What you spend on is more important than frugality.

When it comes to the blogs and other tracts providing information on building wealth, frugality carries most of the weight. And it makes sense. The greater the difference of income over spending is a strong determinant of the level of wealth an individual will achieve during their lifetime as compared to their income level. 

As important as frugality is, spending is even more important, even if it doesn’t garner the column inches the matter deserves. Spending less than you earn is the seed money for investments and without investments it is impossible to build significant wealth.

As an accountant I see people from all spectrums of income. Frugality, even hyper-frugality, is the hallmark of those with modest levels of wealth. Even the lowest income earners can amass a half million or more in a working career when frugality is taken to religious levels, with the excess invested in equities like index funds.

Mid-levels of income also do well with only the single tool of frugality. As their wealth grows they sometimes seek out professionals to help them. These clients tend to want short consulting sessions once a year with a review at tax time. 

Then come the serious achievers. These people sometimes have modest incomes, sometimes large incomes.  Regardless their income level, these people smack it out of the park. Their level of wealth is well beyond what would be expected for their income level or level of frugality (the excess of income above spending).

Super-achievers in wealth building focus on spending rather than frugality. They know spending is more important. And they know most spending drains their energy and wealth while proper spending can actually make them richer!

They also know that wealth is fleeting. The highway is littered with the corpses of wealthy people of yesteryear. A lifetime of building wealth can be lost in less time than it takes to snap your fingers. That is today’s topic. Wealthy people that keep it long enough to leave a legacy spend on the 5 things listed below in a disproportionate amount compared to the general population. As you flex your frugality muscles you want to consider spending some of that excess on these things to grow and preserve your wealth. Because, remember, when you have money there are always those looking to separate you from it.

Millionaires and Health

How wealthy can you really be if you are chronically sick? In pain? Or dead! 

If you have your health you are already wealthy and rich people know it and take steps to keep it that way. Eating quality food and exercise are primary. Proper medical care also plays a key role.

I see poor people and those looking to super-charge their frugality, to achieve goals like early retirement, refuse to pay for quality food or a gym membership or a piece of exercise equipment. It is counter-productive behavior.

I have a membership at Lake Park Swim & Fitness. Mrs. Accountant attends two or three exercise groups per week and I hit the floor (where the weights are) three times per week. This is a part of our routine! Physical activity is a priority in our life. Mrs. Accountant loves it so much she took a part-time job their working two nights per week cleaning up a bit (and for a free membership).

Outside the gym I also remain active. I walk an hour each day and sometimes jog. My sneakers see at least 3 miles of travel daily above and beyond normal movements (walking to the water cooler, et cetera). I chop wood on my farm, plant trees and work the garden. I recently bought a step meter to see how I’m doing. Rare is the day with fewer than 10,000 steps and many days are well above 20,000. Mrs. Accountant has similar numbers.

Lake Park isn’t the cheapest gym, but they also are not the cheapest gym. (Yes, you read that right.) It is the cleanest gym (and friendliest) gym I’ve ever been a member of.  I want a clean environment and working equipment. My workouts are serious business and I want a gym that feels the same way.

Food is another important expenditure for the wealthy. I grow much of my own food, but nutritious food can be had from the grocery store and it doesn’t require the “organic” label. Processed foods are limited in my household. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a common sight. We freeze and can lots of homegrown produce. Home prepared meals are the best so we do it a lot.

Health includes medical services. I see many poor people (and even some earning a reasonable wage) foregoing medical care and recommended treatments. Modern technology has given us the longest lifespan in human history, but it does no good if you don’t use the technology. 

Reasonable medical insurance to deal with a big medical issues is a must in the U.S where there is limited national healthcare for people under age 65. Regular checkups and taking required medications are all part of the program. Wealthy people know it is easier to stay healthy than to regain health. And as a reminder, without health, financial wealth has far less meaning.

 

Millionaires and Legal

Most people know they need to take care of their health. Fewer understand the importance of legal protection.

What takes a lifetime to build can be sued away in a fraction of a moment. Wealthy people know it, too. Keeping wealth already accumulated is vital to keeping wealth all the way to the finish line. 

It blows this accountant’s mind when people set up their own business entity. They have no experience (in most cases) in how to do this correctly, but they do it anyway. These hard working people put in the hours for years and even decades. Yet, their first step is to take a shortcut, the cheaper way. (Notice I said cheaper, not frugal. Frugal doesn’t take shortcuts; cheapskates do.) 

The same applies to wills and other legal documents. Of course, if you do it wrong you will not be around to clean up the mess; your friends and family will. (Nice memory you left the kids.) 

In all my 37 years in practice I’ve never seen a truly wealthy person take legal shortcuts. I have seen many people lose a lifetime of work, sometimes while in retirement, over  not using a qualified professional to handle their legal needs. 

I keep a law firm on speed dial for legal questions and other legal services. They have my retainer. When in doubt I go to the professionals to help me make quality decisions. I understand tax laws well (and still rely on other tax professionals for research all the time), but legal matters not so much. Attorneys sometimes have a bad reputation. It should not be that way. My legal team is a vital part of my financial plan. Their advice is always welcome. Attorneys can save you a massive amount of money and grief when planning ahead, or, they can cost even more trying to fix a mess that might end up with a settlement costing you decades of your invested savings (work or lifeforce, as some say).

 

Millionaires and Tax and Accounting

I’ll admit this part is self-serving. It is also a vital part of wealth creation and retention. 

When you add up all the taxes you pay (income, property, excise, gift, sales and more) it is the biggest single expense in your life. Even your home doesn’t cost as much as all taxes combined are pealing from your wallet. Even a modest income can see half or more lost to the litany of taxes the government has devised to separate you from your hard-earned money.

In my office the tax professionals sometimes laugh when people say they prepare their own tax return. “We always enjoy summer work,” is their response. There is some truth to that.

Frugality is not enough if you want to be wealthy. How you spend and what you spend on will make the difference in how wealthy you become. If you want to be a millionaire you need to spend like a millionaire. That means frugality one one hand and intelligent spending that serves your needs on the other.But it gets worse. To this day I have never had a consulting session with a client or someone from this blog where I didn’t save that client several times in taxes what they paid me. There have been cases where a $1,000 consulting fee yielded 6-figures in additional wealth, much of it from tax savings. 

I have no problem with people preparing their own return when it is very simple. However, a tax professional is worth her weight in gold if she works with you! Rare is the non tax professional that knows when it is best to elect to treat their side hustle or business as an S-corp over a sole proprietorship. If you own income properties do you understand the mechanics of a cost-segregation study? If you own any investments are you aware of tools to defer and eliminate taxes on the profits? Like-kind exchanges? Opportunity funds? Delaware Statutory Trusts?

Even something as simple as  professional bookkeeping can send your net worth skyward faster. One of my accountants just helped an investment property owner from Mississippi clean up his books. Now he knows where he is financially at all times. He can make better decisions; I can give him better advice. Banks loans are easier to get and rates lower. He really has professional looking books! (It would be bragging if I did the work, but Dawn gets all the credit.)

His taxes are also lower because I can help him plan instead of react. He refers to us as his OCD accountant. Yes, we take pride in our work and pay attention to detail. It is never enough to have clean books. We demand we provide guidance to optimize wealth building for every client we serve. 

It doesn’t come cheap, of course. But I deliver greater results because I am incentivized to do so and invest in growing my arsenal to better serve clients. The cheapest isn’t always that cheap.

The income property owner discussed above had several accounting firms who could not get his fast growing rental business under control. Dawn even struggled in the beginning. There was, and is, a lot to digest. I kept applying steady, yet firm, pressure. While the client benefited, I was training an accountant on how to handle the difficult cases. Now that the books are clean it isn’t so challenging anymore.

And this brings up another important point. Not every tax and/or accounting professional is cut from the same cloth. Some are better than others and some are outright incompetent. In a previous post I discuss how you can find high quality tax professionals and accountants for your wealth building team. The same applies when looking for a legal professional.

