A tax-smart way to develop and sell appreciated land

Let’s say you own highly appreciated land that’s now ripe for development. If you subdivide it, develop the resulting parcels and sell them off for a hefty profit, it could trigger a large tax bill.

In this scenario, the tax rules generally treat you as a real estate dealer. That means your entire profit — including the portion from pre-development appreciation in the value of the land — will be treated as high-taxed ordinary income subject to a federal rate of up to 37%. You may also owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) for a combined federal rate of up to 40.8%. And you may owe state income tax too.

It would be better if you could arrange to pay lower long-term capital gain (LTCG) tax rates on at least part of the profit. The current maximum federal income tax rate on LTCGs is 20% or 23.8% if you owe the NIIT.

Potential tax-saving solution

Thankfully, there’s a strategy that allows favorable LTCG tax treatment for all pre-development appreciation in the land value. You must have held the land for more than one year for investment (as opposed to holding it as a real estate dealer).

The portion of your profit attributable to subsequent subdividing, development and marketing activities will still be considered high-taxed ordinary income, because you’ll be considered a real estate dealer for that part of the process.

But if you can manage to pay a 20% or 23.8% federal income tax rate on a big chunk of your profit (the pre-development appreciation part), that’s something to celebrate.

Three-step strategy

Here’s the three-step strategy that could result in paying a smaller tax bill on your real estate development profits.

1. Establish an S corporation

If you individually own the appreciated land, you can establish an S corporation owned solely by you to function as the developer. If you own the land via a partnership, or via an LLC treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes, you and the other partners (LLC members) can form the S corp and receive corporate stock in proportion to your percentage partnership (LLC) interests.

2. Sell the land to the S corp

Sell the appreciated land to the S corp for a price equal to the land’s pre-development fair market value. If necessary, you can arrange a sale that involves only a little cash and a big installment note the S corp owes you. The business will pay off the note with cash generated by selling off parcels after development. The sale to the S corp will trigger a LTCG eligible for the 20% or 23.8% rate as long as you held the land for investment and owned it for over one year.

3. Develop the property and sell it off

The S corp will subdivide and develop the property, market it and sell it off. The profit from these activities will be higher-taxed ordinary income passed through to you as an S corp shareholder. If the profit is big, you’ll probably pay the maximum 37% federal rate (or 40.8% percent with the NIIT. However, the average tax rate on your total profit will be much lower, because a big part will be lower-taxed LTCG from pre-development appreciation.

Favorable treatment

Thanks to the tax treatment created by this S corp developer strategy, you can lock in favorable treatment for the land’s pre-development appreciation. That’s a huge tax-saving advantage if the land has gone up in value. Consult with us if you have questions or want more information.

© 2023


Moving Mom or Dad into a nursing home? 5 potential tax implications

More than a million Americans live in nursing homes, according to various reports. If you have a parent entering one, you’re probably not thinking about taxes. But there may be tax consequences. Let’s take a look at five possible tax breaks.

1. Long-term medical care

The costs of qualified long-term care, including nursing home care, are deductible as medical expenses to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).

Qualified long-term care services are necessary diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic, curing, treating, mitigating and rehabilitative services, and maintenance or personal-care services required by a chronically ill individual that are provided under care administered by a licensed healthcare practitioner.

To qualify as chronically ill, a physician or other licensed healthcare practitioner must certify an individual as unable to perform at least two activities of daily living (eating, toileting, transferring, bathing, dressing, and continence) for at least 90 days due to a loss of functional capacity or severe cognitive impairment.

2. Nursing home payments

Amounts paid to a nursing home are deductible as medical expenses if a person is staying at the facility principally for medical, rather than custodial care. If a person isn’t in the nursing home principally to receive medical care, only the portion of the fee that’s allocable to actual medical care qualifies as a deductible expense. But if the individual is chronically ill, all qualified long-term care services, including maintenance or personal care services, are deductible.

If your parent qualifies as your dependent, you can include any medical expenses you incur for your parent along with your own when determining your medical deduction.

3. Long-term care insurance

Premiums paid for a qualified long-term care insurance contract are deductible as medical expenses (subject to limitations explained below) to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed the percentage-of-AGI threshold. A qualified long-term care insurance contract covers only qualified long-term care services, doesn’t pay costs covered by Medicare, is guaranteed renewable and doesn’t have a cash surrender value.

Qualified long-term care premiums are includible as medical expenses up to certain amounts. For individuals over 60 but not over 70 years old, the 2023 limit on deductible long-term care insurance premiums is $4,770, and for those over 70, the 2023 limit is $5,960.

