Traditionally, spring and summer are popular times for selling a home. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a slowdown in sales. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that existing home sales in April decreased year-over-year, 17.2% from a year ago. One bit of good news is that home prices are up. The median existing-home price in April was $286,800, up 7.4% from April 2019, according to the NAR.

If you’re planning to sell your home this year, it’s a good time to review the tax considerations.

Some gain is excluded

If you’re selling your principal residence, and you meet certain requirements, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain. Gain that qualifies for the exclusion is also excluded from the 3.8% net investment income tax.

To be eligible for the exclusion, you must meet these tests:

  • The ownership test. You must have owned the property for at least two years during the five-year period ending on the sale date.
  • The use test. You must have used the property as a principal residence for at least two years during the same five-year period. (Periods of ownership and use don’t need to overlap.)

In addition, you can’t use the exclusion more than once every two years.

Larger gains

What if you have more than $250,000/$500,000 of profit when selling your home? Any gain that doesn’t qualify for the exclusion generally will be taxed at your long-term capital gains rate, provided you owned the home for at least a year. If you didn’t, the gain will be considered short term and subject to your ordinary-income rate, which could be more than double your long-term rate.

Here are two other tax considerations when selling a home:

  1. Keep track of your basis. To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain complete records, including information on your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed based on business use.
  2. Be aware that you can’t deduct a loss. If you sell your principal residence at a loss, it generally isn’t deductible. But if a portion of your home is rented out or used exclusively for your business, the loss attributable to that part may be deductible.

If you’re selling a second home (for example, a beach house), it won’t be eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 like-kind exchange. In addition, you may be able to deduct a loss.

For many people, their homes are their most valuable asset. So before selling yours, make sure you understand the tax implications. We can help you plan ahead to minimize taxes and answer any questions you have about your home sale.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected many Americans’ finances. Here are some answers to questions you may have right now.

My employer closed the office and I’m working from home. Can I deduct any of the related expenses?

Unfortunately, no. If you’re an employee who telecommutes, there are strict rules that govern whether you can deduct home office expenses. For 2018–2025 employee home office expenses aren’t deductible. (Starting in 2026, an employee may deduct home office expenses, within limits, if the office is for the convenience of his or her employer and certain requirements are met.)

Be aware that these are the rules for employees. Business owners who work from home may qualify for home office deductions.

My son was laid off from his job and is receiving unemployment benefits. Are they taxable?

Yes. Unemployment compensation is taxable for federal tax purposes. This includes your son’s state unemployment benefits plus the temporary $600 per week from the federal government. (Depending on the state he lives in, his benefits may be taxed for state tax purposes as well.)

Your son can have tax withheld from unemployment benefits or make estimated tax payments to the IRS.

The value of my stock portfolio is currently down. If I sell a losing stock now, can I deduct the loss on my 2020 tax return?

It depends. Let’s say you sell a losing stock this year but earlier this year, you sold stock shares at a gain. You have both a capital loss and a capital gain. Your capital gains and losses for the year must be netted against one another in a specific order, based on whether they’re short-term (held one year or less) or long-term (held for more than one year).

If, after the netting, you have short-term or long-term losses (or both), you can use them to offset up to $3,000 ordinary income ($1,500 for married taxpayers filing separately). Any loss in excess of this limit is carried forward to later years, until all of it is either offset against capital gains or deducted against ordinary income in those years, subject to the $3,000 limit.

I know the tax filing deadline has been extended until July 15 this year. Does that mean I have more time to contribute to my IRA?

Yes. You have until July 15 to contribute to an IRA for 2019. If you’re eligible, you can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA, plus an extra $1,000 “catch-up” amount if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2019.

What about making estimated payments for 2020?

The 2020 estimated tax payment deadlines for the first quarter (due April 15) and the second quarter (due June 15) have been extended until July 15, 2020.

Need help?

These are only some of the tax-related questions you may have related to COVID-19. Contact us if you have other questions or need more information about the topics discussed above.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If you have outstanding loans to your children, grandchildren or other family members, consider forgiving those loans to take advantage of the current, record-high $11.58 million gift and estate tax exemption. Bear in mind that in 2026, the exemption amount will revert to $5 million ($10 million for married couples), indexed for inflation.

Under the right circumstances, an intrafamily loan can be a powerful estate planning tool because it allows you to transfer wealth to your loved ones free of gift taxes — to the extent the loan proceeds achieve a certain level of returns. But an outright gift is a far more effective way to transfer wealth, provided you don’t need the interest income and have enough unused exemption to shield it from transfer taxes.

