There have been sweeping changes to both the federal and New Jersey tax laws for the first half of 2018.  At the federal level, the elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which for decades allowed people to itemize and deduct state and local income and property taxes from their federal bill is now being capped at $10,000.

It has been widely publicized that residents of states with high SALT such as New York and New Jersey will pay much more in overall taxes than those residents of states with no income and/or low property taxes. Northeast states attempting to counteract the impact of recent federal tax laws by forming associations to sue Washington or disguising property taxes as charitable contributions are seemingly ineffective solutions.  To compound the impact of the SALT limitation, New Jersey has recently increased its highest marginal rate to 10.75% for those families with income in excess of $5 million, enacted laws to impose a surtax on carried interests and increased corporate business tax rates.  For more details concerning New Jersey recent tax law changes, see our previous blog post here.

As the 2019 tax season gets underway, high net worth residents of New Jersey and New York will find significant increases in their annual state tax bills. Accountants should be the first to anticipate client questions as to whether a change in residency to states such as Florida could alleviate this increased state tax burden and to what extent state tax savings can be achieved while continuing to own a residence in New Jersey or New York.

The short answer is yes. A well counseled client who becomes a permanent resident of Florida can spend significant time in New Jersey and/or New York and maintain a residence here, but successfully avoid state taxes on non-New Jersey and New York source income. On the other hand, snowbirds, spending three to five months in Florida and the balance of their time in New Jersey / New York face serious exposure, including an audit resulting in an additional assessment of tax, interest and penalties by filing a non-resident return or no state tax return without meeting the statutory requirements for non-residency status.

There are many considerations in changing permanent residence from New York or New Jersey to a tax friendly state such as Florida in an effort to escape the harsh effects of these new tax laws. Aside from feasibility issues — such as whether telecommuting is a viable option and whether children and spouses are amenable to relocating — there needs to be a thorough tax analysis before making that decision to relocate as to whether: (i) changing residence will necessarily reduce state income tax (i.e., is the income sourced in New Jersey or New York); and (ii) if so, to maximize the level of preparedness in anticipation for what will likely be a residency audit from the New York and/or New Jersey tax authorities.

New York has one of the most sophisticated residency audit programs in the country.  New Jersey is also expected to ramp up its program in light of the most recent changes to its tax laws.  The purpose of a residency audit is to determine whether you correctly filed your non-resident or part-year resident income tax return or if no return is filed in the years immediately following a move outside of the state.  The likelihood of a residency audit is particularly high during the first year in which an individual files a non-resident tax return or no return at all.

Once audited, in making the determination of whether an individual is resident of New York or New Jersey, the auditor will first determine whether an individual is domiciled in New York or New Jersey.

If the auditor is persuaded a taxpayer has successfully changed his or her domicile from New York or New Jersey to a different state, that person can still be taxed as a “statutory resident” if he or she maintains living quarters in New York or New Jersey for substantially all of the year and spends more than 183 days in that state.

In a residency audit, the auditor will request EZ-Pass records, cell phone records, calendars, credit card and bank account statements along with travel records.

In addition, the auditor may also request utility bills, vehicle registration and voting registration in an effort to determine how strong your ties are to a specific location and whether you sufficiently abandoned your former domicile.

More intrusive steps may be taken when the auditor is not satisfied with the information that he or she has received and can even subpoena your records from third parties or depose you and/or your family members. If it is determined that you are a resident of a New York or New Jersey and you did not properly file a resident return, in addition to an assessment of unpaid tax, there can be substantial penalties and interest.  For example, in New York, the penalty for late filing is 5% of the tax due for each month (or part of a month) that the return is late, up to a maximum of 25%.  And the penalty for late payment is 0.5% of the unpaid amount for each month (or part of a month) it is not paid, up to a maximum of 25%.  New Jersey also imposes similar penalties for failure to file and failure to pay tax along with interest charges.

If you are a resident of New York or New Jersey and you are considering changing your residency (whether tax motivated or otherwise), it is important that you seek the advice of an experienced SALT counsel to fully understand the potential benefits, feasibility and most importantly, how to effectively prepare for what will likely be a residency audit twelve to eighteen months after you file a New York or New Jersey non-resident return or no state tax return.

The recently enacted 2017 Tax Act (originally called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – “Tax Reform”) made major changes to the US tax system.  Because C corporations (“C corps”) are now taxed at a flat 21% federal income tax rate, many business owners are asking whether they should structure their businesses as C corps.  The answer, unfortunately, is not simple.  Business owners should discuss the various considerations of this decision with their tax advisors.  Here are some of the pros and cons of using a C corp after Tax Reform:

1. Benefits.  C corp income is taxed at a flat 21% rate whereas partnership income flowing through to an individual partner is subject to tax at a maximum 37% rate.  In addition, C corps can fully deduct state and local taxes whereas an individual’s deduction is limited to a maximum of $10,000.

2. Pass-through income (eg, S corporation or partnership) may be eligible for a 20% deduction for qualified business income (QBI), but that still leaves the effective tax rate at 29.6% (ie, higher than the C corp 21% tax rate).  Furthermore, the 20% QBI deduction is not allowed for most service businesses (except for partners or S corp shareholders whose taxable income is less than $315,000 ($157,500 if not married filing jointly), with the benefit phased out over that amount so it is totally lost once the partner’s taxable income equals $415,000 ($207,500 if not married filing jointly).  There are also other limitations that only generally allow the QBI deduction to be claimed if the business employs many people or owns depreciable tangible property (such as real estate).  Bottom line – you have to run the numbers.

