How to be Your Tax Pro’s Favorite Client this Tax Season

How to be a good clientWhy on earth, you may ask yourself, would I care about being a good client to my tax prep professional? I mean, you are a paying client, and aside from treating them with the same decency and respect that you would show any other random person, who cares – right? Wrong!

What’s in it for me?

Honestly, it’s simply in your own best interest to be a good client. Maintaining a positive relationship with your tax professional can benefit you in numerous ways. Your tax preparer bills you in one of three ways: a flat fee (guaranteed); hourly; or a hybrid with a basic flat fee that they’ll only add to if out-of-scope issues/problems come up. Let’s look at each approach in more detail.

First, a scenario where you have a guaranteed flat fee no matter what. In this case, it’s pretty obvious to see that one of a tax preparer’s main incentives is to perform the work correctly and up to professional standards, but as fast as possible; less time equals more money. Here, being a good client means that you give your tax professional more room to be thoughtful about your tax return and even perform some planning/optimizing for the current year or next year. If you can help them prepare your return efficiently, there’s room to spare in providing you with value-added advice.

Second, when you engage a tax pro on a strictly hourly basis, saving them time on the administrative side of the return prep will equate to direct savings in your pocket. When you pay by the hour, you are paying regardless of whether they are calculating or reviewing your return, providing advice, planning, or chasing you down for missing info, open items, questions, etc.

Third, we have the scenario where you have a flat fixed fee unless you add services out of scope or things really go sideways. Here, while most tax preparers will eat a little bit of time, if you cause delays in the preparation process due to incomplete or unorganized information or you are late to respond to questions, there is a good chance you’ll get billed for that time as it wasn’t planned for and was unnecessary.

Finally, making your tax professional’s life easy will simply make you more likable as a client. And we all know that we treat people we like better.

How do I become a great client?

So, at this point, you are asking, how do I become my tax professional’s favorite client? There are a few main areas to consider if you want to establish a good working relationship and make life easier for everyone.

  • Be Organized – The more organized you can be in gathering and submitting your underlying tax documents (W-2, 1099s, etc.) and other necessary information, the better. Many tax preparers will send a tax organizer to help you fill out and organize what you send over. Following this is the best way, but any method that is clear, logical, and complete is best.
  • Submit All Your Information at Once – While it’s not always possible, don’t submit your information until you have everything. Sending over documents piecemeal is a surefire way to cause confusion and delays and makes the process rife for errors. In fact, many CPAs won’t even start a return until they have everything. Again, this isn’t always possible because sometimes a K-1, for example, is not yet available – but that should be an exception to the rule.
  • Be Responsive – To the degree that you can be responsive to follow-up questions from your tax preparer or their staff. This will ensure your return keeps moving, saving time (and therefore billable hours) that stopping and starting creates.

Conclusion

Following these tips will not only help you develop a great relationship with your tax preparer for years to come, but it also will ensure the most accurate and efficient preparation of your return possible.

IRS Plans to Shake Up Leadership

IRS Leadership change 2024The top leadership in the IRS is set to change. IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel believes the changes are needed for the agency to meet its new goals. He aims to create greater flexibility and efficiency over the agency by streamlining internal processes. The changes also are needed, in his view, to adapt to the evolving landscape around tax administration – which has undergone changes due to new tax laws and technology.

What Are the Changes?

Changes to the organizational structure include reducing the Deputy Commissioner post to a single position (there are currently two); as well as creating four new positions with an IRS chief of taxpayer services, IT, compliance, and operations.

Long Time No Changes

While these changes are set to take place in the beginning of 2024, they are the first changes to take place in a long time for agency leadership. Currently, the highest rungs of the IRS organizational structure dates to the year 2000, over 20 years ago.

The last time changes were made in 2000, the IRS reorganized operations to support taxpayer segments that were the result of the IRS Restructuring and Reorganization Act of 1998.

Single Deputy IRS Commissioner Model

The change over from two at the top to a single deputy IRS commissioner position is modeled after the way the Treasury Department is structured. Doug O’Donnell, current deputy commissioner for Services and Enforcement, will step up to the post.

The Four New Positions

Other key changes in the leadership structure are the creation of four new chief positions, overseeing the areas of taxpayer service, compliance, IT, and operations.

