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Many of us have just put our 2022 taxes in the rearview mirror, but it’s still not too early to start planning for 2023. A little thinking ahead now can help you avoid unpleasant year-end surprises with your tax bill. In 2020, the IRS introduced a new format for the W-4 withholding certificate, which is the form you use to tell your employer how much to take out of your paycheck towards your income tax. Because the new W-4 works a bit differently than the old one, this has caused confusion, and many people find that their payroll withholding now falls short of covering their tax liability at the end of the year. Some taxpayers who were used to always breaking even or getting refunds when they filed their returns now find that they owe money.

Get Ahead with The IRS Estimator

The nature of this new W-4 requires a little additional planning, and to help with this, the IRS has introduced a withholding calculator to help you estimate what you should be withholding each pay period. Just input your earnings and withholding for the year so far and estimate some of your deductions and credits. Then you’ll get a general idea of whether your withholding will be enough for the year.

Click here to access the IRS estimator.

When completing the estimator, it is recommended that you have your most recent paystub handy (including your spouse’s if married), as well as the previous year’s tax return. Most of the information the estimator asks for will come from your paystub. The calculator also allows you to go into as much detail as you like with credits and deductions. We typically suggest keeping it simple by using the numbers from your prior year’s return. If you used the standard deduction, go with that again. If you itemized, start with the prior year’s numbers and adjust to reflect anything major that might have changed. Unless you expect significant life events like marriage, a new baby, or a child beginning college, most people will get accurate results using numbers from the previous year.

Calculate, Estimate, and Adjust

The estimate from the calculator will give you a rough idea of whether the tax you are withholding through your W-2 will cover your tax bill at the end of the year. If the calculator shows you’re likely to owe, you can ask your employer to adjust the amount taken out of your check each pay period. The easiest way to do this is to take the estimated amount owed from the calculator and divide it by the number of pay periods left in the year. Then round that to an even number and ask your employer to withhold that additional amount from each paycheck. The person responsible for HR or payroll at your employer will normally be the one who can provide that form and make the adjustment for you.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is only an estimate. Many events can affect your final tax liability, like a bonus, a raise, a new job, or increased income earned outside of your W-2, like dividends or gig work. If your situation changes during the year, you can always revisit the calculator and adjust again. And of course, you can always connect with your Cray Kaiser advisor with any questions. Give us a call at (630) 953-4900 or connect with us here.

April 18th is behind us, but there are other important tax due dates to keep in mind during the remainder of 2023. Here is a list of them.

2023 Remaining Tax Deadlines

June 15, 2023

  • Second quarter estimated tax payments.

September 15, 2023

  • Third quarter estimated tax payments.
  • Deadline for extended partnership and S-Corporation returns.

October 16, 2023

  • Federal tax-filing deadline for individuals who filed an extension.
  • Deadline for extended C-corporation returns.

If you have questions about the upcoming deadlines, please call us at 630-953-4900 or contact us here. We are happy to help.

The issue of foreign tax reporting has been in flux for the last few years. For the 2021 tax year, the IRS hastily published regulations without warning, that made it onerous for many passthrough entities, and created more complexity and paperwork than many believe was necessary. These were the K-2 and K-3 schedules, which run about 20 pages per owner, and which many of you might have noticed when you received your 2021 K-1’s from S-Corps or Partnerships.

The goal of these schedules was to provide information on the portion of the income from the S-Corp or Partnership related to foreign activities. However, the implementation by the IRS was heavy-handed and made the process complex which added time and cost to the income tax preparation process.

For the current year, the IRS has bowed to pressure and has provided two exemptions that give relief to most passthrough entities with little or no foreign activity. While in theory, this is good news, the qualifications to utilize the exemption are complicated. 

Exemption 1: Domestic Entity Exception

To qualify, passthrough entities must only have direct partners and shareholders who are U.S. citizens, resident aliens, or certain domestic estates and trusts, and any foreign activity is limited to less than $300 of foreign taxes paid or accrued. If these definitions are met, then an election can be made to exclude the K-2 and K-3 schedules.

