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Marginal vs. Effective Tax Rates
Understanding marginal and effective tax rates is important for tax planning purposes; however, many taxpayers don't fully understand the differences. Let's take a closer look:
Marginal Tax Rate
The United States has a progressive tax system. The more money you earn, the higher your tax rate is and the more taxes you pay to the IRS. In 2021, there are seven tax brackets ranging from 10% to 37%. If you earn $35,000 a year as a single filer, you are in the 12% tax bracket. If you make $520,000 a year as a single filer, you are in the 37% tax bracket. These brackets represent the percentage of taxes you pay based on your taxable income and are referred to as marginal tax rates. When someone says they are in the 35% tax bracket, this is typically what they are referring to - and this is where the confusion begins.
For many taxpayers, their income is the same as their earnings from wages; however, taxpayers should note that income from capital gains may be taxed differently. Short-term capital gains are generally taxed as ordinary income subject to the seven tax brackets mentioned above. Long-term capital gains, however, are taxed at 0%, 15%, and 20%.
Due to the way the tax code is set up and because marginal tax rates apply to each additional level of income above your tax bracket's income limit, it is not as straightforward as it seems. If you earn $100,000 and are in the 24% tax bracket, it doesn't mean that you pay a 24% tax on your earned income (0.24 x $100,000 = $24,000).
To illustrate how this works, let's look at the following example for a single taxpayer earning $100,000 of annual income in 2021 (i.e., filing a tax return in April 2022). The amount of tax owed breaks down as follows:
Total tax = $18,021.50
In the example above, the marginal tax rate (tax bracket) on $100,000 of income is 24%, but the effective tax rate is closer to 18% ($18,021.50/$100,000) - without taking any deduction that reduce taxable income.
Effective Tax Rate
The effective tax rate is the actual amount of federal income taxes paid on a taxpayer's taxable income and more accurately represents the amount of tax most people pay. The effective tax rate does not include state taxes and local taxes, FICA taxes, or self-employment tax.
Many taxpayers take advantage of tax credits and deductions that reduce taxable income, such as the standard deduction, tax-deductible contributions to a retirement or pension plan, health savings account, tax credits for dependent children, and charitable contributions.
Calculating your effective tax rate is relatively simple: Divide your total tax liability by your gross (before tax) annual income. For example, if you made $100,000 (single filer), took the standard deduction of $12,500 in 2021, reducing your income to $87,450, and paid $15,009.50 in tax, the effective tax rate is 15 percent even though you are in the "24%" tax bracket.
If you feel like too much of your hard-earned money goes straight to the IRS instead of your bank account, please call the office to learn more about tax planning strategies that could save you money.
Small Business: Tips for Ensuring Financial Success
Can you point your company in the direction of financial success, step on the gas, and then sit back and wait to arrive at your destination? Probably not.
While you may wish it was that easy, the truth is that you can't let your business run on autopilot and expect good results. Every business owner knows you need to make numerous adjustments along the way. So, how do you handle the array of questions facing you? One way is through cost accounting.
Cost Accounting Helps You Make Informed Decisions
Cost accounting reports and determines the various costs associated with running your business. With cost accounting, you track the cost of all your business functions - raw materials, labor, inventory, and overhead, among others.
Cost accounting allows you to understand the following:
Cost behavior. For example, will the costs increase or stay the same if production of your product goes up?
Appropriate prices for your goods or services. Once you understand cost behavior, you can tweak your pricing based on the current market.
Budgeting. You can't create an effective budget if you don't know the real costs of the line items.
Pay Attention to Fixed and Variable Costs
To monitor your company's costs with this method, you need to pay attention to the two types of costs in any business: fixed and variable.
Fixed costs. Fixed costs do not fluctuate with changes in production or sales and include:
Variable costs. Variable costs do change with variations in production and sales. Variable costs include:
Setting up a Cost Accounting System
If you'd like to understand the ins and outs of your business better and create sound guidance for internal decision making, consider setting up a cost accounting system. If you need assistance with this or any other matter related to ensuring the financial success of your business, don't hesitate to call the office to schedule a consultation.
