Archive for the ‘2012 Filing Season Tips’ Category

Dealing with a big income tax bill due April 17

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Sometimes your tax advisor doubles as the Angel of Death.  Well, not death, exactly, but certainly of bad tidings.  How are you supposed to come up with that money you owe by April 17?  Some thoughts:

Face up to it.  Even if you can’t come up with the tax, you should file or extend your return on time.  The penalty for failure to pay is 1/2 percent per month or part month.  The failure to file and pay is ten times higher — 5% per month or part month, up to 25% of the tax owed.

Extend it.  If you have most, but not quite all, of the cash you need, simply filing Form 4868 and paying up might be a good option.  If your extension gets 90% of your tax paid in, the remainder can be paid by the October due date with only interest (the current rate is 3%), and no penalty. 

Borrow it.  If you have a home equity line of credit or a good relationship with your friendly banker, and your financial embarrassment is just a matter of timing, this will be your cheapest option.  You can also borrow by credit card, but the fees can get ugly.

An Online Payment Agreement with IRS can be a good option if the cash is on the way soon and the bank isn’t a good option.  The IRS Online Payment Agreement Application page can help.

An installment agreement might help taxpayers who need some time to come up with the cash.  You can apply online if you owe up to $50,000, or you can file Form 9465.  For larger balances, you will have to complete a financial statement.

All of these are better options than payday loans, car title loans, and the like.  They are much better than taking early withdrawals from IRA accounts, with their 10% penalty and additional income tax.  And they are infineitely better than just not paying; that just makes it worse with penalties and interest.

Come back every day through the April 17 deadline for more filing season tips!


Why real estate pros should keep their time like accountants — and why you might have to soon.

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Since 1986 the tax law has been unkind to real estate rental losses.  Such losses are normally “passive,” meaning they can only be deducted to the extent of other “passive income,” with limited exceptions.  In 1993 Congress decided this was a bit harsh on folks who made their living in real estate.  As a result, rental losses of “materially participating real estate professionals” aren’t automatically passive.  Instead they are treated like other activities — passive or non-passive depending on the extent the taxpayer participates in the business.

To be a real estate pro under these rules, you have to pass two tests:

  • You have to work at least 750 hours in real estate trades or businesses where you are an owner, and
  • You have to work more in real estate than in all of your other jobs.

Clearing this tough hurdle isn’t enough.  This only makes it possible to have non-passive real estate rental losses.  You also have to materially participate in the rental real estate business.  You can find all of the rules here, but the most common ways to qualify are to work 500 hours in real estate rental (usually by electing to combine activities in a Section 469(c)(7) election) or by working at least 100 hours in an activity, and more in that activity than anyone else

Yesterday a taxpayer got through the first hurdle of showing that she was a real estate pro — a full time real estate broker — , but stumbled over the second.  She couldn’t prove that she spent enough time on the rental activities to “materially participate” in them.  From the Court:

Moreover, although we found petitioners to be generally credible, the Court is not bound to accept as gospel the unverified and undocumented testimony of a taxpayer…

In sum, on the record before us, we are unable to conclude that petitioners have proven that [the taxpayer] materially participated in either of petitioners’ rental real estate activities.

Had she kept a daily record of the time spent on the rental properties, the result might well have been different.  It was a problem of proof — the Court said the issue was close enough that it declined to impose penalties.

If Obamacare survives its court challenge, timekeeping will be an issue for many more taxpayers.  The ACA imposes a 3.8% tax on high income taxpayers who have income from passive activities — real estate or otherwise.  That means taxpayers will be wanting to show that they are “materially participating” in their K-1 income to avoid the 3.8% hit.  Just as with the taxpayer here, they will be responsible to demonstrate their participation — so in close cases, many will want to get into the habit of tracking their time. 

So what is the filing season tip?  Not all real estate losses are passive.  Even the taxpayers in this case might have been able to use a limited “active participation” exception that allows taxpayers with adjusted gross income under $150,000 to deduct up to $25,000 in rental losses.  But having good records is a must.

Anthony Nitti has more.

Cite: Manalo, T.C. Summ. Op. 2012-30



Down to the wire tips: the no-appraisal, no charitable deduction rule

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

We’ll celebrate the last full week of filing season with a daily tax tip.  Today we cover one that people are always missing: the no-appraisal, no-deduction rule for big property contributions.

The tax law allows deductions at fair-market value for contributions of appreciated property to qualified public charities.  If you want a deduction over $5,000, the tax law requires you to get a “qualified appraisal” and propertly report the contribution on Form 8283Without the appraisal, the deduction is zero.  The Tax Court archives are littered with cases where taxpayers have dropped the ball (see here and here).  The IRS explains what a qualified appraisal involves:

A qualified appraisal is an appraisal document that:

  • Is made, signed, and dated by a qualified appraiser (defined later) in accordance with generally accepted appraisal standards,
  • Meets the relevant requirements of Regulations section 1.170A-13(c)(3) and Notice 2006-96, 2006-46 I.R.B. 902 (available at,
  • Relates to an appraisal made not earlier than 60 days before the date of contribution of the appraised property,
  • Does not involve a prohibited appraisal fee, and
  • Includes certain information (covered later).

 You must receive the qualified appraisal before the due date, including extensions, of the return on which a charitable contribution deduction is first claimed for the donated property. If the deduction is first claimed on an amended return, the qualified appraisal must be received before the date on which the amended return is filed.

A qualified  appraiser has to have credentials in appraising that type of property, has to regularly get paid for it, and can’t be related to the taxpayer or have sold the property being appraised.

It’s worth noting some things taxpayers believe about property donations that are wrong:

  • I don’t need an appraisal if the charity sells the property right away. Wrong.
  • I don’t need an appraisal if the property is worth less than I paid for it. Wrong.
  • I don’t need an appraisal if I get a receipt from the donee. Wrong.

The only time you don’t need an appraisal to deduct a charitable donation of property over $5,000 is if you donate publicly-traded securities, or if you meet these exceptions to the appraisal requirements:

  • Nonpublicly traded stock of $10,000 or less,
  • A vehicle (including a car, boat, or airplane) for which your deduction is limited to the gross proceeds from its sale,
  • Qualified intellectual property, such as a patent,
  • Inventory and other property donated by a corporation that are “qualified contributions” for the care of the ill, the needy, or infants, within the meaning of section 170(e)(3)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code, or
  • Stock in trade, inventory, or property held primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of your trade or business.

 Otherwise, your deduction goes straight to zero.  If you want to deduct a property gift over $5,000 and you don’t have the required appraisal, extend your return and get one.