LLC- How Many Properties Can OR Should I put in my LLC??

Difficult question because it depends a great deal on your individual risk tolerance.  However, let me make a couple of points from an accountant’s perspective that may be helpful in assessing your situation and the best course of action to take.  When it comes to business incorporation we should always get the expert’s advice.

For a question like “How many?”..the answer is ‘as many as you want’.  There is no limit.  You simply deed the properties into your LLC.  Make sure you look at local (state and county) rules that may apply in regards to transfer taxes (i.e. Florida and Washington State).

The downside to having too many properties in one LLC is that the risk and liability of each property affects the others. For example if you have 5 properties in one LLC and the LLC gets sued on property 2, then that judgment will affect and be applied against all other properties in the LLC.

The question then becomes how many properties should you put in your LLC.  In my opinion, this really comes down to the amount of equity you have in each one of your properties, where they are located and which properties have the most risk of a potential law suit.

Some general rules are:

  • you want to keep your high equity properties separate from your high risk properties;
  • consider grouping low equity properties together, while high equity properties may need their own LLC;
  •  when the equity in your LLC gets too high, consider transferring some of the properties out to a new LLC and separate your ‘eggs into different baskets’ and;
  •  if you have properties in a state that allows series LLC’s consider setting up or converting to a Series LLC.

It is critical that your LLCs are registered in the State where the property or properties exist and company maintenance should be a priority.

Please call us 773-728-1500 for any questions you may have regarding business incorporation, we the Chicago accountants are here to help you out!

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It’s Tax Time! Are You Ready?

If you’re like most taxpayers, you find yourself with an ominous stack of “homework” aroundTAX TIME! Unfortunately, the job of pulling together the records for your tax appointment is never easy, but the effort usually pays off when it comes to the extra tax you save! When you arrive at your appointment fully prepared, you’ll have more time to:

• Consider every possible legal deduction;
• Better evaluate your options for reporting income and deductions to choose those best suited to your situation;
• Explore current law changes that affect your tax status;
• Talk about possible law changes and discuss tax planning alternatives that could reduce your future tax liability.

Choosing Your Best Alternatives

The tax law allows a variety of methods for handling income and deductions on your return. Choices made at the time you prepare your return often affect not only the current year, but later-year returns as well. When you’re fully prepared for your appointment, you will have more time to explore all avenues available for lowering your tax.

For example, the law allows choices in transactions like:

Sales of property. . . .

If you’re receiving payments on a sales contract over a period of years, you are sometimes able to choose between reporting the whole gain in the year you sell or over a period of time, as you receive payments from the buyer.

Depreciation. . . .

You’re able to deduct the cost of your investment in certain business property using different methods. You can either depreciate the cost over a number of years, or in certain cases, you can deduct them all in one year.

Where to Begin?

Ideally, preparation for your tax appointment should begin in January of the tax year you’re working with. Right after the New Year, set up a safe storage location – a file drawer, a cupboard, a safe, etc. As you receive pertinent records, file them right away, before they’re forgotten or lost. By making the practice a habit, you’ll find your job a lot easier when your actual appointment date rolls around.

Other general suggestions to consider for your appointment preparation include. . .

• Segregate your records according to income and expense categories. For instance, file medical expense receipts in an envelope or folder, interest payments in another, charitable donations in a third, etc. If you receive an organizer or questionnaire to complete before your appointment, make certain you fill out every section that applies to you. (Important: Read all explanations and follow instructions carefully to be sure you don’t miss important data – organizers are designed to remind you of transactions you may miss otherwise.)

• Keep your annual income statements separate from your other documents (e.g., W-2s from employers, 1099s from banks, stockbrokers, etc., and K-1s from partnerships). Be sure to take these documents to your appointment, including the instructions for K-1s!

• Write down questions you may have so you don’t forget to ask them at the appointment. Review last year’s return. Compare your income on that return to the income for the current year. For instance, a dividend from ABC stock on your prior-year return may remind you that you sold ABC this year and need to report the sale.

• Make certain that you have social security numbers for all your dependents. The IRS checks these carefully and can deny deductions for returns filed without them.

• Compare deductions from last year with your records for this year. Did you forget anything?

• Collect any other documents and financial papers that you’re puzzled about. Prepare to bring these to your appointment so you can ask about them.

Accuracy Even for Details

To ensure the greatest accuracy possible in all detail on your return, make sure you review personal data. Check name(s), address, social security number(s), and occupation(s) on last year’s return. Note any changes for this year. Although your telephone number isn’t required on your return, current home and work numbers are always helpful should questions occur during return preparation.

