Equifax Data Breach – 7 Ways to Protect Yourself

4 10 2017

There has been quite a bit written about the Equifax data breach – why it happened; how it happened; and what you can do about it.

 

The most important thing for our clients is the what you can do about it. We’ve listed several steps you can take to help protect your credit report, as well as put some measures into place that may protect it in the future.

Read more … 





Time to Plan for the New Tax Reform Law

12 09 2018

The new tax reform law which was enacted on December 22, 2017, and commonly called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA), is the biggest federal tax law overhaul in 31 years.  Nearly everything in the TCJA went into effect on January 1, 2018.  It has both good and bad news for taxpayers.

Now, many months later, we are just beginning to get guidance from the IRS regarding various aspects of the new law.  Hopefully this will continue. Some technical corrections from Congress are also needed.

Attached below are highlights of some of the most significant changes affecting individual and businesses taxpayers.  Except where noted, these changes are effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017.

Remember that this is just a brief overview of some of the most significant provisions of the TCJA.  There are additional rules and limits that apply as well as additional provisions.

If you have any questions regarding how this new tax law may affect you and/or your business, please do not hesitate to contact us.  Or, better yet, we could prepare a tax projection for you for 2018 using the tax law changes and new tax rates.  This would be an opportunity for you to do some tax planning for 2018 and future years.

It would also be a good time to look into whether federal tax withholdings should be adjusted on your paychecks. There is a Withholding Calculator on the IRS website that can be used to do a “paycheck checkup” to see if too little or too much tax is being withheld from your wages. We can also assist you with that computation. Any changes to be made would require submitting a new Form W-4 to your employer.

We can be reached at 812-663-7567 or 800-676-7567.  We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Highlights of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

 

Individuals

  • Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37% – through 2025
  • Near doubling the standard deduction to $24,000 (married couples filing jointly), $18,000 (heads of households), and $12,000 (singles and married couples filing separately) – through 2025
  • Elimination of personal exemptions – through 2025
  • Doubling of the child tax credit to $2,000 and other modifications intended to help more taxpayers benefit from the credit – through 2025
  • Elimination of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act requiring taxpayers not covered by a qualifying health plan to pay a penalty – effective for months beginning after December 31, 2018
  • Reduction of the adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold for the medical expense deduction to 7.5% for regular and AMT purposes – for 2017 and 2018
  • New $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local taxes (on a combined basis for property and income taxes; $5,000 for separate filers) – through 2025
  • Reduction of the mortgage debt limit for the home mortgage interest deduction to $750,000 ($375,000 for separate filers), with certain exceptions – through 2025
  • Elimination of the deduction for interest on home equity debt – through 2025
  • Elimination of the personal casualty and theft loss deduction (with an exception for federally declared disasters) – through 2025
  • Elimination of miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor ( such as certain investment expenses, professional fees and unreimbursed employee business expenses) – through 2025
  • Elimination of the AGI-based reduction of certain itemized deductions – through 2025
  • Elimination of the moving expense deduction (with an exception for members of the military in certain circumstances) – through 2025
  • Expansion of tax-free Section 529 plan distributions to include those used to pay qualifying elementary and secondary school expenses, up to $10,000 per student per tax year
  • AMT exemption increase, to $109,400 for joint filers, $70,300 for singles and heads of households, and $54,700 for separate filers – through 2025
  • Doubling of the gift and estate tax exemptions, to $10 million (expected to be $11.2 million for 2018 with inflation indexing) – through 2025
  • For children who have unearned income and are subject to the kiddie tax, they must file their own tax return and income will be taxed at trust rates.

