2016 Post-Election Tax Update

mary g. daughteryAny change in Presidential Administration brings the possibility, indeed the likelihood, of tax law changes and the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States is no exception. During the campaign, President-elect Trump outlined a number of tax proposals for individuals and businesses. This article highlights some of the President-elect’s tax proposals.

Keep in mind that a candidate’s proposals can, and often do, change over the course of a campaign and also after taking office. This article is based on general tax proposals made by the President-elect during the campaign and is intended to give a broad-brush snapshot of those proposals.

At the same time, the end of the year may bring some tax law changes before President Obama leaves office. This letter also highlights some of those possible changes with an eye on how late tax legislation could impact your year-end tax planning.

Campaign proposals

During the campaign, President-elect Trump called for reducing the number of individual income tax rates, lowering the individual income tax rates for most taxpayers, lowering the corporate tax rate, creating new tax incentives, and repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (including presumably the ACA’s tax-related provisions). The President-elect, in his campaign materials, highlighted several goals of tax reform:

  • Tax relief for middle class Americans
  • Simplify the Tax Code
  • Grow the American economy
  • Do not add to the debt or deficit

President-elect Trump also identified during the campaign a number of tax-related proposals that he intends to pursue during his first 100 days in office:

  • The Middle Class Tax Relief and Simplification Act: According to Trump, the legislation would provide middle class families with two children a 35 percent tax cut and lower the “business tax rate” from 35 percent to 15 percent.
  • Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act:  A proposal described by Trump during the campaign that would allow individuals to deduct childcare and elder care from their taxes, incentivize employers to provide on-site childcare and create tax-free savings accounts for children and elderly dependents.
  • Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act: A proposal made by Trump during the campaign to fully repeal the ACA.
  • American Energy & Infrastructure Act: A proposal described by Trump during the campaign that “leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years.”

Individual income taxes

The last change to the individual income tax rates was in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), which raised the top individual income tax rate. Under ATRA, the current individual income tax rates are 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35, and 39.6 percent. During the campaign, President-elect Trump proposed a new rate structure of 12, 25 and 33 percent:

  • Current rates of 10% and 15% = 12% under new rate structure.
  • Current rates of 25% and 28% = 25% under new rate structure.
  • Current rates of 33%, 35% and 39.6% = 33% under new rate structure.

This rate structure mirrors one proposed by House Republicans earlier this year. During the campaign, President-elect Trump did not detail the precise income levels within which each bracket percentage would fall, instead generally estimating for joint returns a 12% rate on income up to $75,000; a 25% rate for income between $75,000 and $225,000; and 33% on income more than $225,000 (brackets for single filers will be half those dollar amounts) and “low-income Americans” would have a 0% rate. As further details emerge, our office will keep you posted.

Closely-related to the individual income tax rates are the capital gains and dividend tax rates. The current capital gains rate structure, imposed based upon income tax brackets, would presumably be re-aligned to fit within President-elect Trump’s proposed percent income tax bracket levels.

AMT and more

President-elect Trump proposed during the campaign to repeal the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The last time that Congress visited the AMT lawmakers voted to retain the tax but to provide for inflation-adjusted exemption amounts.

During the campaign, Trump proposed to repeal the federal estate and gift tax. The unified federal estate and gift tax currently starts for estates valued at $5.49 million for 2017 (essentially double at $10.98 million for married individuals), Trump, however, also proposed a “carryover basis” rule for inherited stock and other assets from estates of more than $10 million. This additional proposal has already been criticized by some Republican members of Congress, while some Democrats have raised repeal of the federal estate tax as a non-starter.

Other proposals made by President-elect Trump during the campaign would limit itemized deductions, eliminate the head-of-household filing status and eliminate all personal exemptions. President-elect Trump also has called for increasing the standard deduction. Under Trump’s plan, the standard deduction would increase to $15,000 for single individuals and to $30,000 for married couples filing jointly. In contrast, the 2017 standard deduction amounts under current law are $6,350 and $12,700, respectively, as adjusted for inflation.

Possible new family-oriented tax breaks were discussed by President-elect Trump during the campaign. These include the creation of dependent care savings accounts, changes to earned income tax credit and enhanced deductions for child care and eldercare.

Health care

The Affordable care Act (ACA) created a number of new taxes that impact individuals and businesses. These taxes range from an excise tax on medical devices to taxes on high-dollar health insurance plans. The ACA also created the net investment income (NII) tax and the Additional Medicare Tax, both of which generally impact higher income taxpayers. The ACA also made significant changes to the medical expense deduction and other rules that affect individuals. For individuals and employers, the ACA created new mandates to carry or offer insurance, or otherwise pay a penalty.

President-elect Trump made repeal of the ACA one of the centerpieces of his campaign. During the campaign, the President-elect said he would call a special session of Congress to repeal the ACA. At this time, how repeal may move through Congress remains to be seen. Lawmakers could vote to repeal the entire ACA or just parts. Our office will keep you posted of developments as they unfold.

Business tax proposals

On the business front, President-elect Trump highlighted small businesses, the corporate tax rate, and some international proposals during his campaign. Along with simplification, and the reduction, of taxes for small business.

Particularly for small businesses, Trump has proposed a doubling of the Code Sec. 179 small business expensing election to $1 million.  Trump has also proposed the immediate deduction of all new investments in a business, which has also been endorsed by Congressional tax reform/simplification advocates.

The current corporate tax rate is 35 percent. President-elect Trump called during the campaign for a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. He also proposed sharing that rate with owners of “pass through” entities (sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations), but only for profits that are put back into the business.

