This newsletter is intended to provide generalized information that is appropriate in certain situations. It is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The contents of this newsletter should not be acted upon without specific professional guidance. Please call us if you have questions.
Tax rules on rental income from second homes can be complicated, particularly if you rent the home out for several months of the year, but also use the home yourself.
There is however, one provision that is not complicated. Homeowners who rent out their property for 14 or fewer days a year can pocket the rental income, tax-free.
Known as the "Master's exemption", because it is used by homeowners, near the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA who rent out their homes during the Master's Tournament (for as much as $20,000!). It is also used by homeowners who rent out their homes for movie productions or those whose residences are located near Super Bowl sites or national political conventions.
Tip: If you live close to a vacation destination such as the beach or mountains, you may be able to make some extra cash by renting out your home (principal residence) when you go on vacation--as long as it's two weeks or less. And, although you can't take depreciation or deduct for maintenance, you can deduct mortgage interest and property taxes on Schedule A.
In general, income from rental of a vacation home for 15 days or longer must be reported on your tax return on Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss. You should also keep in mind that the definition of a "vacation home" is not limited to a house. Apartments, condominiums, mobile homes, and boats are also considered vacation homes in the eyes of the IRS.
Further, the IRS states that a vacation home is considered a residence if personal use exceeds 14 days or more than 10% of the total days it is rented to others (if that figure is greater). When you use a vacation home as your residence and also rent it to others, you must divide the expenses between rental use and personal use, and you may not deduct the rental portion of the expenses in excess of the rental income.
Example: Let's say you own a house in the mountains and rent it out during ski season, typically between mid-December and mid-April. You and your family also vacation at the house for one week in October and two weeks in August. The rest of the time the house is unused.
The family uses the house for 21 days and it is rented out to others for 121 days for a total of 142 days of use during the year. In this scenario 85% of expenses such as mortgage interest, property taxes, maintenance, utilities, and depreciation can be written off against the rental income on Schedule E. As for the remaining 15% of expenses, only the owner's mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible on Schedule A.
Questions about vacation home rental income? Give us a call. We'll help you figure it out.
The purpose of life insurance is to provide a source of income, in case of death, for your children, dependents, or other beneficiaries. Life insurance can also serve certain estate planning purposes, which we won't go into here.
Buying life insurance is contingent upon whether anyone is depending on your income after your death. If you have a spouse, child, parent, or some other individual who depends on your income, then you probably need life insurance.
Because life insurance protects your family in the event of a death, it is important to determine the correct amount. Most people do not have the right amount of insurance.
There are two basic types of life insurance: term and permanent. Term insurance is insurance that covers a specified period. If you die within this time frame, your beneficiary receives the insurance benefit. Term policy premiums usually increase with age.
Permanent insurance such as universal life, variable life, and whole life, contains a cash value account or an investment element to the insurance.
Rules of Thumb
The younger your children, the more insurance you need. If both spouses earn income, then both spouses should be insured, with insurance amounts proportionate to salary amounts.
Tip: If the family cannot afford to insure both wage earners, the primary wage earner should be insured first, and the secondary wage earner should be insured later on. A less expensive term policy might be used to fill an insurance gap.
If one spouse does not work outside the home, insurance should be purchased to cover the absence of the services being provided by that spouse (child care, housekeeping, bookkeeping, etc.). However, if funds are limited, insurance on the non-wage earner should be secondary to insurance for the wage earner.
If there are no dependents and your spouse could live comfortably without your income, then you will still need life insurance, but you will need less than someone who has dependents.
Tip: At a minimum, you will want to provide for burial expenses and paying off your debts.
If your spouse would undergo financial hardship without your income, or if you do not have adequate savings, you may need to purchase more insurance. The amount of insurance you need depends on your salary level and that of your spouse, the amount of savings you have, and the amount of debt you both have.
If you need help figuring out the correct amount of life insurance you need, then give us a call. We're happy to help.
Many companies have questions about what to do with an employee's home when he or she is moved to a new job location, especially when the real estate market is in a downturn throughout much of the country.
Typically, the employer wants to protect the employee against financial loss on a "forced" sale of the home. Outlined below are some of the most common ways to do that, and the consequences to the employee.
The employer reimburses the employee's financial loss. Here the employer has the home appraised and agrees to pay the employee the difference between the appraised fair market value and any lesser amount the employee gets on the sale. Such reimbursement would cover the employee's costs of the sale.
Note: The financial loss here is not the same as a tax loss. The financial loss is the home's value less what the employee collects under "forced sale" conditions. In the current real estate market, the value is not always clearly determined. The relocating employee might think the home is worth more, based on earlier appraisals or comparative sales. A tax loss is the property's tax basis (cost plus capital investments) less what's collected on the sale.
