If you own a profitable, unincorporated business with your spouse, you probably find the high self-employment (SE) tax bills burdensome. An unincorporated business in which both spouses are active is typically treated by the IRS as a partnership owned 50/50 by the spouses. (For simplicity, when we refer to “partnerships,” we’ll include in our definition limited liability companies that are treated as partnerships for federal tax purposes.)
For 2017, that means you’ll each pay the maximum 15.3% SE tax rate on the first $127,200 of your respective shares of net SE income from the business. Those bills can mount up if your business is profitable. To illustrate: Suppose your business generates $250,000 of net SE income in 2017. Each of you will owe $19,125 ($125,000 × 15.3%), for a combined total of $38,250.
Fortunately, there are ways spouse-owned businesses can lower their combined SE tax hit. Here are two.
1. Establish that you don’t have a spouse-owned partnership
While the IRS creates the impression that involvement by both spouses in an unincorporated business automatically creates a partnership for federal tax purposes, in many cases, it will have a tough time making the argument — especially when:
If you can establish that your business is a sole proprietorship (or a single-member LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes), only the spouse who is considered the proprietor owes SE tax.
Let’s assume the same facts as in the previous example, except that your business is a sole proprietorship operated by one spouse. Now you have to calculate SE tax for only that spouse. For 2017, the SE tax bill is $23,023 [($127,200 × 15.3%) + ($122,800 × 2.9%)]. That’s much less than the combined SE tax bill from the first example ($38,250).
2. Establish that you don’t have a 50/50 spouse-owned partnership
Even if you do have a spouse-owned partnership, it’s not a given that it’s a 50/50 one. Your business might more properly be characterized as owned, say, 80% by one spouse and 20% by the other spouse, because one spouse does much more work than the other.
Let’s assume the same facts as in the first example, except that your business is an 80/20 spouse-owned partnership. In this scenario, the 80% spouse has net SE income of $200,000, and the 20% spouse has net SE income of $50,000. For 2017, the SE tax bill for the 80% spouse is $21,573 [($127,200 × 15.3%) + ($72,800 × 2.9%)], and the SE tax bill for the 20% spouse is $7,650 ($50,000 × 15.3%). The combined total SE tax bill is only $29,223 ($21,573 + $7,650).
More-complicated strategies are also available. Contact us to learn more about how you can reduce your spouse-owned business’s SE taxes.
One important step to both reducing taxes and saving for retirement is to contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement plan. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, contributing to that is likely your best first step.
If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution rate between now and year end. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions sooner rather than later can have a significant impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.
A traditional 401(k) offers many benefits:
For 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000. So if your current contribution rate will leave you short of the limit, try to increase your contribution rate through the end of the year to get as close to that limit as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by less than the dollar amount of the contribution, because the contributions are pre-tax so income tax isn’t withheld.
If you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31, you can also make “catch-up” contributions (up to $6,000 for 2017). So if you didn’t contribute much when you were younger, this may allow you to partially make up for lost time. Even if you did make significant contributions before age 50, catch-up contributions can still be beneficial, allowing you to further leverage the power of tax-deferred compounding.
Employers can include a Roth option in their 401(k) plans. If your plan offers this, you can designate some or all of your contribution as Roth contributions. While such contributions don’t reduce your current MAGI, qualified distributions will be tax-free.
Roth 401(k) contributions may be especially beneficial for higher-income earners, because they don’t have the option to contribute to a Roth IRA. On the other hand, if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement, you may be better off sticking with traditional 401(k) contributions.
Finally, keep in mind that any employer matches to Roth 401(k) contributions will be pretax and go into your traditional 401(k) account.
How much and which type
Have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth contributions? Contact us. We’d be pleased to discuss the tax and retirement-saving considerations with you.
A tried-and-true tax-saving strategy for investors is to sell assets at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during the year. So if you’ve cashed in some big gains this year, consider looking for unrealized losses in your portfolio and selling those investments before year end to offset your gains. This can reduce your 2017 tax liability.
But what if you expect an investment that would produce a loss if sold now to not only recover but thrive in the future? Or perhaps you simply want to minimize the impact on your asset allocation. You might think you can simply sell the investment at a loss and then immediately buy it back. Not so fast: You need to beware of the wash sale rule.
The rule up close
The wash sale rule prevents you from taking a loss on a security if you buy a substantially identical security (or an option to buy such a security) within 30 days before or after you sell the security that created the loss. You can recognize the loss only when you sell the replacement security.
Keep in mind that the rule applies even if you repurchase the security in a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as a traditional or Roth IRA.
Achieving your goals
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the wash sale rule and still achieve your goals:
If you have a bond that would generate a loss if sold, you can do a bond swap, where you sell a bond, take a loss and then immediately buy another bond of similar quality and duration from a different issuer. Generally, the wash sale rule doesn’t apply because the bonds aren’t considered substantially identical. Thus, you can achieve a tax loss with virtually no change in economic position.
For more ideas on saving taxes on your investments, please contact us.
Updated travel per diem rates go into effect October 1. To simplify recordkeeping, they can be used for reimbursement of ordinary and normal business expenses incurred while employees travel away from home.
Per diem advantages
As long as employees properly account for their business-travel expenses, reimbursements are generally tax-free to the employees and deductible by the employer. But keeping track of actual costs can be a headache.
With the per diem rates, employees don’t have to keep receipts for covered travel expenses. They just need to document the time, place and business purpose of the travel. Assuming that the travel qualifies as a business expense, the employer simply pays the employee the per diem allowance designated for the specific travel destination and deducts the per diem paid.
Although the per diem rates are set by the General Services Administration (GSA) to cover travel by government employees, private employers may use them for tax purposes. The rates are updated annually for the following areas:
The rates include amounts for lodging and for meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) but not airfare and other transportation costs.
For October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018, the per diem standard CONUS rate is $144, an increase of $2 over the prior year. This rate consists of $93 for lodging and $51 for M&IE. Also effective October 1, there are 332 NSAs. The following locations have moved from NSAs into the standard CONUS rate:
There are no new NSA locations.
What’s right for you?
As noted earlier, the per diem changes go into effect on October 1, 2017. During the last three months of 2017, an employer may switch to the new rates or continue with the old rates. But an employer must select one set of rates for this quarter and stick with it; it can’t use the old rates for some employees and the new rates for others.
Because travel expenses often attract IRS attention, they require careful recordkeeping. The per diem method can help, but it’s not the best solution for all employers. An even simpler “high-low” per diem method is also available. And, in some cases, a policy of reimbursing actual expenses could be beneficial, despite the recordkeeping hassles. If you have questions regarding travel expense reimbursements, please contact us.
With kids back in school, it’s a good time for parents (and grandparents) to think about college funding. One option, which can be especially beneficial if the children in question still have many years until they’ll be starting their higher education, is a Section 529 plan.
529 plans are generally state-sponsored, and the savings-plan option offers the opportunity to potentially build up a significant college nest egg because of tax-deferred compounding. So these plans can be particularly powerful if contributions begin when the child is quite young. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer tax incentives for contributing.
Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
529 plans offer other benefits as well:
Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions, which means you can make up to a $70,000 contribution (or $140,000 if you split the gift with your spouse) in 2017. In the case of grandparents, this also can avoid generation-skipping transfer taxes.
One negative of a 529 plan is that your investment options are limited. Another is that you can make changes to your options only twice a year or if you change the beneficiary.
But whenever you make a new contribution, you can choose a different option for that contribution, no matter how many times you contribute during the year. Also, you can make a tax-free rollover to another 529 plan for the same child every 12 months.
We’ve focused on 529 savings plans here; a prepaid tuition version of 529 plans is also available. If you’d like to learn more about either type of 529 plan, please contact us. We can also tell you about other tax-smart strategies for funding education expenses.
Are you the founder of your company? If so, congratulations — you’ve created something truly amazing! And it’s more than understandable that you’d want to protect your legacy: the company you created.
But, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly important that you give serious thought to a succession plan. When this topic comes up, many business owners show signs of suffering from an all-too-common affliction.
In the nonprofit sphere, they call it “founder’s syndrome.” The term refers to a set of “symptoms” indicating that an organization’s founder maintains a disproportionate amount of power and influence over operations. Although founder’s syndrome is usually associated with not-for-profits, it can give business owners much to think about as well. Common symptoms include:
• Continually making important decision without input from others,
• Recruiting or promoting employees who will act primarily out of loyalty to the founder,
• Failing to mentor others in leadership matters, and
• Being unwilling to begin creating a succession plan.
It’s worth noting that a founder’s reluctance to loosen his or her grip isn’t necessarily because of a power-hungry need to control. Many founders simply fear that the organization — whether nonprofit or business — would falter without their intensive oversight.
The good news is that founder’s syndrome is treatable. The first step is to address whether you yourself are either at risk for the affliction or already suffering from it. Doing so can be uncomfortable, but it’s critical. Here are some advisable actions:
Form a succession plan. This is a vital measure toward preserving the longevity of any company. If you’d prefer not to involve anyone in your business just yet, consider a professional advisor or consultant.
Prepare for the transition, no matter how far away. Remember that a succession plan doesn’t necessarily spell out the end of your involvement in the company. It’s simply a transformation of role. Your vast knowledge and experience needs to be documented so the business can continue to benefit from it.
Ask for help. Your management team may need to step up its accountability as the succession plan becomes more fully formed. Managers must educate themselves about the organization in any areas where they’re lacking.
In addition to transferring leadership responsibilities, there’s the issue of transferring your ownership interests, which is also complex and requires careful planning.
Blood, sweat and tears
You’ve no doubt invested the proverbial blood, sweat and tears into launching your business and overseeing its growth. But planning for the next generation of leadership is, in its own way, just as important as the company itself. Let us help you develop a succession plan that will help ensure the long-term well-being of your business.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
From the baseball field to the boardroom, statistical analysis has changed various industries nationwide. With proper preparation and guidance, business owners can have at their fingertips a wealth of stats-based insight into how their companies are performing — far beyond the bottom line on an income statement.