Marital Status Change

If your marital status changed during the year, if you lived apart from your spouse, or if your spouse died during the year, list dates and details. Bring copies of prenuptial, legal separation, divorce, or property settlement agreements, if any, to your appointment.

Dependents

If you have qualifying dependents, you will need to provide the following for each:

• First and last name
• Social security number
• Birth date
• Number of months living in your home
• Their income amount (both taxable and nontaxable)

If you have dependent children over age 18, note how long they were full-time students during the year. To qualify as your dependent, an individual must pass five strict dependency tests. If you think a person qualifies as your dependent (but you aren’t sure), tally the amounts you provided toward his/her support vs. the amounts he/she provided. This will simplify making a final decision about whether you really qualify for the dependency deduction.

Some Transactions Deserve Special Treatment

Certain transactions require special treatment on your tax return. It’s a good idea to invest a little extra preparation effort when you have had the following transactions:

Sales of Stock or Other Property:  All sales of stocks, bonds, securities, real estate, and any other type of property need to be reported on your return, even if you had no profit or loss. List each sale, and have the purchase and sale documents available for each transaction.

Purchase date, sale date, cost, and selling price must all be noted on your return. Make sure this information is contained on the documents you bring to your appointment.

Gifted or Inherited Property: If you sell property that was given to you, you need to determine when and for how much the original owner purchased it. If you sell property you inherited, you need to know the date of the decedent’s death and the property’s value at that time. You may be able to find this information on estate tax returns or in probate documents.

Reinvested Dividends: You may have sold stock or a mutual fund in which you participated in a dividend reinvestment program. If so, you will need to have records of each stock purchase made with the reinvested dividends.

Sale of Home: The tax law provides special breaks for home sale gains, and you may be able to exclude all (or a part) of a gain on a home if you meet certain ownership, occupancy, and holding period requirements. If you file a joint return with your spouse and your gain from the sale of the home exceeds $500,000 ($250,000 for other individuals), record the amounts you spent on improvements to the property. Remember too, possible exclusion of gain applies only to a primary residence, and the amount of improvements made to other homes is required regardless of the gain amount. Be sure to bring a copy of the sale documents (usually the closing escrow statement) with you to the appointment.

Purchase of a Home:  If you purchased a home during 2009 and you are a first-time homebuyer or a long-term homeowner after November 6, 2009, you may qualify for a substantial tax credit.  Be sure to bring a copy of the escrow closing statement if you purchased a home.

Vehicle Purchase: If you purchased a new car (or cars) this year, you can deduct the sales tax.  If the car was a hybrid vehicle or one that qualifies as a lean burn vehicle, you may also qualify for a special credit.  Please bring the purchase statement to the appointment with you.

Standard Deduction: If you usually take the standard deduction, you should be aware that a portion of your property taxes, certain vehicle sales taxes and disaster casualty losses can be deducted as part of your standard deduction this year without itemizing your deductions.  Be sure to bring your property tax statements, car purchase statements and records relating to any losses incurred in a federally declared disaster area.

Home Energy-Related Expenditures: If you made home modifications to conserve energy (such as special windows, roofing, doors, etc.) or installed solar, geothermal, or wind power generating systems, please bring the details of those purchases and the manufacturer’s credit qualification certification to your appointment.  You may qualify for a substantial energy-related tax credit.

Ponzi Scheme or Bank Failure Losses:  If you suffered losses as the result of a Ponzi scheme or as the result of a bank failure, there is special tax treatment for these types of losses.  Please be prepared with the details of the losses and the amounts lost.

Car Expenses: Where you have used one or more automobiles for business, list the expenses of each separately. The government requires that you provide your total mileage, business miles, and commuting miles for each car on your return, so be prepared to have them available. If you were reimbursed for mileage through an employer, know the reimbursement amount and whether the reimbursement is included in your W-2.

Charitable Donations: Cash contributions (regardless of amount) must be substantiated with a bank record or written communication from the charity showing the name of the charitable organization, date and amount of the contribution.

Cash donations put into a “Christmas kettle,” church collection plate, etc., are not deductible. For clothing and household contributions, the items donated must generally be in good or better condition, and items such as undergarments and socks are not deductible. A record of each item contributed must be kept, indicating the name and address of the charity, date and location of the contribution, and a reasonable description of the property. Contributions valued less than $250 and dropped off at an unattended location do not require a receipt. For contributions of $500 or more, the record must also include when and how the property was acquired and your cost basis in the property.

Please call us 773-728-1500 the Accountatns in Chicago if you have any questions.

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Can anyone qualify to own an S-Corporation?

