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2017 Tax Organizer Letter

Hello and Happy Thanksgiving/Merry Christmas, etc!  I am again in Galveston in the RV for the Lone Star Motorcycle Rally working on this letter while waiting for the rain to end.  The year 2017 will definitely be remembered for the Hurricanes!  Huge portions of south Texas and Louisiana were affected by Hurricane Harvey with devastating losses.  I sincerely hope you were not affected, but chances are you were.  The way Hurricane Harvey hit the Port Aransas/Port O'Connor area and then made a right and hung out in the Houston area for a few days raining like crazy was unreal!  I had left in the RV for Grapevine to attend a tax seminar before the Hurricane was a factor.  So I just stayed an extra week or so in Grapevine when it was clear I could not make it home.  Angela escaped  to her parent's house with a very high elevation in Conroe. Our home had water come almost to the bottom of the garage door, but that was it...no water in the house like Hurricane Ike...we were extremely lucky!  

FOR IMPORTANT HURRICANE HARVEY TAX INFO, PLEASE SEE MY WEBSITE.  If you did have Hurricane Harvey losses in excess of any insurance received, we may be able to deduct the net loss either on your 2016 amended return or your 2017 tax return.  Normally, casualty losses must exceed 10% of your income to be deductible, but that floor does not apply to losses from Hurricane Harvey. In addition, we can take any allowable loss whether you itemize your deductions or not.  But the allowable loss is calculated in a very taxpayer unfriendly way and you can even have a gain if your insurance proceeds exceed your cost basis. We will need to discuss this in detail if you did have any significant losses from Hurricane Harvey (or Hurricanes Irma & Maria as well).

Please remember to go to my website at www.markhessecpa.com and sign up for my monthly online newsletter...if you have trouble getting to sleep at night, print a copy to keep by your bed!

Secure Drawer was updated in May, 2017 and now it should work on any Internet browser or device. Please try to use Secure Drawer to securely send me tax documents, etc. vs. unprotected emails.  You can access Secure Drawer on my website at www.markhessecpa.com.   Use your previously set up password and your login user name is your email address.  Hit "Forgot Password" if you cannot remember your password.

My business is now at a point where I can take on a few more clients.  I appreciate any referrals you can send my way!

YEAR-END PLANNING FOR INDIVIDUALS

Just as the daylight hours are getting shorter, so is the time for fine tuning any last-minute strategies to lower your 2017 tax bill. Often, the correct steps to take will depend on whether you see your income going up or down next year.

If you've been following the news out of Washington, you probably know that for the first time in decades, tax reform is a real possibility. Given that Republicans control Congress and the White House, and that taxes have become their number one legislative priority, it's likely that reform of some kind will pass. However, what that reform will be, who it will benefit, and when it will be effective is still up in the air. So, in analyzing how we may reduce your 2017 tax burden, we should start with what we do know and how it may affect you, and avoid putting too much weight on proposed changes.

For 2017, current law provides seven tax rates depending on your income. The top tax rate of 39.6 percent applies to incomes over $418,400 (single), $470,700 (married filing jointly and surviving spouse), $235,350 (married filing separately), and $444,550 (heads of households). However, high-income taxpayers are also subject to the 3.8 percent net investment income tax and/or the .9 percent Medicare surtax.

Much of tax planning for the current year depends on what you expect to happen next year. Will there be any major life changes next year, such as a marriage, additional dependents, a change in jobs, or retirement? The year-end tax strategies will also depend on whether you expect your income to go up or down next year or, correspondingly, whether you expect significant changes in your deductions. The following are some of the items we should review when discussing year-end tax planning options that may be relevant to your situation.

Life Events

Life events can significantly impact your taxes. For example, if you will be getting married next year and you and your spouse have significant income, you may want to consider accelerating income into the current year or deferring deductions into 2018. This is because combined incomes can lead to higher tax brackets. For example, in 2017, a single taxpayer is not subject to the 28 percent tax rate until his or her taxable income exceeds $91,900. However, for a married couple, the 28 percent rate kicks in when the couple's taxable income exceeds $153,100, much less than twice the single taxable income level.

Similarly, if you are using head of household or surviving spouse filing status for 2017, but will change to a filing tax status of single for 2018, your tax rate will go up. Thus, accelerating income into 2017 and pushing deductions into 2018 may also yield tax savings.

