Year-end tax legislation renews extenders, cuts IRS funding
Eleventh-hour votes in Congress in December renewed a package of tax extenders for 2014, created new savings accounts for individuals with disabilities, cut the IRS’ budget, and more. At the same time, the votes helped to set the stage for the 114th Congress that convenes this month. Republicans have majorities in the House and Senate and have indicated that taxes are one of the top items on their agenda for 2015.
The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, signed into law by President Obama in December extends more than 50 individual, business and energy tax incentives retroactively to January 1, 2014. As a result, taxpayers can claim these incentives on their 2014 returns filed in 2015. The Act includes all of the popular incentives for individuals, such as the state and local sales tax deduction and higher education tuition deduction, as well as many business incentives, including the research tax credit, bonus depreciation and enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing. A handful of extenders were not renewed, mostly targeted to energy efficiency. If you have any questions about the renewal of the extenders for 2014, please contact our office.
As part of the extenders package, Congress approved the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014. The Act establishes ABLE accounts for individuals with disabilities. Funds in ABLE accounts may be used for qualified expenses of persons with disabilities. To fund these accounts, the Act:
Adjusts for inflation some civil tax penalties
Authorizes the IRS to certify qualifying professional employer organizations
Excludes dividends from controlled foreign corporations from the definition of personal holding company income
Increases the IRS’ levy authority on payments to Medicare providers
Raises the Inland Waterways Trust Fund financing rate
The IRS goes into the 2015 filing season with a reduced budget. The omnibus spending agreement, signed into law by President Obama on December 16, cuts the IRS’ fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget by some $345 million. The omnibus spending agreement also instructs the IRS to improve its response times in helping victims of identity theft and reduce refund fraud. In response to the budget cuts, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the agency will freeze hiring and take other steps to reduce expenses. Koskinen also cautioned that revenue collection and tax enforcement could be impaired by the budget cuts as the agency will have to make do with less. Taxpayer audits were singled out by Koskinen as one area where cutbacks could have a negative effect.
Affordable Care Act
Congress also clarified the status of so-called expatriate health plans under the Affordable Care Act. These plans cover very specific groups of people, including participants in a group health plan who are aliens residing outside the United States and U.S. nationals about whom there is a good faith expectation of being abroad, in connection with his or her employment, for at least 180 days in a 12-month period.
The omnibus spending agreement exempts expatriate health plans, employer sponsors of these plans, and insurance issuers providing coverage under these plans from the health care coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, the omnibus spending agreement treats these plans as providing minimum essential coverage for purposes of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.
Multi-employer pension plans
The extenders package and the omnibus spending agreement amend the rules governing multi-employer pension plans. The provisions, supporters argued, are intended to shore-up many struggling plans. Opponents countered that the changes weaken protections for beneficiaries. The amendments to the multi-employer pension rules are very technical. Please contact our office for more details
The Tax Increase Prevention Act did not extend the extenders beyond 2014. As of January 1, 2015, they all expired again. During 2014, proposals to extend the incentives for two years or make them permanent were floated in Congress. The GOP-controlled House vote to make permanent bonus depreciation, enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing and some charitable giving breaks, but these bills were not taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate. This could change in the 114th Congress. The new leaders of the tax-writing committees, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, have both indicated their interest in addressing the extenders as part of comprehensive tax reform.
Any movement toward comprehensive tax reform will require cooperation between the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress. In December, President Obama said that he would be willing to work with Republicans on corporate tax reform but any decrease in the corporate tax rate would need to be paid for by revenue raisers elsewhere. The President also said that he wants to preserve and make permanent some temporary enhancements to individual tax breaks, such as the earned income credit. New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also said in December that he could work with the White House.
Please contact our office if you have any questions about the 2014 year-end legislation or the new Congress.
Top 10 tax developments of 2014 with impact on 2015
2014 was a notable year for tax developments on a number of fronts. Selecting the “top ten” tax developments for 2014 necessarily requires judgment calls based upon uniqueness, taxpayers affected, and forward-looking impact on 2015 and beyond. The following “top ten” list of 2014 tax developments is such a prioritization. Nevertheless, other 2014 developments may prove more significant to any particular client, depending upon circumstances. Please feel free to contact this office for a more customized look at the impact of 2014 developments upon your unique tax situation.
