Does the IRS think you have a Business?

2013 Tax

Many taxpayers started a business and thought, or were told, “Don’t worry about the expense, it’s a write off on your tax return”.

The truth is that this may or may not be true.

Tax is not a cookie-cutter industry and as you can probably guess, the IRS did not make a “One Size Fits All” tax rule for write-offs.

If your intent is to enjoy your hobby and perhaps make some incidental income, this blog may not be of interest to you.

If your intent is to make money through a legitimate business, as defined by the IRS – this is for you

  • My purpose is to provide you “heads up” and “eyes open” to help ensure your business and financial success
  • This blog is provided to help educate you on how to organize, manage and conduct your business to improve your chances with the IRS in the event that your “activity” is audited ***

 

IRS Hobby VS Business Rules:

  • An “Activity” is either a hobby or a business
  • The IRS uses facts to decide if an activity is a (hobby) or a business
  • Neither the Code nor the Regulations provide an absolute definition
  • It is difficult for a taxpayer to win a hobby-loss case at the Tax Court level
  • If your tax return pays tax as a business and the IRS finds that it is a hobby, your tax return can be corrected and your tax liability could go up; i.e. you might owe the IRS money ***
  • The financial adjustment may be significant. In addition to the loss of the deductions, you, may face a §6662 understatement penalty for the tax years in question ***

 

Hobby Rules:

  • An activity is presumed to be a Hobby if a profit is not earned in at least 3 taxable years of a consecutive 5-year period
  • A taxpayer can overcome the presumption if he/she can show the activity was operated with a For-Profit motive
  • Under IRC §183, a taxpayer’s deduction for Hobby losses is limited to the income produced
  • You must itemize deductions to claim hobby expenses on your tax return
  • Hobby expenses, along with other miscellaneous expenses you itemize on Schedule A, must come to more than 2% of your adjusted gross income before you can deduct them
  • Hobby Expenses can bring your Hobby Gross Income, to zero
  • Income is reported on your IRS Form 1040, Line 21, Other Income
  • I understand that this can be confusing, so I will rephrase differently, to help bring clarity:
  • Hobby Income needs to be reported
  • Hobby Expense deductions have 3 limitations:
  1. Total Itemized Deductions have to be greater than your Standard Deduction
  2. Hobby expense deductions are limited to the hobby income produced, and then
  3. Then those expenses must be reduced by 2% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

 

Business Rules:

  • A Business has a For-Profit motive
  • A simple, general rule is that if the business makes a profit in 3 of 5 years there will be a presumption of profit
  • IRC § 183(d) is a safe harbor for the taxpayer
  • If the business is For-Profit, no limit on deductions is imposed and the taxpayer may be able to use losses to offset (reduce) other taxable income
  • If an activity has not produced profits in three of the past five years, the taxpayer may still argue that the business has a profit motive by relying on Reg. §1.183-2, which provides for a nine-factor test
  • More weight is given by the courts to the objective facts (rather than to the taxpayer’s statement intent) Dreicer v. Comr., 78 T.C. 642 (1982)
  • Judicial decisions suggest that no one factor is controlling
  • Court decisions often seem to consistently rely on the first factor as the most important

 

The prevailing regulations list nine critical factors for determining whether an activity constitutes a Hobby or a Business. They are:

  1. The manner in which the taxpayer carries on the activity
  2. The expertise of the taxpayer or his or her advisers
  3. The time and effort expended by the taxpayer in carrying on the activity
  4. The expectation that assets used in the activity may appreciate in value
  5. The success of the taxpayer in carrying on other similar or dissimilar activities
  6. The taxpayer’s history of income or losses with respect to the activity
  7. The amount of occasional profits, if any, which are earned by the taxpayer
  8. The financial status of the taxpayer
  9. Any elements of personal pleasure or recreation

 

Business Tax Reporting:

  • A Sole Proprietor or Qualified Joint Venture will file a federal return on Form 1040 and Schedule C- Profit or Loss from Business
  • If you have another Schedule C business activity; a separate Schedule C is required for each business; the same is true for your business records
  • Check to see what tax reporting is required by your state tax board and local municipality
  • The IRS expects you to pay tax as the money is earned
  • If you operate on a calendar year, due dates are 4/15, 6/15, 9/15, and 1/15 for the previous year
  • Quarterly estimated tax payments should be paid if you expect to owe more than $1,000 in federal taxes on an annual basis
  • Use 1040ES for Individual Estimated Payments
  • Reconcile payments on your annual Year End tax return
  • Self-Employment tax of 15.30% is required on all Annual Net Earnings of more than $400