The metrics in question are commonly referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs). These formula-based measurements reveal the trends underlying a company’s operations. And seeing those trends can help you find the right path forward and give you fair warning when you’re headed in the wrong direction.
A good place to start is with some of the KPIs that apply to most businesses. For example, take current ratio (current assets / current liabilities). It can help you determine your capacity to meet your short-term liabilities with cash and other relatively liquid assets.
Another KPI to regularly calculate is working capital turnover ratio (revenue / average working capital). Many companies struggle with temperamental cash flows that can wax and wane based on buying trends or seasonal fluctuations. This ratio shows the amount of revenue supported by each dollar of net working capital used.
Debt is also an issue for many businesses. You can monitor your debt-to-equity (total debt / net worth) ratio to measure your degree of leverage. The higher the ratio, the greater the risk that creditors are assuming and the tougher it may be to obtain financing.
There are many other KPIs we could discuss. The exact ones you should look at depend on the size of your company and the nature of its work. Please contact our firm for help choosing the right KPIs and calculating them accurately.
A buy-sell agreement is a critical component of succession planning for many businesses. It sets the terms and conditions under which an owner’s business interest can be sold to another owner (or owners) should an unexpected tragedy or turn of events occurs. It also establishes the method for determining the price of the interest.
This may sound cut and dried. And a properly conceived, well-written buy-sell agreement should be — it is, after all, a legal document. But there’s a human side to these arrangements as well. And it’s one that you shouldn’t underestimate.
Turmoil and conflicts
A business owner’s unexpected death or disability can lead to turmoil and potential conflicts between the surviving owners and the deceased or disabled owner’s family members. Such disorder has the potential of disrupting normal business operations and can result in instability for employees, customers, creditors, investors and other stakeholders.
A buy-sell agreement ensures that an owner’s heirs are fairly compensated for the deceased owner’s business ownership interest based on a predetermined method. The other owners, meanwhile, don’t have to worry about the deceased’s spouse (or other family members) becoming unwilling (and unknowledgeable) co-owners. And employees will benefit from less workplace stress and disruption than would otherwise be caused if an owner dies or becomes disabled.
Indeed, among the worst potential succession-planning scenarios is when a deceased or disabled owner’s spouse becomes an unwilling participant in the business. Without a properly structured buy-sell agreement in place, the spouse could be thrown into this situation — even if he or she knows little about the business and doesn’t want to actively participate in running it.
There’s also the less tragic, though still difficult, possibility of divorce. When a business owner and his or her spouse decide to end their marriage, the ramifications on the business can be enormous. A buy-sell helps clarify everyone’s rights and holdings.
Ownership successions are rarely easy — even under the best of circumstances. These transitions can go much more peacefully with a sound buy-sell agreement in place. Please contact us for help with the tax and financial aspects of drawing one up.
At back-to-school time, much of the focus is on the students returning to the classroom — and on their parents buying them school supplies, backpacks, clothes, etc., for the new school year. But let’s not forget about the teachers. It’s common for teachers to pay for some classroom supplies out of pocket, and the tax code provides a special break that makes it a little easier for these educators to deduct some of their expenses.
The miscellaneous itemized deduction
Generally, your employee expenses are deductible if they’re unreimbursed by your employer and ordinary and necessary to your business of being an employee. An expense is ordinary if it is common and accepted in your business. An expense is necessary if it is appropriate and helpful to your business.
These expenses must be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and are subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if all your deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceed 2% of your AGI. For many taxpayers, including teachers, this can be a difficult threshold to meet.
The educator expense deduction
Congress created the educator expense deduction to allow more teachers and other educators to receive a tax benefit from some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom expenses. The break was made permanent under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. Since 2016, the deduction has been annually indexed for inflation (though because of low inflation it hasn’t increased yet) and has included professional development expenses.
Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct up to $250 of qualified expenses. (If you’re married filing jointly and both you and your spouse are educators, you can deduct up to $500 of unreimbursed expenses — but not more than $250 each.)
Qualified expenses include amounts paid or incurred during the tax year for books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health and physical education, the costs for supplies are qualified expenses only if related to athletics.
An added benefit
The educator expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means you don’t have to itemize and it reduces your AGI, which has an added benefit: Because AGI-based limits affect a variety of tax breaks (such as the previously mentioned miscellaneous itemized deductions), lowering your AGI might help you maximize your tax breaks overall.
Contact us for more details about the educator expense deduction or tax breaks available for other work-related expenses.
When businesses provide meals to their employees, generally their deduction is limited to 50%. But there are exceptions. One is if the meal qualifies as a de minimis fringe benefit under the Internal Revenue Code.
A recent U.S. Tax Court ruling could ultimately mean that more employer-provided meals will be 100% deductible under this exception. The court found that the Boston Bruins hockey team’s pregame meals to players and personnel at out-of-town hotels qualified as a de minimis fringe benefit.
For meals to qualify as a de minimis fringe benefit, generally they must be occasional and have so little value that accounting for them would be unreasonable or administratively impracticable. But meals provided at an employer-operated eating facility for employees can also qualify.
For meals at an employer-operated facility, one requirement is that they be provided in a nondiscriminatory manner: Access to the eating facility must be available “on substantially the same terms to each member of a group of employees, which is defined under a reasonable classification set up by the employer that doesn’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.”
Assuming that definition is met, employee meals generally constitute a de minimis fringe benefit if the following conditions also are met:
1. The eating facility is owned or leased by the employer.
2. The facility is operated by the employer.
3. The facility is located on or near the business premises of the employer.
4. The meals furnished at the facility are provided during, or immediately before or after, the employee’s workday.
The meals generally also must be furnished for the convenience of the employer rather than primarily as a form of additional compensation.
On the road
What’s significant about the Bruins case is that the meals were provided at hotels while the team was on the road. The Tax Court determined that the Bruins met all of the de minimis tests related to an employer-operated facility for their away-game team meals. The court’s reasoning included the following:
If your business provides meals under similar circumstances, it’s possible you might also be eligible for a 100% deduction. But be aware that the facts of this case are specific and restrictive. Also the IRS could appeal, and an appeals court could rule differently.
Questions about deducting meals you’re providing to employees? Contact us.
Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can provide tax-free growth and the ability to withdraw funds tax-free in retirement. But what if you convert a traditional IRA — subject to income taxes on all earnings and deductible contributions — and then discover that you would have been better off if you hadn’t converted it? Fortunately, it’s possible to undo a Roth IRA conversion, using a “recharacterization.”
Reasons to recharacterize
There are several possible reasons to undo a Roth IRA conversion. For example:
Generally, when you convert to a Roth IRA, if you extend your tax return, you have until October 15 of the following year to undo it. (For 2016 returns, the extended deadline is October 16 because the 15th falls on a weekend in 2017.)
In some cases it can make sense to undo a Roth IRA conversion and then redo it. If you want to redo the conversion, you must wait until the later of 1) the first day of the year following the year of the original conversion, or 2) the 31st day after the recharacterization.
Keep in mind that, if you reversed a conversion because your IRA’s value declined, there’s a risk that your investments will bounce back during the waiting period. This could cause you to reconvert at a higher tax cost.
Recharacterization in action
Nick had a traditional IRA with a balance of $100,000. In 2016, he converted it to a Roth IRA, which, combined with his other income for the year, put him in the 33% tax bracket. So normally he’d have owed $33,000 in federal income taxes on the conversion in April 2017. However, Nick extended his return and, by September 2017, the value of his account drops to $80,000.
On October 1, Nick recharacterizes the account as a traditional IRA and files his return to
exclude the $100,000 in income. On November 1, he reconverts the traditional IRA, whose value remains at $80,000, to a Roth IRA. He’ll report that amount on his 2017 tax return. This time, he’ll owe $26,400 — deferred for a year and resulting in a tax savings of $6,600. If the $20,000 difference in income keeps him in the 28% tax bracket or tax reform legislation is signed into law that retroactively reduces rates for 2017, he could save even more.
If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, monitor your financial situation. If the advantages of the conversion diminish, we can help you assess your options.
If your business offers health insurance benefits to employees, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a climb in premium costs in recent years — perhaps a dramatic one. To meet the challenge of rising costs, some employers are opting for a creative alternative to traditional health insurance known as “captive insurance.” A captive insurance company generally is wholly owned and controlled by the employer. So it’s essentially like forming your own insurance company. And it provides tax advantages, too.
Potential benefits of forming a captive insurance company include:
You can customize your coverage package and charge premiums that more accurately reflect your business’s true loss exposure.
Another big benefit is that you can participate in the captive’s underwriting profits and investment income. When you pay commercial health insurance premiums, a big chunk of your payment goes toward the insurer’s underwriting profit. But when you form a captive, you retain this profit through the captive.
Also, your business can enjoy investment and cash flow benefits by investing premiums yourself instead of paying them to a commercial insurer.
A captive insurance company may also save you tax dollars. For example, premiums paid to a captive are tax-deductible and the captive can deduct most of its loss reserves. To qualify for federal income tax purposes, a captive must meet several criteria. These include properly priced premiums based on actuarial and underwriting considerations and a sufficient level of risk distribution as determined by the IRS.
Recent U.S. Tax Court rulings have determined that risk distribution exists if there’s a large enough pool of unrelated risks — or, in other words, if risk is spread over a sufficient number of employees. This is true regardless of how many entities are involved.
Additional tax benefits may be available if your captive qualifies as a “microcaptive” (a captive with $2.2 million or less in premiums that meets certain additional tests): You may elect to exclude premiums from income and pay taxes only on net investment income. Be aware, however, that you’ll lose certain deductions with this election.
Also keep in mind that there are some potential drawbacks to forming a captive insurance company. Contact us to learn more about the tax treatment and other pros and cons of captive insurance. We can help you determine whether this alternative may be right for your business.