4. The sale of your parent’s home

If your parent sells his or her home, up to $250,000 of the gain from the sale may be tax-free. In order to qualify for the $250,000 exclusion ($500,000 if married), the seller must generally have owned and used the home for at least two years out of the five years before the sale. However, there’s an exception to the two-out-of-five-year use test if the seller becomes physically or mentally unable to care for him or herself during the five-year period.

5. Head-of-household filing status

If you aren’t married and you meet certain dependency tests for your parent, you may qualify for head-of-household filing status, which has a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates than single filing status. You may be eligible to file as head of household even if the parent for whom you claim an exemption doesn’t live with you.

These are only some of the tax issues you may have to contend with if your parent moves into a nursing home. Contact us if you need more information or assistance.

© 2023


IRS provides transitional relief for RMDs and inherited IRAs

The IRS has issued new guidance providing transitional relief related to recent legislative changes to the age at which taxpayers must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from retirement accounts. The guidance in IRS Notice 2023-54 also extends relief already granted to taxpayers covered by the so-called “10-year rule” for inherited IRAs and other defined contribution plans.

The need for RMD relief

In late 2019, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act brought numerous changes to the retirement and estate planning landscape. Among other things, it generally raised the age at which retirement account holders must begin to take their RMDs. The required beginning date (RBD) for traditional IRAs and other qualified plans was raised from age 70½ to 72.

Three years later, in December 2022, the SECURE 2.0 Act increased the RBD age for RMDs further. This year the age increased to 73, and it’s scheduled to climb to 75 in 2033.

The RBD is defined as April 1 of the calendar year following the year in which an individual reaches the applicable age. Therefore, an IRA owner who was born in 1951 will have an RBD of April 1, 2025, rather than April 1, 2024. The first distribution made to the IRA owner that will be treated as a taxable RMD will be a distribution made for 2024.

While the delayed onset of RMDs is largely welcome news from an income tax perspective, it has caused some confusion among retirees and necessitated updates to plan administrators’ automatic payment systems. For example, retirees who were born in 1951 and turn 72 this year may have initiated distributions this year because they were under the impression that they needed to start taking RMDs by April 1, 2024.

Administrators and other payors also voiced concerns that the updates could take some time to implement. As a result, they said, plan participants and IRA owners who would’ve been required to start receiving RMDs for calendar year 2023 before SECURE 2.0 (that is, those who reach age 72 in 2023) and who receive distributions in 2023 might have had those distributions mischaracterized as RMDs. This is significant because RMDs aren’t eligible for a tax-free rollover to an eligible retirement plan, so the distributions would be includible in gross income for tax purposes.

The IRS response

To address these concerns, the IRS is extending the 60-day deadline for rollovers of distributions that were mischaracterized as RMDs due to the change in the RBD from age 72 to age 73. The deadline for rolling over such distributions made between January 1, 2023, and July 31, 2023, is now September 30, 2023.

For example, if a plan participant born in 1951 received a single-sum distribution in January 2023, and part of it was treated as ineligible for a rollover because it was mischaracterized as an RMD, the plan participant will have until the end of September to roll over that portion of the distribution. If the deadline passes without the distribution being rolled over, the distribution will then be considered taxable income.

The rollover also applies to mischaracterized IRA distributions made to an IRA owner (or surviving spouse). It applies even if the owner or surviving spouse rolled over a distribution within the previous 12 months, although the subsequent rollover will preclude the owner or spouse from doing another rollover in the next 12 months. (The individual could still make a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer.)

Plan administrators and payors receive some relief, too. They won’t be penalized for failing to treat any distribution made between January 1, 2023, and July 31, 2023, to a participant born in 1951 (or that participant’s surviving spouse) as an eligible rollover distribution if the distribution would’ve been an RMD before SECURE 2.0’s change to the RBD.

The 10-year rule conundrum

Prior to the enactment of the original SECURE Act, beneficiaries of inherited IRAs could “stretch” the RMDs on the accounts over their entire life expectancies. The stretch period could run for decades for younger heirs, allowing them to take smaller distributions and defer taxes while the accounts grew. These heirs then had the option to pass their IRAs to later generations, potentially deferring tax payments even longer.

To accelerate tax collection, the SECURE Act eliminated the rules permitting stretch RMDs for many heirs (referred to as designated beneficiaries, as opposed to eligible designated beneficiaries, or EDBs). For IRA owners or defined contribution plan participants who died in 2020 or later, the law generally requires that the entire balance of the account be distributed within 10 years of death. The rule applies regardless of whether the deceased dies before, on or after the RBD for RMDs from the plan. (EDBs may continue to stretch payments over their life expectancies or, if the deceased died before the RBD, may elect the 10-year rule treatment.)

