$500,000 RAISED FOR CLEAN WATER

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Did you know nearly 1,000 children under age 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and improper hygiene? We believe the global water and sanitation crisis can be solved within our lifetimes.

Some of our staff and family members at Fulling Management & Accounting have joined up with Team World Vision to bring awareness to this crisis. On October 20th, we will be running in a half marathon to help provide life-changing clean water to children and communities in Africa. Yes, this will be my first attempt at a half-marathon. Needless to say, my muscles are already sore just thinking about it.

For every $50 raised, World Vision is able to provide clean water to 1 person. So far, our Kansas City World Vision team has raised almost $500,000 toward our $750,000 goal. That means life changing, clean water for over 10,000 people!   Click HERE to find out more on how to participate or donate.Thank you.   – Rusty Fulling

BUYING VS. LEASING EQUIPMENT: WHICH IS RIGHT FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

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For tax years starting in 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides new and improved tax incentives for buying new and used business equipment. But leasing still offers benefits for some taxpayers. Here are some important considerations when deciding whether to buy or lease equipment.

Pros of Buying

The primary advantage of owning fixed assets is that you're free to use them as you see fit. When you own equipment that won't become obsolete, you should get your money's worth from the purchase over time. This is especially true for assets — such as a desk or drill — that tend to have a long useful life and aren't affected by technology changes.

In addition, from a tax perspective, the Section 179 deduction and first-year bonus depreciation privileges can provide big tax savings in the first year an asset is placed in service. These tax breaks were dramatically enhanced by the TCJA — enough so, that you may be convinced to buy assets that your business might have leased in the past.

Sec. 179 expensing. This tax law provision provides a current deduction for the cost of qualified new or used business property that's placed in service in the tax year. The maximum Section 179 deduction has been doubled from $500,000 under prior law to $1 million under the TCJA for qualified property placed in service in tax years beginning in 2018. The Sec. 179 deduction is available for most types of equipment, ranging from heavy machinery to computers and desks. Software and qualified real property expenditures can also qualify for the Sec. 179 deduction privilege.

The Sec. 179 deduction is limited to the amount of a taxpayer's business income calculated before the deduction and is phased out if qualified asset additions exceed the phaseout threshold. The TCJA increased the phaseout threshold from $2.03 million for tax years beginning in 2017 to $2.5 million for tax years beginning in 2018. This increase provides plenty of leeway for most small businesses.

Bonus depreciation. A business can claim a first-year bonus depreciation deduction for the cost of qualified property, which includes most types of equipment used by small business owners. In fact, the same property may qualify for both the Sec. 179 deduction and bonus depreciation. If so, bonus depreciation is preferred for assets placed in service by December 31, 2022.

Under the TCJA, bonus depreciation has been extended to include used property. The amount of the deduction has also been doubled from 50% under prior law to 100% under the TCJA for qualified property placed in service from 2018 through 2022. For tax years starting in 2023, bonus depreciation deductions will be phased out based on the following schedule:

  • 80% for property placed in service in 2023,

  • 60% for property placed in service in 2024,

  • 40% for property placed in service in 2025, and

  • 20% for property placed in service in 2026.

Bonus depreciation is scheduled to expire at the end of 2026, unless Congress decides to extend it.

These two tax breaks can be a powerful combination: Many businesses will be able to write off the full cost of most equipment in the year it's purchased. Any remainder is eligible for regular depreciation deductions over IRS-prescribed schedules.

Important note: Other rules and restrictions may apply, including limits on annual deductions for vehicles and restrictions on "listed property" (such as TVs).

Cons of Buying

The primary downside of buying fixed assets is that you're generally required to pay the full cost upfront or in installments, although the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax benefits are still available for property that's financed.

If you finance a purchase through a bank, a down payment of at least 20% of the cost is usually required. This could tie up funds and affect your credit rating.

Important note: If you decide to finance fixed asset purchases, be aware that the TCJA limits interest expense deductions (for businesses with more than $25 million in average annual gross receipts) to 30% of adjusted taxable income (ATI) for tax years starting in 2018. Any excess can be carried over indefinitely. In addition, when computing ATI for tax years beginning in 2022 and beyond, deductions for depreciation, amortization and depletion won't be added back. This transition rule could significantly increase ATI for a business, resulting in a lower interest expense deduction limitation after 2021. Be aware that this complicated provision is subject to several exceptions. Contact your tax advisor about your situation.

In addition, when you own an asset, you run the risk that it could quickly become outdated or obsolete. It may be difficult to unload the equipment at a reasonable price, not to mention the headache of trying to sell it. For example, if you buy computers costing $5,000 today, they could be worth only $1,000 or less in just three years.

Pros of Leasing

From a cash flow perspective, leasing can be more attractive than buying. But the tax benefits for leasing may not be as valuable. And you don't own equipment at the end of the lease term. So, if you want to replace the asset when the lease is up, you'll face the leasing vs. buying decision all over again. But this could be a good thing if an asset is likely to become obsolete by the end of the term.

The main advantage is the upfront cost savings. For example, if you lease equipment with a five-year useful life, the first-year expense may be only 20% of the total asset cost. Typically, you won't have to come up with a down payment for a leased asset (although there are exceptions, including some vehicle leases). In turn, the funds you retain by leasing an asset, rather than buying it, can be used for other purposes and to improve business cash flow.

Of course, your business is entitled to a tax deduction for annual lease payments, but you miss out on Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation deductions. Although there are some nuances, lease payments are generally tax deductible as "ordinary and necessary" business expenses. As with ownership of vehicles, annual deduction limits may apply.

Beyond taxes, leasing may be a more viable option for companies with questionable credit ratings, limited access to bank financing or limited cash reserves. And, in today's competitive leasing market, leases with favorable terms are common.

Important note: For many years, U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) have provided a financial reporting incentive for certain types of leasing arrangements. See "Add New Accounting Rules to the Mix" at right. However, new accounting rules go into effect in 2019 for calendar-year public companies and 2020 for calendar-year private companies that bring leases to the lessee's balance sheet. So, lease obligations will show up as liabilities, similar to purchased assets that are financed with traditional bank loans.

Cons of Leasing

Leasing does have drawbacks, however. Over the long run, leasing an asset may cost you more than buying it, because you're continually renewing the lease or acquiring a new one. For example, a top-of-the-line computer that normally costs $5,000 might run you $200 a month over a three-year lease term, or $7,200. After all, leasing companies have to make profits, too.

Leasing also doesn't provide any buildup of equity. At the end of the lease term, you get nothing back, whereas buying might result in some return on a resale.

What's more, when you lease, you're generally locked in for the entire lease term. So, you're obligated to keep making lease payments even if you stop using the equipment. In the event the lease allows you to opt out before the term expires, you still may be forced to pay an early-termination fee.

Decision Time

When deciding whether to lease or buy a fixed asset, there are a multitude of factors to consider, with no universal "right" or "wrong" choice. With assistance from your tax and financial advisors, you can take the approach that best suits your circumstances.

DEDUCTING PASS-THROUGH BUSINESS LOSSES

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Many business ventures generate tax losses, especially in the first few years of operation or under adverse conditions. When can losses be deducted — and how much can you deduct in any given year? This article explains new limitations on the ability of individual taxpayers to deduct losses from pass-through business entities, including sole proprietorships, limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as sole proprietorships for tax purposes, partnerships, LLCs treated as partnerships for tax purposes and S corporations.

Old Rules

Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), an individual taxpayer's business losses could usually be fully deducted in the tax year when they arose. That was the result unless:

  • The passive loss rules or some other provision of tax law limited that favorable outcome, or

  • The business loss was so large that it exceeded taxable income from other sources, creating a so-called "net operating loss" (NOL).

Under prior law, you could carry back an NOL to the two preceding tax years or carry it forward for up to 20 tax years.

Current Rules

For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA changes the rules for deducting an individual taxpayer's business losses. Unfortunately, the changes aren't favorable.

If your business or rental activity generates a tax loss, things get complicated. First, the passive activity loss (PAL) rules may apply if it's a rental operation or you don't actively participate in the activity. In general, the PAL rules only allow you to deduct passive losses to the extent you have passive income from other sources, such as positive income from other business or rental activities or gains from selling them.

Passive losses that can't be currently deducted are suspended. That is, they're carried forward to future years until you either have sufficient passive income or sell the activity that produced the losses.

To make matters worse, after you've successfully cleared the hurdles imposed by the PAL rules, the TCJA establishes another hurdle: For tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025, you can't deduct an "excess business loss" in the current year.

An excess business loss is the excess of your aggregate business deductions for the tax year over the sum of:

  • Your aggregate business income and gains for the tax year, and

  • $250,000 or $500,000 if you are a married joint-filer.

The excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for net operating loss (NOL) carryforwards. (See "Limits on Deducting NOLs" at right.)

Important: This new loss deduction rule applies after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your business or rental activity loss, you don't get to the new loss limitation rule.

