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January 2020

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Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties. If desired, we would be pleased to perform the requisite research and provide you with a detailed written analysis. Such an engagement may be the subject of a separate engagement letter that would define the scope and limits of the desired consultation services.


Important Tax Changes for Individuals and Businesses

Every year, it's a sure bet that there will be changes to current tax law and this year is no different. From standard deductions to health savings accounts and tax rate schedules, here's a checklist of tax changes to help you plan the year ahead.

Individuals

In 2020, a number of tax provisions are affected by inflation adjustments, including Health Savings Accounts, retirement contribution limits, and the foreign earned income exclusion. The tax rate structure, which ranges from 10 to 37 percent, remains similar to 2019; however, the tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. Standard deductions also rise, and as a reminder, personal exemptions have been eliminated through tax year 2025.

Standard Deduction
In 2020, the standard deduction increases to $12,400 for individuals (up from $12,200 in 2019) and to $24,800 for married couples (up from $24,400 in 2019).

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
In 2020, AMT exemption amounts increase to $72,900 for individuals (up from $71,700 in 2019) and $113,400 for married couples filing jointly (up from $111,700 in 2019). Also, the phaseout threshold increases to $518,400 ($1,036,800 for married filing jointly). Both the exemption and threshold amounts are indexed annually for inflation.

"Kiddie Tax"
For taxable years beginning in 2020, the amount that can be used to reduce the net unearned income reported on the child's return that is subject to the "kiddie tax," is $1,100. The same $1,100 amount is used to determine whether a parent may elect to include a child's gross income in the parent's gross income and to calculate the "kiddie tax." For example, one of the requirements for the parental election is that a child's gross income for 2020 must be more than $1,100 but less than $11,000.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)
Contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) are used to pay current or future medical expenses of the account owner, his or her spouse, and any qualified dependent. Medical expenses must not be reimbursable by insurance or other sources and do not qualify for the medical expense deduction on a federal income tax return.

A qualified individual must be covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and not be covered by other health insurance with the exception of insurance for accidents, disability, dental care, vision care, or long-term care.

For calendar year 2020, a qualifying HDHP must have a deductible of at least $1,400 for self-only coverage or $2,800 for family coverage and must limit annual out-of-pocket expenses of the beneficiary to $6,900 for self-only coverage and $13,800 for family coverage.

Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs)
There are two types of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs): the Archer MSA created to help self-employed individuals and employees of certain small employers, and the Medicare Advantage MSA, which is also an Archer MSA, and is designated by Medicare to be used solely to pay the qualified medical expenses of the account holder. To be eligible for a Medicare Advantage MSA, you must be enrolled in Medicare. Both MSAs require that you are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP).

Self-only coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2020, the term "high deductible health plan" means, for self-only coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $2,350 (same as 2019) and not more than $3,550 (up $50 from 2019), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $4,750 (up $100 from 2019).

Family coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2020, the term "high deductible health plan" means, for family coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $4,750 and not more than $7,100, and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $8,650.

AGI Limit for Deductible Medical Expenses
In 2020, the deduction threshold for deductible medical expenses is 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI).

Eligible Long-Term Care Premiums
Premiums for long-term care are treated the same as health care premiums and are deductible on your taxes subject to certain limitations. For individuals age 40 or younger at the end of 2020, the limitation is $430. Persons more than 40 but not more than 50 can deduct $810. Those more than 50 but not more than 60 can deduct $1,630 while individuals more than 60 but not more than 70 can deduct $4,350. The maximum deduction is $5,430 and applies to anyone more than 70 years of age.

Medicare Taxes
The additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages above $200,000 for individuals ($250,000 married filing jointly) remains in effect for 2020, as does the Medicare tax of 3.8 percent on investment (unearned) income for single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (AGI) more than $200,000 ($250,000 joint filers). Investment income includes dividends, interest, rents, royalties, gains from the disposition of property, and certain passive activity income. Estates, trusts, and self-employed individuals are all liable for the tax.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
For 2020, the foreign earned income exclusion amount is $107,600 up from $105,900 in 2019.