According to proposed IRS regulations released in February 2022, designated beneficiaries who inherit an IRA or defined contribution plan before the deceased’s RBD can satisfy the 10-year rule by taking the entire sum before the end of the calendar year that includes the 10-year anniversary of the death. Notably, though, if the deceased dies on or after the RBD, designated beneficiaries would be required to take taxable annual RMDs (based on their life expectancies) in years one through nine, receiving the remaining balance in year 10. They can’t wait until the end of 10 years and take the entire account as a lump-sum distribution. The annual RMD rule would provide designated beneficiaries less tax-planning flexibility and could push them into higher tax brackets during those years, especially if they’re working.

The 10-year rule and the proposed regs left many designated beneficiaries who recently inherited IRAs or defined contribution plans bewildered as to when they needed to begin taking RMDs. For example, the IRS heard from heirs of deceased family members who died in 2020. These heirs hadn’t taken RMDs in 2021 and were unsure whether they were required to take them in 2022.

In recognition of the lingering questions, the IRS previously waived enforcement against taxpayers subject to the 10-year rule who missed 2021 and 2022 RMDs if the plan participant died in 2020 on or after the RBD. It also excused missed 2022 RMDs if the participant died in 2021 on or after the RBD. The latest guidance extends that relief by excusing 2023 missed RMDs if the participant died in 2020, 2021 or 2022 on or after the RBD.

The relief means covered individuals needn’t worry about being hit with excise tax equal to 25% of the amounts that should’ve been distributed but weren’t (or 10% if the failure to take the RMD is corrected in a timely manner). And plans won’t be penalized for failing to make an RMD in 2023 that would be required under the proposed regs.

Final regs are pending

The IRS also announced in the guidance that final regs related to RMDs will apply for calendar years no sooner than 2024. Previously, the agency had said final regs would apply no earlier than 2023. We’ll let you know when the IRS publishes the final regs and how they may affect you. Contact us with any questions.

© 2023  


Virtual currency lands in the IRS’s crosshairs

While the value of virtual currency continues to fluctuate, the IRS’s interest in it has only increased. In 2021, for example, the agency launched Operation Hidden Treasure to root out taxpayers who don’t report income from cryptocurrency transactions on their federal income tax returns.

Moreover, the Inflation Reduction Act, enacted in 2022, allocated $80 billion to the IRS, with much of it designated for enforcement activities. However, the Fiscal Responsibility Act, enacted in May 2023, will claw back $21.39 billion of that amount by the end of 2025. The IRS’s strategic operating plan for 2023 through 2031 lays out the agency’s intention to ramp up enforcement related to digital assets. If you buy, sell or otherwise engage in transactions involving virtual currency, you need to stay up to date with the latest tax developments.

Terminology

The IRS defines a “virtual asset” as any virtual representation of value that’s recorded on a cryptographically secured distributed ledger or similar technology. The term includes:

  • Convertible virtual currency (meaning it has an equivalent value in real currency or acts as a substitute for real currency) such as Bitcoin,
  • Stablecoins (a type of currency whose value is tied to the value of another asset, such as the U.S. dollar), and
  • Non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

According to the IRS, cryptocurrency is an example of a convertible virtual currency that can be used as a payment for goods and services, digitally traded between users, and exchanged for or into real currencies or digital assets. Cryptocurrency uses cryptography to secure transactions that are digitally recorded on a distributed ledger (for example, blockchain).

Taxation of transactions

For federal tax purposes, digital assets are treated as property. Thus, transactions involving virtual currency are subject to the same general tax rules that apply to property transactions, such as purchases and sales of stock or real estate.

Several types of virtual currency transactions can trigger reporting obligations, including:

Sales. If you sell virtual currency, you must recognize any capital gain or loss on the sale, subject to any limitations on the deductibility of capital losses. The gain or loss equals the difference between your adjusted tax basis in the currency and the amount you receive for it. You should report the amount you receive on your federal income tax return in U.S. dollars (see below for more information on reporting obligations).

Your basis is the amount you spent to acquire the virtual currency, including fees, commissions and other costs. Your adjusted basis is your basis increased by certain expenditures and reduced by certain deductions or credits.

Property exchanges. If you exchange virtual currency that you hold as a capital asset for other property (including goods or other digital assets), you must recognize a capital gain or loss. The gain or loss is the difference between the fair market value (FMV) of the property you receive and your adjusted tax basis in the virtual currency. If, as part of an arm’s length transaction, you transfer a digital asset and receive other property in exchange, your tax basis in the property you receive is its FMV at the time of the exchange.

