service Form 1048, Claim for Lost, Stolen, or Destroyed United States Savings Bonds to the Treasury Department with dates of purchase, names on bonds and other pertinent information.

 

Credit Karma

 

Credit Karma, a consumer website that offers free credit scores and tax prep­aration, recently launched a tool that lets you search for unclaimed property in 20 states. The company plans to add more states; if you click on one that’s not included in the program, you’ll be directed to that state’s own unclaimed-property website.

You don’t have to be a member of Credit Karma to use the tool. However, if you become a member, Credit Karma will notify you of future unclaimed-property reports that match your profile. Membership is free; Credit Karma makes money when you sign up for recommended products, such as credit cards and car loans. 

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

17 Red Flags for IRS Auditors

Here is a nice article provided by Joy Taylor of Kiplinger:

 

By Joy Taylor, Assistant Editor | March 2017

 

Ever wonder why some tax returns are eyeballed by the Internal Revenue Service while most are ignored? Short on personnel and funding, the IRS audited only 0.70% of all individual tax returns in 2016. So the odds are pretty low that your return will be singled out for review. And, of course, the only reason filers should worry about an audit is if they are fudging on their taxes.

 

That said, your chances of being audited or otherwise hearing from the IRS escalate depending on various factors, including your income level, the types of deductions or losses you claim, the business you're engaged in, and whether you own foreign assets. Math errors may draw IRS inquiry, but they'll rarely lead to a full-blown exam. Although there's no sure way to avoid an IRS audit, these 17 red flags could increase your chances of unwanted attention from the IRS.

 

1. Making a Lot of Money

Although the overall individual audit rate is only about one in 143 returns, the odds increase dramatically as your income goes up. IRS statistics for 2016 show that people with an income of $200,000 or higher had an audit rate of 1.70%, or one out of every 59 returns. Report $1 million or more of income? There's a one-in-17 chance your return will be audited. The audit rate drops significantly for filers making less than $200,000: Only 0.65% (one out of 154) of such returns were audited during 2016, and the vast majority of these exams were conducted by mail.

We're not saying you should try to make less money — everyone wants to be a millionaire. Just understand that the more income shown on your return, the more likely it is that you'll be hearing from the IRS.

2. Failing to Report All Taxable Income

The IRS gets copies of all of the 1099s and W-2s you receive, so be sure you report all required income on your return. IRS computers are pretty good at matching the numbers on the forms with the income shown on your return. A mismatch sends up a red flag and causes the IRS computers to spit out a bill. If you receive a 1099 showing income that isn't yours or listing incorrect income, get the issuer to file a correct form with the IRS.

3. Taking Higher-than-Average Deductions

If the deductions on your return are disproportionately large compared with your income, the IRS may pull your return for review. But if you have the proper documentation for your deduction, don't be afraid to claim it. There's no reason to ever pay the IRS more tax than you actually owe.

4. Running a Small Business

Schedule C is a treasure trove of tax deductions for self-employed people. But it's also a gold mine for IRS agents, who know from experience that self-employed people sometimes claim excessive deductions and don’t report all of their income. The IRS looks at both higher-grossing sole proprietorships and smaller ones.

Special scrutiny is also given to cash-intensive businesses (taxis, car washes, bars, hair salons, restaurants and the like) as well as to small business owners who report a substantial net loss on Schedule C.

Other small businesses also face extra audit heat, as the IRS shifts its focus away from auditing regular corporations. The agency thinks it can get more bang for its audit buck by examining S corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies. So it’s spending more resources on training examiners about issues commonly encountered with pass-through firms.

5. Taking Large Charitable Deductions

We all know that charitable contributions are a great write-off and help you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. However, if your charitable deductions are disproportionately large compared with your income, it raises a red flag.

That's because the IRS knows what the average charitable donation is for folks at your income level. Also, if you don't get an appraisal for donations of valuable property, or if you fail to file Form 8283 for noncash donations over $500, you become an even bigger audit target. And if you've donated a conservation or façade easement to a charity, chances are good that you'll hear from the IRS. Be sure to keep all of your supporting documents, including receipts for cash and property contributions made during the year.

