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Tax-Free Smarts

David Robson - Friday, May 31, 2019

Graduation season is here, and grads of all ages are excited to move on! Kindergartners are celebrating mastery of letters, shapes, and not eating crayons. Awkward eighth-graders just want to finish getting through puberty. High-schoolers are looking forward to careers, college, and moving out of their parents' nests. College grads are looking forward to crushing student debt and moving back in to those nests. And some panicky grad students (you know who you are), are searching desperately for one last degree to avoid joining the rest of us in the real world.
Most graduations are pretty pedestrian affairs. The same Pomp and Circumstance, the same gowns, caps, and tassels, and the same trite, inspirational speeches filled with dad jokes and lame puns. But every so often, a graduation makes real headlines. This year, it came on May 18, at Atlanta's Morehouse College, a private, historically-black men's college.
Robert F. Smith founded Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm investing in software companies. Smith is one of the best in that particularly challenging business — he's built a $5 billion fortune and made himself the richest African-American in the country. (Take that, Oprah!) This year, Morehouse granted Smith an honorary degree and invited him to deliver the commencement address. Smith, who has been a generous supporter of educational causes, pledged $1.5 million to the school. So far pretty typical, right?
But Smith saved his real news for the ceremony itself, without even announcing it to administrators ahead of time. He told the audience of 396 graduates: "We're going to put a little fuel in your bus . . . . This is my class, 2019, and my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans." While the exact figure is still unknown, recent classes have graduated with roughly $10 million in debt.
The best part, as far as students are concerned, is that Smith's extraordinary gift is tax-free. Recipients never owe tax on gifts. As for Smith, givers can give up to $15,000 per year to as many recipients as they like, or $30,000 for joint gifts with their spouse. And givers can pay any amount for medical or educational purposes so long as they stroke the check directly to the institution providing those services. Givers don't owe actual tax until their total lifetime gifts above those "annual exclusion amounts" top $11.4 million per person.
But Smith shouldn't even face those gift tax consequences. That's because, as he announced at the ceremony, he's making a "grant" to nuke the loans. Doing it through the school should qualify it as a deductible charitable contribution, meaning Uncle Sam will cover up to 37% of that cost.
Smith is no stranger to deductible gifts. He's given $50 million to his own alma mater, Cornell, which named their school of chemical and biomolecular engineering for him. (Who knew you could slice and dice engineering schools like that?) He's supported the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African-American History and Culture. And last year, he bought two houses — where the Rev. Martin Luther King was born, and where he lived with his family — and donated them to the National Park Service.
Smith is obviously smart as well as generous. And one thing he seems to know is you don't build a $5 billion fortune without minimizing interference from the IRS. Would you love to be able to make some sort of grand, generous gesture at the next graduation you attend? Call us for a plan to pay less tax, and let's see how generous we can help you be!


May the 21st Be With You, Yes?