Based on campaign materials, a one-time reduced rate would also be available to encourage companies to repatriate earnings of foreign subsidiaries that are held offshore. Many more details about these corporate and international tax proposals are expected.

Year-end 2016

More immediately, the calendar is quickly turning to 2017. Congress will meet for a “lame duck” session and is expected to take up tax legislation. Exactly what tax legislation Congress will consider before year-end remains to be seen. Every lawmaker has his or her “key” legislation to advance before the year-end. They include:

  • Legislation to renew some expiring tax extenders, especially energy extenders.
  • Legislation to fund the federal government, including the IRS, through the end of the 2017 fiscal year.
  • Legislation to enhance retirement savings for individuals.
  • Legislation to help citrus farmers, small businesses and more.

Some of these bills, if passed and signed into law, could impact year-end tax planning. The expiring extenders include the popular higher tuition and fees deduction along with some targeted business incentives.  If these extenders are renewed, or made permanent, our office can assist you in maximizing their potential value in year-end tax planning.

Another facet of year-end tax planning is looking ahead. President-elect Trump has proposed some significant changes to the Tax Code for individuals and businesses. If these proposals become law, especially any reduction in income tax rates, and are made retroactive to January 1, 2017, your tax planning definitely needs to be reviewed. Our office will work with you to maximize any potential tax savings.

Working with Congress

When the 115th Congress convenes in January 2017, it will find the GOP in control of both the House and Senate, therefore allowing Trump to move forward on his proposals more easily. It remains to be seen, however, what compromises will be necessary between Congress and the Trump Administration to find common ground. In particular, compromise will likely be needed to bring onboard both GOP fiscal conservatives who will want revenue offsets to pay for tax reduction, and Senate Democrats who have the filibuster rule to prevent passage of tax bills with fewer than 60 votes. Beyond considering tax proposals one tax bill at a time, it remains to be seen whether proposals can be packaged within a broader mandate for “tax reform” and “tax simplification.”

The information generally available now about President-elect Trump’s tax proposals is based largely on statements by him during the campaign and campaign materials. President-elect Trump will take office January 20, 2017. Between now and then, more details about his tax proposals may be available. Please contact our office if you have any questions.

For more information regarding this or any other tax related concern, please contact us at 404-255-7400 or at info@hoffmanestatelaw.com.

ESTATE TAX REPEAL? LET’S KEEP PLANNING!

michael w. hoffmanDonald Trump’s surprise election gives us a tremendous amount of hope that the federal estate tax might finally be repealed. This concept runs in the face of candidate Clinton’s proposal to reduce the estate and gift tax exemption amounts and increase the tax rates from 40% to 65%.

While we do not want to celebrate too early, a critical message is that estate planning should continue with fervor! The Donald Trump phenomenon, which results in a Republican Presidency and a Republican Congress, gives us a great deal of confidence that tax reform will be among the items addressed early in Trump’s administration. Tax reform could and should include the repeal of the federal estate and gift taxes, and the elimination of the generation skipping transfer tax that has been hanging over our heads since 1976.

However, this will take some time, and the reality is that the U.S. still has huge deficits that must be serviced with tax revenue. Granted, the percentage of the federal revenue coming from death taxes is minimal, but there is also the argument that the tax on the transfer of wealth is “fair” in a system that allowed the accumulation of such wealth. This theory is combined with the tempering affect that the death tax has on the growth of family dynasty wealth (taking from the rich to provide for the poor).

It is likely that the current federal estate and gift tax laws will be replaced by a system more popular in other parts of the world, such as the capital gains calculation that takes place in Canada, Great Britain and other western civilizations. In those countries, at death, the difference between the tax basis of property and its fair market value will be subject to a tax similar to the capital gains tax that would have occurred had the decedent sold the appreciated assets. This accomplishes the practical role of allowing tax basis to be stepped up to fair market value at the death of an owner, and replaces the estate and gift tax revenue with a fair method of taxing growth as it is done in the income tax arena. Of course, there will have to be exemptions and exceptions made for family farms and businesses so these types of assets would not have to be leveraged or sold in order to pay Uncle Sam. All of these details, and many more, will have to be worked out by Congress and the U.S. Treasury Department (IRS).

In the meantime, it appears that some of the more popular techniques that we have been implementing over the last 20 or so years will become even more popular. The use of trusts has long been an important aspect of estate planning. Trusts can own property outside of a taxable estate, trusts can allow an orderly transition of control through the naming and choice of trustees, trusts can protect property from creditors and divorce, trusts avoid probate, and trusts provide significant income tax savings flexibility for current and future beneficiaries.

An important trust that we use in estate planning is the Family Trust, where parents set up trusts for their kids while they are alive, as opposed to waiting until both parents are deceased, and begin funding those trusts with assets by way of gift and otherwise, to remove property from the parents’ taxable estates.

One type of Family Trust that we often use is to make the trust a grantor trust for federal income tax purposes. That means for income tax purposes the IRS ignores the existence of the trust and all the taxable income and deductions associated with the Family Trust continue to be reported on the grantor’s individual income tax return. In our practice, we refer to these Family Trusts as “Defective Grantor Trusts”, or DGTs.

