Category Archives: Financial Planning Tips

Cryptocurrency: When Disaster Strikes

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Everyone is talking about cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum. Cryptocurrencies have become popular alternatives for online payments. Before converting real dollars into cryptocurrency, understand that there are real risks in using cryptocurrencies which is why I am not a fan.

A cryptocurrency is a digital currency, an alternative form of payment created using encryption algorithms. The use of encryption technologies means that cryptocurrencies function both as a currency and as a virtual accounting system. To use cryptocurrencies, you need a cryptocurrency wallet. These wallets can be software that is a cloud-based service or is stored on your computer or on your mobile device.

What are the risks to using cryptocurrency? The market for these digital currencies is very volatile. Since cryptocurrencies don’t need banks or any other third party to regulate them, they are usually uninsured and hard to convert into a form of tangible currency. In addition, since cryptocurrencies are technology-based intangible assets, they can be hacked like any other intangible technology asset. Finally, since you store your cryptocurrencies in a digital wallet, if you lose your wallet, you have lost your entire cryptocurrency investment.

Like just about everything else in finance, crypto saw its prices tank when the Federal Reserve started to raise interest rates to fight rising inflation.

That caught bitcoin’s biggest backers by surprise, many of whom believed the virtual currency would be an inflation hedge, like precious metals. They had predicted bitcoin’s value would rise during a period of high inflation; instead, it was falling.

Generally, the IRS taxes cryptocurrency like property and investments, not currency. This means all transactions, from selling coins to using cryptos for purchases, are subject to the same tax treatment as other capital gains and losses.

Because of this, long-term crypto investors have a valuable opportunity: If they hold onto their coins for at least a year, they can benefit from lower long-term capital gains taxes, which range from 0% to 20%, depending on your income level. Short-term crypto gains on purchases held for less than a year are subject to the same tax rates you pay on all other income: 10% to 37% for the 2022-2023 tax filing season, depending on your tax bracket.

These taxes apply even if you use crypto to make purchases, meaning you may be on the hook for sales tax plus taxes on any gains your crypto has made since you first bought or received it.

You may also owe taxes on crypto if you earn it by mining cryptocurrency or receive it in exchange for goods and services. In these instances, it’s taxed at your ordinary income tax rates, based on the value of the crypto on the day you receive it. (You may owe taxes if you later sell the crypto you mined or received at a profit.) 

If all of your crypto transactions occur on one exchange, then, gathering the information you need to report cryptocurrency on your tax return should be easy. If you have crypto transactions across several exchanges, however, things may get more complicated. You’ll need to get a report from each place a transaction occurred or track the transactions yourself.

After you’ve collected all of your crypto transactions, you must report them to the IRS on Form 8949. This form is divided into two sections: short term (for crypto held one year or less) and long term (for crypto held longer than one year).

Recently, the Office of Chief Counsel advised that a taxpayer, who purchased for personal investment cryptocurrency in 2022 for $1 per unit that declined in value to less than one cent per unit at the end of 2022, did not sustain a loss under Code Sec. 165. According to the Chief Counsel’s Office, the taxpayer did not abandon or otherwise dispose of the cryptocurrency and the cryptocurrency was not worthless because it still had value; further, even if the taxpayer sustained a loss under Code Sec. 165, the loss would be disallowed because, under Code Sec. 67(g), miscellaneous itemized deductions were suspended for tax years 2018 through 2025. CCM 202302011.

But it only gets worse. The Office of Chief Counsel also advised that, when a taxpayer donates cryptocurrency for which a charitable contribution deduction of more than $5,000 is claimed, a qualified appraisal is required under Code Sec. 170(f)(11)(C) in order to obtain a charitable contribution deduction. Further, the Chief Counsel’s Office concluded that if a taxpayer determines the value of the donated cryptocurrency based on the value reported by a cryptocurrency exchange on which the cryptocurrency is traded rather than by obtaining a qualified appraisal, the reasonable cause exception in Code Sec. 170(f)(11)(A)(ii)(II) will not excuse noncompliance with the qualified appraisal requirement and the charitable contribution deduction will be disallowed. CCM 202302012.

As I said, I’m not a fan of cryptocurrency.

