Tax Primer for Filing your 2011 Taxes

TaxesIt's that time of year when we are all hunkering down getting our documents together to file our income taxes.  While we recently blogged about proposed changes to the tax code, filing your taxes deals with the laws that are in place here and now.  

So, what  do you need to know?  Marty Abo, CPA at Abo and Company apparently spent last weekend putting together a punch-list of what you need to know for the 2011 tax season:

"From tax credits, exemptions and deductions for individuals and Section 179 expensing for small businesses, here's what Abo and Company thinks you may want to know about the tax changes for 2011."

So, here is your tax season checkup checklist reproduced with permission from the email alerts sent to clients and friends of Abo and Company, Certified Public Accountants - litigation & forensic consultants. www.Aboandcompany.com.  I found it valuable and Marty was happy to allow us to share it with you.

Individuals

From personal deductions to tax credits and educational expenses, many of the tax changes relating to individuals remain in effect through 2012 and are the result of tax provisions that were either modified or extended by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010.

Personal Exemptions - The personal and dependent exemption for tax year 2011 is $3,700, up $50 from 2010.

Standard Deductions - In 2011 the standard deduction for married couples filing a joint return is $11,600, up $200 from 2010 and for singles and married individuals filing separately it's $5,800, up $100. For heads of household the deduction is $8,500, also up $100 from 2010.

The additional standard deduction for blind people and senior citizens is $1,150 for married individuals, up $50, and $1,450 for singles and heads of household, also up $50.

Income Tax Rates - Due to inflation, tax-bracket thresholds will increase for every filing status. For example, the taxable-income threshold separating the 15-percent bracket from the 25-percent bracket is $69,000 for a married couple filing a joint return, up from $68,000 in 2010.

Estate and Gift Taxes - The recent overhaul of estate and gift taxes means that there is an exemption of $5 million per individual for estate, gift and generation-skipping taxes, with a top rate of 35%. For married couples the exemption is $10 million.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) - AMT exemption amounts for 2011 are slightly higher than those in 2010 at $48,450 for single and head of household fliers, $74,450 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers, and $37,225 for married people filing separately.

Marriage Penalty Relief - For 2011, the basic standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly is $11,600, up $200 from 2010.

Pease and PEP (Personal Exemption Phaseout) - Pease (limitations on itemized deductions) and PEP (personal exemption phase-out) limitations do not apply for 2011, but these are set to expire at the end of 2012.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) - 
Under new standards, the cost of an over-the-counter medicine or drug cannot be reimbursed from the account unless a prescription is obtained. The change does not affect insulin, even if purchased without a prescription, or other health care expenses such as medical devices, eye glasses, contact lenses, co-pays and deductibles.

The new standard applies only to purchases made on or after Jan. 1, 2011, so claims for medicines or drugs purchased without a prescription in 2010 can still be reimbursed in 2011, if allowed by the employer's plan.

A similar rule went into effect on Jan. 1, 2011 for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and Archer Medical Savings Accounts (Archer MSAs).

Long Term Capital Gains - In 2011, long-term gains for assets held at least one year are taxed at a flat rate of 15% for taxpayers above the 25% tax bracket. For taxpayers in lower tax brackets, the long-term capital gains rate is 0%.

Individuals - Tax Credits

Adoption Credit - A refundable credit of up to $13,360 for 2011 is available for qualified adoption expenses for each eligible child.

Child and Dependent Care Credit - If you pay someone to take care of your dependent (defined as being under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year or incapable of self-care) in order to work or look for work, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 or 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses.

For two or more qualifying dependents, you can claim up to 35 percent of $6,000 (or $2,100) of eligible expenses. For higher income earners the credit percentage is reduced, but not below 20 percent, regardless of the amount of adjusted gross income.

Child Tax Credit - The $1,000 child tax credit has been extended through 2012. A portion of the credit may be refundable, which means that you can claim the amount you are owed, even if you have no tax liability for the year. The credit is phased out for those with higher incomes.

Energy Tax Credits for Homeowners - Energy tax credits for homeowners expire at the end of 2011 and are not as generous as in previous years. In addition, a taxpayer who has claimed an amount of $500 in any previous year is not eligible for this tax credit.

Homeowners can claim an Energy Star window tax credit of up to $200 maximum as well as a water heater tax credit, which includes electric, natural gas, propane, or oil, up to a maximum of $300. The same maximum ($300) applies to air conditioners, but insulation, doors, and roof credits are capped at $500. The furnace tax credit (includes natural gas, propane, oil, or hot water) and is capped at $150 maximum and efficiency must be at 95%.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) - 
The maximum EITC for low and moderate income workers and working families is $5,751, up from $5,666 in 2010. The maximum income limit for the EITC has increased to $49,078, up from $48,362 in 2010. The credit varies by family size, filing status and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.