A wrench in what should be a simple election

This is where things get a little convoluted. Before the passthrough entity can file the return with this election, they must provide each owner a K-1 with a disclosure that K-3 will only be provided if the owner specifically requests it. The owner has up to one month before the return is filed to request a K-3. If this is the case, one owner can cause the S-Corp or Partnership to file the return with K-2 and K-3s, and the owner who requested the K-3 will receive it with their K-1. This can hold up filing the S-Corp and Partnership return to much later, causing all owners to file their individual returns later than desired.

Exemption 2: Individuals are exempt from Filing Form 1116

Another exemption to the K-2 and K-3 filing requirements is if all owners qualify for the Form 1116 exemption. If so, the S-Corp or Partnership doesn’t have to file K-2 or K-3.

Form 1116 reports foreign income and foreign taxes paid on the individual income tax return. The exemption from filing this form is if an individual receives less than $600 ($300 for single filers). By doing so, the individual return is more simplified. However, it disallows any foreign taxes carried over to be utilized. 

This exemption will likely be less often utilized because it requires every owner to disclose their intent and qualification for Form 1116 exemption to the S-Corp or Partnership. In addition, the time frame for notifying the S-Corp or Partnership is much shorter than the first exemption; owners were required to disclose their intention by February 15 of the current year for 2022 tax returns, a month before the S-Corp or Partnership’s unextended due date. 

At CK, we are working with our clients directly to ensure that the exceptions to filing the K-2 and K-3 schedules are reviewed and disclosed appropriately. If you have questions about these exemptions and if they apply to your S-Corp, Partnership, or your individual return, please call Cray Kaiser today at 630-953-4900.

Effective for tax years starting in 2022, there is a policy change that will impact how research and development (R&D) is handled for U.S. tax purposes. Rather than being allowed to deduct those costs immediately, companies are now being told that they must spread those costs out over a period of at least five years.

Unsurprisingly, many companies are not thrilled with that change. It has the potential to hurt manufacturers in a number of different ways, all of which are worth exploring.

The R&D Tax Policy Change: An Overview

In a letter that was sent on November 4, 2022, no less than 178 CFOs – primarily those from some of the biggest names in United States manufacturing, like Ford Motor Company, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and others – outlined why they believe that these aforementioned new rules would lead to what they call a “competitive disadvantage” for American companies. This would likely lead to job losses, harming their ability to innovate over the next decade.

Their point of view was simple: they were asking the current Congress to switch back to a system that allowed them to immediately deduct their costs regarding R&D as soon as the end of the year.

Until January 1, 2022, businesses could deduct 100% of all expenses directly attributed to R&D in the same year they were incurred. This is a major new expense – the tax liabilities of these companies are about to increase exponentially. This makes it more expensive to invest in advancements that will help innovate various sectors like manufacturing and in the growth of these companies.

One company that is particularly worried about the implications of this change is Miltec UV. However, company leadership believes that an exciting new opportunity is within reach. They have spent years developing new technology for lithium-ion batteries – otherwise known as the rechargeable batteries found in countless devices like your smartphones or tablets. This new technology could potentially be used for next-generation electric vehicles.

Miltec UV has poured at least 11 years of development into manufacturing the electrodes used in these batteries. They’ve spent countless amounts of money on prototyping. Various proof of concepts have been developed to indicate that these microbes can do what the company thinks they can. There has been testing. On top of it all, there is the cost of manufacturing the batteries. Officials agree that they are very close to the point where they can commercialize the batteries and begin to sell them, but with these new rule changes, they will have to pay more taxes than they previously thought they would.

What Are R&D Expenses?

For smaller businesses than Miltec UV, how do you know if you will be affected? The first clue is to look at your financial statements or recent tax return – do you have “R&D expenses”? Or have you claimed the R&D credit in the past? If either of these are true, you will likely be affected by the new law.

