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Monday, November 09 2020

Tax-Saving Tips

October 2020

The Latest on Payroll Tax Deferral

If you have employees, you must withhold their 6.2 percent share of the Social Security tax from their wages up to an annual wage ceiling ($137,700 for 2020). You must pay the money to the IRS along with your matching 6.2 percent employer share of the tax.

But under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as you likely know, employers are allowed to defer paying their 6.2 percent share of the Social Security tax on wages paid to employees through the end of 2020. Fifty percent of these deferred taxes will have to be paid during 2021 and the remainder in 2022.

Both the Trump administration and the IRS have issued orders permitting employers to defer withholding and paying the employee portion of the Social Security tax for a limited time. But the executive order on employee deferral is much more limited in scope than the CARES Act employer deferral, and it’s beset with practical problems for employers.

Which Taxes Can Be Deferred?

The deferral applies only to the employee portion of the Social Security tax due on wages paid from September 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020. No other payroll taxes can be deferred.

Which Employees Qualify for the Deferral?

Only employees who earn less than $4,000 biweekly qualify for the deferral. Employees who are not paid on a biweekly basis qualify if their pay is equivalent to less than $4,000 biweekly. This would include employees who are paid less than

  • $2,000 weekly,
  • $4,333 semimonthly, or
  • $8,666.67 monthly.

Each pay period is tested separately. An employee who earns too much during one pay period can still qualify for the deferral if he or she earns less than the ceiling amount in a later pay period.


Is the Deferral Mandatory?

IRS officials have stated that the deferral is not mandatory. Employers are not obligated to offer the deferral to their employees. This is so even if an employee requests it.

What Happens When the Deferral Period Ends?

The employee Social Security tax deferral ends on December 31, 2020. IRS guidance provides that the deferred taxes must then be paid “ratably” from wages paid from January 1, 2021, through April 30, 2021. Employers must withhold and pay the deferred taxes from employee wages paid during this period.

Thus, from January 1, 2021, through April 30, 2021, most employees will have to pay a 12.4 percent Social Security tax instead of the normal 6.2 percent. This amounts to a 6.2 percent pay cut for affected employees for four months.

What If Employees Quit or Get Fired?

If an employee quits or is fired during the four-month repayment period, there may not be enough wages paid to cover the deferred Social Security taxes. The IRS says that in this event employers can “make arrangements to otherwise collect” the deferred taxes. What form such “arrangements” could take is unclear.

Interest, penalties, and additions to taxes will begin to accrue on any unpaid deferred Social Security taxes starting May 1, 2021. Thus, if you (the employer) fail to remit the deferred monies because employees were not employed during the collection period, you are on the hook.

Due to the uncertainty involved, many employers have reportedly elected not to participate in the employee Social Security tax deferral.

Using Whole or Partial Rooms for Your Home Office

With the COVID-19 pandemic still going on, you may be spending more time working from your home office.

You may have taken some extra rooms for your business use. Is that okay?

Section 280A(c) states that you may claim a home office based on the portion of the dwelling that you use exclusively and regularly for business. Thus, the law dictates no specific number of rooms or particulars regarding the size of the office.

The courts make this rule clear, as you can see in the Mills (less than one room) and Hefti (lots of rooms) cases described below.

The Mills Case

Albert Victor Mills maintained an office in his apartment from which he conducted his rental property management business. The apartment was small, totaling only 422 square feet. In the office area of the apartment where Mr. Mills had his desk, he also kept tools, equipment, paint supplies, and a filing cabinet.

The court agreed with Mr. Mills’s allocations and awarded the home-office deduction based on his claimed 23 percent business use of the 422-square-foot apartment.

Planning note. Mr. Mills did not have a single room dedicated to a home office. He had only an area of the apartment where he grouped his office furnishings, equipment, and supplies. If you have a similar situation, make sure your business assets are located in a group.

The Hefti Case

Charles R. Hefti lived in a big house, totaling 9,142 square feet. He claimed that more than 90 percent of his home was used regularly and exclusively for business.

Based on its review of the rooms, the court concluded that 13 rooms, totaling 19 percent of the home, were used exclusively and regularly for business.


The deductible portion of your home for an office includes the area used exclusively and regularly for business.

Let’s say you have an office in one room and your files in a second room, and you never use these rooms for personal purposes. Further, let’s say you use the office area on a daily basis and the files area in connection with that daily work.

Both rooms would meet the exclusive and regular use requirements, just as Mr. Mills’s and Mr. Hefti’s offices met these rules.

But Not This

“Exclusive use” means that you must use a specific portion of the home only for business purposes. You must make no other use of the space.

Exception. One exception to the exclusive use rule is storage of inventory or product samples if the home is the sole fixed location of a trade or business selling products at retail or wholesale.

Example 1. Your home is the only fixed location of your business, which involves selling mechanics’ tools at retail. You regularly use half of your basement for storage of inventory and product samples. You sometimes use the area for personal purposes. The expenses for the storage space are deductible even though you do not use this part of your basement exclusively for business.

Example 2. In Pearson, Dr. Pearson practiced orthodontics in a downtown medical building but retained the dental records of more than 3,000 patients in 36 file drawers (each measuring 26 inches by 14 inches by 12 inches) and had 1,461 boxes containing orthodontic models (each box measuring 10 inches by 6 inches by 2 1/2 inches).

He stored the records in the attic and basement of his home. The areas used for such storage were not separate rooms, and the remaining portions of the attic and basement were used by Dr. Pearson and his family for personal purposes.

