Category Archives: Tax Talk

What Is An Eligible Education Institution?

Do I get a tax write off for this?

The IRS provides taxpayers certain tax breaks when you pay for education.  However, there is a catch.  The monies paid (i.e. tuition) have to be to an eligible education institution.  What exactly is that?  Read on my friend.

Tax Benefits Available
The following are the benefits commonly available to taxpayers:

  • Tuition and Fees Deduction: The tuition and fees deduction can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $4,000.  You may be able to deduct qualified education expenses for higher education paid during the year for yourself, your spouse or your dependent.
  • American Opportunity Tax Credit: A credit for tuition, required enrollment fees and course material for the first four years of post-secondary education for up to $2,500 per eligible student per year. Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be under $90,000 ($180,000 for joint filers) and you must not have claimed the AOTC or the former Hope Credit for more than four tax years for the same eligible student. Forty percent of this credit may be refundable.
  • Lifetime Learning Credit: The Lifetime Learning Credit is 20% of the first $10,000 of qualified education expenses paid for all eligible students. The maximum credit is $2,000 per return regardless of the number of eligible students. There is no limit on the number of years the credit can be claimed for each student; thus the reason it is referred to as “lifetime.”

Eligible Education Institution Defined
An eligible educational institution is a school offering higher education beyond high school. It is any college, university, trade school, or other post secondary educational institution eligible to participate in a student aid program run by the U.S. Department of Education.  This includes most accredited public, nonprofit and privately-owned–for-profit post secondary institutions.

With that said, if you are attending a school in another country, there is a possibility that it is NOT considered an eligible education institution.  In general, if you aren’t sure if your school is an eligible educational institution:

• Ask your school (i.e. someone in the financial aid department) if it is, or
• See if your school is on the U.S. Federal Student Aid Code List.

TIP: A small number of schools, not on the list, may be eligible educational institutions and the school can confirm that for you.

New Book – How To Slash Your Taxes!

Filled with 111 proven topics to help you slash your tax bill!

Let’s face it, no one likes to pay more in taxes than they should.  In our office, we typically tell taxpayers that they should aim to be within +/- $1,000 with regards to their refund or having a balance due.  A balance due of $1,000 while not pleasant, is manageable for most people when it comes to paying it outright or setting up a payment plan.  Getting a refund of $1,000 or less you means that you didn’t give Uncle Sam too much of an interest free loan for a year.  Hey, it’s not called a “refund” for no reason; it’s your own money they are giving you back!

But what happens when people (i.e. taxpayers or tax preparers) push the limits to cut a tax bill?  Well, since we deal with the consequences fairly often, let’s just say that it’s usually not good.  Furthermore, it’s totally unnecessary and who has the time to keep looking over their shoulder wondering if the big, bad IRS is going to come knocking?

The point of this book is to show you that there are hundreds of ways that you can achieve tax savings while doing it both legally and ethically.  This is largely due to the complexities of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and all of the loopholes that have been incorporated into it over time.  This book highlights 111 topics that can help you capitalize on this fact and in turn slash your tax liability.

So no matter if you are a parent, homeowner, investor, landlord, retiree or business owner, this book has something for everyone!  Check out the video below to hear more and look below the video on ways that you can place an order.

You can also view this video on our YouTube Channel here.

How To Order Your Copy

Order directly from our office.  You can order via credit card by clicking the “Buy Now” button below.  If you select the “autographed with my custom message” option, you will be contacted post order to obtain your message.  Please note that payment processing is performed via PayPal and if you do not have an account, you can simply select the option to pay with credit or debit card at the bottom.  All orders processed via this method include Illinois sales tax as well as priority shipping via USPS.

Don’t have a credit card or simply want to pay via check?  Then please complete this HTSYTLE Order Form and return it to our office.


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Order via Amazon.  If you do not want an autographed copy, or do not want to order via our office, you can order your copy via Amazon.  Simply visit the author page for Jared R. Rogers, CPA  and complete your order that way.  You will have the choice of ordering either the paperback or Kindle edition.

How Will The New Tax Law Affect Me?

