Planning to adopt a child or children? Or, are you already an adoptive parent? If so, we have good news for you! You may be able to qualify for an income-tax credit. This credit will be based on the amount of expenses you have incurred during the adoption period, which are directly related to the adoption of the following: 1. A child under the age of 18, or 2. a person who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.
This is a 1:1 credit for each dollar of qualified expenses up to a maximum for the year, which is $13,570 for 2017 (up from $13,460 in 2016). The credit is nonrefundable, which means it can only reduce tax liability to zero (as opposed to potentially resulting in a cash refund). But the good news is that any unused credit can be used for up to five years to reduce future tax liability.
Qualified expenses generally include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees and travel expenses that are reasonable, necessary and directly related to the adoption of the child, and may be for both domestic and foreign adoptions; however, expenses related to adopting a spouse’s child are not eligible for this credit. When adopting a child with special needs, the full credit is allowed whether or not any qualified expenses were incurred. A child with special needs is, among other requirements, a child who the state has determined (a) cannot or should not be returned to his or her parents’ home and (b) that the child won’t be adopted unless assistance is provided to the adoptive parents.
The credit is phased out for higher-income taxpayers. For 2017, the AGI (computed without foreign-income exclusions) phase-out threshold is $203,540, and at the AGI of $243,540, the credit is completely phased out. Unlike most phase-outs, this one is the same regardless of filing status. However, the credit cannot be claimed by taxpayers using the filing status married filing separately.
If your employer has an adoption-assistance program, up to $13,570 of reimbursements by the employer are excludable from income. Both the tax credit and the exclusion may be claimed, though not for the same expenses.
If you think you qualify for this credit or are planning an adoption in the future, please contact Dagley & Co. for further credit details and to find out how this credit can apply to your particular circumstances.
Image via public domain
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
Many people do not realize that education credits are not only available for your child’s tuition. Instead, they are also available for you, your spouse, or your dependents. Even if you attend school part-time, these credits may still be available.
There are two education-related credits available: the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). For either credit, the student must be enrolled in an eligible educational institution for at least one academic period (semester, trimester or quarter) during the year. An eligible educational institution is any accredited public, nonprofit, or proprietary post-secondary institution that can participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s student aid programs.
The credits phase out for higher-income taxpayers who are married filing jointly (MFJ) or who are unmarried. Those who are married filing separately (MFS) do not qualify for either credit.
The following table provides the qualifications for both credits:
QUALIFICATIONS AOTC LLC Allowance Period First 4 years of post-secondary education Any post-secondary education for any number of years Enrollment Must be considered at least a half-time student by the educational institution Not required to be enrolled at least half-time Program Type Must be pursuing a program leading to a degree or another recognized educational credential Not required to be enrolled for the purpose of obtaining a degree or other credential Credit Applied Per student Per family Credit Amount 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000 in qualified expenses 20% of up to $10,000 in qualified expenses Qualified Expenses Qualified tuition and related expenses, which include books, supplies and equipment required for enrollment or attendance Qualified tuition and related expenses; the books, supplies and equipment must be purchased from the educational institution High Income Phase-out Based upon filing status and adjusted gross income (inflation-adjusted annually; 2017 amounts shown) MFJ: $160,000 to $180,000MFS: No credit allowedUnmarried: $80,000 to $90,000 MFJ: $112,000 to $132,00MFS: No credit allowedUnmarried: $56,000 to $66,000 Refundable* Partially; 40% of the credit is treated as refundable No
*Generally, credits are nonrefundable, meaning that they can only be used to offset your tax liability; any amount exceeding your current-year tax liability is lost. However, unlike other credits, the AOTC is partially refundable in most cases.
Many individuals who both work and attend school can be enrolled less than halftime and still qualify for the LLC.
Another interesting twist to education credits is that the taxpayer who qualifies for and claims the student’s exemption for the year gets the credit—even if someone else pays the expenses. Thus, for example, even if a noncustodial parent pays a child’s college expenses, the custodial parent gets the credit if he or she is otherwise qualified. The same applies when grandparents help pay for their grandchild’s education; the grandparents do not qualify for the credit unless they, and not the child’s parents, claim the student as a dependent.
Generally, the educational institution sends a Form 1098-T to the taxpayer (or dependent); this includes the information necessary to complete the IRS form and claim the credit. Unless the IRS has exempted the educational institution from having to file a 1098-T, the law requires the taxpayer to have this 1098-T in hand to claim either of the credits.