The court ruled that Dr. Pearson may not treat the storage areas as home-office expenses because the records were not inventory or samples and Dr. Pearson did not operate a wholesale or retail trade or business from his home.

Don’t Let the IRS Set Your S Corporation Salary

You likely formed an S corporation to save on self-employment taxes.

If so, is your S corporation salary

  • nonexistent?
  • too low?
  • too high?
  • just right?

Getting the S corporation salary right is important. First, if it’s too low and you get caught by the IRS, you will pay not only income taxes and self-employment taxes on the too-low amount, but also both payroll and income tax penalties that can cost plenty.

Second, in most cases, the IRS is going to expand the audit to cover three years and then add the income and penalties for those three years.

Third, after being found out, you likely are now stuck with this higher salary, defeating your original purpose of saving on self-employment taxes.

Getting to the Number

The IRS did you a big favor when it released its “Reasonable Compensation Job Aid for IRS Valuation Professionals.”

The IRS states that the job aid is not an official IRS position and that it does not represent official authority. That said, the document is a huge help because it gives you some clearly defined valuation rules of the road to follow and takes away some of the gray areas.

Market Approach

The market approach to reasonable compensation compares the S corporation’s business with others and then looks at the compensation being paid by those businesses to employees who look like you, the shareholder-employee who is likely the CEO.

The question to be answered is, how much compensation would be paid for this same position, held by a nonowner in an arm’s-length employment relationship, at a similar company?

In its job aid, the IRS states that the courts favor the market approach, but because of challenges in matching employees at comparable companies, the IRS developed other approaches.

Cost Approach

The cost approach breaks your employee activities into their components, such as management, accounting, finance, marketing, advertising, engineering, purchasing, janitorial, bookkeeping, clerking, etc.

Here’s an example of how the cost approach works to support a $71,019 salary as reasonable compensation for this S corporation owner whose corporation had $3.5 million in revenue and 19 employees:





Taxi driver and chauffeur




General manager




Wholesale buyer




Collections clerk




Sales representative




Order clerk








Health Insurance

The S corporation’s payment or reimbursement of health insurance for the shareholder-employee and his or her family goes on the shareholder-employee’s W-2 and counts as compensation, but it’s not subject to payroll taxes, so it fits nicely into the payroll tax savings strategy for the S corporation owner.


The S corporation’s employer contributions on behalf of the owner-employee to a defined benefit plan, simplified employee pension (SEP) plan, or 401(k) count as compensation but don’t trigger payroll taxes. Such contributions further enable the savings on payroll taxes while adding to the dollar amount that’s considered reasonable compensation.

Planning note. Your S corporation compensation determines the amount that your S corporation can contribute to your SEP or 401(k) retirement plan. The defined benefit plan likely allows the corporation to make a larger contribution on your behalf.

Section 199A Deduction

The S corporation’s net income that is passed through to you, the shareholder, can qualify for the 20 percent Section 199A tax deduction on your Form 1040.

Getting Around the New Law That Impairs the Stretch IRA Strategy

Last December, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act became law.

The SECURE Act was intended mainly to expand opportunities for individuals to increase their retirement savings and to simplify the administration of retirement plans. That’s the good part. 

But the act also included a big unfavorable change that kneecapped the so-called stretch IRA estate planning strategy that was employed by well-off IRA owners.

The Stretch IRA Strategy


The stretch IRA strategy involves keeping as much money as possible in your traditional IRA or Roth IRA while you’re still alive and then leaving the account to your spouse or a younger beneficiary, who keeps the inherited account rolling for as long as possible and keeps collecting the tax benefits. Thus, the term “stretch IRA.”

The SECURE Act Imposes a New 10-Year Account Liquidation Rule That Seriously Injures the Stretch IRA Strategy

Unfortunately for the estate plans of well-off IRA owners and the tax situations of some of their IRA beneficiaries, the SECURE Act requires most non-spouse beneficiaries to drain inherited IRAs within 10 years after the account owner’s death.

As we just explained, the pre–SECURE Act required minimum distribution (RMD) rules allowed a non-spouse IRA beneficiary to gradually drain the substantial traditional or Roth IRA inherited from good-ole Grandpa Frank over the beneficiary’s IRS-defined life expectancy. That deal is off the table if Grandpa Frank dies in 2020 or later.

Who Is Affected by the SECURE Act Change?

The SECURE Act’s anti-taxpayer 10-year account liquidation rule doesn’t affect RMDs taken by original traditional IRA owners. They still operate under the same RMD rules as before.

As under pre–SECURE Act law, original owners of Roth IRAs need not take any RMDs for as long as they live. Roth IRA owners are unaffected.

Beneficiaries who want to quickly drain their inherited IRAs also are unaffected.

Bottom line. The 10-year account liquidation rule affects only certain non-spouse beneficiaries who would otherwise keep inherited accounts open for as long as possible to reap the tax advantages.


Exception for Eligible Designated Beneficiaries

The SECURE Act’s 10-year account liquidation rule does not immediately affect accounts inherited by a so-called eligible designated beneficiary.

An eligible designated beneficiary is

  • the surviving spouse of the deceased account owner,
  • a minor child of the deceased account owner,
  • a beneficiary who is no more than 10 years younger than the deceased account owner, or
  • a disabled or chronically ill individual.

Under the exception for eligible designated beneficiaries, RMDs generally can be taken from the inherited account over the life expectancy of the eligible designated beneficiary, beginning with the year following the year of the account owner’s death.

Other non-spouse beneficiaries, whom we will call affected beneficiaries, will be slammed by the 10-year account liquidation rule.

Following the death of an eligible designated beneficiary, the account balance must be distributed within 10 years.

