Tag Archives: tax law

The Biggest (Tax) Loser: Misguided Gifts of Real Estate By Uninformed Do It Yourselfers, Realtors & Attorneys

gift, income tax, estate planning

“Son, I am sick and getting old, so fill out a deed to transfer my house into your name now.”

With the increase of the federal estate tax exemption to $5,340,000 in 2014, most taxpayers are not subject to federal estate taxes.  The focus for many now has shifted to the income tax implications that arise when wealth passes to the next generation.  With no regard to the income tax implications, many times elderly people get the idea that the transfer of real estate to children during their lifetime is a good idea in trying to avoid probate and to make things easier for loved ones. Even uninformed realtors, attorneys and other financial advisers sometime make such a recommendation without knowing the tax impact.  However well-meaning, this uninformed strategy can have disastrous income tax results for the children recipients of such ill-conceived lifetime gifts.

Basis Rules:

It is important to understand the following income tax basis rules for calculating gain or loss:

  • Lifetime Gifts:  Children who receive lifetime gifts take a carryover basis in the property received.  The carryover basis is determined by what the maker of the gift originally paid for the asset plus any improvements made to the property.
  • Bequest At Death:  Beneficiaries who receive assets at the decedent’s death get a step up in basis to the date of death value of such assets received.

Basis Rules:  Illustrating How These Rules Operate

Example:  DIY Dad wants to avoid probate and to transfer during his lifetime his real estate to his son, Sad Son.  DIY Dad bought his house in the 1970s for $17,000 and made improvements during the years of $23,000.  As a result his adjusted basis is $40,000.  The house is now worth $540,000.  To save lawyer fees, DIY Dad asks Sad Son to draft a deed to transfer the property.  Sad Son does so and DIY Dad signs the deed and has it recorded with the recorder of deeds.

  • Since this was a lifetime gift, Sad Son takes a carryover basis for the house of $40,000.  Sad Son sells the house for $540,000 shortly afterwards and has a capital gain of $500,000 which he surprisingly  and shockingly learns from his accountant will cost him $100,000 (20% x $500,000) in federal taxes alone.  His accountant tells him there will also be state income taxes on this gain. Since Sad Son is a Pennsylvania resident, he will pay an extra $15,350 in Pennsylvania income taxes.  Total Taxes: $115,350.
    • Form 709:  Any lifetime gifts of over $14,000 require the filing of a Form 709, United States Gift Tax Return, in the year of the gift.  It should also be noted the IRS now checks recorded deeds.  For more on the IRS policing this area please see IRS Checking Real Estate Transfers For Unreported Gifts.
  • Alternate Universe:  DIY Dad consults with his tax/estate attorney who drafts a will that provides for the transfer of his house at death to Sad Son. Sad Son (who now legally changes his name to Happy) Son, has a basis of $540,000 upon his receipt of the house from the estate.  Happy Son, now sells the house and has zero, yes, zero capital gain (Sale Price $540,000 less basis of $540,000 = 0)!
    • Note: Certain states have inheritance taxes.  For example, in Pennsylvania there would be a 4.5% inheritance tax on the real estate, but this is a smaller cost than the capital gains tax that results from taking a carryover basis via a lifetime gift.
  • Fall Back Solutions:
    • If Sad Son stays in the house long enough to qualify the house as his primary residence and all statutory requirements for exclusion are met, he may then exclude $250,000 of the gain on the sale of the house once he sells the house.  If married and all statutory requirements are satisfied,  Sad Sam may be entitled to a $500,000 exclusion. Continue reading

Small Businesses: 8 Great Year-End Tax Planning Tips and Tricks: A Must Read

2013 Year-End Tax Planning Guide For Small Businesses

The arrival of year-end presents special opportunities for most small businesses to take steps in lowering their tax liability. The starting point is to run projections to determine the income and tax bracket for this year and what it may be next year.  Once this is known, decisions can be made as to whether any of the following planning tools should be employed to cut taxes before the tax year closes.

It is also important to know that the recent tax act known as ATRA has extended many tax breaks for 2013.  If any of these tax breaks are available, it would be prudent to take advantage of them before they expire.

Also keep in mind that ATRA increased ordinary income tax rates for individuals from 35% to 39.6% starting in 2013 so owners of flow through entities such as partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs) and S Corporations need to recognize this and other tax changes and plan accordingly.

