Average refunds are down more than 8% compared to last year due to the recently enacted change in tax laws. The primary culprits for lower refunds are:
Reduced State & Local Property Tax Deductions
Reduced Tax Withholding from Paychecks
The shock of a lower refund or even worse, having to owe has been all too familiar to taxpayers residing in the Tri-State area. If you need assistance in helping to prepare for next year by learning how to increase your tax withholding or speaking with a tax professional about your property taxes, contact us at (888) APRIL-15 or click “Book Appointment” above.
Whatever one chooses to call them–tax cuts or tax reform–there may be some big changes to your tax return in the future. Below are some key takeaways to consider when developing a tax plan to minimize what could be steep tax increases in the future:
Popular Deductions are Being Eliminated or Reduced
If you itemize your deductions (file your tax return with a Schedule A) you may bear the brunt of the tax increases. State & Local Tax (SALT) deductions are now capped at $10,000. Likewise, if you recently purchased a new home or property, the mortgage interest is being capped at the first $750,000 of the principle. Deductions for interest on home equity, job expenses and certain miscellaneous deductions have being eliminated entirely; this includes union dues, uniforms, work supplies, investment advisor fees & tax preparation fees to name a few.
What this all means is that taxpayers need to take a real close look at whether it is still beneficial to itemize deductions. In some cases, it may be better to take the standard deduction. In others, it may be possible to take 2018 expenses this tax year. Every taxpayer’s situation is unique. If you feel these changes will have a negative effect, we suggest you seek out a tax professional to develop a comprehensive tax savings plan.
Double Check Your Withholding Status & Your Refund
The IRS has recently released new withholding table guidelines. In a nutshell, the IRS is guiding employers to REDUCE the amount of withholding for their employees. This essentially will INCREASE the amount of employee’s take home pay. However, if you normally get a tax refund each year, it’s important to remember that the size of your refund is basically determined by the amount you direct your employer to withhold. While it’s nice to see a larger weekly paycheck, it might not be as nice to “kick the can down the road” and see a significantly smaller refund or worse–to owe money to the IRS.
The IRS is putting the onus on you–the taxpayer–to make sure your withholding–and thus your refund–is correct. R&G Brenner suggests you consult with your employer’s Human Resources or Payroll department to determine what your withholding was last year, and what it will be this year. It should be possible to increase your withholding to ensure that your refund amount remains in an area you are comfortable with.
Delays &…More Delays
If the above changes aren’t enough to pull your hair out, why not throw in some delays to boot: The IRS is not accepting any returns for filing until 1/29/18. This is the longest delay to the start of tax season in recent history. Furthermore, if you normally file your return with tax credits like the Child Tax Credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the IRS hasn’t even released a date when they will accept those returns; all we know is that it certainly won’t be before 2/15/18. If you can’t afford or simply don’t want to wait this long for your refunds, R&G Brenner has introduced two new SAME DAY refund advance products:
Walk into any R&G Brenner location today, and qualified candidates can walk out with as much as $2,800. Note: these are limited time offers
RGB Shield: Identity & Audit Protection
Identity theft–especially concerning taxes & the IRS–is an ever increasing problem affecting millions of taxpayers each year. $16 BILLION was stolen from 15.4 MILLION U.S. consumers last year! In order to combat this epidemic, R&G Brenner has introduced “RGB Shield”: For only $65, get 1 year of identity and also receive 3 FREE years of audit protection. This includes protection for any penalties, interest & unpaid tax liability up to $2,500 at nearly a 50% discount ($120 retail for Identity protection alone; not including audit protection). This is a special offer for R&G Brenner clients only.
The shutdown of the U.S. Government has added a new wrinkle to all the above issues. According to the FY2018 Lapsed Appropriations Contingency Plan (During the Filing Season) the start of the tax filing season–1/29/18–will proceed as planed. However, if the shutdown lasts more than 5 days, these plans may be reassessed. In other words, as of this writing–1/22/18–the IRS has 3 more days before changes can be made.
Visit our website for more information regarding any tax related matter, or simply click “Book Appointment” to schedule a meeting with an experienced R&G Brenner tax professional and we’ll help you navigate this new tax environment.
