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ACCT 538 Gross Income and Exclusions

ACCT 538 – Individual Income Tax

Chapter 5 – Gross Income and Exclusions

  1. Realization and Recognition of Income
  • Gross Income – all income from whatever source derived; includes income recognized in any form, whether in money, property, or services.
    • Taxpayers report realized and recognized income on their tax returns for the year.
    • Income that is excluded or deferred is not included in gross income.
      • Excluded income is never taxed.
      • Deferred income is taxed when recognized in a subsequent year.
  1. What is Included in Gross Income?
  • Taxpayers recognize gross income when:
    • They receive an economic benefit
    • They realize the income, and
    • The tax law does not provide for exclusion or deferral
  • Economic Benefit
    • Borrowed funds represent a liability, not gross income
  • Realization Principle
    • Taxpayer engages in a transaction with another party
    • Transaction results in a measurable change in property rights
  • Recognition
    • Realized income is assumed to be recognized absent a deferral or exclusion provision
  • Other Income Concerns
  • Form of Receipt – Does it matter?
  • Return of capital principle
    • The cost of an asset is call the tax basis
    • Return of capital means the tax basis is excluded when calculating realized income
      • Return of capital does not represent an economic benefit
    • Gain from the sale or disposition of an asset is included in realized income
  • Recovery of amounts previously deducted
    • Individuals typically claim deductions in the year paid
    • Deductions may sometimes be reimbursed or refunded in a subsequent year
  • Tax benefit rule – Refunds of expenditures deducted in a prior year are included in gross income to the extent that the refund reduced taxes in year of the deduction
  1. When to Recognize Income?
  • Individual taxpayers file tax returns for a calendar-year period
  • Corporations often use a fiscal year end
  • The method of accounting generally determines the calendar year in which realized income is recognized and included in gross income.
  • Accounting Methods
    • Corporation: accrual method of accounting
    • Individuals: cash method
  • Constructive Receipt
    • Taxpayer must realize and recognize income when it is actually or constructively received
    • Deemed to occur when the income is credit to the taxpayer’s account
  • Claim of Right
    • Income recognized when there are no restrictions on use of income (e.g., no obligation to repay)
  • In addition to determining when taxpayers realize and recognize income, it is important to consider who (which taxpayer) recognizes the income
  • This question arises when an income-shifting strategy is involved
    • Assignment of Income
    • Community Property Systems
  • Assignment of Income
    • The assignment of income doctrine holds that the taxpayer who earns income from services must recognize the income
    • Income from property such as dividends and interest is taxable to the person who actually owns the income-producing property
    • To shift income from property to another person, a taxpayer must also transfer the ownership in the property to the other person
  • Community Property Systems
    • Nine states implement community property systems
    • Half of the income earned from the services of one spouse is included in the gross income of the other spouse
    • Half of the income from property held as community property by the married couple is included in the gross income of each spouse
    • Property that the spouse brings into the marriage is treated as that spouse’s separate property. How income from separate property is treated varies across states (either treated as earned solely by spouse that owns the property or equally by each spouse)
  1. Types of Income
  • Income from services (Earned Income)
    • Income from labor is the most common gross income
    • Generated by the efforts of taxpayer
  • Income from property (Unearned Income)
    • Include gain or losses from sale of property, dividends, interests, rents, royalties, and annuities
    • Depends on type of income and type of transaction generating the income
  • Annuities
    • An investment that pays a stream of equal payments over time
    • A portion of each annuity payment as a non-taxable return of capital and the remainder as gross income
    • Taxpayers use the annuity exclusion ratio to determine the return of capital (non-taxable portion of each payment
      • Annuity exclusion ratio = original investment / expected value of the annuity