Retirement Plans Considerations

Fully funding your company 401(k) with pre-tax dollars will reduce current year taxes, as well as increase your retirement nest egg. For 2017, the maximum 401(k) contribution you can make with pre-tax earnings is $18,000. For taxpayers 50 or older, that amount increases to $24,000.

If you have a SIMPLE 401(k), the maximum pre-tax contribution for 2017 is $12,500. That amount increases to $15,500 for taxpayers age 50 or older.

If certain requirements are met, contributions to an individual retirement account (IRA) may be deductible. For taxpayers under 50, the maximum contribution amount for 2017 is $5,500. For taxpayers 50 or older but less than age 70 1/2, the maximum contribution amount is $6,500. Contributions exceeding the maximum amount are subject to a 6 percent excise tax. Even if you are not eligible to deduct contributions, contributing after-tax money to an IRA may be advantageous because it will allow you to later convert that traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Qualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA, including earnings, are free of tax, while earnings on a traditional IRA are taxable when withdrawn.

If you already have a traditional IRA, we should evaluate whether it is appropriate to convert it to a Roth IRA this year. You'll have to pay tax on the amount converted as ordinary income, but subsequent earnings will be free of tax. And if you have a traditional 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan that includes after-tax contributions, you can generally rollover these after-tax amounts to a Roth IRA with no tax consequences. A rollover of a SIMPLE 401(k) into a Roth IRA may also be available. As with all tax rules, there are qualifications that apply to these rollovers that we should discuss before you take any actions.

Capital Gains and Losses

While most of the stock market has been soaring to new heights in 2017, there are some stocks, such as those invested in brick and mortar businesses, which have lost value during the year. If your stock portfolio includes such stocks and you've decided you want to divest yourself of them, we should evaluate whether you might benefit from selling off appreciated stocks, particularly those that would generate a short-term capital gain, and using the resulting gain to limit your exposure to a long-term capital loss, the deduction of which is limited. And any net capital gain you may reap, will be taxed at the substantially reduced capital gain tax rate.

The tax rate for net capital gain is generally no higher than 15 percent for most taxpayers. Some or all of your net capital gain may be taxed at 0 percent if you're in the 10 percent or 15 percent ordinary income tax brackets. However, a 20 percent tax rate on net capital gain does apply to the extent that your ordinary taxable income is taxed at the 39.6 percent tax rate. There are a few other exceptions where capital gains may be taxed at rates greater than 15 percent: (1) the taxable part of a gain from selling certain qualified small business stock is taxed at a maximum 28 percent rate; (2) net capital gains from selling collectibles (such as coins or art) are taxed at a maximum 28 percent rate; and (3) the portion of certain unrecaptured gain from selling real property is taxed at a maximum 25 percent rate. If you have been involved in any such transactions during the year, we should review your options for reducing the tax on those transactions.

Penalty for Failing to Carry Health Insurance

Despite numerous attempts by Congress to repeal Obamacare, the law is still with us and so is the penalty for not having health insurance coverage. You may be liable for this penalty if you or any of your dependents didn't have health insurance for any month in 2017. The penalty is 2.5 percent of your 2017 household income exceeding the filing threshold or $695 per adult, whichever is higher, and $347.50 per uninsured dependent under 18, up to $2,085 total per family. However, you may be eligible for an exemption from the penalty if certain conditions apply.

Reporting Healthcare Coverage

According to the IRS, if your tax return does not indicate whether or not you and your family had healthcare coverage during the year, your return will not be processed. This is the first year that the IRS is refusing to process returns if this information is omitted from the return.

Alternative Minimum Tax

A growing number of taxpayers are subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). If it looks like you may be subject to the AMT this year, there are certain strategies we should review to see if they may reduce or eliminate the impact of the AMT in your situation. All taxpayers are eligible for an exemption from the AMT, the amount of which depends on your filing status. For 2017, the exemption amounts for individuals, other than those subject to the kiddie tax, are (1) $84,500 in the case of a joint return or a surviving spouse; (2) $54,300 in the case of an individual who is unmarried and not a surviving spouse; and (3) $42,250 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return. However, these exemptions are phased out by an amount equal to 25 percent of the amount by which your alternative minimum taxable income (AMTI) exceeds: (1) $160,900 in the case of married individuals filing a joint return and surviving spouses; (2) $120,700 in the case of other unmarried individuals; and (3) $80,450 in the case of married individuals filing separate returns.