It’s a safe bet that state tax authorities will let you know if you haven’t paid enough sales and use taxes, but what are the odds that you’ll be notified if you’ve paid too much? The chances are slim — so slim that many businesses use reverse audits to find overpayments so they can seek reimbursements.
Take all of your exemptions
In most states, businesses are exempt from sales tax on equipment used in manufacturing or recycling, and many states don’t require them to pay taxes on the utilities and chemicals used in these processes, either. In some states, custom software, computers and peripherals are exempt if they’re used for research and development projects.
This is just a sampling of sales and use tax exemptions that might be available. Unless you’re diligent about claiming exemptions, you may be missing out on some to which you’re entitled.
Many businesses have sales and use tax compliance systems to guard against paying too much, but if you haven’t reviewed yours recently, it may not be functioning properly. Employee turnover, business expansion or downsizing, and simple mistakes all can take their toll.
Look back and broadly
The audit should extend across your business, going back as far as the statute of limitations on state tax reviews. If your state auditors can review all records for the four years preceding the audit, for example, your reverse audit should encompass the same timeframe.
What types of payments should be reviewed? You may have made overpayments on components of manufactured products as well as on the equipment you use to make the products. Other areas where overpayments may occur, depending on state laws, include:
When considering whether you may have overpaid taxes in these and other areas, a clear understanding of your operations is key. If, for example, you want to ensure you’re receiving maximum benefit from industrial processing exemptions, you must know where your manufacturing process begins and ends.
Save now and later
Reverse audits can be time consuming and complicated, but a little pain can bring significant gain. Use your reverse audit not only to reap tax refund rewards now but also to update your compliance systems to help ensure you don’t overpay taxes in the future.
Rules and regulations surrounding state sales and use tax refunds are complicated. We can help you understand them and ensure your refund claims are properly prepared before you submit them.
Among the taxes that are being considered for repeal as part of tax reform legislation is the estate tax. This tax applies to transfers of wealth at death, hence why it’s commonly referred to as the “death tax.” Its sibling, the gift tax — also being considered for repeal — applies to transfers during life. Yet most taxpayers won’t face these taxes even if the taxes remain in place.
Exclusions and exemptions
For 2017, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.49 million per taxpayer. (The exemption is annually indexed for inflation.) If your estate doesn’t exceed your available exemption at your death, then no federal estate tax will be due.
Any gift tax exemption you use during life does reduce the amount of estate tax exemption available at your death. But every gift you make won’t use up part of your lifetime exemption. For example:
What’s your estate tax exposure?
Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.
Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. (But keep in mind that there could be estate tax exposure on your surviving spouse’s death, depending on the size of his or her estate.) The net number represents your taxable estate.
You can then apply the exemption amount you expect to have available at death. Remember, any gift tax exemption amount you use during your life must be subtracted. But if your spouse predeceases you, then his or her unused estate tax exemption, if any, may be added to yours (provided the applicable requirements are met).
If your taxable estate is equal to or less than your available estate tax exemption, no federal estate tax will be due at your death. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, the excess will be subject to federal estate tax.
Be aware that many states impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does. So you could have state estate tax exposure even if you don’t need to worry about federal estate tax.
If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us. We also can keep you up to date on any estate tax law changes.
August is back-to-school time across the country. Whether the school buses are already rumbling down your block, or will be soon, the start of the school year brings marketing opportunities for savvy business owners. Here are some examples of ways companies can promote themselves.
A virtual “brag book”
A creative agency posts on social media a vibrant photographic slideshow of employees and their children on the first day of school. It gives the parents an opportunity to show off their kids — and creates a buzz on the agency’s Facebook page.
The brag book’s innovative design also demonstrates the agency’s creative skills in a fun, personal way. And it helps attract talent by showcasing the company’s fun, family-friendly atmosphere.
Promos for parents
In August, many parents are in the midst of desperately trying to complete checklists of required school supply purchases. To help them cope, a home remodeling / landscape business offers free school supplies with every estimate completed during the month.
Customers receive colorful bags containing relatively inexpensive items such as pencils, pens, pads of paper and glue sticks all stamped with the company’s logo. And even though every estimate won’t result in a new job, completing more estimates helps create an uptick in fall projects.
Freebies for students
During the first week of school, a suburban burger joint offers students a free milkshake with the purchase of a burger. Kids love milkshakes and, because the freebie is associated with a purchase, the business preserves its profitability.
Meanwhile, the promotion brings entire families into the restaurant — widening the customer base and adding revenue. The campaign creates goodwill in the community by nurturing students’ enthusiasm for the beginning of the school year, too.
Determine what’s right for you
Obviously, these examples are industry-specific. But we hope you find them informative and inspirational. Our firm can help you leverage smart marketing moves to strengthen profitability and add long-term value to your business.
If your business is a limited liability company (LLC) or a limited liability partnership (LLP), you know that these structures offer liability protection and flexibility as well as tax advantages. But they once also had a significant tax disadvantage: The IRS used to treat all LLC and LLP owners as limited partners for purposes of the passive activity loss (PAL) rules, which can result in negative tax consequences. Fortunately, these days LLC and LLP owners can be treated as general partners, which means they can meet any one of seven “material participation” tests to avoid passive treatment.
The PAL rules
The PAL rules prohibit taxpayers from offsetting losses from passive business activities (such as limited partnerships or rental properties) against nonpassive income (such as wages, interest, dividends and capital gains). Disallowed losses may be carried forward to future years and deducted from passive income or recovered when the passive business interest is sold.
There are two types of passive activities: 1) trade or business activities in which you don’t materially participate during the year, and 2) rental activities, even if you do materially participate (unless you qualify as a “real estate professional” for federal tax purposes).
The 7 tests
Material participation in this context means participation on a “regular, continuous and substantial” basis. Unless you’re a limited partner, you’re deemed to materially participate in a business activity if you meet just one of seven tests:
The rules are more restrictive for limited partners, who can establish material participation only by satisfying tests 1, 5 or 6.
In many cases, meeting one of the material participation tests will require diligently tracking every hour spent on your activities associated with that business. Questions about the material participation tests? Contact us.
Most of the talk about possible tax legislation this year has focused on either wide-sweeping tax reform or taxes that are part of the Affordable Care Act. But there are a few other potential tax developments for individuals to keep an eye on.
Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The question now is whether Congress will extend them for 2017.
An education break
One break the PATH Act extended through 2016 was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).
You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.
Mortgage-related tax breaks
Under the PATH Act, through 2016 you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.
The PATH Act likewise extended through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modified the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2017 income tax return.
Please check back with us for the latest information. In the meantime, keep in mind that, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2016 income tax return yet, you can take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended returns is October 16, 2017.
Many business owners and executives would like to save more money for retirement than they’re allowed to sock away in their 401(k) plan. For 2017, the annual elective deferral contribution limit for a 401(k) is just $18,000, or $24,000 if you’re 50 years of age or older.
This represents a significantly lower percentage of the typical owner-employee’s or executive’s salary than the percentage of the average employee’s salary. Therefore, it can be difficult for these highly compensated employees to save enough money to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement. That’s where a nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan comes in.
NQDC plans enable owner-employees, executives and other highly paid key employees to significantly boost their retirement savings without running afoul of the nondiscrimination rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). These rules apply to qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, and prevent highly compensated employees from benefiting disproportionately in comparison to rank-and-file employees.
NQDC plans are essentially agreements that the business will pay out at some future time, such as at retirement, compensation that participants earn now. Not only do such plans not have to comply with ERISA nondiscrimination rules, but they aren’t subject to the IRS contribution limits and distribution rules that apply to qualified retirement plans. So businesses can tailor benefit amounts, payment terms and conditions to the participants’ specific needs.
There are several types of NQDC plans. Among the most common are:
The key to an NQDC plan: Because the promised compensation hasn’t been transferred to the participants, it’s not yet counted as earned income — and therefore it isn’t currently taxed. This allows the compensation to grow tax-deferred.
Naturally, there are challenges to consider. NQDC plans are subject to strict rules under Internal Revenue Code Sections 409A and 451, and plan loans generally aren’t allowed. But attracting and retaining top executive talent is a business imperative, and an NQDC plan can help you win the talent race with a powerful benefits package. Please contact our firm for further details.
“Sorry, we don’t carry that item.” Or perhaps, “No, that’s not part of our service package.” How many times a year do your salespeople utter these words or ones like them? The specific number is critical because, if you don’t know it, you could be losing out on profit potential.
Although you have to focus on your strengths and not get too far afield, your customers may be crying out for a new product or service. And among the best ways to hear them is to track lost sales data and decipher the message.
3 steps to success
A successful lost sales tracking effort generally involves three steps:
1. Get the data. Ask your sales associates to log every customer request and to question customers further to get at the heart of what they need. Train sales associates to record information such as the date of request, item requested and the reason the item was unavailable.
2. Crunch the numbers. Calculate how much you could sell if you had the new items in stock or offered the additional service. Naturally, you’ll need to bear in mind that meeting customer demand might involve spending money on equipment or personnel to expand your product or service line. Key data points to examine include:
Develop a report that lays out this and other information, so you can see it in black and white.
3. Talk about it. Run a lost sales report monthly and discuss the results with your management team. Seek to establish consensus on where your best strategic opportunities lie. Sometimes you’ll want to be patient and let trends develop before acting. Other times, you might want to strike early to seize an underdeveloped market.
A better grip
Lost sales are lost opportunities. By getting a better grip on your customers’ needs, you can build a stronger bottom line. Please contact us for help creating and maintaining a lost sales tracking system that best suits your company’s distinctive needs.
Unemployment tax rates for employers vary from state to state. Your unemployment tax bill may be influenced by the number of former employees who’ve filed unemployment claims with the state, your current number of employees and your business’s age. Typically, the more claims made against a business, the higher the unemployment tax bill.
Here are six ways to control your unemployment tax costs:
1. Buy down your unemployment tax rate if your state permits it. Some states allow employers to annually buy down their rate. If you’re eligible, this could save you substantial dollars in unemployment taxes.