The account balance also must be distributed within 10 years after a child of the account owner reaches the age of majority under local law.

10-Year Account Liquidation Rule Specifics

When applicable, the 10-year account liquidation rule generally applies regardless of whether you, as the original account owner, die before or after your RMD beginning date. Thanks to another SECURE Act change, the RMD rules do not kick in until age 72 if you attain age 70 1/2 after 2019. If you are in that age category, your required beginning date is April 1 of the year following the year during which you attain age 72.

And then, again thanks to the other SECURE Act change, an affected beneficiary must drain the account inherited from you by the end of the 10th calendar year following the year of your demise. Until that deadline is reached, your beneficiary can leave the account untouched.

Failure to comply with the 10-year account liquidation rule will expose the affected beneficiary to a penalty equal to 50 percent of the account balance that remains after the 10-year deadline has passed.

Reminder. As stated earlier, the SECURE Act’s 10-year account liquidation rule applies only to affected beneficiaries who inherit IRAs from original account owners who die after 2019. An IRA inherited by a non-spousal beneficiary from an original account owner who died in 2019 or earlier is unaffected, so the inherited account can still work as a stretch IRA, the same as before the SECURE Act.

Posted by: Shelli AT 11:54 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 09 2020

Here’s an easy question: Do you need more 2020 tax deductions? If yes, continue on.

Next easy question: Do you need a replacement business vehicle?

If yes, you can simultaneously solve or mitigate both the first problem (needing more deductions) and the second problem (needing a replacement vehicle), but you need to get your vehicle in service on or before December 31, 2020.

To ensure compliance with the “placed in service” rule, drive the vehicle at least one business mile on or before December 31, 2020. In other words, you want to both own and drive the vehicle to ensure that it qualifies for the big deductions.

Now that you have the basics, let’s get to the tax deductions.

1. Buy a New or Used SUV, Crossover Vehicle, or Van

Let’s say that on or before December 31, 2020, you or your corporation buys and places in service a new or used SUV or crossover vehicle that the manufacturer classifies as a truck and that has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 6,001 pounds or more. This newly purchased vehicle gives you four big benefits:

  1. The ability to elect bonus depreciation of 100 percent (thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act)
  2. The ability to select Section 179 expensing of up to $25,900
  3. MACRS depreciation using the five-year table
  4. No luxury limits on vehicle depreciation deductions

Example. On or before December 31, 2020, you buy and place in service a qualifying used $50,000 SUV for which you can claim 90 percent business use. Your business cost is $45,000 (90 percent x $50,000). Your maximum write-off for 2020 is $45,000.

2. Buy a New or Used Pickup

If you or your corporation buys and places in service a qualifying pickup truck (new or used) on or before December 31, 2020, then this newly purchased vehicle gives you four big benefits:

  1. Bonus depreciation of up to 100 percent
  2. Section 179 expensing of up to $1,040,000
  3. MACRS depreciation using the five-year table
  4. No luxury limits on vehicle depreciation deductions

To qualify for full Section 179 expensing, the pickup truck must have

  • a GVWR of more than 6,000 pounds, and
  • a cargo area (commonly called a “bed”) of at least six feet in interior length that is not easily accessible from the passenger compartment.

Short bed. If the pickup truck passes the more-than-6,000-pound-GVWR test but fails the bed-length test, tax law classifies it as an SUV. That’s not bad. The vehicle is still eligible for either expensing of up to the $25,900 SUV expensing limit or 100 percent bonus depreciation.

Posted by: Shelli AT 11:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 04 2020

Tax-Saving Tips

January 2020

Congress Reinstates Expired Tax Provisions

Congress let many tax provisions expire on December 31, 2017, making them dead for your already-filed 2018 tax returns.

In what has become a much too common practice, Congress resurrected the dead provisions retroactively to January 1, 2018. That’s good news. The bad news is that if you have any of these deductions, we have to amend your tax returns to make this work for you.

And you can relax when filing your 2019 and 2020 tax returns because lawmakers extended the “extender” tax laws for both years. Thus, no worries until 2021—and even longer for a few extenders that received special treatment.

Back from the Dead

The big five tax breaks that most likely impact your Form 1040 are as follows:

  1. Exclusion from income for cancellation of acquisition debt on your principal residence (up to $2 million)
  2. Deduction for mortgage insurance premiums as residence interest
  3. 7.5 percent floor to deduct medical expenses (instead of 10 percent)
  4. Above-the-line tuition and fees deduction
  5. Non-business energy property credit for energy-efficient improvements to your residence

Congress extended these five tax breaks retroactively to January 1, 2018. They now expire on December 31, 2020, so you’re good for both 2019 and 2020.

Other Provisions Revived

Congress also extended the following tax breaks retroactively to January 1, 2018, and they now expire on December 31, 2020 (unless otherwise noted):

  • Black lung disability trust fund tax
  • Indian employment credit
  • Railroad track maintenance credit (December 31, 2022)
  • Mine rescue team training credit
  • Certain racehorses as three-year depreciable property
  • Seven-year recovery period for motorsports entertainment complexes
  • Accelerated depreciation for business property on Indian reservations
  • Expensing rules for certain film, television, and theater productions
  • Empowerment zone tax incentives
  • American Samoa economic development credit
  • Biodiesel and renewable diesel credit (December 31, 2022)
  • Second-generation biofuel producer credit
  • Qualified fuel-cell motor vehicles
  • Alternative fuel-refueling property credit
  • Two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicle credit (December 31, 2021)
  • Credit for electricity produced from specific renewable resources
  • Production credit for Indian coal facilities
  • Energy-efficient homes credit
  • Special depreciation allowance for second-generation biofuel plant property
  • Energy-efficient commercial buildings deduction

Temporary Provisions Extended

Congress originally scheduled these provisions to end in 2019 and has now extended them through 2020:

  • New markets tax credit
  • Paid family and medical leave credit
  • Work opportunity credit
  • Beer, wine, and distilled spirits reductions in certain excise taxes
  • Look-through rule for certain controlled foreign corporations
  • Health insurance coverage credit

Eight Changes in the SECURE Act You Need to Know

As has become usual practice, Congress passed some meaningful tax legislation as it recessed for the holidays. In one of the new meaningful laws, enacted on December 20, you will find the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (SECURE Act).