6. Claiming Rental Losses

Normally, the passive loss rules prevent the deduction of rental real estate losses. But there are two important exceptions. If you actively participate in the renting of your property, you can deduct up to $25,000 of loss against your other income. This $25,000 allowance phases out as adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000 and disappears entirely once your AGI reaches $150,000. A second exception applies to real estate professionals who spend more than 50% of their working hours and over 750 hours each year materially participating in real estate as developers, brokers, landlords or the like. They can write off losses without limitation.

The IRS actively scrutinizes rental real estate losses, especially those written off by taxpayers claiming to be real estate pros. It’s pulling returns of individuals who claim they are real estate professionals and whose W-2 forms or other non-real estate Schedule C businesses show lots of income. Agents are checking to see whether these filers worked the necessary hours, especially in cases of landlords whose day jobs are not in the real estate business. The IRS started its real estate professional audit project several years ago, and this successful program continues to bear fruit.

7. Taking an Alimony Deduction

Alimony paid by cash or check is deductible by the payer and taxable to the recipient, provided certain requirements are met. For instance, the payments must be made under a divorce or separate maintenance decree or written separation agreement. The document can’t say the payment isn’t alimony. And the payer’s liability for the payments must end when the former spouse dies. You’d be surprised how many divorce decrees run afoul of this rule.

Alimony doesn’t include child support or noncash property settlements. The rules on deducting alimony are complicated, and the IRS knows that some filers who claim this write-off don’t satisfy the requirements. It also wants to make sure that both the payer and the recipient properly reported alimony on their respective returns. A mismatch in reporting by ex-spouses will almost certainly trigger an audit.

8. Writing Off a Loss for a Hobby

You must report any income you earn from a hobby, and you can deduct expenses up to the level of that income. But the law bans writing off losses from a hobby. To be eligible to deduct a loss, you must be running the activity in a business-like manner and have a reasonable expectation of making a profit. If your activity generates profit three out of every five years (or two out of seven years for horse breeding), the law presumes that you're in business to make a profit, unless the IRS establishes otherwise. Be sure to keep supporting documents for all expenses.

9. Deducting Business Meals, Travel and Entertainment

Big deductions for meals, travel and entertainment are always ripe for audit, whether taken on Schedule C by business owners or on Schedule A by employees.

A large write-off will set off alarm bells, especially if the amount seems too high for the business or profession. Agents are on the lookout for personal meals or claims that don't satisfy the strict substantiation rules. To qualify for meal or entertainment deductions, you must keep detailed records that document for each expense the amount, place, people attending, business purpose, and nature of the discussion or meeting. Also, you must keep receipts for expenditures over $75 or for any expense for lodging while traveling away from home. Without proper documentation, your deduction is toast

10. Failing to Report a Foreign Bank Account

The IRS is intensely interested in people with money stashed outside the U.S., especially in countries with the reputation of being tax havens, and U.S. authorities have had lots of success getting foreign banks to disclose account information. The IRS also uses voluntary compliance programs to encourage folks with undisclosed foreign accounts to come clean — in exchange for reduced penalties. The IRS has learned a lot from these amnesty programs and has been collecting a boatload of money (we’re talking billions of dollars). It’s scrutinizing information from amnesty seekers and is targeting the banks they used to get names of even more U.S. owners of foreign accounts.

Failure to report a foreign bank account can lead to severe penalties. Make sure that if you have any such accounts, you properly report them. This means electronically filing FinCEN Form 114 by April 15 to report foreign accounts that combined total more than $10,000 at any time during the previous year. And taxpayers with a lot more financial assets abroad may also have to attach IRS Form 8938 to their timely filed tax returns.

11. Claiming 100% Business Use of a Vehicle

When you depreciate a car, you have to list on Form 4562 the percentage of its use during the year was for business. Claiming 100% business use of an automobile is red meat for IRS agents. They know that it's rare for someone to actually use a vehicle 100% of the time for business, especially if no other vehicle is available for personal use.

The IRS also targets heavy SUVs and large trucks used for business, especially those bought late in the year. That’s because these vehicles are eligible for favorable depreciation and expensing write-offs. Be sure you keep detailed mileage logs and precise calendar entries for the purpose of every road trip. Sloppy recordkeeping makes it easy for a revenue agent to disallow your deduction.