    • For annuities with a fixed term, the expected value is the number of payments times the payment amount
    • For annuities over a life, taxpayers must use IRS tax tables to determine the expected value based upon the taxpayer’s life expectancy
  • Property Dispositions
    • Taxpayers usually realize a gain or loss when disposing of an asset
    • Taxpayers are allowed to recover their investment in property (tax basis) before they realize any gain
      • Sales proceeds
      • Less: Selling expenses
      • = Amount realized
      • Less: Basis (investment) in property sold
      • = Gain (Loss) on sale
  • Other Sources of Income
    • Income other than wages or business and property
  • Income from Flow-through entities
    • Individuals may invest in various business entities
    • The legal form of the business affects how the income generated by the business is taxed
    • If the entity is a flow-through entity such as a partnership or S-corporation, the income and deductions of the entity “flow through” to the owners of the entity (partners or shareholders)
  • Alimony: For tax purposes alimony is defined as:
    • A transfer of cash made under a written separation agreement or divorce decree,
    • The separation or divorce decree does not designate the payment as non-alimony,
    • In the case of legally separated (or divorced) taxpayers under a separation or divorce decree, the spouses do not live together when the payment is made, and
    • The payments cannot continue after the death of the recipient
    • Types of payment that do not qualify as alimony:
      • Property divisions and
      • Child support payments by the divorce or separation agreement
  • Prizes and Awards
    • Excluded only if (1) made for scientific, literary, or charitable achievement and (2) transferred to a qualified charity
  • Social Security Benefits
    • Taxable up to 85 percent of Social Security Benefits in gross income depending on the taxpayer’s filing status, Social Security Benefits, and modified adjusted gross income
    • Modified AGI is regular AGI (including 50 percent of Social Security benefits) plus tax-exempt interest income, excluded foreign income, and certain other deductions for AGI
    • Single taxpayers
      • (1) If modified AGI + 50% of Social Security benefit <= $25,000 Social Security benefits are not taxable.
      • (2) If $25,000 < modified AGI + 50% of Social Security benefits <= $34,000, taxable Social Security benefits are the lesser of (a) 50 percent of the Social Security benefits or (b) 50 percent of (modified AGI + 50% of Social Security benefits - $25,000).
      • (3) If modified AGI + 50% of Social Security benefits > $34,000, taxable Social Security benefits are the lesser of (a) 85 percent of Social Security benefits or (b) 85 percent of (modified AGI + 0% of 50% of Social Security benefits -$34,000), plus the lesser of (1) $4,5000 or (2) 50 percent of Social Security benefits.
  • Imputed Income
    • Certain employee discounts or low interest loans generate income via indirect benefits
    • For low interest loans, the amount of imputed income is the difference between the amount of interest using the applicable federal interest rate and the amount of interest the taxpayer actually pays
    • The borrower is deemed to pay imputed interest (interest expense to borrower, interest income to lender), and then the lender is deemed to have returned the imputed amount (the tax consequences depend on relationship between borrower and lender).
    • Imputed interest rules do not apply to aggregate loans of $10,000 or less between the lender and borrower.
  • Discharge of Indebtedness
    • When a taxpayer’s debt is forgiven by a lender, the taxpayer must usually include the amount of debt relief in gross income
      • Exceptions exist for certain types of loans
    • To provide tax relief for insolvent taxpayers—taxpayers with liabilities, including tax liabilities, exceeding their assets—a discharge of indebtedness is not taxable
    • If the discharge of indebtedness makes the taxpayer solvent, the taxpayer recognizes taxable income to extent of his solvency
  1. Exclusion Provisions
  • Congress allows certain specific types of income to be excluded or deferred
    • Subsidize or encourage particular activities or
    • To mitigate inequity
  • Municipal interest
    • Bonds issued by state and local governments located in the United States, and this exclusion is generally recognized as a subsidy to state and local governments
  • Gain on the sale of personal residence
    • Taxpayers may exclude up to $250,000 ($500,00 if married filing jointly) of gain on the sale of their principal residence.
    • Must satisfy ownership and use tests.
