To err is human, but some errors are more consequential — and harder to fix — than others. Most not-for-profits can’t afford to lose precious financial resources, so you need to do whatever possible to minimize accounting and tax mistakes.

Get started by considering the following five questions:

Have we formally documented our accounting processes? All aspects of managing your not-for-profit’s money should be reflected in a detailed, written accounting manual. This should include how to accept and deposit donations and pay bills.

How much do we rely on our accounting software? These days, accounting software is essential to most not-for-profits’ daily functioning. But even with the assistance of technology, mistakes happen. Your staff should always double-check entries and reconcile bank accounts to ensure that transactions entered into accounting software are complete and accurate.

Do we consistently report unrelated business income (UBI)? IRS officials have cited “failing to consider obvious and subtle” UBI tax issues as the biggest tax mistake not-for-profits make. Many organizations commonly fail to report UBI — or they underreport this income. Be sure to follow guidance in IRS Publication 598, Tax on Unrelated Business Income of Exempt Organizations. And if you need more help, consult a tax expert with not-for-profit expertise.

Have we correctly classified our workers? This is another area where not-for-profits commonly make errors in judgment and practice. You’re required to withhold and pay various payroll taxes on employee earnings, but don’t have the same obligation for independent contractors. If the IRS can successfully argue that one or more of your independent contractors meet the criteria for being classified as employees, both you and the contractor possibly face financial consequences.

Do we back up data? If you don’t regularly back up accounting and tax information, it may not be safe in the event of a fire, natural disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency. This data should be backed up automatically and frequently using cloud-based or other offsite storage solutions.

Do you have investments outside of tax-advantaged retirement plans? If so, you might still have time to shrink your 2018 tax bill by selling some investments — you just need to carefully select which ones you sell.

Try Balancing Gains and Losses
If you’ve sold investments at a gain this year, consider selling some losing investments to absorb the gains. This is commonly referred to as “harvesting” losses.

If, however, you’ve sold investments at a loss this year, consider selling other investments in your portfolio that have appreciated, to the extent the gains will be absorbed by the losses. If you believe those appreciated investments have peaked in value, essentially you’ll lock in the peak value and avoid tax on your gains.

Review Your Potential Tax Rates
At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains (on investments held one year or less). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains. But, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets, instead of aligning with various ordinary-income brackets.

For example, these are the thresholds for the top long-term gains rate for 2018:

  • Singles: $425,800
  • Heads of households: $452,400
  • Married couples filing jointly: $479,000

But the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. The TCJA also retains the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.

Don’t Forget the Netting Rules
Before selling investments, consider the netting rules for gains and losses, which depend on whether gains and losses are long term or short term. To determine your net gain or loss for the year, long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. In the same way, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains.

You may use up to $3,000 of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income. Any remaining net losses are carried forward to future years.

Time is Running Out
By reviewing your investment activity year-to-date and selling certain investments by year end, you may be able to substantially reduce your 2018 taxes. But act soon, because time is running out.

Keep in mind that tax considerations shouldn’t drive your investment decisions. You also need to consider other factors, such as your risk tolerance and investment goals.

Churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious congregations aren’t required to file tax returns, so they might not regularly hire independent accountants. But regardless of size, religious organizations often are subject to other requirements, such as paying unrelated business income tax (UBIT) and properly classifying employees.

Without the oversight of tax authorities or outside accountants, religious leaders may not be aware of all requirements to which they’re subject. This can leave their organizations vulnerable to fraud and its trustees and employees subject to liabilities.

Common Vulnerabilities
To effectively prevent financial and other critical mistakes, make sure your religious congregation complies with IRS rules and federal and state laws. In particular, pay attention to:

  • Employee classification. Determine which workers in your organization are full-time employees and which are independent contractors. Depending on many factors, such as the amount of control your organization has over them, their responsibilities, and their form of compensation, individuals you consider independent contractors may need to be reclassified as employees.
  • Clergy wages. Most clergy should be treated as employees and receive W-2 forms. Typically, they’re exempt from Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes and federal withholding but are subject to self-employment tax on wages. A parsonage (or rental) allowance can reduce income tax, but not self-employment tax.
  • UBIT. If your organization regularly engages in any type of business activity that’s unrelated to its religious mission, be aware of certain tax and reporting rules. Income from such activities could be subject to UBIT.
  • Lobbying. Your organization shouldn’t devote a substantial part of its activities in attempting to influence legislation. Otherwise you might risk your tax-exempt status and face potential penalties.

Trust and Protect
Faith groups can be particularly vulnerable to fraud because they generally foster an environment of trust. Also, their leaders may be reluctant to punish offenders. Just keep in mind that even the most devout and long-standing members of your congregation are capable of embezzlement when faced with extreme circumstances.