Defer Capital Gains Using Like-Kind Exchanges
If you're a savvy investor, you probably know that you must generally report as income any mutual fund distributions, whether you reinvest them or exchange shares in one fund for shares of another. In other words, you must report and pay any capital gains tax owed.
But if real estate's your game, did you know that it's possible to defer capital gains by taking advantage of a tax break that allows you to swap investment property on a tax-deferred basis?
What Is Section 1031?
Named after Section 1031 of the tax code, a like-kind exchange generally applies to real estate and was designed for people who wanted to exchange properties of equal value. If you own land in Montana and trade it for a shopping center in Rhode Island, as long as the values of the two properties are equal, nobody pays capital gains tax even if both properties may have appreciated since they were originally purchased.
Section 1031 transactions don't have to involve identical types of investment properties. You can swap an apartment building for a shopping center or a piece of undeveloped raw land for an office or building. You can even swap a second home that you rent out for a parking lot.
There's also no limit as to how many times you can use a Section 1031 exchange. It's entirely possible to roll over the gain from your investment swaps for many years and avoid paying capital gains tax until a property is finally sold. Keep in mind that gain is deferred but not forgiven in a like-kind exchange, and you must calculate and keep track of your basis in the new property you acquired in the exchange.
Section 1031 is not for personal use. For example, you can't use it for stocks, bonds, and other securities, or personal property (with limited exceptions such as artwork).
Properties of Unequal Value
Let's say you have a small piece of property, and you want to trade up for a bigger one by exchanging it with another party. You can make the transaction without having to pay capital gains tax on the difference between the smaller property's current market value and your lower original cost.
That's good for you, but the other property owner doesn't make out so well. Presumably, you will have to pay cash or assume a mortgage on the bigger property to make up the difference in value. In the tax trade, this is referred to as "boot," and your partner must pay capital gains tax on that part of the transaction.
To avoid that, you could work through an intermediary who is often known as an escrow agent. Instead of a two-way deal involving a one-for-one swap, your transaction becomes a three-way deal.
Your replacement property may come from a third party through the escrow agent. Juggling numerous properties in various combinations, the escrow agent may arrange evenly valued swaps.
Under the right circumstances, you don't even need to do an equal exchange. You can sell a property at a profit, buy a more expensive one, and defer the tax indefinitely.
You sell a property and have the cash put into an escrow account. Then the escrow agent buys another property that you want. They get the title to the deed and transfers the property to you.
Mortgage and Other Debt
When considering a Section 1031 exchange, it's important to consider mortgage loans and other debt on the property you are planning to swap. Let's say you hold a $200,000 mortgage on your existing property but your "new" property only holds a mortgage of $150,000. Even if you're not receiving cash from the trade, your mortgage liability has decreased by $50,000. In the eyes of the IRS, this is classified as "boot," and you will still be liable for capital gains tax because it is still treated as "gain."
Advance Planning Required
A Section 1031 transaction takes advance planning. You must identify your replacement property within 45 days of selling your estate. Then you must close on that within 180 days. There is no grace period. If your closing gets delayed by a storm or by other unforeseen circumstances, and you cannot close in time, you're back to a taxable sale.
Find an escrow agent specializing in these types of transactions and contact your accountant to set up the IRS form ahead of time. Some people sell their property, take the cash, and put it in their bank account. They figure that all they have to do is find a new property within 45 days and close within 180 days, but that's not the case. As soon as "sellers" have cash in their hands or the paperwork isn't done right, they've lost their opportunity to use this provision of the code.
Personal Residences and Vacation Homes
Section 1031 doesn't apply to personal residences, but the IRS lets you sell your principal residence tax-free as long as the gain is under $250,000 for individuals ($500,000 if you're married).
