Married? Thinking about NOT filing a joint return with your spouse? Most likely, you will utilize the ‘married filing separate’, or MFS, filing status. With this, you must be aware that there are special tax codes involved that married individuals CANNOT benefit by filing as MFS. Dagley & Co. describes some of the most frequent issues we’ve encountered when making the choice of the MFS filing status. (Please note, all dollar amounts are those for 2017)
Joint & Several Liability – When married taxpayers file joint returns, both spouses are responsible for the tax on that return. What this means is that one spouse may be held liable for all the tax due on a return, even if the other spouse earned all the income on that return. In some marriages, this becomes an issue and causes the spouses to decide to file separately. In other cases, especially second marriages, the couple may want to keep their finances separate. Unless all the income, exemptions, credits and deductions are divided equally, which usually happens in community property states, this generally causes the incomes to be distorted and could easily push one of the spouses into a higher tax bracket and create a greater combined tax than filing jointly. Being in a separate property state, where each spouse claims their own earnings, can also create an uneven allocation of income and a higher tax bracket for one of the spouses.
Exemptions – Taxpayers are allowed a $4,050 tax exemption for each of their dependents. However, the $4,050 allowance cannot be divided between the MFS filers, so only one of the filers can claim a dependent’s exemption, and where there are multiple dependents, the spouses would need to allocate the exemptions between them.
Itemizing Deductions – To prevent taxpayers from filing MFS and one spouse taking advantage of itemized deductions and the other utilizing the standard deduction, the tax regulations require both to itemize if one of them does.
Social Security Income – When filing a joint return, Social Security (SS) income is not taxable until the modified AGI (MAGI) – which is regular AGI (without Social Security income) plus 50% of the couple’s Social Security income plus tax-exempt interest income and plus certain other infrequently encountered additions – exceeds a taxable threshold of $32,000. However, for married taxpayers who have lived together at any time during the year and are filing married separate, the threshold is zero, generally making more of the Social Security income taxable.
Section 179 Deduction – Businesses can elect to expense, instead of depreciate, up to $510,000 of business purchases, generally including equipment, certain qualified leasehold property and off-the-shelf computer software. The $510,000 cap is reduced by $1 for every $1 that the qualifying purchases exceed $2,030,000 for the year. Married taxpayers are treated as one taxpayer for purposes of the Section 179 expense limit. Thus, they generally must split the limit equally unless they can agree upon and elect an unequal split.
Special Passive Loss Allowance – Passive losses are generally losses from business and rental activities in which a taxpayer does not materially participate. Those losses are not allowed except to offset income from other passive activities. Rental property is an example of a passive activity, and for lower-income taxpayers, a special allowance permits taxpayers who are actively involved in the rental activity to currently deduct a loss of up to $25,000 if their AGI does not exceed $100,000. That $25,000 special loss allowance phases out by 50 cents for each $1 of AGI over $100,000 and is completely eliminated when the AGI reaches $150,000. When filing separately, this special allowance is not allowed unless the spouses live apart the entire year, and then the allowance is reduced to $12,500 each.
Traditional IRA Deduction Phase-Out – If a married taxpayer filing jointly is participating in a qualified employer pension plan, the deductibility of a traditional IRA contribution is phased out ratably for an AGI between $99,000 and $119,000. If the taxpayers file married separate, the phase-out begins at $0 if the taxpayer participates in their employer’s plan, and when the AGI reaches $10,000, no traditional IRA deduction is allowed. So little, if any, IRA deduction will be available to such an MFS filer.
Roth IRA Contribution Phase-Out – Taxpayers may choose to contribute to a non-deductible Roth IRA. However, Roth IRA contributions are ratably phased out for higher-income married filing jointly taxpayers with an AGI between $186,000 and $196,000. For a married taxpayer filing MFS status, that AGI phase-out range drops to $0 through $9,999, virtually eliminating the possibility of a Roth contribution.
