Sunday, November 10, 2019

Repaying The Health Care Subsidy

Twice in a couple of weeks I have heard:
“They should check on the Exchange.”
The Exchange refers to the health insurance marketplace.

In both cases we were discussing someone who is between jobs.         

The idea, of course, is to get the subsidy … as someone is unemployed and can use it.

There might also be a tax trap here.

When you apply for Obamacare, you provide an estimate of your income for the coverage year. The answer is intuitive if you are applying for 2020 (as we are not in 2020 yet), but it could also happen if you go in during the coverage year. Say you are laid-off in July. You know your income through July, and you are guessing what it might be for the rest of the year.

So what?

There is a big what.

Receive a subsidy and you have to pay it back – every penny of it – if your income exceeds 400% of the poverty line for your state.

Accountants refer to this as a “cliff.” Get to that last dollar of income and your marginal tax rate goes stratospheric.

Four times the poverty rate for a single person in Kentucky is approximately $50 grand.  Have your income come in at $50 grand and a dollar and you have to repay the entire subsidy.

It can hurt.

How much latitude does a tax preparer have?

Not much. I suppose if we are close we might talk about making a deductible IRA contribution, or selling stock at a loss, or ….

There may be more latitude if one is self-employed. Perhaps one could double-down on the depreciation, or recount the inventory, or ….

Massoud and Ziba Fanaieyan got themselves into this predicament.

The Fanaieyans lived in California. He was retired and owned several rental properties. She worked as a hairstylist.

They received over $15,000 in subsidies for their 2015 tax year.

Four times the California poverty line was $97,000.

They reported adjusted gross income of $100,767.

And there was (what I consider) a fatal preparation mistake. They failed to include Form 8962, which is the tax form that reconciles the subsidy received to the subsidy to which one was actually entitled based on income reported on the tax return.

The IRS sent a letter asking for the Form 8962.

The Fanaieyans realized their mistake.

Folks, for the most part tax planning is not a retroactive exercise. Their hands were tied.

Except ….

Mr. Fanaieyan remembered that book he was writing. All right, it was his sister’s book, but he was involved too. He had paid some expenses in 2012 and 2013. Oh, and he had advanced his sister $1,500 in 2015.

He had given up the dream of publishing in 2015. Surely, he could now write-off those expenses. No point carrying them any longer. The dream was gone.

They amended their 2015 tax return for a book publishing loss.

The IRS looked at them like they had three eyes each.

To Court they went.

There were technical issues that we will not dive into. For example, as a cash-basis taxpayer, didn’t they have to deduct those expenses back in 2012 and 2013? And was it really a business, or did they have a (dreaded) hobby loss? Was it even a loss, or were they making a gift to his sister?

The Court bounced the deduction. They had several grounds to do so, and so they did.

The Fanaieyans had income over four times the poverty level.

They had to repay the advance subsidies.

I cannot help but wonder how this would have turned out if they had claimed the same loss on their originally-filed return AND included a properly-completed Form 8962.  

Failing to include the 8962 meant that someone was going to look at the file.

Amending the return also meant that someone was going to look at the file.

Too many looks.

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