Businesses

  • Replacement of graduated corporate tax rates ranging from15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21%
  • Repeal of the 20% corporate AMT
  • New 20% qualified business income deduction for owners of flow-through entities (such as partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations) and sole proprietorships – through 2025
  • Doubling of bonus depreciation to 100% and expansion of qualified assets to include used assets – effective for assets acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023
  • Doubling of the Section 179 expensing limit to $1 million and an increase of the expensing phaseout threshold to $2.5 million
  • Other enhancements to depreciation-related deductions
  • New disallowance of deductions for net interest expense in excess of 30% of the business’s adjusted taxable income (exceptions apply)
  • New limits on net operating loss (NOL) deductions
  • Elimination of the Section 199 deduction, also commonly referred to as the domestic production activities deduction or manufacturers’ deduction – effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, for noncorporate taxpayers and for tax years beginning after December 31, 2018 for C corporation taxpayers.
  • New rule limiting like-kind exchanges to real property that is not held primarily for sale
  • New tax credit for employer-paid family and medical leave – through 2019
  • New limitations on excessive employee compensation
  • New limitations on deductions for employee fringe benefits, such as entertainment and, in certain circumstances, meals and transportation
  • Taxpayers whose average annual gross receipts for the three prior years are less than $25million may now use the cash method of accounting
  • The uniform capitalization rules of Section 263A for inventory are no longer required for businesses under the $25 million threshold referred to above.




Assessing Your Exposure to the Estate Tax and Gift Tax

29 08 2018

When Congress was debating tax law reform last year, there was talk of repealing the federal estate and gift taxes. As it turned out, rumors of their demise were highly exaggerated. Both still exist and every taxpayer with a high degree of wealth shouldn’t let either take their heirs by surprise.

Exclusions and Exemptions

For 2018, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $11.18 million per taxpayer. (The exemption is annually indexed for inflation.) If your estate doesn’t exceed your available exemption at your death, no federal estate tax will be due.

Any gift tax exemption you use during life does reduce the amount of estate tax exemption available at your death. But not every gift you make will use up part of your lifetime exemption. For example:

  • Gifts to your U.S. citizen spouse are tax-free under the marital deduction, as are transfers at death (bequests).
  • Gifts and bequests to qualified charities aren’t subject to gift and estate taxes.
  • Payments of another person’s health care or tuition expenses aren’t subject to gift tax if paid directly to the provider.
  • Each year you can make gifts up to the annual exclusion amount ($15,000 per recipient for 2018) tax-free without using up any of your lifetime exemption.

It’s important to be aware of these exceptions as you pass along wealth to your loved ones.

A Simple Projection

Here’s a simplified way to help project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also, subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.

Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. (But keep in mind that there could be estate tax exposure on your surviving spouse’s death, depending on the size of his or her estate.) The net number represents your taxable estate.

You can then apply the exemption amount you expect to have available at death. Remember, any gift tax exemption amount you use during your life must be subtracted. But if your spouse predeceases you, then his or her unused estate tax exemption, if any, may be added to yours (provided the applicable requirements are met).

If your taxable estate is equal to or less than your available estate tax exemption, no federal estate tax will be due at your death. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, the excess will be subject to federal estate tax.

Be aware that many states impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does. So, you could have state estate tax exposure even if you don’t need to worry about federal estate tax.

Strategies to Consider

If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax, or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us.





Take Note of the Distinctive Features of Roth IRAs

29 08 2018

For some people, Roth IRAs can offer income and estate tax benefits that are preferable to those offered by traditional IRAs. However, it’s important to take note of just what the distinctive features of a Roth IRA are before making the choice.

Traditional vs. Roth

The biggest difference between traditional and Roth IRAs is how taxes affect contributions and distributions. Contributions to traditional IRAs generally are made with pretax dollars, reducing your current taxable income and lowering your current tax bill. You pay taxes on the funds when you make withdrawals. As a result, if your current tax bracket is higher than what you expect it will be after you retire, a traditional IRA can be advantageous.

In contrast, contributions to Roth IRAs are made with after-tax funds. You pay taxes on the funds now, and your withdrawals won’t be taxed (provided you meet certain requirements). This can be advantageous if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement or if tax rates increase.

Roth distributions differ from traditional IRA distributions in yet another way. Withdrawals aren’t counted when calculating the taxable portion of your Social Security benefits.

TCJA eliminated option to recharacterize Roth IRAs.