Yes you read that right. The IRS plans to go forward with hiring Equifax to verify and validate taxpayer identities in the wake of their massive systems breach. If you missed the news (because apparently the IRS did), hackers were able to obtain confidential financial information—including social security numbers—of 145 million users; which now equates to the largest US data breach in history.
Outraged by the IRS’s decision to hire Equifax, some members of Congress spoke out including Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). He recently told Politico:
“In the wake of one of the most massive data breaches in a decade, it’s irresponsible for the IRS to turn over millions in taxpayer dollars to a company that has yet to offer a succinct answer on how at least 145 million Americans had personally identifiable information exposed.”
The IRS continues to defends it’s choice, stating that the service Equifax was hired for will not put U.S. taxpayers personal information at risk. They will, however, keep a watchful eye on their new hire.
If you have been affect and/or would like to find out if your were affected by Equifax’s breach you can do so by clicking here. However, we advise caution before using services to ascertain Equifax exposure. According to the terms and conditions, users that access Equifax’s systems to determine if their information was compromised are voluntarily giving up their rights to sue and/or join class action lawsuits against Equifax.
If you would like more information about this breach or would like to to speak to an R&G Brenner professional, contact us toll free at (888) APRIL-15 or via web by clicking here.
While the details are just emerging and the final plan is sure to change, the tax overhaul that Trump & the Republican party recently unveiled has clear beneficiaries; and early indications are it is NOT the “middle class”. In fact, according to this analysis, Trump’s tax plan will see the majority of the benefits—i.e. tax cuts— to the rich; particularly the top 1% & 0.1%.
In Indianapolis last Wednesday, Trump outlined his proposal and stated, “…the biggest winners will be the everyday American workers as jobs start pouring into our country, as companies start competing for American labor and as wages start going up at levels that you haven’t seen in many years…”. This is your classic “trickle down economics” argument that has been made for decades; that by cutting taxes on big businesses and the wealthy, the average American worker will see the benefits work their way down to them in the form of higher wages and more jobs. The only problem is that study after study has shown these benefits never really reach the middle class. Staying true to theory of trickle down, Trump proposes slashing taxes dramatically for Americans who earn north of $730,000 a year.
What’s in Trump’s Tax Plan?
Although far from finalized, the main points of the plan that affect Individual taxpayers are:
Reduce the tax bracket from seven brackets to three: with tax rates of 12%, 25% and 35% percent with a possibility of adding a fourth bracket.
Doubling the standard deduction from $6,000 to $12,000 for individuals and from $12,000 to $24,000 for those married filing jointly.
Creation of a new tax credit for non-child dependents while increasing the current child tax credit.
Elimination of most itemized deductions but keeping the mortgage interest and charitable giving deductions. Tax incentives for retirement saving and education plans will be retained; i.e SEP, Traditional, Roth IRA’s and 529 college saving plans etc.
As far as business & corporate taxes, this proposal is just as ambitious. In President Trump words: “This will be the lowest top marginal income tax rate for small and midsize businesses in this country in more than 80 years…”. Under this plan, businesses and corporations would see:
A decrease in overall tax rate from 35% to 20%
A new tax rate of 25% for “pass-through” income for businesses like sole proprietorships and partnerships which currently make up nearly 95% of all businesses which are taxed at the rate of their owners.
Limitation of the deductibility of corporate interest expenses, in exchange for the option to immediately expense business investments
Preserves tax credits for research and development and low-income-housing from a business standpoint.
Although the tax plan has a vast amount of changes for individuals & business on many levels, the benefits overwhelming favor the affluent and business owners.
How is the Public Reacting to the Trump Tax Plan?
Proponents of this tax plan for companies are overjoyed: “An encouraging step forward in our shared goal of a tax system that delivers higher economic growth, job creation and wages that our country desperately needs.” said Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase and the chairman of the Business Roundtable. John Stephens, the AT&T chief financial officer, said it was “A big step toward meaningful reform that would encourage more investment and job creation in the United States.”