But you’ll need to do an even deeper dive. That’s because how R&D expenses are defined for credit purposes differs from expenses affected by the new law. The nuances of the differences are beyond the scope of this article, but needless to say that those companies with significant R&D would benefit from an R&D study to ensure that the least amount of costs are categorized as R&D. 

Those companies will also need to look at where the development is performed.  Believe it or not, the law is even worse for those with international development costs; these are written off over not a five-year period but a fifteen-year period.  Either way, the “half-year” convention determines the write-off.

To summarize the write-off of R&D expenses:

Pre-2022: 100% write-off

2023 and forward – domestic R&D: 10% write-off in year one, 20% in years two through four, 10% in year five

2023 and forward – international R&D: 3.33% write-off in year one, 6.66% in years two through fourteen, 3.33% in year fifteen

Many businesses are hopeful that Congress will reverse these rules. But until then, large and small taxpayers need to address their R&D costs and the effect on 2022 tax liabilities. If you have questions about how these changes to the R&D tax policy will affect your business, please contact Cray Kaiser at (630) 953-4900.

By now, you are familiar with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed a few years ago and likely recall that it lowered regular corporate taxes to 21%.  In response to the lower corporate tax rate, there was a provision to lower overall taxes on the individual level using the Qualified Business Income. This allowed S-corporations (flow-through entities) to benefit from lower business taxes without converting to a C-corporation.

However, there might be other considerations to converting your S-Corporation to a C-Corporation. You can voluntarily convert your S-Corporation to a C-Corporation almost any time, but once you do, there is a five-year hold where you cannot convert back. 

Reasons to Convert from an S-Corporation to a C-Corporation

There are a few scenarios in which it would make sense to convert from an S-Corporation to a C-Corporation:

How to Go About Converting

Once most shareholders who own the business agree to conversion and sign the Statement of Consent, the process with the IRS is quite simple. Any CPA can prepare the proper forms for the IRS so that the Company can convert to a C-Corporation. However, you must note that the process must be done by March 15th of the year you want to convert. Otherwise, the conversion will occur during the tax year, which will cause you to have to prepare and file two short-period tax returns. You can elect to convert to a C-Corporation beginning January 1st of the following year, which would allow you to submit the application any time during the year before conversion.     

Effects of Conversion on Taxes

The biggest downside of a C-Corporation is double taxation. The corporation pays the federal income tax on its profit, usually at 21%. Any qualified dividends paid to investors are taxed again at the individual level at rates between 15% – 23.8%. For S-Corporations, the flow-through income is taxed once at the individual owner’s level, ranging anywhere from 10% – 37%. Assuming there is sufficient undistributed corporate income, the S-corporation distribution to owners would not be taxed again. 

The other point to consider is that once you apply to convert to a C Corporation, you have a limited time to distribute the undistributed S-corporation earnings to the shareholders (which is tax-free) before it’s considered a dividend (and taxed between 15% – 23.8% on the shareholders’ personal return).

Converting from an S-Corp to a C-Corp has its benefits, but there are also long-term implications that you need to be aware of. Therefore, before you start the process of changing your tax status, speak with a CPA to review any pitfalls that might occur based on your unique situation.

If you have questions about the conversion and if it’s a good fit for your business, please call Cray Kaiser at 630-953-4900.

In late December 2022, while most practitioners and their clients were busy with other things, Congress passed a giant omnibus budget bill. Buried within it was the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement 2.0 Act of 2022 (“SECURE 2.0”), which contains many retirement changes and some other changes that practitioners and their clients need to be aware of. It provides new incentives for employers to offer their employees retirement plans and participate in and improve their retirement security. SECURE 2.0 helps employees and their beneficiaries, owner-employees, small businesses, and retirees and eases costs, administrative burdens, and penalties for inadvertent mistakes. It will also require most plans to be amended to comply with some of its provisions. The 2023 omnibus bill containing the following key provisions that benefit individuals was signed into law by President Biden on December 29, 2022.