One of the features that allows a trust to be a grantor trust during the grantor’s lifetime is the ability to substitute property in the trust with other property from the grantor. This has been a popular benefit of using DGTs because the trust can hold appreciating assets, removing the appreciation from the grantor’s estate, but those appreciated assets can be swapped for cash or other assets, allowing the low-basis, highly-appreciated assets to come back into the grantor’s estate before death, in order to allow a step-up in tax basis at death for income tax purposes. This has always been kind of “have your cake and eat it too”, removing appreciating assets out of your estate, but retaining the ability to get those assets back in order to achieve an increase in tax basis at death. So, one of the things that we have tried to accomplish with our estate planning clients is to assist them in monitoring the assets in their Family Trusts, to determine if and when it would be desirable to substitute those highly appreciated assets for other assets out of our clients’ taxable estates. Of course, timing is everything, and there is always the risk that the substitution might not occur timely, but at least our clients have retained that flexibility.

Now, with the chance of repeal of our federal estate tax, the strategy with these same grantor trusts might change. In other words, since only appreciated assets would be subject to a capital gains tax at death, it may become more important than ever to remove these appreciated assets from the estate, put them in a grantor trust, and leave liquid, high basis assets in the parents’ taxable estates. Then, if the next President and/or Congress were to reinstate a federal estate tax, we can easily shift strategy and look to exercise the substitution power that exists with the DGTs.

Remember that we still have the evil overhang of the proposed 2704 regulations (see prior articles) which will eliminate much of the discounting that we have enjoyed for valuation purposes when gifting or selling hard to value assets to Family Trusts. These proposed rules will become effective, according to the IRS, 30 days after they become final. While we don’t know when these proposed regs will become final, it does take typically 12 to 18 months for these regulation projects to become completed. The regs were proposed in early August, so we are still “under the gun” for those clients who have situations that warrant this type of estate planning.

So, let’s be happy with the potential repeal of the estate tax but be realistic in what that means. If anything, as new rules evolve, we should be focusing on flexible estate planning now, more than ever, as future tax reform will create new tax regimes. For instance, if the new tax rules no longer encompass the concept of a $5,500,000 exemption per person, will all that exemption that was not used before the estate tax is repealed be lost forever? So, while President-Elect Trump goes about changing our tax system to make us more competitive in the world, and he is ”draining the swamp”, let us pay attention to details and reap the benefits of continuous planning.

For more information about this or any other estate planning topic, please contact us directly at 404-255-7400 or email us at info@hoffmanestatelaw.com.

IRS Warns of 2016 Tax Scams

douglas mcalpineWe posted last year about bogus phone calls claiming to be from the IRS.  The article below highlights the more recent techniques being used as the scammers adapt their methods and provides information on what you should do if contacted. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns at 404-255-7400.

Consumer Alert: Scammers Change Tactics, Once Again

WASHINGTON — Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers, but now the IRS is receiving new reports of scammers calling under the guise of verifying tax return information over the phone.

The latest variation being seen in the last few weeks tries to play off the current tax season. Scam artists call saying they have your tax return, and they just need to verify a few details to process your return. The scam tries to get you to give up personal information such as a Social Security number or personal financial information, such as bank numbers or credit cards.

“These schemes continue to adapt and evolve in an attempt to catch people off guard just as they are preparing their tax returns,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Don’t be fooled. The IRS won’t be calling you out of the blue asking you to verify your personal tax information or aggressively threatening you to make an immediate payment.”

The IRS reminds taxpayers to guard against all sorts of con games that continually change. The IRS, the states and the tax industry came together in 2015 and launched a public awareness campaign called Taxes. Security. Together. to help educate taxpayers about the need to maintain security online and to recognize and avoid “phishing” and other schemes.

The IRS continues to hear reports of phone scams as well as e-mail phishing schemes across the country.

“These schemes touch people in every part of the country and in every walk of life. It’s a growing list of people who’ve encountered these. I’ve even gotten these calls myself,” Koskinen said.

This January, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) announced they have received reports of roughly 896,000 phone scam contacts since October 2013 and have become aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam. Just this year, the IRS has seen a 400 percent increase in phishing schemes.

Protect Yourself

Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via a phishing email. They’ve even begun politely asking taxpayers to verify their identity over the phone.

Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.

Here are some things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.
  • Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or email.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or to verify your identity, here’s what you should do:

If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:

  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you.

Stay alert to scams that use the IRS as a lure. Tax scams can happen any time of year, not just at tax time. For more, visit “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” on IRS.gov.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

 

 

2015 YEAR-END TAX PLANNING

Hoffman8Year-end tax planning for individuals, trusts and businesses provides not only the opportunity to review the activities of the past year, it also generates an invaluable opportunity to leverage tax planning techniques as they relate to new developments.  As in past years, individuals and businesses need to question the status quo, explore new strategies, and evaluate potential plans – most of which is done best before the current tax year closes.  This letter explores some of the traditional year-end planning techniques and how events in 2016 may impact this planning.  We are ready to help you plan efficiently and effectively for 2015 and future years.

Traditional Year-End Planning Techniques

While new and pending developments play a critical role in year-end tax planning, traditional year-end planning techniques should not be overlooked.  These techniques principally hinge upon the goal of smoothing out taxable income between the year about to close and the next year as best as can be predicated.  In turn, such planning relies on strategies to accelerate or deferred income and expenses as required.  Some of the most common techniques include:

Income Acceleration into 2015 (for deferral to 2016, delay the following actions):

  • Selling outstanding installment contracts
  • Receive bonuses before January
  • Sell appreciated assets
  • Redeem U.S. Savings Bonds
  • Declare special dividend
  • Complete Roth conversions
  • Accelerate debt forgiveness income
  • Maximize retirement distributions
  • Accelerate billing and collections
  • Avoid mandatory like-kind exchange treatment
  • Take corporate liquidation distributions in 2015

Deductions/Credit Acceleration into 2015 (for deferral to 2016, take contrary actions as appropriate):

  • Bunch itemized deductions into 2015/Standard deduction into 2016
  • Don’t delay bill payments until 2016
  • Elect Expanding/accelerated depreciation
  • Pay last state estimated tax installment in 2015
  • Dont delay economic performance
  • Watch AGI limitations on deductions/credits
  • Watch net investment interest restrictions
  • Match passive activity income and losses

You should discuss with your accountant if you are contemplating any of these actions.

