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Monthly Archives: January 2015

When You Need A Tax Professional by Joseph L. Saka, CPA/PFS

Posted on January 30, 2015 by Joseph Saka

January, the start of a New Year and the time that taxpayers start gathering information and stuffing folders with documents to prepare for the April 15 filing deadline. Sure, taxpayers can prepare their own returns using a variety of online tools. However, these software programs lack the human touch required to understand individuals’ unique financial situations, their business operations and their personal plans and goals for the future. Remember, tax planning is not a once-a-year-and-forget-it activity. One’s actions during the course of the year can affect his or her tax liabilities and savings the following year and in subsequent years. A tax accountant can help ensure that taxpayers identify and maximize the benefits of these planning opportunities and can offer advice on tax-efficient methods to manage a range of often-overlooked life and business events that occur long after April 15.


Throughout the year, savvy individuals and businesses rely on accountants to serve as managers of household budgets; trusted business advisors; and sometimes therapists, who can provide guidance on estate plans, financial disagreements and disputes between family members and business partners.   Following is a list of just some of the triggering events for which individuals and businesses should seek the professional advice of an accountant and tax advisor. While taxpayers may be able to manage through these issues on their own, failing to seek professional counsel at the onset can prove to be a costly mistake.


For Businesses

  • Changes in leadership, boards of directors, audit committees and others responsible for corporate governance and oversight
  • Changes in corporate structure, operations and technology
  • Changes in legislation, regulations and matters of compliance
  • Issues relating to IT security, identify theft and fraud
  • Managing cash flow
  • Mergers and acquisitions, spinoffs and divestitures of operating companies
  • Sales of business
  • Passing business assets onto heirs
  • Business expansion
  • Business across borders
  • Outsourcing and co-sourcing
  • Patent protection
  • Construction


For Individuals


  • Marriage and/or divorce
  • Birth of a child or grandchild
  • Death of a spouse or family member
  • Receipt of an inheritance
  • Changes in employment, earnings and assets
  • Purchasing a home or another large asset
  • Investing in real estate
  • Investing overseas

The advisors and accountants with Berkowitz Pollack Brant counsel business owners, individuals and families through a range of life events and help them put into place the appropriate strategies to achieve goals and mitigate tax liabilities.

About the author: Joseph L. Saka, CPA/PFS, is director in charge of the Tax Services practice at Berkowitz Pollack Brant. He may be reached in the Miami CPA firm’s office at (305) 379-7000 or via e-mail at


Lifetime Income Option Now Available to Older Participants in Defined Benefits Plans by Jeffrey M. Mutnik, CPA/PFS

Posted on January 27, 2015 by Jeffrey Mutnik

The IRS and U.S. Treasury recently issued a special rule that should allow employees some peace of mind regarding how long their 401(k)s will last through their retirement. The rule grants defined contribution plans permission to offer older employees the option to invest in deferred income annuities in target date funds (TDFs) without violating plans’ Sec. 401(a)(4) nondiscriminatory benefits and features requirements.  This new guidance is consistent with the IRS and Department of Labor’s recent focus on helping 401(k) plan participants gain access to products that provide lifetime income. Moreover, it enables participants in employer-sponsored 401(k) plans to have more options in deciding how they direct all or a portion of their investments in the future.

In recent years, target date funds have exploded in popularity. Widely used as the default investment option for 401(k) participants who do not make their own elections, they automatically shift assets to a more conservative investment mix as participants approach their intended retirement dates.

Under the new guidance, target date funds may allocate a portion of assets into an annuity contract upon the targeted date. At that time, all participants in the fund would receive an annuity certificate for that portion of their account. As a result, aging investors would receive greater protection from market volatility and reduced risk of outliving their savings during their golden years.

Determining if TDFs are appropriate for a particular company’s retirement plan requires the sponsoring business to carefully review the needs of plan participants and answer a range of qualifying questions. The professionals with Berkowitz Pollack Brant have extensive experience helping businesses develop employer-sponsored benefits plans and navigate through the complex maze of related compliance requirements.

