person checking personal finances

5 Financial Resolutions You Can Live With

For the most part, New Year’s resolutions are hard to keep because many times you either list too many things or ones that aren’t manageable for the long haul – especially those that involve money. Here are a few simple tricks to help you make changes that are bite-sized, easy to implement, and more likely to stick.

Do a five-minute daily money check-in. Life is so busy that sometimes it’s easy to just spend money, then move on to the next task at hand. You might think, “I’ll check my bank balance later,” and then you never do. But if you’re serious about getting a handle on your finances, you might want to try this one thing: give yourself a “money minute.” Select a time of day, maybe after dinner, to log into your bank account. Take stock of what you spent money on. Did you really need that bottled water? That designer coffee? This way, you can nip those small (perhaps unnecessary) expenditures in the bud and make smarter choices in the coming days.

Get a money-saving app. One of the best ones to help you achieve financial goals is Ibotta. Let’s say you want to buy a new pair of running shoes; a good brand that’ll last. With this app, you’ll save on everyday purchases and when you’ve earned enough cash back, you can cash it in for a gift card from your selected store and get what you want.

Consider micro savings goals. This technique is actually about rewarding yourself financially for changing your behavior. For instance, every time you go to yoga or Pilates, stash away $5. Or if you wake up early or finish a difficult task, stash away $10. When you’ve saved enough money to buy whatever it is you’ve decided on beforehand, you’ve not only avoided the trap of putting your goodie on credit (and paying interest) but also most likely started a new, healthy habit.

Set up an automatic savings plan. After you’ve paid taxes, insurance premiums, and perhaps even your retirement account, you might consider tucking away money for yourself that you’ll never miss. Every. Single. Paycheck. That’s right. When you automatically have a set amount deducted every time you get paid, over time you’ll accumulate a bucket of money to use in whatever way you deem important – it could be saving for a vacation or a new car. It could also be a fund for emergencies. The point is, it’s an easy, failsafe way to save and achieve your goals.

Do one frugal thing a day. This is all about a little bit of forethought and then just taking action. And when you adopt this mindset, you’ll be working daily toward your financial goals like paying off debt, saving money to quit a job you hate, or even have enough extra cash to invest in real estate or whatever strikes your fancy. Here are a few things to consider: drink more water than soda. Eat at home. Use public transportation instead of driving when you can. But this just scratches the surface. For more smart ways to start living frugally, check out this super helpful article. You’ll be surprised at all the ways you can cut back and save.

All of these tricks are easy and, in some cases, no-brainers. When you take a few minutes, set your mind on what you want, anything’s possible. Here’s to fulfilling your dreams in the New Year! 

Sources: https://lifeandabudget.com/11-financial-resolutions-that-will-stick/

Tax Break for Commercial Real Estate Investors

COVID-19 impacted the economy dramatically, and commercial real estate was no exception in terms of decreased values. Often, the real property could no longer service the debt used to finance it. This debt restructuring and resulting debt forgiveness can result in taxable income.

Taxable Income and Debt Cancellation

If you have an $80,000 loan and the bank reduces the amount you owe down to $50,000, then you have an economic benefit of $30,000, which should be treated as taxable income. This is indeed how the cancellation of debt is treated, but there are exceptions, such as in the case of bankruptcy or insolvency. There is another unique scenario that applies only to commercial real estate.

Assuming that the taxpayer is not a C-corporation, debt cancellation is excludable from taxable income if it results from qualified real property business indebtedness (QRPBI). QRPBI is debt taken on to buy real property used for commercial purposes. Starting in 1993, debt used for building or improving a property also qualifies.

As we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch. For debt cancellation to not be considered current taxable income, the taxpayer must reduce their basis in the real property by this same amount. This does not cancel the income; instead, it defers its recognition and helps cash flow as a result. Below, we look at an example of how this works.

Illustrative Example

Assume David bought a property in 2017 and he uses it for business purposes. In 2022, the property has a first mortgage of $200,000 and a second mortgage of $100,000 (both with the same bank), with a fair market value (FMV) of $240,000. He negotiates with the bank to reduce the second mortgage down to $20,000, resulting in income from the cancellation of debt of $80,000.

