Taxes for Married Couples in Businesses

Married couples who also operate a business together live a complex life. Commingling personal and business, experiencing 100% togetherness, is tough enough. Throwing taxes into the mix could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back and busts that togetherness apart. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By default, according to the IRS, two or more individuals in business together without incorporating operate as a partnership. Partnerships are a complicated way to operate from a tax perspective. Partnerships file a separate income tax return, and each partner receives a Form K-1 to report for her or his pro-rata share of income and expenses, used to prepare the partner’s individual income tax return. Partners must also track the basis of partnership interest and any loans to or from the partnership, which impacts how distributions are taxed.

Married couples can get an exception to all those partnership complexities, if each spouse is an owner and materially participates in operating a business that is not formed as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Instead of a partnership, spouses can elect to treat the business as a joint venture. The joint venture election breaks down to four simple steps:

  • Make the Qualified Joint Venture Election by filing a joint individual tax return. Spouses must consider profits and losses based on spouse’s interest and level of material participation in the business. Once the election is made, if the spouses receive an IRS notice asking for a partnership tax return, they should call or write to the IRS advising them of the qualified joint venture election.
  • Divide Profit and Loss between Spouses by dividing all items of income, gain, loss, deduction, and credit between them in accordance with each spouse’s level of material participation in the joint venture. The percentage allocation should be consistent for all items and reflect the relative percentage of participation. Allocations should be documented and updated for any changes in participation.
  • File Two Separate Business Schedules on the spouses’ individual income tax return. Each business schedule (i.e., IRS Schedule C or Schedule F) should be prepared with each spouse’s allocated share of income and expenses. The net profit or loss for the business schedules for each spouse is combined and reported on Form 1040, Schedule 1, Line 3. Net combined profit or loss is included in overall total income.
  • Report Net Profit as Self-Employment Income so each spouse’s earning from self-employment are credited and the applicable self-employment taxes are paid. Spouses who elect qualified joint venture status are treated as sole proprietors for federal tax purposes. A separate Schedule SE to report self-employment tax must be filed for each spouse to accurately report the net self-employment income.

Need more details about simplifying tax complexities when you are running a business as a married couple? The IRS has it for you here – https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/election-for-married-couples-unincorporated-businesses.

Residential Energy Tax Credits Extended

If you didn’t get all your home improvements done in 2020, and you think you missed out on some valuable residential energy tax credits, you’re in luck. Some renewable energy tax credits were extended. Others are still available at a lower rate. Even better, some tax credits were retroactively extended back to 2018. That could mean money back on your 2018, 2019, 2020, and, in some cases, your 2021 income tax liability.

Energy tax credits are an incentive for homeowners and builders to make energy-efficient improvements or upgrades that use less energy and protect the environment. For example, ENERGY STAR certified products are independently certified to use up to 30% less energy. Less energy use means a lower energy bill. It could also mean your lowering your taxes.

Here are six tips about Residential Energy Tax Credits:

  • Renewable energy tax credits are 22% of the cost for solar energy systems, fuel cells, small wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps that are placed in service during 2021. Tax credit limits depend on the credit amount and your tax situation.
  • Residential Energy Property Tax Credits have been retroactively extended for qualified improvements from December 31, 2017, through December 31, 2021. These credits are generally 10% of the cost, up to $500, or a specific amount from $50-$300, depending on the improvement.
  • Improvements that qualify for the Residential Energy Property Tax Credit include qualified heat pumps, central air, boilers, furnaces, water heaters, circulating fans, and biomass stoves.
  • Qualified energy efficiency improvements that also qualify for a residential energy credit include energy-efficient insulation, metal and asphalt roofing, windows, doors, and skylights. The credit does not include the installation cost.
  • Energy credits apply to your newly-constructed or existing home that is used as your primary residence or your secondary home. These credits do not apply to rental properties.
  • You can take advantage of retroactively-extended energy tax credits by amending your federal income tax return up to three years after the original filing deadline (e.g., April 15, 2021, for a 2017 income tax return originally due April 15, 2018).

Home improvements that save on your energy costs could also lower your tax liability. Not only could 2020 improvements qualify for a tax credit, some of the qualified home improvements you made in the last three years could lower your prior-year tax liability, too. Want to know more? Check out the ENERGY STAR website https://www.energystar.gov/about/federal_tax_credits.

Don’t Miss Out on an EITC Refund

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) was enacted back in the mid-1970s to assist low- and moderate-income workers. The EITC gives a financial boost to hard working people who can really use it. EITC can lower a working taxpayer’s tax liability, and even result in a refund that is bigger than the amount of federal taxes withheld. 

A tax credit like EITC is even better than a tax deduction. A credit is a dollar-for-dollar tax liability reduction, not a reduction of taxable income. For a worker in the 22% marginal tax bracket, a deduction means 22 cents less in tax where a credit means $1 less in taxes. Even better, the EITC is a refundable credit, meaning that the refund can be even more than the amount of income tax that was withheld or paid for the year.