On December 22, 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law.  It has been touted as one of the most significant overhauls to the Internal Revenue Code since the Tax Reform Act of 1986.  The new law reduces tax rates for corporations and individuals, while repealing many deductions taxpayers were accustomed to, in an attempt to “simplify” the filing of their tax returns.  This post will focus on the changes that will impact individuals.  We’ll follow it up with another that focuses on the changes for business entities at a later date.

One of the most important things to note about the changes outlined below is that many go into effect for tax years ending after January 1, 2018.  As such, most of this will not apply when you file your 2017 tax return during the 2018 filing season (i.e. the ones due 4/17/18).  With that said, under each section you will find a “planning” comment to aid you in preparing for how it may impact the tax return you file in early 2019.

Tax Brackets and Tax Rates
The new law retains the seven tax brackets that previously existed, however, the rates are now 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%. Shown below are how the brackets and rates are applied to each filing status:

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Standard Deduction
The new law doubled the amount of the previous standard deduction to the following amounts:

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Planning Comment: If you previously  itemized, you may no longer need to due to these increased amounts.  Remember, the IRS lets you take the standard or itemized deduction, whichever is greater.  With that being said,if your itemized deductions (discussed below) do not exceed these amounts, your tax filing just “theoretically” became more simple.

Personal Exemptions
The personal exemption has been repealed and will not be available after tax year 2017.

Planning Comment: If you have a large family and moderate income, this change might hurt you.  Because you will no longer receive an exemption for every member of your household listed on your return (which lowers your taxes), you could see your tax bill increase.

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
The phaseout thresholds have been increased to $1,000,000 for those filing as married filing joint, and $500,000 for all other taxpayers (other than estates and trusts). These amounts are indexed for inflation.

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Itemized Deductions
With the exception of the items outlined below, all other itemized deductions are repealed. The overall limitation on itemized deductions for upper income individuals is also repealed.

  • Medical Expenses:  For 2017 through 2018, expenses exceeding 7.5% of income are deductible.  This percentage increases to 10% in 2019.
  • State and Local Taxes (SALT): Taxpayers can claim up to a $10,000 deduction for a combination of state and local income tax, sales tax, or real estate taxes.  Foreign real property taxes are no longer deductible.
  • Mortgage Interest:  The deduction for mortgage interest is capped at $750,000 of debt, but is still allowed on a first or second home.  The interest on home equity loans will no longer be deductible.  Interest on up to $1 million of acquisition debt for loans entered into prior to December 15, 2017 is grandfathered and still deductible.
  • Charitable Contributions: Taxpayers who are able to itemize deductions can still include charitable contributions. The current limitation to 50% of income is increased to 60%.
  • Casualty Losses: Deductions for unexpected losses to personal property are no longer deductible unless covered by specific federal disaster declaration.
  • Wagering Losses: The meaning of losses from wagering transactions (i.e. gambling) is clarified to include other expenses incurred by the individual in connection with the conduct of that individual’s gambling activity (e.g. travel expenses to or from a casino).

Planning Comment: There are two big changes/challenges in this area.  First, since the SALT deduction is capped at $10,000, that means that you have to close a gap of anywhere between $2,000 – $14,000 to keep itemizing depending on your filing status.  As such, we suspect that single homeowners may still find themselves itemizing, but those filing as married filing joint may not (unless they pay a significant amount of mortgage interest).

The second area revolves around the removal of the items that were subject to a 2% floor of your income.  So, if you previously deducted any of the items listed below, know that you will not be able to claim them after filing your 2017 tax return:

  • work-related travel, transportation, meal, and entertainment expenses
  • depreciation on a computer or cellular telephone your employer requires you to use in your work
  • dues to a chamber of commerce (or professional societies) if membership helps you do your job
  • education (work-related)
  • home office expenses for part of your home used regularly and exclusively in your work
  • legal fees
  • subscriptions to professional journals and trade magazines related to your work
  • tools and supplies used in your work
  • union dues and expenses
  • work clothes and uniforms (if required and not suitable for everyday use)
  • tax preparation fees

Child Tax Credit
The child tax credit will increase to $2,000 per qualifying child and will be refundable up to $1,400 (subject to phaseouts).   Phaseouts, which are not indexed for inflation, will begin with adjusted gross income of more than $400,000 for those filing as married filing jointly or $200,000 for all other taxpayers.

