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Taxing Social Security Benefits & Taxing a Child

Taxing Social Security Benefits

Some taxpayers must include up to 85% of their Social Security benefits in taxable income, while others find that their benefits are not taxable at all. If Social Security is your only source of income, your benefits probably won’t be taxable. In fact, you may not even need to file a federal income tax return. If you get income from other sources, however, you may have to pay taxes on at least a portion of your Social Security benefits. Your income and filing status will also affect whether you must pay taxes on your Social Security benefits.

A quick way to find out if any of your benefits may be taxable is to add half of your Social Security benefits to all your other income, including any tax-exempt interest. Next, compare this total to the following base amounts. If your total is more than the base amount for your filing status, then some of your benefits may be taxable. The three base amounts are:

  • $25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child, or married individuals filing separately and who did not live with their spouse at any time during the year.
  • $32,000 for married couples filing jointly.
  • $0 for married persons filing separately who lived together at any time during the year.

 

To avoid tax time surprises, Social Security recipients can request that federal income tax be withheld from their benefit payments. Withholding is voluntary and can be initiated by completing IRS Form W-4V (“Voluntary Withholding Request”), requesting to have 7%, 10%, 15%, or 25% (those are the only choices) withheld for federal income tax, and submitting the form to the local Social Security Administration office. Voluntary withholding can be stopped by completing a new Form W-4V.

 


 

Taxing a Child’s Investment Income

Some children who receive investment income are required to file a tax return and pay tax on at least a portion of that income (and possibly at the parents’ marginal tax rate). This is often referred to as the kiddie tax. The kiddie tax cannot be computed accurately until the parents’ income is known. Thus, the child’s return may have to be extended until the parents’ return has been completed. Additionally, if the parents’ return is amended or adjusted upon IRS audit, the child’s return could require correction (assuming the changes to the parental return affect the tax bracket). If a child cannot file his or her own tax return for any reason, such as age, the child’s parent or guardian is responsible for filing a return on the child’s behalf.

There are tax rules that affect how parents report a child’s investment income. Investment income normally includes interest, dividends, capital gains, and other unearned income, such as from a trust. Some parents can include their child’s investment income on their tax return. Other children may have to file their own tax return. Special rules apply if a child’s total investment income is more than $2,000. Finally, the parents’ tax rate may apply to part of that income instead of the child’s tax rate.

Note: Higher income individuals subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (3.8% NIIT) may benefit from shifting income to and having their child claim investment income on the child’s tax return. This may be advantageous because the child receives his or her own $200,000 exclusion from the 3.8% NIIT.

Tax Implications of Investor or Trader Status & Double Benefit From a Tax Deduction

Tax Implications of Investor or Trader Status

Most taxpayers who trade stocks are classified as investors for tax purposes. This means any net gains are going to be treated as capital gains vs. ordinary income. That’s good if your net gains are long term from positions held more than a year. However, any investment-related expenses (such as margin interest, stock tracking software, etc.) are deductible only if you itemize and, in some cases, only if the total of the expenses exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income.

Traders have it better. Their expenses reduce gross income even if they can’t itemize deductions, and not just for regular tax purposes, but also for alternative minimum tax purposes. Plus, in certain circumstances, if they have a net loss for the year, they can claim it as an ordinary loss (so it can offset other ordinary income) rather than a capital loss, which is limited to a $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separate) per year deduction once any capital gains have been offset. Thus, it’s no surprise that in two recent Tax Court cases the taxpayers were trying to convince the court they qualified as traders. Although both taxpayers failed, and got hit with negligence penalties on top of back taxes, the cases provide good insights into what it takes to successfully meet the test for trader status.

The answer is pretty simple. A taxpayer’s trading must be “substantial.” Also, it must be designed to try to catch the swings in the daily market movements, and to profit from these short-term changes rather than from the long-term holding of investments.

So, what counts as substantial? While there’s no bright line test, the courts have tended to view more than a thousand trades a year, spread over most of the available trading days in the year, as substantial. Consequently, a few hundred trades, especially when occurring only sporadically during the year, are not likely to pass muster. In addition, the average duration for holding any one position needs to be very short, preferably only a day or two. If you satisfy all of these conditions, then even though there’s no guarantee (because the test is subjective), the chances are good that you’d ultimately be able to prove trader vs. investor status if you were challenged. Of course, even if you don’t satisfy one of the tests, you might still prevail, but the odds against you are presumably higher.

If you have any questions about this area of the tax law or any other tax compliance or planning issue, please feel free to contact us.

