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If charitable giving is part of your estate plan, consider a donor-advised fund

Do you make sizable gifts to charitable causes? If you’re fortunate enough to afford it, you can realize personal gratification from your generosity and may be able to claim a deduction on your tax return. But once you turn over the money or assets, you generally have no further say on how they’re used. You can exercise greater control over your charitable endeavors using a donor-advised fund (DAF).

Setting up a DAF

As the name implies, your recommendations are integral to a DAF. First, you contribute to a fund typically managed by an independent sponsoring organization or an arm of a reputable financial institution. The minimum contribution generally is $5,000. In exchange for handling the management of the fund, the financial institution or organization usually charges an administrative fee based on a percentage of the deposit.

Next, you make recommendations as to how the DAF should distribute the assets to your favorite charities. Though technically you no longer have control of the money that has been contributed, the fund administrator will generally follow your advice. While you’re deciding which charities to support, your contribution is invested and grows tax-free. Then, your charitable choices are vetted by the organization to ensure that the recipients are qualified charitable organizations. Finally, the administrator cuts the checks and the funds are distributed to the charities.

DAF pros and cons

The advantages of using a DAF include an immediate tax deduction. Your contribution to the DAF is deductible in the tax year in which the initial contribution is made. You don’t have to wait until the fund makes distributions to the designated recipient. In addition, if you contribute appreciated property such as securities, there’s no capital gains tax on the appreciation in value. It remains untaxed forever. Moreover, contributions to a DAF aren’t subject to estate tax or the probate process, and the amounts contributed to the fund are invested and can grow without any tax erosion.

Conversely, despite some misconceptions, contributors to DAFs have effectively no control over how the money is spent once it’s disbursed to charities. Donors can’t benefit personally. For instance, you can’t direct that the money be used to buy tickets to a local fundraiser. In addition, detractors have complained about high administrative fees.

If you believe a DAF is the right charitable funding vehicle for you, be sure to shop around. Fund requirements — such as minimum contributions, minimum grant amounts and investment options — vary from fund to fund, as do the fees they charge. Contact us to help you find a fund that meets your needs.

© 2018

21st century estate planning accounts for digital assets

Even though you can’t physically touch digital assets, they’re just as important to include in your estate plan as your material assets. Digital assets may include online bank and brokerage accounts, digital photo galleries, and even email and social media accounts.

If you die without addressing these assets in your estate plan, your loved ones or other representatives may not be able to access them without going to court — or, worse yet, may not even know they exist.

Virtual documents in lieu of hard copies

Traditionally, when a loved one dies, family members go through his or her home to look for personal and business documents, including tax returns, bank and brokerage account statements, stock certificates, contracts, insurance policies, loan agreements, and so on. They may also collect photo albums, safe deposit box keys, correspondence and other valuable items.

Today, however, many of these items may not exist in “hard copy” form. Unless your estate plan addresses these digital assets, how will your family know where to find them or how to gain access?

Suppose, for example, that you opened a brokerage account online and elected to receive all of your statements electronically. Typically, the institution sends you an email — which you may or may not save — alerting you that the current statement is available. You log on to the institution’s website and view the statement, which you may or may not download to your computer.

If something were to happen to you, would your family or executor know that this account exists? Perhaps you save all of your statements and correspondence related to the account on your computer. But would your representatives know where to look? And if your computer is password protected, do they know the password?

Revealing your digital assets

The first step in accounting for digital assets is to conduct an inventory of any computers, servers, handheld devices, websites or other places where these assets are stored.

Although you might want to provide in your will for the disposition of certain digital assets, a will isn’t the place to list passwords or other confidential information. For one thing, a will is a public document.

One solution is writing an informal letter to your executor or personal representative that lists important accounts, website addresses, usernames and passwords. The letter can be stored with a trusted advisor or in some other secure place.

Another solution is to establish a master password that gives the representative access to a list of passwords for all your important accounts, either on your computer or through a Web-based “password vault.”