Business Incorporation in Illinois is one of our Accountants in Chicago specialty. That’s why it is very important to know which are the tax savings from operating your ordinary income business under an S-Corp.  However, not everyone is a qualifying shareholder of an S-Corporation.  If you are from a foreign country living here in the U.S. with a ‘Visa’ or ‘Green Card’ it’s critical to know what the rules are.

Here are the two rules that would make you qualify to be a shareholder of an S-Corp.

  1. You need to be a “Resident Alien”, there are a few tests to determine that. 
    1. one is the “Green Card” test; this where the alien actually has to be a lawful permanent resident with a green card (Immigration Form I-551); if you have one of these documents it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been present in the country, you can qualify as an S-Corporation shareholder.  However, if your Visa is a non-immigrant visa, then that would not constitute lawful permanent residence, so you wouldn’t qualify under this test.
    2. b.      or you need to pass the  “Substantial Presence Test”, this test is essentially mathematical, it is satisfied if the alien individual is physically present in the United States for the requisite amount of time, either for the calendar year in question or for the three-year period that ends with the year in question. For purposes of the test, presence during any portion of a day is considered presence for a full day.
    3. The “Substantial Presence Test” is met in either of the following circumstances:
  • The alien is physically present in the United States for 183 days or more during the target calendar year, or
  • He is present in the United States for at least 31 days for the year in question and has been present for 183 days which are the sum of (a) days during the target year counted as full days, plus (b) days in the first preceding year counted as one-third days, plus (c) days in the second preceding year counted as one-sixth days.

In sum, if you have a ‘Green Card”, if you have been living in the U.S. for 183 days or more during the calendar year, then you would meet this test and be eligible to be a shareholder of an S-Corp.  Remember you need to continue to meet this test every year until you actually get the “Green Card”. Sounds easy right?

For more questions regarding Business Incorporation in Illinois you can call us at 773-728-1500.

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Short Sale or Foreclosure – the Income Tax Consequences

We are CPAs in Chicago and provide the following summary for the benefit of Taxpayers in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.

These days a lot of home owners or real estate investors are encountering numerous questions about the tax consequences of these situations. That’s why it’s more important than ever for real estate owners to understand the basics of how the IRS views tax forgiveness.

How does the IRS view a short sale or foreclosure?

short sale is the discount a mortgage holder may allow in order to sell the property, even though doing so will short or discount the note. This generally results in a benefit to the debtor because the mortgage is reduced.

The process, of course, is different in a foreclosure, but the result is essentially the same.  The mortgage holder forecloses on the property, takes possession or sells the property on the courthouse steps, and will probably end up losing on the original mortgage. In effect, the borrower usually doesn’t have to pay the full mortgage, and whatever the lender can get for the property reduces the mortgage amount and the lender will often take a loss on the rest.

IRS frankly doesn’t care if a property is going through a short sale or foreclosure. The IRS is going to determine if Forgiveness of Debt took place and if it should be taxed to the taxpayer. Keep in mind though that the lender does not always forgive debt in a foreclosure or short sale. If the lender gets a deficiency judgment or comes after the homeowner for the unpaid amount, there is no debt forgiveness and thus no taxable income.

However, for situations where the lender does forgive the debt, determining what should be taxed can be a complicated question with lots of variations based on the facts and circumstances.

Keep in mind that, in almost every situation, the IRS boils the transaction down to the analysis of four questions:

.Question 1: Was the property sold for less than the mortgage or mortgages on the property?

Easy to calculate, simply add up all of the debt on the property (first and second mortgages included), and subtract it from the final sales price. If the result is a negative number, then there is a presumption the seller or prior owner is facing Forgiveness of Debt Income.

In case of foreclosure, it’s a little more difficult to determine the amounts in the equation above, because sometimes the bank/mortgage holder hasn’t sold the property yet; they simply took possession of the property in the foreclosure. Essentially, the calculation can’t be completed until the lender sells the property and their loss is determined.

Question 2: Was the mortgage or mortgages considered recourse or non-recourse debt?

If there is a presumption of debt forgiveness as determined in Question 1, the taxpayer next has to find out if the debt is recourse debt. This simply means the debtor signed personally guaranteeing the debt, or in other words, is personally obligated to pay the mortgage. This is actually an easy fact to determine.

A quick document review by an attorney can help the homeowner determine if the debt is recourse or not. The good news is if they aren’t personally liable, then they don’t have to pay the debt and they don’t have Forgiveness of Debt Income.

            Question 3: Is there Forgiveness of Debt Income after the basis on the property and any loss is calculated?

Often taxpayers overlook this aspect of the analysis.  Assuming there is recourse debt, and hence Forgiveness of Debt Income, taxpayers shouldn’t forget to calculate their loss on the property as a whole. This loss can offset any Forgiveness of Debt Income.