Long-Term Capital Gains and Dividends
In 2020 tax rates on capital gains and dividends remain the same as 2019 rates (0%, 15%, and a top rate of 20%); however threshold amounts have increased: the maximum zero percent rate amounts are $40,000 for individuals and $80,000 for married filing jointly. For an individual taxpayer whose income is at or above $441,450 ($496,600 married filing jointly), the rate for both capital gains and dividends is capped at 20 percent. All other taxpayers fall into the 15 percent rate amount (i.e., above $40,000 and below $441,450 for single filers).

Estate and Gift Taxes
For an estate of any decedent during calendar year 2020, the basic exclusion amount is $11.58 million, indexed for inflation (up from $11.4 million in 2019). The maximum tax rate remains at 40 percent. The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $15,000.

Individuals - Tax Credits

Adoption Credit
In 2020, a non-refundable (only those individuals with tax liability will benefit) credit of up to $14,300 is available for qualified adoption expenses for each eligible child.

Earned Income Tax Credit
For tax year 2020, the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low and moderate-income workers and working families rises to $6,660 up from $6,557 in 2019. The credit varies by family size, filing status, and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.

Child Tax Credit
For tax years 2019 through 2025, the child tax credit is $2,000 per child. The refundable portion of the credit is $1,400 so that even if taxpayers do not owe any tax, they can still claim the credit. A $500 nonrefundable credit is also available for dependents who do not qualify for the Child Tax Credit (e.g., dependents age 17 and older).

Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit also remained under tax reform. If you pay someone to take care of your dependent (defined as being under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year or incapable of self-care) to work or look for work, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 or 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses in 2020. For two or more qualifying dependents, you can claim up to 35 percent of $6,000 (or $2,100) of eligible expenses. For higher-income earners, the credit percentage is reduced, but not below 20 percent, regardless of the amount of adjusted gross income. This tax credit is nonrefundable.

Individuals - Education

American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credits
The maximum credit is $2,500 per student for the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The Lifetime Learning Credit remains at $2,000 per return; however, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit is $118,000 ($59,000 single filers).

Interest on Educational Loans
In 2020, the maximum deduction for interest paid on student loans is $2,500. The deduction begins to be phased out for higher-income taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of more than $70,000 ($140,000 for joint filers) and is completely eliminated for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $85,000 ($170,000 joint filers).

Individuals - Retirement

Contribution Limits
The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan increases to $19,500 (up from $19,000 in 2019). Contribution limits for SIMPLE plans increase to $13,500 (up from $13,000 in 2019). The maximum compensation used to determine contributions increases to $285,000 (up from $280,000 in 2019).

Income Phase-out Ranges
The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and have modified AGI between $65,000 and $75,000.

For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the phase-out range increases to $104,000 to $124,000. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple's modified AGI is between $196,000 and $206,000.

The modified AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $124,000 to $139,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $122,000 to $137,000. For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is $196,000 to $206,000, up from $193,000 to $203,000. The phase-out range for a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

Saver's Credit
In 2020, the AGI limit for the Saver's Credit (also known as the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit) for low and moderate income workers is $65,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $64,000 in 2019; $48,750 for heads of household, up from $48,000; and $32,500 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up from $32,000 in 2019.

Businesses

Standard Mileage Rates
In 2020, the rate for business miles driven is 57.5 cents per mile, down one half of a cent from the rate for 2019.

Section 179 Expensing
In 2020, the Section 179 expense deduction increases to a maximum deduction of $1,040,000 of the first $2,590,000 of qualifying equipment placed in service during the current tax year. This amount is indexed to inflation for tax years after 2018. The deduction was enhanced under the TCJA to include improvements to nonresidential qualified real property such as roofs, fire protection, and alarm systems and security systems, and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems. Also of note is that costs associated with the purchase of any sport utility vehicle, treated as a Section 179 expense, cannot exceed $25,900.

Bonus Depreciation
Businesses are allowed to immediately deduct 100% of the cost of eligible property placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023, after which it will be phased downward over a four-year period: 80% in 2023, 60% in 2024, 40% in 2025, 20% in 2026, and 0% in 2027 and years beyond.

Qualified Business Income Deduction
Eligible taxpayers are able to deduct up to 20 percent of certain business income from qualified domestic businesses, as well as certain dividends. To qualify for the deduction business income must not exceed a certain dollar amount. In 2020, these threshold amounts are $163,300 for single and head of household filers and $326,600 for married taxpayers filing joint returns.