Payment for services. If you receive virtual currency for performing services — regardless of whether you perform the services as an employee or an independent contractor — you recognize the FMV of the currency when received as ordinary income. The FMV will also be your tax basis in that asset.

On the flip side, if you pay for a service using virtual currency that you hold as a capital asset, you’ve exchanged a capital asset for the service and will have a capital gain or loss. In addition, the FMV of virtual currency that’s paid as wages, at the date of receipt, is subject to federal income tax withholding, Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax and Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax. It also must be reported on Form W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement.”

Reporting obligations

You may have noticed a new line on your individual federal income tax return in recent years. The 2022 version asks:

“At any time during 2022, did you: (a) receive (as a reward, award or payment for property or services); or (b) sell, exchange, gift or otherwise dispose of a digital asset (or a financial interest in a digital asset)?”

If you answer “yes,” you must report all related income, whether as income, a capital gain or loss, or otherwise (for example, as a gift).

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), enacted in late 2021, created additional new reporting requirements for digital asset transactions. These provisions were enacted with an eye toward generating additional tax revenues to help fund infrastructure projects. The requirements provide the IRS with more information to work from and establish more potential compliance tripwires for taxpayers who engage in virtual currency transactions.

The IIJA expanded the definition of brokers that are required to report their customers’ gains and losses on the sale of securities during the tax year to the IRS on Form 1099-B, “Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions.” The form generally requires a description of each sale, the cost basis, the acquisition date and price, the sale date and price, and the resulting short- or long-term gain or loss.

Under the IIJA, operators of trading platforms for digital assets, such as cryptocurrency exchanges, are subject to the same reporting requirements as traditional securities brokers. The effective date remains to be seen, though, as the IRS hasn’t yet issued final regulations with instructions. After the new rules take effect, cryptocurrency platforms will need to collect Form W-9, “Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification,” from their customers.

The IIJA also amended existing anti-money laundering laws to treat digital assets as cash for purposes of those laws. As a result, beginning in 2023, businesses must report to the IRS when they receive more than $10,000 in digital assets in one transaction or multiple related transactions.

Such transactions should be reported on IRS Form 8300, “Report of Cash Payments Over $10,000 Received in a Trade or Business.” To complete the form, a business will need to gather the name, address and taxpayer identification number, among other information, from the payer. Failure to comply may lead to significant civil and criminal penalties.

Enforcement tool

One way the IRS may uncover digital assets is through the use of a “John Doe summons.” The U.S. Department of Justice notes that “because transactions in cryptocurrencies can be difficult to trace and have an inherently pseudo-anonymous aspect, taxpayers may be using them to hide taxable income from the IRS.” By asking a court to serve a John Doe summons on a crypto dealer or exchange, the IRS can find out information about a person’s account.

In one recent case, an individual challenged the IRS’s use of a summons to obtain his account information from a virtual currency exchange. He argued it was unconstitutional. A U.S. District Court disagreed and ruled that the IRS’s actions “fall squarely” within its powers to pursue unpaid taxes. (Harper, DC NH, 5/26/23)

An evolving area

With its new infusion of enforcement funding, the IRS’s focus on virtual currency transactions is likely to intensify. We’ll help you stay in compliance with the applicable rules and requirements.

© 2023  


What’s in the Fiscal Responsibility Act?

President Biden has signed into law the new debt ceiling agreement that he reached with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). The Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) suspends — as opposed to raising — the debt ceiling until 2025, after the next presidential election.

The FRA also makes a variety of changes related to domestic spending, although it falls far short of the cuts included in the Republican bill that the House passed in April 2023, with no changes to the GOP’s long-time targets of Social Security and Medicare. Nonetheless, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the law will reduce the federal deficit by about $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

The main provisions

The new law primarily tackles discretionary spending. The notable provisions address:

IRS funding. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was enacted in 2022, included an additional $80 billion in funding for the tax agency, with much of it designated for heightened enforcement activity against wealthy taxpayers. The FRA immediately rescinds $1.39 billion and pares back the funding by about $10 billion each year for 2024 and 2025. However, White House officials have indicated that they expect the funding cuts to make little difference in the IRS’s pending expansion plans because the agency planned to spend the original funding over several years. It may be able to spend some of the funds earmarked for later years earlier and then return to Congress to request more funding in the future.

Spending caps. One of the more contentious focuses of the negotiations was non-defense discretionary funding for programs such as scientific research, domestic law enforcement, forest management, environmental protection, air traffic control and nutritional assistance for mothers. The final result is a virtual freeze on this spending, facilitated in part by the reduced funding for the IRS. The spending will drop by about $1 billion in the 2024 fiscal year, compared to this fiscal year, with a 1% increase slated for the 2025 fiscal year. This amounts to a cut, as inflation is expected to grow at a rate greater than 1%. The final non-defense figures are $704 billion for 2024 and $711 billion for 2025.

