ETNs Have Different Structures With Varying Tax Treatment

May 17, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Exchange-traded notes (ETNs) are structured either as debt securities or prepaid executory contracts, and that makes a critical difference in tax treatment.

“The tax treatment of ETNs is often complicated to determine,” said New York City tax attorney Roger D. Lorence. “You have to review the tax section of each prospectus. In many cases, the offering is an undivided interest in the underlying positions, such as futures, so that the ETN is not an interest in an entity nor itself a security. However, other ETNs are structured as a debt instrument, usually with leverage concerning some index (such as natural gas futures).

ETNs structured as debt securities are taxed similarly to other securities with the realization method for capital gain or loss. (Realization is when you sell the security.) They are subject to Section 1091 wash-sale loss adjustments, which can raise tax liabilities. (Scroll to the end of the blog for more on wash-sale loss adjustments.) Section 475 ordinary gain or loss treatment should apply to these debt securities, too, if the trader qualifies for trader tax status (TTS) and makes the election on time.

ETNs organized as prepaid executory contracts (also referred to as prepaid forward contracts) are not securities. They calculate a rate of return or interest rate based on the movement of an underlying financial instrument, futures index, or equities index. The ETN holder does not own the underlying instrument or index. This can have a significant impact on tax liabilities, as it likely means that Sections 1091 wash sales and 475 MTM should not apply to them. ETN prospectuses say they don’t address Sections 1091 and 475.

Report the sale or exchange of ETNs organized as prepaid executory contracts when realized as short-term and long-term capital gains and losses, except currency ETNs which are ordinary gain or loss treatment.

The problem
Here’s the problem when it comes time to preparing tax returns: Most brokers categorize all types of ETNs as securities on 1099-Bs and make wash-sale loss adjustments. Those adjustments might defer tax losses to the subsequent year, thereby raising tax liabilities. When it comes to ETN prepaid executory contracts, consider deviating from the 1099-B to reverse out wash-sale loss adjustments on these ETNs. Explain why in a tax return footnote. If this presents a significant change in tax liability, consider obtaining a “substantial authority” letter from a tax attorney to support the tax filing. The broker carries over these wash sale loss adjustments as an increase in cost basis in the subsequent year, so don’t forget to reverse that, too. Deviating from 1099-Bs raises complications, so consult a tax advisor.

Options on ETNs: There is a similar problem with CBOE-listed options on volatility ETNs and ETFs. Many broker 1099-Bs classify these options as securities, but there is substantial authority to treat them as non-equity options, which are Section 1256 contracts. As Section 1256 contracts, they are not subject to wash-sale loss adjustments and qualify for lower 60/40 capital gains tax rates. (See How To Apply Lower Tax Rates To Volatility Options, Tax Treatment For Exchange Traded Notes.)

ETN debt securities prospectus
See the Credit Suisse Velocity Shares prospectus applicable to ETN symbol XIV and five related volatility ETNs. Here are excerpts from pages 75-76:

“Debt Securities U.S. Holder Payments or Accruals of Interest Payments or accruals of ‘qualified stated interest’ (as defined below) on a debt security will be taxable to you as ordinary interest income at the time that you receive or accrue such amounts (in accordance with your regular method of tax accounting).

Purchase, Sale and Retirement of Debt Securities: When you sell or exchange a debt security, or if a debt security that you hold is retired, you generally will recognize gain or loss equal to the difference between the amount you realize on the transaction (less any accrued qualified stated interest, which will be subject to tax in the manner described above under Payments or Accruals of Interest) and your tax basis in the debt security.”

ETN prepaid executory contracts prospectus
Among the most-popular traded ETN symbols are VXX, VXZ, XVZ, all prepaid executory contracts issued by iPath. According to IPathETN.com U.S. Federal Income Tax Considerations, “For U.S. federal income tax purposes, Barclays Bank PLC and investors agree to treat all iPath ETNs, except certain currency ETNs, as prepaid executory contracts with respect to the relevant index. If such iPath ETNs are so treated, investors should recognize gain or loss upon the sale, redemption or maturity of their iPath ETNs in an amount equal to the difference between the amount they receive at such time and their tax basis in the securities. Investors generally agree to treat such gain or loss as capital gain or loss, except with respect to those iPath ETNs for which investors agree to treat such gain or loss as ordinary, as detailed in the chart below.”

The UBS Velocity Shares prospectus applicable to EVIX and EXIV states: “In the opinion of our counsel, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, the Securities should be treated as a pre-paid forward contract…”

Volatility ETN products
In order of volume http://etfdb.com/etfdb-category/volatility/

- iPath S&P 500 VIX ST Futures ETN (VXX) – Prepaid*
- iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXXB) – Prepaid
- iPath S&P 500 VIX Mid-Term Futures ETN (VXZ) – Prepaid
- iPath S&P 500 Dynamic VIX ETN (XVZ) – Prepaid
- iPath Series B S&P 500® VIX Mid-Term Futures ETN (VXZB) – Prepaid
- Credit Suisse VelocityShares Daily Long VIX Short-Term ETN (VIIX) – Debt**
- UBS VelocityShares VIX Short Volatility Hedged ETN (XIVH) – Debt
- UBS VelocityShares 1X Daily Inverse VSTOXX Futures ETN (EXIV) – Prepaid
- UBS VelocityShares VIX Variable Long/Short ETN (LSVX) – Debt
- UBS VelocityShares VIX Tail Risk ETN (BSWN) – Debt
- UBS VelocityShares 1X Long VSTOXX Futures ETN (EVIX) – Prepaid
Listed on securities exchanges: NYSE, Nasdaq, or Bats.

*Prepaid: The iPath volatility ETNs are prepaid executory contracts
**Debt: a debt security

Tax attorney weighs in
Lorence takes a look at the prospectus for the UGAZ ETN by Credit Suisse, which states that the offerings are short-term debt obligations, longer-term debt obligations, and warrants.

“The debt obligations are clearly described by tax counsel as producing interest income and similar interest-type income (e.g., market discount),” Lorence said. “Debt obligations are classified as securities for Section 1091; although there are issues about whether some commodities offerings, such as futures, are also securities, the UGAZ debt obligations would be securities for Section 1091. Wash sale rules for debt securities limit the substantially identicality of debt obligations by requiring that they be essentially the same bond for market value purposes (e.g., same issuer, same or virtually the same coupon and maturity). In all cases dealing with ETNs and ETFs, I have found these just to be marketing labels, and the tax consequences have to be found in the tax disclosure in the prospectus.”

Wash sale loss adjustments
Congress doesn’t want taxpayers to realize “tax losses” that are not “economic losses.” If you close a securities transaction and re-open it right away, you haven’t closed your financial position in that security. At year-end, many taxpayers do “tax loss selling” of securities in December, and the IRS wash sale rules defer the loss if the taxpayer re-purchases a substantially identical position within 30 days before or after, which means into January of the subsequent year. Thirty days is an eternity for day and swing traders. (Learn more about wash sales.)

See my earlier blog posts: How To Apply Lower Tax Rates To Volatility OptionsTax Treatment For Exchange Traded Notes and Tax Treatment For Volatility Products Including ETNs.

Darren Neuschwander CPA contributed to this blog post.

 

 

 

 

 


Accounting Method Impacts Crypto Income Taxes

April 10, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Many crypto traders face massive tax bills for 2017. Which accounting method they apply could change their tax bills by tens of thousands of dollars.

Specific identification vs. FIFO
The IRS wants the “specific identification” (SI) accounting method used on property transactions, which applies to crypto. SI requires “adequate identification” of units sold, but most crypto traders cannot comply with these formal IRS regulations.

Many crypto traders and accountants use the alternative “first in first out” (FIFO) accounting method. FIFO is reliable and practical. A side benefit of FIFO is longer holding periods with potential qualification for long-term capital gains tax at 0%, 15%, and 20% graduated rates.

But FIFO likely raised tax bills for many crypto traders in 2017, because coin prices rose dramatically during the year. Selling coins purchased at lower prices (cost basis), increased 2017 capital gains. Many traders held significant amounts of crypto at year-end, embedded with higher cost-basis. If these traders complied with SI adequate identification rules, they might have reduced capital gains income by choosing higher-cost lots for sale.

Special IRS rule for securities
Thomson Reuters tax publishers explains the FIFO rule as follows:

“Except for stock for which the average basis method is available (i.e., mutual fund shares), if a taxpayer sells or transfers corporate stock that the taxpayer purchased or acquired on different dates or at different prices, and the taxpayer doesn’t adequately identify the lot from which the stock is sold or transferred, the stock sold or transferred is charged against the earliest lot purchased or acquired to determine the basis and holding period of the stock.

“An adequate identification is made if the taxpayer, ‘at the time of the sale or transfer,’ specifies what particular shares are to be sold or transferred and, within a reasonable time after that, the broker or other agent confirms the specification in a written document. In this event, the taxpayer’s instruction prevails even though delivery was actually made from a different lot. Stock identified under this rule is considered to be the stock sold or transferred by the taxpayer, even if stock certificates from a different lot are actually delivered to the taxpayer’s transferee. For this purpose, an adequate identification of stock is made at the time of sale, transfer, delivery or distribution if the identification is made no later than the earlier of the settlement date or the time for settlement required by Rule 15c6-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. A standing order or instruction for the specific identification of stock is treated as an adequate identification made at the time of sale, transfer, delivery or distribution.”

The tax court and IRS relaxed SI rules in some cases, but more stringent IRS regulations remain the law. In Concord Instruments Corp, (1994) TC Memo 1994-248, per Thomson Reuters,

“Taxpayer had maintained cost records of each lot of stock that was purchased, the date of purchase, and the price per share. T’s accountant used these records to prepare T’s income tax returns. To compute the gain from T’s stock sales, the specific identification method was used and the highest cost shares were treated as sold first. The court concluded that Taxpayer had sufficiently identified the stock sold to avoid the FIFO method of reporting the gains.”

The tax court allowed oral communication by the trader to the broker and the court relaxed the broker rules for providing contemporaneously written confirmation.

