Fall is in the air and that means it’s time to turn your attention to year-end tax planning. While several clear strategies and tactics emerged during the first tax filing season under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), 2019 and subsequent years bring potential twists that must be considered, too. Let’s take a closer look at year-end tax planning strategies that can reduce your 2019 income tax liability.
Deferring income and accelerating expenses
Deferring income into the next tax year and accelerating expenses into the current tax year is a time-tested technique for taxpayers who don’t expect to be in a higher tax bracket the following year. Independent contractors and other self-employed individuals can, for example, hold off on sending invoices until late December to push the associated income into 2020. And all taxpayers, regardless of employment status, can defer income by taking capital gains after January 1. Be careful, though, because by waiting to sell you also risk the possibility that your investment might become less valuable.
Bear in mind, also, that there may be other reasons that taking the income this year can be more beneficial. For starters, future tax rates can go up. It’s possible that income tax rates might increase substantially by 2021, especially for those with higher incomes, depending on 2020 election results. In any event, in 2026, the higher tax rates that were in place for 2017 are scheduled to return.
Moreover, taxpayers who qualify for the qualified business income (QBI) deduction for pass-through entities (that is, sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations) could end up reducing the size of that deduction if they reduce their income. It might make more sense to maximize the QBI deduction — which is scheduled to end after 2025 — while it’s available.
Timing itemized deductions
The TCJA substantially boosted the standard deduction. For 2019, it’s $24,400 for married couples and $12,200 for single filers. With many of the previously popular itemized deductions eliminated or limited, some taxpayers can find it challenging to claim more in itemized deductions than the standard deduction. Timing, or “bunching,” those deductions may make it easier.
Bunching basically means delaying or accelerating deductions into a tax year to exceed the standard deduction and claim itemized deductions. You could, for example, bunch your charitable contributions if it means you can get a tax break for one tax year. If you normally make your donations at the end of the year, you can bunch donations in alternative years — say, donate in January and December of 2020 and January and December of 2022.
If you have a donor-advised fund (DAF), you can make multiple contributions to it in a single year, accelerating the deduction. You then decide when the funds are distributed to the charity. If, for instance, your objective is to give annually in equal increments, doing so will allow your chosen charities to receive a reliable stream of yearly donations (something that’s critical to their financial stability), and you can deduct the total amount in a single tax year.
If you donate appreciated assets that you’ve held for more than one year to a DAF or a nonprofit, you’ll avoid long-term capital gains taxes that you’d have to pay if you sold the property and (subject to certain restrictions) also obtain a deduction for the assets’ fair market value. This tactic pays off even more if you’re subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax or the top long-term capital gains tax rate (20% for 2019).
What if you’re looking to divest yourself of assets on which you have a loss? Rather than donate the asset, the better move from a tax perspective is more likely going to be to sell it to take advantage of the loss and then donate the proceeds.
Timing also comes into play with medical expenses. The TCJA lowered the threshold for deducting unreimbursed medical expenses to 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for 2017 and 2018, but it bounces back to 10% of AGI for 2019. Bunching qualified medical expenses into one year could make you eligible for the deduction.
You also could bunch property tax payments (assuming local law permits you to pay in advance). This approach might, however, bring your total state and local tax deduction over the $10,000 limit, which means that you’d effectively forfeit the deduction on the excess.
As with income deferral and expense acceleration, you need to consider your tax bracket status when timing deductions. Itemized deductions are worth more when you’re in a higher tax bracket. If you expect to land in a higher bracket in 2020, you’ll save more by timing your deductions for that year.
Loss harvesting against capital gains
2019 has been a turbulent year for some investments. Thus, your portfolio may be ripe for loss harvesting — that is, selling underperforming investments before year end to realize losses you can use to offset taxable gains you also realized this year, on a dollar-for-dollar basis. If your losses exceed your gains, you generally can apply up to $3,000 of the excess to offset ordinary income. Any unused losses, however, may be carried forward indefinitely throughout your lifetime, providing the opportunity for you to use the losses in a subsequent year.
