Tax record retention guidelines for individuals

What 2017 tax records can you toss once you’ve filed your 2017 return? The answer is simple: none. You need to hold on to all of your 2017 tax records for now. But it’s the perfect time to go through old tax records and see what you can discard.

The 3-year and 6-year rules

At minimum, keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you potentially can get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2014 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2014 return, hold on to your records at least until the three-year anniversary of when you filed your extended return.)

However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%. What constitutes an understatement may go beyond simply not reporting items of income. So a common rule of thumb is to save tax records for six years from filing, just to be safe.

What to keep longer

You’ll need to hang on to certain tax-related records beyond the statute of limitations:

  • Keep tax returns themselves forever, so you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed a legitimate return. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.
  • Hold on to W-2 forms until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Questions might arise regarding your work record or earnings for a particular year, and your W-2 could provide the documentation needed.
  • Retain records related to real estate or investments as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return (or six years if you want to be extra safe).
  • Keep records associated with retirement accounts until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years.

Other documents

We’ve covered retention guidelines for some of the most common tax-related records. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.

© 2018

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Tax document retention guidelines for small businesses

You may have breathed a sigh of relief after filing your 2017 income tax return (or requesting an extension). But if your office is strewn with reams of paper consisting of years’ worth of tax returns, receipts, canceled checks and other financial records (or your computer desktop is filled with a multitude of digital tax-related files), you probably want to get rid of what you can. Follow these retention guidelines as you clean up.

General rules

Retain records that support items shown on your tax return at least until the statute of limitations runs out — generally three years from the due date of the return or the date you filed, whichever is later. That means you can now potentially throw out records for the 2014 tax year if you filed the return for that year by the regular filing deadline. But some records should be kept longer.

For example, there’s no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return or file a fraudulent one. So you’ll generally want to keep copies of your returns themselves permanently, so you can show that you did file a legitimate return.

Also bear in mind that, if you understate your adjusted gross income by more than 25%, the statute of limitations period is six years.

Some specifics for businesses

Records substantiating costs and deductions associated with business property are necessary to determine the basis and any gain or loss when the property is sold. According to IRS guidelines, you should keep these for as long as you own the property, plus seven years.

The IRS recommends keeping employee records for three years after an employee has been terminated. In addition, you should maintain records that support employee earnings for at least four years. (This timeframe generally will cover varying state and federal requirements.) Also keep employment tax records for four years from the date the tax was due or the date it was paid, whichever is longer.

For travel and transportation expenses supported by mileage logs and other receipts, keep supporting documents for the three-year statute of limitations period.

Regulations for sales tax returns vary by state. Check the rules for the states where you file sales tax returns. Retention periods typically range from three to six years.

When in doubt, don’t throw it out

It’s easy to accumulate a mountain of paperwork (physical or digital) from years of filing tax returns. If you’re unsure whether you should retain a document, a good rule of thumb is to hold on to it for at least six years or, for property-related records, at least seven years after you dispose of the property. But, again, you should keep tax returns themselves permanently, and other rules or guidelines might apply in certain situations. Please contact us with any questions.

© 2018

Individual tax calendar: Important deadlines for the remainder of 2018

While April 15 (April 17 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that you also need to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2018 deadlines, here’s a look at when some key tax-related forms, payments and other actions are due. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you.

Please review the calendar and let us know if you have any questions about the deadlines or would like assistance in meeting them.

June 15

  • File a 2017 individual income tax return (Form 1040) or file for a four-month extension (Form 4868), and pay any tax and interest due, if you live outside the United States.
  • Pay the second installment of 2018 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

September 17

  • Pay the third installment of 2018 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

October 1

  • If you’re the trustee of a trust or the executor of an estate, file an income tax return for the 2017 calendar year (Form 1041) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic five-and-a-half month extension was filed.

October 15

  • File a 2017 income tax return (Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed (or if an automatic four-month extension was filed by a taxpayer living outside the United States).
  • Make contributions for 2017 to certain retirement plans or establish a SEP for 2017, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.
  • File a 2017 gift tax return (Form 709) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.

