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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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.

Looking for a great way to fund a portion of your vacation costs?

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Are you thinking about turning a business trip into a family vacation this summer? This can be a great way to fund a portion of your vacation costs. But if you’re not careful, you could lose the tax benefits of business travel.

 
Reasonable and necessary
Generally, if the primary purpose of your trip is business, expenses directly attributable to business will be deductible (or excludable from your taxable income if your employer is paying the expenses or reimbursing you through an accountable plan). Reasonable and necessary travel expenses generally include:
• Air, taxi and rail fares,
• Baggage handling,
• Car use or rental,
• Lodging,
• Meals, and
• Tips.
Expenses associated with taking extra days for sightseeing, relaxation or other personal activities generally aren’t deductible. Nor is the cost of your spouse or children traveling with you.

 
Business vs. pleasure
How do you determine if your trip is “primarily” for business? One factor is the number of days spent on business vs. pleasure. But some days that you might think are “pleasure” days might actually be “business” days for tax purposes. “Standby days,” for example, may be considered business days, even if you’re not engaged in business-related activities. You also may be able to deduct certain expenses on personal days if tacking the days onto your trip reduces the overall cost.
During your trip it’s critical to carefully document your business vs. personal expenses. Also keep in mind that special limitations apply to foreign travel, luxury water travel and certain convention expenses.

 
Maximize your tax savings
For more information on how to maximize your tax savings when combining business travel with a vacation, please contact us. In some cases you may be able to deduct expenses that you might not think would be deductible.

6 financial tips to follow when a spouse dies

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The death of a spouse is emotionally and financially devastating. Making decisions of any kind is difficult when you’re vulnerable and grieving, but having a plan to follow may help. Here are suggestions for dealing with financial tasks.

 
1. Wait to make major decisions. Put off selling your house, moving in with your grown children, giving everything away, liquidating your investments, or buying new financial products.

 
2. Get expert help. Ask your attorney to interpret and explain the will and/or applicable law and implement the estate settlement. Talk to your accountant about financial moves and necessary tax documents. Call on your insurance company to help with filing and collecting death benefits.

 
3. Assemble paperwork. Documents you’ll need include your spouse’s birth certificate, social security card, insurance policies, loan and lease agreements, investment statements, mortgages and deeds, retirement plan information, credit cards and credit card statements, employment and partnership agreements, divorce agreements, funeral directives, safe deposit box information, tax returns, and the death certificate.

 
4. Determine who must be paid, and when. You’ll need to notify creditors and continue paying mortgages, car loans, credit cards, utilities, and insurance premiums. Notify health insurance companies and the Social Security Administration, and cancel your spouse’s memberships and subscriptions.

 
5. Alert credit reporting agencies. Request the addition of a “deceased notice” and a “do not issue credit” statement to the decedent’s file. Order credit reports, which will provide a complete record of your spouse’s open credit cards.

 
6. Determine what payments are due to you, such as insurance proceeds, social security or veteran’s benefits, and pension payouts. File claims where needed.

Why record keeping is a good idea when renting all or part of your home

bookkeepingAre you thinking of signing up with one of those websites that link travelers to property owners with space to spare? If you plan to offer for rent all or part of your main home, establishing sound recordkeeping procedures from day one is a good idea.

 
In addition to a bookkeeping system to track the income and expenses related to your rental, a calendar detailing the days your home was rented will be useful at tax time. The reason? Deductible expenses may be limited when rented property is also your personal residence. Having a written record helps determine which tax-reporting rules apply.

 
For example, say you rent your primary home to a vacationer for 15 days or more during a year. All of the rental income is taxable. However, expenses such as interest, property taxes, utility costs, and depreciation are split between the time your property was rented for a fair rental price and the days you used it personally. The portion related to the rental is deductible up to the amount of your rental income.

 
What if you have rental expenses in excess of your rental income? You may be able to carry them forward to next year.

 
Different rules apply when your home is rented for less than 15 days, and when the property you offer for rent is your vacation home or timeshare. Please contact our office. We’ll help you plan a tax-efficient rental program.