David Robson - Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (okay, on May 21, 1980), The Empire Strikes Back introduced the world to Yoda, the oldest, most-powerful, and most syntactically-challenged Jedi knight in the universe. Yoda delighted audiences as he trained Luke Skywalker, launched him into battle against Darth Vader, and died peacefully at age 900, his body becoming one with the Force. Today, his fans remember Yoda by celebrating May 21 as National Talk Like Yoda Day. And celebrating we are this year by talking about taxes!
Hard to believe it is, but taxes lie at the heart of the Star Wars universe. In Episode One: The Phantom Menace, in the very first paragraph of the opening crawl, we learned that taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems was in dispute. The Galactic Senate had imposed taxes to fight interplanetary pirates, and in response, the Trade Foundation had blockaded shipping to Naboo to pressure the Senate into repealing those taxes. The Supreme Chancellor dispatched two Jedi Knights to resolve the dispute . . . and the adventure begins!
Yes, more to the story there is than that. The Sith Lord Darth Sidious — masquerading as Senator Palpatine — used the dispute to seize dictatorial powers, declare himself Emperor, lure Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side, commission a Death Star factory, and proceed to ravage the Galaxy. But really . . . dig down deep enough, past the epic space battles, light saber duels, and colorful aliens inhabiting Mos Eisley's cantina (aka "the bar scene"), and you'll find just another battle over tariffs. Like the American Revolution almost it sounds, hrmmm?
The Galactic Senate isn't the only body levying taxes in the Star Wars universe. On the desert planet of Tatooine, so common it was that Jabba the Hut imposed a tax on murder. The bodies murderers even plotted to cheat the tax by hiding. Smart tax policy on Jabba's part? Possibly . . . although probably not sustainable in the long run, yes? That is, unless the Tatooine Department of Tourism manages to make the desert planet appealing enough to attract future victims to emigrate!
There's even a real-life tax-planning success behind the Star Wars story. Back in 2012, before releasing the final three installments of his saga, creator George Lucas sold his production company Lucasfilm to Disney. Closed the deal he did less than three months before the maximum tax on capital gains was scheduled to jump from 15% to 20%, and the new 3.8% net investment income tax was scheduled to begin. Lucas's timing saved him around $176 million in earthbound taxes, yes?
Lucas with one last challenge success faces. With somewhere north of $5 billion in assets, he's facing an estate tax bill the size of a minor outlying planet. But estate planning moves he has. Lucas has signed Bill Gates' "Giving Pledge," which encourages wealthy people to donate most of their wealth to charity. Signing the pledge accelerates normal charitable giving into hyperdrive and cuts estate taxes with the power of the Millennium Falcon.
When it comes to saving money on taxes, one thing you must remember there is: plan or plan not. There is no try. Jedi tax planning you need. Fortunately, you don't have to fight your way through an army of stormtroopers to slash your bill. You just have to pick up the phone. So call us, and feel the proactive power of the Force!


Law & Order: Tax Crimes Unit

David Robson - Friday, May 10, 2019

In the criminal justice system, tax-based offenses aren't considered especially heinous . . . but they still cost the government a ton of money. In field offices throughout the country, the dedicated Special Agents who investigate these expensive felonies are members of an elite squad known as IRS Criminal Investigation. (They're also the only IRS agents who get to pack heat, rock a Kevlar vest, and go undercover.) From the FY 2018 CI Annual Report, these are their stories. (Dun Dun.)
• Shawanda Nevers — aka Shawanda Hawkins, Shawanda Bryant, and Shawanda Johnson — operated several businesses in New Orleans, including a sports bar and a tax-prep shop. She must have thought her taxes should be as spicy as her cooking. So she whipped up returns giving her clients fake business losses, deductions, and credits. In 2014, the IRS permanently barred her from preparing taxes. But she kept letting les bon temps rouler until CI agents busted her again, fined her $7 million, and sentenced her to seven years of bland prison chow.
• Kelly Sue Reynolds worked as a bookkeeper in North Carolina. Over five years, she embezzled $439,459.97 from her employer, including the money that was supposed to pay their taxes. (That's the mark of a top-notch bookkeeper, right? They can tell you down to the penny how much they stole.) When the IRS came looking for their money, CI agents busted Reynolds' scheme. Now she's counting down two years in the "camp" where Martha Stewart served. It's been called "America's cushiest prison" . . . but Reynolds still gets to learn if orange really is the new black.
• Rick Rizzollo ran a "gentleman's club" in Las Vegas, where he paid employees in cash and filed bogus employment tax returns. (He's a real gentleman himself — he hired teenage strippers, and used a baseball bat to "persuade" customers into signing fraudulent credit card charges.) In 2006, he copped to the employment tax fraud. Then he hid his money to dodge the back taxes and sent $900,000 from selling a second club to an account in the Cook Islands. But CI agents demanded the naked truth, and helped send Rizzollo to 24 months in a place where the "bouncers" don't wear tuxedos.
• Lizzie Mulder (not a CPA) posed as a CPA in California, where she had clients make out checks payable to "Income Tax Payments." Perfectly kosher, right? What clients didn't know was that she had set up a phony account called (wait for it) "Income Tax Payments," under her own name. She used their money for a pricey house, cosmetic surgery, vacations, and an Arabian horse. Lizzie's husband ratted her out to clients, then CI agents joined to "stable" her in a Phoenix prison for five years.
• Monsignor (!) Hien Minh Nguyen was a priest for the San Jose archdiocese and director of the local Vietnamese Catholic Center. Apparently he missed class the day they discussed that whole "poverty" thing in priest school. Nguyen stole cash donations from parishioners and deposited their checks in his personal account, among other sins. CI agents visited him, hoping for a confession, and used his lies and inconsistent answers to build a case that led to $1.9 million in restitution and three years in prison. (He can probably count on a few years in purgatory, too.)
It's sometimes fun to see what happens to people when their good judgment and common sense take early retirement. Of course we all want to pay less tax! But you don't have to risk a visit from a pistol-packing Special Agent to do it. Call us for a plan, and see how much you can save without posing for mug shots.


