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As gasoline prices have climbed in 2011, many taxpayers who use a vehicle for business purposes are looking for the IRS to make a mid-year adjustment to the standard mileage rate. In the meantime, taxpayers should review the benefits of using the actual expense method to calculate their deduction. The actual expense method, while requiring careful recordkeeping, may help offset the cost of high gas prices if the IRS does not make a mid-year change to the standard mileage rate. Even if it does, you might still find yourself better off using the actual expense method, especially if your vehicle also qualifies for bonus depreciation.
Taxpayers can calculate the amount of a deductible vehicle expense using one of two methods:
- Standard mileage rate
- Actual expense method
Under the standard mileage rate, taxpayers calculate the amount of the allowable deduction by multiplying all business miles driven during the year by the standard mileage rate. One of the chief attractions of the standard mileage rate is its ease of use. Taxpayers do not have to substantiate expense amounts; however, they must substantiate business purpose and other items. There are also limitations on use of the business standard mileage rate.
The standard mileage rate for 2011 for business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 51 cents-per-mile. The IRS calculates the standard mileage rate on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The IRS set the standard mileage rate for 2011 in late 2010 when gasoline prices were lower than today. It is a flat amount, whether or not your vehicle is fuel efficient, operates on premium grade fuel, is brand new or ten years old, or is subject to high repair bills.
During past spikes in gasoline prices, the IRS has made a mid-year change to the standard mileage rate for business use of a vehicle. In 2008, the IRS increased the business standard mileage rate from 50.5 cents-per-mile to 58.5 cents-per-mile for last six months of 2008 because of high gasoline prices. The IRS made a similar mid-year adjustment in 2005 when it increased the business standard mileage rate after Hurricane Katrina.
At this time, it is unclear if the IRS will make a similar mid-year adjustment in 2011. IRS officials generally have declined to make any predictions. If the IRS does make a mid-year change, it will likely do so in late June, so the higher rate can apply to the last six months of 2011.
Actual expense method
Rather than rely on a mid-year adjustment from the IRS, which might not come, it's a good idea to compare the actual vehicle costs versus the business standard mileage rate. Taxpayers who use the actual expense method must keep track of all costs related to the vehicle during the year. The cost of operating a vehicle includes these expenses:
- Repair and maintenance costs
- Lease payments (if the taxpayer leases the vehicle)
- Interest on a vehicle loan
- Personal property taxes on the vehicle
"Doing the math" this year in weighing whether to take the actual expense method not only should factor in the cost of gasoline but also what depreciation or expensing deductions you will be gaining by using the actual expense method. Enhanced bonus depreciation and enhanced "section 179" expensing for 2011 can increase your deduction for a newly-purchased vehicle in its first year tremendously if the actual expense method is elected.
Certain other costs are deductible whether you take the actual expense method or the standard mileage rate. This group includes parking charges, garage fees and tolls. Expenses incurred for the personal use of your vehicle are generally not deductible. An allocation must be made when the vehicle is used partly for personal purposes
Once actual depreciation in excess of straight-line has been claimed on a vehicle, the standard mileage rate cannot be used for the vehicle in any future year. Absent that prohibition (which usually is triggered if depreciation is taken), a business can switch between the standard mileage rate and actual expense methods from year to year. Businesses that switch methods now cannot make change methods effective in mid-year; you must apply one method retroactively from January 1.
The actual expense method requires taxpayers to substantiate every expense. This recordkeeping requirement can be challenging. For example, taxpayers who fill-up often at the gas pump need to keep a record of every purchase. The same is true for tune-ups and other maintenance and repair activity. One way to simplify recordkeeping is to charge all vehicle related expenses to one credit card.Our office will keep you posted of developments. If you have any questions about the actual expense method or the business standard mileage rate, please contact our office.
The IRS's streamlined offer-in-compromise (OIC) program is intended to speed up the processing of OICs for qualified taxpayers. Having started in 2010, the streamlined OIC program is relatively new. The IRS recently issued instructions to its examiners, urging them to process streamlined OICs as expeditiously as possible. One recent survey estimates that one in 15 taxpayers is now in arrears on tax payments to the IRS to at least some degree. Because of continuing fallout from the economic downturn, however, the IRS has tried to speed up its compromise process to the advantage of both hard-pressed taxpayers and its collection numbers.