Do intrafamily loans save taxes?

Generally, to ensure the desired tax outcome, an intrafamily loan must have an interest rate that equals or exceeds the applicable federal rate (AFR) at the time the loan is made. The principal and interest are included in the lender’s estate, so the key to transferring wealth tax-free is for the borrower to invest the loan proceeds in a business, real estate or other opportunity whose returns outperform the AFR.

The excess of these investment returns over the interest expense is essentially a tax-free gift to the borrower. Intrafamily loans work best in a low-interest-rate environment, when it’s easier to outperform the AFR.

Why forgive a loan?

An intrafamily loan is an attractive estate planning tool if you’ve already used up your exemption or if you wish to save it for future transfers. But if you have exemption to spare, forgiving an intrafamily loan allows you to transfer the entire loan principal plus any accrued interest tax-free, not just the excess of the borrower’s returns over the AFR.

It can be a strategy for taking advantage of the increased exemption amount before it disappears at the end of 2025. Of course, if you need the funds for your own living expenses, loan forgiveness may not be an option.

What about income taxes?

Before you forgive an intrafamily loan, consider any potential income tax issues for you and the borrower. In most cases, forgiving a loan to a loved one is considered a gift, which generally has no income tax consequences for either party.

Although forgiveness of a loan sometimes results in cancellation of debt (COD) income to the borrower, the tax code recognizes an exception for debts canceled as a “gift, bequest, devise or inheritance.” There’s also an exception for a borrower who’s insolvent at the time the debt is forgiven. But be careful: If there’s evidence that forgiving a loan isn’t intended as a gift — for example, if the borrower doesn’t have the cash needed to make the loan payments but isn’t technically insolvent — the IRS may argue that the borrower has COD income.

We can assist you in determining whether forgiving loans is a good strategy and, if it is, help implement that strategy without triggering unwanted tax consequences.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Millions of eligible Americans have already received their Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) via direct deposit or paper checks, according to the IRS. Others are still waiting. The payments are part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Here are some answers to questions you may have about EIPs.

Who’s eligible to get an EIP?

Eligible taxpayers who filed their 2018 or 2019 returns and chose direct deposit of their refunds automatically receive an Economic Impact Payment. You must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. resident alien and you can’t be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return. In general, you must also have a valid Social Security number and have adjusted gross income (AGI) under a certain threshold.

The IRS also says that automatic payments will go to people receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits and Railroad Retirement benefits.

How much are the payments?

EIPs can be up to $1,200 for individuals, or $2,400 for married couples, plus $500 for each qualifying child.

How much income must I have to receive a payment?

You don’t need to have any income to receive a payment. But for higher income people, the payments phase out. The EIP is reduced by 5% of the amount that your AGI exceeds $75,000 ($112,500 for heads of household or $150,000 for married joint filers), until it’s $0.

The payment for eligible individuals with no qualifying children is reduced to $0 once AGI reaches:

  • $198,000 for married joint filers,
  • $136,500 for heads of household, and
  • $99,000 for all others

Each of these threshold amounts increases by $10,000 for each additional qualifying child. For example, because families with one qualifying child receive an additional $500 Payment, their $1,700 Payment ($2,900 for married joint filers) is reduced to $0 once adjusted gross income reaches:

  • $208,000 for married joint filers,
  • $146,500 for heads of household,
  • $109,000 for all others

How will I know if money has been deposited into my bank account?

The IRS stated that it will send letters to EIP recipients about the payment within 15 days after they’re made. A letter will be sent to a recipient’s last known address and will provide information on how the payment was made and how to report any failure to receive it.

Is there a way to check on the status of a payment?

The IRS has introduced a new “Get My Payment” web-based tool that will: show taxpayers either their EIP amount and the scheduled delivery date by direct deposit or paper check, or that a payment hasn’t been scheduled. It also allows taxpayers who didn’t use direct deposit on their last-filed return to provide bank account information. In order to use the tool, you must enter information such as your Social Security number and birthdate. You can access it here: https://bit.ly/2ykLSwa

I tried the tool and I got the message “payment status not available.” Why?

Many people report that they’re getting this message. The IRS states there are many reasons why you may see this. For example, you’re not eligible for a payment or you’re required to file a tax return and haven’t filed yet. In some cases, people are eligible but are still getting this message. Hopefully, the IRS will have it running seamlessly soon.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

As businesses across the country grapple with the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many must decide whether to downsize their workforces to lower payroll costs and stabilize cash flow. If your company is contemplating such a move, you’ll likely want to consider the choice within the choice: that is, should you lay off workers or furlough them?