To ensure employees and volunteers can’t help themselves to collections, require that at least two people handle all contributions. They should count cash in a secure area and verify the contents of offering envelopes. Next, they should document their collection activity in a signed report. For greater security, encourage your members to make electronic payments on your website or sign up for automatic bank account deductions.

Seek Expertise
Although your religious congregations are subject to less IRS scrutiny than even your fellow not-for-profit organizations, that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore financial best practices. Contact your advisors for guidance.

With the dawn of 2019 on the near horizon, here’s a quick list of tax and financial to-dos you should address before 2018 ends.

Check your FSA balance. If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for health care expenses, you need to incur qualifying expenses by December 31 to use up these funds or you’ll potentially lose them. (Some plans allow you to carry over up to $500 to the following year or give you a 2½-month grace period to incur qualifying expenses.) Use expiring FSA funds to pay for eyeglasses, dental work or eligible drugs or health products.

Max out tax-advantaged savings. Reduce your 2018 income by contributing to traditional IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans or Health Savings Accounts to the extent you’re eligible. (Certain vehicles, including traditional and SEP IRAs, allow you to deduct contributions on your 2018 return if they’re made by April 15, 2019.)

Take RMDs. If you’ve reached age 70½, you generally must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs or qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans before the end of the year to avoid a 50% penalty. If you turned 70½ this year, you have until April 1, 2019, to take your first RMD. But keep in mind that, if you defer your first distribution, you’ll have to take two next year.

Consider a QCD. If you’re 70½ or older and charitably inclined, a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) allows you to transfer up to $100,000 tax-free directly from your IRA to a qualified charity and to apply the amount toward your RMD. This is a big advantage if you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a charitable deduction (because you don’t itemize, for example).

Use it or lose it. Make the most of annual limits that don’t carry over from year to year, even if doing so won’t provide an income tax deduction. For example, if gift and estate taxes are a concern, make annual exclusion gifts up to $15,000 per recipient. If you have a Coverdell Education Savings Account, contribute the maximum amount you’re allowed.

Contribute to a Sec. 529 plan. Sec. 529 prepaid tuition or college savings plans aren’t subject to federal annual contribution limits and don’t provide a federal income tax deduction. But contributions may entitle you to a state income tax deduction (depending on your state and plan).

Review withholding. The IRS cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld due to changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Use its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to review your situation. If it looks like you could face underpayment penalties, increase withholdings from your or your spouse’s wages for the remainder of the year. (Withholdings, unlike estimated tax payments, are treated as if they were paid evenly over the year.)

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2019. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact your advisors to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

January 31

  • File 2018 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • Provide copies of 2018 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
  • File 2018 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS.
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2018. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2018. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2018 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return.

February 28

  • File 2018 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is April 1.)

March 15

  • If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2018 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2018 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m back again with Annjeanette Yglesias, one of our tax managers and a member of our not-for-profit team. Annjeanette, welcome back to The Playbook.

Annjeanette: Thanks, Jen. It’s good to be here.

Jen: So, tax manager, tax reform is a hot topic this year. How has it impacted not-for-profit organizations?

Annjeanette: It’s interesting, because tax reform has been a hot topic, and the tax reform has some direct impacts for nonprofit organizations, as well as some indirect impacts, because a lot of nonprofit organizations receive their funding from the general public.

Jen: So, what are some of the direct impacts not-for-profits have seen?

Annjeanette: Well, tax reform affected nonprofit organizations in several ways. First of all, with unrelated business income, or UBI. UBI activities were previously allowed to offset each other. The losses from one could offset the income from another, and so you had a netting effect.

But now with tax reform, the IRS is requiring that all UBI activities must be reported individually. So that benefit – there is no longer available. Also, under tax reform, the UBI tax rate has been lowered to 21%. Previously it was a graduated scale with the highest tax bracket being 35%.

Jen: Oh my gosh. So that’s a good thing?

Annjeanette: Absolutely a good thing. But there are also some more negative things that came out of tax reform as well. For example, the IRS is now imposing a 21% excise tax on compensation of covered employees over $1 million.

Jen: Oh my gosh.

Annjeanette: So basically, that portion of an employee’s compensation that exceeds $1 million, the nonprofit organization will have to pay a 21% excise tax on that.

Jen: Oh my gosh.

Annjeanette: In addition, there’s a 1.4% net investment income tax now imposed on certain educational institutions, like private colleges and universities. So, that’s something else to think about.

Jen: Now, are there any indirect aspects? You mentioned that earlier.

