So, You’ve Been Audited: Should You Go It Alone or Hire a CPA?


IRS Hire a CPA or Represent yourself?I sincerely hope you have never had to go through an IRS audit – and never have to in the future. But what if that dark day does arrive? Should you go it alone and defend yourself or hire a CPA to be on your side?

The temptation to handle this alone is usually prompted by one of two things. First, the notion is that this is not such a big deal. Other times, people think if they handle it themselves, they will save money.

Unfortunately, neither of these are good reasons to defend yourself in a tax audit against the IRS. While the decision to hire a CPA or tax lawyer does depend on the case and the issues at hand, the procedural setting plays an important role as well. The answer is nearly universal that you should hire a CPA to defend you – or even a tax lawyer if the situation warrants it (sometimes they are one in the same person).

Why it is a Terrible Idea to Defend Yourself in a Tax Audit

There are several reasons why partnering with a pro is a good idea. Let’s look at each one and why.

  1. Working with your CPA, you can go back and forth with your side of the story, dig into the facts, and challenge each other in formulating a response. You essentially have a thinking partner and someone to fact check your side of the situation. Plus, they know how to “handle” the IRS in the messaging of responses.
  2. It is prudent to create some space between you and direct communications with the government. For the same reason, defense attorneys do not want their clients talking directly to the police. It is best if you communicate via your CPA or tax lawyer. Whenever you are in direct communications with the IRS, the chance of making a misstep is greater. Once you have said or written something to the IRS, it is pretty much impossible to backtrack.
  3. CPAs are experienced in advocating for clients and documentation.
  4. Early representation is a must! One of the biggest mistakes taxpayers subject to an audit make is to start off on their own and then end up in an even worse situation than they started. One of the biggest reasons why an audit can cost a lot is because the taxpayer dug themselves into hole that a CPA then later had to get them out of.
  5. Most cases rest on fundamental accounting problems. Someone with expertise and good records can address these problems early and competently. Seeing your own facts and documents through an unbiased and objective lens is not easy for most of us.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the decision to hire a CPA to represent you in a tax audit is a personal one. Exactly how necessary this is depends on the facts and circumstances of each individual situation, but it’s almost never a good idea to go it alone. If you ever find yourself in an audit, seriously consider hiring a CPA – and do it early in the process.

Marrying a Non-U.S. Citizen? No Tax Honeymoon for You


Marrying a Non-U.S. Citizen? Taxes for Marrying a Non-U.S. CitizenMarriage is a major life event. One that comes with all kinds of change, including financial. After getting married, there is so much to consider, from merging bank and brokerage accounts to setting up a will; from changing your withholding to updating retirement account beneficiary forms. If this seems like a lot to consider, it’s important to keep in mind that when a U.S. citizen marries a non-U.S. citizen, the situation gets even more complex.

Among some of the more complex tax considerations of mixed citizenship marriages are gift and estate taxes, which we will dive into below.

Gift and Estate Tax Overview

Before getting into the details on non-citizen spousal situations, here is a recap of the basics on U.S. estate and gift taxes. In the United States, estate and gift taxes are essentially a type of transfer tax, with the tax paid by the giver. Tax rates range between 18 percent and 40 percent of the assets transferred, but there are exemptions (with lifetime limits) that can reduce or even cancel out these taxes. Currently, the lifetime exemption is $13.61 million per person; however, this is set to drop to about $7.5 million starting January 1, 2026.

Gifting – No Free Ride in Marriage

When both spouses are U.S. citizens, there is an unlimited gift tax exemption, meaning no gift tax period. In the case where the recipient spouse is a U.S citizen, this still applies; however, when the spouse receiving the gifts is a non-U.S. citizen, then it’s different.

In the case where the U.S. spouse gifts to the non-citizen spouse, there are annual limits. For 2024, the annual aggregate limit for tax-free gifting is $185,000. Gifting beyond this amount starts to eat into the total lifetime exclusion.