2. Hire new staff conservatively. Remember, your unemployment payments are based partly on the number of employees who file unemployment claims. You don’t want to hire employees to fill a need now, only to have to lay them off if business slows. A temporary staffing agency can help you meet short-term needs without permanently adding staff, so you can avoid layoffs. This is also a good way to try out a candidate.
3. Assess candidates before hiring them. Often it’s worth a small financial investment to have job candidates undergo prehiring assessments to see if they’re the right match for your business and the position available. Hiring carefully will increase the likelihood that new employees will work out.
4. Train for success. Many unemployment insurance claimants are awarded benefits despite employer assertions that the employee failed to perform adequately. Often this is because the hearing officer concluded the employer hadn’t provided the employee with enough training to succeed in the position.
5. Handle terminations thoughtfully. If you must terminate an employee, consider giving him or her severance as well as offering outplacement benefits. Severance pay may reduce or delay the start of unemployment insurance benefits. Effective outplacement services may hasten the end of unemployment insurance benefits, because the claimant has found a new job.
6. Leverage an acquisition. If you’ve recently acquired another company, it may have a lower established tax rate that you can use instead of the tax rate that’s been set for your existing business. You also may be able to request the transfer of the previous company’s unemployment reserve fund balance.
If you have questions about unemployment taxes and how you can reduce them, contact our firm. We’d be pleased to help.
Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement efforts appear to have collapsed, at least for the time being, it’s a good time for a refresher on the tax penalty the ACA imposes on individuals who fail to have “minimum essential” health insurance coverage for any month of the year. This requirement is commonly called the “individual mandate.”
Before we review how the penalty is calculated, let’s take a quick look at exceptions to the penalty. Taxpayers may be exempt if they fit into one of these categories for 2017:
Calculating the tax
So how much can the penalty cost? That’s a tricky question. If you owe the penalty, the tentative amount equals the greater of the following two prongs:
In terms of the percentage-of-income prong of the penalty, the applicable percentage of income is 2.5% for 2017.
In terms of the dollar-amount prong of the penalty, the applicable dollar amount for each uninsured household member is $695 for 2017. For a household member who’s under age 18, the applicable dollar amounts are cut by 50%, to $347.50. The maximum penalty under this prong for 2017 is $2,085 (300% of $695).
The final penalty amount per person can’t exceed the national average cost of “bronze coverage” (the cheapest category of ACA-compliant coverage) for your household. The important thing to know is that a high-income person or household could owe more than 300% of the applicable dollar amount but not more than the cost of bronze coverage.
If you have minimum essential coverage for only part of the year, the final penalty is calculated on a monthly basis using prorated annual figures.
Also be aware that the extent to which the penalty will continue to be enforced isn’t certain. The IRS has been accepting 2016 tax returns even if a taxpayer hasn’t completed the line indicating health coverage status. That said, the ACA is still the law, so compliance is highly recommended. For more information about this and other ACA-imposed taxes, contact us.
Is business going so well that you’re thinking about adding another location? If this is the case, congratulations! But before you start planning the ribbon-cutting ceremony, take a step back and ask yourself some tough questions about whether a new location will grow your company — or stretch it too thin. Here are four to get you started:
1. What’s driving your interest in another location? It’s important to articulate specifically how the new location will help your business move toward its long-term goals. Expanding simply because the time seems right isn’t a compelling enough reason to take on the risk.
2. How solidly is your current location performing? Your time and attention will be diverted while you get the second location up and running. Yet you’ll need to maintain the revenue your first location is generating — especially until the second one is earning enough to support itself. So your original operation needs to be able to operate well with minimal management guidance.
3. How strong is the location you’re considering? Just as you presumably did with your first location, ensure the surrounding market is strong enough to support your company. The setting should complement your business, not pose potentially insurmountable challenges.
Also consider proximity to competitors. In some cases, such as a cluster of restaurants in a small downtown, proximity can help. The area becomes known as a destination for those seeking a night out. But too many competitors could leave you fighting with multiple other businesses for the same small group of customers.
4. Can you expand in other ways that are less costly and risky? You might be able to boost sales by adding inventory or extending hours at your current location. Another option is to revamp your website or mobile app to encourage more online sales.
Investments such as these would likely require a fraction of the dollars needed to open another physical location. Then again, a successful new site could mean a substantial inflow of revenue and additional market visibility. Let us help you crunch the numbers that will lead you to the right decision.
With an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), employee participants take part ownership of the business through a retirement savings arrangement. Meanwhile, the business and its existing owner(s) can benefit from some potential tax breaks, an extra-motivated workforce and potentially a smoother path for succession planning.
How ESOPs work
To implement an ESOP, you establish a trust fund and either:
The shares in the trust are allocated to individual employees’ accounts, often using a formula based on their respective compensation. The business has to formally adopt the plan and submit plan documents to the IRS, along with certain forms.
Among the biggest benefits of an ESOP is that contributions to qualified retirement plans such as ESOPs typically are tax-deductible for employers. However, employer contributions to all defined contribution plans, including ESOPs, are generally limited to 25% of covered payroll. In addition, C corporations with leveraged ESOPs can deduct contributions used to pay interest on the loan. That is, the interest isn’t counted toward the 25% limit.
Dividends paid on ESOP stock passed through to employees or used to repay an ESOP loan, so long as they’re reasonable, may be tax-deductible for C corporations. Dividends voluntarily reinvested by employees in company stock in the ESOP also are usually deductible by the business. (Employees, however, should review the tax implications of dividends.)
In another potential benefit, shareholders in some closely held C corporations can sell stock to the ESOP and defer federal income taxes on any gains from the sale, with several stipulations. One is that the ESOP must own at least 30% of the company’s stock immediately after the sale. In addition, the sellers must reinvest the proceeds (or an equivalent amount) in qualified replacement property securities of domestic operation corporations within a set period of time.
Finally, when a business owner is ready to retire or otherwise depart the company, the business can make tax-deductible contributions to the ESOP to buy out the departing owner’s shares or have the ESOP borrow money to buy the shares.
More tax considerations
There are tax benefits for employees, too. Employees don’t pay tax on stock allocated to their ESOP accounts until they receive distributions. But, as with most retirement plans, if they take a distribution before they turn 59½ (or 55, if they’ve terminated employment), they may have to pay taxes and penalties — unless they roll the proceeds into an IRA or another qualified retirement plan.
Also be aware that an ESOP’s tax impact for entity types other than C corporations varies somewhat from what we’ve discussed here. And while an ESOP offers many potential benefits, it also presents risks. For help determining whether an ESOP makes sense for your business, contact us.
Tax reform has been a major topic of discussion in Washington, but it’s still unclear exactly what such legislation will include and whether it will be signed into law this year. However, the last major tax legislation that was signed into law — back in December of 2015 — still has a significant impact on tax planning for businesses. Let’s look at three midyear tax strategies inspired by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act:
1. Buy equipment. The PATH Act preserved both the generous limits for the Section 179 expensing election and the availability of bonus depreciation. These breaks generally apply to qualified fixed assets, including equipment or machinery, placed in service during the year. For 2017, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $510,000, subject to a $2,030,000 phaseout threshold. Without the PATH Act, the 2017 limits would have been $25,000 and $200,000, respectively. Higher limits are now permanent and subject to inflation indexing.
Additionally, for 2017, your business may be able to claim 50% bonus depreciation for qualified costs in excess of what you expense under Sec. 179. Bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019 before it’s set to expire on December 31, 2019.
2. Ramp up research. After years of uncertainty, the PATH Act made the research credit permanent. For qualified research expenses, the credit is generally equal to 20% of expenses over a base amount that’s essentially determined using a historical average of research expenses as a percentage of revenues. There’s also an alternative computation for companies that haven’t increased their research expenses substantially over their historical base amounts.
In addition, a small business with $50 million or less in gross receipts may claim the credit against its alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability. And, a start-up company with less than $5 million in gross receipts may claim the credit against up to $250,000 in employer Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes.
3. Hire workers from “target groups.” Your business may claim the Work Opportunity credit for hiring a worker from one of several “target groups,” such as food stamp recipients and certain veterans. The PATH Act extended the credit through 2019. It also added a new target group: long-term unemployment recipients.
Generally, the maximum Work Opportunity credit is $2,400 per worker. But it’s higher for workers from certain target groups, such as disabled veterans.
One last thing to keep in mind is that, in terms of tax breaks, “permanent” only means that there’s no scheduled expiration date. Congress could still pass legislation that changes or eliminates “permanent” breaks. But it’s unlikely any of the breaks discussed here would be eliminated or reduced for 2017. To keep up to date on tax law changes and get a jump start on your 2017 tax planning, contact us.
Your compensation may take several forms, including salary, fringe benefits and bonuses. If you work for a corporation, you might also receive stock-based compensation, such as stock options. These come in two varieties: nonqualified (NQSOs) and incentive (ISOs). With both NQSOs and ISOs, if the stock appreciates beyond your exercise price, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re trading for.
The tax consequences of these types of compensation can be complex. So smart tax planning is critical. Let’s take a closer look at the tax treatment of NQSOs, and how it differs from that of the perhaps better known ISOs.
NQSOs create compensation income — taxed at ordinary-income rates — on the “bargain element” (the difference between the stock’s fair market value and the exercise price) when exercised. This is regardless of whether the stock is held or sold immediately.
ISOs, on the other hand, generally don’t create compensation income taxed at ordinary rates unless you sell the stock from the exercise without holding it for more than a year, in a “disqualified disposition.” If the stock from an ISO exercise is held more than one year, then generally your lower long-term capital gains tax rate applies when you sell the stock.
Also, NQSO exercises don’t create an alternative minimum tax (AMT) preference item that can trigger AMT liability. ISO exercises can trigger AMT unless the stock is sold in a disqualified disposition (though it’s possible the AMT could be repealed under tax reform legislation).