Basic difference

The basic difference between the two is simple. Layoffs are the ostensibly permanent termination of employees from their positions, though you can rehire some of these individuals when business improves. Meanwhile, a furlough is a mandatory or voluntary suspension from work without pay for a specified period.

In most states, furloughed workers are still considered employees and, therefore, don’t receive a “final” paycheck. Check with an employment or labor attorney, however, to make sure your state’s furlough laws don’t trigger final pay requirements.

Employee benefits are another issue to explore. Reach out to your health insurance provider to see whether a furlough is a triggering event for COBRA health care coverage purposes. In addition, employees can sometimes be dropped from a group health plan if they don’t work enough hours. Ask about potential problems this might cause under the Affordable Care Act.

Applicable laws

If you’re a midsize business, and layoffs or furloughs begin to look unavoidable, it’s particularly important to coordinate the move with legal counsel. Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, employers with 100 or more employees must provide written notice at least 60 days before a plant closing or mass layoff.

To have a mass layoff, at least 50 workers at a single site must be laid off for more than six months (or have their hours reduced by at least 50% in any six-month period). Because furloughs generally last for less than six months, a WARN notice wouldn’t likely be required. But you should still check with your employment attorney regarding applicable state laws and any other potential legal ramifications.

Unemployment benefits

To soften the blow, you can inform furloughed employees that they’re generally eligible for unemployment benefits — assuming their previous year’s wages are enough to qualify. Although a waiting period often applies before an employee can start receiving unemployment benefits, many states have waived these waiting periods because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Again, double-check with your attorney to fully understand the unemployment insurance rules before communicating with employees.

Formulate a strategy

Unprecedented unemployment numbers show that many businesses have had to downsize. It’s worth noting that, if you can hang on to your employees, recently passed tax relief created a refundable credit against payroll tax. (Rules and limits apply.) Our firm can help you assess your employment costs and formulate a strategy for optimally sizing your workforce.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Taxpayers now have more time to file their tax returns and pay any tax owed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Treasury Department and IRS announced that the federal income tax filing due date is automatically extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020.

Taxpayers can also defer making federal income tax payments, which are due on April 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount they owe. This deferment applies to all taxpayers, including individuals, trusts and estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers as well as those who pay self-employment tax. They can also defer their initial quarterly estimated federal income tax payments for the 2020 tax year (including any self-employment tax) from the normal April 15 deadline until July 15.

No forms to file

Taxpayers don’t need to file any additional forms to qualify for the automatic federal tax filing and payment relief to July 15. However, individual taxpayers who need additional time to file beyond the July 15 deadline, can request a filing extension by filing Form 4868. Businesses who need additional time must file Form 7004. Contact us if you need assistance filing these forms.

If you expect a refund

Of course, not everybody will owe the IRS when they file their 2019 tax returns. If you’re due a refund, you should file as soon as possible. The IRS has stated that despite the COVID-19 outbreak, most tax refunds are still being issued within 21 days.

New law passes, another on the way

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” which provides a wide variety of relief related to COVID-19. It includes free testing, waivers and modifications of Federal nutrition programs, employment-related protections and benefits, health programs and insurance coverage requirements, and related employer tax credits and tax exemptions.

If you’re an employee, you may be eligible for paid sick leave for COVID-19 related reasons. Here are the specifics, according to the IRS:

  • An employee who is unable to work because of a need to care for an individual subject to quarantine, to care for a child whose school is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable, and/or the employee is experiencing substantially similar conditions as specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can receive two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at 2/3 the employee’s pay.
  • An employee who is unable to work due to a need to care for a child whose school is closed, or child care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, may in some instances receive up to an additional ten weeks of expanded paid family and medical leave at 2/3 the employee’s pay.

As of this writing, Congress was working on passing another bill that would provide additional relief, including checks that would be sent to Americans under certain income thresholds. We will keep you updated about any developments. In the meantime, please contact us with any questions or concerns about your tax or financial situation.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If you own a home, the interest you pay on your home mortgage may provide a tax break. However, many people believe that any interest paid on their home mortgage loans and home equity loans is deductible. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

First, keep in mind that you must itemize deductions in order to take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction.

