• Uber and Lyft Drivers’ Tax Treatment

    6 April 2017
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    Do you drive for Uber or Lyft, or are thinking of getting into this business? We’ve outlined what it’s like to work for these types of companies, including taxes, expenses, and write-offs:

    Uber and Lyft treat drivers as independent contractors as opposed to employees. However, more than 70 pending lawsuits in federal court, plus an unknown number in the state courts, are challenging this independent contractor status. As the courts have not yet reached a decision on that dispute, this analysis does not address the potential employee/independent contractor issue related to rideshare divers; it only deals with the tax treatment of drivers who are independent contractors, using Uber as the example.

    How Uber Works – Each fare (customer) establishes an account with Uber using a credit card (CC), Paypal, or another method. The fare uses the Uber smartphone app to request a ride, and an Uber driver picks that person up and takes him or her to the destination. Generally, no money changes hands, as Uber charges the fare’s CC, deducts both its fee and the CC processing fee, and then deposits the net amount into the driver’s bank account.

    Income Reporting – Uber issues each driver a Form 1099-K reflecting the total amount charged for the driver’s fares. Because the IRS will treat the 1099-K as gross business income, it must be included on line 1 (gross income) of the driver’s Schedule C before adjusting for the CC and Uber service fees. Uber then deposits the net amount into the driver’s bank account, reflecting the fares minus the CC and Uber fees. Thus, the sum of the year’s deposits from Uber can be subtracted from the 1099-K amount, and the difference can be taken as an expense or as a cost of goods sold. Currently, a third party operates Uber’s billing, coordinates the drivers’ fares and issues the drivers’ 1099-Ks.

    Automobile Operating Expenses – Uber also provides an online statement to its drivers that details the miles driven with fares and the dollar amounts for both the fares and the bank deposits.

    Although the Uber statement mentioned above includes the miles driven for each fare, this figure only represents the miles between a fare’s pickup point and delivery point. It does not reflect the additional miles driven between fares. Drivers should maintain a mileage log to track their total miles and substantiate their business mileage.

    A driver can choose to use the actual-expense method or the optional mileage rate when determining operating expenses. However, the actual-expense method requires far more detailed recordkeeping, including records of both business and total miles and costs of fuel, insurance, repairs, etc. Drivers may find the standard mileage rate far less complicated because they only need to keep a contemporaneous record of business miles, the purposes of each trip and the total miles driven for the year. For 2017, the standard mileage rate is 53.5 cents per mile, down from 54.0 cents per mile in 2016.

    Whether using the actual-expense method or the standard mileage rate, the costs of tolls and airport fees are also deductible.

    When the actual-expense method is chosen in the first year that a vehicle is used for business, that method must be used for the duration of the vehicle’s business use. On the other hand, if the standard mileage rate is used in the first year, the owner can switch between the standard mileage rate and the actual-expense method each year (using straight-line deprecation).

    Business Use Of The Home – Because drivers conduct all of their business from their vehicle, and because Uber provides an online accounting of income (including Uber fees and CC charges), it would be extremely difficult to justify an expense claim for a home office. Some argue that the portion of the garage where the vehicle is parked could be claimed as a business use of the home. The falsity with that argument is that, to qualify as a home office, the space must be used exclusively for business; because it is virtually impossible to justify that a vehicle was used 100% of the time for business, this exclusive requirement cannot be met.

    Without a business use of the home deduction, the distance driven to pick up the first fare each day and the distance driven when returning home at the end of a shift are considered nondeductible commuting miles.

    Vehicle Write-off – The luxury auto rules limit the annual depreciation deduction, but regulations exempt from these rules any vehicle that a taxpayer uses directly in the trade or business of transporting persons or property for compensation or hire. As a result, a driver can take advantage of several options for writing off the cost of the vehicle. These include immediate expensing, the depreciation of 50% of the vehicle’s cost, normal deprecation or a combination of all three, allowing owner-operators to pick almost any amount of write-off to best suit their particular circumstances, provided that they use the actual-expense method for their vehicles.

    The options for immediate expensing and depreciating 50% of the cost are available only in the year when the vehicle is purchased and only if it is also put into business use during that year. If the vehicle was purchased in a year prior to the year that it is first used in the rideshare business, either the fair market value at that time or the original cost, whichever is lower, is depreciated over 5 years.

    Cash Tips – Here, care must be taken, as Uber does not permit fares to include tips in their CC charges but Lyft does. Any cash tips that drivers receive must be included in their Schedule C gross income.

    Deductions Other Than the Vehicle – Possible other deductions include:

    • Cell phone service
    • Liability insurance
    • Water for the fares

    Self-Employment Tax – Because the drivers are treated as self-employed individuals, they are also subject to the self-employment tax, which is the equivalent to payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare withholdings) for employees—except the rate is double because a self-employed individual must pay both the employer’s and the employee’s shares.