The SECURE Act made many changes to how you save money for your retirement, how you use your money in retirement, and how you can better use your Section 529 plans. Whether you are age 35 or age 75, these changes affect you.

Here are eight of the changes.

1. Small-Employer Automatic Contribution Tax Credit

If your business has a 401(k) plan or a SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) plan that covers 100 or fewer employees and it implements an automatic contribution arrangement for employees, either you or it qualifies for a $500 tax credit each year for three years, beginning with the first year of such automatic contribution.

This change is effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2019.

Tax tip. This credit can apply to both newly created and existing retirement plans.

2. IRA Contributions for Graduate and Postdoctoral Students

Before the SECURE Act, certain taxable stipends and non-tuition fellowship payments received by graduate and postdoctoral students were included in taxable income but not treated as compensation for IRA purposes. Thus, the monies received did not count as compensation that would enable IRA contributions.

The SECURE Act removed the “compensation” obstacle. The new law states: “The term ‘compensation’ shall include any amount which is included in the individual’s gross income and paid to the individual to aid the individual in the pursuit of graduate or postdoctoral study.”

The change enables these students to begin saving for retirement and accumulating tax-favored retirement savings, if they have any funds available (remember, these are students). This change applies to tax years beginning after December 31, 2019.

Tax tip. If your child pays no income tax or pays tax at the 10 or 12 percent rate, consider contributing to a Roth IRA instead of a traditional IRA.

3. No Age Limit on Traditional IRA Contributions

Prior law stopped you from contributing funds to a traditional IRA if you were age 70 1/2 or older. Now you can make a traditional IRA contribution at any age, just as you could and still can with a Roth IRA.

This change applies to contributions made for tax years beginning after December 31, 2019.

4. No 10 Percent Penalty for Birth/Adoption Withdrawals

You pay no 10 percent early withdrawal penalty on IRA or qualified retirement plan distributions if the distribution is a “qualified birth or adoption distribution.” The maximum penalty-free distribution is $5,000 per individual per birth or adoption. For this purpose, a qualified plan does not include a defined benefit plan.

This change applies to distributions made after December 31, 2019.

Tax tip. A birth or adoption in 2019 can signal the start of the one year, allowing qualified birth and adoption distributions as soon as January 1, 2020.

5. RMDs Start at Age 72

Before the SECURE Act, you generally had to start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your traditional IRA or qualified retirement plan in the tax year you turned age 70 1/2. Now you can wait until the tax year you turn age 72.

This change applies to RMDs after December 31, 2019, if you turn age 70 1/2 after December 31, 2019.

6. Open a Retirement Plan Later

Under the SECURE Act, if you adopt a stock bonus, pension, profit-sharing, or annuity plan after the close of a tax year but before your tax return due date plus extensions, you can elect to treat the plan as if you adopted it on the last day of the tax year.

Under prior law, you had to establish the plan before the end of the tax year to make contributions for that tax year. This change applies to plans adopted for tax years beginning after December 31, 2019.

How it works. You can establish and fund, for example, an individual 401(k) for a Schedule C business as late as October 15, 2021, and have the 401(k) in place for 2020.

7. Expanded Tax-Free Section 529 Plan Distributions

Distributions from your child’s Section 529 college savings plan are non-taxable if the amounts distributed are

  • investments into the plan (your basis), or
  • used for qualified higher education expenses.

Qualified higher-education expenses now include

  • fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the designated beneficiary’s participation in an apprenticeship program registered and certified with the Secretary of Labor under Section 1 of the National Apprenticeship Act, and
  • principal or interest payments on any qualified education loan of the designated beneficiary or his or her siblings.

If you rely on the student loan provision to make tax-free Section 529 plan distributions,

  • there is a $10,000 maximum per individual loan holder, and
  • the loan holder reduces his or her student loan interest deduction by the distributions, but not below $0.

This change applies to distributions made after December 31, 2018 (not a typo—see below).

Tax tip. Did you notice the 2018 above? Good news. You can use the new qualified expense categories to identify tax-free Section 529 distributions that are retroactive to 2019.

8. RMDs on Inherited Accounts

Under the old rules for inherited retirement accounts, you could “stretch” out the account and take RMDs each year to deplete the account over many years.

Now, if you inherit a defined contribution plan or an IRA, you must fully distribute the balances of these plans by the end of the 10th calendar year following the year of death. There is no longer a requirement to take out a certain amount each year.

The current stretch rules, and not the new 10-year period, continue to apply to a designated beneficiary who is

  • a surviving spouse,
  • a child who has not reached the age of majority,
  • disabled as defined in Code Section 72(m)(7),
  • a chronically ill individual as defined in Code Section 7702B(e)(2) with modification, or
  • not more than 10 years younger than the deceased.

This change applies to distributions for plan owners who die after December 31, 2019.