More tax consequences to consider
When you exercise NQSOs, you may need to make estimated tax payments or increase withholding to fully cover the tax. Otherwise you might face underpayment penalties.
Also keep in mind that an exercise could trigger or increase exposure to top tax rates, the additional 0.9% Medicare tax and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). These two taxes might be repealed or reduced as part of Affordable Care Act repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation, possibly retroactive to January 1 of this year. But that’s still uncertain.
Have tax questions about NQSOs or other stock-based compensation? Let us know — we’d be happy to answer them.
In the quest to reduce your tax bill, year end planning can only go so far. Tax-saving strategies take time to implement, so review your options now. Here are three strategies that can be more effective if you begin executing them midyear:
1. Consider your bracket
The top income tax rate is 39.6% for taxpayers with taxable income over $418,400 (singles), $444,550 (heads of households) and $470,700 (married filing jointly; half that amount for married filing separately). If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold , consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the top bracket. For example, you could take steps to defer income and accelerate deductible expenses. (This strategy can save tax even if you’re not at risk for the 39.6% bracket or you can’t avoid the bracket.)
You could also shift income to family members in lower tax brackets by giving them income-producing assets. This strategy won’t work, however, if the recipient is subject to the “kiddie tax.” Generally, this tax applies the parents’ marginal rate to unearned income (including investment income) received by a dependent child under the age of 19 (24 for full-time students) in excess of a specified threshold ($2,100 for 2017).
2. Look at investment income
This year, the capital gains rate for taxpayers in the top bracket is 20%. If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.
Depending on what happens with health care and tax reform legislation, you also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Under the Affordable Care Act, this tax can affect taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). The NIIT applies to net investment income for the year or the excess of MAGI over the threshold, whichever is less. So, if the NIIT remains in effect (check back with us for the latest information), you may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.
3. Plan for medical expenses
The threshold for deducting medical expenses is 10% of AGI. You can deduct only expenses that exceed that floor. (The threshold could be affected by health care legislation. Again, check back with us for the latest information.)
Deductible expenses may include health insurance premiums (if not deducted from your wages pretax); long-term care insurance premiums (age-based limits apply); medical and dental services and prescription drugs (if not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account); and mileage driven for health care purposes (17 cents per mile driven in 2017). You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into every other year and exceed the applicable floor.
These are just a few ideas for slashing your 2017 tax bill. To benefit from midyear tax planning, consult us now. If you wait until the end of the year, it may be too late to execute the strategies that would save you the most tax.
What could stop your company from operating for a day, a month or a year? A flood or fire? Perhaps a key supplier shuts down temporarily or permanently. Or maybe a hacker or technical problem crashes your website or you suddenly lose power. Whatever the potential cause might be, every business needs a disaster recovery plan.
Get started by brainstorming as many scenarios as possible that could devastate your business. The operative word there is “your.” Every company faces distinctive threats related to its size, location(s), and products or services.
There are some constants to consider, however. Seek out alternative suppliers who could fill in for your current ones if necessary. Moreover, identify a strong IT consulting firm with disaster recovery capabilities and have them a phone call away.
The right voice
Another critical factor during and after a crisis is communication, both internal and external. You and most of your management team will need to concentrate on restoring operations, so appoint one manager or other employee with the necessary skills to keep stakeholders abreast of your recovery progress. These parties include:
He or she should be prepared to spread the word through channels such as your company’s voice mail, email, website, and even traditional and social media.
Whatever you do, don’t expect to create a disaster recovery plan and then toss it on a shelf. Revisit the plan at least annually, looking for shortcomings.
You’ll also want to keep your plan fresh in the minds of your employees. Be sure that everyone — including new hires — knows exactly what to do by holding regular meetings on the subject or even conducting an occasional surprise drill. And be prepared to coordinate with fire, police and government officials who might be able to offer assistance during a catastrophe.
Thoughts and concepts
These are just a few thoughts and concepts to consider when designing, implementing and updating your company’s disaster recovery plan. Our firm can help you identify both risks and cost-effective ways to safeguard your employees and assets.
From the time a business opens its doors, the owner is told “cash is king.” It may seem to follow that having a very large amount of cash could never be a bad thing. But, the truth is, a company that’s hoarding excessive cash may be doing itself more harm than good.
What’s the harm in stockpiling cash? Granted, an extra cushion helps weather downturns or fund unexpected repairs and maintenance. But cash has a carrying cost — the difference between the return companies earn on their cash and the price they pay to obtain cash.
For instance, checking accounts often earn no interest, and savings accounts typically generate returns below 2% and in many cases well below 1%. Most cash hoarders simultaneously carry debt on their balance sheets, such as equipment loans, mortgages and credit lines. Borrowers are paying higher interest rates on loans than they’re earning from their bank accounts. This spread represents the carrying cost of cash.
A variety of possibilities
What opportunities might you be missing out on by neglecting to reinvest a cash surplus to earn a higher return? There are a variety of possibilities. You could:
Acquire a competitor (or its assets). You may be in a position to profit from a competitor’s failure. When expanding via acquisition, formal due diligence is key to avoiding impulsive, unsustainable projects.
Invest in marketable securities. As mentioned, cash accounts provide nominal return. More aggressive businesses might consider mutual funds or diversified stock and bond portfolios. A financial planner can help you choose securities. Some companies also use surplus cash to repurchase stock — especially when minority shareholders routinely challenge the owner’s decisions.
Repay debt. This reduces the carrying cost of cash reserves. And lenders look favorably upon borrowers who reduce their debt-to-equity ratios.
Optimal cash balance
Taking a conservative approach to saving up cash isn’t necessarily wrong. But every company has an optimal cash balance that will help safeguard cash flow while allocating dollars for smart spending. Our firm can assist you in identifying and maintaining this mission-critical amount.
You may be tempted to forget all about taxes during summertime, when “the livin’ is easy,” as the Gershwin song goes. But if you start your tax planning now, you may avoid an unpleasant tax surprise when you file next year. Summer is also a good time to set up a storage system for your tax records. Here are some tips:
Take action when life changes occur. Some life events (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child) can change the amount of tax you owe. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.
Keep records accessible but safe. Put your 2016 tax return and supporting records together in a place where you can easily find them if you need them, such as if you’re ever audited by the IRS. You also may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid. Although accessibility is important, so is safety.
A good storage medium for hard copies of important personal documents like tax returns is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. You may want to maintain a duplicate set of records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box. You can also store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to an external storage device (which you can keep in your home safe or bank safety deposit box). If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.
Stay organized. Make tax time easier by putting records you’ll need when you file in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records next February or March. Some examples include substantiation of charitable donations, receipts from work-related travel not reimbursed by your employer, and documentation of medical expenses not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account.
For more information on summertime tax planning or organizing your tax-related information, contact us.
As a business evolves, so must its compensation strategy. Hopefully, your company is growing — perhaps adding employees or promoting staff members who are key to your success. But other things can spur the need to fine-tune your compensation strategy as well, such as economic changes or the rise of an intense competitor. A goal for many businesses is to provide equitable compensation.
Do your research
One aspect of equitable compensation is external equity; in other words, making sure compensation is in alignment with industry or regional norms. The U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics have a wealth of comparable data on their Web sites (dol.gov and stats.bls.gov, respectively). You might also consult with a professional recruiting firm, some of which offer free or low-cost compensation data.
Granted, job roles within smaller companies make it difficult to directly compare position responsibilities in the market and get reliable salary comparison data. A company’s degree of competitiveness and ability to pay what the market bears can also be challenging.
Yet, to achieve and maintain external equity, you must consider the going market rate. Especially in a business where employees believe they can receive better pay for doing the same job elsewhere, workers have little incentive to remain with an employer — therefore, you must be concerned with external equity.
Pinpoint a range
From both a marketplace perspective and an internal company viewpoint, it’s important to group together jobs of similar value. This also gets at the concept of internal equity, which essentially means that employees feel they’re being paid fairly in terms of the value of their work as well as compared to what others in the company who have equivalent responsibilities are paid.
Once you’ve grouped jobs together, develop competitive salaries around the market rates for those positions. A typical salary range consists of a minimum, a maximum and a midpoint (or control point).
The minimum is the lowest competitive rate for jobs within that range and normally applies to less experienced staff. The maximum represents the highest competitive rate for jobs in a given range. This is typically a premium rate for “star” employees and industry veterans.
The midpoint represents the competitive market rate for fully performing workers in jobs assigned to that range. Think of it as a guideline for slotting various positions and individuals in appropriate salary ranges.
Find the right approach
These are just a few concepts involved with establishing the right approach to compensation. Please contact us for help with your company’s specific needs.
According to IRS Publication 5137, Fringe Benefit Guide, a fringe benefit is “a form of pay (including property, services, cash or cash equivalent), in addition to stated pay, for the performance of services.” But the tax treatment of a fringe benefit can vary dramatically based on the type of benefit.
Generally, the IRS takes one of four tax approaches to fringe benefits:
1. Taxable/includable. The value of benefits in this category are taxable because they must be included in employees’ gross income as wages and reported on Form W-2. They’re usually also subject to federal income tax withholding, Social Security tax (unless the employee has already reached the current year Social Security wage base limit) and Medicare tax. Typical examples include cash bonuses and the personal use of a company vehicle.
2. Nontaxable/excludable. Benefits in this category are considered nontaxable because you may exclude them from employees’ wages under a specific section of the Internal Revenue Code. Examples include:
Working-condition fringe benefits, which are expenses that, if employees had paid for the item themselves, could have been deducted on their personal tax returns (such as subscriptions to business periodicals or websites and some types of on-the-job training),
3. Partially taxable. In some cases, the value of a fringe benefit will be excluded under an IRC section up to a certain dollar limit with the remainder taxable. A public transportation subsidy under Section 132 is one example.
4. Tax-deferred. This designation applies to fringe benefits that aren’t taxable when received but that will be subject to tax later. A common example is employer contributions to a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) plan.