Georgia Tax Credits

The State of Georgia has several credits that can be used to offset Georgia income taxes.  One of these is the Education Expense Tax Credit.  This tax credit is for contributions made to Georgia Student Scholarship Organizations.  These organizations provide scholarships for students to attend primary and secondary private schools.  Each year the State sets aside a specific amount of money which is available to taxpayers who are pre- approved to participate in the program.  A married taxpayer filing a joint return can claim up to $2,500, and a single taxpayer up to $1,000.  The benefit to an S corporation shareholder, LLC member or partner of a partnership can even be greater – up to $10,000, limited to 6% of the related income.  Since there is only a finite amount available, the 2016 fund will be utilized early in 2016.  It is  important to apply early in order to take advantage of this program.  Many of the Student Scholarship Organizations are currently accepting “pre-registration” for the 2016 credits.  This credit is a win/win since the contribution is deductible on your federal income tax return, and a dollar for dollar tax credit is allowed as an offset to your Georgia income tax.

The film industry is entitled to a special Film Tax Credit for film production in Georgia.  The Georgia law allows for these credits to be transferred to other taxpayers.  As a result, unused credits are sold by the film companies at a discount and you can purchase the credits to satisfy your Georgia income tax liability.  Additionally, you get a full itemized deduction for the gross amount of the credit but you must report the discount as a capital gain.

Qualified Land Conservation Contributions

Another tax planning opportunity exists for a charitable contribution deduction for the donation of a land conservation easement to a government unit or charity for conservation purposes.  The amount of the charitable deduction is the difference between the appraised value of the land before and after the conservation easement.  The deduction is limited to 50% of the donor’s adjusted gross income with a 15 year carryover of any unused deduction.  These rules were made permanent for all years beginning after December 31, 2014, by the Conservation Easement Incentive Act of 2015.  You do not need to contribute your own land in order to benefit from the conservation easement charitable deduction – the benefit is also available by investing in syndicated conservation easement partnerships.  If interested in learning more, please contact our office for additional information.

Georgia also has a state tax credit under the Georgia Conservation Tax Credit Program.  A state income tax credit is allowed for property donated for conservation purposes by approved qualified donors up to the lesser of $250, 000 or 25% of the value of the donation for individuals.  Any unused credit can be carried over for 10 years.  Qualified landowners are also allowed to sell the income tax credit to other taxpayers, subject to certain regulatory restrictions.

Year-End Individual Planning

Assessing current income or expenses, gains and losses, to map out a year-end buy, sell or hold strategy makes particular sense as markets, and the economy in general, continue to make adjustments.

Income and Capital Gains/Dividends

Spikes in your income, whether capital gains or other income, may push capital gains into either the top 39.6 percent bracket (for short-term gains), or the 20 percent capital gains bracket (for long-term capital gains).  Spreading the recognition of certain income between 2015 and 2016 may minimize the total tax paid for the 2015 and 2016 tax years.  And those individuals finding themselves in the 15 or 10 percent tax brackets should consider recognizing any long-term capital gain available to the extent that, with other anticipated income, will not exceed the top of the 15 percent bracket ($74,900 for joint filers and $37,450 for singles in 2015).

Net Investment Income Tax (“NII”)

Since creation of the 3.8% NII tax, individuals have learned that NII encompasses more than capital gains and dividends.  NII includes income from a business in which the taxpayer is a passive participant.  Rental income may also be considered NII unless earned by a real estate professional.  The NII threshold amount is equal to: $250,000 in the case of joint returns or a surviving spouse; $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case.  These threshold amounts are not indexed for inflation.

Planning Opportunity

Along with reviewing traditional techniques, individuals should examine carefully the potential impact of the NII tax, capital gains and dividends, alternative minimum tax (AMT), Additional Medicare Tax, “kiddie tax”, and more.  For some taxpayers, year-end strategies to keep income below certain thresholds may be valuable, such as the thresholds for the NII tax, the Additional Medicare Tax, the Pease limitation on exemptions and itemized deductions, and others.  Of course, the nuances of every individual’s situation must be taken into account. For example, not all capital gains are treated the same, or taxed the same.  The maximum tax rate on qualified capital gains and dividends increases from 15 to 20 percent for taxpayers whose incomes exceed the thresholds set for the 39.6 percent rate ($464,850 for joint filers and $413,200 for singles in 2015).  The maximum tax rate on qualified taxable gains and dividends for all other taxpayers remains at 15 percent; except that a zero-percent rate applies to taxpayers with income below the top of the 15 percent tax bracket.  The maximum tax rates for collectibles and unrecaptured Code Sec. 1250 gain are 28 and 25 percent, respectively.

New Legislation and Tax Extenders for Individuals

Equally important is not to overlook new tax legislation. So far in 2015, only a handful of tax bills have been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.  Two new laws affect public safety officers.  A trade bill also makes a change to the child tax credit for taxpayers who elect to exclude from gross income for a tax year any amount of foreign earned income or foreign housing costs.  Congress also renewed the Health Care Tax Credit for qualified individuals.