As a reminder, if you use the IRS's standard mileage rate, you can't also claim actual expenses for maintenance, insurance and the like. The IRS has seen such shenanigans and is on the lookout for more.

12. Taking an Early Payout from an IRA or 401(k) Account

The IRS wants to be sure that owners of traditional IRAs and participants in 401(k)s and other workplace retirement plans are properly reporting and paying tax on distributions. Special attention is being given to payouts before age 59½, which, unless an exception applies, are subject to a 10% penalty on top of the regular income tax. An IRS sampling found that nearly 40% of individuals scrutinized made errors on their income tax returns with respect to retirement payouts, with most of the mistakes coming from taxpayers who didn’t qualify for an exception to the 10% additional tax on early distributions. So the IRS will be looking at this issue closely.

The IRS has a chart listing withdrawals taken before the age of 59½ that escape the 10% penalty, such as payouts made to cover very large medical costs, total and permanent disability of the account owner, or a series of substantially equal payments that run for five years or until age 59½, whichever is later.

13. Claiming Day-Trading Losses on Schedule C

People who trade in securities have significant tax advantages compared with investors. The expenses of traders are fully deductible and are reported on Schedule C (investors report their expenses as a miscellaneous itemized deduction on Schedule A, subject to an offset of 2% of adjusted gross income), and traders’ profits are exempt from self-employment tax. Losses of traders who make a special section 475(f) election are fully deductible and are treated as ordinary losses that aren’t subject to the $3,000 cap on capital losses. And there are other tax benefits.

But to qualify as a trader, you must buy and sell securities frequently and look to make money on short-term swings in prices. And the trading activities must be continuous. This is different from an investor, who profits mainly on long-term appreciation and dividends. Investors hold their securities for longer periods and sell much less often than traders.

The IRS knows that many filers who report trading losses or expenses on Schedule C are actually investors. So it’s pulling returns and checking to see that the taxpayer meets all of the rules to qualify as a bona fide trader.

14. Failing to Report Gambling Winnings or Claiming Big Gambling Losses

Whether you’re playing the slots or betting on the horses, one sure thing you can count on is that Uncle Sam wants his cut. Recreational gamblers must report winnings as other income on the front page of the 1040 form. Professional gamblers show their winnings on Schedule C. Failure to report gambling winnings can draw IRS attention, especially if the casino or other venue reported the amounts on Form W-2G.

Claiming large gambling losses can also be risky. You can deduct these only to the extent that you report gambling winnings (and recreational gamblers must also itemize). But the costs of lodging, meals and other gambling-related expenses can only be written off by professional gamblers. The IRS is looking at returns of filers who report large miscellaneous deductions on Schedule A Line 28 from recreational gambling, but aren’t including the winnings in income. Also, taxpayers who report large losses from their gambling-related activity on Schedule C get extra scrutiny from IRS examiners, who want to make sure these folks really are gaming for a living.

15. Claiming the Home Office Deduction

The IRS is drawn to returns that claim home office write-offs because it has historically found success knocking down the deduction. Your audit risk increases if the deduction is taken on a return that reports a Schedule C loss and/or shows income from wages. If you qualify for these savings, you can deduct a percentage of your rent, real estate taxes, utilities, phone bills, insurance and other costs that are properly allocated to the home office. That's a great deal.

Alternatively, you have a simplified option for claiming this deduction: The write-off can be based on a standard rate of $5 per square foot of space used for business, with a maximum deduction of $1,500.

To take advantage of this tax benefit, you must use the space exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business. That makes it difficult to successfully claim a guest bedroom or children's playroom as a home office, even if you also use the space to do your work. "Exclusive use" means that a specific area of the home is used only for trade or business, not also for the family to watch TV at night.

16. Engaging in Currency Transactions

The IRS gets many reports of cash transactions in excess of $10,000 involving banks, casinos, car dealers and other businesses, plus suspicious-activity reports from banks and disclosures of foreign accounts. So if you make large cash purchases or deposits, be prepared for IRS scrutiny. Also, be aware that banks and other institutions file reports on suspicious activities that appear to avoid the currency transaction rules (such as a person depositing $9,500 in cash one day and an additional $9,500 in cash two days later).