Real-World Examples

To illustrate how these new rules work, consider Ed, an unmarried individual who owns rental real estate. In 2018, he has a $300,000 allowable loss from his rental properties (after considering the PAL rules). So, his excess business loss for the year is $50,000 ($300,000 – the $250,000 excess business loss threshold for an unmarried taxpayer).

Ed has no other business or rental activities, but he has $400,000 of income from other sources. Ed can deduct the first $250,000 of his rental loss against his income from other sources.

The $50,000 excess business loss is carried forward to Ed's 2019 tax year and treated as an NOL carryfoward to that year. Under the TCJA's revised NOL rules for 2018 and beyond, Ed can use an NOL carryforward to shelter up to 80% of his taxable income in the carryforward year.

If Ed's rental property loss for 2018 is $250,000 or less, he won't have an excess business loss, because the loss is below the $250,000 excess business loss limitation threshold for an unmarried taxpayer. So, he wouldn't be affected by the new loss limitation rule.

Alternatively, consider Fern and Fernando, a married joint-filing couple. In 2018, Fern has a $300,000 allowable loss from rental real estate properties (after considering the PAL rules).

Fernando runs a small startup business. He operates the business as a single-member limited liability company (LLC) that's treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes. For 2018, the business has a $100,000 loss.

Fern and Fernando have no other business or rental activities, but they have $550,000 of income from other sources. This couple doesn't have an excess business loss for the year, because their combined losses are $400,000, which is below the $500,000 excess business loss limitation threshold for a married joint-filing couple. So, they're unaffected by the new loss limitation rule. Therefore, they can use their $400,000 business loss to shelter income from other sources.

Practical Impact of New Loss Disallowance Rule

The rationale underlying the new loss limitation rule is to further restrict the ability of individual taxpayers to use current-year business losses (including losses from rental activities) to offset income from other sources, such as salary, self-employment income, interest, dividends and capital gains.

The practical impact is that your allowable current-year business losses can't offset more than $250,000 of income from such other sources or more than $500,000 for a married joint-filing couple.

The requirement that excess business losses must be carried forward as an NOL forces you to wait at least one year to get any tax benefit from those excess losses.

Rules for S Corporations, Partnerships and LLCs

For business losses passed through to individuals from S corporations, partnerships and LLCs that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes, the new excess business loss limitation rules apply at the owner level. In other words, each owner's allocable share of business income, gain, deduction or loss is passed through to the owner and reported on the owner's personal federal income tax return for the owner's tax year that includes the end of the entity's tax year.

To illustrate, consider Gerald and Gina, siblings who quit their jobs at the end of 2017 to start a flower shop. They operate the new business as an LLC that's treated as a 50/50 partnership for tax purposes. Gerald is single and Gina is a married joint-filer. They each invest $500,000 in the new enterprise.

The 2018 LLC tax return for the business reports a net loss of $700,000. Each owner is allocated a $350,000 loss. Neither owner has any income or losses from other business activities. But Gerald has $300,000 of income from a trust, and Gina's husband has $200,000 of salary income.

The excess business loss limitation rule is applied at the owner level. So, Gerald has an excess business loss of $100,000 from the LLC ($350,000 – the $250,000 excess business loss threshold for an unmarried taxpayer). For 2018, he can deduct $250,000 of the LLC loss (the amount up to the threshold) against his trust income. The $100,000 excess business loss is carried forward to his 2019 tax year as an NOL carryforward.

Gina, on the other hand, has no excess business loss from the LLC because her $350,000 loss is less than the $500,000 excess business loss limitation threshold for a married joint-filing taxpayer. For 2018, the first $200,000 of the LLC loss can be deducted against her husband's salary income. The remaining $150,000 loss from the LLC generates an NOL carryforward to her 2019 tax year.

Ask the Experts

There's a silver lining to the unfavorable loss rules: The new excess business loss limitation rules only apply to tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025, unless Congress decides to extend them. But, while they're around, the rules may cause some struggling business owners additional hardship when they can least afford it.

Are you expecting your business to generate a tax loss in 2018? If so, consult your tax advisor to determine whether you'll be affected by the new loss limitation rules.

WHAT IF YOU GET AUDITED?

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"Audit" is a word that can strike fear into the hearts of taxpayers.

However, the chances of an Internal Revenue Service audit aren't that high. In 2016, the IRS audited 0.7% of all individual tax returns.1

And being audited does not necessarily imply that the IRS suspects wrongdoing. The IRS states an audit is just a formal review of a tax return to ensure information is being reported according to current tax law and to verify that the information itself is accurate.

The IRS selects returns for audit using four main methods.2

  • Random Selection. Some returns are chosen at random based on the results of a statistical formula.
  • Information Matching. The IRS compares reports from payers — W2 forms from employers, 1099 forms from banks and brokerages, and others — to the returns filed by taxpayers. Those that don't match may be examined further.
  • Related Examinations. Some returns are selected for an audit because they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers whose returns have been selected for examination.

There are a number of sound tax practices that may help reduce the chances of an audit.

  • Provide Complete Information. Among the most commonly overlooked information is missing Social Security numbers -- including those for any dependent children and ex-spouses.
  • Avoid Math Errors. When the IRS receives a return that contains math errors, it assesses the error and sends a notice without following its normal deficiency procedures.
  • Match Your Statements. The numbers on any W-2 and 1099 forms must match the returns to which they are tied. Those that don't match may be flagged for an audit.
  • Don't Repeat Mistakes. The IRS remembers those returns it has audited. It may check to make sure past errors aren't repeated.
  • Keep Complete Records. This won't reduce the chance of an audit, but it potentially may make it much easier to comply with IRS requests for documentation.

Audits Have Changed

Most audits don't involve face-to-face meetings with IRS agents or representatives. In 2015, the latest year for which data is available, 71% were actually conducted through the mail; only 29% involved face-to-face meetings.

Remember, the information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.

401K ADMINISTRATION: HARDSHIP DISTRIBUTIONS

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Question:  Our third party administrator provides an electronic system for our 401(k) participants to make and change their deferral elections, choose and change investments, and request distributions, including requests for hardship distributions.

Can we avoid collecting any hardship-related documents from participants in our 401(k) plan by allowing them to certify electronically that they satisfy all requirements for a hardship distribution?

Answer: Unfortunately, not all of the hardship conditions can be met by self-certification. A 401(k) plan can make a hardship distribution only if the participant experiences an "immediate and heavy financial need" and a hardship distribution is "necessary to satisfy the financial need." 

While the regulations allow a participant to self-certify that a requested distribution is the sole way to alleviate a financial need (that is, other resources are lacking), self-certification is not sufficient to show the nature of a hardship (in terms of the type and amount of the need).

Informally, the IRS has stated that a plan should obtain and maintain the following records in paper or electronic format for hardship distributions:

  • Documentation of the hardship distribution request, review, and approval;
  • Financial information and documentation substantiating the participant's financial need;
  • Documentation to support that the distribution was properly made in accordance with the Code's hardship rules and applicable plan provisions; and
  • Proof that the distribution was made and that Form 1099-R was filed reporting the distribution.

Self-certification can be used in lieu of collecting any information or documents about the participant's lack of other resources to meet the financial need.

Alternatively, a plan may use a safe harbor that uses information known to the sponsor and a minimum required suspension of deferrals to relieve the plan of having to collect documentation about the participant's lack of other resources.

These strategies address only whether the distribution is "necessary," and do not eliminate the need to document the nature of the participant's hardship. The plan must request and retain documentation such as bills or legal documents establishing the nature of the hardship.

In the IRS's view, not requesting and retaining documentation needed to substantiate a participant's financial hardship is an operational qualification failure that requires correction under the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System. 

Even when a third party administrator maintains hardship distribution records, it's ultimately the plan sponsor's responsibility to ensure those records are retained (in electronic or paper format) so that they are available to support the plan's decision in the event of an audit or dispute.

SALES TAX: SUPREME COURT RULING AFFECTS RETAILERS AND CONSUMERS

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A new U.S. Supreme Court ruling paves the way for states to require Internet sellers to collect sales tax from consumers — even if they don't have a physical presence in the state. (South Dakota v. Wayfair, No. 17-494, June 21, 2018) In doing so, the Court has reversed the long-standing, but controversial, precedent in Quill v. North Dakota. (504 U.S. 298, May 26, 1992)

This landmark decision, reached by a narrow 5-4 vote, puts online retailers on the same virtual sales tax footing as brick-and-mortar stores.

Sales and Use Tax Basics

At last check, 45 states plus the District of Columbia impose a sales tax on businesses located within the state. (Only Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon don't.) Each business is required to collect this sales tax from consumers when transactions happen. In addition, states with sales taxes have a "use tax" that effectively mirrors the sales tax. The use tax applies when businesses don't collect sales tax, but have merchandise delivered into the states.

Thus, the sales tax and use tax of a state are mutually exclusive. In other words, either the sales or use tax applies to a transaction, but not both.

