tax update

Treasury, IRS issue proposed regulations on new Opportunity Zone tax incentive

WASHINGTON —The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service today issued proposed regulations and other published guidance for the new Opportunity Zone tax incentive.

Opportunity Zones, created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, were designed to spur investment in distressed communities throughout the country through tax benefits. Under a nomination process completed in June, 8,761 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories were designated as qualified Opportunity Zones. Opportunity Zones retain their designation for 10 years. Investors may defer tax on almost any capital gain up to Dec. 31, 2026 by making an appropriate investment in a zone, making an election after December 21, 2017, and meeting other requirements.

The proposed regulations clarify that almost all capital gains qualify for deferral. In the case of a capital gain experienced by a partnership, the rules allow either a partnership or its partners to elect deferral. Similar rules apply to other pass-through entities, such as S corporations and their shareholders, and estates and trusts and their beneficiaries.

Generally, to qualify for deferral, the amount of a capital gain to be deferred must be invested in a Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF), which must be an entity treated as a partnership or corporation for Federal tax purposes and organized in any of the 50 states, D.C. or five U.S. territories for the purpose of investing in qualified opportunity zone property.

The QOF must hold at least 90 percent of its assets in qualified Opportunity Zone property (investment standard). Investors who hold their QOF investment for at least 10 years may qualify to increase their basis to the fair market value of the investment on the date it is sold.

The proposed regulations also provide that if at least 70 percent of the tangible business property owned or leased by a trade or business is qualified opportunity zone business property, the requirement that “substantially all” of such tangible business property is qualified opportunity zone business property can be satisfied if other requirements are met. If the tangible property is a building, the proposed regulations provide that “substantial improvement” is measured based only on the basis of the building (not of the underlying land).

In addition to the proposed regulations, Treasury and the IRS issued an additional piece of guidance to aid taxpayers in participating in the qualified Opportunity Zone incentive. Rev. Rul. 2018-29 provides guidance for taxpayers on the “original use” requirement for land purchased after 2017 in qualified opportunity zones. They also released Form 8996, which investment vehicles will use to self-certify as QOFs.       

More information on Opportunity Zones, including answers to frequently-asked questions, is on the Tax Reform page of IRS.gov. The Tax Reform page will also feature updates on the implementation of this and other TCJA provisions.

At Zhong & Sanchez, we provide high-quality tax and financial reporting services to privately-held entities and small business owners. Our expertise ranges from income tax filing and accounting services to international compliance and financial analysis. Located in the Silicon Valley, you can reach us at 510-458-4451 or schedule your first consultation today at https://calendly.com/zhongsanchez

Source: IRS

5 ways to hone retirement plans under new tax regime

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress late last year represents the most significant changes to the tax code since 1986. The changes are biggest for corporate taxpayers. C corps will see their statutory tax rate decline from 35 percent to 21 percent, and pass-through corporate entities — partnerships, sole proprietorships and S corps — where income is taxed at the individual level, will also see permanent and dramatic reductions in their tax liabilities.

The decreases in individual tax rates, on the other hand, are smaller and less certain, with rates set to revert back to current levels by 2026. As a matter of fact, the tax plan will help out corporations a lot more than average Americans. Middle-class Americans itemizing their deductions may actually get hurt by tax reform.

The rule changes regarding deductible expenses, exemptions, credits and the tax brackets pose new income-tax planning challenges for all Americans. They also have implications for retirement planning — most prominently for wealthy Americans — but for taxpayers of more modest means, as well.

Here are five strategies worth considering to improve your retirement planning in the new tax environment.

1. Move to a low-tax state. The lure of the Sunbelt for retirees got a little stronger with tax reform. The capping of the so-called SALT (state and local taxes) deductions at $10,000 will hit taxpayers in high-tax (and invariably blue) states such as California and New York particularly hard. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has threatened to sue the federal government over the roughly $14 billion his Department of Finance says it will cost New Yorkers annually.

