You Need My WHAT Now? New York Among States Requiring Driver’s License for Electronic Filing

New York State is so demanding already in terms of personal information required to file your individual tax return.  They want your name, address, social security number, date of birth, your income, employer’s name and address… the list goes on and on.  Starting in 2016, we get to add another piece of sensitive data to that list: your driver’s license information.

In an effort to strengthen identity fraud protection, New York has added this required information as a new layer to identity verification within their electronic filing system.  Taxpayers must provide this information to their preparers to comply with the new rule.  New York accepts a valid driver’s license or state-issued ID to satisfy this requirement.  A third option exists: if you don’t have either (or are deceased, in which case you’re probably not reading tax blogs), then your preparer can “opt out” of providing the information.

New York is emphasizing that this is required for all taxpayers and is advising preparers that they must collect and enter this information to their tax software.  The “opt out” should only be used when the taxpayer doesn’t have such a document (or has passed on). New York State’s official FAQ publication posted on the Tax Department’s website regarding compliance states:

Q. If my client is known to have a valid driver license or state-issued ID, but chooses not to disclose it, can I check the No Applicable ID box without repercussion? Am I required to disclose this (similar to when a taxpayer refuses to e-file)?
A. As with any return data, you should submit the information as it’s provided by your client.

Interpret that answer at your own risk, but at an FAE conference in January of 2017, Nonnie Manion, the Executive Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, advised preparers to “just check the “No Applicable ID” box for now” in cases where the taxpayer has an ID issued by any state other than New York.

I applaud New York’s effort to combat identity fraud, which is a real issue facing taxpayers everywhere, but putting even more sensitive identity data in a single place seems like it is begging identity thieves to increase their efforts to target tax preparers.  For taxpayers attempting to safeguard their information, sharing information is a major activity to avoid.  In a way, New York’s effort is in direct opposition of basic identity protection.

I just hope that in 2017, New York doesn’t require your first pet’s name and the street where you grew up as additional layers of electronic filing identity verification.  For now, New York taxpayers will have to provide to their preparers one of the three options New York State is willing to accept.

TRUMPWATCH 2017: Re-Patriots Day

Posted by David Roer, CPA

With inauguration day finally behind us, all of the political talk that’s taken over 2016 and 2017 can finally come to an end, right? Wrong. Sad.

Since President Trump has now officially taken office, further details regarding the (probable) tax reform are sure to emerge. One of the key terms you may hear a lot about in the next few weeks is ‘repatriation.’

While many may assume this has to do with the New England Patriots winning yet another Super Bowl title (as a lifelong Seattle Seahawk fan, I am not pleased about that!), it actually has to do with the upcoming proposal to repatriate money from overseas to the United States.

As alluded to in our first Trump Watch post, President Trump’s tax proposal is looking to offer a one-time amnesty to help bring business back from overseas.

As a general rule, the US has a worldwide taxation system. Effectively, this means that if you’re a US citizen, you pay tax on your worldwide income. This concept is similar for corporations: multi-national corporations (think Apple, Microsoft, or GE) must first pay tax to the foreign country in which the foreign subsidiary does business and earns the profit and then to the IRS, once those profits have been properly repatriated back to the US.

Under current law, if these multi-national companies repatriated money back to the US, they would be subject to the top rate of 35%. To give an idea, based on a recent forecast study done by Capital Economics, there is approximately $2.5 trillion of profits from US multi-national companies currently abroad – at the 35% rate, that’s approximately $875 billion in tax dollars!

As you can imagine, major companies are leaving those profits overseas to avoid paying such a tax burden. That is, unless a proper incentive were put in place.