With high-speed trading on coin exchanges, it seems nearly impossible to comply with adequate identification rules for the SI accounting method. Crypto traders don’t use brokers; they trade online over coin exchanges without any communication between trader and exchange. Would the IRS consider this situation to be compliant with SI adequate identification rules? Maybe not.

New York tax attorney Roger D. Lorence says: “Given how longstanding this regulation is, I would describe it as having in effect the force of law.  The legal effect is to create a rebuttable presumption of its correctness; the presumption is overcome only upon the showing of strong proof.  Unless the cryptocurrency trader has contemporaneous records showing specific identification, if they are in the US Tax Court, they would be held to FIFO.”

AICPA weighs in
In June 2016, the AICPA asked the IRS if crypto traders could use FIFO as an alternative accounting method. (See Comments on Notice 2014-21: Virtual Currency Guidance.)

“Allow an alternative treatment under section 1012 (e.g., first in first out (FIFO)). The treatment of convertible virtual currency as noncash property means that any time virtual currency is used to acquire goods or services, a barter transaction takes place, and the parties need to know the fair market value (FMV) of the currency on that day. The party exchanging the virtual currency for the goods or services will need to also track the basis of all of his or her currency to determine if a gain or loss has occurred and whether it is a short-term or long-term transaction. This determination involves a significant amount of recordkeeping, even if the transaction is valued at under $10.

“Currently, there are no alternative tracking methods provided for such transactions (other than for securities under Treas. Reg. § 1.1012-1(c)). Therefore, taxpayers are required to specifically identify which virtual currency lot was used for each transaction in order to properly determine the gain or loss for that particular transaction. In many cases, it is impossible for a taxpayer to track which specific virtual currency was used for a particular transaction.”

Example of specific identification
A crypto trader bought 20 Bitcoins before 2017 at low prices. He bought 30 more Bitcoins between January and June 2017 at materially higher rates. In July 2017, he transferred the 30 Bitcoins purchased in 2017 to a coin exchange. He kept the original 20 in his wallet off-exchange. He adequately identified the 30 newer units for the trading. He used and complied with SI, and it saved him thousands of dollars in capital gains taxes compared to using FIFO.

Cherry picking
Choosing an option in a trade accounting program to cherry pick the highest cost basis for lowering capital gains after the fact is likely not acceptable to the IRS. “Last in first out” (LIFO) is also expected not acceptable.

File an extension
I suggest crypto traders file extensions for 2017 by April 17, 2018, to avoid late-filing penalties of 5% per month (up to a maximum of 25%). Hopefully, the IRS will issue new guidance addressing permissible accounting methods and their application in the real world of crypto trading.

Consult with a cryptocurrency trade accounting expert.

Darren Neuschwander CPA contributed to this blog post.

 


Cryptocurrencies: Trader Tax Status Benefits And Section 475 Issues

March 14, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Active cryptocurrency (coin) traders can qualify for trader tax status (TTS) to deduct trading business expenses and home-office deductions. TTS is essential in 2018: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended investment expenses, and the IRS does not permit employee benefit plan deductions on investment income. A TTS trader can write off health insurance premiums and retirement plan contributions by trading in an S-Corp with officer compensation.

The benefits of Section 475
There’s an additional critical tax benefit with TTS: Electing Section 475 mark-to-market accounting (MTM) on securities and/or commodities. Section 475 turns capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses thereby avoiding the $3,000 capital-loss limitation and wash-sale loss adjustments on securities (this is what I like to call “tax-loss insurance”). Many coin traders incurred substantial trading losses in Q1 2018, and they would prefer ordinary loss treatment to offset wage and other income. Unfortunately, most coin traders will be stuck with significant capital-loss carryforwards and higher tax liabilities.

There are benefits to 475 income, too. The new tax law ushered in a 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income (Section 199A), which likely includes Section 475 ordinary income, but excludes capital gains. Trading is a specified service activity, requiring the owner to have taxable income under a threshold of $315,000 (married) or $157,500 (other taxpayers). There is a phase-out range above the limit of $100,000 (married) and $50,000 (other taxpayers).

The IRS says cryptocurrency is intangible property
In March 2014, the IRS issued long-awaited guidance declaring coin “intangible property,” before regulators thoroughly assessed coin. Section 475 is for securities and commodities and does not mention intangible property. An AICPA task force on virtual currency asked the IRS for further guidance (AICPA letter), including if coin traders could use Section 475. The IRS has not yet replied. When an investor holds cryptocurrencies as a capital asset, they should report short-term vs. long-term capital gains and losses on Form 8949. (See Cryptocurrency Traders Owe Massive Taxes For 2017.)

SEC and CFTC weigh in
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently stated Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) might be securities offerings, which most likely need to register with the SEC. It further said coins or tokens might be securities, even if the ICO calls them something else. According to an SEC statement, “If a platform offers trading of digital assets that are securities and operates as an “exchange,” as defined by the federal securities laws, then the platform must register with the SEC as a national securities exchange or be exempt from registration.” (See SEC ICO information.)

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) defined cryptocurrencies as commodities in 2015. During a March 7, 2018, CNBC interview, Commissioner Brian Quintenz said the CFTC has enforcement authority, but not oversight authority, over cryptocurrencies traded in the spot market on coin exchanges. The CFTC has enforcement and oversight authority for derivatives traded on commodities exchanges, like Bitcoin futures.

Also on March 7, 2018, a U.S. district judge in New York ruled in favor of the CFTC, stating “virtual currencies can be regulated by CFTC as a commodity.” (See Cryptos Are Commodities, Rules US Judge In CFTC Case.)

Will the IRS change its mind?
There is a long-shot possibility the IRS could change its tune to treat cryptocurrency as a security and or a commodity as a result of recent actions from the SEC and CFTC, including the statements mentioned above. Then coin might fit into the definition of securities and/or commodities in Section 475. Until and unless the IRS updates its guidance, coin is intangible property, which is not listed in Section 475.

If you incurred substantial trading losses in cryptocurrencies in Q1 2018, and you qualify for TTS, you might want to consider making a protective 2018 Section 475 election on securities and commodities by April 17, 2018 (or by March 15 for partnerships and S-Corps). The IRS has a significant workload drafting regulations for the new tax law, and with limited resources, I don’t expect it to update coin guidance shortly.

There is a side effect of making a 475 election on commodities: If you also trade Section 1256 contracts, you surrender the lower 60/40 capital gains rates. Perhaps, you only trade coin and don’t care about Section 1256 contracts. If coin is deemed a commodity for tax purposes, it’s still likely not a Section 1256 contract unless it lists on a CFTC-registered qualified board or exchange (QBE). Coin exchanges or marketplaces are currently not QBE.

Section 475 provides for the proper segregation of investment positions on a contemporaneous basis, which means when you buy the position. If you have a substantial loss in coin that you’ve held onto for months before the sale, the IRS will likely consider it a capital loss on an investment position.

Bitcoin futures
Bitcoin futures trade on the CME and CBOE exchanges. The product appears to be a regulated futures contract (RFC) trading on a U.S. commodities exchange, meeting the tax definition of a Section 1256 contract. That means it also fits the description of a commodity in Section 475.

Section 1256 contracts have lower 60/40 capital gains tax rates, meaning 60% (including day trades) are taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate, and 40% are taxed at the short-term rate, which is the ordinary tax rate. Section 1256 is mark-to-market accounting, reporting unrealized gains and losses at year-end.

TTS traders usually elect 475 on securities only to retain these lower rates on Section 1256 contracts. A Section 1256 loss carryback election applies the loss against Section 1256 gains in the three prior tax years, and unused amounts are carried forward.

If a TTS trader has a substantial loss in Bitcoin futures, he or she should consider making a 2018 Section 475 election on commodities for ordinary loss treatment. (See Consider 475 Election By Tax Deadline To Save Thousands.)

Cryptocurrency investment trusts
According to Grayscale’s website, the company is “the sponsor of Bitcoin Investment Trust, Bitcoin Cash Investment Trust, Ethereum Investment Trust, Ethereum Classic Investment Trust, Litecoin Investment Trust, XRP Investment Trust and Zcash Investment Trust. The trusts are private investment vehicles, are NOT registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.” The Grayscale cryptocurrency investment trusts list on OTC markets.

According to its prospectus, Bitcoin Investment Trust is a Grantor Trust, a publicly traded trust (PTT). “Treatment of an interest in a grantor trust holding crypto assets means that you have to look through the trust envelope to the underlying positions,” says New York tax attorney Roger Lorence JD.

It’s similar to other PTTs; like the SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD) with long-term capital gains using the collectibles tax rate applicable to precious metals. With the look-through rule, the cryptocurrency investment trusts are subject to taxation as intangible property.

Excess business losses
The new tax law limits current year business losses to $500,000 (married) and $250,000 (other taxpayers) starting in 2018. The excess business loss carries forward as a net operating loss (NOL). In 2017, there wasn’t a limit, and taxpayers could carryback NOLs two tax years and/or forward 20 years. Section 475 losses often generated immediate tax refunds from NOL carryback returns. At least NOL carryforwards are better than capital loss carryovers.

Several coin traders face a tax trap
They had massive capital gains in 2017 and had not yet paid the IRS and state their 2017 taxes owed. Meanwhile, in Q1 2018, their coin portfolios significantly declined in value, and they incurred substantial trading losses. They now face a significant tax problem: They need to sell cryptocurrencies to raise cash to pay their 2017 tax liabilities due by April 17, 2018. That would leave many of them with little coin left to continue trading. They may choose to file their automatic extensions without tax payment or a small payment and incur a late-payment penalty of 0.5% per month by the extension due date of Oct. 15, 2018. They are banking on coin prices increasing and thereby generating trading gains by Oct. 15. It reminds me of trading on margin; only the bank (in this case, tax authorities) cannot force a sale now. (See Tax Extensions: 12 Tips To Save You Money.)

A Section 475 election is not a savior in this situation: Section 475 turns 2018 capital losses into ordinary losses on TTS positions, but the IRS no longer allows NOL carryback refunds. In prior years, a trader with this problem could hold the IRS at bay, promising to file an NOL carryback refund claim to offset taxes owed for 2017.

