For many businesses, offering employees a 401(k) plan is no longer an option — it’s a competitive necessity. But employees often grow so accustomed to having a 401(k) that they don’t pay much attention to it.
It’s in your best interest as a business owner to buck this trend. Keeping your employees engaged with their 401(k)s will increase the likelihood that they’ll appreciate this benefit and get the most from it. In turn, they’ll value you more as an employer, which can pay dividends in productivity and retention.
Promote positive awareness
Throughout the year, remind employees that a 401(k) remains one of the most tax-efficient ways to save for retirement. Regardless of investment results, the pretax advantage and any employer match make a 401(k) plan an ideal way to save.
For example, point out that, for every $100 of pay they defer to the 401(k), the entire $100 is invested in the plan — not reduced for taxes as it would be if it were paid directly to them. And any employer match increases investment potential.
At the same time, make sure employees know that your 401(k) plan operates under federal regulations. Although the value of their accounts may go up and down, it isn’t affected by the performance of your business, because plan assets aren’t commingled with company funds.
Encourage patience, involvement
The fluctuations and complexities of the stock market may cause some participants to worry about their 401(k)s — or to try not to think about them. Regularly reinforce that their accounts are part of a long-term retirement savings and investment strategy. Explain that both the economy and stock market are cyclical. If employees are invested appropriately for their respective ages, their accounts will likely rebound from most losses.
If a change occurs in the investment environment, such as a sudden drop in the stock market, present it as an opportunity for them to reassess their investment strategy and asset allocation. Market shifts have a significant impact on many individuals’ asset allocations, resulting in portfolios that may be inappropriate for their ages, retirement horizons and risk tolerance. Suggest that employees conduct annual rebalancing to maintain appropriate investment risk.
As part of their benefits package, some businesses provide financial counseling services to employees. If you’re one of them, now is a good time to remind them of this resource. Employee assistance programs sometimes offer financial counseling as well.
Another option is to occasionally engage investment advisors to come in and meet with your employees. Your plan vendor may offer this service. Of course, you should never directly give financial advice to employees through anyone who works for your company.
A 401(k) plan is a substantial investment for any company in time, money and resources. Encourage employees to appreciate your efforts — for their benefit and yours. We can help you assess and express the financial advantages of your plan.
As the old saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” This certainly rings true in business, as those who best understand their industries and markets tend to have a knack for staying on top. If that person is a company’s owner, however, great knowledge can turn into a vulnerability when he or she decides to retire or otherwise leave the business.
As you develop your succession plan, consider how to mitigate the loss of pure know-how that will occur when you step down. One way to tackle this risk is to implement a knowledge management strategy.
Two types of knowledge
Knowledge management is a formal process of recognizing and treating knowledge as an asset that your company can identify, maintain and share. Generally, a business can subdivide knowledge into two types:
1. Explicit knowledge. This exists in the tangible world and typically includes company reports, financial statements and databases. These items are usually easy to access, extrapolate from and append. For your succession plan, however, you may need to dig deeper into your own confidential files, memos or emails.
2. Tacit knowledge. This is information that resides solely between the ears of a business’s leadership, employees and perhaps even service providers. As such, it’s not easily retrievable. In terms of succession planning, this may be the stuff that you haven’t written down or even talked about much.
Typical knowledge management categories include:
- Taxes and accounting,
- Financial management,
- Strategic planning,
- HR, payroll and employment practices,
- Sales and marketing,
- Production, and
A comprehensive knowledge management effort related to your succession plan will call on you to undertake a full inventory of every category listed above and perhaps others. Gathering your explicit knowledge may entail compiling years’, even decades’, worth of documents, files and writings. This may not be an easy task, but it’s still a matter of straight research.
You’ll likely find capturing your tacit knowledge somewhat more challenging. One idea is to ask a suitable employee or engage an outside consultant to interview you regarding all the pertinent categories. Many business owners find these conversations arduous at first but eventually enlightening and enjoyable.
A legacy preserved
A solid succession plan is imperative to maintaining the future stability and success of your company. Knowledge management can strengthen that plan and help preserve the legacy you’ve worked so hard to build. Contact us for further information and for help identifying knowledge related to your tax filings, accounting methods and other financial matters.
