Tag Archives: tax

Where Does All Our Money Go?

This weekend, I had two things to accomplish; get my tax return in order and begin to shop for a new truck. Given that this is a very busy time of the year for me, I decided to quietly shop on-line for that new pickup while she got all of her tax documents together.

Since I am the financial professional of the household, I decided to make preparing our return and buying a new truck a simple two-step process.

Step one: Review our gross income to begin tax preparation while getting a better handle on our finances. Step two: Convince my wife that there was still time this afternoon to go kick a few tires. Surely, given our income level, a new truck is affordable.

Step one started on a high note, both of our W-2 forms showed that we earned more money than we had in 2016. Should I get the white or the black, 5.7L 4×4 Toyota Tundra?

Step two was about to begin when my wife, who is not an accountant, asked a very simple question, “Why doesn’t it feel like we make this much money?” Followed by the second more difficult question, “Where does all of our money go?”

Being an accountant, I thought I would summarize our gross income, reduce it by our taxes withheld and then detail our household expenses to best illustrate how we spend our money.

My project got cut short when we began reviewing the difference between gross and net pay. I felt the purse strings start to tighten, and rationalized that a gently treated preowned Tundra might be just as good. Thanks to the Current Tax Payment Act of 1943, this upper-middle income family had 47% of our income taken off the top for Federal, State, Social Security and Medicare taxes. Tax withholdings aside, that still left us with plenty for a used truck, right?

Slowly my wife crossed her arms and asked about our 401(k) deductions. I reviewed with her the benefits that I was sure that she already knew about and explained that that too can directly off the top. Given the dollars that come directly from our gross pay, she suggested that it might be wise if we budget our expenses for the new year.

I am a CPA; I could surely whip up a budget before the dealership closed. We proceeded to draft our 2018 budget, while I closely monitored the time.

With 53% of our after tax and retirement savings left to budget, the numbers quickly unfolded; deduct 18% for housing, 8% for auto, 7% for food, 6% for healthcare, 5% to charity, 5% to savings, that left 4% for everything else. I thought we were done; I’ll take the 2014 black 4×4 Tundra please. “Did you budget for our after tax season trip to the Bahamas?” she asked.

It was then that I realized, my 2007 Toyota worked just fine.

Jamie Boulette, CPA has 30 years of tax experience and is managing director of Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs with offices in Bath and Oakland. He can be reached at jboulette@pfbf.com or 371-8002.

Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction: It’s not what it used to be.

Per the US Census Bureau, over half of U.S. homes are occupied by the owner. Of those homeowners, over half have a mortgage that they pay interest on. For most, having a mortgage is part of owning a home and people often spend a significant portion of their life making payments on their mortgage. Before the recent change the US Tax Code section 163 specifically provided for a deduction for mortgage interest and home equity interest as an itemized deduction. This deduction has allowed taxpayers that can itemize to save tax dollars while they pay down their debt.

With the recent passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the deduction for mortgage interest has undergone two significant changes that will impact many.

Here is what will change in 2018:

Under the prior law, taxpayers have been allowed to deduct interest on home equity indebtedness up to $100,000. In 2018, this deduction is eliminated and there will no longer be a tax benefit for interest paid on an equity loan.

The second significant change is that taxpayers were allowed to deduct mortgage interest on mortgages up to $1,000,000. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act now allows taxpayers to deduct interest on mortgages up to $750,000 for all mortgages originated after December 14, 2017.

What happens if your refinance? Taxpayers will be allowed to keep their higher threshold of $1,000,000 if they refinance a loan that was established before December 14, 2017 as long as the new debt doesn’t exceed the amount refinanced. In other words, you will fall under the new rules if you refinance your mortgage and increase the loan amount.

While there are only a small percentage of taxpayers that have a mortgage over $750,000 in the State of Maine, there are a lot of taxpayers that have been deducting the interest on their home equity loans. If these taxpayers still itemize deductions in 2018, they will no longer be able to take advantage of the equity interest deduction.

It is important to understand that the law continues to allow the mortgage interest on a second home. This law has not changed from previous years and taxpayers may benefit from a deduction of mortgage interest on their first and second home, provided that the total indebtedness does not exceed the $750,000 threshold.

I encourage everyone to take some time and read or speak to a tax advisor about the changes under the new tax law and how it will impact you specifically.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” -Benjamin Franklin

Alison Royall, CPA is a Director at Perry, Fitts, Boulette& Fitton CPAs. She works with people and businesses to prepare tax returns and help them plan their short and long-term goals. She is a multi-state tax specialist, with clients in many other states including international clients. She works with the audit department and prepares compiled and reviewed financial statements for businesses, as well as personal financial statements for high net worth individuals. She can be reached at alison@pfbf.com or 873-1603.

