Your home office expenses may be tax deductible

Technology has made it easier to work from home so lots of people now commute each morning to an office down the hall. However, just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it.

Regularly and exclusively

In order to be deductible for 2019 and 2020, you must be self-employed and the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with the space.

Two options

If you qualify, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. There are two options for the deduction:

  • Write off a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space. This requires calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses.
  • Take the “safe harbor” deduction. Only one simple calculation is necessary: $5 times the number of square feet of the office space. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on a maximum of 300 square feet.

Changes through 2025

Under prior tax law, if you were an employee (as opposed to self-employed), you could deduct unreimbursed home office expenses as employee business expenses, subject to a floor of 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for all your miscellaneous expenses. To qualify under prior law, a home office had to be used for the “convenience” of your employer.

Unfortunately, the TCJA suspends the deduction for miscellaneous expenses through 2025. Without further action from Congress, employees won’t be able to benefit from this tax break for a while. However, deductions are still often available to self-employed taxpayers.

If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income. Therefore, the deduction will still be available to you through 2025.

More requirements

Be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the requirements here. We can help you determine if you’re eligible for a home office deduction and, if so, establish the appropriate method for getting the biggest possible deduction.

© 2019

Parental priorities: How to choose a guardian for your child

If you have minor children, arguably the most important estate planning decision you need to make is choosing a guardian for them should the unthinkable occur. If you haven’t yet made this decision, formalize your choice as soon as possible.

When it comes to choosing the best candidate, you probably already have a short list consisting of members of your immediate family. This is an excellent start, but don’t forget about extended family members and trusted friends.

Things to consider

There are many issues you’ll need to consider in making your decision. Perhaps the most important issue is whether you and your guardian choice share similar values, such as parenting philosophy, religious and moral beliefs, and educational views.

Usually, a family member or friend who shares your values is a good candidate. But even if your brother, for example, doesn’t share your religious beliefs, it doesn’t mean you should cross him off your list. You likely won’t find a person who shares all your values.

Here are a few questions to consider when evaluating potential guardians:

  • Do they want to serve as guardians?
  • Does your estate plan provide sufficient resources so that caring for your children won’t cause an economic hardship for them?
  • If they’re married, is the marriage stable?
  • If they have children, do your children get along with them?
  • How old are they in relation to your children? A grandparent or other older person may not be the best choice to care for an infant or toddler, for example.
  • Are their homes large enough to make room for your children?

Don’t let the court decide

If you fail to name a guardian in your will, a court will appoint one should it become necessary. The court will base its decision on its assessment of the best interest of your child.

But that assessment may be different from your own, and its selection may not be your first choice. So, it’s important to name your candidate. This is typically handled through a will, though procedures can vary from state to state.

Make a decision

After giving it some hard thought, it’s time to make a final decision. In addition to identifying your first choice, select one or two alternatives. If your first choice decides he or she isn’t up to the responsibility, you can turn to others.

When asking the person to be your child’s guardian, ensure he or she clearly understands your expectations and a guardian’s responsibilities. Also, give the prospective guardian time to consider your proposal. It isn’t a responsibility to be taken lightly.

Most parents select a guardian during the process of making a will or estate planning. Contact us with any questions.

© 2019

How you can help stop elder financial abuse

It’s one of the most difficult types of fraud to unearth. But it doesn’t directly affect businesses or the average consumer — in large part because its victims rarely report it. In fact, they’re often prevented from doing so by perpetrators.

What is it? Financial abuse of seniors, or elder fraud. Many thousands of Americans are victimized each year and some observers fear these crimes are becoming more widespread. But you can help put a stop to elder fraud. Learn the signs and, as the saying goes, if you see something, say something.

Vulnerable targets

Older individuals with retirement savings, accumulated home equity and other significant assets make appealing targets for unscrupulous family members, caregivers, financial advisors, fiduciaries and scam artists who insinuate themselves into their victims’ lives. Seniors could be at risk due to isolation, cognitive decline, physical disability or health problems. Even the recent loss of a spouse can make an otherwise discerning individual unusually vulnerable.

Exact statistics on elder financial abuse are hard to come by, largely because victims hesitate to report it out of fear of their abusers or embarrassment. But various studies estimate that the percentage of the elderly who have experienced financial exploitation in the past 12 months is between 2.7% and 6.6%. Although there’s no reliable national estimate of the financial losses suffered by victims, one study concluded that financially abused seniors in New York state alone lose approximately $110 million annually.