For many years, businesses — from big-box retailers to boutiques on Main Street — have collected and remitted sales and use taxes to state authorities. But then the landscape changed dramatically with the proliferation of online sellers.

Initially, there was no clear-cut consensus about sales tax responsibilities for Internet-based sellers. However, states quickly recognized an opportunity to generate tax revenue. Because their efforts were aimed mainly at merchandising giants like Amazon, the laws designed to impose sales tax on these sellers were often dubbed "Amazon laws." Currently, Amazon voluntarily collects sales tax for products it sells directly (but not on third-party purchases).

In the 1992 Quill case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can force online sellers to collect and remit sales and use taxes only if the business has a presence or "nexus" in the state. Generally, this required the entity to maintain a physical presence in the state, such as a warehouse or delivery center. Otherwise, the online sellers weren't legally responsible for this obligation.

To further complicate matters, several states — including California and New York — ramped up their efforts to collect sales tax from Internet sellers by expanding on the basic concept of nexus. This has led to a bewildering quilt of state laws on this issue. At the same time, Congress wrestled with proposed legislation that would impose sales tax collections on a national basis, while traditional brick-and-mortar store owners protested their competitive disadvantage. However, no legislation has been enacted by Congress. So, the decision was left up to the Supreme Court.

New Tax Environment

South Dakota enacted legislation in 2016 that requires all merchants to collect a 4.5% tax if they received more than $100,000 in annual sales or more than 200 individual transactions from residents within the state. When three large online retailers — Wayfair, Overstock.com and Newegg — failed to comply with these standards, the state sued them. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, noted that online retailer Wayfair, in particular, has played up the omission of state sales taxes in its advertising materials.

The lower courts ruled in favor of the online sellers. Now the Supreme Court's reversal turns the tide.

Justice Kennedy emphasized the way that the retail marketplace has changed since Quill was decided back in 1992. At that time, mail-order sales totaled $180 billion. In 2017, e-commerce retail sales alone were estimated at $453.5 billion. Combined with traditional remote sellers, the total exceeded $500 billion last year.

"When it decided Quill, the Court could not have envisioned a world in which the world's largest retailer would be a remote seller," the opinion states. "…The Internet's prevalence and power have changed the dynamics of the national economy."

According to the Court opinion, the costs of complying with different tax regimes in this electronic age are largely unrelated to whether a company happens to have a physical presence in a state.

However, the majority opinion leaves the door open for some transactions to be exempt from sales tax collections if they're tiny or random. In addition, the Court offered no guidance as to whether the individual states can seek to collect sales tax retroactively.

How Should Online Retailers Respond?

The new ruling will exert pressure on online sellers, including those that also maintain physical locations in stores and businesses that operate out of basements and garages. There's no one-size-fits-all approach. Accordingly, retailers should consider taking these seven steps in the wake of the Wayfair decision:

1. Consult with your tax and legal advisors for guidance.

2. Review business activities to assess collection obligations.

3. Develop a plan for maintaining sales tax compliance.

4. Assess the possible effects on your business, including additional costs for technology updates and compliance measures.

5. Analyze the means for collecting taxes in the appropriate states, including bundling of taxable and nontaxable products.

6. Determine if the operation's technology and personnel resources are sufficient to handle tax analysis and compliance, document retention and audits. If not, you may need to outsource some of these tasks.

7. Establish procedures for monitoring sales tax changes — such as tax rates, law changes and fulfillment practices — in various jurisdictions.

Need Help?

It will take time to unravel all the implications, and federal legislation may still be coming in this area. Fortunately, your tax advisor can help you determine how to proceed.

SAVING FOR YOUR CHILD'S EDUCATION WITH A SECTION 529 PLAN

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Q. It's time for us to begin saving for our child's education. We've heard a great deal about Section 529 plans. What are the advantages?

A. The advantages can be significant. Section 529 plans include both prepaid tuition programs and college savings plans. While prepaid tuition programs have been around longer, it is the college savings plan that is garnering most of the attention these days. Changes enacted by the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act made these college savings plans more attractive from a tax-strategy standpoint.

Basically, a college savings plan allows you to place money in a state plan to be used for the beneficiary's higher-education expenses at any college or university. These expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies, and certain room-and-board costs. There is no tax deduction for contributions made to the plan, but the money is allowed to grow tax-free until the funds are withdrawn to pay for qualified education expenses. Your money is invested in stocks, bonds, or mutual fund options offered by the plan, with no guarantee as to how much will be available when the beneficiary enters college.

Here are some of the more significant benefits of these plans:

  • You are the owner of the account and can change the beneficiary or even take the money back, if permitted by the plan. This is helpful in the event that your original beneficiary decides not to go to college. If you take the money back, you will owe income taxes on the earnings and a 10% federal tax penalty as well. The money can be withdrawn without penalty if the beneficiary dies or becomes disabled.
  • In 2018, you or other family members can contribute up to $75,000 to a qualified plan in one year and count it as your annual $15,000 tax-free gift for five years (up from $14,000 in 2017). If the gift is split with your spouse, you can contribute up to $150,000, also for five years. However, if you die within the five-year period, a pro-rata share of the $75,000 returns to your estate. Grandparents can set up accounts for grandchildren, transferring large sums from their estates while providing for their grandchildren's education.
  • There are no income limitations for contributions. Thus, these plans may be of particular interest to higher-income individuals who may not qualify for other college savings tax breaks.
  • The assets in the plan are considered the account owner's assets, not the beneficiary's assets. For financial aid purposes, 5.6% of the parents' assets and 35% of the child's assets are to be used for college costs. If the grandparents are the owners, the assets may not even be considered for financial aid purposes. Even though distributions are income tax free, their status for financial aid purposes is not clear. It may come down to a college-by-college decision whether the income will be considered the child's income.
  • You can now make tax-free transfers of funds from one plan to another or from one investment option to another for the same beneficiary once every 12 months. In the past, the beneficiary had to be changed to make a tax-free transfer.

Private colleges and universities can now set up their own prepaid Section 529 plans. Distributions from these plans are eligible for the same federal income tax advantages as distributions from state-operated plans.

Most states now offer college savings plans, with the plans administered by the state or financial institutions. Certain state programs only accept residents, but most plans allow participants from any state. Before contributing to a plan, consider these tips:

  • Check out your own state's plan first. Many states offer state income tax benefits to residents who contribute to their in-state plans.
  • Review investment options carefully. You can't actively control the investments in your account, so you have to select from the plan's options. Some offer a couple of choices, while others feature a more diverse selection. Recently, several plans added a principal-protected or guaranteed-return option to counter concerns about stock market volatility.
  • Examine fees. The management fees charged by plans vary widely and can significantly impact the performance of your fund. Some also charge an enrollment fee, an annual maintenance fee, and other annual expenses.

College savings plans offered by each state differ significantly in features and benefits. The optimal choice for an individual investor depends on his/her objectives and circumstances. In comparing plans, an investor should consider each in terms of investment options, fees, and state tax implications.

Update:  Beginning in 2018, a new law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes it possible to use 529 accounts to pay for tuition not just at college, but also at public, private, or religious elementary or secondary schools. The TCJA also allows you to take tax-free distributions of up to $10,000 per year to pay for these education costs.

SIX COOL WAYS TO SAVE TAXES DURING THE HOT SUMMER MONTHS

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The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) may have put a crimp in some of your summer plans by eliminating or scaling back certain tax breaks. But individuals and small business owners still have plenty of opportunities to save taxes. Here are six ideas to consider this summer.

1. Host an Outing for Employees

Under prior law, businesses could deduct 50% of the cost of its entertainment and meal expenses, with certain exceptions. For example, you could write off 100% of the cost of a company outing for employees, such as a 4th of July barbecue or company picnic. This special tax law provision wasn't touched by the TCJA.

However, there has always been a catch to claim this tax break: You must invite the entire staff. In other words, you can't restrict the get-together to just the higher-ups. Inviting a few friends or family members won't jeopardize the deduction, but you can't write off the costs attributable to those social guests.

2. Combine Business Travel with Pleasure

Small business owners can generally deduct the cost of business travel — such as airfare and lodging — if the primary purpose of the trip is business-related. If you add a few extra vacation days to the trip, you can generally still write off your business-related expenses, including the entire cost of a round-trip airline ticket and lodging expenses and 50% of meal expenses for the business days. But the number of business days vs. personal days is critical to establish the primary business purpose test.

Business travelers should remember that the TCJA eliminates deductions for most business-related entertainment expenses, including the cost associated with facilities used for most of these activities. For instance, you can no longer deduct the cost of tickets to sporting events, sailing or golf outings, and theater tickets for events that immediately follow or precede a substantial business meeting.

You can still deduct 50% of your meal expenses while away on business, but the exact rules for deducting meals with business contacts aren't clear yet. Expect the IRS to issue detailed guidance sometime this year. In the meantime, keep detailed records of what you spend to take advantage of any deductions that turn out to be available.