Non-Child Dependent Credit
A new $500 non-refundable credit covers dependents who don’t qualify for the child tax credit, such as children who are age 17 and above or dependents with other relationships (such as elderly parents). You can’t claim the credit for yourself (or your spouse under married filing jointly status).

Kiddie Tax
The kiddie tax applies to unearned income for children under the age of 19 and college students under the age of 24. Unearned income is income from sources other than wages. Taxable income attributable to net unearned income will be taxed according to the brackets applicable to trusts and estates. The rules for tax applicable to earned income are unchanged.

Student Loan Interest Deduction
For 2018, the maximum amount that you can deduct for interest paid on student loans remains at $2,500. Phaseouts apply for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $65,000 ($135,000 for joint returns) and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $80,000 or more ($165,000 or more for joint returns).

Section 529 Plans
Distributions of up to $10,000 per beneficiary can be used for tuition expenses for public, private or religious elementary or secondary school. The limitation applies on a per student basis rather a per account basis. Distributions can also be made for expenses related to homeschool.

Discharged of Student Loan Indebtedness
The exclusion from income resulting from the discharge of student loan debt is expanded to include discharges resulting from death or disability of the student.

Educator Expenses
The bill retains the present law above-the-line deduction of $250 (indexed for inflation) for out-of-pocket expenses.

Bicycle Commuting Reimbursement
The exclusion from gross income and wages for qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements up to $20 is suspended.

Moving Expense Deduction
Moving expenses related to a job change are no longer deductible except for active members of the military.

Alimony
Beginning with divorces in 2019, alimony payments to an ex-spouse are no longer deductible and not taxable to the recipient.

Affordable Care Act
The penalty for failing to maintain minimum essential coverage for individuals (individual mandate) is repealed beginning in 2019.

Estate Tax Exemption
The estate and gift tax exemption is doubled for estates of decedents dying and gifts made after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026.  The exemption increases to $11,200,000 in 2018. The generation skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption is also doubled.

Changes To Be Aware Of When Filing Your 2017 Tax Return

The U.S. tax code is constantly being modified,  which means that each new filing year brings changes that taxpayers need to remember when filing their tax return.  So what changes took place last year, and how will they impact the filing of your tax year (TY) 2017 federal tax return? Read on my dear friend.

Two extra days to file
This change is probably most important to all those procrastinators out there.  April 15th is the traditional day in which we’re all supposed to file our tax return. But this year, filing day has been pushed back to April 17th due to the combination of a weekend and a Washington, D.C. holiday.

The usual April 15th deadline falls on a Sunday this year.  Normally, taxpayers would have to file their tax returns by the following Monday, which would be April 16th.  But the D.C. holiday Emancipation Day is held on Monday, April 16th.  Since Federal law states that Washington, D.C. holidays impact tax deadlines the same way federal holidays do, that gives taxpayers across the country yet even another extra day to file.

Inflation adjustments
For TY 2017, the IRS increased the value of some different tax benefits:

  • The standard deduction was increased to $6,350, $9,350 and $12,700 for those using the single, head of household and married filing jointly filing statuses respectively
  • The maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) rises to $6,318
  • The maximum income limit for the EITC rises to $53,930
  • The foreign earned income deduction rises to $102,100

You might need a driver’s license or state ID to file electronically
Tax fraud has become a growing problem over the years.  To combat this, many states are now requesting or even requiring that taxpayers provide their driver’s license or state ID information if they want to file their state tax returns electronically.  You’ll still be able to submit your state tax returns electronically without providing this information, but doing so might trigger a manual review by your state to verify your identity. This means it could take longer to receive any refund  you are entitled to if you don’t provide this information.

Refunds will be held for those claiming EITC or ACTC until mid February
The IRS will not issue refunds for people claiming the EITC or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) before mid-February. The law requires the IRS to hold the entire refund, even the portion not associated with EITC or ACTC.  Per the IRS, they expect the earliest EITC/ACTC related refunds to be available in taxpayer bank accounts or debit cards starting on February 27, 2018, if direct deposit was used and there are no other issues with the tax return.  This law change, which took effect at the beginning of 2017, helps ensure that taxpayers receive the refund they’re due by giving the IRS more time to detect and prevent fraud.