How Can Life or Career Changes Affect Your Tax Return?

Have you recently changed jobs? Started your own business? Maybe welcomed a child to your family? Well, all of these situations could have tax consequences or benefits, requiring some financial planning.

When changing jobs, there are several things to consider. Did you have a 401(k), 403(b) or another form of retirement plan at your old job? If so, rolling over your retirement plan to your new employer or to an individual retirement account, may provide you with more control over your retirement savings. Also, if you recently relocated for a new job, you may be eligible to deduct moving expenses. In order to qualify, the following three requirements have to be met: your move is closely related to the start date of your new employment, your new job is at least 50 miles from your prior home, and you must have worked full-time, for at least 39 weeks during the first 12 months, in the new area where your job is located. If your job relocation satisfies these requirements, you are entitled to deduct reasonable and qualifying moving expenses. Along with considering these additional items and benefits when changing jobs, make sure you receive your W-2 from your previous employer.

Have you recently started a new business or hobby and are trying to figure out how to report the income on your tax return? The first step is to consider whether the activity is in fact a business or a hobby. The key way to differentiate between a hobby and a small business hinges on your profit motive, or lack thereof. If you have a profit motive, and spend a considerable amount of time participating in your new venture, you are likely operating a small business. Unincorporated small businesses generally report income and expense on a Schedule C of form 1040. If your new adventure is really a hobby, income is reported on line 21 “Other income”. Expenses are deductible only if you itemize deductions, and are subject the 2% limitation. In either case, it is important to keep detailed records of your income and expenses.

Finally, and most exciting to me is how a new child can affect your tax situation. If you added a child to your family at any time during the year you qualify for an additional dependency exemption, which phase out for higher income families, for 2017 are $4,050. The addition to the family may also allow you to become eligible for the child tax credit, and credit for child and dependent care expenses. These credits have income limitations, but are helpful when trying to combat the expenses of a new child.

There is a lot to consider during life and career changes, but our experienced accountants at Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs are happy to assist you through these tax and financial changes. We want you to be well prepared for the 2017 tax filing season. If we can further assist, please don’t be afraid to stop in at either our Oakland or Bath offices.

Nick Deblois is a Staff Accountant at Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs. He works closely with other senior staff members of the firm, honing his talents regarding tax and accounting matters. He can be reached at nick@pfbf.com or 207-873-1603.

Marijuana Sales and the Monster Hiding in the Tax Code –How To Minimize the Damage of Section 280E

Marijuana is currently legal in some form in 30 States, Washington DC, Guam and Puerto Rico. It is quickly becoming a major economic driver in many states as reflected in Colorado. Through September, the Cannabis industry in Colorado alone has surpassed the one-billion-dollar mark. Despite the overwhelming support of legalized cannabis, the federal government continues to enforce tax policy that will, if not change, tax the industry out of business.

The simple solution would be for Congress to pass legislation that would remove Marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. There are currently a host of bills that attempt to do just that. The most promising and straight forward is H.R. 1810 – Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017. H.R. 1810, introduced by Carlos Curbelo (R- FL), is co-sponsored by 38 other members of the House from both sides of the isle. H.R. 1810 simply states that Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code would not be applicable to “marijuana sales conducted in compliance with State law”.

Unfortunately, nothing seems that simple for our elected officials. Few members of Congress, even those members whose states have legalized cannabis, are willing to take a stand against those who are against Marijuana reform- namely big pharmaceutical and big alcohol companies.

Courts continue to strictly interpret code Section 280E by disallowing all deductions for trade or business expenses in connection with listed Schedule I & II drugs. Deductions from gross income are allowed for costs of goods sold (COGS). The IRS has taken the position that the definition of COGS is defined by code Section 471. Those businesses that both produce and distribute marijuana can take guidance from the Regulations found in section 1.471 of the code. Under these Regulations, includable costs consist of production facility: rent, maintenance, utilities, direct materials, tools, supplies, testing, production wages and production overhead. Specifically excluded costs include: general and administrative, marketing, selling, advertising, distribution, and other expenses not associated with production.

So how can cannabis companies afford to stay in business?

Let’s look to a few critical cases to better understand the constraints of Section 280E.