Maximizing your retirement contributions
As always, individual taxpayers should consider making their maximum allowable contributions for the year to their IRAs, 401(k) plans, deferred annuities and other tax-advantaged retirement accounts. For 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 to 401(k)s and $6,000 for IRAs. Those age 50 or older are eligible to make an additional catch-up contribution of $1,000 to an IRA and, so long as the plan allows, $6,000 for 401(k)s and other employer-sponsored plans.
Accounting for 2019 TCJA changes
Most — but not all — provisions of the TCJA took effect in 2018. The repeal of the individual mandate penalty for those without qualified health insurance, for example, isn’t effective until this year. In addition, the TCJA eliminates the deduction for alimony payments for couples divorced in 2019 or later, and alimony recipients are no longer required to include the payments in their taxable income.
The future of tax planning is uncertain — even without dramatic change in Washington, D.C., many of the most significant TCJA provisions are set to expire within six years. Contact us for help with your year-end tax planning.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has released the finalized rule on overtime exemptions for white-collar workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The rule updates the standard salary levels for the first time since 2004. While it is expected to expand the pool of nonexempt workers by more than 1 million, it’s also more favorable to employers than a rule proposed by the Obama administration in 2016. That rule would have expanded the pool by more than 4 million but was blocked by a federal district court judge.
The new rule is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2020. Affected employers need to take prompt action to reduce the impact to their bottom lines.
The current rule
Under the existing regulations regarding overtime exemptions for executive, administrative and professional employees, an employer generally can’t classify an employee as exempt from overtime obligations unless the employee satisfies three tests:
Be aware that job title or salary alone doesn’t support an exemption — the employee’s specific job duties and earnings also must meet applicable requirements.
The specifics of the duties test vary depending on the exemption. For the executive exemption, for example, the employee’s primary duties must be managing the organization or a department. He or she also must customarily direct the work of at least two employees, with some say in the hiring or firing of workers.
An exempt administrative employee must primarily perform office work that’s directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or its customers. He or she also must exercise discretion and independent judgment on significant matters. The professional exemption generally can apply only if the employee’s main duty is work that requires advanced knowledge in a field that’s generally acquired by prolonged and specialized instruction and study.
Neither the salary basis nor the salary level test applies to certain employees (for example, doctors, teachers and lawyers). And the current rules provide a more relaxed duties test for certain highly compensated employees (HCEs) who are paid total annual compensation of at least $100,000 (including commissions, nondiscretionary bonuses and other nondiscretionary compensation) and at least $455 salary per week. They need only regularly perform one of the primary duties required for the executive, administrative or professional exemption.
The new rule
The DOL’s final rule changes the salary level test, but not the salary basis or duties tests. It raises the standard salary level test threshold to $684 per week or $35,568 per year (compared with $913 and $47,476 under the 2016 rule). Thus, if an employee’s salary exceeds this level, the employee will be ineligible for overtime if he or she primarily performs executive, administrative or professional duties. If his or her salary falls below it, the employee is nonexempt, regardless of duties.
Employers can use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) that are paid annually or more frequently to satisfy up to 10% of the standard salary level test. If an employee doesn’t earn enough in such bonuses or payments in a given year to remain exempt, the employer can make a catch-up payment within one pay period of the end of the year. The payment will count only toward the prior year’s salary amount, though.
The rule increases the total annual compensation requirement for HCEs to $107,432, which is less than the Obama rule’s $134,004 threshold but could still prove difficult for small businesses to satisfy. HCEs also must make at least $684 per week on a salary or fee basis. In contrast to the proposed rule, the final rule sets the total annual compensation threshold at the 80th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried employees nationally. (The proposed rule set it at the 90th percentile.) The final rule also uses three years of pooled data to estimate the HCE compensation level, rather than the proposed rule’s one year.
Like the proposed rule, the final rule drops the 2016 rule’s automatic adjustments to the salary thresholds every three years. But the DOL also opted against the proposal to consider updates every four years. Instead, the final rule simply indicates the department’s intent to update the earnings thresholds “more regularly in the future,” following the notice-and-comment rulemaking process.
At this point, employers may feel like they’re stuck in the movie “Groundhog Day,” repeatedly preparing for impending changes to the overtime rules. And it’s likely that the latest round of changes also will face court challenges. Nonetheless, employers should begin taking measures to achieve compliance — and minimize the hit to their finances — when the final rule takes effect. You may have a leg up if you’ve already gone through this process, but you shouldn’t rely on your past findings, as circumstances may have shifted.