3. Navigate a Deduction for a Boat

Under the TCJA, the mortgage interest deduction for 2018 through 2025 for one or two qualified residences is limited to interest paid on the first $750,000 of acquisition debt. (Prior home acquisition debts are grandfathered under prior law.)

The TCJA limit on home acquisition debt is down from $1 million, while the deduction for interest on the first $100,000 of home equity debt is generally repealed (unless the home equity debt is used to buy, build or substantially improve the home secured by the debt, in which case it can be treated as acquisition debt). Depending on the size of your mortgage(s), you might have enough slack to benefit from a little-known tax break for boats.

For this purpose, a "qualified residence" can be your primary residence and one other home. The IRS definition of a qualified residence includes a boat that has sleeping, cooking and toilet facilities. Therefore, a vessel should qualify if it has a galley, sleeping quarters and a bathroom. If you're shopping for a new boat, remember to stay within the current home acquisition debt limit of $750,000.

4. Schedule Time at Your Vacation Home

If you own a vacation home and rent it out part of the year, you can generally deduct related expenses against the rental income. You might even be able to claim a rental loss if your personal use for the year doesn't exceed the greater of:

  • 14 days, or

  • 10% of the rental time.

Keep an eye on these two personal use tests as the year progresses. If it helps you out tax-wise, you might forgo some personal vacation or rent out the place a little longer. Also, remember that a day spent cleaning the vacation home or making repairs doesn't count as a personal use day — even if the rest of the family tags along.

5. Camp Out for Dependent Care Credits

If you pay for child care costs while you work and the kids are out of school, you may be eligible for a dependent care credit. Generally, the credit is equal to 20% of the first $3,000 of qualified expenses for one child or 20% of up to $6,000 of qualified expenses for two or more children. So, the maximum credit is usually $600 for one child or $1,200 for two or more children.

The list of qualified expenses includes the cost of day camp where your child participates in recreational activities, such as swimming or hiking. The credit is even available for costs of specialty camps for athletics, academics or other pursuits. However, no credit can be claimed for an overnight summer camp.

6. Hire Your Kids

While staffing your business this summer, you might add a teenager or 20-something who's off from school. Not only does this provide a meaningful and financially rewarding activity for your child, but you can also claim a business deduction for the wages, assuming the amount is reasonable for the services performed.

When interviewing applicants for summer help, consider hiring your own child or grandchild. He or she will probably earn less than the standard deduction for a dependent — which the TCJA increased for 2018 to the greater of:

  • $1,050, or

  • $350 plus earned income limited to $12,000.

So, your child or grandchild probably won't owe any federal income tax on the wages. A child can even avoid withholding by claiming an exemption when filing his or her W-4. As a bonus, wages paid to an under-age-18 child or grandchild are exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes, if you run your business as:

  • A sole proprietorship,

  • A limited liability company (LLC) treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes,

  • A husband-wife partnership, or

  • A husband-wife LLC treated as a partnership for tax purposes.

A similar exemption for FUTA tax applies to wages paid to a child or grandchild under age 21.

Hot Planning Strategies

Could any of these strategies work for you or your business? Although the recent tax law may have complicated tax matters, it still provides some tax-saving opportunities. Contact your tax advisor for more information on these strategies and many other ideas that may apply to your personal or business tax situation.

THE OUTLOOK FOR INTERNSHIPS IS LOOKING UP

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In early January, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a fact sheet that lays out how the agency is aligning its policy on intern employment status with new rulings by several U.S. appellate courts. Previously, it would've been much harder to bring interns on board without having to pay them minimum wage and overtime. Employers had to satisfy several tests to prove that interns weren't subject to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections.

The new standard relies instead on a "primary beneficiary" test that's grounded in "economic reality," according to the DOL. If an unpaid intern (or one whose pay was less than that dictated by the FLSA) asserts that he or she should be covered by the FLSA, the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division would weigh the following seven factors.

The extent to which:

1. The intern and the employer clearly understand that there's no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, expressed or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee — and vice versa.

2. The internship provides training such as that would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.

3. The internship is tied to the intern's formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.

4. The internship accommodates the intern's academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.

5. The internship's duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.

6. The intern's work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.

7. The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job after the conclusion of the internship.

Unique Circumstances

Also, under the above test, "no single factor is determinative," the DOL explains. Rather, a determination will be made based on "the unique circumstances of each case."

Clearly, under these guidelines, an internship still must be a two-way street. And as a practical matter, an internship program — particularly an unpaid one — will need to appeal to prospective interns based on what they'll learn from it. Otherwise, they won't apply.

This begs the question: Why have an internship program in the first place? If it's not just a source of free or low-cost labor, how do internships benefit your organization? Here are the most important additional benefits, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). An internship program allows you to:

  • Tap into a pool of potential future full-time employees about whom you'll know much more than can be derived from resumes or job applications,

  • Generate your brand recognition as an employer, including recognition as an employer that helps launch careers of young people,

  • Gain an impetus to evaluate your human resource functions in terms of where there might be gaps in training support, both for interns and regular employees,

  • Advance your workforce diversity initiatives, and

  • Enhance the loyalty of employees whose own children and relatives are selected as interns.

Not Just for the Young

Keep in mind that while the typical internship involves students, interns can also include working-age people who are seeking a career change. Retirees and pre-retirees may wish to take on an internship to stay engaged in the working world, learn new skills and interact with others.

SHRM recommends that internship programs be created and assessed with the same degree of rigor as other important organizational initiatives. That means establishing a set of goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, also called "SMART goals." Examples of SMART goals could include enhancing or building a reputation as a "best local place to work." Another goal, suggested by SHRM, might be "obtaining candid feedback about organizational problems and overlooked opportunities and talents."

Caveats

Finally, here are a pair of internship caveats. First, be careful not to bump up against any child labor laws. Federal requirements are relatively minimal. However, state child labor laws vary widely and must be reviewed prior to launching an internship program.

The second caveat is that interns, particularly when they're not paid, sometimes consider themselves exempt from the workplace policies applicable to regular employees (such as an existing dress code). Generally, interns should be held to the same standards that you expect from employees. Just be sure to spell out those standards from the beginning.

As noted, the DOL's new flexibility with respect to internships doesn't give you carte blanche to ignore interns' needs and expectations about the benefits they'll derive from the program. But the value proposition of an internship from an employer perspective may be stronger than ever. You can improve your chances of avoiding legal challenges if you consult a qualified attorney before launching an internship program.

SUCCESSION PLANNING REQUIRES SMART STRATEGIES

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Succession planning is important in any business, but it's sometimes overlooked in family-owned operations. This is a big mistake. There are numerous former family-run companies that no longer exist due to poor or no succession plan.

A family meeting in a neutral settingaway from interruptions can help focus discussion, perhaps with the assistance of a professional consultant to guide the agenda.

Consideration should be given to business and personal goals, as well as the plans of the next generation. Who has the most aptitude for leadership? Who wants to stay with the business?

The plan needs to be well thought out and discussed with everyone affected. Don't just assume that a son or daughter will want to carry on the family business. Even if your children say they will take over, they may not have the true desire required to continue a successful operation.

The "heir to the throne" also may not have the business skills to succeed after a parent (or aunt, uncle, etc.) turns over the reins.

Another question that needs to be settled in the case of multiple potential successors (for example, more than one child): What responsibilities will each person have upon succession? It's important that the details be worked out early, because, in the case of an unexpected death or disability, succession might occur sooner than planned.

You also need to address the involvement of the next generation. In some situations, the retiring family elder has adult grandchildren — some who may already be working in the business.

Beyond the discussion of the roles of younger family members, you will also need to outline the times for major transitions, barring unexpected illnesses or death.

You want to make sure that the future leaders of the business have the proper training. There are several different options. One is having younger family members work in several different areas of the business. Another is having aspiring family business leaders get some experience in another, non-family business to learn alternative ways of doing things.

The importance of preparing for succession can't be overemphasized. Neither can the importance of transitioning the business in an orderly fashion.

Sometimes, as planned retirement nears, elder family members don't want to let go. This can cause resentment on both sides. Naturally, the elder family members want to see the business they built (or took over, if already a second-generation business), continue to succeed as it did under their leadership. They can be concerned that the firm won't flourish without their direction.

At the same time, the younger family members may think they can bring the business to even greater success if the older relatives would just step aside. This is where a scheduled, gradual transition of management and leadership responsibilities from one generation to the next can help.

As they turn over the reins of the business, elder family members can be compensated through preferred stock in the corporation. They can also look to stay involved in business — if not directly — through participation in industry groups and associations.

Such actions recognize the contributions of retiring members and help them recoup their equity. Meanwhile, the new manager and active relatives can plan for the future.

And once retiring family members are no longer immersed in the daily grind of running the business, they may be interested in pursuing non-business community activities, personal hobbies and travel that they never had time for before.