About the Author: Jeffrey M. Mutnik, CPA/PFS, is a director in Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Taxation and Financial Services practice. For more information, call (954) 712-7000 or email

Know the Risks and Reward of Vacation Homes before Taking the Plunge by Cherry Laufenberg CPA

Posted on January 20, 2015 by Cherry Laufenberg

During holiday travel, it is not unusual for vacationers to consider buying second homes in the location where they escape to – either for their own enjoyment or for future rental income.  In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, vacation home purchases are on the rise, reaching a seven-year high in 2013.  Before throwing caution to the wind and committing to a vacation-home, taxpayers should consider the following factors.



The reasons why one chooses to purchase a vacation home has a great affect on his or her future finances and lifestyle.  For example, buyers who plan to retire in their vacation homes should consider the whether or not its features are suitable for aging owners, its proximity to medical care, shopping and children, and whether or not the state imposes separate estate and inheritance taxes on its residents.


When purchasing a vacation home as an investment for rental income, individuals should understand the local rental market as well as trends in home sales.  When it comes time to sell the property, it is much better to sell in a market with rising home values.


With interest rates on mortgages at historic lows, prospective homebuyers may be more tempted than ever to dive into vacation homes before the Fed raises rates.  However, a second home requires more initial capital for down payments and a larger budget over the long-term for maintenance, taxes, insurance, etc.   Even when paying cash for a second home, homebuyers should be aware of costs that include property taxes; maintenance, management and repairs; homeowner association fees and special assessments; and location-specific property insurance, such as hurricane, wind and flood coverage in Florida.


When using a vacation home as a second residence, taxpayers who itemize deductions may deduct property taxes on each of their homes as well as interest on mortgages and home equity loans of up to $1.1 million used to acquire, build or improve both the primary and second homes combined.   However, a large percentage of second-home owners will be affected by the itemized phase-out rules, which reduce the itemized deduction by 3 percent of the amount by which the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the threshold amount, with the reduction not to exceed 80 percent of the otherwise allowable itemized deduction.



When it comes time to sell the home, married couples may exclude from taxes up to $500,000 of the gain from a sale (half that amount for individual tax filers) when they meet ownership and use tests.  Specifically, one of the homeowners must own the property for a minimum of two years during the five years prior to a sale and both must use the property as his or her primary residence for two years during the same five-year period.  Complicating this further, homeowners who use the exemption on a gain from the sale of a prior principal residence must wait at least two years to claim the exclusion on another property.  Moreover, if vacation-home owners did not use the property as their principal residence for any period after 2009, they may be liable for taxes on a portion of the gain from a sale at a later date.


The IRS rules for homebuyers who rent out their properties are similarly complex.  When renting out a vacation home for two weeks or more during a calendar year, property owners must report the rent they receive as income on their personal tax returns.  They may deduct certain expenses related to the property, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance and depreciation, which reduce the owner’s taxable rental income.  Owners who rent their second homes to others and sometimes use the properties for their own personal enjoyment for the greater of 14 days during the tax year or 10 percent of the total days they are rented to others will be able to deduct a limited number of rental expenses.  In these instances, owners will need to calculate the days the property was used for each purpose and divide expenses between the two.  However, homeowners must recognize that rental expenses that exceed gross rental income less the mortgage interest and real estate taxes portion of the rental period will be excluded from their allowable expense deductions in that taxable year.


The rewards of vacation-home ownership are not without concerns.  The advisors and accountants with Berkowitz Pollack Brant work with potential buyers to assess the opportunities and challenges of ownership and plan accordingly to meet related financial liabilities.


About the Author: Cherry Laufenberg, CPA, is a senior manager in Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax Services practice.  She can be reached in the firm’s Ft. Lauderdale office at (954) 712-7000 or via email at

Is Your Business Ready for Health Care Law Compliance in 2015? by Adam Cohen, CPA

Posted on January 19, 2015 by Adam Cohen

Despite a series of delays, several provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.  In fact, for many employers across the country, 2015 will make the first time they address the ACA on their tax returns.  While the health care law aims to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S.’s health care system, employers are struggling with how to adapt the provisions of the law without incurring significant added expense.