 


 

Double Benefit From a Tax Deduction

For most taxpayers, the amount of federal income tax they pay depends on where they fall in the federal income tax brackets and the breakdown of their taxable income between ordinary (e.g., wages) and capital gains from the sale of assets (e.g., common stock). Taxpayers eligible for the lower federal income tax brackets (those under 25%) on their ordinary income can generally expect to be taxed at 0% on their long-term capital gains. Taxpayers in the 25% or higher federal income tax brackets can generally expect to be taxed at either 15% or 20% (again, exceptions apply) on at least a portion of their long-term capital gains.

It seems inevitable that, as federal taxable income increases, the rate we pay on at least a portion of that income also increases. The converse should and does apply. That is, as federal taxable income decreases, the rate of tax we pay on at least a portion of that income also decreases. In addition, if a taxpayer has a long-term capital gain that, after considering ordinary income, is partially taxed at the 0% rate, any additional deduction that decreases ordinary income will simultaneously decrease the tax rate on a comparable amount of long-term capital gain from 15% to 0%. This has the effect of producing a double benefit for that deduction, as shown in the following example.

Example: Jack and Julie, filing jointly for 2014, have net ordinary income of $60,000 and a long-term capital gain from the sale of stock of $40,000, for total income of $100,000. For 2014, the joint rates applicable to ordinary taxable income change from 15% to 25% at $73,800. Accordingly, $13,800 ($73,800 – $60,000) of their long-term capital gain will be taxed at 0% and the balance of $26,200 ($40,000 – $13,800) is taxable at 15%. All income, both capital and ordinary, is taxed at a rate of 15% or less.

If Jack and Julie contribute $11,000 to their deductible IRAs ($5,500 each for 2014, assuming they are both under age 50), they receive a 30% tax rate savings, even though their highest tax bracket is 15%. The $11,000 IRA deduction reduces ordinary income at the 15% rate, but also shifts $11,000 of capital gain taxation from the 15% to the 0% bracket, for another 15% savings. This produces a total tax benefit of 30% on the $11,000 reduction.

A similar impact would occur for any expenditure or deduction that reduced ordinary income (i.e., Section 179 expense, additional interest expense, etc.). Conversely, adding ordinary income at the 15% bracket would cause a 30% impact, as additional ordinary income would push a portion of the capital gains formerly at 0% upward into the 15% bracket.

Lifetime vs. Testamentary Contributions & Passive Activity Loss Limitations

Lifetime vs. Testamentary Contributions

Many taxpayers with charitable intentions struggle with the decision of whether to donate property to charity during their lifetimes or to make a charitable bequest in their wills that will be fulfilled from property included in their estates (testamentary bequests). While taxpayers frequently base their choice between lifetime charitable gifts and testamentary bequests on nontax considerations, they need to be aware of the tax implications of their decision.

For income tax purposes, the deduction for charitable contributions is limited to a percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI), depending on the type of charity and the type of property donated. In contrast, no percentage limitation exists on the amount of charitable donations that may be deducted from the gross estate (as long as the donated property is included in the gross estate). However, in most instances a charitable gift during lifetime will provide a double tax benefit. The donation produces an income tax deduction at the time of the gift, plus the donated property and any future income and appreciation from the property are fully excluded from the donor’s gross estate. The cost of the double benefit is giving up the property and all future income while the donor is still living.

Example: Greater tax benefits by lifetime giving

Tom, who is in the top tax bracket, plans on leaving $1 million to a qualifying charity. If he makes a $1 million testamentary bequest, this could save his estate up to $400,000 ($1,000,000 x an assumed marginal federal estate tax rate of 40%). If Tom makes a current gift, this will save him up to $396,000 in federal income taxes ($1,000,000 x 39.6% for 2014). In addition, if he has a taxable estate, it could also save another $241,600 [($1,000,000 – $396,000) x 40%] based on his estate being reduced by the net amount of $604,000, the difference between the value of the donated property and income taxes he saved. Thus, the total income and estate tax savings from making a current gift is $637,600 ($396,000 + $241,600).

The donor generally must transfer his or her entire interest in the contributed property for the gift to qualify for the charitable donation income tax deduction. Transfers of less than the donor’s entire interest in the property (i.e., split-interest gifts) qualify for the deduction only if they meet certain criteria.

A charitable bequest has the obvious advantage of allowing the donor full use of the property until death. However, many lifetime gifts can be structured in a manner that allows the donor to continue to use the property or receive its income for life. In these instances, the donor gets the double tax benefit associated with lifetime contributions while retaining some benefit from the property until his or her death.

 


 

Passive Activity Loss Limitations

The passive activity loss (PAL) rules were introduced by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and were designed to curb perceived tax shelter abuses. However, the PAL rules are far-reaching and affect activities other than tax shelters. Additionally, these rules limit the deductibility of losses for federal income tax purposes.