Kiddie Tax Changes

In December 2017, Congress enacted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and changed how your children calculate their tax on their investment-type income. The TCJA changes led to much higher tax bills for many children.

On December 19, 2019, Congress passed a bill that the president signed into law on December 20, 2019 (Pub. L. 116-94). The new law repeals the kiddie tax changes from the TCJA and takes you back to the old kiddie tax rules, even retroactively if you so desire.

Kiddie Tax Basics

When your children are subject to the kiddie tax, it forces them to pay taxes at a higher rate than the rate they would usually pay.

Here’s the key: the kiddie tax does not apply to all of a child’s income, only to his or her “unearned” income, which means income from

  • dividends,
  • rent,
  • capital gains,
  • interest,
  • S corporation distributions, and
  • any type of income other than compensation for work.

For 2019, your child pays the kiddie tax only on unearned income above $2,100. For example, if your child has $3,000 of unearned income, only $900 is subject to the extra taxes.

Who Pays the Kiddie Tax?

The kiddie tax applies to children with more than $2,100 of unearned income when the children

  • have to file a tax return,
  • do not file a joint tax return,
  • have at least one living parent at the end of the year,
  • are under age 18 at the end of the year,
  • are age 18 at the end of the year and did not have earned income that was more than half of their support, or
  • are full-time students over age 18 and under age 24 at the end of the year who did not have earned income that was more than half of their support.

Calculating the Kiddie Tax

Under the TCJA, now valid only for tax years 2018 and 2019, any income subject to the kiddie tax is taxed at estate and trust tax rates, which reach a monstrous 37 percent with only $12,070 of income in tax year 2019.

Under the old rules before the TCJA, your child paid tax at your tax rate on income subject to the kiddie tax.

Kiddie Tax Choices

The SECURE Act, which the president signed into law on December 20, 2019, repeals the TCJA kiddie tax rules for tax years 2020 and forward and returns the tax calculation to the pre-TCJA calculation that uses your tax rate.

The new law also gives you the option to calculate the kiddie tax using your tax rate for tax years 2018, 2019, or both—it is your choice.

Solo 401(k) Could Be Your Best Retirement Plan Option

Have you procrastinated about setting up a tax-advantaged retirement plan for your small business? If the answer is yes, you are not alone.

Still, this is not a good situation. You are paying income taxes that could easily be avoided. So consider setting up a plan to position yourself for future tax savings.

For owners of profitable one-person business operations, a relatively new retirement plan alternative is the solo 401(k). The main solo 401(k) advantage is potentially much larger annual deductible contributions to the owner’s account—that is, your account. Good!

Solo 401(k) Account Contributions

With a solo 401(k), annual deductible contributions to the business owner’s account can be composed of two different parts.

First Part: Elective Deferral Contributions

For 2020, you can contribute to your solo 401(k) account up to $19,500 of

  • your corporate salary if you are employed by your own C or S corporation, or
  • your net self-employment income if you operate as a sole proprietor or as a single-member LLC that’s treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes.

The contribution limit is $26,000 if you will be age 50 or older as of December 31, 2020. The $26,000 figure includes an extra $6,500 catch-up contribution allowed for older 401(k) plan participants.

This first part, called an “elective deferral contribution,” is made by you as the covered employee or business owner.

  • With a corporate solo 401(k), your elective deferral contribution is funded with salary reduction amounts withheld from your company paychecks and contributed to your account.
  • With a solo 401(k) set up for a sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC, you simply pay the elective deferral contribution amount into your account.

Second Part: Employer Contributions


On top of your elective deferral contribution, the solo 401(k) arrangement permits an additional contribution of up to 25 percent of your corporate salary or 20 percent of your net self-employment income.

This additional pay-in is called an “employer contribution.” For purposes of calculating the employer contribution, your compensation or net self-employment income is not reduced by your elective deferral contribution.

  • With a corporate plan, your corporation makes the employer contribution on your behalf.
  • With a plan set up for a sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC, you are effectively treated as your own employer. Therefore, you make the employer contribution on your own behalf.

Combined Contribution Limits

For 2020, the combined elective deferral and employer contributions cannot exceed

  • $57,000 (or $63,500 if you will be age 50 or older as of December 31, 2020), or
  • 100 percent of your corporate salary or net self-employment income.

For purposes of the second limitation, net self-employment income equals the net profit shown on Schedule C, E, or F for the business in question minus the deduction for 50 percent of self-employment tax attributable to that business.

Key point. Traditional defined contribution arrangements, such as SEPs (simplified employee pensions), Keogh plans, and profit-sharing plans, are subject to a $57,000 contribution cap for 2020, regardless of your age.

Example 1: Corporate Solo 401(k) Plan

Lisa, age 40, is the only employee of her corporation (it makes no difference if the corporation is a C or an S corporation).

In 2020, the corporation pays Lisa an $80,000 salary. The maximum deductible contribution to a solo 401(k) plan set up for Lisa’s benefit is $39,500. That amount is composed of

  1. Lisa’s $19,500 elective deferral contribution, which reduces her taxable salary to $60,500, plus
  2. a $20,000 employer contribution made by the corporation (25 percent x $80,000 salary), which has no effect on her taxable salary.

The $39,500 amount is well above the $20,000 contribution maximum that would apply with a traditional corporate defined contribution plan (25 percent x $80,000). The $19,500 difference is due to the solo 401(k) elective deferral contribution privilege.

Variation. Now assume Lisa will be age 50 or older as of December 31, 2020. In this variation, the maximum contribution to Lisa’s solo 401(k) account is $46,000, which consists of

  1. a $26,000 elective deferral contribution (including the $6,500 extra catch-up contribution), plus
  2. a $20,000 employer contribution (25 percent x $80,000).