Mining inventory vs. capital assets
When a miner receives coin, it’s revenue. The net income after mining expenses is ordinary income and self-employment income. If the miner converts that coin from mining inventory to a capital asset, subsequent sales or exchanges of that coin are capital gains and losses, not ordinary income or loss. Most coin accounting programs assume a conversion to capital asset treatment takes place. However, a miner may not intend to convert coin to a capital asset, and instead leave the coin in inventory. A subsequent sale or exchange would then be an ordinary gain or loss as part of the mining business.

How to qualify for trader tax status
Are you unsure if you are eligible for TTS? Here are the GreenTraderTax golden rules for qualification based on an analysis of trader tax court cases and years of tax compliance experience.

- Volume: three to four trades per day. Don’t count when the coin exchange breaks down an order into multiple executions.
- Frequency: trade executions on 75% of available trading days. If you trade five days per week, you should have trade orders executed on close to four days per week.
- Holding period: The Endicott court required an average holding period of fewer than 31 days.
- Hours: at least four hours per day, including on research and administration.
- Taxable account size: material to net worth, and at least $15,000 during the year.
-Intention to make a primary or supplemental living. You can have another job or business, too.
- Operations: one or more trading computers with multiple monitors and a dedicated home office.
- Automation: You can count the volume and frequency of a self-created automated trading system, algorithms or bots. If you license the automation from another party, it doesn’t count.
- A trade copying service, using outside investment managers and retirement plan accounts don’t count for TTS.

If you qualify for TTS, claim it by using business expense treatment rather than investment expenses. TTS does not require an election, but 475 does.

In 1997, Congress recognized the growth of online trading when it expanded Section 475 from dealers to traders in securities and commodities. It was when I created GreenTraderTax, urging clients and followers in chat rooms to elect 475 for free tax-loss insurance. When the tech bubble burst in 2000, those that followed my advice were happy to get significant tax refunds on their ordinary business losses with NOL carrybacks. I wish Section 475 were openly available to all TTS coin traders now.

Darren Neuschwander CPA contributed to this blog post.

 


Tax Extensions: 12 Tips To Save You Money

March 5, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Individual tax returns for 2017 are due April 17, 2018, however, most active traders aren’t ready to file on time. Some brokers issue corrected 1099Bs right up to the deadline, or even beyond. Many partnerships and S-Corps file extensions by March 15, 2018, and don’t issue Schedule K-1s to investors until after April 17. Many securities traders struggle with accounting for wash sale loss adjustments.

The good news is traders don’t have to rush completion of their tax returns by April 17. They should take advantage of a simple one-page automatic extension along with payment of taxes owed to the IRS and state. Most active traders file extensions, and it’s helpful to them on many fronts.

Tip 1: Get a six-month extension of time
Request an automatic six-month extension of time to file individual federal and state income tax returns by Oct. 15, 2018. Form 4868 instructions point out how easy it is to get this automatic extension — no reason is required. It’s an extension of time to file a complete tax return, not an extension of time to pay taxes owed. Estimate and report what you think you owe for 2017 based on your tax information received.

Tip 2: Avoid penalties from the IRS and state for being late
Learn how IRS and state late-filing and late-payment penalties apply so you can avoid or reduce them to your satisfaction. 2017 Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return) page two states:

“Late Payment Penalty. The late payment penalty is usually ½ of 1% of any tax (other than estimated tax) not paid by April 17, 2018. It is charged for each month or part of a month the tax is unpaid. The maximum penalty is 25%. The late payment penalty won’t be charged if you can show reasonable cause for not paying on time. Attach a statement to your return fully explaining the reason. Don’t attach the statement to Form 4868. You’re considered to have reasonable cause for the period covered by this automatic extension if both of the following requirements have been met. 1. At least 90% of the total tax on your 2017 return is paid on or before the regular due date of your return through withholding, estimated tax payments, or payments made with Form 4868. 2. The remaining balance is paid with your return.

Late Filing Penalty. A late filing penalty is usually charged if your return is filed after the due date (including extensions). The penalty is usually 5% of the amount due for each month or part of a month your return is late. The maximum penalty is 25%. If your return is more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty is $210 (adjusted for inflation) or the balance of the tax due on your return, whichever is smaller. You might not owe the penalty if you have a reasonable explanation for filing late. Attach a statement to your return fully explaining your reason for filing late. Don’t attach the statement to Form 4868.”

Tip 3: File an automatic extension even if you cannot pay
Even if you can’t pay what you estimate you owe, make sure to file the automatic extension form on time by April 17, 2018. It should help avoid the late-filing penalty, which is ten times more than the late-payment penalty. So if you can’t pay in full, you should file your tax return or extension and pay as much as you can.

An example of late-payment and late-filing penalties: Assume your 2017 tax liability estimate is $50,000. Suppose you file an extension by April 17, 2018, but cannot pay any of your tax balance due. You file your actual tax return on the extended due date of Oct. 15, 2018, with full payment. A late-payment penalty applies because you did not pay 90% of your tax liability on April 17, 2018. The late-payment penalty is $1,500 (six months late x 0.5% per month x $50,000). Some traders view a late-payment penalty like a 6% margin loan.

By simply filing the extension on time in the above example, you avoided a late-filing penalty of $11,250 (six months late x 5% per month [25% maximum], less late-payment penalty factor of 2.5% = 22.5%; 22.5% x $50,000 = $11,250). Interest is also charged on taxes paid after April 17, 2018.

Tip 4: Add a payment cushion for Q1 2018 estimated taxes due
Traders with 2018 year-to-date trading gains and significant tax liability in the past year should consider making quarterly estimated tax payments this year to avoid underestimated tax penalties.

I recommend the following strategy for traders and business owners: Overpay your 2017 tax extension on April 17, 2018, and plan to apply an overpayment credit toward Q1 2018 estimated taxes. Most traders don’t make estimated tax payments until Q3 and or Q4 when they have more precise trading results. Why pay estimated taxes for Q1 and Q2 if you incur substantial trading losses later in the year?

It’s a better idea to pay an extra amount for the extension to set yourself up for three good choices: A cushion on 2017 if you underestimated your taxes, an overpayment credit toward 2018 taxes, or a tax refund for 2017 if no 2018 estimated taxes are due.

Tip 5: Consider a 2018 Section 475 MTM election
Traders eligible for trader tax status should consider attaching a 2018 Section 475 election statement to their 2017 tax return or extension. These are due by April 17, 2018, for individuals and corporations and March 15 for partnerships and S-Corps. Section 475 turns capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses, thereby avoiding the capital-loss limitation and wash-sale loss adjustments on securities (i.e., tax-loss insurance). Furthermore, the 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income subject to taxable income limitations applies to Section 475 income. (Read Consider 475 Election By Tax Deadline To Save Thousands and How To Become Eligible For Trader Tax Status Benefits.)

Tip 6: File when it’s more convenient for you
Sophisticated and wealthy taxpayers know the “real” tax deadline is Oct. 15, 2018, for individuals and Sept. 17, 2018, for pass-through entities, including partnership and S-Corp tax returns. Pass-through entities file tax extensions by March 15, 2018. (See March 15 Is Tax Deadline For S-Corp And Partnership Extensions And Elections.)

You don’t have to wait until the last few days of the extension period like most wealthy taxpayers. Try to file your tax return in the summer months.

Tip 7: Be conservative with tax payments
I’ve always advised clients to be aggressive but legal with tax-return filings and look conservative with cash (tax money). Impress the IRS with your patience on overpayment credits and demonstrate you’re not hungry and perhaps overly aggressive to generate tax refunds. It’s a wise strategy for traders to apply overpayment credits toward estimated taxes owed on current-year trading income. You want to look like you’re going to be successful in the current tax year.

The additional time helps build tax positions like qualification for trader tax status in 2017 and 2018. It may open opportunities for new ideas on tax savings. A rushed return does not. For example, a significant trading gain or loss during the summer of 2018 could affect some decision-making about your 2017 tax return.

Tip 8: Get more time to fund qualified retirement plans
The extension also pushes back the deadline for paying money into qualified retirement plans including a Solo 401(k), SEP IRA and defined benefit plan. The deadline for 2017 IRA contributions is April 17, 2018. If you did a Roth IRA conversion in 2017, the extension adds six months of time to recharacterize (unwind) the conversion. That may come in handy if the stock market drops in Q2 and Q3 2018.

Tip 9: Respect the policies of your accountants
Your accountant can prepare extension forms quickly for a nominal additional cost related to that job. There are no fees from the IRS or state for filing extensions. Be sure to give your accountant tax information received and estimates for missing data.

Your accountant begins your tax compliance (preparation) engagement, and he or she cuts it off when seeing a solid draft to use for extension filing purposes. Your accountant will wait for final tax information to arrive after April 17, 2018. Think of the extension as a half-time break. It’s not procrastination; accountants want tax returns finished.

Please don’t overwhelm your tax preparer the last few weeks and days before April 17 with minor details in a rush to file a complete tax return. Accounting firms with high standards of quality have internal deadlines for receiving tax information for completing tax returns. It’s unwise to pressure your accountant, which could lead to mistakes or oversights in a rush to file a complete return at the last minute. That doesn’t serve anyone well.

Tip 10: Securities traders should focus on trade accounting
It doesn’t matter if your capital loss is $50,000 or $75,000 at extension time: Either way, you’ll be reporting a capital loss limitation of $3,000 against other income. In this case, don’t get bogged down with trade accounting and reconciliation with Form 1099Bs until after April 17. The capital loss carryover impacts your decision to elect Section 475 MTM for 2018 by April 17, 2018, but an estimate is sufficient.

Consider wash-sale loss rules on securities: If you know these adjustments won’t change your $3,000 capital loss limitation, you can proceed with your extension filing. But if you suspect wash-sale loss adjustments could lead to reporting capital gains rather than losses, or if you aren’t sure of your capital gains amount, focus your efforts on trade accounting before April 17. (Consider our trade accounting service.)