The amount of debt cancellation that can be deferred is equal to the amount of the second mortgage before the debt cancellation, less the FMV minus the first mortgage. In David’s case, before debt cancellation, the FMV ($240k) minus the first mortgage ($200k) was $40,000. The balance of the second mortgage ($100k) exceeded this by $60,000. Out of the total debt cancellation of $80,000, this $60,000 is subject to deferral, with only the remaining $20,000 reported as immediate taxable income.

The $60,000 is not considered as taxable income only to the extent that David has sufficient adjusted tax basis in the depreciable real property to absorb this as a reduction in basis. Assuming this is the case, the basis reduction applies the first day of the tax year after the debt cancellation (unless the property is sold before year-end — then it applies immediately).

In the example above, David would include the $10,000 of cancellation of debt income on his 2022 tax return and adjust his basis in the real property by $60,000 as of Jan. 1, 2023.

Filing Mechanics

For real estate held via partnerships instead of by individuals, determining if a debt is QRPBI qualified happens at the entity level, although reductions of basis are done at the individual level for each partner, allowing individual planning. The election to defer the cancellation of debt income is recorded on Form 982.

Conclusion

The COVID pandemic caused many real estate investors to restructure their debts. The option to defer debt income cancellation offers a great tax planning opportunity by delaying taxable income and improving cash flows.

The IRS is Auditing Fewer Returns than Ever

One of the perennial fears of taxpayers is getting audited by the IRS. Financially, few scenarios strike such fear into hearts. However, taxpayers can probably breathe a sigh of relief – at least for now. This is because the rate at which the IRS is initiating audits of individual taxpayers is dropping like a stone.

Decline in Audit Rates

The rate at which the IRS is auditing individual taxpayers has declined overall between the years 2010 and 2019 (2020 data is too new and 2021 returns are still being filed through the extension period). According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), nearly 1 percent of all taxpayers were audited in 2010, compared to only 0.25 percent for the tax year 2019. The GAO chart below shows the ski slope-like drop in individual tax audit rates over the period.

Table #3 from the GAO Report

While the IRS continues to audit higher-earning taxpayers more often overall, during the 10 years charted, audit rates consistently declined for all levels of taxpayers, except those with the highest incomes. The audit rate for taxpayers with income between $200k and $500k experienced the largest drop, with the audit rate declining from 2.3 percent down to 0.2 percent; a 92 percent reduction in audits. Taxpayers with the highest incomes, defined as $10 million or more, saw a resurgence in audit rates from 2017-2018; however, even they experienced an overall decline, dropping from 21.2 percent in 2019 to only 3.9 percent in 2019 – equating to an 81 percent decline.

Impact on the Treasury

There is a theory that the prospect of a tax audit leads to greater voluntary compliance. In other words, if people think they won’t get audited, then they are more likely to cheat on their taxes.

Non-compliance with tax laws and regulations has a material impact on the Treasury. According to the IRS, it is estimated that on average, individual taxpayers under-reported nearly $250 billion a year for the period 2011-2013. This leads to the non-collection of taxes that are otherwise owed to the government and raises issues of fairness for taxpayers who are playing by the rules.

Why the Decline in Audit Rates?

One of the main drivers is a lack of resources at the IRS, a combination of both reduced funding and fewer auditors on staff. The number of agents working for the IRS has declined across the board since 2011. Tax examiners, the type who handle basic audits by mail, have dropped by 18 percent. Meanwhile, revenue agents, who handle the more complex cases in the field, declined by more than 40 percent over the same period.

Demographics point to an increase in these trends as there is a wave of coming retirements in the IRS. Over the next three years, nearly 14 percent of current tax examiners and 16 percent of revenue agents are expected to retire. Stack on top of this is the fact that the inexperience of newer agents and the time to complete audits is also taking longer.

