Rebella Accountancy | 507 E. First Street, Suite A | Tustin, CA 92780 | Phone: 714-619-0667 | Fax: 714-544-0236




Monica Rebella, CPA

Rebella Accountancy


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Other Articles

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Feature Articles

- Early planning can make 2012 filing season easier
- Payroll tax cut extended two-months; other temporary incentives expire
- Looking back: Top 10 federal tax developments of 2011
- January 2012 tax compliance calendar
- The Saver's Credit: An underused retirement savings benefit
- Using fringe benefits as an income substitute during the economic downturn

How Do I?

- Claim a charitable contribution of property?
- obtain an appraisal for a noncash charitable contribution
- Compute gain in a like-kind exchange when some cash is received
- How do I? Deduct a contribution of clothing or a household item under the new rules?

Frequently Asked Questions

- When do I need to file IRS Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets?
- When is the best time of year to contribute to an IRA?
- How does a 60-day loan from an IRA work?
- What if I owe taxes and can't pay the full amount?
- How does the new sales tax deduction for vehicle purchases work?
- How much proof is enough, when contributing used clothing to charity?



Looking Back: Top 10 Federal Tax Developments of 2011

Looking back over 2011, the IRS, Congress and the courts made many tax decisions impacting taxpayers of all types. Some tax developments were taxpayer-friendly; others imposed new requirements on taxpayers. Here is a brief rundown of the top 10 federal tax developments of 2011.

1. Bush-era tax cuts unresolved

Reduced individual income tax rates, marriage penalty relief, an enhanced child tax credit, and much more are part of a package of tax breaks known as the "Bush-era tax cuts." All of these incentives were renewed in 2010 and are scheduled to expire after 2012. President Obama wants to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for higher income individuals, which the White House broadly defines as single persons with incomes over $200,000 and families with incomes over $250,000. In the summer of 2011, the White House and the GOP reportedly came close to an agreement but nothing materialized. The fate of the Bush-era tax cuts will likely be one of the major issues in the 2012 presidential election.

2. Foreign account reporting oversight increases

Since passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010, the Treasury Department and the IRS have ratcheted-up their oversight of foreign accounts. In December 2011, the IRS issued final Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Assets, which taxpayers will file to report foreign accounts (if they meet certain requirements). The IRS also issued guidance in 2011 for foreign financial institutions about their reporting obligations under FATCA. In related news, the Treasury Department issued final rules on Form TD-F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) in February 2011. Lastly, the IRS launched a new campaign in 2011 to encourage taxpayers to voluntarily disclose unreported offshore accounts. The 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) rewarded taxpayers who came forward voluntarily with a reduced penalty framework (although not as generous as a similar program in 2009).

3. Payroll tax cut extended two months

President Obama signed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 in December 2011. The new law extends the employee-side payroll tax cut through the end of February 2012. The two-month extension is intended to give Congress additional time to negotiate a longer-term extension of the payroll tax cut to cover all of calendar year 2012.

4. Cell phones removed from listed property category

The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 removed cell phones from the definition of "listed property." That category generally requires additional recordkeeping by taxpayers. In September 2011, the IRS issued guidance on the treatment of employer- provided cell phones as an excludible fringe benefit. When an employer provides an employee with a cell phone primarily for noncompensatory business reasons, the business and personal use of the cell phone is generally nontaxable to the employee and the IRS will not require recordkeeping of business use to receive this tax-free treatment.

5. IRS launches Voluntary Classification Settlement Program

In September 2011, the IRS launched a new program to enable employers to voluntarily reclassify their workers for federal employment tax purposes and take advantage of a reduced penalty framework. The Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) is open to employers currently treating their workers as independent contractors and who want to prospectively treat the workers as employees. The employer must not be under audit and satisfy other requirements. The IRS has not announced an end-date to the VCSP.

6. IRS makes mid-year 2011 adjustment to business standard mileage rate

For the third time in six years, the IRS announced a mid-year adjustment to the business standard mileage rate because of rising gasoline prices. The business standard mileage rate increased from 51 cents-per-mile to 55.5 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. The medical/moving standard mileage rate increased from 19 cents-per-mile to 23.5 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. Congress did not make a mid-year adjustment to the charitable standard mileage rate, which remained at 14 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. For 2012, the business standard mileage rate is 55.5 cents-per-mile and the medical/moving standard mileage rate is 23 cents-per-mile. The statutorily-determined charitable standard mileage rate remains at 14 cents-per-mile for 2012.

7. FUTA surtax expires

In 1976, Congress enacted the 0.2 percent FUTA surtax to help repay federal revenues paid in unemployment benefits. The Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 extended the surtax through 2010 and the first six months of 2011.The 0.2-percent FUTA surtax expired after June 30, 2011. In December 2011, the IRS released Form 940, Employer's Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return, and accompanying schedules, for 2011. Form 940 for 2011 reflects the mid-year expiration of the FUTA surtax.