Individuals - Education Expenses

Coverdell Education Savings Account - For two more years, you can contribute up to $2,000 a year to Coverdell savings accounts. These accounts can be used to offset the cost of elementary and secondary education, as well as post-secondary education.

American Opportunity Tax Credit (Higher Education) - The expansion of the Hope Scholarship Credit by the American Opportunity Tax Credit has been extended through 2012. For 2011, the maximum Hope Scholarship Credit that can be used to offset certain higher education expenses is $2,500, although it is phased out beginning at $160,000 adjusted gross income for joint filers and $80,000 for other filers.

Employer Provided Educational Assistance - Through 2012, you, as an employee, can exclude up to $5,250 of qualifying post-secondary and graduate education expenses that are reimbursed by your employer.

Lifetime Learning Credit - A credit of up to $2,000 is available for an unlimited number of years for certain costs of post-secondary or graduate courses or courses to acquire or improve your job skills. For 2011, the credit is fully phased out at $122,000 adjusted gross income for joint filers and $61,000 for others.

Student Loan Interest - For 2011 and 2012, the $2,500 maximum student loan interest deduction for interest paid on student loans is not limited to interest paid during the first 60 months of repayment. The deduction begins to phase out for higher-income taxpayers.

Tuition and Related Expenses Deduction - For 2010 and 2011, there is an above-the-line deduction of up to $4,000 for qualified tuition expenses. This means that qualified tuition payments can directly reduce the amount of taxable income, and you don't have to itemize to claim this deduction. However, this option can't be used with other education tax breaks, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and the amount available is phased out for higher-income taxpayers.

Individuals - Retirement

Roth IRA Conversions - There is no longer an income limit for taxpayers who want to convert regular IRAs into Roth IRAs. The difference is that taxpayers who convert to Roth IRAs in tax year 2011 must pay taxes on the conversion income now instead of deferring it in later years as was the case in 2010.

Businesses

Standard Mileage Rates - The standard mileage rate increases to 51 cents per business mile driven (19 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes and 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations) for the first half of 2011. From July 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011 however, the rate increases to 55.5 cents per business mile. This increase is a special adjustment by the IRS and reflects higher gasoline prices.

Health Care Tax Credit for Small Businesses - Small business employers who pay at least half the premiums for single health insurance coverage for their employees may be eligible for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit as long as they employ fewer than the equivalent of 25 full-time workers and average annual wages do not exceed $50,000. The credit can be claimed in tax years 2010 through 2013 and for any two years after that. The maximum credit that can be claimed is an amount equal to 35% of premiums paid by eligible small businesses.

Section 179 Expensing - In 2011 (as well as 2010), the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases is $500,000 ($535,000 for qualified enterprise zone property) of the first $2 million of certain business property placed in service during the year. The bonus depreciation increases to 100% for qualified property. If the cost of all section 179 property placed in service by the taxpayer during the tax year exceeds $2 million, the $500,000 amount is reduced, but not below zero.
  

 Thank you again Marty  and the team at Abo and Company for this very useful information!

Top 10 Elder Law Cases of 2011

New Jersey accounted for 30% of the most important court rulings on elder law issues in 2011. The crib notes version?  Stay within the line and intent of the law to get the results that you want. The courts are supporting Medicaid's ability to create a period of denial because of a transfer of assets to family members.  This is in line with one of the core principals of Medicaid eligibility - the state will pay for your long term care if you have a dire financial need, but not if you manufactured that need in the past 5 years by transferring assets to your family. 

The key takeaway - effective plans are put into place well before they are needed and fully conform to the law.

This "Top 10" list comes courtesy of elderlawanswers.com:

1. Medicaid Applicant's Penalty Period Does Not Begin Until Returned Assets Are Spent Down
The U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, rules that a New Jersey Medicaid applicant who transferred assets and then had some of the transfers returned cannot get credit toward her penalty period for the time before the transfers were returned that she was resource-eligible. Marino v. Velez (U.S. Ct. App., 3rd Cir., No. 10-2324, Jan. 10, 2011).  

What do you need to take away?  If you made a gift in the 5 years before you applied for Medicaid, and you lost the "bet" that you wouldn't need Medicaid for 5 years, the ENTIRE gift needs to be returned, and spent down, before you will qualify for Medicaid.  To be successful, you need to plan early so that you have a greater likelihood of not needing care for 5 years.