Annjeanette: Yes, absolutely. Because of the nature of nonprofit organizations, how they receive a lot of their funds from the general public, there are several provisions in tax reform that affected the general public – namely individuals. So, individuals now have a little bit of a decreased incentive to donate to nonprofit organizations, because even though the individual income-based limitation increased to 60%, the standard deduction has now doubled. So, the incentive for an individual to make a donation to a nonprofit organization has been substantially reduced.

Jen: Well, great. Well, we’ll get you to talk some more about tax reform and not-for-profits, and we’ll have you back again.

Annjeanette: Sounds good.

Jen: To learn more about how PKF Texas can help your not-for-profit organization, visit PKFTexas.com/notforprofit. This has been another Thought Leader production brought to you by PKF Texas The Entrepreneur’s Playbook.

Prepaying property taxes related to the current year but due the following year has long been one of the most popular and effective year-end tax-planning strategies. But does it still make sense in 2018?

The answer, for some people, is yes — accelerating this expense will increase their itemized deductions, reducing their tax bills. But for many, particularly those in high-tax states, changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminate the benefits.

What’s Changed?
The TCJA made two changes that affect the viability of this strategy. First, it nearly doubled the standard deduction to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of household, and $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, so fewer taxpayers will itemize. Second, it placed a $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, including property taxes plus income or sales taxes.

For property tax prepayment to make sense, two things must happen:

  1. You must itemize (that is, your itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction), and
  2. Your other SALT expenses for the year must be less than $10,000.

If you don’t itemize, or you’ve already used up your $10,000 limit (on income or sales taxes or on previous property tax installments), accelerating your next property tax installment will provide no benefit.

Example
Joe and Mary, a married couple filing jointly, have incurred $5,000 in state income taxes, $5,000 in property taxes, $18,000 in qualified mortgage interest, and $4,000 in charitable donations, for itemized deductions totaling $32,000. Their next installment of 2018 property taxes, $5,000, is due in the spring of 2019. They’ve already reached the $10,000 SALT limit, so prepaying property taxes won’t reduce their tax bill.

Now suppose they live in a state with no income tax. In that case, prepayment would potentially make sense because it would be within the SALT limit and would increase their 2018 itemized deductions.

Look Before You Leap
Before you prepay property taxes, review your situation carefully to be sure it will provide a tax benefit. And keep in mind that, just because prepayment will increase your 2018 itemized deductions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best strategy. For example, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2019, paying property taxes when due will likely produce a greater benefit over the two-year period.

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m back again with Annjeanette Yglesias, one of our tax managers and a member of our not-for-profit team. Annjeanette, welcome back to the Playbook.

Annjeanette: Thanks, Jen. It’s good to be here.

Jen: So, not-for-profit… you work with different organizations, and I think the most popular type of not-for-profit organization is 501(c)(3), correct?

Annjeanette: Yes, that’s correct. There are over 30 different types of nonprofit organizations, according to the internal revenue code, and 501(c)(3) organizations are definitely the most popular. Those organizations have purposes for educational, scientific, religious, prevention of cruelty to animals—those types of organizations fall within 501(c)(3).

Jen: So, are there any limitations that we need to be aware of for not-for-profit organizations?

Annjeanette: Well, that really depends. 501(c)(3) organizations can fall into two categories: either a public charity or a private foundation. Private foundations definitely have more restrictions associated with them than public charities do.

Jen: So, there’s different tax rules for each type of entity, correct?

Annjeanette: That’s correct, and the tax rules depend on whether the 501(c)(3) is a public charity or a private foundation, because private foundations have more restrictive activity rules than public charities do.

Jen: And what type of restrictions are there?

Annjeanette: For example, the IRS requires that private foundations distribute a certain amount of their funds annually, and, also, private foundations are subject to a 1% to 2% excise tax on their net investment income. Those two rules are not applicable to public charities. Also, private foundations are restricted in the amount of voting stock that they can hold in a private company, as well as there are several rules that the IRS imposes regarding self-dealing and self-dealing really deals with substantial contributors and any interested persons of the organization.

Jen: So, does the 990 come into play? I would assume that they know the different limitations, but that’s where they call you, right?

Annjeanette: That’s right. If any organization has a question on if they have to follow any of these restrictions, they can certainly call us, and we can walk them through it.

Jen: Perfect. Well, it sounds like there’s a lot more to talk about, and we’ll get you back.

Annjeanette: Sounds good.

Jen: To learn more about how PKF Texas can help your not-for-profit organization, visit PKFTexas.com/notforprofit. This has been another Thought Leader production brought to you by PKF Texas The Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.

Will you be age 50 or older on December 31? Are you still working? Are you already contributing to your 401(k) plan or Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) up to the regular annual limit? Then you may want to make “catch-up” contributions by the end of the year. Increasing your retirement plan contributions can be particularly advantageous if your itemized deductions for 2018 will be smaller than in the past, because of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Catching Up
Catch-up contributions are additional contributions beyond the regular annual limits that can be made to certain retirement accounts. They were designed to help taxpayers who didn’t save much for retirement earlier in their careers to “catch up.” But there’s no rule that limits catch-up contributions to such taxpayers.

