How Does the New Tax Law Affect You?

By Alon Harnoy, Esq., Richard H. Wender, Of Counsel, and Ethan Rubin, Law Clerk

On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which made permanent corporate cuts and various individual changes that will expire at the end of 2025. The bill represents the most significant tax changes in the United States in more than 30 years with new tax brackets, modified deductions and credits, and eliminations of personal exemptions. Here is a summary of the most significant changes that will affect you as a taxpayer and what to look for when filing your upcoming tax returns.

New Brackets for Income Taxes /Increase of Standard Deductions

The new Act keeps the seven previous tax brackets, but lowers tax rates for those brackets which means individuals will benefit from lower tax levels at each of the brackets. For example, individuals that earn $500,000+ will now be taxed 37% rather than 39.6% for taxable income in excess of $500,000 and will also pay lower levels of tax for income up to that $500,000 bracket level. The income levels will rise each year with inflation, but they will rise slower than in the past because the Act uses the chained consumer price index as reference.  Further, the standard deduction is being doubled from $6,350 for single taxpayers/ $12,700 for married filing jointly to $12,400/$24,800.

Married Penalty is gone for Most Americans

One interesting component of the new tax brackets is that the so-called marriage penalty, which many Republican leaders wanted to eliminate, is, for the most part, gone. Since married couples have their incomes combined rather treated as individual incomes, it used to be that they were bumped up in their tax brackets and taxed at higher rates than their actual individual incomes would have transcribed. Under the new tax brackets, many couples would avoid this outcome and remain in their original tax brackets. This change has been applied to every tax bracket, except the two highest tax brackets. Meaning, the marriage penalty has effectively been eliminated for everyone except for married couples earning more than $400,000.

State and Local Taxes Mostly Eliminated

Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of tax reform was the drastic change to the “SALT” (state and local taxes) deduction. The final version of the bills caps the total deductible amount to $10,000, including income, sales, and property taxes. This is detrimental to many New York and California residents that will have to choose between property taxes and income or sales tax while only being able to deduct up to $10,000. It used to be that residents in these high-tax states were able to deduct all of SALT – that will no longer be the case.

Mortgage Interest Reduction

One of the more noteworthy new deductions is that the new tax law reduces the limit on mortgage interest to the first $750,000 of the loan from the previous $1million threshold. In addition, interest on home equity lines of credit can no longer be deducted at all; previously up to $100,000 of home equity debt could be considered. As a result of this, fewer people will be able to take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction, which could result in lower housing prices. Despite this new deduction, it only applies to mortgages received after December 15, 2017; preexisting mortgages are grandfathered in.

Child Tax Credit Increased & Elder Care Modified  

The new law increases the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000 and even permits parents who do not earn enough to pay taxes to claim the credit up to $1,400. Furthermore, it allows parents to use 529 saving plans for tuition at private and religious K-12 schools. The new law also covers funds for expenses of home-schooled students. With regards to elder care, individuals now have a $500 credit for each non-child dependent. The credit is geared to help families caring for elderly parents.

Conclusion

Given the increase of the standard deduction and that many itemized deductions are being eliminated, it is estimated that roughly 94% of taxpayers will claim the standard deduction in 2018.  This elimination of itemized deductions means a simplification of tax returns for many lower income taxpayers and many may try to prepare their own taxes.

According to the Tax Foundation, the new tax Act will help higher-income families the most. Those in the 95-99% income range will receive a 2.2 increase in after-tax income compared to people in the 20-80% income range projected to receive a 1.7 increase. Although under the new law tax rates are lowered for everyone, they are lowered more for the highest-income taxpayers, which detracts from the previous tax law that held the wealthier more accountable. Despite this disparity, The U.S. Treasury reported that the bill would bring in $1.8 trillion in new revenue over 10 years, as a bigger economy leads to bigger tax bills, and projected economic growth of 2.9% a year on average.  Many experts however have questioned the validity of the underlying assumptions on which this projection is based and have predicted that the bill will increase the US deficit.