Certain adjustments to your taxable income for regular tax purposes are not allowed for AMT purposes and will increase your AMTI, thus potentially subjecting you to the AMT. Typical items which may reduce regular income but are not allowed for AMTI purposes include personal exemptions, the standard deduction, miscellaneous itemized deductions, state and local income taxes, property taxes, interest on a second mortgage where the proceeds from that second mortgage were not used for a qualified purpose (i.e., such as home improvements), and various tax credits. Thus, if you have a substantial increase in any of these items for 2017, but have not previously been subject to the AMT, there is more of a likelihood that you will be subject to the AMT for 2017. If you work from home, one strategy for avoiding the AMT is to allocate part of your mortgage interest or property taxes to your Schedule C business. To the extent you can claim items on your Schedule C, they will not be added back in calculating AMTI.

Charitable Donations from an IRA

Taxpayers 70 1/2 years old and older who own an IRA are required to take minimum distributions from that account each year and include those amounts in taxable income. If you are in this category, a special rule allows you to make a charitable contribution directly from your IRA to a charity. This has several benefits. First, since charitable contributions deductions are usually only available to individuals who itemize, individuals who take the standard deduction instead can benefit from this rule. Second, making the contribution directly to a charity counts towards your required minimum distribution but that amount is not included in income. This reduces taxable income as well as your adjusted gross income (AGI). A lower AGI is advantageous because it increases your ability to take deductions that you might not otherwise be able to take. For example, medical expenses are only deductible to the extent those expenses exceed 10 percent of your AGI, miscellaneous itemized deductions are limited to the excess of 2 percent of AGI, personal exemptions are phased out once AGI exceeds a certain threshold, and, as AGI increases, more of your social security income is subject to tax. Finally, the 3.8 percent net investment income tax, as discussed below, applies to the extent your AGI exceeds a certain level.

Gifting Appreciated Stock

You can reap a large tax benefit by donating appreciated assets, such as stock, to a charity. Generally, the higher the appreciated value of an asset, the bigger the potential value of the tax benefit. Donating appreciated assets not only entitles you to a charitable contribution deduction but you also avoid the capital gains tax that would otherwise be due if you sold the stock. For example, if you own stock with a fair market value of $1,000 that was purchased for $250 and the capital gains tax rate is 20%, the capital gains tax would be $150 ($750 gain x 20%). If you donate that stock instead of selling it, and are in the 28% tax bracket, you get an ordinary income deduction of $280 ($1,000 FMV x 28%). You also save $150 in capital gains tax that you would otherwise pay if you sold the stock. Thus, the after-tax cost of the gift of appreciated stock is $570 ($1,000 - $280 - $150) compared to the after tax cost of a donation of $1,000 cash which would be $720 ($1,000 - $280). However, it should be noted that a tax deduction for appreciated property is limited to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Additionally, if you have children, particularly college age kids, we should consider if there is any income that can be shifted to them so that the tax on the income is paid at the child's tax rate. One strategy is gifting appreciated stock to the child. Where a child has earned income and is taxed at the bottom two income brackets, capital gains generated on the stock sale are taxed at 0 percent, instead of the 15 percent or more that the parent would pay. However, if the child has little or no earned income, the kiddie tax could be a factor. In this case, you will want to limit the child's unearned income to $2,100 or less for 2017 in order to avoid having your top tax rate apply to the child's income.

Reducing Exposure to the 3.8 Percent Net Investment Income Tax

A 3.8 percent tax applies to certain net investment income of individuals with income above a threshold amount. The threshold amounts are $250,000 (married filing jointly and qualifying widow(er) with dependent child), $200,000 (single and head of household), and $125,000 (married filing separately). In general, investment income includes, but is not limited to: interest, dividends, capital gains, rental and royalty income, non-qualified annuities, and income from businesses involved in trading of financial instruments or commodities. Thus, while the top tax rate for qualified dividend income is generally 20 percent, the top rate on such income increases to 23.8 percent for a taxpayer subject to the net investment income tax (NIIT).