If the employee has a gain on the sale (the amount collected on the sale exceeds the basis), gain can be tax-exempt up to $250,000 ($500,000 on certain husband-wife sales). However, tax loss on the sale of one's residence is not deductible.
The employer's reimbursement of the employee's financial loss is considered taxable pay to the employee. Employers who want to shelter the employee from any tax burden on what is usually an employer-instigated relocation may "gross-up" the reimbursement to cover the tax. But gross-up can be costly. For example, a grossed-up income tax reimbursement for a $10,000 loss would be $15,385 for an employee in the 35% bracket - more where Social Security taxes or state taxes are also grossed-up.
Employer buys the home. Few employers directly buy and sell employees' homes. But many do this indirectly, effectively becoming the homes' owners, through use of relocation firms acting as the employers' agents. An IRS ruling shows how to do this with no tax on the employee:
Option 1. The relocation firm as employer's agent buys the home for its appraised fair market value, and later resells it. The firm collects a fee from the employer, which covers sales costs and any financial loss to the firm on resale. The IRS now says that this fee is not taxable to the employee. Also, the employee's gain on the sale to the relocation firm qualifies for the tax exemption under the limits described above ($250,000 or $500,000).
Option 2. The relocation firm offers to buy the home for its appraised value, but the employee can choose to pursue a higher price through a broker he or she chooses from a list provided by the relocation firm. If a higher offer is made, the relocation firm pays that price to the employee (whether or not the home is then sold to that bidder). Here again, the employee is not taxed on the firm's fee and the gain is tax exempt under the above limits.
Tip: Either option works for the employee, letting him or her realize full value on the sale of the home (with possibly greater value through Option 2), without an element of taxable pay.
Caution: If the deal is structured so that the relocation firm facilitates a sale from the employee to a third-party buyer (rather than to the relocation firm), the employer's payment of the relocation firm's fee is taxable to the employee.
The Employer's Side
Reimbursing the employee's loss. This is fully deductible as a business expense, as would be any additional amount paid as a gross-up.
Note: It's fully deductible, but it may be more costly, before and after taxes, than buying the home for resale through the relocation firm.
Note: Paying the relocation fee only, without buying the home, as in the "Caution" above, is also fully deductible, as would be any gross-up amount on that fee.
Buying the home. The change in the IRS rule was good news for employees, but it gave nothing to employers, whose tax treatment wasn't covered. The official IRS position is that employer costs (other than carrying costs such as mortgage interest, maintenance, and fees to a relocation management company) are deductible only as capital losses, which, for corporate employers, are deductible only against capital gains. Taxpayer advocates tend to argue that employer costs here are fully deductible ordinary costs of doing business.
Are you an employee who is being relocated this fall? Are you wondering about the sale of your home and the tax implications for you? We can answer your questions. Just give us a call.
Of all the retirement plans available to small business owners, the SIMPLE plan is the easiest to set up and the least expensive to manage.
These plans are intended to encourage small business employers to offer retirement coverage to their employees. SIMPLE plans work well for small business owners who don't want to spend a lot of time and pay high administration fees associated with more complex retirement plans.
SIMPLE plans really shine for self-employed business owners. Here's why...
Self-employed business owners are able to contribute both as employee and employer, with both contributions made from self-employment earnings.
SIMPLE plans calculate contributions in two steps:
1. Employee out-of-salary contribution
The limit on this "elective deferral" is $11,500 in 2012, after which it can rise further with the cost of living.
Catch-up. Owner-employees age 50 or over can make an additional $2,500 deductible "catch-up" contribution (for a total of $14,000) as an employee in 2012.
2. Employer "matching" contribution
The employer match equals a maximum of 3% of employee's earnings.
Example: A 52-year-old owner-employee with self-employment earnings of $40,000 could contribute and deduct $11,500 as employee, and an additional $2,500 employee catch-up contribution, plus $1,200 (3% of $40,000) employer match, for a total of $15,200.
SIMPLE plans are an excellent choice for home-based businesses and ideal for full-time employees or homemakers who make a modest income from a sideline business.
If living expenses are covered by your day job (or your spouse's job), you would be free to put all of your sideline earnings, up to the ceiling, into SIMPLE retirement investments.
A Truly Simple Plan
A SIMPLE plan is easier to set up and operate than most other plans. Contributions go into an IRA you set up. Those familiar with IRA rules - in investment options, spousal rights, creditors' rights - don't have a lot new to learn.