Deduction and limits for “acquisition debt”

A personal interest deduction generally isn’t allowed, but one kind of interest that is deductible is interest on mortgage “acquisition debt.” This means debt that’s: 1) secured by your principal home and/or a second home, and 2) incurred in acquiring, constructing or substantially improving the home. You can deduct interest on acquisition debt on up to two qualified residences: your primary home and one vacation home or similar property.

The deduction for acquisition debt comes with a stipulation. From 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct the interest for acquisition debt greater than $750,000 ($375,000 for married filing separately taxpayers). So if you buy a $2 million house with a $1.5 million mortgage, only the interest you pay on the first $750,000 in debt is deductible. The rest is nondeductible personal interest.

Higher limit before 2018 and after 2025

Beginning in 2026, you’ll be able to deduct the interest for acquisition debt up to $1 million ($500,000 for married filing separately). This was the limit that applied before 2018.

The higher $1 million limit applies to acquisition debt incurred before Dec. 15, 2017, and to debt arising from the refinancing of pre-Dec. 15, 2017 acquisition debt, to the extent the debt resulting from the refinancing doesn’t exceed the original debt amount. Thus, taxpayers can refinance up to $1 million of pre-Dec. 15, 2017 acquisition debt, and that refinanced debt amount won’t be subject to the $750,000 limitation.

The limit on home mortgage debt for which interest is deductible includes both your primary residence and your second home, combined. Some taxpayers believe they can deduct the interest on $750,000 for each mortgage. But if you have a $700,000 mortgage on your primary home and a $500,000 mortgage on your vacation place, the interest on $450,000 of the total debt will be nondeductible personal interest.

“Home equity loan” interest

“Home equity debt,” as specially defined for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction, means debt that: is secured by the taxpayer’s home, and isn’t “acquisition indebtedness” (meaning it wasn’t incurred to acquire, construct or substantially improve the home). From 2018 through 2025, there’s no deduction for home equity debt interest. Note that interest may be deductible on a “home equity loan,” or a “home equity line of credit,” if that loan fits the tax law’s definition of “acquisition debt” because the proceeds are used to substantially improve or construct the home.

Home equity interest after 2025

Beginning with 2026, home equity debt up to certain limits will be deductible (as it was before 2018). The interest on a home equity loan will generally be deductible regardless of how you use the loan proceeds.

Thus, taxpayers considering taking out a home equity loan— one that’s not incurred to acquire, construct or substantially improve the home — should be aware that interest on the loan won’t be deductible. Further, taxpayers with outstanding home equity debt (again, meaning debt that’s not incurred to acquire, construct or substantially improve the home) will currently lose the interest deduction for interest on that debt.

Contact us with questions or if you would like more information about the mortgage interest deduction.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If you’re a parent, or if you’re planning on having children, you know that it’s expensive to pay for their food, clothes, activities and education. Fortunately, there’s a tax credit available for taxpayers with children under the age of 17, as well as a dependent credit for older children.

Recent tax law changes

Changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) make the child tax credit more valuable and allow more taxpayers to be able to benefit from it. These changes apply through 2025.

Prior law: Before the TCJA kicked in for the 2018 tax year, the child tax credit was $1,000 per qualifying child. But it was reduced for married couples filing jointly by $50 for every $1,000 (or part of $1,000) by which their adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeded $110,000 ($75,000 for unmarried taxpayers). To the extent the $1,000-per-child credit exceeded a taxpayer’s tax liability, it resulted in a refund up to 15% of earned income (wages or net self-employment income) above $3,000. For taxpayers with three or more qualifying children, the excess of the taxpayer’s Social Security taxes for the year over the taxpayer’s earned income credit for the year was refundable. In all cases, the refund was limited to $1,000 per qualifying child.

Current law. Starting with the 2018 tax year, the TCJA doubled the child tax credit to $2,000 per qualifying child under 17. It also allows a $500 credit (per dependent) for any of your dependents who aren’t qualifying children under 17. There’s no age limit for the $500 credit, but tax tests for dependency must be met. Under the TCJA, the refundable portion of the credit is increased to a maximum of $1,400 per qualifying child. In addition, the earned threshold is decreased to $2,500 (from $3,000 under prior law), which has the potential to result in a larger refund. The $500 credit for dependents other than qualifying children is nonrefundable.