Congress has not (as of the date of this letter) renewed the so-called tax extenders.  Many individuals have used the extenders, such as the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition and fees deduction, Code Sec. 25C residential energy credit, IRA distributions directly to charities, and many more to maximize tax savings.  As in the past years, it’s a waiting game.  For year-end planning purposes, it is generally anticipated that Congress will renew these popular tax breaks, making them available for 2015.  It is unclear if Congress will also extend them into 2016.  Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Estate and Gift Taxes

The maximum federal unified estate and gift tax rate is 40 percent with an inflation-adjusted $5,000,000 exclusion (up to $5.43M for gifts made and estates of decedents dying during 2015 and $5.45M for 2016).  The annual use-it-or-lose-it gift tax exclusion allows taxpayers to gift up to an inflation-adjusted $14,000 to any individual ($28,000 for married individuals who “split” gifts) tax free and without counting the amount of the gift toward the lifetime $5,000,000 exclusion (adjusted for inflation) and, with proper planning, double for married couples who share the exclusion.

Affordable Care Act (“ACA”)

Unless exempt, the ACA requires that all individuals carry minimum essential coverage or make a shared responsibility payment.  Individuals with health insurance coverage should ascertain that their coverage satisfies the ACA’s minimum essential coverage requirements.  Individuals without minimum essential coverage may be liable for a shared responsibility payment unless exempt.  Individuals who obtain health insurance coverage through the ACA Marketplace may be eligible for the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit.

Planning For Retirement

Year-end is a good time to review if your retirement savings plans and tax strategies compliment each other.  Individuals can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA or Roth IRA for 2015.  If they qualify, individuals can also make an additional so-called “catch-up contribution” of an additional $1,000.  This treatment is targeted to individuals age 50 and older.  Keep in mind that the maximum amount that can be contributed to a Roth IRA begins to decrease once a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income crosses a certain threshold.  For example, married couples filing jointly will begin to see their contribution start to phase out when their AGI is $183,000.  Once their AGI reaches $193,000 or more, they can no longer contribute to a Roth IRA.  For single filers the corresponding income thresholds for 2015 are $116,000 and $131,000.  Please note that individuals have until April 18, 2016, to make an IRA contribution for 2015.

Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs are very different savings vehicles.  A traditional IRA or Roth IRA set up years ago may not be the best savings vehicle today or for the immediate future if employment and other personal circumstances have changed.  Some individuals may be contemplating rolling over a workplace retirement plan into an IRA.  Very complex rules apply in these situations and rollovers should be carefully planned.  The same is true in converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.  Every individual has unique goals for retirement savings and no one plan fits all.

Retirement – Higher Deduction Options

Business owners seeking to make significant pension contributions should consider a Cash Balance Plan for their company.  In the right situation, an owner/employee can contribute up to 100% of their annual compensation limited to $210,000 for 2015.  However, skilled assistance is required to set up this type of plan and the plan requires annual administration not required for many defined contribution plans (401K, SEP, etc.).  For a 2015 deduction, the plan must be established by December 31, 2015, even though the actual contribution can be deferred until the due date of the tax return with extensions.

Life Events

Marriage, the birth or adoption of a child, the purchase of a new residence, a change in filing status, retirement, and many more life events impact year-end tax planning. Of course, timing is a factor.  In some cases, a life event may be planned; in others, events occur unexpectedly.  The possibility of significant changes and/or significant or unusual items of income or loss should be part of a year-end tax strategy.  Additionally, taxpayers need to take a look into the future, into 2016, and predict, if possible, any events that could trigger significant income or losses, as well as a change in filing status.

Year-End Trust Planning

Many of the tax planning strategies for individual taxpayers are also applicable to trusts.  As with individuals, spreading the recognition of income between tax years may minimize trust taxes. Another tax minimization strategy for a trust is to shift trust income from a high rate trust to a lower rate beneficiary.

Income and Capital Gains/Dividends

The tax brackets for trusts are  more compressed than the tax brackets for individuals.  For example, in 2015, the 39.6% tax bracket for individuals filing jointly begins at $464,850 of taxable income, but for trusts the 39.6% bracket begins at only $12,300 of taxable income.  As a result, shifting trust income to the beneficiary may produce significant tax savings.  One way this can be achieved is by making distributions from the trust to the beneficiary.

Net Investment Income Tax

While the 3.8% NII tax threshold for individuals is $250,000 for married filing joint and $200,000 for individuals filing single, the 2015 NII tax threshold for trusts begins at only $12,300 of taxable income.  This can result in a substantial amount of trust income being subject to the additional 3.8% NII tax.  However, trust exposure to the NII tax may be reduced through distribution planning (See the following paragraph).

Beneficiary Distributions & The 65 Day Rule

When distributions are made from the trust to the beneficiary, the trust is allowed a deduction for the distribution of certain classes of income.  The income is then included on the beneficiary’s individual income tax return.  In many cases, the beneficiary’s individual income tax rate is lower than the income tax rate for the trust.  This results in less total income tax on the trust income.

A trust can elect to treat distributions made in the first 65 days of the tax year as a distribution of current year or prior year income.  Therefore, a distribution made by March 5, 2016, can be treated as a distribution of 2015 trust income.  This allows some additional time to determine the income for the trust and determine if a distribution should be made to the beneficiary.