Tax-free rollovers from 529 accounts to Roth IRAs. After 2023, SECURE 2.0 permits beneficiaries of 529 college savings accounts to make up to $35,000 of direct trustee-to-trustee rollovers from a 529 account to their Roth IRA without tax or penalty. The 529 account must have been open for more than 15 years, and the rollover is limited to the amount contributed to the 529 account (and its earnings) more than five years earlier. Rollovers are subject to the Roth IRA annual contribution limits but are not limited based on the taxpayer’s AGI.

Age increased for required distributions. Under SECURE 2.0, the age used to determine required distribution beginning dates for IRA owners, retired employer plan members, and active-employee 5%-owners increases in two stages from the current age of 72 to age 73 for those who turn age 72 after 2022, and to age 75 for those who will turn 74 in 2032.

Bigger catch-up contributions permitted. Starting in 2025, SECURE 2.0 increases the current elective deferral catch-up contribution limit for older employees from $7,500 for 2023 ($3,500 for SIMPLE plans) to the greater of $10,000 ($5,000 for SIMPLE plans), or 50% more than the regular catch-up amount in 2024 (2025 for SIMPLE plans) for individuals who attain ages 60-63. The dollar amounts are inflation-indexed after 2025.

More penalty-free withdrawals permitted. SECURE 2.0 adds an exception after 2023 to the 10% pre age-59 1/2 penalty tax for one distribution per year of up to $1,000 used for emergency expenses to meet unforeseeable or immediate financial needs relating to personal or family emergencies. The taxpayer has the option to repay the distribution within three years. No other emergency distributions are permissible during the three-year period unless repayment occurs.

Similarly, plans may permit participants that self-certify as having experienced domestic abuse to withdraw the lesser of $10,000 indexed for inflation, or 50% of their account free from the 10% tax on early distributions. The participant has the opportunity to repay the withdrawn money from the retirement plan over three years and get a refund of income taxes on money that is repaid. Also, the additional 10% early distribution tax no longer applies to distributions to terminally ill individuals.

Beginning December 29, 2025, retirement plans may make penalty-free distributions of up to $2,500 per year for payment of premiums for high quality coverage under certain long term care insurance contracts.

Also, retroactive for disasters after January 25, 2021, penalty free distributions of up to $22,000 may be made from employer retirement plans or IRAs for affected individuals. Regular tax on the distributions is considered  gross income over three years. Distributions can be repaid to a tax preferred retirement account. Additionally, amounts distributed prior to the disaster to purchase a home can be recontributed and an employer may provide for a larger amount to be borrowed from a plan by affected individuals and for additional time for repayment of plan loans owed by affected individuals.

SECURE 2.0 also contains an emergency savings provision that allows employers to offer non-highly compensated employees emergency savings accounts linked to individual account plans that automatically opt employees into these accounts at no more than 3% of their salary, capped at a maximum of $2,500. Employees can withdraw up to $1,000 once per year for personal or family emergencies without certain tax consequences.

Reduced penalty tax on failure to take RMDs. For tax years beginning after December 29, 2022, SECURE 2.0 reduces the penalty for failure to take required minimum distributions from qualified retirement plans, including IRAs or deferred compensation plans under Code Sec. 457(b) from the current 50% to 25% of the amount by which the distribution falls short of the required amount. It reduces the penalty to 10% if the failure to take the RMD is corrected in a timely manner.

Favorable surviving spouse election. For plan years after 2023, the surviving sole spousal designated beneficiary of an employee who dies before RMDs have begun under an employer qualified retirement plan may elect to be treated as if the surviving spouse were the employee for purposes of the required minimum distribution rules. If the election is made distributions need not begin until the employee would have had to start them.

This provision allows a designated spousal beneficiary to receive a similar distribution period for lifetime distributions under an employer plan as is permitted if the surviving spouse rolled the amount into an IRA.

The IRS will prescribe the time and manner of the election, which once made may not be revoked without the IRS’ consent.