17. Claiming the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

U.S. citizens who work overseas can exclude on 2016 returns up to $101,300 of their income earned abroad if they were bona fide residents of another country for the entire year or they were outside of the U.S. for at least 330 complete days in a 12-month span. Additionally, the taxpayer must have a tax home in the foreign country. The tax break doesn’t apply to amounts paid by the U.S. or one of its agencies to its employees who work abroad.

IRS agents actively sniff out people who are erroneously taking this break, and the issue keeps coming up in disputes before the Tax Court. Among the areas of IRS focus: filers with minimal ties to the foreign country they work in and who keep an abode in the U.S.; flight attendants and pilots; and employees of U.S. government agencies who mistakenly claim the exclusion when they are working overseas.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail  info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

The Alternative Minimum Tax -- Not Just for the Wealthy

When first introduced, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) was widely acknowledged to be a rich person's 's tax -- a fallback tax for those wily taxpayers with big incomes and numerous deductions. However, as finances evolved and incomes grew, more and more people found themselves subject to the AMT, even after the introduction of automatic inflation adjustments in 2013. That's why a general understanding of how the tax works can help you avoid it and even use it to your advantage.

The Other Federal Tax

The AMT truly functions as an alternative tax system. It has its own set of rates and rules for deductions, and they are more restrictive than the regular system. Taxpayers who meet certain tests essentially have to calculate their net tax liabilities under both sets of rules, and then file using whichever calculation yields the greater tax assessment.

The AMT can be triggered by a number of different variable s. Although those with higher incomes are more susceptible to the tax, factors such as the amount of your exemptions or deductions can also prompt it. Even commonplace items such as a deduction for state income tax or interest on a second mortgage can set off the AMT. To find out if you are subject to the AMT, fill out the worksheets provided with the instructions to Form 1040 or complete Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax -- Individuals.

AMT rates start at 26%, rising to 28% at higher income levels. This compares with regular federal tax rates, which start at 10% and step up to 39.6%. Although the AMT rates may appear to cap out at a lower rate than regular taxes, the AMT calculation allows significantly fewer deductions, making for a potentially bigger bottom-line tax bite. Unlike regular taxes, you cannot claim exemptions for yourself or other dependents, nor may you claim the standard deductio n. You also cannot deduct state and local tax, property tax, and a number of other itemized deductions, including your home-equity loan interest, if the loan proceeds are not used for home improvements. Accordingly, the more exemptions and deductions you normally claim, the more likely it is that you'll have an AMT liability.

There's also an AMT credit that allows you to claim a credit on your tax return in future years for some of the extra taxes you paid under the AMT. However, you can only use the AMT credit in a year when you're not paying the AMT. To apply for the credit, you'll need to fill in yet another form, Form 8801, to see if you are eligible.

AMT.png

Averting Triggers for the AMT

< br>Because large one-time gains and big deductions that trigger the AMT are sometimes controllable, you may be able to avoid or minimize the impact of the AMT by planning ahead. Here are some practical suggestions.

Time your capital gains. You may be able to delay an asset sale until after the end of the year, or spread a gain over a number of years by using an installment sale. If you're looking to liquidate an investment with a long-term gain, you should review your AMT consequences and determine what impact such a sale might have.

Time your deductible expenses. When possible, time payments of state and local taxes, home-equity loan interest (if the loan proceeds are not used for home improvements), and other miscellaneous itemized deductions to fall in years when you won't face the AMT. Since they are not AMT deductible, they will go unused in a year when you pay the AMT. The same holds true for medical deductions, which fac e stricter deduction rules for the AMT.

Look before you exercise. Exercising ISOs is a red flag for triggering the AMT. The AMT on ISO proceeds can be significant. Because ISO tax issues are complex, you should consult with your tax advisor before exercising ISOs.

Stock Options.png

Required Attribution

Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by DST Systems, Inc. or its sources, neither DST Systems, Inc. nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall DST Systems, Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.

© 2017 DST Systems, Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited, except by permission. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constit ute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.