Defense and veterans affairs spending. The FRA provides Biden’s budgeted funding for the military and veterans affairs for 2024, adjusted for inflation. Total defense spending will grow to $886 billion in 2024 and $895 billion in 2025.

Student loan debt. The new law codifies Biden’s previous announcement that the moratorium on student loan payments precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be extended beyond this summer. His plan to cancel student loan debt for many borrowers — to the tune of $430 billion — isn’t part of the law. (However, the plan currently is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Work requirements. Certain recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits will face new work requirements, although Medicaid recipients won’t. Specifically, the FRA raises the top age at which adults without children living in their homes must work to receive SNAP assistance, from 49 to 54, phased in over three years. However, the law includes exemptions for the homeless, veterans and individuals age 24 or younger who were children in foster care. It also includes provisions that could increase the number of individuals who must satisfy work requirements to receive TANF benefits from their state programs. Yet, the CBO estimates that the various changes will actually result in more people receiving assistance.

COVID-19 clawback. Much of the remaining unspent COVID-19 relief funds, estimated to equal $30 billion to $70 billion, will be “clawed back.” Portions of that funding will be retained, though, including a certain amount for vaccines.

Permitting for energy projects. The FRA includes rules designed to make it easier for new energy projects, including fossil fuel projects, to obtain permit approval.

The leftovers

As noted, the original House debt ceiling bill was much more aggressive. Republicans sought larger spending cuts and tighter work requirements. They also aimed to repeal hundreds of billions in tax incentives in the IRA intended to increase the use of renewable energy and combat climate change.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats hoped to raise taxes on corporations and taxpayers who earn more than $400,000. In addition, they wanted to institute measures to reduce Medicare spending on prescription drugs.

None of these priorities are included in the new law.

The bottom line

Experts have noted that the outcome of the latest debt ceiling challenge largely resembles the likely outcome of budget negotiations in a divided government, albeit with much more drama and more drastic potential implications for the global economy. Moreover, additional bills related to appropriations — what the parties have referred to as “agreed upon adjustments” — are expected in coming months, which could reduce the effects of some of the spending cuts.

© 2023  


Social Security’s future: The problem and the proposals

Recent reports have raised anew concerns about the impending insolvency of the Social Security program, absent congressional action. Social Security reform has long been considered a “third rail” of American politics and understandably so — the options for heading off insolvency will inevitably cause pain for significant segments of the population. Yet some in Congress have stepped forward with proposals that aim to tackle the problem.

The impending shortfall

Social Security currently provides benefits to more than 66 million recipients. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about 78 million people, or about 20% of the U.S. population, will receive benefits from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund in 2032.

The CBO and the trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trusts have both raised alarms about how soon Social Security will become “insolvent.” Insolvency in this context refers to the point at which the trust fund will be depleted, and payments would come solely from income generated by payroll tax and income tax on benefits.

The 2023 Trustees Report states that the OASI Trust Fund will be able to pay 100% of total scheduled benefits only until 2033, one year earlier than the trustees projected last year. The program would then be able to pay 77% of scheduled benefits.

The CBO’s forecast is even more dire. It predicts the OASI fund will be exhausted in 2032. As a result, it says, payable benefits would be 25% less than scheduled benefits.

The declining ratio of workers to beneficiaries is one reason for the trust fund’s shrinkage, and the retirement of Baby Boomers has only accelerated this trend. High interest rates and historic inflation also play a large role. Due to inflation, beneficiaries saw an 8.7% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2023, the largest such hike since 1981.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the trust fund’s depletion, whenever it occurs, would create a conflict between two federal laws. Beneficiaries would remain entitled to their full scheduled benefits under the Social Security Act. But the Antideficiency Act prohibits government spending in excess of available funds, so the Social Security Administration (SSA) would lack legal authority to pay full benefits on time.

Limited options

Congress has a limited arsenal of weapons for addressing the shortfall in the OASI fund. It generally can increase trust fund revenues or reduce benefits by taking various steps, such as:

Raising the retirement age. Retirees normally begin receiving benefits at age 66 or 67, depending on their year of birth (reduced early benefits are available at age 62). Various legislators and others have called for increasing the full retirement age. For example, some have suggested raising it to age 70 for people born in 1978 or later.

The American Academy of Actuaries (AAA) points out several potential problems with this approach, though. For example, raising the retirement age is essentially a cut in benefits, and jobs might not be available for people ages 67 to 69 who would have to keep working, particularly those who perform manual labor. A higher retirement age would disproportionately affect low-wage workers and those who have higher mortality rates. In addition, it would likely increase disability insurance costs and the costs for employer-provided insurance.