A technician at a mobility equipment supplier was servicing the motorized wheelchair of a long-time customer and noticed it was a brand-new model. “Where did you buy the chair?” he asked the customer. “At the health care supply store on the other side of town,” the customer replied. The technician paused and then asked, “Well, why didn’t you buy the chair from us?” The customer replied, “I didn’t know you sold wheelchairs.”
Most business owners would likely agree that selling to existing customers is much easier than finding new ones. Yet many companies continue to squander potential sales to long-term, satisfied customers simply because they don’t create awareness of all their products and services.
It seems puzzling that the long-time customer in our example wouldn’t know that his wheelchair service provider also sold wheelchairs. But when you look a little deeper, it’s easy to understand why.
The repair customer always visited the repair shop, which had a separate entrance. While the customer’s chair was being repaired, he sat in the waiting area, which provided a variety of magazines but no product brochures or other promotional materials. The customer had no idea that a new sales facility was on the other side of the building until the technician asked about the new wheelchair.
Are you losing business from long-term customers because of a similar disconnect? To find out, ask yourself two fundamental questions:
1. Are your customers buying everything they need from you? To find the answer, you must thoroughly understand your customers’ needs. Identify your top tier of customers — say, the 20% who provide 80% of your revenue. What do they buy from you? What else might they need? Don’t just take orders from them; learn everything you can about their missions, strategic plans and operations.
2. Are your customers aware of everything you offer? The quickest way to learn this is, simply, to ask. Instruct your salespeople to regularly inquire about whether customers would be interested in products or services they’ve never bought. Also, add flyers, brochures or catalogs to orders when you fulfill them. Consider building greater awareness by hosting free lunches or festive corporate events to educate your customers on the existence and value of your products and services.
If you have long-term customers, you must be doing something right — and that’s to your company’s credit. But, remember, it’s not out of the question that you could lose any one of those customers if they’re unaware of your full spectrum of products and services. That’s an open opportunity for a competitor.
By taking steps to raise awareness of your products and services, you’ll put yourself in a better position to increase sales and profitability. Our firm can help you identify your strongest revenue sources and provide further ideas for enhancing them.
Ask many entrepreneurs and small business owners to show you their financial statements and they’ll likely open a laptop and show you their bookkeeping software. Although tracking financial transactions is critical, spreadsheets aren’t financial statements.
In short, financial statements are detailed and carefully organized reports about the financial activities and overall position of a business. As any company evolves, it will likely encounter an increasing need to properly generate these reports to build credibility with outside parties, such as investors and lenders, and to make well-informed strategic decisions.
These are the typical components of financial statements:
Income statement. Also known as a profit and loss statement, the income statement shows revenues and expenses for a specified period. To help show which parts of the business are profitable (or not), it should carefully match revenues and expenses.
Balance sheet. This provides a snapshot of a company’s assets and liabilities. Assets are items of value, such as cash, accounts receivable, equipment and intellectual property. Liabilities are debts, such as accounts payable, payroll and lines of credit. The balance sheet also states the company’s net worth, which is calculated by subtracting total liabilities from total assets.
Cash flow statement. This shows how much cash a company generates for a particular period, which is a good indicator of how easily it can pay its bills. The statement details the net increase or decrease in cash as a result of operations, investment activities (such as property or equipment sales or purchases) and financing activities (such as taking out or repaying a loan).
Retained earnings/equity statement. Not always included, this statement shows how much a company’s net worth grew during a specified period. If the business is a corporation, the statement details what percentage of profits for that period the company distributed as dividends to its shareholders and what percentage it retained internally.
Notes to financial statements. Many if not most financial statements contain a supplementary report to provide additional details about the other sections. Some of these notes may take the form of disclosures that are required under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles — the most widely used set of accounting rules and standards. Others might include supporting calculations or written clarifications.
Financial statements tell the ongoing narrative of your company’s finances and profitability. Without them, you really can’t tell anyone — including yourself — precisely how well you’re doing. We can help you generate these reports to the highest standards and then use them to your best advantage.
As you likely know by now, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced or eliminated many deductions for individuals. One itemized deduction the TCJA kept intact is for investment interest expense. This is interest on debt used to buy assets held for investment, such as margin debt used to buy securities. But if you have investment interest expense, you can’t count on benefiting from the deduction.