While the standard deduction on federal tax returns was nearly doubled to $12,000 for individuals, the average SALT deduction on federal returns for New Yorkers in 2015 was $22,000, according to the Tax Policy Center. In California — which also has high income-tax rates — an all-in property tax rate of 1.25 percent on a $1 million home would already put taxpayers over the $10,000 cap.

2. Convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs provide the ultimate benefit in retirement — tax-free income. You can't deduct your contributions to a Roth IRA, but the investment returns in the account are tax-free and so are account withdrawals (optional-not required) as long as you make them after age 59½.

People need to diversify their tax risk. A tax-free retirement account is important over the long haul because higher rates in the future may hurt you in retirement.

The lower marginal income-tax rates that take effect this year make the conversion of a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA significantly less expensive. With those rates potentially reverting back to current levels by 2026, paying the taxes now could be far less expensive than in retirement. 

One major consideration: The tax bill did away with the option to undo a conversion by the tax-return date of the following year. If the market has a big downturn, you will owe tax on the full amount at conversion even if the account value drops by 30 percent before year-end. We suggests waiting until after Thanksgiving to make a conversion. Taxpayers could also consider converting smaller amounts over several years to reduce taxable income and potentially their marginal rates.

3. Give to charity in a smart way. The deduction for charitable donations was preserved in the tax bill, but with the standard deduction raised to $24,000 for a married couple, you'll have to give a lot to warrant itemizing deductions.

One strategy is to front-load your anticipated donations over multiple years into one tax year. People can bundle up their anticipated donations for the next five years in a donor-advised fund. Of course, that means it's likely only a one-year tax-saving strategy.

If you're over 70½ years old, make your charitable donations directly from your IRA — whether you itemize deductions or not. The donation counts against your required minimum distribution from the retirement account but is excluded from taxable income. The qualified charitable distribution enables a taxpayer to claim the standard deduction and still get the charitable deduction. If you qualify, it's the only way you should give to charity.

4. Mind your business and estate. The tax bill doubled the estate-tax exemption to $11.2 million per person ($22.4 million per married couple) and kept it indexed for inflation. In 2026 it will revert back to 2017 levels indexed for inflation. For the vast majority of Americans, the increase is meaningless, but for high-net-worth taxpayers — particularly business owners — it raises new issues.

Individuals with a net worth of close to or more than $11 million ($22 million for couples) can still lower the tax hit to their heirs with the use of trusts and estate-planning strategies. With the estate and gift tax still unified, it may also make sense to gift large amounts of assets tax-free to heirs now given the bigger but potentially temporary exemption.

The downside of gifting assets before you die is that heirs do not get a step up to market value in the cost basis of the assets. If and when they sell them, they will be on the hook for capital gains taxes. In a perfect world, people would pay no estate taxes and get a step up in cost basis at death. That sweet spot, however, may require your dying before the exemption reverts back to a lower level.

We suggests that married couples with an estate valued at less than $20 million take a "wait and see" attitude regarding the value of their business or assets before a potential in life transfer.

5. Talk to a financial advisor or CPA. The numerous changes to the tax code provide a lot of income-tax planning opportunities, which can translate into more retirement savings. But it is complicated. Any decision regarding something like a Roth conversion should be made in conjunction with other issues.

At Zhong & Sanchez, we are dedicated to provide high-quality tax and financial reporting services to privately-held entities and small business owners. Our expertise ranges from income tax filing and accounting services to international compliance and financial analysis. Located in the Silicon Valley, you can reach us at 510-458-4451 or schedule your first free consultation today at https://calendly.com/zhongsanchez

Picture credit: USA Today; Source: CNBC

Tax Reform and U.S. Expats: The Good, the Bad and the Same

Source: CPA Practice Advisor

Here’s what we know. The new tax reform bill called, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), is the first time in 30 years that the tax code has been fully transformed. While it is expected to ease tax filings and processing for Americans, the same can’t be said for American Expats. These are US Citizens who live abroad (whether for personal or professional reasons), and who are also required to file with the IRS annually. For years, this group of tax-paying Americans have raised concerns about changes they would like made but unfortunately, for the most part, their voices were ignored. Below is a look inside the new tax reform bill for US Expats:

What hasn’t changed:

The Foreign Information Reporting Requirements Expats are required to submit, in addition to their tax returns, are largely unchanged. The Foreign Bank Account Report, AKA FBAR or FinCen 114, the FATCA requirements - Form 8938, Form 5471 (Report of Certain Foreign Corporations), Form 3520 (Report of Foreign Trusts), and the Net Investment Income Tax, are still here and unchanged. This means that many Expats will continue having trouble banking abroad and face onerous penalties if they fail to file.