Research & Development Tax Credit
Starting in 2018, businesses with less than $50 million in gross receipts can use this credit to offset alternative minimum tax. Certain start-up businesses that might not have any income tax liability will be able to offset payroll taxes with the credit as well.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)
Extended through 2020, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit has been modified and enhanced for employers who hire long-term unemployed individuals (unemployed for 27 weeks or more) and is generally equal to 40 percent of the first $6,000 of wages paid to a new hire.

Employee Health Insurance Expenses
For taxable years beginning in 2020, the dollar amount of average wages is $27,600 ($27,100 in 2019). This amount is used for limiting the small employer health insurance credit and for determining who is an eligible small employer for purposes of the credit.

Business Meals and Entertainment Expenses
The deduction remains at 50% for taxpayers who incur food and beverage expenses associated with operating a trade or business. For tax years 2018 through 2025, however, the 50% deduction expands to include expenses incurred for meals furnished to employees for the convenience of the employer. Amounts after 2025, however, will not be deductible. Office holiday parties remain 100% deductible and employee meals while on business travel also remain deductible at 50%. Also eliminated is the deduction for business entertainment expenses (only meals are deductible at 50%; receipts must identify and separate meal costs from entertainment costs).

Employer-provided Transportation Fringe Benefits
If you provide transportation fringe benefits to your employees in 2020, the maximum monthly limitation for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle as well as any transit pass is $270. The monthly limitation for qualified parking is $270.

While this checklist outlines important tax changes for 2020, additional changes in tax law are likely to arise during the year ahead. Don't hesitate to call if you have any questions or want to get a head start on tax planning for the year ahead.

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What's New for the 2020 Tax Filing Season

While the 2020 tax filing season promises to be less confusing than 2019, there are still a number of changes that taxpayers should be aware of.

New, Revised or Updated Tax Forms

Form 1040: Revised and Redesigned

The IRS released a draft Form 1040 for 2019 tax returns that has been updated from the 2018 version. Of significance is that there are now three schedules instead of the six that appeared in the 2018 Form 1040. Schedule 6 is now part of Form 1040. Schedules 2 and 4 have been combined into a single schedule as have Schedules 3 and 5. Schedule 1 remains as is. Another notable change is that the signature line is once again, at the end of the form. While the new Form 1040 for 2019 is no longer "postcard size," it is still shorter than it was in 2018 - although slightly longer than the 2019 version.

Form 1040SR: U.S. Tax Return for Seniors

The new Form 1040SR for 2019, was created in response to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and is intended for taxpayers age 65 and older. While similar to the standard Form 1040, the font size is larger and it includes a chart of the standard deduction and additional standard deduction amounts for taxpayers over 65 years old or blind. Taxpayers with more complicated tax situations should use the regular Form 1040.

Other New Tax Forms for 2019

  • Forms 8995 and 8995-A: Qualified Business Income Deduction Simplified Computation
  • Form 8985: Pass-Through Statement [Pass-Through Statement — Transmittal/Partnership Adjustment Tracking Report]
  • Forms 965-C, 965-D, and 965-E: Inclusion of Deferred Foreign Income Upon Transition to Participation Exemption System
  • Form 8978: Partner's Additional Reporting Year Tax
  • Form 8997: Initial and Annual Statement of Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) Investments

Important Tax Changes

Health Insurance Mandate Penalty Eliminated.

The penalty for failing to obtain health insurance expired at the end of 2018. As such, for 2019 tax returns there is no box on Form 1040 to check off indicating you had health insurance.

Some states have their own individual health insurance mandate requiring coverage. If you live in a state with a mandate and don't have insurance (or an exemption) you must pay a fee when you file your state taxes. Currently, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. have such mandates (effective for 2019) in addition to Vermont whose mandate is effective starting in 2020.

Alimony is No Longer Deductible.

Starting January 1, 2019, alimony is no longer deductible to the payer and is no longer taxable to the payee for separation or divorce agreements or decrees in effect on this date or later.

Medical Expense Deduction Threshold Remains at 7.5 Percent.

For tax years 2017 and 2018 the medical expense deduction threshold was rolled back to 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI). In 2019 it was scheduled to revert to 10 percent; however, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, extended the 7.5 percent threshold through 2020 (including tax year 2019).

Deduction for Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses Extended.

This above-the-line deduction was extended through 2020.

Questions? Help is just a phone call away.