In the hope of increasing jobs (as well as general economic growth), President Trump is pushing for a repatriation ‘tax holiday:’ US firms could repatriate their overseas profits to the US and pay only a one-time 10% amnesty tax, instead of the current 35% rate. Important notes regarding repatriation:

  1. President Trump is proposing a reduction in tax rates from 35% to 15%. If both the tax reduction and amnesty tax proposals pass, the repatriation of profits would save 5% in taxes, not 25% (nonetheless, 5% savings would still be a significant draw).
  2. Per the proposal, this tax would be payable over a ten-year span. This, in addition to the potential low 10% rate, could act as significant incentive to bring cash from overseas.
  3. The Trump proposal also includes a revision to the current international taxation system. As mentioned above, US corporations with foreign subsidiaries do not pay US tax until the money has been repatriated. Under President Trump’s proposal, any future profits of foreign subsidiaries of US companies would be taxed each year as the profits are earned. This would effectively eliminate the repatriation tax concept prospectively, without affecting any of the prior accumulation of profits (that is, the aforementioned ‘tax holiday’ would also apply to prior profits).
  4. Finally, and this is more food-for-thought: it’s important to note that just because a company brings cash domestically, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll use it towards job growth and/or domestic investments (domestic economic growth).

A similar repatriation ‘tax holiday’ was offered in 2004 under President Bush, which included specific language that prohibited the repurchase of stock with repatriated funds. Unfortunately, studies show that companies found loopholes to work around this, thereby allowing for corporate stock buybacks and dividends. With that in mind, I’m curious if the repatriate proposal would contain verbiage with caveats as to specifically how such money would need to be used.

With Trump’s presidency officially underway, we can surely expect to hear and see a push towards an ultimate tax proposal. While the above analysis is based only on President Trump’s proposal, it is likely that repatriation will be a hot-topic issue in the months to come.

Stay tuned to the REM Cycle for further Trump Watch updates.

End of the AMT? Good Riddance

The time for year-end tax planning is over and a tax season with new due dates looms. Hopefully you have accelerated deductions, because in 2016 that is perhaps more important than the previous years as President Trump’s tax proposal forecasts significant cuts to tax rates. So, what deductions can we accelerate? The Internal Revenue Code allows for only a handful of deductions for individual taxpayers, the largest of which are state and local income taxes, real estate taxes, and mortgage interest. In New York, we pay among the highest state income taxes AND some of the highest property taxes in the country. My clients would love to take advantage of these burdensome taxes and deduct them early, but the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax (“AMT”) dashes their hopes. What the heck is the AMT anyway?!

The AMT is an antiquated tax originally enacted in 1969 to prevent tax avoidance by wealthy taxpayers. Unlike the regular income tax, the AMT parameters were not indexed for inflation. As a result, with economic growth and inflation over time, more and more middle-income taxpayers find themselves paying the AMT. What does this mean? It means that those ridiculously high New York state income AND property taxes are not deductible. That’s right – you are getting zero benefit for the largest tax deductions you pay each year.

This is how I explain the AMT to my clients: The AMT is an alternative taxing system that exists in the background to the regular taxing system. All taxpayers MUST pay the higher of the result of the two taxing systems. The regular taxing system, as we know, is a series of graduated rates (currently seven; Trump’s proposing only three) from as low as 10% to the highest of 39.6%. As your income increases, you pay a higher rate of tax. The AMT has only two rates (26% and 28%) and taxes a much broader income tax base. Both the regular tax and the AMT start in the same place by summing all sources of income. From there, the two systems differ. For regular tax, taxpayers can deduct dependency exemptions and itemized deductions, which include medical expenses, state and local income taxes, mortgage interest expense, charitable contributions, and, to a limited extent, miscellaneous deductions. For AMT, only charitable contributions and limited mortgage interest deduction are allowed. So for New York families whose largest deductions on their tax returns are personal and dependency exemptions and state and local taxes (including real estate taxes), will be paying AMT, a tax higher than their regular tax.

Here’s some good news. President Trump is proposing to eliminate the AMT. While Democrats and Republicans disagree on many of Trump’s proposals, I believe this is one that all Long Islanders can agree upon. According to tax estimates from the Tax Policy Center, last year approximately 27% of households nationwide with incomes between $200,000 and $500,000 were affected by the AMT. My estimation is that many of those households reside here in New York because those who are most vulnerable to the AMT are those taxpayers with large families (three or more children) living in high state and local tax states.

So, while experts agree that Trump’s proposed tax rate reduction will only help the wealthiest taxpayers, many New York taxpayers may see a reduction in tax if the AMT is repealed. Questions still remain on Trump’s proposal to limit itemized deductions, which may affect the tax savings on the elimination of the AMT. Other issues that may surface will be the AMT credit carryovers (the government attempt to ease the AMT burden) and the AMT interplay with net operating loss carryovers.