Leaving Assets to Heiring Spouses

Leaving a bequest to a non-citizen spouse is very similar to gifting in that it also does not benefit from the uncapped marriage exemption. When a U.S. citizen dies and leaves assets to the non-citizen spouse, the estate tax can apply. After using up the lifetime limit, taxes on these bequests can be up to 40 percent. While each situation it unique, estate planning maneuvers such as setting-up trusts can prevent or mitigate the tax hit.

Reporting Requirement – It’s About More Than Just Paying Taxes

The concept of not needing to pay tax due to exemption limitations or gift/estate tax strategies is distinct from the reporting requirements. Here, the reverse situation is the tricky one: When the non-U.S. citizen makes a gift or bequest to the U.S. spouse. Despite having no tax implications, the U.S. spouse may need to comply with informational reporting requirements if the gifts or bequests are technically foreign-sourced and more than $100,000 (in any given year). Failure to comply with reporting standards can yield serious penalties.

Gift-Splitting is Different

Gift-splitting is a technique that allows a married couple to pool their individual annual gift limits and give more tax-free money to the same person. For example, each spouse gets an annual gifting limit of $18,000 they can give to any one recipient (per calendar year), without any tax considerations or use of the lifetime limits. Gift-splitting lets each spouse give this amount to the same person, effectively doubling the amount they can give together to any one person to $36,000. This is not allowed when one spouse is a non-U.S. citizen.

Conclusion

In the end, there is almost always an issue when the U.S. citizen spouse gifts or bequests to the non-U.S. citizen spouse (not the other way around). Keep these details in mind when tax planning and you’ll be on the right path. Also, it’s important to remember that these are the U.S. tax rules and regulations. Any tax implications for the non-U.S. citizen spouse in their country is beyond the scope of this article.

‘Master’ The Augusta Rule and Save Money on Your Taxes


 Augusta Tax Rule, short term rental taxesAnyone who lives in a highly seasonal tourist destination knows you can make money on short-term rentals during events and festivities in your city or town. Think high concentration, short-term, tourist-driven events such as horse racing season in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., or The Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga.

As a result, it is common for locals to get out of dodge and rent out their place during these highly lucrative periods. Typically, this is just for a very brief period while they are on vacation somewhere else themselves, for instance.

Given these circumstances, Congress realized it does not make sense to tax rental income for very short-term periods the same way that long-term rentals are taxed. In response, the government passed the Section 280A exclusion, often called the Augusta Rule in reference to the famous Masters golf tournament.

For the remainder of this article, we will look at the Augusta Rule in more detail and provide practical considerations for taxpayers.

The Augusta Rule, aka the Section 280A Exclusion

At its core, the Augusta Rule creates an exclusion to the concept that real estate rental income is always taxable.Per Section 280A, renting out your residence for 14 days or less, you are exempt from reporting the rental income. This also means no deduction for rental expenses. So, it is like it never happened from a tax perspective. As soon as you rent out that residence for 15 days or more, this exception no longer applies.

Note, it does not matter why you rented out your residence. There is no need for it to be related to an event or any special occasion.

Technical Workings of the Augusta Rule

While the basic rule itself is quite simple, there are details you need to meet in order to qualify for the exclusion – in addition to the 14-day time limit.

  • The property must be a home or similar. This means the properly must be a “dwelling unit” per IRS definitions, meaning houses, apartments, condos, etc. (although houseboats do qualify).
  • The rental price must be reasonable. Look at comparable rents in the area to get an idea of what to charge. Luckily, this is easy today with Airbnb, VRBO, etc.

Practical Considerations

First, the above rules only apply to federal income taxation. State and local tax regulations may differ, so make sure you are up to snuff on these for your area.

Second, just because the IRS does not consider this kind of rental activity a real estate business does not mean you are exempt from local, state or other business licensing or permit needs.

Conclusion

Qualifying under the Augusta Rule can be a wonderful way to save taxes. It can be especially beneficial to those who live in or around major events that occur for only a brief period and bring in massive amounts of tourists, creating high demand and soaring prices as a result. Moreover, it can be a terrific way to a make some tax-exempt income while you are enjoying a personal vacation.