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act late last year had a marked impact on Roth IRAs: to wit, taxpayers who wish to convert a pretax traditional IRA into a post-tax Roth IRA can no longer “recharacterize” (that is, reverse) the conversion for 2018 and later years.

The IRS recently clarified in FAQs on its website that, if you converted a traditional IRA into a Roth account in 2017, you can still reverse the conversion as long as it’s done by October 15, 2018. (This deadline applies regardless of whether you extend the deadline for filing your 2017 federal income tax return to October 15.)

Also, recharacterization is still an option for other types of contributions. For example, you can still make a contribution to a Roth IRA and subsequently recharacterize it as a contribution to a traditional IRA (before the applicable deadline).

Additional Advantages

A Roth IRA may offer a greater opportunity to build up tax-advantaged funds. Your contributions can continue after you reach age 70½ as long as you’re earning income, and the entire balance can remain in the account until your death. In contrast, beginning with the year you reach age 70½, you can’t contribute to a traditional IRA — even if you do have earned income. Further, you must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from a traditional IRA no later than April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½.

Avoiding RMDs can be a valuable benefit if you don’t need your IRA funds to live on during retirement. Your Roth IRA can continue to grow tax-free over your lifetime. When your heirs inherit the account, they’ll be required to take distributions — but spread out over their own lifetimes, allowing a continued opportunity for tax-free growth on assets remaining in the account. Further, the distributions they receive from the Roth IRA won’t be subject to income tax.

Many Vehicles

As you begin planning for retirement (or reviewing your current plans), it’s important to consider all retirement planning vehicles. A Roth IRA may or may not be one of them.

Please contact our firm for individualized help in determining whether it’s a beneficial choice.





What a Wonderful Vacation!

8 08 2018

Everyone loves a vacation.  Some are more special or unique than others.  That would certainly describe the most recent vacation taken by RBSK’s own Bob Blankman along with his wife Carol and daughters, Lisa and Megan.  They traveled to Italy for a very special purpose.

They left Indiana on June 30th arriving in Rome on July 1st.  The first part of the trip was devoted to excursions and sightseeing trips.  While in Rome, they visited the Catacombs, the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain.  A side trip to Assisi was also included.

Then it was off to Tuscany for a wine tasting lunch on July 4th.  From there, they visited Sienna before traveling to Florence.  One of the highlights of the stay in Florence was touring galleries which included the original statue of David by Michelangelo.

Arriving in Florence was the ultimate goal of the trip.  For you see, Bob’s wife Carol is a two-time breast cancer survivor.  Almost 3 years ago she joined the Indy SurviveOars Dragon Boat Racing Team whose home is located at Geist Reservoir in Indianapolis.  This team traveled to Florence, Italy for an international festival for breast cancer survivors hosted by the International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission (IBCPC) on July 6th through July 8th.

The IBCPC Dragon Boat Festival is held every four years and is a non-competitive event geared toward teams of breast cancer survivors using dragon boat activities as post-operative rehabilitation.  Canadian sports medicine doctor Don McKenzie introduced dragon boat paddling as a form of rehabilitation after surgery about 20 years ago.  The IBCPC has a total of 129 teams from 17 countries spanning every continent.

The festival was held at Cascine Park, which is the largest public park in Florence and dates back to the 16th century.  The races took place on the Arno River which runs through the outskirts of the park.

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Following a couple of practice sessions and similar to the Olympics, the festivities began the evening of July 6th with a parade of nations through the streets of Florence.  The Blankman family can be seen wearing their parade shirts in the picture above.  A woman from each country carried their nation’s flag followed by the teams participating in the festival from that country.  Each team carried a banner indicating who they were.  A woman from the Indy SurviveOars group had the honor of carrying the American flag followed by 42 teams from the United States.  She was the youngest woman from the United States participating in the festival having survived breast cancer twice at the age of 29.  Pictured below are the Indy SurviveOars participating in the parade.