Conclusion

The IRS claims it is missing out on millions in legally due tax revenues due to the inability to maintain enforcement. They say they need more funding to hire more agents to perform more audits, which not only find fraud in the audits themselves but also increase overall compliance due to the pressure this creates.

Currently, there is no political focus on bringing significant new resources to the IRS, so we are not likely to see an uptick in individual tax audit rates anytime soon. The trend of focusing on the highest earners, however, will likely continue as this is where the IRS can find the most bang for its buck.

Divorce and Taxes – What Are the Implications?

This article explains the precautions to take when getting a divorce, and several tax concerns that need to be addressed to ensure that taxes are kept to a minimum and important tax-related decisions are properly made. Five issues to consider in the process of divorce include alimony or support payments, child support, personal residence, pension benefits, and business interests. Each spouse could save thousands on their home, up to $500,000 of avoidable tax, if they owned and used the residence as their principal residence for two of the previous five years. Another issue to consider if getting a divorce is deciding how to file your tax return. For more information on divorce accounting, click the link!

To view this article, click here to access the original content.

Tax-Avoiding Schemes Are at the Top of the 2022 “Dirty Dozen” List

This article explains some tax-avoiding strategies that the IRS will be flagging down. Some strategies include “concealing assets in offshore accounts and improper reporting of digital assets, non-filing of income tax returns by high-income individuals, abusive syndicated conservation easements, and abusive micro captive insurance arrangements.” The article proceeds to categorize other sources of taxable income, all of which the IRS will punish if found to be abused.

To view this article, click here to access the original content.

Tax Break for Commercial Real Estate Investors

COVID-19 impacted the economy dramatically, and commercial real estate was no exception in terms of decreased values. Often, the real property could no longer service the debt used to finance it. This debt restructuring and resulting debt forgiveness can result in taxable income.

Taxable Income and Debt Cancellation

If you have an $80,000 loan and the bank reduces the amount you owe down to $50,000, then you have an economic benefit of $30,000, which should be treated as taxable income. This is indeed how the cancellation of debt is treated, but there are exceptions, such as in the case of bankruptcy or insolvency. There is another unique scenario that applies only to commercial real estate.

Assuming that the taxpayer is not a C-corporation, debt cancellation is excludable from taxable income if it results from qualified real property business indebtedness (QRPBI). QRPBI is debt taken on to buy real property used for commercial purposes. Starting in 1993, debt used for building or improving a property also qualifies.

As we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch. For debt cancellation to not be considered current taxable income, the taxpayer must reduce their basis in the real property by this same amount. This does not cancel the income; instead, it defers its recognition and helps cash flow as a result. Below, we look at an example of how this works.

Illustrative Example

Assume David bought a property in 2017 and he uses it for business purposes. In 2022, the property has a first mortgage of $200,000 and a second mortgage of $100,000 (both with the same bank), with a fair market value (FMV) of $240,000. He negotiates with the bank to reduce the second mortgage down to $20,000, resulting in income from the cancellation of debt of $80,000.

The amount of debt cancellation that can be deferred is equal to the amount of the second mortgage before the debt cancellation, less the FMV minus the first mortgage. In David’s case, before debt cancellation, the FMV ($240k) minus the first mortgage ($200k) was $40,000. The balance of the second mortgage ($100k) exceeded this by $60,000. Out of the total debt cancellation of $80,000, this $60,000 is subject to deferral, with only the remaining $20,000 reported as immediate taxable income.

The $60,000 is not considered as taxable income only to the extent that David has sufficient adjusted tax basis in the depreciable real property to absorb this as a reduction in basis. Assuming this is the case, the basis reduction applies the first day of the tax year after the debt cancellation (unless the property is sold before year-end — then it applies immediately).

In the example above, David would include the $10,000 of cancellation of debt income on his 2022 tax return and adjust his basis in the real property by $60,000 as of Jan. 1, 2023.

Filing Mechanics

For real estate held via partnerships instead of by individuals, determining if a debt is QRPBI qualified happens at the entity level, although reductions of basis are done at the individual level for each partner, allowing individual planning. The election to defer the cancellation of debt income is recorded on Form 982.