To begin with, check your employees’ salary levels against the new thresholds. It may be advisable to give raises to employees who fall just under a threshold and routinely work more than 40 hours per week. Or you might want to redistribute workloads or scheduled hours to prevent newly nonexempt employees from working overtime.
This also is a good time to review your employees’ job duties against the tests for the various exemptions. You should check duties on a regular basis, as this is a ripe area of litigation for employees who contend that they deserve overtime despite their job titles. Courts and the DOL agree that actual duties, not job title or even job description, are what matters.
If you’ll be reclassifying currently exempt workers as nonexempt, you must establish procedures for accurately tracking their time to ensure proper overtime compensation is paid. Reclassified employees may require some training on timekeeping procedures. They also might need some reassurance that they’re not being demoted.
Some employers may find that the new overtime rule substantially increases their compensation costs, including their payroll tax liability. We can help ensure that your company is in compliance with the new rule, as well as all payroll tax obligations.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has released a final rule which should make it easier for smaller businesses to provide retirement plans to their employees. According to the DOL, the rule will enable more small and midsize unrelated businesses to join forces in multiple employer plans (MEPs) that provide their employees a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) plan or a SIMPLE IRA plan. Certain self-employed individuals also can participate in MEPs.
In October 2018, the DOL issued a proposed rule to clarify when an employer group or association, or a professional employer organization (PEO), can sponsor a MEP. (A PEO is a company that contractually assumes some human resource responsibilities for its employer clients.) The final rule, effective September 30, 2019, is similar to the proposal, but not entirely.
The appeal of MEPs
According to the DOL, businesses that participate in a MEP can see lower retirement plan costs as a result of economies of scale. For example, investment companies may charge lower fund fees for plans with greater asset accumulations. By pooling plan participants and assets in one large plan, rather than multiple small plans, MEPs make it possible for small businesses to give their workers access to the same low-cost funds offered by large employers.
MEPs also let participating employers avoid some of the burdens associated with sponsoring or administering their own plans. Employers retain fiduciary responsibility for selecting and monitoring the arrangement and forwarding required contributions to the MEP, but they can effectively transfer significant legal risk to professional fiduciaries who are responsible for managing the plan.
Although many MEPs already exist, the DOL believes that previous guidance, as well as uncertainty about the ability of PEOs and associations to sponsor MEPs as “employers” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), may have hindered the formation of plans by smaller employers. The final rule clarifies when an employer group or association or a PEO can sponsor a MEP.
Permissible MEP sponsors
Under the final rule, a group or association, a PEO, and self-employed people can qualify as employers under ERISA for purposes of sponsoring MEPs by satisfying different criteria.
Groups and associations: Among other requirements, groups and associations of employers must have a “commonality of interest.” This means that the employers in a MEP must either:
Thus, a MEP could, for example, comprise employers in a national trade group or a local chamber of commerce.
But the rule prohibits an employer group or association from being a bank, trust company, insurance issuer, broker-dealer or other similar financial services firm (including a pension record keeper or a third-party administrator) and from being owned or controlled by such an entity or its subsidiary or affiliate. Such entities can, however, participate in their capacities as employer members.
PEOs: The final rule requires PEOs to, among other things, perform “substantial employment functions” for their client-employers that adopt the MEP. In contrast to the proposed rule, the final rule includes a single safe harbor for all PEOs, regardless of whether they’re certified PEOs. And the new safe harbor includes only four criteria, rather than the proposed nine.
To be considered to perform substantial employment functions for its client-employers, the PEO must, for each client-employer that adopts the MEP:
Self-employed individuals: So-called “working owners” without employees may qualify as both an employer and an employee for purposes of the requirements for groups and associations. Such owners must:
The determination of whether an individual qualifies as a working owner must be made when he or she first becomes eligible for participation in the defined contribution MEP. Continued eligibility must be periodically confirmed using “reasonable monitoring procedures.”
An open issue
When it issued the proposed rule, the DOL solicited comments on “open MEPs” or “pooled employer plans” — which are defined contribution retirement arrangements that cover employees of employers with no relationship other than their joint participation in the MEP. After reviewing the feedback, the DOL decided open MEPs deserve further consideration. It therefore issued, in conjunction with the final rule, a 16-page Request for Information. Responses are due October 29, 2019.