Are you applying the proper tax treatment to each fringe benefit you provide? If not, you could face unexpected tax liabilities or other undesirable consequences. Please contact us with any questions you have about the proper tax treatment of a particular benefit you currently offer or are considering offering.
It’s common for a business to own not only typical business assets, such as equipment, inventory and furnishings, but also the building where the business operates — and possibly other real estate as well. There can, however, be negative consequences when a business’s real estate is included in its general corporate assets. By holding real estate in a separate entity, owners can save tax and enjoy other benefits, too.
Capturing tax savings
Many businesses operate as C corporations so they can buy and hold real estate just as they do equipment, inventory and other assets. The expenses of owning the property are treated as ordinary expenses on the company’s income statement. However, if the real estate is sold, any profit is subject to double taxation: first at the corporate level and then at the owner’s individual level when a distribution is made. As a result, putting real estate in a C corporation can be a costly mistake.
If the real estate is held instead by the business owner(s) or in a pass-through entity, such as a limited liability company (LLC) or limited partnership, and then leased to the corporation, the profit on a sale of the property is taxed only once — at the individual level.
LLC: The entity of choice
The most straightforward and seemingly least expensive way for an owner to maximize the tax benefits is to buy the real estate outright. However, this could transfer liabilities related to the property (such as for injuries suffered on the property ) directly to the owner, putting other assets — including the business — at risk. In essence, it would negate part of the rationale for organizing the business as a corporation in the first place.
So, it’s generally best to put real estate in its own limited liability entity. The LLC is most often the vehicle of choice for this. Limited partnerships can accomplish the same ends if there are multiple owners, but the disadvantage is that you’ll incur more expense by having to set up two entities: the partnership itself and typically a corporation to serve as the general partner.
We can help you create a plan of ownership for real estate that best suits your situation.
Donating to charity is more than good business citizenship; it can also save tax. Here are three lesser-known federal income tax breaks for charitable donations by businesses.
1. Food donations
Charitable write-offs for donated food (such as by restaurants and grocery stores) are normally limited to the lower of the taxpayer’s basis in the food (generally cost) or fair market value (FMV), but an enhanced deduction equals the lesser of:
To qualify, the food must be apparently wholesome at the time it’s donated. Your total charitable write-off for food donations under the enhanced deduction provision can’t exceed:
2. Qualified conservation contributions
Qualified conservation contributions are charitable donations of real property interests, including remainder interests and easements that restrict the use of real property. For qualified C corporation farming and ranching operations, the maximum write-off for qualified conservation contributions is increased from the normal 10% of adjusted taxable income to 100% of adjusted taxable income.
Qualified conservation contributions in excess of what can be written off in the year of the donation can be carried forward for 15 years.
3. S corporation stock donations
A favorable tax basis rule is available to shareholders of S corporations that make charitable donations of appreciated property. For such donations, each shareholder’s basis in the S corporation stock is reduced by only the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s tax basis in the donated asset.
Without this provision, a shareholder’s basis reduction would equal the passed-through write-off for the donation (a larger amount than the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s basis in the donated asset). This provision is generally beneficial to shareholders, because it leaves them with higher tax basis in their S corporation shares.
If you believe you may be eligible to claim one or more of these tax breaks, contact us. We can help you determine eligibility, prepare the required documentation and plan for charitable donations in future years.
Many business owners buy accounting software and, even if the installation goes well, eventually grow frustrated when they don’t get the return on investment they’d expected. There’s a simple reason for this: Stuff changes.
Technological improvements are occurring at a breakneck speed. So yesterday’s cutting-edge system can quickly become today’s sluggishly performing albatross. And this isn’t the only reason to regularly upgrade your accounting software. Here are two more to consider.
1. Cleaning up
You’ve probably heard that old tech adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” The “garbage” referred to is bad data. If inaccurate or garbled information goes into your system, the reports coming out of it will be flawed. And this is a particular danger as software ages.
For example, you may be working off of inaccurate inventory counts or struggling with duplicate vendor entries. On a more serious level, your database may store information that reflects improperly closed quarters or unbalanced accounts because of data entry errors.
A regular implementation of upgraded software should uncover some or, one hopes, all of such problems. You can then clean up the bad data and adjust entries to tighten the accuracy of your accounting records and, thereby, improve your financial reporting.
2. Getting better
Neglecting to regularly upgrade or even replace your accounting software can also put you at risk of missing a major business-improvement opportunity. When implementing a new system, you’ll have the chance to enhance your accounting procedures. You may be able to, for instance, add new code groups that allow you to manage expenses much more efficiently and closely.
Other opportunities for improvement include optimizing your chart of accounts and strengthening your internal controls. Again, to obtain these benefits, you’ll need to take a slow, patient approach to the software implementation and do it often enough to prevent outdated ways of doing things from getting the better of your company.
Choosing the best
These days, every business bigger than a lemonade stand needs the best accounting software it can afford to buy. Our firm can help you set a budget and choose the product that best fits your current needs.
Every business has some degree of ups and downs during the year. But cash flow fluctuations are much more intense for seasonal businesses. So, if your company defines itself as such, it’s important to optimize your operating cycle to anticipate and minimize shortfalls.
A high-growth example
To illustrate: Consider a manufacturer and distributor of lawn-and-garden products such as topsoil, potting soil and ground cover. Its customers are lawn-and-garden retailers, hardware stores and mass merchants.
The company’s operating cycle starts when customers place orders in the fall — nine months ahead of its peak selling season. So the business begins amassing product in the fall, but curtails operations in the winter. In late February, product accumulation continues, with most shipments going out in April.
At this point, a lot of cash has flowed out of the company to pay operating expenses, such as utilities, salaries, raw materials costs and shipping expenses. But cash doesn’t start flowing into the company until customers pay their bills around June. Then, the company counts inventory, pays remaining expenses and starts preparing for the next year. Its strategic selling window — which will determine whether the business succeeds or fails — lasts a mere eight weeks.
The power of projections
Sound familiar? Ideally, a seasonal business such as this should stockpile cash received at the end of its operating cycle, and then use those cash reserves to finance the next operating cycle. But cash reserves may not be enough — especially for high-growth companies.
So, like many seasonal businesses, you might want to apply for a line of credit to avert potential shortfalls. To increase the chances of loan approval, compile a comprehensive loan package, including historical financial statements and tax returns, as well as marketing materials and supplier affidavits (if available).
More important, draft a formal business plan that includes financial projections for next year. Some companies even project financial results for three to five years into the future. Seasonal business owners can’t rely on gut instinct. You need to develop budgets, systems, processes and procedures ahead of the peak season to effectively manage your operating cycle.
Seasonal businesses face many distinctive challenges. Please contact our firm for assistance overcoming these obstacles and strengthening your bottom line.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
Summer is a popular time to move, whether it’s so the kids don’t have to change schools mid-school-year, to avoid having to move in bad weather or simply because it can be an easier time to sell a home. Unfortunately, moving can be expensive. The good news is that you might be eligible for a federal tax deduction for your moving costs.
Pass the tests
The first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.
The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would increase your commute significantly.
Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)
So which expenses can be written off? Generally, you can deduct transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving.
In addition, you can likely deduct the cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property. And you may be able to deduct the expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit. Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities are usually deductible, too.
But don’t expect to write off everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible. Nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.
Questions about whether your moving expenses are deductible? Or what you can deduct? Contact us.
With school letting out you might be focused on summer plans for your children (or grandchildren). But the end of the school year is also a good time to think about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) — especially if the children are in grade school or younger.
One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.
Here are some other key ESA benefits:
A sibling or first cousin is a typical example of a qualifying family member, if he or she is eligible to be an ESA beneficiary (that is, under age 18 or has special needs).
The ESA annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. The total contributions for a particular ESA beneficiary cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established or how many people are contributing.
However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income. The phaseout range is modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000–$220,000 for married couples filing jointly and $95,000–$110,000 for other filers. You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, and no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.
If there is a balance in the ESA when the beneficiary reaches age 30 (unless the beneficiary is a special needs individual), it must generally be distributed within 30 days. The portion representing earnings on the account will be taxable and subject to a 10% penalty. But these taxes can be avoided by rolling over the full balance to another ESA for a qualifying family member.
Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!
It’s common for closely held businesses to transfer money into and out of the company, often in the form of a loan. However, the IRS looks closely at such transactions: Are they truly loans, or actually compensation, distributions or contributions to equity?
Loans to owners
When an owner withdraws funds from the company, the transaction can be characterized as compensation, a distribution or a loan. Loans aren’t taxable, but compensation is and distributions may be.
If the company is a C corporation and the transaction is considered a distribution, it can trigger double taxation. If a transaction is considered compensation, it’s deductible by the corporation, so it doesn’t result in double taxation — but it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes.
If the company is an S corporation or other pass-through entity and the transaction is considered a distribution, there’s no entity-level tax, so double taxation won’t be an issue. But distributions reduce an owner’s tax basis, which makes it harder to deduct business losses. If the transaction is considered compensation, as with a C corporation, it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes.
Loans to the business
There are also benefits to treating transfers of money from owners to the business as loans. If such advances are treated as contributions to equity, for example, any reimbursements by the company may be taxed as distributions.
Loan payments, on the other hand, aren’t taxable, apart from the interest, which is deductible by the company. A loan may also give the owner an advantage in the event of the company’s bankruptcy, because debt obligations are paid before equity is returned.
Is it a loan or not?
To enjoy the tax advantages of a loan, it’s important to establish that a transaction is truly a loan. Simply calling a withdrawal or advance a “loan” doesn’t make it so.
Whether a transaction is a loan is a matter of intent. It’s a loan if the borrower has an unconditional intent to repay the amount received and the lender has an unconditional intent to obtain repayment. Because the IRS and the courts aren’t mind readers, it’s critical to document loans and treat them like other arm’s-length transactions. This includes:
Also, to avoid a claim that loans to owner-employees are disguised compensation, you must ensure that they receive reasonable salaries.