The IRS OIC program on its face can appear very attractive to taxpayers with unpaid liabilities. An OIC is an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer's tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed. Keep in mind that taxpayers do not automatically qualify for an OIC. The IRS has cautioned that, absent special circumstances, if you have the ability to fully pay your tax liability in a lump sum or via an installment agreement, an OIC will not be accepted.
The IRS may accept an offer in compromise based on three grounds:
- Doubt as to collectibility
- Doubt as to liability
- Effective tax administration
The decision whether to accept or reject an OIC is entirely within the discretion of the IRS. Sometimes, but very rarely, an OIC will be deemed accepted because the IRS failed to reject it within 24 months of receiving the offer.
The low acceptance rate of OICs has some lawmakers in Congress and taxpayer groups upset. One of the most vocal critics has been National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson who has urged the IRS to bring more taxpayers into the OIC program. Partly in response to this criticism, the IRS launched the streamlined OIC in 2010. The streamlined OIC program is intended to cut through much of the red tape that surrounds OICs. The IRS promised, among other things, to process streamlined OICs more quickly.
In February 2011, the IRS announced some changes to streamlined OICs. Streamlined OICs may be offered to taxpayers with total household incomes of $100,000 or less and who have a total tax liability of less than $50,000. Taxpayers who do not meet these requirements may apply for a traditional OIC.
The streamlined procedures do not necessarily mean that the IRS will accept more OICs; merely that it will process the offers it receives more quickly. Since the streamlined OIC program is relatively new, the IRS has not yet reported how many streamlined offers it has accepted.
Before accepting or rejecting a streamlined OIC, IRS examiners must verify that the information provided by the taxpayer is correct. The IRS instructed examiners reviewing streamlined OICs to verify taxpayer information through internal research. Examiners will verify ownership of items such as real estate, motor vehicles and other property.
Examiners also will be able to communicate directly with taxpayers or their representatives. The IRS instructed examiners to contact taxpayers or their representatives by telephone whenever possible; rather than sending written notices. Three phone attempts should be made over two business days to contact the taxpayer or his/her representative. If the examiner reaches the taxpayer's voicemail, the examiners should request a call-back within two business days.
The streamlined OIC program is not for everyone. Indeed, the acceptance rate for all OICs (just about 13,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2010) means that relatively few taxpayers will make an offer that the IRS will accept. Nonetheless, the OIC program is one tool that may be used by taxpayers with unpaid liabilities. If you have any questions about the IRS's streamlined OIC or traditional OIC, please contact our office.
As a result of recent changes in the law, many brokerage customers will begin seeing something new when they gaze upon their 1099-B forms early next year. In the past, of course, brokers were required to report to their clients, and the IRS, those amounts reflecting the gross proceeds of any securities sales taking place during the preceding calendar year.
In keeping with a broader move toward greater information reporting requirements, however, new tax legislation now makes it incumbent upon brokers to provide their clients, and the IRS, with their adjusted basis in the lots of securities they purchase after certain dates, as well. While an onerous new requirement for the brokerage houses, this development ought to simplify the lives of many ordinary taxpayers by relieving them of the often difficult matter of calculating their stock bases.
When calculating gain, or loss, on the sale of stock, all taxpayers must employ a very simple formula. By the terms of this calculus, gain equals amount realized (how much was received in the sale) less adjusted basis (generally, how much was paid to acquire the securities plus commissions). By requiring brokers to provide their clients with both variables in the formula, Congress has lifted a heavy load from the shoulders of many.
The new requirements also specify that, if a customer sells some amount of shares less than her entire holding in a given stock, the broker must report the customer's adjusted basis using the "first in, first out" method, unless the broker receives instructions from the customer directing otherwise. The difference in tax consequences can be significant.