2. State Cannot Recover Assets That Were Transferred Before Medicaid Recipient Died
In a case pursued by ElderLawAnswers member attorney Peter C. Sisson, an Idaho district court rules that the state cannot recover assets from the estate of a Medicaid recipient's spouse that were transferred to the spouse before the Medicaid recipient died. In Re: Estate of Perry (Idaho Dist. Ct., 4th Dist., No. CV-IE-2009-05214, March 16, 2011).  

3. Federal Court Rules Ahlborn Does Not Bar Medicaid Recovery From Future Medical Expenses
A federal district court rules that a state Medicaid agency may recover the cost of a beneficiary's medical care from the portion of her personal injury settlement that was allocated to medical expenses, regardless of whether the funds were allocated to past or future medical care. Perez v. Henneberry (D. Colo., No. 09-cv-01681-WJM-MEH, April 26, 2011).  

4. Court Upholds Nursing Home Resident's Eviction Prior to Resolution of Medicaid Appeal
A Kentucky appeals court holds that a nursing home may evict a resident for nonpayment despite a pending Medicaid appeal. King v. Butler Rest Home, Inc. (Ky. Ct. App., No. 2010-CA-001467-MR, June 17, 2011).  

5. Payments to Caregivers of Dementia Patient Are Deductible Medical Expenses
The U.S. Tax Court rules that payments to caregivers of a dementia patient are deductible medical expenses, even though the caregivers were not licensed health care providers. Estate of Lillian Baral (U.S. Tax Ct., No. 3618-10, July 5, 2011).  

What do you need to take away?  This is a win for caregivers.  Catastrophic medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of your adjusted gross income are deductible. This may offset some of the costs of care.

6. Third Circuit Affirms That N.J. May Count Promissory Notes As Available Resources
In a long-running case that has bounced back and forth between two federal courts, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rules that New Jersey's Medicaid agency may analyze promissory notes as trust-like devices and count the notes as available resources. Sable v. Velez (U.S. Ct. App., 3rd Cir., No. 10-4647, July 12, 2011). 

What do you need to take away?  While the court specifically advised that this case was not precedential, if you are making loans, they need to be real and fit within the requirements of the law.  They need to be in writing, actually repaid, and consistent with the law.

7. Transfer of Medicaid Applicant's House to Son Falls Within Caregiver Child Exception
A New Jersey appeals court rules that the transfer of a Medicaid applicant's house to her caregiver son is not subject to a Medicaid penalty period because it falls within the caregiver child exception. V.P. v. Dept. of Human Services (N.J. Sup. Ct., App. Div., No. A-2362-09T1, Sept. 2, 2011). To read the full summary, click here.

What do you need to take away?  The Medicaid applicant was successful because the caregiver child was able to prove that he actually provided a high level of care including walking, bathing, and cooking.  In short, he had good facts.  If you are a caregiver child looking to someday keep your home by taking advantage of this exemption, you will also need good facts. Start keeping a log of what you do now.

8. U.S. Court Rules Connecticut Likely Cannot Refuse Spousal Refusal Doctrine
Ruling that a state statute violates federal Medicaid law, a federal district court grants a preliminary injunction preventing Connecticut from denying Medicaid benefits to an applicant seeking to disregard his spouse's assets using the doctrine of spousal refusal. Fortmann v. Starkowski (D. Ct., No 3:10cv1562 (JBA), Sept. 28, 2011).  

9. Medicaid Applicant's Transfer to Daughter Created Trust-Like Device
A federal district court rules that when a Medicaid applicant transferred money to her daughter with the intention that the daughter pay for her care during the resulting penalty period, she created a trust-like device, so the money is still an available resource. Pfeffer v. AHCCCS (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Ariz., No. CV-11-0891-PHX-GMS, Sept. 29, 2011). 

10. Irrevocable Trust Set Up by Medicaid Applicant's Children Is Available Asset
A Wisconsin appeals court rules that a Medicaid applicant who transferred funds to her children, who then put them in an irrevocable trust for her benefit, is ineligible for Medicaid because the trust is an available asset under state law, even though the transfer occurred 17 years before she applied for Medicaid. Hedlund v. Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services (Wis. Ct. App., No. 2010AP3070, Oct. 13, 2011).  

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Transfer Taxes on Sale - Video Overview

First, we're trying something new here and have created a video overview the 2011-2012 Tax Sale on Gift Taxes, Estate Taxes, and Generation Skipping Taxes.  For wealthy individuals this is an unprecedented opportunity to transfer that wealth to other generations at little or no tax costs.  