Red flags

There are many red flags associated with the financial exploitation of vulnerable seniors. If you notice that an individual seems fearful or submissive toward a guardian or that a caregiver prevents the elder from speaking for him- or herself, start asking questions. For example, has the elder recently authorized a change in financial management, such as who has power of attorney? Or does the senior:

  • Have a new guardian or caregiver who conducts financial transactions, such as cash withdrawals, on his or her behalf?
  • Seem unusually reluctant to discuss financial matters?
  • Appear unable or unwilling to handle basic financial responsibilities such as paying bills or reviewing financial statements?

If you can gain access to the elder’s financial records, look for frequent large withdrawals (particularly daily maximum currency withdrawals from ATMs), insufficient fund notices, uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money, and recently closed accounts. Any of these could suggest financial fraud or abuse.

Do your part

If you have vulnerable elderly relatives, friends or neighbors, do your part to protect them from fraud and exploitation. Report any concerns to law enforcement or your municipality’s senior services division. And if you’re a family member, consider engaging a forensic accounting expert to perform a thorough investigation.

© 2019

Medical expenses: What it takes to qualify for a tax deduction

As we all know, medical services and prescription drugs are expensive. You may be able to deduct some of your expenses on your tax return but the rules make it difficult for many people to qualify. However, with proper planning, you may be able to time discretionary medical expenses to your advantage for tax purposes.

The basic rules

For 2019, the medical expense deduction can only be claimed to the extent your unreimbursed costs exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). You also must itemize deductions on your return.

If your total itemized deductions for 2019 will exceed your standard deduction, moving or “bunching” nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into 2019 may allow you to exceed the 10% floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. Controllable expenses include refilling prescription drugs, buying eyeglasses and contact lenses, going to the dentist and getting elective surgery.

In addition to hospital and doctor expenses, here are some items to take into account when determining your allowable costs:

1. Health insurance premiums. This item can total thousands of dollars a year. Even if your employer provides health coverage, you can deduct the portion of the premiums that you pay. Long-term care insurance premiums are also included as medical expenses, subject to limits based on age.

2. Transportation. The cost of getting to and from medical treatments counts as a medical expense. This includes taxi fares, public transportation, or using your own car. Car costs can be calculated at 20¢ a mile for miles driven in 2019, plus tolls and parking. Alternatively, you can deduct certain actual costs, such as for gas and oil.

3. Eyeglasses, hearing aids, dental work, prescription drugs and professional fees. Deductible expenses include the cost of glasses, hearing aids, dental work, psychiatric counseling and other ongoing expenses in connection with medical needs. Purely cosmetic expenses don’t qualify. Prescription drugs (including insulin) qualify, but over-the-counter aspirin and vitamins don’t. Neither do amounts paid for treatments that are illegal under federal law (such as marijuana), even if state law permits them. The services of therapists and nurses can qualify as long as they relate to a medical condition and aren’t for general health. Amounts paid for certain long-term care services required by a chronically ill individual also qualify.

4. Smoking-cessation and weight-loss programs. Amounts paid for participating in smoking-cessation programs and for prescribed drugs designed to alleviate nicotine withdrawal are deductible. However, nonprescription nicotine gum and patches aren’t. A weight-loss program is deductible if undertaken as treatment for a disease diagnosed by a physician. Deductible expenses include fees paid to join a program and attend periodic meetings. However, the cost of food isn’t deductible.

Dependent expenses

You can deduct the medical costs that you pay for dependents, such as your children. Additionally, you may be able to deduct medical costs you pay for other individuals, such as an elderly parent. If you have questions about medical expense deductions, contact us.

© 2019

Holiday parties and gifts can help show your appreciation and provide tax breaks

With Thanksgiving behind us, the holiday season is in full swing. At this time of year, your business may want to show its gratitude to employees and customers by giving them gifts or hosting holiday parties. It’s a good idea to understand the tax rules associated with these expenses. Are they tax deductible by your business and is the value taxable to the recipients?

Customer and client gifts

If you make gifts to customers and clients, the gifts are deductible up to $25 per recipient per year. For purposes of the $25 limit, you don’t need to include “incidental” costs that don’t substantially add to the gift’s value, such as engraving, gift wrapping, packaging or shipping. Also excluded from the $25 limit is branded marketing collateral — such as small items imprinted with your company’s name and logo — provided they’re widely distributed and cost less than $4.

The $25 limit is for gifts to individuals. There’s no set limit on gifts to a company (for example, a gift basket for all team members of a customer to share) as long as they’re “reasonable.”

Employee gifts

In general, anything of value that you transfer to an employee is included in his or her taxable income (and, therefore, subject to income and payroll taxes) and deductible by your business. But there’s an exception for noncash gifts that constitute a “de minimis” fringe benefit.