In this more complicated equation, the taxpayer would start with the sales price of the property and then subtract the adjusted basis on the property (i.e., the net cost for the property after adjusting for various items like depreciation or home improvements). This process will tell the homeowner if there is a gain or loss on the property. In sum, a loss would be deductible against the Forgiveness of Debt Income. Note, however, that a primary residence is going to be treated differently during this stage of the analysis (see below).

If there is Forgiveness of Debt Income from recourse debt and the loss on the sale doesn’t wipe out the gain, or it isn’t a primary residence, then the taxpayer’s only option to avoid being taxed on the forgiveness is to qualify under the insolvency or bankruptcy rules provided by the IRS. Essentially, these rules require the taxpayer’s total liabilities to exceed total assets, whether married or single (the details of which are discussed in IRS Publication 4681).

One final option that doesn’t allow the taxpayer to discharge the income but permits deferring the tax over time is to reduce the basis on other real estate owned by the taxpayer by using Form 982.

Question 4: Was the property in question the primary residence of the taxpayer?

The rules have been changed when it comes to principal or primary residences. Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 to provide relief to families who were going through a short sale or foreclosure on their primary residence through the end of 2012. This law essentially wipes out any acquisition indebtedness (not second mortgages unrelated to the purchase) and is a specific election made on a tax return. (Note there is a limit of $2 million of interest and debt for married couples and a lower limit for single individuals). Taxpayers should consult with their tax advisor regarding the specifics of this exception and they qualify.

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention loan modifications and the impact they may have on a tax bill. Rest assured, most loan modifications don’t create taxable income as they simply modify the terms of a loan to help a debtor better make his or her payments. However, if a lender actually reduces the principal amount of the loan, sometimes called a cram down, then the debtor better expect a 1099 for Cancellation of Debt Income and speak with a tax advisor.

Make sure your Tax Advisor knows how to apply correctly the tax deductions that are allowed.

In summary, if you going through a loan modification, short-sale, foreclosure, or deed in lieu, please know that, we at TaxCutters can help you through the tax paperwork process.  Please give us a call at: 773-728-1500.

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Foreign Financial Accounts / Signature / Authority over foreign financial accounts

As a CPA in Chicago, I had received a lot of calls regarding the issue of Foreign Financial Accounts.  Apparently, this was a hot topic last year.  Every U.S. person who has a financial interest in or signature or other authority over any foreign financial accounts (including bank, securities and other types of financial accounts in a foreign country), if the aggregate value of these financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year, must report those relationships to the U.S. government each calendar year.

The government uses this reporting mechanism as a means to uncover hidden foreign accountsand ensure that investment income earned in foreign countries by U.S. taxpayers is included on their U.S. tax returns. The Treasury Department has placed a new emphasis on foreign accounts, and taxpayers with a financial connection to a foreign country should determine whether they have a reporting requirement.

Reporting is accomplished by filing a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts form—more commonly referred to as the FBAR—which must be received by the IRS at its Detroit office on or before June 30 of the succeeding year. Thus, the FBAR filing for the 2012 year must be received by the IRS no later than June 30, 2013. This report is filed separately from the taxpayer’s income tax return, and no extensions of time are available for filing this form. In addition, taxpayers generally are required to answer “yes” or “no” to questions related to foreign bank and financial accounts on their tax returns.

Penalties for failing to comply can be draconian. For non-willful violations, civil penalties of up to $10,000 may be imposed; the penalty for willful violations is the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the account’s balance at the time of the violation. A reasonable cause exception to the penalty is available for non-willful violations but not for willful violations.

Overlooked Accounts – Many taxpayers overlook the fact that they have a reporting requirement in situations such as the following:

  • Family Accounts – Recent immigrants to the U.S. may still have parents or other family members residing in the “old” country, and those relatives may have included them on an account in the foreign country. This is common practice for some ethnic groups. The taxpayer does not really consider the account his or hers, but it falls under the reporting requirement if he or she has signature or other authority over the account and the value exceeds $10,000.
  • Inherited Accounts – Inherited accounts in a foreign country fall under the FBAR reporting requirement even if the funds are subsequently transferred to the U.S. The FBAR rules state that reporting is required if at any time during the year the foreign account exceeds $10,000.
  • Business Accounts – An officer or board member may have signature authority over a business account held in a foreign country and overlook the need to meet the FBAR reporting requirements.

In addition to including any reportable foreign income on his or her tax return, the taxpayer must ensure that the foreign account questions are completed correctly on the tax return and that the FBAR is filed when required.

 

Please call us at 773-728-1500 if you have questions regarding Individual or Corporation Income tax and Foreign Financial Accounts.

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