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Recent Tax Court decision could wreak ha

Glover v. Comm, a recent tax court decision, presents several issues to Merchant Mariners. Mr. Glover worked for Reinauer Transportation. His tugs pushed oil coastwise as far as Virginia. The tugs wou

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Recent Tax Court decision could wreak havoc on Mariners

State Taxes and Mariners

Suz asked this question So, what about if you live in one state (TN) and work as a merchant mariner in another state (HI), 45 days on/45 days off rotation? Do you pay HI state taxes, or does the payro

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State Taxes and Mariners

Mariner Tax Update January 2011

E-Filing alert! How many times have you read that mariners cannot E-File? How many websites have posted this. Year after year. And then all of a sudden preparers start proclaiming “mariners can

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Mariner Tax Update January 2011

Employee vs. Non-Employee LLC and S-Corp

I’ve been a client of yours for a few years now and I had a general tax question concerning my wife’s job status. She currently works full time for a marketing firm in “Deleted”

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Employee vs. Non-Employee LLC and S-Corp Planning for Mariners and their families

Maritime Tax Preparers and the Alternati

What they don’t want you to know… This video points out the tremendous effect of the AMT on merchant mariners. Seamen taking business deductions and offsets may very well be realizing litt

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Maritime Tax Preparers and the Alternative Minimum Tax

Ebayers Beware

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by on January 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm

You may be next…

Of the nearly 19 million taxpayers who filed a Schedule C (showing profit or loss from a business) between January and July of 2010, 25% reported a net loss on the form and 65% reported a net profit of less than $25,000. Another 6% reported profit of between $25,001 and $50,000, leaving just 4% with net earnings above $50,000. (A Schedule C listing revenues and expenses is supposed to be attached to the 1040 of taxpayers who operate businesses as unincorporated sole proprietors, including those who are paid by companies as independent contractors and those who sell online through eBay, Amazon.com and other Internet sites.) The big question is are you a hobby?

Uncle Sam Says

The following factors, although not all inclusive, may help you to determine whether your activity is an activity engaged in for profit or a hobby:

  • Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • Do you depend on income from the activity?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
  • Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past?
  • Does the activity make a profit in some years?
  • Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

Point being – those extreme losses you’re incurring year after year may be a big indication of your business being a hobby. Keep an eye out for future legislation that may be more aggressive in shifting the burden of “for profit” proof back to the taxpayer.

Employee vs. Non-Employee LLC and S-Corp Planning for Mariners and their families

2
by on January 10, 2011 at 8:12 pm

I’ve been a client of yours for a few years now and I had a general tax question concerning my wife’s job status. She currently works full time for a marketing firm in “Deleted”. She intends to cut back to a part time status where she can pick and choose which projects to work on. Some people in her field create their own “small business” if they are contracting out their services. She has the option to stay on her company’s payroll or to create herself into this “business.” I don’t know what the pros and cons are to this move tax wise. We are currently living in the “deleted” Area and I am still going to sea. If you could give me a little advice I would really appreciate it.

To LLC or not to LLC… That is the question… Or is it?

First off – like political economic theory – this is (more…)

Maritime Tax Preparers and the Alternative Minimum Tax

6
by on January 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

What they don’t want you to know…

This video points out the tremendous effect of the AMT on merchant mariners. Seamen taking business deductions and offsets may very well be realizing little to no benefit from these offsets. It also examines some alternatives that may or may not assist in alleviating the effect of the AMT. It’s important to examine the short term and long term benefits of tax strategies. Tell your tax planner your short and long term goals.

AMT Effect on mariners incidental per diems

These expenses, like all employee business expenses are subject to AMT limitations. When a mariners income gets to a certain point, these deductions have little to no effect.

Mariners in the situations outlined in the video should pursue long term tax planning strategies to address AMT. Bogus Sailor tax offsets will not be effective.

Homeowners Penalized

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by on January 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Mid February for Schedule A Filers

Imagine this…

Your boss comes in. Says “we’re going to make some adjustments to one form”. The adjustments were finalized in mid December. The “adjustments” are essentially repeating what you did last year. You tell your boss “yeah it’ll take me about 2 months…” This is what happened. We have essentially a carbon copy schedule A, and the IRS is anticipating mid February for implementation.

