Employee Business Expenses Still Deductible
Don’t throw away your receipts yet! Employee business expenses are still tax deductible on your California income tax return.
The new federal tax law eliminated the deduction for out-of-pocket employee business expenses. But state law still allows the deduction. The deduction can be sizable if you are in a high tax bracket. The highest state tax rate is 13.3% which includes the mental health services tax. For example, assuming you can deduct $10,000 for business expenses, your state taxes would be $930 less if you are in the 9.3% tax bracket.
Did you get a letter from the Franchise Tax Board? The FTB is mailing letters to taxpayers who have deducted employee business expenses. The mailing reminds taxpayers of their responsibility to file accurate tax returns, deduct only allowed out-of-pocket costs, and maintain adequate receipts. If you get a letter, the FTB believes you are deducting amounts higher than they expect to see on your tax return. They are not auditing your tax return. But receiving this letter could be a warning of a possible audit. Shown below is a list of common problems with this deduction.
- Your employer may have a reimbursement policy. Tax rules will not allow you to deduct expenses that are reimbursable by your employer regardless of whether or not you file an expense report requesting reimbursement. If you are audited, the auditor will request a copy of your employer’s policy and may contact your employer to verify the policy is valid.
- Driving to and from your office and home are commuting miles which are not tax deductible. Special rules apply to taxpayers who qualify for the home office deduction.
- Clothes and uniforms not required by your employer are not tax deductible.
- No receipts or mileage logs to prove your deductions.
Remember to keep your receipts, ask your employer for a copy of the reimbursement policy, and maintain a log that records your business miles that were driven and the purpose of your trip.
Where did the marriage penalty go?
The federal “marriage penalty” affects couples whose combined taxable income exceeds $600,000. These couples pay 37% tax on income that exceeds this amount. However, two individuals filing separate returns would not be taxed at 37% until their combined income exceeds $1 million. This phenomenon is called the “marriage penalty.” Under the old law, the penalty applied to couples whose combined taxable income exceeded $156,150.
California does not have a marriage penalty based on tax brackets. But the state’s mental health services tax penalizes couples whose combined taxable income exceeds $1 million. At this level of income, married couples pay more health services taxes compared to individuals because California law does not increase the $1 million amount to $2 million for couples. So the taxable income for two individuals filing separate returns can be $2 million before paying the tax.
In some cases, California Registered Domestic Partners will pay less tax than either married couples or individuals who are not married.
Our firm assists clients with pre-marriage tax planning, and we are experts at tax planning for Registered Domestic Partners. Call us at (323) 285-9880 or send us an email if you have tax planning questions.
You may be under-withheld!
The new tax law lowered income tax rates and eliminated exemptions. It also reduced the state income tax deduction to $10,000 (max) and eliminated deductions for employee business expenses not reimbursed by an employer.
IRS withholding tables issued on January 11th reflect the lower tax rates and no exemption deductions. But the charts do not factor the loss of employee business expenses and state income tax deductions. So you may not be paying enough tax with your withholdings and could owe more money than you expected with the filing of your 2018 tax return.
The IRS will publish an income tax calculator in February which will allow employees to adjust their withholdings so their taxes are not under (or over) withheld. Congress gave the IRS one year to fix the withholding tables to conform to the new laws. So you may need to take action now to ensure you do not have a significant balance due when you file your income tax return.
Also, employees paid bonuses, stock options, and commissions are at risk of under-withholding because the withholding rate for this income is now 22% (formerly 25%).
And remember penalties still apply to underpaid taxes. The penalty rate is currently 4%.
We will post a link to the income tax calculator on our website when the calculator is available. Contact us if your tax situation is complicated. We have the knowledge and skill to calculate complicated income tax projections. Call us at (323) 285-9880.
It is still early in the year, so now is the time to find out if you are underpaying your taxes. You will have the rest of the year to pay taxes with increased withholdings.
New Tax Laws (2018)
Commentary about the new tax laws is fast and furious. We would give you quick answers about the computation of the new business deduction, a possible change in tax status, and other unintended effects if this information were available. As your trusted adviser, we cannot give you quick answers that are relevant to you because everyone’s tax situation is unique to them.
Based on commentary, there may be changes to the types of businesses which qualify for the 20% deduction. The ABA, AICPA, and AMA (attorneys, accountants, and doctors) are very vocal with their disapproval on the restrictions of the tax rate decrease to owners of service industries ($315,000 of taxable income). We are hoping for changes. (One suggestion – consider increasing your retirement plan contributions to decrease your tax rate.)
The law eliminated exemptions. The IRS is still trying to change instructions for Form W-4 and the withholding tables. The rule makers have not started analyzing the changes in tax filings and rules resulting from the new act. So we do not have their interpretations, examples, and guidelines for implementing the new law.
Most of the changes apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2017. Quick answers are not always the right or most correct answers. We are studying the new law and will be posting to our website and sending out updates to our social media channels.
Please contact us if you would like to conduct a more in-depth analysis of the tax implications for you.
Happy New Year!