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Tax Breaks for Taxpayers Who Itemize

Many taxpayers opt for the standard deduction because it is easier, but sometimes itemizing your deductions is the better choice - often resulting in a lower tax bill. Whether you bought a house, refinanced your current home, or had extensive gambling losses, you may be able to take advantage of tax breaks for taxpayers who itemize. Here's what to keep in mind:

1. Deducting state and local income, sales and property taxes. The deduction that taxpayers can claim for state and local income, sales and property taxes is limited to a combined, total deduction of $10,000 - $5,000 if married filing separately. State and local taxes paid above this amount can't be deducted.

2. Refinancing a home. The deduction for mortgage interest is limited to interest paid on a loan secured by the taxpayer's main home or second home. Homeowners who choose to refinance must use the loan to buy, build, or substantially improve their main home or second home, and the mortgage interest they may deduct is subject to the limits described under "buying a home," below.

3. Buying a home. People who bought a new home in 2019 can only deduct mortgage interest paid on a total of $750,000 ($375,000 married filing separately) in qualifying debt for a first and second home. For existing mortgages, if the loan originated on or before December 15, 2017, taxpayers may continue to deduct interest on a total of $1 million in qualifying debt secured by first and second homes.

4. Charitable donations. Donations to a qualified charity also qualify as a tax break. Taxpayers must itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions and must have proof of all donations. The non-profit organization must be a 501(c)(3) public charity or private foundation and non-cash donations may require a qualified appraisal.

5. Deducting mileage for charity. Miles driven using a personal vehicle for charitable service activities could qualify you for a tax break. Itemizers can deduct 14 cents per mile for charitable mileage driven in 2019.

6. Reporting gambling winnings and claiming gambling losses. Taxpayers who itemize can deduct gambling losses up to the amount of gambling winnings. You may deduct gambling losses; however, the amount of losses you deduct can't be more than the amount of gambling income you report on your return. Furthermore, you must keep a record of your winnings and losses, for example, you must keep an accurate diary or similar record of your gambling winnings and losses and be able to provide receipts, tickets, statements, or other records that show the amount of both your winnings and losses.

Investment interest expenses. Investment interest expense is interest paid or accrued on a loan or part of a loan that is allocated to property held for taxable investments - the interest on a loan you took out to buy stock in a brokerage account, for example. Taxable investments include interest, dividends, annuities or royalties.

Wondering whether you should itemize deductions on your 2019 tax return? Don't hesitate to call the office and find out.

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Got Debt? Tips to Improve Your Financial Situation

If you are having trouble paying your debts, it is important to take action sooner rather than later. Doing nothing leads to much larger problems in the future, whether it's a bad credit record or bankruptcy resulting in the loss of assets and even your home. If you're in financial trouble, then these steps will help you to avoid financial ruin in the future.

If you've accumulated a large amount of debt and are having difficulty paying your bills each month, now is the time to take action - before the bill collectors start calling.

1. Review each debt. Make sure that the debt creditors claim you owe is actually what you owe and that the amount is correct. If you dispute a debt, first contact the creditor directly to resolve your questions. If you still have questions about the debt, contact your state or local consumer protection office or, in cases of serious creditor abuse, your state Attorney General.

2. Contact your creditors. Let your creditors know you are having difficulty making your payments. Tell them why you are having trouble, perhaps it is because you recently lost your job or have unexpected medical bills. Try to work out an acceptable payment schedule with your creditors. Most are willing to work with you and will appreciate your honesty and forthrightness.

Most automobile financing agreements permit your creditor to repossess your car any time you are in default, with no advance notice. If your car is repossessed, you may have to pay the full balance due on the loan, as well as towing and storage costs, to get it back. Do not wait until you are in default. Try to solve the problem with your creditor when you realize you will not be able to meet your payments. It may be better to sell the car yourself and pay off your debt than to incur the added costs of repossession.

3. Budget your expenses. Create a spending plan that allows you to reduce your debts. Itemize your necessary expenses (such as housing and healthcare) and optional expenses (such as entertainment and vacation travel). Stick to the plan.

4. Try to reduce your expenses. Cut out any unnecessary spending such as eating out and purchasing expensive entertainment. Consider taking public transportation or using a car-sharing service rather than owning a car. Clip coupons, purchase generic products at the supermarket and avoid impulse purchases. Above all, stop incurring new debt. Leave your credit cards at home. Pay for all purchases in cash or use a debit card instead of a credit card.