Section 1256 contract traders can rely on the one-page 1099B showing aggregate profit or loss. Forex traders can depend on the broker’s online tax reports. Wash sales don’t apply to Section 1256 contracts and forex. Cryptocurrency traders should use coin trade accounting programs to generate Form 8949.

Tip 11: Don’t overlook state extensions and payments
Some states don’t require an automatic extension for overpaid returns; they accept the federal extension. If you owe state taxes, you need to file a state extension with payment. States tend to be less accommodating than the IRS in abating penalties, so it’s usually wise to cover your state taxes first if you’re short on cash. Check the extension rules in your state.

Tip 12: U.S. residents abroad should learn the particular rules
U.S. citizens or aliens residing overseas are allowed an automatic two-month extension until June 15, 2018, to file their tax return and pay any amount due without requesting an extension. (See Form 4868 page 2, and the IRS website.)

Bonus Tip: FinCEN grants permanent automatic extensions for FBARs
Over a year ago, “The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that, to implement the new due date for FinCEN Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), of April 15 (April 18 for 2017), it will automatically grant all taxpayers filing the form a six-month extension every year to Oct. 15 (which will be Oct. 16, 2017, because Oct. 15 is a Sunday). FinCEN explained that this six-month extension will be automatic each year and that taxpayers do not have to request extensions,” per Journal of Accountancy.

Cryptocurrency (coin) is not currency; the IRS labels it “intangible property.” IRS flow charts for what’s reportable on FBAR and or Form 8938 (Statement of Foreign Financial Assets) indicate that intangible property is not reportable on those forms. Some tax attorneys suggest including cryptocurrency held on foreign coin exchanges on FBAR forms to play it safe. FinCEN officials said they are not expecting to see cryptocurrency (“virtual currency”) reported on FBARs for 2017. If a U.S. resident sells cryptocurrency for currency and holds that currency on a foreign coin exchange, that currency is reportable on FBAR. FinCEN recently raised its significant penalty amounts for failure to file FBAR to keep pace with inflation.

 

 

 


March 15 Is Tax Deadline For S-Corp And Partnership Extensions And Elections

March 3, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

March 15, 2018, is the deadline for filing 2017 S-Corp and partnership tax returns, or extensions, 2018 S-Corp elections, and 2018 Section 475 elections. Don’t miss any of these tax filings or elections; it could cost you.

2017 S-Corp and partnership tax extensions
Extensions are easy to prepare and e-file for S-Corps and partnerships since they pass through income and loss to the owner, usually an individual. Pass-through entities are tax-filers, but not taxpayers. 2017 individual and calendar-year C-Corp tax returns or extensions with taxes owed are due April 17, 2018.

Some states have S-Corp franchise taxes, excise taxes, or minimum taxes, and payments are usually due with the extensions by March 15.  LLCs filing as a partnership may have minimum taxes or annual reports due with the extension by March 15.

2017 S-Corp and partnership extensions give six additional months to file a tax return, by Sep. 17, 2018.

The IRS late filing penalty regime for S-Corps and partnerships is similar. The IRS assesses $200 per owner, per month, for a maximum of 12 months. Taxpayers may request penalty abatement based on reasonable cause. Ignoring the extension deadline is not reasonable cause. There is also a $260 penalty for failure to furnish a Schedule K-1 to an owner on time, and the penalty is higher if intentionally disregarded. States assess penalties and interest, often based on payments due.

2018 S-Corp elections
Traders qualifying for trader tax status and interested in employee benefit plan deductions, including health insurance and retirement plan deductions, probably need an S-Corp. They should consider a 2018 S-Corp election for an existing trading entity, due by March 15, 2018, or form a new entity and file an S-Corp election within 75 days of inception. Most states accept the federal S-Corp election, but a few states do not; they require a separate S-Corp election filing by March 15. If you overlooked filing a 2017 S-Corp election by March 15, 2017 and intended to elect S-Corp tax treatment as of that date, you may qualify for IRS relief. (See Late Election Relief.)

2018 Section 475 MTM elections for S-Corps and partnerships
Traders, eligible for trader tax status, should consider attaching a 2018 Section 475 election statement to their 2017 tax return or extension due by March 15, 2018, for partnerships and S-Corps, or by April 17, for individuals and corporations. Section 475 turns capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses thereby avoiding the capital loss limitation and wash sale loss adjustments (tax loss insurance). There are also benefits to 475 income: The 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income subject to taxable income limitations. (Read Consider 475 Election By Tax Deadline To Save Thousands.)

If a trader wants to revoke a prior year Section 475 election, a revocation election statement is due by March 15, 2018. (See New IRS Rules Allow Free And Easy Section 475 Revocation.)

Tax compliance services
Green, Neuschwander & Manning LLC offers tax compliance services to traders, which include tax preparation and tax planning. If you haven’t signed up yet for our entity and individual service, do so immediately, so we can prepare your extensions and consider the above elections on time. Alternatively, discuss the above matters with Robert A. Green, CPA in a consultation.

 


Consider 475 Election By Tax Deadline To Save Thousands

February 27, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Traders, eligible for trader tax status, should consider attaching a 2018 Section 475 election statement to their 2017 tax return or extension due by April 17, 2018, for individuals, or by March 15 for partnerships and S-Corps. Section 475 turns capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses thereby avoiding the capital loss limitation and wash sale loss adjustments (tax loss insurance). There are benefits to 475 income, too.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ushered in a new 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income, which likely includes Section 475 ordinary income, but excludes capital gains. Trading is a specified service activity, requiring the owner have taxable income under a threshold of $315,000 married or $157,500 for other taxpayers. There is a phase-out range above the limit of $100,000 married and $50,000 other taxpayers. (See How Traders Can Get The 20% QBI Deduction Under New Law.)

Ordinary losses are better than capital losses
The most significant problem for investors and traders occurs when they’re unable to deduct trading losses on tax returns, significantly increasing tax bills or missing opportunities for tax refunds. Investors are stuck with this problem, but business traders with trader tax status (TTS) can avoid it by filing timely elections for business ordinary tax-loss treatment: Section 475 mark-to-market (MTM) for securities and/or commodities.

By default, securities and Section 1256 investors are stuck with capital-loss treatment, meaning they’re limited to a $3,000 net capital loss against ordinary income. The problem is that their trading losses may be much higher and not used as a tax deduction in the current tax year. Capital losses first offset capital gains in full without restriction. After the $3,000 loss limitation against other income is applied, the rest is carried over to the following tax years. Many traders wind up with little money to trade and unused capital losses. It can take a lifetime to use up their capital loss carryovers. What an unfortunate waste! Why not get a tax refund from using Section 475 MTM right away?

Business traders qualifying for TTS have the option to elect Section 475 MTM accounting with ordinary gain or loss treatment in a timely fashion. When traders have negative taxable income generated from business losses, Section 475 accounting classifies them as net operating losses (NOLs). Caution: Individual business traders who miss the Section 475 MTM election date (April 15 for the current tax year) can’t claim business ordinary-loss treatment for the current tax year and will be stuck with capital-loss carryovers.

A new entity set up after April 15 can deliver Section 475 MTM for the rest of the current tax year on trading losses generated in the entity account if it files an internal Section 475 MTM election within 75 days of inception. This election does not change the character of capital loss treatment on the individual accounts before or after its creation. The entity is meant to be a fix for going forward; it’s not a means to clean up the past problems of capital loss treatment.

Ordinary trading losses can offset all types of income (wages, portfolio income, and capital gains) on a joint filing, whereas capital losses only offset capital gains. Plus, business expenses and business ordinary trading losses comprise an NOL, which can be carried back two tax years and/or forward 20 tax years (for 2017). It doesn’t matter if you are a trader or not in a carryback or carryforward year. Business ordinary trading loss treatment is the most significant contributor to federal and state tax refunds for traders.

Starting in 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repealed the two-year NOL carryback, except for certain farming losses and casualty and disaster insurance companies. NOLs are carried forward indefinitely, and 2018 and subsequent-year NOLs are limited to 80% of taxable income.

There are many nuances and misconceptions about Section 475 MTM, and it’s essential to learn the rules. For example, you’re entitled to contemporaneously segregate investment positions that aren’t subject to Section 475 MTM treatment, meaning at year-end, you can defer unrealized gains on adequately segregated investments. You can have the best of both worlds — ordinary tax losses on business trading and deferral with lower long-term capital gains tax rates on segregated investment positions. I recommend electing Section 475 on securities only, to retain lower 60/40 capital gains rates on Section 1256 contracts. Far too many accountants and traders confuse TTS and Section 475; they are two different things, yet very connected.

Mark-to-market accounting
Section 475 MTM reports year-end unrealized gains and losses. Marked-to-market means you must impute sales for all open trading business positions at year-end using year-end prices. Many traders have no open business positions at year-end, anyway. You’re reporting realized and unrealized gains and losses, similar to Section 1256 which has MTM built in by default – but don’t confuse Section 1256 with Section 475.

It’s entirely different with Section 1256 contracts where the tax-loss insurance premium is expensive. Electing Section 475 on Section 1256 means you give up the lower Section 1256 60/40 tax rates in exchange for ordinary income rates. There are more nuances to consider as well.

Suitable for securities traders
I coined the term “tax-loss insurance” for Section 475 because if your trading house burns down, you can deduct Section 475 trading losses right away and get a huge tax break (refund or lower tax bill). It’s a free insurance premium on securities because short-term capital gains use ordinary tax rates in the same manner as Section 475 MTM. But, Section 475 losses might generate immediate tax benefits (insurance recovery) whereas capital losses do not.

Securities traders should usually elect Section 475 MTM unless they already have significant capital-loss carryovers. You can’t offset MTM ordinary trading gains with capital-loss carryovers. On the other hand, if a trader generates sizeable new trading losses before April 17, 2018, he or she might prefer to elect Section 475 MTM for 2018 by that sole proprietor election date to have business ordinary-loss treatment retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. The trader can form a new entity afterward for a “do over” to use capital gains treatment and get back on track with using up capital loss carryovers. Alternatively, the trader can revoke the Section 475 election in the subsequent tax year.