Conclusion

The COVID pandemic caused many real estate investors to restructure their debts. The option to defer debt income cancellation offers a great tax planning opportunity by delaying taxable income and improving cash flows.

R&D Tax Credits for Startups

This article explains the significant benefits that startups in 2022 receive when using R&D tax credits. For companies to qualify for R&D tax credits, their ideas must be a new or improved business component for a permitted purpose, include activities technological in nature, have elimination of uncertainty, and use the process of experimentation. The amount companies get back in R&D research “depends on the sum of your Qualified Research Expenses (QRE), which can include wages, contractor costs, and supply costs.” Start-ups can now use the R&D tax credit to offset up to $250,000 of their FICA payroll tax for their first five taxable years. Less than one-third of companies are aware that they qualify for the R&D tax credit. Be sure to hit the link for more information on the benefits of R&D tax credit!

To view this article, click here to access the original content.

What Every Taxpayer Needs to Know This Season

The IRS is currently suffering a severe backlog in processing returns from 2021 for the 2020 tax year. As of Dec. 31, there were still more than 6 million unprocessed individual returns with notices and pending refunds. There are a few things every taxpayer should know that can help them navigate any delays in filing or speeding up the process to make filing this year as smooth as possible.

Pass on the Paper

Nothing speeds up the process like electronic filing. Despite the uptick in electronic filing over recent years, the agency is still buried in paper, receiving almost 17 million paper filings last year.

When filing electronically, there’s a good chance you’ll see your refund within 21 days of acceptance. Just make sure you keep track of your submission and that it is accepted and not bounced back.

Validate Your Return Properly

To file electronically and have your return accepted, you’ll need to validate your return with last year’s adjusted gross income. As simple as this sounds, it’s not as easy as looking at last year’s return if your 2020 filing is still pending. In this case, you’ll need to enter $0 for your 2020 AGI or the agency may reject the filing.

Reconcile Your Child Tax Credits and Stimulus Payments

Returns with innocuous errors are one of the biggest causes of notices and held-up returns. Simple mistakes or the careless compilation of a return can cause matching errors and throw a wrench in the processing of a return, with two issues being prone for the average taxpayer: the advance child tax credits and stimulus payments.

Taxpayers should pay extra attention to and double-check these areas of their returns to avoid delays. While taxpayers may receive a Letter 6419 for child tax credits or 6475 for stimulus checks, it's still a good idea to verify your payments for these two areas online for the best accuracy.

Another snafu that can arise is for married couples filing jointly. You may each receive separate letters showing only half of your total payments. Make sure you verify and report the total amount in these cases. Remember that avoiding math errors can save a lot of time and headaches later.

New Questions on Page #1 – “Virtual Currency”

More and more taxpayers are also owners of some type of cryptocurrency. If you are one of them, then this year, for the first time, you'll need to answer a new “stand-out” question on page one of your tax return.

There is now a simple yes or no question on the front of every Form 1040, asking if you received, sold or exchanged any cryptocurrency.

Your answer should be “Yes” if you staked, sold, exchanged, mined or used crypto to purchase goods or services in 2021. If you only purchased cryptocurrencies and held them, then you should make sure you check “No.”

A “Yes” here is a flag to the IRS and they'll be looking for you to report income from staking and mining or gains or losses on Schedule D. It can also fast track your return to the manual review pile, adding further delay to processing your return. But remember, that's no reason to not answer truthfully.

Taxing Saturdays

Reaching the IRS via phone is notoriously difficult (which is why having a CPA prepare your taxes can be more than worth it). Average wait times currently exceed 23 minutes. In response, the IRS is adding monthly walk-in hours on select Saturdays at certain Taxpayer Assistance Centers, starting on Feb. 12.

To access this service, you'll need government-issued photo identification, a Social Security card or your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, and any IRS letters or notices. If you are filing on your own, this can help clear up issues; but remember, it's best to use a paid preparer. They can handle both administrative issues and offer their expertise.