 

Building the Foundation for a For-Profit Business Intent

Tips for Success:

  • Conduct your business, like a business, consistently
  • Consistency includes Quarterly tax reporting and payments – as required
  • Quarterly reporting requires that your accounting records be current – so you know if you have a profit or a loss
  • Taxpayers bear the burden of proving that they engaged in the activity with an actual and honest objective of realizing a profit
  • Keep detailed financial records
  • Credit Card and Bank statements and cancelled checks are not enough- the IRS needs to see the detail of what you bought
  • Receipts are your Audit Protection – the IRS has Strict Substantiation Requirements
  • The Cohen Rule,” states that you can use “other credible evidence,” or rely on IRS Publication 463 which states that you don’t need to keep receipts for expenses under $75 – it is safer to save all receipts and to follow a consistent business practice
  • Don’t use Cash: it is hard to track, easy to spend and nearly impossible to reconcile with receipts
  • Establish separate checking and credit accounts for your business – don’t co-mingle business & personal funds
  • Keep a Time/Activity Log- Outlook or Google calendar may be requested during an audit
  • If you have had business losses and made changes in the attempt to improve profitability, keep a list of changes made and the date the change was made
  • Establish a level of expertise by attending seminars, networking, and joining professional organizations related to the activity
  • Anticipate that you could be audited ***
  • Pursue your passion, enjoy the journey, and ask questions as you learn along the way

 

If you want to learn more about IRS tax rules, contact for me for a $75.00 Special: includes a 45 minute Q&A phone session plus a free “cheat sheet” for your personal use. The “cheat sheet” includes accounting/tax tips about what is a deductible expense, etc. Offer is valid until 9/5/16.

 

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced every day” – Jim Rohn

“To open a shop is easy; to keep it open is an art” –Chinese Proverb

 

Thanks for reading,

Deb

 

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth. She can help by being your financial compass while you captain your ship.

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

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Is Your Tax Situation Causing You Pain?

 

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Perhaps, a little humor can help the “medicine go down”

Is a Tax problem (and pain) keeping you up at night? If so, I hope to provide you some relief to feel better by:

  • Helping you Identify your status & gain perspective
  • Provide education – process, proposed solutions, and
  • Suggest do’s and don’t to remedy your situation, or
  • Identify those that can legally help you and with what

Pain Scale:

0 – I hope it stays this way – always

Mild Pain – Filed an extension & still not ready to file?

1-2 – Mild Pain – Can be Ignored?

Moderate Pain – Audit – Find your Records?

3 or 4: Interferes with Tasks

5 or 6: Interferes with Concentration

Severe Pain – Assets seized? Wage Garnishment?

7 or 8: Interferes with Basic Needs

9 or 10: Bed Rest Required

Regardless of your situation, know that you are not alone and help is available.

Tips for those with a Mild diagnosis

  • You have until 10/17/16 to file your 2015 return
  • Now is the time to request help if you want it
  • Reminder to stay current with your estimated tax payments for 2016

Tips for those with a Moderate/Severe diagnosis

Remind yourself that being afraid of things going wrong isn’t the way to make things go right.

Fear is interest paid on a debt you may not owe” – anonymous

Take a breath and let’s dig deeper.

There are 3 types of IRS Audits (verified compliance)

  • Correspondence Exam– not Face to Face
  • Office – Local IRS office – Desk Audit
  • Field – Your office or home or your Accountants office

Audit Scope/Complexity varies from low to high risk

  • In a Correspondence Audit, the IRS, generally, will not expand the scope
  • If you request a transfer to an Office Audit, because of complexity or large amount of documents, the Revenue Agent has the authority to Expand the Scope- IRS internal approval required
  • Field Audit scope can be expanded without approval 

An Audit LifecycleSimplified

  • Inquiry
  • Provide info
  • Wait
  • Proposed Changes
  • Wait
  • Provide Additional info
  • Finalize

