Now’s the time to find your best tax situation

With the new year straight ahead, there’s no better time for farmers and ranchers to take stock of where they are financially in order to put them in the best tax situation possible, according to agricultural economist Mark Dikeman.

Some farmers arrive at the end of the year without a good understanding of where they are financially, said Dikeman, associate director of the Kan­sas Farm Management Associ­ation at Kansas State University.

Spending time now to determine where your operation is can benefit a farmer in the long run, he added.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve looked at tax planning from the perspective of keeping income down and staying in a certain tax bracket,” Dikeman said. “But with lower commodity prices the last couple of years, some farmers may be on the brink of showing a net operating loss, which has its own pitfalls, tax-wise.”

In addition to obvious reasons to avoid such a loss, a net operating loss means a farmer will not be able to utilize personal exemptions, capital loss carryovers, or all of their standard deduction.

“That’s lost to you. Avoiding a net operating loss is always a good idea. For a married couple with two children, that is up to $28,900 in lost deductions in 2017,” Dikeman said.

Helpful tips

The following are some year-end tips:

• Getting records in order. Having an accurate set of records is critical for a tax preparer to work with. That doesn’t mean a shoebox with a bunch of receipts. A computer program or ledger sheet — something that’s reconciled back to a bank statement is best.

For those who don’t have that set up, consider it as a New Year’s resolution for being better prepared next year.

• Not waiting until the last minute to get records in order. Waiting until December to start bookkeeping for the year means guessing about checks written in January and that doesn’t lead to accurate records.

• Meeting with a tax preparer before the end of the year to discuss the current financial situation and what tax bracket an individual is likely to be in. Allow enough time to bring in additional income if facing a net operating loss or to make additional purchases if income is too high.

• If a farm loss is inevitable, think outside the box to bring in additional income. Extra IRA distributions, traditional IRA to Roth IRA conversions, or non-farm capital asset sales (like stocks) can potentially offset negative farm income and avoid a net operating

• Remembering the option to sell grain using a deferred contract. In that case, grain can be sold before the end of the year, but not be paid until after the first of the next year. It gives people flexibility to decide, after the fact, if they need additional income in the year that the crop was sold.

Make sure to sell in several small contracts rather than one large contract to provide more flexibility for when to show income.

• Making sure to tell the tax preparer about all equipment purchases.

If equipment is dealer or manu­fac­turer-financed, it won’t show up in bank accounts. That can be $300,000 or $400,000 that the tax preparer doesn’t know about unless someone tells them.

When to file and pay

For farmers, part of tax planning involves understanding options regarding when to file a return and pay taxes, Dickman said.

The most popular, he said, is not making any estimated tax payments, but in that case, people must file their return and pay all tax due by March 1.

The downside is that if someone has investments in stocks or mutual funds through brokerage accounts, some of those firms don’t mail 1099 forms until mid to late February, which may not allow enough time to file by the deadline.

Other options are to make quarterly estimated tax payments, although this is the least popular., he said.

In that case, the tax return must be filed by April 15. This option may be required if less than two-thirds of your gross income comes from farming.

Estimated payment

Some farmers make one annual estimated payment which must be paid by Jan. 15, though the tax return itself must be filed by April 15.

“In that case, the smaller of 100 percent of last year’s tax liability or two-thirds of this year’s tax liability is the estimated payment amount with any shortfall due when the return is filed,” Dikeman said.

A final option for farmers when it comes to filing deadlines is to not pay any estimated tax and file by April 15. If a farmer owes tax, this would likely result in penalties and interest, he said, but usually not as much as interest paid if they had to borrow the funds to pay taxes.

“More and more are doing that because cash is tight and operating loan balances are high. Depending on the situation, it might make sense to do that,” he added.