Coverdell Education Accounts – Taxpayers are allowed to contribute up to $2,000 per beneficiary to a Coverdell education savings account annually. However for joint filers, the amount that can be contributed ratably phases out for AGIs between $190,000 and $220,000. For married filing separate taxpayers, the phase-out is half that amount, from $95,000 to $110,000.
Education Tax Credits – Taxpayers are allowed a tax credit, called the American Opportunity Tax Credit, of up to $2,500 per family member enrolled at least half-time in college for the cost of tuition and qualified expenses. This credit phases out ratably for higher-income married taxpayers filing jointly with an AGI between $160,000 and $180,000.
There is a second higher-education credit called the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides a credit of up to $2,000 per family. This credit also phases out ratably for higher-income married taxpayers filing jointly with an AGI between $112,000 and $132,000.
However, neither credit is allowed for married filing separate taxpayers.
Higher Education Interest – Taxpayers can take a deduction of up to $2,500 for student loan interest paid on higher-education loans. Like other benefits, it is phased out for higher-income married taxpayers filing jointly, in this instance when the AGI is between $135,000 and $165,000. It is not allowed at all for taxpayers filing as married separate.
Education Exclusion For U.S. Savings Bond Interest – Although not frequently encountered, interest from certain U.S. Savings Bonds can be excluded if used to pay higher-education expenses for the taxpayers and their dependents. The exclusion phases out for married taxpayers with an AGI between $117,250 and $147,250. This deduction is not allowed at all when filing married separate.
Premium Tax Credit – For married taxpayers who qualify for the PTC (health insurance subsidy) under Obamacare, if they file married separate, they may be required to repay the subsidy.
Earned Income Tax Credit – This is a refundable tax credit that rewards lower-income taxpayers for working and can be as much $6,318 for families with three or more qualifying children. Taxpayers filing as married separate are not qualified for this credit.
Child Care Credit – If both spouses work and incur child care expenses, they qualify for the child care credit. However, for those married filing separate, the credit is not allowed.
Halved Deductions & Credits – Many of the deductions and credits allowed to a married couple filing jointly are cut in half for the married filing separate filing status. They include:
- Standard Deduction
- Standard Deduction Phase-Out
- Alternative Minimum Tax Exemptions
- Alternative Minimum Tax Exemptions Phase-Outs
- Child Tax Credit Phase-Out
Head of Household Filing Status – Where a married couple is not filing jointly, one or both spouses may qualify for the more beneficial Head of Household (HH) filing status rather than having to file using the MFS status. A married individual may use the HH status if they lived apart from their spouse for at least the last six months of the year and paid more than one-half of the cost of maintaining his or her home as a principal place of abode for more than one-half the year of a child, stepchild or eligible foster child for whom the taxpayer may claim a dependency exemption. (A non-dependent child only qualifies if the custodial parent gave written consent to allow the dependency to the non-custodial parent or if the non-custodial parent has the right to claim the dependency under a pre-’85 divorce agreement.)
As you can see, there are a significant number of issues that need to be considered when making the decision to use the married filing separate status. And these are not all of them, but only the more significant ones. The filing status decision should not be made nonchalantly, as it can have significant impact on your taxes. Please contact Dagley & Co. for assistance in making that crucial decision.
Image via public domain
Are you a baby boomer? If so, have you been stashing away tax-deferred retirement savings? If so, take note… It is getting close to the time to start withdrawing funds from those accounts and, of course, paying taxes on those withdrawals. (This includes distributions from traditional IRAs and 401(k)s)
The same Internal Revenue Code that allowed you to save tax dollars when you contributed to those tax-deferred retirement plans also generally requires you to begin withdrawals on the year you reach age 70½. These distributions are called required minimum distributions (RMDs) and are based on annuity tables. Generally, most individuals will utilize the single life table, but the joint life annuity tables are used if the individual’s spouse is more than 10 years younger.
