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In this edition
May 7, 2019

Innocent Spouse Rules Offer Protection Under Some Circumstances

Podcast: Cash vs. Accrual Basis

Deducting Business Losses for Pass-Through Entities

QuickBooks Connect Roundtable
Innocent Spouse Rules Offer Protection Under Some Circumstances
Must one spouse pay the tax resulting from a fabrication or omission by another spouse on a jointly filed tax return? It depends. If the spouse qualifies, he or she may be able to avoid personal tax liability under the “innocent spouse” rules.

Joint Filing Status

Generally, married taxpayers benefit overall by filing a joint tax return on the federal level. This is particularly the case when one spouse earns significantly more than the other. Filing jointly may also help the couple maximize certain income tax deductions and credits.

But joint filing status comes with a catch. Each spouse is “jointly and severally” responsible for any tax, interest and penalties attributable to the return. And this liability continues to apply even if the couple gets a divorce or one spouse dies. In other words, the IRS may try to collect the full amount due from one spouse, even if all the income reported on the joint return was earned by the other spouse.

Basic Rules

However, the tax law provides tax relief for an “innocent spouse.” Under these rules, one spouse may not be liable for any unpaid tax and penalties, despite having signed the joint return.

To determine eligibility for relief, the IRS imposes a set of common requirements. The spouses must have filed a joint return that has an understatement of tax, and that understatement must be attributable to one spouse’s erroneous items. For this purpose, “erroneous items” are defined as any deduction, credit or tax basis incorrectly stated on the return, as well as any income not reported.

From there, the other (“innocent”) spouse must establish that, at the time the joint return was signed, he or she didn’t know — or have reason to know — there was an understatement of tax. Finally, to qualify, the IRS needs to find that it would be unfair to hold one spouse liable for the understatement after considering all the facts and circumstances.

Additional Notes

For many years, innocent spouse relief had to be requested within two years after the IRS first began its collection activity against a taxpayer. But, in 2011, the IRS announced that it would no longer apply the two-year limit on collection activities.

In addition, by law, when one spouse applies for innocent spouse relief, the IRS must contact the other spouse or former spouse. There are no exceptions even for victims of spousal abuse or domestic violence.

Help Available

Historically, courts haven’t been particularly generous about upholding claims under the innocent spouse rules. State laws can also complicate matters. If you’re wondering whether you’d qualify for relief, please contact us for help.
What Does the IRS Consider?

The IRS considers “all facts and circumstances” in determining whether it would be inequitable to hold an “innocent” spouse liable for taxes due on a jointly filed tax return. One factor that may increase the likelihood of relief is that the taxes owed are clearly attributable to one spouse or an ex-spouse who filled out the errant return.

If one spouse was deserted during the marriage, or suffered abuse, it may also improve the chances that innocent spouse relief will be granted. In some cases, the IRS may examine the couple’s situation to determine whether the spouse applying for relief knew about the erroneous items.

Contact: Dianna Streed, CPA
Direct: 507.453.5967
Email: dstreed@hawkinsashcpas.com
Podcast: Cash vs. Accrual Basis
 One of the things tax reform gave us is the opportunity for more businesses to use the cash basis of accounting. Listen in to Jeff Dvorachek explain what cash vs. accrual basis is and how you can use these tactics in your strategy to save taxes.
Deducting Business Losses for Pass-Through Entities
It’s not uncommon for businesses to sometimes generate tax losses. But the tax law limits  deductible  losses in some situations. And the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) further restricts the amount of losses that sole proprietors, partners, S corporation shareholders and, typically, limited liability company (LLC) members can now deduct. If your company operates under one of these business structures, it’s important to bear all these limitations in mind as the year rolls along.

Before and After

Under pre-TCJA law, an individual taxpayer’s business losses could usually be fully deducted in the tax year when they arose unless the passive activity loss (PAL) rules or some other provision of tax law limited that favorable outcome. Another restriction was if the business loss was so large that it exceeded taxable income from other sources, creating a net operating loss (NOL).

The TCJA temporarily changes the rules for deducting an individual taxpayer’s business losses. If your pass-through business generates a tax loss for a tax year 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, plus $250,000 ($500,000 if you’re a married taxpayer filing jointly). The excess business loss is carried forward to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for NOLs.

What it Means

For business losses passed through to individuals from S corporations, partnerships and LLCs 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.

Keep in mind that the new loss limitation rules kick in 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 rules.

Practical Impact

The rationale underlying the new loss limitation rules is to restrict the ability of individual taxpayers to use current-year business losses 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 joint filers). The requirement that excess business losses be carried forward as an NOL forces you to wait at least one year to get any tax benefit from those excess losses.

Potential Effect

If you’re expecting your business to generate a tax loss in 2019, we can help you determine whether you’ll be affected by the new loss limitation rules.
Contact: Matt Eckelberg, CPA
Direct: 715.384.1995
Email: meckelberg@hawkinsashcpas.com
QuickBooks Connect Roundtable
Join the month-end conversation! Register today to participate in our upcoming QuickBooks Connect Roundtable in June. During this 1.5 hour call-in session, our conversation will center around month-end processing in QuickBooks. Debbie Denny, Accounting Services Manager, will lead the dialogue, answering questions and providing tactical advice to topics you submit during registration.

Date: June 5, 2019
Time: 12 noon - 1:30 p.m.
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