Review of the 2007 CHAMPS v Commissioner., 128 TC 173 case is critical in helping us to better understand that only those trade or business expenses related to marijuana trafficking should be disallowed under Section 280E. CHAMPS established that businesses can have multiple activities and that those not involving “trafficking” are not precluded by Section 280E. CHAMPS charged a fee for extensive caregiving services and provided a set amount of medical marijuana. The court concluded that the taxpayer had not one but two businesses and therefore, those business expenses not related to “trafficking” of a controlled substance were deductible. The court allowed the proration of costs between the two “businesses”

The second direction giving case is the 2012 Martin Olive v Comm., 139 TC 19, also known as the Vapor Room case. Quite the opposite from the facts presented in the CHAMPS case, Mr. Oliver kept inadequate records and was not able to establish that he conducted more than one business. The court concluded that in order for a taxpayer to establish multiple businesses, it must be engaged in these other activities with a profit motive. Simply giving away free munchies, coffee and advice did not escalate to a spate business unit. The case did, however, give guidance to an acceptable cost of goods sold percentage of roughly 75%.

In the most recent cannabis case decision released on October 23, 2017(Feinberg v. Comm., TC Memo 2017-211), the US Tax Court decided in favor of the IRS with respect to costs disallowed under Section 280E. The IRS victory in this case hinged mainly on the taxpayers’ inability to support its deduction as it related to cost of goods sold. The court concluded that the taxpayers did not “maintain sufficient reliable records to allow the Commissioner to verify the taxpayer’s income and expenditures.” The court did not rely on post audit reclassification of cost of goods sold items. Alas, there is no substitute for good record keeping.

As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who specializes in the industry and has represented clients through multiple IRS audits, my take away is simple: It is foolhardy for one to believe that by some magical process, Section 280E will go away or will be retroactively repealed. Until legalized cannabis is exempt from Section 280E provisions, industry businesses should make every effort to direct the predominance of their expenses into production. CEO’s, CFO’s and specialists should concentrate their time and resources on production, manufacturing and inventory controls. Multiple business units should be established, each with its own written plan for profitability. Job descriptions should indicate which positions have inventory production, control or monitoring responsibilities. CPAs familiar with cannabis can play an important role in helping business owners set up a chart of accounts, identify business units and develop strong internal controls needed for success.

It is clear to me that IRS audits in this industry will not go away any time soon. Every company should prepare themselves for this eventuality. For now, good accounting records and well thought out business units will reduce the strain of Section 280E and allow all involved to keep their heads above water. To survive the long term, however, the industry must get Congress to remove marijuana from the grips of Section 280E. It will be beneficial if all involved give their representatives in Washington, DC a heads up that H.R. 1810 – Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017 is the simplest solution.

Jamie Boulette, CPA has 30 years of tax experience and is managing director of Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs with offices in Bath and Oakland. He can be reached at jboulette@pfbf.com

 

WHO SHOULD PREPARE MY TAXES?

If you read my last blog on Getting Organized for Tax Time,  you remember that over 150,000,000 Americans will file a tax return this year. Tax preparers and software vendors will dominate advertising space over the next few months. They want to convince you that using their product or service will net you the largest refund, or make filing your taxes easy. Recent ads suggest that you would have to be an idiot to not be able to figure out how to file your return. To top it off, most products even advertise Free filing.

To get a better feel for “Free” tax filing, I logged on to a number of online tax services and found that “Free” is only for the very simplest of returns 1040EZ/A. Once on their website you generally find that they offer other, not so free, products that “Maximize” deductions or guarantee accuracy. (Understand that they guarantee the accuracy of the calculations that their software provides and not the accuracy of your input.) Many online products offer audit defense insurance at a price that is just as expensive as the tax filing fee. I suggest that you weigh your risk of audit and the likelihood that changes could be made against the additional cost of defense insurance before clicking that box.

If after preparing your returns online you are still anxious, don’t feel alone. Each year I have a handful of clients who ask me to check over their self-filed returns. The majority need some tweaking, not because the people are not smart but because they do not understand the tax code and do not know what the outcome should look like. They check a box here or there and click “Next” without really understanding the underlying tax code. If this fits your description, I suggest that you schedule an appointment with a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) or professional tax preparer.

By professional, I mean someone who is credentialed as an Attorney, CPA or EA. These people have passed rigorous exams to practice before the IRS and have annual education requirements to give them a better understanding of the tax code. Never engage a person to prepare your return who guarantees you a refund or who is not willing to sign it.

