Taxable v. Nontaxable Income

Tax season will be here soon, which means your friendly numbers nerds are getting ready! From balance sheets to calculators and everything in between, this is a busy time of year with a lot of moving parts. Tax day, Tuesday, April 17th, will be here in just 162 days. It’s a good idea to think ahead.

When it comes to income, it’s a fairly safe bet to assume it will be taxed. For example, salaries, bonuses, interest and business income are almost always taxable. However, there are some exceptions when it comes to what is and isn’t taxable. This stuff is important to know – different types of income can greatly impact your tax strategies for the upcoming year.

Everyone earns income in some shape or form, and knowing when you should and shouldn’t be paying tax is a must. As a business owner, it’s also important to realize what your employees may need to report on their tax filings, and how this might impact your business’ tax strategy.

To help you with your tax planning, we’re here to help break down which forms of income may be taxable.

The following types of income are taxable, and need to be reported properly:

  • Benefits from unemployment
  • Punitive damages
  • Income from bartering, which is based on the fair market value of the product or service you receive
  • Disability insurance income – if your employer paid the premiums
  • Fringe benefits you receive for performance of your services – think wellness benefits, company car use, etc.
  • Rent payments you receive for personal property – if you are operating your rental activity as a business
  • Gambling winnings and cash prizes

However, not everything is taxable. Here are some of the nontaxable types of income:

  • Workers’ compensation benefits – unless they are part of your retirement package
  • Disability insurance income – if you paid the premiums
  • Compensatory damages for getting sick or being injured
  • Cash rebates from the dealer or manufacturer of a service or product
  • Excluded fringe benefits, such as health insurance, parking and employee discounts
  • Child support payments
  • Rent money if you rent out your primary or vacation home fewer than 15 days a year. This is important to note if you use popular vacation rental sites, such as Airbnb and HomeAway. Also, note that if you rent it out more than 14 days, the activity is taxable.
  • Gifts and inheritances – if your great-great uncle passes away and leaves you his massive stamp collection, lucky you – no income tax!

It’s important to keep in mind these lists don’t include every taxable and nontaxable type of income under the sun, and there are often rules and exceptions that may apply. If you get confused, or aren’t sure if you should really be reporting something, check in with us. We’re here to help.

A version of this post first appeared in Eide Bailly’s Year End Tax Planning Guide.

Is it a Hobby or a Business?

Every business idea, no matter how big or small, starts somewhere. Whether it came from a random daydream or a well thought out business plan, your idea was fueled by something you thought the world needed.

Perhaps you had another job or responsibility you were attending to at the time, and you weren’t able to devote all your time and resources to your new idea. Instead, you kept it as a side project which turned in to a fun little hobby.

While keeping your main job and running a hobby business can be fun and energizing (after all, you’re running your own business now!), there are certain tax implications that must be taken into consideration when your business idea is just a hobby.

Your tax liability will be affected depending upon whether your work is classified as an actual business or as a hobby. Here are nine factors from the IRS regulations used to determine if an activity is a business or a hobby:

  • Do you conduct the activity in a businesslike manner? This includes keeping accurate books and records and pursuing operating methods and business techniques with the motive of turning a profit.
  • Do you have expertise in the business?
  • Do you devote much time and effort in carrying on the activity?
  • Are the assets of the activity expected to appreciate in value?
  • Have you had success in starting a new business or converting an unprofitable business into a profitable one?
  • Is the history of income or losses from the activity indicative to a profit motive? If you have continued losses, this may suggest that the activity is a hobby. There is a safe-harbor rule that states if you generate a profit in three out of five years, your activity is deemed a trade or business. For horse racing, breeding, training or showing the test is two out of the last seven years. The IRS can still disagree, but the burden of proof to show the activity is a hobby versus a trade or business has now shifted from you to them.
  • What is the amount of profits in relations to losses? An occasional small profit in an activity which generates large losses or from an activity in which a large investment has been made would not necessarily translate into a profit motive.
  • Do you have substantial income or capital from other sources? If so, losses from the activity may generate tax benefits by offsetting income from other sources, which is generally not looked kindly upon by the IRS.
  • Does the activity present personal pleasure or recreation? The IRS is more likely to attack an activity that has recreational elements such as racing, horse or dog training or showing, or even weekend farming, rather than tax preparation services (although we think this is kind of fun!).

So what does this mean for you? Any form and amount of income, no matter where it is coming from, is taxable and should be reported. However, hobby activities are reported differently than trade or business activities and have certain limitations. On a positive note, hobby activities are not subject to self-employment tax. However, expenses related to hobby activities are only deductible as itemized deductions subject to 2% of adjusted gross income. Taxpayers who utilize the standard deduction do not receive any benefit from these expenses and those with higher income will also be limited. Additionally, retirement plan contributions, self-employed health insurance and an array of other deductions cannot be used to offset hobby income.

The moral of the story…

The IRS needs to know about any money you’re bringing in, whether it’s from your daily job, or the hobby app building company you run from your garage. If your business is just a hobby, remember you still need to report it and planning can go a long way in terms of tax benefits and pitfalls.

Tax Season Means Tax Planning

It’s coming up on a little thing we like to call busy, I mean, tax season. This particular time in the life of a tax professional is marked by, you guessed it, taxes. Which brings us to the point of our post today … are you thinking about your taxes?

It’s important to do more than just rush into your taxes, hoping for a refund. Rather, by strategically thinking about your taxes (both personally and professionally) and planning for them, you can make the most of this season and your finances.

But where to begin? Here are some of the basic things you may encounter on your taxes:

  • Itemized v. standard deductions
  • Individual income tax – this is different based on if you’re married filing jointly, filing single, etc.
  • Child tax credit – can be used for children under the age of 17
  • Charitable contribution deduction – remember these tips?
  • Employee benefit plans and individual retirement plans
  • Taxable Social Security benefits
  • Education Credits and deductions
  • Estate and trust income tax rates

Taxes can be complex, but by taking the time to understand what’s going on in your finances, you’ll be in a better place for tax season and for the future.

To learn more quick tax planning information, check out our 2015-16 Tax Planning Guide.