Opponents like Edward D. Kleinbard, a tax expert at the University of Southern California law school calls Trump’s Tax Plan “a very cynical document…The extraordinary thing about the proposal is that we know that it loses trillions of dollars in revenue, yet at the same time the only people we can identify as guaranteed winners are the most affluent.” Even Republican Rand Paul recently came out against Trump’s tax plan calling it a “middle class tax hike”.
This analysis from the Tax Policy Center above clearly illustrates how the current tax proposal favors the wealthy; particularly the top 1 percent and top 0.1% them. Pay particular attention to the Share of Total Federal Tax Change. It breaks down U.S. income earners into 5 categories—from those making the least in the lowest quintile to those making the most in the top quintile. As you can see, the top quintile reaps a whopping 86.6% of these potential tax cuts! The other 4 quintiles combined would only realize 13.4% of these cuts. Parsing these numbers even further for the top quintile the majority of tax cuts go to the top 1% (79.7%) and the top 0.1% (39.6%) which equate to an average tax cut of $207,060 & $1,022,120 respectively. Most Americans don’t even come close to earning the amount of money the top 1% would gain in tax cuts.
Time & time again, Trump has pledged on the campaign trail and as President that the middle class will see the rewards of his tax cuts and it was time for the rich to pay their fair share by closing tax loopholes amongst other things. However, it is hard to come to any other conclusion than this tax plan, if passed, would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy and not the middle class. In fact, this plan may create even more tax loopholes that would directly benefit wealthy families.
How Does Trump’s Tax Plan Affect You?
If the previous health care battles are any guide, the political fight to get these cuts enacted will be fierce and has only just begun. This means that the ordinarily taxpayer can most likely expect tax filing delays—similar or worse than in recent years—while congress bickers…especially for taxpayers who file early. It will be a while before we can really dig into the ultimate affects of whichever Trump’s tax proposal is ultimately passed. One thing is for certain: In it’s current form the only real beneficiaries to this proposal are those that make nearly a $1 million or more annually. Because of all this uncertainty and the prospect for an increase in taxes for the middle class, hiring the services of a Tax Professional this tax season may be well worth the money as they can help you navigate this complicated tax climate as well as potentially unlock benefits you might ordinarily overlook.
If you’d like more information about out how Trump’s existing or eventual tax proposal will affect you, feel free to contact us via the web or call us toll-free at (888) APRIL-15 to speak to an R&G Brenner Tax Professional.
Please feel free to comment below on Trump’s proposed tax overhaul.
The declaration permits the IRS to postpone certain deadlines for taxpayers who reside or have a business in the disaster area. For instance, certain deadlines falling on or after Aug. 23, 2017 and before Jan. 31, 2018, are granted additional time to file through Jan. 31, 2018. This includes taxpayers who had a valid extension to file their 2016 return that was due to run out on Oct. 16, 2017. It also includes the quarterly estimated income tax payments originally due on Sept. 15, 2017 and Jan. 16, 2018, and the quarterly payroll and excise tax returns normally due on Oct. 31, 2017. In addition, penalties on payroll and excise tax deposits due on or after Aug. 23, 2017, and before Sept. 7, 2017, will be abated as long as the deposits were made by Sept. 7, 2017.
If an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date that falls within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the telephone number on the notice to have the IRS abate the penalty.
The IRS automatically identifies taxpayers located in the covered disaster area and applies automatic filing and payment relief. But affected taxpayers who reside or have a business located outside the covered disaster area must call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 to request this tax relief.
As of 9/5/17, the following Texas counties have been approved for extended IRS deadlines:
Taxpayers can download forms and publications from the official IRS website, irs.gov, or order them by calling toll free 800-829-3676. Contact an R&G Brenner tax professional if you require assistance; (888) APRIL-15.
The IRS is offering this relief to any area designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as qualifying for individual assistance. Parts of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are currently eligible, but taxpayers in localities added later to the disaster area, including those in other states, will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief. The current list of eligible localities is always available on the disaster relief page on IRS.gov.