Employer match for student loan payments. To assist employees who may not be able to save for retirement because they are overwhelmed with student debt and are missing out on available matching contributions for retirement plans, SECURE allows them to receive matching contributions by reason of their student loan repayments. For plan years after 2023, it allows employers to make matching contributions under a 401(k) plan, 403(b) plan, or SIMPLE IRA for “qualified student loan payments.”

Return of excess contributions. SECURE 2.0 specifies that earnings attributable to excess IRA contributions that are returned by the taxpayer’s tax return due date (including extensions) are exempt from the 10% early withdrawal tax. The taxpayer must not claim a deduction for the distributed excess contribution. This applies to any determination of or affecting liability for taxes, interest, or penalties made on or after December 29, 2022.

We know that this amount of information is overwhelming, but there is much here that may affect you or your business and induce or require you to change your retirement plan or how you handle your account and distributions. It’s a lot to consider. Be assured that we can help you with all of this. Please don’t hesitate to call Cray Kaiser at (630) 953-4900 if you would like to discuss how SECURE 2.0 may impact you or your business.

What makes Roth IRAs so appealing? Primarily, it’s the ability to withdraw money from them tax-free. But to enjoy this benefit, there are a few rules you must follow, including the widely misunderstood five-year rule.

3 Types of Withdrawals

To understand the five-year rule, you first need to understand the three types of funds that may be withdrawn from a Roth IRA:

Contributed principal. This is your after-tax contributions to the account.

Converted principal. This consists of funds that had been in a traditional IRA but that you converted to a Roth IRA (paying tax on the conversion).

Earnings. This includes the (untaxed) returns generated from the contributed or converted principal.

Generally, you can withdraw contributed principal at any time without taxes or early withdrawal penalties, regardless of your age or how long the funds have been held in the Roth IRA. But to avoid taxes and penalties on withdrawals of earnings, you must meet two requirements:

  1. The withdrawal must not be made before you turn 59½, die, become disabled or qualify for an exception to early withdrawal penalties (such as withdrawals for qualified first-time homebuyer expenses), and
  2. You must satisfy the five-year rule.

Withdrawals of converted principal aren’t taxable because you were taxed at the time of the conversion. But they’re subject to early withdrawal penalties if you fail to satisfy the five-year rule.

Five-Year Rule

As the name suggests, the five-year rule requires you to satisfy a five-year holding period before you can withdraw Roth IRA earnings tax-free or converted principal penalty-free. But the rule works differently depending on the type of funds you’re withdrawing.

If you’re withdrawing earnings, the five-year period begins on January 1 of the tax year in which you made your first contribution to any Roth IRA. For example, if you opened your first Roth IRA on April 1, 2018, and treated your initial contribution as one for the 2017 tax year, then the five-year period started on January 1, 2017. That means you were able to withdraw earnings from any Roth IRA tax and penalty-free beginning on January 1, 2022 (assuming you were at least 59½ or otherwise exempt from early withdrawal penalties).

If you’re withdrawing converted principal, the five-year holding period begins on January 1 of the tax year in which you do the conversion. For instance, if you converted a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA at any time during 2017, the five-year period began on January 1, 2017, and ended on December 31, 2021.

Unlike earnings, however, each Roth IRA conversion is subject to a separate five-year holding period. If you do several conversions over the years, you’ll need to track each five-year period carefully to avoid triggering unexpected penalties.

Keep in mind that the five-year rule only comes into play if you’re otherwise subject to early withdrawal penalties. If you’ve reached age 59½, or a penalty exception applies, then you can withdraw converted principal penalty-free even if the five-year period hasn’t expired, but you would still pay taxes on your earnings.

You may be wondering why the five-year rule applies to withdrawals of funds that have already been taxed. The reason is that the tax benefits of Roth and traditional IRAs are intended to promote long-term saving for retirement. Without the five-year rule, a traditional IRA owner could circumvent the penalty for early withdrawals simply by converting it to a Roth IRA, paying the tax, and immediately withdrawing it penalty-free.