CONGRESS RAISES 401(K) HARDSHIP WITHDRAWAL LIMITS

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Most 401(k) plans permit hardship withdrawals, though plan sponsors aren't required to allow them. As it stands today, employees seeking to take money out of their 401(k) accounts are limited to the funds they contributed to the accounts themselves, and only after they've first taken a loan from the same account. Loans must be repaid, of course. The theory behind the loan requirement is that employees would be less apt to permanently deplete their 401(k) accounts with hardship withdrawals.

Thanks to the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) enacted in February, the rules change, beginning in 2019. Under the BBA, the employees' withdrawal limit will include not just amounts they have contributed. It also includes accumulated employer matching contributions plus earnings on contributions. If an employee has been participating in your 401(k) for several years, this modification could add substantially to the amount of funds available for withdrawal in the event of a legitimate hardship.

Liberalized Participation Rule

In addition to the changes above, the BBA also eliminates the current six-month ban on employee participation in the 401(k) plan following a hardship withdrawal. This is good news on two fronts: Employees can stay in the plan and keep contributing, which allows them to begin recouping withdrawn amounts right away. And for plan sponsors, it means they won't be required to dis-enroll and then re-enroll employees after that six-month hiatus.

One thing that hasn't changed: Hardship withdrawals are subject to a 10% tax penalty, along with regular income tax. That combination could take a substantial bite out of the amount withdrawn, effectively forcing account holders to take out more dollars than they otherwise would have in order to wind up with the same net amount.

For example, an employee who takes out a $5,000 loan from his or her 401(k) isn't taxed on that amount. But an employee who takes a hardship withdrawal and needs to end up with $5,000 will have to take out around $7,000 to allow for taxes and the 10% penalty.

Hardship Criteria

The BBA also didn't change the reasons for which hardship withdrawals can be made. Here's a reminder of the criteria, as described by the IRS: Such a withdrawal "must be made because of an immediate and heavy financial need of the employee and the amount must be necessary to satisfy the financial need." That can include the need of an employee's spouse or dependent, as well as that of a non-spouse, non-dependent beneficiary.

The IRS goes on to say that the meaning of "immediate and heavy" depends on the facts of the situation. It also assumes the employee doesn't have any other way to meet the needs apart from a hardship withdrawal. However, the following are examples offered by the IRS:

  • Qualified medical expenses (which presumably don't include cosmetic surgery);

  • Costs relating to the purchase of a principal residence;

  • Tuition and related educational fees and expenses;

  • Payments necessary to prevent eviction from, or foreclosure on, a principal residence;

  • Burial or funeral expenses; and

  • Certain expenses for the repair of damage to the employee's principal residence.

The IRS gives two examples of expenses that would generally not qualify for a hardship withdrawal: buying a boat and purchasing a television.

Finally, a financial need could be deemed immediate and heavy "even if it was reasonably foreseeable or voluntarily incurred by the employee."

Deadline Extension

Another important and somewhat related change in 401(k) rules was included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that took effect this year; it pertains to plan loans. Specifically, prior to 2018, if an employee with an outstanding plan loan left your company, that individual would have to repay the loan within 60 days to avoid having it deemed as a taxable distribution (and subject to a 10% premature distribution penalty for employees under age 59-1/2).

The TCJA changed that deadline to the latest date the former employee can file his or her tax return for the tax year in which the loan amount would otherwise be treated as a plan distribution. So, for example, if an employee with an outstanding loan of $5,000 left your company and took a new job on Dec. 31, 2017, that individual would have until April 15 (or, with a six-month fling extension, Oct. 15) 2018 to repay the loan.

Alternatively, the former employee could make a contribution of the same amount owed ($5,000, in this example) to an IRA or the former employee's new employer's plan, assuming the new plan permitted it. In effect, that $5,000 contribution to a new plan would be treated the same as a rollover from the old plan.

While this new flexibility might seem like a boon to plan participants, it could also represent a financial trap. Employees typically aren't accumulating enough dollars to put themselves on track to retire comfortably at a traditional retirement age. Therefore, although you can't prevent a plan participant from taking advantage of the new rules if they qualify, you can redouble your efforts to help employees understand the importance of thinking of their retirement savings as just that — savings for retirement, and not a "rainy day" fund.

THE OUTLOOK FOR INTERNSHIPS IS LOOKING UP

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In early January, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a fact sheet that lays out how the agency is aligning its policy on intern employment status with new rulings by several U.S. appellate courts. Previously, it would've been much harder to bring interns on board without having to pay them minimum wage and overtime. Employers had to satisfy several tests to prove that interns weren't subject to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections.

The new standard relies instead on a "primary beneficiary" test that's grounded in "economic reality," according to the DOL. If an unpaid intern (or one whose pay was less than that dictated by the FLSA) asserts that he or she should be covered by the FLSA, the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division would weigh the following seven factors.

The extent to which:

1. The intern and the employer clearly understand that there's no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, expressed or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee — and vice versa.

2. The internship provides training such as that would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.

3. The internship is tied to the intern's formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.

4. The internship accommodates the intern's academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.

5. The internship's duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.

6. The intern's work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.

7. The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job after the conclusion of the internship.

Unique Circumstances

Also, under the above test, "no single factor is determinative," the DOL explains. Rather, a determination will be made based on "the unique circumstances of each case."

Clearly, under these guidelines, an internship still must be a two-way street. And as a practical matter, an internship program — particularly an unpaid one — will need to appeal to prospective interns based on what they'll learn from it. Otherwise, they won't apply.

This begs the question: Why have an internship program in the first place? If it's not just a source of free or low-cost labor, how do internships benefit your organization? Here are the most important additional benefits, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). An internship program allows you to:

  • Tap into a pool of potential future full-time employees about whom you'll know much more than can be derived from resumes or job applications,

  • Generate your brand recognition as an employer, including recognition as an employer that helps launch careers of young people,

  • Gain an impetus to evaluate your human resource functions in terms of where there might be gaps in training support, both for interns and regular employees,

  • Advance your workforce diversity initiatives, and

  • Enhance the loyalty of employees whose own children and relatives are selected as interns.

Not Just for the Young

Keep in mind that while the typical internship involves students, interns can also include working-age people who are seeking a career change. Retirees and pre-retirees may wish to take on an internship to stay engaged in the working world, learn new skills and interact with others.

SHRM recommends that internship programs be created and assessed with the same degree of rigor as other important organizational initiatives. That means establishing a set of goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, also called "SMART goals." Examples of SMART goals could include enhancing or building a reputation as a "best local place to work." Another goal, suggested by SHRM, might be "obtaining candid feedback about organizational problems and overlooked opportunities and talents."

Caveats

Finally, here are a pair of internship caveats. First, be careful not to bump up against any child labor laws. Federal requirements are relatively minimal. However, state child labor laws vary widely and must be reviewed prior to launching an internship program.

The second caveat is that interns, particularly when they're not paid, sometimes consider themselves exempt from the workplace policies applicable to regular employees (such as an existing dress code). Generally, interns should be held to the same standards that you expect from employees. Just be sure to spell out those standards from the beginning.

As noted, the DOL's new flexibility with respect to internships doesn't give you carte blanche to ignore interns' needs and expectations about the benefits they'll derive from the program. But the value proposition of an internship from an employer perspective may be stronger than ever. You can improve your chances of avoiding legal challenges if you consult a qualified attorney before launching an internship program.

REMEMBER BUSINESS BASICS WHEN PAYING RELATIVES

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Paying family members wages, salaries and bonuses and dividing profits among them can be tricky.

It's not uncommon for some employees to feel they're underpaid, but the same complaints are more personal in a family business. Different siblings may make different salaries or one relative may actually work more than another, even though they both earn the same compensation.

Although some complaints will always exist, family business owners can ease some of these tensions and discrepancies — real or imagined — by looking critically at the company's compensation policies. They may need to be reworked to reflect the true value of managers and employees.

Salaries are best handled by matching them to industry guidelines. Determine local salary ranges for various jobs and use them as a guide for paying both family and non-family personnel. When you tie salary to a job description, you recognize the value the industry puts on positions and you treat all employees more equitably. If you pay above, below or at market norms, make sure everyone is paid at those levels.

If you opt for a combination of salary or hourly wages plus bonuses, look carefully at the justification for additional payments. Holiday or similar bonuses that go to all employees are a relatively simple matter. However, performance bonuses should reflect actual benefits to the company, as well as the company's stated and practiced policies.

For example, a family-owned construction company might pay bonuses to employees who finish work ahead of schedule, but not if the work is done poorly because the business prides itself on quality.

Carefully Examine Bonus Plans

Bonuses for the sake of bonuses don't benefit the company, nor do they provide incentives for better performance from family or non-family employees. Of course, some family members may have done more than work in the business. They may have also put money into the company, particularly in the early years.