The IRS has implemented a significant change to Partnership tax returns. In past tax seasons, the due date for Partnerships was the same as the due date for personal returns; usually around April 15th. However, starting for tax year 2016 (calendar year 2017) the new due date is March 15th.
If you file Partnership tax returns In order to avoid processing delays as well as any late payment penalties and potential interest charges, be sure your return is e-filed or postmarked by 11:59pm on March 15th.
If you have any questions or would like assistance filing your Partnership or other business or personal tax returns, please contact us toll free at (888) APRIL-15 or contact us via the web.
At R&G Brenner, one of our cardinal rules is that we try to remain apolitical. Simply put, the acrimony and division exhibited these last few elections cycles has clearly increased in frequency & intensity. R&G Brenner services thousands of clients across all political spectrums, and it is simply not good business to potentially upset even one of our clients. However, when speaking about a subject like health care, it is impossible not to dive into politics; and this is really is the crux of the problem: How did health care become such a political lightning rod? Furthermore, is a “for profit” health care system sustainable or doomed for failure regardless if one thinks “Obamacare” or “Trumpcare” is better? These questions are all made exponentially more difficult living in a time when “fake news” has distorted fact from fiction. Nevertheless, here is an attempt at answering these questions, and why the conclusion will show that regardless of the ultimate outcome of “Trumpcare”, “Obamacare” is under attack from many different angles & being starved; all but ensuring it’s failure.
A quick trip down memory lane: The year was 2009. President Obama was greeted with the worst recession the U.S. ever experienced. Stocks plunged. Banks & Financial firms disappeared. Savings evaporated. Millions lost their jobs. Hundreds of thousands walked away from their homes. It’s easy to forget how serious the state of the global economy was in. On the surface, it was puzzling to many pundits and pols alike why Obama’s first order of business would be health care reform as opposed to focusing on the economy. However, when you look at the data that health care expenditures made up a whopping 16.5% of the U.S. GDP in 2009, health care premiums were skyrocketing every year, millions of Americans could not obtain health care due to preexisting conditions, millions more used the hospital emergency room as their primary health care provider (and many didn’t or couldn’t pay the bills) contributing to the rise in overall costs, it’s not hard to see that health Care reform was not only an economic issue, but also a moral one. I think everyone would agree that no American should ever have to decide between living under crippling debt…or dying. Obama decided that he would expend his political capital on Health Care reform; and expend it he did: Political incitement & fear created a growing chorus of socialism, death panels, birther conspiracy theories, Obama negotiating in “secret”, “ramming it down the American people’s throat” & “keep the government out of my Medicare” (Medicare is government run) which eventually gave rise to the Tea Party movement and ultimately cost the Democrats majorities in both the House & Senate. While the truth of these claims can (and have been) debated ad nausea, what can not be debated is that these were clearly politically effective tactics. Nevertheless, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law and was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court. It has been a political lightning rod ever since.
Fast forward 8 years and enter “Trumpcare”; currently known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA). On the campaign trail and throughout the early days of his administration, President Trump has called Obamacare a “disaster” and promised to replace it with something “terrific“: more choices, cheaper plans, greater coverage & “insurance for everybody”. These lofty promises would be considered extremely difficult even with a unified party. However, not much is known about Trumpcare. Why? Well, because nobody really knows what in it yet as it was negotiated in secret and rammed through committees in the dead of night; all before the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assesses the bill. This irony is not lost on Democrats or anyone who is watching the GOP engage in the very tactics they howled about when the Democrats were the majority party in power. But, this type of hypocrisy has become the norm in today’s political landscape. Besides, it is no guarantee that Trump will be able to garner the support he needs from his his own party to pass an Obamacare replacement (and its foolhardy to believe he can rely on any Democratic votes). Simply put, the steady diet of questionable fear-based claims that were fed to GOP/Tea Party constituents essentially amounted to Obamacare destroying the fabric of American values. This type of absolutist rhetoric makes compromise not only a dirty word, but down right impossible; not only with bipartisanship, but within the Republican party. What the recent town halls in Republican districts have shown, is that the fear surrounding an Obamacare repeal and losing health insurance is very real. While it’s not wise to judge a bill before it’s final form it is very hard to see how Trump will be able to keep his promises of a “terrific” health care plan when his own party is unable to agree & unify behind a legitimate alternative; especially when estimates show up to 10 million may lose their insurance coverage under the AHCA. This puts the GOP is in a very tenuous position; will they be able to overcome all the roadblocks they have created for Democrats which they now find in their own way and deliver on their promises? Or will the chickens come home to roost?