5. Pay down and consolidate your debts. Withdrawing savings from low-interest accounts to settle high-rate loans or credit card debt usually makes sense. In addition, there are several ways to pay off high-interest loans, such as credit cards, by getting a refinancing or consolidation loan, such as a second mortgage. Keep in mind, however, that second mortgages greatly increase the risk that you may lose your home.

Be wary of any loan consolidations or other refinancing that actually increase interest owed, or require payments of points or large fees.

You can regain financial health if you act responsibly. But don't wait until bankruptcy court is your only option. If you're having financial troubles, help is just a phone call away.

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Starting a Home-Based Business

More than half of all businesses today are home-based. Every day, people are striking out and achieving economic and creative independence by turning their skills into dollars. Garages, basements, and attics are being transformed into the corporate headquarters of the newest entrepreneurs - home-based business people.

And, with technological advances in smartphones, tablets, and iPads as well as rising demand for "service-oriented" businesses, the opportunities seem to be endless.

Is a Home-Based Business Right for You?

Choosing a home business is like choosing a spouse or partner: Think carefully before starting the business. Instead of plunging right in, take the time to learn as much about the market for any product or service as you can. Before you invest any time, effort, or money take a few moments to answer the following questions:

  • Can you describe in detail the business you plan on establishing?
  • What will be your product or service?
  • Is there a demand for your product or service?
  • Can you identify the target market for your product or service?
  • Do you have the talent and expertise needed to compete successfully?

Before you dive headfirst into a home-based business, you must know why you are doing it and how you will do it. To achieve success your business must be based on something greater than a desire to be your own boss and involves an honest assessment of your personality, an understanding of what's involved, and a lot of hard work. You have to be willing to plan for the long-term and be willing to make improvements and adjustments along the way.

While there are no "best" or "right" reasons for starting a home-based business, it is vital to have a very clear idea of what you are getting into and why. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a self-starter?
  • Can you stick to business if you're working at home?
  • Do you have the necessary self-discipline to maintain schedules?
  • Can you deal with the isolation of working from home?

Working under the same roof that your family lives under may not prove to be as easy as it seems. It is important that you work in a professional environment. If at all possible, you should set up a separate office in your home. You must consider whether your home has space for a business and whether you can successfully run the business from your home. If so, you may qualify for a tax break called the home office deduction. Please call if you'd like more information about this tax break or to find out if you qualify for the deduction.

Compliance with Laws and Regulations

A home-based business is subject to many of the same laws and regulations affecting other businesses, and you will be responsible for complying with them. There are some general areas to watch out for, but be sure to consult an attorney and your state department of labor to find out which laws and regulations will affect your business.

Zoning

Be aware of your city's zoning regulations. If your business operates in violation of them, you could be fined or closed down.

Restrictions on Certain Goods

Certain products may not be produced in the home. Most states outlaw home production of fireworks, drugs, poisons, sanitary or medical products, and toys. Some states also prohibit home-based businesses from making food, drink, or clothing.

Registration and Accounting Requirements

You may need the following:

  • Work certificate or a license from the state (your business's name may also need to be registered with the state)
  • Sales tax number
  • Separate business telephone
  • Separate business bank account

If your business has employees, you are responsible for withholding income, social security, and Medicare taxes, as well as complying with minimum wage and employee health and safety laws.

Planning Techniques

Money fuels all businesses. With a little planning, you'll find that you can avoid most financial difficulties. When drawing up a financial plan, don't worry about using estimates. The process of thinking through these questions helps develop your business skills and leads to solid financial planning.

Estimating Start-Up Costs

To estimate your start-up costs include all initial expenses such as fees, licenses, permits, telephone deposit, tools, office equipment, and promotional expenses. In addition, business experts say you should not expect a profit for the first eight to ten months, so be sure to give yourself enough of a cushion if you need it.

Projecting Operating Expenses

Include salaries, utilities, office supplies, loan payments, taxes, legal services, and insurance premiums, and don't forget to include your normal living expenses. Your business must not only meet its own needs but make sure it meets yours as well.

Projecting Income

One of the most important skills you will need is knowing how to estimate your sales on a daily and monthly basis. From the sales estimates, you can develop projected income statements, break-even points, and cash-flow statements. Use your marketing research to estimate the initial sales volume.