There are a few hurdles you must pass to benefit from the investment interest deduction even if you have investment interest expense:
1. You must itemize deductions. In the past this might not have been a hurdle, because you may have typically had enough itemized deductions to easily exceed the standard deduction. But the TCJA nearly doubled the standard deduction, to $24,000 (married couples filing jointly), $18,000 (heads of households) and $12,000 (singles and married couples filing separately) for 2018. Plus, some of your other itemized deductions, such as your state and local tax deduction, might be smaller on your 2018 return because of TCJA changes. So you might not have enough itemized deductions to exceed your standard deduction and benefit from itemizing.
2. You can’t have incurred the interest to produce tax-exempt income. For example, if you borrow money to invest in municipal bonds, which are exempt from federal income tax, you can’t deduct the interest.
3. You must have sufficient “net investment income.” The investment interest deduction is limited to your net investment income. For the purposes of this deduction, net investment income generally includes taxable interest, nonqualified dividends and net short-term capital gains, reduced by other investment expenses. In other words, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends aren’t included. However, any disallowed interest is carried forward. You can then deduct the disallowed interest in a later year if you have excess net investment income.
You may elect to treat net long-term capital gains or qualified dividends as investment income in order to deduct more of your investment interest. But if you do, that portion of the long-term capital gain or dividend will be taxed at ordinary-income rates.
Will interest expense save you tax?
As you can see, the answer to the question depends on multiple factors. We can review your situation and help you determine whether you can benefit from the investment interest expense deduction on your 2018 tax return.
The IRS opened the 2018 income tax return filing season on January 28. Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April 15 deadline, this year consider filing as soon as you can. Why? You can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft — and reap other benefits, too.
What is tax identity theft?
In a tax identity theft scheme, a thief uses your personal information to file a fraudulent tax return early in the tax filing season and claim a bogus refund.
You discover the fraud when you file your return and are informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with your Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. While you should ultimately be able to prove that your return is the legitimate one, tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay your refund.
Filing early may be your best defense: If you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a would-be thief that will be rejected — not yours.
What if you haven’t received your W-2s and 1099s?
To file your tax return, you must have received all of your W-2s and 1099s. January 31 was the deadline for employers to issue 2018 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099 to recipients of any 2018 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.
If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the IRS for help.
What are other benefits of filing early?
Besides protecting yourself from tax identity theft, the most obvious benefit of filing early is that, if you’re getting a refund, you’ll get that refund sooner. The IRS expects more than nine out of ten refunds to be issued within 21 days.
But even if you owe tax, filing early can be beneficial. You still won’t need to pay your tax bill until April 15, but you’ll know sooner how much you owe and can plan accordingly. Keep in mind that some taxpayers who typically have gotten refunds in the past could find themselves owing tax when they file their 2018 return due to tax law changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and reduced withholding from 2018 paychecks.
If you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2018 return early, please contact us. While the new Form 1040 essentially does fit on a postcard, many taxpayers will also have to complete multiple schedules along with the form. And the TCJA has changed many tax breaks. We can help you ensure you file an accurate return that takes advantage of all of the breaks available to you.
While most provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) went into effect in 2018 and either apply through 2025 or are permanent, there are two major changes under the act for 2019. Here’s a closer look.
1. Medical expense deduction threshold
With rising health care costs, claiming whatever tax breaks related to health care that you can is more important than ever. But there’s a threshold for deducting medical expenses that was already difficult for many taxpayers to meet, and it may be even harder to meet this year.
The TCJA temporarily reduced the threshold from 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 7.5% of AGI. Unfortunately, the reduction applies only to 2017 and 2018. So for 2019, the threshold returns to 10% — unless legislation is signed into law extending the 7.5% threshold. Only qualified, unreimbursed expenses exceeding the threshold can be deducted.
Also, keep in mind that you have to itemize deductions to deduct medical expenses. Itemizing saves tax only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. And with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018 through 2025, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.
2. Tax treatment of alimony
Alimony has generally been deductible by the ex-spouse paying it and included in the taxable income of the ex-spouse receiving it. Child support, on the other hand, hasn’t been deductible by the payer or taxable income to the recipient.
