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Tax

Can investors who manage their own portfolios deduct related expenses?

Can investors who manage their own portfolios deduct related expenses?

In some cases, investors have significant related expenses, such as the cost of subscriptions to financial periodicals and clerical expenses. Are they tax deductible? Under the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, these expenses aren’t deductible through 2025 if they’re considered expenses for the production of income. But they are deductible if they’re considered trade or business expenses. (For tax years before 2018, production-of-income expenses were deductible, but were included in miscellaneous itemized deductions, which were subject to a 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor.)

In order to deduct investment-related expenses as business expenses, you must figure out if you’re an investor or a trader — and be aware that it’s more advantageous (and difficult) to qualify for trader status.

To qualify, you must be engaged in a trade or business. The U.S. Supreme Court held many years ago that an individual taxpayer isn’t engaged in a trade or business merely because the individual manages his or her own securities investments, regardless of the amount of the investments or the extent of the work required.

However, if you can show that your investment activities rise to the level of carrying on a trade or business, you may be considered a trader engaged in a trade or business, rather than an investor. As a trader, you’re entitled to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses. A trader is also entitled to deduct home-office expenses if the home office is used exclusively on a regular basis as the trader’s principal place of business. An investor, on the other hand, isn’t entitled to home-office deductions since the investment activities aren’t a trade or business.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision, there has been extensive litigation on the issue of whether a taxpayer is a trader or investor. The U.S. Tax Court has developed a two-part test that must be satisfied in order for a taxpayer to be a trader. Under this two-part test, a taxpayer’s investment activities are considered a trade or business only if both of the following are true:

  • The taxpayer’s trading is substantial (in other words, sporadic trading isn’t a trade or business), and
  • The taxpayer seeks to profit from short-term market swings, rather than from long-term holding of investments.

So, the fact that a taxpayer’s investment activities are regular, extensive and continuous isn’t in itself sufficient for determining that a taxpayer is a trader. In order to be considered a trader, you must show that you buy and sell securities with reasonable frequency in an effort to profit on a short-term basis. In one case, even a taxpayer who made more than 1,000 trades a year with trading activities averaging about $16 million annually was held to be an investor because the holding periods for stocks sold averaged about one year.

Contact us if you have questions about whether your investment-related expenses are deductible. We can also help explain how to help keep capital gains taxes low when you sell investments.

Vlad Alyokhin, CPA, Professional Corporation © 2020

Student loan interest: Can you deduct it on your US income tax return?

Student loan interest: Can you deduct it on your US income tax return?

The economic impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is unprecedented and many taxpayers with student loans have been hard hit.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act contains some assistance to borrowers with federal student loans. Notably, federal loans were automatically placed in an administrative forbearance, which allows borrowers to temporarily stop making monthly payments. This payment suspension is scheduled to last until September 30, 2020.

Tax deduction rules

Despite the suspension, borrowers can still make payments if they choose. And borrowers in good standing made payments earlier in the year and will likely make them later in 2020. So can you deduct the student loan interest on your tax return?

The answer is yes, depending on your income and subject to certain limits. The maximum amount of student loan interest you can deduct each year is $2,500. The deduction is phased out if your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain levels.

For 2020, the deduction is phased out for taxpayers who are married filing jointly with AGI between $140,000 and $170,000 ($70,000 and $85,000 for single filers). The deduction is unavailable for taxpayers with AGI of $170,000 ($85,000 for single filers) or more. Married taxpayers must file jointly to claim the deduction.

Other requirements

The interest must be for a “qualified education loan,” which means debt incurred to pay tuition, room and board, and related expenses to attend a post-high school educational institution. Certain vocational schools and post-graduate programs also may qualify.

The interest must be on funds borrowed to cover qualified education costs of the taxpayer, his or her spouse or a dependent. The student must be a degree candidate carrying at least half the normal full-time workload. Also, the education expenses must be paid or incurred within a reasonable time before or after the loan is taken out.

It doesn’t matter when the loan was taken out or whether interest payments made in earlier years on the loan were deductible or not. And no deduction is allowed to a taxpayer who can be claimed as a dependent on another taxpayer’s return.

The deduction is taken “above the line.” In other words, it’s subtracted from gross income to determine AGI. Thus, it’s available even to taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions.

Document expenses

Taxpayers should keep records to verify eligible expenses. Documenting tuition isn’t likely to pose a problem. However, take care to document other qualifying expenditures for items such as books, equipment, fees, and transportation. Documenting room and board expenses should be simple if a student lives in a dormitory. Student who live off campus should maintain records of room and board expenses, especially when there are complicating factors such as roommates.