In the end, you must pay attention to the timing – and most importantly, keep excellent records.

Reduce Your Taxes by Putting the Right Assets in Your IRA


Reduce Your Taxes by Putting the Right Assets in Your IRAMost people know the basic concept that certain types of investment accounts are tax sheltered while others are not. Think 401(k), 403(b), IRA and Roth IRA accounts, for example. What most people are not aware of is how you split your investment positions between your taxable and non-taxable accounts can result in major tax savings.

Asset Allocation and Location

One of the core principles of investing is to have an appropriate asset allocation that aligns with your risk tolerance and goals. In other words, how much of your investable net worth is in cash, stocks, bonds, precious metals, real estate, alternative assets, private investments, etc? Once you have this determined, the next consideration should be the location of these assets, primarily meaning whether you hold them in a taxable or tax-sheltered account.

The first, core principle behind asset location positioning is that bonds and other fixed income investments get the highest priority within tax sheltered accounts because they pay high-taxed ordinary income. Stocks that pay qualified dividends may be taxed at the more advantageous long-term capital gains rate, so they are typically better in taxable accounts.

What Are the Stakes?

To put it simply, big money. Take the example of a hypothetical $2 million portfolio evenly split between stocks and bonds. In the case where an investor has $1 million each in a taxable account (50/50 stock and bonds) and another $1 million in a tax-sheltered account (again 50/50 stock and bonds); this would cost about $148,000 over 30 years versus placing all the stock in a taxable account and all the bonds in a tax-sheltered account.

Asset Class Location Ranking

Of course, there are many more nuances and types of investments. Below we review 10 different types of assets, ranking them in order of those that get the most benefit from being in a tax-sheltered account with an explanation of why.

  1. K-1-Free Commodity Funds
    Popular for investing in futures, these are typically structured as Cayman Islands holding companies. As a result, they often kick-off highly taxed ordinary income even when the fund is losing money. Keep these in a tax-sheltered account at all costs.
  2. Junk Bonds
    High-yield corporate bonds typically come with large coupons (often 7 percent to 9 percent) and a small capital loss in the 1 percent to 2 percent range. Since the large coupon payment is taxed as ordinary income, while capital losses are worth less from a tax perspective, junk bonds are a prime candidate to go into a tax-sheltered account.
  3. Income Stocks
    Preferred shares and real estate investment trusts are characterized by their high unqualified dividends, so they are not eligible for preferential capital gains tax rates. This makes them best suited for a tax-sheltered account.
  4. High-Grade Bonds
    Similar to junk bonds, but with lower coupons and smaller capital losses, the benefits of holding these in a tax-sheltered account is less than the items above, but it is still preferable to place them in a tax-sheltered account.
  5. U.S. Treasuries
    The interest on U.S. Treasuries is taxed as ordinary income; however, it is exempt from state income tax. Depending on the state in which you are subject to taxes, these fall in the middle ground and could be held in either a taxable or tax-sheltered account.
  6. Actively Managed Mutual Funds
    The frequent churn of the holdings in actively managed funds typically creates more short-term capital gains versus long-term. Again, depending on total returns and how active the fund manager is, these could be held in either a taxable or tax-sheltered account.
  7. K-1 Commodity Funds
    Usually taxed as partnerships, profits typically get a 60/40 treatment, with 60 percent of gains classified as long-term and qualifying for favorable rates, putting them in the middle ground as well.
  8. High-Dividend Stocks
    For some investors, dividends are king. Think utility stocks and big-name blue chips with a steady track record of paying consistent dividends, like Altria. Since most, if not all, the dividend income is usually in the form of qualified dividends, holding these in a taxable account is much less painful.
  9. Stock Index Funds and Low Dividend Stocks
    Broader market mutual funds and ETFs have lower dividends. For example, on average, a total U.S. market ETF yields approximately 0.3 percent. Given this and their low churn, these funds are prime to be held in a taxable account, especially if the intended holding period is more than a year and will qualify you for long-term capital gains treatment and defer any taxable event until sale.
  10. Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) and Private Real Estate Funds
    Typical of oil and natural gas pipeline investments, MLPs pay big dividends early on and they usually are not taxed in early years. Similarly, private placement real estate fund investments are shielded from the income they produce due to the upfront benefits of depreciation. Given their structure and the fact that they hold debt attributable to the owner, however, makes them a no-go for a tax-sheltered account since they create what is considered “unrelated business taxable income.” This makes these investments only suitable for a regular taxable account.