That’s much more than the $20,000 contribution maximum that would apply with a traditional corporate defined contribution plan (25 percent x $80,000). The $26,000 difference is due to the solo 401(k) elective deferral contribution privilege.

Example 2: Self-Employed Solo 401(k) Plan

Larry, age 40, operates his cable installation, maintenance, and repair business as a sole proprietorship (or as a single-member LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes).

In 2020, Larry has net self-employment income of $80,000 (after subtracting 50 percent of his self-employment tax bill). The maximum deductible contribution to a solo 401(k) plan set up for Larry’s benefit is $35,500. That amount is composed of

  1. a $19,500 elective deferral contribution, plus
  2. a $16,000 employer contribution (20 percent x $80,000 of self-employment income).

The $35,500 amount is well above the $16,000 contribution maximum that would apply with a traditional self-employed plan set up for Larry’s benefit (20 percent x $80,000). The $19,500 difference is due to the solo 401(k) elective deferral contribution privilege.

Variation. Now assume Larry will be age 50 or older as of December 31, 2020.

In this variation, the maximum contribution to Larry’s solo 401(k) account is $42,000, which consists of

  1. a $26,000 elective deferral contribution (including the $6,500 extra catch-up contribution), plus
  2. a $16,000 employer contribution (20 percent x $80,000).

That’s much more than the $16,000 contribution maximum that would apply with a traditional self-employed defined contribution plan (20 percent x $80,000). The $26,000 difference is due to the solo 401(k) elective deferral contribution privilege.

As you can see, in the right circumstances, the 401(k) can make for a great retirement plan.

Posted by: Shelli AT 03:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, December 02 2017

In the early morning of December 2, the Senate passed by a 51-49 vote their version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) agreed to a yes vote when several amendments she offered were incorporated into the bill, including the restoration of a $10,000 deduction for property taxes and a lower threshold for deducting medical expenses.

Previous Republican holdouts — Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Steve Daines (R-MJT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) threw their support behind the bill once they were assured their concerns were addressed – including increasing the deduction for pass-through entities from 17.4 to 23 percent and a gradual phase-out of §179 expensing. Also included was the return of the alternative minimum tax provisions for individuals and corporations. Thresholds would be increased and adjusted for inflation.

The Senate bill includes the repeal of the individual mandate clause of the Affordable Care Act, which requires most to have health insurance or pay a penalty. If the Senate's proposal remains in the final version, then beginning in 2019, there would be no penalty if taxpayers go without coverage. The penalty would remain for 2018.

The House and Senate are expected to work out the differences between the two proposals over the next weeks in joint committee. Several key differences remain. Once an agreement is reached between both chambers of Congress, the bill will go to the president for signature.

Posted by: Shelli AT 11:47 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 22 2017

Sometimes other Professional's Articles are written so well, I feel like sharing them.  This is from

Tax savings

Paying your child for services performed in your family business can reduce your overall family tax bill, while shifting assets to your child without gift tax implications. As a business owner, you can take a deduction for the wages paid to your child, while your child can utilize his or her standard deduction (up to $6,300 in 2016) to offset those wages making them income tax-free (and possibly payroll tax-free). Additionally, the deduction might lower your adjusted gross income, which might favorably impact other deductions and credits that get phased out due to high adjusted gross income.

For example, a business owner in the 35 percent tax bracket hires their 14-year-old son to work in the office on weekends to help with filing, shredding, cleaning, etc. The child earns $6,300 in wages throughout the year and has no other earnings/income. Ideally, the child should receive a Form W-2 for the work performed. Since the full amount of the wages will be deductible as compensation paid by the business, the tax savings to the business owner is $2,205 ($6,300 x 35 percent), and  the income tax to the child is $0, since all of these wages are offset by the child’s standard deduction. In addition, if the business income is subject to self-employment tax, there would be additional tax savings by way of reduced self-employment income.

Even if the wages exceed the standard deduction, the child is allowed to make an IRA contribution up to $5,500 in 2016 which, as an “above the line” deduction, could substantially reduce the child's taxable income. If the maximum traditional IRA contribution is made, the first $11,800 of the child's taxable wages will result no income tax liability ($6,300 standard deduction + $5,500 IRA deduction). And again assuming the parents’ 35 percent income tax bracket, the child's wages would produce an income tax savings of $4,130 to them.

If wages are paid to the child in excess of the $6,300 standard deduction, and a Roth IRA contribution is desired as opposed to a traditional IRA, any income in excess of the standard deduction will be taxed at the child’s tax rate. The lowest tax bracket of 10 percent applies to taxable income up to $9,275 for 2016. Assuming a traditional IRA contribution is not made, the child could earn up to $15,575 ($15,575 - $6,300 standard deduction = $9,275 10 percent bracket limit) before being pushed into the next tax bracket, assuming he or she earns no other income. Please talk to your financial advisor before deciding on whether a traditional IRA or Roth IRA is right for you.

In addition to the income tax savings, you may be able to save on payroll taxes if your business is unincorporated. If you operate as a sole proprietor or a husband-wife partnership without other partners, services provided by your child under the age of 18 would not be considered employment for FICA purposes; therefore, you would not be required to pay FICA and FUTA taxes on the child’s wages. Additionally, FUTA is not imposed in this situation if your child is under age 21. If your business is a corporation (or a partnership that contains non-parent partners), FICA and FUTA taxes are still required to be paid on your child’s wages (note, the reduction in income tax is still achieved). However, there is no extra cost to the business owner, as these taxes would be required to be paid if you would have hired someone for similar work anyway.