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Tax Benefits for Grandparents

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Regarding grandparents, the fact that they are grandparents, does not, in and of itself result in any tax benefits.  However, there are certain tax provisions that may apply.  First, any amounts given by a grandparent is usually considered a gift.  Beginning in 2022, the annual exclusion increased from $15,000 to $16,000.  Gifts to one person in excess of the annual exclusion require the filing of a gift tax return, although no gift tax is incurred because the gift tax credit is so large. Married grandparents can join together to give one grandchild $32,000 each year.

Grandparents can establish a Section 529 plan for a grandchild and possibly save state income tax in the state where the grandparent resides, depending on state law.  Maryland and DC, for example, give the donor a deduction for money contributed to their state’s Sec 529 plan. A grandparent who is married can deposit $160,000 into their grandchild’s 529 plan to cover K-12 expenses—an amount equivalent to a $32,000 contribution each year over five years. When filling out their federal tax forms, they can elect to include this gift over a five-year period (i.e., $32,000 x 5 = $160,000), thereby excluding the $160,000 from any gift taxes.

Assuming the grandparents live five more years, the entire $160,000, plus the money earned from this investment, will not be taxed as part of their estate. And after this five-year period elapses, they can deposit an additional $160,000. Grandparents should be sure to consult their tax advisor before making large deposits into a 529 plan.

Here’s another opportunity.  At age 72, IRA owners must start taking money – known as Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) –  from their retirement accounts.  Even if the person doesn’t need the RMD money, IRS still requires the distribution which is taxable.

If the grandparent contributes their RMD to a grandchild’s 529 account, the grandparent will still pay income tax on the RMD, but the money they invest in the 529 account will grow tax-deferred. And if the money is later used for qualified education expenses, the entire amount is available to the student tax-free.  Additionally, the amount contributed by the grandparent to a 529 account is not included in their estate for estate tax purposes — even though they retain control over the funds.  When applying for financial aid for college, by setting up a 529 account in the name of the grandparent with a grandchild as a beneficiary, these assets are not included as either the child or parent’s assets.

Finally, a grandparent can pay for college tuition. A special tax-code exemption allows a grandparent to pay college tuition and not have that money subjected to gift tax. The IRS makes an exclusion in the case of financial gifts used for tuition payments.

The exclusion, called the Gift Tax Education Exclusion for Tuition, means that money gifted to a friend or family member to pay for college tuition is not subject to the federal gift tax. Under the Internal Revenue Code, you can pay unlimited amounts for someone’s tuition and not be taxed.

To make a tuition gift that qualifies for the federal gift tax educational exclusion, the gift-giver should make the tuition payment directly to the student’s school—they should not give the money to the student.

Paying the school directly, instead of donating to a student’s 529 plan helps grandparents avoid potential gift taxes if they plan to make significant contributions. Of course, it’s not just the grandparent’s finances that must be considered, but also the student’s. Luckily, that is about to get easier.

In the past, grandparents faced issues when trying to pay for their grandchildren’s college tuition. However, with the arrival of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a major change is coming that will be very beneficial.

Those who file the FAFSA will no longer be asked if their grandparents will be providing any assistance. This means that students whose grandparents pay part of their college expenses will no longer see their financial aid decrease, as long as the grandparents know how to properly give the money.

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New charitable deduction for taxpayers who don’t itemize

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Individuals who elect to take the standard deduction generally cannot claim a deduction for their charitable contributions. However, the CARES Act permits these individuals to claim a limited deduction on their 2020 federal income tax returns for cash contributions made to certain qualifying charitable organizations and still claim the standard deduction. Nearly nine in 10 taxpayers now take the standard deduction and could potentially qualify.

Under this change, these individuals can claim an “above-the-line” deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made to qualifying charities during 2020. The maximum above-the-line deduction is $150 for married individuals filing separate returns.

Though cash contributions to most charitable organizations qualify, those made either to supporting organizations or to establish or maintain a donor advised fund, do not. Cash contributions carried forward from prior years do not qualify, nor do most cash contributions to charitable remainder trusts. In general, a donor-advised fund is a fund or account in which a donor can, because of being a donor, advise the fund on how to distribute or invest amounts held in the fund. A supporting organization is a charity that carries out its exempt purposes by supporting other exempt organizations, usually other public charities. See Pub. 526 for more information on the types of organizations that qualify.

Cash contributions include those made by check, credit card or debit card as well as amounts incurred by an individual for unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses in connection with the individual’s volunteer services to a qualifying charitable organization. Cash contributions don’t include the value of volunteer services, securities, household items or other property.