If it appears you may be subject to the NIIT, the following actions may help avoid the tax and we should discuss whether any of these options make sense in light of your financial situation.

(1) Donate or gift appreciated property. As discussed above, by donating appreciated property to a charity, you can avoid recognizing the appreciation for income tax purposes and for net investment income tax purposes. Or you may gift the property so that the donee can sell it and report the income. In this case, you'll want to gift the property to individuals that have income below the $200,000 (single) or $250,000 (couples) thresholds.

(2) Replace stocks with state and local bonds. Interest on tax-exempt state and local bonds are exempt from the NIIT. In addition, because such interest income is not included in adjusted gross income, it can help keep you below the threshold for which the NIIT applies.

(3) If you are in the real estate business, we should review the criteria for being classified as a real estate professional. If you meet these requirements, your rental income is considered nonpassive and thus escapes the NIIT.

(4) If you intend to sell any appreciated assets, consider whether the sale can be structured as an installment sale so the gain recognition is spread over several years.

(5) Since capital losses can offset capital gains for NIIT purposes, consider whether it makes sense to sell any losing stocks, but keeping in mind the transaction costs associated with selling stocks.

(6) If you have appreciated real property to dispose of and are not considered a real estate professional, a like-kind exchange may be more advantageous. By deferring the gain recognition, you can avoid recognizing income subject to the NIIT.

Because the NIIT does not apply to a trade or business unless (1) the trade or business is a passive activity with respect to the taxpayer, or (2) the trade or business consists of trading financial instruments or commodities, we may want to look at ways in which a venture you are involved with could qualify as a trade or business. However, such classification could have Form 1099 reporting implications whereas personal payments are not reportable.

Liability for the .9 Percent Medicare Tax

An additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent is imposed on wages, compensation, and self-employment income in excess of a threshold amount. The threshold amounts are $250,000 (joint return or surviving spouse), $125,000 (married individual filing a separate return), and $200,000 (all others). However, the threshold amount is reduced (but not below zero) by the amount of the taxpayer's wages. Thus, a single individual who has $145,000 in self-employment income and $130,000 of wages is subject to the .9 percent additional tax on $75,000 of self-employment income ($145,000 - $70,000 (the $200,000 threshold - $130,000 in wages)). No tax deduction is allowed for the additional Medicare tax.

For married couples, employers do not take a spouse's self-employment income or wages into account when calculating Medicare tax withholding for an employee. If you and your spouse will exceed the $250,000 threshold in 2017 and have not made enough tax payments to cover the additional .9 percent tax, you can file Form W-4 with the IRS before year end to have an additional amount deducted from your paycheck to cover the additional .9 percent tax. Otherwise, underpayment of tax penalties may apply.

Foreign Bank Account Reporting

The IRS has been actively pursuing individuals who fail to report their holdings in foreign accounts. If you have an interest in a foreign bank account, it must be disclosed; failure to do so carries stiff penalties. You must file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) if: (1) you are a U.S. resident or a person doing business in the United States; (2) you had one or more financial accounts that exceeded $10,000 during the calendar year; (3) the financial account was in a foreign country; and (4) you had a financial interest in the account or signatory or other authority over the foreign financial account. If you are unclear about the requirements or think they could possibly apply to you, please let me know.

The deadline for filing a FBAR is April 15. However, a six-month extension is available. If you are abroad, the due date is automatically extended until June 15, with an additional four-month extension available until October 15.

Flex Spending Accounts

Generally, you will lose any amounts remaining in a health flexible spending account at the end of the year unless your employer allows you to use the account until March 15, 2018, in which case you'll have until then. You should check with your employer to see if they give employees the optional grace period to March 15.

Vacation Home Rentals

If you rent out a vacation home that you also use for personal purposes, we should review the number of days it was used for business versus pleasure to see if there are ways to maximize tax savings with respect to that property.

Accelerating Income into 2017

Depending on your projected income for 2018, it may make sense to accelerate income into 2017 if you expect 2018 income to be significantly higher because of increased income or substantially decreased deductions. Options for accelerating income include: (1) harvesting gains from your investment portfolio, keeping in mind the 3.8 percent NIIT; (2) converting a retirement account into a Roth IRA and recognizing the conversion income this year; (3) taking IRA distributions this year rather than next year; (4) if you are self-employed and have clients with receivables on hand, try to get them to pay before year end; and (5) settling any outstanding lawsuits or insurance claims that will generate income this year.