Section 1031 exchanges may be used for swapping vacation homes but present a trickier situation. Here's an example of how this might work. Let's say you stop going to your condo at the ski resort and instead rent it out to a bona fide tenant for 12 months. In doing so, you've effectively converted the condo to an investment property, which you can then swap for another property under the Section 1031 exchange.
However, if you want to use your new property as a vacation home, there's a catch. You'll need to comply with a 2008 IRS safe harbor rule that states in each of the 12-month periods following the 1031 exchange, you must rent the dwelling to someone for 14 days (or more) consecutively. In addition, you cannot use the dwelling more than the greater of 14 days or 10 percent of the number of days during the 12-month period that the dwelling unit is rented out for at a fair rental price.
You must report a section 1031 exchange to the IRS on Form 8824, Like-Kind Exchanges and file it with your tax return for the year in which the exchange occurred. If you do not precisely follow the rules for like-kind exchanges, you may be held liable for taxes, penalties, and interest on your transactions.
Help is Just a Phone Call Away
While they may seem straightforward, like-kind exchanges can be complicated, and you need to be careful of all kinds of restrictions and pitfalls. If you're considering a Section 1031 exchange or have any questions, don't hesitate to call.
Use These Strategies To Pass on Wealth to Heirs
Individuals with significant assets should take advantage of proven tax strategies such as gifting and direct payments to educational institutions to transfer wealth to heirs tax-free, as well as minimize estate taxes. Additional opportunities are available as well, thanks to low interest rates and a volatile stock market. Let's take a look at some of them:
The annual gift tax exclusion provides a simple, effective way of cutting estate taxes and shifting income to heirs. For example, in 2021, you can make annual gifts of up to $15,000 ($30,000 for a married couple) to as many donees as you desire. The $15,000 is excluded from the federal gift tax so that you will not incur gift tax liability. Furthermore, each $15,000 you give away during your lifetime reduces your estate for federal estate tax purposes. However, any amounts above this limit will reduce an individual's federal lifetime exemption and require filing a gift tax return.
Direct payments for medical or educational purposes indirectly shift income to heirs; however, it only works if the payments are made directly to the qualifying educational institution or medical provider. This strategy allows you to give more than the annual gifting limit of $15,000 per donee. For example, if you're a grandparent, you can pay tuition directly to your grandchild's boarding school, college, or university. Room and board, books, supplies, or other nontuition expenses are not covered. Similarly, they can make direct payments to a hospital or medical provider, but medical expenses reimbursed by insurance are not covered, however.
Loans to Family Members
This strategy works by loaning cash to family members at low interest rates, which is then invested with the goal of reaping significant profits down the road. With mid and long-term applicable federal rates (AFR) rates for October 2021, as low as 0.91 and 1.72 percent, respectively, heirs can lock in these rates for many years - three to nine years (mid-term) and nine to more than 20 years (long-term).
Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT)
Another relatively low-risk strategy is the grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT), where the donor transfers assets to an irrevocable trust and receives an annuity payment back from the trust each year. This strategy enables heirs to profit from their investments long-term if returns are higher than the IRS interest rate. Now that IRS interest rates are so low, this is easier than ever to do. In October 2021, the interest rate used to value certain charitable interests in trusts such as the GRAT is 1.00 percent.
Roth IRA Conversions
Contributions to a traditional IRA are made pre-tax, which means distributions are considered taxable income; however, the tax is paid upfront with a Roth IRA, and distributions are completely exempt from income tax. This feature makes converting a traditional IRA to Roth IRA and rolling it over to an heir an attractive option, especially during a financial crisis. The conversion is treated as a rollover where the trustee of the traditional IRA is directed to transfer an amount from the traditional IRA to the trustee of the Roth IRA. The account owner pays income tax on the amount rolled over in the year the account is converted, which allows the account to accumulate assets tax-free and future distributions are tax-free.
To learn more about these and other tax strategies related to wealth management, please call the office and speak to a tax professional who can assist you.