Unlike the DOL, the U.S. Congress has authority to amend ERISA and other laws that affect retirement savings. In May 2019, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow open MEPs. The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement and Enhancement Act of 2019, commonly known as the SECURE Act, hasn’t yet advanced in the U.S. Senate.
If you have questions on how the final rule might benefit your company’s retirement plan, please contact us. We’d be pleased to help.
The U.S. Senate has passed, and President Trump is expected to sign into law, a broad package of reforms aimed at the IRS. Among other things, the Taxpayer First Act contains several new protections for taxpayers, along with provisions intended to improve the IRS’s customer service.
Stronger safeguards against identity theft
Several of the bill’s provisions address tax-related identity theft. For example, the bill generally requires the IRS to notify a taxpayer as soon as practicable when it suspects or confirms an unauthorized use of the individual’s identity. The IRS also must:
The bill also requires the IRS to establish a program within five years that allows all taxpayers to request IP PINs to better secure their identity when filing their tax returns. This protection currently is available only to victims of tax-related identity theft.
The IRS must provide a suspected victim with additional notifications regarding whether it has initiated an investigation into the unauthorized use and whether the investigation has substantiated such unauthorized use. It also must notify the individual of whether any action has been taken against someone relating to the unauthorized use or whether any referral for criminal prosecution has been made.
And the IRS must ensure that victims of tax-related identity theft have a single point of contact at the agency throughout the processing of their cases. That contact must track the taxpayer’s case to completion and coordinate with other IRS employees to resolve the taxpayer’s issues as quickly as possible.
Greater appeals rights
The Taxpayer First Act codifies into law the IRS’s already-existing, independent Office of Appeals. It also expands taxpayers’ rights of appeal regarding tax matters.
For example, under the law, the IRS must provide certain taxpayers who request a conference with the Office of Appeals with access to the nonprivileged portions of the case file on the disputed issues no later than 10 days before the scheduled conference date. Currently, taxpayers must file a Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to their case files.
The resolution process available through the appeals office generally is available to all taxpayers. If a taxpayer’s request to appeal an IRS notice of deficiency is denied, the IRS must give the taxpayer a written notice with a detailed description of the facts involved, the basis for the denial and a detailed explanation of how the basis applies to the facts. The notice also must describe the procedures for protesting the denial.
Customer service improvements
The bill gives the IRS one year to develop and submit to Congress a comprehensive customer service strategy. The strategy must include a plan to extend assistance to taxpayers that’s secure and designed to meet reasonable taxpayer expectations. The plan must adopt appropriate customer service best practices from the private sector, including online services, telephone callback services and training of customer service employees.
Separately, the bill requires the IRS to supply helpful information to taxpayers who are on hold during a telephone call to any IRS help line. That information includes common tax scams, where and how to report tax scams, and additional advice on how taxpayers can protect themselves from identity theft and tax crimes.
The Taxpayer First Act tackles many other areas, including:
Structuring. The bill establishes new protections from IRS enforcement abuses of so-called “structuring laws.” Those laws let the agency seize taxpayer assets when a taxpayer appeared to make bank deposits in amounts just under the $10,000 trigger for bank reporting requirements.
Whistleblower reforms. The bill permits the IRS to disclose to a whistleblower tax return information related to the investigation of any taxpayer about whom the whistleblower has provided information (to the extent necessary to obtain information that isn’t otherwise reasonably available). It also mandates certain updates to whistleblowers on investigations and adds antiretaliation provisions.
Electronic filing. The IRS generally must eventually require individuals filing 10 or more returns — down significantly from the current 250-return threshold — to file electronically. The lower threshold will be phased in, falling to 100 returns for 2021 and 10 returns in 2022. Special rules apply to partnerships.
And that’s not all
The far-reaching bill will affect a variety of other areas, such as cybersecurity, innocent spouse relief, private debt collection and misdirected tax refund deposits. We’ll keep you abreast of these and other relevant tax developments.
The IRS has updated the inflation-adjusted “luxury automobile” limits on certain deductions taxpayers can take for passenger automobiles — including light trucks and vans — used in their businesses. Revenue Procedure 2019-26 includes different limits for purchased automobiles that are and aren’t eligible for bonus first-year depreciation, as well as for leased automobiles.