Deferring Income into 2018

If it looks like you may have a significant decrease in income next year, either from a reduction in income or an increase in deductions, it may make sense to defer income into 2018 or later years. Some options fordeferring income include: (1) if you are due a year-end bonus, having your employer pay the bonus in January 2018; (2) if you are considering selling assets that will generate a gain, postponing the sale until 2018; (3) if you are considering exercising stock options, delaying the exercise of those options; (4) if you are planning on selling appreciated property, consider an installment sale with larger payments being received in 2018; and (5) consider parking investments in deferred annuities.

Deferring Deductions into 2018

If you anticipate a substantial increase in taxable income next year, it may be advantageous to push deductions into 2018 by: (1) postponing year-end charitable contributions, property tax payments, and medical and dental expense payments, to the extent deductions are available for such payments, until next year; and (2) postponing the sale of any loss-generating property.

Accelerating Deductions into 2017

If you expect a decrease in income next year, accelerating deductions into the current year can offset the higher income this year. Some options include: (1) prepaying property taxes in December; (2) making January mortgage payment in December; (3) if you owe state income taxes, making up any shortfall in December rather than waiting until your state income tax return is due; (4) since medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income, bunching large medical bills not covered by insurance into 2017 to help overcome this threshold; (5) making any large charitable contributions in 2017, rather than 2018; (6) selling some or all loss stocks; and (7) if you qualify for a health savings account, setting one up and making the maximum contribution allowable.

Tax Reform

As I mentioned before, the President and the Republican leadership in Congress have now elevated tax reform to be their highest legislative priority. Most of the proposals so far have dealt with lowering tax rates and reducing the number of tax brackets, doubling the standard deduction, and getting rid of the personal exemptions as well as almost all personal deductions except for the charitable contribution deduction and home mortgage interest deduction (which would stay on the books, but become unavailable to most taxpayers). There has also been talk of eliminating the AMT and estate taxes.

I'm hesitant to speculate what the end result will be, and many of the proposed changes do not lend themselves to year-end planning opportunities. The one big exception is the potential repeal of most personal deductions, which does create a stronger than usual incentive to accelerate deductions into the current year. Whether that's a smart move depends on other factors, such as whether you'll be subject to AMT this year, and what direction you see your income heading in next year. But it's definitely something we should discuss.

YEAR-END PLANNING FOR BUSINESSES

As the year draws to a close, it is important that we calculate your business's tax liability for 2017 so we can determine if additional actions are needed to reduce that liability. In addition, we need to ensure that enough estimated taxes have been paid to avoid any underpayment of estimated tax penalties.

If you've been following the news out of Washington, you probably know that corporate tax reform is a real possibility, as is the passage of new tax breaks that would reduce tax rates on income generated by some pass-through businesses. The details of these proposals and whether they'll ultimately pass Congress are still up in the air. So, in analyzing how we may reduce your 2017 tax burden, we should start with what we do know and how it may affect you, and avoid putting too much weight on proposed changes.

Other than a tax act providing relief to hurricane victims, no significant tax legislation was enacted in 2017. However, big changes will take effect for partnerships beginning in 2018. Effective for partnership tax years beginning after 2017, the current partnership audit procedures will be replaced with a single centralized audit system. While some partnerships may elect out of the new regime, most partnerships will be subject to the new rules. Under the new system, the IRS will examine a partnership's items of income, gain, loss, deduction, credit and partners' distributive shares for a particular year of the partnership (i.e., the reviewed year). Any adjustments will be taken into account by the partnership, and not the individual partners, in the year that the audit or any judicial review is completed (i.e., the adjustment year). Thus, it's possible for current year partners to be liable for mistakes or errors committed in prior years when they were not partners. The new rules provide certain exceptions to allow current year partners to escape such liability, including an election that must be made no later than 45 days after the date of a notice of final partnership adjustment. If you are in a partnership, it's imperative to have the partnership agreement reviewed and revised, if necessary, to take into account these new rules.

