New Tax Law Still Requires Patience

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In January 2018, less than a month after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed, I blogged that we all need patience. “Less than a month after passing a new law is too soon for all the details and unintended consequences to be fully explained,” I said.

Little did I know back then that we would need so much patience now, a year after the law was enacted.

Many new tax law provisions became effective in 2018, making the 2019 tax filing season the first time that many taxpayers will be aware of how the tax law impacts her or him. Getting clarity about those impacts may not be quick or easy, especially for businesses. Figuring it out will take some patience, whether you prepare your own taxes or pay a tax professional to do it.

Tax filing season officially opened this week. The deadline to file or extend an individual return is April 15, new law or not. During those 12 weeks of tax filing season, the following people will need to show and be shown lots of patience:

  • Self-Preparers – Reading instructions not your thing? You could be sorry if you rush into preparing your 2018 taxes without slowing down and understanding the new rules. Approach your tax software as though it were the first time you’ve used it. Everything will look so different, you will want to take each step with patience and care.
  • Tax Professionals and Their Clients – Your tax preparer may ask new questions and require more documentation to ensure your returns are accurate and comply with all the new rules. She or he will also need to explain the new rules and why you may not get your expected refund. Those conversations could be more stressful than usual, so a bit more patience will be needed by all parties.
  • IRS Employees – If you need to call an IRS representative, please remember that this mess is not her or his fault. Plus, as of this writing, the federal government is partially shut down. That IRS employee could be working without pay. Demonstrating patience on the phone makes the situation more pleasant for everyone.

The 2019 tax filing season is going to be more stressful than usual because of the new tax law and its impact. Approaching your software, your tax professional and the IRS with some patience will go a long way to making the 2019 tax filing season as painless as possible.

What to Expect from a Tax Preparer

Changes to the tax law enacted in December 2017 means we’ll be dealing with a lot of new rules this filing season. Tax filing “simplification” means that all the individual forms for 2018 look different than ever before. As a result, more taxpayers than ever before could be looking for a tax preparer, even people who have always filed their own tax returns. But just any tax preparer isn’t good enough, especially this year!

You are responsible for the contents of your tax return, even if you pay someone to prepare and file it for you. It’s essential that you engage a qualified tax preparer who has the right experience and knowledge of your tax situation. The tax industry is unregulated; anyone can hang up her or his “Tax Preparer” shingle. So how do you find a qualified tax preparer to meet your needs?

First, get referrals from colleagues, family and friends about who prepares their taxes. Ask them why they like their tax preparer. Briefly interview two or three of the tax preparers that sound like a good fit, including these three questions:

How Do You Keep Up with Changing Tax Laws?

Tax laws are constantly changing, as we know. It’s important to work with a tax professional who keeps up, so you don’t have to. Your tax preparer should describe attending conferences, webinars, or other methods she or he uses to stay current.

What are Your Experience and Credentials?

Working with a credentialed tax professional, like an Enrolled Agent or Certified Public Accountant, provides confidence that your taxes are being prepared accurately. Also ask for examples of tax situations and complex issues where she or he has experience. The answers will indicate whether your needs will be addressed.

How Do You Communicate with your Clients?

Discuss whether the tax preparer meet regularly with clients, how confidential documents are shared and stored, and whether the person is available for you if a tax-related question or issue comes up outside of “normal” tax season. Make sure you feel comfortable with the tax professional’s style, manner and process.

It’s important to have a qualified tax preparer that is prepared to meet your needs. Feeling confident and comfortable with the answers to these three questions is a good sign that your taxes will be prepared accurately and consider all the new tax rules.

Impacts of the 2017 Tax Act on Individuals

Pretty soon, it will be time to think about pulling together your W-2s, investment statements, and other documents to prepare your 2018 income tax returns. Are you ready? Even if you usually have an easy time getting ready to prepare your income tax returns, your experience could be more challenging this year because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017.

Many articles have been written describing the new tax law. The IRS website is packed with explanations and links that interpret the tax law changes. But how do you know which changes impact you and how to prepare? One option is to attend a workshop given by a qualified tax professional who has educated herself on all the tax law updates and their impacts.

You’ll have an opportunity to hear about the latest tax law changes that impact individuals and their families at my upcoming workshop. It will be at the Arlington Central Public Library in Arlington, VA on Wednesday, February 13, 2019, from 7:00 – 8:30 PM. I’ve been studying up on the changes you’ll see on your 2018 returns. Bring your questions and test me!