With so much on the line it is worth hiring a competent tax professional. If your return is simple you can prepare it yourself. I have many consulting sessions with people who prepare their own tax return. I review the prior return as part of the consulting session and it is usually okay.

Tax and accounting  professionals are worth their most when consulting. Their large reservoir of knowledge and experience can help you make better career and investment choices. It is difficult at best to build serious wealth without a highly qualified tax professional.

 

Millionaires and Education

Primary and secondary schooling, along with a college, is designed to teach you how to learn. Until you learn how to learn nothing else will matter. Yes, college will educate you on the basics in your field of study, but it is just the basics, as hard as those final exams were.

The most powerful tool the millionaires has to create and build wealth is never-ending education. Learning never ends for the wealthy.Nothing prepares you for real world. College textbooks have nice neat questions with exact answers. Real life rarely delivers such a neat package. Thinking on your feet and designing answers on the go is vital to success. That is why doctors spend so much time in college and even more time sharpening their skills as interns and in residency.

Once you learn how to learn the world is at your beck and call. What you learn in college can quickly become dated. Your “real” education begins after graduation!  

Many professions require continuing education (CE). Doctors, attorneys, accountants and enrolled agents (a tax professional designation) all are required to take continuing education courses each year. And for good reason. Bad habits can set in and CE can bring behavior back in line. New technologies and changing laws all require more learning, more education.

Application is harder than theory. I see tax professionals and accountants come out of college and struggle when they move from the legal facts to applying those facts in real world situations. Clients don’t always bring in all their paperwork. Some (all too many) are trying to game the system. Your job is to keep clients in line (they didn’t teach you that in college, did they?) and use the material at hand to build the most accurate record.

Doctors face a rude awakening when the classroom makes way for the medical theater. Answers are not always easy to define or find and time is of the essence. It’s an open book test with a human life on the line and the clock speeding forward.

You don’t have to be in a profession to benefit from education. In all facets of my life I have continued learning. Reading is a daily part of life (a big part of life). Every day is a learning experience! Even after all these years of study and thousands of books digested, I still feel like a neophyte most of the time. The more you learn the more you realize there is to learn. It is humbling.

Learning is one of the great pleasures in life, too. Wealthy people find this compelling. They spend a disproportionate amount of their income and wealth on education at all times of their life and enjoy the process. The wonder of discovery never grows old. 

Spending on education is a guilty pleasure wealthy people never skimp on. My personal library has pushed past 3,000 volumes and I make prodigious use of several local libraries as well. I am a sponge for knowledge and people pay me a lot of money to see how I put the pieces together as it applies to them. And there is nothing more pleasurable and fun than that.

 

Millionaires and Insurance

This expenditure of the wealthy might come as a surprise to many. That is because you need to sift the junk insurance from the stuff that matters when it come to building and retaining wealth.

To start, we are not talking about the insurance you purchase for small electronics at retail outlets. If you can’t afford to fix or replace an $86 item you can’t afford the item. This is junk insurance and wealthy people don’t buy it. Besides, most credit cards provide similar insurance for free just for charging the item on their card.

Wealthy people strategically target their insurance spending. It has to protect wealthy adequately or build wealth.

Large assets require coverage. Homeowners should have adequate insurance to protect against large losses. Wealthy people frequently have high deductibles, however. Small losses are easily handler out-of-pocket and insuring for small losses is always a losing game.

Home and auto insurance are more than just protecting the asset’s value. Many wealthy people don’t have collision on their vehicle or have a high deductible. That is because a damaged car is a mild inconvenience when it comes to building serious wealth. 

Lawsuits, on the other hand, are a different story. A minor fender-bender might set you back a few thousand; the lawsuit several hundred thousand and a boatload of time, anxiety and stress.

Wealthy people almost always enhance their insurance with an umbrella policy, extending liability coverage beyond the original policy limits. Damage to property almost always  is a minor issue when it comes to wealth, but a lawsuit can eliminate all vestiges wealth ever existed in your portfolio. And, as already mentioned, it can happen faster than the snap of the fingers.

Other insurances wealthy people use fund legacy planning and business protection. Protecting a business protects the income stream, an important consideration for the wealthy and those soon to be. Legacy planning frequently includes insurance to deal with tax issues, fund charities of choice and provide long-term for family after our wealthy friend departs this realm. You would be surprised how much income can be generated with a proper insurance policy and it isn’t the insurance policy providing the income, only the protection and/or framework to provide such additional income.

Non-wealthy people fight this expenditure the most. I even saw a popular blogger a few years back claim he forewent homeowner’s insurance. I can only imagine the risk and damage readers taking his advice faced. (The real value of homeowner’s insurance in the liability protection, not the casualty coverage, by the way.)

Wealthy people buy insurance that protects against serious losses to wealth while poor people insure items on Amazon with a sticker price under $100. That one simple fact tells a very large story.

The right insurance is important. The insurance agent might not be the right place to go to find out the best values in insurance (insurance agents don’t always understand legal and tax issues). That is why we consult with educated attorneys and tax/accounting professionals. Your accountant and attorney are a vital part of your plan to build and retain wealth, and frequently have a fundamental understanding of all the wealth issues involved, including insurance.

 

Coda

There are other things wealthy people spend on too. The 5 above are areas wealthy people generally do not skimp on. Too much is at stake if they do.

Thinking like a wealthy person is the first step in building wealth. Keep yourself as healthy as possible, adequately protect yourself with qualified legal professionals, also hire qualified people in the tax and accounting field, never stop learning and protect your current and future assets with proper insurance.

You might have other priorities. Many wealthy people travel more than I do, but it isn’t required. Some buy more home than I would feel comfortable living in. To each their own, I say. But the 5 categories above are where all wealthy people focus their spending if they plan on keeping it. That might be a hint you should, too. 

Engage frugality and put the excess monies to work. Learning to save and spend properly is the only way to reach financial goals; to reach true levels of significant wealth.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Guest posts are always difficult. Too often the material that crosses my desk is of very low quality or thinly disguised ads, usually both. I pass faster than a speeding bullet. 

Then there are people I know that I would love to have write a guest post. They are articulate and care about the reader. Unfortunately, they are also busy. However!!! Through good fortune I was able to convince one of these people to to write down her wisdom for you, kind readers.

Debbie Todd has followed this blog for a long time and is a recommended tax pro on the Find a Local Tax Pro page of this blog. Seeing Debbie work with clients on social media has left no doubt in my mind of her level of knowledge, experience and willingness to serve her clients at the highest level possible. 

This post started over a discussion on Facebook. Debbie left a comment and I said I would love to hear all the details about it, preferably as a guest post. It was a lot of work, but she complied. As a result, you get to pull back the curtain and see how things run in a smooth operating tax office that serves clients like royalty and how you can get the same results with your tax pro. I wish I always lived up to those high levels.

Be sure to read to the end. I will copy Debbie’s contact information from the Finding a Local Tax pro page to the end of this post, along with a link to a worksheet you can download. You want that worksheet!

Thank you for the post, Debbie. It will help readers and me alike.

 

Guest post: Debbie Todd of iCompass Compliance Solutions, LLC

 

SECRET INSIDER Bean-Counter Chat Alert – Earlier this year, the Wealthy Accountant and I chatted online about what CPAs and Enrolled Agents like to talk about — innovative ways to serve, educate — and yes, sometimes even boot our clients in their business behind — while keeping our sanity and a semblance of family balance.

I promised to share a couple of strategic tips and a tool I developed that transformed not only my own business, but also generated amazing results for my firm’s clients. Then unexpectedly, LIFE got in the way of delivering on that promise — until now.