In October, there was a big development which will impact tax planning for family owned businesses. The IRS withdrew proposed regulations that would have imposed major restrictions on valuation discounts for transfers of interests in such businesses among family members. Also in October, the IRS announced that it is considering revoking proposed and temporary regulations governing how liabilities are allocated for purposes of the partnership disguised sale rules. As issued, those regulations could significantly impact the tax treatment of many partnership formations because they apply the rules relating to nonrecourse liabilities to formations of partnerships involving recourse liabilities. Many felt this rule was issued without adequate consideration of its impact. Other recently issued regulations which the IRS has identified as being subject to revocation or substantial revision include (1) the documentation requirements in final and temporary regulations relating to the determination of whether an instrument is debt or equity; and (2) temporary regulations amending the rules relating to transfers of property by C corporations to real estate investment trusts and regulated investment companies. Some say those rules cause too much gain to be recognized.

In addition, the Treasury Department also indicated that it could repeal up to 200 regulations, but did not identify which rules it was talking about. We will keep you abreast of any developments in these areas as they occur.

The following are some year-end strategies we should review with respect to your business.

Section 179 Expensing and Bonus Depreciation

If you are looking to reduce your business's taxable income, two of the biggest deductions from which your business may benefit are the Code Sec. 179 expense deduction and bonus depreciation. For 2017, the maximum amount of qualifying property that your business can expense is $510,000. That amount is reduced one-for-one to the extent qualifying property purchased during the year exceeds $2,030,000.

In addition, a bonus depreciation deduction is available which allows a business to claim a 50-percent additional first-year depreciation deduction on qualified property placed in service in 2017. Next year, the bonus depreciation percentage goes down to 40 percent, so if you are looking to maximize deductions in 2017, bonus depreciation is a big consideration. Thus, for example, if your business purchases $800,000 of qualifying equipment in 2017, the total first year deduction would be $684,000 ($800,000 - $510,000 (maximum Code Sec. 179 deduction) - $145,000 (50% depreciation x remaining basis of $290,000) - $29,000 (normal depreciation of 20% x remaining basis of $145,000)).

Vehicle-Related Deductions and Substantiation of Deductions

Expenses relating to business vehicles can add up to major deductions. If your business could use a large passenger vehicle, consider purchasing a sport utility vehicle weighing more than 6,000 pounds. Vehicles under that weight limit are considered listed property and deductions are more limited. However, if the vehicle is more than 6,000 pounds, up to $25,000 of the cost of the vehicle can be immediately expensed.

Vehicle expense deductions are generally calculated using one of two methods: the standard mileage rate method or the actual expense method. If the standard mileage rate is used, parking fees and tolls incurred for business purposes can be added to the total amount calculated.

Since the IRS tends to focus on vehicle expenses in an audit and disallow them if they are not property substantiated, you should ensure that the following are part of your business's tax records with respect to each vehicle used in the business: (1) the amount of each separate expense with respect to the vehicle (e.g., the cost of purchase or lease, the cost of repairs and maintenance); (2) the amount of mileage for each business or investment use and the total miles for the tax period; (3) the date of the expenditure; and (4) the business purpose for the expenditure. The following are considered adequate for substantiating such expenses: (1) records such as a notebook, diary, log, statement of expense, or trip sheets; and (2) documentary evidence such as receipts, canceled checks, bills, or similar evidence. Records are considered adequate to substantiate the element of a vehicle expense only if they are prepared or maintained in such a manner that each recording of an element of the expense is made at or near the time the expense is incurred.

Retirement Plans and Other Fringe Benefits

Benefits are very attractive to employees. If you haven't done so already, you may want to consider using benefits rather than higher wages to attract employees. While your business is not required to have a retirement plan, there are many advantages to having one. By starting a retirement savings plan, you not only help your employees save for the future, you can also use such a plan to attract and retain qualified employees. Retaining employees longer can impact your bottom line as well by reducing training costs. In addition, as a business owner, you can take advantage of the plan yourself, and so can your spouse. If your spouse is not currently on the payroll, you may want to consider adding him or her and paying a salary up to the maximum amount that can be deferred into a retirement plan. So, for example, if your spouse is 50 years old or over and receives a salary of $24,000, all of it could go into a 401(k), leaving your spouse with a retirement account but no taxable income.

By offering a retirement plan, you also generate tax savings to your business because employer contributions are deductible and the assets in the retirement plan grow tax free. Additionally, a tax credit is available to certain small employers for the costs of starting a retirement plan. Please let me know if this isan option you would like to discuss further.