Conclusion

The decision of which types of investments you keep in either taxable or tax-sheltered accounts can make a big difference in how your investments grow and how much you keep. Consider evaluating not only your asset allocation but also your asset location to optimize for taxes.

U.S. Beneficial Ownership Information Reporting Begins

The U.S. Treasury recently enacted a new reporting requirement aimed at quashing illicit financial transactions. The agency believes that corporate anonymity is enabling money laundering, terrorism, and drug trafficking. As part of the 2021 Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), certain companies are now required to report information about their beneficial owners. The goal of the new registration requirements is to create a centralized database of beneficial ownership information.

There has been push-back from some lawmakers and small business organizations, citing this as an erroneous regulatory process that just makes life harder for small businesses. Efforts to carve out exceptions or delay the implementation failed. As a result, the Treasury Department officially opened beneficial ownership information reporting on Jan. 1, 2024.

Who is Subject to Reporting?

Generally, a company may need to report beneficial ownership information if it is a corporation, LLC, or other business entity created by the filing with a U.S. secretary of state or a foreign company registered to do business in the United States. Reporting requirements for trusts and other entity types are more dependent on state law.

At first glance, the rules make it look like all businesses are subject to reporting. There are exemptions, however, including nonprofits, publicly traded companies, and certain large operating companies. The FinCEN’s Compliance Guide provides an exemption qualification checklist.

Reporting Timelines and Requirements

First, you only must file an initial report once. There are no annual reporting requirements. Filing deadlines vary based on when a company was created or registered with the relevant secretary of state.

  • Before Jan. 1, 2024, => Deadline of Jan. 1, 2025
  • Between Jan. 1, 2024, and Jan. 1, 2025, => You have 90 calendar days after receiving notice of the company’s creation or registration to file.
  • On or after Jan. 1, 2025, => Deadline is 30 calendar days from the company’s creation or registration.

While there is no annual filing requirement, filing updates are necessary within 30 days of any changes. Ownership activity subject to change reporting includes registering a new business name, a change in beneficial owners, or a beneficial owner’s name, address, or unique identifying number previously provided.

What Do You Need to Report?

Beneficial ownership reporting must identify the following data.

At the company level, it must report:

  • Company name, both legal and trade (if applicable)
  • Company physical address (no post office boxes)
  • Jurisdiction of formation or registration
  • Taxpayer Identification Number

For each beneficial owner, the following must be reported:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Driver’s license, passport, or other acceptable identification

Depending on the situation, there also may be reporting requirements about the company applicant. This is generally a person involved in the creation or registration of the company. The same four pieces of data as for a beneficial owner would need to be provided.

As a general rule, a beneficial owner is someone who controls the company or owns 25 percent or more.

The full definition and all exemptions to whom constitutes a beneficial owner or company applicant can be found here.

No financial information or details about the business operations are required.

How and Where to File

You have the option to file online or via PDF. Filing online can be done through the Beneficial Ownership Information (BOI) E-Filing System on the FinCEN site.

There is no cost to file.

Conclusion and Cautions

While the reporting is simple, the requirements should not be taken lightly. Failure to report could result in civil penalties of up to $500 per day and criminal charges of up to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.

The message is this: Don’t wait – and don’t forget to file!

How to be Your Tax Pro’s Favorite Client this Tax Season


How to be a good clientWhy on earth, you may ask yourself, would I care about being a good client to my tax prep professional? I mean, you are a paying client, and aside from treating them with the same decency and respect that you would show any other random person, who cares – right? Wrong!

What’s in it for me?

