Pay off Your Student Loans

Pay off Your Student LoansIt is payday and you see your paycheck hit your bank account just in time to pay your student loans.  How depressing.

Paying your student loans may seem like it will last forever, but there are ways improve your repayment plan and pay off your loans faster.

Pay more than the minimum payment

This is one of the fastest ways to relieve your student loan debt.  These days, most payments are done online. You can simply go online each month and pay your minimum payment, plus an additional payment.  This additional payment can be whatever amount you feel comfortable paying at that time. Some months you may want to make a larger additional payment than other months.  For instance, in a month where you get a bonus or a money gift, you may want to put this “found money” towards your student loans.

It is important to ensure that all extra payments are applied to principal and not the next month’s minimum payment.  Some lenders may require a written letter specifying that any additional payments made are applied to principal of the loan.  Other lenders may have an option online when a payment is made to categorize the extra payment towards principal. By doing this, you can reduce the interest on your loans.  Keep in mind that most lenders reduce your interest rate by setting up automatic payments. You should also always pay towards your highest interest loans first as interest accrues faster on these loans.

Consolidate and refinance your loans

Interest rates on student loans can vary from 4% to 9%.  If you’re like the average graduate, with three to six different loans with differing interest rates, and you are a good candidate refinancing at a lower interest rate. By consolidating, you also free yourself of the burden of making multiple monthly payments.  Your consolidated loan will have one monthly payment.

This approach is not for everyone.  You would only want to refinance if you can reduce your interest rates.  Right now, refinancing rates on student loans are as low as 3%. Banks that offer student loan refinancing and relief include NerdWallet, Sofi, and Citizens Bank.  Each bank and lender offer different programs and individualized rates, which are usually based on credit history and annual income.

Student loan interest deduction

Don’t wait to pay your student loans.  If you are in loan deferment, a grace period, or in school, make payments sooner.  During these periods where you are not paying your loans, interest is accruing which increases your overall loan obligation.

Some good news: the IRS offers a student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.  Keep in mind that you may not be able to deduct the full $2,500, as this deduction phases out between $65,000 and $80,000 for a single taxpayer, and $130,000 and $160,000 for a married filing jointly taxpayer.

When filing your taxes, there is no need to look through your loan statements to calculate the interest paid.  Your lender will provide you with Form 1098-E, which will show the total student loan interest paid in the current year.  You will receive one form for each loan.  If you are married, you can also deduct student loan interest paid by your spouse if you file a joint tax return.  The only requirement is that you must be legally obligated to repay the loan.  This means that you or your spouse must be the responsible party for the loan.

We’ve got your back

It is important to tackle student loans early in your career.  By doing so, you will improve your credit, become student loan debt-free, and start saving for your future.

Lance Aligo, CPA, MSA, is a senior accountant at KRS CPAs, LLC, located in Paramus, NJ.  You can reach him at [email protected] or 201-655-7411.

What Changes With the New Taxpayer First Act?

The Taxpayer First Act of 2019 is redesigning how the IRS works with taxpayers, even though it may take a while for many of the provisions to take effect.What Changes With the New Taxpayer First Act?

Some experts have highlighted the following aspects of the bill as especially important:

An independent appeals process. Taxpayers and small businesses will be able to challenge the IRS’ position without undertaking the cost and expenses of court. IRS Appeals will be an independent unit that grants taxpayers access to case files. Taxpayers will be able to protest if denied an appeal.

Innocent spouse treatment. The new law requires the U.S. Tax Court to take a fresh look at innocent spouse cases without taking previous decisions into account.

Modification of procedures for issuance of third-party summons. This is an important protection for taxpayers, especially small-business owners. It discourages the IRS from bypassing the taxpayer and contacting third parties — such as financial institutions — instead for information. The IRS should give taxpayers a meaningful opportunity to provide the information it is seeking prior to its contacting third parties. In practice, the IRS should provide the taxpayer with an understanding of what the issue is, what information is being requested and how the requested information relates to the issue.