Increasing payroll tax. Workers and employers each pay 6.2% payroll taxes, for a total of 12.4% on the first $160,200 of wages in 2023. Payroll taxes could be boosted in two ways — increasing the tax rate and adjusting or eliminating the wage cap.

The AAA says that, of all the many proposals and bills for addressing the impending deficit, “raising the tax rate best preserves the current system structure.” The CBO says that trust fund balances would be sufficient to pay scheduled benefits through 2097 if the total payroll tax rate was increased immediately and permanently to 17.6% (before accounting for the effects of such changes on the economy).

Others have proposed applying the tax to greater amounts of wages. Some would apply the tax to earnings greater than a specific threshold (for example, $400,000), creating a “doughnut hole” of income not subject to the tax.

The AAA explains that, if the contribution base is increased but not the benefit base, the fund could raise revenue with no increase in benefits. The effect would be similar to increasing the tax rate, but the additional tax revenue would come only from workers with earnings in excess of the benefit base. In other words, this would negatively affect higher earners.

But the AAA says that even including the additional taxed earnings in the benefit formula would help. That’s because the additional earnings in the benefit formula would be at the high end of the earnings scale, where the benefit formula percentage is lowest. Moreover, while the additional tax revenue would begin immediately, the additional benefits would slowly phase in over time.

Changing benefits formulas. COLAs currently are based on changes to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. A different inflation index could be used to slow the annual increases. This would produce net benefit reductions as smaller benefit increases in early retirement years compound over time.

Other ideas include changing the primary formula for benefits for retirees or those for eligible spouses and dependents. For example, the basic Social Security benefit is called the primary insurance amount, based on average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) — generally, the average of a beneficiary’s highest earning years over a period of up to 35 years.

The number of averaging years included when calculating AIME could be increased, which would reduce the AIME for most workers. However, the AAA says this could have “especially adverse consequences” for workers who don’t have steady earnings, such as parents who leave the workforce to care for children.

Implementing means testing. Means testing generally refers to reducing or eliminating Social Security benefits for wealthy and/or high-income retirees whose current income or assets exceed a certain threshold. Supporters of means testing argue that the program shouldn’t benefit those who don’t have financial need.

Opponents contend that cutting or eliminating benefits for the wealthy would be unfair, as those individuals have contributed and been promised benefits just as others have. They also warn that it could undermine public support for Social Security, disincentivize work in later years and encourage consumption over saving.

Some recent proposals

Despite its third-rail status, several legislators on both sides of the aisle are working to confront the Social Security solvency crisis. For example, in February 2023, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), along with several Democratic colleagues, introduced the Social Security Expansion Act.

Among other things, it would apply the payroll tax to earnings above $250,000, without crediting the additional taxed earnings for benefit purposes. It also would impose a 12.4% tax on investment income and change the inflation index for COLAs. The SSA’s Office of the Chief Actuary estimates that enactment of the bill would extend the ability of the combined OASI and Disability Insurance program to pay scheduled benefits in full and on time for 75 years. In addition, the bill would add $2,400 to beneficiaries’ annual benefits.

Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) are heading a bipartisan coalition exploring other options. They’re reportedly discussing the creation of a so-called “sovereign wealth fund” separate from Social Security. The fund would invest $1.5 trillion or more in the U.S. economy and accrue returns over 70 years. If it fails to produce an 8% return, the maximum taxable income and the payroll tax rate would be increased to ensure solvency for 75 years. Cassidy says this approach would “solve 75% of the problem.”

A political conundrum

Both parties acknowledge the need for some type of action regarding Social Security. Generally, Democrats oppose cuts to benefits and Republicans oppose higher taxes. And the political climate isn’t favorable for reaching a compromise. We’ll follow the developments and keep you informed of any significant changes coming your way.

© 2023  


Employee Spotlight – Katie Safa



Tell us about your career at Slattery & Holman.
I joined the administrative support department in 2019 and moved into a staff accountant position in 2022.

Tell us a little about your family.
I live in Noblesville with my boyfriend, Matt, and our two adorable fur babies. My mom and stepdad and my dad live nearby in Zionsville, which is where I grew up.

What fictional place would you most like to visit? 
I’m a bit of a Potterhead so I’d love to see Hogwarts. I’m a Ravenclaw. But alas, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (at Universal Orlando) will just have to do.

What do you wish you knew more about? 
I bought my first house last year, so I wish I knew more about home improvement, landscaping, interior design, etc.