December 31

  • Make 2018 contributions to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
  • Make 2018 annual exclusion gifts (up to $15,000 per recipient).
  • Incur various expenses that potentially can be claimed as itemized deductions on your 2018 tax return. Examples include charitable donations, medical expenses and property tax payments.

But remember that some types of expenses that were deductible on 2017 returns won’t be deductible on 2018 returns under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, such as unreimbursed work-related expenses, certain professional fees, and investment expenses. In addition, some deductions will be subject to new limits. Finally, with the nearly doubled standard deduction, you may no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.

© 2018

TCJA changes to employee benefits tax breaks: 4 negatives and a positive

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) includes many changes that affect tax breaks for employee benefits. Among the changes are four negatives and one positive that will impact not only employees but also the businesses providing the benefits.

4 breaks curtailed

Beginning with the 2018 tax year, the TCJA reduces or eliminates tax breaks in the following areas:

1. Transportation benefits. The TCJA eliminates business deductions for the cost of providing qualified employee transportation fringe benefits, such as parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling. (These benefits are still tax-free to recipient employees.) It also disallows business deductions for the cost of providing commuting transportation to an employee (such as hiring a car service), unless the transportation is necessary for the employee’s safety. And it suspends through 2025 the tax-free benefit of up to $20 a month for bicycle commuting.

2. On-premises meals. The TCJA reduces to 50% a business’s deduction for providing certain meals to employees on the business premises, such as when employees work late or if served in a company cafeteria. (The deduction is scheduled for elimination in 2025.) For employees, the value of these benefits continues to be tax-free.

3. Moving expense reimbursements. The TCJA suspends through 2025 the exclusion from employees’ taxable income of a business’s reimbursements of employees’ qualified moving expenses. However, businesses generally will still be able to deduct such reimbursements.

4. Achievement awards. The TCJA eliminates the business tax deduction and corresponding employee tax exclusion for employee achievement awards that are provided in the form of cash, gift coupons or certificates, vacations, meals, lodging, tickets to sporting or theater events, securities and “other similar items.” However, the tax breaks are still available for gift certificates that allow the recipient to select tangible property from a limited range of items preselected by the employer. The deduction/exclusion limits remain at up to $400 of the value of achievement awards for length of service or safety and $1,600 for awards under a written nondiscriminatory achievement plan.

1 new break 

For 2018 and 2019, the TCJA creates a tax credit for wages paid to qualifying employees on family and medical leave. To qualify, a business must offer at least two weeks of annual paid family and medical leave, as described by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), to qualified employees. The paid leave must provide at least 50% of the employee’s wages. Leave required by state or local law or that was already part of the business’s employee benefits program generally doesn’t qualify.

The credit equals a minimum of 12.5% of the amount of wages paid during a leave period. The credit is increased gradually for payments above 50% of wages paid and tops out at 25%. No double-dipping: Employers can’t also deduct wages claimed for the credit.

More rules, limits and changes

Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these breaks, and that the TCJA makes additional changes affecting employee benefits. Contact us for more details.

© 2018

Haven’t filed your 2017 income tax return yet? Beware of these pitfalls

The federal income tax filing deadline is slightly later than usual this year — April 17 — but it’s now nearly upon us. So, if you haven’t filed your individual return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Or you may just be concerned about meeting the deadline in the eyes of the IRS. Whatever you do, don’t get tripped up by one of these potential pitfalls.

Filing for an extension

Filing for an extension allows you to delay filing your return until the applicable extension deadline, which for 2017 individual tax returns is October 15, 2018.

While filing for an extension can provide relief from April 17 deadline stress and avoid failure-to-file penalties, there are some possible pitfalls:

  • If you expect to owe tax, to avoid potential interest and penalties you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by April 17.
  • If you expect a refund, remember that you’re simply extending the amount of time your money is in the government’s pockets rather than your own. (If you’re owed a refund and file late, you won’t be charged a failure-to-file penalty. However, filing for an extension may still be a good idea.)

Meeting the April 17 deadline

The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 17 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. Sounds straightforward, but here’s a potential pitfall: Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 17, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared. You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you can still be hit with both failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties.

To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:

  • DHL Express 9:00, Express 10:30, Express 12:00 or Express Envelope
  • FedEx First Overnight, Priority Overnight, Standard Overnight or 2Day, or
  • UPS Next Day Air Early A.M., Next Day Air, Next Day Air Saver, 2nd Day Air A.M. or 2nd Day Air.

Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.

Avoiding interest and penalties

Despite the potential pitfalls, filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now. We can help you estimate whether you owe tax and how much you should pay by April 17. Please contact us if you need help or have questions about avoiding interest and penalties.

© 2018

A net operating loss on your 2017 tax return isn’t all bad news

When a company’s deductible expenses exceed its income, generally a net operating loss (NOL) occurs. If when filing your 2017 income tax return you found that your business had an NOL, there is an upside: tax benefits. But beware — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes some significant changes to the tax treatment of NOLs.

Pre-TCJA law

Under pre-TCJA law, when a business incurs an NOL, the loss can be carried back up to two years, and then any remaining amount can be carried forward up to 20 years. The carryback can generate an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow.

The business can, however, elect instead to carry the entire loss forward. If cash flow is strong, this may be more beneficial, such as if the business’s income increases substantially, pushing it into a higher tax bracket — or if tax rates increase. In both scenarios, the carryforward can save more taxes than the carryback because deductions are more powerful when higher tax rates apply.

But the TCJA has established a flat 21% tax rate for C corporation taxpayers beginning with the 2018 tax year, and the rate has no expiration date. So C corporations don’t have to worry about being pushed into a higher tax bracket unless Congress changes the corporate rates again.

Also keep in mind that the rules are more complex for pass-through entities, such as partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (if they elected partnership tax treatment). Each owner’s allocable share of the entity’s loss is passed through to the owners and reported on their personal returns. The tax benefit depends on each owner’s particular tax situation.

The TCJA changes

The changes the TCJA made to the tax treatment of NOLs generally aren’t favorable to taxpayers:

* For NOLs arising in tax years ending after December 31, 2017, a qualifying NOL can’t be carried back at all. This may be especially detrimental to start-up businesses, which tend to generate NOLs in their early years and can greatly benefit from the cash-flow boost of a carried-back NOL. (On the plus side, the TCJA allows NOLs to be carried forward indefinitely, as opposed to the previous 20-year limit.)
* For NOLs arising in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, an NOL carryforward generally can’t be used to shelter more than 80% of taxable income in the carryforward year. (Under prior law, generally up to 100% could be sheltered.)

The differences between the effective dates for these changes may have been a mistake, and a technical correction might be made by Congress. Also be aware that, in the case of pass-through entities, owners’ tax benefits from the entity’s net loss might be further limited under the TCJA’s new “excess business loss” rules.

Complicated rules get more complicated

NOLs can provide valuable tax benefits. The rules, however, have always been complicated, and the TCJA has complicated them further. Please contact us if you’d like more information on the NOL rules and how you can maximize the tax benefit of an NOL.

© 2018

You still have time to make 2017 IRA contributions

Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. The deadline for 2017 contributions is April 17, 2018. Deductible contributions will lower your 2017 tax bill, but even nondeductible contributions can be beneficial.

Don’t lose the opportunity

The 2017 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2017). But any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years.

This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So to maximize your potential for tax-deferred or tax-free savings, it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible.

3 types of contributions

If you haven’t already maxed out your 2017 IRA contribution limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 17:

1. Deductible traditional. With traditional IRAs, account growth is tax-deferred and distributions are subject to income tax. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k), the contribution is fully deductible on your 2017 tax return. If you or your spouse does participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your deduction is subject to a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the phaseout range is specific to each spouse based on whether he or she is a participant in an employer-sponsored plan:                                                                                                                                          – – For a spouse who participates: $99,000–$119,000.                                                               – – For a spouse who doesn’t participate: $186,000–$196,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers participating in an employer-sponsored plan: $62,000–$72,000.

Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution; those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution.

2. Roth. With Roth IRAs, contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Your ability to contribute, however, is subject to a MAGI-based phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly: $186,000–$196,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers: $118,000–$133,000.

You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth.

Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.

Maximize your tax-advantaged savings

Traditional and Roth IRAs provide a powerful way to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. Contact us to learn more about making 2017 contributions and making the most of IRAs in 2018 and beyond.

© 2018