These are items small in value and given infrequently that are administratively impracticable to account for. Common examples include holiday turkeys or hams, gift baskets, occasional sports or theater tickets (but not season tickets), and other low-cost merchandise.

De minimis fringe benefits aren’t included in your employee’s taxable income yet they’re still deductible by your business. Unlike gifts to customers, there’s no specific dollar threshold for de minimis gifts. However, many businesses use an informal cutoff of $75.

Important: Cash gifts — as well as cash equivalents, such as gift cards — are included in an employee’s income and subject to payroll tax withholding regardless of how small and infrequent.

Throwing a holiday party

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, certain deductions for business-related meals were reduced and the deduction for business entertainment was eliminated. However, there’s an exception for certain recreational activities, including holiday parties.

Holiday parties are fully deductible (and excludible from recipients’ income) so long as they’re primarily for the benefit of non-highly-compensated employees and their families. If customers, and others also attend, holiday parties may be partially deductible.

Spread good cheer

Contact us if you have questions about giving holiday gifts to employees or customers or throwing a holiday party. We can explain the tax rules.

© 2019

Adopting a child? Bring home tax savings with your bundle of joy

If you’re adopting a child, or you adopted one this year, there may be significant tax benefits available to offset the expenses. For 2019, adoptive parents may be able to claim a nonrefundable credit against their federal tax for up to $14,080 of “qualified adoption expenses” for each adopted child. (This amount is increasing to $14,300 for 2020.) That’s a dollar-for-dollar reduction of tax — the equivalent, for someone in the 24% marginal tax bracket, of a deduction of over $50,000.

Adoptive parents may also be able to exclude from their gross income up to $14,080 for 2019 ($14,300 for 2020) of qualified adoption expenses paid by an employer under an adoption assistance program. Both the credit and the exclusion are phased out if the parents’ income exceeds certain limits, as explained below.

Adoptive parents may claim both a credit and an exclusion for expenses of adopting a child. But they can’t claim both a credit and an exclusion for the same expense.

Qualified adoption expenses

To qualify for the credit or the exclusion, the expenses must be “qualified.” These are the reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, travel expenses (including amounts spent for meals and lodging) while away from home, and other expenses directly related to the legal adoption of an “eligible child.”

Expenses in connection with an unsuccessful attempt to adopt an eligible child can qualify. However, expenses connected with a foreign adoption (one in which the child isn’t a U.S. citizen or resident) qualify only if the child is actually adopted.

Taxpayers who adopt a child with special needs get a special tax break. They will be deemed to have qualified adoption expenses in the tax year in which the adoption becomes final in an amount sufficient to bring their total aggregate expenses for the adoption up to $14,300 for 2020 ($14,080 for 2019). In other words, they can take the adoption credit or exclude employer-provided adoption assistance up to that amount, whether or not they had $14,300 for 2020 ($14,080 for 2019) of actual expenses.

Phase-out for high-income taxpayers

The credit allowable for 2019 is phased out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $211,160 ($214,520 for 2020). It is eliminated when AGI reaches $251,160 for 2019 ($254,520 for 2020).

Taxpayer ID number required

The IRS can disallow the credit and the exclusion unless a valid taxpayer identification number (TIN) for the child is included on the return. Taxpayers who are in the process of adopting a child can get a temporary number, called an adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN), for the child. This enables adoptive parents to claim the credit and exclusion for qualified expenses.

When the adoption becomes final, the adoptive parents must apply for a Social Security number for the child. Once obtained, that number, rather than the ATIN, is used.

We can help ensure that you meet all the requirements to get the full benefit of the tax savings available to adoptive parents. Please contact us if you have any questions

© 2019

3 last-minute tips that may help trim your tax bill

If you’re starting to fret about your 2019 tax bill, there’s good news — you may still have time to reduce your liability. Three strategies are available that may help you cut your taxes before year-end, including:

1. Accelerate deductions/defer income. Certain tax deductions are claimed for the year of payment, such as the mortgage interest deduction. So, if you make your January 2020 payment this month, you can deduct the interest portion on your 2019 tax return (assuming you itemize).

Pushing income into the new year also will reduce your taxable income. If you’re expecting a bonus at work, for example, and you don’t want the income this year, ask if your employer can hold off on paying it until January. If you’re self-employed, you can delay your invoices until late in December to divert the revenue to 2020.

You shouldn’t pursue this approach if you expect to land in a higher tax bracket next year. Also, if you’re eligible for the qualified business income deduction for pass-through entities, you might reduce the amount of that deduction if you reduce your income.

2. Maximize your retirement contributions. What could be better than paying yourself instead of Uncle Sam? Federal tax law encourages individual taxpayers to make the maximum allowable contributions for the year to their retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs and SEP plans, 401(k)s and deferred annuities.