What’s the farthest you’ve ever been from home? 
Europe – I’ve traveled to Italy, Germany, Spain, and (twice to) Greece.

What is the most impressive thing you know how to do? 
I’ve been playing the trumpet since I was 10 years old. I regularly play in local groups such as the Indiana Wind Symphony and Zionsville Concert Band.

What is your favorite smell? 
I really like florals and sweet scents, especially coconut.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?  
Probably escargot. I enjoyed it, although I admit it might’ve had less to do with the snails and more to do with the garlic butter.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
I think shapeshifting is the ultimate superpower because it lets you take advantage of other superpowers. If I wanted to fly, I could turn myself into a bird. If I wanted to breathe fire, I could become a dragon. The possibilities are endless!



Use the tax code to make business losses less painful

Whether you’re operating a new company or an established business, losses can happen. The federal tax code may help soften the blow by allowing businesses to apply losses to offset taxable income in future years, subject to certain limitations.

Qualifying for a deduction

The net operating loss (NOL) deduction addresses the tax inequities that can exist between businesses with stable income and those with fluctuating income. It essentially lets the latter average out their income and losses over the years and pay tax accordingly.

You may be eligible for the NOL deduction if your deductions for the tax year are greater than your income. The loss generally must be caused by deductions related to your:

  • Business (Schedules C and F losses, or Schedule K-1 losses from partnerships or S corporations),
  • Casualty and theft losses from a federally declared disaster, or
  • Rental property (Schedule E).

The following generally aren’t allowed when determining your NOL:

  • Capital losses that exceed capital gains,
  • The exclusion for gains from the sale or exchange of qualified small business stock,
  • Nonbusiness deductions that exceed nonbusiness income,
  • The NOL deduction itself, and
  • The Section 199A qualified business income deduction.

Individuals and C corporations are eligible to claim the NOL deduction. Partnerships and S corporations generally aren’t eligible, but partners and shareholders can use their separate shares of the business’s income and deductions to calculate individual NOLs.

Limitations

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made significant changes to the NOL rules. Previously, taxpayers could carry back NOLs for two years, and carry forward the losses 20 years. They also could apply NOLs against 100% of their taxable income.

The TCJA limits the NOL deduction to 80% of taxable income for the year and eliminates the carryback of NOLs (except for certain farming losses). However, it does allow NOLs to be carried forward indefinitely.

A COVID-19 relief law temporarily loosened the TCJA restrictions. It allowed NOLs arising in 2018, 2019 or 2020 to be carried back five years and removed the taxable income limitation for years beginning before 2021. As a result, NOLs could completely offset income. However, these provisions have expired.

If your NOL carryforward is more than your taxable income for the year to which you carry it, you may have an NOL carryover. The carryover will be the excess of the NOL deduction over your modified taxable income for the carryforward year. If your NOL deduction includes multiple NOLs, you must apply them against your modified taxable income in the same order you incurred them, beginning with the earliest.

Excess business losses

The TCJA established an “excess business loss” limitation, which took effect in 2021. For partnerships or S corporations, this limitation is applied at the partner or shareholder level, after the outside basis, at-risk and passive activity loss limitations have been applied.

Under the rule, noncorporate taxpayers’ business losses can offset only business-related income or gain, plus an inflation-adjusted threshold. For 2023, that threshold is $289,000 ($578,000 if married filing jointly). Remaining losses are treated as an NOL carryforward to the next tax year. In other words, you can’t fully deduct them because they become subject to the 80% income limitation on NOLs, reducing their tax value.

Important: Under the Inflation Reduction Act, the excess business loss limitation applies to tax years beginning before January 1, 2029. Under the TCJA, it had been scheduled to expire after December 31, 2026.

Planning ahead

The tax rules regarding business losses are complex, especially when accounting for how NOLs can interact with other potential tax breaks. We can help you chart the best course forward.

© 2023

There’s a favorable “stepped-up basis” if you inherit property

A common question for people planning their estates or inheriting property is: For tax purposes, what’s the “cost” (or “basis”) an individual gets in property that he or she inherits from another? This is an important area and is too often overlooked when families start to put their affairs in order.

Under the fair market value basis rules (also known as the “step-up and step-down” rules), an heir receives a basis in inherited property that’s equal to its date-of-death value. So, for example, if your grandfather bought shares in an oil stock in 1940 for $500 and it was worth $5 million at his death, the basis would be stepped up to $5 million for your grandfather’s heirs. That means all of that gain escapes income taxation forever!