Determining Cash Flow

Working capital - not profits - pays your bills. Even though your assets may look great on the balance sheet, if your cash is tied up in receivables or equipment, your business is technically insolvent. In other words, you're broke.

Make a list of all anticipated expenses and projected income for each week and month. If you see a cash-flow crisis developing, cut back on everything but the necessities.

If a home-based business is in your future, then a tax professional can help. Don't hesitate to call if you need assistance setting-up your business or making sure you have the proper documentation in place to satisfy the IRS.

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Standard Mileage Rates for 2020

Starting January 1, 2020, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck are as follows:

  • 57.5 cents per mile driven for business use, down one half of a cent from the rate for 2019
  • 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down three cents from the rate for 2019, and
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

The business mileage rate decreased one half of a cent for business travel driven and three cents for medical and certain moving expense from the rates for 2019. The charitable rate is set by statute and remains unchanged.

The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile, including depreciation, insurance, repairs, tires, maintenance, gas, and oil. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs, such as gas and oil. The charitable rate is set by law.

Taxpayers always have the option of claiming deductions based on the actual costs of using a vehicle rather than the standard mileage rates.

Prior to tax reform, these optional standard mileage rates were used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes. However, it is important to note that under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers cannot claim a miscellaneous itemized deduction for unreimbursed employee travel expenses. Taxpayers also cannot claim a deduction for moving expenses, except members of the Armed Forces on active duty moving under orders to a permanent change of station.

A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for more than five vehicles used simultaneously. Please call if you need additional information about these and other special rules.

If you have any questions about standard mileage rates or which driving activities you should keep track of as the new tax year begins, do not hesitate to contact the office.

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Reminder: Use Correct Forms to Pay Employment Taxes

Small business owners are reminded to review the rules for filing two commonly-used employment tax returns: Form 944, Employer's Annual Federal Tax Return and Form 941, Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return.

A small business files one or the other; these two forms are not interchangeable and the employer should never flip-flop between the two forms on their own. They should always file in accordance with their designated filing requirements. Let's take a look at the differences between these forms.

Form 944, Employer's Annual Federal Tax Return

This form is for our smallest employers to file and pay the above-mentioned taxes only once a year, instead of quarterly. While this form is intended for employers who owe $1,000 or less, employers can't file Form 944 unless they receive official IRS notification that they are eligible to do so.

Once the employer receives notice they can file Form 944, they must file this form every year. They must continue to file Form 944, regardless of the tax they owe, unless the IRS notifies them differently.

Form 941, Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return

Employers use Form 941 to report income taxes withheld from employee's paychecks and pay the employer's portion of Social Security or Medicare tax. In addition, if the IRS advises the employer to file Form 941 quarterly return, they must do so.

If you're a small business owner who isn't sure which form they should file, don't hesitate to call.

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Opportunity Zone Guidance Finalized

Final regulations were recently issued regarding details about investment in qualified opportunity zones (QOZ) that modified and finalized proposed regulations for QOFs and QOZ businesses that were previously issued on October 28, 2018, and May 1, 2019.

The final regulations provide additional guidance for taxpayers who are eligible to make an election to temporarily defer the inclusion in gross income of certain eligible gain. The final regulations also address the ability of such taxpayers' eligibility to increase the basis in their qualifying investment equal to the fair market value of the investment on the date that it is sold, after holding the equity interest for at least 10 years.

Here's what it means for taxpayers investing in qualified opportunity zones:

The statute permits the deferral of all or part of a gain that would otherwise be included in income if corresponding amounts are invested into a QOF. The gain is deferred until an inclusion event or Dec. 31, 2026, whichever is earlier.

Furthermore, the final regulations provide a list of inclusion events and provide guidance that allows taxpayers to determine the amount of income that must be included at the time of the inclusion event or December 31, 2026.

Also addressed are the various requirements that must be met to qualify as a QOF, as well as the requirements that an entity must meet to qualify as a QOZ business. Specifically, how an entity becomes a QOF or QOZ business and the rules regarding the requirement that a QOF or QOZ business engage in a trade or business.

The final regulations also retain the general approach of the proposed regulations while providing additional guidance and clarification regarding the rules regarding QOZ business property.