Keep in mind that you can always take as much as you wish from your tax-deferred retirement accounts, but you must take the RMD amount each year, beginning with the year you turn age 70½, or you will be subject to a very severe penalty, which we will discuss later. One exception is that you can delay the payout for the year you become 70½ until no later than April 1 of the following year. However, since you will also need to make an RMD for that following year, you will end up with two years’ worth of distributions being taxed in one year if you use the delayed distribution option.
The following is an abbreviated single life table. The actual table goes to age 111.
Age 70 71 72 73 74 75 Distribution Period (Years) 27.4 26.5 25.6 24.7 23.8 22.9
Required Minimum Distribution – To determine an RMD, first determine the distribution period (life expectancy) based on your current age. So, for the year you turn 70½, the distribution period would be 27.4 years. Next, determine the retirement account’s balance on December 31 of the prior year. The account balance divided by the distribution period equals the RMD. For example, say you will turn age 70½ in 2016 and your tax-deferred retirement account had a balance of $500,000 on December 31, 2015. Your 2016 RMD would be $18,248 ($500,000/27.4).
Failure to Take an RMD Penalty – When the full amount of an RMD is not taken, the penalty is 50% of the amount you didn’t withdraw. Luckily, the IRS is very lenient on this penalty and will generally waive it when an under-distribution is inadvertent or due to ignorance of the law, provided that the RMD amounts are made up as soon as possible once the error is discovered. Avoid RMD problems by having your account custodian or trustee determine the RMD annually and then transfer the distribution directly to your checking, savings or non-retirement plan brokerage account.
Multiple Retirement Accounts – When you have multiple accounts, the question often is, “Which account should I take the RMD from?” All traditional IRAs are treated as one for distribution purposes. So, you can take the RMD for the IRA accounts from any combination of the accounts that you choose. However, that may cause a problem with a trustee of the IRA account(s) from which you didn’t take a distribution, who may think you didn’t take your RMD for the year. So, it is less problematic to take a distribution from each account.
You may wish to simplify the RMD distributions by transferring all of your traditional IRAs into one account, if you have several traditional IRAs. This is best done by having the trustees make direct transfers to the target IRA, rather than you receiving the distributions and then rolling over the funds, since you are only allowed one IRA rollover each twelve months (trustee-to-trustee transfers don’t count as rollovers). Note that spouses must maintain their accounts separately and cannot combine their accounts with yours when figuring RMDs.
If you have a 401(k) account, the RMD for it must be figured separately from any IRA accounts you also have. And, if you have multiple 401(k)s, each 401(k) account’s RMD is figured separately from those of your other 401(k) plans.
Non-Taxable Amounts – If your tax deduction for the contribution was limited when you made your traditional IRA contribution because you were a high-income taxpayer, you would have created a non-taxable basis in your IRA. If this is true, then that non-taxable basis is recovered tax-free in proportion to your distribution.
Roth Conversions – The ability of individuals to convert amounts of their traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs gives rise to some possible tax-saving moves in the years leading up to the RMD age. Things to consider are:
- Is you tax bracket lower now than it will be after retirement? If so, you might consider converting some portion of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA now. You will pay tax on the traditional IRA distribution in the year of the conversion, but when you withdraw it from the Roth IRA, it will be tax-free.
- If you have a low-income year for some reason, and if you are age 59½ or older, it might be appropriate to take a distribution in that year and pay little or no tax. You won’t get a credit against a future RMD by doing so but you will be lowering the balance in the account for the eventual calculation of RMDs.
The following strategies require careful planning:
Effect on Taxable Income Once RMDs Start – Your taxable income may be increased by more than just the amount of the RMD. Adding your RMD to your income that is already taxed will increase your adjusted gross income (AGI); as a result, the amount of your Social Security benefits that is taxed may also increase. In addition, since the AGI is the amount on which the phaseout or reduction of many tax deductions is based, you may also find that you are getting less tax benefit from such items as medical expenses, charitable contributions, and investment-related expenses – all of which means your tax bill will go up by more than it otherwise would by just adding the RMD to your income.