Employer Shared Responsibility Provision

Barring any further extensions, businesses with 100 or more full-time employees will need to offer health insurance to 70 percent of its workforce and their dependents beginning on Jan. 1, 2015.  Businesses with 50 to 99 full-time employees will have an additional year to comply with the employer shared responsibility provisions, which go into effect in 2016.  At that time, the required minimum for coverage will rise from 70 percent to 95 percent of a business’s workforce.


Businesses that fail to offer health insurance to their full-time employees and their dependents may be subject to an Employer Shared Responsibility payment equal to $2,000 for every full-time employee after the first 80.  In 2016, the penalty will apply to every uncovered employee after the first 30.


Similarly, businesses that purchase insurance that is neither affordable nor provides a minimum level of coverage will be subject to a penalty of $3,000 for each employees who purchases coverage through a Marketplace Exchange and receives an exchange subsidy.  The penalty is a monthly fee due annually on employers’ federal tax returns beginning in 2015 for businesses with 100 or more full-time employees, and in 2016 for those with 50-99 employees.


The health care law defines “affordable, minimum level of health coverage” as that which pays at least 60 percent of covered claim costs and in which the employee’s share of the premium is less than 9.5 percent of the employee’s total household income.  Because businesses do not know their employees’ household income, the law allows employers to claim one or more of three safe harbors: one based on employee W-2 wages, the second based on employees’ rates of pay and the third based on the Federal poverty line. Additionally, some large employers with fewer than 100 full-time employees may be eligible for transition relief from the employer shared responsibility penalty for their 2015 plan year.  Businesses that employ fewer than 50 full-time employees, which make up the vast majority of U.S. companies, are not subject to the Employer Shared Responsibility provisions.


Reporting Requirements

Businesses with more than 50 full-time employees will face an expanded list of reporting and filing requirements in 2015.  Currently, employers must report on each employee’s Form W-2 the value of insurance coverage it provides to each worker and withhold and report an additional 0.9 percent on employee compensation that exceeds $200,000.


Beginning in 2015, large employers will also need to begin filing with the IRS informational returns (Form 1094-C, Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns) and employee statements (Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage) for each applicable employee and their dependents by March 31, 2016, for e-filers or Feb. 28, 2016, for paper returns.  Failing to file timely returns and a provide a statement of coverage to employees by Jan. 31, 2016, will result in an employer penalty of up to $200 per return.

Managing Compliance

Managing the intricacies of Affordable Care Act compliance undoubtedly will be a challenge for most businesses.  Despite the law’s aim to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S.’s health care system, confusion will remain.  For example, businesses need to understand how to calculate its number of “full-time equivalent” employees, whether or not the business qualifies for a safe harbor provision, when and how employees receive premium tax credits and how these credits subject employers to shared responsibility payments.


A first step in compliance is putting into place a set of procedures for determining and documenting each employee’s working hours by month and preparing to report the value of employees’ health benefits on W-2s. Second, businesses should assess their current health insurance programs to ensure the coverage they offer is affordable to employees and meets a minimum level of essential coverage. Third, businesses should not overlook the importance of educating their employees and providing them with disclosure about the ACA and how it affects them. This may also include directing workers to buy insurance on federal or state-sponsored insurance exchanges. Finally, considering the complexity of the law and ongoing changes in the rules of compliance, businesses should consider meeting with advisors and accountants who are current in these updates and can simply the processes of compliance.

The accountants and advisors with Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax Services help businesses of all sizes understand and comply with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and other regulations that affect their financial operations.

About the Author: Adam Cohen, CPA, is an associate director in Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax Services practice. He can be reached at the CPA firm’s Ft. Lauderdale office at (954) 712-7000 or via e-mail at




Some Taxpayers Exempt from Passive Foreign Investment Companies (PFIC) Reporting by James W. Spencer, CPA

Posted on January 15, 2015 by James Spencer

The IRS recently eliminated reporting requirements for certain U.S. persons who hold stock in Passive Foreign Investment Companies (PFICs) that is marked-to-market (MTM) under Internal Revenue Code 1296.

