Securities brokers issue corrected 1099Bs close to and sometimes even after the April 15 tax deadline due to complications over cost basis reporting. Schedule K-1s often come late, too.
When tax information is incomplete near the deadline, it’s wise to file an automatic six-month extension. Caution: It’s not a payment extension; so try to pay at least 90% of your tax liability to avoid late-payment penalties. If you don’t pay 90%, hopefully the IRS will accept your “reasonable cause” spelled out in a letter seeking penalty abatement. Retaining tax funds as working capital for trading is not reasonable cause in my view. By filing a timely extension, even without payment of taxes owed, you’ll avoid late-filing penalties if you file by the extended due date of Oct. 15, 2016. The late-filing penalty is far higher than the late-payment penalty.
April 15 is also the important deadline for individual and partnership traders qualifying for trader tax status to file a Section 475 MTM election statement with the IRS for 2015 and subsequent years. The election statement is attached to the federal extension.
There are many advantages to filing extensions. One negative is waiting longer for a tax refund, but traders often apply overpayment credits to estimated taxes due on trading income instead of claiming a refund.
Extensions for individuals
If you don’t owe taxes, the extensions are easy. Enter taxes paid (including credits) with the same amount for tax liability reflecting a zero balance due. Perhaps your spouse has a W-2 with ample tax withholding and you have trading business losses, itemized deductions and nominal other income. You don’t need to prepare detailed draft tax returns before April 15.
If you think you may owe taxes, then continue working on your tax filings. Prepare draft tax returns based on tax information in hand, accounting and estimates of missing information to generate the extensions from tax software. If you have year-to-date trading gains in 2015, it’s wise to be conservative with extension payments figuring you can apply overpayment credits toward 2015 estimated income taxes.
Extensions for entities
Tax extensions for pass-through entities are March 16, 2015 for S-Corps (since 15th is a Sunday) and April 15, 2015 for partnerships with an extension due date of Sept. 15. Pass-through entities are tax filers, not taxpayers, so the federal extension is simple to prepare without any tax liability. Be sure to file it on time because the late-filing penalty for missing the election is $195 per month per partner or shareholder up to a maximum of twelve months.
Some states have nominal franchise taxes or minimum taxes so check with your state or tax advisor. The state taxes are generally due with the extension filing. March 16 is also the deadline for an existing entity – LLC, C-Corp or general partnership (in most states) to elect S-Corp tax status (see our recent blog on S-Corps).
Section 475 MTM election
Active securities traders qualifying for trader tax status should consider a Section 475 MTM election for ordinary business loss treatment (tax loss insurance). Generally, you should elect Section 475 on securities only, not Section 1256 contracts so you retain lower 60/40 tax rates on those. Section 475 converts capital losses — otherwise subject to a $3,000 capital loss limitation and wash sales — into unlimited business ordinary losses. If you have large trading losses in 2015, you should consider a Section 475 election to lock in those losses as business ordinary losses. Ordinary losses are far better than capital losses.
If you have material capital loss carryovers, you can form a new trading entity to pass-through capital gains to your individual tax return, thereby using up capital loss carryovers. In the last-minute rush of tax season, many taxpayers and tax preparers make the wrong decision on Section 475 and it costs them thousands of dollars in tax savings.
Existing partnerships and individuals elect Section 475 for 2015 by attaching an election statement to their 2014 federal extension filed by April 15, 2015. For existing S-Corps, the election date is March 16, 2015. The second step is to file a Form 3115 (Change of Accounting Method) with your 2015 tax return filed in 2016. Learn more about Section 475 and see the election statement in Green’s 2015 Trader Tax Guide. Consult a trader tax expert before the election deadline.
Broker 1099Bs and confusion over wash sales
Many securities brokers are issuing corrected 1099Bs — it’s the new normal. Brokers continue to face many challenges with new IRS cost-basis reporting rules, including wash sale loss adjustments.Options and simple debt instruments purchased on or after Jan. 1, 2014 are considered “covered securities” and are included on 2014 Form 1099Bs for the first time.