The IRS will not accept e-filed returns without indicating health coverage compliance
The IRS has stated that it  will not accept electronic tax returns from individuals who do not address the health coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The IRS will accept electronic returns only when taxpayers indicate whether they had health insurance, had an exemption, or will make a shared responsibility payment.  The good news is that the penalty amounts remain the same for TY 2017.

The floor to deduct medical expenses has been lowered to 7.5 percent of AGI
The threshold for unreimbursed medical expenses increased from 7.5 percent to 10 percent of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for most taxpayers in 2014. There was a temporary exemption from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2016 that allowed individuals age 65 and older and their spouses to still use the lower 7.5 percent floor.  However, due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, all taxpayers are now subject to the decreased threshold of 7.5 percent.

Mileage
Do you use your car for business or work?  Well, the standard mileage rate dropped to 53.5 cents per mile, down from 54 cents for 2016.  The rate used for medical and moving mileage drops to 17 cents per mile, down from 19 cents in 2016.  If there is a bright spot, the charitable mileage rate remains unchanged at 14 cents per mile.

Tuition and fees deduction eliminated
This above the line deduction expired at the end of 2016.  While there is a bill proposed by the Senate Finance Committee to “extend” this and other expired tax provisions, it hasn’t been passed as of the writing of this post.  With that being said, you can no longer take a “deduction” for tuition or qualified fees you pay on behalf of yourself or your dependents.  However, the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit are still available.  Just noted that they are subject to phase-out limits and some other restrictions that prevent all taxpayers from claiming them.

Exclusion of foreclosure debt forgiveness from income eliminated
Another big change is the elimination of the tax code provision that allowed taxpayers who had discharged indebtedness related to home foreclosure to exclude it from their income.  The qualified principal residence indebtedness exclusion allowed individuals to exclude discharged debt from being reported as income. However, similar to above, this provision expired at the en of 2016 and is another item included in the extender bill mentioned above.

Time running out to claim your TY 2014 refund
April 17, 2018, is the last day to file your 2014 tax return to claim a refund. If you miss the deadline, your refund goes to the U.S. Treasury instead of to you. You also lose the opportunity to apply any refund dollars to another tax year (e.g. 2015, 2016, etc.) in which you owe income tax.

You might need to renew your ITIN if you have one
The 2015 Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act provided that an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) would expire if an individual fails to file a tax return (or is not included as a dependent on another’s tax return) for three consecutive years.  Under this new rule, taxpayers who have an ITIN that has not been used at least once in the past three years will no longer be able to use that ITIN on a tax return as of January 1, 2017.   Additionally, individuals who were issued ITINs before 2013 are now required to renew their ITINs on a staggered schedule between 2017 and 2020.  So, if any of the above situations apply to you and you need to file a tax return in 2017, you may need to renew your ITIN if it has expired.

Foreign financial disclosures
If you are a U.S. resident, you have to file information about your foreign holdings if they exceed $50,000 at year-end, if you’re a single filer.  Foreign holdings exceeding $75,000 at any point during the year must also be reported. For those who are married filing jointly, the limits rise to $150,000 at any time, and $75,000 at year-end.

For U.S. citizens living abroad, the reporting limits rise substantially. Single filers need only report accounts exceeding $200,000 at year-end, or $300,000 at any point during the year. For joint filers, the limits are $400,000 at year-end, or $600,000 at any time during the year.

Joint mortgage, but only one SSN on 1098?

What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine!

What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine!

So maybe you purchased a home with your fiance, spouse, parents, friend or business partner.  Each of you pays half (or some other portion) of the mortgage throughout the year.  When it comes time to file your taxes, you plan to file a return separate from the other person, but there is just one problem.  Then 1098 that was provided either list both of your names and the other persons SSN OR it simply just list the other parties information all together.  So how do you go about claiming your piece of what is reported on the 1098?