I lost two long-term step-parents within 3 months and then both my brothers had major cardiac events. Experiencing sudden and profound change, loss and grief sure puts things in perspective. Not an excuse — but I hope you can relate. Life throws unexpected curve balls which get in the way of best laid plans for your business, your personal life and even your legacy. Decisions matter! Adjust, breathe and take the next step. And the next…

Just as Summer gave way to Fall — and now as our lungs are filled with the brisk air of Winter — know that Spring 2020 is just around the corner. A new season, a new decade and untapped new opportunities await.

Read on to learn how…

 

David or Goliath – What Mattered Most?

The log in the fire is crackling, casting a rosy glow of warmth on the stockings, the twinkling tree and the ribbon-wrapped presents… 

As happens so often during the holiday season, I spend time reflecting on what worked well (and didn’t) with my beloved clients. I muse on the opportunities and challenges they faced in growing their business this year, adapting to new tax rules, employee issues, as well as several experiencing traumatic family events, which suddenly altered some of their best-laid plans.

What tips and tools could I share to allow them to be more successful in 2020 and beyond? I’m their CPA, their trusted financial coach and I take that privilege seriously. So do most of my amazing bean-counter friends.

Whether you are a large international company, a locally owned small business entrepreneur or a trendy global digital nomad, having rock-solid business goals and smart financial processes behind you is critical for your success. It’s not your size — it’s your heart, purpose and willingness to take action. Like David. . . 

Let’s face it, you’re toast without it… and often sooner rather than later.

 

Seizing a New Decade of Opportunities

As I gaze thoughtfully into the log’s dancing flames and scratch our aging Labrador’s graying ears, I realize that in just a matter of days, we will usher in a brand new decade…and brand new opportunities.

With last year’s tax law changes, a plethora of retirement planning opportunities (the SECURE Act, for example), combined with continuing economic growth, this reflection seems more weighty, more impactful and infinitely more exciting than prior years.

So, as a seasoned tax and financial strategy practitioner, I regularly share updates on these opportunities with my clients via email and during our quarterly meetings — but, how do we address (get to know) new businesses who want to join our cherished client family?

 

Communications and our Beloved NCO Triage

Like the log’s embers keep the fire going, providing both light and warmth, having a foundation of trust, clearly stated goals and objectives fueled by open communication, regular review and adjustments — translates to success on both sides of our client relationships.

Think about when you go to the doctor or the emergency room. You want the professionals taking care of you to listen and understand what is going on with you so you can get the correct diagnosis and treatment, right? Well the same holds true for your business or family financial health.

Over the last several years, I have developed what we call our NCO Triage, or New Client Onboarding Triage. It has blossomed to over 7 pages – and NO, this is NOT like your tax organizer. It’s a strategic financial life goals framework that helps me help you turn your dreams from vision into reality.

Yes, it asks questions about your business like what kind it is, what state(s) you operate in, your revenues, status of tax filings, who does what in the finance functions, etc, but also covers key details like a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).

Next, we learn about your life goals… not just for your business, but how your business fuels your life’s passions and dreams. 1, 3, 5, 10 and even 20 years. After all, that IS why you are working, right? Finally, we discuss your communication styles and preferences so we are both comfortable with how we will play together going forward. Ninety-five percent of preventable challenges stem from miscommunication.

So, WHY is this Important?

Keeping an eye on the fire is important. Left unattended, the fire eventually dies out and the cold will seep in. A few strategically placed money tips will keep your financial fireplace warm and toasty.

As stated earlier and without sounding too cheeky (okay maybe just a little) — your cash flows, financial foundations and habits are the lifeblood of your business. Your goals and vision sets the heartbeat and pace with which you operate. Slow and steady wins the race.

Wanna know something cool? Meeting with your CPA or EA can actually be FUN! Seriously…

I just wrapped up Q4-2019 meetings with many of my clients. Most calls start out something like this… ”Hey Deb, I’d like to meet with you for an hour this time. Let’s talk about our financials and the tax items for the first 30 minutes or so. Then I have a couple of ideas I want to run by you, so put on your counselor hat for the rest of the call, OK??” What an honor to help them explore possibilities that will improve their lives. After all, wouldn’t you rather be helping transform your client’s future with smart financial tips and tools as opposed to simply fixing and filing their historical transactions? Seriously, I get just as jazzed up as they do — and LOVE to see their dreams become reality.

 

Key Takeaways and Next Steps for Caring Pros and Smart Clients

Mylie, our Lab, is looking at me with that “Mom, it’s time for bed” look. I get up, turn the Christmas tree lights off and add an all-nighter log to the fire — so it will have energy to burn, keeping our house toasty warm while we sleep and dream.

Fellow Tax and Financial Pros — Key Thoughts AND A GIFT

  1. Proactive Planning with Forward Focus: Understand that your best value as a passionate and knowledgeable financial professional lies in proactively helping your clients achieve their dreams and life goals. Right, wrong or sideways, you can only fix and file past transactions. Instead, help your clients avoid those mistakes in the first place while providing tools to make their future dreams a reality. (Hint: Start on page 4 of the NCO!) Leverage this mindset into your practice’s core values and I believe you’ll both be happier as a result. 
  2. It’s NOT about the Money: This is a lesson I learned the hard way. Don’t compete strictly on price – EVER. Not everyone needs to be your client. Read that again. It took you YEARS of training, countless exams and ongoing research every single year to do what you do and do it well. It’s about VALUE: The amount of money I save clients each year far supersedes their invoice amount. Don’t sell yourself short – your knowledge is worth it.
  3. Equip Your Clients: Many clients are NOT money gurus – they are great artisans in their own field, but need your financial expertise so their business can thrive and grow. Offering monthly or quarterly meetings, a Q4 tuneup and emails of key tips are simple ways you can help your clients go to the next level. Plus, it provides a reasonable revenue stream outside of tax season!
  4. The GIFT: You can download a copy of my NCO and adapt it for your firm’s use. The fun part starts on page 4! Understand, I am NOT giving tax or legal advice and this document does not replace your well-crafted Engagement Letter or professional due diligence procedures. Use the following link:

2019 NCO – New Client Onboarding Triage Initial Questionnaire Template

Smart Clients Wanting to Up their Game (It’s OK if you read the Tax pros list above too)

  1. Identify Your Goals and Vision: As 2020 begins, what do you want to accomplish in the next year or the next decade? Seriously, a little dreaming and planning can make a HUGE difference! Feel free to download the last four pages of the NCO, dream and jot down your thoughts (crackling fire and aging Labrador optional, but highly recommended)!
  2. Plan With Your Tax/Money Pro: If you are not planning with your tax pro outside of annually filing your taxes, you are missing out on a golden opportunity to make small (or even large), consistent improvements to your financial bottom line throughout the entire year. Yes, you should pay them for these meetings too – unless they are already on retainer.
  3. Execute, Review, Adjust, Repeat: Dreams and vision are great, but it’s ACTION that wins the race…100% of the time. I’d rather see imperfect action (within legal bounds of course) than a perfectly procrastinated idea. As part of your meetings, you can set timelines, deliverables, checkpoints and get objective feedback and insights to adjust course, as needed. Then repeat!

I, for one, am truly excited about spending quality time with loved ones and enjoying Christmas – celebrating Jesus and all the wonders we have been blessed with – and those opportunities which await. [Editor’s note: Debbie delivered this to me December 23rd. Your lazy editor didn’t get to it until after the 1st of the year.]

Wishing each of you a joyous, happy and safe Christmas and New Year – AND a next decade that blesses your family and business beyond measure!

Debbie Todd

Your Friend in Financial Wellness, Debbie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact Information

iCompass Compliance Solutions, LLC, dba 1 Hour Impact Firm #5917

Locations we prefer to serve: SW WA or Portland, OR Area. WBE certified in both OR and WA

Contact: Easiest to reach me via email or https://www.facebook.com/TheSpunkyCPA/

Email: deborah.todd.cpa@gmail.com

Areas of practice: Federal and state personal and small biz taxes, Non-Profit – 990s, IRS compliance and remediation, divorce and estates, also small biz startup strategy. Niche expertise in small business interactions with State and Federal Government Contracting.