The decision on whether to make a distribution, and the amount of the distribution, should be reviewed each year.  The tax related factors can change from year to year and there are also other non-tax factors that should be considered.

Year-End Business Planning

As in past years, business tax planning is uncertain because of the expiration of many popular but temporary tax breaks that have been part of an “extenders” package of legislation.  Also added to the mix is the far-reaching ACA.  Other changes to the tax laws in 2015 made by new regulations and other IRS guidance should also be considered in assessing year-end strategies.

Code Sec. 179 Expanding

Code Sec. 179 property includes new or used tangible property that is depreciable under Code Sec. 1245 and  is purchased to use in an active trade or business.  Under enhanced expensing, for 2014 and prior years, businesses could write off (“expense”) up to $500,000 in qualifying expenditures.  This $500,000 cap was not reduced unless total expenditures exceed $2,000,000.  Until the enhanced provisions are extended, businesses can write off up to $25,000 of qualifying expenditures.  This cap is reduced if total expenditures exceed $200,000.

Bonus Depreciation

Congress provided for 50% bonus depreciation through 2014 (through 2015 for certain transportation and other property).  Legislation introduced in Congress in 2015 would extend bonus depreciation through 2016 or, alternatively, make bonus depreciation permanent.

“Repair” Regulations

A potentially beneficial provision in final, so-called “repair” regulations is the de minimis safe harbor.  The safe harbor enables taxpayers to routinely deduct certain items whose cost is below the specified threshold.  The de minimis safe harbor is an annual election, not an accounting method, so it can be made and changed from year to year.  The current threshold is set at: $5,000 for taxpayers with an applicable financial statement (taxpayers with an AS should have a written policy in place by the beginning of the year that specifies the amount deductible under the safe harbor); and $500 for taxpayers without an AS.

Domestic Production Activities Reduction

One incentive that is definitely available for 2015 is the Code Sec. 199 domestic production activities deduction.  This deduction is over 10 years old, but the number of taxpayers claiming the potentially valuable deduction is smaller than the other incentives.  In 2015, the IRS issued guidance that fleshes out the types of activities that may qualify for the deduction.  The types of activities are many and varied.  Our office can review your business activities and help you ascertain if the deduction may be worthwhile.

Vehicle Depreciation Limits

The IRS released the inflation-adjusted limitations on depreciation deductions for business-use passenger automobiles, light trucks, and vans first placed in service during calendar year 2015.  The IRS also increased the 2014 first-year limitations by $8,000 to reflect passage of the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, which retroactively extended bonus depreciation for 2014 late last year. It is uncertain whether anticipated 2015 extenders legislation will make the same retroactive adjustment for 2015.

Other Business Extenders

Many other beneficial tax provisions for businesses are up for consideration in extenders legislation for 2015 and beyond.  These include the research tax credit; small business stock; S corp built-in gains; New Markets Tax Credit; Work Opportunity Tax Credit; employer wage credit for activated military reservists; Subpart F provisions; enhanced deduction for contributions of food inventory, empowerment zones; Indian employee credit; low-income credits for subsidized new buildings and military housing; treatment of regulated investment companies (RIBS); and basis reduction of S corporation stock after donations of property.

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

Small employers with no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees may qualify for a special tax credit to help offset the cost of health insurance for their employees.  The employer must pay average annual wages of no more than $50,000 per employee (indexed for inflation) and maintain a qualifying health care insurance arrangement.

Filing/Reporting Changes

Due to changes in the tax laws and other events, some deadlines will be changing starting in 2016; with others starting for 2016 returns filed in 2017.  As a result, planning at year-end 2015 might start factoring in some of these deadlines when setting out schedules and strategies at the start of 2016.  Notably, under the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015, partnerships will be subject to an earlier March 15 deadline and C corporations generally will move to an April 15th deadline starting for 2016 tax year returns.  Extensions-to-file are also adjusted.  The FBAR deadline for reporting a financial interest or signature authority over a foreign financial account also will move, from June 30 to April 15.

Individual Returns

A Washington, D.C. holiday, Emancipation Day, will shift the filing and payment deadline for 2015 individual returns from April 15, 2016 to April 18, 2016.

Estate Tax Uniform Basis Reporting

The IRS delayed new uniform basis reporting requirements for estate tax property until February 29, 2016.  The delay was provided to give the IRS time to issue guidance to executors, beneficiaries, and others on how to comply with the new reporting requirements.

Year-end tax planning can appear to be a daunting task, but our office is ready to work with you.  Please contact our office.  Together, we can create a customized tax strategy tailored to you.

Term Insurance or Permanent Insurance?

Hoffman19Many of our clients wrestle with the decision to purchase term insurance or permanent insurance.  The premiums for term insurance are cheap, particularly when you’re young, while permanent insurance generally provides a level premium with more certainty that a death benefit will be paid.

Term insurance seldom pays a death benefit.  The reasons for this are simple.  Most people live to, or close to their life expectancy.  By the time they have reached their life expectancy, the premiums on term insurance have increased to the point where the insurance is dropped, or the individual has reached an age or health condition that is deemed uninsurable by the insurance company.

For this reason, term life insurance is best for temporary needs such as support for a surviving family (particularly when you are young), funding a buy/sell arrangement for a closely held business, providing cash (key man insurance) for transition of business, and for the repayment of debts.

I often tell clients to load up on term insurance when they are young, partly because it’s so cheap, and partly because their financial “security” needs are so great when their families are young.  Of course, the premiums for term insurance are lower because it seldom pays a death benefit.  The only usual financial “winners” for term insurance are the insurance agent and the insurance company.