Figure Your Share
If you and another party (or multiple parties) were liable for, and make payments towards, a mortgage in which another party received the Form 1098, the first thing you must do is figure out each party’s share.   Technically the person that received the From 1098 should do this and provide the amounts to you, but in reality either party may do it.  So, for example, if each person paid 50% of the payments that yielded $9,825 of interest being reported on the Form 1098, then each one is entitled to deduct $4,912.50 on their tax return.

Attach A Statement To Your Return
To report the $4,912.20 of mortgage interest paid, each person should attach a statement to their tax return explaining this. Show how much of the interest each person paid, and give the name and address of the person who received the form. Your share of the interest is then reported on Schedule A (Form 1040), line 11, along with the words “See attached” next to the line.  The person may also deduct their share of any qualified mortgage insurance premiums on Schedule A (Form 1040), line 13.  If the property in question is a rental property, then you can follow the same procedures stated above, but enter “See attached” on line 12 of Schedule E.

For more information on the above, or reporting home mortgage interest in general, see Publication 936; Home Mortgage Interest Deduction  and refer to the section “How To Report.”

 

How To Report A 1099-A

short sale

If you borrow money from a lender to purchase a property, the lender may require the loan to be secured by the purchased property.  If the lender later acquires the secured property from you or has reason to know that you abandoned or stopped using the secured property, the lender may send you a Form 1099-A (PDF), Acquisition or Abandonment of Secured Property.  So just how do you then use this from to report the sale to the IRS?  What types of tax consequences are involved?  Is there different treatment if the form is issued in connection with you principal residence versus a rental property?  Read on to find out.

Property Sales and Capital Gains
When a property is foreclosed or abandoned, it is treated as a sale from a tax standpoint. This means that one will have to calculate what their gain or loss on the disposition of the property is.  This is usually calculated by taking the sales price and subtracting the cost (or basis) in the property.  The only problem is that unlike a normal sale, there’s no “selling price”  with regards to what the lender paid to buy the property back from you.  This is where Form 1099-A comes into play.

The Information on Form 1099-A
Form 1099-A provides you with the date of sale and the “selling price” of the property.  Taxpayers will use either the fair market value of the property or the outstanding loan balance on the property for the selling price.  Both these figures are reported on the form.

  • If the loan is recourse (one where the borrower is personally liable for the balance), the sales price will be the lesser of outstanding debt reduced by any amount for which the taxpayer remains liable, or FMV of property
  • If the loan is non-recourse, the sales prices will be the full amount of debt regardless of the FMV of property

While this is not an absolute indicator, the loan was probably a recourse loan if the bank has checked “yes” in Box 5, which asks “Was borrower personally liable for repayment of the debt?”

Reporting the Sale
Assuming the foreclosed/abandoned property was your personal residence, you must prepare and file Form 8949 and Schedule D with your tax return. Use the date of the foreclosure in Box 1 of the 1099-A as your date of sale. Then indicate the selling price. This will be either the amount in Box 2 or the amount in Box 4.

Calculate your gain by comparing the “selling price” you used to your purchase price, which is your cost basis in the property. The purchase price and date can be found on the HUD-1 closing statement you received when you purchased the property. The difference between the selling price and your cost basis is your gain or loss.  However, if you have a gain, you  may be able to exclude it so that it’s not taxable.  If you have a loss, it will be considered a a “non-deductible loss” because it is personal in nature.  The following post will go into greater detail.

Investment Properties
If the foreclosed property was used as a rental, then you will need to use Form 4797. For those who have had a rental property foreclosed upon, we advise them to seek assistance from a tax professional because there are additional factors to take into consideration, such as depreciation recapture, passive activity loss carryovers and reporting any final rental income and expenses on Schedule E.

Do You Need Help Reporting Your 1099-A?
If you’ve received a form 1099-A and don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of reporting it, why not give us a call?  We’ve handled this situation numerous times and would be happy to assist you.  Just shoot us an email via the address below or call us at 773-239-8850.