    If you are currently a driver for Uber or Lyft, or if you think that you may want to get into that business, and if you have questions about taxation in the rideshare industry and how it might affect your situation, please give Dagley & Co. a call.

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  • So You Want to Deduct Your Work Clothes?

    20 October 2016
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    A frequent question we get is : Can I deduct the cost of my work clothing on my tax return? The answer to this question is “maybe.” The IRS provides the following guidelines for when expenses for work clothes are deductible:

    1) They are worn as a condition of employment

    AND

    2) The clothing is not suitable for everyday wear.

    It is not enough that the clothing be distinctive; it must be specifically required by the taxpayer’s employer. Nor is it enough that the taxpayer does not, in fact, wear the work clothes away from work. The clothing must not be suitable for taking the place of the taxpayer’s regular clothing. So, just because your employer requires you to wear a suit at work does not make that suit deductible, because it is suitable for everyday wear.

    The following are examples of workers who may be able to deduct the cost and upkeep of work clothes: delivery workers, firefighters, health care workers, law enforcement officers, letter carriers, professional athletes, and transportation workers (air, rail, bus, etc.). Note that those types of occupations usually require uniform-type clothing, which is generally deductible if required by the employer.

    Musicians and entertainers can deduct the cost of theatrical clothing and accessories if they are not suitable for everyday wear. The IRS contends that white bib overalls and standard shoes, such as a painter might wear, are not distinctive in character or in the nature of a uniform, so they are not deductible.

    Generally, when deciding whether costs to purchase and maintain clothing are eligible to be deducted, the courts use an objective test that makes no reference to the individual taxpayer’s lifestyle or personal taste. Instead, the courts in considering whether clothing is adaptable for personal or general use look to what is generally considered ordinary street wear.

    For example, in a recent Tax Court case, the court held that a salesman for Ralph Lauren who was required to purchase and wear the designer’s apparel while representing the company couldn’t deduct the cost of such clothing. The court found that the clothing was clearly suitable for regular wear and therefore not deductible.

    Protective Clothing – The costs of protective clothing required for work, such as safety shoes or boots, safety glasses, hard hats and work gloves, are deductible. Examples of workers who may require safety items include carpenters, cement workers, chemical workers, electricians, fishing workers, linemen, machinists, oil field workers, pipe fitters and truck drivers.

    Military UniformsTaxpayers generally cannot deduct the cost of uniforms if they are on full-time active duty in the armed forces. However, armed forces reservists can deduct the un-reimbursed cost of uniforms if military regulations restrict the taxpayers from wearing a uniform except while on duty as a reservist. A student at an armed forces academy cannot deduct the cost of uniforms if they replace regular clothing. However, the cost of insignia, shoulder boards, and related items are deductible. Civilian faculty and staff members of a military school can deduct the cost of uniforms.

    When deductible, the cost of the clothing and upkeep is considered a miscellaneous itemized deduction. However, miscellaneous itemized deductions are only allowed to the extent that they exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income. So higher-income taxpayers with no or few other miscellaneous itemized deductions may not benefit from a deduction.

    Please contact Dagley & Co. if you have any questions about the deduction of your work clothing.

     

     

     

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  • Surviving Spouse Estate Tax Exclusion

    27 May 2016
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    An account of everything an individual owned or had interest in on the date of their death is included in the tax on the transfer of their property. This is called the estate tax. This includes cash and securities, real estate, insurance, trusts, annuities, business interests, and other assets. The tax is based on the fair market value of these assets (less certain exclusions), generally as of the day the decedent died.

    An inflation-adjusted lifetime exclusion prevents smaller estates from being taxed. This exclusion is $5,450,000 for 2016, but it is adjusted (reduced) by the value of untaxed gifts that the decedent gave in excess of the annual gift exemption (currently $14,000) over his or her lifetime. Thus, if the value of all the decedent’s property is less than the adjusted exclusion amount, there would be no estate tax and, generally, no need to file an estate tax return. However, filing an estate tax return when it otherwise wouldn’t be needed may be beneficial to the surviving spouse when the decedent was married.

    When a decedent is survived by a spouse and the decedent’s estate is worth less than the adjusted lifetime exclusion, the estate of the decedent may elect to pass any of the decedent’s unused lifetime exclusion to the surviving spouse. Considering that estate tax rates currently range from 18 to 40 percent, this can be very beneficial if the estate of the surviving spouse could exceed the adjusted lifetime exclusion when he or she subsequently passes.