According to the IRS, a PFIC is any foreign investment vehicle for which either 75 percent or more of its gross income is passive or more than 50 percent of its average assets held during a tax year produce passive income, such as dividends, interest and certain royalties. U.S. persons owning stock in a PFIC, or who are indirect shareholders of the PFIC, must file Form 8621, Information Return by a Shareholder of Passive Foreign Investment Company or Qualified Electing Fund and may be subject to tax on excess distributions at the highest marginal rate plus an interest charge on underpayments.

Under the new guidelines, U.S. persons may avoid these reporting requirements and related tax and interest charges when they make annual elections to treat gains or losses on PFIC shares as mark-to-market under a 1296 regime or when they make election to treat the PFIC as a Qualified Electing Fund (QEF). Shareholders making the mark-to-market election may include in their gross income, and report as ordinary income, the excess of the fair market value of their shares on the last day of the tax year over the adjusted basis of the shares on the tax year’s first day.  However, limiting this reporting exception is the inability of taxpayers to benefit during years in which excess distribution rules apply and when the PFIC stock is not marked-to-market, as is the case when the stock is held for investment or as a hedge, as well as the inability to take advantage of favorable long-term capital gains tax rates.  Shareholders making the QEF election can take advantage of favorable long-term capital gains tax rates, but the PFIC must be willing to provide information necessary to report accurately QEF income, something many PFICs are unwilling or unable to do.

These provisions are applicable for taxable years ending after December 31, 2013.  To comply with PFIC rules and avoid significant tax exposure, U.S. persons holding even one share of interest, either directly or indirectly, in partnerships, corporations, trusts and estates, mutual funds or hedge funds that owns PFIC stock, should seek the counsel of professional accountants to guide them through the process.

About the Author: James W. Spencer, CPA, is a director in Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax Services practice.  He can be reached in the Miami CPA firm’s offices at 305-379-7000 or via email at



IRS Issues Optional Standard Mileage Rates for 2015

Posted on January 09, 2015 by

The IRS has increased the optional standard mileage rate for employees and self-employed taxpayers who use their cars for business use in 2015 to 57.5 cents per mile, up from 56 cents in 2014. Conversely, the IRS reduced the deductible costs for mileage driven for medical and moving purposes to 23 cents, down from 23.5 cents in 2014. The standard mileage rate of 14 cents for volunteer charitable work remains unchanged from 2014.


The standard mileage rate does not apply to taxpayers who claim accelerated depreciation on a vehicle nor to fleet owners that use more than four vehicles simultaneously.


About the Author: Kenneth J. Strauss, CPA/PFS, CFP, is a director with Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax Services practice. He can be reached in the CPA firm’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla., office at (954) 712-7000 or via email

2015 Ushers in New Audit Requirements for Non-Profits Receiving Federal Funding by Megan Cavasini, CPA

Posted on January 06, 2015 by

Effective January 1, 2015, states, local governments and nonprofit agencies receiving federal grants must comply with new single-audit requirements issued by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”). Included in the updated and revised guidance to Circular A-133, Audits of States, Local Governments, and Non-Profit Organizations, are the following provisions for which organizations receiving federal awards must audit and report their financial performance.

Increased Threshold for Single Audits. The OMB raised the single-audit requirements for nonprofit organizations that receive and spend federal awards of $750,000 or greater, up from $500,000.

Increased Threshold for Major Program Determination. The OMB raised the minimum threshold for Type A/B program determination to those nonprofits that spend $750,000 in federal awards, up from $300,000.

New Process of Major Program Determination. The OMB requires audits for Type A programs that it considers high-risk, which includes organizations that have not been audited in one of the past two audit periods and those that in the most recent period had weak internal controls and costs that exceeded five percent of program expenses.

Organizations receiving federal funds should take the time to speak with financial advisors to ensure that they meet their A-133 audit obligations, which require the aid of independent auditors experienced and knowledgeable with federal guidelines.

The advisors and accountants with Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Audit and Attest Services practice have extensive experience helping non-profit organizations assess and improve internal controls and meet other federal audit requirements.