You can recognize that equity, and perhaps some of the sweat equity put in before the company expanded outside the family, with dividends paid out of the company's profits. The dividends can go up or down with the success of the company and can be paid on a periodic or one-time basis.

Profits Fuel Growth and Future Success

Be careful how much you pay out, both in terms of wages, benefits and dividends. How the profit pie is divided is vital to growth in a small business. If you don't feed your business, eventually it won't feed you.

Profits are the seedbed for expansion. If you don't reinvest some earnings in equipment, training and expansion, the business may eventually falter. Family members should realize the importance of retaining some of the earnings each year. In addition to providing funds for growth, profits funneled back into the business provide a cushion for downturns and show financial prudence to lenders.

ONE TEAM'S APPROACH TO RETAINING EMPLOYEES

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Keeping top-notch employees in a high turnover field can be a real challenge.

What to do? Consider strategies employed by one business. The two owners started their home and commercial repair business because, as landlords of rental properties, they were frustrated when they had to call three different people in order to get a job done. The drywaller was always waiting on the electrician, and the electrician was always waiting on the plumber — and nobody was satisfied.

So they created a company that coordinated skilled services for other commercial and residential businesses. They have found that keeping quality, dependable employees is essential to their success.

Before they started their repair business, the two owners had several decades of experience being on the other end as employees. They had some bad bosses and some great bosses. As employers, they wanted their own employees to feel they were trusted to handle problems without micromanaging.

Here are several tips from the owners for retaining employees:

  • Give them as much independence as you can. When it comes to experienced employees, you need to give them leeway in how to do their jobs. The repair business owners know their workers are more experienced than they are in carpentry, plumbing, electricity and other skilled trades. So they believe it's insulting and unwise to tell skilled employees how to do certain parts of their jobs.

  • Treat employees with respect. Set expectations and make them clear. Most employees will meet or exceed them. In the rare cases where employees don't meet expectations, deal with it in private. Don't put anybody down in front of others.

  • Be flexible when you can, and let employees know they're valued. One employee of the repair business asked to leave early on Fridays so he could volunteer on a rescue team. The owners not only let the employee leave early, they made it clear they were proud of him.

  • Focus on being team players. Don't create an environment where employees compete with each other. Be a team. If staff members have a problem or don't know how to do something, they should feel free to get on the phone and call another team member to ask for help. Emphasize that each person has areas of special skill and they should lean on each other for advice or assistance.

And the payoff for the repair business? One of the owners explained it this way: "We believe the employees are more productive, happier and more willing to give the extra effort when we need it. If I tell them that we have a job that we can only do on Saturday or Sunday, they readily pitch in to get it done."

HOW THE NEW LIMIT ON 'SALT' DEDUCTIONS AFFECTS HOMEOWNERS

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The ability to deduct state and local taxes (SALT) has historically been a valuable tax break for taxpayers who itemize deductions on their federal income tax returns. Unfortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) limits SALT deductions for 2018 through 2025. Here's important information that homeowners should know about the new limitation.

Old Law, New Law

Under prior law, in addition to being allowed to deduct 100% of state and local income (or sales) taxes, homeowners could deduct 100% of their state and local personal property taxes.

In other words, there was previously no limit on the amount of personal (nonbusiness) SALT deductions you could take, if you itemized. You also had the option of deducting personal state and local general sales taxes, instead of state and local income taxes (if you owed little or nothing for state and local income taxes).

Under the TCJA, for 2018 through 2025, itemized deductions for personal SALT amounts are limited to a combined total of only $10,000 ($5,000 if you use married filing separately status). The limitation applies to state and local 1) income (or sales) taxes, and 2) property taxes.

Moreover, personal foreign real property taxes can no longer be deducted at all. So, if you're lucky enough to own a vacation villa in Italy, a cottage in Canada or a beach condo in Cancun, you're out of luck when it comes to deducting the property taxes.

Who's Hit Hardest?

These changes unfavorably affect individuals who pay high property taxes because:

  • They live in high-property-tax jurisdictions,

  • They own expensive homes (resulting in a hefty property tax bill), or

  • They own both a primary residence and one or more vacation homes (resulting in bigger property tax bills due to owning several properties).

People in these categories can now deduct a maximum $10,000 of personal state and local property taxes — even if they deduct nothing for personal state and local income taxes or general sales taxes.

Tax Planning Considerations

Is there any way to deduct more than $10,000 of property taxes? The only potential way around this limitation is if you own a home that's used partially for business. For example, you might have a deductible office space in your home, lease your basement to a full-time tenant or rent your house on Airbnb during the winter months.

In those situations, you could deduct property taxes allocable to those business or rental uses, on top of the $10,000 itemized deduction limit for taxes allocable to your personal use. The incremental deductions would be subject to the rules that apply to deductions for those uses.

For example, home office deductions can't exceed the income from the related business activity. And deductions for the rental use of a property that's also used as a personal residence generally can't exceed the rental income.

Important: If you pay both state and local 1) property taxes, and 2) income (or sales) taxes, trying to maximize your property tax deduction may reduce what you can deduct for state and local income (or sales) taxes.

For example, suppose you have $8,000 of state and local property taxes and $10,000 of state and local income taxes. You can deduct the full $8,000 of property taxes but only $2,000 of income taxes. If you want to deduct more state and local property taxes, your deduction for state and local income taxes goes down dollar-for-dollar.

AMT Warning

Years ago, Congress enacted the alternative minimum tax (AMT) rules to ensure that high-income individuals pay their fair share of taxes. When calculating the AMT, some regular tax breaks are disallowed to prevent taxpayers from taking advantage of multiple tax breaks.

If you're liable for the AMT, SALT deductions — including itemized deductions for personal income (or sales) and property taxes — are completely disallowed under the AMT rules. This AMT disallowance rule was in effect under prior law, and it still applies under the TCJA.

More Limits on Homeowners

The new limits on property tax deductions will affect many homeowners. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you have a large mortgage or home equity debt, your interest expense deductions also may be limited under the new law. For more information about how the TCJA affects homeowners, contact your tax advisor.

HELP US MAKE 10,000 MEALS IN TWO HOURS!

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Generosity Feeds is working to feed hungry children in every county across America so all children have the opportunity to thrive.   Right here in Johnson County, KS, over 26% of children struggle with hunger. 

On Saturday, April 7th from 10am-noon, along with MOD Pizza, OP Church, and The Barefoot Mission, Fulling Management & Accounting will be partnering with Generosity Feeds to prepare and package 10,000 meals.   You can see more details at: www.generosityfeeds.org/ks   

We can't do it alone.  We need your help!    If you have been looking for an event for you and your team to serve, this is it!      Contact us at info@fullingmgmt.com to sign up. 

Thanks for making a difference in the lives of children right here in our own community.

-Rusty Fulling

KEEPING GOOD RECORDS IS GOOD BUSINESS

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Maintaining good records is important to help meet your tax and legal obligations. The right record-keeping system not only helps satisfy these obligations, but it may save you money and time. Here's what to consider for your record-keeping system.

What Records Do You Need to Keep?

The first step is identifying the records you need to maintain. The obvious examples include leases, contracts, payroll and personnel records and a range of accounting and finance information, such as invoices, receipts, checks, payables and inventory. Please consult a professional with tax expertise regarding your individual situation.¹

How Do You Want to Keep Them?

Record maintenance can take three basic forms:

  • Paper-based: It's old school, but maintaining records in file folders stored in a metal cabinet may be sufficient, though at the risk of files being damaged or destroyed with no backup.
  • Computer-based: Maintaining records on computers save space and make records management easier. Consider backing up files and keeping them off-site.
  • Cloud computing: Records are stored and managed on the internet, offering possible savings on software, reducing the risk of lost data and providing access from any location.

What Software Should You Use?

The right software can make life more productive; the wrong software may cost you time and money.

When shopping for software, consider:

  • The size of your organization. Do you want an easy-to-use package, or are you able to hire a dedicated employee to take advantage of a more sophisticated alternative?
  • What sort of training and support is provided? Without the right measure of either, your software may not be the productivity tool you envisioned.
  • Is specialized software available? The needs of different professions can vary greatly. Specialized software may have capabilities not available with more generic software.
  • What are its mobile capabilities? If you operate your business from the road, you may want your software to have robust mobile features.

SIX LAST-CHANCE TAX BREAKS: DO YOU QUALIFY?

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The new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) significantly changes some parts of the tax code that relate to personal tax returns. In addition to lowering most of the tax rates and increasing the standard deduction, the TCJA repeals, suspends or modifies some valuable tax deductions. As a result, millions of Americans who have itemized deductions in the past are expected to claim the standard deduction for 2018 through 2025.

The TCJA provisions for individuals generally take effect for the 2018 tax year and "sunset" after 2025. That means that they technically expire in eight years unless Congress takes further action. In the meantime, you still have a shot at several key tax deductions on your 2017 return before they're scheduled to expire. This is the return you must file or extend by April 17, 2018.