As a future planning concern in arranging for contributions made to an IRA established for a minor, it is important to keep in mind that once the child reaches the age of majority, he or she will be free to take funds from the IRA as he or she pleases, and can even close the IRA out. With a distribution from a traditional IRA, there will be taxable income to deal with and, most likely a 10 percent additional tax on the amount of the distribution on account of a premature distribution from the IRA. And, if the conditions applicable to a Roth IRA, including the holding requirements, are not met, penalties, in addition to tax on the investment earnings could apply, as well as that 10 percent additional tax on the amount of the distribution. Therefore, in establishing an IRA for a minor, it’s often best going into this strategy with the intention that the child is to maintain his or her IRA intact for a long, long time or that the IRA is to be used for a specific funding purpose.

One example of a specific funding purpose involves taking distributions from a traditional or Roth IRA for “adjusted qualified higher education expenses” (AQEE). In such a case, regular income taxes will be due on distributions from a traditional IRA but usually not from a Roth IRA. As to the application of the 10 percent additional premature distribution tax on account of AQEE, if the taxable part of the distribution is less than or equal to the AQEE, none of the distribution from the traditional or Roth IRA would be subject to the additional 10 percent tax; if the taxable part of the distribution is more than the AQEE, only the excess would be subject to the additional 10 percent tax. For purposes of this rule, AQEE include tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution. Also included are expenses for special needs services incurred by or for special needs students in connection with their enrollment or attendance. In addition, if the student is at least a half-time student, room and board would also be considered as AQEE.

In summary, there are good reasons to consider sheltering a portion of the child’s income in a traditional IRA or making after-tax contributions to a Roth IRA during the child’s minority period when presumably the exemption and the child’s income tax bracket are most favorable. In doing so, the parents/business owners will also want to consider the future strategy of the IRA as a basis for deciding whether to go with a traditional or Roth IRA, and that strategy should be communicated to the child. As a starting point, the strategy should involve steering clear of the application of the 10 percent additional income tax and maximizing any additional tax preference which would apply to a future distribution from the IRA.

Doing it the right way

When hiring your children, you need to be careful to treat them similarly to any other employee. This might include items such as:

  • Keeping detailed employment records, including timely tracking of weekly hours and wages that correspond to services provided
  • Issuing paychecks as you would a normal employee (e.g., bi-weekly)
  • Documenting that the services are legitimate and considered ordinary and necessary for the business
  • Ensuring the services provided do not include typical household chores

If your child is not treated like any other employee in a similar position, the IRS could potentially deem their wages as not ordinary and necessary, and disallow them as a deductible expense. In Patricia D. Ross v. Commissioner, TC Summary Opinion 2014-68, the IRS did exactly that.

Mrs. Ross operated several businesses, and hired her three children to perform services. The work performed by the children was mostly legitimate work and timesheets were prepared. Mrs. Ross filed the appropriate employment tax returns and the children’s income tax returns where required. While the above items were a good start, Mrs. Ross did not generally pay her children on a regular basis, but rather she often made payments to third parties for expenditures that her children “directed her to make” (most of which were meals at restaurants). Also, amounts "paid" to the children had no correlation to the amount of hours actually worked and there was no consistent wage rate (hourly rates ranged from $4-$30 per hour depending on the child and year). Based on all the facts and circumstances, the IRS determined that the arrangement between Mrs. Ross and her children was too dissimilar between that of a normal employer/employee relationship, and that all of the wages claimed as an expense were disallowed.

In no way should this case discourage a business owner from hiring their children and deducting the child's wages as an ordinary and necessary business expense. Rather, it should serve as a reminder on how to do it correctly. From an overall family tax standpoint, hiring your children is an effective tool in reducing taxes, but business owners should be mindful to treat them as they would other employees.

The information provided here is of a general nature and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any individual or entity. In specific circumstances, the services of a professional should be sought. Tax information, if any, contained in this communication was not intended or written to be used by any person for the purpose of avoiding penalties, nor should such information be construed as an opinion upon which any person may rely.  The intended recipients of this communication and any attachments are not subject to any limitation on the disclosure of the tax treatment or tax structure of any transaction or matter that is the subject of this communication and any attachments.

Posted by: Shelli Dodson AT 01:01 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 14 2017

Why do our clients establish S corporations? Is it the flow through taxation or limited liability?  Is it the decent (but not great) fringe benefit write-offs or the ability to avoid all surtaxes for active owners? Is it the savings on Social Security tax on distributions or the single level of income tax?  Its usually all of the above.
All of this may change if the House version of the 2017 Tax Bill is passed. Interestingly no one is talking about the potential end of “S” corporations. Why may they end after this year?
A hard to decipher provision on pages 49-52 of the House bill requires active owners of “S” corporations to allocate 70% of their flow-through income to ordinary tax rates, and subjects that amount to self-employment tax. You think that isn’t enough to end “S” corporations? Try this on for size: “S” corporations that are personal service type businesses in the fields of healthcare, engineering, architecture, law, accounting, consulting, performing arts or actuaries will pay SE tax on 100% of flow-through income!
If you are thinking that an LLC may be the best tax choice now, think again! The House bill also removes the limited partner exemption from self-employment tax!
We are watching these developments closely and will keep our readers informed. If the law is passed with this provision we will provide additional information to our clients to ensure they have the best entity choice.

Stay Tuned...


Posted by: Shelli Dodson AT 03:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 02 2017

Tax reform introduced (11-02-17)

This morning, the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Ways and Means introduced the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. There will certainly be many negotiations over the provisions in the bill, and we expect changes along the way.