Discharging Taxes In Bankruptcy

bankruptcy

Sometimes a taxpayer finds themselves in the position where they can’t pay their tax liability.  Those taxpayers may come to us and ask us if they qualify to have their taxes discharged in bankruptcy.  Our reply is that while we do help taxpayers deal with resolving their tax debt, they are best advised to consult with an attorney to investigate the bankruptcy option.  You see, only legal counsel, or someone admitted to practice before the tax court, can represent a taxpayer in tax court.  With that being said, we typically help taxpayers with administrative tax resolution methods, which the client should pursue first. These include innocent spouse relief, a request for abatement of penalties, an installment agreement or an offer in compromise (OIC).

However, if those options are insufficient, bankruptcy may be the best way for a taxpayer to either secure a reasonable payment plan (Chapter 11 or Chapter 13) or to liquidate their assets to pay off all or a portion of their tax debt (Chapter 7). Using administrative tax resolution methods help a taxpayer avoid having a “black mark” on their credit history. However, a federal tax lien listed on the debtor’s credit report may damage their credit rating just as much as a bankruptcy notation.  Needless to say, if you think you may qualify based on the information shown below, one is advised to contact an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy law.

What tax debts may be discharged in bankruptcy?
To be dischargeable, individual income tax liabilities must meet the following “technical” rules of 11 USC §§ 523(a)(1) and 507(a)(8):

  • More than three years must have elapsed since the tax return generating the liability was due, including extensions.
  • The tax return must have been filed more than two years earlier than the bankruptcy petition (generally applicable to late-filed returns). Note, however, that IRS-prepared substitute for returns (SFRs) are not considered filed returns for this purpose, and thus a tax liability assessed from them would not be subject to discharge (IRC § 6020(b)).
  • At least 240 days must have elapsed since the date of an IRS assessment (generally applicable to audit adjustments and amended returns). This time frame is extended by an OIC.

Bankruptcy Basics
A bankruptcy court filing immediately stops the collection efforts of all creditors, including the IRS. This legal protection is called the “automatic stay.” At the end of the proceedings, some or all of the petitioner’s debts—including, in some instances, tax liabilities—may be discharged, meaning they are eliminated or no longer legally enforceable. There are two types of bankruptcy:

Liquidation.   A filing under Chapter 7 liquidates assets that are not exempted under federal or state law and distributes pro rata amounts to unsecured creditors. (Keep in mind that proceeds from the forced sale of nonexempt assets in a liquidation bankruptcy may be significantly less than in an arm’s-length transaction outside of bankruptcy.) Any unsecured debts remaining after such distribution are discharged, including certain tax debts. The court forces all creditors (including the IRS) to accept the proceeds of the liquidation in full settlement of all dischargeable liabilities included in the petition. However, a tax lien recorded before the bankruptcy was filed survives the bankruptcy to the extent it attaches to property owned by the debtor at the time of the bankruptcy. Eligibility for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is limited to debtors whose income is below a “means tested” amount or whose “non-consumer” debts exceed their “consumer” debts.

Deferred payment plans. This type of filing (Chapter 11 for individuals or Chapter 13 for businesses) forces a payment plan on debtors through a trustee. Creditors (again, including the IRS) must accept an installment schedule that pays at least as much of the dischargeable debt as would have been paid in a Chapter 7 proceeding, and which fully pays all secured and priority creditors within five years (11 USC § 1322). Nondischargeable taxes are often priority debts, which must be paid in full over the life of the plan. To qualify for Chapter 13, the debtor must have a steady stream of income: Wages, Social Security, pension payments and receipts of an independent contractor all qualify.

The key takeaways?

  • In order to be dischargable in bankruptcy, the taxes generally have to be “old” in nature.
  • The primary “tax-related” downside to filing for bankruptcy protection is the additional collection time it allows the IRS. Once taxes are assessed, the IRS normally has a total of 10 years to collect them, along with penalties and interest. Therefore, once a bankruptcy case is over, the IRS will retain whatever time remained on the original 10 years, plus the time the bankruptcy case was pending, plus an additional six months (IRC 6503(h)(2)).