Honestly, it’s simply in your own best interest to be a good client. Maintaining a positive relationship with your tax professional can benefit you in numerous ways. Your tax preparer bills you in one of three ways: a flat fee (guaranteed); hourly; or a hybrid with a basic flat fee that they’ll only add to if out-of-scope issues/problems come up. Let’s look at each approach in more detail.

First, a scenario where you have a guaranteed flat fee no matter what. In this case, it’s pretty obvious to see that one of a tax preparer’s main incentives is to perform the work correctly and up to professional standards, but as fast as possible; less time equals more money. Here, being a good client means that you give your tax professional more room to be thoughtful about your tax return and even perform some planning/optimizing for the current year or next year. If you can help them prepare your return efficiently, there’s room to spare in providing you with value-added advice.

Second, when you engage a tax pro on a strictly hourly basis, saving them time on the administrative side of the return prep will equate to direct savings in your pocket. When you pay by the hour, you are paying regardless of whether they are calculating or reviewing your return, providing advice, planning, or chasing you down for missing info, open items, questions, etc.

Third, we have the scenario where you have a flat fixed fee unless you add services out of scope or things really go sideways. Here, while most tax preparers will eat a little bit of time, if you cause delays in the preparation process due to incomplete or unorganized information or you are late to respond to questions, there is a good chance you’ll get billed for that time as it wasn’t planned for and was unnecessary.

Finally, making your tax professional’s life easy will simply make you more likable as a client. And we all know that we treat people we like better.

How do I become a great client?

So, at this point, you are asking, how do I become my tax professional’s favorite client? There are a few main areas to consider if you want to establish a good working relationship and make life easier for everyone.

  • Be Organized – The more organized you can be in gathering and submitting your underlying tax documents (W-2, 1099s, etc.) and other necessary information, the better. Many tax preparers will send a tax organizer to help you fill out and organize what you send over. Following this is the best way, but any method that is clear, logical, and complete is best.
  • Submit All Your Information at Once – While it’s not always possible, don’t submit your information until you have everything. Sending over documents piecemeal is a surefire way to cause confusion and delays and makes the process rife for errors. In fact, many CPAs won’t even start a return until they have everything. Again, this isn’t always possible because sometimes a K-1, for example, is not yet available – but that should be an exception to the rule.
  • Be Responsive – To the degree that you can be responsive to follow-up questions from your tax preparer or their staff. This will ensure your return keeps moving, saving time (and therefore billable hours) that stopping and starting creates.

Conclusion

Following these tips will not only help you develop a great relationship with your tax preparer for years to come, but it also will ensure the most accurate and efficient preparation of your return possible.

IRS Plans to Shake Up Leadership

IRS Leadership change 2024The top leadership in the IRS is set to change. IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel believes the changes are needed for the agency to meet its new goals. He aims to create greater flexibility and efficiency over the agency by streamlining internal processes. The changes also are needed, in his view, to adapt to the evolving landscape around tax administration – which has undergone changes due to new tax laws and technology.

What Are the Changes?

Changes to the organizational structure include reducing the Deputy Commissioner post to a single position (there are currently two); as well as creating four new positions with an IRS chief of taxpayer services, IT, compliance, and operations.

Long Time No Changes

While these changes are set to take place in the beginning of 2024, they are the first changes to take place in a long time for agency leadership. Currently, the highest rungs of the IRS organizational structure dates to the year 2000, over 20 years ago.

The last time changes were made in 2000, the IRS reorganized operations to support taxpayer segments that were the result of the IRS Restructuring and Reorganization Act of 1998.

Single Deputy IRS Commissioner Model

The change over from two at the top to a single deputy IRS commissioner position is modeled after the way the Treasury Department is structured. Doug O’Donnell, current deputy commissioner for Services and Enforcement, will step up to the post.

The Four New Positions

Other key changes in the leadership structure are the creation of four new chief positions, overseeing the areas of taxpayer service, compliance, IT, and operations.