One thing remains certain: no one will be unhappy to see the AMT go away.

Worried About Undisclosed Foreign Assets? The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program May Offer a Solution

Posted by Evan Piccirillo, CPA

As I've said before: Being a good tax citizen is important.  Sometimes it is difficult to navigate the stormy seas of compliance to achieve that end.  One such hazard is the difficulty of adhering to complex international reporting requirements.

I must pause here to note that if you do have significant international compliance issues, you should consult legal counsel in addition to a tax professional due to the many civil and criminal consequences imposed by the Department of Justice and Department of the Treasury.

Imagine a normal day in the life of a hard-working taxpayer.  She always files her tax return on time and doesn’t take any undue deductions.  One day she learns a wealthy relative left her interest in a profitable commercial property in Croatia.  How fortunate!  But wait, this wealthy relative left it to her a couple of years ago and it has been generating income this whole time.  Oh no!  There are full pages in the IRS instructions detailing penalties for the forms she didn’t file over that period that could amount in many thousands of dollars and even jail time.  What is our hard-working taxpayer to do?

The IRS, in an effort to provide a bridge to compliance, has enacted the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”), modified effective July 1, 2014.  This program is designed to incentivize taxpayers (entities and individuals) to come to the IRS with undisclosed assets and accounts rather than the IRS having to hunt them down; it offers a reduction in penalties and potential elimination of the risk of criminal prosecution.  The penalties described in the Internal Revenue Code for failing to comply with foreign reporting are incredibly brutal; in some cases 100% of the highest value of an asset during a given year, plus other penalties, plus interest, plus criminal prosecution.  That, coupled with the increasing risk of being detected by the US Government by their new, more aggressive approach to treaties and policy, creates a very compelling argument for taxpayers to come forward.

This relief a taxpayer receives from this program is not completely painless.  Paying the offshore penalty of 27.5% plus the accuracy-related penalty of 20% is a hard pill to swallow, but when weighed against the alternative (potentially 100% and criminal prosecution), it should go down a little easier.

Eligibility for the OVDP is contingent upon coming forward before the IRS is aware of the unreported foreign assets; if they find you, OVDP is off the table.  In some cases, a taxpayer may have already amended and submitted reports, referred to as a “quiet disclosure.”  These taxpayers still run the risk of full penalties and criminal prosecution if they don’t apply to the OVDP.

In our example, the hard-working taxpayer has the ability to compile all information on the property and the unreported income and then submit an application via Forms 14454 and 14457 to the IRS OVDP.  If accepted, original and amended tax returns accounting for the foreign income and forms reporting the foreign transactions and activity must be prepared and submitted. In addition, the taxes, penalties, and interest due must be paid or arrangement to pay must be made.  All this just to be a good tax citizen!

The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program offers a bumpy path to compliance that is not without its difficulties.  It is important for someone considering this path to enlist the counsel of professionals in law and accounting.

TRUMPWATCH 2017: We are the 15%

Posted by David Roer, CPA

There’s been an abundance of 2016 headlines you’ve no doubt heard on loop this year and are probably sick of listening to – Brexit! Zika! ISIS! The election! Star Wars!

One headline that we at REM Cycle can’t get enough of is the Trump Tax proposal. Last month, we broke down some of the key talking points within President-Elect Trump’s proposal. Since this tax proposal seems like one of the more likely policies to be enacted within Trump’s first year of presidency, we felt it important to offer a continued look, providing updates throughout the coming months as news develops in a recurring feature aptly named “TrumpWatch 2017.”

Our first TrumpWatch tackles the newly proposed corporate tax rate.                        

As you know, President-Elect Trump is proposing a significant decrease in individual rates (reduction to three rates of 12%, 25%, and 33%) as well as the corporate tax rate: a reduction from 35% to 15%. This is a substantial tax cut for C Corporations, who already have the burden of double taxation (in the form of taxation at the C Corporation level, as well as dividend taxation to the individual shareholder). This corporate reduction proposal has mass implications.

“But I don’t have a C Corporation! How could this possibly affect me?”