Increasing Basis in Pass-thru Entities

If you are a partner in a partnership or a shareholder in an S corporation, and the entity is passing through a loss for the year, you must have enough basis in the entity in order to deduct the loss on your personal tax return. If you don't, and if you can afford to, you should consider increasing your basis in the entity in order to take the loss in 2017.

De Minimis Safe Harbor Election

It may be advantageous to elect the annual de minimis safe harbor election for amounts paid to acquire or produce tangible property. By making this election, and as long as the items purchased don't have to be capitalized under the uniform capitalization rules and are expensed for financial accounting purposes or in your books and records, you can deduct up to $2,500 per invoice or item (or up to $5,000 if you have an applicable financial statement).

S Corporation Shareholder Salaries

For any business operating as an S corporation, it's important to ensure that shareholders involved in running the business are paid an amount that is commensurate with their workload. The IRS scrutinizes S corporations which distribute profits instead of paying compensation subject to employment taxes. Failing to pay arm's length salaries can lead not only to tax deficiencies, but penalties and interest on those deficiencies as well. The key to establishing reasonable compensation is being able to show that the compensation paid for the type of work an owner-employee does for the S corporation is similar to what other corporations would pay for similar work. If you are in this situation, we need to document the factors that support the salary you are being paid.

Tax Reform

As I mentioned before, Congress is attempting to tackle tax reform. There are several ideas floating around and it's unclear when any tax legislation would be effective if it does eventually pass. Some of the proposals being discussed are a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and a establishing a new 25 percent top tax rate for business entity pass-through income (i.e., business income from partnerships, LLCs, S corporations, and Schedule C companies) These rate reductions are proposed to be offset by the repeal of various tax breaks, only a couple of which have been named.

I'm hesitant to speculate what the end result will be, or to make plans based on proposed changes that may or may not become law. That said, the potential for sharp rate reductions for some businesses is not something we should ignore. In some cases, it may create an additional incentive to accelerate deductions into the current year and/or defer income into next year.

Please call me if you would like to set up a phone conference ($160/hour, 15 minutes minimum) to estimate your tax liability for the year and discuss whether any of the options above may be beneficial to you.

I’ve enclosed your 2017 tax return organizer, which includes amounts from your 2016 return (if I  prepared your 2016 return) to help you summarize your 2017 tax information.  If you are not sure where specific tax information belongs, just include the related documentation.  Please bring this organizer to our meeting whether you have completed it or not.  If you mail or drop by your data, please try to fill out the organizer as much as possible.   (This will save us time and you money!)

In order for me to prepare your return by April 16, 2018, I must have your completed organizer in my office no later than Friday, March 9, 2018 (PLEASE NOTE:  this is an estimated cut-off date...it could be sooner). Please call/e-mail to schedule an appointment as soon as possible or just drop your data/organizer by my office.  Generally, my fee will be significantly more if we meet in an office conference vs. dropping off your data with a phone conference.

My appointments will be scheduled Tuesday through Thursday at 8:30AM, 10:00AM, 11:30AM, 2:30PM & 4:30PM only (I’ll be working out of my home office evenings, Mondays, Fridays and weekends).  Please select one of these conference times (note that the morning appointments are 1.5 hours & the afternoon appointments are 2.0 hours...my minimum in-office conference is one hour @ $220/hour) and leave your desired time/date on my voice mail or by e-mail.  I will then confirm your appointment by e-mail or phone.

Immediately following this letter is an engagement letter, which is designed to help you understand the nature of the services I am providing.  Please read, sign and date this letter and bring it with you to our meeting (or e-mail/fax it to me if we do not meet).  I must have this signed letter before I can complete your return.

Please feel free to call me if you need any help completing your organizer or if I can provide other tax services.  My #1 goal is to make sure you pay the least legal tax.  Thanks for your business and Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Etc.!  Have a fun and safe New Year in 2018 and remember, I’ll do the tax...You relax!

Sincerely,



Mark E. Hesse, CPA

P.S.  If you would prefer an electronic organizer,  just e-mail your request with your preferred e-mail address and I’ll send you a link to your electronic organizer securely encrypted and password protected. When you’ve completed the organizer, simply e-mail it back to me.