The following presents some year-end tax strategies that may prove helpful to small businesses and other businesses:

1. Accelerating or deferring income/deductions as part of a year-end tax strategy

A good part of year-end tax planning involves techniques to accelerate or postpone income or deductions, as your tax situation dictates. The idea is to keep income even from year to year. Having spikes in taxable income in any one tax year puts you in a higher average tax bracket than you would be in if you had evened out the amount of taxable income between the current and later year(s).  (Historical note:  For those of you old enough to remember, there was an income averaging rule built into the tax code.  That provision has long been abolished.)

So every year, businesses can take advantage of a traditional planning technique that involves alternatively deferring income and accelerating deductions. For example, business taxpayers such as pass-through entities (limited liability companies, partnerships, S corporations, sole proprietorships) should consider accelerating business income into the current year and deferring deductions until 2014 (and perhaps beyond) if they expect income to rise next year or in the future.

The strategy of accelerating or deferring income and deductions may apply to a number of transactions affecting your business including but not limited to the following:

  • Selling property
  • Leasing
  • Inventory
  • Compensation and bonus practices
  • Depreciation and expense elections.

Cash Basis Small Businesses

Generally, a cash-basis taxpayer recognizes income when received and takes deductions when paid. Here are some more rules for cash basis taxpayers:

  • Income is generally taxable in the year received, by cash or check or direct deposit. You cannot postpone tax on income by refusing payment until the following year once you have the right to that payment in the current year. (This is the so-called the “constructive receipt” rule.)  Therefore, businesses using the cash basis method of accounting recognize and report income when the business actually or constructively receives cash or something equivalent to cash.
  • However, if you make deferred payments a part of the overall transaction, you may legitimately postpone both the income and the tax into the year or years in which payment occurs. Examples include:
    • Installment sales, on which gain is prorated and taxed based upon the years over which installment payments occur
    • Like-kind exchanges through which no gain occurs except to the extent other non-like-kind property (including cash) may change hands
    • Tax-free corporate reorganizations under Section 368 of the Internal Revenue Code.
  • Deductions, however, are generally not allowed until you pay for the item or service for which you want to take the deduction. Merely accepting the liability to pay for a deductible item does not make it deductible. Therefore, a supply bill does not become deductible in the year that the bill is sent for payment. Rather, it is only considered deductible in the year in which you pay the bill.
  • Determining when you pay your bills for tax purposes also has its nuances. A bill may be paid when cash is tendered; when a credit card is charged; or when a check is put in the mail (even if delivered in due course a few days into a new calendar year).

Cash basis businesses that expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2014 should shift income into 2013 by accelerating cash collections this year, and deferring the payment of deductible expenses until next year, where possible. In this situation, small businesses should try to collect outstanding accounts receivables before the end of 2013.

Accrual Basis Small Businesses

Basically, for accrual-basis taxpayers, generally the right to receive income, rather than actual receipt, determines the year of inclusion of income.  Accrual method businesses that anticipate being in higher rate brackets next year may want to accelerate shipment of products or provision of services into 2013 so that your business’s right to the income arises this year.

Taking the opposite approach:  If you will be in a lower tax bracket next year, an accrual basis taxpayer would delay delivering services or shipping products.

2. Tax Break For Small Business Expense Election Under Section 179

ATRA extended until the end of 2013 the enhanced Code Sec. 179 small business expense. Small businesses that purchase qualifying property can immediately expense up to $500,000 this year.  This amount is reduced dollar for dollar to the extent of the cost of the qualifying property placed in service during the year exceeds $2 million. If you plan to buy property (even computer software qualifies), consider doing so before year-end to take advantage of the immediate tax write-off.

Warning:  Remember that any asset must meet the “placed in service” requirements as well as being purchased before year-end.

Also included as qualified Code Sec. 179 property (only temporarily though) is “qualified” real property, which includes qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvement property. However, businesses are limited to an immediate write-off of up to $250,000 of the total cost of these properties.

Note, the Section 179 expense limit goes down to $25,000 and the phaseout threshold kicks in at $200,000 starting in 2014.  Also the qualified leasehold-improvement breaks end at the end of 2013.  If you are planning major asset purchases or property improvements over time, you may want to take advantage of this break before year-end.