While our video aims to educate you about why these tax law changes can have a real dollar impact on a family, take a quick look at the tax law changes:

Estate, Gift and Generation Skipping Tax
Transfer Tax 2009 2011-2012 2013+
Estate Tax

* $3.5 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

* $5 Million Exemption

* Max 35% Tax Rate

* $1 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

Gift Tax

* $1 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

* $5 Million Exemption

* Max 35% Tax Rate

* $1 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

GST Tax

* $3.5 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

* $5 Million Exemption

* Max 35% Tax Rate

* $1 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

In short, you can make a tax free gift of 5 times more assets in 2011-2012 than you could in 2009, or will be able to in 2013.  This is truly a limited opportunity for people to cut Uncle Sam out of their estate plan.

Is video a good medium to discuss these topics?  Does the PowerPoint add or take away from the information?  Does video make tax law more accessible?  Feedback is appreciated!

Hold your Horses on Filing those Income Tax Returns

Are you an early filer?  You know the one.  You get all your tax papers by February 3, you file on-line by February 4, and get your refund deposited by February 11?  Well, if you itemize, that quick time-line won't be happening this year.  Steven A. Loeb, Esq. of our Tax, Trust & Estates, and Elder Law Department brought to my attention that due to the tax compromise legislation, the IRS needs to reprogram its computers.  USA Today reports:

The delay is necessary because the IRS needs time to program its systems to accommodate tax breaks included in a compromise tax bill President Obama signed last week.

The delay means millions of taxpayers will have to wait longer to get their refunds next year. Taxpayers who will have to wait until mid- to late February to file include:

Taxpayers who claim itemized deductions on Schedule A. Itemized deductions include mortgage interest, charitable deductions, medical and dental expenses, state and local taxes.

Taxpayers who claim a deduction for tuition and fees. This is a so-called "above-the-line" deduction, which means taxpayers don't have to itemize to claim it.

Parents and students who claim other education credits, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit, will not have to wait to file, the IRS said, assuming they don't itemize.

Taxpayers who claim the educator expense deduction. This deduction, which is also an above-the-line deduction, allows teachers to deduct up to $250 in out-of-pocket costs for classroom materials.

So for all of us who pay a mortgage, plus others who itemize, we will have to wait to file, which means those refunds will be coming a little later this year.

 

Proposed Estate Tax Legislation Contains some Generous Surprises

The new estate tax legislation proposed by Sen. Reid (D. NV) contains some pleasant surprises for wealthier Individuals.

First, as expected, it proposes to raise the estate tax exemption amount to $5 million per person with a maximum 35% estate tax rate for the next 2 years.

Additionally, the proposed legislation is retroactive to January 1, 2010, so that the estates of people who died in 2010 can select the new 2011 law, or the basis allocation law that has been in place during this year.

Most unexpected,the new law also proposes a 2 -year window where there is a $5 million gift tax exemption per person, with a gift tax rate of 35%. There would similarly be a $5 million Generation Skipping Tax exemption.This could give individuals a huge planning opportunity to transfer assets with great growth or income potential to the next-generation at little or no transfer tax cost.

And now we wait to see what happens next…

2011 Mileage Rates for Deduction Purposes

Well, we now know one thing about taxes for 2011 - the rates you can use to deduct for mileage and what your employer may reimburse you for mileage starting January 1:

  • 51 cents per mile for business miles driven
  • 19 cents per mile for medical or moving miles driven
  • 14 cents per mile for miles driven in service of charitable organizations

Estate Tax Update - A Choice of Tax Law to apply for deaths in 2010

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Senate is sending out legislation to allow estates of people who died in 2010 to choose EITHER the 2010 1022 basis election OR the 2011 estate tax laws, which are currently proposed to be a $5 million exemption per person and 35% estate tax.

Legislation taking shape in the U.S. Senate to extend expiring tax cuts would give heirs of wealthy people who died this year a choice of which estate-tax policy to apply, according to an aide close to the discussions.

Estate executors could choose to apply the rules in place this year, in which there is no federal estate tax, or the rules that would take effect next year imposing a 35% tax rate on estate wealth over $5 million.

The ability to elect either 2010 or 2011 rules would help certain heirs of those who died this year. Even though there is no estate tax, some assets inherited in 2010 face capital gains or other taxes because of a change in the way the value of those assets is calculated.

This would be a whole new issue for estates of people who died in 2010, creating both opportunities to save tax, and potential pitfalls if timely elections and filings are made (and of course, no word on what would be timely).

 

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net