What About Inherited Roth IRAs?

Generally, one who inherits a Roth IRA may withdraw the funds immediately without fear of taxes or penalties, with one exception: The five-year rule may still apply to withdrawals of earnings if the original owner of the Roth IRA hadn’t satisfied the five-year rule at the time of his or her death.

For instance, suppose you inherited a Roth IRA from your grandfather on July 1, 2021. If he made his first Roth IRA contribution on December 1, 2018, you’ll have to wait until January 1, 2023, before you can withdraw earnings tax-free.

Ordering Rules May Help Avoid Costly Mistakes

The consequences of violating the five-year rule can be costly, but fortunately, there are ordering rules that help you avoid inadvertent mistakes. Under these rules, withdrawals from a Roth IRA are presumed to come from after-tax contributions first, converted principal second and earnings third.

So, if contributions are large enough to cover the amount you wish to withdraw, you will avoid taxes and penalties even if the five-year rule hasn’t been satisfied for converted principal or earnings.

Handle with Care

Many people are accustomed to withdrawing retirement savings freely once they reach age 59½. But care must be taken when withdrawing funds from a Roth IRA to avoid running afoul of the five-year rule and inadvertently triggering unexpected taxes or penalties. The rules are complex — so when in doubt call us at Cray Kaiser at (630) 953-4900 before making a withdrawal.

Many companies are eligible for tax write-offs for certain equipment purchases and building improvements. These write-offs can do wonders for a business’s cash flow, but whether to claim them isn’t always an easy decision. In some cases, there are advantages to following the regular depreciation rules. So, looking at the big picture and developing a strategy that aligns with your company’s overall tax-planning objectives is critical.


Taxpayers can elect to claim 100% bonus depreciation or Section 179 expensing to deduct the full cost of eligible property up front in the year it’s placed in service. Alternatively, depending on how the tax code classifies the property, they may spread depreciation deductions over several years or decades.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), 100% bonus depreciation is available for property placed in service through 2022. Without further legislation, bonus depreciation will be phased down to 80% for property placed in service in 2023, 60% in 2024, 40% in 2025, and 20% in 2026; then, after 2026, bonus depreciation will no longer be available. (For certain properties with longer production periods, these reductions are delayed by one year. For example, 80% bonus depreciation will apply to long-production-period property placed in service in 2024.)

In March 2020, a technical correction made by the CARES Act expanded the availability of bonus depreciation. Under the correction, qualified improvement property (QIP), which includes many interior improvements to commercial buildings, is eligible for 100% bonus depreciation following the phaseout schedule through 2026 and retroactively to 2018. If bonus depreciation isn’t claimed, QIP is generally depreciable on a straight-line basis over 15 years.

Sec. 179 also allows taxpayers to fully deduct the cost of eligible property. Still, the maximum deduction in a given year is $1 million (adjusted for inflation to $1.08 million for 2022), and the deduction is gradually phased out once a taxpayer’s qualifying expenditures exceed $2.5 million (adjusted for inflation to $2.7 million for 2022).


While 100% first-year bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 expensing can significantly lower your company’s taxable income, it’s not always a smart move. Here are three examples of situations where it may be preferable to forgo bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 expensing:

  1. You’re planning to sell QIP. Suppose you’ve invested heavily in building improvements that are eligible for bonus depreciation as QIP and you plan to sell the building soon. In that case, you may be stepping into a tax trap by claiming the QIP write-off. That’s because your gain on the sale — up to the amount of bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 deductions you’ve claimed — will be treated as “recaptured” depreciation that’s taxable at ordinary-income tax rates as high as 37%. On the other hand, if you deduct the cost of QIP under regular depreciation rules (generally over 15 years), any long-term gain attributable to those deductions will be taxable at a top rate of 25% upon the building’s sale.
  2. You’re eligible for the Sec. 199A “pass-through” deduction. This deduction allows eligible business owners to deduct up to 20% of their qualified business income (QBI) from certain pass-through entities, such as partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations, as well as sole proprietorships. The deduction, which is available through 2025 under the TCJA, can’t exceed 20% of an owner’s taxable income, excluding net capital gains. (Several other restrictions apply .)
    Claiming bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 deductions reduce your QBI, which may deprive you of an opportunity to maximize the 199A deduction. And since the 199A deduction is scheduled to expire in 2025, it makes sense to take advantage of it while you can.
  3. Your depreciation deductions may be more valuable in the future. The value of a deduction is based on its ability to reduce your tax bill. If you think your tax rate will go up in the coming years, either because you believe Congress will increase rates or you expect to be in a higher bracket, depreciation write-offs may be worth more in future years than they are now.