According to the IRS, itemized deductions on Schedule A “include mortgage interest, charitable deductions, medical and dental expenses as well as state and local taxes. In addition, itemized deductions include the state and local general sales tax deduction extended in the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 enacted on Dec. 17.”

Ask your preparer if they can take you before the forms are finalized. My office will have no issue with this. Some software platforms won’t be able to produce returns until the finalization date.

What if I prepare my taxes beforehand

If you’re e-filing you’ll need to wait until the forms are approved. Your return will be e-filed once this happens. I would anticipate some backlogging at that point as there will be a lot of returns beaming in that day.

Bottom line is we’ll see :)

in Hot Press

Bracket Hedging

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by on January 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Mariners should optimize the standard and itemized deduction

You just got a great job off the board. You just got your license. You just started shipping. You just graduated from the Maritime Academy. These events all scream change from a tax perspective. Our tax system takes a reverse psychology approach – the better we do, the more they get. It’s a disheartening blow that we wish we could alleviate. There are some planning tactics that can help. Where should we start looking for tax savings. Let’s look at our Uncle…

You get a very large, free deduction from Uncle Sam

It’s not unique to Merchant Seamen. It’s the standard deduction. Many years ago, our selfless leaders took it upon themselves to provide a deduction that would be representative of the cost of living. Now a days it’s about $6,000 for single individuals. You are allowed to use this deduction on your tax return as an offset.

Basic Tax Formula -

  1. Income – you take any income that is not excluded and combine it
  2. Adjustments – you deduct any adjustments (student loan interest, etc…) that you are entitled to
  3. Standard or Itemized Deduction – you subtract your standard or itemized deduction (whichever is larger) from your adjusted gross income (AGI)
  4. Taxable Income – After the previous offsets we go into the tax tables and determine your tax… We’ll stop at this point…

Important terms…

  1. Marginal Tax Rate (MTR) – the rate at which (more…)

Gambling Income and Various Windfalls

0
by on December 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Bite the Bullet?

I remember the night as though it was yesterday. I was in Vegas… At Caesar’s…. I walked up to the slots in the far corner of the casino. I had changed a hundred in quarters (yes, they were still using actual coins then). I was playing 5 coins a pull. A few spins, and nothing…. And then – lights, bells, and excitement… I hit the jackpot…. 10,000 coin payout ($2,500 in cash)…. I was overwhelmed with excitement. But then I had a realization…

It wasn’t the taxes

I realize that would be the conclusion in this forum… But taxes were the furthest from my mind. See I was 18 then. And besides attracting a ton of attention, the high jackpot hits come with a visit from the casino staff. They need to issue a W-2 on the spot. But again… Taxes were the furthest from my mind.

I’d like to say I walked out with the cash… But all they handed me was my 5 quarters back from the winning pull. Lesson learned.

Hindsight

I’ve rarely had the good fortune of a huge payout at the casinos since that day. I’m also more apt to frequent the blackjack and poker tables now a days. But what happens? What can we do when we hit the big jackpot? Several things. Let’s go through a few scenarios.

You won $5,000

Nice… Depending on where you’re gambling they may withhold Federal taxes on the spot. Someone with a $75,000 income won’t be horribly effected by this type of windfall. If you’re already itemizing remember that you can deduct gambling losses up to the extent of winning. I’d figure about a $1,200 Federal tax hit without gambling losses (the State will depend on where you reside). In Massachusetts, 5 cents on the dollar is fair. States like Massachusetts don’t allow you to deduct gambling losses (only the price of the winning ticket), so you will face the tax blow here.

You Won $50,000

This is a slightly different playing field. Clients don’t generally have $50,000 in gambling write offs so it presents a predicament. This will nudge you into another bracket most likely. Probably fair to say about $13,000 in Federal taxes before write offs. The $75,000 baseline income is going to be severely jarred by this increase in income. Odds are that income will not be this high again in the next five years. That makes this is a prime year to allocate offsets and deductions. Several approaches…