Superheroes of Tax

David Robson - Thursday, May 02, 2019

Last weekend, Hollywood made history. Disney's three-hour popcorn epic, Avengers: Endgame sent box-office records scrambling in panic, grossing $350 million here in the U.S. And $330 million in China. And $600 million more in another 43 countries. It's the first movie to top a billion dollars in its opening weekend. Endgame still has a long way to go before it catches Gone With the Wind, which made $3.4 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. But did Scarlett O'Hara gross a single dollar in action figures, video games, or happy meals?
This isn't going to be one of those stories where we say, "Hey, let's look at taxes in the Marvel Universe!" We have no idea how payroll works in Wakanda. We couldn't tell you the first thing about import duties on Vibranium. And we don't really care if Thanos of Titan is reporting all his income to the proper taxing authorities. (He's not our client!)
Surely, though, there were plenty of tax collectors in the audience swelling this weekend's box-office gross. And they should be as happy as anyone, because they'll be claiming a pretty nice share of it all!
Start with the real stars of the movie. We're talking about the CGI artists who generated over 3,000 visual effects shots. (Director James Cameron's company even created an entirely new facial-capture application called Masquerade specifically for James Brolin to play Thanos.) VFX work is time and labor intensive, so most of that budget goes to the animators, directors, and other technicians who work behind the scenes to make the magic happen. Much of that money, in turn, finds its way into Uncle Sam's pocket, and far faster than it takes Thor to find his way back from Asgar.
Unfortunately, producers were forced to hire pricey people for situations like "dialogue" and "character" where special effects wouldn't cut it. Robert Downey, Jr., who earned just $500,000 for his first Iron Man movie, will take home north of $50 million. Middle-tier stars like Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson earned a reported $15 million each. All of that is taxed as ordinary income, with 37% going to Uncle Sam, 3.8% going to Social Security and Medicare, and 13% going to California.
Disney spent $356 million to make the movie, along with millions more to market and promote it. In Hollywood, the accountants are nearly as creative as the directors and writers, so the studios usually find a way to show a loss. But $1.2 billion in a single weekend may be a little harder to defeat than the usual gross, and if Endgame does show a profit, the studio will pay the usual 21% corporate tax.
At the end of the last Avengers movie, Thanos collected all six of the Infinity Stones and snapped his fingers to wipe out half the Universe's population. (Not a spoiler . . . you've had time!) Google celebrates that moment today with a Thanos "Easter Egg." Just go to Google, type "Thanos" in the search bar, and hit "enter." Then look for the jewel-covered glove, called the Infinity Gauntlet, in the upper-right corner. Click it, and you'll see half the search results magically disappear from the page.
But . . . and we're just spitballing here . . . what if you could "Thanos snap" your fingers and make half your taxes go away? Well, we may not have any Infinity Stones in our pockets. But we do have an ensemble cast of concepts and strategies to put to work to help you pay less. A captive insurance company can be every bit as good as the Power Stone, for the right business, and a charitable remainder trust can be as illuminating as the Soul Stone. So call us after the movie lets out, and take a look at our special effects!