Under the TCJA, for divorce agreements executed (or, in some cases, modified) after December 31, 2018, alimony payments won’t be deductible — and will be excluded from the recipient’s taxable income. So, essentially, alimony will be treated the same way as child support.
Because the recipient ex-spouse would typically pay income taxes at a rate lower than that of the paying ex-spouse, the overall tax bite will likely be larger under this new tax treatment. This change is permanent.
TCJA impact on 2018 and 2019
Most TCJA changes went into effect in 2018, but not all. Contact us if you have questions about the medical expense deduction or the tax treatment of alimony — or any other changes that might affect you in 2019. We can also help you assess the impact of the TCJA when you file your 2018 tax return.
For many companies, revenue is one of the largest financial statement accounts. It’s also highly susceptible to financial misstatement.
When it comes to revenue, auditors customarily watch for fictitious transactions and premature recognition ploys. Here’s a look at some examples of critical issues that auditors may target to prevent and detect improper revenue recognition tactics.
Auditors aim to understand the company, its environment and its internal controls. This includes becoming familiar with key products and services and the contractual terms of the company’s sales transactions. With this knowledge, the auditor can identify key terms of standardized contracts and evaluate the effects of nonstandard terms. Such information helps the auditor determine the procedures necessary to test whether revenue was properly reported.
For example, in construction-type or production-type contracts, audit procedures may be designed to 1) test management’s estimated costs to complete projects, 2) test the progress of contracts, and 3) evaluate the reasonableness of the company’s application of the percentage-of-completion method of accounting.
Gross vs. net revenue
Auditors evaluate whether the company is the principal or agent in a given transaction. This information is needed to evaluate whether the company’s presentation of revenue on a gross basis (as a principal) vs. a net basis (as an agent) complies with applicable standards.
Revenue must be reported in the correct accounting period (generally the period in which it’s earned). Cutoff testing procedures should be designed to detect potential misstatements related to timing issues, as well as to obtain sufficient relevant and reliable evidence regarding whether revenue is recorded in the appropriate period.
If the risk of improper accounting cutoffs is related to overstatement or understatement of revenue, the procedures should encompass testing of revenue recorded in the period covered by the financial statements — and in the subsequent period.
A typical cutoff procedure might involve testing sales transactions by comparing sales data for a sufficient period before and after year end to sales invoices, shipping documentation or other evidence. Such comparisons help determine whether revenue recognition criteria were met and sales were recorded in the proper period.
Starting in 2018 for public companies and 2019 for other entities, revenue must be reported using the new principles-based guidance found in Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. The updated guidance doesn’t affect the amount of revenue companies report over the life of a contract. Rather, it affects the timing of revenue recognition.
In light of the new revenue recognition standard, companies should expect revenue to receive renewed attention in the coming audit season. Contact us to help implement the new revenue recognition rules or to discuss how the changes will affect audit fieldwork.
Audit opinions differ depending on the information available, financial viability, errors discovered during audit procedures and other limiting factors. The type of opinion your auditor issues tells stakeholders whether you’re in compliance with accounting rules and likely to continue operating as a going concern.
To find out what type of audit opinion you’ve received, scan the first page of your financial statements. Known as the “audit opinion letter,” this is where your auditor states whether the financial statements are fairly presented in all material respects, compliant with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and free from material misstatement. But the opinion doesn’t constitute an endorsement or evaluation of the company’s financial results.
Most audit opinion letters consist of three paragraphs. The introductory paragraph identifies the company, accounting period and auditor’s responsibilities. The second discusses the scope of work performed. The third paragraph contains the audit opinion.
In general, there are four types of audit opinions, ranked from most to least desirable.
1. Unqualified. A clean “unqualified” opinion is the most common (and desirable). Here the auditor states that the company’s financial condition, position and operations are fairly presented in the financial statements.
2. Qualified. The auditor expresses a qualified opinion if the financial statements appear to contain a small deviation from GAAP, but are otherwise fairly presented. To illustrate: An auditor will “qualify” his or her opinion if a borrower incorrectly estimates warranty expense, but the exception doesn’t affect the rest of the financial statements.
Qualified opinions are also given if the company’s management limits the scope of audit procedures. For example, a qualified opinion may result if you deny the auditor access to a warehouse to observe year-end inventory counts.