As we get older, financial obligations (except retirement) tend to decrease.  Many of us begin to look at permanent insurance as a permanent feature or category of assets that we are accumulating during our lifetime.  Most of us want to have a certain portion of our insurance that is ongoing.  The insurance can provide liquidity to our heirs, cash to pay estate taxes, a fund to provide for the maintenance of a second home, or a mechanism to equalize the estate where certain hard assets (such as farm, business or vacation home) is necessarily directed to one particular heir, while the other child receives cash.

Permanent insurance generally falls into three categories: whole life, universal life (including universal blends and indexed products) and variable life.  Whole life is the most expensive, while universal life is generally the most inexpensive permanent insurance policy.  Variable life has more stock market investment features inside an insurance policy wrapper.

Universal life is popular among our clients as it provides guaranteed lifetime coverage at the lowest level of permanent insurance premiums, and generally level premiums can be pre-paid or lowered by lump-sum or higher premiums in early years.  Generally, with universal life policies, guaranteed cash accumulation for retirement income or other purposes is not a significant objective.  The goal is to lock in a death benefit while keeping premiums as low as possible.

By far, our estate planning clients buy mostly universal life products.  While there are many varieties, studies show that the internal rate of return on universal life products is generally positive, where as the internal rate return on any term policy, if clients live to or close to their life expectancy, is significantly negative.  In other words, with term insurance, we have thrown our money away unless we die prematurely.

Most term insurance lapses before death.  This is fine if the reason for the insurance no longer exists.  However, many policy owners want to extend the coverage of their insurance while their health is still good, because they know that the risk of their health changing increases with age and health changes can happen suddenly.

Be aware that term policies can carry a conversion right.  This is important, even though it might marginally increase the premium cost, because a client might otherwise become higher risk or uninsurable prior to the expiration of the term policy and be unable to get other insurance.

Generally, our clients are rarely content to allow their insurance policies to lapse when they reach the end of the coverage period.  The older we get, the more we see the value of “investing” in insurance as one of our many buckets of asset categories that we are accumulating and tending to during life.

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

Which Comes First? Estate Planning or Exit Planning?

Mike_Hoffman_17I would like to share an excellent article with you written by Denis M. Brown from Pace Capital Resources, LLC.  It is from The Exit Planning Review newsletter, issue 256, dated May 7, 2013.  Which Comes First? Estate Planning or Exit Planning?

Sincerely,

Mike

 

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose. The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only. Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

 

Legal Matters in Starting Your Business

Mike_Hoffman_17Join Mike Hoffman in this 74 minute audio as he hosts the 11th session of the 24 hour MBA in discussing how to get your business off the ground.  There are many different legal options in starting a business, and in this audio session, you will understand the best way to start your business and keep it successful for future generations.  24hrmba-11.mp3

 

Russ Thornton Interviews Kim Hoipkemier

Kim New

Download Audio File

The New Tax Law: Does Your Estate Plan Need to be Updated?

Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the 2012 Tax Act) in the final hours of 2012.  The 2012 Tax Act means big changes for gifts, trusts and estates tax laws from what was scheduled to occur without any congressional action – something better known as the Fiscal Cliff.

We now have a permanent estate and gift tax exemption amount of $5,000,000, adjusted for inflation annually beginning in 2010.  We also have permanent portability, or the availability of a surviving spouse to use the deceased spouse’s estate tax exemption in certain circumstances.  The estate tax rate is set at 40%, and our annual gift tax exemption amount was raised to $14,000.  In addition, there were a number of changes to the taxation of trusts.

With the new changes in the tax law in place, and some of them “permanent,” does your estate plan need to be revisited?

The most popular estate plan for decades for married couples has been the bypass trust/marital trust or A/B trust combination to ensure the most advantageous tax situation.  With more than $10 million in assets exempt from estate tax, the concern over estate taxes has been all but taken off the table.  These trusts are still fantastic vehicles in an estate plan for reasons other than just tax savings, but it may be a good time to revisit your documents and make sure the trusts or other planning techniques fit your situation.

Dig out the copies of your current estate plan, and review these questions below.  If anything is of concern or may just need a second glance, give us a call.

  1. Is your estate large enough to trigger federal estate taxes?
  2. Does your plan distribute your property outright or in trust?  Do you know why?
  3. Does the plan name the appropriate individuals or entities to make distribution, investment or other important decisions?
  4. Is there a relationship among your beneficiaries that could cause a conflict with the decision maker you appoint?
  5. Are you recently married or divorced?
  6. Is either spouse a non-U.S. citizen?
  7. Are your charitable intentions, if any, properly reflected?
  8. Are your assets properly protected in the case of creditors, judgments or divorce?
  9. Do you have the proper powers of attorney in place in the event of disability or incapacity?  Does the document name your desired agent?
  10. Is your plan just out of date?