Ken Corbin (currently Wage and Investment Commissioner) is being promoted to Chief, Taxpayer Service. Corbin served in various roles within the IRS since starting his career in 1986 at the Atlanta Service Center. His division will handle taxpayer-centered services, including the toll-free call and taxpayer assistance centers, overseeing tax return processing centers and correspondence with taxpayers.

The Chief, Taxpayer Compliance Officer role will be filled by Heather Maloy. Maloy’s career encompasses both roles within the IRS as well as private practice. Previously, she served as the LB&I Commissioner as well as other roles, including Associate Chief Counsel to a number of IRS divisions. The Chief, Taxpayer Compliance Officer role will oversee compliance work, including operations in the Small Business, Self Employed, Tax Exempt, and Government Entities divisions. She will also be responsible for the Professional Responsibility, Return Preparer, and Whistleblower offices.

The position of Chief Information Officer will be filled by Rajiv Uppal. Uppal’s current role is as the Director of the Office of IT and Chief Information Officer for Medicare and Medicaid Services centers. The Chief IT Officer role will oversee the entire IRS IT division.

Finally, the fourth new position, that of Chief Operating Officer, will be held by Melanie Krause. Krause began working at the IRS in 2021 and currently serves as the Chief Data and analytics Officer. Prior to this, she was the Acting Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement.

Conclusion

Logistically, the changes should occur on the proposed timeline as reorganization changes that do not require a budgetary appropriation amendment. In layman’s terms, the IRS isn’t looking to Congress for any more money, so Congressional approval isn’t needed. As such, the changes are all but certain to take place in early 2024. The result aims to help the organization adapt to recent tax law changes and evolving technology while simultaneously streamlining the organization and making it both more efficient and effective.

The 2023 Tax Planning Guide


It’s that time of year again: time for year-end tax planning. With the end of 2023 coming fast, the time to act is now. In this article, we’ll look at the moves you can make to optimize your tax situation in 2023 as an individual taxpayer.

Itemized Deductions

Flexing your timing on itemized deductions is a solid strategic move. It can help you shift to a bigger itemized deduction in 2023 versus 2024 (but not both). This can be advantageous if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in one year compared to the other. Key itemized deductions to consider are home interest, state and local taxes, charitable deductions and medical expenses.

Electric Vehicles

If you are in the market for a new car, consider buying an electric vehicle (EV) to save some taxes as well. Many new EVs can get you a credit of up to $7,500 and used versions up to $4,000. The credit is limited based on the cost of the vehicle, with more expensive models ineligible for the tax credit. Generally, the MSRP of a sedan cannot exceed $55,000, and SUVs, trucks and vans cannot be more than $80,000.

In addition to the price limit on the EV itself, the credit is limited by taxpayers’ income levels. Married couples’ modified gross income cannot be more than $300,000 to get the credit on a new EV and $225,000 for a used version. Single taxpayers are capped at $150,000 for a new version or $75,000 for a used EV.

One important distinction here is that if you buy an EV in 2023, you’ll need to claim the credit via your tax return, which means you won’t get the benefit right away. In 2024, however, you can choose to transfer the credit to the car dealer when you buy the vehicle and pay less as a result immediately. So, if you plan to buy now or in early 2024, it may be better to wait if you have the choice.

Home Improvements

There are two tax credits you can get related to making “green” upgrades to your home. The first is the residential clean energy property credit, which is installing alternative energy systems such as solar, wind, geothermal, etc., giving you a credit of up to 30 percent of the materials and cost of installation. The second is the energy-efficient home improvement credit. This applies to smaller upgrades like boilers, central air-conditioning systems, water heaters, windows, etc., that meet qualifications for specific energy efficiency ratings. The credit is for 30 percent of the cost, with $1,200 yearly maximum (from all upgrades).

Charitable Donations

If you are considering making charitable donations, consider donating appreciated property, like stocks or mutual funds, where you have unrealized gains. This way, you’ll get to deduct the full amount of the fair market value without having to sell and pay taxes on the gains first.