3. Adverse. When an auditor issues an adverse opinion, there are material exceptions to GAAP that affect the financial statements as a whole. Here the auditor indicates that the financial statements aren’t presented fairly. Typically, an adverse opinion letter contains a fourth paragraph that outlines these exceptions.
4. Disclaimer. Even more alarming to lenders and investors is a disclaimer opinion. Disclaimers occur when an auditor gives up midaudit. Reasons for disclaimers may include significant scope limitations, material doubt about the company’s going-concern status and uncertainties within the subject company itself. A disclaimer opinion letter briefly outlines the auditor’s reasons for throwing in the towel.
Ready, set, audit
Before fieldwork starts for the audit of your 2018 financial statements, let’s discuss any foreseeable scope limitations and possible deviations from GAAP. Depending on the situation, we may be able to recommend corrective actions and help you proactively communicate with stakeholders about the reasons for a less-than-perfect audit opinion.
For several years now, cloud computing has been touted as the perfect way for companies large and small to meet their software and data storage needs. But, when it comes to choosing and deploying a solution, one size doesn’t fit all.
Many businesses have found it difficult to fully commit to the cloud for a variety of reasons — including complexity of choices and security concerns. If your company has struggled to make a decision in this area, a hybrid cloud might provide the answer.
Public vs. private
The “cloud” in cloud computing is generally categorized as public or private. A public cloud — such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure — is shared by many users. Private clouds, meanwhile, are created for and restricted to one business or individual.
Not surprisingly, public clouds generally are considered less secure than private ones. Public clouds also require Internet access to use whatever is stored on them. A private cloud may be accessible via a company’s local network.
Hybrid computing, as the name suggests, combines public and private clouds. The clouds remain separate and distinct, but data and applications can be shared between them. This approach offers several potential advantages, including:
Scalability. For less sensitive data, public clouds give businesses access to enormous storage capabilities. As your needs expand or shrink — whether temporarily or for the long term — you can easily adjust the size of a public cloud without incurring significant costs for additional on-site or remote private servers.
Security. When it comes to more sensitive data, you can use a private cloud to avoid the vulnerabilities associated with publicly available options. For even greater security, procure multiple private clouds — this way, if one is breached, your company won’t lose access or suffer damage to all of its data.
Accessibility. Public clouds generally are easier for remote workers to access than private clouds. So, your business could use these for productivity-related apps while confidential data is stored on a private cloud.
Risks and costs
Using a blended computer infrastructure like this isn’t without risks and costs. For example, it requires more sophisticated technological expertise to manage and support compared to a straight public cloud approach. You’ll likely have to invest more dollars in procuring multiple public and private cloud solutions, as well as in the IT talent to maintain and support the infrastructure.
Overall, though, many businesses that have been reluctant to solely rely on either a public or private cloud may find that hybrid cloud computing brings the best of both worlds. Our firm can help you assess the financial considerations involved.
With the year underway, your business probably has a strategic plan in place for the months ahead. Or maybe you’ve created a general outline but haven’t quite put the finishing touches on it yet. In either case, there’s a time-tested approach to refining your strategic plan that you should consider: a SWOT analysis. Let’s take a closer look at what each of the letters in that abbreviation stands for:
Strengths. A SWOT analysis starts by identifying your company’s core competencies and competitive advantages. These are how you can boost revenues and build value. Examples may include an easily identifiable brand, a loyal customer base or exceptional customer service.
Unearth the source of each strength. A loyal customer base, for instance, may be tied to a star employee or executive — say a CEO with a high regional profile and multitude of community contacts. In such a case, it’s important to consider what you’d do if that person suddenly left the business.
Weaknesses. Next the analysis looks at the opposite of strengths: potential risks to profitability and long-term viability. These might include high employee turnover, weak internal controls, unreliable quality or a location that’s no longer advantageous.
You can evaluate weaknesses relative to your competitors as well. Let’s say metrics indicate customer recognition of your brand is increasing, but you’re still up against a name-brand competitor. Is that a battle you can win? Every business has its Achilles’ heel — some have several. Identify yours so you can correct them.