In person or fully digital capabilities.

Areas of practice you don’t handle: Ex-Pat, valuation disputes, M&A.

Bio: You can learn more here, including govt background- http://1hourimpact.com/about-us/

Interesting tidbit: Special passion for teaching smart early childhood financial literacy using engaging, interactive theater.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Camp Accountant is officially in the books and there was money to be made and taxes to be cut.

There were lots of smiling faces and new friends made. It goes to prove you do not have to be a tax professional to enjoy this stuff. (Anything that keeps money in your pocket automatically generates interest.)

Randy Lappla and Chris Dudley were our guest speakers; I talked (and talked and talked and talked) all afternoon. Let’s break down some of the day’s events.

 

Outlining the best retirement plan for you.

Turning Real Estate into a Cash Cow

 

Randy started us out with a powerful program involving real estate. 

There are many ways to build passive income. Real estate can be one of the best when handled properly. Randy showed us how you can supercharge deductions with income property. 

I’ve published on cost segregation studies in the past. Most people’s eyes gloss over when the topic arises, but that is a huge mistake. That is why I invited Randy to speak with the group.

There are several ways cost segregation tax rules can cut your tax bill. First, you can get outsized deductions up front. If you have owned the property a few years you can catch up past deductions in the current year. Second, with a cost segregation study you can deduct more when you improve your property. We even had an example of how a $100,000 new roof can lead to $150,000 in deductions. Legally, I might add! And third, cost segregation sometimes allows for some tax arbitrage. 

The tax code has changed a lot when it comes to real estate. The advantages are becoming so great you might want to consider adding real estate to your investment portfolio. Real estate was always a powerful wealth creation tool. Now you keep more of your gains than ever.

Randy Leppla’s contact information:

randy@rjl-equitysolutions.com

608-852-6772

 

Sharing ideas at TWA world headquarters.

Taking Your Side Hustle to the Next Level

 

After a short break and snack we had a short presentation by Chris and me. What I wanted people to know is when they need to transform their side hustle into a tax savings tool. 

I talked about when you want to switch from a sole proprietorship to an S corporation and the taxes saved. That requires you get paid a wage instead of just drawing any and all earnings.

Chris is a payroll specialist from ADP and provided details on how ADP can help facilitate the options I suggested. If you think this may benefit you, I can help iron out the process. I’ll help you determine what you want to be paid to maximize tax benefits.

Chris Dudley’s contact information:

Christopher.Dudley@adp.com

414-502-9884

 

Nature walk at Camp Accountant.

Fun Stuff

 

After the morning sessions I broke out in song for the group. Or maybe not. (Had you thinking for a moment, didn’t I?)

All work and no play is really bad for the soul so we filled the middle of the day with a pleasant nature walk to The Wealthy Accountant’s tax office. You could not have asked for a better day to walk the Northwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin. For the record, it has snowed twice in less than a week since Camp. Yes, that would make it a record snow total for the month of October in these parts.

We got bogged down at the office as people asked questions about how I live in my natural habitat. A photo op ensued. 

I shared future plans for the blog and courses soon to be announced. 

We took a shortcut back to Camp for nourishment..

After a long walk and tummies full it was my turn to speak while others slept. (Not a single soul nodded off.)

 

Choosing the Best Retirement Plan for Maximum Tax Benefits and Wealth Accumulation

 

The keynote address was a play on a recently published blog post where I said investing in a traditional retirement account is like taking out a loan. I felt the topic needed deeper discussion.

I started with a word and number play from the book Thinking, Fast and Slow (Amazon affiliate link) to prove how we frequently make poor financial decisions. Once we saw how psychology affected our thinking we were able to see the same mistake/s played out in our retirement plans.

The reason we make financial mistakes is because it seems so simple while it is really complicated.

Where should we put our money first? It was decided the pecking order for investing is as follows:

  • HSA
  • Roth 401(k)
  • Roth IRA
  • Traditional 401(k)
  • Traditional IRA
  • Non-qualified accounts

We gave deferred compensation plans a short hearing, too. 

Then I showed why the ordering is wrong, especially on the last three entries. 

The math proved out, which is always good if you are an accountant. Just as we saw at the beginning of class, we sometimes think “fast” and make the wrong choice. My hope is the room left with a better understanding of when retirement accounts are the right and wrong choice.

 

Wearing an awesome Wealthy Accountant t-shirt in the hot seat (while standing) for Q&A.

Q&A

We ended the day with a Q& A session where attendees could ask anything they wanted about yours truly. 

Tax and money questions soon turned to more personal issues. Folks wanted to know what happen with the Mr. Money Mustache thing. (There really wasn’t much more to add.) People wanted to know why I have distanced myself from the FIRE community. (There wasn’t much more to add to what I have already published.)

I shared several projects I am working on. Then we wrapped it up and called it a day.

I was exhausted. Whew!

 

Housecleaning

 

Many people wanted to attend but could not. All the sessions (and some open mic moments after some sessions) were recorded and placed in a private Facebook group. Attendees get free access. I will be adding several short videos over the next week or so to the Facebook group, providing a short synopsis of each session. (The internet was slow at the venue so video quality is poor. The new videos loaded in the next week or so should remedy that.)

It was decided that anyone could view the sessions, but that would be unfair to those who paid to attend. Therefore, I am granting access to the private Facebook group for $20 for non-attendees. Use the link below. Proceeds go to charity. 




Wealthy Accountant t-shirts.

Finally, I bought extra t-shirts (intentionally). I will use t-shirts as a promotional item in the future with courses offered. Every attendee received a t-shirt. If you can’t wait you can also get an awesome Wealthy Accountant t-shirt for $15 while supplies last. Tax and shipping are included. My total cost for the t-shirts is $9.44. If shipping and sales tax does not bring the cost to $15, the remainder will also go to charity. (The three charities I love to support are: Special Olympics, Bethesda and Doctors Without Borders.)

 


Size

 

I hope all had a good time and learned a lot. This was special for me too. You are all the greatest.

Here is a photo of our alumni.

 

 

Camp Accountant 2019

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Listening to an experienced accountant explain a tax situation sounds like easy work even when the words and numbers sound strange. It is rarely so easy connecting the dots, however.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed December 22, 2017 changed how you are taxed in ways we haven’t seen in over a generation. New opportunities to reduce your tax liability were opened, but the real advantages are hidden from plain view. It takes an experienced hand to ferret out the unexpected connections that can make or break your financial condition.

Today we are going to explore a thought experiment where we outline how the TCJA can super charge your tax savings. But first we have to tell a story.

A Chance Encounter

I spend my days researching the tax code for ways to help clients (that’s you, kind readers) reduce or even eliminate their tax liability. Some ideas are old and well-known. Others are somewhat unique in their application to the specifics of a client’s needs.

Our story starts with a longtime client and a real estate agent.

Wouldn't it be great to know all the tax reducing secrets of tax professionals? Now you can. Check out how accountants reduce their taxes to zero.

Wouldn’t it be great to know all the tax reducing secrets of tax professionals?

In my office there is a family limited partnership with several pieces of commercial property. One of their leases was coming up and I was unable to determine an accurate lease rate. Market rates are changing as real estate values climb.

Since it was my job to advise my client on an accurate lease rate I had my assistant call multiple sources around town to get an appraisal. My client was also interested in selling if the price was right.

After serious vetting we settled on a real estate agent with a history of success in the local commercial real estate market.

I was pleased the agent was wiling to provide a market analysis (a quasi appraisal) without fee. The agent provided the service and hoped to get the business if he did a good job.

My client also had a mini-mall with a vacancy. The current listing agent wasn’t able to sell or lease the unit in years. I convinced my client to get an assessment on this property as well.

The agent preparing the market analysis was fast, efficient and informative. The tenant of the first building we needed to update the lease with also wanted to buy. There was no need for the agent (or the fee) to sell or lease this property.