The role of the TCJA
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) amended Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 168(k) to extend and modify bonus depreciation for qualified property purchased after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023, including business vehicles. Businesses can expense 100% of the cost of such property (both new and used, subject to certain conditions) in the year the property is placed in service.
The amount of the allowable deduction will begin to phase out in 2023, dropping 20 percentage points each year for four years until it vanishes in 2027, absent congressional action. The applicable percentage for qualified property acquired before September 28, 2017, and placed in service in 2019, is 30%.
But 100% (or 30%) bonus depreciation is available only for heavier business vehicles that aren’t considered passenger automobiles. The maximum bonus depreciation amount for passenger automobiles is much smaller.
IRC Sec. 280F limits the depreciation deduction allowed for luxury passenger automobiles for the year they’re placed into service and each succeeding year. The TCJA amended the provision to increase the Sec. 280F first-year limit for qualified property acquired and placed after September 27, 2017, by $8,000. It increased the limit on first-year depreciation for qualified property acquired before September 28, 2017, and placed in service in 2019, by $4,800. These amounts are the bonus depreciation.
Annual depreciation caps
The new guidance includes three depreciation limit tables for purchased autos placed in service in calendar year 2019. The limits for automobiles acquired before September 28, 2017, that qualify for bonus depreciation are:
The limits for autos acquired after September 27, 2017, that qualify for bonus depreciation are:
The limits for autos that don’t qualify for bonus depreciation are:
The bonus depreciation deduction isn’t available for automobiles for 2019 if the business:
Limits on leased automobiles
The new guidance also includes the so-called “income inclusion” table for passenger automobiles first leased in 2019 with a fair market value (FMV) of more than $50,000. The FMV is the amount that would be paid to buy the car in an arm’s-length transaction, generally the capitalized cost specified in the lease.
Taxpayers that lease a passenger automobile for use in their business can deduct the part of the lease payment that represents business use. Thus, if the car is used solely for business, the full cost of the lease is deductible. (Alternatively, you could just deduct the standard mileage rate — 58 cents for 2019 — for business miles driven.)
But Sec. 280F requires the deduction to be reduced by an amount that’s substantially equivalent to the limits on the depreciation deductions imposed on owners of passenger automobiles. The idea is to balance out the tax benefits of leasing a luxury car vs. purchasing it. That’s where the table comes into play.
Lessees must increase their income each year of the lease to achieve parity with the depreciation limits. The income inclusion amount is determined by applying a formula to an amount obtained from the IRS table. The latter amount depends on the initial FMV of the leased auto and the year of the lease term. Although the $50,000 FMV threshold for 2019 is unchanged from 2018, many of the other values in the new table have changed since then.
For example, let’s say you leased a car with an FMV of $56,500 on January 1, 2019, for three years and placed it in service that same year. You use the car for business purposes only. According to the table, your income inclusion amounts for each year of the lease would be as follows:
The annual income inclusion amount may seem small compared to the depreciation deduction limits, but it represents a permanent tax difference that affects the effective tax rate but not book or taxable income. The depreciation limits, on the other hand, represent a timing difference that affects book and taxable income in the same way but at different times and doesn’t change the effective tax rate. The business will recover the timing difference through depreciation deductions or when it disposes of the auto.
The new tax rules for vehicles used in business generally are favorable but aren’t easily navigable. We can help steer you toward the best strategy given your current circumstances.
The IRS recently announced the inflation-adjusted maximum value of an employer-provided vehicle under the vehicle cents-per-mile rule and the fleet-average value rule. Employers can use the rules to value an employee’s personal use of such a vehicle for income and employment tax purposes.
The new values reflect vehicle-related amendments in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and the IRS’s intent to make the rules more widely available to employers. The IRS is also temporarily loosening some of the consistency requirements for 2018 and 2019.
Valuation methods for personal use
When an employer provides an employee with a vehicle that’s available for personal use, it must include the value of the personal use in the employee’s income. Employers generally have four methods available to value an employee’s personal use of a company car:
The fleet-average value rule allows employers operating a fleet of 20 or more qualifying automobiles to use an average annual lease value for every qualifying vehicle in the fleet when applying the automobile annual lease valuation rule.
