Are frequent flyer miles ever taxable?

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If you recently redeemed frequent flyer miles to treat the family to a fun summer vacation or to take your spouse on a romantic getaway, you might assume that there are no tax implications involved. And you’re probably right — but there is a chance your miles could be taxable.

 
Usually tax free
As a general rule, miles awarded by airlines for flying with them are considered nontaxable rebates, as are miles awarded for using a credit or debit card.
The IRS partially addressed the issue in Announcement 2002-18, where it said “Consistent with prior practice, the IRS will not assert that any taxpayer has understated his federal tax liability by reason of the receipt or personal use of frequent flyer miles or other in-kind promotional benefits attributable to the taxpayer’s business or official travel.”

 
Exceptions
There are, however, some types of mile awards the IRS might view as taxable. Examples include miles awarded as a prize in a sweepstakes and miles awarded as a promotion.
For instance, in Shankar v. Commissioner, the U.S. Tax Court sided with the IRS, finding that airline miles awarded in conjunction with opening a bank account were indeed taxable. Part of the evidence of taxability was the fact that the bank had issued Forms 1099 MISC to customers who’d redeemed the rewards points to purchase airline tickets.
The value of the miles for tax purposes generally is their estimated retail value.

 
If you’re concerned you’ve received mile awards that could be taxable, please contact us and we’ll help you determine your tax liability, if any.

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Now’s the time to start thinking about “bunching” — miscellaneous itemized deductions, that is

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Many expenses that may qualify as miscellaneous itemized deductions are deductible only to the extent they exceed, in aggregate, 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Bunching these expenses into a single year may allow you to exceed this “floor.” So now is a good time to add up your potential deductions to date to see if bunching is a smart strategy for you this year.

 
Should you bunch into 2016?
If your miscellaneous itemized deductions are getting close to — or they already exceed — the 2% floor, consider incurring and paying additional expenses by Dec. 31, such as:
• Deductible investment expenses, including advisory fees, custodial fees and publications
• Professional fees, such as tax planning and preparation, accounting, and certain legal fees
• Unreimbursed employee business expenses, including vehicle costs, travel, and allowable meals and entertainment.
But beware …
These expenses aren’t deductible for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. So don’t bunch them into 2016 if you might be subject to the AMT this year.
Also, if your AGI exceeds the applicable threshold, certain deductions — including miscellaneous itemized deductions — are reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).
If you’d like more information on miscellaneous itemized deductions, the AMT or the itemized deduction limit, let us know.

 

 

Combining business and vacation travel: What can you deduct?

post-it-819682_640If you go on a business trip within the United States and tack on some vacation days, you can deduct some of your expenses. But exactly what can you write off?

Transportation expenses

Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity are 100% deductible as long as the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. On the other hand, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, then generally none of your transportation expenses are deductible.

What costs can be included? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.

Business days vs. pleasure days

The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining if the primary reason for domestic travel is business. Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays if they fall between days devoted to business, and it would be impractical to return home.

Standby days (days when your physical presence is required) also count as business days, even if you aren’t called upon to work those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours also counts as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work, but couldn’t due to reasons beyond your control (such as local transportation difficulties).

You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip if business days exceed personal days. Be sure to accumulate proof and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or training seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions.

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. These expenses include lodging, hotel tips, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days are nondeductible.

We can help

Questions? Contact us if you want more information about business travel deductions.

Who Pays for Social Security and Medicare?

According to the 2016 Summary of Annual Reports by the trustees, the major source of funding for the Social Security and Medicare programs is the payroll tax you and your employer pay, or that you pay as a self-employed worker. In addition, about 13% of the funding comes from the taxation of social security benefits – those taxes you pay with your federal income tax return when you collect social security benefits and your income is above a certain amount. Other sources of funding come from the interest earned from the Treasury on the program assets, monthly premiums paid for Medicare benefits, and general tax revenue.

 

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To maximize what goes to loved ones vs. Uncle Sam, you need to carefully plan your gifts

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Giving away assets during your life will help reduce the size of your taxable estate, which is beneficial if you have a large estate that could be subject to estate taxes. For 2016, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.45 million (twice that for married couples with proper estate planning strategies in place).

Even if your estate tax isn’t large enough for estate taxes to be a concern, there are income tax consequences to consider. Plus it’s possible the estate tax exemption could be reduced or your wealth could increase significantly in the future, and estate taxes could become a concern.

That’s why, no matter your current net worth, it’s important to choose gifts wisely. Consider both estate and income tax consequences and the economic aspects of any gifts you’d like to make.