And often not advised for 1256 contracts
Section 1256 contract traders should usually not elect Section 475 to retain the lower 60/40 tax rates. Section 475 would override Section 1256 and subject trading gains to the short-term ordinary tax rate. With Section 1256, 60% of trading gains are considered long-term capital gains — even on day trades — taxed at lower tax rates (up to 20% in 2018), and 40% are short-term capital gains taxed at ordinary tax rates (up to 37% in 2018). The maximum 60/40 blended rate for 2018 is 26.8%, a meaningful 11.2% difference with ordinary rates. There are significant savings throughout the tax brackets.

Investors and business traders may elect to carry back Form 6781 trading losses three tax years, but it’s only applied against Section 1256 contract trading gains on Form 6781, not other types of income.

If you trade Section 1256 contracts and lose a bundle before the election deadline, you may want to elect Section 475, especially if you don’t have the opportunity to carry back Section 1256 contract trading losses against gains in the prior three tax years. Why not take the chance to lock in a sizeable ordinary business loss? You can revoke Section 475 on Section 1256 contracts in the following year by the tax return due date to get back into lower 60/40 tax treatment on Section 1256 contracts.

Exchange-traded notes (ETNs) cannot use Section 475
ETNs are not securities or commodities and are therefore not covered under a Section 475 election. When the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX ST ETN (Nasdaq: XIV) significantly dropped in value in early February 2018, during a market correction, many traders incurred substantial trading losses in this and other volatility ETNs. They are dismayed to learn a Section 475 election doesn’t apply to ETNs, and they must use capital loss treatment. ETNs are also not subject to wash sale loss rules for securities.

Cryptocurrencies might be able to use Section 475
Currently, the IRS labels cryptocurrencies (coin) intangible property — not securities or commodities — so that means it likely doesn’t qualify for Section 475 treatment. Many cryptocurrency traders had massive capital gains in 2017, and some of them suffered substantial trading losses in Q1 2018. They would like to use Section 475 ordinary loss treatment for 2018.

Due to recent SEC and CFTC statements calling coin a security and commodity, respectively, I hope the IRS changes its tune. The IRS issued its initial guidance in March 2014, well before regulators made new statements. (Stay tuned for my upcoming blog post “Cryptocurrency traders are eligible for trader tax status benefits.”)

Don’t assume you can deduct trading losses. Unless you are eligible for trader tax status, make a timely Section 475 election, and can use it on the financial products you trade, you might get no immediate tax benefits on capital losses. In 2018, there’s an excellent reason for profitable traders to elect Section 475; the 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income, which likely includes 475 ordinary income.

This blog post is a modified excerpt from Green’s 2018 Trader Tax Guide. The guide contains information on the Section 475 election procedures, Form 3115, Section 481(a) adjustments, revocation elections, examples for decision-making, and more. There is no room for making errors with a Section 475 election.


How Traders Can Get The 20% QBI Deduction Under New Law

January 12, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Like many small business owners, traders eligible for trader tax status (TTS) are considering to restructure their business for 2018 to take maximum advantage of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (Act). Two tax benefits catch their eye: The 20% deduction on pass-through qualified business income (QBI), and the C-Corp 21% flat tax rate.

The 20% QBI deduction
There are two components for obtaining a 20% deduction on QBI in a pass-through business.

1. QBI: I’ve made some excellent arguments over the past few months in my blog posts for including Section 475 ordinary income for TTS traders in QBI, but the Act did not expressly confirm that position. I am confident that Section 475 is part of QBI, so consider that election for 2018. The law only counts QBI from domestic sources, which may mean trading activity in U.S. markets, but not foreign markets and exchanges.

I’ve also suggested that TTS “business-related” capital gains should be includible in QBI since the Act excludes “investment-related” short-term and long-term capital gains. For now, I assume the IRS may reject all capital gains.

2. SSA vs. non-SSA: Assuming a TTS trader has QBI on Section 475 MTM ordinary income, the calculation depends on whether the business is a specified service activity (SSA) or not. I’ve made some arguments on why a trading business could be a non-SSA but based on the new tax law, TTS traders should assume their business is an SSA.

For example, if a TTS trader has 2018 taxable income under the SSA threshold of $157,500 single and $315,000 married, and assuming the trader has Section 475 ordinary income, then the trader would get a 20% deduction on either QBI or taxable income less net capital gains (whichever is lower). The 20% deduction is phased out above the SSA threshold by $50,000 single and $100,000 married. If taxable income is $416,000, above the phase-out range, the married couple gets no QBI deduction at all.

A QBI deduction is on page two of the Form 1040; it’s not an adjusted gross income (AGI) deduction or a business expense from gross income.

An owner of a non-SSA business, like a manufacturer, is entitled to the 20% deduction without a taxable income limitation, although there is a 50% wage limitation, or alternative 25% wage limitation with 2.5% qualified property factor, above the SSA income threshold. (See Traders Should Be Entitled To The Pass-Through Tax Deduction.)

TTS trading with Section 475 ordinary income
TTS is a hybrid concept: It gives “ordinary and necessary” business expenses (Section 162). A trader in securities and or commodities (Section 1256 contracts) eligible for TTS may elect Section 475(f) mark-to-market (MTM)) accounting, which converts capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses.

Steven Rosenthal, Senior Fellow, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, weighed in for my prior blog post and again recently: “Section 475 treats the gain as ordinary income,” he says. “Section 64 provides that gain that is ordinary income shall not be treated as gain from the sale of a capital asset.” Mr. Rosenthal thinks Section 475 ordinary income is QBI under the new tax law for this reason and “because it’s not on the QBI exclusion list.” Rosenthal pointed out there is no statutory definition of “business income.”

In the new law, QBI excludes a list of investment items including short- and long-term capital gains and losses. I don’t see how an IRS agent could construe Section 475 ordinary income as capital gains.

I look forward to the Congressional analysis in the”Blue Book” for the General Explanation of the Act — hopefully, this will shed further light on my questions. Some traders may prefer to wait for IRS regulations on these Act provisions and other types of IRS guidance. Hopefully, big law firms will form a consensus opinion on this issue for their hedge fund clients, soon.

Congress may not have envisioned the pass-through deduction for hedge funds and TTS trading companies, and they may fix things through interpretation or technical correction to prevent that outcome.

Trading in a C-Corp could be costly
Don’t only focus on the federal 21% flat tax rate on the C-Corp level; there are plenty of other taxes, including capital gains taxes on qualified dividends, potential accumulated earnings tax, a possible personal holding company tax penalty, and state corporate taxes in 44 states.

If you pay qualified dividends, there will be double taxation with capital gains taxes on the individual level — capital gains rates are 0%, 15% or 20%. If you avoid paying dividends, the IRS might assess a 20% accumulated earnings tax (AET). If you have trading losses, significant passive income, interest, and dividends, it could trigger personal holding company status with a 20% tax penalty. (See my blog post How To Decide If A C-Corp Is Right For Your Trading Business.)

How to proceed
For 2018, TTS traders should consider a partnership or S-Corp for business expenses, and a Section 475 election on securities for exemption from wash sale losses and ordinary loss treatment (tax loss insurance). Consider a TTS S-Corp for employee benefit plan deductions including health insurance and a high-deductible retirement plan, since a TTS spousal partnership or TTS sole proprietor cannot achieve these deductions. Consider this the cake.It puts you in position to potentially qualify for a 20% QBI deduction on Section 475 or Section 988 ordinary income in a TTS trading pass-through entity – icing on the cake. If a TTS trader’s taxable income is under the specified service activity (SSA) threshold of $315,000 (married), and $157,500 (other taxpayers), he or she should get the 20% QBI deduction in partnerships or S-Corps. Within the phase-out range above the threshold, $100,000 (married) and $50,000 (other taxpayers), a partial deduction. QBI likely includes Section 475 and Section 988 ordinary income and excludes capital gains (Section 1256 contracts and cryptocurrencies). It might be a challenge for a TTS sole proprietor to claim the pass-through deduction because Schedule C has trading expenses only; trading gains are on other tax forms.

I suggest you consult with me about these issues soon.

Darren Neuschwander, CPA, and Roger Lorence, Esq., contributed to this post. 


How To Decide If A C-Corp Is Right For Your Trading Business

January 9, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

When taking into account the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for 2018, don’t focus solely on the federal 21% flat tax rate on the C-Corp level. There are plenty of other taxes, including capital gains taxes on qualified dividends, state corporate taxes in 44 states, and accumulated earnings tax assessed on excess retained earnings.

When a C-Corp pays qualified dividends to the owner, double taxation occurs with capital gains taxes on the individual level (capital gains rates are 0%, 15% or 20%). If an owner avoids paying sufficient qualified dividends, the IRS is entitled to assess a 20% accumulated earnings tax (AET). It’s a fallacy that owners can retain all earnings inside the C-Corp.

C-Corp vs. individual tax rates
Starting in 2018 under the new tax law, C-Corps may benefit from a 21% flat tax rate vs. individual graduated rates of 10% to 37%. Don’t confuse your tax bracket with your tax rate, which is less. For example, the average individual tax rate is 27% for a married couple entering the top 37% tax bracket of $600,000 and 30% for a single filer approaching the top bracket of $500,000; so the actual rate difference is 6% and 9% in these two examples.

Upper-income traders may also have individual 3.8% net investment tax (NIT) on net investment income (NII). NIT applies on NII over the modified AGI threshold of $250,000 (married) and $200,000 (single). Adding this in, the difference between the flat rate could be 9.8% and 12.8% in our example.

Traders don’t owe self-employment (SE) tax, so I don’t factor that into the equation. Other small business owners have SE or payroll tax in pass-throughs but can avoid it with a C-Corp. Let say the C-Corp has a 10% rate advantage for high-income traders and a lower or no benefit for middle- to lower-income traders.

Now come all the haircuts that can lead to adverse taxes and make the C-Corp a costlier choice for a trader. Double taxation on the federal level can wipe out that savings with a 15% or 20% capital gains tax on “qualified dividends.” Double taxation on the state level can lead to a C-Corp owner paying higher taxes than with a pass-through entity. There are potential 20% accumulated earnings taxes and personal holding company tax penalties. Look before you leap into a C-Corp and consult a trader tax expert.