This article has been featured on Ynet (in Hebrew) – see link below:

https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5076599,00.html

Part 2 – Bitcoins and Cryptocurrencies

By Alon Harnoy, Esq. and Dov Kalton, Of Counsel

How do I buy and sell Bitcoins?

Bitcoin hit an all-time high price of $17,801.94 on December 15, 2017 with many analysts predicting even higher prices.  Where does one acquire Bitcoin?

Bitcoins transactions can be done in many familiar ways.  There are brick and mortar ATM’s in several countries (coinatmradar.com) where one can deposit currency and purchase Bitcoin. Some also allow selling of Bitcoin, but many do not.  There are several Bitcoin ATMs in New York City, and Tel Aviv also has a few.  The Bitcoin ATM (aka The Bitcoin Embassy) located across the street from the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is so busy with Bitcoin purchasers that the ATM is closed every 90 minutes to remove the cash used to purchase Bitcoin because the ATM fills up to capacity.

There are online Bitcoin exchanges, similar to stock exchanges, where one opens an account as one would any brokerage account, and can trade Bitcoin, just as with stocks, bonds, commodities or Forex – Blockchain, Nadex, HitBtc etc.  Speculation in these exchanges have contributed to recent price surge of the cryptocurrency.

After you purchase Bitcoin you need a place to store your new bitcoins – a virtual “wallet”. This is crucial since your only ability to transact with Bitcoin is to be in secure possession of this “key” that records your purchase.  Some purchasers will keep their “key” on their computer or back it up to a USB drive or keep a hard copy printout of the code of their bitcoins. The safer route is to “store” your bitcoins with a secure exchange which has invested in secure infrastructure so hackers cannot steal the code. Buyers beware! A British man who had mined 7,500 Bitcoins in 2009 and stored them on his computer mistakenly discarded it with his Bitcoins stored only on his hard drive. The present value of the Bitcoin he erroneously discarded is presently worth upwards of $100 Million US Dollars!!!  Even Elon Musk tweeted last month that he has misplaced a part of a bitcoin key.

Other horror stories include websites and even major Bitcoin exchanges being hacked and Bitcoin disappearing, most famously with Mt. Gox, the Japanese trading site which subsequently went bankrupt (At the time, this caused a major drop in the price of Bitcoin but the price has more than rebounded.) There are regulated exchanges, especially in the U.S. and U.K., which provide a greater, although not total, sense of security, which require more personal information from the account holder.

What do Professionals Say About the Price of Bitcoin?

In addition to the physical concern about the integrity of your Bitcoin is the underlying value concern related to the cryptocurrency. The current value of Bitcoin is highly speculative and the price may fluctuate even more now that futures have begun trading on the CBOE and CME. On the day the CBOE began trading Bitcoin futures, the CBOE website temporarily crashed and trading had to be halted twice in the first week of trading because of price swings. In a recent press conference, outgoing Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen echoed the opinion of many other noted financial analysts and economists in stating that Bitcoin is not a “stable source of value” and a “highly speculative asset”.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase said of Bitcoin in September 2017, “that it is a fraud… it’s just not a real thing and eventually will be emperor’s new clothes.”  He said Bitoicn is like the tulip craze of the 1600s where Dutch tulips skyrocketed in price before having a castastrophic fall. “It’s worse than tulip bulbs. It won’t end well. Someone is going to get killed”.

Similarly, we find Bitcoin to be extremely speculative and without inherent value, and note speculation in Bitcoin is similar to gambling in a casino – one might make money in the short run but as a long term strategy it is flawed.

Other Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin is not the only cryptocurrency presently on the market. Termed “altcoin” by some as an alternative to Bitcoin, the alternative currencies feature different technologies and networks and currently are more affordable than Bitcoin. Presently, the most popular altcoins are Litecoin and Ethereum which are trading at a fraction of the price of Bitcoin.  Since so many other cryptocurrencies are being developed recently, one must question the fundamental value proposition of Bitcoin.

