Jonathan M. Luse Sr., Inc.
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Tax reform discussions continue on Capitol Hill with legislation expected to be released very soon. GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate appear to be aiming for a comprehensive overhaul of the Tax Code. President Trump and Republicans in Congress have set out an ambitious schedule of passing a tax reform bill before year-end. 


Year-end tax planning can provide most taxpayers with a good way to lower a tax bill that will otherwise be waiting for them when they file their 2017 tax return in 2018. Since tax liability is primarily keyed to each calendar tax year, once December 31, 2017 passes, your 2017 tax liability for the most part – good or bad – will mostly be set in stone.


As the 2018 filing season nears, the IRS is reminding taxpayers that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains on the books. The ACA’s reporting requirements for individuals have not been changed by Congress. At the same time, the Trump Administration has proposed administrative changes to the ACA, which could expand health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), the use of short-term, limited duration health insurance, and association health plans.


Holiday gifts made to customers are generally deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses as long as the taxpayer can demonstrate that such gifts maintain or improve customer goodwill. Such gifts must bear a direct relationship to the taxpayer's business and must be made with a reasonable expectation of a financial return commensurate with the amount of the gift. However, the $25 annual limitation per recipient on deductibility is applicable to holiday gifts, unless a statutory exceptions applies.


For purposes of federal tax, employers must withhold and pay FICA taxes (7.65%) if they paid a household employee cash wages of at least $2,000 in 2016 or in 2017 ($2,100 in 2018). Employers must pay FUTA tax (6%) if they paid total cash wages of at least $1,000 in a calendar quarter to household employees. A homeowner may be an “employer” to a housekeeper; or, if enough evidence is shown, merely a recipient of services by an independent contractor or self-employed individual.


As an individual or business, it is your responsibility to be aware of and to meet your tax filing/reporting deadlines. This calendar summarizes important federal tax reporting and filing data for individuals, businesses and other taxpayers for the month of November 2017.


Q: After what period is my federal tax return safe from audit? A: Generally, the time-frame within which the IRS can examine a federal tax return you have filed is three years. To be more specific, Code Sec. 6501 states that the IRS has three years from the later of the deadline for filing the return (usually April 15th for individuals) or, if later, the date you actually filed the return on a requested filing extension or otherwise. This means that if you file your 2014 return on July 10, 2015, the IRS will have until July 10, 2018 to look at it and "assess a deficiency;" not April 15, 2018.


Many people are surprised to learn that some "luxury" items can be deductible business expenses. Of course, moderation is key. Excessive spending is sure to attract the IRS's attention. As some recent high-profile court cases have shown, the government isn't timid in its crackdown on business owners using company funds for personal travel and entertainment.

Loans without interest or at below-market interest rates are recharacterized so that lenders must recognize market-rate interest income. Below-market loans are loans for which a rate of interest that is lower than the applicable federal rate (AFR) -a traditional interest benchmark issued each month by the Treasury Department-- is charged.

Entertaining business clients and employees at sports events or arts performances can be good for the bottom line; and tax deductible, too. Whether to maintain contacts with existing customers, woo new business, or reward your employees; footing the bill at the ball game or hosting an evening at the theater can go a long way to generate positive returns.

You should beware of fancy footwork when it comes to estimating, filing, and paying federal taxes. One misstep can lead to harsh penalties. Willful or fraudulent mistakes can generate criminal sanctions as well.

No, taxpayers may destroy the original hardcopy of books and records and the original computerized records detailing the expenses of a business if they use an electronic storage system.

Is a property transfer to your child or other minor a possible event on your horizon? If it is, just don't cover yourself on the tax consequences of such transfers. There are important legal considerations over and above the transfer's tax impact.

Q: An extension to file my tax return seems such a painless procedure, is there any good reason for me not to postpone my filing deadline to avoid just one more hassle during the busy start of Spring?


It's always nice to have extra cash lying around in your business. Say you've had a good year, but you want to wait awhile before plowing the profits back into the business. Are there any potential tax problems involved if you keep that extra cash in your business' investment account rather than withdrawing it to put in your own personal portfolio? You bet there are ... if you operate your business as a regular taxable corporation.


Q. My husband and I have a housekeeper come in to clean once a week; and someone watches our children for about 10 hours over the course of each week to free up our time for chores. Are there any tax problems here that we are missing?


Have you ever thought about distributions of property dividends (rather than cash dividends) from your corporation?  In some situations, it makes sense to distribute property in lieu of cash for a variety of reasons. However, before you make the decision as to the form of any distributions from your company, you should consider the various tax consequences of such distributions.