Final note:  In addition to new property, Section 179 can be applied to used property.

3. Bonus deprecation

ATRA extended this additional first year depreciation allowance into 2013.  This bonus depreciation allows taxpayers to immediately deduct fifty percent (50%) of the cost of qualifying property purchased and placed in service in 2013. Qualifying property must be purchased and placed into service on or before December 31, 2013.

Qualifying property must be new tangible property (refurbished assets do not qualify) with a recovery period of 20 years or less, such as office furniture, equipment and company vehicles, off the shelf computer software and qualified leasehold improvements.

Note that bonus depreciation is not subject to any asset purchase limit like Section 179 property.

4. Accelerated Depreciation

ATRA has retained through 2013 the tax break that allows a shortened 15 year recovery period for qualified leasehold improvements, restaurant and retail improvement property.  Normally the recovery period for this type of property is 39 years so this is a huge tax break.

5. Increased start-up expense deduction

New businesses can take advantage of the increased deduction for start-up expenditures. This start-up expense deduction limit is $10,000. The phaseout threshold is $60,000. Thus, if you have incurred during 2013 start-up costs to create an active trade or business, or the investigation of the creation or acquisition of an active trade or business, you may benefit from this increased deduction. Entrepreneurs can recover more small business start-up expenses up-front, thereby increasing cash flow and providing other benefits.

6. Repair Regulations

The so-called “repair” regulations include a valuable de minimis rule, which could enable taxpayers to expense otherwise capitalized tangible property. Qualified taxpayers may claim a current deduction for the cost of acquiring items of relatively low-cost property, including materials and supplies, if specific requirements are met.

The IRS with their issuance of final regulations relaxed many of the requirements contained in the earlier temporary regulations.  For example, the final regulations removed the ceiling requirements on deductions and now allows the de minimis rule for businesses that do not generate financial statement (applicable financial statements (AFS)).  This allows many small businesses to take advantage of these tax breaks.

The modified safe harbor allows businesses without an AFS to immediately deduct up to $500 or less (or $5,000 or less for taxpayers with an AFS) for qualified property purchases. For example, a business could deduct hundreds of lap-top computers or scanners costing $500 or less each year.

Bottom Line:  The modified safe harbor may be easier for certain small businesses than the Section 179 deduction and 100% bonus depreciation. Most importantly, the regulations now allow taxpayers that do not prepare financial statements to use de minimis safe harbor.  This provides a great benefit for many small businesses that do not normally generate these statements as part of their regular business operations.

7. Compensation arrangements

Timing of Compensation:

In a regular C corporation, compensation paid to employees reduces the taxable income of such corporation.  Ideally, compensation should be used to eliminate taxable income at the corporate level or at least minimize such income.  It is imperative that the total compensation paid is “reasonable” in light of the services performed and industry norms. For more insights into the reasonable compensation issue please read Reasonable Compensation:A Favorite Issue For IRS Auditors.

Use of Retirement Plans:

Corporate retirement plans such as profit sharing, money purchase pension, and defined benefit plans can generate large tax deductions for the entity.  These plans are quite useful when compensation has already reached the highest level of reasonableness.

Important Points:

  • These corporate retirement plans must be drafted and signed before year-end to get tax deductions for that year.
  • These plans can generate a deduction even though the plan is not funded until after year-end, so long as funded by the due date (or the extended due date) of the corporate or entity return.  This gives the small business owner some after the taxable year-end planning flexibility.
  • For profit sharing, money purchase pension and other defined contribution plans, an employer can contribute up to $51,000 per participant.  For participants age 50 and older this amount can be $56,500 because of the catch-up contribution rules.
  • For defined benefit plans, the plan retirement amount and funding are determined by various actuarial computations.  The maximum future benefit can be $205,000 per year upon retirement.  Depending on the age of a participant this can result in a very large contribution each year and one far in excess of the amounts available under the defined contribution plans discussed immediately above.
  • There are various limits and rules specific to each of these plans and the particular make-up of the employees and their ages bear heavily in the proper choice of plan and the design of any plan chosen.

Additionally, and maybe more importantly, when compensation paid to owners is approaching their own:

additional taxes can be saved by making contributions to such plans instead of paying more compensation to the owner.  This can produce a double benefit:  huge income tax savings  and having money being put into a retirement plan to grow tax-free for the benefit of the small business owner.