What Are Initial Coin Offerings?

Another cryptocurrency fad that is worth mentioning and is a cause for concern are ICO’s – Initial Coin Offerings.   Initial Coin Offerings have been utilized recently by companies looking to raise capital to fund their businesses. In exchange for a monetary investment, investors receive unique cryptocurrency “tokens” which essentially is a unit of currency giving investors access to features of a project run by the issuing company but technically is not a share of ownership.

In many cases, the tokens could theoretically go up in value in concert with the value of the company and are liquid and can be traded similar to the way a stock would be traded on an exchange. The tokens are issued and distributed on a blockchain or cryptographically secured ledger. During an ICO, companies usually exchange their cryptocurrency for Bitcoins, however, some ICOs involve the exchange of money as well.

The purported advantage of an ICO token would allegedly be the ability to sell the token without the need for a stock exchange and its concomitant regulations and costs.

What do Regulators Say about Initial Coin Offerings?

The first ICO is typically attributed to Mastercoin.  Mastercoin’s ICO in 2013 raised over $5 million in Bitcoins through the sales of their own Mastercoin tokens.  There have been many other ICO offerings but recently, much to the chagrin of the purveyors of these ICO’s, on December 11, 2017, the SEC recently issued a cease and desist order for the Munchee or MUN token offering that recently took place.  A key question for all ICO offerings: “Is the coin or token a security?”

In October and November of this year, Munchee, a California business that created an app to review restaurant meals sought to raise capital through the sale of a “MUN token” that would be issued on a blockchain or distributed ledger. They sought to raise $15 million dollars and assured investors that the tokens would appreciate as the company’s fortunes improved and that the token would be able to be sold on secondary markets. On December 11th, the SEC issued an order stating clearly that such a token constituted a “security” pursuant to Section 2(a)(1) of the Securities Act and that the company violated  Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act in not offering and selling these securities pursuant to a registration statement filed or in effect with the SEC. In essence, the SEC ruled that an ICO is no different than an IPO and that the rules in place for IPO’s must be followed.

On December 11, 2017, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton issued a public statement on ICO’s saying: “I believe that initial coin offerings – whether they represent offerings of securities or not – can be effective ways for entrepreneurs and others to raise funding, including for innovative projects.  However, any such activity that involves an offering of securities must be accompanied by the important disclosures, processes and other investor protections that our securities laws require.”

How does the Blockchain work? Stay tuned for our next article….

 

Special Industry Innovators Hosted by Shiboleth LLP, Bank Leumi, Feature Forward, Inbar Haham, C-Bridge Capital Partners, and Lifion by ADP

Shiboleth LLP hosted a special Industry Innovators in partnership with Bank Leumi, Feature Forward, Inbar Haham, C-Bridge Capital Partners, and Lifion by ADP. The event featured an exclusive investor panel and a unique lineup of companies including Aquant.io, GreenScreens, Toonimo, and Unpakt.

Photos from the evening can be found by clicking the link below:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/shibolethllp/albums/72157682951570006

More information on each of our presenters, investor panel, and hosts can be found at http://www.harnoy.com/

Joshua Levin-Epstein Gives Presentation for NYCLA Foreign Law Committee

On February 21, 2017, Joshua Levin-Epstein lectured before the Foreign and International Law Committee of the New York County Lawyers Association on the topic of the enforcement of foreign money judgments.  His presentation provided a practical overview for practitioners on the procedural and technical entry of the money judgment and service in accordance with the relevant procedural rules, the identification and location of the judgment debtor’s assets, and the enforcement of the judgment against the judgment debtor’s real and personal property in accordance with the relevant legal rules.

Spotlight on Judge Ritholtz

Justice Martin E. Ritholtz is the focus of this edition’s Attorney Spotlight.

Shiboleth is very pleased to welcome Justice Ritholtz as Special Counsel for the firm’s Litigation Group. Justice Ritholtz has had an impressive career, initially a judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York, he retired two months ago from 16 years of service as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Queens County.