The fleet-average value rule or the simple cents-per-mile rule isn’t available, though, if the FMV of the vehicle exceeds a certain base value, adjusted annually for inflation, on the first date the vehicle is made available to the employee for personal use. In 2017, the maximum value for the cents-per-mile rule was $15,900 for a passenger automobile and $17,800 for a truck or van. The maximum value for the fleet-average value rule that year was $21,100 for a passenger automobile and $23,300 for a truck or van.
The role of the TCJA
The base values were raised significantly earlier this year, in IRS Notice 2019-08, to reflect amendments made by the TCJA. The law changes the price inflation measure for automobiles (including trucks and vans). It also substantially increases the maximum annual dollar limitations on the depreciation deductions for passenger automobiles, basing the latter on the depreciation of a passenger automobile with a cost of $50,000 (up from $12,800), inflation adjusted annually, over a five-year recovery period.
The IRS announced in the guidance that it intended to amend the tax regulations to incorporate a base value of $50,000 for both the cents-per-mile and the fleet-average value rules, effective for the 2018 calendar year. It also intended to amend the regulations to provide that the base value will be adjusted annually for 2019 and future years using the new price inflation measure.
The latest news
Now, in Notice 2019-34, the IRS has announced the adjusted values for 2019. For vehicles and automobiles first made available to employees for personal use in calendar year 2019, the maximum value under both rules is $50,400. Under planned amendments to the applicable regulations, these maximum values will be the same as the maximum standard automobile cost that determines eligibility to set reimbursement allowances under a fixed and variable rate (FAVR) plan — an alternative to the business standard mileage rate.
The IRS also shared its intention to amend the tax regulations to provide relief to employers that previously didn’t qualify for the cents-per-mile rule because, under the earlier rules, the vehicle’s FMV exceeded the permissible maximum value. Under amended regulations, the employer may first adopt the cents-per-mile valuation rule for 2018 or 2019 based on the maximum value of a vehicle for 2018 or 2019.
Note, though, that employers that adopt the cents-per-mile rule generally must continue to use it for all subsequent years in which the vehicle qualifies for it. An employer can, however, use the commuting valuation rule for any year the vehicle qualifies.
Similarly, employers that didn’t qualify for the fleet-average value rule before 2019 because of the pre-2018 maximum value limit can adopt the rule for 2018 or 2019 if it falls under the applicable maximum value.
The new notice confirms that employers can use the flexible guidelines in Announcement 85-113 to determine the timing for when personal use income is deemed paid. That means employers may use the rules in that guidance, the adjustment process, or the refund claim process to correct any overpayment of federal employment taxes resulting from application of the notice’s transition relief.
Satisfying the maximum value limit isn’t enough for an employer to use the cents-per-mile rule or the fleet-average value rule to value an employee’s personal use of a vehicle. Both rules come with other requirements that can prove difficult to meet. For example, the cents-per-mile rule generally is available only if the employer reasonably expects the vehicle to be regularly used in its trade or business throughout the calendar year or the vehicle meets the mileage test. We can help you determine the appropriate valuation method for your circumstances.
Congress has yet to tackle several outstanding uncertainties frustrating both businesses and individual taxpayers. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), for example, contains several “glitches” requiring legislative fixes. Congress also has neglected to pass the traditional “extenders” legislation that retroactively extend certain tax relief provisions that expired at the end of an earlier year, in this case 2017.
The sprawling TCJA signed into law in late 2017 contains some inadvertent glitches that range from a lack of clarity to significant drafting errors. In some cases the glitches may produce unintended and costly consequences. Here are examples of two glitches that still need to be addressed and one that has been addressed recently:
The “retail” glitch. This prevents retailers, restaurants and other businesses from enjoying 100% bonus depreciation on certain assets. Before the TCJA’s enactment, qualified retail improvement property, qualified restaurant property and qualified leasehold improvement property were depreciated over 15 years under the modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS) and over 39 years under the alternative depreciation system (ADS).
The TCJA classifies all of these property types as qualified improvement property (QIP). QIP generally is defined as any improvement to the interior of a nonresidential real property that’s placed in service after the building was placed in service.
