Individual Tax briefs

IRA charitable donations: An alternative to taxable required distributions

Are you a charitably minded individual who is also taking distributions from a traditional IRA? You may want to consider the tax advantages of making a cash donation to an IRS-approved charity out of your IRA.

When distributions are taken directly out of traditional IRAs, federal income tax of up to 37% in 2022 will have to be paid. State income taxes may also be owed.

Qualified charitable distributions

One popular way to transfer IRA assets to charity is via a tax provision that allows IRA owners who are age 70½ or older to direct up to $100,000 per year of their IRA distributions to charity. These distributions are known as qualified charitable distributions (QCDs). The money given to charity counts toward your required minimum distributions (RMDs) but doesn’t increase your adjusted gross income (AGI) or generate a tax bill.

Keeping the donation out of your AGI may be important for several reasons. Here are some of them:

  1. It can help you qualify for other tax breaks. For example, having a lower AGI can reduce the threshold for deducting medical expenses, which are only deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5% of AGI.
  2. You can avoid rules that can cause some or all of your Social Security benefits to be taxed and some or all of your investment income to be hit with the 3.8% net investment income tax.
  3. It can help you avoid a high-income surcharge for Medicare Part B and Part D premiums, which kick in if AGI is over certain levels.
  4. The distributions going to the charity won’t be subject to federal estate tax and generally won’t be subject to state death taxes.

Important points: You can’t claim a charitable contribution deduction for a QCD not included in your income. Also keep in mind that the age after which you must begin taking RMDs is 72, but the age you can begin making QCDs is 70½.

To benefit from a QCD for 2022, you must arrange for a distribution to be paid directly from the IRA to a qualified charity by December 31, 2022. You can use QCDs to satisfy all or part of the amount of your RMDs from your IRA. For example, if your 2022 RMDs are $10,000, and you make a $5,000 QCD for 2022, you have to withdraw another $5,000 to satisfy your 2022 RMDs.

Other rules and limits may apply. Want more information? Contact us to see whether this strategy would be beneficial in your situation.



Caring for an elderly relative? You may be eligible for tax breaks

Taking care of an elderly parent or grandparent may provide more than just personal satisfaction. You could also be eligible for tax breaks. Here’s a rundown of some of them.

1. Medical expenses. If the individual qualifies as your “medical dependent,” and you itemize deductions on your tax return, you can include any medical expenses you incur for the individual along with your own when determining your medical deduction. The test for determining whether an individual qualifies as your “medical dependent” is less stringent than that used to determine whether an individual is your “dependent,” which is discussed below. In general, an individual qualifies as a medical dependent if you provide over 50% of his or her support, including medical costs.

However, bear in mind that medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

The costs of qualified long-term care services required by a chronically ill individual and eligible long-term care insurance premiums are included in the definition of deductible medical expenses. There’s an annual cap on the amount of premiums that can be deducted. The cap is based on age, going as high as $5,640 for 2022 for an individual over 70.

2. Filing status. If you aren’t married, you may qualify for “head of household” status by virtue of the individual you’re caring for. You can claim this status if:

  • The person you’re caring for lives in your household,
  • You cover more than half the household costs,
  • The person qualifies as your “dependent,” and
  • The person is a relative.

If the person you’re caring for is your parent, the person doesn’t need to live with you, so long as you provide more than half of the person’s household costs and the person qualifies as your dependent. A head of household has a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates than a single filer.

3. Tests for determining whether your loved one is a “dependent.” Dependency exemptions are suspended (or disallowed) for 2018–2025. Even though the dependency exemption is currently suspended, the dependency tests still apply when it comes to determining whether a taxpayer is entitled to various other tax benefits, such as head-of-household filing status.

For an individual to qualify as your “dependent,” the following must be true for the tax year at issue:

  • You must provide more than 50% of the individual’s support costs,
  • The individual must either live with you or be related,
  • The individual must not have gross income in excess of an inflation-adjusted exemption amount,
  • The individual can’t file a joint return for the year, and
  • The individual must be a U.S. citizen or a resident of the U.S., Canada or Mexico.

4. Dependent care credit. If the cared-for individual qualifies as your dependent, lives with you, and physically or mentally can’t take care of him- or herself, you may qualify for the dependent care credit for costs you incur for the individual’s care to enable you and your spouse to go to work.

Contact us if you’d like to further discuss the tax aspects of financially supporting and caring for an elderly relative.



Thinking about converting your home into a rental property?

In some cases, homeowners decide to move to new residences, but keep their present homes and rent them out. If you’re thinking of doing this, you’re probably aware of the financial risks and rewards. However, you also should know that renting out your home carries potential tax benefits and pitfalls.