David Robson - Thursday, April 25, 2019


When it comes to raising revenue, governments usually find it most efficient to follow the immortal advice of bank robber Willie Sutton and go "where the money is." They turn to income, payroll, property, and sales taxes to fund most of their operations. They'll throw in the occasional gas tax or sin tax for fun. Most of the time, those "nuisance taxes" don't amount to much. But that's not always the case.
In 1989, New York state imposed a so-called mansion tax, a flat 1% on home sales of $1 million or more. Now the state has "remodeled" that tax, adding seven new brackets for sales in New York City beginning January 1, 2020. The rate increases to 1.25% on sale amounts from $2-3 million, 1.75% on amounts from $3-5 million, and steps all the way up to 4.15% on amounts over $25 million. Officials expect the new tax to raise $365 million per year, and plan to use it to finance $5 billion in bonds for public transportation.
So far so good, right? Well, for starters, should a tax on million-dollar homes really be called a "mansion" tax in the first place? Maybe that was true when the Empire State first levied it in 1989. But these days, a million bucks isn't even "mansion-adjacent," especially in Manhattan. Right now, you can pay $1,499,000 for a 52nd-floor alcove studio in Hell's Kitchen. (Hell's Kitchen!) There's no separate bedroom, of course. Not even a bathtub! But the bathroom has a very nice marble-lined shower.
Of course, some pads really do qualify as "mansions." Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin just dropped $238 million for a penthouse at 220 Central Park South, an oligarch-friendly tower on "billionaire's row." Griffin's new pad includes 23,000 square feet sprawling over four floors, with 16 bedrooms and more bathrooms than your mansion. It's the most expensive home sale in U.S. history — and Griffin plans to use it as "a place to stay when he's in town" for business. (How's that for "let them eat cake" moments in American history?)
The extra tax would have cost Griffin $7.2 million if he had waited until next year to buy. Sure, that sounds like a lot to you. But Forbes estimates Griffin's net worth at $11.8 billion, meaning it probably wouldn't have stopped the deal. (The place comes unfinished, meaning he'll have to spend tens of millions more before he can unpack his toothbrush!)
Griffin isn't the only plutocrat buying pricey real estate he won't be occupying. So many deep-pocketed foreigners have decided to stash part of their gains in Manhattan condos, without ever moving in, that some high-end buildings stand nearly dark at night. The city even floated a "pied-a-terre" tax for those part-time residents using those condos as safe-deposit boxes without pouring anything else into city goods and services.
Pied-a-terre tax fans pointed out the politically convenient fact that part-time residents don't vote in New York, which makes it easier to pluck them without making them squawk. But ultimately, real estate insiders shot it down as class warfare. They objected that it would be too hard to determine which owners are truly absentee and deserve to get hit with the tax. And they argued, quite reasonably, that out-of-towners buying $5 million condos aren't taking up space on city buses and subways.
We don't care if you live in a mansion, an apartment, or a van down by the river. We're pretty sure you don't want to pay more than your legal fair share. That's where our tax planning service comes in. So call us and see how much you might save. You might free up enough to spend some seriously fun weekends in the city!