About the Author: Megan Cavasini, CPA, is a senior manager in Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Audit and Attest practice. She can be reached in the CPA firm’s Ft. Lauderdale office at (954) 712-7000 or via email at

Celebrating 35 Years in 2015

Posted on January 05, 2015 by Richard Berkowitz, JD, CPA

We are incredibly proud to celebrate 35 years of service to our clients, our community and our profession.


Our growth was achieved through a committed focus on client service, a dedication to the well-being and career development of our firm members and a consultative approach to every client engagement. This philosophy has enabled us to retain many of our clients since the early days of the firm and we have helped many grow into South Florida’s leading companies in their industries.


Our outstanding firm culture has resulted in low turnover and we have more than a dozen firm members who have been with us longer than 25 years. It’s been a joy to watch them grow in their careers and many hold leadership positions and are advocates and mentors to our younger firm members.


As we reflect on our history and growth, we are humbled by the honors the firm has achieved: Florida Trend and Accounting Today have named us as a best place to work, Accounting Today and Inside Public Accounting have named us in their top 100 firms in the country lists, we have been honored as a Best of the Best firm 16 times, one of only five firms to be honored with such frequency, and in 2014 we were honored with the Pyramid Award for longevity on the Best of the Best list.


We look back with pride and forward with enthusiasm and excitement. The best and brightest have flocked to the firm attracted by our growth, complex and challenging matters, and commitment to career development.


As we celebrate this year, we remain committed to being a firm where people can build rewarding careers while providing valuable knowledge to our clients. Thank you for the trust you have placed in us. We look forward to working with you in 2015.


Landmark Court Ruling Signals Tax Opportunities for Real Estate Builders and Developers by Steve Messing, CPA

Posted on January 05, 2015 by Steve Messing

Residential home developers may have a new option to defer significant income until they are close to completing construction on an entire community, rather than at the time home buyers close on the homes.

In February 2014, the U.S. Tax Court permitted residential home developer Shea Homes and its subsidiaries to delay the recognition of profits on the sales of individual homes in a planned community until 95 percent of the entire development was complete and accepted by buyers. In other words, even though Shea Homes sold, closed in escrow and transferred ownership of homes to buyers, it was able to defer the profits from those individual sales until it incurred 95 percent of the costs of the entire development, including a significant number of homes, and the larger community’s supporting infrastructure, land improvements and lifestyle amenities.

In Shea Homes, Inc. v. Commissioner, Shea argued that it marketed its homes as part of a larger lifestyle community that required extensive land improvements and construction of amenities, including pools and clubhouses. Such improvements, it claimed, were a large part of the total project budget and inclusive of homebuyers’ definitions of “real estate” as detailed in purchase contracts. Therefore, instead of recognizing the profits from the sale of each home when Shea closed in escrow, Shea argued, “the final completion and acceptance [of real estate by homebuyers] does not occur until the final road is paved.” The court agreed, reinforcing the premise that, in certain circumstances, a contract to construct a home may extend beyond the houses and the lots on which they sit to include common improvements to the larger community.

According to the IRS, a long-term contract for the manufacture, building, installation or construction of real property completed in the tax year after the project began is considered a long-term contract, for which revenue must be recognized as contract costs are incurred using the percentage-of-completion method. However, home-construction contracts are generally exempt from the requirement to use the percentage-of-completion method. Instead, developers would use the long-term contract method. Internal Revenue Code 460(e) (6) (A) defines a home construction contract as “any construction contract for which 80 percent of the estimated total contract costs (as of the close of the taxable year in which the contract was entered into) are reasonably expected to be attributable” to the building, construction, reconstruction, or rehabilitation of dwelling units “in buildings containing four or fewer dwelling units” and “improvements to real property directly related to such dwelling units and at the site of such dwelling units.” Such “buildings” include single-family homes and townhouses, each treated as separate buildings.