Here are six popular federal income tax breaks that will be suspended or modified by the new law. Generally, prior law continues to apply to these deductions for your 2017 tax year, so you can write off the expenses with little or no limitation for 2017.

1. State and Local Taxes (SALT)

The SALT deduction was a hot-button issue in tax reform talks. Eventually, Congress made a concession to residents of high-tax states, but it may be a hollow victory for some people.

Under prior law, if you itemized deductions you could generally deduct the full amount of your 1) state and local property taxes, and 2) your state and local income taxes orstate and local general sales taxes. Now the TCJA limits the deduction to $10,000 annually for any combination of these taxes, beginning in 2018. But the deduction does you no good if you don't itemize.

On your 2017 return, you can still opt to deduct the full amount of 1) property taxes, and 2) state and local income taxes or sales taxes. The income tax deduction is usually preferable to the sales tax deduction to those who reside in states with high income tax rates. Conversely, you can elect to deduct general state and local sales tax if your state and local income tax bill is small or nonexistent. If you opt for the sales tax deduction, you can deduct your actual expenses or a flat amount based on an IRS table, plus additional actual sales tax amounts for certain big-ticket items (such as cars and boats).

2. Mortgage Interest

Home mortgage interest can still be deducted after 2017, but new limitations will result in smaller deductions for some taxpayers.

For 2017 returns, you can deduct mortgage interest paid on the first $1 million of acquisition debt (typically, a loan to buy a home) and interest on the first $100,000 of home equity debt for a qualified residence. It doesn't matter how the proceeds for a home equity loan are used.

Under the new law, the threshold for acquisition debt is generally reduced to $750,000 for loans made after December 15, 2017. In addition, the deduction for home equity debt is repealed. However, interest on home equity debt that is used to make home improvements might still be deductible if it can be characterized as acquisition debt. We'll have to wait for IRS guidance on this issue to know for sure. In addition, if home equity debt is used to fund a pass-through business that the taxpayer owns (such as a partnership or S corporation or sole proprietorship), the interest expense may qualify as a deductible business expense (subject to new restrictions on business interest expense deductions under the TCJA).

Homeowners with existing mortgages are "grandfathered" under the new rules, even if the loan is refinanced (up to the existing debt amount). But you can't deduct any interest on home equity debt that's used for personal expenditures (such as a new car, a vacation or your child's college costs) after 2017.

3. Casualty and Theft Losses

For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA suspends the deduction for casualty and theft losses except for damage suffered in certain federal disaster areas. Under prior law — which applies to your 2017 tax return — unreimbursed casualty losses are deductible in excess of 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), after subtracting $100 for each casualty or theft event.

For example, suppose you have an AGI of $100,000 in 2017 and incur a single casualty loss of $21,100. You can deduct $11,000 [$21,100 – $100 – (10% of $100,000)]. In addition, this loss must be caused by an event that is "sudden, unexpected or unusual."

The new law suspends this deduction except for losses incurred in an area designated by the President as a federal disaster area under the Stafford Act. Special rules may come into play if a taxpayer realizes a gain on an involuntary conversion.

4. Miscellaneous Expenses

Under prior law, deductions for most miscellaneous expenses were subject to an annual floor based on 2% of AGI. From 2018 through 2025, this deduction won't be available at all.

For your 2017 return, you can still deduct miscellaneous expenses for the year above 2% of your AGI. These expenses typically relate to production of income, including:

  • Tax advisory and return preparation fees,

  • Investment fees,

  • Hobby losses, and

  • Unreimbursed employee business expenses.

For example, suppose you have AGI of $100,000 in 2017 and incur $5,000 of qualified unreimbursed employee business expenses. You can deduct any expenses over 2% of your AGI ($2,000). So, you can claim $3,000 ($5,000 – $2,000) of unreimbursed business expenses on Schedule A, absent any other limits.

Important note: Under the new law, taxpayers also can't deduct miscellaneous expenses, including investment fees, for purposes of calculating net investment income. As a result, some taxpayers may pay more net investment income tax (NIIT), starting in 2018.

5. Job-Related Moving Expenses

Under prior law, you could claim qualified job-related moving expenses as an "above-the-line" deduction. Under the new law, this deduction is suspended for 2018 through 2025, except for expenses incurred by active duty military personnel.

To qualify for a deduction for moving expenses on your 2017 return, you must meet a two-part test involving distance and time:

Distance. Your new job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old job location was from your former home.

Time. If you're an employee, you must work full-time for at least 39 weeks during the first 12 months after you arrive in the general area of the new job. The time requirement is doubled for self-employed taxpayers.

Assuming you pass the test, you can deduct the reasonable costs of moving your household goods and personal effects to a new home in 2017, as well as the travel expenses (including lodging, but not meals) between the two locations. In lieu of actual vehicle expenses, you may use a flat rate of $0.17 per mile for 2017.

6. Alimony

Currently, alimony paid under a divorce or separation agreement is deductible by the spouse who pays it and taxable to the spouse who receives it. The TCJA repeals the alimony deduction and the corresponding rule requiring inclusion in income for the recipient.

In addition, unlike most of the other tax law changes for individuals, this provision doesn't go into effect right away. It's effective for agreements entered into after December 31, 2018. In other words, taxpayers with agreements executed before that cutoff date are allowed to follow the old rules. But payers under post-2018 agreements get no deduction. This change is permanent for post-2018 agreements; it doesn't sunset after 2025.

More Information

This list isn't complete. But it's a good starting point for preparing your 2017 income tax return. If you have questions or concerns, contact your tax advisor.

YEAR-END BUSINESS TAX PLANNING STRATEGIES

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Year-End Business Tax Planning Strategies in Light of Tax Reform

It's not too late! You can still take steps to significantly reduce your business's 2017 income tax bill and possibly lay the groundwork for tax savings in future years.

Here are five year-end tax-saving ideas to consider, along with proposed tax reforms that might affect your tax planning strategies.

1. Juggle Income and Deductible Expenditures

If you conduct business using a so-call "pass-through" entity, your share of the business's income and deductions is passed through to your personal tax return and taxed at your personal tax rates. Pass-through entities include sole proprietorships, S corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs) and partnerships.

If the current tax rules still apply in 2018, next year's individual federal income tax rate brackets will be about the same as this year's (with modest increases for inflation). Here, the traditional strategy of deferring income into next year while accelerating deductible expenditures into this year makes sense if you expect to be in the same or lower tax bracket next year. Deferring income and accelerating deductions will, at a minimum, postpone part of your tax bill from 2017 until 2018. (See "How to Defer Income" at right.)

On the other hand, you should take the opposite approach if your business is healthy and you expect to be in a significantly higher tax bracket in 2018. That is, accelerate income into this year (if possible) and postpone deductible expenditures until 2018. That way, more income will be taxed at this year's lower rate instead of next year's higher rate.

Tax reform considerations for pass-through business entities. The House tax reform bill that passed on November 16 — known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 — would lower federal income tax rates for most individual taxpayers. However, some upper-middle-income and high-income individuals could pay a higher rate under the proposal.

The House bill would also install a maximum 25% federal income tax rate for passive business income from a pass-through entity. And it would tax the capital percentage of active business income from a pass-through entity at the preferential 25% maximum rate. The capital percentage would be either 30% or a higher percentage for capital-intensive businesses. The preferential 25% rate wouldn't be available for personal service businesses, such as medical practices, law offices and accounting firms. Pass-through business income that doesn't qualify for the preferential 25% rate would be taxed at the regular rates for individual taxpayers.

The Senate tax reform proposal — also called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 — would also lower federal income tax rates for most individuals. And it would generally allow an individual taxpayer to deduct 17.4% of domestic qualified business income from a pass-through entity. However, the deduction would be phased out for income that's passed through from specified service businesses starting at taxable income of $500,000 for married joint-filers and $250,000 for individuals.

On the other hand, if your business operates as a C corporation, the 2017 corporate tax rates are the same as in recent years. If you don't expect tax law changes and you expect the business will pay the same or lower tax rate in 2017, the appropriate strategy would be to defer income into next year and accelerate deductible expenditures into this year. If you expect the opposite, try to accelerate income into this year while postponing deductible expenditures until next year.

Tax reform considerations for C corporations. Under the House tax reform proposal, income from C corporations would be taxed at a flat 20% rate for tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond. A flat tax rate of 25% would apply to personal service corporations. If you think that these rate changes will happen, C corporations should consider deferring some income into 2018, when it could be taxed at a lower rate. Accelerating deductions into this year would have the same beneficial effect.

The Senate proposal would also install a flat 20% corporate rate, but it wouldn't take effect until tax years beginning in 2019. The 20% tax rate would also be available to personal service corporations under the Senate bill.

Tax reform considerations for all businesses. Both the House and Senate tax reform proposals would eliminate some business tax breaks that are allowed under current law. So, try to maximize any tax breaks in 2017 that might be eliminated for 2018. Doing so will help reduce your tax bill for 2017.