If you have questions about how this these education tax credit provisions apply to you, please give Dagley & Co. a call.
Image via public domain
Are you a single parent? If so, we all know that working and raising a family can become extremley difficult on your own. For your benefit, Dagley & Co. has found a number of tax benefits/issues that you should be aware of. Please carefully read and understand the following:
Filing Status – Just because you are single or widowed does not mean you have to file your tax returns using the single filing status. Tax law provides two far more beneficial filing statuses that you might qualify for. These statuses provide higher standard deductions and more beneficial tax rates:
Head of Household – If you are unmarried and pay more than half the cost of maintaining a household that is the principal place of abode for your qualified child or children for more than one-half of the year, then you qualify for the head of household status. Qualified children generally include your children, grandchildren, foster children or stepchildren under the age of 19 or a full-time student under the age of 24 who is not self-supporting. This is true even if you allow the other parent to deduct the dependency exemption for the child.
Qualified Widow – If you are widowed, you may qualify for the head of household status discussed just above. However, if your spouse passed away in one of the two prior years, you have a child or stepchild (not including a foster child or grandchild) whom you can claim as a dependent and who lived with you the whole year, and you paid more than half the cost of keeping up the home, you can use the higher standard deduction for married individuals filing jointly. In comparison, in 2016, the standard deduction for marrieds filing jointly is $12,600, which is twice the amount for a single individual.
Child Support – Any child support you receive from the non-custodial parent is tax-free to you. Child support is also not included in household income for the purposes of determining the premium tax credit if you are otherwise qualified and obtain your health insurance through a government marketplace.
Alimony – In most cases alimony payments received from your former spouse must be included in your income and are subject to tax. However, you can treat the alimony as earned income for purposes of making an IRA contribution of as much as $5,500 ($6,500 for those age 50 and over).
Exemptions – You are entitled to an exemption allowance of $4,050 for yourself and each of your children and others whom you claim as dependents on your tax return. Generally, the custodial parent will be the one eligible to claim a child’s exemption allowance. The value of the exemptions you claim is subtracted from your gross income when you are figuring out the amount of your taxable income. For example, if you are in the 25% tax bracket, each exemption allowance you deduct saves you $1,013 of tax. However, if you allow the non-custodial parent to claim the exemption of a qualified child, then you forego the $4,050 exemption allowance for that child.
Releasing the exemption of a child to the noncustodial parent must be done in writing and to IRS’s specifications as to required information. The noncustodial parent must then attach the written form to his or her return. The release can be for one year, for specified years or for all future years. If the exemption for the child is released, then the noncustodial parent will be able to claim the child tax credit (discussed below). Note: If a child is older and attending college, keep in mind when relinquishing the child’s exemption that the partially refundable tuition credit goes to the one who claims the child.
Child Care Credit – If your child or children are under age 13, and you are working or attending school, you may qualify for the non-refundable child and dependent care credit, which is based upon the amount of your earnings from working (or imputed income if attending school) and the amount of child care expenses, up to $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children. The credit can be as much as $1,050 for one child and $2,100 for two.
Child Tax Credit – You are also entitled to a non-refundable tax credit of $1,000 for each child under the age of 17 that you claim as a dependent. However, this credit begins to phase out for those filing as head of household with incomes in excess of $75,000. Some taxpayers with lower income may qualify for some portion of this credit to be refundable.
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – If you are working, you may also qualify for the EITC. This refundable credit is available to lower-income taxpayers and is based on your income and the number of children you have, up to three. The maximum credits for 2016 are $506 with no children, $3,373 with one, $5,572 with two, and $6,269 with three or more. The credit is totally phased out at incomes of $14,880 with no children, $39,296 with one, $44,648 with two, and $47,955 with three or more.
As you can see, there are a number of tax benefits that apply to single parents. As always, please contact Dagley & Co. with any questions or issues. If you are a custodial parent, before releasing your child’s exemption to the noncustodial parent, you may wish to contact Dagley & Co. so the tax impact on your return(s) can be determined.
Image via public domain
When two married people are jointly involved in the operation of an unincorporated business, it is very common, yet incorrect, for all of that business’s income to be reported as just one spouse’s income, even when/if they both work in the business.