Register at this link: https://arlingtonva.libcal.com/event/4740642

So what can you expect if you attend my workshop? Here’s a taste:

  • A description of redesigned federal tax forms
  • Overview of lower individual income tax rates
  • Elimination of personal exemptions
  • Limits on state and local tax deductions
  • Limits on interest deduction for mortgage indebtedness
  • Elimination of most miscellaneous itemized deductions

Wow, that’s quite a list!

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law in December 2017 impacts almost every U.S. household. How big that impact will be depends on your family situation, income, and location. For some, those changes will be dramatic. Things could get even more dramatic if you don’t understand how those changes impact you. Are you ready? Have questions? Get them answered on February 13th at the Arlington Central Public Library.

Need 2018 Estimated Tax Payments?

Phew! Tax season 2018 is over! So how did it turn out? Did you have to pay when you filed your 2017 returns? Do you know if you are withholding or paying enough for 2018?

 

April is a good time to check on what you are projected to owe for your 2018 taxes and see if it’s enough, or too much. That’s especially true this year because of the new tax law and changes to employer withholding tables. Word on the street is that the IRS was really aggressive in decreasing employer withholdings in order to increase paychecks. That can make employees feel rich now, but it could bite them hard when their 2018 tax returns are due.

 

If all your income comes from wages, chances are that your tax withholdings will cover your income tax liability. But if you are self-employed or receive other income, such as interest, dividends, capital gains, or rent, you might need to make estimated income tax payments. On top of that, if you don’t pay enough of your taxes on time, you could get hit with interest and penalties.

 

What the Required Payments?

If you owed additional tax for 2017, you may have to pay estimated tax for 2018. Estimated payments should be made if:

 

  • You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax for 2018, after subtracting your withholding and refundable credits.

AND

 

  • You expect your total withholding and refundable credits to be less than the smaller of 90% of your 2018 tax liability or 100% of your 2017 tax liability.

 

What Are the Penalties?

Penalties are assessed if the required payments described above aren’t made as income is received, at least quarterly. Interest penalties are assessed on the underpaid amount, accrued daily from the date it was due and until it is paid. Interest rates are adjusted periodically and daily accruals really add up.

 

What Should You Do?

Clearly, the IRS and other taxing agencies are serious about wanting their money on time. You can figure out your 2018 federal income tax bill by using the IRS Withholding Calculator, updated for the new tax law – . People who are self-employed or have investment income should check out the IRS web page about tax estimates.

 

When in doubt, or if you are not comfortable with DIY tax estimates, be sure to consult with a qualified tax professional. She or he will help you identify all the information needed to project your 2018 tax liabilities, pay enough taxes on time, and avoid interest penalties.

New Qualified Business Income Deduction

Headlines about the new tax law and its impacts are daily news. Some of the tax law changes are clear and easy to understand. Other changes are incredibly unclear and difficult to interpret. One particularly ambiguous tax law change is the new deduction for “qualified business income” contained in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It’s so confusing that the AICPA requested “immediate guidance” from the IRS last month.

 

The new deduction is the lesser of 20% of qualified business income or 50% of W-2 wages paid by pass-through businesses that operate as a sole proprietor (reported on Schedule C), partnership, Subchapter S Corporation, or owner of rental property (reported on Schedule E). Sounds pretty simple, but it’s really not.

 

More guidance will be coming at some point, but business owners often can’t wait to make decisions. Based on what is now known, businesses need to look closely at three considerations to know whether they are eligible to take the new qualified business income deduction:

 

  1. Excluded Businesses

Right off the bat, specified businesses are excluded from taking this new deduction. Businesses providing accounting, legal, consulting, and architect services are specifically excluded. Businesses that “rely on the skills and expertise of the owner or employees” are also excluded. That last part is certainly open to interpretation, and one of the reasons the AICPA’s requested IRS guidance.

 

  1. Income Level

The deduction of 20% of qualified business income is subject to a dollar limit, based on the owner’s filing status. For example, the dollar limit for a single individual is $157,500 and $315,000 for married couples filing a joint tax return. At first glance, this sounds pretty awesome, but required adjustments could reduce the limit.

 

  1. Wages Paid

After calculating 20% of qualified business income, compare it to 50% of total wages paid to employees. Sole proprietors don’t pay themselves wages, so this deduction is not available to them unless they pay wages to employees. Remember, it’s a “lesser of” situation, so if one option is zero, no deduction. Understanding the type of business entity and how workers are paid is essential to getting this right.

 

The number of complexities and variables to consider about qualified business income and the new tax deduction for pass-throughs are too long and dense to cover here. Plus, the IRS still needs to issue guidance to help business owners — and their accountants – make informed decisions and file their taxes next year. So stay tuned!