Related forms, instructions, and other information taxpayers need to take advantage of this update are available in January 2020. For more information about this and other TCJA provisions, please contact the office for assistance.

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Tax Planning Includes Keeping Good Records

It's January and tax season is right around the corner. For many people that means scrambling to collect receipts, mileage logs, and other tax-related documents needed to prepare their tax returns. If this describes you, chances are, you're wishing you'd kept on top of it during the year so you could avoid this scenario yet again. With this in mind, here are seven suggestions to help taxpayers like you keep good records throughout the year:

1. Taxpayers should develop a system that keeps all their important info together. They can use a software program for electronic recordkeeping. They could also store paper documents in labeled folders.

2. Throughout the year, they should add tax records to their files as they receive them. Having records readily at hand makes preparing a tax return easier.

3. It may also help them discover potentially overlooked deductions or credits. Taxpayers should notify the IRS if their address changes. They should also notify the Social Security Administration of a legal name change to avoid a delay in processing their tax return.

4. Records that taxpayers should keep include receipts, canceled checks, and other documents that support income, a deduction, or a credit on a tax return.

5. Taxpayers should also keep records relating to property they dispose of or sell. They must keep these records to figure their basis for computing gain or loss.

6. In general, the IRS suggests that taxpayers keep records for three years from the date they filed the return.

7. For business taxpayers, there's no particular method of bookkeeping they must use. However, taxpayers should find a method that clearly and accurately reflects their gross income and expenses. The records should confirm income and expenses. Taxpayers who have employees must keep all employment tax records for at least four years after the tax is due or paid, whichever is later.

Well-organized records make it easier for taxpayers to prepare their tax returns. Good recordkeeping also helps provides answers in the event that a taxpayer's return is selected for examination or if the taxpayer receives an IRS notice. If you need help setting up a recordkeeping system that works for you, don't hesitate to call.

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Watch Out for Gift Card Scams

There's never an off-season when it comes to scammers and thieves who want to trick people to scam them out of money, steal their personal information, or talk them into engaging in questionable behavior with their taxes. While scam attempts typically peak during tax season, taxpayers need to remain vigilant all year long. For example, gift card scams are currently on the rise and there are many reports of taxpayers being asked to pay a fake tax bill through the purchase of gift cards.

Here's a typical scenario:

  • Someone posing as an IRS agent calls the taxpayer and informs them their identity has been stolen.
  • The fake agent says the taxpayer's identify was used to open fake bank accounts.
  • The caller tells the taxpayer to buy gift cards from various stores and await further instructions.
  • The scammer then contacts the taxpayer again telling them to provide the gift cards' access numbers.

Scammers are continuously perfecting their tricks and sometimes it is difficult to determine if it is really the IRS calling. Keeping this in mind, taxpayers should be reminded that the IRS will never do the following:

Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. Demand that taxpayers pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they owe. All taxpayers should be aware of their rights. Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying. Revoke the taxpayer's driver's license, business licenses, or immigration status.

People who believe they've been targeted by a scammer should contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report a phone scam. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page or call 800-366-4484. Phone scams should also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov and make sure to add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes. Unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS-related component like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, should be reported to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov and be sure to add "IRS Phone Scam" to the subject line.

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How to Clean up QuickBooks for 2020

Yes, it's here again: a new year. Whether you have a few tasks left or have already closed out the books for 2019, it's always good to double-check everything and make sure that you have:

  • Processed every 2019 transaction (or that you know why you can't).
  • Dealt with all your 2019 financial data to give you a sense of closure.
  • Started your 2020 QuickBooks activities with a clean slate.

First Things First

Before you start looking at transactions and running reports, check to make sure that your fiscal year is recorded correctly in QuickBooks. Open the Company menu and select My Company. Click the pencil icon in the upper right to open the Company Information window, then click Report Information in the tabs to the left. This window opens:


Figure 1: Is your company's fiscal year recorded correctly in QuickBooks? If not, please call. Don't try to fix this on your own.

Account for All of Your Income

You certainly want to have received all the money owed to you by December 31 if at all possible. So, run a report to see which customers have outstanding, overdue balances. Open the Reports menu and select Customers & Receivables | A/R Aging Summary.