You’re generally treated as a regular real estate landlord once you begin renting your home. That means you must report rental income on your tax return, but also are entitled to offsetting landlord deductions for the money you spend on utilities, operating expenses, incidental repairs and maintenance (for example, fixing a leak in the roof). Additionally, you can claim depreciation deductions for the home. You can fully offset rental income with otherwise allowable landlord deductions.

Passive activity rules

However, under the passive activity loss (PAL) rules, you may not be able to currently claim the rent-related deductions that exceed your rental income unless an exception applies. Under the most widely applicable exception, the PAL rules won’t affect your converted property for a tax year in which your adjusted gross income doesn’t exceed $100,000, you actively participate in running the home-rental business, and your losses from all rental real estate activities in which you actively participate don’t exceed $25,000.

You should also be aware that potential tax pitfalls may arise from renting your residence. Unless your rentals are strictly temporary and are made necessary by adverse market conditions, you could forfeit an important tax break for home sellers if you finally sell the home at a profit. In general, you can escape tax on up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain on the sale of your principal home. However, this tax-free treatment is conditioned on your having used the residence as your principal residence for at least two of the five years preceding the sale. So renting your home out for an extended time could jeopardize a big tax break.

Even if you don’t rent out your home so long as to jeopardize your principal residence exclusion, the tax break you would have gotten on the sale (the $250,000/$500,000 exclusion) won’t apply to the extent of any depreciation allowable with respect to the rental or business use of the home for periods after May 6, 1997, or to any gain allocable to a period of nonqualified use (any period during which the property isn’t used as the principal residence of the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s spouse or former spouse) after December 31, 2008. A maximum tax rate of 25% will apply to this gain (attributable to depreciation deductions).

Selling at a loss

Some homeowners who bought at the height of a market may ultimately sell at a loss someday. In such situations, the loss is available for tax purposes only if the owner can establish that the home was in fact converted permanently into income-producing property. Here, a longer lease period helps an owner. However, if you’re in this situation, be aware that you may not wind up with much of a loss for tax purposes. That’s because basis (the cost for tax purposes) is equal to the lesser of actual cost or the property’s fair market value when it’s converted to rental property. So if a home was bought for $300,000, converted to a rental when it’s worth $250,000, and ultimately sold for $225,000, the loss would be only $25,000.

The question of whether to turn a principal residence into rental property isn’t easy. Contact us to review your situation and help you make a decision.



Once you file your tax return, consider these 3 issues

The tax filing deadline for 2021 tax returns is April 18 this year. After your 2021 tax return has been successfully filed with the IRS, there may still be some issues to bear in mind. Here are three considerations:

1. You can throw some tax records away now

You should hang onto tax records related to your return for as long as the IRS can audit your return or assess additional taxes. The statute of limitations is generally three years after you file your return. So you can generally get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2018 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2018 return, hold on to your records until at least three years from when you filed the extended return.)

However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%.

You should keep certain tax-related records longer. For example, keep the actual tax returns indefinitely, so you can prove to the IRS that you filed a legitimate return. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.)

What about your retirement account paperwork? Keep records associated with a retirement account until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years. And retain records related to real estate or investments for as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return. (You can keep these records for six years if you want to be extra safe.)

2. Waiting for your refund? You can check on it

The IRS has an online tool that can tell you the status of your refund. Go to irs.gov and click on “Get Your Refund Status” to find out about yours. You’ll need your Social Security number, filing status and the exact refund amount.

3. If you forgot to report something, you can file an amended return

In general, you can file an amended tax return and claim a refund within three years after the date you filed your original return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. So for a 2021 tax return that you file on April 15, 2022, you can generally file an amended return until April 15, 2025.

However, there are a few opportunities when you have longer to file an amended return. For example, the statute of limitations for bad debts is longer than the usual three-year time limit for most items on your tax return. In general, you can amend your tax return to claim a bad debt for seven years from the due date of the tax return for the year that the debt became worthless.

We’re here year round

If you have questions about tax record retention, your refund or filing an amended return, contact us. We’re not just available at tax filing time — we’re here all year!



Selling mutual fund shares: What are the tax implications?

If you’re an investor in mutual funds or you’re interested in putting some money into them, you’re not alone. According to the Investment Company Institute, a survey found 58.7 million households owned mutual funds in mid-2020. But despite their popularity, the tax rules involved in selling mutual fund shares can be complex.

What are the basic tax rules?

Let’s say you sell appreciated mutual fund shares that you’ve owned for more than one year, the resulting profit will be a long-term capital gain. As such, the maximum federal income tax rate will be 20%, and you may also owe the 3.8% net investment income tax. However, most taxpayers will pay a tax rate of only 15%.

When a mutual fund investor sells shares, gain or loss is measured by the difference between the amount realized from the sale and the investor’s basis in the shares. One challenge is that certain mutual fund transactions are treated as sales even though they might not be thought of as such. Another problem may arise in determining your basis for shares sold.