8. IRS continues Fresh Start Initiative

During 2011, the IRS continued its Fresh Start Initiative, which the agency explains is its response to the economic slowdown. The Fresh Start Initiative allows lien withdrawals for taxpayers entering into direct debit installment agreements (and for taxpayers who convert from a regular installment agreement to a direct debit agreement). The IRS also announced it would make streamlined installment agreements available to more small businesses. Qualified small businesses with $25,000 or less in unpaid taxes can participate in the streamlined installment agreement program.

9. Basis overstatement regs

The Supreme Court agreed in September 2011 to resolve a split among the federal courts of appeal over IRS regulations that impose a six-year limitations period on assessments due to overstated basis. The IRS asked the Supreme Court to decide, among other questions, whether an understatement of gross income attributable to an overstatement of basis in sold property is an omission from income that can trigger the six-year assessment period.

10. Congress bans tax strategy patents

In September 2011, President Obama signed the America Invents Act. The new law is a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's patent laws. The new law treats any strategy for reducing, avoiding or deferring tax liability as prior art under patent law and therefore not patentable.


Using Fringe Benefits as an Income Substitute During the Economic Downturn?


Many businesses are foregoing salary increases this year because of the economic downturn. How does a business find and retain employees, as well as keep up morale, in the face of this reality? The combined use of fringe benefits and the tax law can help. Some attractive fringe benefits may be provided tax-free to employees and at little cost to employers.

De minimis fringe benefits

A de minimis fringe benefit is any property or service whose value is so small or minimal that accounting for it would be administratively impracticable. Such benefits are excluded from an employee's gross income. Examples of de minimis fringe benefits include:

Occasional overtime meals and meal money. To qualify as a tax-free de minimis fringe benefit, the meal or meal money must be provided to your employees so that they can extend their normal workday, thereby enabling them to work overtime. Such meals and meal money can only be provided occasionally. This means that they generally cannot be provided routinely, when overtime work is a common occurrence or are contractually mandated for overtime work. Occasional snacks may also qualify as a de minimis fringe benefit but if the snacks are provided daily, they would not qualify.

Occasional transportation. Transportation costs can also qualify as de minimis fringe benefits. Taxi-fare for an employee to return home after working late, for example, may be a de minimis fringe benefit. The transportation must be occasional.

Holiday gifts. Traditional holiday gifts, such as a Thanksgiving turkey, with a low fair market value can generally qualify as a de minimis fringe benefit. However, cash or a cash equivalent such as a gift certificate in lieu of the property, do not qualify. In fact, cash and cash equivalent fringe benefits, no matter how little, are never excludable as a de minimis fringe benefit, except for occasional meal money or transportation fare.

E-filing. Electronically filing an employee's tax return, but not paying for someone to prepare the return, may qualify as a de minimus fringe benefit.

Telephone calls. An employer may treat the cost of local telephone calls made by employees as a de minimis fringe benefit.

Working condition fringe benefits

A working condition fringe benefit is any type of property or service provided to your employees to the extent that the cost of such property or services would have been deductible by the employee as a trade or business expense, depreciation expenses, or as if the employee paid for the property/services himself or herself. Working condition fringe benefits have special tax rules for employers and employees.

Vehicles. If an employer-provided vehicle is used 100 percent for business and the use is substantiated, use of the vehicle is considered a working condition fringe benefit. The value of use of the vehicle is not included in the employee's wages. However, when an employer-provided vehicle is used by the employee for both personal and business purposes, an allocation between the two types must be made. The portion allocable to the employee's personal use is generally taxable to the employee as a fringe benefit. The portion allocable to business use is generally considered a working condition fringe benefit and is excludable from the employee's income.

No additional cost services

If an employer-provided service does not cause the employer to incur any substantial additional costs, it may qualify as a "no additional cost service" and be excludible from the employee's income. The service must be offered to customers in the employer's ordinary course of business. Some of the most common examples are airline, rail and bus tickets and hotel and motel rooms provided at a reduced rate or at no cost to employees. This benefit can be offered to retired employees as well as active employees. There are special rules for highly-compensated employees.

If you are considering alternatives to salary compensation, and would like to know what your options are, please contact our office. We can discuss the tax benefits and drawbacks of providing your employees with various types of fringe benefits.

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As always you can call me at 714-619-0667 if you have any questions about investing, retirement or any other tax & accounting related issues. 


Regards, Monica Rebella, CPA

President, Rebella Accountancy

Disclaimer:  The opinions contained herein are not intended to be investment advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any securities. With any investment you should carefully consider the investment objectives, potential risks, management fees, and charges and expenses before investing.  Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. The investment return and principle value of any investment will fluctuate so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

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Monica Rebella, CPA | President - Rebella Accountancy | Certified Public Accountants
507 E. First Street, Suite A | Tustin, CA 92780 | Phone: 714-619-0667 | Fax: 714-544-0236
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