If You Receive an IRS Letter or Notice
The IRS sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. Many of these letters and notices can be dealt with without calling or visiting an IRS office. Here's what you need to know about IRS notices and letters:
Reasons You Might Receive an IRS Notice or Letter
The IRS sends notices and letters for a number of reasons such as:
Each Notice or Letter Contains Valuable Information
It is very important that you read the IRS notice or letter carefully. If the IRS changed your tax return, compare the information provided in the notice or letter with the information in your original return.
Explaining the Reason for the Contact
The notice will explain why it was sent and will also give you instructions on how to handle the issue. If your notice or letter requires a response by a specific date, there are two main reasons you'll want to comply:
Usually No Reply Is Necessary
If you agree with the correction to your account, then usually no reply is necessary - unless a payment is due or the notice directs otherwise.
Respond as Requested
If you disagree with the correction the IRS made, it is still important to respond as requested. You should send a written explanation of why you disagree and include any documents and information you want the IRS to consider along with the bottom tear-off portion of the notice. Mail the information to the IRS address located in the upper left of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response.
Pay as Much as You Can
If you can't pay the full amount you owe, you should pay as much as you can to try to avoid or reduce penalties incurred. You can pay online or apply for an Online Payment Agreement or Offer in Compromise. If you need help with either of these, please call the office.
Usually No Need to Visit an IRS Office
Most correspondence can be handled without calling or visiting an IRS office. However, if you have questions, call the telephone number in the upper right of the notice. Have a copy of your tax return and the correspondence available when you call to help the IRS respond to your inquiry.
Keep a Copy of Notices and Letters
It's important to keep a copy of all notices or letters with your tax records. You may need to reference these documents at a later date.
IRS Notices and Letters Are Sent by Mail
The IRS does not correspond by email about taxpayer accounts or tax returns. If you search the IRS website for your notice or letter and it doesn't return a result - or you believe the notice or letter looks suspicious - contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 or report it on the Report Phishing page on IRS.gov. You can find the notice (CP) or letter (LTR) number on either the top or the bottom right-hand corner of your correspondence.
Contact Phone Number Is Provided
A contact phone number is provided on the top right-hand corner of the notice or letter. Typically, you only need to contact the IRS if you don't agree with the information, have a balance due, or need to send additional information.
Questions or Concerns About IRS Notices?
As always, don't hesitate to call if you have questions or concerns about IRS notices.
Federal Per Diem Rates Updated for FY 2022
Per diem rates have been updated for FY 2022 and are effective October 1, 2021. These allowances substantiate the amount of ordinary and necessary business expenses paid or incurred while traveling away from home and include lodging, meal, and incidental expenses, as well as meal and incidental expenses only.
Taxpayers are not required to use a method described in this revenue procedure. Instead, they may substantiate actual allowable expenses provided they maintain adequate records.
As a reminder, the TCJA suspended the miscellaneous itemized deduction that employees could take for non-reimbursed business expenses. Certain individuals such as the self-employed, Armed Forces reservists, and qualified performing artists that deduct unreimbursed expenses for travel away from home may still use per diem rates for meals and incidental expenses, or incidental expenses only.
Special meal and incidental expenses rates for taxpayers in the transportation industry are $69 for any location in the continental United States and $74 for any locality outside the continental U.S. The rate for the incidental-expenses-only deduction is $5 per day and applies to any travel locale inside or outside the continental United States.
Per diem rates and the list of high-cost localities for purposes of the high-low substantiation method are also updated. For travel to any high-cost locality, per diem rates are $296. The per diem rate is $202 for travel to any other locality within the continental U.S. The amount that is treated as paid for meals is $74 for travel to any high-cost locale and $64 for travel to any other locality within the continental U.S. Travel to areas on the list of high-cost localities have a federal per diem rate of $249 or more.
Please call the office if you have any questions about per diem rates.