2. Buy a Heavy Vehicle

Large SUVs, pickups and vans can be useful if you haul people and goods for your business. They also have major tax advantages.

Thanks to the Section 179 deduction privilege, you can immediately write off up to $25,000 of the cost of a new or used heavy SUV that is placed in service by the end of your business tax year that begins in 2017 and is used over 50% for business during that year.

If the vehicle is new, 50% first-year bonus depreciation allows you to write off half of the remaining business-use portion of the cost of a heavy SUV, pickup or van that's placed in service in calendar year 2017 and used over 50% for business during the year.

After taking advantage of the preceding two breaks, you can follow the "regular" tax depreciation rules to write off whatever's left of the business portion of the cost of the heavy SUV, pickup or van over six years, starting with 2017.

To cash in on this favorable tax treatment, you must buy a "suitably heavy" vehicle, which means one with a manufacturer's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) above 6,000 pounds. The first-year depreciation deductions for lighter SUVs, trucks, vans, and passenger cars are much skimpier. You can usually find a vehicle's GVWR specification on a label on the inside edge of the driver's side door where the hinges meet the frame.

To highlight how the tax savings can add up, let's suppose your calendar-year business purchases a new $65,000 heavy SUV today and uses it 100% for business between now and December 31, 2017.

What's your write-off for 2017?

1. You can deduct $25,000 under Sec. 179.

2. You can use the 50% first-year bonus depreciation break to write off another $20,000 (half the remaining cost of $40,000 after subtracting the Section 179 deduction).

3. You then follow the regular depreciation rules for the remaining cost of $20,000. For 2017, this will usually result in an additional $4,000 deduction (20% x $20,000).

So, the total depreciation write-off for 2017 is $49,000 ($25,000 + $20,000 + $4,000). This represents roughly 75% of the vehicle's cost.

In contrast, if you spend the same $65,000 on a new sedan that you use 100% for business between now and year end, your first-year depreciation write-off will be only $11,160.

Important note: Estimate your taxable income before considering any Sec. 179 deduction. If your business is expected to have a tax loss for the year (or to be close to a loss), you might not be able to use this tax break. The so-called "business taxable income limitation" prevents businesses from claiming Sec. 179 write-offs that would create or increase an overall business tax loss.

3. Cash in on Other Depreciation Tax-Savers

There are more Section 179 breaks, beyond those that apply to heavy vehicle purchases. For the 2017 tax year, the maximum Section 179 first-year depreciation deduction is $510,000. This break allows many smaller businesses to immediately deduct the cost of most or all of their equipment and software purchases in the current tax year.

This can be especially beneficial if you buy a new or used heavy long-bed pickup (or a heavy van) and use it over 50% in your business. Why? Unlike heavy SUVs, these other heavy vehicles aren't subject to the $25,000 Sec. 179 deduction limitation. So, you can probably deduct the full business percentage of the cost on this year's federal income tax return.

You can also claim a first-year Sec. 179 deduction of up to $510,000 for qualified real property improvement costs for the business tax year beginning in 2017. This break applies to the following types of real property:

  • Certain improvements to interiors of leased nonresidential buildings,

  • Certain restaurant buildings or improvements to such buildings, and

  • Certain improvements to interiors of retail buildings.

Deductions claimed for qualified real property costs count against the overall $510,000 maximum for Section 179 deductions.

Section 179 tax reform considerations. For tax years beginning in 2018 through 2022, the House tax reform bill would increase the maximum Sec. 179 deduction to $5 million per year, adjusted for inflation. The maximum deduction would start to phase out if your business places in service over $20 million (adjusted for inflation) of qualifying property during the tax year. Qualified energy efficient heating and air conditioning equipment acquired and placed in service after November 2, 2017, would be eligible for the Sec. 179 deduction.

The Senate tax reform bill would increase the maximum annual Sec. 179 deduction to $1 million and increase the deduction phaseout threshold to $2.5 million. (Both amounts would be adjusted annually for inflation.) The Senate bill would also allow Sec. 179 deductions for tangible personal property used in connection with furnishing lodging, as well as for the following improvements made to nonresidential buildings after the buildings are placed in service:

  • Roofs,

  • HVAC equipment,

  • Fire protection and alarm systems, and

  • Security systems.

In addition to Sec. 179, you can claim 50% first-year bonus depreciation for qualified new (not used) assets that your business places in service in calendar year 2017. Examples of qualified asset additions include new computer systems, purchased software, vehicles, machinery, equipment and office furniture.

You can also claim 50% bonus depreciation for qualified improvement property, which means any qualified improvement to the interior portion of a nonresidential building if the improvement is placed in service after the date the building is placed in service. However, qualified improvement costs don't include expenditures for:

  • The enlargement of a building,

  • Any elevator or escalator, or

  • The internal structural framework of a building.

Bonus depreciation tax reform considerations. Under current law, the bonus depreciation percentage is scheduled to drop to 40% for qualified assets that are placed in service in calendar year 2018. However, both the House and Senate tax reform proposals would allow unlimited 100% first-year depreciation for qualifying assets acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023.

Under the House bill, qualified property could be new or used, but it couldn't be used in a real property business.

For property placed in service in 2018 and beyond, the Senate bill would shorten the depreciation period for residential rental property and commercial real property to 25 years (vs. 27-1/2 years and 39 years, respectively, under current law). Additionally, a 10-year depreciation period would apply to qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property and qualified retail improvement property.

4. Create an NOL

When deductible expenses exceed income, your business will have a net operating loss (NOL). You can create (or increase) a 2017 NOL using the business tax breaks and strategies discussed in this article (with the exception of the Sec. 179 first-year depreciation deduction).

Then you have a choice. You can opt to carry back a 2017 NOL for up to two years in order to recover taxes paid in those earlier years. Or you can opt to carry forward the NOL for up to 20 years. 

Tax reform considerations. Under both the House and Senate tax reform bills, taxpayers could generally use an NOL carryover to offset only 90% of taxable income for the year the carryover is utilized (versus 100% under current law). Under both bills, NOLs couldn't be carried back to earlier tax years, but they could be carried forward indefinitely. Under the House bill, these changes would generally take effect for tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond. Under the Senate proposal, the changes would take effect in tax years beginning in 2023 and beyond. 

 

5. Sell Qualified Small Business Stock

For qualified small business corporation (QSBC) stock that was acquired after September 27, 2010, a 100% federal gain exclusion break is potentially available when the stock is eventually sold. That equates to a 0% federal income tax rate if the shares are sold for a gain.

What's the catch? First, you must hold the shares for more than five years to benefit from this break. Also be aware that this deal isn't available to C corporations that own QSBC stock, and many companies won't meet the definition of a QSBC.

Ready, Set, Plan

This year end, tax planning for businesses is complicated by the possibility of major tax reforms that could take effect next year. The initial proposals set forth in Congress are ambitious in scope and would generally help small businesses and small business owners lower their taxes. However, tax rate cuts and other pro-business changes could be balanced by the elimination of some longstanding tax breaks. Your tax advisor is monitoring tax reform developments and will help you take the most favorable path in your situation.

HIRE YOUR KIDS AND SAVE TAXES

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Here's a great tax-saving idea for those who have teenagers who can work part-time in the family business. Hire the kids as legitimate employees. This strategy works best if your business operates as:

 

  • A husband-wife partnership (owned only by you and your spouse).

  • A husband-wife Limited Liability Company (LLC), which is treated as a husband-wife partnership for federal tax purposes.

  • A sole proprietorship.

  • A single-member LLC, which is treated as a sole proprietorship for federal tax purposes.

This same strategy also works well (though not quite as favorably) for other types of family business entities, such as a C or S corporation, a partnership or LLC that's not owned strictly by a husband and wife. Businesses organized as corporations do pay Social Security tax on the wages of a child or other relative, both at the individual and corporate level.

The best-case scenario is when the business operates as a husband-wife partnership or sole proprietorship.

As long as your employee-children are under age 18, wages paid to them by the family business are not subject to Social Security, Medicare or federal unemployment (FUTA) taxes.

The news gets better. In 2018, a child can also shelter up to $6,500 (up from $6,350 in 2017) of wages from federal income tax with his or her standard deduction. Bottom line: Your child will probably owe little or no federal income tax at the end of the year.

Your Side of the Deal Is Equally Appealing:

  • You get a business deduction for money that, as a parent, you probably would have given your child anyway.

  • This write-off reduces both your federal income tax and self‑employment tax bills.

  • Your adjusted gross income (AGI) is lowered, which means there is less chance that you'll be subject to unfavorable AGI-based phase-out rules.

Meanwhile, your child can save some or all of the wage money and invest it. The investment earnings and gains will be taxed at your child's low rates. This assumes the "kiddie tax" doesn't apply to your child's investment income.

With good planning, some of this investment income can eventually be used to pay part of your child's college expenses, which means the savings can stretch far into the future.