Office of the National Taxpayer Advocate. The Taxpayer First Act has taken a strong approach with the Advocate’s issuance of Taxpayer Advocate Directives, which focus on systemic problems taxpayers deal with. Once they are issued by the Advocate, the IRS should comply within 90 days. The Advocate Annual Report will identify any TAD that is not honored by the IRS.

Credit card payments. The IRS is now allowed to directly accept credit and debit card payments for taxes; the taxpayer must pay any processing fees. The Act also requires the IRS to try to minimize processing fees when entering into contracts with the credit card companies.

Whistle blower reforms. The Act provides protections from retaliation and allows for better communication with whistle blowers about the status of their claims.

Cyber-security and identity protection. The IRS will now have to let taxpayers know whether it suspects there is evidence of identity theft. The Agency will explain to taxpayers how to file a report with police and how to protect themselves against additional harm resulting from the identity theft.

Taxpayer Act levels the playing field

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, was quoted as saying the Act “levels the playing field to ensure taxpayers have the same information as the agency, better protects our taxpayers’ information, and reins in past IRS abuses to guarantee families and local businesses never have to fear having their accounts and property seized without fair and due process.”

As with many new laws, it will take some time to see what specifically the effects are. The legal provisions are complex and will require interpretation over time. We’ll be keeping an eye on the developments.

We’ve got your back

The new tax code is complex and every taxpayer’s situation is different – so don’t go it alone! Contact KRS managing partner Maria Rollins at [email protected] or 201.655.7411 to discuss your situation.

Tax Rules for Vacation Home Rentals

Tax Rules for Vacation Home RentalsGet the most from your vacation home rental property by knowing the tax rules

Summer is the time of family vacations, sun, sand and beaches. It’s also the time when a vacation home may be used to generate additional cash flow through rental.

Part-time landlords need to remember that, in many cases, the Internal Revenue Service expects them to report the extra income.

Short-Term Rentals

In general, if a taxpayer rents their vacation home for fewer than 14 days out of the year, the income is tax free and the property is considered a personal residence.  Under this scenario, taxpayers are not required to report any rental income on their tax return.  However, expenses attributable to the rental cannot be deducted, such as cleaning fees or rental commissions.

More than 14 Rental Days

If a taxpayer’s rental days are above the 14-day threshold, the income is required to be reported. Under this scenario, a taxpayer can also deduct a variety of direct rental expenses such as licenses, advertising and rental commissions.

Other expenses such as repairs, mortgage interest, property taxes and utilities are deductible on a prorated basis based upon the number of days a taxpayer rented the home out.

Claiming Expenses on Rental Property

When filing taxes on a rental property, an individual will use IRS Schedule E: Supplemental Income and Loss. The IRS provides an extensive listing of deductions in Publication 527, however common expenses include:

  • Real Estate/Property Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Cleaning
  • Repairs and Maintenance
  • Depreciation
  • Legal and Professional Fees
  • Advertising
  • Utilities
  • Commissions

We’ve got your back

For additional information on the taxability of your vacation home rental, contact Simon Filip, the Real Estate Tax Guy, at [email protected] or (201) 655-7411.

Home office expense deduction for a self-employed taxpayer

Home office expense deduction for a self-employed taxpayerDoes your home office qualify for a tax deduction?

If you’re self-employed and work out of an office in your home and you satisfy certain strict rules, you will be entitled to favorable “home office” deductions. These deductions against your business income include the following:

  • Direct expenses of the home office – for example, the costs of painting or repairing the home office, depreciation deductions for furniture and fixtures used in the home office, etc.; and
  • Indirect expenses of maintaining the office – for example, the properly allocable share of utility costs, depreciation, insurance, etc., for your home, as well as an allocable share of mortgage interest and real estate taxes.

In addition, if this office is your “principal place of business” under the rules discussed below, the costs of traveling between it and other work locations in your business are deductible transportation expenses, rather than nondeductible commuting costs.

Tests to determine home office deductibility

You may deduct your home office expenses if you meet any of the three tests described below: (1) the principal place of business test, (2) the place for meeting patients, clients, or customers test, or (3) the separate structure test. You may also deduct the expenses of certain storage space if you qualify under the rules described further below.

  1. Principal place of business

You’re entitled to home office deductions if you use your home office, exclusively and on a regular basis, as your principal place of business. Your home office is your principal place of business if it satisfies either a “management or administrative activities” test, or a “relative importance” test. You satisfy the management or administrative activities test if you use your home office for administrative or management activities of your business, and if you meet certain other requirements. You meet the relative importance test if your home office is the most important place where you conduct your business, in comparison with all the other locations where you conduct that business.

  1. Home office used for meeting patients, clients, or customers

You’re entitled to home office deductions if you use this office, exclusively and on a regular basis, to meet or deal with patients, clients, or customers. The patients, clients or customers must be physically present in the office.

  1. Separate structures

You’re entitled to deductions for a home office, used exclusively and on a regular basis for business, if it is located in a separate unattached structure on the same property as your home – for instance, an unattached garage, artist’s studio, workshop, or office building.

Space for storing inventory or product samples

If you’re in the business of selling products at retail or wholesale, and if your home is your sole fixed business location, you can deduct home expenses allocable to space that you use regularly (but not necessarily exclusively) to store inventory or product samples.

How much can you deduct?

The amount of your home office deduction is based on the amount of square footage allocated to your office space. There are two methods to choose from; Simplified Method and Regular Method.

Simplified Method

The simplified method for determining this deduction is straightforward: You receive a deduction of $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet (the deduction can’t exceed $1,500).

Regular Method

You determine the deduction by figuring out the percentage of your home used for business. Then apply the resulting percentage to the total direct & indirect expenses discussed above.

To demonstrate, if your home is 2,000 square feet and your home office is 500 square feet, you use 25% of your home for business. You’re allowed to deduct 25% of the above-mentioned expenses against your income. The remaining 75% of qualified expenses carry over to Schedule A, if you itemize. These costs include property taxes and mortgage interest.

Someone with a larger office and higher expenses might benefit from the regular method of determining the home office deduction compared to the standard method.

We’ve got your back

At KRS, our CPAs can help you utilize the home office deduction to maximize potential tax savings. Give us a call at 201.655.7411 or email me at [email protected]

What You Need to Know to Deduct Medical Expenses

What You Need to Know to Deduct Medical ExpensesDeducting expenses for medical and dental care is easier when you know the rules

If you itemize your deductions for a taxable year on Form 1040, Schedule A Itemized Deductions, you may be able to deduct unreimbursed expenses you paid that year for medical and dental care for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. You may deduct only the amount of your total medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income in 2018 and 10% beginning in 2019.

What qualifies as a medical expense?

Qualifying costs, which include many items other than hospital and doctor bills, often amount to much larger figures than expected. Below are some items you should take into account in determining your medical expenses:

Health insurance premiums

The cost of health insurance is a medical expense. This item, by itself, can total thousands of dollars a year. Even if your employer provides you with health coverage, you can deduct the portion of the premiums that you pay. Long-term care insurance premiums are also included in medical expenses, subject to specific dollar limits based on age. However, pre-tax insurance premiums paid by an individual are not deductible medical expenses.

Transportation

The cost of getting to and from medical treatment is a deductible medical expense. This includes taxi fares, public transportation, or the cost of using your own car. Car costs can be calculated at 20¢ a mile for miles driven in 2019 (18¢ a mile for miles driven in 2018), plus tolls and parking. Alternatively, you can deduct your actual costs, such as for gas and oil (but not your general costs such as insurance, depreciation, or maintenance).

Therapists, nurses, etc.

The services of individuals other than doctors can qualify as long as the services relate to a medical condition and aren’t for general health. For example, costs of physical therapy after knee surgery would qualify, but not costs of a fitness counselor to tone you up. Amounts paid for certain long-term care services required by a chronically ill individual also qualify as deductible medical expenses.

Eyeglasses, hearing aids, dental work, psychotherapy, prescription drugs

Deductible medical expenses include the cost of glasses, hearing aids, dental work, psychiatric counseling, and other ongoing expenses in connection with medical needs. Purely cosmetic expenses (e.g., a “nose job”) don’t qualify. Prescription drugs (including insulin) qualify, but over the counter items such as aspirin and vitamins don’t. Neither do amounts paid for operations or treatments that are illegal under federal law (such as marijuana), even if state or local law permits the procedure or drug.

Smoking-cessation programs

Amounts paid for participation in a smoking-cessation program and for prescribed drugs designed to alleviate nicotine withdrawal are deductible medical expenses. However, non-prescription nicotine gum and certain nicotine patches aren’t deductible.

Weight-loss programs

A weight-loss program is a deductible medical expense if undertaken as treatment for a disease diagnosed by a physician. The disease can be obesity itself or another disease, such as hypertension or heart disease, for which the doctor directs you to lose weight. It’s a good idea to get a written diagnosis before starting the program. Deductible expenses include fees paid to join the program and to attend periodic meetings. However, the cost of low-calorie food that you eat in place of your regular diet isn’t deductible.

Dependents and others

You can deduct the medical costs paid on behalf of dependents, such as your children. Additionally, you may be able to deduct medical costs you pay for an individual, such as an elderly parent or grandparent, who would qualify as your dependent except that he has too much gross income or files jointly. In most cases, the medical costs of a child of divorced parents can be claimed by the parent who pays them, regardless of who gets the dependency exemption.

We’ve got your back

At KRS, our CPAs can help you identify deductible medical expenses to maximize potential tax savings. Give us a call at 201.655.7411 or email me at [email protected]

SALT Workarounds Squashed

$10k Limit on SALT Deductions Stands

On Tuesday the Treasury Department issued final regulations that officially prohibit high-tax states like SALT Workarounds SquashedNew Jersey, New York, and Connecticut from utilizing workarounds to evade the new $10,000 limit on state and local tax (“SALT”) deductions.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act capped at $10,000 the amount of state and local tax payments that taxpayers could deduct from their federal returns.  In response, a number of state governments enacted or proposed workarounds to find a way to remove the economic pain of the cap.

In the workaround, a state resident could, instead of paying state property taxes, choose to donate to a state-created charitable fund, for example, $40,000. The resident would then get to write off the $40,000 as a charitable donation on his or her federal taxes and receive a state tax credit for some of that donation, easing the burden of the lower write-off for their SALT levy.

The regulations will allow taxpayers to receive a tax write-off equal to the difference between the state tax credits they receive and their charitable donations. That means the taxpayer who makes a $40,000 charitable donation to pay property taxes and receives a $25,000 state tax credit would only be entitled to a charitable write off of $15,000 on his or her federal tax bill.

The Treasury indicated it would continue to evaluate the issue and release further guidance if necessary.

We’ve got your back

With Simon Filip, the Real Estate Tax Guy, on your side, you can focus on your real estate investments while he and his team take care of your accounting and keep you up to speed on the latest tax developments. Contact him at [email protected] or 201.655.7411 today.

Real Estate in Your IRA: A Good Idea?

Real estate can be a great investment, and many people don’t know they can also put the property into their IRAs.

real estate and your iraHowever, they have to be careful: one small mistake and an IRA’s tax advantages disappear.

So what are the rules to follow to have a qualified real estate purchase?

  • You can’t mortgage the property.
  • You can’t work on the property yourself — you’ve got to pay an independent party to do any repairs.
  • You don’t get the tax breaks if the property operates at a loss. You can’t claim depreciation either.
  • All costs associated with the property must be paid out of your IRA and all income deposited into the IRA. You can find yourself in a bind if there isn’t enough cash in the IRA to deal with a major property expense.
  • You can’t receive any personal benefit from the property — you can’t live in it or use it in any way. It has to be strictly for investment purposes. So that vacation property you’re considering buying or a house to rent to your kids — not allowable.

More rules for real estate in IRAs

Any investment made by your IRA must be considered an arm’s-length transaction: You can’t use money in your IRA to buy or sell real estate to or from yourself or family members. You can’t receive any indirect benefit either — you can’t pay yourself or a family member to be the property manager.

For a traditional IRA, you must take required minimum distributions at 70 1/2 and that applies with real estate as well. It can be awfully hard to sell real estate off in portions, so then how do you cover the required distributions without cash? These are problems you need to solve before you start your retirement investing. However, you can roll over money from the sale of one property to the purchase of another without any tax consequences, inside the IRA.

Three more points to weigh when thinking about investing in real estate IRAs:

  • Your IRA cannot purchase a property that you currently own. IRS regulations don’t allow transactions that are considered self-dealing. They don’t allow your self-directed IRA to buy property from or sell property to any disqualified person — including yourself.
  • A real estate investment needs to be titled in the name of your IRA, not to you personally. All documents related to the investment must be titled correctly to avoid delays.
  • Real estate in an IRA can be purchased without 100 percent funding from your IRA. You can use undivided interest and partnering with others.

For more, see my post, “Using a Self-Directed IRA to Buy Real Estate.”

We’ve got your back

There are a lot of working parts to keep in mind if you want to hold real estate in your IRA, and it might not be right for everyone. With Simon Filip, the Real Estate Tax Guy, on your side, you can focus on your real estate investments while he and his team take care of your accounting and taxes. Contact him at [email protected] or 201.655.7411 today.

Use the Increased Federal Estate and Gift Tax Exemption to Transfer Business Ownership Interests

Take advantage of this window of opportunity for tax-free wealth transfer

Use the Increased Federal Estate and Gift Tax Exemption to Transfer Business Ownership InterestsThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 expanded the federal estate and gift tax exemption to $11.2 million per person, or $22.4 million for a married couple.

Under the Act, these higher limits are applicable through December 31, 2025.  On January 1, 2026 the limits return to $5 million per person, adjusted for inflation.

These changes present a significant but temporary opportunity for tax-free wealth transfer, including gifts of ownership interests in the family business.  Also, in certain circumstances valuation discounts may further reduce the value of the gifted business interest, which would facilitate larger gifts while remaining within the exemption amount.  These gifts will also qualify for the annual exclusion, which currently stands at $14,000 per recipient and may also be split with your spouse, resulting in $28,000 per recipient annual gifts that do not reduce your lifetime exemption.

Gifting strategies

Business owners are often reluctant to gift business ownership interests because they are concerned about losing control of the business, or do not want to make gifts to minor children.   There are many ways to overcome this problem.  The most common solutions are to gift only non-voting shares and include restrictions on their sale or transfer, or to gift the shares to a trust of which you or your spouse are trustee.

Conventional gifting strategy is to transfer assets that are likely to appreciate in the future.  That way, the asset is transferred at a low value and appreciates in the hands of the recipient.  The first step in this process is to identify the assets to be transferred and determine their value.  If you are considering transfer of an ownership interest in a business, it would be prudent to have that business valued by a qualified business appraiser.

We’ve got your back

Although 2025 seems like a long way off, you never know what changes may occur.  Although it is unlikely that tax laws will change after the mid-term election, you never know what the tax law changes will be after the 2020 presidential election.  This is great opportunity to transfer assets at little or no estate and gift tax cost.  If this is interesting to you, there is no reason to delay.  Contact your attorney or CPA and start the process now, before this opportunity is gone.

Capital Gains and Losses: How Do They Work?

Selling a capital asset results in a gain or loss and impacts your income taxes.

How do capital gains and losses work?A capital gain is a profit made when you as an individual or business sell a capital asset — investments or real estate, for instance — for a higher cost than its purchase price. A capital loss is incurred when there’s a decrease in the capital asset value compared with its purchase price. Almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes is a capital asset: a home, personal-use items like furnishings, and collectibles.

A capital gain may be short term (one year or less) or long term (more than a year). The capital gain must be claimed on income taxes. While capital gains are generally associated with stocks and mutual funds due to their volatility, a capital gain can occur on any security sold for a higher price than the price that was paid for it. Unrealized gains and losses, sometimes referred to as paper gains and losses, reflect an increase or decrease in an investment’s value but haven’t yet triggered a taxable event.

The profit you realize when you sell a capital asset at a profit is your gain over basis paid. Basis is often defined as the original price plus any related transaction costs; basis also may refer to capital improvements and cost of sale. Capital losses are used to offset capital gains of the same type: short-term losses are deducted against short-term gains, for example.

Capital gains and losses for businesses

A business may gain or lose money in two ways: It can make a profit on its sales activities or lose money by spending more than it brings in from sales. And, of course, it can gain or lose money based on its investments or sales of assets — items of value that the business owns.

Each type is taxed differently. Profits are taxed as ordinary income and at regular business or personal tax rates. Gains or losses on investments or the sale of assets are taxed as capital gains or losses, but it can depend on the type of business. When expensive equipment is involved, businesses have to consider depreciation, which takes into account the equipment’s declining value over its useful lifetime.

Capital gains and losses can come into play when a business writes off an asset, taking it off its balance sheet. That might be the case with accounts receivable when a debt is owed to the business but is unlikely ever to be paid.

Individual shareholders or business owners who sell their capital shares or owner’s equity in a business also incur capital gains or losses from those sales. Note the following distinction: Operating profits and losses result from the ongoing operations of the business; sometimes called net operating losses for tax purposes, they result from day-to-day operations.

We’ve got your back

Whether you’re buying or selling as an individual or as a business, be sure to keep track of your sales and discuss them with a qualified financial professional. The experts at KRS can help you determine whether you have a gain on loss and its tax implications. Contact managing partner Maria Rollins at [email protected] or 201.655.7411 for a complimentary initial consultation.

Why Business Succession Planning Is Important

Why Business Succession Planning is ImportantYour business represents a big part of your wealth. Here’s why you need to protect it with a succession plan.

Many years ago, I had a friend who was a financial advisor and specialized in estate planning.  In encouraging people to establish or update their planning, he would tell them that not having a plan was the same as having a plan to leave extra money to the IRS, to the detriment of their intended heirs.  The same goes for business succession planning.  Not having a succession plan doesn’t mean that you will never retire or die, it just means that when you do there will most likely be a dispute and a judge or mediator will decide what happens to your business.

Wouldn’t it be much better if you established a plan for your business?

There are many reasons why a business succession plan is important.  For many business owners, the business represents most or a significant portion of their wealth.  Whether the plan is to keep the business in the family, sell to employees, or sell to an outsider, a written plan will play a big part in a smooth transition, which will preserve the value of your business.

A transition plan will also help you prepare for any unplanned circumstances, such as death, disability, or inability to work.  When something bad happens, it is usually too late to execute an effective plan.

Preparing next gen leaders

If the business is being kept in the family or sold to employees, a succession plan will go a long way in preparing the management team or next generation to take over the business.  This process must commence long before the transition begins to be successful.

Finally, an effective plan will help you focus on the value of your business and the steps that you can take to increase that value.  Many owners are unrealistic about the value of their business, believing that value is simply a multiple of something, the amount they put into the business, or an uninformed guess.  The value of a business is based on future cash flow and risk.  Good cash flow and low risk translates into high value.  What can you do today to increase the value of your business?

We’ve got your back

If you’re ready to plan for business succession but don’t know where to start, contact me at [email protected].