Good Luck

As luck would have it the tenant of the first building wanted to buy. My client was happy.

I felt it was fair to list the second property with the agent as a gesture of goodwill for his work assessing both properties. The agent did good work, followed up and was professional.

My client dragged his feet. The second building had one vacant unit with nobody working it now. I had to light a fire under my client.

After weeks (it was really a few months) of pleading my client finally relented and decided to let the agent offer the property for lease and sale.

The agent sent his assistant to pick up the paperwork the same day it was signed.

It Pays to Talk with People

It was getting to be 4:30 when the agent’s assistant showed up. I explained we sold the first building and didn’t need his services for that building. The assistant was good with that and understood our reasoning.

I then explained a unique tax strategy (a cost segregation study) that I shared with the buyer of said property. I mentioned to the assistant the buyer would save over $100,000 in taxes even though he was closing on the last business day of the year. These tax saving would be the result of a $300,000 first year deduction for owning the property a single day of the year!

People who know me understand how quiet I tend to be (dad, stop laughing). You can’t pry a word out of me.

Okay, I enjoy deep conversation that leads to massive results.

As I talked with the assistant I explained how the TCJA made it easier than ever to never pay income tax again. As we talked I kept building a bigger and bigger pyramid of tax savings strategies involving real estate. Many of these strategies would help the agent’s clients.

Needless to say, he took several of my cards. I reduced taxes for local businesses by several million dollars in less than one and a half hours. That short conversation opened a can of worms that will benefit this accountant’s communities for years to come.

And it was only possible because of the chance encounter with the agent. I knew all these things, but until that moment I hadn’t put the pieces together. Months of relentless research gave me the tools to excel at helping my clients in their tax matters as it pertained to the new tax laws.

And this is where you come in, kind readers.

The Gift that Keeps Giving

What I am about to share is merely a thought experiment. I will use large and round numbers because it is easier to understand that way. Many of these ideas will work for people with lower incomes. But in the end I will show you how you can have a million dollars in gains, pay no tax on said gain and end up with a $400,000 loss on your tax return you can use to offset other income.

Do I have your attention yet?

I hope so. This is new; this is novel, but it will work. The tax law is clear. What I am proposing can reduce your income tax to zero with extra deductions is case you have other income you need deductions against!

You will also seriously consider selling income properties you currently own to use this information. In fact, you may want to pass on like-kind exchanges (the old, and still usable, way to defer taxed on real estate) in the future. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Step-by-Step Profits

The best way to understand my strategy is see it in action step-by-step. Because there are several ways to apply this strategy I will provide multiple solutions to the word problem.

Background:

Before we start I need share a few things that have changed in the tax code. Like-kind exchanges are a way to defer the gain on business or income property you sell by transferring the gain to a replacement property. While this tax strategy is still available for real estate, it is nixed in 2018 and after for business property. Capital gains from other investments are always taxable, until this year.

I sometimes get complaints that my tax strategies don’t apply to everyone. This is true. Not everyone can benefit from every strategy. The goal is to provide a framework that is understandable and modifiable for personal needs. While this works best for property owners with large gains, it can be tailored to lower incomes as well. It also assumes you have capital gains as that is our starting point. Wages and business income are not the driver of this strategy. If you want to reduce business income taxes you can read this. Wage earners should probably focus on retirement plan first as these provide significant deductions.

Starting Point:

We start with capital gains since real estate and the stock market have been climbing for a good decade now. The gains in these investments are huge and a real problem to diversify without incurring a large tax bill.

Real estate might seem easier since like-kind exchanges (sometimes known as 1031 exchanges) are still available. But a like-kind exchange requires a replacement property be identified within 45 days and closed within 180 days. And all your money stays in the replacement property to receive the tax benefit. (You can borrow against the equity of the replacement property after closing, but this costs you interest.)

It is easier than ever to reduce your income taxes to zero. Read how the wealthy and tax professionals pay no income taxes.

It is easier than ever to reduce your income taxes to zero.

With this in mind we need to deal with either large unrealized stock market gains or a piece of real estate with a large gain over basis (purchase price plus improvements minus depreciation).

For our example we will consider a stock investment (mutual fund, ETF, index fund, individual stock or other asset with an unrealized gain) with a $1 million unrealized gain and/or a piece of real estate with a large gain if sold.

The good news is that ALL capital gains are now super easy to avoid with a Qualified Opportunity Fund. I will not get into all the details of Opportunity Funds since I published recently on the topic in detail, available through the link.

For our thought experiment we can realize a capital gain from a real estate or investment sale and avoid reporting of the income currently. A million dollar gain can be deferred to 2026 and only 85% is taxed at that time with deflated dollars.

But Opportunity Funds are more than deferred taxes with a small tax reduction enhancer! All the gains within the Opportunity Fund (not the original gain, but gains on the capital gains invested in the Fund) are tax-free if held for 10 years or more.

Another benefit of Opportunity Funds over a like-kind exchange is how much needs to be reinvested. With the like-kind you need to buy a replacement property of equal or greater value to defer tax on all gains. Under the new rules only the GAIN needs to be reinvested in the Opportunity Fund within 180 days. The basis you can do whatever you want with.

Example: You have a duplex you bought for $200,000 and depreciated $50,000. You sell the property for $500,000. You can pocket your remaining basis ($150,000) and invest the taxable gain of $350,000 in an Opportunity Fund, avoiding any tax on the gain until 2026. (We will disregard depreciation recapture in this discussion so the examples don’t get muddy.)

Example: You bought $100,000 of Apple stock and now want to diversify without tax implication. Your Apple stock is now worth $1,000,000. You sell the stock, invest the capital gains in an Opportunity Fund and use the original $100,000 for whatever you want. Only 85% of the $900,000 capital gain will be taxed after 7 years and all the profit the $900,000 generates is tax-free after 10 years in the Opportunity Fund.

A Better Idea:

Selling your appreciated assets (investments or real estate) is only the starting point on your journey to tax-free freedom. Remember, you only deferred most of the gain. And if you have other income (business income, wages, dividends, interest or rental income) in need of deductions to avoid income taxes currently, you need another step.

Enter, real estate.

I assume you are not adverse to income property ownership in this stage of our game.

In our above examples we have large capital gains we deferred gains on and either $100,000 or $150,000 of basis we could do whatever we want with. I suggest buying a good piece of income property.

By good income property I mean a property that cash flows. You may need to buy something further from home base and utilize a property manager. This is probably a good thing regardless.

Without the necessity of replacing a property with an equal or greater value you have more choices. A half million dollar property doesn’t need to be replaced. Instead, with your basis from the sale, you can buy an income property that cash flows right out the gate and get more tax benefits.

Let’s jump to the cost segregation study again. You can read more with the link, including who I refer my clients to for a cost segregation study.

For a cost segregation study to work the property involved needs to have an original basis (generally the purchase price) of $300,000 without considering the value of the land.

The basis from the original sale in your pocket is perfect for a down payment on the property we are eyeing.

Example: Assume we buy a new income property (or properties) for $700,000. Under current tax rules a cost segregation study will turn approximately $300,000 of the purchase price of the building into a deduction the first year!

What this means: Think about this for a second. You sold a stock or rental property with a massive gain. You deferred/avoided tax on the complete capital gain by investing said gains in an Opportunity Fund. Then you decide to use the basis from the original investments as a down payment on an income property and conduct a cost segregation study. This equates to a $300,000 deduction on your tax return while avoiding tax on the capital gains! If you are a real estate professional or use grouping you can use this deduction against other income still being taxed.

But wait!!!

If you buy right now we will include this free pocket calculator. Keep it even if you return the product. It’s our way of saying. . .

Okay, I got carried away.

But I’m not done. there is even more!

Why You Want to Sell NOW!

Up till this point we played with big numbers with a focus on real estate. Deferring capital gains from any source is simple under current tax rules. A $30,000 mutual fund gain is easily deferred/avoided just as easily.