We can help you account for any digital assets in your estate plan.

© 2018

Addressing long-term care costs with a tax-qualified LTC insurance policy

No matter how diligently you prepare, your estate plan can quickly be derailed if you or a loved one requires long-term home health care or an extended stay at a nursing home or assisted living facility.

The annual cost of long-term care (LTC) can reach as high as six figures, and this expense isn’t covered by traditional health insurance policies, Social Security or Medicare. So it’s important to have a plan to finance these costs, either by setting aside some of your savings or purchasing insurance.

LTC insurance

An LTC insurance policy supplements your traditional health insurance by covering services that assist you or a loved one with one or more activities of daily living (ADLs). Generally, ADLs include eating, bathing and dressing.

LTC coverage is relatively expensive, but it may be possible to reduce the cost by purchasing a tax-qualified policy. Generally, benefits paid in accordance with an LTC policy are tax-free. In addition, if a policy is tax-qualified, your premiums are deductible (as medical expenses) up to a specified limit.

To qualify, a policy must:

  • Be guaranteed renewable and noncancelable regardless of health,
  • Not delay coverage of pre-existing conditions more than six months,
  • Not condition eligibility on prior hospitalization,
  • Not exclude coverage based on a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or similar conditions or illnesses, and
  • Require a physician’s certification that you’re either unable to perform at least two of six ADLs or you have a severe cognitive impairment and that this condition has lasted or is expected to last at least 90 days.

It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of tax-qualified policies. The primary advantage is the premium deduction. But keep in mind that medical expenses, including LTC insurance premiums, are deductible only if you itemize and only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2018 or 10% of AGI in future years (unless Congress extends the lower threshold). So some people may not have enough medical expenses to benefit from this advantage. It’s also important to weigh any potential tax benefits against the advantages of nonqualified policies, which may have less stringent eligibility requirements.

Think long term

Given the potential magnitude of long-term care expenses, the earlier you begin planning, the better. We can help you review your options and analyze the relative benefits and risks.

© 2018

Assessing the S corp

The S corporation business structure offers many advantages, including limited liability for owners and no double taxation (at least at the federal level). But not all businesses are eligible – and, with the new 21% flat income tax rate that now applies to C corporations, S corps may not be quite as attractive as they once were.

Tax comparison

The primary reason for electing S status is the combination of the limited liability of a corporation and the ability to pass corporate income, losses, deductions and credits through to shareholders. In other words, S corps generally avoid double taxation of corporate income — once at the corporate level and again when distributed to the shareholder. Instead, S corp tax items pass through to the shareholders’ personal returns and the shareholders pay tax at their individual income tax rates.

But now that the C corp rate is only 21% and the top rate on qualified dividends remains at 20%, while the top individual rate is 37%, double taxation might be less of a concern. On the other hand, S corp owners may be able to take advantage of the new qualified business income (QBI) deduction, which can be equal to as much as 20% of QBI.

You have to run the numbers with your tax advisor, factoring in state taxes, too, to determine which structure will be the most tax efficient for you and your business.

S eligibility requirements

If S corp status makes tax sense for your business, you need to make sure you qualify – and stay qualified. To be eligible to elect to be an S corp or to convert to S status, your business must:

  • Be a domestic corporation and have only one class of stock,
  • Have no more than 100 shareholders, and
  • Have only “allowable” shareholders, including individuals, certain trusts and estates. Shareholders can’t include partnerships, corporations and nonresident alien shareholders.

In addition, certain businesses are ineligible, such as insurance companies.

Reasonable compensation

Another important consideration when electing S status is shareholder compensation. The IRS is on the lookout for S corps that pay shareholder-employees an unreasonably low salary to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes and then make distributions that aren’t subject to payroll taxes.

Compensation paid to a shareholder should be reasonable considering what a nonowner would be paid for a comparable position. If a shareholder’s compensation doesn’t reflect the fair market value of the services he or she provides, the IRS may reclassify a portion of distributions as unpaid wages. The company will then owe payroll taxes, interest and penalties on the reclassified wages.