Plan for Additional Withholding or Estimated Tax – Once you start taking distributions from your IRA or 401(k), and to avoid a potential underpayment of tax penalty, you will likely need to increase your tax prepayments, either by having federal (and possibly state) income taxes withheld from the distributions or by making quarterly estimated tax payments. If you already make estimated tax payments, you may need to increase the installment amounts.
If You Don’t Need the RMD – If you simply don’t need the retirement distribution, after reaching age 70½, you can donate up to $100,000 of IRA funds per year to a qualified charity without having to include the distribution in your income, and it will still count towards your RMD. If you are married and your spouse has an IRA and is also 70½ or older, he or she may also make a charitable IRA distribution of up to $100,000. So, if you are someone who gives substantial amounts to charity each year, this is a distribution strategy you may want to consider after reaching RMD age. CAUTION: To qualify under this provision, the funds must be directly transferred from the IRA account to the charity.
RMD issues can be quite complicated. We believe it is highly suggested that you consult Dagley & Co. for pre-RMD planning, determining the correct RMD amounts, and analyzing your withholding and/or estimated tax obligations. Give us a call at (202) 417-6640.
Image via public domain
If a U.S. citizen and resident has a financial interest or authority over any foreign financial accounts, they are required to report. These may include bank, securities, or other types of financial accounts in a foreign country, and they are required to report that relationship if the aggregate value of the accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year.
The reporting is accomplished by filing FinCEN Form 114, frequently referred to as the foreign bank account report (FBAR) on or before June 30 of the succeeding year. Thus, for the 2015 tax year the FBAR must be filed by June 30, 2016. The filing is done electronically on the Financial Crimes Enforcement website. For the 2015 tax year, there are no extensions and civil penalties for non-willful violations, which can be as high as $10,000. The penalty for willful violations is the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the account’s balance at the time of the violation.
A “financial account” includes securities, brokerage, savings, checking, deposit, time deposit, or other accounts at a financial institution. Commodity futures and options accounts, mutual funds, and even non-monetary assets such as gold are also included. It becomes a “foreign financial account” if the financial institution is located in a foreign country. If you own shares of a foreign stock or a mutual fund that invests in foreign stocks and is held in an account at a financial institution or brokerage located in the U.S., this is not considered a foreign financial account, and the FBAR rules don’t apply to it. An account maintained with the branch of a foreign bank physically located in the U.S. also is not a foreign financial account.
You may have an FBAR requirement and not even realize it. For instance, perhaps you have relatives residing in a foreign county who have put you on their bank account in case something happens to them. If the value of the account exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year, you will need to file the FBAR. Or if you are gambling on the Internet, that online casino may be located in a foreign country, and if your account exceeds the $10,000 limit at any time during the year, you will have an FBAR-reporting requirement.
You may also have an additional requirement to file Form 8938, which is similar to the FBAR requirement but applies to a wider range of foreign assets with a higher dollar threshold. If you are married and filing jointly with your spouse, you must file Form 8938 if the value of certain financial assets exceeds $100,000 at the end of the year or $150,000 at any time during the year. If you live abroad, the thresholds are $400,000 and $600,000, respectively. For other filing statuses, the thresholds are half of those amounts. The penalty for failing to file the 8938 is $10,000 per year, and if the failure continues for more than 90 days after you receive an IRS notice of failure to file, the penalty can go as high $50,000. Form 8938 should be filed with your individual tax return for the year by the due date (including extensions) of that return. If you have already filed your 2015 tax return and believe you may have an 8938 filing requirement that wasn’t met on the return you filed, you should call Dagley & Co. immediately.
As you can see, not complying with the foreign account reporting requirements can have some very nasty repercussions, and reporting can be complicated. The foregoing is an overview of the reporting requirements. Please call Dagley & Co. for additional details that may apply to your particular situation. Please call well in advance of the June 30 date if you need assistance in meeting your FBAR reporting obligation. Remember, there are no extensions for the FinCEN 114 filing.
Image via. public domain