The two most important tax code provisions for Expats, the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and the Foreign Tax Credit have also not been substantially changed. Expats can use the FEIE to exclude over $100,000 in earned income, from their US taxes each year and can use the FTC to reduce their US taxes dollar for dollar by the amount they have paid to a foreign government. This allows individuals to try to avoid double taxation and this has been largely unchanged in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. However, the way the FEIE will increase going forward has been changed, which brings us to what has changed.

What’s New:

The new tax reform changes the way inflation is calculated and will affect a number of tax-related issues. Inflation calculations had previously been calculated using the “regular consumer price index,” but going forward the IRS will use the “chained consumer price index.” The end result is a lower rate of inflation will be used to calculate the increase to the FEIE, which will increase taxes over time.

Modifications were made in tax brackets, exemptions, and deductions. Tax brackets are now larger, meaning you may now be in a lower bracket than you were previously, and the standard deduction has been nearly doubled. For those considering a move to or from the US, two new issues should be considered: 1) the moving deduction has been completely eliminated; 2) the individual mandate, as part of the Affordable Care Act has been eliminated. Unfortunately, the Net Investment Income Tax was not eliminated and will still impact Expats.

The corporate tax has been the most talked about change. This tax reform bill has transitioned the US to a territorial system of corporate taxation. Before, the US operated using worldwide taxation, meaning that corporations had to pay taxes on the income they earned abroad. This change will affect Expats who own corporations outside of the US, because they will face a one-time deemed repatriation tax of 15.5% of any previously untaxed overseas profits as the US transitions to a more territorial system for corporations instead of a worldwide system.

For US Expats, the new tax bill is pretty much the same tax bill with disappointments and frustrations for the nearly 9 million Americans living away from the United States. And, those who own small businesses abroad may actually find their situation is worse under the TCJA than under the old system! We at Zhong and Sanchez will help you sort through TCJA and advise on your international exposure under TCJA. We are dedicated to provide high-quality tax and financial reporting services to privately-held entities and small business owners. Our expertise ranges from income tax filing and accounting services to international compliance and financial analysis. Located in the Silicon Valley, you can reach us at 510-458-4451 or schedule your first free consultation today at https://calendly.com/zhongsanchez

5 Ways the New Tax Law Affects Paying for College

The final version of the GOP tax bill that passed last month rewrites the tax code in many ways, eliminating deductions and adding new benefits. Some of these new provisions affect those paying for college.

After public outcry on several provisions proposed in the House's tax bill, the Senate version that passed last month left many tax credits related to higher education untouched.

The new tax bill keeps the deduction for student loan interest. Additionally, the tuition waivers that graduate students receive will stay tax free, and other tax credits – such as the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit – remain unscathed.

"A lot of things didn’t change that we were worried about changing – the taxation of the tuition waiver, the taxation of employer tuition assistance. We worried about that happening, but it didn’t end up happening," says Shannon Vasconcelos, director of college finance at College Coach, an admissions consulting firm.

But a few key changes will affect families and students who are financing higher education. Here are five new tax codes that may change a family's finances.

1. Deductions for interest on home equity loans and lines of credit are eliminated. Under the new tax legislation, the ability to deduct interest on home equity loans is suspended from 2018 to 2025.

"This one is a real big one that is a bummer for families," says Vasconcelos. "For a lot of families, it's the best interest rate – it's better than a lot of the education loan rates. A lot of families do tap their home equity to pay for college, so losing the deduction is going to cost them fairly significant money."