When does a sale occur?

It’s obvious that a sale occurs when an investor redeems all shares in a mutual fund and receives the proceeds. Similarly, a sale occurs if an investor directs the fund to redeem the number of shares necessary for a specific dollar payout.

It’s less obvious that a sale occurs if you’re swapping funds within a fund family. For example, you surrender shares of an Income Fund for an equal value of shares of the same company’s Growth Fund. No money changes hands but this is considered a sale of the Income Fund shares.

Another example: Many mutual funds provide check-writing privileges to their investors. Although it may not seem like it, each time you write a check on your fund account, you’re making a sale of shares.

How do you determine the basis of shares? 

If an investor sells all shares in a mutual fund in a single transaction, determining basis is relatively easy. Simply add the basis of all the shares (the amount of actual cash investments) including commissions or sales charges. Then, add distributions by the fund that were reinvested to acquire additional shares and subtract any distributions that represent a return of capital.

The calculation is more complex if you dispose of only part of your interest in the fund and the shares were acquired at different times for different prices. You can use one of several methods to identify the shares sold and determine your basis:

  • First-in first-out. The basis of the earliest acquired shares is used as the basis for the shares sold. If the share price has been increasing over your ownership period, the older shares are likely to have a lower basis and result in more gain.
  • Specific identification. At the time of sale, you specify the shares to sell. For example, “sell 100 of the 200 shares I purchased on April 1, 2018.” You must receive written confirmation of your request from the fund. This method may be used to lower the resulting tax bill by directing the sale of the shares with the highest basis.
  • Average basis. The IRS permits you to use the average basis for shares that were acquired at various times and that were left on deposit with the fund or a custodian agent.

As you can see, mutual fund investing can result in complex tax situations. Contact us if you have questions. We can explain in greater detail how the rules apply to you.



It’s almost that time of year again! If you’re not ready, file for an extension

The clock is ticking down to the April 18 tax filing deadline. Sometimes, it’s not possible to gather your tax information and file by the due date. If you need more time, you should file for an extension on Form 4868.

An extension will give you until October 17 to file and allows you to avoid incurring “failure-to-file” penalties. However, it only provides extra time to file, not to pay. Whatever tax you estimate is owed must still be sent by April 18, or you’ll incur penalties — and as you’ll see below, they can be steep.

Failure to file vs. failure to pay

Separate penalties apply for failing to pay and failing to file. The failure-to-pay penalty runs at 0.5% for each month (or part of a month) the payment is late. For example, if payment is due April 18 and is made May 25, the penalty is 1% (0.5% times 2 months or partial months). The maximum penalty is 25%.

The failure-to-pay penalty is based on the amount shown as due on the return (less credits for amounts paid via withholding or estimated payments), even if the actual tax bill turns out to be higher. On the other hand, if the actual tax bill turns out to be lower, the penalty is based on the lower amount.

The failure-to-file penalty runs at the more severe rate of 5% per month (or partial month) of lateness to a maximum 25%. If you file for an extension on Form 4868, you’re not filing late unless you miss the extended due date. However, as mentioned earlier, a filing extension doesn’t apply to your responsibility for payment.

If the 0.5% failure-to-pay penalty and the failure-to-file penalty both apply, the failure-to-file penalty drops to 4.5% per month (or part) so the combined penalty is 5%. The maximum combined penalty for the first five months is 25%. Thereafter, the failure-to-pay penalty can continue at 0.5% per month for 45 more months (an additional 22.5%). Thus, the combined penalties can reach a total of 47.5% over time.

The failure-to-file penalty is also more severe because it’s based on the amount required to be shown on the return, and not just the amount shown as due. (Credit is given for amounts paid via withholding or estimated payments. If no amount is owed, there’s no penalty for late filing.) For example, if a return is filed three months late showing $5,000 owed (after payment credits), the combined penalties would be 15%, which equals $750. If the actual liability is later determined to be an additional $1,000, the failure-to-file penalty (4.5% × 3 = 13.5%) would also apply to this amount for an additional $135 in penalties.

A minimum failure-to-file penalty also applies if a return is filed more than 60 days late. This minimum penalty is the lesser of $435 (for returns due through 2022) or the amount of tax required to be shown on the return.

Reasonable cause 

Both penalties may be excused by the IRS if lateness is due to “reasonable cause” such as death or serious illness in the immediate family.

Interest is assessed at a fluctuating rate announced by the government apart from and in addition to the above penalties. Furthermore, in particularly abusive situations involving a fraudulent failure to file, the late filing penalty can jump to 15% per month, with a 75% maximum.

Contact us if you have questions about IRS penalties or about filing Form 4868.