Example. On January 16, 2011, Laura buys 100 shares of Big Co. common stock for $100 a share. After the purchase, Big Co. stock goes on a tear, quickly rising in price to $200 a share, on April 11, 2011. Believing the best is still ahead for Big Co., Laura buys another 100 shares of Big Co. common on that date, at that price. However, rather than continuing its meteoric rise, the price of Big Co. stock rapidly plummets to $150, on May 8, 2011. At this point, Laura, tired of seeing her money evaporate, sells 100 of her Big Co. shares.
Since Laura paid $100 a share for the first lot of Big Co. stock that she purchased (first in), her basis in those shares is $100 per share (plus any brokerage commissions). Her basis in the second lot, however, is $200 per share (plus any commissions). Unless Laura directs her broker to use an alternate method, the broker will use the first in stock basis of $100 per share in its reporting of this first out sale. Laura, accordingly, will be required to report a short-term capital gain of $50 per share (less brokerage commissions). Had she instructed her broker to use the "last in, first out" method, she would, instead, see a short-term capital loss of $50 per share (plus commissions).
Dividend Reinvestment Plans
As their name would suggest, dividend reinvestment plans (DRPs) allow investors the opportunity to reinvest all, or a portion, of any dividends received back into additional shares, or fractions of shares, of the paying corporation. While offering investors many advantages, one historical drawback to DRPs has been their tendency to obligate participants to keep track of their cost bases for many small purchases of stock, and maintain records of these purchases, sometimes over the course of many years. Going forward, however taxpayers will be able to average the basis of stock held in a DRP acquired on or after January 1, 2011.
The types of securities covered by the legislation include virtually every conceivable financial instrument subject to a basis calculation, including stock in a corporation, which become "covered" securities when acquired after a certain date. In the case of corporate stock, for example, the applicability date is January 1, 2011, unless the stock is in a mutual fund or is acquired in connection with a dividend reinvestment program (DRP), in which case the applicable date is January 1, 2012. The applicable date for all other securities is January 1, 2013.
In the past, brokers reported the gross proceeds of short sales in the year in which the short position was opened. The amendments, however, require that brokers report short sales for the year in which the short sale is closed.
The Complex World of Stock Basis
There are, quite literally, as many ways to calculate one's basis in stock as there are ways to acquire that stock. Many of these calculations can be nuanced and very complex. For any questions concerning the new broker-reporting requirements, or stock basis, in general, please contact our office.
Many more retirees and others wanting guarantee income are looking into annuities, especially given the recent experience of the economic downturn. While the basic concept of an annuity is fairly simple, complex rules usually apply to the taxation of amounts received under certain annuity and life insurance contracts.
Amounts received as an annuity are included in gross income to the extent that they exceed the exclusion ratio, which is determined by taking the original investment in the contract, deducting the value of any refund features, and dividing the result by the expected yield on the contract as of the annuity starting date. In general, the expected return is the product of a single payment and the anticipated number of payments to be received, i.e., the total amount the annuitant(s) can expect to receive. In the case of a life annuity, the number of payments is computed based on actuarial tables.
If the annuity payments are to continue as long as the annuitant remains alive, the anticipated number of payments is based on the annuitant's (or annuitants') life expectancy at the birthday nearest the annuity starting date. The IRS provides a variety of actuarial tables, within unisex tables generally applicable to all contracts entered into after June 1986. The expected return multiples found in the actuarial tables may require adjustment if the contract specifies quarterly, semiannual or annual payments or if the interval between payments exceeds the interval between the annuity starting date and the first payment.
In connection with annuity calculations, one recent tax law change in particular is worth noting. Under the Creating Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, enacted on September 27, 2010, if amounts are received as an annuity for a period of 10 years or more or on the lives of one or more individuals under any portion of an annuity, endowment, or life insurance contract, then that portion of the contract will now be treated as a separate contract for tax purposes. As result, a portion of such an annuity, endowment, or life insurance contract may be annuitized, while the balance is not annuitized. The allowance of partial annuitization applies to amounts received in tax years beginning after December 31, 2010.
If you need help in "crunching the numbers" on an annuity, or if you'd like advice on what annuity options might best fit your needs, please do not hesitate to contact our office.
