Business owners, as well as employees, often have questions about what to do with an employee's home--and what the tax consequences might be--when he or she is moved to a new job location. Here are some answers.
Most employers want to protect the employee to be relocated against financial loss on a "forced" sale of their home. Here are the most common ways to do that, and the tax consequences to the employee:
The employer reimburses the employee's financial loss. Here the employer has the home appraised and agrees to pay the employee the difference between the appraised fair market value and any lesser amount the employee gets on the sale. Such reimbursement would cover the employee's costs of the sale.
Note: Financial loss as described here is not the same as a tax loss. The financial loss is the home's value less what the employee collects under "forced sale" conditions. In the current real estate market, the value is not always clearly determined. The relocating employee might think the home is worth more, based on earlier appraisals or comparative sales. A tax loss is the property's tax basis (cost plus capital investments) less what's collected on the sale.
If the employee has a gain on the sale (the amount collected on the sale exceeds the basis), the gain can be tax-exempt up to $250,000 ($500,000 on certain husband-wife sales). Tax loss on the sale of one's residence, however, is not deductible.
The employer's reimbursement of the employee's financial loss is taxable pay to the employee. Employers who want to shelter the employee from any tax burden on what is usually an employer-instigated relocation may "gross-up" the reimbursement to cover the tax. But gross-up can be costly. For example, a grossed-up income tax reimbursement for a $10,000 loss would be $15,385 for an employee in the 35% bracket - more where Social Security taxes or state taxes are also grossed-up.
Employer buys the home. Few employers directly buy and sell employees' homes. But many do this indirectly, effectively becoming the homes' owners, through the use of relocation firms acting as the employers' agents. Known as a Guaranteed Home Sale (formerly known as a Guaranteed Buy-Out or GBO), there is no tax on the employee when using either of these two options:
Option 1. The relocation firm as employer's agent buys the home for its appraised fair market value, and later resells it. The firm collects a fee from the employer, which will cover sales costs and any financial loss to the firm on resale. The IRS now says that this fee is not taxable to the employee. Also, the employee's gain on the sale to the relocation firm qualifies for the tax exemption under the limits described above ($250,000 or $500,000).
Option 2. The relocation firm offers to buy the home for its appraised value, but the employee can choose to pursue a higher price through a broker he or she chooses from a list provided by the relocation firm. If a higher offer is made, the relocation firm pays that price to the employee (whether or not the home is then sold to that bidder). Here again, the employee is not taxed on the firm's fee and the gain is tax exempt under the above limits.
Tip: Either option works for the employee, letting him or her realize full value on the sale of the home (with possibly greater value through Option 2), without an element of taxable pay.
Caution: If the deal is structured so that the relocation firm facilitates a sale from the employee to a third-party buyer (rather than to the relocation firm), the employer's payment of the relocation firm's fee is taxable to the employee.
The Employer's Side
Reimbursing the employee's loss. This is fully deductible as a business expense, as would be any additional amount paid as a gross-up.
Note: It's fully deductible, but it may be more costly, before and after taxes, than buying the home for resale through the relocation firm.
Note: Paying the relocation fee only, without buying the home, as in the "Caution" above, is also fully deductible, as would be any gross-up amount on that fee.
Buying the home. The change in the IRS rule was good news for employees, but it gave nothing to employers, whose tax treatment wasn't covered. The official IRS position is that employer costs (other than carrying costs such as mortgage interest, maintenance, and fees to a relocation management company) are deductible only as capital losses, which, for corporate employers, are deductible only against capital gains. Taxpayer advocates tend to argue that employer costs here are fully deductible ordinary costs of doing business.
Questions about Relocating?
If you've been offered a job that requires relocating to another state and wondering how it might affect your tax situation, don't hesitate to call.
Late Filing and Late Payment Penalties
April 18 was the deadline for most people to file their federal income tax return and pay any taxes they owe. The bad news is that if you missed the deadline (for whatever reason) you may be assessed penalties for both failing to file a tax return and for failing to pay taxes they owe by the deadline. The good news is that there is no penalty if you filed a late tax return but are due a refund.
Here are ten important facts every taxpayer should know about penalties for filing or paying late:
1. A failure-to-file penalty may apply. If you owe tax, and you failed to file and pay on time, you will most likely owe interest and penalties on the tax you pay late.
2. Penalty for filing late. The penalty for filing a late return is normally 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late and starts accruing the day after the tax filing due date. Late filing penalties will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.
3. Failure to pay penalty. If you do not pay your taxes by the tax deadline, you normally will face a failure-to-pay penalty of 1/2 of 1 percent of your unpaid taxes. That penalty applies for each month or part of a month after the due date and starts accruing the day after the tax-filing due date.
4. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty. You should file your tax return on time each year, even if you're not able to pay all the taxes you owe by the due date. You can reduce additional interest and penalties by paying as much as you can with your tax return. You should explore other payment options such as getting a loan or making an installment agreement to make payments. Contact the office today if you need help figuring out how to pay what you owe.
5. Extension of time to file. If you timely requested an extension of time to file your individual income tax return and paid at least 90 percent of the taxes you owe with your request, you may not face a failure-to-pay penalty. However, you must pay any remaining balance by the extended due date.
6. Two penalties may apply. One penalty is for filing late and one is for paying late--and they can add up fast, especially since interest accrues on top of the penalties but if both the 5 percent failure-to-file penalty and the 1/2 percent failure-to-pay penalties apply in any month, the maximum penalty that you'll pay for both is 5 percent.
7. Minimum penalty. If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.
8. Reasonable cause. You will not have to pay a late-filing or late-payment penalty if you can show reasonable cause for not filing or paying on time. Please call if you have any questions about what constitutes reasonable cause.
9. Penalty relief. The IRS generally provides penalty relief, including postponing filing and payment deadlines, to any area covered by a disaster declaration for individual assistance issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). For example, taxpayers in parts of Georgia and Mississippi have until May 31, 2017, to file and pay, while those in parts of Louisiana have until June 30, 2017, to file and pay.
10. File even if you can't pay. Filing on time and paying as much as you can, keeps your interest and penalties to a minimum. If you can't pay in full, getting a loan or paying by debit or credit card may be less expensive than owing the IRS. If you do owe the IRS, the sooner you pay your bill the less you will owe.
If you need assistance, help is just a phone call away!
Mr. Maker is a certified Public Accountant and serving the South Asian community since 1993.
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