April 15 is not only the deadline for filing your 2020 tax return, it’s also the deadline for the first quarterly estimated tax payment for 2021, if you’re required to make one.

You may have to make estimated tax payments if you receive interest, dividends, alimony, self-employment income, capital gains, prize money or other income. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year through withholding and estimated payments, you may be liable for a tax penalty on top of the tax that’s ultimately due.

Four due dates

Individuals must pay 25% of their “required annual payment” by April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year, to avoid an underpayment penalty. If one of those dates falls on a weekend or holiday, the payment is due on the next business day.

The required annual payment for most individuals is the lower of 90% of the tax shown on the current year’s return or 100% of the tax shown on the return for the previous year. However, if the adjusted gross income on your previous year’s return was more than $150,000 (more than $75,000 if you’re married filing separately), you must pay the lower of 90% of the tax shown on the current year’s return or 110% of the tax shown on the return for the previous year.

Most people who receive the bulk of their income in the form of wages satisfy these payment requirements through the tax withheld by their employers from their paychecks. Those who make estimated tax payments generally do so in four installments. After determining the required annual payment, they divide that number by four and make four equal payments by the due dates.

The annualized method

But you may be able to use the annualized income method to make smaller payments. This method is useful to people whose income flow isn’t uniform over the year, perhaps because they’re involved in a seasonal business.

If you fail to make the required payments, you may be subject to a penalty. However, the underpayment penalty doesn’t apply to you:

  • If the total tax shown on your return is less than $1,000 after subtracting withholding tax paid;
  • If you had no tax liability for the preceding year, you were a U.S. citizen or resident for that entire year, and that year was 12 months;
  • For the fourth (Jan. 15) installment, if you file your return by that January 31 and pay your tax in full; or
  • If you’re a farmer or fisherman and pay your entire estimated tax by January 15, or pay your entire estimated tax and file your tax return by March 1

In addition, the IRS may waive the penalty if the failure was due to casualty, disaster, or other unusual circumstances and it would be inequitable to impose it. The penalty may also be waived for reasonable cause during the first two years after you retire (after reaching age 62) or become disabled.

Stay on track

Contact us if you have questions about how to calculate estimated tax payments. We can help you stay on track so you aren’t liable for underpayment penalties.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

All that glitters isn’t gold. This includes gold — and other precious metals, stones and jewels that are sometimes used to launder the “dirty” proceeds of criminal activities such as drug trafficking and terrorism. But several U.S. laws and regulations target these international money-laundering operations.

Good as gold

Precious metals, stones and jewels make ideal vehicles for money laundering for several reasons:

Ownership and control. Precious metals are bearer instruments, meaning that like cash, the individual in possession of the precious metal owns and controls it.

Readily transferable. There’s an active, global market that enables criminals to trade them. Because precious metals have many legitimate uses, criminals often can move them without attracting attention.

Relatively stable. Although the price of precious metals fluctuates like those of any commodity, the value of precious metals tends to remain reasonably steady.

Easy to smuggle. Money launderers may use private jets to bypass major airports and cross international lines. Diamonds and other precious stones are small enough to smuggle in someone’s pocket.

Difficult to track. Criminals can manipulate these goods to disguise their source or create a fake document trail to prove their authenticity.  

Defining the dealers

Most precious metals dealers must comply with the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act, which requires that they create and follow an anti-money laundering (AML) program. Certain AML provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act and rules of the Office of Foreign Assets Control also apply to precious metal dealers.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) defines a dealer as someone who isn’t a retailer and who both buys and sells covered goods (as described by FinCEN). A dealer must have bought at least $50,000 and sold at least $50,000 of goods in the previous year. Note that there are exceptions. For example, pawnbrokers generally aren’t considered dealers, but in some circumstances they can be. If you’re not sure about your business, talk with an attorney with AML experience.

AML program

But if you do qualify as a dealer, your AML program must have the following:

  • Written policies, procedures and a robust set of internal controls,
  • A designated compliance officer,
  • Training for employees, and
  • Frequent third-party testing.

Other businesses also should be aware of potential criminal activity. For example, if your company is involved in a transaction involving gold coins, be sure to assess the dealer’s compliance efforts.

Contact us for more information, particularly if you aren’t a precious metals dealer but are contemplating a transaction that involves precious metals or stones. 