But what about landlords. If you own real estate now you might want to consider selling!

Remember our thought experiment above where we defer gains and apply cost segregation studies on new properties? If you already own real estate with gains you have an additional tax planning tip.

Cost segregation studies are possible on properties you held for years. The tax benefits are still tremendous.

However, unleashing gains on existing properties is a powerful way to spike cash flow!

More isn’t always better so I always recommend property managers for the day-today tasks of property management. Your job is to buy the right properties at the right price. Rinse and repeat. The manager/s should handle the rest.

Example: In this example we will start with three income properties you owned for 10 years. We’ll assume you have a combined basis of $500,000 on these properties with a market value of $1 million. A cost segregation study on each of these properties is inadvisable (each property is less than $300,000).

They say taxes are for the poor. No more. Keep your hard earned money where it belongs: your pocket. The rich have many ways to avoid taxes. Here are three you can use.

They say taxes are for the poor. No more. Keep your hard earned money where it belongs: your pocket.

If you keep the properties your cash flow grows only as fast as market rates for the three properties. You pay tax on all the profits after expenses.

Unless you sell!

That’s right. Sell the three properties. Invest the capital gains in a Qualified Opportunity Fund and use the $500,000 basis as the down payment for a larger value property where a cost segregation study will work well.

Assume we find a multi-unit complex for $1,000,000. The half million capital gain is in Qualified Opportunity Funds avoiding tax while the other half million is available for any use you want. Whether you use all the excess money from the previous sale or borrow more funds to purchase the complex, you will realize around a $400,000 deduction under current tax rules due to the cost segregation study. This massive deduction is available to reduce your other income property profits or income from other sources in many cases.

If the three income properties were throwing off $4,000 a month, the complex should be doing the same or more and the cost segregation study will generate a deduction to eliminate the tax on these profits. (Your taxes would be low or zero in this example if you had no other reportable income so other factors must be considered before you proceed.)

Example: Here is another example worth considering. Let’s say you’ve owned a property for decades and depreciated the property to the land only. The property is throwing off oodles of cash flow, but it is all taxed because there are few deductions (mortgage is paid off,too) and no remaining depreciation.

Capital gains from the sale would go to a Qualified Opportunity Fund to defer/avoid taxes once again. Buying another property to replace the lost cash flow opens the opportunity for a cost segregation study.

I didn’t use numbers in the last example for a reason. The idea is to provide a framework you can tweak to your personal needs. The idea is to keep cash flow pouring in while reducing or eliminating income taxes from any and all sources. The only way to do that is with a new piece of property.

Coda

Taxes are complicated and getting worse. Today’s thought experiment is not meant as a definitive guide to eliminate taxes. Rather, my goal was to help you think differently about taxes and strategy.

The tax code may seem straight forward, but the real benefits come from putting the pieces together. I asked my Facebook followers if they would like a program to reduce their taxes to zero. The response was overwhelming. I asked the same group what taxes they wished they could avoid taxes on this year. Capital gains came up often.

We didn’t cover every type of income or every income level. The idea is to plant a seed in your brain so it can grow.

The TCJA is a massive piece of legislation. The advantages are hard to grasp in the basics and putting the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together in a way that benefits you is even more difficult.

What I provided above should have been a pleasant exercise. You can see how the new puzzle pieces have increased the opportunities to reduce your tax liabilities.

It might be a good idea to read this a few times and even save it. Share it with friends (enemies don’t deserve this level of tax savings). You might even want to use a highlighter on key points:

  • Sell with no current capital gains tax using Qualified Opportunity Funds and
  • Buy quality real estate where a cost segregation study works well to eliminate all other income taxes.

Below I include the regular list of additional Wealth Building Resources I attach at the end of posts over the last half year or so. You can find cost segregation links easily there from all current posts.

Finally, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to taxes. Now is the easiest time to reduce your tax liability in over 100 years. Use this opportunity to fuel your net worth.

These good times are unlikely to last forever.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted late last year opened a variety of opportunities for average people to reduce their tax burden. The biggest advantage of the tax cuts for individuals is the reduced tax rates and extension of income in the lower brackets. Itemized deductions also pay a serious role in how the changes in the code will affect your final results next spring.

Gaming the standard deduction was less of an issue in the past. Now, with the standard deduction at $24,000 for joint returns ($12,000 for single filers and $18,000 for head of household) there is ample opportunity to reduce your tax bill. Exemptions are gone so many will face higher taxes in this area. State and local taxes (SALT) are limited to $10,000 in 2018 – 2025. With the standard deduction so high and SALT limited to such a low level, most people will no longer need to itemize.

For every problem there is a solution. Today we will cover each deduction on Schedule A and look for alternatives. Pulling deductions from Schedule A (even if you don’t itemize) and deducting them elsewhere on the return is akin to legally double dipping. That is our mission. We want to have our cake and eat it too. If we play this right you should manage a big juicy standard deduction while deducting a large portion of each expense as well.

Medical and Dental Expenses

Medical expenses were always a high hurdle to overcome with the 7 ½% (10% in some cases in the past) of AGI reduction of qualified medical expenses. There are several ways to remove numbers from this section and deduct them elsewhere.

If you have a qualified medical plan you can contribute to a health savings account (HSA).

Your employer may offer a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). The employer sets the amount available to employees. Unused portions can be rolled into the following year if the employer allows. If unused funds are not allowed to roll to the next year it becomes a “use it or lose it” plan.

Certain restrictions exist for self-employed persons. People with a side gig/side hustle or small business can use a Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA). QSEHRAs require administration. The cost is minimal, but the rules complex enough that you will want professional help. My office recommends Take Command Health for administration. The tax savings are well worth it.

Employers may cover annual physicals and other medical expenses as an employment requirement. The cost is born by the employer and the employer also gets the deduction.

Investment property owners and those with self-employment income can also shift some medical expenses from Schedule A. Small business owners can deduct most medical insurance premiums on the front page of Form 1040 as an adjustment to income. A landlord who is hurt while working on an investment property will have a medical expenses related to the investment property and are therefore deductible against the rental income. A self-employed semi driver can shift medical expenses required to drive a commercial vehicle from Schedule A to the business part of the tax return.

State and Local Taxes (SALT)

This is the issue that started all the problems. There is a cap on SALT deductions of $10,000 from 2018 – 2025 unless Congress changes the code. Several high tax states have devised plans to work around the issue, shifting the expense to the charitable contributions line of Schedule A. The IRS nixed the idea and at least two states have sued. Because the IRS allowed similar schemes in the past when it involves college funding the court will have a serious consideration on its hands. When the issue clears up I’ll let you know.

The problem affects all states. The higher your income, the more likely this becomes an issue. Texas, a state with a reputation for low taxes is really a high tax state. The sales tax and property taxes more than offset the income tax free part of the Texas tax code.

We don’t have to wait for the courts to decide the outcome before we skin this cat. (My apologies to all the cat lovers of the world. For the record, my cat, Pinky, just clawed me in protest as I wrote this.) Property taxes can be partially shifted to an office in the home if you have a business or investment properties. The office in the home must be “regular and exclusive” and it is worth the effort to meet the tax code requirements.

Be sure to report personal property taxes related to a business or investment property on the appropriate form and not on Schedule A where it has limited value.

Interest You Paid

There is more incentive than ever to pay off the mortgage early. You can shift some of the mortgage interest to an office in the home as proffered above.

Investment interest has significantly reduced value under the new tax rules. Margin accounts should be avoided. They’re a bad idea to start with (buying investments with borrowed funds) and the deductibility of the expense is now also limited.

Gifts to Charity

There is some minor good news on charitable deductions. Cash donations were limited to 50% of AGI in the past with the remainder carried forward for up to five years. The deduction limit for cash is now increased to 60% of AGI.

Still, the goal is to reduce Schedule A to a nonevent on your tax return. If we reduce deductions to less than the new higher standard deduction we can, in effect, double dip.