Timeframe to Resolve (perspective)

  • Correspondence Exam – 3 to 6 months
  • Office Exam – can take over a year

 

What you need to know:

  • A discrepancy is not an audit; i.e. Form CP 2000, but should be treated like an audit
  • For Audits, the Burden of Proof, falls upon the Taxpayer- show why you are entitled to deduction
  • The IRS may give you a Proposed Tax Bill if you don’t substantiate your position
  • Your Tax Adviser can help you by being the Auditor before the Audit; examples:
  1. Can help you identify Audit Risks – problem areas on your return and/or overlooked deductions & credits
  2. Poor Books & Records & the need to recreate

 

Dos and Don’ts

Do:

  • If you handle your own IRS correspondence, Be Clear, Concise, and To The Point
  • Do provide credible evidence
  • Be timely in your response and provide the requested information – Be organized and help them do their job
  • Do know the Limits on Representation:
  1. CPA, EA, & Attorney can help through the Appeals process
  2. Attorney only for Tax Court

 

Don’t:

  • Do not include needless facts- the auditor could miss your main point if you ramble
  • Do not send/bring a big box of loose unorganized paper- this sets your audit off on the wrong foot
  • Don’t ignore their letters

Action Steps:

  • Read what the IRS is looking for
  • Gather documents, organize, & summarize
  • Recreate unavailable documents
  • Decide, am I going to do this alone or get help

 

Process:

Audit Determination:

  • No change
  • Agree with changes – make payment arrangements
  • Disagree with changes – Appeals Mediation or Appeal

Collection:

  • Generally, the IRS will send you a written notice requesting that you pay a specific amount
  • If not paid and you do not contact them, the IRS could force you to pay by taking future refunds, placing liens on your property, seizing assets, & garnishing your wages

Installment Agreement:

  • Signed agreement to pay down the debt over a period of time
  • Can prevent Wage Garnishment IF payments are made on time

Offer in Compromise:

  • An agreement to settle the debt for less than the amount owed
  • You must qualify by meeting compliance and eligibility requirements. Requirements are strict and the IRS only accepts this under limited conditions

Appeals Mediation:

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Helps to develop resolution strategies
  • Appeals mediator has no power to render a decision or to force either party to accept a settlement.

Appeal:

Appeals is the place for you if ALL of the following apply:

  • You received a letter from the IRS explaining your right to appeal the IRS’s decision.
  • You do not agree with the IRS’s decision.
  • You are not signing an agreement form sent to you.

 

Closing Comments:

  • This blog is intended to provide you some insight and helpful solutions. It is not exhaustive of all possibilities
  • 1st Time Abatement Penalty and relief from other penalties were not discussed in this blog

 

If you have questions, feel free to call me at 619-549-2717.

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself “ – Andy Warhol

 

Thanks for reading,

Deb

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth. She can help by being your financial compass while you captain your ship.

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

Starting Over – A Happy Tax Story

 

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Zig Ziglar said, “We cannot start over, but we can begin now and make a new ending”.

The Problem:

A few years back, I had a contact call me in a panic after she had finished her initial attempt at preparing her own tax return. She owed almost $5,000 and was shocked that she owed that much money.   It was scary because she didn’t have the money to pay that kind of tax bill. She called me for help and advice.

The Beginning:

To put this into perspective, this was her 1st year to file Single.

Previously, her husband of almost 25 years had handled their tax returns. They had filed Married Filing Joint and had dependent children. At work, her tax withholding was based upon her previous situation, not her present circumstance.

Originally, she thought filing a tax return would be simple and at first, it seemed as if it was. TurboTax asked her questions and she completed the answers the best that she could.

The Middle:

After receiving her call, we agreed to meet and I reviewed what she had completed, but had not yet filed. After a good interview process, we had a game plan and she began to collect tax related documents that could be used to determine the feasibility of itemizing rather than to use the standard deduction.

The End:

After several weeks of back and forth questions and answers, I had the documentation that I needed to help her complete a revised return. This resulted in about a $3,900 savings and she thankfully, filed her federal and state tax returns.

The Zig Ziglar quote is great, but it did not fully apply in this situation. She could “start over” and could also make a new ending.