In such cases, the spouse not taking credit for his or her portion of the earned income loses out on the chance to accumulate his or her own eligibility for Social Security benefits. In addition, to claim a child care credit, both spouses on a joint return must have earned income (or imputed income if one of the spouses is a full-time student or is disabled), so unless the spouse not including a portion of the income from the joint business has another source of earned income, the couple will not be allowed a child care credit.
There are ways to remedy this situation, however. One option is to file a partnership return for the activity, in which case each spouse will receive a K-1 that reports his or her share of the net profit. An approach that avoids the necessity of filing a partnership return, and that is probably less complicated, is a qualified joint-venture election, in which each spouse elects to file a separate Schedule C for his or her respective share of the business. This gives them both self-employed income for the purposes of the self-employment tax and for claiming the child care credit.
A qualified joint venture refers to any joint venture involving the conduct of a trade or business if:
(1) The only members of the joint venture are husband and wife,
(2) Both spouses materially participate in the trade or business, and
(3) Both spouses elect to apply this rule.
Generally, to meet the material participation requirement, each spouse will have to participate in the activity for 500 hours or more during the tax year.
If the net income from the business exceeds the annual cap on income subject to the Social Security tax, the combined self-employment tax for the spouses with split Schedule Cs will exceed what a single spouse would have paid if he or she had filed a single Schedule C.
An additional benefit when filing split Schedule Cs is the opportunity for both spouses to participate in IRAs and self-employed retirement plans.
If you have questions about how splitting the business income between spouses might apply to your specific situation, please contact Dagley & Co. today.
Image via public domain
If you are planning to gift money or property to family members, or others, there are some gift tax issues you should be aware of. Yes, the government even taxes gifts if they are large enough, so it is best to know the rules; otherwise you may end up making a gift of taxes to the IRS.
The gift tax rules provide two exclusions from gift tax, the annual exclusion and the lifetime exclusion:
Annual Exclusion – The annual exclusion is periodically inflation adjusted and is currently $14,000 per individual. Thus you can give $14,000 a year to as many individuals as you wish without any gift tax or gift tax return filing requirements.
Lifetime Exclusion – On top of the annual exclusion, there is a lifetime exclusion that is linked to the estate tax exemption, which is also inflation adjusted, and for 2016 is $5.45 Million. Thus, in addition to the $14,000 annual per donee exclusion, there is a $5.45 Million exclusion that applies to the aggregate of all gifts in excess of the $14,000 per year per donee gifts.
There are complications to utilizing the lifetime exclusion. You must file a gift tax return to claim the lifetime exclusion, and the amounts of the lifetime exclusion used as an exclusion from gift tax will be tracked on any gift tax return(s) filed and will reduce the estate tax exemption. So for example, if in 2016 you make a gift of $3,014,000 to your child, and you haven’t made gifts in the past that exceeded the annual per donee gift tax exclusion, you will pay no gift tax, but you will have reduced your remaining lifetime exclusion to $2.45 Million. If you make more large gifts in the future that use up your remaining lifetime exclusion, not only will you then be subject to gift tax on the excess gifts, but at your passing, and assuming the value of your estate is large enough to be subject to estate tax, you will have no estate tax exclusion left to offset the estate’s value, so it will all be subject to estate tax.
The estate tax rates and the lifetime exclusion have long been a political football. They date back to 2006, when the lifetime exclusion was $2 Million. Congress can change the current $5.45 Million exclusion at any time. In fact, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed reducing the exclusion to $3 Million and raising the top estate tax rate from 40% to 45%. She would also disconnect the gift and estate tax exclusions and limit the lifetime gift exclusion to $1 Million.
Special Tuition/Medical Exclusion – In addition to the current $14,000 annual exclusion, a donor may make gifts that are totally excluded from the gift tax in the following circumstances:
- Payments made directly to an educational institution for tuition. This includes college and private primary education. It does not include books or room and board.
- Payments made directly to any person or entity providing medical care for the donee.
In both cases, it is critical that the payments be made directly to the educational institution or health care provider. Reimbursement paid to the donee will not qualify. The tuition/medical exclusion is often overlooked, but these expenses can be quite significant. Parents and grandparents interested in estate reduction should strongly consider these gifts.