The PAL rules provide that passive losses can only be used to offset passive income, not active income the owners may earn from business activities in which they materially participate or portfolio income they receive from investments, such as dividend and interest income. So, while taxpayers may not benefit currently from losses sustained from passive activities, they may be able to use those losses to offset gains in future years.

A passive activity is a trade or business in which the taxpayer does not materially participate or, with certain exceptions, any rental activity. Rental activities generally are passive regardless of whether the taxpayer materially participates. However, the rental real estate activities of certain qualifying taxpayers in real estate businesses are subject to the same general rule that applies to nonrental activities. In other words, if the taxpayer satisfies certain participation requirements, the rental activity is nonpassive and any losses or credits it generates can be used to offset the taxpayer’s other nonpassive income. Additionally, federal regulations provide several exceptions to the general rule allowing a rental activity to be treated as either a trade or business or an investment activity.

A special rule allows taxpayers who actively participate in a rental activity to deduct up to $25,000 of loss from the activity each year regardless of the PAL rules. Examples of what would constitute active participation include approving new tenants, deciding on rental terms, and approving capital or repair expenditures. The $25,000 special allowance is, however, subject to a limitation. The $25,000 amount is reduced if the taxpayer has an adjusted gross income (AGI) (before passive losses) in excess of $100,000. The allowance is reduced by 50% of the amount by which AGI exceeds the $100,000 level. Consequently, the allowance is completely phased out when AGI exceeds $150,000. If taxpayers have rehabilitation or low-income housing credits, a special rule allows the credits to offset tax on nonpassive income of up to $25,000, regardless of the limitation based on AGI.

Another special rule is the exception for real estate professionals. This provision allows qualifying real estate professionals to deduct losses from rental real estate activities as nonpassive losses if they materially participate in the activity. To qualify as a real estate professional, a taxpayer must demonstrate that he or she spends more than 750 hours during the tax year in real property businesses in which they are a material participant. In addition, they must demonstrate that more than 50% of the services they perform in all of their businesses during the tax year are performed in real property businesses in which they materially participate.

Please contact us to discuss the passive activity provisions or any other tax planning or compliance issue.

Social Security Update & Retirement Plan Review

Social Security Update

The annual inflation adjustments have been announced for the various Social Security amounts and thresholds, so we thought it would be a good time to update you for 2014.

For Social Security beneficiaries under the full retirement age, the annual exempt amount increases to $15,480 in 2014, up from $15,120 in 2013. These beneficiaries will be subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $2 they earn in excess of $15,480 in 2014. However, in the year beneficiaries reach their full retirement age, earnings above a different annual exempt amount apply. Earnings greater than $41,400 in 2014 (up from $40,080 in 2013) are subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $3 earned over this exempt amount. Social Security benefits are not reduced by earned income beginning with the month the beneficiary reaches full benefit retirement age. But remember, Social Security benefits received may be subject to federal income tax.

The Social Security Administration estimates the average retired worker will receive $1,294 monthly in 2014. The average monthly benefit for an aged couple where both are receiving monthly benefits is $2,111. These amounts reflect a 1.5% cost of living adjustment (COLA). The maximum 2014 Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age is $2,642 per month, up from $2,533 in 2013.

 


 

Retirement Plan Review

Your retirement plan savings (e.g., qualified plans and IRAs) are important to your financial well-being for many reasons. You can accumulate income without currently paying tax, and the power of compounding pretax dollars makes a retirement plan one of the most powerful investment vehicles available. When you reach retirement age, your retirement plan assets may be a significant portion of your overall savings. Therefore, it is important to do everything you can to get the most out of one of the best investment opportunities you have. Listed below is information to consider when conducting a review of your retirement plans.

Generally, when you begin to withdraw funds from your retirement plans, you will be subject to tax on the distributions. If you made after-tax contributions to your plan, a portion of each distribution will be tax-free. Also, special rules apply to Roth IRAs that make them particularly beneficial. If distributions begin prematurely (generally before age 59 1/2), you may be hit with a 10% penalty tax, but exceptions are available.

When you reach age 70 1/2 (or in some cases, retire), you must start withdrawing a minimum amount from your traditional IRAs and qualified plans each year. Severe penalties can result if required minimum distributions are not made on a timely basis. However, distributions from Roth IRAs are not required during your lifetime.

At the time of your death, the beneficiary designation in effect will determine not only who gets the retirement plan assets, but also how quickly your account must be paid out to your beneficiary and, therefore, how quickly the benefits of tax deferral are lost. Beneficiary designation adjustments may be necessary as family and beneficiary conditions change (e.g., divorce).