C-Corp double taxation with qualified dividends
A C-Corp pays taxes first on the entity level, and the owners owe taxes a second time on the individual level on dividends and capital gains.

When C-Corps make a cash or property distribution to owners, it’s a taxable dividend if there are “earnings and profits” (E&P). If the individual holds the C-Corp stock for 60 days, it’s a “qualified dividend,” subject to lower long-term capital gains rates of 0%, 15%, and 20%. The 0% capital gains bracket applies to taxable income up to $77,200 (married) and $38,600 (single). A 15% dividends tax offsets the difference in individual vs. corporate tax rates.

State double taxation can ruin the C-Corp strategy
According to Tax Foundation, “Forty-four states levy a corporate income tax. Rates range from 3 percent in North Carolina to 12 percent in Iowa.” (See your state on the Tax Foundation map, State Corporate Income Tax Rates and Brackets for 2017.) States don’t use lower capital gains rates for taxing individuals; they treat qualified dividends as ordinary income.

A C-Corp is a wrong choice for a trader entity in California with an 8.84% corporate tax rate, but it could be the right choice for a high-income trader in Texas without corporate taxes if he or she retains earnings and can successfully avoid IRS 20% accumulated earnings tax (more on this to come). The Texas 0.75% franchise tax applies to all types of companies with limited liability, including LLCs, and C-Corps, and the “No Tax Due Threshold” is $1.11 million. Most traders won’t trigger the Texas franchise tax.

Don’t try to avoid filing a C-Corp tax return in your resident state. You are entitled to form your entity in a tax-free state, like Delaware, but your home state probably requires registration of a “foreign entity,” if it operates in your state. Setting up a mail forwarding service in a tax-free state does not achieve nexus, whereas, conducting a trading business from your resident state does.

The new tax law capped state and local income, sales, and property taxes (SALT) itemized deductions at $10,000 per year. It does not suspend SALT deductions paid by C-Corps, but that expense is only the double-taxed portion; the individual SALT on qualified dividends is still limited.

Accumulated earnings tax
If the C-Corp does not pay dividends from E&P, the IRS can assess a 20% “accumulated earnings tax” (AET) if the C-Corp E&P exceeds a threshold and company management cannot justify a business need for retaining E&P. The IRS is trying to incentivize C-Corps to pay dividends to owners. The IRS AET threshold is $250,000, or $150,000 for a personal service corporation. (See Section 533.)

If the IRS treats a trader tax status (TTS) trading company as an “investment company,” then it may assess 20% AET on all E&P and therefore undermine the C-Corp strategy for traders. But I don’t think a TTS trading company with Section 475 ordinary income is an investment company. A TTS trading C-Corp needs to demonstrate a business need for E&P above the $250,000 threshold.

“AET requires the corporation to have adopted a plan for business expansion that will require substantial additional capital,” says Roger Lorence, a tax attorney in the New York City area who specializes in hedge fund tax. “The plan must be in writing and adopted by the Board; it must refer to the analysis of the business, the need for expansion, the need for more capital, and include a timeline for implementation.”

Arguing the C-Corp needs more trading capital for growing profits is likely not an acceptable reason for avoiding dividends. Sufficient reasons might include buying exchange seats, hiring traders and back office staff, and purchasing more equipment and automated trading systems. Over a period, the C-Corp must implement its formal plan. Otherwise, the IRS won’t respect the policy. Many one-person TTS trading companies don’t have these types of expansion plans, and they likely won’t succeed in defending against an AET assessment. Previously, I pointed out a C-Corp might be suitable for a high-income trader, but they would probably exceed the AET threshold in the first year.

Personal holding company tax penalty
“Personal holding company” (PHC) status is triggered when a closely held C-Corp has at least 60% of gross income coming from certain passive income (including interest, dividends, rents, and royalties), and has not made sufficient distributions to shareholders. The IRS is entitled to assess a 20% PHC tax penalty. The new tax law did not revise the PHC rules, and some tax experts think Congress should have tightened them.

Capital gains and Section 475 ordinary income are not passive income, so a successful TTS trader C-Corp will likely not meet the definition. However, if a trader incurs a net trading loss for a given year, then passive income might exceed 60% of gross income and trigger a PHC penalty. If a trader has substantial passive income, don’t hold those positions in a C-Corp.

Officer compensation avoids double taxation
Historically, C-Corps paid higher officer compensation to avoid the 35% C-Corp tax rate. But now, C-Corps may want the 21% C-Corp tax rate over the individual tax rates up to 37% on wage income instead.

C-Corp Cons
1. No lower 60/40 capital gains tax rates on Section 1256 contracts.
2. Ordinary losses do not pass-through to the owner’s tax return, missing an opportunity for immediate tax savings against other income. The new law has an excess business loss limitation of $500,000 (married) and $250,000 (single), and it repealed the NOL carryback, only allowing carryforwards.
3. A C-Corp investment company without TTS may not deduct investment expenses. The Act suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions for individuals, which includes investment expenses. Don’t try to house investments in a C-Corp; it might be deemed a PHC.
4. If you liquidate a C-Corp to realize the capital loss and ordinary loss trapped inside it, you might qualify for Section 1244 ordinary loss treatment up to $100,000 (married) or $50,000 (single), with the remainder of the loss treated as a capital loss. Therefore, you could be stuck with a capital loss carryover. Per Section 1244, “a corporation shall be treated as a small business corporation if the aggregate amount of money and other property received by the corporation for stock, as a contribution to capital, and as paid-in surplus, does not exceed $1,000,000.” Conversely, with a pass-through entity and Section 475 ordinary loss treatment, the trader would have all ordinary loss treatment.

There are a few good things about C-Corps: A more extensive assortment of fringe benefit plans for owners, and charitable contributions, which some individuals may limit due to the higher standard deduction.

Example: Profitable trader in a tax-free state
Nancy Green, a resident of Texas, consistently makes well over $500,000 net income per year trading securities with Section 475 ordinary income. She has officer compensation of $146,000 to maximize her company Solo 401(k) retirement plan contribution of $55,000 (under age 50).

With an S-Corp, her 2018 gross income is $646,000 ($500,000 K-1 income and $146,000 wages), she takes a $25,000 itemized deduction, which makes her taxable income $621,000. Nancy is over the $207,500 taxable income threshold for a specified service activity, so she does not qualify for the Act’s 20% deduction on qualified business income (QBI) in a pass-through. Her 2018 federal income tax is $195,460. Her marginal tax bracket is the top 37% rate, and her average tax rate is 31% — 10% above the C-Corp flat rate of 21%. She also owes 3.8% NIT on $300,000 ($500,000 K-1 income less the modified AGI threshold of $200,000), which equals $11,400. Nancy’s total federal tax liability using an S-Corp is $206,860.

With a C-Corp, Nancy’s individual tax return gross income is $146,000 from wages, and she takes a $25,000 itemized deduction, which lowers her taxable income to $121,000. Her individual federal income tax is $23,330, which is 19.3% of taxable income. Nancy does not owe NIT in this case. (This assumes she has no qualified dividends from the C-Corp.) The federal corporate tax is $105,000 ($500,000 times 21%). With her individual tax paid using the C-Corp, her total federal tax is $128,330.

The C-Corp structure delivers 2018 federal tax savings of $78,530 vs. the S-Corp. There is no corporate or individual income tax in Texas, and she did not exceed the franchise tax threshold, so the savings with the C-Corp can be significant. It also depends on whether or not she pays qualified dividends or has an IRS 20% AET assessment.

If Nancy needs distributions for living expenses, she has two choices:
1. Pay additional wages, which only are subject to Medicare tax of 2.9%, reducing C-Corp net income at a 21% rate, and subjecting her to more individual tax at 24% and 32% marginal rates. (This might be the more attractive option.)
2. Pay qualified dividends taxed at 15%, plus some 3.8% NIT, which does not reduce C-Corp taxes. Her overall savings will decline, but it’s still substantially positive vs. the S-Corp. For example, a qualified dividend of $300,000 would cause $45,000 of capital gains taxes and $9,348 of NIT. Net federal tax savings from using the C-Corp vs. the S-Corp would be $24,182.

If Nancy moves to California, the C-Corp is not a good idea because California has an 8.84% corporate tax rate and with double taxation, the C-Corp savings disappears. Like many other states, California treats all income as ordinary income; it does not distinguish qualified dividends or long-term capital gains. In Nancy’s case, California’s corporate tax would be $44,200 ($500,000 x 8.84% rate), plus individual taxes on $300,000 qualified dividends would be approximately $28,000. A C-Corp in California would lead to much higher federal and state taxes vs. using a dual entity solution, where a trading partnership and S-Corp management company are used to avoid the state’s 1.5% franchise tax on S-Corps.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room is the 20% accumulated earnings tax (AET), and under what conditions the IRS may assess it on a trading business C-Corp. Nancy can tell the IRS she is a TTS trader entitled to retain earnings up to $250,000. Her C-Corp made $500,000 and paid qualified dividends of $300,000, so she kept $200,000 of profits inside the C-Corp. The IRS allows up to $250,000, so she should be fine for 2018, but what about 2019? Does Nancy have a written plan that is feasible for keeping a war chest of earnings over the $250,000 threshold? Probably not, and that could render the C-Corp tax advantage a mirage for her and others in a similar boat.

I suggest traders consult with me to discuss their 2018 projections and see which shoe fits best: a partnership, S-Corp or C-Corp, or some combination, thereof.

 

 


Cryptocurrency Traders Owe Massive Taxes For 2017

January 1, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

I consulted dozens of cryptocurrency (coin) traders on taxes in December and confirmed what the media has been reporting: Coin traders made fortunes in 2017. Now that the 2017 tax-filing season is underway, these traders should gather online tax reports if available, use a coin trade accounting program, and review the latest guidance on tax treatment.