Broker and taxpayer rules differ on calculations for wash sales. Brokers calculate wash sales based on the same equity or symbol (identical position) per account. Conversely, taxpayers must calculate wash sales based on substantially identical positions — i.e., between stocks and stock options and options at different expiration dates — across all individual accounts including all IRAs, even Roth IRAs.
Taxpayers can’t rely on 1099Bs and profit and loss reports from brokers if they trade securities and options or have multiple accounts. In these cases, taxpayers should use securities trade accounting software, which calculates wash sales correctly based on substantially identical positions across all accounts. It’s important to reconcile your own software results to 1099Bs, so taxpayers need to account for corrected 1099Bs on tax filings. Software publishers release program updates late in tax season or after April 15, too.
Traders are not simple like employees
Employees have taxes withheld on each paycheck and many wind up over-withheld generating material tax refunds, which they are anxious to collect. Many employees have simple tax filings and they can file early. Don’t wait for tax refunds every year — update your W-4 for more allowances and less tax withholding. Traders don’t have tax withholding on trading income. They generally owe taxes on trading income on April 15 because many prefer to underpay estimated taxes.
Traders with large Section 475 ordinary losses may be due large tax refunds. These traders have a lot riding on trade accounting and trader tax status; they should not rush their tax filings, especially if corrected 1099Bs are expected. Rushing may lead to errors, delays in tax refunds and potential tax exams, which can hold up refunds.
Futures and forex traders
If you trade Section 1256 contracts (futures), your broker issues a simple one-page 1099-B listing “aggregate profit and loss” based on marked-to-market accounting (realized and unrealized gains and losses). Correct 1099-Bs are rare for Section 1256 contracts. Likewise, forex brokers provide an online tax report that is reliable.
Extensions provide benefits for retirement plans
2014 contributions to Individual 401(k), SEP IRA and employer 401(k) profit-sharing plans must be funded by the due date of your tax return — Oct. 15 if you filed for an extension. That helps your cash flow. But IRAs must be funded by the original due date of April 15.
If your 2014 Roth IRA conversion didn’t work out well — perhaps the securities dropped significantly in value and you paid conversion taxes on the higher value — you’re entitled to “re-characterize” (reverse) the Roth IRA conversion up until the extended due date of Oct. 15. If you already filed your 2014 tax return, you’ll have to amend it to reflect the re-characterization.
Pressuring your tax preparer may lead to errors
If you engage a quality CPA firm for tax compliance, you should not expect them to focus on completing your tax returns during the last few weeks of tax season when filing an extension is a better option. Quality firms have internal deadlines and they avoid error-prone working conditions. I’ve seen countless cases of clients coming to us with botched prior year tax returns where they also missed vital tax elections like Section 475 because they focused on filing a complete return rather than filing an extension and making this election.
Early filers may get audited more
“The early bird gets the worm.” But in this case, the IRS is the bird and your tax return may be the worm selected for audit. I’ve always believed that audit quotas are met based on early filers. The IRS also wants to get started early with exams, and not wait until Oct. 15.
At the start of tax season, the IRS commissioner said there would be delays due to complications over Obamacare taxes, late renewal of “tax extenders” and the IRS being short of resources and staff.
Late-filing and late-payment penalties
Read federal automatic extension Form 4868 with instructions, especially the Page 2 sections on late-filing and late-payment penalties and how to avoid them.
Some states don’t require an automatic extension if you’re overpaid and they accept the federal extension. Generally in all states, if you owe taxes, you need to file a state extension with payment. States tend to be less accommodating than the IRS in waiving penalties, so it’s usually wise to cover your state first if you are short on cash. Check the extension rules in your state.
U.S. citizens and resident aliens abroad
Excerpt from the IRS website: “If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien residing overseas, or are in the military on duty outside the U.S., on the regular due date of your return, you are allowed an automatic 2-month extension to file your return and pay any amount due without requesting an extension. For a calendar year return, the automatic 2-month extension is to June 15. If you qualify for this 2-month extension, penalties for paying any tax late are assessed from the 2-month extended due date of the payment (June 15 for calendar year taxpayers). However, even if you are allowed an extension, you will have to pay interest on any tax not paid by the regular due date of your return (April 15 for calendar year taxpayers).”