Passage of the Extenders Package
2014 was not a year for major tax legislation in Congress. In fact, Congress even failed to pass its usual two-year Extenders package, instead settling on a one-year retroactive extension to January 1, 2014. As one Senator put it, “This tax bill doesn’t have the shelf life of a carton of eggs,” referring to the fact that the 50-plus extenders provisions, signed by the President on December 19, 2014, expired again on January 1, 2015. Instead, it has been left to the 114th Congress to debate the extension of these tax breaks in 2015 and beyond, and for taxpayers to guess what expenses in 2015 will again be entitled to a tax break.
Affordable Care Act
In many ways, 2014 was a transition year for the Affordable Care Act. One of the most far-reaching requirements, the individual shared responsibility provision, took effect on January 1, 2014. Another key provision, the employer shared responsibility, was delayed (in 2013) to 2015. However, employer reporting under Code Sec. 6605 was not delayed. The IRS also issued guidance on the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit and other provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court announced it would review a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding IRS regulations on the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit, a critical component to making the Affordable Care Act viable nationwide.
The IRS and Treasury increased their focus on requirements that U.S. taxpayers report foreign income and assets. The government took the final steps to implement the requirements for U.S. taxpayers and foreign financial institutions to report foreign assets under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). The government also tweaked its programs to induce U.S. taxpayers to report undisclosed income and assets from prior past years. At the same time, the IRS and the Department of Justice went to court to seek civil and criminal penalties, including jail time, against willful tax evaders.
In 2014, the IRS finished issuing the necessary guidance on the treatment of costs for tangible property under the sweeping so-called “repair” regulations, which impact most businesses. The most important development was the issuance of final regulations on the treatment of dispositions of tangible property under MACRS and under Code Sec. 168, including the identification of assets, the treatment of dispositions, and the computation of gain and loss, particularly in the context of general asset accounts (TD 9689). The IRS also issued several revenue procedures that granted automatic consent for taxpayers to change to the accounting methods allowed by the final regulations (including Rev. Proc. 2014-16 & 54).
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen predicted a complex and challenging filing season due to cuts in the Service’s funding. Koskinen highlighted the Service’s having to do more with less because of reduced funding. In addition, the IRS is funded at $10.9 billion for FY 2015, which is $1.5 billion below the amount requested by the White House. The FY 2015 budget reduction “undercuts our ability to enforce the Tax Code,” Koskinen said. “We will do everything we can to protect the integrity of the filing season.” More budget cuts could cause “the wheels to start to fall off,” he noted.
Net Investment Income (NII) Tax
Many higher-income individuals were surprised to learn the full impact of the net investment income (NII) tax on their overall tax liability only during the 2014 filing season when their 2013 returns were filed. Starting in 2013, taxpayers with qualifying income have been liable for the 3.8 percent net investment income (NII) tax. The threshold amounts for the NII tax are: $250,000 in the case of joint returns or a surviving spouse, $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case. Recent run ups in the financial markets, and the fact that the NII thresholds are not adjusted for inflation, have increased the need to implement strategies that can avoid or minimize the NII tax. Issues persist that reduce certainty surrounding NII tax liability, in particular determining how a taxpayer “materially participates” in an activity to the extent it is exempt from the NII tax.
A number of changes have been made during 2014 affecting IRAs and other qualified plans which, cumulatively, rise to the level of a “top tax development” for 2014:
Notice 2014-54 now permits a distribution from a 401(k), 403(b) or 457(b) account to have the taxable and non-taxable portions of the distribution directed to separate accounts.
TD 9673 now permits IRA holders and defined contribution plan participants to obtain a “longevity” annuity to help insure that they will not outlive their required minimum distributions (RMDs).
Notice 2014-66 now permits 401(k) plans to offer deferred annuities through target date funds (TDFs).
Bobrow, TC Memo. 2014-21, held that, in contrast to the IRS guidance in Publication 590, a taxpayer is limited to one 60-day rollover per year for all IRA accounts under the tax code rather than one 60-day rollover per year for each IRA account. The IRS in Announcement 2014-32 stated that the new interpretation of the rollover rules would be applied to rollover distributions received on or after January 1, 2015.
Clark v. Rameker, a 2014 Supreme Court decision, found that inherited IRA accounts were not retirement assets and therefore not subject to creditor protection under the Bankruptcy Code.