How do you find a professional that will be a good fit for you? Do a little homework before scheduling an appointment; visit a few websites, ask your attorney, banker or investment advisor who they suggest. Finally, set up an appointment to make sure that the relationship will be a good fit for you. A good preparer should have years of experience with your personal situation and be willing to give you an estimate of their fees before you make a commitment.

A good professional understands your personal situation and the tax code, and should be able to help you to pay the lowest amount of tax allowed under the law without sleepless nights worrying about the IRS.

Jamie Boulette, CPA has 30 years of tax experience and is managing director of Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs with offices in Bath and Oakland. He can be reached at jboulette@pfbf.com or 207-873-1603.

WHAT DO SUPER BOWL SUNDAY AND TAX RETURNS HAVE IN COMMON?

Other than the time of year they occur, the one shining answer is Fantasy Football Leagues. The popularity of these leagues have forced the IRS and Certified Public Accountants all over the United States to begin asking the question: Are my winnings from these online leagues taxable?

What is Fantasy Football?

Fantasy Football is defined to work in such a way that, according to the NFL, “You decide what type of league you want to participate in, acquire a roster of players (either through a draft or through auto pick assignment), then set your lineup each week during the season and watch as touchdowns, field goals, yards gained, sacks, interceptions and much, much more generate fantasy points for or against your team. Whether you win or lose and climb or fall on the leader board all depends on how well you maximize the talent on your roster each week.”

How Does This Affect My Taxes?

Just like any other sort of income, a determination must be made as to the taxability of such income. Unfortunately, the IRS has not ruled specifically on the treatment of Fantasy Football winnings, but there are options that fall under the treatment of online game-playing tournaments (IRS Letter Ruling 200532025).

What Are The Options?

There are three methods defined by the above mentioned IRS letter ruling and they are as follows:

Option #1: The Gross Method: This method would require the league administrator to report total winnings for the year on a form 1099-MISC when the player wins more than $600.

Option #2: The Net Method: This method requires everything from the Gross Method, but then subtracts any entrance fees paid for the winning contests only, creating a net amount that would be reported on the 1099-MISC. if over $600.

Option #3: The Cumulative Net Method: Taking it one step further from the net method, this method allows all entrance fees to be deducted from the winnings, regardless of winning that contest. If this amount is still over the $600, it will be reported on form 1099-MISC.
What Should You Do Next?

If you feel that this applies to your Fantasy Football League activities, please give Jessica Marin, CPA a call at Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs and we will help you determine the best way to report on your tax return.

Getting Organized for Tax Time

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin.

Though Mr. Franklin understood clearly that paying taxes was a certainty, he could not have imagined just how complex tax filing would become.  The U.S. tax code is a daunting 75,000 pages and I suspect that the 150,000,000 Americans that file tax returns rely heavily on professional preparers or tax preparation software to get it right.

This year we know with certainty that April 19th will mark the end of tax season.  That is correct, April 19th for Maine and Massachusetts residents.  April 15th falls on a Friday which is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in DC.  Monday, April 18th is Patriots’ Day, with holiday status in Maine and Massachusetts, so you procrastinators get an extra four days to file.

I know that it is early February, but what else have you to do on these cold dark nights other than to gather your tax information?  I recommend that you get started this weekend.  Begin by looking over last year’s return or tax organizer.  If you are like 80,000,000 Americans and have a professional preparer, make some notes for him/her on any changes that that might have taken place during the year.  Be sure to note, address changes, marriage or divorce, kids going off to college, job changes, real estate sales or home improvements, to name a few.  If you have provided bank account information for direct deposit or automatic tax payment, be sure to communicate any changes in banking information.  Remember, your tax professional may have a great understanding of the code but how it is applied can change, if your personal circumstances change.

Finally, it is important to organize your information.  Sometimes the most challenging part is to get clients to open their mail.  All of those envelopes stamped Important Tax Information should be opened and reviewed for accuracy.  Round up the W-2s, 1099s, Social Security statements, health care forms, college tuition information and mortgage interest.  Review your checking account for charitable contributions, estimated tax payments, excise taxes and medical expenses.  If you squirreled this important information to an ultra-safe place but can’t remember where that place is, most tax forms are readily available on line.

For many the real challenge of Tax Time is just facing the fact that preparing them is inevitable and best done early. Regardless of how well versed your tax professional is, it is not possible for them to correctly prepare your return unless you provide all of the necessary information.  Thus, I encourage you to get organized and start today.

Jamie Boulette has 30 years of tax experience and is the Managing Director of Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs (PFBF CPAs) with locations in Oakland and Bath.