More parents are eligible

The TCJA also substantially increased the “phase-out” thresholds for the credit. Starting with the 2018 tax year, the total credit amount allowed to a married couple filing jointly is reduced by $50 for every $1,000 (or part of a $1,000) by which their AGI exceeds $400,000 (up from the prior threshold of $110,000). The threshold is $200,000 for other taxpayers. So, if you were previously prohibited from taking the credit because your AGI was too high, you may now be eligible to claim the credit.

In order to claim the credit for a qualifying child, you must include the child’s Social Security number (SSN) on your tax return. Under prior law, you could also use an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) or adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN). If a qualifying child doesn’t have an SSN, you won’t be able to claim the $1,400 credit, but you can claim the $500 credit for that child using an ITIN or an ATIN. The SSN requirement doesn’t apply for non-qualifying-child dependents, but you must provide an ITIN or ATIN for each dependent for whom you’re claiming a $500 credit.

The changes made by the TCJA generally make these credits more valuable and more widely available to many parents.

If you have children and would like to determine if these tax credits can benefit you, please contact us or ask about them when we prepare your tax return.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Married couples often wonder whether they should file joint or separate tax returns. The answer depends on your individual tax situation.

It generally depends on which filing status results in the lowest tax. But keep in mind that, if you and your spouse file a joint return, each of you is “jointly and severally” liable for the tax on your combined income. And you’re both equally liable for any additional tax the IRS assesses, plus interest and most penalties. This means that the IRS can come after either of you to collect the full amount.

Although there are provisions in the law that offer relief, they have limitations. Therefore, even if a joint return results in less tax, you may want to file separately if you want to only be responsible for your own tax.

In most cases, filing jointly offers the most tax savings, especially when the spouses have different income levels. Combining two incomes can bring some of it out of a higher tax bracket. For example, if one spouse has $75,000 of taxable income and the other has just $15,000, filing jointly instead of separately can save $2,512.50 for 2020.

Filing separately doesn’t mean you go back to using the “single” rates that applied before you were married. Instead, each spouse must use “married filing separately” rates. They’re less favorable than the single rates.

However, there are cases when people save tax by filing separately. For example:

One spouse has significant medical expenses. For 2019 and 2020, medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). If a medical expense deduction is claimed on a spouse’s separate return, that spouse’s lower separate AGI, as compared to the higher joint AGI, can result in larger total deductions.

Some tax breaks are only available on a joint return. The child and dependent care credit, adoption expense credit, American Opportunity tax credit and Lifetime Learning credit are only available to married couples on joint returns. And you can’t take the credit for the elderly or the disabled if you file separately unless you and your spouse lived apart for the entire year. You also may not be able to deduct IRA contributions if you or your spouse were covered by an employer retirement plan and you file separate returns. You also can’t exclude adoption assistance payments or interest income from series EE or Series I savings bonds used for higher education expenses.

Social Security benefits may be taxed more. Benefits are tax-free if your “provisional income” (AGI with certain modifications plus half of your Social Security benefits) doesn’t exceed a “base amount.” The base amount is $32,000 on a joint return, but zero on separate return (or $25,000 if the spouses didn’t live together for the whole year).

No hard and fast rules

The decision you make on your federal tax return may affect your state or local income tax bill, so the total tax impact should be compared. There’s often no simple answer to whether a couple should file separate returns. A number of factors must be examined. We can look at your tax bill jointly and separately. Contact us to prepare your return or if you have any questions.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Technology has made it easier to work from home so lots of people now commute each morning to an office down the hall. However, just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it.

Regularly and exclusively

In order to be deductible for 2019 and 2020, you must be self-employed and the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with the space.

Two options

If you qualify, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. There are two options for the deduction:

  • Write off a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space. This requires calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses.
  • Take the “safe harbor” deduction. Only one simple calculation is necessary: $5 times the number of square feet of the office space. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on a maximum of 300 square feet.

Changes through 2025

Under prior tax law, if you were an employee (as opposed to self-employed), you could deduct unreimbursed home office expenses as employee business expenses, subject to a floor of 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for all your miscellaneous expenses. To qualify under prior law, a home office had to be used for the “convenience” of your employer.

Unfortunately, the TCJA suspends the deduction for miscellaneous expenses through 2025. Without further action from Congress, employees won’t be able to benefit from this tax break for a while. However, deductions are still often available to self-employed taxpayers.

If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income. Therefore, the deduction will still be available to you through 2025.

More requirements

Be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the requirements here. We can help you determine if you’re eligible for a home office deduction and, if so, establish the appropriate method for getting the biggest possible deduction.

© 2019 Covenant CPA