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and  compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

What the New Tax Law Means to You

As you probably know, Congress avoided the so-called fiscal cliff by passing – at the 12th hour –the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the 2012 Tax Act), signed into law by the President on January 2, 2013. The 2012 Tax Act makes several important revisions to the tax code that will affect estate planning for the foreseeable future. What follows is a brief description of some of these revisions – and their impact:

  • The federal gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax provisions were made permanent as of December 31, 2012. This is great news for all Americans; for more than ten years, we have been planning with uncertainty under legislation that contained built in expiration dates. And while “permanent” in Washington only means that this is the law until Congress decides to change it, at least we now have more certainty with which to plan.
  • The federal gift and estate tax exemptions will remain at $5 million per person, adjusted annually for inflation. In 2012, the exemption (with the adjustment) was $5,120,000. The amount for 2013 is expected to be $5,250,000. This means that the opportunity to transfer large amounts during lifetime or at death remains. So if you did not take advantage of this in 2011 or 2012, you can still do so – and there are advantages to doing so sooner rather than later. Also, with the amount tied to inflation, you can expect to be able to transfer even more each year in the future.
  • The generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption also remains at the same level as the gift and estate tax exemption ($5 million, adjusted for inflation). This tax, which is in addition to the federal estate tax, is imposed on amounts that are transferred (by gift or at your death) to grandchildren and others who are more than 37.5 years younger than you; in other words, transfers that “skip” a generation. Having this exemption be “permanent” allows you to take advantage of planning that will greatly benefit future generations.
  • Married couples can take advantage of these higher exemptions and, with proper planning, transfer up to $10+ million through lifetime gifting and at death.
  • The tax rate on estates larger than the exempt amounts increased from 35% to 40%.
  • The “portability” provision was also made permanent. This allows the unused exemption of the first spouse to die to transfer to the surviving spouse, without having to set up a trust specifically for this purpose. However, there are still many benefits to proper estate planning using trusts, especially for those who want to ensure that their estate tax exemption will be fully utilized by the surviving spouse.
  • Separate from the new tax law, the amount for annual tax-free gifts has increased from $13,000 to $14,000, meaning you can give up to $14,000 per beneficiary, per year ($28,000 for a married couple) free of federal gift,  estate and GST tax – in addition to the $5 million gift, estate, and GST tax exemptions. By making annual tax-free transfers while you are alive, you can transfer significant wealth to your children, grandchildren and other beneficiaries, thereby reducing your taxable estate and removing future appreciation on assets you transfer. And, you can significantly enhance this lifetime giving strategy by transferring interests in a limited liability company or similar entity because these assets have a reduced value for transfer tax purposes, allowing you to transfer more free of tax.  Gifting to Family Trusts allows the tremendous advantage of gifting to one destination, while using the annual gift exclusions for all of your descendants.

For most Americans, the 2012 Tax Act has removed the emphasis on planning for worst case scenarios and put it back on the real reasons we need to do estate planning: taking care of ourselves and our families the way we want. This includes:

  • Protecting you, your family, and your assets in the event of incapacity;
  • Ensuring your assets are distributed the way you want;
  • Protecting your legacy from irresponsible spending, a child’s creditors, and from being part of a child’s divorce proceedings;
  • Providing for a loved one with special needs without losing valuable government benefits; and
  • Helping protect assets from creditors and frivolous lawsuits; and from estate depletion to fund nursing home costs.

For those with estates less than the $5.25 million exemption amount, trusts should still provide much valued asset protection.  However, those who are less concerned about asset protection may want to review options for unwinding previous transactions to the extent possible and, at a minimum, review their estate plan to ensure proper income tax planning (see below).

For those with larger estates, ample opportunities remain to transfer large amounts tax free to future generations, but it is critical that professional planning begins as soon as possible. With Congress looking for more ways to increase revenue, many reliable estate planning strategies may soon be restricted or eliminated.   REVENUE RAISING PROPOSALS INCLUDE 1) LIMITING THE BENEFITS OF GRANTOR TRUSTS, 2) LIMITING THE DURATION OF ALLOCATION OF GST EXEMPTION, 3) IMPOSING A MINIMUM 10 YEAR TERM FOR GRANTOR RETAINED ANNUITY TRUSTS (“GRATS”), AND 4) REDUCING THE AVAILABILITY OF ENTITY BASED VALUATION DISCOUNTS.  These are all tools that can reduce your estate tax exposure but that may not be available much longer.  Thus, it is best to put these strategies into place now so that they are more likely to be grandfathered from future law changes.

Further, as is well publicized, the 2012 Tax Act included several income tax rate increases on those earning more than $400,000 ($450,000 for married couples filing jointly).  Combined with the two additional income tax rate increases resulting from the healthcare bill, income tax planning for individuals is obviously now more important than ever.

What hasn’t been as publicized is that trusts (only those trusts not taxed as grantor trusts) and estates will be subject to these new taxes and higher tax rates on income above $11,950.   Proper income tax/distribution planning for trusts and estates will be essential going forward to minimize these burdensome tax increases.

Income tax basis planning will also be more important.  Many trusts hold highly appreciated, low tax basis assets. Reverse DGT transactions – purchasing low basis assets back from grantor trusts – can be used to obtain a step up in basis at death.  Trusts may be able to be amended and/or restated to allow a Trust Protector to identify low basis assets and take certain actions that would cause them to get a step up in tax basis at your death.   For assets not already in trust, Alaska Community Property Trusts can be utilized to get a double step up in tax basis at both spouse’s deaths.

The good news is that if you have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what Congress would do, the wait is over.  We have increased certainty with “permanent” laws and you can have some comfort that the rules won’t drastically shift from year to year.  Unfortunately, for those of you with larger estates, planning techniques that can be utilized to reduce estate tax exposure are still on the chopping block – so don’t wait to plan.  For all clients, income tax planning, including income tax basis planning, should be a focus this year.  As always, the ultimate goals of estate planning, including protecting family assets and providing for loved ones, do not change.  Make sure you have a good plan to meet these goals. Schedule an appointment today by calling us at (404) 255-7400.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

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