Ken Corbin (currently Wage and Investment Commissioner) is being promoted to Chief, Taxpayer Service. Corbin served in various roles within the IRS since starting his career in 1986 at the Atlanta Service Center. His division will handle taxpayer-centered services, including the toll-free call and taxpayer assistance centers, overseeing tax return processing centers and correspondence with taxpayers.

The Chief, Taxpayer Compliance Officer role will be filled by Heather Maloy. Maloy’s career encompasses both roles within the IRS as well as private practice. Previously, she served as the LB&I Commissioner as well as other roles, including Associate Chief Counsel to a number of IRS divisions. The Chief, Taxpayer Compliance Officer role will oversee compliance work, including operations in the Small Business, Self Employed, Tax Exempt, and Government Entities divisions. She will also be responsible for the Professional Responsibility, Return Preparer, and Whistleblower offices.

The position of Chief Information Officer will be filled by Rajiv Uppal. Uppal’s current role is as the Director of the Office of IT and Chief Information Officer for Medicare and Medicaid Services centers. The Chief IT Officer role will oversee the entire IRS IT division.

Finally, the fourth new position, that of Chief Operating Officer, will be held by Melanie Krause. Krause began working at the IRS in 2021 and currently serves as the Chief Data and analytics Officer. Prior to this, she was the Acting Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement.

Conclusion

Logistically, the changes should occur on the proposed timeline as reorganization changes that do not require a budgetary appropriation amendment. In layman’s terms, the IRS isn’t looking to Congress for any more money, so Congressional approval isn’t needed. As such, the changes are all but certain to take place in early 2024. The result aims to help the organization adapt to recent tax law changes and evolving technology while simultaneously streamlining the organization and making it both more efficient and effective.

The 2023 Tax Planning Guide

2023 Tax Planning GuideIt’s that time of year again: time for year-end tax planning. With the end of 2023 coming fast, the time to act is now. In this article, we’ll look at the moves you can make to optimize your tax situation in 2023 as an individual taxpayer.

Itemized Deductions

Flexing your timing on itemized deductions is a solid strategic move. It can help you shift to a bigger itemized deduction in 2023 versus 2024 (but not both). This can be advantageous if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in one year compared to the other. Key itemized deductions to consider are home interest, state and local taxes, charitable deductions, and medical expenses.

Electric Vehicles

If you are in the market for a new car, consider buying an electric vehicle (EV) to save some taxes as well. Many new EVs can get you a credit of up to $7,500 and used versions up to $4,000. The credit is limited based on the cost of the vehicle, with more expensive models ineligible for the tax credit. Generally, the MSRP of a sedan cannot exceed $55,000, and SUVs, trucks, and vans cannot be more than $80,000. 

In addition to the price limit on the EV itself, the credit is limited by taxpayers’ income levels. Married couples’ modified gross income cannot be more than $300,000 to get the credit on a new EV and $225,000 for a used version. Single taxpayers are capped at $150,000 for a new version or $75,000 for a used EV.

One important distinction here is that if you buy an EV in 2023, you’ll need to claim the credit via your tax return, which means you won’t get the benefit right away. In 2024, however, you can choose to transfer the credit to the car dealer when you buy the vehicle and pay less as a result immediately. So, if you plan to buy now or in early 2024, it may be better to wait if you have the choice.

Home Improvements

There are two tax credits you can get related to making “green” upgrades to your home. The first is the residential clean energy property credit, which is installing alternative energy systems such as solar, wind, geothermal, etc., giving you a credit of up to 30 percent of the materials and cost of installation. The second is the energy-efficient home improvement credit. This applies to smaller upgrades like boilers, central air-conditioning systems, water heaters, windows, etc., that meet qualifications for specific energy efficiency ratings. The credit is for 30 percent of the cost, with $1,200 yearly maximum (from all upgrades).

Charitable Donations

If you are considering making charitable donations, consider donating appreciated property, like stocks or mutual funds, where you have unrealized gains. This way, you’ll get to deduct the full amount of the fair market value without having to sell and pay taxes on the gains first.

Beware Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Rules for IRAs

The penalty for failing to take your RMD dropped from 50 percent down to 25 percent with the Secure 2.0 Act in 2023, but it is wise to avoid the still hefty penalty. The general rule is that taxpayers 73 and older must take annual payouts, and there is a specific calculation behind it based on your age and account balance. You can also be subject to RMDs at a much younger age if you inherited an IRA. If you don’t feel comfortable making this determination, it’s best to check with your CPA or financial advisor to ensure you withdraw the right amount.