If you’re considering a loan to or from your business, contact us for more details on how to help ensure it will be considered a loan by the IRS.
Adequate insurance coverage is, in many cases, a legal requirement for a business. Even if it’s not for your company, proper coverage remains a risk management imperative. But that doesn’t mean you have to take high insurance costs sitting down.
There are a wide variety of ways you can decrease insurance costs. Just two examples are staying on top of facilities maintenance and improving the safety of those who work there.
For starters, have an electrician check your facility. Can the building’s electrical system handle the load at peak times? Are there circuits at risk of being overloaded?
Also look at installing a sprinkler system (or upgrading your existing system if needed). Some insurance carriers provide premium discounts for installing fire prevention equipment such as sprinklers. And check your fire extinguishers. Are they well maintained and the right type? The type of extinguisher you need for an electrical fire isn’t the one you need for a kitchen grease fire.
Many municipalities offer free or low-cost fire safety inspection services. Your local fire department may be able to recommend steps that not only reduce hazards, but also reduce insurance premiums.
And don’t forget to consider how much maintenance you’re actually obligated to perform. Renting or leasing real estate, rather than owning it directly, is often less costly because the property owner may be responsible for much of the upkeep. Ownership has its advantages, of course, but it also brings potential liability with it that has to be insured against.
Employee injuries can drive up insurance and workers’ compensation expenses. Inspect your floors and other high-traffic areas for slippery spots, lack of nonslip surfacing, ice buildup or other hazards. Also eliminate clutter, poor carpet installation, loose steps and handrails, and anything else that could potentially generate a slip and fall claim.
Additionally, consider asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a courtesy inspection. Doing so may help you avoid potential penalties as well as prevent injuries and other incidents that would raise your premiums.
Opportunities for savings
Yes, buying the right array of insurance policies is a cost of doing business. But you may have more control over these expenses than you think. We can help you assess your insurance costs and identify opportunities for savings.
When it comes time to transition your role as business owner to someone else, you’ll face many changes. One of them is becoming a mentor. As such, you’ll have to communicate clearly, show some patience and have a clear conception of what you want to accomplish before stepping down. Here are some tips on putting your successor in a position to succeed.
Find ways to continuously pass on your knowledge. Too often, vital business knowledge is lost when leadership or ownership changes — causing a difficult and chaotic transition for the successor. Although you can impart a great deal of expertise by mentoring your replacement, you need to do more. For instance, create procedures for you and other executives to share your wisdom.
Begin by documenting your business systems, processes and methods through a secure online employee information portal, which provides links to company databases. You also could set up a training program around core business methods and practices — workers could attend classes or complete computer-based courses. Then, you can create an annual benchmarking report of key activities and results for internal use.
Prepare your company to adapt and grow. With customer needs and market factors continually changing, your successor will likely face challenges that are different from what you encountered.
To enable your company to adapt to an ever-changing business world, ensure your successor understands how each department works and knows the fundamentals of key areas, including customer service, marketing and accounting. One way is to have your successor work in each business area.
Also have your successor join industry trade associations and community organizations to meet other executives and successors in diverse industries. In addition, require him or her to review and, if necessary, help update your company’s business plan.
To encourage your successor to develop relationships with key players inside and outside your company, include him or her in meetings with managers and trusted advisors, such as your accountant, lawyer, banker and insurance agent.
Ideally, when you walk away from your company, your successor will feel completely comfortable and ready to guide the business into a fruitful future. Please contact our firm for more help maximizing the effectiveness of your succession plan.
If your employees incur work-related travel expenses, you can better attract and retain the best talent by reimbursing these expenses. But to secure tax-advantaged treatment for your business and your employees, it’s critical to comply with IRS rules.
Reasons to reimburse
While unreimbursed work-related travel expenses generally are deductible on a taxpayer’s individual tax return (subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, many employees won’t be able to benefit from the deduction. Why?
It’s likely that some of your employees don’t itemize. Even those who do may not have enough miscellaneous itemized expenses to exceed the 2% of adjusted gross income floor. And only expenses in excess of the floor can actually be deducted.
On the other hand, reimbursements can provide tax benefits to both your business and the employee. Your business can deduct the reimbursements (also subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment), and they’re excluded from the employee’s taxable income — provided that the expenses are legitimate business expenses and the reimbursements comply with IRS rules. Compliance can be accomplished by using either the per diem method or an accountable plan.
Per diem method
The per diem method is simple: Instead of tracking each individual’s actual expenses, you use IRS tables to determine reimbursements for lodging, meals and incidental expenses, or just for meals and incidental expenses. (If you don’t go with the per diem method for lodging, you’ll need receipts to substantiate those expenses.)
The IRS per diem tables list localities here and abroad. They reflect seasonal cost variations as well as the varying costs of the locales themselves — so London’s rates will be higher than Little Rock’s. An even simpler option is to apply the “high-low” per diem method within the continental United States to reimburse employees up to $282 a day for high-cost localities and $189 for other localities.
You must be extremely careful to pay employees no more than the appropriate per diem amount. The IRS imposes heavy penalties on businesses that routinely fail to do so.
An accountable plan is a formal arrangement to advance, reimburse or provide allowances for business expenses. To qualify as “accountable,” your plan must meet the following criteria:
If you fail to meet these conditions, the IRS will treat your plan as nonaccountable, transforming all reimbursements into wages taxable to the employee, subject to income taxes (employee) and employment taxes (employer and employee).
Whether you have questions about which reimbursement option is right for your business or the additional rules and limits that apply to each, contact us. We’d be pleased to help.
In today’s competitive environment, offering employees an equity interest in your business can be a powerful tool for attracting, retaining and motivating quality talent. If your business is organized as a partnership, however, there are some tax traps you should watch out for. Once an employee becomes a partner, you generally can no longer treat him or her as an employee for tax and benefits purposes, which has significant tax implications.
Employees pay half of the Social Security and Medicare taxes on their wages, through withholdings from their paychecks. The employer pays the other half. Partners, on the other hand, are treated as being self-employed — they pay the full amount of “self-employment” taxes through quarterly estimates.
Often, when employees receive partnership interests, the partnership continues to treat them as employees for tax purposes, withholding employment taxes from their wages and paying the employer’s share. The problem with this practice is that, because a partner is responsible for the full amount of employment taxes, the partnership’s payment of a portion of those taxes will likely be treated as a guaranteed payment to the partner.
That payment would then be included in income and trigger additional employment taxes. Any employment taxes not paid by the partnership on a partner’s behalf are the partner’s responsibility.
Treating a partner as an employee can also result in overpayment of employment taxes. Suppose your partnership pays half of a partner’s employment taxes and the partner also has other self-employment activities — for example, interests in other partnerships or sole proprietorships. If those activities generate losses, the losses will offset the partner’s earnings from your partnership, reducing or even eliminating self-employment taxes.
Partners and employees are treated differently for purposes of many benefit plans. For example, employees are entitled to exclude the value of certain employer-provided health, welfare and fringe benefits from income, while partners must include the value in their income (although they may be entitled to a self-employed health insurance deduction). And partners are prohibited from participating in a cafeteria plan.
Continuing to treat a partner as an employee for benefits purposes may trigger unwanted tax consequences. And it could disqualify a cafeteria plan.
There are techniques that allow you to continue treating newly minted partners as employees for tax and benefits purposes. For example, you might create a tiered partnership structure and offer employees of a lower-tier partnership interests in an upper-tier partnership. Because these employees aren’t partners in the partnership that employs them, many of the problems discussed above will be avoided.
If your business is contemplating offering partnership interests to key employees, contact us for more information about the potential tax consequences and how to avoid any pitfalls.
All charitable donations aren’t created equal — some provide larger deductions than others. And it isn’t necessarily just how much or even what you donate that matters. How the charity uses your donation might also affect your deduction.
Take vehicle donations, for example. If you donate your vehicle, the value of your deduction can vary greatly depending on what the charity does with it.
Determining your deduction
You can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value (FMV) if the charity:
But in most other circumstances, if the charity sells the vehicle, your deduction is limited to the amount of the sales proceeds.
Getting proper substantiation
You also must obtain proper substantiation from the charity, including a written acknowledgment that:
For more information on these and other rules that apply to vehicle donation deductions — or deductions for other charitable gifts — please contact us.
You’d be hard pressed to find a company not looking to generate more leads, boost sales and improve its profit margins. Fortunately, you can take advantage of the sales and marketing opportunities offered by today’s digital technologies to do so. Here are four digital marketing tips for every business:
1. Add quality content to your website. Few things disappoint and disinterest customers like an outdated or unchanging website. Review yours regularly to ensure it doesn’t look too old and consider a noticeable redesign every few years.
As far as content goes, think variety. Helpful blog posts, articles and even whitepapers can establish your business as a knowledge leader in your industry. And don’t forget videos: They’re a great way to showcase just about anything. Beware, however, that posting amateurish-looking videos could do more harm than good. If you don’t have professional video production capabilities, you may need to hire a professional.
2. Leverage social media. If you’re not using social media tools already, focus on a couple of popular social media outlets — perhaps Facebook and Twitter — and actively post content on them. Remember, with some social media platforms, you can create posts and tweets in advance and then schedule them for release over time.
3. Interact frequently. This applies to all of your online channels, including your website, social media platforms, email and online review sites. For example, be sure to respond promptly to any queries you receive on your site or via email, and be quick to reply to questions and comments posted on your social media pages.
4. Tie it all together. It’s easy to end up with a hodgepodge of different online marketing tools that are operating independently of one another. Integrate your online marketing initiatives so they all have a similar style and tone. Doing so helps reassure customers that your business is an organized entity focused on delivering a clear message — and quality products or services.
When it comes to marketing, you don’t want to swing and miss. Our firm can help you assess the financial impact of your efforts and budget the appropriate amount to boosting visibility.