IRAs: Terms to Know
IRAs, or Individual Retirement Arrangements, provide tax incentives for people to make investments that can provide financial security for their retirement. To help people better understand this type of retirement savings account, here's a basic overview of terms to know:
It's essential to understand the tax implications of your retirement planning choices. If you haven't started saving for retirement, call the office and speak to a tax professional who will help you figure out a plan that works for you.
E-Signatures Extended for Many Tax Forms
To help reduce the burden to taxpayers brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, the use of electronic or digital signatures on certain paper forms they normally cannot file electronically have been extended through December 31, 2021. Let’s take a look at what this means for taxpayers:
Types of acceptable electronic signatures
An electronic signature is a way to get approval on electronic documents. There are a number of ways to do this. Acceptable electronic signature methods include:
The type of technology a taxpayer must use to capture an electronic signature is not specified; the IRS will accept images of signatures (scanned or photographed) including common file types supported by Microsoft 365 such as tiff, jpg, jpeg, pdf, Microsoft Office suite or Zip.
E-signatures on certain paper-filed forms
Electronic or digital signatures are typically allowed on paper forms that cannot be filed using IRS e-file. Some of these forms are listed below. For a complete list, please call the office.
Closing Your Business: A Tax Checklist
Many small businesses have closed due to COVID-19. If yours is one of them, you should be aware that there is more to closing a business than laying off employees, selling office furniture, and closing the doors - you must also take certain actions as required by the IRS to fulfill your tax obligations.For example, if you have employees, you must file final employment tax returns as well as make final federal tax deposits of these taxes. You will need to attach a statement to your return listing the name and address of the person that keeps the payroll records (this could be you or another person) as well. If you are disposing of business property, exchanging like-kind property, and/or changing the form of your business, you must file a return to report these actions too. You must also file an annual tax return for the year you go out of business.
Depending on your type of business structure, you may need to take the some or all of the following steps:
If you find yourself in the position of having to close your business, help is just a phone call away.
Reporting Gambling Income and Losses
If you aren't in the trade or business of gambling, you should be aware that gambling winnings are fully taxable and must be reported as income on your tax return. Gambling income includes but isn't limited to winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse races, and casinos, and also includes cash winnings and the fair market value of prizes, such as cars and trips. Here is what you need to know:
If you receive certain gambling winnings or have any gambling winnings subject to federal income tax withholding, you will be issued a Form W-2G, Certain Gambling Winnings. Gambling winnings are reported as "Other Income" on Schedule 1 of Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. Winnings that aren't reported on a Form W-2G should also be included. Depending on the amount of gambling winnings, you may be required to pay an estimated tax on that additional income. For additional information on withholding gambling winnings, please contact the office.
You may deduct gambling losses only if you itemize your deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040) and have kept a record of your winnings and losses. The amount of losses you deduct can't be more than the amount of gambling income you reported on your return. You can claim your gambling losses up to the amount of winnings as "Other Itemized Deductions."
As a nonresident alien of the United States for income tax purposes and you must file a tax return for U.S. source gambling winnings, using Form 1040-NR, U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return. Generally, nonresident aliens of the United States who aren't residents of Canada can't deduct gambling losses.
To deduct your losses, you must keep an accurate diary or similar record of your gambling winnings and losses and be able to provide receipts, tickets, statements, or other records that show the amount of both your winnings and losses. If you need assistance with this, don't hesitate to call.
Tax Due Dates for October 2021
Employees who work for tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during September, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.
Individuals - If you have an automatic 6-month extension to file your income tax return for 2020, file Form 1040 and pay any tax, interest, and penalties due.
Corporations - File a 2020 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax, interest, and penalties due. This due date applies only if you timely requested an automatic 6-month extension.
Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in September.
Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in September.
Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File form 941 for the third quarter of 2021. Deposit any undeposited tax. (If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return.) If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until November 10 to file the return.
Certain Small Employers - Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2021 but less than $2,500 for the third quarter.
Employers - Federal Unemployment Tax. Deposit the tax owed through October if more than $500.
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