Congress intended QIP that is placed in service after 2017 to have a 15-year MACRS recovery period and a 20-year recovery under the ADS. Because 15-year property is eligible for bonus depreciation, Congress also intended QIP to be eligible for that break.
Yet, the 15-year recovery period for QIP doesn’t appear in the statutory language of the TCJA, even though it’s found in the Joint Explanatory Statement of Congressional Intent. Until technical corrections are made, therefore, QIP has a 39-year MACRS recovery period, making it ineligible for bonus depreciation.
In late March 2019, a bipartisan bill that would fix the error was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Restoring Investment in Improvements Act mirrors bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate in mid-March. But many Democrats in Congress haven’t supported this and other TCJA fixes, due to their complaints about how the law was enacted. Some lawmakers advocate tying such fixes to other tax code changes that might otherwise come up short on the votes necessary for passage.
In the meantime, taxpayers who have invested in QIP might consider cost segregation studies. By separating out QIP from other types of property, they could still qualify for some bonus depreciation.
Effective date glitch for the NOL deduction. The TCJA implemented several changes to deductions for net operating losses (NOLs). Specifically, it limits the deduction to 80% of taxable income, eliminates most NOL carrybacks and allows unlimited carryforwards (vs. 20 years under prior law).
The statutory text states that changes to carrybacks and carryforwards apply to NOLs arising in taxable years ending after December 31, 2017 — but the Conference Report says they apply to NOLs arising in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017. The statute and the report agree that the 80% limitation applies to losses arising in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017. Because statutory language controls, a mismatch now exists between the effective dates for the 80% limitation and the changes to NOL carrybacks and carryforwards.
Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation has confirmed that all of the changes should apply to NOLs in tax years beginning after 2017. It notes, though, that technical corrections may be necessary. As of this writing, no correcting legislation has been introduced in Congress.
The “grain” glitch. This is one glitch that has been addressed. An error in the Section 199A deduction for pass-through entities incentivized farmers to sell their crops to cooperatives, rather than to private businesses. The deduction typically is referred to as the qualified business income (QBI) deduction, but Sec. 199A actually had two parts — one for QBI and one for qualified cooperative dividends (QCD).
The QBI deduction was based on the net amount of business income, but the QCD was based on the gross amount of sales. In addition, the QCD deduction wasn’t subject to the same limitations as the QBI deduction (for example, the wage limit and income-related phaseouts).
In other words, the deduction for sales to co-ops was more generous than the deduction for income from sales to businesses. In some circumstances, farmers could have avoided income taxes altogether.
But the appropriations bill President Trump signed on March 23, 2019, includes a section addressing this glitch. It eliminates the QCD concept, leaving farmers with the same QBI deduction as other pass-through businesses have, subject to the same limitations. The law also revives the former Sec. 199 domestic production activities deduction for cooperatives, allowing a deduction of 9% of the qualified production activities (limited to 50% of the W-2 wages of the cooperative), which generally is passed through from the cooperative to its members.
Proposed tax extenders
Many of the income tax provisions that Congress enacts are temporary. As a result, Congress routinely temporarily reauthorizes some of these more popular provisions before or after they expire.
In late February 2019, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Tax Extender and Disaster Relief Act of 2019. Among other things, the legislation would extend through 2019 more than two dozen tax breaks that expired at the end of 2017, including the:
As of this writing, corresponding legislation hasn’t been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A waiting game
In light of the current political climate in Washington, D.C., it remains to be seen whether any of the outstanding issues will be resolved in the near future. We’ll keep you apprised of any updates.
Just days before the implementation date, a federal judge in Texas put the brakes on the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new federal overtime rule, which was to take effect December 1, 2016 and would have doubled the Fair Labor Standard’s Act’s (FSLA’s) salary threshold for exemption from overtime pay. This threshold would have been the first significant change in four decades. The entire article can be found here.
Business owners, large and small, are left with uncertainty and where to go from here. A preliminary injunction isn’t permanent, as it simply preserves the existing overtime rule—which was last updated in 2004—until the court has a chance to review the merits of the case objecting to the revisions to the regulation.
In the meantime, business owners and HR professionals will have to consider what to do now. Click here for an excellent FAQ article with the highlights.
As always, if you have any concerns or questions, please feel free to contact our office 417-881-6919.