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Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M.

Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M.
Hal Zemel, a Tax Principal at Berdon LLP, has more than 20 years in public accounting and advises businesses in the real estate, service, and manufacturing sectors.
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TAX TALK: Keep Life Insurance Out of Your Estate

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Mar 23, 2020 9:20:00 AM

If you have a life insurance policy, you probably want to make sure that the life insurance benefits your family will receive after your death won’t be included in your estate. That way, the benefits won’t be subject to the federal estate tax.

Under the estate tax rules, life insurance will be included in your taxable estate if either:

  • Your estate is the beneficiary of the insurance proceeds, or
  • You possessed certain economic ownership rights (called “incidents of ownership”) in the policy at your death (or within three years of your death).

The first situation is easy to avoid. You can just make sure your estate isn’t designated as beneficiary of the policy.

The second situation is more complicated. It’s clear that if you’re the owner of the policy, the proceeds will be included in your estate regardless of the beneficiary. However, simply having someone else possess legal title to the policy won’t prevent this result if you keep so-called “incidents of ownership” in the policy. If held by you, the rights that will cause the proceeds to be taxed in your estate include:

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Topics: TAX TALK

TAX TALK: Home is Where the Tax Breaks Might Be

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Mar 16, 2020 9:20:00 AM

If you own a home, the interest you pay on your home mortgage may provide a tax break. However, many people believe that any interest paid on their home mortgage loans and home equity loans is deductible. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

First, keep in mind that you must itemize deductions in order to take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction.

Deduction and Limits for “Acquisition Debt”

A personal interest deduction generally isn’t allowed, but one kind of interest that is deductible is interest on mortgage “acquisition debt.” This means debt that’s: 1) secured by your principal home and/or a second home, and 2) incurred in acquiring, constructing or substantially improving the home. You can deduct interest on acquisition debt on up to two qualified residences: your primary home and one vacation home or similar property.

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Topics: TAX TALK

TAX TALK: Self-employed? You Might Be Eligible For Home Office Deductions

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Mar 9, 2020 9:20:00 AM

If you’re self-employed and work out of an office in your home, you may be entitled to home office deductions. However, you must satisfy strict rules.

If you qualify, you can deduct the “direct expenses” of the home office. This includes the costs of painting or repairing the home office and depreciation deductions for furniture and fixtures used there. You can also deduct the “indirect” expenses of maintaining the office. This includes the allocable share of utility costs, depreciation and insurance for your home, as well as the allocable share of mortgage interest, real estate taxes and casualty losses.

In addition, if your home office is your “principal place of business,” the costs of traveling between your home office and other work locations are deductible transportation expenses, rather than nondeductible commuting costs. And, generally, you can deduct the cost (reduced by the percentage of non-business use) of computers and related equipment that you use in your home office, in the year that they’re placed into service.

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Topics: TAX TALK

TAX TALK: Reasons For Married Filing Separately

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Mar 2, 2020 9:20:00 AM

Married couples often wonder whether they should file joint or separate tax returns. The answer depends on your individual tax situation.

It generally depends on which filing status results in the lowest tax. But keep in mind that, if you and your spouse file a joint return, each of you is “jointly and severally” liable for the tax on your combined income. And you’re both equally liable for any additional tax the IRS assesses, plus interest and most penalties. This means that the IRS can come after either of you to collect the full amount.

Although there are provisions in the law that offer relief, they have limitations. Therefore, even if a joint return results in less tax, you may want to file separately if you want to only be responsible for your own tax.

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Topics: TAX TALK

TAX TALK: Tax Impact of Selling Mutual Fund Shares

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Feb 24, 2020 9:20:00 AM

Perhaps you’re an investor in mutual funds or you’re interested in putting some money into them. You’re not alone. The Investment Company Institute estimates that 56.2 million households owned mutual funds in mid-2017. But despite their popularity, the tax rules involved in selling mutual fund shares can be complex.

Tax Basics

If you sell appreciated mutual fund shares that you’ve owned for more than one year, the resulting profit will be a long-term capital gain. As such, the maximum federal income tax rate will be 20%, and you may also owe the 3.8% net investment income tax.