Since that time, we work together every year. We don’t just wait until the tax season to talk. We use tax planning and action during the year to manage her annual tax bill and to keep it as low as possible. Frequently she knows her current tax situation before 12/31. We don’t know the exact number, but she does have the comfort of “No Surprises” when the tax season officially arrives.

The Lessons:

  • Sometimes, a 2nd look can make a big difference
  • If the tax filing process is new to you, having someone help you, may prove to be beneficial
  • If you ask someone to help,  try to find someone that will take the time to educate you about the process.
  • It is empowering to learn and apply the tax rules; it saves you money 

Thanks for reading!

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA is working to make a difference in peoples lives and wallets, by helping them build and protect their financial health.

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations and is available for appointments – including remote. More information is available at http://www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Smart Personal Tax Planning –What to do before Year-End

2013 TaxTaxes take a big bite out of the income we earn. We may pay: federal (IRS) income tax, state income tax, payroll tax (social security/medicare), sales tax, and property tax. Most of these taxes offer limited options to control how much we pay. However, our golden opportunity comes with income tax because there are a ways to reduce our expense. Today, I offer some of these for you to consider:

The Why & The How

If you want to want to make sure your money is more in “your pocket” than in theirs (The IRS), now is the time to act. Estimating your 2014 tax bill keeps you from being surprised next year. More importantly, it provides you the opportunity to perhaps decrease the amount of tax you pay by planning and acting strategically before the end of this year.

To start:

  • Determine how much you have earned this year
  • Determine what you have paid toward your 2014 tax bill
  • Then increase each of these amounts to estimate the year-end amounts

Now that you have a glimpse of your 2014 tax situation, compare those numbers to those on your 2013 tax return. A filed return can be used as a sort of “road map” to see if there are options to reduce your tax bill now or in the future.

For example, did you get a refund last year? If so, consider this:

Kiplinger’s recently had a great article titled, “Safeguard your Refund by shrinking it”. The article includes the following:

  • More than 75% of Americans get an IRS tax refund each year which is the equivalent of giving the IRS an interest free loan
  • Identity Theft is on the rise and thieves file fraudulent returns to collect refunds. Avoid this risk by limiting the amount of refund you receive
  • Use on –line tax calculators to see if your estimated tax withholding is correct; the IRS and Kiplinger’s both provide these
  • File a revised W-4 with your employer this year to change your tax withholdings; remember the goal is to break even

Shift Income?

Then consider if you can shift income to decrease the amount of tax owed:

If you think your income will decrease next year and your tax rate would be lower, can you:

  1. Defer a year-end bonus to January 2015?
  2. Postpone a sale that will trigger a gain to next year?
  3. Delay exercising stock options?

Alternatively, it may make sense to move income to this year:

  1. Covert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA and recognize the conversion income this year
  2. Take IRA distributions this year?

Shift Payments?

If you itemize, would you benefit if you changed the timing of some of your payments?

If you expect your income to decrease next year, then you might want to move some payments/deductions to the current year to offset your higher income this year. Can you:

  • Prepay property taxes?
  • Make your January mortgage payment this year?
  • If you owe state income taxes, consider making up any shortfall rather than waiting until your return is due
  • Consider the timing of medical expenses so you can benefit from the deduction?
  • Sell some or all of your loss stocks?
  • If you qualify for a health savings account, consider setting one up and making the maximum contribution allowable

Defer Deductions into 2015

If you expect tax rates to increase next year, or if you anticipate a substantial increase in taxable income, you may want to explore waiting to take deductions until 2015:

  • Postpone year-end charitable contributions, property tax payments, and medical and dental expense payments, to the extent you might get a deduction for such payments
  • Postpone the sale of any loss-generating property

Can you do anything else?

For those that would like to take it a step further, consider if there is anything you can do to increase your “Above the Line Deductions”.

On a Federal Individual1040 tax form, the basic formula is:

Income minus “Above the Line” deductions = Adjusted Gross Income.

These deductions include paying monies to:

  • Establish an IRA for you or your spouse?
  • If qualified, set up a Health Savings Account?
  • If self-employed, would you benefit from having health insurance or a Qualified Pension Plan?

While this is not an exhaustive list, I hope it gives you enough information to initiate your plan, act this year, and save money on your next tax bill.