Beware Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Rules for IRAs

The penalty for failing to take your RMD dropped from 50 percent down to 25 percent with the Secure 2.0 Act in 2023, but it is wise to avoid the still hefty penalty. The general rule is that taxpayers 73 and older must take annual payouts, and there is a specific calculation behind it based on your age and account balance. You can also be subject to RMDs at a much younger age if you inherited an IRA. If you don’t feel comfortable making this determination, it’s best to check with your CPA or financial advisor to ensure you withdraw the right amount.

Max Out Retirement Plans

The deadline to fund workplace 401(k) plans is December 31, 2023, while 2023-year IRA contributions are allowed up until April 15, 2024. Taxpayers can contribute up to $22,500 in a 401(k) ($30,000 if age 50 or older); and $6,500 for IRAs ($7,500 if over 50).

Capital Gains and Tax Loss Harvesting

The capital markets have seen a volatile year, and interest rates are at highs not seen in quite some time. This may create situations where tax loss harvesting is advantageous.

Generally, if you have losses in some securities, understand that you can take losses against positions with gains up to the number of gains you realize, plus a maximum of $3,000 against other income. Excess losses are carried forward to future years. So, if you have a combination of winners and losers in your portfolio, consider tax loss harvesting to lower your tax bill.

Beware of the wash-sale rules, however. The wash-sale rules forbid you to sell and then repurchase “substantially identical” securities within 30 days of the sale on loss positions. One nuance here is that cryptocurrencies are not subject to the wash-sale rule as of yet.

Increase Your Withholdings

If you expect to have a hefty tax bill, then it may be wise to have additional amounts withheld from your paycheck or make an estimated payment. This can help you avoid a penalty for underpayment of taxes. As long as you prepay via tax payments or withhold a minimum of 90 percent of your 2023 total tax bill or 100 percent of what you owed for 2022 (110 percent if your 2022 AGI exceeded $150,000), you are clear of the penalty.

Conclusion

As we prepare to enter the final month of 2023, now is the time to take a look at your financial and tax situation to see if there are any moves you can make to minimize your 2023 tax liabilities and maximize your wealth.

New Business Travel Per Diem Rates Announced for 2023-2024

Business Travel Per Diem Rates 2023 2024New per diem rates were recently announced by the IRS and are effective for per diem allowances on or after Oct. 1, 2023. These updated rates include changes for the transportation industry, incidental expenses as well as the high-low substantiation method. Before we dive into the detailed changes impacting per diem rates, let’s revisit the concept of the per diem in general.

To Per Diem or Not to Per Diem

There are two basic ways that employees can be reimbursed for business travel expenses. The first is a direct reimbursement of the actual expenses. The second is the per diem method.

Direct actual expense reimbursement is exactly what it sounds like. For example, a sales employee pays for a plane ticket and meals during a customer visit and then submits an expense report with the receipts as backup. Typically, a company will have a travel and expense policy that limits the expenses allowed – no Michelin star restaurants or first-class flights, for example. Other than this, direct expense reimbursement is simple and straightforward.

The second expense reimbursement method is called the per diem method. The per diem method is basically a pre-package policy of controls for both spending and tax purposes.

Fundamentals of Per Diems

Per diem is Latin for the term for each day. In practice, it is a daily allowance granted to each employee. It covers travel and related business expenses, allowing a fixed amount to cover business travel expenses.

Per diem policies can cover only three types of expenses: lodging, meals, and incidentals (anything else must be directly reimbursed). A per diem policy does not need to cover all three, however. An employer can use the per diem only for meals, for example, and deal with lodging under the direct actual expense reimbursement method. Also, the per diem method cannot cover transportation expenses or mileage reimbursement.

Taxation of Per Diems

Per diems are generally not taxable, and no withholding tax on the payments is necessary. The exception to this is if an employee does not provide or provides incomplete expense report information – or if you give the employee a flat amount that is in excess of the maximum allowance (with the excess being taxable).

Two Types of Per Diems

Per diem rates can be determined in one of two ways: either the standard rate or using the high-low method.