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The dragon boat races then took place on July 7th and 8th.  Dragon boats are over 40 feet long propelled by a coordinated crew of 20-22 paddlers, a drummer who keeps the pace, and a steerer who guides the craft.  There were enough women who made the trip to Italy for the Indy SurviveOars to field one full team but not enough for two teams.  So, some of the women were part of “composite” teams joining other women from other states or countries to form a full team for the races.  The Indy SurviveOars were a part of 3 “composite” teams joining other women from New York, Vermont and Australia.  Carol and 4 other Indy SurviveOars women joined a team from New York for their races.  Thus, there were 4 teams that included women from the Indy SurviveOars.

It really didn’t matter to the women which team they were on.  Their motto is “One Team, One Blade” with the blade representing the paddle.  This basically means that it doesn’t matter which boat you are in or where you are, we are all in this together.

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Each race consisted of 5 boats racing against each other in a heat.  Carol Blankman (second from the back on the left) can be seen in the picture above paddling with her team in one of the heats.  Each team raced twice each day.  Although this was a non-competitive event, as mentioned previously, once the women were in their boats and racing in their heats, it was very competitive.  Each woman in each boat gave their best effort to not only win their heat, but to also have the best overall time for the two days of racing.  The team consisting of all women from Indy SurviveOars finished 30th out of approximately 125 teams, 11th out of 42 US teams and 2nd among US Midwest teams.  This was their best showing in any of the 3 such festivals in which they have participated.  The picture below shows the view as the boats approach the finish line.

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The most beautiful and meaningful part of the festival occurred at the end of the second day of the races.  Every dragon boat racing event, including festivals, ends with a rose ceremony.  All the boats are linked together in the water, and each woman on the boats holds a rose while a brief talk is given or a short prayer is being said.  Then the roses are tossed in the water to commemorate and remember those women who have lost their battle with breast cancer or have had a reoccurrence, as well as all of those who have had the disease.

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For this ceremony at the festival, music was also playing in the background.  All 4,000 women in attendance wore the same pink T-shirts for the ceremony.  The women who were standing on the side of the river and not in the boats also tossed roses in the water.  It was a very touching and beautiful way to end the festival.

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What a wonderful vacation!!!

For anyone who may be interested in seeing dragon boat racing in person, the White River Alliance in Indianapolis is sponsoring an inaugural White River Dragon Boat Race on Saturday, September 29th.  The White River Races will begin at 8:30a.m. and should end mid-afternoon.  We hope to see you there.

 

 





Three Common Types of IRS Tax Penalties

1 06 2018
Three Common Types of IRS Tax Penalties

Photo: Rawpixel

Around this time of year, many people have filed and forgotten about their 2017 tax returns. But you could get an abrupt reminder in the form of an IRS penalty. Here are three common types and how you might seek relief:

One

Failure-to-file and failure-to-pay. The IRS will consider any reason that establishes that you were unable to meet your federal tax obligations despite using “all ordinary business care and prudence” to do so. Frequently cited reasons include fire, casualty, natural disaster or other disturbances. The agency may also accept death, serious illness, incapacitation or unavoidable absence of the taxpayer or an immediate family member.

If you don’t have a good reason for filing or paying late, you may be able to apply for a first-time penalty abatement (FTA) waiver. To qualify for relief, you must have: 1) received no penalties (other than estimated tax penalties) for the three tax years preceding the tax year in which you received a penalty, 2) filed all required returns or filed a valid extension of time to file, and 3) paid, or arranged to pay, any tax due. Despite the expression “first-time,” you can receive FTA relief more than once, so long as at least three years have elapsed.

Two

Estimated tax miscalculation. It’s possible, but unlikely, to obtain relief from estimated tax penalties on grounds of casualty, disaster or other unusual circumstances. You’re more likely to get these penalties abated if you can prove that the IRS made an error, such as crediting a payment to the wrong tax period, or that calculating the penalty using a different method (such as the annualized income installment method) would reduce or eliminate the penalty.