  1. Track your gambling. See accepted logging methods later in this article.
  2. Dump a loser – no not the relationship type… If you have stocks with built in losses unload enough to have a $3,000 overall loss. This will help lower the brunt of the tax blow in this uniquely high marginal tax rate.
  3. 401(k)/IRA’s – I’m not the type to jump out of my chair when it comes to for AGI retirement planning. But in this case it is offsetting high bracket income.
  4. Are you already itemized and past the 2% floor? This could be a good year to load up necessary business expenses.
  5. Did you pay the State???? If you’re the type of person who doesn’t pay their State taxes until the following year, think twice… State taxes paid are Deductible!!!! Actually if you overpaid the State it would probably help even more. Just make sure they have the check by Dec 31. Recapture will be in a lower tax bracket – never mind the time savings.
  6. Married? Engaged? Not that this is a SOLE reason to tie the knot, but depending on respective earnings it could certainly lessen the blow.
  7. Got Kids? Want some? I know this sounds off the wall. But perhaps your sister, brother, uncle, or girlfriend who has been living with you brought a few bundles of joy along as room mates. Point being, you might meet all requirements to claim the kids (and relatives for that matter)… If you do, this certainly would be a good year to investigate this.
  8. Do you own a rental property or other passive interest with suspended losses? This might be a good year to sell. When $$$ is too high we have to wait until complete disposition to put the suspended losses on the books. A superheated tax return may be enough of a straw to break that camels back.

What doesn’t help?

Less helpful approaches -

  1. Medical expenses – with a 7.5% floor, you’re most likely not going to be able to recognize any deduction whatsoever.
  2. Partnership and trust hedging… Depending on the bottom line this may or may not be effective. Fact is that as income increases we lose the ability to deduct passive losses. You may well be having suspended losses carrying over to a year when your income and tax bracket are lower. Many of these half cocked ideas come from substance. The problem is that the income has to be within the entity (the books are balanced within the trust, partnership, s-corp, etc….) Otherwise there are too many roadblocks.
  3. And many more – You really need to examine these instances on a case by case basis

You won $1,000,000 +

It does happen! Several clients have won large lump sums… Several have also taken out structured payments (annuities)

Things to remember -

  • Liability protection – with this type of income, a trip to a decent estate planner is warranted. People tend to slip in fall in a millionaires driveway more often than normally. Specific trust and estate planning may shield you from severe liability down the road.
  • Married? Be warned… As the lottery cash payouts exceed the five million mark the percentage of couples who REMAIN married exponentially approaches zero. Wives initiate divorce proceedings on a 2 to 1 ratio.
  • Debating between a lump sum and cash payout? Throw this onto the fire. That annual payment would be considered part of your estate for medicaid purposes. Meaning 20 years from now, the State will take it. I’ve worked with several clients who had their annuities purchased at a large loss.
  • Beware of the propositions… Many companies will pitch you with various tax schemes stating they can substantially reduce your overall liability. These normally turn out to be bogus. The IRS doesn’t care… They will keep you on the hook for the balance due, interest and penalties….

I won a prize?

I had a client who won a lamborghini several years back. Problem is he still doesn’t have it. He won it in Vegas and was required to prepay the taxes before receiving the prize.

  • Remember you can offset these winnings with eligible gambling losses
  • Unless this prize is something you would have purchased regardless, consider a buyout option. You will be paying taxes on the retail version. You may well be better off with an addition on the house as opposed to a helicopter.

Recordkeeping -

We all know about keeping receipts. Gamblers are also permitted to log their gambling activity to account for losses. Keep in mind that these logs are not given Cohen rule leeway and have been historically been scrutinized with a fine tooth comb. Make sure your logs are properly documented according to standards.

Professional Gambler

A possibility. Advantages? You’re able to offset losses above the line on a Schedule C (not subject to limitations). You have to meet profit and business standards. You’re not a pro just because you dropped $20,000 in the casino.

Always keep in mind that the regs change daily. We usually don’t want to think about collateral effects when we have a big win. It’s certainly worth investigating your options – before December 31… After that – all bets are off…

An examination of married joint and separate filing status

0
by on November 9, 2010 at 12:32 am

With this ring we pay less?

It was July…. Hot summer day. I was in my office trying to close out a couple of projects… Hoping to get to the marina before 6… My phone rings. I’ll never forget. It was one of my clients mothers. She had her daughter on the other line. I’d known her daughter for several years. Smart girl. Loved her career. Took advantage of its’ uniqueness. Bought a rental property at her favorite ski hole. Took the time to enjoy the opportunities shipping provided.

Why was mom calling?

“I need you to do me a favor.” she said. “Can you please explain to her how much she would save in taxes if she got married!!!”