Pros and cons

S corp status isn’t the best option for every business. To ensure that you’ve considered all the pros and cons, contact us. Assessing the tax differences can be tricky — especially with the tax law changes going into effect this year.

© 2018

Keep it SIMPLE: A tax-advantaged retirement plan solution for small businesses

If your small business doesn’t offer its employees a retirement plan, you may want to consider a SIMPLE IRA. Offering a retirement plan can provide your business with valuable tax deductions and help you attract and retain employees. For a variety of reasons, a SIMPLE IRA can be a particularly appealing option for small businesses. The deadline for setting one up for this year is October 1, 2018.

The basics

SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” As the name implies, these plans are simple to set up and administer. Unlike 401(k) plans, SIMPLE IRAs don’t require annual filings or discrimination testing.

SIMPLE IRAs are available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Employers must contribute and employees have the option to contribute. The contributions are pretax, and accounts can grow tax-deferred like a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, with distributions taxed when taken in retirement.

As the employer, you can choose from two contribution options:

1. Make a “nonelective” contribution equal to 2% of compensation for all eligible employees. You must make the contribution regardless of whether the employee contributes. This applies to compensation up to the annual limit of $275,000 for 2018 (annually adjusted for inflation).

2. Match employee contributions up to 3% of compensation. Here, you contribute only if the employee contributes. This isn’t subject to the annual compensation limit.

Employees are immediately 100% vested in all SIMPLE IRA contributions.

Employee contribution limits

Any employee who has compensation of at least $5,000 in any prior two years, and is reasonably expected to earn $5,000 in the current year, can elect to have a percentage of compensation put into a SIMPLE IRA.

SIMPLE IRAs offer greater income deferral opportunities than ordinary IRAs, but lower limits than 401(k)s. An employee may contribute up to $12,500 to a SIMPLE IRA in 2018. Employees age 50 or older can also make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000. This compares to $5,500 and $1,000, respectively, for ordinary IRAs, and to $18,500 and $6,000 for 401(k)s. (Some or all of these limits may increase for 2019 under annual cost-of-living adjustments.)

You’ve got options

A SIMPLE IRA might be a good choice for your small business, but it isn’t the only option. The more-complex 401(k) plan we’ve already mentioned is one alternative. Some others are a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and a defined-benefit pension plan. These two plans don’t allow employee contributions and have other pluses and minuses. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement plan alternatives for your business.

© 2018

Retirement savings opportunity for the self-employed

Did you know that if you’re self-employed you may be able to set up a retirement plan that allows you to contribute much more than you can contribute to an IRA or even an employer-sponsored 401(k)? There’s still time to set up such a plan for 2017, and it generally isn’t hard to do. So whether you’re a “full-time” independent contractor or you’re employed but earn some self-employment income on the side, consider setting up one of the following types of retirement plans this year.  

Profit-sharing plan

This is a defined contribution plan that allows discretionary employer contributions and flexibility in plan design. (As a self-employed person, you’re both the employer and the employee.) You can make deductible 2017 contributions as late as the due date of your 2017 tax return, including extensions — provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2017.

For 2017, the maximum contribution is 25% of your net earnings from self-employment, up to a $54,000 contribution. If you include a 401(k) arrangement in the plan, you might be able to contribute a higher percentage of your income. If you include such an arrangement and are age 50 or older, you may be able to contribute as much as $60,000.

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)

This is a defined contribution plan that provides benefits similar to those of a profit-sharing plan. But you can establish a SEP in 2018 and still make deductible 2017 contributions as late as the due date of your 2017 income tax return, including extensions. In addition, a SEP is easy to administer.

For 2017, the maximum SEP contribution is 25% of your net earnings from self-employment, up to a $54,000 contribution.

Defined benefit plan

This plan sets a future pension benefit and then actuarially calculates the contributions needed to attain that benefit. The maximum annual benefit for 2017 is generally $215,000 or 100% of average earned income for the highest three consecutive years, if less.