A dollar saved is a dollar you don’t need to earn. Keep marching towards financial freedom. Happy planning!

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets by helping others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointment. More information is available at www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com. Thanks for reading

2013 Federal Tax Filing

tax2• Tax returns are due 4/15/14 – about 3 weeks from now
• You can extend the dead-line if you apply for an extension
• You cannot extend the time to pay the tax that you owe; this means you must estimate the amount owed to ensure you have paid in the correct amount, on time, to avoid interest and a possible penalty
• A penalty may be imposed if:

1. If the amount owed is at least $1,000 and it is more than 10% of the tax shown on your tax return
2. You did not pay enough estimated tax by any of the due dates. This is true even if you are owed a refund
3. There are exceptions; it is safer not to count on them or you can read about them in the Instructions for 1040


Filing Options:

• Do it yourselfers, with Adjusted Gross Income less than $58,000 can, generally, use the IRS Free File Program
• Hire A Professional – Someone that is educated, experienced, licensed (or in California, this includes being registered with CTEC –California Tax Education Council)

Food for thought:
• Typically, the Income Tax is the single biggest bill in an U.S. household. Understanding, planning, and using tax breaks, by year, can reduce your lifetime tax burden
• If you like to file your own taxes, sometimes it provides comfort to have a professional review your taxes to ensure accuracy or to use your tax return as a “road map” to see if there are options to lessen your tax bill – now or in the future
• From an IRS audit perspective, history has shown that Self-Employed people underestimate their income and overstate their deductions. Watch for these IRS audit redflags: http://www.Kiplinger.com/links/auditredflags

Things to think about for Same-Sex Married Couples:
• Same-Sex Married (SSM) couples can file their federal taxes together this year for the 1st time
• If it would benefit you, you can chose to amend any/all previous returns
• Dead-lines to amend previous returns are:
1. 4/15/14 to amend 2010
2. 4/15/15 to amend 2011
3. 4/15/16 to amend 2012

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest – Benjamin Franklin.
http://www.debfoxfinancial.com

To Plan – It Helps to Understand – Financially

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“Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar you do not need to earn” – Deb Fox

One of my goals is to make the seemingly complex, simple.  With that in mind, I offer you an IRS Federal Tax primer.

To plan, financially, it helps to understand that not all numbers are created equal. Some numbers provide more benefit than others.

My hope is that this primer will serve as a good tool to refer back to when I write about other tax topics.

The Visual:

Income
– Above the Line Deductions
= Adjusted Gross Income
– Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions
Exemptions
= Taxable Income
– Tax Credits
Tax Paid
= Tax Owed or Refunded

The Narrative:

Income includes all income except income that is exempt by law

Deductions reduce your tax liability by reducing the amount of income that is taxable

Income minus Above the Line deductions equals Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

  • Above the Line deductions include, in part, monies paid for:
  1. Health Savings Account
  2. IRA Deduction
  3. Qualified Student Loan Interest
  4. Self-employed health insurance or qualified pension plans

Adjusted Gross Income minus either the Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions

  • Use the highest number
  • The 2012 Federal Standard Deduction for Single of Married Filing Separate was $5950; $11,900 for Married Filing Joint or Qualified Widower; $8,700 for Head of Household

Then subtract $3,800 for each 2012 qualified Exemption = Taxable Income

  • Exemptions include you, your spouse, & qualified dependents

Taxable Income minus Allowable Credits

  • Credits are either Refundable or Non-Refundable
  • Refundable means you can reduce your tax liability below zero – IRS pays you
  • Non-Refundable means you can reduce your tax liability to zero

Refundable Credits Include:

  • Earned Income credit
  • Child Tax credit
  • The American Opportunity Tax credit

Non-Refundable Credits include:

  • Adoption credit
  • Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit)
  • Lifetime Learning credit

Takeaways:

  • Above the Line deductions are more valuable than Below the Line deductions because they are available to all taxpayers and are not subject to income limitation phase-outs
  • Deductions reduce the amount of income subject to tax
  • Tax credits reduce the amount of tax you pay
  • Tax planning can help you reduce your tax liability and keep more of your money
  • Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar you do not need to earn.

Keep marching toward Financial Freedom. Happy Planning!