Here are some of the highlights that would be effective beginning January 1, 2018:

  • Consolidate the seven current individual tax brackets into four at 12%, 25%, 35%, and 39.6%, using the following tax brackets:

Proposed Tax Rates


























* A summary of the bill provisions lists the threshold for this bracket at $230,000, but the current text of the bill would leave this bracket at $200,000. At this point, it is unclear which amount is the correct proposed amount.

  • Increase the standard deduction:
    • Joint filers: $24,000
    • Single filers with at least one qualifying child: $18,000
    • Single filers (and surviving spouse): $12,000
  • Increase the child tax credit to $1,600, and add a nonrefundable credit of $300 for non-child dependents and a new nonrefundable $300 personal credit;
  • Eliminate itemized deductions other than mortgage interest deductions, charitable contribution deductions, and property tax deductions of up to $10,000. All other state and local tax deductions are eliminated;
  • For new home purchases, mortgage interest deductions would be limited to interest on $500,000;
  • Eliminate the AMT for individuals and corporations;
  • Lower the corporate tax rate to 20%, and create a 35% maximum rate on passthrough business income; and
  • Increase the estate tax exemption to $10 million, and repeal the estate tax after six years.

To view the full text of the bill, go to:

Posted by: AT 04:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 01 2017


By David Morgan and Jonathan Oatis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican tax legislation due to be released this week in the U.S. House of Representatives will not include a deduction for state and local income taxes, the top House Republican on tax policy said on Tuesday.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said in a radio interview with commentator Hugh Hewitt that the emerging bill will offer relief only on property taxes. Brady spoke as House Republican leaders sought to broker an agreement with Republican lawmakers who want the state and local income tax deduction to remain.

Asked if there would be relief on the income side of state and local taxes, Brady replied: "The answer is 'no.' ... Our lawmakers in those high-tax states really believe their families are being punished most by property taxes".

Posted by: AT 06:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, October 31 2017

Client Question 1
How many years of my life is my benefit based upon? The answer is that your personal social security benefit is based upon your highest 35 years of earned income. So, for people playing the S corporation low wage game, or wiping out income every year with bonus depreciation, or whatever, they will see a tremendously reduced monthly check at retirement.
Client Question 2
What is the average benefit I can expect? Social Security tells us the average benefit in America in 2017 for a single person is about $1,360 monthly. Do you know what it took to get this benefit? Thirty-five years of an average annual inflation-adjusted income of $25,000. 
Client Question 3
What is the earliest age I can draw my benefit? Nearly everyone knows the generic answer to this, which is age 62 but there are other circumstances where you can draw earlier.
Client Question 4
Shouldn’t I draw at age 62 and invest my money like my financial advisor suggests? Let’s see, the Social Security benefit increases by 8% every year you wait to draw after full retirement age. That increase is tax-free and that increase is risk-free. In your 60’s you cannot afford to take any risk, and an investment advisor suggesting this approach will need to earn 12% just to offset the tax difference, plus another 3-4% to offset the additional risk, meaning the investment advisor needs to earn 15% annually just to match the Social Security risk-free, tax-free increase. Since 1871 the S&P 500 has earned a little less than 6% annually. In my mind, taking the chance of obtaining a 15% return for a high-risk investment at retirement age is one of the single worst financial decisions that can ever be made. 
Client Question 5
The biggest question of all is “When should I draw my own benefit?” That’s actually simple Madam client-just tell me what day you will die! This sarcastic answer is an answer to illustrate that there is no “one answer fits everyone”. There are three factors involved in the decision: first, what kind of average life expectancy do we have in America and in your ancestry?; second, what kind of personal health issues do you have that will affect your life expectancy?; and third, what kind of financial situation are you in and who will be drawing on this account besides you?

Posted by: Shelli Dodson AT 06:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, October 31 2017

With the prospect of new lower individual tax rates on the horizon for 2018, the average taxpayer or business owner should generally accelerate deductions to 2017 and delay income until 2018. Often overlooked in the planning arena are the low capital gains rates experienced by many Americans.
                2017 Capital Gain Rates (01/2013 Tax Act)

If net capital gain is from:

Then maximum capital gains rate is:



Gain on Qualified Small Business Stock Equal to the Section 1202 Exclusion


Un-recaptured Section 1250 Gain


Rate when taxpayer is in 39.6% personal bracket


Other gain & qualified dividends when the regular tax rate is higher than 15%


Other gain & qualified dividends when the regular tax rate is 15% or lower (Single <$37,650, MFJ <$75,300 taxable after exemptions)


When an individual is in the 15% or lower individual tax bracket in 2017, their capital gains rate is 0%, and if the capital gain is what causes their ordinary income tax bracket to go higher than 15%, only the excess capital gains are taxed at 15%.
With all of that in mind, in layman’s terms if an individual’s taxable income is less than the amounts below based on their filing status, their capital gains rate for 2017 is 0%.

                        Capital Gains Planning-2017 Amounts




Married Separate

Head of Household (+1 child)

Income at the top of the 15% bracket





Standard Deduction based on filing status





Personal exemptions based on filing status no children





Maximum taxable income (without itemizing) for 0% capital gains rate





                               Client Worksheet for Capital Gains Planning

Client Name:                                                                  Filing Status:                       2017

Filing status bracket limit


Filing status standard deduction


Additional Itemized deductions


# personal exemptions times $4,000


Maximum 0% capital gains taxable income limit


Less estimated taxable income


Equals amount of capital gains to recognize this year



Posted by: Shelli Dodson AT 07:58 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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