Gift Splitting – A husband and wife can each make annual exclusion gifts, thereby increasing the exclusion from the current $14,000 to $28,000 per year per couple. However, only one of the spouses may be in a financial position to make the gifts. Spouses may elect on the gift tax return to treat a gift made by one spouse as being made by both spouses. Gift splitting can be used for annual exclusion gifts, lifetime exclusion gifts, and gifts above the lifetime exclusions.
Example – Gift Splitting – John and Jane are married and have two children. In a year when the annual exclusion limit is $14,000, they would like to exclude $56,000 ($14,000 x 2 donors x 2 donees) in gifts. Jane received a large inheritance some years back; John has only a modest estate. Jane gives the children $28,000 each. Then the couple elects to gift split so that the $28,000 gift is treated as given one-half by Jane and one-half by John (or $14,000 each). The gifts all qualify for the annual exclusion. Even if both spouses have sufficient resources to make gifts, gift splitting is useful when the husband and wife have different estate planning goals.
For residents of community property states, if community property is given, gift splitting is not necessary. Regardless of who holds the property’s title, or who “makes” the gift, the property is owned one-half by each and is therefore given one-half by each.
Gifts of Property – Gifts of property have some of their own circumstances to consider. For instance, where gifts are made of appreciated property such as stocks or real estate, although the donor’s gift is considered at the fair market value (FMV) for purposes of valuing the gift, the beneficiary of the gift assumes the donor’s basis. As a result, the beneficiary of the gift is assuming any taxable gain the donor would have had if he or she had sold the property instead of gifting it and will have to include as income that gain when and if the gifted property is later sold.
Although the FMV of traded stocks is readily available, the same is not true of most other types of property, in which case a qualified appraisal will be needed to determine the value as of the date of the gift.
Finally, keep in mind that a beneficiary inherits property at its FMV at the date of the decedent’s death as opposed to assuming the decedent’s basis, as happens in the case of a gift.
If you are contemplating gifting money or property to an individual, it may be appropriate to consult this office in advance to minimize the impact on estate taxes and help with any gift tax filings that may be required.
Image via public domain
There is a tax break working parents should know about with the summer hitting. Many working parents must arrange for care of their children under 13 years of age (or any age if handicapped) during the school vacation period. A popular solution — with a tax benefit — is a day camp program. The cost of day camp can count as an expense toward the child and dependent care credit. But be careful; expenses for overnight camps do not qualify.
For an expense to qualify for the credit, it must be an “employment-related” expense; i.e., it must enable you and your spouse, if married, to work, and it must be for the care of your child, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister or stepsibling (or a descendant of any of these) who is under 13, lives in your home for more than half the year and does not provide more than half of his or her own support for the year. Married couples must file jointly, and both spouses must work (or one spouse must be a full-time student or disabled) to claim the credit.
The qualifying expenses are limited to the income you or your spouse, if married, earn from work, using the figure for whoever earns less. However, under certain conditions, when one spouse has no actual earned income and that spouse is a full-time student or disabled, that spouse is considered to have a monthly income of $250 (if the couple has one qualifying child) or $500 (two or more qualifying children). This means the income limitation is essentially removed for a spouse who is a student or disabled.
The qualifying expenses can’t exceed $3,000 per year if you have one qualifying child, while the limit is $6,000 per year for two or more qualifying persons. This limit does not need to be divided equally. For example, if you paid and incurred $2,500 of qualified expenses for the care of one child and $3,500 for the care of another child, you can use the total, $6,000, to figure the credit. The credit is computed as a percentage of your qualifying expenses; in most cases, 20%. (If your joint adjusted gross income [AGI] is $43,000 or less, the percentage will be higher, but it will not exceed 35%.)
Example: Al and Janice both work, each with earned income in excess of $40,000 per year. Janice has a part-time job, and her work hours coincide with the school hours of their 11-year-old daughter, Susan. However, during the summer vacation period, they place Susan in a day camp program that costs $4,000. Since the expense limitation for one child is $3,000, their child credit would be $600 (20% of $3,000).
The credit reduces a taxpayer’s tax bill dollar for dollar. Thus, in the above example, Al and Janice pay $600 less in taxes by virtue of the credit. However, the credit can only offset income tax and alternative minimum tax liability, and any excess is not refundable. The credit cannot be used to reduce self-employment tax or the taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act.
If you have questions about how the childcare credit applies to your particular tax situation, please give Dagley & Co. a call.
Image via. public domain