State Tax Considerations

The above rules apply to federal income tax. However, many states have decoupled with either or both bonus depreciation and Section 179 provisions.  For example, Illinois no longer allows the bonus depreciation deduction but does follow federal law with respect to Section 179 deductions. So, if you are projecting an overall federal loss, you will want to also project state taxable income to account for the federal to state tax differences.

Timing is Everything

Keep in mind that forgoing bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 deductions only affect the timing of those deductions. You’ll still have an opportunity to write off the full cost of eligible assets; it will just be over a longer time period. Cray Kaiser can analyze how these write-offs interact with other tax benefits and help you determine the optimal strategy for your situation. You can contact us today at 630-953-4900.

Even though the overall IRS audit rate is currently low, it’s expected to increase as a result of provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law in August. So, it’s more important than ever for taxpayers to follow the rules to minimize their chances of being subjected to an audit. How can you reduce your audit chances? Watch for these 10 red flags that can trigger IRS scrutiny:

  1. Large charitable donations. The IRS can reference data providing average charitable deductions based on various income levels. If you’re above average for your category, you might call attention to yourself. This is especially true if you’ve deducted charitable gifts of appreciated property. So make sure your donations are all properly substantiated, including by independent appraisals if required.
  2. Gambling losses. Generally, you can deduct losses up to the amount of your winnings on your personal return, but you must have proof to back up your claims. If your gambling activities rise to the level of a professional gambler, you might be able to deduct a loss from other income, but the IRS often contests this tax treatment. Make certain that you recognize the risks.   
  3. Unreported income. It’s easy to miss income that might fall through the cracks, such as interest and dividends as well as nonemployee compensation from Form 1099-NEC. If you fail to report the income, the IRS may uncover a discrepancy with the forms it receives. Be sure to provide your tax professional with all forms you receive.
  4. Rental income and deductions. You don’t want the IRS to find that you played fast and loose with the rules for rental properties. Showing a loss for the year could trigger an inquiry. Generally, you may use up to $25,000 of loss to offset income from nonpassive activities, but you must meet specific participation requirements. Check with us to see if you’re on firm ground.
  5. Home office deductions. If you use a portion of your home regularly and exclusively for your business, you may be able to deduct the expenses and depreciation associated with the space. Usually, the greater the business percentage claimed for use of the home, the greater the audit risk. Employees who work from home (as opposed to self-employed people) currently can’t claim a home office deduction. Now that more people are working from home, the IRS may look for taxpayers trying to bend the rules.
  6. Casualty losses. Despite recent legislative changes restricting casualty loss deductions, you can still write off losses to personal property sustained in a federally designated disaster area. But be aware that the IRS may scrutinize appraisals to determine if you’re inflating a disaster-area loss.
  7. Business vehicle expenses. The IRS often flags returns with large deductions for business vehicles, especially if they reflect double-digit depreciation allowances. Briefly stated, you’re required to keep a contemporaneous log of your driving activities, along with proper substantiation. Collect all the proof needed to withstand an IRS challenge during the year as opposed to trying to recreate these records after notification of an audit.
  8. Cryptocurrency transactions. This is a relatively new potential audit target. The IRS now specifically asks on your return if you’ve bought or sold cryptocurrency. If you’ve answered yes, be prepared to substantiate the transaction information. The IRS may also question cryptocurrency losses to ensure that you have actually sold the holdings rather than simply experienced a reduction in value.
  9. Day trading activities. Most taxpayers offset capital gains and losses from securities sales on Schedule D of their personal tax returns. But claiming to be a “day trader” may help you benefit from favorable tax provisions, including deductions for specific expenses. If you do this, consult with us to ensure you’re ready to respond to any IRS inquiries.
  10. Foreign bank accounts. Checking the box on Schedule B that indicates you have a foreign bank account could increase your chances of an audit. But failing to check the box when you should do so may also trigger an audit. The IRS matches up the information it receives on foreign bank accounts. Generally, a taxpayer must file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) if the aggregate value of assets in foreign bank accounts exceeded $10,000 during the prior year.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the list. There are many other potential audit triggers, depending on a taxpayer’s particular situation. Also, keep in mind that some audits are done on a random basis. So even if you have no common triggers on your return, you still could be subject to an audit (though the chances are lower).