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Taxpayer tries to avoid income by not cashing check from retirement plan

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Here’s a situation you don’t often come across. The IRS recently issued guidance on the tax treatment of a failure to cash a distribution check from a qualified retirement plan.

Under the scenario in the revenue ruling, an employer with a qualified retirement plan is required to make a distribution from the qualified plan to an individual in 2019 who is a plan participant. The qualified plan does not include a qualified Roth contribution program, nor does the individual have an after tax investment in the qualified retirement plan. The employer makes the required distribution by withholding tax as required by IRC section 3405(d)(2) and mailing a check for the remainder to the individual. Although the individual receives the check and could cash it in 2019, she does not do so. She also does not make a rollover contribution with respect to any portion of the designated distribution, and no other exception to income inclusion under IRC section 402(a) applies. No explanation is provided for her failure to cash the check by the revenue ruling.

Under the revenue ruling, the individual’s failure to cash the distribution check received in 2019 does not permit her to exclude the amount of the distribution from gross income in 2019. It also does not alter the employer’s obligation to withhold tax as required under IRC section 3405(d)(2). And it does not alter the employer’s obligation to report the distribution to the individual and the IRS on a Form 1099-R.

For purposes of this revenue ruling, it is irrelevant whether the individual keeps the check, sends it back, destroys it, or cashes it in a subsequent year.

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401(K) HARDSHIP WITHDRAWAL RULES RELAXED

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The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA) mandated changes to the 401(k) hardship distribution rules. Generally, these changes relax certain restrictions on taking a hardship distribution. For 2019, the changes are optional, but effective January 1, 2020, following issuance of final regulations, certain changes will be mandatory.

An employer may, but is not required to, provide for hardship distributions in their retirement plans. Many plans such as 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and 457(b) plans permit hardship distributions.

If a 401(k) plan provides for hardship distributions, it must provide the specific criteria used to make the determination of hardship. Thus, for example, a plan may provide that a distribution can be made only for medical or funeral expenses, but not for the purchase of a principal residence or for payment of tuition and education expenses. In determining the existence of a need and of the amount necessary to meet the need, the plan must specify and apply nondiscriminatory and objective standards.

The rules for hardship distributions from 403(b) plans are similar to those for hardship distributions from 401(k) plans.  If a 457(b) plan provides for hardship distributions, it must contain specific language defining what constitutes a distribution on account of an “unforeseeable emergency.”

Effective for hardship withdrawals made on or after December 31, 2018, IRS proposed regulations eliminate the mandatory requirement that a participant obtain all loans available under the plan and all other plans maintained by the employer. Such a restriction is now an optional provision that may be adopted by the employer. The requirement that a participant must first obtain available distributions under all other plans maintained by the employer, (whether qualified or nonqualified) before receiving a hardship withdrawal remains in place.

Hardship distributions from a 401(k) plan were previously limited to the amount of the employee’s elective deferrals and generally did not include any income earned on the deferred amounts. The proposed regulations permit, but do not require, 401(k) plans to allow hardship distributions of elective contributions, QNECS, QMACS, and safe harbor contributions and earnings on these amounts regardless when contributed or earned. The change can be made as of January 1, 2019.

The proposed regulations also make it optional for 2019 to prohibit an employee from making elective contributions and employee contributions to the plan and all other plans maintained by the employer for at least 6 months after receipt of the hardship distribution. Under the proposed regulations effective January 1, 2020, the 6-month suspension from making elective contributions is no longer allowed.

Prior to the issuance of the proposed regulations there were no special rules for hardship distributions on account of hurricanes or other natural disasters. The proposed regulations modify the safe harbor list of expenses for which distributions are deemed to be made on account of an immediate and heavy financial need by adding a new type of expense to the list, relating to expenses incurred as a result of certain disasters.

Finally, the proposed regulations incorporate guidance provided under the Pension Protection Act of 2006 by providing that qualifying medical, educational, and funeral expenses relating to a participant’s primary beneficiary may qualify as expenses eligible for a hardship withdrawal.

A review of these changes would indicate that employers should not wait until 2020 to make these changes because they represent opportunities for employers to simplify plan administration in areas where administrative mistakes often occur.

Plan participants should ask their employers about the implementation and timing of these changes so they can adjust their financial plans accordingly.

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