Use of 2 ½ Month Bonus Rule:

Particularly relevant to employers at year-end is an annual bonus rule. Bonuses paid within a brief period after the end of the employer’s tax year are deductible in that tax year. Compensation is generally considered paid within a brief period of time if it is paid within two and one-half months of the end of the employer’s tax year.

Compensation and K-1 Distributions

Compensation and shareholder or partner distributions from a business, and drawing the often fine line between the two, can make a significant difference to a business owner’s overall tax liability for the year.  For example, for an S corporation, payment of salaries are subject to social security taxes while K-1 income is not subject to this tax.  The strategy here would be to pay less in salary and have more income reported on the Form K-1.  However, taxpayers can be in trouble here if they get greedy.  The IRS is policing this area to make sure that the salary paid is reasonable.  Therefore,   a reasonable salary must be carefully determined and supportable in a tax audit.

Deferring payments of accrued bonuses

In certain situations, it may be preferable to simply ask that your employer pay your bonus in the following year where you expect that your tax bracket will be lower.

8. Other Tax Planning Strategies and Ideas

Here are a number of other year-end tax planning strategies you may want to consider, depending on your particular tax and business situation:

  • Accelerating installment sale proceeds or electing out of the installment method;
  • Elect slower depreciation methods;
  • Determine if you can write-off any bad debts;
  • Consider changing your accounting method to advance income or defer expenses.  This one needs careful consideration, however, as accounting method changes can have a binding effect on taxpayers for many future years;
  • Determining the difference between ordinary business activities and passive activities before implementing a year-end strategy also makes good sense. Rental income or losses, and other passive activity gains and losses, must be netted separately from business gains and losses. Year-end timing for one does not necessarily help control your bottom-line tax cost on the other;
  • Cost Segregation Study:  For those who have purchased, constructed or rehabilitated a building this year, a cost segregation workup may save taxes.  It identifies property components and related costs that can be depreciated faster than the building itself, generating larger deductions.  For example, breaking out costs for fixtures, security equipment, landscaping and parking lots may generate larger tax deductions.  Be careful to take into account the impact of the alternative minimum tax and to consider states that do not follow the federal tax rules.

Final Thoughts:

The above are not intended as a comprehensive list of year-end tax planning tools for small businesses.  The point here is that each business has its own unique tax and business situation.  A case by case analysis to determine which tax planning tools will minimize taxes is the best course of action for small businesses.

If I have missed something or if there is a strategy you want me to explore or explain more fully, please leave a comment below.  I would be glad to help.

For an analysis of what deferral or acceleration planning at year-end may work best for you and your business, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Disclosure and Disclaimer: As required by United States Treasury Regulations, you should be aware that this communication is not intended by the sender to be used, and it cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding penalties under United States federal tax laws. This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm’s full disclaimer.

 

Same-Sex Marriage Tax Guide: 16 Essential Tax Rules and Tips

Supreme_Court

Supreme Court Decision on DOMA Impacts Tax Rules for Same Sex Couples

Federal tax rules for same-sex couples have recently been issued in response to the Supreme Court decision in Windsor, No. 12-307 (U.S. 6/26/13). This landmark case invalidated a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) and resulted in major changes in the tax landscape for many same-sex partners.

These new tax rules were laid out in I.R. 2013-72  on August 29, 2013 and Revenue Ruling 2013-17 on September 16, 2013 and are effective on that date.  (Note that taxpayers who wish to rely on the terms of this Revenue Ruling for earlier periods may choose to do so, as long as the statute of limitations for the earlier period has not expired. More on this below.)