When a mutual fund investor sells shares, gain or loss is measured by the difference between the amount realized from the sale and the investor’s basis in the shares. One difficulty is that certain mutual fund transactions are treated as sales even though they might not be thought of as such. Another problem may arise in determining your basis for shares sold.

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Topics: TAX TALK

TAX TALK: Cut Your Tax Bill With IRAs

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Feb 17, 2020 9:20:00 AM

If you’re getting ready to file your 2019 tax return, and your tax bill is higher than you’d like, there may still be an opportunity to lower it. If you qualify, you can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA right up until the Wednesday, April 15, 2020, filing date and benefit from the resulting tax savings on your 2019 return.

Do You Qualify?

You can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA if:

  • You (and your spouse) aren’t an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or
  • You (or your spouse) are an active participant in an employer plan, and your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) doesn’t exceed certain levels that vary from year-to-year by filing status.

For 2019, if you’re a joint tax return filer covered by an employer plan, your deductible IRA contribution phases out over $103,000 to $123,000 of modified AGI. If you’re single or a head of household, the phaseout range is $64,000 to $74,000 for 2019. For married filing separately, the phaseout range is $0 to $10,000. For 2019, if you’re not an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but your spouse is, your deductible IRA contribution phases out with modified AGI of between $193,000 and $203,000.

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Topics: TAX TALK

TAX TALK: Numerous Business Tax Limits Increased For 2020

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Feb 10, 2020 9:20:00 AM

An array of tax-related limits that affect businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have increased for 2020. Here are some that may be important to you and your business.

Social Security Tax

The amount of employees’ earnings that are subject to Social Security tax is capped for 2020 at $137,700 (up from $132,900 for 2019).

Deductions

  • Section 179 expensing:
    • Limit: $1.04 million (up from $1.02 million for 2019)
    • Phaseout: $2.59 million (up from $2.55 million)
  • Income-based phase-out for certain limits on the Sec. 199A qualified business income deduction begins at:
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Topics: TAX TALK

TAX TALK: Can You Deduct Charitable Gifts?

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Feb 3, 2020 9:20:00 AM

Many taxpayers make charitable gifts — because they’re generous and they want to save money on their federal tax bills. But with the tax law changes that went into effect a couple years ago and the many rules that apply to charitable deductions, you may no longer get a tax break for your generosity.

Are You Going To itemize?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law in 2017, didn’t put new limits on or suspend the charitable deduction, like it did with many other itemized deductions. Nevertheless, it reduces or eliminates the tax benefits of charitable giving for many taxpayers.

Itemizing saves tax only if itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. Through 2025, the TCJA significantly increases the standard deduction. For 2020, it is $24,800 for married couples filing jointly (up from $24,400 for 2019), $18,650 for heads of households (up from $18,350 for 2019), and $12,400 for singles and married couples filing separately (up from $12,200 for 2019).

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TAX TALK: Help Protect Personal Information By Filing Early

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Jan 27, 2020 11:55:00 AM

The IRS announced it is opening the 2019 individual income tax return filing season on January 27. Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April 15 deadline (or you file for an extension), consider filing as soon as you can this year. The reason: You can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft — and you may obtain other benefits, too.

Tax Identity Theft Explained

In a tax identity theft scam, a thief uses another individual’s personal information to file a fraudulent tax return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund.

The legitimate taxpayer discovers the fraud when he or she files a return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the tax year. While the taxpayer should ultimately be able to prove that his or her return is the valid one, tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay a refund.

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Topics: TAX TALK

TAX TALK: Law Changes That May Affect Your Retirement Plan

Posted by Hal Zemel, CPA, J.D., LL.M. on Jan 20, 2020 7:00:00 AM

If you save for retirement with an IRA or other plan, you’ll be interested to know that Congress recently passed a law that makes significant modifications to these accounts. The SECURE Act, which was signed into law on December 20, 2019, made these four changes.

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Topics: TAX TALK

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