It may affect you more than you think. Trump’s proposal would allow pass-through entities (such as S Corporations and Partnerships) to elect to have their pass-through income taxed at the same 15%.

Under current law, pass-through entities pay no corporate-level tax, but report all their pass-through income/loss to the individual at their respective individual rate, which is a current top rate of 39.6%. Even with the potential new Trump individual rates, this means that most individuals from small businesses and closely-held corporations would be able to reduce their tax rate by 18% (i.e., top individual rate of 33% compared to 15% pass-through income rate).

The ramifications of this potential reduction in pass-through income are provocative, to say the least.

We may see an uptick in individuals seeking to establish themselves as independent contractors: by becoming a contractor (i.e. a non-salaried individual), an individual could create their own pass-through entity, receive payment in the form of 1099s instead of a W-2, and as such, elect to have the pass-through income be taxed at the 15% potential rate. The Department of Labor already keeps a watchful eye on ensuring that businesses classify employees correctly – in light of this situation, that eye will be even more watchful.

It’s important to remember that partnership income would still be subject to self-employment tax, and S-Corporations would still have a requirement to pay shareholders their respective reasonable compensation.

This leads to another potential ramification: an increase in IRS scrutiny of reasonable compensation. S-Corporations have a requirement to pay “reasonable compensation” to a shareholder-employee in return for services that said employee provides to the business (e.g., the employee-shareholder will receive a K-1 with all pass-through income/loss, as well as a W-2 reflecting reasonable compensation).

Due to its vagueness, the term “reasonable compensation” has brought on ample amounts of court cases, all attempting to add clarity to the definition of “reasonable” (as a general rule, each case must be looked at independently on a facts-and-circumstance basis).

Be cautious. While this 15% seems enticing, it may not always be the right tax strategy to go with. If the 15% proposal for pass-through is an election by the entity (which, although still unclear in the proposal, it appears to be), it may be in the individual’s best interest to not elect: for instance, in the case of substantial (and deductible) losses, which the individual could offset against other forms of ordinary income (essentially, utilize pass-through losses at a potential max 33% individual rate).

As a similar caveat to our prior Trump blog post, it’s yet to be seen whether any or all of the proposals will become enacted. While there’s still speculation regarding the Trump tax proposal (as well as the above 15% pass-through concept), the best we as practitioners and taxpayers can do is stay up to date!

Stay tuned to the REM Cycle for further TrumpWatch updates.

The Bigger, Better R&D Credit

Image courtesy iStock

Image courtesy iStock

Businesses may receive a research and development (“R&D”) tax credit for qualifying research expenditures incurred when developing and designing new or improved products and processes.  While it is a common misconception that the R&D credit mostly applies to large businesses in the scientific and medical industries, the reality is that the credit has a much wider breadth of business niches. The credit can apply to a broad range of industries including (but not limited to) tech, manufacturing, design, and construction companies.

For tax years beginning January 1, 2016, Congress has made several changes to allow more businesses to reap the benefits of the R&D credit.

What are qualified research activities and expenditures, and who may be eligible?

Any activity that falls under the definition of “qualified research” may be eligible for the credit. Essentially, a business’s research activities must be related to a process or product’s new or improved function, performance, reliability, and/or quality. These can include activities conducted to improve or modify techniques or methods in a process. Qualified expenditures include wages, supplies, and contracted research expenses.

Of course, expenses related to “qualified research” encompasses an array of activities, whether it’s finding a new method/technique to print a graphic design on a T-shirt or changing the way a house is built to make it more energy efficient.

As you can see, the ambiguity surrounding what activities could qualify is relatively significant. One key indicator that a business may be eligible for the credit is if it employs product development personnel, engineers, or software developers. Tech startups, especially, must be informed about this credit as there has been an increasing boom in the industry.

How much is the credit?

The credit is based on a percentage of qualified research expenditures, including wages, supplies, and contracted research expenses.

Recent Developments

There are three major developments in the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (“PATH”) Act of 2015.