The standard rate is a fixed rate, whereas the high-low method is based on the cost of living being higher or lower in different locales. Under the high-low method, for example, Boston gets a higher reimbursement than Des Moines to account for this.

2023-2024 Rate Updates

The IRS updates the per diem rates every year. The 2023-2024 rates took effect Oct.1, 2023. They are as follows:*

  •        Travel to high-cost locations is $309 ($297 prior year)
  •        Travel to other locations is $214 ($204 prior year)
  •        Incidental expense stay is the same at $5 per day, regardless of location

*Taxpayers in the transportation industry are subject to special rates

IRS Plans to Use AI and Ramp Up Enforcement on Millionaires, Partnerships and Crypto

IRS Plans to Use AIRecently, IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel spoke of changes within the IRS, announcing several initiatives focusing on high-income earners and partnerships, as well as integrating the use of AI within the agency’s work. According to the commissioner, the initiatives were made possible by additional IRS funding provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. Without the funding from this bill, the agency would not have the budget to implement these ramp-ups in enforcement.

Millionaires with Tax Debt

The new initiative on millionaires is not just because they are high-earning taxpayers; it will focus on those with open tax debt. Currently, the IRS has identified approximately 1,600 millionaires who are in debt to the IRS for $250,000 or more. The agency plans to designate agents to focus on these high-impact collection cases. A prior campaign resulted in a collection of more than $38 million in tax debt.

High-Income Earners with Foreign Bank Accounts

Another new initiative focusing on high-earning taxpayers includes ramped-up inspection for those who have foreign bank accounts and use them to evade taxes.

By law, every U.S. resident who has a financial interest in or control over a foreign financial account must disclose this information if he or she had $10,000 or more at any point in the year by filing an FBAR.

The IRS conducted an analysis and identified potentially hundreds of taxpayers who should be filing an FBAR and are not, with average balances of more than $1 million. The most egregious cases are planned to be audited in fiscal year 2024.

Partnerships and Corporations

Starting in 2021, the IRS began the initial stages of a new compliance program focusing on complex partnership tax returns. Now, the IRS is set to expand this initiative over more partnerships.

In total, the IRS has plans to open examinations on the 75 biggest U.S. partnerships. “Biggest” means these businesses have, on average, more than $10 billion in assets, so it’s safe to say small and medium size businesses won’t be affected.

Additionally, the IRS will be looking into smaller (but albeit still large) partnerships with more than $10 million in total assets that have balance sheet mismatches. The focus is on partnerships with balance sheet discrepancies where the prior year’s ending balance sheet is not equal to the next year’s opening balance sheet without any explanation. The IRS uses this as a red flag because they have found through full inspections that balance sheet issues are often the proverbial canary in the coal mine for other areas of non-compliance.

Once again, the focus will be on larger partnerships with balance sheet mismatches. The agency plans to send notices to approximately 500 partnerships. Depending on the initial follow-up, an audit may result.

Digital Assets, Including Crypto

The IRS plans to continue its virtual currency compliance campaign, educating taxpayers on the rules, regulations, and reporting obligations surrounding cryptocurrencies. The rules around the taxation of digital assets have evolved in recent years, and more and more taxpayers are invested in these types of assets.

The IRS subpoenaed transaction information from centralized exchanges and found that potentially an estimated 75 percent of taxpayers involved in crypto are non-compliant, some as a form of tax evasion and others simply from ignorance. In any case, the IRS plans to ramp up digital asset enforcement this coming year.

Artificial Intelligence

Lastly, the IRS is looking to utilize artificial intelligence to help agents do their job more effectively. The IRS is particularly interested in how AI can help flag tax returns for audit in important areas.

The agency plans to invest in the latest analytic solutions that can detect patterns, trends, and activities that are typically linked to tax evasion, thereby freeing up employees to focus on other matters.

Conclusion

Overall, the IRS’s focus is on high-income, tax-debt-burdened individuals, the largest partnerships, and sizable crypto players. This means that these enforcement campaigns shouldn’t have much of an impact on the average taxpayer. However, the growing use of AI will impact everyone from top to bottom.