So catch-up contributions can be a great option for anyone who is old enough to be eligible, has been maxing out their regular contribution limit and has sufficient earned income to contribute more. The contributions are generally pretax (except in the case of Roth accounts), so they can reduce your taxable income for the year.

More Benefits Now?
This additional reduction to taxable income might be especially beneficial in 2018 if in the past you had significant itemized deductions that now will be reduced or eliminated by the TCJA. For example, the TCJA eliminates miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor — such as unreimbursed employee expenses (including home-off expenses) and certain professional and investment fees.

If, say, in 2018 you have $5,000 of expenses that in the past would have qualified as miscellaneous itemized deductions, an additional $5,000 catch-up contribution can make up for the loss of those deductions. Plus, you benefit from adding to your retirement nest egg and potential tax-deferred growth.

Other deductions that are reduced or eliminated include state and local taxes, mortgage and home equity interest expenses, casualty and theft losses, and moving expenses. If these changes affect you, catch-up contributions can help make up for your reduced deductions.

2018 Contribution Limits
Under 2018 401(k) limits, if you’re age 50 or older and you have reached the $18,500 maximum limit for all employees, you can contribute an extra $6,000, for a total of $24,500. If your employer offers a SIMPLE instead, your regular contribution maxes out at $12,500 in 2018. If you’re 50 or older, you’re allowed to contribute an additional $3,000 — or $15,500 in total for the year.

But, check with your employer because, while most 401(k) plans and SIMPLEs offer catch-up contributions, not all do. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply.

Additional Options
Catch-up contributions are also available for IRAs, but the deadline for 2018 contributions is later: April 15, 2019. And whether your traditional IRA contributions will be deductible depends on your income and whether you or your spouse participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m here with Martin Euson, a director on our tax team. Martin, welcome back to the Playbook.

Martin: Thanks, Jen. I’m glad to be here.

Jen: So, I’ve heard a little bit about the Opportunity Zone Program. What is it?

Martin: The Opportunity Zone Program is a new program that was created as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that, as we know, was signed into law last December, and the program is really aimed at encouraging private investment and development into areas that are historically distressed communities or low-income communities across the United States. And in exchange for that, investors are given some pretty significant tax benefits.

Jen: We’re in Houston – are there areas where we can feel the impact locally?

Martin: Oh, absolutely. In Houston, alone, there are more than 100 Opportunity Zone designations. If you look at a map of inside the Beltway, most of Downtown Houston has the Opportunity Zone designation and much of the area to the east of Downtown. So, more than 100 areas inside of Houston, across the state of Texas more than 600 areas were designated Opportunity Zones, and so, it should have a very significant impact at the local level.

Jen: So, Martin, what kind of incentives exist for investment in these Opportunity Zones?

Martin: So, the incentive, Jen, really is a tax incentive. Investors who invest in Opportunity Zones can benefit from three different types of tax incentives:

  • The first one being deferral of gain from a recent sale or exchange transaction when that gain is reinvested into an Opportunity Zone area. And that gain can be deferred as long as December 31 of 2026, and so, that’s a pretty significant deferral just that length of time.
  • The second tax benefit comes from investors being able to eliminate up to 15% of the gain on the investment or the gain that they’re reinvesting into a qualified Opportunity Zone.
  • And the third tax benefit that investors can receive is avoiding tax on the gain associate with the investment in the Opportunity Zone and avoid paying tax all together if the investment’s held for at least 10 years.

Jen: So where can our viewers find out more information about where these Opportunity Zones are?

Martin: The IRS website has put together a very comprehensive FAQ section that addresses a lot of questions associated with the program. There’s also a map of the United States, and it can be scaled down to Texas and down to Houston.

Jen: Okay, perfect.

Martin: That provides a lot of good information, and as always viewers can go to the PKF Texas website for more information or connect with me directly on LinkedIn.

Jen: Sounds good. Now is there any specific industry that this impacts, or it’s pretty much anybody can invest in these Opportunity Zones?

Martin: There are some prohibited investments when you get into recreation and entertainment, things like that, and there are a lot of nuances that go along with it from a tax perspective and from the type of investment perspective. So, the best thing to do would be either to check out the FAQ sections or to consult with your PKF tax advisor.

Jen: Come talk to you. All right, perfect. We’ll get you back to talk a little bit more about it, sound good?

Martin: All right, thanks, Jen.

Jen: This has been another Thought Leader production brought to you by PKF Texas The Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.