Game of Taxes

David Robson - Friday, April 19, 2019


On April 14, millions of fans gathered around the biggest screen they could find for the start of one final season in Westeros, the setting of George R.R. Martin's epic Game of Thrones. The show, which producers pitched as "The Sopranos in Middle Earth," has leaped from television into the broader culture. In 2013, 241 babies were named "Khaleesi" after the title Danaerys Targaryen takes by marrying the Khal Drogo. UC Berkeley offers a class in "invented languages" featuring Dothraki, which sounds like what you'd get if you mixed Spanish and Arabic and ran it through a wood chipper.
Martin doesn't tell us much about how taxes work in Westeros. And HBO certainly isn't interested in exploring those details — how would they find time between introducing 257 major characters in Season One and killing most of them off in increasingly cringeworthy fashion through the next six seasons? But fortunately for us, the series leaves occasional bread crumbs to help us understand whether the show's tax collectors worship the lord of light or the lord of darkness.
The Iron Throne's principal tax man is Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, the King's urbanely oily Master of Coin. (Picture Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but with chainmail and some super-sketchy side gigs.) Apparently, collecting taxes is just another entrepreneurial opportunity for Littlefinger. In Clash of Kings, Martin writes, "Ten years ago, Jon Arryn had given him a minor sinecure in customs, where Lord Petyr had soon distinguished himself by bringing in three times as much as any of the king's other collectors."
Sadly, Littlefinger's greediest efforts aren't enough to satisfy King Robert Baratheon's lust for wine and tournaments. Baratheon spends down the surplus left by the Targaryens, then borrows millions of golden dragons from the House of Lannister and the Iron Bank of Braavos, Westeros's version of the International Monetary Fund. We don't know how much interest Braavos charges — but if you default, they don't just send swordsell goons to break your legs. They finance a rival power, then collect when the rival overthrows you!
As for those scheming Lannisters, we know "a Lannister always pays his debts." But do Lannisters always pay their taxes? Or do they cleverly avoid them? In Season Three, Lord Tywin Lannister imposes a penny tax on brothels, called "the dwarf's penny," to boost public morals and pay for Joffrey's upcoming wedding. Now, come on . . . is there any idiot in any village in Westeros who doesn't see through that blatant attempt to shift the burden from the 1% to the commoners? Discuss.
In the end, the show's biggest winners may be the real tax collectors across the world. Series creator George R.R. Martin earns a reported $25 million per year from HBO and book royalties. Thrones tourists have pumped millions more into the show's real-life filming locations, including Northern Ireland and Dubrovnik — a Croatian city most fans had never heard of before they saw it standing in for King's Landing. We can assume that all of their governments are happy to collect their share of all those Thrones dollars raining down like flaming arrows.
If you're like most "Thronies," you'd love a dragon of your own to ease your path to the top. (Or do you worry the King would find a way to tax them, too?) Fortunately, you don't need a fire-breathing reptile to keep more of your golden dragons. You just need a plan. So call us when you're ready to escape the King's yoke, and see how glorious a castle you can build with the savings!


And the Oscar Goes To . . . the IRS!