© 2021 Covenant CPA

For many people, an important goal of estate planning is to leave a legacy for their children, grandchildren and future generations. And what better way to do that than to help provide for their educational needs? A 529 plan can be a highly effective tool for funding tuition and other educational expenses on a tax-advantaged basis. But when the plan’s owner (typically a parent or grandparent) dies, there’s no guarantee that subsequent owners will continue to use it to fulfill the original owner’s vision.

To create a family education fund that lives on for generations, a carefully designed trust may be the best solution. But trusts have a significant drawback: Unlike 529 plans, the earnings of which are tax-exempt if used for qualified education expenses, trusts are subject to some of the highest federal income tax rates in the tax code.

One strategy for gaining the best of both worlds is to establish a family education trust that invests in one or more 529 plans.

Plan basics

529 plans are state-sponsored investment accounts that permit parents, grandparents and other family members to make substantial cash contributions. Contributions are nondeductible, but the funds grow tax-free and earnings may be withdrawn tax-free for federal income tax purposes provided they’re used for qualified education expenses. Qualified expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment, and some room and board at most accredited colleges and universities and certain vocational schools. Contributions to 529 plans are removed from your taxable estate and shielded from gift taxes by your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption or annual exclusions.

In addition to the risk that a subsequent owner will use the funds for noneducational purposes, disadvantages of 529 plans include relatively limited investment choices and an inability to invest assets other than cash.

Holding a 529 plan in a trust

Establishing a trust to hold one or more 529 plans provides several significant benefits:

  • It allows you to maintain tax-advantaged education funds indefinitely (depending on applicable state law) to benefit future generations and keeps the funds out of the hands of those who would use them for other purposes.
  • It allows you to establish guidelines on which family members are eligible for educational assistance, direct how the funds will be used or distributed in the event they’re no longer needed for educational purposes, and appoint trustees and successor trustees to oversee the trust.
  • It can accept noncash contributions and hold a variety of investments and assets outside 529 plans.

A trust may also use funds held outside of 529 plans for purposes other than education, such as paying medical expenses or nonqualified living expenses.

Plan carefully

If you’re interested in setting up a family education trust to hold 529 plans and other investments, contact us. We can help you design a trust that maximizes educational benefits, minimizes taxes and offers the flexibility you need to shape your educational legacy.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

When the Small Business Administration (SBA) launched the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) last year, the program’s stated objective was “to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.” However, according to federal officials, the recently issued second round of funding has distributed only a small percentage of the $15 billion set aside for small businesses and low- to moderate-income “first-draw” borrowers.

In late February, the SBA, in cooperation with the Biden Administration, announced adjustments to the PPP aimed at “increasing access and much-needed aid to Main Street businesses that anchor our neighborhoods and help families build wealth,” according to SBA Senior Advisor Michael Roth.

5 primary objectives

The adjustments address five primary objectives:

1. Move the smallest businesses to the front of the line. The SBA has established a two-week exclusive application period for businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees. It began on February 24. The agency has reassured larger eligible companies that they’ll still have time to apply for and receive support before the program is set to expire on March 31.

2. Change the math. The loan calculation formula has been revised to focus on gross profits rather than net profits. The previous formula inadvertently excluded many sole proprietors, independent contractors and self-employed individuals.

3. Eliminate the non-fraud felony exclusion. Under the original PPP rules, a business was disqualified from funding if it was at least 20% owned by someone with either 1) an arrest or conviction for a felony related to financial assistance fraud in the previous five years, or 2) any other felony in the previous year. The new rules eliminate the one-year lookback for any kind of felony unless the applicant or owner is incarcerated at the time of application.

4. Eventually remove the student loan exclusion. Current rules prohibit PPP loans to any business that’s at least 20% owned by an individual who’s delinquent or has defaulted on a federal debt, which includes federal student loans, within the previous seven years. The SBA intends to collaborate with the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Education to remove the student loan delinquency restriction to broaden PPP access.

5. Clarify loan eligibility for noncitizen small business. The CARES Act stipulates that any lawful U.S. resident can apply for a PPP loan. However, holders of Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), such as Green Card holders and those in the United States on a visa, have been unable to consistently access the program. The SBA has committed to issuing new guidance to address this issue, which, in part, will state that otherwise eligible applicants can’t be denied PPP loans solely because they use ITINs when paying their taxes.

What’s ahead

The PPP could evolve further as the year goes along, potentially as an indirect result of the COVID-19 relief bill currently making its way through Congress. Our firm can keep you updated on all aspects of the program, including the tax impact of loan proceeds.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

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