Although clearly not confined to the area of federal tax, identity theft has been a major issue for both the IRS and taxpayers. In 2014, the IRS put new filters in place and took other measures to curb tax-related identity theft. The agency also worked with software developers, financial institutions and the prepaid debit card industry to combat identity theft. “We rejected 5.7 million suspicious returns last year that may have been tied to identity theft,” IRS Commissioner Koskinen said. Nevertheless, few believe that the IRS has yet turned the tide.
After the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in Windsor, the IRS issued guidance in 2013 adopting a place of celebration approach to recognizing same-sex marriage. The IRS followed-up with additional guidance in 2014 that required employers to take note of Windsor with regard to workplace tax benefits. Notably, the IRS focused on what changes needed to be made to retirement plan benefits in light of Windsor.
Although 2014 was clearly not the year for tax reform (despite some 2013 forecasts that it would be), the foundations for serious tax reform discussions were laid in 2013 and 2014, when Congressional hearings and studies took place. Looking ahead to 2015 and beyond, there is optimism that Congress will complete some form of tax reform in 2015 or 2016.
The major difference of opinion, however, surrounds whether or not the reform would only address corporate tax provisions or also include individual provisions. Corporate reform has been pushed into the spotlight lately both by the controversy surrounding corporate inversions in changing foreign headquarters and by the general concern that American international business competitiveness is lessened by high U.S. corporate tax rates. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., on the other hand has called for tackling comprehensive tax reform on both the business and individual side. His Tax Reform Bill of 2014 (HR 1) would make the Code “more effective and efficient,” according to Camp, by getting rid of narrowly targeted provisions to lower tax rates across the board. “This will enable small and large businesses alike to expand operations, hire new workers, and increase benefits and take-home pay,” he said.
IRS enters filing season with reduced enforcement and service due to budget cuts
The IRS is expected to shortly open the 2015 filing season and both the agency and taxpayers are preparing for some turbulence. The IRS is going into the filing season with a reduced budget, which could translate into fewer audits. Legislation passed by Congress in late 2014 could delay the start of the filing season, although to date, the IRS has not announced a delay. Taxpayers and the IRS are on alert for identity theft, a pervasive problem during filing season. Additionally, new requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act kick-in.
How do I? Comply with the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate?
Beginning January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) required individuals to carry minimum essential health coverage or make a shared responsibility payment, unless exempt. Individuals will report on their 2014 federal income tax return if they had minimum essential health coverage for all or part of the year. Individuals who file Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, will indicate on Line 61 if they were covered by minimum essential health coverage for 2014, if they are exempt from the requirement to carry minimum essential health coverage or if they are making an individual shared responsibility payment.
FAQ: What is the business standard mileage rate for 2015?
The IRS has announced an increase in the optional business standard mileage reimbursement rate for 2015. The business standard mileage rate increased by one and a half cents, to 57.5 cents (up from 56 cents for 2014). The 2015 standard mileage rate for medical and moving expenses decreased slightly to 23 cents (down from 23.5 cents for 2014). The charitable mileage rate, however, is set by statute at a flat 14 cents per mile without inflation adjustment each year. The revised rates apply to deductible transportation expenses paid or incurred for business or medical/moving expenditures, or qualified charitable miles driven, on or after January 1, 2015.
January 2015 tax compliance calendar
As an individual or business, it is your responsibility to be aware of and to meet your tax filing/reporting deadlines. This calendar summarizes important tax reporting and filing data for individuals, businesses and other taxpayers for the month of January 2015.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates December 27–30
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates December 31–January 2
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates January 3–6
Employees who work for tips. Employees who received $20 or more in tips during December must report them to their employer using Form 4070.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates December 3–5
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll date January 7–9.
Individuals. Individuals that did not pay their income tax for the year through withholding (or did not pay in enough tax through withholding) may make a final payment of estimated tax for 2014, using Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll date January 10–13.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates January 14–16
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates January 17–20
Filing Season. The 2015 filing season officially begins.
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates January 21–23
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for payroll dates January 24–27
Information reporting. All employers must provide their employees with their copies of Form W-2 for 2014.
Payers of gambling winnings. Payers of reportable gambling winnings or withheld income tax from gambling winnings for 2014, must provide the winners with their copies of Form W-2G.
Nonpayroll items. Those who withheld income tax withheld for 2014 on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, and gambling winnings.