Throughout all of our lives, we have been told that if we don't want to work all of our life, we must plan ahead and save for retirement. We have also been urged to seek professional guidance to help plan our estates so that we can ensure that our loved ones will get the most out of the assets we have accumulated during our lifetime, with the least amount possible going to pay estate taxes.  What many of us likely have not thought about is how these two financial goals -- retirement and estate planning -- work together. 


Q: The holidays are approaching and I would like to consider giving gifts of appreciation to my employees. What kinds of gifts can I give my employees that they would not have to declare as income on their tax returns?I also would like to make sure my company would be able to deduct the costs of these gifts.

Dual-income families are commonplace these days, however, some couples are discovering that their second income may not be worth the added aggravation and effort. After taking into consideration daycare expenses, commuting expenses, the countless take-out meals, and additional clothing costs, many are surprised at how much (or how little) of that second income is actually hitting their bank account.


Although the old adage warns against doing business with friends or relatives, many of us do, especially where personal or real property is involved. While the IRS generally takes a very discerning look at most financial transactions between family members, you can avoid some of the common tax traps if you play by a few simple rules.


Employers are required by the Internal Revenue Code to calculate, withhold, and deposit with the IRS all federal employment taxes related to wages paid to employees. Failure to comply with these requirements can find certain "responsible persons" held personally liable. Who is a responsible person for purposes of employment tax obligations? The broad interpretation defined by the courts and the IRS may surprise you.


When it comes to legal separation or divorce, there are many complex situations to address. A divorcing couple faces many important decisions and issues regarding alimony, child support, and the fair division of property. While most courts and judges will not factor in the impact of taxes on a potential property settlement or cash payments, it is important to realize how the value of assets transferred can be materially affected by the tax implications.


Q. I have a professional services firm and am considering hiring my wife to help out with some of the administrative tasks in the office. I don't think we'll have a problem working together but I would like to have more information about the tax aspects of such an arrangement before I make the leap. What are some of the tax advantages of hiring my spouse?


An attractive benefit package is crucial to attract and retain talented workers. However, the expense of such packages can be cost-prohibitive to a small business. Establishing a tax-advantaged cafeteria plan can be an innovative way to provide employees with additional benefits without significantly adding to the cost of your overall benefit program.


Keeping the family business in the family upon the death or retirement of the business owner is not as easy as one would think. In fact, almost 30% of all family businesses never successfully pass to the next generation. What many business owners do not know is that many problems can be avoided by developing a sound business succession plan in advance.


If you use your home computer for business purposes, knowing that you can deduct some or all of its costs can help ease the pain of the large initial and ongoing cash outlays. However, there are some tricky IRS rules that you should consider before taking - or forgoing - a deduction for home computer costs.


Starting your own small business can be hectic - yet fun and personally fulfilling. As you work towards opening the doors, don't let the onerous task of keeping the books rain on your parade. With a little planning upfront and a promise to "keep it simple", you can get an effective system up and running in no time.


Business travel expenses are not created equal - some special rules apply to certain types of expenditures. Before you pack your bags for your next business trip, make sure that you have planned ahead to optimize your business travel deductions.


Q. A large portion of my portfolio is invested in Internet stocks and with the recent market downturn, I've accumulated some substantial losses on certain stocks. Although I think these stocks will eventually turn around, I'd love to use some of those losses to offset gains from other stocks I'd like to sell. From a tax standpoint, can I sell stock at a loss and then turn around and immediately buy it back?


An important IRS ruling shows how the use of trusts to hold personal assets can sometimes backfire if all tax factors are not considered. This ruling also drives home the fact that tax rules may change after assets have already been locked into a trust for a long period of time, making trusts sometimes inflexible in dealing with changing tax opportunities.


Q. The recent upturn in home values has left me with quite a bit of equity in my home. I would like to tap into this equity to pay off my credit cards and make some major home improvements. If I get a home equity loan, will the interest I pay be fully deductible on my tax return?


Q. My wife and I are both retired and are what you might call "social gamblers". We like to play bingo and buy lottery tickets, and take an occasional trip to Las Vegas to play the slot machines. Are we required to report all of our winnings on our tax return? Can we deduct our losses?


Probably one of the more difficult decisions you will have to make as a consumer is whether to buy or lease your auto. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of buying vs. leasing a new car or truck before you get to the car dealership can ease the decision-making process and may alleviate unpleasant surprises later.


Q. Last year I underwent a number of elective surgical procedures and would like to deduct the cost of these expensive procedures on my personal tax return. What are the criteria for medical expenses to be deductible? Do they have to exceed a certain dollar amount?


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