Contact us if you have questions about deducting student loan interest or for information on other tax breaks related to paying for college.

Vlad Alyokhin, CPA, Professional Corporation © 2020

Tax implications of working from home and collecting unemployment

Tax implications of working from home and collecting unemployment

COVID-19 has changed our lives in many ways, and some of the changes have tax implications. Here is basic information about two common situations.

1. Working from home.

Many employees have been told not to come into their workplaces due to the pandemic. If you’re an employee who “telecommutes” — that is, you work at home, and communicate with your employer mainly by telephone, videoconferencing, email, etc. — you should know about the strict rules that govern whether you can deduct your home office expenses.

Unfortunately, employee home office expenses aren’t currently deductible, even if your employer requires you to work from home. Employee business expense deductions (including the expenses an employee incurs to maintain a home office) are miscellaneous itemized deductions and are disallowed from 2018 through 2025 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

However, if you’re self-employed and work out of an office in your home, you can be eligible to claim home office deductions for your related expenses if you satisfy the strict rules.

2. Collecting unemployment

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and are collecting unemployment benefits. Some of these people don’t know that these benefits are taxable and must be reported on their federal income tax returns for the tax year they were received. Taxable benefits include the special unemployment compensation authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

In order to avoid a surprise tax bill when filing a 2020 income tax return next year, unemployment recipients can have taxes withheld from their benefits now. Under federal law, recipients can opt to have 10% withheld from their benefits to cover part or all their tax liability. To do this, complete Form W4-V, Voluntary Withholding Request, and give it to the agency paying benefits. (Don’t send it to the IRS.)

We can help

We can assist you with advice about whether you qualify for home office deductions, and how much of these expenses you can deduct. We can also answer any questions you have about the taxation of unemployment benefits as well as any other tax issues that you encounter as a result of COVID-19.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Vlad Alyokhin, CPA, Professional Corporation © 2020

Take advantage of a “stepped-up basis” when you inherit property

Take advantage of a “stepped-up basis” when you inherit property

If you’re planning your estate, or you’ve recently inherited assets, you may be unsure of the “cost” (or “basis”) for tax purposes.

Fair market value rules

Under the fair market value basis rules (also known as the “step-up and step-down” rules), an heir receives a basis in inherited property equal to its date-of-death value. So, for example, if your grandfather bought ABC Corp. stock in 1935 for $500 and it’s worth $5 million at his death, the basis is stepped up to $5 million in the hands of your grandfather’s heirs — and all of that gain escapes federal income tax forever.

The fair market value basis rules apply to inherited property that’s includible in the deceased’s gross estate, and those rules also apply to property inherited from foreign persons who aren’t subject to U.S. estate tax. It doesn’t matter if a federal estate tax return is filed. The rules apply to the inherited portion of property owned by the inheriting taxpayer jointly with the deceased, but not the portion of jointly held property that the inheriting taxpayer owned before his or her inheritance. The fair market value basis rules also don’t apply to reinvestments of estate assets by fiduciaries.

Step up, step down or carryover

It’s crucial for you to understand the fair market value basis rules so that you don’t pay more tax than you’re legally required to.

For example, in the above example, if your grandfather decides to make a gift of the stock during his lifetime (rather than passing it on when he dies), the “step-up” in basis (from $500 to $5 million) would be lost. Property that has gone up in value acquired by gift is subject to the “carryover” basis rules. That means the person receiving the gift takes the same basis the donor had in it (just $500), plus a portion of any gift tax the donor pays on the gift.

A “step-down” occurs if someone dies owning property that has declined in value. In that case, the basis is lowered to the date-of-death value. Proper planning calls for seeking to avoid this loss of basis. Giving the property away before death won’t preserve the basis. That’s because when property that has gone down in value is the subject of a gift, the person receiving the gift must take the date of gift value as his basis (for purposes of determining his or her loss on a later sale). Therefore, a good strategy for property that has declined in value is for the owner to sell it before death so he or she can enjoy the tax benefits of the loss.

These are the basic rules. Other rules and limits may apply. For example, in some cases, a deceased person’s executor may be able to make an alternate valuation election. Contact us  for tax assistance when estate planning or after receiving an inheritance.