Your retirement plan savings may be critical for you and your dependents’ future well-being. With proper planning, you can maximize tax-deferred earnings, avoid penalty taxes, choose a desired beneficiary, and minimize the amount your heirs are required to withdraw (and pay taxes on) after your death.

Tax Calendar & Additional 0.9% Medicare Tax

Tax Calendar

January 15

  • Individual taxpayers’ final 2013 estimated tax payment is due unless Form 1040 is filed by January 31, 2014, and any tax due is paid with the return.

 

January 31

  • Most employers must file Form 941 (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return) to report Medicare, Social Security, and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2013. (If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return.) If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
  • Give your employees their copies of Form W-2 for 2013. If an employee agreed to receive Form W-2 electronically, have it posted on the website and notify the employee. Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2013. You can use the appropriate version of Form 1099 or other information return. Form 1099 can be filed electronically with the consent of the recipient.
  • File Form 940 [Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return] for 2013. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
  • File Form 945 (Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax) for 2013 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, etc. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return. File Form 943 (Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees) to report Social Security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2013. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

 

February 28

  • The government’s copy of Form 1099 series returns (along with the appropriate transmittal form) should be sent in by today. However, if these forms will be filed electronically, the due date is extended to March 31.
  • The government’s copy of Form W-2 series returns (along with the transmittal Form W-3)

 


 

Additional 0.9% Medicare Tax

Individuals must pay an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on earned income above certain thresholds. The employee portion of the Medicare tax is increased from 1.45% to 2.35% on wages received in a calendar year in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly; $125,000 for married filing separately). Employers must withhold and remit the increased employee portion of the Medicare tax for each employee whose wages for Medicare tax purposes from the employer are greater than $200,000.

There is no employer match for this additional Medicare tax. Therefore, the employer’s Medicare tax rate continues to be 1.45% on all Medicare wages. An employee is responsible for paying any of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax that is not withheld by an employer. The additional tax will be reported on the individual’s federal income tax return.

Because the additional 0.9% Medicare tax applies at different income levels depending on the employee’s marital and filing status, some employees may have the additional Medicare tax withheld when it will not apply to them (e.g., the employee earns more than $200,000, is married, filing jointly, and total annual compensation for both spouses is $250,000 or less). In such a situation, the additional tax will be treated as additional income tax withholding that is credited against the total tax liability shown on the individual’s income tax return.

Alternatively, an individual’s wages may not be greater than $200,000, but when combined with a spouse’s wages, total annual wages exceed the $250,000 threshold. When a portion of an individual’s wages will be subject to the additional tax, but earnings from a particular employer do not exceed the $200,000 threshold for withholding of the tax by the employer, the employee is responsible for calculating and paying the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. The employee cannot request that the additional 0.9% Medicare tax be withheld from wages that are under the $200,000 threshold. However, he or she can make quarterly estimated tax payments or submit a new Form W-4 requesting additional income tax withholding that can offset the additional Medicare tax calculated and reported on the employee’s personal income tax return.

For self-employed individuals, the effect of the new additional 0.9% Medicare tax is in the form of a higher self-employment (SE) tax. The maximum rate for the Medicare tax component of the SE tax is 3.8% (2.9% + 0.9%). Self-employed individuals should include this additional tax when calculating estimated tax payments due for the year. Any tax not paid during the year (either through federal income tax withholding from an employer or estimated tax payments) is subject to an underpayment penalty.

The additional 0.9% Medicare tax is not deductible for income tax purposes as part of the SE tax deduction. Also, it is not taken into account in calculating the deduction used for determining the amount of income subject to SE taxes.

Please contact us if you have questions about the additional 0.9% Medicare tax or any other tax compliance or planning issue.

Individual is responsible for paying the additional 0.9% Medicare tax

Josh and Anna are married. Josh’s salary is $180,000, and Anna’s wages are $150,000. Assume they have no other wage or investment income. Their total combined wage income is $330,000 ($180,000 + $150,000). Since this amount is over the $250,000 threshold, they owe the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on $80,000 ($330,000 ? $250,000). The additional tax due is $720 ($80,000 × .009). Neither Josh’s nor Anna’s employer is liable for withholding and remitting the additional tax because neither of them met the $200,000 wage threshold. Either Josh or Anna (or both) can submit a new Form W-4 to their employer that will result in additional income tax withholding to ensure the $720 is properly paid during the year. Alternatively, they could make quarterly estimated tax payments. If the amount is not paid until their federal income tax return is filed, they may be responsible for the estimated tax penalty on any underpayment amount (whether the underpayment is actually income taxes or the additional Medicare taxes).