The new restrictive mortgage rules that cap interest on new loans to $750,000 will also "prevent many middle-income taxpayers from using home-equity loans in the future to fund college tuition, while generating tax-deductible interest," says Blake Christian, a CPA at Holthouse, Carlin, Van Trigt, a Southern California accounting firm.

2. Families can use 529 plans to pay for K-12 education. Families can now use qualified education expenses in a tax-advantaged 529 savings account to pay for elementary or secondary school tuition. The new tax code allows taxpayers to pay up to $10,000 per student per year in K-12 tuition.

But college experts caution some families against using this new flexibility with 529 accounts. Sean Moore, founder of SMART College Funding, worries that parents who redirect these funds to cover private school education may use the money too quickly and come up short for college.

Christian from HCVT says this benefit will largely help families with a high net worth.

3. Colleges and universities will pay a new excise tax on endowments. A new excise tax levies a 1.4 percent on a private educational institution's endowments that amount to more than $500,000 per student.

The new provision affects scores of private universities with large endowments, such as Harvard University in Massachusetts, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and Stanford University in California, to name a few.

"It's going to cost these colleges money. How much is going to be passed on to students and parents – we don't know yet. The colleges are just now figuring out how to deal with this new tax," says Vasconcelos from College Coach.

4. Student loans discharged for death or disability are now tax-exempt. The new tax code makes death and disability discharges of federal and private education loans tax-free.

Previously, the debt cancellation would be added as income on to the taxpayer's bill. Now the cancellation of the student debt is tax-free. But the new tax code only applies to discharges that occur during 2018 to 2025.

"It's great for those families who suffer from those devastating effects. But the reality is the people that it helps are hopefully very small," says Moore from SMART College Funding.

5. Alimony for recipients is no longer taxable. College consulting experts say this provision should make it easier for custodial parents to qualify for need-based aid when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA. For the most part, the FAFSA for college-bound students relies on parental information, such as tax records.

"Without alimony showing up on their tax returns, divorced custodial parents should be eligible for financial aid," says Joe Orsolini, president of College Aid Planners, a consulting organization in Illinois that helps families navigate paying for college. "This change will make is easier for them to qualify."

Even with this provision, the FAFSA uses tax records from the prior prior year – so there is a time gap to when this new tax code would benefit a custodial parent. But Orsolini says this should benefit these parents "unless the Department of Education catches on to this and changes the FAFSA."

Source: https://www.usnews.com/education

Contractors could benefit from new tax law

The new tax law is likely to accelerate a hotly disputed trend in the American economy by rewarding workers who sever formal relationships with their employers and become contractors.

Management consultants may soon strike out on their own, and stockbrokers may hang out their own shingle.

More cable repairmen and delivery drivers, some of whom find work through gig economy apps like Uber, may also be lured into contracting arrangements.

That’s because a provision in the tax law allows sole proprietors — along with owners of partnerships or other so-called pass-through entities — to deduct 20 percent of their revenue from their taxable income.

The tax savings, which could be around $15,000 per year for many affluent couples, may prove enticing to workers. “If you’re above the median but not at the very, very top, one would think you’d be thinking it through,” said David Kamin, a professor of tax law at New York University.

The provision may also turn out to be a boon for employers who are trying to reduce their payroll costs. Workers hired as contractors, who tend to be cheaper, may be less likely to complain about their status under the new tax law.

“Firms currently have a lot of incentives to turn workers into independent contractors,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. “This reinforces the current trends.”

But it could lead to an erosion of the protections that have long been a cornerstone of full-time work.

Formal employment, after all, provides more than just income. Unlike independent contractors, employees have access to unemployment insurance if they lose their jobs and workers’ compensation if they are injured at work. They are protected by workplace anti-discrimination laws and have a federally backed right to form a union.

Those protections do not generally apply to contractors. Nor do minimum-wage and overtime laws.

“What you’re losing is the safety nets for those workers,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group.

Traditional full-time jobs also insulate workers against the peaks and troughs in the demand for their services. Consider, for instance, the erratic income of retail or fulfillment-center workers hired in the fall and let go after the holidays.

And because companies have internal pay scales, the lowest-paid employees tend to make more than they would on the open market.

