A tried-and-true estate planning strategy is to make tax-free gifts to loved ones during life, because it reduces potential estate tax at death. There are many ways to make tax-free gifts, but one of the simplest is to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion with direct gifts. Even in a potentially changing estate tax environment, making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still be a good idea.
What is the annual exclusion?
The 2016 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your $5.45 million lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $28,000 per recipient. The gifts are also generally excluded from the generation-skipping transfer tax, which typically applies to transfers to grandchildren and others more than one generation below you.
The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can also avoid gift and estate taxes.
Making gifts in 2016
The exclusion is scheduled to remain at $14,000 ($28,000 for split gifts) in 2017. But that’s not a reason to skip making annual exclusion gifts this year. You need to use your 2016 exclusion by Dec. 31 or you’ll lose it.
The exclusion doesn’t carry from one year to the next. For example, if you don’t make an annual exclusion gift to your daughter this year, you can’t add $14,000 to your 2017 exclusion to make a $28,000 tax-free gift to her next year.
While the President-elect and Republicans in Congress have indicated that they want to repeal the estate tax, it’s uncertain exactly what tax law changes will be passed, since the Republicans don’t have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Plus, in some states there’s a state-level estate tax. So if you have a large estate, making 2016 annual exclusion gifts is generally still well worth considering.
We can help you determine how to make the most of your 2016 gift tax annual exclusion.
Are you confused about your choices for paying medical expenses under your employer’s benefit plan? Here are differences between two types of commonly offered accounts: a health savings account (HSA) and a health care flexible spending account (FSA).
Overview. An FSA is generally established under an employer’s benefit plan. You can set aside a portion of your salary on a pretax basis to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses. An HSA is a combination of a high-deductible health plan and a savings account in which you save pretax dollars to pay medical expenses not covered by the insurance.
Contributions. For 2016, you can contribute up to a maximum of $2,550 to an FSA. Typically, you have to use the funds by the end of the year. Why? Unused amounts are forfeited under what’s commonly called the “use it or lose it” rule. However, your employer can adopt one of two exceptions to the rule.
If you are single, the 2016 HSA contribution limit is $3,350 ($6,750 for a family). You can add a catch-up contribution of $1,000 if you are over age 55. You do not have to spend all the money you contribute to your HSA each year. You can leave the funds in the account and let the earnings grow.
Earnings. FSAs do not earn interest. Your employer holds your money until you request reimbursement for qualified expenses. HSAs are savings accounts, and the money in the account can be invested. Earnings held in the account are not included in your income.
Withdrawals. Distributions from both accounts are tax- and penalty-free as long as you use the funds for qualified medical expenses.
Portability. Normally, your FSA stays with your employer when you change jobs. Your HSA belongs to you, and you can take the account funds with you from job to job. That’s true even if your employer makes contributions to your HSA for you.
Because you generally can’t contribute to both accounts in the same year, understanding the differences can help you make a decision that best fits your circumstances. Contact us for help as you consider your benefit choices.
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.”
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.
Last year a break valued by many charitably inclined retirees was made permanent: the charitable IRA rollover. If you’re age 70½ or older, you can make direct contributions — up to $100,000 annually — from your IRA to qualified charitable organizations without owing any income tax on the distributions.
Satisfy your RMD
A charitable IRA rollover can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions (RMDs). You must begin to take annual RMDs from your traditional IRAs in the year in which you reach age 70½. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. (An RMD deferral is allowed for the initial year, but you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year.)
So if you don’t need the RMD for your living expenses, a charitable IRA rollover can be a great way to comply with the RMD requirement without triggering the tax liability that would occur if the RMD were paid out to you.
You might be able to achieve a similar tax result from taking the RMD payout and then contributing that amount to charity. But it’s more complex because you must report the RMD as income and then take an itemized deduction for the donation. This has two more possible downsides:
• The reported RMD income might increase your income to the point that you’re pushed into a higher tax bracket, certain additional taxes are triggered and/or the benefits of certain tax breaks are reduced or eliminated. It could even cause Social Security payments to become taxable or increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges.
• If your donation would equal a large portion of your income for the year, your deduction might be reduced due to the percentage-of-income limit. You generally can’t deduct cash donations that exceed 50% of your adjusted gross income for the year. (Lower limits apply to donations of long-term appreciated securities or made to private foundations.) You can carry forward the excess up to five years, but if you make large donations every year, that won’t help you.
A charitable IRA rollover avoids these potential negative tax consequences.
Have questions about charitable IRA rollovers or other giving strategies? Please contact us. We can help you create a giving plan that will meet your charitable goals and maximize your tax savings.
By investing in qualified small business (QSB) stock, you can diversify your portfolio and enjoy two valuable tax benefits:
1. Tax-free gain rollovers. If within 60 days of selling QSB stock you buy other QSB stock with the proceeds, you can defer the tax on your gain until you dispose of the new stock. The rolled-over gain reduces your basis in the new stock. For determining long-term capital gains treatment, the new stock’s holding period includes the holding period of the stock you sold.
2. Exclusion of gain. Generally, taxpayers selling QSB stock are allowed to exclude up to 50% of their gain if they’ve held the stock for more than five years. But, depending on the acquisition date, the exclusion may be greater: The exclusion is 75% for stock acquired after Feb. 17, 2009, and before Sept. 28, 2010, and 100% for stock acquired on or after Sept. 28, 2010. The acquisition deadline for the 100% gain exclusion had been Dec. 31, 2014, but Congress has made this exclusion permanent.
The taxable portion of any QSB gain will be subject to the lesser of your ordinary-income rate or 28%, rather than the normal long-term gains rate. Thus, if the 28% rate and the 50% exclusion apply, the effective rate on the QSB gain will be 14% (28% × 50%).
Keep in mind that these tax benefits are subject to additional requirements and limits. For example, to be a QSB, a business must be engaged in an active trade or business and must not have assets that exceed $50 million.
Consult us for more details before buying or selling QSB stock. And be sure to consider the nontax factors as well, such as your risk tolerance, time horizon and overall investment goals.