Most people are familiar with tax withholding, which most commonly takes place when an employer deducts and withholds income and other taxes from an employee's wages. However, many taxpayers are unaware that the IRS also requires payors to withhold income tax from certain reportable payments, such as interest and dividends, when a payee's taxpayer identification number (TIN) is missing or incorrect. This is known as "backup withholding."
Backup Withholding in General
A payor must deduct, withhold, and pay over to the IRS a backup withholding tax on any reportable payments that are not otherwise subject to withholding if:
- the payee fails to furnish a TIN to the payor in the manner required;
- the IRS or a broker notifies the payor that the TIN provided by the payee is incorrect;
- the IRS notifies the payor that the payee failed to report or underreported the prior year's interest or dividends; or
- the payee fails to certify on Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification, that he or she is not subject to withholding for previous underreporting of interest or dividend payments.
The backup withholding rate is equal to the fourth lowest income tax rate under the income tax rate brackets for unmarried individuals, which is currently 28 percent.
Only reportable payments are subject to backup withholding. Backup withholding is not required if the payee is a tax-exempt, governmental, or international organization. Similarly, payments of interest made to foreign persons are generally not subject to information reporting; therefore, these payees are not subject to backup withholding. Additionally, a payor is not required to backup withhold on reportable payments for which there is documentary evidence, under the rules on interest payments, that the payee is a foreign person, unless the payor has actual knowledge that the payee is a U.S. person. Furthermore, backup withholding is not required on payments for which a 30 percent amount was withheld by another payor under the rules on foreign withholding.
Reportable payments generally include the following types of payments of more than $10:
- Patronage dividends (payments from farmers' cooperatives) paid in money;
- Payments of $600 or more made in the course of a trade or business;
- Payments for a nonemployee's services provided in the course of a trade or business;
- Gross proceeds from transactions reported by a broker or barter exchange;
- Cash payments from certain fishing boat operators to crew members that represent a share of the proceeds of the catch; and
Reportable payments also include payments made after December 31, 2011, in settlement of payment card transactions.
Failure to Furnish TIN
Payees receiving reportable payments through interest, dividend, patronage dividend, or brokerage accounts must provide their TIN to the payor in writing and certify under penalties of perjury that the TIN is correct. Payees receiving other reportable payments must still provide their TIN to the payor, but they may do so orally or in writing, and they are not required to certify under penalties of perjury that the TIN is correct.
A payee who does not provide a correct taxpayer identification number (TIN) to the payer is subject to backup withholding. A person is treated as failing to provide a correct TIN if the TIN provided does not contain the proper number of digits --nine --or if the number is otherwise obviously incorrect, for example, because it contains a letter as one of its digits.
The IRS compares TINs provided by taxpayers with records of the Social Security Administration to check for discrepancies and notifies the bank or the payer of any problem accounts. The IRS has requested banks and other payers to notify their customers of these discrepancies so that correct TINs can be provided and the need for backup withholding avoided.
As an individual or business, it is your responsibility to be aware of and to meet your tax filing/reporting deadlines. This calendar summarizes important tax reporting and filing data for individuals, businesses and other taxpayers for the month of June 2011.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates May 28-31.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates June 1-3.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates June 4-7.
Employees who work for tips. Employees who received $20 or more in tips during May must report them to their employer using Form 4070.
Individuals. U.S. citizens or resident aliens living and working (or on military duty) outside the United States and Puerto Rico, file Form 1040 for 2010; or file for a four month extension on Form 4868.
Individuals. Second installment of estimate income tax in 2011 is due; make payments with Form 1040-ES.
Corporations. Second installment of estimate income tax in 2011 is due; use worksheet, Form 1120-W.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates June 8-10.
Monthly depositors. Monthly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payments in May.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates June 11-14.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates June 15-17.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates June 18-21.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates June 22-24.
Investors. Form TD F 90-22.1 (FBAR) is due from owners of accounts containing over $10,000 of financial assets, including cash, in a foreign jurisdiction during 2010.