Vlad Alyokhin, CPA, Professional Corporation © 2020

If you’re selling your home, don’t forget about taxes

If you’re selling your home, don’t forget about taxes

Traditionally, spring and summer are popular times for selling a home. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a slowdown in sales. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that existing home sales in April decreased year-over-year, 17.2% from a year ago. One bit of good news is that home prices are up. The median existing-home price in April was $286,800, up 7.4% from April 2019, according to the NAR.

If you’re planning to sell your home this year, it’s a good time to review the tax considerations.

Some gain is excluded

If you’re selling your principal residence, and you meet certain requirements, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain. Gain that qualifies for the exclusion is also excluded from the 3.8% net investment income tax.

To be eligible for the exclusion, you must meet these tests:

  • The ownership test. You must have owned the property for at least two years during the five-year period ending on the sale date.
  • The use test. You must have used the property as a principal residence for at least two years during the same five-year period. (Periods of ownership and use don’t need to overlap.)

In addition, you can’t use the exclusion more than once every two years.

Larger gains

What if you have more than $250,000/$500,000 of profit when selling your home? Any gain that doesn’t qualify for the exclusion generally will be taxed at your long-term capital gains rate, provided you owned the home for at least a year. If you didn’t, the gain will be considered short term and subject to your ordinary-income rate, which could be more than double your long-term rate.

Here are two other tax considerations when selling a home:

  1. Keep track of your basis. To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain complete records, including information on your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed based on business use.
  2. Be aware that you can’t deduct a loss. If you sell your principal residence at a loss, it generally isn’t deductible. But if a portion of your home is rented out or used exclusively for your business, the loss attributable to that part may be deductible.

If you’re selling a second home (for example, a beach house), it won’t be eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 like-kind exchange. In addition, you may be able to deduct a loss.

For many people, their homes are their most valuable asset. So before selling yours, make sure you understand the tax implications. We can help you plan ahead to minimize taxes and answer any questions you have about your home sale.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Vlad Alyokhin, CPA, Professional Corporation © 2020

Are US scholarships tax-free or taxable?

Are scholarships tax-free or taxable?

COVID-19 is changing the landscape for many schools this fall. But many children and young adults are going back, even if it’s just for online learning, and some parents will be facing tuition bills. If your child has been awarded a scholarship, that’s cause for celebration! But be aware that there may be tax implications.

Scholarships (and fellowships) are generally tax-free for students at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as those attending college, graduate school or accredited vocational schools. It doesn’t matter if the scholarship makes a direct payment to the individual or reduces tuition.

Tuition and related expenses

However, for a scholarship to be tax-free, certain conditions must be satisfied. A scholarship is tax-free only to the extent it’s used to pay for:

  • Tuition and fees required to attend the school and
  • Fees, books, supplies and equipment required of all students in a particular course.

For example, if a computer is recommended but not required, buying one wouldn’t qualify. Other expenses that don’t qualify include the cost of room and board, travel, research and clerical help.

To the extent a scholarship award isn’t used for qualifying items, it’s taxable. The recipient is responsible for establishing how much of an award is used for tuition and eligible expenses. Maintain records (such as copies of bills, receipts and cancelled checks) that reflect the use of the scholarship money.

Award can’t be payment for services

Subject to limited exceptions, a scholarship isn’t tax-free if the payments are linked to services that your child performs as a condition for receiving the award, even if the services are required of all degree candidates. Therefore, a stipend your child receives for required teaching, research or other services is taxable, even if the child uses the money for tuition or related expenses.

What if you, or a family member, is an employee of an education institution that provides reduced or free tuition? A reduction in tuition provided to you, your spouse or your dependents by the school at which you work isn’t included in your income and isn’t subject to tax.

Returns and recordkeeping

If a scholarship is tax-free and your child has no other income, the award doesn’t have to be reported on a tax return. However, any portion of an award that’s taxable as payment for services is treated as wages. Estimated tax payments may have to be made if the payor doesn’t withhold enough tax. Your child should receive a Form W-2 showing the amount of these “wages” and the amount of tax withheld, and any portion of the award that’s taxable must be reported, even if no Form W-2 is received.

These are just the basic rules. Other rules and limitations may apply. For example, if your child’s scholarship is taxable, it may limit other higher education tax benefits to which you or your child are entitled. As we approach the new school year, best wishes for your child’s success in school. And please contact us if you wish to discuss these or other tax matters further.


Vlad Alyokhin, CPA, Professional Corporation © 2020

Will You Have to Pay Tax on Your Social Security Benefits?

Will You Have to Pay Tax on Your Social Security Benefits?