A Dangerous Game
Regardless of the fate of an Obamacare replacement, this much is clear: Republicans are playing a very dangerous game. “Death panels” never were a real thing. But if the GOP passes a bill that takes away or makes it impossible for someone previously covered under Obamacare to get insurance, that is playing politics with American’s lives. Trump appears to be discovering that Health Care reform is very complex. Obamacare is a huge piece of legislation that took months to complete. It became clear after the ACA was implemented, that improvements were needed as the flaws began to reveal themselves. But at this point, bipartisanship changes to a a law that passed with a single Republican vote was a fantasy. Rather, Republicans dug in their heals and tried & failed to get Obamacare repealed…62 times. Republican resistance centered around a) making Democrats own Obamacare entirely; something they proclaimed would be an immediate failure and b) accepted dogma that everything the government does is bad and everything the private sector does is good. While there are certainly valid reasons to pare down government, the notion that EVERYTHING the government does is bad has proven to be false: Police & Firemen do not ask if you paid your taxes before running into a burning building or replying to a distress call…and nor should they. But this is the corner the GOP has painted themselves into. As a result, since Obamacare’s inception, more and more insurance companies have left the insurance exchange markets. Those that railed against Obamacare have warned for years of a “Death Spiral”; that costs and care would spiral out of control and lead to Obamacare’s demise. However, doing nothing to improve the law and making it unattractive for insurers to stay in the exchanges was also good way to ensure this self-fulfilling prophesy. Nevertheless, the “death spiral” didn’t occur; even with this methodical chipping at the foundation which the ACA was built upon, Obamacare still survives…that is until now.
One of the most contentious (and very important) aspects of the ACA is the individual mandate; that those of a certain age must obtain health insurance or pay a penalty on their tax returns for failing to carry insurance. These penalties gradually increased and maxed out this tax year at $2,085 per family. This negative-incentive was essential to a) ensuring the pool of insured was large enough and comprised of younger & healthy individuals to make it attractive for health insurance companies to cover higher risk individuals (i.e. those with preexisting conditions) and b) for those that opted to forego insurance, the assessed penalties (which would be reflected on their annual tax returns) would cover the subsides issued to lower-income taxpayers. Without the individual mandate a “death spiral” would be inevitable. As such, the IRS very quietly announced the following a few weeks ago:
“…The individual shared responsibility provision requires you and each member of your family to do at least one of the following:
Have qualifying health coverage called minimum essential coverage
Qualify for a health coverage exemption
Make a shared responsibility payment with your federal income tax return for the months that you did not have coverage or an exemption…
This year, the IRS put in place system changes that would reject tax returns during processing in instances where the taxpayer didn’t provide information related to health coverage….However, the Jan. 20, 2017, executive order directed federal agencies to exercise authority and discretion available to them to reduce potential burden. Consistent with that, the IRS has decided to make changes that would continue to allow electronic and paper returns to be accepted for processing in instances where a taxpayer doesn’t indicate their coverage status…”
In other words, the IRS has interpreted Trump’s executive order and will no longer reject tax returns that do not indicate their insurance coverage status. Furthermore, Trump has indicated he may not to enforce the individual mandate. Critically, the decision to Repeal, Replace or do nothing to Obamacare is irrelevant. Coupled with the insurance companies fleeing the exchange markets, failure to enforce the individual mandate will surely spell the death knell of Obamacare.
Why is this so dangerous? Well, In the 7 years of fighting tooth & nail against anything short of repeal, Republicans did not offer a single alternative plan until they were forced to a couple of weeks ago. Trump & the GOP has already set the doomsday clock in motion on Obamacare; all without a viable & workable alternative in sight. Furthermore, Trump doesn’t seem troubled by this. During a recent meeting with Conservatives, Trump’s nonchalant message was thus: Don’t worry, if our bill fails, we’ll just blame the Democrats. Not only is this an extremely cynical approach, its extremely irresponsible.