The fair market value basis rules apply to inherited property that’s includible in the deceased individual’s gross estate, whether or not a federal estate tax return was filed, and those rules also apply to property inherited from foreign persons, who aren’t subject to U.S. estate tax. The rules apply to the inherited portion of property owned by the inheriting taxpayer jointly with the deceased, but not the portion of jointly held property that the inheriting taxpayer owned before his or her inheritance. The fair market value basis rules also don’t apply to reinvestments of estate assets by fiduciaries.

Lifetime gifting

It’s crucial for you to understand the fair market value basis rules so that you don’t pay more tax than you’re legally required to.

For example, in the above scenario, if your grandfather instead decided to make a gift of the stock during his lifetime (rather than passing it on when he died), the “step-up” in basis (from $500 to $5 million) would be lost. Property acquired by gift that has gone up in value is subject to the “carryover” basis rules. That means the person receiving the gift takes the same basis the donor had in it ($500 in this example), plus a portion of any gift tax the donor pays on the gift.

A “step-down” occurs if someone dies owning property that has declined in value. In that case, the basis is lowered to the date-of-death value. Proper planning calls for seeking to avoid this loss of basis. Giving the property away before death won’t preserve the basis. That’s because when property that has gone down in value is the subject of a gift, the person receiving the gift must take the date of gift value as his or her basis (for purposes of determining his or her loss on a later sale). Therefore, a good strategy for property that has declined in value is for the owner to sell it before death so he or she can enjoy the tax benefits of the loss.

These are the basic rules. Other rules and limits may apply. For example, in some cases, a deceased person’s executor may be able to make an alternate valuation election. And gifts made just before a person dies (sometimes called “death bed gifts”) may be included in the gross estate for tax purposes. Contact us for tax assistance when estate planning or after receiving an inheritance.

© 2023


Businesses, be prepared to champion the advantages of an HSA

With concerns about inflation in the news for months now, most business owners are keeping a close eye on costs. Although it can be difficult to control costs related to mission-critical functions such as overhead and materials, you might find some budge room in employee benefits.

Many companies have lowered their benefits costs by offering a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) coupled with a Health Savings Account (HSA). Of course, some employees might not react positively to a health plan that starts with the phrase “high-deductible.” So, if you decide to offer an HSA, you’ll want to devise a strategy for championing the plan’s advantages.

The basics

An HSA is a tax-advantaged savings account funded with pretax dollars. Funds can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for a wide range of qualified medical expenses. As mentioned, to provide these benefits, an HSA must be coupled with an HDHP. For 2023, an HDHP is defined as a plan with a minimum deductible of $1,500 ($3,000 for family coverage) and maximum out-of-pocket expenses of $7,500 ($15,000 for family coverage).

In 2023, the annual contribution limit for HSAs is $3,850 for individuals with self-only coverage and $7,750 for individuals with family coverage. If you’re 55 or older, you can add another $1,000. Both the business and the participant can make contributions. However, the limit is a combined one, not per-payer. Thus, if your company contributed $4,000 to an employee’s family-coverage account, that participant could contribute only $3,750.

Another requirement for HSA contributions is that an account holder can’t be enrolled in Medicare or covered by any non-HDHP insurance (such as a spouse’s plan). Once someone enrolls in Medicare, the person becomes ineligible to contribute to an HSA — though the account holder can still withdraw funds from an existing HSA to pay for qualified expenses, which expand starting at age 65.

3 major advantages

There are three major advantages to an HSA to clearly communicate to employees:

1. Lower premiums. Some employees might scowl at having a high deductible, but you may be able to turn that frown upside down by informing them that HDHP premiums — that is, the monthly cost to retain coverage — tend to be substantially lower than those of other plan types.

2. Tax advantages times three. An HSA presents a “triple threat” to an account holder’s tax liability. First, contributions are made pretax, which lowers one’s taxable income. Second, funds in the account grow tax-free. And third, distributions are tax-free as long as the withdrawals are used for eligible expenses.

3. Retirement and estate planning pluses. There’s no “use it or lose it” clause with an HSA; participants own their accounts. Thus, funds may be carried over year to year — continuing to grow tax-deferred indefinitely. Upon turning age 65, account holders can withdraw funds penalty-free for any purpose, though funds that aren’t used for qualified medical expenses are taxable.

An HSA can even be included in an account holder’s estate plan. However, the tax implications of inheriting an HSA differ significantly depending on the recipient, so it’s important to carefully consider beneficiary designation.

Explain the upsides

Indeed, an HDHP+HSA pairing can be a win-win for your business and its employees. While participants are enjoying the advantages noted above, you’ll appreciate lower payroll costs, a federal tax deduction and reduced administrative burden. Just be prepared to explain the upsides. Contact us for help evaluating the concept and assessing the costs of health care benefits.

© 2023