How To Report The Sale Of Your Home To The IRS

sold_sign

Sometimes when a homeowner sales their primary residence there can be tax reporting requirements. Generally, this occurs when you have a capital gain on the sale of the home or you sell a home that is not your primary residence (e.g. a vacation home).  However, simply having a gain may not be one of the reporting “triggers” so to speak.  So when do you have to report your sale and just how do you go about doing so?  Read on my friend, read on.

When you must report your sale.
Generally, there are three scenarios where you will be required to report the sale.  These are:

  • The sale results in a gain and you do not qualify to exclude all of it,
  • The sale results in a  gain and you choose not to exclude it, or
  • The sale results in a gain or a loss and the taxpayer received a Form 1099-S

The exclusion of the gain is discussed below so we won’t elaborate on it here. We’re not sure why you would NOT want to exclude the gain, so we won’t address that point either. But we will spend some time on the last point, if you receive a Form 1099-S: Proceeds from Real Estate Transactions.

Form 1099-S is used by the party that closes the real estate transaction to report it to yourself and the IRS.  This may include the settlement agent, the mortgage company, the attorney or the lender.  The key point to remember is that if you received the form, the IRS has received it as well. Now this doesn’t mean that the gain is taxable, but it does mean that you have to go through the hassle of reporting it to the IRS.  What happens if you don’t?  Well, the IRS through it’s matching process is probably going to send you a letter when they don’t see it on your tax return.  As such, we recommend that you avoid the hassle and just deal with it on the front end.

Understanding the gain exclusion.
Generally, to qualify for the exclusion, you must meet both the ownership test and the use test. These test are considered me IF you have owned and used your home as your main home for a period totaling at least two out of the five years prior to its date of sale. You can meet the ownership and use tests during different 2-year periods. However, you must meet both tests during the 5-year period ending on the date of the sale. Another thing to note is that, generally, you are not eligible for the exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the two-year period prior to the sale of your home.

If these test are met, a taxpayer can exclude up to $250,000 of the gain if using the single or Head of Household filing status ($500,000 on a return that is Married Filing Jointly).

How to report the sale.
To report the sale, you must know the sales price, the adjusted basis and the resulting gain.  The sales price will be pretty easy to determine.  The adjusted basis is essentially what you’ve invested in the home; the original cost plus the cost of capital improvements you’ve made.  These would include things such as a new roof, a remodeled kitchen, a swimming pool, or central air conditioning. You add these expenses to your original cost to increase your adjusted basis.  Conversely, you will also need to subtract any depreciation, casualty losses or energy credits that you have claimed to reduce your tax bill while you’ve owned the house.  Once you know the adjusted basis, you subtract it from the sales price and that will be the gain you will report.

To begin the reporting process, you would need Form 8949 Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets.  Since the resulting gain is one that transpired during a period longer than one year, it is considered long term.  As such, home sales are reported using Part II of the form.  Items A-E of the form are pretty self explanatory, but it is items F-H that you will want to pay attention to.  Once the proceeds from the sale and the cost are entered, you will have the resulting gain.  Column F is where you enter in the code to enter in why you are adjusting the gain.  For home sales, this is code H.  In column G you enter in the amount of gain that you are excluding as a negative number.  Any remaining gain (which is taxable) would then be reported in column H and carried to Schedule D.

Other items to be aware of.
As with anything tax related, nothing is always as simple as it seems.  With that being said, here are some more obscure things to keep in mind when it comes time to report your sale:

  • The home sale exclusion generally does NOT apply to rental properties.  However, if you convert a former rental property to your principal residence, you may be able to exclude a portion of the gain.
  • If you or your spouse serve on “qualified official extended duty” as a member of the uniformed services, you can choose to have the five-year-test period for ownership and use suspended for up to ten years.
  • In certain cases, you can treat part of your profit as tax-free even if you don’t pass the two-out-of-five-years tests.  The key to remember with this is that this doesn’t mean that you can only exclude a portion of your gain.  It means that the $200,000/$500,000 exclusion is reduced based on the amount of time you spent in the home during the qualifying period.
  • If you inherited your home from your spouse or someone else after their death, your basis will generally be the fair market value of the home at the time the previous owner died.  Note that their are special considerations if you live in a community property state or you jointly owned the home with you spouse.
  • It is possible to extend the break to a second home by converting it to your principal residence before you sell.  However, note that 1) not all the gain will be excludable and 2) calculations will have to be performed to determine how much time the property was used as a rental (if any), primary residence and how much of this occurred after 2008 (when the rules changed)