Coinbase has a new online tax report
On July 6, 2017, the IRS narrowed its summons against Coinbase, the most substantial U.S.-based coin exchange, to retrieve larger customers’ trades and other transactions to find unreported income. In late-December 2017, Coinbase added tax reporting of capital gains and losses using first in first out (FIFO). This move should undoubtedly please the IRS since there is no 1099-B issuance on coin trades.

Update Feb. 2, 2018: Coinbase issued 2017 Form 1099-Ks to “qualifying customers,” including businesses, and traders, over specific volume thresholds. (See 1099-K Tax Forms). The IRS intended 1099-K for businesses (merchants) to report Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions. (See Understanding Your Form 1099-K.)

Capital gains and losses
If you invested in cryptocurrencies and sold, exchanged, or spent it in 2017, you have to report a capital gain or loss on each transaction, including coin-to-currency sales, coin-to-coin trades, and purchases of goods or services using a coin. Deduct coin fees and other expenses appropriately.

Some coin deals naturally generate taxable income, including coin-to-currency trades and mining income. For example, Bitcoin sold for U.S. dollars is a noticeable capital gain or loss reportable on Form 8949. Or, when a coin miner receives a coin for his work, he or she naturally recognizes business revenue based on the value of the coin.

Imputed income
The big problem for the IRS is that most other coin transactions are not evident for tax reporting, including coin-to-coin trades, hard forks (chain splits), and using a coin to purchase goods and services. The coin investor should “impute” a sales or exchange transaction to report a capital gain or loss on coin-to-coin trades and using a coin to purchase items. Many coin investors and their accountants overlook or mishandle this reporting and underpay the IRS.

The IRS labels coin “intangible property.” Coin users may call it “digital money,” but it’s not sovereign government-issued money. That’s the critical difference: Each use of money is not a taxable event. Imagine having to report a capital gain or loss every time you purchased an item or asset with cash or a credit card. That would be ridiculous.

Coin-to-currency trades
Most taxpayers comprehend that if they purchased Bitcoin in 2016 for $10,000 and sold in 2017 for $30,000, they should report a capital gain of $20,000 on their 2017 tax return form 8949. A coin position held for one year or less is considered a short-term capital gain, taxed at ordinary tax rates (up to 39.6% for 2017 and 37% for 2018). A coin position held for more than one year is considered a long-term capital gain, taxed at capital gains rates (up to 20% for 2017 and 2018).

Capital losses offset capital gains in full, and a net capital loss is limited to $3,000 against other types of income on an individual tax return. An excess capital loss is carried forward to the subsequent tax year(s), and it may not be carried back to a prior year. Some coin traders will pay massive taxes on capital gains in 2017 and get stuck with a capital loss limitation and carryover in 2018.

Coin-to-coin trades
Many coin traders actively make coin-to-coin trades like Bitcoin to Ethereum and then Ethereum to Litecoin. Currently, coin investors purchase alt coins using Bitcoin or Ethereum.

Many taxpayers and preparers delay capital gains income on coin-to-coin trades by inappropriately classifying them as Section 1031 “like-kind exchanges,” where they may defer income to the replacement position’s cost basis. While the IRS hasn’t provided guidance on this matter, I do not believe the majority of coin-to-coin trades made on coin exchanges qualify for Section 1031 transactions as they fail one or both of the two primary requirements (and both are required). First, Bitcoin may not be a like-kind property with Ethereum. Second, coin-to-coin trades executed on coin exchanges do not constitute a direct two-party exchange, and coin exchanges are likely not qualified intermediaries in a multi-party exchange.

Coin-to-coin trading reminds me of forex trading between different currency pairs. Various currencies are not like-kind property (i.e., U.S. dollars are not a like-kind property with euros). Each coin has its version of a blockchain, and the network of users has a different purpose for each coin.

I asked coin tax expert Jim Calvin, Partner of Deloitte and author of When (and If) Income is Realized from Bitcoin Chain-Splits, if he thought these trades could qualify for Section 1031 like-kind exchange treatment in 2017 and prior years.

“It is neither a simple nor single factual issue,” he said. “It is not just whether the swapped coins are like-kind property, but also whether all the other requirements of Section 1031 can be met including the use of intermediaries.”

Atomic swaps or atomic cross-chain trading started in August 2017. The new technology allows a direct two-party exchange, bypassing coin exchanges. That may meet one requirement, but the coins must also be a like-kind property for Section 1031 deferral.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and coin traders
Starting in 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limits Section 1031 like-kind exchanges to real property, not for sale. Investors may not use it on artwork, collectibles, and other tangible and intangible property, including cryptocurrencies.

The Act introduced Section 199A, a 20% deduction on qualified business income (QBI) in pass-through entities, subject to thresholds, limitations, and haircuts. A trader tax status (TTS) coin trader likely does not qualify for the deduction because he or she has capital gains income, excluded from QBI. This is different from a TTS securities trader who can elect Section 475 MTM ordinary income, which is included in QBI.

Coin hard forks (chain-splits)
The IRS has not provided guidance on hard fork transactions, and tax experts and coin traders debate its tax treatment. Bitcoin had a hard fork in its blockchain on Aug. 1, 2017, dividing into two separate coins: Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. Each holder of a Bitcoin unit was entitled to arrange receipt of a unit of Bitcoin Cash. Some Bitcoin holders did not gain immediate access to be able to sell Bitcoin Cash, so they may feel it’s okay to defer income on the fork transaction until they obtain such access, or later sell it. Coinbase did not support Bitcoin Cash when it forked, but it did add it to accounts for rightful holders in late-2017.

It’s reasonable that coin traders should not have to report taxable income on a hard fork until the new coin is time-stamped as a ledger entry, sending the coins to new outputs in the blockchain. Facts and circumstances on hard forks vary widely. An “old fork” could die out if miners collectively switch over to the new blockchain and abandon the old coin. Bitcoin Cash successfully forked from Bitcoin; both trade at higher values today than on the fork date. Hard forks frequently happen, and their initial fair market value varies significantly across coin exchanges.

“Taxable income is realized if the owner of pre-split bitcoin exercises dominion and control over the corresponding chain-split coins, and the income realized will be equal to the value of the chain-split coins at that time,” Calvin said. “Most owners holding Bitcoin on exchanges were unable to control if and when chain-split coins were claimed, the time income was realized, and may still be unaware of the date or value to use.”

I think many Bitcoin Cash holders had dominion and control over the new coin sometime in 2017, and they should recognize ordinary income on receiving it.

Coin trade accounting programs
Coin tax reporting is complex and voluminous. Consider two coin accounting solutions: Bitcoin.Tax and CoinTracking.Info.

The IRS calls for the “specific identification” (SI) accounting method for use on sales of property, including intangible property (coin). IRS regulations for SI require “adequate identification” of lots sold on a contemporaneous basis, and I don’t think most coin traders comply with these rules.  In June 2016, the AICPA asked the IRS if coin traders could use “first in first out” (FIFO) as an alternative solution, which the IRS permits for securities. Unless you comply with SI rules, I suggest using the FIFO accounting method for coin. (See Accounting Method Impacts Crypto Income Taxes.)

Because the IRS labels coin intangible property, wash-sale loss rules likely don’t apply. TTS traders using Section 475 ordinary gain or loss on securities and/or commodities (Section 1256 contracts) may not use Section 475 on a coin since it’s not a security or a commodity in the eyes of the IRS.

How to deduct coin-trading costs
Coin traders pay various transaction costs, fees, and interest expenses in coin and currency. Be sure to convert coin expenses to U.S. dollars at the time spent. It’s critical to distinguish between tax categories — transaction costs, investment expenses, investment interest expenses, and trading business expenses — as they are all handled differently on tax returns.

Transaction fees can be deducted from sales proceeds and then added to cost basis for purchases, so reflect them on net capital gains and losses. These charges include trading costs (approximately 0.25%) paid to a coin exchange and fees paid to miners when transferring coin between addresses to get transactions into the next block.

The new tax law suspends investment expenses for 2018, but you can still deduct them as a miscellaneous itemized deduction for 2017 (if they are more than 2% of AGI). These costs include bank wire transfer fees for transferring currency to a coin exchange; loan or borrow fees paid to a coin exchange; and withdrawal fees paid to a coin exchange for removing money or coin. (It’s essential to separate loan fees vs. margin interest, as they have different tax treatment.)

Investment interest expense can be an itemized deduction, limited to investment income, with the excess carried over to the subsequent tax year. This includes interest on borrowed funds paid in coin to lender/exchange. The new tax law did not change the rules for investment interest expenses.

Trading business expenses are deducted from gross income. If the coin trader qualifies for TTS, investment expenses and investment interest expenses are deducted as business expenses on Schedule C or through an entity.

Miners deduct business expenses against revenues.

Example: Purchasing goods and services with coin
On Jan. 1, 2017, Joe bought 100 Bitcoins at a price of $998 each, for a total cost basis of $99,800. On June 1, 2017, when the price of a Bitcoin unit was $2,452, Joe used a Bitcoin to purchase a computer for $2,452. Without realizing it, Joe triggered a reportable short-term capital gain on his 2017 Form 8949. The sales proceeds are $2,452, representing the fair market value of the Bitcoin he used to purchase the computer. His cost basis for that one Bitcoin unit used is $998, so his net short-term capital gain is $1,454. If Joe uses the computer in his business, he will deduct $2,452 as an expense.

Bottom line
I suggest coin traders calculate capital gains and losses on coin transactions, including coin-to-coin trades made on exchanges, and use the FIFO accounting method. File an extension by the due date of your tax return (April 17, 2018, for individuals), and pay taxes owed for 2017 with the extension. During the additional time (file by Oct. 15, 2018), perhaps the IRS will answer our questions, including which if any coin-to-coin trades may use Section 1031 deferral in 2017. If the IRS allows it, maybe coin traders can still file that way on an original tax return filing. Consult a coin tax expert.

For more information, see Green’s 2018 Cryptocurrency Tax Guide.

If you have any questions, contact us.

 


The Tax Cut Suspended Many Deductions For Individuals

December 29, 2017 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended or trimmed several cherished tax deductions that individuals count on for savings. So, exactly how bad is it and what can you do about it?