    Example – A husband with an estate valued at $2 million died in 2014, having made prior taxable gifts of $1 million. Even though there was no estate tax return filing requirement, the decedent’s spouse filed one to claim the election to pass the decedent’s unused lifetime exclusion to his spouse. The husband’s unused exclusion amount was $2.34 million, which is the 2014 estate tax exemption of $5.34 million minus the $1 million in prior taxable gifts and the $2 million value of his estate. His spouse can then add his unused exclusion to her own. Assuming that the spouse has made no taxable gifts, if she passes in 2016, her estate’s exclusion amount for 2016 would be $7.79 million (her $5.45 million basic exclusion amount plus $2.34 million of her spouse’s unused exclusion amount).

    For the surviving spouse (or his or her estate) to claim the deceased spouse’s unused exclusion amount, the estate of the first spouse to die must make an election, referred to as the portability election, by filing a timely estate tax return. The estate tax return must include a computation of the unused exclusion amount. This is true even if the value of the estate is not enough to require an estate tax return to be filed.

    This presents a quandary for the executor (or other representative of the estate, often the surviving spouse), who must decide whether it is worth the cost of having an estate tax return prepared and filed when there is no requirement to do so outside of making the portability election (as estate tax returns are quite complicated and expensive).

    When making this decision, an executor needs to carefully consider the likelihood of the surviving spouse’s estate exceeding the adjusted lifetime exclusion amount. Another factor to consider is that Congress has changed both the lifetime exclusion amount and the estate tax rates in the past; as this topic seems to be a constant subject of discussion in Washington, there are no guarantees that the exemption will remain at its current level. If the executor is not the surviving spouse, he or she will ideally consult with the widow(er) on the decision, but this is not required. This could pose a problem if there is animosity between the executor and the surviving spouse. To avoid this situation, if someone other than the spouse is the executor of the estate for the first spouse to die, it is a good idea to include language in the couple’s wills or trusts that will require the executor to make the portability election.

    If you have questions related to this election, the lifetime exclusion, the annual gift tax exemption, or estate planning in general, please give Dagley & Co. a call.

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  • Homeowner Energy Tax Credits Get New Life

    21 January 2016
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    Do you want to take advantage of your energy credits as a homeowner? Renewed opportunities to homeowners wanting to take advantage of energy credits and reduce their costs are possible after a recently passed legislation to two homeowners with these credits that were about to expire.

    The first of the two credits is what the tax code refers to as the Residential Energy Property Credit. A more descriptive title would be an energy saving credit since it applies to improvements to the taxpayer’s existing primary home to make it more energy efficient. This credit was extended for two more years, allowing homeowners to claim the credit for qualifying energy improvements made in 2015 and 2016.

    The credit generally applies to insulation, storm windows and doors, and certain types of energy-efficient roofing materials, air-conditioning and hot water systems.

    The credit is 10% of the cost of the energy-saving items but does not apply to the cost of installation and is limited to a lifetime maximum of $500. So if you have taken advantage of this credit in the past and received $500 or more in credit in a prior year, you cannot claim any additional credit.

    In addition to the $500 overall limitation, there are also per-item limitations on the credit; for example, qualified windows and skylights – $200, qualified hot water boiler – $150 and qualified energy-efficient equipment – $300.

    The credit is nonrefundable and can only be used to offset income taxes (including the alternative minimum tax).

    The second credit to be extended is called the Residential Energy Property Credit. Better known as the home solar credit, it also provides credit for wind energy systems, geothermal systems and fuel cell systems. The credit is generally 30% of the qualified property and installation costs, subject to some limitations for fuel cell and geothermal systems.

    The credit, which was scheduled to expire after 2016, has been extended through 2021, but only for solar electric and solar hot water systems (excluding swimming pools). In addition, the credit percentage is phased out beginning after 2019. The following are the credit percentages allowed through 2021: 2009 through 2021: No annual limit, 2009–2019: 30%, 2020: rate reduced to 26% and only on solar-related systems, and 2021: rate reduced to 22% and only on solar-related systems.

    There is no limit on the actual credit other than the credit percentage. It is a nonrefundable credit and can be used to offset income tax liability (including the AMT). However, if the credit is unused because it exceeds the income tax amount, it can be carried over to another year as long as the credit has not expired.

    When considering whether or not to go to the expense of installing a solar system, you need to consider a number of issues. Is it cost effective considering your electric usage? How will you pay for it? If you finance it are the terms and interest rate reasonable for your financial situation? How will it affect your property’s value? Will you be able to benefit from the tax credits?

    Installing solar is a big financial commitment and should be considered carefully. Don’t let a solar system salesperson rush you into a decision. If you need assistance analyzing the financial and tax aspects of installing a solar system, please give Dagley & Co. a call before you sign on the dotted line.

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