3. The drawback to C corps, of course, is that they are subject to two levels of taxation, one at the corporate level on earnings and one at the shareholder level, for example, on dividends.  Dividends usually are taxed at the qualified dividend rate of 20%, though there is usually no preferential tax rate at the state and local level.  Dividends also may be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax.  If only federal taxes are considered, the effective federal double tax rate is 39.8%.

This may be the deciding factor for many businesses.  If a business does not make distributions to its owners (for example, the owners generally take only salary and perks and profits are reinvested), then a C corp structure may result in income tax savings.  On the other hand, if the business distributes all of its profit out to its owners annually, then the double tax resulting from a C corp structure will be disadvantageous.

4. If the C corp accumulates cash, it can be subject to one of two penalty tax regimes – accumulated earnings tax and personal holding company tax.

Closely held C corps are subject to the personal holding company tax if 60% or more of their income is passive income, which they retain in the C Corp and do not distribute to their shareholders, though the personal holding company tax often can be avoided.  In addition, a C corp is subject to the accumulated earnings tax if it accumulates earnings beyond the reasonable needs of the business.

5. Sale of company.  If a company is sold, it is most often structured as an asset sale, which results in two levels of tax for a C corp – one tax to the corporation when it sells its assets in exchange for cash (or a note, etc.) and a second tax if the corporation is liquidated and the stockholders exchange their (low basis) shares for the sale proceeds.  For a company that may be sold in the near future, C corp status would be disadvantageous.  On the other hand, if there are no plans to sell the company (eg, children in the business), this may not be a concern.

The owner may consider whether he or she can own goodwill, client lists or other intangible assets in his or her own name rather than in the corporation to avoid double tax.  See Martins Ice Cream, Norwalk, and related tax cases on “personal goodwill.”

6. Step-up at death.  If an owner dies owning C corp stock, the stock will receive a step-up in basis to its fair market value.  This will avoid a shareholder level tax if the C corp liquidates.  However, it does not avoid a tax to the corporation on any appreciated assets that are distributed in liquidation or later sold by the C corp.

7. Losses.  If a partnership has losses that flow through to its partners, those losses would not flow through if the entity becomes a C corp, so C corp status would be disadvantageous.

8. Timing and related issues.  A company that is an LLC can elect to be treated as a corporation for tax purposes.  If a decision is made to terminate S corp or partnership status, then termination would have to be completed by March 15 to be effective this year.  Also, an S corporation that terminates its S status has a five year waiting period to convert back to S status.  If the C corp converts to S corp status in the future, then it may be subject to a built-in gain tax and other concerns if it later converts to an S corp and has accumulated earnings and profits.

If an S corp converts to a C corp, there is a two-year post termination period to take out AAA.  The Tax Reform bill provides that distiributions within this period will be partly treated as AAA (tax-free) and partly treated as previous C corp E&P (taxable 23.8 dividend).

Also, given the uncertainty surrounding the Tax Reform bill and the possibility that the rules could be changed again, some business owners may be reluctant to convert to C corp status and then get “stuck” if the rates or rules change.

9. Outbound foreign.  Under the new international tax rules, ownership of foreign corporations by a C corp rather than an individual has several advantages.  Dividends paid by a foreign corporation to a C corp can escape any tax while dividends paid to an individual are fully taxable.  If a foreign corporation has income that exceeds a base threshold amount (generally, 10% of the book value of its assets) and the foreign corporation does not distribute those excess earnings to its US shareholder, then the new “GILTI” tax applies to treat the US shareholder as receiving a deemed taxable dividend of that excess amount.  But C corps pay a lower tax rate on this income or may not pay any tax at all.

If you, as a business owner, are asking yourself, “Should I be a C corp?” note that there is not a “one size fits all” answer.  Have your CPA run the numbers using the new tax rules and rates.  Speak to your tax attorney to review the specifics of your situation.  Revisit this decision periodically.

The new tax bill passed by Congress is expected to be signed into law by President Trump in the next few days.  Based on the changes that will take place as of January 1, 2018, there are several items that taxpayers should consider implementing prior to December 31, 2017.

Please note that each taxpayer’s situation is different and each suggestion below should be discussed with the taxpayer’s tax and financial advisors to determine what steps, if any, should be implemented now or deferred until next year or whether it should be implemented at all depending on the taxpayer’s business and tax attributes.

Items to consider:

  • Prepay real estate property taxes if you have amounts due for 2018 (cannot prepay NJ or NY state income taxes)
  • Prepay home equity interest (no deduction after this year)
  • Make charitable contributions this year, especially if not itemizing deductions in 2018
  • Accelerate business deductions
  • Medical expense deduction floor reduction to 7.5% only lasts through 12/31/18, so incur medical expenses if possible before then
  • Delay or accelerate Roth conversion
  • Defer or accelerate income*
  • If you are a US person with foreign businesses, potentially converting to an S corporation before year end could be beneficial due to a “deemed repatriation” of profits in the new bill
  • If you have children in private elementary, junior high or high schools and have not already been funding 529 plans, consider use of 2017 annual exclusions not otherwise exhausted to fund 529 plans

 

*Deferral of income until 2018 could save taxes for some taxpayers because of the lower marginal rates, while acceleration of income could save taxes for others due to the limitation on deductions of state and local taxes.  Whether or not a taxpayer is subject to AMT also plays a role.  Again, each taxpayer should consult his or her own tax and financial advisors for specific advice.