David Robson - Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Oscar night is the biggest night in Hollywood. The stars shine just a little bit brighter. The red carpets stretch just a little bit farther. And the bloated egos get just a little bit bloatier, if that's possible. (Here's looking at you, Bradley Cooper.) Ironically, fewer and fewer of us tune in to the actual ceremony. Why give up hours of your life watching celebrities congratulate each other when you could fit a couple of full-length movies in the same length of time?
Nominees for the top five prizes — Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director — bring an extra guest to the party, in the form of the IRS. It's not because they take home any actual cash. It's because they leave with an "Everyone Wins" swag bag assembled by Distinctive Assets, a product-placement company that's not affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, but also not afraid to hitch their wagon to Oscar's relentless publicity machine.
Distinctive Assets has never been shy about promoting the value of their bag. In 2016, the collection, which included a 10-day trip to Israel, a 15-day "Walk Japan" tour, a year's worth of Audi rentals, and a 10,000-meal donation to the animal shelter of the donor's choice, crossed the $230,000 line. That sounds like a lot to the average fan. But it may not mean that much to the stars who can make north of $20 million per picture.
Of course, calling the bag a "gift" doesn't actually make it a gift. That's where the IRS comes in. The tax code defines a gift as something you get out of affection or respect. And while the Avaton Luxury Villas Resort in Greece may have really liked watching Christian Bale retreat to an undisclosed location in Vice, the real reason they're comping him a week at the beach is to attract new guests. So . . . the swag bag is taxable income. In fact, Distinctive Assets even sends the nominee a Form 1099 reminding them to report it!
This year's bag includes the usual collection of glamour vacations, including a small-ship cruise to Iceland, the Galapagos, the Amazon, or Costa Rica & Panama. You'll also find the sort of only-in-Hollywood treats you would expect: Coda Signature gift boxes with cannabis-infused hand-painted truffles and chocolate bars, private phobia-relief sessions with the world's #1 phobia expert, a CloSYS "spa kit for your mouth," and a PETA spy pen to help blow the whistle on animal abuse.
But this year, there's no price tag. "A great gift has nothing to do with the retail value," Distinctive Assets founder Lash Fary said in a statement. "For years we have been breaking one of the cardinal rules of gift giving by disclosing the price tag. Instead, we are trying to start a new tradition by simply celebrating the fun and festive nature of this legendary gift bag." (Of course, they'll still be declaring an amount on those 1099s they send next January.)
What if Best Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali doesn't want the tax headaches that come with his goodies? He can always give some to charity. (Does he really need the Blush & Whimsy limited-edition rose gold lipstick?) But he still has to report the value of anything he re-gifts in his income before deducting it as a charitable gift.
Last year, the Academy proposed a new award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. It would be the first new category since Best Animated Feature in 2001. And it gives us hope that, someday, they'll add an Oscar for Best Performance in Tax Planning. Wouldn't that be great? We'll keep you posted and let you know when to look for us on the red carpet!

Do Androids Dream of Electric Audits?

David Robson - Friday, January 18, 2019

In 1982, the movie Blade Runner presented a technologically advanced vision of the year 2019. There were flying cop cars. (What grim dystopian movie doesn't feature flying cars?) There was commercial space travel. There were bioengineered androids, known as "replicants," that drove the story. The film even predicted voice-controlled video phones to communicate with our offices!
Today's reality isn't quite so exciting. We've got the voice-activated video phones! But we're not using them to summon flying cars or book trips to the Moon. No, we're using them to waste time checking Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We pick up our phone every 12 minutes on average, and spend three hours and 35 minutes per day with our heads buried in our screens. Psychiatrists have even identified "internet addiction disorder" as a "condition for further study."
Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The IRS manages several Twitter feeds for taxpayers and professionals that are worth following. But now they're looking to get even more involved. We're not talking about auditors posting pictures of their dogs (although we'd totally follow that, too). Instead, they want to investigate whether social media can help them collect taxes.
Current IRS rules generally prohibit employees from using any social media at work. They specifically can't create fake accounts to "friend" you and snoop on your finances. But the IRS knows that people post enormous amounts of information online, information they can use to help with collections. So last month, the IRS issued a request for information and product demonstrations from electronic research vendors. They're hoping to find a vendor who can:
• "Provide a product that is easily explainable in court."
• "Provide real time, customizable reports of publicly available social media information (provided or advertised by businesses), such as new products, current sales, and new locations."
• "Provide reports showing that a taxpayer participated in an online chat room, blog, or forum, and reports showing the chat room or blog conversation threads."
• "Provide available biometric data, such as photos, current address, or changes to marital status."
• "Provide access for at least 25,000 concurrent users."
Show of hands here: who wants any part of the government tracking your profile photos, status alerts, or chat room conversations? The good news is that, at least for now, the IRS would use their new super power for good, not evil. "Such a tool would not be used to search the internet or social media sites for purposes of identifying or initiating new tax audits." Of course, that doesn't mean the IRS won't get more aggressive down the road, using predictive analytics and social media as part of a broader effort to target specific taxpayers for extra attention.
The IRS's move towards harnessing social media is part of a broader movement to put "Big Data" to work for various goals. But data isn't always bad. Here at our firm, we're using it to help clients like you pay less tax. So call us when you're ready to join the future. Someday your savings might pay for your own flying car!