Here are three strategies for tax-smart giving:

1. To minimize estate tax, gift property with the greatest future appreciation potential. You’ll remove that future appreciation from your taxable estate.

2. To minimize your beneficiary’s income tax, gift property that hasn’t appreciated significantly while you’ve owned it. The beneficiary can sell the property at a minimal income tax cost.

3. To minimize your own income tax, don’t gift property that’s declined in value. Instead, consider selling the property so you can take the tax loss. You can then gift the sale proceeds.

For more ideas on tax-smart giving strategies, contact us.

 

 

 

Are you looking for a way to give your employees a tax-free benefit that is also tax-deductible for your business?

accountable plans

Consider an accountable plan. These arrangements let you reimburse your employees for expenses incurred on behalf of your company, such as driving to the post office or office supply store. With a properly administered plan, you can deduct the reimbursements on your business tax return, yet the payments are not considered income to your employees.

How can you make sure your plan qualifies? Here are three requirements.

● The reimbursements must be for allowable business expenses. For instance, you can repay employees for hotel and other travel expenses when traveling to a trade convention.

● Your employees need to keep records of the expenses, and provide those records to you.

● If you pay or advance your employees more than the actual amounts spent on business items, the excess must be returned to you. Amounts not returned are income to your employee, and are subject to payroll taxes.

Contact us to discuss your policies for repaying employees’ business expenses. We’ll help you make your plan accountable.

Are you a gambler? Don’t roll the dice with your taxes!

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For anyone who takes a spin at roulette, cries out “Bingo!” or engages in other wagering activities, it’s important to be familiar with the applicable tax rules. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself at risk for interest or penalties — or missing out on tax-saving opportunities.

 
Wins
You must report 100% of your wagering winnings as taxable income. The value of complimentary goodies (“comps”) provided by gambling establishments must also be included in taxable income because comps are considered gambling winnings. Winnings are subject to your regular federal income tax rate, which may be as high as 39.6%.

 
Amounts you win may be reported to you on IRS Form W-2G (“Certain Gambling Winnings”). In some cases, federal income tax may be withheld, too. Anytime a Form W-2G is issued, the IRS gets a copy. So if you’ve received such a form, keep in mind that the IRS will expect to see the winnings on your tax return.

 
Losses
You can write off wagering losses as an itemized deduction. However, allowable wagering losses are limited to your winnings for the year, and any excess losses cannot be carried over to future years. Also, out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, meals, lodging and so forth don’t count as gambling losses and, therefore, can’t be deducted.

 
Documentation
To claim a deduction for wagering losses, you must adequately document them, including:
1. The date and type of specific wager or wagering activity.
2. The name and address or location of the gambling establishment.
3. The names of other persons (if any) present with you at the gambling establishment. (Obviously, this is not possible when the gambling occurs at a public venue such as a casino, race track, or bingo parlor.)
4. The amount won or lost.

 
The IRS allows you to document income and losses from wagering on table games by recording the number of the table that you played and keeping statements showing casino credit that was issued to you. For lotteries, your wins and losses can be documented by winning statements and unredeemed tickets.

 
Please contact us if you have questions or want more information. If you qualify as a “professional” gambler, some of the rules are a little different.

 

Good debt, bad debt: What’s the difference?

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Here are two questions to ask before incurring debt.

1. What are the benefits of taking on this debt? Avoiding all debt seems like good advice. But good debt can enhance your financial situation. For instance, loans that fund a college or graduate degree may result in a higher salary. That’s debt with a lasting, tangible benefit.

Likewise, a mortgage for a home or rental property can increase your wealth by providing the opportunity for growth of capital and income.

Good debt can also have secondary advantages, such as the potential for tax deductibility of interest on student loans and home mortgages.

Bad debt, on the other hand, generally strains your cash flow without providing an offsetting advantage.

2. Does the cost exceed the benefit? As a general rule, good debt provides a return greater than the total amount you’ll end up paying. Caution: Remember that your total outlay will be the stated price plus finance charges. For example, suppose you need to buy a car. A moderately priced vehicle financed with a short-term loan can still have value when the payments end. That falls within the definition of good debt. But with longer terms of five to eight years, your loan might outlast the car. High interest rates and the longer payback period on “stretch” loans can bump your total outlay into bad debt territory.

Credit card debt poses the same peril. Charges you intend to pay back in full at the end of the month may not be a problem. But a restaurant meal, a vacation, or a holiday splurge can get expensive once you include the interest charged when you carry a balance on your credit card.

Good debt or bad? Recognizing the difference can lead to better money management, and a way to improve your financial situation.