Regardless of political affiliation, as a human being, this should not feel right. Being in the minority “opposition party” has proven to be politically beneficial; its easy to criticize when you are not expected to offer alternatives. However, now that the GOP is in power, will they bare the level of responsibility expected of the majority party. Early returns suggest they will not. Will the GOP be able to shirk the blame for destroying Obamacare and pretending it “failed on it’s own”? Will the GOP decide it is better to let Obamacare fail then to take the political risk of owning their own replacement? Is it even possible to sustain a “for profit” health insurance system? Is the only viable solution a single-payer or “Medicare-for-all” system? Absent a congressional “Kumbaya” moment of coming together for the greater good of the country (which does not seem possible for the foreseeable future), we may soon get the answers to all of these questions. The only remaining question is: will the majority party in power risk the lives of thousands—even millions—of Americans to reveal these answers? This is the most frightening question of all.
After delays to the start of the tax filing season, and additional delays for tax returns with certain forms like the earned income tax credit & the additional child tax credit, the IRS is now accepting ALL tax returns for processing!
Because of these delays, the IRS has received about 6 million less returns compared to last year (down over 17%). This means tax professionals and the IRS will be very busy for the next 3-5 weeks. We encourage all new & repeat clients of R&G Brenner to schedule their appointments as soon as possible in order to get their preferred date & time slot; we expect heavy traffic in our offices right up until April 18th.
I hope you and your family had a pleasant 2016 and we are looking forward to seeing you again soon. Like last year, we are letting our clients know about what surprises this tax year has in store for us. With the election over and a new incoming administration there is a lot of uncertainty swirling about. Here are some of the important tax changes & information we are aware of that may affect you:
EITC & Child Tax Credits Are Delayed
Yes, unfortunately you read this correctly. The IRS is not processing any refunds with the following tax forms until February 15th, 2017: The Earned Income Tax Credit, Additional Child Tax Credit & The American Opportunity Credit. If you normally file on or around 2/15, this should have little effect on you. However, if you file earlier, I urge you to plan accordingly for this delay & save additional funds if you depend on your tax refund for expenses. We are also expanding our Refund Advance Options to help R&G Brenner clients who may be affected by this (below).
Expanded R&G Brenner Refund Advances
If you rely on your refund, and these delays will seriously affect you, don’t worry; R&G Brenner has multiple refund advances for qualified R&G Brenner clients. But hurry! These are limited time offers:
If you or members of your family did not have health insurance for 2016 be prepared to get hit with the largest penalty yet: $695 per Adult, $347 per Child or 2.5% of your income (whichever is greater). The maximum penalty per family is $2,085. Ouch, this is more than double the penalty for 2015. Even if you have health insurance already, it is worth checking what’s on the exchanges before you renew as premiums are expected to jump over 25% on average in 2017. And with the Affordable Care Act on the chopping block, expect even more confusion. If you’d like any assistance with health insurance, click here to speak with an RGB Health Rep.
$50 CASH per Referral is Back!
Last year we paid out almost $500,000 in CASH to clients just like you, and we are doing it again this year. For every new client you refer, you will get $50 CASH! Unfortunately, many clients did not know about this great promotion, so we are making it even easier: You can now conveniently refer your friends and family online; click here to start referring and earning cash. Remember: There is no limit to how many clients you can refer and as soon as your referral commits to filing with R&G Brenner, you will be notified via email to come pick up your cash. Taxes may never be fun, but they are rewarding with R&G Brenner.
If you’d like to discuss any tax related matter please contact us when you are ready. You can also schedule an appointment on the right side of this page. I wish you and your family a very happy new year and we hope to see you and your family in 2017.
Very Truly Yours,
Benjamin K. Brenner
CORONAVIRUS ALERT: Office hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. These remote client filing options are encouraged. Drop-offs & in-person appointments are available at select locations with appointment. Masks are required upon entry.
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