2018 Changes due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

David Robson - Thursday, January 17, 2019

On December 22, 2017, the President of the United States signed into law major tax reform in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). The TCJA made widespread changes to the Internal Revenue Code which will affect your 2018 tax return. Here are some of the more common changes that could affect your tax return.
Changes affecting most taxpayers
Personal exemption rate is reduced to zero. Prior to 2018, a personal exemption amount of over
$4,000 per person could be used to reduce taxable income. This personal exemption amount has been reduced to zero for 2018 through 2025.
Standard deduction increase. The standard deduction for most returns has been almost doubled over the amount that was allowed last year. The deduction for Single and Married Filing Separately returns is $12,000, Head of Household returns is $18,000, and Married Filing Jointly and Qualifying Widow(er) returns is $24,000. The additional amounts for being over 65 or blind will still be allowed. Because of this change, this year many taxpayers will find that claiming the standard deduction instead of itemizing deductions will give them a lower tax.
SSN Required for Child Tax Credit (CTC). An SSN is now required to claim CTC. No credit will be allowed for any qualifying child unless the taxpayer provides that child's SSN or a Work Authorization Permit from Homeland Security. Prior to this year, CTC could be claimed for a child who had an ITIN.
Increase in CTC. The Child Tax Credit has been increased from $1,000 to $2,000 for 2018. The modified adjusted gross income threshold where the credit is phased out is $400,000 for joint filers and $200,000 for all others (up from $230,000 and $115,000, respectively), so many more taxpayers will be able to claim this credit.
The maximum age for a child eligible for the credit remains 16 (at the end of the tax year).
New Credit for Other Dependents (ODC). Beginning in 2018, a new $500 credit is available for dependents who do not qualify for the CTC. Most dependents listed on the tax return who do not qualify for CTC will now qualify for the smaller ODC, including parents who are claimed as dependents.
Changes to itemized deductions
Medical. For taxpayers of all ages, the deduction threshold for medical expenses is 7.5% of AGI.
State and local taxes (SALT). There is a cap on the deduction for state and local taxes paid. The deduction for state and local income taxes, real estate taxes, and personal property taxes combined is limited to $10,000 per return, ($5,000 for Married Filing Separately returns).
Limitation on deduction for home mortgage interest. You may be able to deduct mortgage interest only on the first $750,000 ($375,000 if married filing separately) of indebtedness. Higher limitations apply if you are deducting mortgage interest from indebtedness incurred on or before December 15, 2017.
No deduction for home equity loan interest. No matter when the indebtedness was incurred, you can no longer deduct the interest paid on a home equity loan unless loan proceeds were used to buy, build, or improve your home.
Limitation on the deduction for casualty and theft losses. You can no longer deduct a personal casualty or theft loss unless the loss occurred in a federally declared disaster area.
Deductions for employee business expenses eliminated. One of the biggest changes under this new law was the elimination of the deduction for unreimbursed employee business expenses beginning with 2018 tax returns. This effectively means that employees will no longer be able to offset their taxable income by common business expenses they incur. (This change under the TCJA does not affect self-employed individuals.)
Form 2106, Employee Business Expenses, is now to be used only for certain categories of employee:
• Qualified performing artists
• Fee-based state or local government officials
• Armed forces reservists
• Employees with impairment-related work expenses
Standard mileage rate. The 2018 standard mileage rate is 54.5 cents per mile for business miles.
Additional changes
Moving expenses. Beginning January 1, 2018, moving expenses cannot be deducted by most people. Active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces who move pursuant to a military order and incident to a permanent change of station can still deduct moving expenses and exclude reimbursed moving expenses.
Additionally, most taxpayers cannot exclude employer reimbursements for moving expenses from income.
Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBID). A new deduction for qualified business income from a trade or business, including sole proprietorships, S corporations, or partnerships, is available on Form 1040. QBI doesn't include W-2 wages. The deduction is subject to many limitations, such as income level and type of business. If you have QBI, you can reduce your taxable income, whether you itemize deductions or claim the standard deduction. In its simplest form, if adjusted gross income less itemized or standard deduction is under $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers) you can deduct 20% of your QBI from income before computing your tax.
Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). Fewer taxpayers will be subject to AMT due to increased exemption amounts and phaseout thresholds.
Certain ITINs expired. As of December 31, 2018, ITINs with middle digits "73," "74," "75," "76," "77," "81,” or "82" in the fourth and fifth positions have expired. The ITIN must be renewed if it will be included on a 2018 federal tax return.
Depreciation changes. There are numerous changes to how depreciation can be claimed on assets purchased during 2018. Many assets can be entirely written off in 2018 rather than being depreciated over several years.
Healthcare Mandate Penalty Repealed for 2019. Beginning in 2019, individuals who fail to carry health insurance will no longer be required to pay an individual shared responsibility payment with their tax return.