Tricky situation for anyone to be put in. Professionally, I have an obligation to provide an informed opinion within my profession. “What does he do for a living?” I ask. “He sails out too… We make about the same…” she said. “Well then, getting married will probably make the tax burden a little worse.”….

“What!!!” mom screamed, as her plan was crashing through the floorboards. “I’m sorry” I said, “but these two are already prime candidates for the marriage penalty”.

What is the marriage penalty?

In the beginning – which is 1913 from the Federal Income Tax perspective, there was a general “bucket” for all types of taxpayers – be it single, head of household, married, etc… There have been many changes to the structure of filing status for the income tax over the years. Our current revision of filing types took form under tricky Dick in 1970.

Point being, married status was made during a different period. In 1970 $10,000 was a fair salary, a high end Ford Mustang convertible ran about $4,000, a new house was about $23,000, and e-mail was a postage class… There was one other aspect that plays a key role from the tax perspective – a married household had one wage earner on average. The structure of filing married was developed under the assumption that only one spouse worked.

Back then if I earned the average household income of $10,000, I could have owned the house and the Mustang outright in less than 3 years. Now days we have an average household income of $50,000, a high end Mustang runs $40,000, and a new house (sparingly) runs at $250,000. The same purchase will take just short of six years. The time to acquire the assets has doubled. This is one reason that everyone works in 93% of modern American households.

Pitfalls of married joint

A single income household will recognize a large benefit from filing married jointly. The tax rates are lower, threshold phase outs for many credits and deductions are higher, refundable credit allowances are higher, etc…

Three big issues -

  1. When we combine a two income household, one income gets stacked on top of the first – meaning it will be taxed very aggressively. It can effectively neutralize the benefit of the lower tax brackets.
  2. The higher phase outs for credits and deductions is not “twice” as big as it would be if you were single. Generally the factor used is 1.5 – meaning a dual income household will pass the phase out point quicker than comparable single filers.
  3. We don’t get a higher range or phaseout on everything. Two examples are capital and passive losses. If we sell stock and have a net capital loss of $50,000, we can deduct a maximum of $3,000 annually – single or married…. Passive loss limitations stay at $25,000 regardless as well.

So I’ll Just File Married Single?

Not the same. A common misconception. First, there is no married filing single status. It is married filing separate. Second, it is not the same as filing single. Deductions and phase out limitations have to be allocated between the two separate returns. It is generally more expensive to file this way.

The main reason couples file married separate is that they do not want to have any involvement in their spouses financial or tax matters – aka married Tony Soprano :)

When does it become a concern

We could fill books with statistics and histories. Here’s the readers digest approach… If both spouses work, things will get more difficult past an AGI of $110,000 and will be outright miserable as you approach and pass $200,000.

So start planning now. See what you can do to offset income before it becomes an issue. Just like sailing – preventative maintenance eliminates the need for damage control.

Do Mariners Pay State Taxes?

2
by on November 5, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Does Residence Determine Liability?

First, let’s start with the basics. If you weren’t working as a Merchant Seaman and you worked in a State, you would be liable for State income taxes to the state you worked in.

Say Billy is a plumber. He lives in Massachusetts and works in Rhode Island. He would file and pay taxes to Rhode Island as a non-resident.

Does Billy Get Taxed Twice Then?

Usually not. Your State of residence generally allows a credit for taxes paid to another State. There’s two instances where this could be an issue.

  1. You live in New Hampshire and work in Massachusetts. You would pay Massachusetts income taxes as a non-resident. You wouldn’t be able to deduct the taxes paid in New Hampshire as that State has NO income tax.
  2. You live in a State with a lower tax rate than the State you work in. Generally your credit can only equal the amount that would have been due in your State of residence.

Then why aren’t mariners taxed this way?

Understand it isn’t because you have a Z-Card. It is because of the nature of your employment. When we dive into USCS Section 46 we find a section that specifically addresses the State taxation of mariners.

(a) Withholding.– Wages due or accruing to a master or seaman on a vessel in the foreign, coastwise, intercoastal, interstate, or noncontiguous trade or an individual employed on a fishing vessel or any fish processing vessel may not be withheld under the tax laws of a State or a political subdivision of a State. However, this section does not prohibit withholding wages of a seaman on a vessel in the coastwise trade between ports in the same State if the withholding is under a voluntary agreement between the seaman and the employer of the seaman.