During his tenure, he presided over the compliance part, where he supervised discovery over all the civil cases filed in the Queens County Supreme Court. He also conducted jury trials and non-jury trials. Before he retired, he also served as a Commercial Division Justice, dealing with complex litigation matters, and rendered many learned, published decisions.

Justice Ritholtz also possesses a strong background in Patent Law. Thus, while he was a law student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he clerked in the Israeli Patent Office, and later on with patent specialist Amnon Goldenberg of S.Horowitz & Co in Tel Aviv. Moreover, what distinguishes him from his peers is his religious background. In 1970, he was ordained a Rabbi after studying in Israel. His rabbinical education has contributed to him becoming a fairer and wiser judge.

Justice Ritholtz is a member of both the New York State Bar and Israeli Bar. Joining the firm, Justice Ritholtz said, “As a retired Supreme Court Justice, who, inter alia presided over commercial matters, it is a privilege to join the Litigation Team as Special Counsel in a firm with branches in both New York and Tel Aviv. True to its reputation, Shiboleth affords its impressive array of corporate clients with a high standard of excellence, professionalism and sophisticated representation.”

Amnon Shiboleth, founding partner of the firm, said Ritholtz “comes with a lot of credibility and is in a unique position to eventually practice in both Israel and New York.”

Shiboleth LLP is Proud to Announce Alon Harnoy, Moty Ben Yona, Alexander Bau, and Joshua Levin-Epstein as Super Lawyers for the Year 2017

Shiboleth LLP is proud to announce that Managing Partner, Alon Harnoy, has been selected to the 2017 New York Super Lawyers List as a Top Rated International Attorney and Partner, Moty Ben Yona, to the 2017 New York Super Lawyers List as a Top Rated Real Estate Attorney. In addition, Shiboleth LLP is pleased to announce that Partner, Alexander “Sasha” Bau, and Joshua Levin-Epstein have been selected to the 2017 New York Super Lawyers Rising Stars List. Each year up to 5 percent of lawyers in the state are named to Super Lawyers and 2.5 percent are selected as Rising Stars.

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. Each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. The objective is to create a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys that can be used as a resource for attorneys and consumers searching for legal counsel.

Founding Partner of the firm, Amnon Shiboleth said, “We at Shiboleth are honored to once again to be recognized by Super Lawyers for our dedicated lawyers who are leaders in their respective fields of practice. This testimonial shows once again that, as we have done since 1976, Shiboleth LLP continues to provide our global clients with world class professionals to service their legal needs. We have had no doubt of their success here at Shiboleth and we are thrilled that Super Lawyers recognized their accomplishments as well.”

Case Against Notorious Real Estate Developer Suki Ben Zion Recognized in Leading Israeli Newspaper

Shiboleth attorneys Moty Ben Yona’s and Joshua Levin Epstein’s New York proceeding to monetize a $4.5 million Israeli judgment against notorious New York real estate developer Suki Ben Zion was featured in Israel’s leading finance newspaper — Globes.  The Israeli Supreme Court denied Suki Ben Zion’s appeal of the Israeli District Court’s judgment entered against him in the amount of $4.5 million and the Israeli District Court judgment was affirmed and upheld on July 19, 2017. Our firm is working with our Israeli counterparts Eitan Erez and Yoav Ben Porat of the Israeli law firm, Eitan S. Erez & Co., to have the Supreme Court of the State of New York recognize and enforce the $4.5 million Israeli judgment.

The article in Globes (in Hebrew) can be seen here http://www.globes.co.il/news/article.aspx?did=1001198018#from=iphone.app

Update to Case Against Notorious Real Estate Developer Suki Ben Zion Featured on Ynet

Joshua Levin-Epstein recently received Hebrew press at Ynet in connection with his successful representation of Nissim Biton against Suki Ben Zion where he secured a judgement in the NYC courts that enforced an Israeli judgment for $4.5 million against Suki.