Once it is established that the completed-contract method will be used, the next step is to determine when the contract is completed. A contract is considered to be completed upon the earlier of the following two tests being met:

  1. a) Use and 95 percent completion test. Use of the subject matter of the contract by the customer for its intended purposes and at least 95 percent of the total contract costs have been incurred by the contractor

(b) Final completion and acceptance of the subject matter of the contract has been met. All relevant facts and circumstances have to be considered.


Erroneous use of the completed-contract method to defer income has been on the IRS’s radar for some time. However, the decision in Shea clarified the interpretation of the construction contract subject matter to include not only the construction of homes but also the development of land and lots and common improvements related to the development of the larger community project. In its interpretation of Section 460(f)(1) of the Tax Code, the Tax Court agreed that Shea met the definition of contract completion by applying the 95 percent project use and completion test as well as the final completion and acceptance test on the broader subject matter of the entire community. For many of the homes sold, meeting these tests came after the homebuyers had closed on the purchase of their homes.


Despite the landmark decision in Shea, such interpretation of the completed-contract method of accounting is not appropriate for all residential real estate developers. For example, in Howard Hughes Corp. et al v. Commissioner, the Tax Court agreed with Shea in ruling that long-term contracts may include development of infrastructure related to the sale of land. However, in its June 2014 decision, the court noted that Hughes’s contracts did not meet the definition of construction contract subject matter nor should the company be permitted to apply the completed-contract method to defer gains when it sold property to a builder constructing homes on the developed land.


Under its sales contracts, Hughes developed the land and infrastructure, including water, sewer, gas, electric and roads, necessary to for a future residential community. However, the Tax Court found that in no instance did Hughes construct the actual residential homes on the land nor did its contracts meet the definition of construction that is “necessary” and “directly related” to the sale of the homes. As a result, the Court ordered Hughes to pay more than $140 million in back taxes.


The lessons of Shea and Hughes demonstrate that when developers build homes as part of a large development, and the home contracts include lifestyle amenities, they have an opportunity to defer the profits from home sale beyond the date that buyers close. Furthermore, to avail oneself of this deferral, developers must do more than just develop the land and sell it to a homebuilder; the developer must also build the homes in conjunction with the land development.


The advisors and accountants in Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Real Estate Services practice have more than three decades of experience working with Florida’s leading developers, contractors and property owners to maximize their tax efficiencies, meet complex audit requirements and manage issues that require real estate litigation support.


About the Author: Steven G. Messing, JD, CPA, is a director with Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax and Real Estate Services practice areas. He can be reached in the Miami CPA firm’s offices at   (305) 379-7000 or via email at



A “Savings Clause” May Not Protect Taxpayers from the IRS by Arthur Lieberman

Posted on January 02, 2015 by Arthur Lieberman

A recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case illustrates the limitations on the use of savings clauses to lock in tax benefits for transactions whose structures may not initially meet all of the requirements for the desired tax benefits.


In Belk v. Commissioner, No. 13-02161, 2014 BL 354287 (4th Cir. Dec. 16, 2014), the court ruled that a developer could not claim a charitable deduction for a conservation easement encumbering a golf course community, because a defined parcel was not donated due to a clause allowing the developer to substitute the land subject to the easement. The court held that the substitution clause prevented the donation from being a “qualified real property interest” under §170(h)(2)(C) entitling the donor to a charitable contribution tax deduction.


More significantly, the court refused to give effect to a savings clause that would negate the substitution provision to “save” the deduction, because it was a “condition subsequent.”  The court stated “If every taxpayer could rely on a savings clause to void, after the fact, a disqualifying deduction (or credit), enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code would grind to a halt.”


The sweeping language of the court’s opinion can arguably be applied to savings clauses pertaining to all Internal Revenue Code sections, not just §170.  As a result, real estate developers and other taxpayers should take great care when drafting savings clauses in transaction documents.


The advisors and accountants with Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax Services practices have extensive experience managing tax issues relating to business transactions and personal estate planning activities and navigating through rapidly changing interpretations in tax laws.


About the Author: Arthur Lieberman is a director of Tax Services with Berkowitz Pollack Brant.  He can be reached in the CPA firm’s Miami office at (305) 379-7000 or via email at


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