Although there are still some unresolved issues, the following will lay out many of the basic federal income tax rules for same-sex married couples:

  1. State of Celebration Rule:  Same-sex couples that are legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages are treated as married for federal tax purposes.
    • The rule applies even if this couple is currently living in a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.  The IRS states that this is consistent with its long-standing position (Rev. Rul. 58-66) that for federal tax purposes the IRS will recognize marriages based on the law of the state in where consummated and will disregard later changes in domicile.
    • For example, a same-sex couple validly married in New York will still be treated as married when they move to Pennsylvania.
  2. Married:  Being married is any same-sex marriage legally entered into in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory or a foreign country.
  3. Domestic Partnerships:  Registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar formal relationships are not considered legal marriages.
  4. Married For All Purposes Under Federal Law:  Under the ruling, legally married same-sex couples are treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes.
  5. Federal Income Tax Benefits For Married Same-Sex Couples:  Married same-sex couples can now enjoy the tax benefits associated with  being treated as married for all federal tax provisions, including but not limited to:
    • Filing status
    • Claiming personal and dependency exemptions
    • Taking the standard deduction
    • Employee benefits
    • Contributing to an IRA
    • Claiming the earned income tax credit
    • Claiming the child tax credit.
  6. Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately Only Option After September 16, 2013:  After September 16, 2013, legally married same-sex couples generally must file their 2013 federal income tax return using either the married filing jointly or married filing separately filing status.
  7. Two High Income Family:  In some cases, especially where both spouses are high wage earners this may result in greater taxes than under earlier law.
  8. Civil Unions In Certain States May End Up Paying Less Taxes:  Civil unions or domestic partnerships that can still file singly or as head of household may end up in better tax shape in certain situations.
  9. Prior Year Tax Refund Possibility: Individuals who were in same-sex marriages may, but are not required to, file original or amended returns choosing married filing jointly for federal tax purposes for one or more earlier tax years still open under the statute of limitations.
  10. Statute of Limitations For Refunds:  Generally, the statute of limitations for filing a refund claim is three years from the filing date of the return or two years from the date of the tax payment, whichever is later.
    • As a result, refund claims can still be filed for tax years 2010, 2011 and 2012.
    • Special Situations: For example, agreements with the IRS to keep open the statute of limitations for tax years 2009 and earlier will allow taxpayers to file refund claims for such open years .
    • For how to file an amended return please read Amending Tax Returns with the IRS.
  11. Protective Claim: When the right to a refund is contingent and may not be determined until after the time period for amending returns expires, a taxpayer can file a protective claim for refund. The claim is often based on current litigation (constitutionality); expected changes in tax law; and other changes in legislation or regulations. A protective claim preserves the right to claim a refund until resolution of the matter.
    • Example:  Pennsylvania same-sex couples not considered married under current rules may want to file protective claims for any year where the statute of limitations period is ending.
  12. Fringe Benefits: Employees who purchased same-sex spouse health insurance coverage from their employers or other fringe benefits on an after-tax basis may treat the amounts paid for that coverage as pre-tax and excludable from income.
    • The IRS now provides a mechanism to pursue for filing refund claims under Notice 2013-61.  The notice provides two streamlined administrative procedures for making adjustments or claiming refunds.
  13. IRS Further Guidance: The IRS will be issuing further guidance on cafeteria plans and on how qualified retirement plans and other tax-favored arrangements should treat same-sex spouses for periods before September 16, 2013.
  14. State Taxes: State tax return filing status is still controlled by state law.  If same-sex marriages are not legal in their state then they cannot file as married.  This is the case even though the marriage took place in a state where same-sex marriages are recognized.
  15. Estate Planning:  Review estate plans to take advantage of the federal estate and gift tax breaks now given same-sex marriages. For insights into estate planning please read Estate Planning 2013: Now What? A Must Read for Everyone
  16. Estate Tax Refunds: Additionally, claims for refunds of any estate taxes paid on deceased spouses that are still open under the statute of limitations should also be carefully examined.
    • Taxpayers who wish to file a refund claim for gift or estate taxes should file Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement.

These are just some of the tax and financial implications in this area.  Same-sex couples affected by these changes should explore estate planning, retirement planning, employee benefits, and social security implications with their estate planning attorney, accountant and financial adviser team.

Stay tuned because this area will continue to evolve and change.

As required by United States Treasury Regulations, you should be aware that this communication is not intended by the sender to be used, and it cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding penalties under United States federal tax laws.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm’s full disclaimer.

Playing Games With Employees: IRS May Come Knocking

IRS Wants to Know: Are You Playing Games with Your Employees?

IRS Wants to Know: Are You Playing Games with Your Employees?

The Treasury Inspector General of For Tax Administration recently issued a report entitled Employers Do Not Always Follow Internal Revenue Service Determination Rulings that indicated the employers just do not get it when it comes to treating workers correctly for tax purposes.  This report sheds more light on non-compliance and will result in more audits of small businesses who have miss-classified workers as independent contractors.  So employers beware!