I’ve published on this strategy in the past. The strategy is more powerful than ever under the new rules. Taxpayers with business income or investment properties can shift normal contributions to charity into promotional/advertizing expenses for the business.

It works like this. Instead of donating to the charity of your choice, ask the charity about any upcoming events and sponsor said events. Your business or rental properties get a nice plug in the brochures handed out at the event and probably a prominent display of your company logo and contact information. While this may not be the best way to grow a business, it is a powerful way to build community goodwill for your company! It’s also a business deduction. You can support your favorite charities and get a deduction, too.

Landlords need caution when applying this strategy. Deducting a $20,000 sponsorship when you only have one small duplex in the low rent side of town is unlikely to pass the sniff test! On the other hand, if you have five duplexes around town and you sponsor an event for $1,000, it probably falls within acceptable parameters. Landlords should have a business name: ABC Rental, LLC, for example. By having all your properties under one umbrella it allows the sponsorship to promote all your properties.

Casualty and Theft Losses

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated casualty and theft loss deductions except for casualty losses in federally declared disaster areas. Even if you are in a federally declared disaster area, the first $100, plus 10% of AGI, doesn’t count. Example: If your AGI is $100,000, the first $10,100 of casualty losses in federally declared disaster areas doesn’t count.

There are few options if you suffer one of these losses. Business owners can deduct the loss as a business expense.

The loss/theft might qualify as a capital loss. This is a stretch for most situations, but you should be aware of the possibility in case it happens. Capital losses are reported on Schedule D where there are no restrictions like Schedule A. Schedule D losses are limited to $3,000 per year, plus all capital gains.

Casualty and theft losses are reduced by insurance coverage. If all or most of the loss is covered by insurance there is little or no opportunity to deduct expenses. More than ever, adequate insurance of assets is indicated.

Miscellaneous Expenses, Subject to 2%

Miscellaneous expenses, subject to 2% of AGI are eliminated for 2018 – 2025 under the current code. There are still a few planning opportunities for those who plan.

Unreimbursed employee expenses is the biggest issue in this section. It is important to have a serious discussion with your employer on your out-of-pocket work expenses. Your employer gets a full deduction on most of these expenses while you get nothing if they are not reimbursed! It might be worth a salary adjustment to make room for reimbursed expenses. Example: If you typically have $5,000 per year of work expenses, any salary reduction less than $5,000 with full reimbursement of work related expenses is a win for you and a nice tax deduction for the employer. Employers: this can be a valuable employee perk that pays both you and the employee. A true win/win.

Tax preparation fees are only deductible as they apply to the business or rental property portion of the return. A lot of accountants miss this. If your tax preparation fee is $500, a portion is for the personal part of your return (no longer deductible) and a portion is for the business (Schedule C and other related business forms) and rental property part of the return (Schedule E). Ask your accountant to break out the prep fee (required by the IRS to deduct). Your accountant can list $250, for example, as the portion of the prep fee attributed to the business portion of your personal tax return. This $250 can be deducted on the appropriate forms (Schedule C for small business, Schedule F for farms and Schedule E for income properties).

A safe deposit box used for business or income properties is deducted on their respective area of the return instead of Schedule A.

This section of Schedule A catches a lot of minor deductions. Think the deduction through before writing it off (pun intended). On Schedule A it is now worthless. But, if it is an expense related to a business or rental property . . .

Union dues are the remaining big item. I wish I had an answer. If any of you kind readers have a suggestion, let me know. Union dues are no longer deductible until the tax code changes or I figure out a work around. Don’t hold your breath.

Other Miscellaneous Deductions

This is the last section of deductions on Schedule A. These deductions are not reduced by 2% of AGI.

We will focus on the two most common items reported in this section: gambling losses and claim repayments.

Gambling losses are reportable on Schedule A up to gambling winnings. The best way to avoid tax problems is to stop gambling! The odds are against you. As budding accountants you know better. There, I said it. Now on with the show.

If you insist on gambling, at least keep a daily log of your results/sessions. You can use gambling sessions to remove losses attributable to gains in the same session on the front page of Form 1040. Most states follow federal on gambling sessions so the tax advantage stretches to the state return for most taxpayers.

Gambling sessions don’t remove all the losses from Schedule A, but it should shift a serious portion of the losses from Schedule A to the front page of 1040 where they have value. You can read more about gambling sessions here.

The other big item in this section of Schedule A is claim repayments. We are not talking about business or investment property repayment issues. Those are reported on their respective forms.

A common repayment is unemployment benefits. The claim repayments reported on this section of Schedule A are taxable items of income on a previous tax return. Repayments of items not reported as income on a prior return are not deductible.

We’ll use unemployment benefits as our example. Repayments made in the year the income was received is adjusted where the income is reported. Example: You receive $2,800 of unemployment benefits and are later required to repay $200 of the benefits. You repaid in the same year you received benefits. You adjust the reported $2,800 to $2,600. No itemizing required.

All claim repayments reported as income in a prior year under $3,000 must be reported on Schedule A. Repayments over $3,000 can also be reported on Schedule A, but you want to use an alternative method. There is a planning opportunity here.

For repayments over $3,000 you can calculate a credit for the repayment, reporting the credit on page 2 of Form 1040 (line 73 on the 2017 return). In the margin write 1341, to inform the IRS of the code section you are using for your right of claim.

You calculate the credit by going back to the return the income was reported on. Calculate the prior return without the income repaid in the current year. The reduction in tax is the credit.

Final Notes

I covered what I feel will be over 90% of the issues surrounding Schedule A and the available solutions for moving the deduction to another area of the return. This, in effect, allows a bit of double dipping. You still get the new, outsized standard deduction while still claiming a serious portion of the actual expenses.

Unfortunately, not everyone will benefit from these strategies. However, with the volume of options provided there should be at a least a few options available to most readers.

If you have any creative ideas to divert deductions from Schedule A to areas of the tax return where they have value I’d be happy to hear them.

Remember, an expense is worthless until you get a write-off.

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Stalking humans.

A new tax guide arrived late last week: The Complete Analysis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It’s what I consider light reading on a Sunday afternoon.

Tax season is over, but tax planning is more important than ever with the new tax laws and changes. Consulting and planning with clients started May 1st and continues strong. I’m booked out until mid-July. If you own a business or investment properties you need to consider consulting with a tax professional to take full advantage of the new Qualified Business Income deduction.

One problem from earlier in the year has probably corrected itself. Withholding tables were adjusted in early February to account for the elimination of exemptions and the new tax brackets. The new tax tables overcompensated by under withholding. This meant people would pay less tax while getting a smaller refund or even owing! It was a timing issue of when you would actually pay your tax liability.

Mid-April brought revised updated withholding tables correcting the issues. Preliminary analysis of client files show the new tables handle around 60% of withholding correctly. The reason for the 40% error rate is the elimination of exemptions. The good news is that the withholding tends to err on the conservative side, creating slightly higher refunds than the original withholding tables.

It might pay to review your tax situation this year. The last decade or so had modest annual changes to the tax code. This year is radically different. New deductions, expanded tax credits and extended tax brackets created opportunities to reduce your tax liability if you plan properly. This extra money funneled into an index fund or reducing debt should have long-term positive affects to your wealth creation. You have a window of opportunity to reach financial independence and early retirement funded by the tax reductions.

All is not rosy. The limits placed on state and local tax deductions (SALT) coupled with the elimination of itemized deductions, subject to 2%, means some taxpayers will see a tax increase.

Contact me if you are interested in a consultation. Be sure to review Working with the Wealthy Accountant before hitting send.

I’ll need a copy of your 2017 tax return and a list of questions prior to our meeting so I can adequately prepare. Sometimes I can do more than just cut taxes. Several clients were able to reduce their expected larger refund and funnel it into a Capital One 360 or similar savings account where the interest on the lowered withholding will exceed my fee. Each situation is different so I need your information to provide the best advice. Keep in mind I consult on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week only. I sometimes open another day, but I do have other obligations consuming my time.