The first column here will read Current. You don't have to worry about these customers. It’s the next four columns that will require follow-up. If your default payment terms are 30 days, you'll see columns for 1-30, 31-60, 61-90, and >90. Customers with dollar amounts in those columns have not met their obligations and are past due by those date ranges.

Note: If your default terms are different (like 15 days), you'll need to customize the report. In the toolbar at the top, you'll see a field labeled Interval (days). Change it to reflect your own default terms and click Refresh in the upper right corner.

If your report contains only a sea of zeroes in those four columns, everyone is paid up. If not, you can send statements to anyone who is at least one day past due to remind them of what they owe. Open the Customers menu and select Create Statements to see this window:


Figure 2: Partial view of the Create Statements window.

Make sure the Statement Date is correct since QuickBooks will use this to calculate aging. Then you can either enter a specific Statement Period or request All open transactions as of Statement Date. If you choose the latter, you'll most likely want to limit the statements to customers whose payments are overdue. So, you'd click in the box in front ofInclude only transactions over [your number here] days past due date.

Below these options, you'll be able to indicate which customers should receive statements. The most common choice is All Customers (who fall into the group you just defined), but you can also send to one or multiple customers, for example. QuickBooks will display a list if you select one of these. The right pane of this window contains several additional options that you can check or uncheck. When you're satisfied, you can Preview, Print, or E-mail the statements.

Pay Outstanding Bills

You should also try to settle your Accounts Payable before the end of the year. Open the Reports menu and select Vendors & Payables | A/P Aging Summary. Look for dollar amounts in the columns that show aging beyond the first column. You can also run the Unpaid Bills Detail report and look at the Aging column, as pictured here:


Figure 3: Look in the aging column of this report to see which bills are past due and by how many days.

Note:
QuickBooks has multiple Preferences that relate to reports and aging. We can go over these with you if you haven't explored them.

If there are other tasks you have not completed yet because you need assistance with them, such as reconciling all accounts, running year-end reports, and clearing any deposits that remain in the Undeposited Funds account, don't hesitate to call.

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Tax Due Dates for January 2020

During January

All employers - Give your employees their copies of Form W-2 for 2019 by January 31, 2020. If an employee agreed to receive Form W-2 electronically, post it on a website accessible to the employee and notify the employee of the posting by January 31.

January 10

Employees - who work for tips. If you received $20 or more in tips during December 2019, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070, Employee's Report of Tips to Employer.

January 15

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in December 2019.

Individuals - Make a payment of your estimated tax for 2019 if you did not pay your income tax for the year through withholding (or did not pay in enough tax that way). Use Form 1040-ES. This is the final installment date for 2019 estimated tax. However, you do not have to make this payment if you file your 2019 return (Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR) and pay any tax due by January 31, 2020.

Employers - Nonpayroll Withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in December 2019.

Farmers and Fisherman - Pay your estimated tax for 2019 using Form 1040-ES. You have until April 15 to file your 2019 income tax return (Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR). If you do not pay your estimated tax by January 15, you must file your 2019 return and pay any tax due by March 2, 2020, to avoid an estimated tax penalty.

January 31

Employers - Federal unemployment tax. File Form 940 for 2019. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you already deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

Farm Employers - File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2019. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

Certain Small Employers - File Form 944 to report Social Security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2019. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is $2,500 or more from 2019 but less than $2,500 for the fourth quarter, deposit any undeposited tax or pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2019. Deposit any undeposited tax. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

Employers - Nonpayroll taxes. File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2019 on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, gambling winnings, and payments of Indian gaming profits to tribal members. Deposit any undeposited tax. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

Payers of Gambling Winnings - If you either paid reportable gambling winnings or withheld income tax from gambling winnings, give the winners their copies of Form W-2G.

Employers - Give your employees their copies of Form W-2 for 2019. If an employee agreed to receive Form W-2 electronically, post it on a website accessible to the employee and notify the employee.

Businesses - Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments made during 2019. You can use the appropriate version of Form 1099 or other information return. Form 1099 can be issued electronically with the consent of the recipient. This due date only applies to certain types of payments.

Individuals - who must make estimated tax payments. If you did not pay your last installment of estimated tax by January 15, you may choose (but are not required) to file your income tax return (Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR) for 2019 by January 31. Filing your return and paying any tax due by January 31, 2020, prevents any penalty for late payment of the last installment. If you cannot file and pay your tax by January 31, file and pay your tax by April 15, 2020.


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