Requirements for reporting to the IRS and other agencies are negligible. Your plan's custodian, typically an investment institution, has the reporting duties. And the process for figuring the deductible contribution is a bit easier than with other plans.
What's Not So Good About SIMPLE Plans
Once self-employment earnings become significant however, other retirement plans may be more advantageous than a SIMPLE retirement plan.
Example: If you are under 50 with $50,000 of self-employment earnings in 2012, you could contribute $11,500 as employee to your SIMPLE plus an additional 3% of $50,000 as an employer contribution, for a total of $13,000. In contrast, a 401(k) plan would allow a $29,500 contribution.
With $100,000 of earnings, it would be a total of $14,500 with a SIMPLE and $42,000 with a 401(k).
Because investments are through an IRA, you're not in direct control. You must work through a financial or other institution acting as trustee or custodian, and you will generally have fewer investment options than if you were your own trustee, as you would be in a 401(k).
It won't work to set up the SIMPLE plan after a year ends and still get a deduction that year, as is allowed with Simplified Employee Pension Plans, or SEPs. Generally, to make a SIMPLE plan effective for a year, it must be set up by October 1 of that year. A later date is allowed where the business is started after October 1; here the SIMPLE must be set up as soon thereafter as administratively feasible.
If the SIMPLE plan is set up for a sideline business and you're already vested in a 401(k) in another business or as an employee the total amount you can put into the SIMPLE plan and the 401(k) combined (in 2012) can't be more than $17,000 or $22,500 if catch-up contributions are made to the 401(k) by someone age 50 or over.
So someone under age 50 who puts $9,000 in her 401(k) can't put more than $8,000 in her SIMPLE 2012. The same limit applies if you have a SIMPLE plan while also contributing as an employee to a 403(b) annuity (typically for government employees and teachers in public and private schools).
How to Get Started with a SIMPLE Plan
You can set up a SIMPLE account on your own, but most people turn to financial institutions. SIMPLE Plans are offered by the same financial institutions that offer IRAs and 401k master plans.
You can expect the institution to give you a plan document and an adoption agreement. In the adoption agreement you will choose an "effective date" - the beginning date for payments out of salary or business earnings. That date can't be later than October 1 of the year you adopt the plan, except for a business formed after October 1.
Another key document is the Salary Reduction Agreement, which briefly describes how money goes into your SIMPLE. You need such an agreement even if you pay yourself business profits rather than salary.
Printed guidance on operating the SIMPLE may also be provided. You will also be establishing a SIMPLE IRA account for yourself as participant.
401k, SEPs, and SIMPLES Compared
Please contact us if you are a business owner interested in exploring retirement plan options, including SIMPLE plans.
Military personnel and their families face unique life challenges with their duties, expenses and transitions. As such, active members of the U.S. Armed Forces should be aware of all the special tax benefits that are available to them.
We want to make sure you get all of the tax benefits you are entitled to as a member of the armed forces. Please call us if you need guidance or have any questions.
Donations made to qualified organizations may help reduce the amount of tax you pay. With that in mind, here are eight tips to help ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return.
Questions about charitable deductions? Give us a call. We have the answers.
Generally, you are taxed on income that is available to you regardless of whether it is actually in your possession, but there are some situations when certain types of income are partially taxed or not taxed at all.
Here are some examples of items that are NOT included in your income:
Here are examples of items that may or may not be included in your income:
Please contact us if you'd like more information about what income is nontaxable.
Newlyweds and the recently divorced should ensure the name on their tax return matches the name registered with the Social Security Administration (SSA). A mismatch could unexpectedly increase a tax bill or reduce the size of any refund.
If you have any questions related to your requirements to the IRS after getting married or divorced, or need help changing your name with the SSA, give us a call. We're happy to help.
Employees Who Work for Tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during August, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.
Individuals - Make a payment of your 2012 estimated tax if you are not paying your income tax for the year through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax that way). Use Form 1040-ES. This is the third installment date for estimated tax in 2012.
Corporations - File a 2011 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120 or 1120-A) and pay any tax due. This due date applies only if you made a timely request for an automatic 6-month extension.
S corporations - File a 2011 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120S) and pay any tax due. This due date applies only if you made a timely request for an automatic 6-month extension. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S) or a substitute Schedule K-1.
Partnerships - File a 2011 calendar year income tax return (Form 1065). This due date applies only if you were given an additional 5-month extension. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) or a substitute Schedule K-1.
Corporations - Deposit the third installment of estimated income tax for 2012. A worksheet, Form 1120-W, is available to help you make an estimate of your tax for the year.
Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in August.
Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in August.
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