Employers illegally treating employees as independent contractors can come clean through a program called the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP).  To explore in more detail the merits of this VCSP program and how it works, readers should look at Risky Business: Playing Fast and Loose with Worker Classification.  Basically, this program allows employers to voluntarily correct erroneously classified workers from independent contractors to employees in exchange for paying less taxes and penalties than if audited by the IRS.  Recently, the IRS provided some needed clarifications of this standard VCSP program under IRS Announcement 2012-46:

  • An employer can now be eligible for this program even if being audited by the IRS, except for a payroll tax audit.
  • An employer that is part of an affiliated group can not use the VCSP program where an employment tax audit involves one of its group members.
  • An employer that is in court contesting classification of workers from a previous audit by the IRS or Department of Labor is not eligible for the VCSP program.
  • An employer no longer has to agree to extend the limitation period on employment tax assessments as part of the closing agreement.  Under the original VCSP program, employers had to extend the statute of limitation for three years for the three taxable years after the date of the closing agreement.  This is no longer required under the standard VCSP program.

Additional Information and Insights:

For those interested in gaining greater insight into this problem and a lot more, please give a listen to my guest appearance on Money For Lunch.  We discuss not only the VCSP program but also explore the allowable “piercing of the corporate veil” by the IRS to impose individual personal tax liability on shareholders and officers for corporate tax obligations under Section 6672 of the Internal Revenue Code.  We also discuss related criminal tax implications.  So please click on the triangle to hear our discussion:

Money for Lunch

Bottom Line:

Employers should objectively and carefully review their employment policies.  If they are playing fast and loose with their classification of employees it could blow up in their face down the road.  The voluntary payments under this special program could be far less than the cost of an IRS employment tax audit for all open years resulting in the required payment of back taxes, interest and penalties.  With the IRS audit presence in this area, this may end up being a costly and in some cases a fatal gamble for a business and its shareholders or owners.  The sure thing is to use the current or the temporary VCSP to clean up a looming and expensive tax problem.

Hurricane Sandy: Tax Deductions For Casualty Losses

Hurricane_Sandy_Marine_hoists_in_Staten_Island,_N.Y.My last post talked about when we can trash tax and other important records. Well, Hurricane Sandy brought a whole new meaning to the concept of trashing records and a whole lot more.

Experts estimate that Hurricane Sandy has caused $50 billion of damage.  Eqecat Inc., a financial advisory firm out of Oakland, California predicts that insurance will cover $10 to $20 billion of such losses.  Storm victims will be on the hook for the other $30 billion of losses.

A couple of points to keep in mind before talking about the casualty loss tax implications:

  • If your house is damaged from this disaster, contact local building authorities to see if the home is inhabitable,
  • Establish an insurance claim, but don’t settle immediately,
  • Make temporary repairs and take other remedial action to prevent further damage to homes and belongings, and
  • Take photos of the damages.

With so many lives in complete turmoil, many of us on the East coast  crushed by Sandy’s wrath are not thinking of  claiming a casualty loss for tax purposes. However, knowing about how taxpayers can claim tax deductions under casualty loss provisions of the Internal Revenue Code is essential in dealing with insurance companies.  While memories are fresh and evidence is still available, now is the time to develop, document and support such casualty losses.

To aid those affected by this devastation readers should look at my article entitled Casualty Losses For Hurricane Sandy.  This article details  the tax qualification rules for being eligible for casualty losses.  It is a must read for anyone devastated by Sandy.

Can I Trash It Now? Tax Record Retention Guidelines

Papers, papers and still more papers.  When can I destroy these documents?

There are no hard and fast rules in this area.  The following offers some general guidance to carefully consider when determining any destruction of documents.

Against the urge to purge, remember that maintaining documents and records is often essential if a tax audit by the IRS, state or local taxing authority occurs.  Be aware that it is the burden of the taxpayer to provide sufficient proof and support for any tax position taken on a tax return.  Prematurely disposing of relevant documentation and proof supporting a tax deduction or tax position could have a disastrous tax impact.