Never Lose Sight of Survival

David Robson - Monday, January 14, 2019

Movie fans, quick: what do you get when you combine Night of the Living Dead, Deliverance, and The Mist — with just a hint of Sophie's Choice? It probably looks a lot like like Netflix's newest hit, Bird Box. The movie imagines a shattered future where an unknown presence has driven everyone who sees it to suicide, and follows Sandra Bullock and two five-year-old children on a desperate blindfolded gauntlet down a raging river in search of safe haven.
Netflix dropped Bird Box on December 21 — a time when they shrewdly calculated most Americans would be fed up with Elf and Christmas cheer, and grateful for the sweet release of post-apocalyptic chaos. Critics generally said "meh." But that didn't stop the "disappointingly clunky waste of a star-studded cast" from attracting record views. The show has also spawned memes like the #BirdBoxChallenge, where people who wouldn't survive five minutes in a real apocalypse bid for internet fame by posting videos of themselves pulling stupid stunts while blindfolded.
Now, we may be biased here, but we assume that at least of few of those millions of viewers wondered what would happen to income taxes after civilization collapses. (We sure did.) And we know you'll be pleased to discover that our friends at the IRS have planned for that sort of disaster and more!
The first level of IRS emergency preparedness deals with garden-variety disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. These focus on helping taxpayers manage their obligations until things return to normal. They include predictable tips like taking advantage of paperless recordkeeping for tax files, documenting valuables and equipment, checking fiduciary bonds (to protect yourself if your payroll processor goes bust), and updating emergency plans. They also include policies extending due dates to give taxpayers living in disaster zones time to recover.
But the real action for IRS preppers involves "continuity planning" for existential threats like biological warfare, nuclear winter, or alien invasion. (Aliens from space, not across the border.) Official IRS documents outline several proposals, dating back to the earliest days of the Cold War, to help re-start collections. These include government economists holed up in the usual "undisclosed locations" dispensing cash to restart the economy, deciding when to forget about trying to collect pre-disaster taxes, and probably ditching income taxes altogether in favor of a 20-30% sales tax.
As for our friends at Netflix, word on the street has it that Bird Box producers are readying a sequel called Cat Box, where survivors escape death, not by covering their eyes, but by plugging their noses. (Trust us, you don't want to take on that monster.) And they've created even more buzz now with Bandersnatch, an interactive episode of their Black Mirror series where the bottom border of the screen periodically pops up to let you make choices for the characters and "write your own ending."
But we can't see why Bandersnatch is such a big deal, simply because we've been doing that for years. Just like television dramas follow a basic structure built around plot, characters, and similar elements, so does a life fueled by money. Lots of people want access to your money pool, and for most Americans, the biggest slice goes to government. But no one else is using tax planning to script your financial life, with lower taxes as your central character. That's why you need to call us now, to avoid tax apocalypse with your eyes wide open!