For 2019, you generally can contribute as much as $19,000 to 401(k)s and $6,000 for traditional IRAs. Self-employed individuals can contribute up to 25% of your net income (but no more than $56,000) to a SEP IRA.

3. Harvest your investment losses. Losing money on your investments has a bit of an upside — it gives you the opportunity to offset taxable gains. If you sell underperforming investments before the end of the year, you can offset gains realized this year on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

If you have more losses than gains, you generally can apply up to $3,000 of the excess to reduce your ordinary income. Any remaining losses are carried forward to future tax years.

We can help

The strategies described above are only a sampling of strategies that may be available. Contact us if you have questions about these or other methods for minimizing your tax liability for 2019.

© 2019

3 pitfalls to avoid when naming a beneficiary of a life insurance policy

Life insurance can be a powerful financial and estate planning tool, but its benefits can be reduced or even eliminated if you designate the wrong beneficiary or fail to change beneficiaries when your circumstances change.

Common pitfalls to avoid include:

  1. Naming your estate as beneficiary. Doing so can subject life insurance proceeds to unnecessary state inheritance taxes (in many states), expose the proceeds to your estate’s creditors and ensure that the proceeds will go through probate, which may delay payment to your loved ones.
  2. Naming minor children as beneficiaries. Insurance companies won’t pay life insurance proceeds directly to minors, which means a court-appointed guardian (who, if you’re divorced, could be your former spouse) will manage the funds until your minor-age children reach the age of majority. A better approach is to designate a trust as beneficiary. This allows you to determine who will manage the funds and how they’ll be distributed to your children.
  3. Naming your former spouse as beneficiary. It’s unlikely that you’d do this intentionally. But if you get divorced and neglect to designate a new beneficiary, this could be the result (even if you’ve updated your will or trust).

For many people, an effective strategy is to establish an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to purchase and own a life insurance policy and to designate the ILIT as the policy’s beneficiary.

If you’re unsure of whom to name as beneficiary of your life insurance policy or retirement plan or would like to learn about more ways to provide for your minor children, please contact us.

© 2019

Adopting a child? Bring home tax savings with your bundle of joy

If you’re adopting a child, or you adopted one this year, there may be significant tax benefits available to offset the expenses. For 2019, adoptive parents may be able to claim a nonrefundable credit against their federal tax for up to $14,080 of “qualified adoption expenses” for each adopted child. (This amount is increasing to $14,300 for 2020.) That’s a dollar-for-dollar reduction of tax — the equivalent, for someone in the 24% marginal tax bracket, of a deduction of over $50,000.

Adoptive parents may also be able to exclude from their gross income up to $14,080 for 2019 ($14,300 for 2020) of qualified adoption expenses paid by an employer under an adoption assistance program. Both the credit and the exclusion are phased out if the parents’ income exceeds certain limits, as explained below.

Adoptive parents may claim both a credit and an exclusion for expenses of adopting a child. But they can’t claim both a credit and an exclusion for the same expense.

Qualified adoption expenses

To qualify for the credit or the exclusion, the expenses must be “qualified.” These are the reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, travel expenses (including amounts spent for meals and lodging) while away from home, and other expenses directly related to the legal adoption of an “eligible child.”

Expenses in connection with an unsuccessful attempt to adopt an eligible child can qualify. However, expenses connected with a foreign adoption (one in which the child isn’t a U.S. citizen or resident) qualify only if the child is actually adopted.

Taxpayers who adopt a child with special needs get a special tax break. They will be deemed to have qualified adoption expenses in the tax year in which the adoption becomes final in an amount sufficient to bring their total aggregate expenses for the adoption up to $14,300 for 2020 ($14,080 for 2019). In other words, they can take the adoption credit or exclude employer-provided adoption assistance up to that amount, whether or not they had $14,300 for 2020 ($14,080 for 2019) of actual expenses.

Phase-out for high-income taxpayers

The credit allowable for 2019 is phased out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $211,160 ($214,520 for 2020). It is eliminated when AGI reaches $251,160 for 2019 ($254,520 for 2020).

Taxpayer ID number required

The IRS can disallow the credit and the exclusion unless a valid taxpayer identification number (TIN) for the child is included on the return. Taxpayers who are in the process of adopting a child can get a temporary number, called an adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN), for the child. This enables adoptive parents to claim the credit and exclusion for qualified expenses.

When the adoption becomes final, the adoptive parents must apply for a Social Security number for the child. Once obtained, that number, rather than the ATIN, is used.

We can help ensure that you meet all the requirements to get the full benefit of the tax savings available to adoptive parents. Please contact us if you have any questions

© 2019