Despite how large a financial boost it is, the IRS estimates that about 20% of eligible working taxpayers do not claim the EITC. Why? Because they don’t know about it.

Five important for workers to know about EITC:

  • To qualify for the EITC, the worker and everyone reported on her or his income tax return must have a valid Social Security number (SSN).
  • For 2020, workers may choose to use her or his 2019 earned income to figure the 2020 EITC if the 2019 earned income is more than the 2020 earned income. This opportunity to get a higher EITC is part of the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020. 
  • To qualify for the EITC, a worker must file a federal income tax return using the married filing jointly, head of household, single, or qualifying widow or widower. A worker cannot claim the EITC when using the married filing separately filing status.
  • Workers without a qualifying child are eligible for EITC by meeting the income rules, living in the U.S. for more than one-half of the year, not being claimed as a qualifying child on anyone else’s tax return, and being between the ages of 25 and 65 at the end of the tax year (usually Dec. 31).
  • Claiming the EITC could delay receiving a federal refund because of extra security checks performed by the IRS. 

The IRS wants hard working people who deserve a financial boost to know about EITC. The EITC can lower a working taxpayer’s tax liability to below zero, meaning that she or he could get a refund that is bigger than the amount of federal taxes withheld from her or his paycheck. Knowing about EITC can make a big difference in a person’s life.

Want to know more? Check out the details on the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/individuals/earned-income-tax-credit-eitc.

Finding a Tax Pro

Finding the right tax professional to “fix” your taxes is a lot like finding the right plumber or to fix your kitchen sink. There are many to choose from, but it’s a challenge to make sure you find someone who is knowledgeable, experienced, and dependable. With a tax pro, you also want someone with whom you feel comfortable confiding your financial details.

So, how do you find that elusive experienced and dependable confidant to prepare and file your income tax returns? Well, you can ask friends, hit the Internet, or head to the local tax preparation office. That can get you a few tax pros to interview. Yes, interview. Plan to interview two or three recommended tax pros to feel confident that she or he is qualified and that you feel comfortable interacting with her or him.

These three interview questions are a “must” for finding the right tax pro:

  • How Do You Keep Up with Tax Law Changes?

Tax laws are constantly changing. Some changes are major, as we saw three years ago with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It’s important to work with a tax preparer who keeps up with all those changes, so you don’t have to. A qualified tax preparer will describe attending conferences, webinars, or other methods to stay current.

  • What Experience and Credentials Do You Have?

Tax preparation is an unregulated industry where anyone can participate, so asking about years of experience, training and education is essential. Preparers with professional credentials, such as a CPA or Enrolled Agent (EA), are required to complete annual continuing education requirements and follow ethical and professional standards. 

  • How Do You Communicate with your Clients?

Does the tax preparer meet regularly with clients? Is she or he available to you if a tax-related question or issue comes up? Make sure you feel comfortable with the tax preparer’s style, manner, and process. If not, keep looking. You’ll be sharing a lot of personal information so you must be comfortable.

Plan to interview two or three tax pros referred by friends or online reviews to find a tax professional who is knowledgeable, experienced, and with whom you feel comfortable confiding your financial details. Need help getting started? The IRS has a website for you with tips and tools – https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional.

Form 1099 Tax Filing Deadline

It’s barely the middle of January and the first tax filing deadline is already upon us at the end of this month. Businesses, nonprofits, and other entities may make payments that must be reported on IRS Form 1099. In general, Form 1099 must be completed and filed for each person to whom $600 or more was paid during the year for rents, non-employee income payments, prizes and awards, and other payments defined by the IRS at https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-1099-misc

Here are four tips to meet the Form 1099 Tax Filing Deadline:

  • Payments are reported on either Form 1099-MISC (miscellaneous), or on the new Form 1099-NEC (non-employee compensation) that was implemented beginning with the 2020 tax year. Which form to use depends on the type of payment recipient. For more information about Forms 1099-MISC and 1099-NEC and their instructions, go to IRS.gov/Form1099MISC or IRS.gov/Form1099NEC.
  • The due date for filing Form 1099 1099-MISC and 1099-NEC is January 31st for the calendar year ending December 31st. The former 30-day automated extended filing deadline was eliminated in 2016.
  • Form 1099 reporting does not apply to personal payments, only payments made as part of a business, nonprofit, trusts of qualified pension or profit-sharing plans of employers. One exception to this is payments of legal fees to attorneys. 
  • Some payments do not have to be reported on Form 1099, although they may be taxable to the recipient. For example, in general, payments to a C or S corporation, payments of rent to real estate agents or property managers, and business travel allowances paid to employees are not reportable on Form 1099. 

If you make payments as part of your business, nonprofit, trusts of qualified pension or profit-sharing plans of employers, your first tax filing deadline for 2021 could be coming up. Use these four tips to see if payments that you made in 2020 need to be reported to the IRS by January 31st. Need more details? The IRS has them for you at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/am-i-required-to-file-a-form-1099-or-other-information-return