(b) Liability.–

(1) Limitation on jurisdiction to tax.– An individual to whom this subsection applies is not subject to the income tax laws of a State or political subdivision of a State, other than the State and political subdivision in which the individual resides, with respect to compensation for the performance of duties described in paragraph (2).
(2) Application.– This subsection applies to an individual–

(A) engaged on a vessel to perform assigned duties in more than one State as a pilot licensed under section 7101 of this title or licensed or authorized under the laws of a State; or
(B) who performs regularly-assigned duties while engaged as a master, officer, or crewman on a vessel operating on the navigable waters of more than one State.

So Mariners pay their State of residence?

Usually, yes. Foreign articles are rarely an issue. Coastal Voyages meet criteria as well. There’s a few instances where there can be an issue.

  1. You work on a harbor tug. It never leaves the harbor of a city. It is not engaged in interstate transport.
  2. You work on a ferry that never completes a foreign voyage and stays in one state.
  3. You work on a drill platform that does not constitute a foreign voyage.

By definition, these can cause issues in determining exemption from liability. Maritime professionals working in the Gulf of Mexico should also be aware that the Gulf Zone Opportunities Act may provide additional aid in obtaining specific tax status.

Student Loan vs. Mortgage

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by on November 4, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Should I keep my student loans or should I roll them into my existing mortgage? How much lower should my mortgage rate be for it to make a difference?

Usually this is a quick yes… If all the stars are right. If you were refinancing and were able to pay off a student loan, it’s probably a good idea.

Loan Factors

If rates aren’t hurt because of this and closing costs aren’t increased drastically you’re saving in the long run by lowering the effective interest rate.

Interest Spread

How much lower should the new rate be before you decide? Actually the rate could be higher and still be effectively less. ??? You are only allowed to deduct a maximum of $2,500 in student loan interest on your income tax return. You start to lose this deduction at $55,000 (single) and $110,000 (married). So a married couple earning $150,000 annually would not be able to deduct any student loan interest on their income tax return.

What is the cash value of the lost deduction?

It depends. Ironically, the folks you earn more are in higher tax brackets and would benefit more. If we assumed the married couple earning $150,000 is in the 25% tax bracket we can assume a 25% return on deduction if they were already itemized.

Let’s do an actual example -

Single Attorney Earns $120,000, and is in the 25% bracket after deductions. He has $100,000 in student loans at 6% for 15 years. Making things simpler we’ll apportion the interest evenly over the life of the loan.

The total interest paid would be approximately $51,894. That’s $3,459 a year (cheating for simplicity). 25% of that is $865.

So over the life of the loan the interest deduction would have been worth $12,974 (865*15 years)

That said – The cost of the Student Loan at 6% is $64,867 (interest plus the lost tax deductions)

If we had the same loan as a mortgage or equity loan at 7%, we’d pay $61,789 in interest. Essentially we maintain a financial advantage refinancing at a higher rate!

Financial Decision Making

This shoe doesn’t fit everyone perfectly. You should consult with your tax advisor to see how you fit into this equation. There are other factors that need to be weighed before making this decision. For example, refinancing and paying off student loans would not be wise if it raised the overall interest rate. You would end up paying a higher rate on the entire mortgage.

This is definitely something to put under consideration and mention to your tax planner.

Mariners off the IRS dirty dozen!

0
by on November 4, 2010 at 12:03 am

Uncle Sam’s Hitlist…

When will they mention the millions they lost on fraudulent home buyer credits? Probably after the election I’d say. Here’s their list for 2010…

Return Preparer Fraud

Dishonest return preparers can cause trouble for taxpayers who fall victim to their ploys. Such preparers derive financial gain by skimming a portion of their clients’ refunds, charging inflated fees for return preparation services and attracting new clients by promising refunds that are too good to be true. Taxpayers should choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. Federal courts have issued injunctions ordering hundreds of individuals to cease preparing returns and promoting fraud, and the Department of Justice has filed complaints against dozens of others, which are pending in court.

To increase confidence in the tax system and improve compliance with the tax law, the IRS is implementing a number of steps for future filing seasons. These include a requirement that all paid tax return preparers register with the IRS and obtain a preparer tax identification number (PTIN), as well as both competency tests and ongoing continuing professional education for all paid tax return preparers except attorneys, certified public accountants (CPAs) and enrolled agents. (more…)

in IRS Updates