Conclusion

The IRS has a huge backlog of returns with issues, often resulting from simple avoidable problems such as math errors or paper filing. Do yourself a favor and follow the advice in this article to make this year less “taxing” on everyone.

Business Travel Deductions for 2021

Business Travel Deductions for 2021

This article discusses how under previous law, deductions for business meals were limited to 50% of the cost, but through the pandemic, that deduction was doubled to 100% for the time being if the meal was provided by a restaurant. Further, many self-employed taxpayers are trying to re-energize their business through travel, and if you are honestly keeping records of money spent, many deductions await. In fact, you can sprinkle in some pleasure during the time away from home as long as you can prove that business was the main reason for the trip. Be sure to check out this link for more information!

To view this article, click HERE to access the original content.

Tax Breaks for Helping Relatives

Tax Breaks for Helping Relatives

It’s not uncommon for adult children or siblings to act as caregivers for family members or give them financial assistance for medical or long-term care needs. The problem is that all too often those providing the help don’t take advantage of the tax benefits.

Types of Care

Caregiving happens through many different avenues. For example, family members might pay for services that their elderly parents need, such as housekeeping, meal preparation, or nursing care. Outside the home, they may pay for all or a portion of the cost of an assisted living facility.

In other circumstances, individuals could directly provide the care instead of paying for it. This could happen in either the home of the person giving the care or in the home of the person receiving the care. They might also support the relative’s daily living expenses by paying for groceries, utilities, or other essentials.

Assessing the Tax Breaks Available

Step one is to figure out if the person receiving care qualifies as a dependent on the caregiver’s tax return. While there are no longer personal or dependent exemptions, qualifying as a dependent opens the door to deduct medical expenses and other medical-related tax breaks. Let’s look at an example to understand the details better.

Dependent Test

Under our scenario, we have Rob taking care of his mother, Laura. Rob is allowed to claim Laura as a dependent if a set of tests are met. First, Laura’s gross income must be less than $4,300 in 2021. While this might seem low, note that tax-exempt interest and Social Security benefits are usually not included.

Second, Rob needs to provide the majority of Laura’s support in the calendar year. “Support” includes basic necessities such as clothes, a place to live, medical expenses, and transportation. In cases where the cared-for relative lives with the taxpayer, they are able to use the equivalent rental value of the housing provided. Given the broad definition of support, it’s often not too hard to meet this test – but make sure to keep diligent records, tracking the amount spent versus the dependent’s total support costs. You can always plan some extra payments near year-end to bump yourself over the 50 percent threshold.

Third, Laura needs to be a United States citizen.

Fourth, the location of the dependent matters. In the case of relatives such as parents, stepparents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and aunts and uncles, these persons can be considered a dependent even if they do not live with you. This means you can be helping them to live in their own house or care facility.

Fifth, Laura cannot jointly file a return with any other taxpayer.

Brothers and Sisters

What happens if you and some of your siblings split the support of a parent? It’s easy to see how in this case no one will meet the majority support test.

In the case of multiple support providers, someone can still claim the person as a dependent as long as all the supporting siblings agree on who makes the claim, and they file an IRS Form 2120, Multiple Support Declaration noting it.

Each Form 2120 signer must contribute at least 10 percent support for the year. The siblings can rotate who claims the deduction or keep it the same each year.

Why Dependency Matters

Given that the personal and dependent exemptions have been eliminated, you might wonder what all the fuss is about the person being cared for qualifying as a dependent. Well, the answer is the taxpayer who can claim the dependent is the one who can itemize the dependent's medical expenses as well.

Medical Expense Tax Benefit

The potential benefit comes when Rob is able to add his mother's medical expenses to those of the rest of his family. This can allow him to take a larger medical expense deduction when he itemizes expenses on his tax return. Remember that in order to benefit from any itemized deductions, the total of all itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction.

Indirect medical costs also can be deducted, but only if the person cared for qualifies as a dependent. Mileage costs for providing transportation to medical appointments and treatments are deductible. In 2021, this expense is deductible at $0.16 per mile.