  • The PATH Act made the credit permanent, prospectively. Since 1981, the credit was only extended from year to year.
  • The R&D credit is now considered a general business credit. This allows eligible small businesses or owners of those businesses to apply the credit against their Alternative Minimum Tax (“AMT”). This provision is most helpful to businesses that have an overall net loss, but owe tax due to AMT. Historically, the company would still owe tax, because the R&D credit could not be used to offset AMT.
  • Lastly, qualified small businesses with gross receipts of less than $5,000,000 can now apply the credit against the employer’s portion of payroll taxes of up to $250,000 per year. The credit against payroll taxes is especially beneficial for new businesses, since startup companies are inherently prone to incurring losses during their first few years of operations. Previously, startups that sustained losses were unable to utilize the R&D credit because, generally, there wouldn’t be any tax to apply the credit towards. As businesses begin to turn a profit, they can finally utilize the credit and save in taxes.

The R&D tax credit rules are highly complex. If you think you may be eligible for the R&D credit, please consult a tax professional.

Tax Treatment for Self-Rented Property Under the Passive Activity Rules

Like many tax laws, there are exceptions to the passive activity rules.  Rental income or loss is generally a passive activity whether or not the taxpayer materially participates in the rental operations. 

An exception to this rule applies to self-rental property.  Self-rental property is property owned by an individual, which is rented to an entity in which the individual materially participates.  If this is the case, the rental income is recharacterized as nonpassive income under IRC Sec. 469(I)(3) Reg. 1.469-2(f).  Rental losses remain passive.

Determination. To determine if this rule applies, you must first determine if you meet the material participation test. If any of the following tests are met, the taxpayer is deemed to materially participate in the activity.

  1. The taxpayer participates in an activity for more than 500 hours during the tax year.
  2. The taxpayer’s participation in the activity for the current year constitutes substantially all the participation of all individuals in the activity, including non-owners.
  3. The taxpayer participates in an activity for more than 100 hours during the tax year, and no other individual, including non-owners, participates more hours than the taxpayer.
  4. The activity is a “significant participation activity,” and the taxpayer’s total participation in all significant participation activities exceeds 500 hours. A significant participation activity is one in which (a) the taxpayer cannot be treated as materially participating under any of the other six tests, and (b) the taxpayer participates in the activity for more than 100 but fewer than 500 hours.
  5. The taxpayer materially participates in an activity for any five of the ten immediately preceding tax years.
  6. The taxpayer materially participates in a personal service activity for any three preceding tax years (consecutive or not).
  7. The individual participates on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis.

It is important to note, when applying the material participation rules, that participation by a taxpayer’s spouse is considered participation by the taxpayer regardless of whether the spouse has an ownership interest.

Why did the IRS enact this code?  The income recharacterization rules prevent a taxpayer from creating passive income to offset other passive losses.  Without these rules, a taxpayer with suspended passive loss carryover could inflate the gross rent of self-rented property as a strategy to create passive income.

Is this subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax?  No. In situations in which self-rental income is treated as nonpassive, the rental income is deemed to be derived in the ordinary course of business and therefore, exempt from the net investment income tax.

Trumping the Tax Code

Posted by David Roer, CPA

Image courtesy iStock

Image courtesy iStock

I’m not sure if you heard, but a Presidential election happened this past year!

As with every inaugural year, there’s an expectation that the President will push certain talking-points into action sooner vs. later. This year is no different.

A big talking point within the Trump administration has been the urgency regarding tax reform and an indication that the reform could happen within 2017. With the Republicans controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, the expectation for tax reform to rapidly occur seems all the more likely.

With that in mind, it’s important to remember that the following is not fact, but rather a ‘guesstimate’ as to what President-elect Trump may push through as reform, as it is solely based on his stated agenda throughout the election process.

INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAX

As it’s referred to on President-elect Trump’s website (donaldjtrump.com/policies/tax-plan), the ‘Trump Plan’ calls for reducing the individual income tax brackets from the current seven to three (the following are for married-filing-joint):

  1. < $75,000 – 12%
  2. $75,000 – $225,000 – 25%
  3. > $225,000 – 33%

Most notably, the Trump Plan would look to repeal the alternative minimum tax (AMT) as well as the 3.8% Net Investment Income tax (which was created to help with Obamacare).

But, as we’ve all been taught, if there’s a yin, there must be a yang: while the Trump Plan aims to reduce individual income tax rates, several deductions will be lost as well; most notably, itemized deductions will be capped at $200,000 for married-filing-joint filers or $100,000 for single filers.