“It used to be that companies like G.M. or the local bank or factory directly employed the janitor, the clerical worker,” Professor Katz said, noting that their pay would rise along with other employees’ when the company was doing well.

Unwinding employment relationships eliminates these benefits, increasing the volatility of workers’ incomes and magnifying pay disparities and inequality.

It’s difficult to say how many workers would choose to become contractors as a result of the new provision, which for couples frequently begins to phase out at a taxable income above $315,000. Mr. Kamin said joint filers who make close to $315,000 and could transform most of these earnings into business income would find it most compelling to make the change. (It could be more compelling still if one spouse’s employer offered the couple health insurance, which many employers provide even though they aren’t required to.)

On the other hand, many individuals fail to avail themselves of existing tax deductions, like the one that freelancers can take for their expenses, said Jamil Poonja of Stride Health, which helps self-employed workers buy health insurance. That may reflect the lack of access among lower-earning workers to sophisticated tax advice.

The tax benefit could also be offset in some cases by the need for contractors to pay both the employer and employee portion of the federal payroll tax.

Many employers are already pushing the boundaries of who they treat as employees and who they treat as independent contractors.

In theory, it is the nature of the job, and not the employer’s whim, that is supposed to determine the worker’s job status.

If a company exerts sufficient control over workers by setting their schedules or how much they charge customers, and if workers largely depend on the company for their livelihood, the law typically considers those workers to be employees.

True contractors are supposed to retain control over most aspects of their job and can typically generate income through entrepreneurial skill, and not just by working longer hours.

In practice, however, many companies classify workers who are clearly employees as contractors, because they are usually much cheaper to use. And many labor advocates say the new tax deduction will encourage more employers to go that route by giving them an additional carrot to dangle in front of workers.

“The risk presented by this provision is that employers can go to workers and say, ‘You know what, your taxes will go down, let me classify you as an independent contractor,’” said Seth Harris, a deputy labor secretary under President Barack Obama.

Anything that makes workers more likely to accept such an arrangement makes it harder to root out violations of the law. That is because the agencies responsible for policing misclassification — the Labor Department, the Internal Revenue Service, state labor and tax authorities — lack the resources to identify more than a fraction of the violations on their own.

“Your chances of finding a worker that’s been misclassified if that worker has not complained are worse than your chances of finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn,” Mr. Harris said.

David Weil, the administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division under Mr. Obama, believes the change will add fuel to a trend that has been several decades in the making.

During that time, as Mr. Weil documented in a book on the subject, “The Fissured Workplace,” employers have steadily pushed more work outside their organizations, paring the number of people they employ and engaging a rising number of contractors, temporary workers and freelancers.

The tax law will accelerate the shift, he said, because employers who are already keen to reorganize in this way will recognize that even fewer workers are likely to object as a result of the tax benefits.

The effect of the deduction could be especially big in industries where misclassification is already rampant.

Many small-time construction contractors hire full-time workers who should be classified as employees but are kept on as freelancers or paid under the table, said Kyle Makarios, political director for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

Mr. Makarios said the pass-through provision would encourage even more building contractors to misclassify workers, allowing them to reduce their labor costs and underbid contractors who play by the rules.

The practice by ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft of classifying drivers as independent contractors has long been criticized by labor advocates and plaintiffs’ lawyers. They argue that the companies control crucial features of the working relationship and hold most of the economic power.

Neil Bradley, senior vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that gig-economy companies classify workers as contractors when it suits the needs of their business and that he did not expect that to change. He also said he did not expect firms with traditional business models to follow suit as a result of the new provision.

“I think the decision is going to be driven by the considerations” that lawyers cite, such as the amount of control a company exercises, he said, “not by this tax bill.”

But Mr. Weil was less sanguine.

“These kinds of approaches to making it easier to slide into independent contractor status reflect unequal bargaining power,” he said. “When you add to that an additional financial incentive, you’re just unwinding the whole system.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/31/business/economy/tax-work.html?WT.mc_id=SmartBriefs-Newsletter&WT.mc_ev=click&ad-keywords=smartbriefsnl