Tax rules offer some guidance as to minimum document retention periods. It is imperative to keep records such as receipts, canceled checks, and other documents that support an item of income or a deduction, or a credit appearing on a return until the statute of limitations expires for that return. Here are some of the key statute of limitation rules for federal tax returns:

  • For most returns the statute of limitations is 3 years from the date you filed the return. However, the following are some very important exceptions to this 3 year statute of limitation.
  • There is no period of limitations to assess tax when a return is fraudulent or when no return is filed.
  • If income that you should have reported is not reported, and it is more than 25% of the gross income shown on the return, the time to assess is 6 years from when the return is filed.
  • For filing a claim for credit or refund, the period to make the claim generally is 3 years from the date the original return was filed, or 2 years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later.
  • For filing a claim for a loss from worthless securities the time to make the claim is 7 years from the date the return was due.
  • If you are an employer, you must keep all of your employment tax records for at least 4 years after the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.

Additionally, it is often imperative to check state and local statute of limitation rules before destroying files and records.

Keep in mind that documents may need to be retained and preserved for legal reasons other than taxation, such as, insurance claims or facilitating the transfer of  assets in the case of deceased family member.  Documents like death certificates, estate tax closing letters should be kept indefinitely.

For more detailed guidance on how long to keep specific documents and other document retention considerations and safeguards, please read my article Record Retention For Individuals .

For more detailed guidelines for record retention rules and other protective housekeeping measures for businesses see Record Retention Guidance For Business: A Conservative and Basic Approach.

A discussion with your tax attorney and tax accountant may be a prudent and conservative course of action before destroying any documents or files.

IRS Slams Taxpayers: Attention to Tax Details Matter

IRS_Slams-Taxpayers_On_Bad_Documentation

IRS Slams Taxpayers On Bad Documentation

Taxpayers found out the hard way that the documentation rules imposed by the IRS better be followed exactly and to the letter.  In Durden, TC Memo, 2012-140, taxpayers claimed a $22,517 charitable contribution for 2007.  The IRS disallowed this deduction and the United States Tax Court agreed.

The taxpayers had canceled checks and a letter dated January 10, 2008 from the church confirming this contribution.  Seems like that would be enough.  Wrong!

The IRS did not accept the church’s acknowledgement because it lacked certain language as required under IRS rules.  For a charitable contribution deduction, Section 170(f)(8) of the Internal Revenue Code requires that a monetary contribution of $250 or more must be substantiated by:

  1. A contemporaneous written acknowledgment,
  2. That indicates the amount paid by the taxpayer, and
  3. Whether the organization provided any goods and services in consideration (or in exchange) for the contribution, and if so, a good faith estimate of the value of such goods and services.

The problem for the taxpayers was that the church failed to include part 3 in their January 10, 2008 letter to the taxpayers.  They then went back to the church and got a second letter dated January 21, 2009 that revised the first letter by containing the required language under part 3 of this test.

But now the problem was that the revised letter was too late so it could not be considered contemporaneous by the IRS.  To be contemporaneous under Section 170(f)(8)(C) of the Internal Revenue Code it must be obtained by the due date of the tax return (here April 15, 2008) plus any extensions or, if earlier, the date the taxpayer files the return.  So now the taxpayers flunked part 1 of the test!

You might think that this is pretty harsh since the taxpayer’s really came close here.  So did the taxpayers.  The taxpayers argued that since they substantially complied they should still get the deduction.  The substantial compliance test has been successfully argued where a taxpayer can show that despite strict compliance they have met the essential statutory purpose of such requirement.  The court pointed out that the essential statutory purpose of the acknowledgement rules are  two-fold:

  1. Assist taxpayers in determining their deduction, and
  2. To aid the IRS in processing returns.

The court determined that without a statement from the church that no goods and services were provided,  neither of these two essential statutory purposes can be met.

This is a pretty harsh result for the taxpayers, especially since it was clearly the church that failed to provide the requisite language.  But the object lessons here are clear.

First, when dealing with charitable contributions you better make sure this language is present, especially in cases where large gifts are involved.

Second, when it comes to taxes attention to details is essential.

Third and finally, complying with the various federal, state and local income taxes is complicated.  Having an attention-to-detail minded tax attorney, or tax accountant is greatly recommended and probably essential.  With the loss of this large charitable deduction and the cost to bring this matter before the United States Tax Court, the Durdens definitely found this out the hard way.