Max Out Retirement Plans

The deadline to fund workplace 401(k) plans is December 31, 2023, while 2023-year IRA contributions are allowed up until April 15, 2024. Taxpayers can contribute up to $22,500 in a 401(k) ($30,000 if age 50 or older); and $6,500 for IRAs ($7,500 if over 50). 

Capital Gains and Tax Loss Harvesting

The capital markets have seen a volatile year, and interest rates are at highs not seen in quite some time. This may create situations where tax loss harvesting is advantageous.

Generally, if you have losses in some securities, understand that you can take losses against positions with gains up to the number of gains you realize, plus a maximum of $3,000 against other income. Excess losses are carried forward to future years. So, if you have a combination of winners and losers in your portfolio, consider tax loss harvesting to lower your tax bill.

Beware of the wash-sale rules, however. The wash-sale rules forbid you to sell and then repurchase “substantially identical” securities within 30 days of the sale on loss positions. One nuance here is that cryptocurrencies are not subject to the wash-sale rule as of yet.

Increase Your Withholdings

If you expect to have a hefty tax bill, then it may be wise to have additional amounts withheld from your paycheck or make an estimated payment. This can help you avoid a penalty for underpayment of taxes. As long as you prepay via tax payments or withhold a minimum of 90 percent of your 2023 total tax bill or 100 percent of what you owed for 2022 (110 percent if your 2022 AGI exceeded $150,000), you are clear of the penalty.

Conclusion

As we prepare to enter the final month of 2023, now is the time to take a look at your financial and tax situation to see if there are any moves you can make to minimize your 2023 tax liabilities and maximize your wealth.

New Business Travel Per Diem Rates Announced for 2023-2024

Business Travel Per Diem Rates 2023 2024New per diem rates were recently announced by the IRS and are effective for per diem allowances on or after Oct. 1, 2023. These updated rates include changes for the transportation industry, incidental expenses as well as the high-low substantiation method. Before we dive into the detailed changes impacting per diem rates, let’s revisit the concept of the per diem in general.

To Per Diem or Not to Per Diem

There are two basic ways that employees can be reimbursed for business travel expenses. The first is a direct reimbursement of the actual expenses. The second is the per diem method.

Direct actual expense reimbursement is exactly what it sounds like. For example, a sales employee pays for a plane ticket and meals during a customer visit and then submits an expense report with the receipts as backup. Typically, a company will have a travel and expense policy that limits the expenses allowed – no Michelin star restaurants or first-class flights, for example. Other than this, direct expense reimbursement is simple and straightforward.

The second expense reimbursement method is called the per diem method. The per diem method is basically a pre-package policy of controls for both spending and tax purposes.

Fundamentals of Per Diems

Per diem is Latin for the term for each day. In practice, it is a daily allowance granted to each employee. It covers travel and related business expenses, allowing a fixed amount to cover business travel expenses.

Per diem policies can cover only three types of expenses: lodging, meals, and incidentals (anything else must be directly reimbursed). A per diem policy does not need to cover all three, however. An employer can use the per diem only for meals, for example, and deal with lodging under the direct actual expense reimbursement method. Also, the per diem method cannot cover transportation expenses or mileage reimbursement.

Taxation of Per Diems

Per diems are generally not taxable, and no withholding tax on the payments is necessary. The exception to this is if an employee does not provide or provides incomplete expense report information – or if you give the employee a flat amount that is in excess of the maximum allowance (with the excess being taxable).

Two Types of Per Diems

Per diem rates can be determined in one of two ways: either the standard rate or using the high-low method.

The standard rate is a fixed rate, whereas the high-low method is based on the cost of living being higher or lower in different locales. Under the high-low method, for example, Boston gets a higher reimbursement than Des Moines to account for this.

2023-2024 Rate Updates

The IRS updates the per diem rates every year. The 2023-2024 rates took effect Oct.1, 2023. They are as follows:*

  •        Travel to high-cost locations is $309 ($297 prior year)
  •        Travel to other locations is $214 ($204 prior year)
  •        Incidental expense stay is the same at $5 per day, regardless of location

*Taxpayers in the transportation industry are subject to special rates