If you’re getting close to retirement, you may wonder: Are my Social Security benefits going to be taxed? And if so, how much will you have to pay?

It depends on your other income. If you’re taxed, between 50% and 85% of your benefits could be taxed. (This doesn’t mean you pay 85% of your benefits back to the government in taxes. It merely that you’d include 85% of them in your income subject to your regular tax rates.)

Crunch the numbers

To determine how much of your benefits are taxed, first determine your other income, including certain items otherwise excluded for tax purposes (for example, tax-exempt interest). Add to that the income of your spouse, if you file joint tax returns. To this, add half of the Social Security benefits you and your spouse received during the year. The figure you come up with is your total income plus half of your benefits. Now apply the following rules:

1. If your income plus half your benefits isn’t above $32,000 ($25,000 for single taxpayers), none of your benefits are taxed.

2. If your income plus half your benefits exceeds $32,000 but isn’t more than $44,000, you will be taxed on one half of the excess over $32,000, or one half of the benefits, whichever is lower.

Here’s an example

For example, let’s say you and your spouse have $20,000 in taxable dividends, $2,400 of tax-exempt interest and combined Social Security benefits of $21,000. So, your income plus half your benefits is $32,900 ($20,000 + $2,400 +1/2 of $21,000). You must include $450 of the benefits in gross income (1/2 ($32,900 − $32,000)). (If your combined Social Security benefits were $5,000, and your income plus half your benefits were $40,000, you would include $2,500 of the benefits in income: 1/2 ($40,000 − $32,000) equals $4,000, but 1/2 the $5,000 of benefits ($2,500) is lower, and the lower figure is used.)

Important: If you aren’t paying tax on your Social Security benefits now because your income is below the floor, or you’re paying tax on only 50% of those benefits, an unplanned increase in your income can have a triple tax cost. You’ll have to pay tax on the additional income, you’ll have to pay tax on (or on more of ) your Social Security benefits (since the higher your income the more of your Social Security benefits that are taxed), and you may get pushed into a higher marginal tax bracket.

For example, this situation might arise if you receive a large distribution from an IRA during the year or you have large capital gains. Careful planning might be able to avoid this negative tax result. You might be able to spread the additional income over more than one year, or liquidate assets other than an IRA account, such as stock showing only a small gain or stock with gain that can be offset by a capital loss on other shares.

If you know your Social Security benefits will be taxed, you can voluntarily arrange to have the tax withheld from the payments by filing a Form W-4V. Otherwise, you may have to make estimated tax payments. Contact us for assistance or more information.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Vlad Alyokhin, CPA, Professional Corporation © 2020

Work from home expenses

Work from home expenses

As the pandemic drags on, most office workers are being asked to continue staying home. While more businesses are opening for in-person transactions, those who really can work remotely are generally being asked to do so.

Employers may be seeing a decrease in some expenses as a result of having empty, or nearly empty, offices. No more need to keep the snack kitchen stocked or buy yet another birthday cake. While employees may be saving money on commutes, coffee breaks and haircuts, they also may be seeing some of their own home expenses rise. For example, the cost of having high-speed internet or the additional heating and cooling costs associated with being at home all the time. Some employees considering long-term work from home may also be contemplating whether or not they need to move to a bigger place, or at least buy themselves a proper office chair to use at the kitchen table. Some employers may even be fielding questions about reimbursement for these additional expenses. Let’s consider what employers might want to do.

Do nothing

In most cases, employers will have already violated the terms of the employee’s contract by requiring them to work from home. In most cases, this has gone okay. Employees have accepted the change as necessary in the circumstances and have not asserted constructive dismissals. The result of such a constructive dismissal claim is difficult to predict as the employer, through no fault of their own, could no longer provide the employee with an office to work in. We will be looking out for some pretty interesting constructive dismissal claims in the coming months!

Assuming that employees have accepted working from home, in most cases, it is likely acceptable for employers to NOT provide employees with any sort of work-from-home allowance.

Employee tax deductions

Employees are allowed to deduct some home office employment expenses from their employment income, for example, a portion of their rent, utilities, and internet. This is provided that the employee is not reimbursed by the employer for these expenses, and provided that the employee is “required by the contract of employment” to incur these work from home expenses.

An employee would be “required by the contract of employment” to incur the expense of high-speed internet if this is something that the employer required for employees working from home. Where an employee does not have access to the employer’s office, they will likely be considered to have been “required by the contract of employment” to work from home – even where this is not explicitly written in the original contract.

