Generally, a company-directed move to another location includes an arrangement for you to be compensated for the cost of the move. Until this year, that was no problem: The moving costs paid by your company -- including premove house-hunting trips and temporary quarters at the new location -- were reported as income on your tax return, but you had a compensating deduction for all your expenses. This deduction was claimed as an "adjustment to income," so it was available to you even if you didn't itemize deductions.
But things have changed. Under present law, moving expenses related to your employment are only deductible as an itemized deduction on Schedule A. So if you don't itemize, you won't get to claim the expenses -- but you will still have to report the reimbursement. And if it's the moving expenses that make it possible for you to itemize, then only the amount in excess of the standard deduction is really doing you any good in terms of cutting your tax bill.
One further change: As I reported here May 18, meals during a qualifying move are considered a business expense and are therefore subject to the 80 percent limitation on the deduction.
These limitations on the deductibility of moving expenses should be kept in mind if you're negotiating the terms of a transfer. Unless you have enough other deductions to qualify for itemizing on your return, you may want to discuss with your boss the inclusion of enough money to cover the tax bill on the reimbursement.
In reference to your July 20 column, the attached Air Force retired pay office form says Form W-4P cannot be used to establish withholding. Isn't that an apparent contradiction to your advice?
It sure is -- and they're right. In response to a reader's question, I had said that military retirement pay was included in the category of "pensions and annuities," and therefore retirees could elect not to have income tax withheld from retirement pay, but could instead pay by quarterly estimate.
The same day your letter reached me, I got a letter from Col. Chuck Cooper, deputy director of communications for The Retired Officers Association. He enclosed correspondence from the Navy Finance Center dated Feb. 17. It seems the IRS had previously determined that military retirement pay constitutes "wages" under Section 3401 of the Internal Revenue Code, rather than a pension or annuity under Code Section 3405. Such pay is therefore subject to withholding, unless you claim exemption from withholding under the applicable rules. Accordingly, Form W-4, not the W-4P, is the appropriate form to use.
I have some problems with this interpretation; it appears to introduce some inconsistencies. For example, these "wages" are not subject to Social Security withholding, nor do they qualify the recipient for an IRA contribution. But the regulations, not my reaction to them, are the rule -- so cancel my original answer.
I have deferred capital gains tax on the sale of my residence three times by using the rollover replacement rule. On each occasion, I applied all net proceeds from sale to the purchase price of the next house. I intend to roll over once more, then wait to qualify for the one-time over-55 exclusion. At that time, will I have to add together my net gain on each of the four houses, plus gain on the last house? Or do I apply the exclusion to the gain on sale of the last house only?
You must consider all of the accumulated gain on which you have deferred tax, then apply the $125,000 exclusion to the total and pay tax on any surplus. But you should have been in effect accumulating the gain all along as you filed Form 2119 for each transaction.
On sale of the first home, you should have used the amount of gain on which tax had been deferred to reduce the cost basis of the second house. When that home was sold, using the reduced basis to figure gain automatically included the first-house profit in the gain calculated in the second house, and so on. When you make the last sale, the serially reduced basis on that final home already accounts for the past gains.
Abramson is a family financial counselor and tax adviser. Questions of general interest on tax matters, insurance investments, estate planning and other aspects of family finances will be answered in this column. Advice cannot be given on an individual basis. Address all questions to E.M. Abramson, The Washington Post, Business News, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.