Winner’s Circle

We have three winners since the last Stalking installment. Gretchen D of Birmingham, Terry C of Dallas and Cindy M of Rapid City, SD saw some Amazon gift card love slide their way.

What I’m Reading

Bill Gates contacted me the other day to share a book he found interesting. He is well aware of my love for good books and was excited to share another gem. The conversation went something like this:

Bill: Hey, Accountant guy! I have an awesome novel you must read.

Accountant Guy: Bill, you know I don’t read many novels anymore. It better be darn good to break me away from my regular science and financial planning books.

Bill: Trust me! You’re going to love this book.

So I dragged my feet for a year before I decided I needed a comfortable summer novel to disappear into. Enter Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves.

Anyone for some light reading. The book only cost your favorite accountant $85.

Seveneves starts with the moon blowing up. The book alludes that it might have been a micro black hole racing through our neck of the galaxy. Regardless, people didn’t know what caused the catastrophe. The event split the moon into several large pieces. A few days later the first two large pieces smashed as gravity brought the pieces back together, creating smaller pieces. Scientists realized the collisions would continue breaking the moon into smaller debris. It also meant a large amount of moon debris would eventually hit the Earth.

Mankind has two years to get to space if it wanted to survive. The International Space Station was the beginning building block of a larger space habitat. A few thousand people were brought to space to wait out the Hard Rain that would turn Earth into a boiling inferno where no life could survive. To keep the Ark manageable, DNA and DNA data were transported to the Ark.

Space is unforgiving. The Hard Rain came and the Earth was destroyed. A safe haven was finally achieved by the Ark with one problem: only eight women were left alive. One woman had reached menopause. The seven Eves were all that remained of the human race and its hope for a future. The human race was all but extinct. These seven women would use technology brought from Old Earth to bring humanity back from the abyss.

The novel picks up 5,000 years later when Earth is ready for life again. I don’t want to spoil it for you so I’ll stop here.

Seveneves is hard to put down. It isn’t light reading either, as I teased at the open of this section. It is classified as hard science fiction, something I do enjoy. If you want a solid novel to fill a few sunny afternoons or early evenings, consider Seveneves. It’s worth your time.

 

 

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Wisconsin announced a special one-time $100 (per child) sales tax rebate. It seems the state treasury is overflowing so the legislature decided to get the money divested as soon as possible. This rebate applies to 2017 tax returns!

It is unlikely tax preparers will notify clients since the cost of doing so will exceed the income derived from the work brought in. This article will outline the simple steps necessary to claim your sales tax rebate.

If you have dependent children you probably qualify for the rebate. But, you can only claim the refund from May 15th through July 2nd! After July 2nd the rebate is lost if you haven’t applied by then. You can’t apply before May 15th either as the website only contains program details prior to May 15th.

 

Who Qualifies?

The sales tax rebate is for sales and use tax paid in 2017 for raising a dependent child. Only one person can claim the rebate! No recordkeeping of actual sales taxes paid is required.

If you claimed a dependent on your 2017 Wisconsin tax return, the dependent was under age 18 on December 31, 2017, is a Wisconsin resident and U.S. citizen, you meet the eligibility requirements for the rebate.

The rebate is $100 per qualified child.

There are two ways to claim your rebate from May 15th through July 2nd:

  • You can call 608-266-5437 Monday – Friday (excluding holidays) from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or,
  • Apply via the internet at https://childtaxrebate.wi.gov.

Note the website only has program details until May 15th when they go live. I’ll add screen shots and a step-by-step guide to this post if it looks like people are having problems claiming their rebate.

When applying for the rebate, have your 2017 tax return handy. Verify you claimed/are able to claim the child/children on your 2017 tax return.

Wisconsin did not provide a timeline for release of funds, but in the past Wisconsin has issued refunds in 8 weeks or less.

Please share this with Wisconsin friends and family. If you have a blog, share with your readers if any are from Wisconsin. Share this page (or the information thereon) on your social media pages.

 

Final Note

My office will handle rebate requests for clients if they contact my office. Non-clients can also call my office to have us handle the request for rebate as time permits. Since the rebate amount is small I will only ask a donation amount of your choice. All proceeds will go to charity. I’ll update the charities supported on a future Saturday edition of “Stalking the Accountant”.

Stay tuned.

 

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Finance is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Finance is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to skyrocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

 

 

Determining your tax filing status can be tricky at times. I see the same questions on social media and a few times per year in my office where people are confused on what filing status to use when they are estranged from their spouse. On the tax subgroup in Reddit the question popped up a few times this tax season already and with two new clients in the past week.

I included a decision tree to help you determine your filing status. However, there are details that didn’t fit within the decision tree neatly so it is important to read the text of this post to assure you are using the correct filing status.

There are several reasons when you may want to consider filing a separate return from your spouse. In rare instances your combined tax liability is smaller. Example: spouses have widely different incomes and one spouse has a very large uninsured medical expense.

A more important reason to file a separate from your spouse is if you suspect malfeasance. If you file a joint return and your spouse under reports income and/or overstates deductions and/or credits you are liable for the tax debt if the IRS discovers the irregularities.  The only way to sever liability on a joint return is if you signed under threat or duress. Threat or duress is very hard to prove and the IRS has a history of denying relief when there are no reports of abuse to law enforcement.

The final reason to file a separate return is because you have no choice because you don’t know where your spouse is. This is more common than you think. The Reddit subgroup above has similar questions every tax season. As mentioned, two new clients had this issue in my office in the past week.

If you can’t find your spouse or she/he refuses to file a joint return, you have limited options. The decision tree in this post is an easy way to visualize your choices. In short, if you lived with your spouse at any time in the last six months of the year you must file either a joint or married filling separate return. If you lived apart the last six months of the year and provide more than half the support for yourself and child you can file as head of household. Where no children are involved you are limited to MFJ or MFS. If you are legally separated or the divorce is final you can file as single. You will need the services of a competent attorney if you can’t find your spouse to facilitate a legal separation or divorce proceedings.

There are tremendous negatives to filing a MFS return. Many credit are lost (earned income credit, adoption credit and child and dependent care credit are a few). Education credits and the student loan interest deduction are unavailable on a MFS return. If you own income property the passive activity loss limit is reduced to $12,500 ($0 if you lived with your spouse at any time during the year).

If your spouse itemizes on a MFS return you MUST also itemize, regardless if you have any Schedule A deductions or not. If you can’t find your spouse or he refuses to communicate with you, you will not know if he itemizes so you may have no choice other than to itemize.

You report only your income and deductions on a MFS return unless you live in a community property state (AZ, CA, ID, LA, NV, NM, TX, WA and WI). In community property states you report half the community property income and deductions. If income and deductions are not reported to the other spouse the benefits of community property law can be lost. Community property laws can be circumvented fairly easy if the taxpayers live apart.

Let’s review the decision tree and review the notes that follow.

Use the decision tree to determine your filing status. Use the notes below for further explanation of special situations.

Notes to the decision tree: If your spouse died during the year you can still file a joint return for the current year. If you paid over half the costs of keeping a home with dependent child you can file as a qualifying widow/er for the two years following the death of your spouse. A qualifying widow/er enjoys the same advantages of a MFJ return.

Temporary absences for education or military service do not count as living apart.

If you sign a release of exemption as a custodial parent and would otherwise be allowed the dependent exemption you can file as head of household if you lived apart from your spouse the last six months of the year.

A parent does not have to live with you to claim the exemption if you provided more than half the cost of keeping the parent’s home for the entire year.

 

The simplest part of the tax return can become a confused mess when unique situations make an appearance. The raw number of requests involving a missing spouse required me to publish on the subject.

If you have additional questions leave a note in the comments. I’ll try my best to answer questions promptly. During tax season and when on vacation I’ll need more time to respond.