Links to the article can be found below:

Ynet – http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5022661,00.html

Yediot America (legal article featured on page 31) – http://ynetus.com/eMagazines/ny091917/index.html

Industry Innovators Hosted by Shiboleth LLP, Playground, Leumi Tech, CBIZ, Spirit of Israel, and Honorary Guest, Tal Brody

Shiboleth LLP hosted a very special Industry Innovators in partnership with Playground, Leumi Tech, CBIZ, and Spirit of Israel. The event featured honorary guest, Tal Brody, alongside an exclusive investor panel and unique lineup of companies including YankTech, ScaleAbout, Sightworthy, and Splacer. The event also featured press from Yediot America among others. Keep Reading.

To view the most recent press release/featured article (in Hebrew), please see the below links:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/3570820

http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5047443,00.html

Photos from the evening can be found by clicking the link below:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/shibolethllp/albums/72157687605238102

More information on each of our presenters, investor panel, and hosts can be found at: http://www.industry-innovators.com

Bitcoin For Beginners

By Alon Harnoy, Esq. and Dov Kalton, Of Counsel

If you are one of the select few who has received bitcoins you are quite lucky!!! One bitcoin is now worth approximately $16,800. Bitcoin has been in the news a lot lately and Bitcoin futures began trading on CBOE, a Chicago-based exchange this week. What is Bitcoin? Where did it come from? And, where is it headed?

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin falls into a relatively new category of currency known as a cryptocurrency. As distinct from most currencies that belong to a particular country (US Dollar) or jurisdiction (Euro), Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies are nationless and decentralized. Rather than having a central bank that manages the currency and its value, Bitcoin operates through a network that is private, peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly through the use of cryptography. Transactions are verified by private network nodes and recorded in a permanent, non-erasable public ledger called a blockchain. Bitcoins are created through a process called mining. Put simply, computers solve puzzles and “mine” new bitcoins. The founder of bitcoin built in to the system that only 21 Million bitcoins will ever come into existence at a continuously dwindling pace through the year 2140. Most non-tech savvy people that acquire bitcoin are purchasing previously mined coin in a follow on transaction.

How and when did it start?

The origin of bitcoin is perhaps more mysterious than the method for creating bitcoin.  On August 18, 2008 the domain name “bitcoin.org” was registered.  In November that year, a link to a paper authored by a previously unknown person named Satoshi Nakamoto titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System was posted to a cryptography mailing list. Nakamoto subsequently released the bitcoin software as open source code in January 2009. Around the same time the bitcoin network came into existence when Nakamoto mined the first ever block on the chain, known as the genesis block, for a reward of 50 bitcoins. Nakamoto didn’t explicitly state why he decided to create a new currency but left the following note embedded in the first transaction:

The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.”

The reference is to a Financial Times article from that day and is interpreted by most as an expression of the inventor’s frustration with bank bailouts during the financial crisis of 2008/9 and the need for a decentralized monetary system.

To this day, Satoshi Nakamoto has not been identified and he has not been heard from since 2011.

Where is Bitcoin headed?

For the first few years after Bitcoin was invented it appeared to be a novelty with a strong likelihood of fizzling out. However, by 2014 more and more merchants began accepting payment in Bitcoin and it became clear that Bitcoin was here to stay. The exchange rate for a Bitcoin wavered between several hundred to approximately one thousand US dollars since 2014 but has skyrocketed to new heights since May 2017. On May 20, 2017 Bitcoin crossed the $2,000 barrier and hasn’t stopped ascending. On December 8, 2017 Bitcoin traded briefly at $18,000.

Bitcoin is a mostly unregulated currency and there are tremendous risks associated with such an unregulated currency, including risks related to the ability for overseas parties to use bitcoin to launder money from illicit transactions.  With the introduction of future’s trading on CBOE’s Future’s Exchange, it means that ordinary investors can now make bets based on the future price of bitcoin and we will be seeing a lot more volume of trading related to bitcoin by investors outside the tech-savvy world.  

Why the surge? Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon……