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IRS tax scams are on the rise.  Therefore, it’s important to use caution when viewing emails and receiving telephone calls purportedly from the IRS.  Falling victim to a tax scam can be very costly, not only in money, but also in the amount of time and aggravations it can take to straighten out the resulting mess.


The IRS has released the 2018 optional standard mileage rates to be used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, medical, moving and charitable purposes. Beginning on January 1, 2018, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup of panel truck will be:

  • 54.5 cents per mile for business miles driven (up from 53.5 cents in 2017);
  • 18 cents per mile for medical and moving expenses (up from 17 cents in 2017); and
  • 14 cents per mile for miles driven for charitable purposes (permanently set by statute at 14 cents).

Comment. A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate after using a depreciation method under Code Sec. 168 or after claiming the Code Sec. 179 deduction for that vehicle. A taxpayer may not use the business rate for more than four vehicles at a time. As a result, business owners have a choice for their vehicles: take the standard mileage rate, or “itemize” each part of the expense (gas, tolls, insurance, etc., and depreciation).


January 1, 2018 not only brings a new year, it brings a new federal Tax Code. The just-passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act makes sweeping changes to the nation’s tax laws. Many of these changes take effect January 1. Everyone – especially individuals and business owners – needs to review their tax strategies for the new law. The changes are huge. However, many changes are temporary, especially for individuals.


The start of a New Year presents a time to reflect on the past 12 months and, based on what has gone before, predict what may happen next. Here is a list of the top 10 developments from 2017 that may prove particularly important as we move forward into the New Year:


The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act modifies Section 529 qualified tuition plans to allow the plans to distribute up to $10,000 in tuition expenses incurred during the tax year for designated beneficiaries enrolled at a public, private, or religious elementary or secondary school. Section 529 plans used to only be allowed for college tuition, up to full tuition amounts. That provision for college tuition remains the same.


Yes, conversions from regular (traditional) tax-deferred individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to Roth IRAs are still allowed after enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In fact, in some instances, such Roth conversions are more beneficial than they were prior to 2018, since the tax rates on all income, including conversion income, are now lower. However, the special rule that allows a contribution to one type of an IRA to be recharacterized as a contribution to the other type of IRA will no longer apply to a conversion contribution to a Roth IRA after 2017.


Small business taxation, corporate tax rates, and changes to popular deductions are just some of the many complex changes to the Tax Code being debated in Congress. At the time this article was posted, the Senate is expected to approve, along party-lines, a sweeping overhaul of the Tax Code written by Senate Republicans. The House has already approved its tax bill, also along party-lines. If the Senate passes a tax bill, House and Senate conferees will seek to resolve differences between the two bills. Conferees will likely aim to reach an agreement quickly to send a bill to the White House before year-end.


As an economic incentive for individuals to save and invest, gains from the sale of capital assets held for at least one year unless offset by losses, as well qualified dividends received during the year, may be taxed at rates lower than ordinary income tax rates. The tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends for individuals is 20 percent, 15, percent, or 0 percent depending on their income tax bracket.


Information reporting has become a growing part of IRS’s enforcement and compliance strategy. Data matching, or even the inference that the IRS has the data to do so, statistically has increased overall income reporting nine-fold. Use of information returns, either in the form of Forms W-2, 1098s or 1099s, is here to stay, and growing.


Life insurance proceeds are received tax-free. However, any interest earned on life insurance proceeds, usually referred to as its cash value, is subject to tax. Special rules apply to transfers of ownership in a life insurance policy, accelerated death benefits, and viatical settlements.


The method and systems by which a taxpayer calculates the amount of income, gains, losses, deductions, and credits and determines when these items must be reported, constitute the taxpayer's method of tax accounting. Although the Tax Code and the regulations authorize the use of several accounting methods, and permit certain combinations of methods, a taxpayer must use the accounting method on the basis of which the taxpayer regularly computes book income. Further, the method must be used consistently and must clearly reflect income.


Tax reform discussions continue on Capitol Hill with legislation expected to be released very soon. GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate appear to be aiming for a comprehensive overhaul of the Tax Code. President Trump and Republicans in Congress have set out an ambitious schedule of passing a tax reform bill before year-end. 


Year-end tax planning can provide most taxpayers with a good way to lower a tax bill that will otherwise be waiting for them when they file their 2017 tax return in 2018. Since tax liability is primarily keyed to each calendar tax year, once December 31, 2017 passes, your 2017 tax liability for the most part – good or bad – will mostly be set in stone.


As the 2018 filing season nears, the IRS is reminding taxpayers that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains on the books. The ACA’s reporting requirements for individuals have not been changed by Congress. At the same time, the Trump Administration has proposed administrative changes to the ACA, which could expand health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), the use of short-term, limited duration health insurance, and association health plans.


Holiday gifts made to customers are generally deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses as long as the taxpayer can demonstrate that such gifts maintain or improve customer goodwill. Such gifts must bear a direct relationship to the taxpayer's business and must be made with a reasonable expectation of a financial return commensurate with the amount of the gift. However, the $25 annual limitation per recipient on deductibility is applicable to holiday gifts, unless a statutory exceptions applies.


For purposes of federal tax, employers must withhold and pay FICA taxes (7.65%) if they paid a household employee cash wages of at least $2,000 in 2016 or in 2017 ($2,100 in 2018). Employers must pay FUTA tax (6%) if they paid total cash wages of at least $1,000 in a calendar quarter to household employees. A homeowner may be an “employer” to a housekeeper; or, if enough evidence is shown, merely a recipient of services by an independent contractor or self-employed individual.


Tax writers in Congress are set to begin debating and writing tax reform legislation. On September 27, the White House and GOP leaders in Congress released a framework for tax reform. The framework sets out broad principles for tax reform, leaving the details to the two tax-writing committees: the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. How quickly lawmakers will write and pass tax legislation is unclear. What is clear is that tax reform is definitely one of the top issues on Congress’ Fall agenda.


As millions of Americans recover from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, Congress is debating disaster tax relief. The relief would enhance the casualty loss rules, relax some retirement savings rules, and make other temporary changes to the tax laws, all intended to help victims of these recent disasters. At press time, a package of temporary disaster tax relief measures is pending in the House. The timeline for Senate action, however, is unclear.


IRS Exam staffing in fiscal year (FY) 2016, the latest tax year with statistics available, reached a 20-year low. As a result, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has reported that the IRS undertook fewer audits.


IRS Chief Counsel, in generic legal advice (AM-2017-003), recently described when a qualified employer may take into account the payroll tax credit for increasing research activities. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) created the payroll credit aimed at start-ups with little or no income tax liabilities. This tax break allows taxpayers to get the cash benefit of the payroll tax credit sooner as they reduce their payroll tax liability as payroll payments are made, instead of having to wait until the end of the quarter to receive the credit.


Yes, however, there are special timing rules for foreign adoptions. These rules differ from the timing rules for domestic adoptions and impact when you may claim qualified adoption expenses.


As lawmakers return to work after their August recess, Hurricane Harvey has increased expectations on Congress to quickly pass disaster-relief tax breaks. September is also expected to bring Congressional hearings on tax reform and possibly the unveiling of tax reform legislation. At the same time, lawmakers must address the federal government’s budget, including the IRS.


Parents incur a variety of expenses associated with children. As a general rule, personal expenditures are not deductible. However, there are several deductions and credits that help defray some of the costs associated with raising children, including some costs related to education. Some of the most common deductions and credits related to minors are the dependency exemption, the child tax credit, and the dependent care credit. Also not to be overlooked are tax-sheltered savings plans used for education, such as the Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).


Two recent court cases indicate that, although use of a conservation easement to gain a charitable deduction must continue to be arranged with care, some flexibility in determining ultimate deductibility may be beginning to be easier to come by. The IRS had been winning a string of cases that affirmed its strict interpretation of Internal Revenue Code Section 170 on conservation easement. The two latest judicial opinions, however, help give taxpayers some much-needed leeway in proving that the rules were followed, keeping in mind that Congress wanted to encourage conservation easements rather than have its rules interpreted so strictly that they thwart that purpose.


A partnership is created when persons join together with the intent to conduct unincorporated venture and share profits. Intent is determined from facts and circumstances, including the division of profits and losses, the ownership of capital, the conduct of parties, and whether a written agreement exists. Despite such nuances in the process, however, distinguishing the existence of a partnership from other joint investments or ventures is often critical in determining tax liability and reporting obligations.


Gross income is taxed to the individual who earns it or to owner of property that generates the income. Under the so-called “assignment of income doctrine,” a taxpayer may not avoid tax by assigning the right to income to another.


House and Senate lawmakers have started their August recess, leaving pending tax legislation for after Labor Day. In past years, September has been a busy month for tax legislation and this year is likely to be the same. Before leaving Capitol Hill, lawmakers took actions in several areas related to tax reform.


The IRS remains focused on an issue that doesn’t seem to be going away: the misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Recently, the IRS issued still another fact sheet “reminding” employers about the importance of correctly classifying workers for purposes of federal employment taxes (FS-2017-9). Generally, employers must withhold income taxes, withhold and pay social security and Medicare taxes, and pay unemployment tax on wages paid to employees. They are lifted of these obligations entirely for independent contractors, with usually the only IRS-related responsibility being information reporting on amounts of $600 or more paid to a contractor.


A recent Tax Court decision and pending tax reform proposals have intersected in highlighting how stock sales can be timed for maximum tax advantage. The taxpayer in the recent case (Turan, TC Memo. 2017-141) failed to convince the Tax Court that he timely made an election with his broker to use the last-in-first-out (LIFO) method to set his cost-per-share cost basis for determining capital gains and losses on his stock trades on shares of the same company. As a result, he was required to calculate the capital gain or loss on his stock trades using the firm’s first-in-first-out (FIFO) “default” method, which, in his case, yielded a significant increase in tax liability for the year.


Country-by-Country (CbC) reporting is part of a larger initiative by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) known as the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project. CbC reporting generally impacts large multi-national businesses. Because CbC is part of BEPS it is important to be familiar with the core concepts.


An eligible taxpayer can deduct qualified interest on a qualified student loan for an eligible student's qualified educational expenses at an eligible institution. The amount of the deduction is limited, and it is phased out for taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain thresholds.


Lawmakers from both parties spent much of June debating and discussing tax reform, but without giving many details of what a comprehensive tax reform package could look like before year-end. At the same time, several bipartisan tax bills have been introduced in Congress, which could see their way to passage.


The much-anticipated regulations (REG-136118-15) implementing the new centralized partnership audit regime under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA) have finally been released. The BBA regime replaces the current TEFRA (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982) procedures beginning for 2018 tax year audits, with an earlier "opt-in" for electing partnerships. Originally issued on January 19, 2017 but delayed by a January 20, 2017 White House regulatory freeze, these re-proposed regulations carry with them much of the same criticism leveled against them back in January, as well as several modifications. Most importantly, their reach will impact virtually all partnerships.


With the release of regulations on centralized partnership audits, many taxpayers hope that it will signal the re-start of a regular flow of much-needed guidance from the Treasury Department and the IRS that has been virtually stopped dead in its tracks since January 20. Others caution that the floodgates have not been opened and that the impact of several Executive Orders in discouraging guidance will be felt well into next year. Also bearing upon the recent lack of guidance are the critical vacancies within Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy that have been taking longer than usual to fill.


No. The IRS continues to treat virtual currency as property for U.S. federal tax purposes. However, last year, a government watchdog, and this year, a group of lawmakers, urged the IRS to clarify its virtual currency guidance.


Every year, millions of post-secondary students access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This year, the DRT is unavailable for FAFSA filers because of cybersecurity concerns. The information needed to complete the FAFSA can be found on a previously filed federal income tax return.


Since taking office in January, President Trump has called for comprehensive tax reform. The President’s recently released fiscal year (FY) 2018 outlines some of his key tax reform principles. At the same time, White House officials said that more tax reform details will be released in coming weeks. These details are expected to describe rate cuts for individuals and businesses, new incentives for child and elder care, elimination of certain deductions and credits, and more.


The future of the Affordable Care Act and its associated taxes has moved to the Senate following passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in the House in April. Traditionally, legislation moves more slowly in the Senate than in the House, which means that any ACA repeal and replacement bill may be weeks if not months away.


Many businesses consider the occasional wining and dining of customers and clients just to stay in touch with them to be a necessary cost of doing business. The same goes for taking business associates or even employees out to lunch once in a while after an especially tough assignment has been completed successfully. It's easy to think of these entertainment costs as deductible business expenses, but they may not be. As a general rule, meals and entertainment are deductible as a business expense only if specific conditions are met. What's more, the deduction for either type of expense generally is limited to 50 percent of the cost.


As “hurricane season” officially begins, the IRS has released a number a tax tips, reminders and other advice to help taxpayers weather the storm of natural disasters and similar emergencies. The underlying theme for all IRS "tax tips" is that recordkeeping has generally become easier in the digital age. However, it remains the primary responsibility of the taxpayer to preserve adequate records whether or not caused by a disaster.