When Both Parents Claim A Child On A Tax Return

In todays day and age, it’s not uncommon for a child’s parents to live apart (i.e. in separate homes).  This fact can sometimes cause “problems” when it comes tax time and determining who will claim the child as a dependent.  A child can only be a claimed as a dependent by one parent. Furthermore, this parent must provide more than 50% of the financial support that the child receives and the child must reside with them for more than half the tax year.

Sometimes the parents try to solve the issue by “agreeing” to trade off who gets to claim the child in what year.  Sometimes, less agreeable parents will simply try to file their tax return before the other parent, thus effectively blocking them from claiming the child.  This in itself can cause problems.  Why?  Well, if the child is claimed by both parents on two separate returns, the IRS will typically “reject” the second parents return (almost instantaneously if they are e-filing) alerting them that the child had already been claimed on another’s return.  The second parent then usually has to fix their return (or amend it if paper filed) to remove the dependent and the associated exemption.

But what if the second parent disagrees that the first parent was entitled to claim the child?  Well, the IRS is then likely to require proof from the first parent that the child either lived with them or that they had the other parent’s consent.  The latter is where Form 8332 comes in.

Form 8332 – Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent
The “custodial parent” (for IRS purposes) is generally the one with whom the child lived for the greater number of nights during the year.  But if you don’t have to file a tax return, or you reach an agreement with your child’s noncustodial parent, you can let the “noncustodial parent” take the exemption by filling out Form 8332.  All that’s needed is your child’s name, the tax year, your Social Security number, your signature and date. If you prefer to release your claim to your child’s exemption for more than one tax year, enter the same information in part two rather than part one. Once complete, give the form to your child’s noncustodial parent to file with their tax return. If you release your claim for multiple tax years, you only need to fill out the form once: the other parent will attach copies of the original to their return each year.

Taking your child’s exemption back
If you decide to start claiming the exemption again after you’ve released it to the noncustodial parent, you can do so by completing part three of Form 8332. You can do this for a specific tax year or all future years.  Reclaiming the exemption isn’t effective until the tax year following the calendar year in which you complete Form 8332 and give it to the other parent. In other words, if you provide the form in 2016, the earliest you can reclaim the exemption is on your 2017 tax return which you will file in 2018.

What if someone else claimed your dependent?
If you tax return is rejected because someone else claimed your child as their dependent on their tax return, this does not necessarily mean that you do not have the right to claim the dependent.  What this does mean is that the IRS systems cannot apply the tiebreaker rules on an electronically filed return.  With that said, follow these steps:

  1. Call the IRS support line at 1-800-829-1040 and inform them of the situation.
  2. Print your tax return, sign and date it, attach any required forms, and mail it to the IRS.
  3. The IRS will examine your return and that of the other taxpayer, apply the tiebreaker rules, and inform you of the results. This process may take 8-12 weeks.

What are the Tie-Breaker rules for claiming a dependent?

  1. Relationship Test: If only one of the taxpayers claiming the child is the child’s parent, then the child will be the qualifying child of the parent.
  2. Residence Test: If both parents claim the child but do not file jointly, then the child will be the qualifying child of the parent with whom the child lived for a longer time during the year.
  3. Income Test: If the child lived with both parents for an equal amount of time, then the child will be the qualifying child of the parent with the higher adjusted gross income (AGI).
  4. No Parent Can Claim: If no parent qualifies to claim the child, the child will be the qualifying child of the person claiming the child who has the highest AGI.
  5. No Parent Chooses to Claim: If either parent qualifies to claim the child, but they choose not to, the child will be the qualifying child of the claiming person with the highest AGI, but only if their AGI is higher than that of either parent (if the parents are married and filing jointly, use one half of their combined AGI).
  6. Special Rule for Unmarried Parents: If the parents are not married but lived together with their child all year and the child meets all qualifying tests for both parents, then the parents may decide which parent will claim the child as a dependent.