CORPORATE TAX

The Trump Plan also seeks to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15% (and, similar to the individual plan, eliminate the corporate AMT).

In an effort to bring business from overseas, the Plan also calls for a one-time “amnesty” 10% tax on repatriation of corporate profits held offshore. This repatriation would be a significant draw for US corporations that own foreign corporations that conduct at least 25% of the group’s total business activity.

On the deduction side, the Plan would eliminate several business tax credits, most notably the domestic production activities deduction (Section 199 ‘DPAD’). Carried interest would be taxed as ordinary income, and the Research & Development credit would remain intact.

Additionally, the Plan would look to allow firms engaged in manufacturing within the US to elect to expense (rather than capitalize) capital assets, but lose the deductibility of corporate interest expense. The election could be revoked within the first three years of election; however, after three years, the election would be irrevocable.

ESTATE TAX

The Trump Plan seeks to repeal the ‘death’ tax entirely. However, any capital gains held until death and valued over $10 million would be subject to tax.

Since this could leave room for asset-shifting abuse, contributions of appreciated assets into a private charity established by the decedent (or their relatives) would be disallowed.

CHILDCARE

The Plan also would allow an above-the-line deduction for children under 13 up to $5,000 of child care expenses (this deduction would be eliminated for married-filing-joint filers of $500,000 or a single individual of $250,000).

In addition, the Plan would propose Dependent Care Savings Accounts (DCSAs), which would allow parents to make annual contributions of up to $2,000 per year. All deposits and earnings would be free from taxation, with unused balances available to be rolled over from year-to-year.

As further incentive for the DCSA, the Trump administration would provide a 50% match on contributions (i.e. a $1,000 contribution by the government).

While it’s yet to be seen whether any or all of the above proposals become enacted, it is safe to say that some form of tax reform is headed our way. As tax practitioners and taxpayers, it’s important to stay updated on these issues, so as best to prepare and plan for the coming years ahead.

Our REM Cycle team will keep you updated as developments unfold.

Voluntary Disclosure Programs: A Saving Grace

Image courtesy of iStock.

Image courtesy of iStock.

Being a good tax citizen is important for businesses. However, businesses do not always adhere to that notion in practice. When a taxpayer does business in a jurisdiction, the decision to comply with applicable tax law is many times governed by the risk of exposure. This is especially true when businesses operate in multiple jurisdictions; compliance is assessed on a case-by-case basis. The cost burden of compliance resulting from registering to do business and filing tax returns in every required state can outweigh the benefits of the activities performed in those jurisdictions. Perhaps at that point, the decision not to register or not to file is made by the taxpayer and business goes on. However, over time the risk of exposure for not filing due to tax liability and mounting interest and penalties may grow to an unacceptable level. In addition, not registering to do business may have certain legal repercussions that can interfere with operations.

The questions then become:

  • Should I start filing now?
  • Should I have started filing already?
  • If I don’t file, will the tax man come after me?
  • What if the taxing authority requires me to have registered previously?
  • What if information requested from prior years reveals additional liability?

Luckily, many states have a viable answer: Voluntary Disclosure Programs. These programs allow a taxpayer to come to the taxing authority, with hat in hand, and diminish some of the exposure. Specifics vary by state, but generally the taxpayer is forgiven of penalties in exchange for payment of tax and interest due over the applicable look-back period. Look-back periods can also vary, but most fall into a 3- to 4-year range. Other conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • Registering to do business with the appropriate department
  • Continued future compliance
  • Not having been contacted in the past by that jurisdiction
  • Not currently being under audit

A taxpayer can anonymously apply to most programs through a representative (usually their accountant or lawyer). Once accepted, the taxing authority will set forth a timeline and list of what the applicant must do in order to complete the agreement. Generally, a signed document disclosing the identity of the taxpayer and outlining required compliance must be sent. The tax returns, tax due plus interest that apply to the look-back period must also be submitted.

Voluntary disclosure programs offer a path to compliance that can limit a significant amount of exposure. If you believe that you are noncompliant and your exposure risk is too high for comfort, you should consider entering into a voluntary disclosure program via a trusted representative.