The lion’s share of the $1.5-trillion tax cut goes to corporations (C-Corps). The Act lowered the corporate rate from 34% to 21%, a flat rate starting in 2018 and switched from a global income-tax regime to a territorial tax system. The Act made most C-Corp tax cuts permanent, giving multinational corporations confidence in long-term planning.

Democrats lambaste the Act because most of the individual tax cuts expire at the end of 2025. Republicans probably expect Democrats to cooperate in making the individual tax cuts permanent before the 2026 mid-term elections.

Individual changes take effect in 2018
The Act brings forth a mix of negative and positive changes for individuals. The highlights include:

  • Lower tax rates in all seven brackets to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%; Four tax brackets for estates and trusts: 10%, 24%, 35%, and 37%;
  • Standard deduction raised to $24,000 married, $18,000 head-of-household, and $12,000 for all other taxpayers, adjusted for inflation;
  • An expanded AMT exemption to $109,400 married and $70,300 single.
  • Many itemized deductions and AGI deductions suspended or trimmed (more on this below);
  • Personal exemptions suspended;
  • Child tax credit increased;
  • New 20% deduction for pass-through income with many limitations;
  • Pease itemized deduction limitation suspended;
  • Obamacare shared responsibility payment lowered to zero for non-compliance with the individual mandate starting in 2019;
  • Children’s income no longer taxed at the parent’s rate; kids must file tax returns to report earned income, and unearned income is subject to tax using the tax brackets for trusts and estates.

State and local taxes capped at $10,000 per year
The most contentious deduction modification is to state and local taxes (SALT). After intense deliberations, conferees capped the SALT itemized deduction at $10,000 per year. The Act allows any combination of state and local income, sales or domestic property tax. SALT may not include foreign real property taxes.

The Act prohibited a 2017 itemized deduction for the prepayment of 2018 estimated state and local income taxes. Individuals are entitled to pay and deduct 2017 state and local income taxes by year-end 2017.

The Act permits a 2017 itemized deduction for the advance payment of 2018 real property taxes, providing the city or town assessed the taxes before 2018. For example, a taxpayer could pay real property taxes before Dec. 31, 2017, and deduct it in 2017, on an assessment for the fiscal year July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018. These IRS rules are similar for all prepaid items for cash basis taxpayers. (See IRS Advisory: Prepaid Real Property Taxes May Be Deductible in 2017 if Assessed and Paid in 2017.)

Consider that SALT is an AMT preference item; it’s not deductible for AMT taxable income.  Many upper-income and middle-income individuals fall into the AMT zone, so they don’t get a full SALT deduction. The Pease itemized deduction limitation also trimmed the SALT deduction for 2017 and prior years.

Many business owners deduct home-office expenses (HO), which include a portion of real property taxes and that allocation is not subject to the $10,000 SALT limit, and the home office deduction is not an AMT preference item. Here’s a tip: Report 100% of real property taxes on home office form 8829, to maximize the HO deduction. Deduct state and local income taxes, and the remainder of real property taxes, to reach the $10,000 SALT limit on Schedule A. When you factor in a more substantial standard deduction for 2018, many individuals may not lose as much of their SALT deduction as they fear. With lower individual tax rates, they might still end up with an overall tax cut.

The Act does not permit a pass-through business owner to allocate SALT to the business tax return. For example, an S-Corp cannot reimburse its owner for his or her individual state and local income taxes paid in connection with that pass-through income.

SALT is still allowed as a deduction from net investment income for calculating the 3.8% Obamacare net investment tax.

High-tax states are fighting back against the SALT cap. State and local jurisdictions are setting up 501(c)(3) charitable organizations to fund state and local social costs, including public schools. Residents would make charitable contributions to the state 501(c)(3) and receive credit for real property and or state income taxes. This type of restructuring would convert non-deductible SALT payments into tax-deductible charitable contributions. It will be difficult to arrange, and the IRS may object, so don’t hold your breath. High-tax states have significant transfer payments to people in need, and it seems appropriate to consider it charity.

Medical expenses modified
The Act retained the medical-expense itemized deduction, which is allowed if it’s more than the AGI threshold. In 2017, the AGI threshold was 10% for taxpayers under age 65, and 7.5% for age 65 or older. The Act uses a 7.5% AGI threshold for all taxpayers in 2018, and a 10% threshold for all taxpayers starting in 2019. Medical expenses are an AMT preference item.

Mortgage debt lowered on new loans
As of Dec. 15, 2017, new acquisition indebtedness is limited to $750,000 ($375,000 in the case of married taxpayers filing separately), down from $1 million, on a primary residence and second home. Mortgage debt incurred before Dec. 15, 2017 is subject to the grandfathered $1 million limit ($500,000 in the case of married taxpayers filing separately). If a taxpayer has a binding written contract to purchase a home before Dec. 15, 2017 and to close by Jan. 1, 2018, he or she is grandfathered under the previous limit. Refinancing debt from before Dec. 15, 2017 keeps the grandfathered limit providing the mortgage is not increased.

The conference report “suspends the deduction for interest on home equity indebtedness” starting in 2018. (IRS news release IR-2018-32, Feb. 21, 2018, Interest on Home Equity Loans Often Still Deductible Under New Law. If you stay within the $750,000 new acquisition indebtedness, and home equity loan funds are used to improve the home it’s borrowed on, then the home equity interest is deductible. Conversely, if you use the HELOC funds for other purposes, it’s not deductible.)

As with SALT, the home office mortgage interest deduction is not subject to Schedule A limits. IRS instructions for home office Form 8829 state, “If the amount of home mortgage interest or qualified mortgage insurance premiums you deduct on Schedule A is limited, enter the part of the excess that qualifies as a direct or indirect expense. Do not include mortgage interest on a loan that did not benefit your home (explained earlier).”

Investment expenses suspended
The Act has many provisions impacting investors, including suspension of miscellaneous itemized deductions, which include investment expenses, starting in 2018. The Act did not repeal investment interest expense. (See The Tax Cut Impacts Investors In Negative And Positive Ways.)

Investment expenses are still allowed as a deduction from net investment income for calculating the 3.8% Obamacare net investment tax. Retirement plans, including IRAs, are also entitled to deduct investment expenses, although it may be difficult to arrange with the custodian.

Unreimbursed employee business expenses suspended
The Act suspends unreimbursed employee business expenses deducted on Form 2106. Speak with your employer about implementing an accountable reimbursement plan and “use it or lose it” before year-end 2018. See a list of these items below.

Tax preparation and planning fees suspended
Miscellaneous itemized deductions include tax compliance (planning and preparation) fees. If you operate a business, ask your accountant to break down their invoices into individual vs. business costs. The business portion is allowed as a business expense.

Miscellaneous itemized deductions suspended
See the complete list of suspended miscellaneous itemized deductions in the Joint Explanatory Statement p. 95-98. Here are the highlights.

Expenses for the production or collection of income:

  • Clerical help and office rent in caring for investments;
  • Depreciation on home computers used for investments;
  • Fees to collect interest and dividends;
  • Indirect miscellaneous deductions from pass-through entities;
  • Investment fees and expenses;
  • Loss on deposits in an insolvent or bankrupt financial institution;
  • Loss on traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs, when all amounts have been distributed;
  • Trustee’s fees for an IRA, if separately billed and paid.

Unreimbursed expenses attributable to the trade or business of being an employee:

  • Business bad debt of an employee;
  • Business liability insurance premiums;
  • Damages paid to a former employer for breach of an employment contract;
  • Depreciation on a computer a taxpayer’s employer requires him to use in his work;
  • Dues to professional societies;
  • Educator expenses;
  • Home office or part of a taxpayer’s home used regularly and exclusively in the taxpayer’s work;
  • Job search expenses in the taxpayer’s present occupation;
  • Legal fees related to the taxpayer’s job;
  • Licenses and regulatory fees;
  • Malpractice insurance premiums;
  • Medical examinations required by an employer;

Occupational taxes;

  • Research expenses of a college professor;
  • Subscriptions to professional journals and trade magazines related to the taxpayer’s work;
  • Tools and supplies used in the taxpayer’s work;
  • Purchase of travel, transportation, meals, entertainment, gifts, and local lodging related to the taxpayer’s work;
  • Union dues and expenses;
  • Work clothes and uniforms if required and not suitable for everyday use; and
  • Work-related education.

Other miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor include:

  • The share of deductible investment expenses from pass-through entities.

Personal casualty and theft losses suspended
The Act suspends the personal casualty and theft loss itemized deduction, except for losses incurred in a federally declared disaster. If a taxpayer has a personal casualty gains, he or she may apply the loss against the gain.

Gambling loss limitation modified
The Act added professional gambling expenses to gambling losses in applying the limit against gambling winnings. Professional gamblers may no longer deduct expenses more than net winnings.

Charitable contribution deduction limitation increased
The Act raised the 50% limitation for cash contributions to public charities, and certain private foundations to 60%. Excess contributions can be carried forward for five years.

The Act retained charitable contributions as an itemized deduction. But, with the suspension of SALT over the $10,000 cap, and all miscellaneous itemized deductions, many taxpayers are expected not to itemize. Some taxpayers won’t feel the deduction effect from making charitable contributions. Consider a bunching strategy, to double up on charity one year to itemize, and contribute less the next year to use the standard deduction. Another bunching strategy is to set up a charitable trust like at Fidelity.

Alimony deduction suspended
The Act suspends alimony deductions for divorce or separation agreements executed in 2019, and the recipient does not have taxable income.

Moving expenses suspended
The Act suspends the AGI deduction for moving expenses, and employees may no longer exclude moving expense reimbursements, either. “Except for members of the Armed Forces on active duty who move pursuant to a military order and incident to a permanent change of station.”

Expanded use of 529 account funds
The Act significantly expands the permitted use of Section 529 education savings account funds. “Qualified higher education expenses” include tuition at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.

There are many other changes, but they are not in the mainstream.

Consider a consultation with Green Trader Tax to discuss the impact of the “Tax Cut And Jobs Act” on your investment activities.

Learn more about the new law and tax strategies for investors, traders and investment managers in Green’s 2018 Trader Tax Guide.


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