Three

Tax-filing inaccuracy. These penalties may be imposed, for example, if the IRS finds that your return was prepared negligently or that there’s a substantial understatement of tax. You can obtain relief from these penalties if you can demonstrate that you properly disclosed your tax position in your return and that you had a reasonable basis for taking that position.

Generally, you have a reasonable basis if your chances of withstanding an IRS challenge are greater than 50%. Reliance on a competent tax advisor greatly improves your odds of obtaining penalty relief. Other possible grounds for relief include computational errors and reliance on an inaccurate W-2, 1099 or other information statement.





Deducting Home Equity Interest Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

1 06 2018
Deducting Home Equity Interest

Photo: Valentina Locatelli

Passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in December 2017 has led to confusion over some longstanding deductions. In response, the IRS recently issued a statement clarifying that the interest on home equity loans, home equity lines of credit and second mortgages will, in many cases, remain deductible.

How it used to be.

Under prior tax law, a taxpayer could deduct “qualified residence interest” on a loan of up to $1 million secured by a qualified residence, plus interest on a home equity loan (other than debt used to acquire a home) up to $100,000. The home equity debt couldn’t exceed the fair market value of the home reduced by the debt used to acquire the home.

For tax purposes, a qualified residence is the taxpayer’s principal residence and a second residence, which can be a house, condominium, cooperative, mobile home, house trailer or boat. The principal residence is where the taxpayer resides most of the time; the second residence is any other residence the taxpayer owns and treats as a second home. Taxpayers aren’t required to use the second home during the year to claim the deduction. If the second home is rented to others, though, the taxpayer also must use it as a home during the year for the greater of 14 days or 10% of the number of days it’s rented.

In the past, interest on qualifying home equity debt was deductible regardless of how the loan proceeds were used. A taxpayer could, for example, use the proceeds to pay for medical bills, tuition, vacations, vehicles and other personal expenses and still claim the itemized interest deduction.

What’s deductible now.

The TCJA limits the amount of the mortgage interest deduction for taxpayers who itemize through 2025. Beginning in 2018, for new home purchases, a taxpayer can deduct interest only on acquisition mortgage debt of $750,000.

On February 21, the IRS issued a release (IR 2018-32) explaining that the law suspends the deduction only for interest on home equity loans and lines of credit that aren’t used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan. In other words, the interest isn’t deductible if the loan proceeds are used for certain personal expenses, but it is deductible if the proceeds go toward, for example, a new roof on the home that secures the loan. The IRS further stated that the deduction limits apply to the combined amount of mortgage and home equity acquisition loans — home equity debt is no longer capped at $100,000 for purposes of the deduction.

Further Clarifications

As a relatively comprehensive new tax law, the TCJA will likely be subject to a variety of clarifications before it settles in.

Please contact us for help better understanding this provision or any other.





Foreign Accounts Call for Specific Reporting Requirements

14 05 2018

Foreign Accounts Call for Specific Reporting Requirements

In an increasingly globalized society, many people choose to open offshore accounts to deposit a portion of their wealth. When doing so, it’s important to follow the IRS’s strict foreign accounts reporting requirements. In a nutshell, if you have a financial interest in or signature authority over any foreign accounts, including bank accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual funds or trusts, you must disclose those accounts to the IRS and you may have additional reporting requirements.

To do so, your tax preparer will check the box on line 7a of Schedule B (“Interest and Ordinary Dividends”) of Form 1040 — regardless of the account value. If the total value of your foreign financial assets exceeds $50,000 ($100,000 for joint filers) at the end of the tax year or exceeds $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers) at any time during the tax year, you must provide account details on Form 8938 (“Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets”) and attach it to your tax return.

Finally, if the aggregate value of your foreign accounts is $10,000 or more during the calendar year, file FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) Form 114 — “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).” The current deadline for filing the form electronically with FinCEN is April 15, 2018, with an automatic extension to October 15.

Failure to disclose an offshore account could result in substantial IRS penalties, including collecting three to six years’ worth of back taxes, interest, a 20% to 40% accuracy-related penalty and, in some cases, a 75% fraud penalty. For further information, contact us.