Opportunities. From here, a SWOT analysis looks externally at what’s happening in your industry, local economy or regulatory environment. Opportunities are favorable external conditions that could allow you to build your bottom line if your company acts on them before competitors do.
For example, imagine a transportation service that notices a growing demand for food deliveries in its operational area. The company could allocate vehicles and hire drivers to deliver food, thereby gaining an entirely new revenue stream.
Threats. The last step in the analysis is spotting unfavorable conditions that might prevent your business from achieving its goals. Threats might come from a decline in the economy, adverse technological changes, increased competition or tougher regulation.
Going back to our previous example, that transportation service would have to consider whether its technological infrastructure could support the rigorous demands of the app-based food-delivery industry. It would also need to assess the risk of regulatory challenges of engaging independent contractors to serve as drivers.
Typically presented as a matrix (see accompanying image), a SWOT analysis provides a logical framework for better understanding how your business runs and for improving (or formulating) a strategic plan for the year ahead. Our firm can help you gather and assess the financial data associated with the analysis.
Those who run family-owned businesses often underestimate the need for a succession plan. After all, they say, we’re a family business — there will always be a family member here to keep the company going and no one will stand in the way.
Not necessarily. In one all-too-common scenario, two of the owner’s children inherit the business and, while one wants to keep the business in the family, the other is eager to sell. Such conflicts can erupt into open combat between heirs and even destroy the company. So, it’s important for you, as a family business owner, to create a formal succession plan — and to communicate it well before it’s needed.
Talk it out
A good succession plan addresses the death, incapacity or retirement of an owner. It answers questions now about future ownership and any potential sale so that successors don’t have to scramble during what can be an emotionally traumatic time.
The key to making any plan work is to clearly communicate it with all stakeholders. Allow your children to voice their intentions. If there’s an obvious difference between siblings, resolving that conflict needs to be central to your succession plan.
Perhaps the simplest option, if you have sufficient assets outside your business, is to leave your business only to those heirs who want to be actively involved in running it. You can leave assets such as investment securities, real estate or insurance policies to your other heirs.
Another option is for the heirs who’d like to run the business to buy out the other heirs. But they’ll need capital to do that. You might buy an insurance policy with proceeds that will be paid to the successor on your death. Or, as you near retirement, it may be possible to arrange buyout financing with your company’s current lenders.
If those solutions aren’t viable, hammer out a temporary compromise between your heirs. In a scenario where they are split about selling, the heirs who want to sell might compromise by agreeing to hold off for a specified period. That would give the other heirs time to amass capital to buy their relatives out or find a new co-owner, such as a private equity investor.
Family comes first
For a family-owned business, family should indeed come first. To ensure that your children or other relatives won’t squabble over the company after your death, make a succession plan that will accommodate all your heirs’ wishes. We can provide assistance, including helping you divide your assets fairly and anticipating the applicable income tax and estate tax issues.
Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, and many have gone up for 2019, giving you opportunities to increase your retirement savings:
- Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans: $19,000 (up from $18,500)
- Contributions to defined contribution plans: $56,000 (up from $55,000)
- Contributions to SIMPLEs: $13,000 (up from $12,500)
- Contributions to IRAs: $6,000 (up from $5,500)
One exception is catch-up contributions for taxpayers age 50 or older, which remain at the same levels as for 2018:
- Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans: $6,000
- Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs: $3,000
- Catch-up contributions to IRAs: $1,000
Keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions.
For more on how to make the most of your tax-advantaged retirement-saving opportunities in 2019, please contact us.
If you’re like many Americans, letters from your favorite charities have been appearing in your mailbox in recent weeks acknowledging your 2018 year-end donations. But what happens if you haven’t received such a letter — can you still claim an itemized deduction for the gift on your 2018 income tax return? It depends.
To support a charitable deduction, you need to comply with IRS substantiation requirements. This generally includes obtaining a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the donation, whether you received any goods or services in consideration for the donation, and the value of any such goods or services.
“Contemporaneous” means the earlier of 1) the date you file your tax return, or 2) the extended due date of your return. So if you made a donation in 2018 but haven’t yet received substantiation from the charity, it’s not too late — as long as you haven’t filed your 2018 return. Contact the charity and request a written acknowledgment.