    • Any excess gain generally qualifies as long-term capital gain.
  • Fringe Benefits
    • The value of these benefits is included in the employee’s gross income as compensation for services
    • Certain fringe benefits, called “qualifying” fringe benefits, are excluded from gross income
      • Common qualifying fringe benefits are medical and dental health insurance coverage, life insurance coverage, De minimis (small) benefits
  • Education-Related Exclusions
    • As an incentive for taxpayers to participate in higher education, Congress excludes certain types of income if the funds are used for higher education
  • Scholarships
    • Students seeking a college degree can exclude scholarships that pay for required tuition, fees, books, and supplies
    • Exclusion applies only if the recipient is not required to perform services in exchange for receiving the scholarship (limited exception for tuition waivers for student employees and teaching and research assistants)
  • Other Educational Subsidies
    • Taxpayers are allowed to exclude from gross income earnings on investments in qualified education plans such as 529 plans and Coverdell education savings accounts as long as they use the earning to pay for qualifying education expenditures
    • Taxpayers can elect to exclude interest earned on Series EE savings bonds when the redemption proceeds are used to pay qualified higher education expenses
    • The exclusion of interest on Series EE savings bonds is restricted to taxpayers with modified AGI below specific limits.
  • Exclusions to mitigate double taxation
    • Congress provides certain exclusions to eliminate the potential double tax that may arise for
    • Gifts and inheritances
      • Individuals may receive property as gifts or from a decedent’s estate (an inheritance)
      • While the receipt of property is most certainly real income to the recipient, the value of gifts and inheritances are excluded from gross income because these transfers are subject to the Federal Gift and Estate tax.
  • Life Insurance Proceeds
    • Amounts received due to the death of the insured are excluded from the income of the recipient
    • Similar to inheritances, life insurance proceeds are typically subject to the Federal Estate tax
    • If the proceeds are paid over a period of time rather than a lump sum, a portion of the payments represents interest and must be included in gross income
    • Exclusion generally does not apply when (a) a life insurance policy is transferred to another party for valuable consideration or (b) taxpayer cancels life insurance contract and receives proceeds in excess of previous premiums paid
    • Exclusion available for accelerated death benefits in certain circumstances
  • Foreign Earned Income
    • A maximum of $100,800 (2015) of foreign earned income can be excluded from gross income for qualifying individuals
    • A maximum of $14,112 (2015) of employer-provided foreign housing also may be excluded (but only to the extent that costs exceed $16,128 (2015))
    • To be eligible for the foreign earned income and housing exclusions, the taxpayer must have her tax home in a foreign country and (1) be considered a resident of the foreign country or (2) live in the foreign country for 330 days in a consecutive 12-month period
  • Sickness and Injury – Related Exclusions
    • Several exclusion provisions apply to taxpayers who are sick or inured to reflect their inability to pay the tax and facilitate recovery
  • Workers’ compensation
    • Payments from workers’ compensation plans are excluded from gross income
  • Payments Associated with Personal injury
    • Awards that relate to physical injury or sickness or are payments for the medical costs of treating emotional distress are excluded from gross income
    • Other payments including punitive damages are fully taxable
  • Health Care Reimbursement
    • Reimbursements by health and accident insurance policies for medical expenses paid by the taxpayer are excluded from gross income
  • Disability insurance
    • Also called wage replacement insurance
    • Pays the insured individual for wages lost when the individual misses work due to injury or disability
    • If an individual purchases disability insurance directly, any disability benefits are excluded from gross income
    • If the individual’s employer purchases the disability insurance and the individual excludes the benefit from her compensation, then disability benefits are taxable.
  • Deferral Provisions
    • Allow taxpayers to defer (but not permanently exclude) the recognition of certain types of realized income
    • Transactions generating deferred income include:
      • Installment sales
      • Like-kind exchanges
      • Involuntary conversions, and
      • Contributions to non-roth qualified retirement accounts
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