Work from home allowances or reimbursements

Some employers are choosing to provide employees with work from home allowances or reimbursing them for certain work from home expenses. Where employers are considering this they should ensure that they create clear and fair policies. Employers may want to consider if the policy is for the Covid-19 pandemic situation only or whether it will continue indefinitely. They will also want to consider what tools employees may need to work more effectively from home. Where employers are buying equipment for employees to use at their homes, ownership of the equipment should be addressed, and inventories of what is being bought, and where it should be kept.

Employers will also want to consider whether reimbursements or allowances will be considered as income to the CRA. Please contact us if you have any questions.

Source: https://bit.ly/2Pyb1su

Government updates on CERB and CECRA programs – July 31, 2020

Government updates on CERB and CECRA programs

On July 31, the federal government provided updates on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA).

During a press conference on July 31, the Prime Minister announced that the government plans to transition current participants of the CERB program to Employment Insurance (EI) when the CERB program comes to an end. In addition, the government proposes to amend the EI rules to create new benefits for current CERB recipients who would not otherwise qualify for EI. More details will be provided before the end of August.

On the CECRA program, the Finance Minister announced that the program will be extended by one month to provide assistance to eligible small businesses for August rent. No other changes to the program were announced.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Source: https://bit.ly/3kbXqVM

CRA announces an extension to the payment deadline during the COVID-19.

News release

July 27, 2020

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation, and is committed to supporting Canadians throughout it. The CRA understands that individuals and businesses might be dealing with difficulties in meeting their financial obligations, including paying tax debts they may have incurred prior to the crisis. In addition to measures already announced, the CRA is extending the payment deadline and applying relief to interest on existing debt.

Payment deadline extension

The CRA is extending the payment due date for current year individual, corporate, and trust income tax returns, including instalment payments, from September 1, 2020, to September 30, 2020. Penalties and interest will not be charged if payments are made by the extended deadline of September 30, 2020. This includes the late-filing penalty as long as the return is filed by September 30, 2020.

Interest on Existing Tax Debt

The CRA is also waiving interest on existing tax debts related to individual, corporate, and trust income tax returns from April 1, 2020, to September 30, 2020 and from April 1, 2020, to June 30, 2020, for goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax (GST/HST) returns. While this measure for existing tax debts does not cancel penalties and interest already assessed on a taxpayer’s account prior to this period, it ensures that a taxpayer’s existing tax debt does not continue to grow through interest charges during this difficult time. This measure provides immediate relief to impacted taxpayers.

Filing returns

The previously extended filing due dates for individual, corporate, and trust income tax returns remain unchanged. However, recognizing the difficult circumstances faced by Canadians, the CRA will not impose late-filing penalties where a current year individual, corporation, or trust return is filed late provided that it is filed by September 30, 2020.

The CRA encourages everyone to file their individual, corporate and trust returns as soon as possible, even though payment deadlines are being extended. This is particularly important for individuals receiving credits and benefits, such as the Canada Child Benefit.

To ensure Canadians continue to receive their benefits and credits during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CRA temporarily suspended interruptions for those who were unable to file their income tax and benefit return by the June 1 deadline. Currently, if a 2019 individual tax return has not been assessed, the CRA is calculating benefits and/or credits for the July to September 2020 payments based on information from 2018 tax returns. However, if 2019 individual tax returns are not received and assessed by early September 2020, estimated benefits and/or credits will stop in October 2020 and individuals may have to repay the amounts that were issued as of July 2020. The CRA has helpful information and a step-by-step guide to help Canadians complete their taxes. The CRA tax processing system is fully operational and returns are being processed quickly to support Canadians in getting their refunds and ensuring continuity of their benefits.

COVID-19 measures

The Government of Canada previously announced fiscal measures to help Canadians during this period, some of which affect tax-filing and payment deadlines. Below are some of the important changes that were announced:

  • Extensions to tax-filing and payment deadlines
  • New emergency credits and measures (Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB))
  • A one-time special payment to the GST/HST credit and a one-time increase to the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) payment in May
  • Reduced minimum withdrawals for Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs)
  • Electronic signatures for authorization of certain forms
  • Deferring GST/HST remittances and customs duty payments until June 30th, 2020

Please contact us if you have any questions pertaining to your specific circumstances.

About the firm

Vlad Alyokhin, CPA, Professional Corporation
140 Yonge Street, Suite 320
Toronto, Ontario
M5C 1X6

T: 647-598-8777
E: vlad@alyokhincpa.com