Because it’s actuarially driven, the contribution needed to attain the projected future annual benefit may exceed the maximum contributions allowed by other plans, depending on your age and the desired benefit. You can make deductible 2017 defined benefit plan contributions until your return due date, provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2017.

More to think about

Additional rules and limits apply to these plans, and other types of plans are available. Also, keep in mind that things get more complicated — and more expensive — if you have employees. Why? Generally, they must be allowed to participate in the plan, provided they meet the qualification requirements. To learn more about retirement plans for the self-employed, contact us.

© 2017

New tax law gives pass-through businesses a valuable deduction

Although the drop of the corporate tax rate from a top rate of 35% to a flat rate of 21% may be one of the most talked about provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), C corporations aren’t the only type of entity significantly benefiting from the new law. Owners of noncorporate “pass-through” entities may see some major — albeit temporary — relief in the form of a new deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI).

A 20% deduction

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026, the new deduction is available to individuals, estates and trusts that own interests in pass-through business entities. Such entities include sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). The deduction generally equals 20% of QBI, subject to restrictions that can apply if taxable income exceeds the applicable threshold — $157,500 or, if married filing jointly, $315,000.

QBI is generally defined as the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss from any qualified business of the noncorporate owner. For this purpose, qualified items are income, gain, deduction and loss that are effectively connected with the conduct of a U.S. business. QBI doesn’t include certain investment items, reasonable compensation paid to an owner for services rendered to the business or any guaranteed payments to a partner or LLC member treated as a partner for services rendered to the partnership or LLC.

The QBI deduction isn’t allowed in calculating the owner’s adjusted gross income (AGI), but it reduces taxable income. In effect, it’s treated the same as an allowable itemized deduction.

The limitations

For pass-through entities other than sole proprietorships, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of:

  • 50% of the amount of W-2 wages paid to employees by the qualified business during the tax year, or
  • The sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified property.

Qualified property is the depreciable tangible property (including real estate) owned by a qualified business as of year end and used by the business at any point during the tax year for the production of qualified business income.

Another restriction is that the QBI deduction generally isn’t available for income from specified service businesses. Examples include businesses that involve investment-type services and most professional practices (other than engineering and architecture).

The W-2 wage limitation and the service business limitation don’t apply as long as your taxable income is under the applicable threshold. In that case, you should qualify for the full 20% QBI deduction.

Careful planning required

Additional rules and limits apply to the QBI deduction, and careful planning will be necessary to gain maximum benefit. Please contact us for more details.

© 2018

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Key provisions affecting estate planning

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) is a sweeping revision of the tax code that alters federal law affecting individuals, businesses and estates. Focusing specifically on estate tax law, the TCJA doesn’t repeal the federal gift and estate tax. It does, however, temporarily double the combined gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption.

Beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026, the combined gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption amounts double from an inflation-adjusted $5 million to $10 million. For 2018, the exemption amounts are expected to be $11.2 million ($22.4 million for married couples). Absent further congressional action, the exemptions will revert to their 2017 levels (adjusted for inflation) beginning January 1, 2026. The marginal tax rate for all three taxes remains at 40%.

Estate planning remains a necessity

Just because fewer families will have to worry about estate tax liability doesn’t mean the end of estate planning as we know it. Nontax issues that your plan should still take into account include asset protection, guardianship of minor children, family business succession and planning for loved ones with special needs, to name just a few.

In addition, it’s not clear how states will respond to the federal tax law changes. If you live in a state that imposes significant state estate taxes, many traditional estate-tax-reduction strategies will continue to be relevant.

Future estate tax law remains uncertain

It’s also important to keep in mind that the exemptions are scheduled to revert to their previous levels in 2026 — and there’s no guarantee that lawmakers in the future won’t reduce the exemption amounts even further. Contact us with questions on how the TCJA might affect your estate plan. We’ll be pleased to review your plan and recommend any necessary revisions in light of the TCJA.

© 2017

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