With proper tax reporting and professional help, you can reduce the likelihood of triggering an audit. And if you still end up being subject to one, proper documentation can help you withstand it with little or no negative consequences. Cray Kaiser is here to help guide you with best practices in documenting your tax records. If you receive an audit notice, don’t panic; call us at (630) 953-4900 as we have significant experience dealing with tax audits.

Companies that wish to reduce their tax bills or increase their refunds shouldn’t overlook the fuel tax credit. It’s available for federal tax paid on fuel used for nontaxable purposes.

When Does the Federal Fuel Tax Apply?

The federal fuel tax, which is used to fund highway and road maintenance programs, is collected from buyers of gasoline, undyed diesel fuel and undyed kerosene. (Dyed fuels, limited to off-road use, are exempt from the tax.)

But purchasers of taxable fuel may use it for nontaxable purposes. For example, construction businesses often use gasoline, undyed diesel fuel or undyed kerosene to run off-road vehicles and construction equipment, such as front loaders, bulldozers, cranes, power saws, air compressors, generators, and heaters.

As of this writing, a federal fuel tax holiday has been proposed. But even if it’s signed into law (check with your Cray Kaiser tax advisor for the latest information), businesses can benefit from the fuel tax credit for months the holiday isn’t in effect.

How Much Can You Save?

Currently, the federal tax on gasoline is $0.184 per gallon and the federal tax on diesel fuel and kerosene is $0.244 per gallon. Therefore, calculating the fuel tax credit is simply a matter of multiplying the number of gallons used for nontaxable purposes during the year by the applicable rate.

For instance, a company that uses 7,500 gallons of gasoline and 15,000 gallons of undyed diesel fuel to operate off-road vehicles and equipment is entitled to a $5,040 credit (7,500 x $0.184) + (15,000 x $0.244).

This may not seem like a large number, but it can add up over the years. And remember, a tax credit reduces your tax liability dollar for dollar. That’s much more valuable than a deduction, which reduces only your taxable income.

Keep in mind, though, that fuel tax credits are includable in your company’s taxable income. That’s because the full amount of the fuel purchases was previously deducted as business expenses, and you can’t claim a deduction and a credit on the same expense.

How Do You Claim It?

You can claim the credit by filing Form 4136, “Credit for Federal Tax Paid on Fuels,” with your tax return. If you don’t want to wait until the end of the year to recoup fuel taxes, you can file Form 8849, “Claim for Refund of Excise Taxes,” to obtain periodic refunds.

Alternatively, if your business files Form 720, “Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return,” you can claim fuel tax credits against your excise tax liability.

Why Pay If You Don’t Have To?

No one likes to pay taxes they don’t owe, but if you forgo fuel tax credits that’s exactly what you’re doing. Given the minimal burden involved in claiming these credits — it’s just a matter of tracking your nontaxable fuel uses and filing a form — there’s really no reason not to do so.

If you have questions about how you might benefit from the fuel tax credit, please call the experts at Cray Kaiser today at 630-953-4900.