Keep in mind that, if you made a cash gift of under $250 with a check or credit card, generally a canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement is sufficient. However, if you received something in return for the donation, you generally must reduce your deduction by its value — and the charity is required to provide you a written acknowledgment as described earlier.
Substantiation is serious business
Don’t take the substantiation requirements lightly. In one U.S. Tax Court case, the taxpayers substantiated a donation deduction with canceled checks and a written acknowledgment. The IRS denied the deduction, however, because the acknowledgment failed to state whether the taxpayers received goods or services in consideration for their donation.
The taxpayers obtained a second acknowledgment including the required statement. But the Tax Court didn’t accept it because it wasn’t contemporaneous (that is, it was obtained after the tax return was filed).
2018 and 2019 deductions
Additional substantiation requirements apply to some types of donations. We can help you determine whether you have sufficient substantiation for the donations you hope to deduct on your 2018 income tax return — and guide you on the substantiation you’ll need for gifts you’re planning this year to ensure you can enjoy the desired deductions on your 2019 return.
Now that 2019 has begun, there isn’t too much you can do to reduce your 2018 income tax liability. But it’s smart to begin preparing for filing your 2018 return. Because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which was signed into law at the end of 2017, likely will have a major impact on your 2018 taxes, it’s a good time to review the most significant provisions impacting individual taxpayers.
Rates and exemptions
Generally, taxpayers will be subject to lower tax rates for 2018. But a couple of rates stay the same, and changes to some of the brackets for certain types of filers (individuals and heads of households) could cause them to be subject to higher rates. Some exemptions are eliminated, while others increase. Here are some of the specific changes: Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%
Elimination of personal and dependent exemptions.
AMT exemption increase, to $109,400 for joint filers, $70,300 for singles and heads of households, and $54,700 for separate filers for 2018.
Approximate doubling of the gift and estate tax exemption, to $11.18 million for 2018
Credits and deductions
Generally, tax breaks are reduced for 2018. However, a few are enhanced.
Here’s a closer look:
Doubling of the child tax credit to $2,000 and other modifications intended to help more taxpayers benefit from the credit
Near doubling of the standard deduction, to $24,000 (married couples filing jointly), $18,000 (heads of households) and $12,000 (singles and married couples filing separately) for 2018
Reduction of the adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold for the medical expense deduction to 7.5% for regular and AMT purposes
New $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local taxes (on a combined basis for property and income or sales taxes; $5,000 for separate filers)
Reduction of the mortgage debt limit for the home mortgage interest deduction to $750,000 ($375,000 for separate filers), with certain exceptions
Elimination of the deduction for interest on home equity debt
Elimination of the personal casualty and theft loss deduction (with an exception for federally declared disasters)
Elimination of miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor (such as certain investment expenses, professional fees and unreimbursed employee business expenses)
Elimination of the AGI-based reduction of certain itemized deductions
Elimination of the moving expense deduction (with an exception for members of the military in certain circumstances)
Expansion of tax-free Section 529 plan distributions to include those used to pay qualifying elementary and secondary school expenses, up to $10,000 per student per tax year How are you affected?
As you can see, the TCJA changes for individuals are dramatic. Many rules and limits apply, so contact us to find out exactly how you’re affected. We can also tell you if any other provisions affect you, and help you begin preparing for your 2018 tax return filing and 2019 tax planning. © 2019
Section 529 plans are a popular education-funding tool because of tax and other benefits.
Two types are available: 1) prepaid tuition plans, and 2) savings plans. And one of these plans got even better under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Enjoy valuable benefits 529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for qualifying education expenses.
First and foremost, although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer tax incentives for contributing in the form of deductions or credits. But that’s not all. 529 plans also usually offer high contribution limits. And there are no income limits for contributing. Lock in current tuition rates With a 529 prepaid tuition plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young. One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board. Fund more than just college tuition A 529 savings plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
In addition, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expands the definition of qualified expenses to generally include elementary and secondary school tuition. However, tax-free distributions used for such tuition are limited to $10,000 per year. The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers. Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries. But each time you make a contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child. Picking your plan Both prepaid tuition plans and savings plans offer attractive benefits. We can help you determine which one is a better fit for you or explore other tax-advantaged education-funding options. © 2018