If you recently filed for your 2016 income tax return (rather than filing for an extension) you may now be wondering whether it’s likely that your business could be audited by the IRS based on your filing. Here’s what every business owner should know about the process.
Catching the IRS’s eye
Many business audits occur randomly, but a variety of tax-return-related items are likely to raise red flags with the IRS and may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:
An owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can also catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.
If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS won’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.
The good news is that many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the most severe version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors.
More good news: In no instance will the agency demand an immediate response. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. To do so, you’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.
If the IRS selects you for an audit, our firm can help you:
Don’t let an IRS audit ruin your year — be it this year, next year or whenever that letter shows up in the mail. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one happens in the first place.
A potential downside of tax-deferred saving through a traditional retirement plan is that you’ll have to pay taxes when you make withdrawals at retirement. Roth plans, on the other hand, allow tax-free distributions; the tradeoff is that contributions to these plans don’t reduce your current-year taxable income.
Unfortunately, your employer might not offer a Roth 401(k) or another Roth option, and modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)-based phaseouts may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA. Fortunately, there is a solution: the “back door” Roth IRA.
Are you phased out?
The 2017 contribution limit for all IRAs combined is $5,500 (plus an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution if you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31). You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable phaseout range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range:
(Note: Married taxpayers filing separately are subject to much lower phaseout ranges.)
Using the back door
If the income-based phaseout prevents you from making Roth IRA contributions and you don’t already have a traditional IRA, a “back door” IRA might be right for you.
How does it work? You set up a traditional account and make a nondeductible contribution to it. You then wait until the transaction clears and convert the traditional account to a Roth account. The only tax due will be on any growth in the account between the time you made the contribution and the date of conversion, which should be little, if any, assuming you’re able to make the conversion quickly.
More limited tax benefit in some cases
If you do already have a traditional IRA, the back-door Roth IRA strategy is still available but there will be more tax liability on the conversion. A portion of the amount you convert to a Roth IRA will be considered attributable to deductible contributions and thus be taxable. It doesn’t matter if you set up a new traditional IRA for the nondeductible contributions; all of your traditional IRAs will be treated as one for tax purposes.
Roth IRAs have other benefits and downsides you need to factor into your decision, and additional rules apply to IRA conversions. Please contact us for assistance in determining whether a backdoor Roth IRA is right for you.
Every company has at least one owner. And, in many cases, there exists leadership down through the organizational chart. But not every business has strong governance.
In a nutshell, governance is the set of rules, practices and processes by which a company is directed and controlled. Strengthening it can help ensure productivity, reduce legal risks and, when the time comes, ease ownership transitions.
Looking at business structure
Good governance starts with the initial organization (or reorganization) of a business. Corporations, for example, are required by law to have a board of directors and officers and to observe certain other formalities. So this entity type is a good place to explore the concept.
Other business structures, such as partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs), have greater flexibility in designing their management and ownership structures. But these entities can achieve strong governance with well-designed partnership or LLC operating agreements and a centralized management structure. They might, for instance, establish management committees that exercise powers similar to those of a corporate board.
Specifying the issues
For the sake of simplicity, however, let’s focus on governance issues in the context of a corporation. In this case, the business’s articles of incorporation and bylaws lay the foundation for future governance. The organizational documents might:
As you look over this list, consider whether and how any of these items might pertain to your company. There are, of course, other aspects to governance, such as establishing an ethics code and setting up protocols for information technology.
At the end of the day, strong governance is all about knowing your company and identifying the best ways to oversee its smooth and professional operation. Please contact our firm for help running a profitable, secure business.
Many companies take an ad hoc approach to technology. If you’re among them, it’s understandable; you probably had to automate some tasks before others, your tech needs have likely evolved over time, and technology itself is always changing.
Unfortunately, all of your different hardware and software may not communicate so well. What’s worse, lack of integration can leave you more vulnerable to security risks. For these reasons, some businesses reach a point where they decide to implement a strategic IT plan.
The objective of a strategic IT plan is to — over a stated period — roll out consistent, integrated, and secure hardware and software. In doing so, you’ll likely eliminate many of the security dangers wrought by lack of integration, while streamlining data-processing efficiency.
To get started, define your IT objectives. Identify not only the weaknesses of your current infrastructure, but also opportunities to improve it. Employee feedback is key: Find out who’s using what and why it works for them.
From a financial perspective, estimate a reasonable return on investment that includes a payback timetable for technology expenditures. Be sure your projections factor in both:
Also calculate the price of doing nothing. Describe the risks and potential costs of falling behind or failing to get ahead of competitors technologically.
Working in phases
When you’re ready to implement your strategic IT plan, devise a reasonable and patient time line. Ideally, there should be no need to rush. You can take a phased approach, perhaps laying the foundation with a new server and then installing consistent, integrated applications on top of it.
A phased implementation can also help you stay within budget. You’ll need to have a good idea of how much the total project will cost. But you can still allow flexibility for making measured progress without putting your cash flow at risk.
Bringing it all together
There’s nothing wrong or unusual about wandering the vast landscape of today’s business technology. But, at some point, every company should at least consider bringing all their bits and bytes under one roof. Please contact our firm for help managing your IT spending in a measured, strategic way.
Income and losses from investment real estate or rental property are passive by definition — unless you’re a real estate professional. Why does this matter? Passive income may be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and passive losses generally are deductible only against passive income, with the excess being carried forward.
Of course the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and might be eliminated under ACA repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation. But if/when such legislation will be passed and signed into law is uncertain. Even if the NIIT is eliminated, the passive loss issue will still be an important one for many taxpayers investing in real estate.
To qualify as a real estate professional, you must annually perform:
Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances. (Special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test.)
If you’re concerned you’ll fail either test and be subject to the 3.8% NIIT or stuck with passive losses, consider doing one of the following:
Increasing your involvement in the real estate activity. If you can pass the real estate professional tests, the activity no longer will be subject to passive activity rules.
Looking at other activities. If you have passive losses from your real estate investment, consider investing in another income-producing trade or business that will be passive to you. That way, you’ll have passive income that can absorb some or all of your passive losses.
Disposing of the activity. This generally allows you to deduct all passive losses — including any loss on disposition (subject to basis and capital loss limitations). But, again, the rules are complex.
Also be aware that the IRS frequently challenges claims of real estate professional status — and is often successful. One situation where the IRS commonly prevails is when the taxpayer didn’t keep adequate records of time spent on real estate activities.
If you’re not sure whether you qualify as a real estate professional, please contact us. We can help you make this determination and guide you on how to properly document your hours.
It can be difficult in the current job market for students and recent graduates to find summer or full-time jobs. If you’re a business owner with children in this situation, you may be able to provide them with valuable experience and income while generating tax savings for both your business and your family overall.
By shifting some of your business earnings to a child as wages for services performed by him or her, you can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income. For your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s wages must be reasonable.
Here’s an example of how this works: A business owner operating as a sole proprietor is in the 39.6% tax bracket. He hires his 17-year-old son to help with office work full-time during the summer and part-time into the fall. The son earns $6,100 during the year and doesn’t have any other earnings.
The business owner saves $2,415.60 (39.6% of $6,100) in income taxes at no tax cost to his son, who can use his $6,350 standard deduction (for 2017) to completely shelter his earnings. The business owner can save an additional $2,178 in taxes if he keeps his son on the payroll longer and pays him an additional $5,500. The son can shelter the additional income from tax by making a tax-deductible contribution to his own IRA.
Family taxes will be cut even if the employee-child’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction and IRA deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the child beginning at a rate of 10% instead of being taxed at the parent’s higher rate.
Saving employment taxes
If your business isn’t incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners, you might also save some employment tax dollars. Services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent aren’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes. And a similar exemption applies for federal unemployment tax (FUTA) purposes. It exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 while employed by his or her parent.
If you have questions about how these rules apply in your particular situation or would like to learn about other family-related tax-saving strategies, contact us.
Concentration risks are a threat to your supply chain. These occur when a company relies on a customer or supplier for 10% or more of its revenue or materials, or on several customers or suppliers located in the same geographic region. If a key customer or supplier experiences turmoil, the repercussions travel up or down the supply chain and can quickly and negatively impact your business.
To protect yourself, it’s important to look for concentration risks as you monitor your financials and engage in strategic planning. Remember to evaluate not only your own success and stability, but also that of your key customers and supply chain partners.
2 types of concentration
Businesses tend to experience two main types of concentration risks:
1. Product-related. If your company’s most profitable product line depends on a few key customers, you’re essentially at their mercy. Key customers that unexpectedly cut budgets or switch to a competitor could significantly lower revenues.
Similarly, if a major supplier suddenly increases prices or becomes lax in quality control, it could cause your profits to plummet. This is especially problematic if your number of alternative suppliers is limited.
2. Geographic. When gauging geographic risks, assess whether a large number of your customers or suppliers are located in one geographic region. Operating near supply chain partners offers advantages such as lower transportation costs and faster delivery. Conversely, overseas locales may enable you to cut labor and raw materials expenses.
But there are also potential risks associated with geographic centricity. Local weather conditions, tax rate hikes and regulatory changes can have a significant impact. And these threats increase substantially when dealing with global partners, which may also present risks in the form of geopolitical uncertainty and exchange rate volatility.
Your supply chain is much like your cash flow: When it’s strong, stable and uninterrupted, you’re probably in pretty good shape. Our firm can help you assess your concentration risks and find financially feasible solutions.
Mortgage interest rates are still at low levels, but they likely will increase as the Fed continues to raise rates. So if you’ve been thinking about helping your child — or grandchild — buy a home, consider acting soon. There also are some favorable tax factors that will help:
0% capital gains rate. If the child is in the 10% or 15% income tax bracket, instead of giving cash to help fund a down payment, consider giving long-term appreciated assets such as stock or mutual fund shares. The child can sell the assets without incurring any federal income taxes on the gain, and you can save the taxes you’d owe if you sold the assets yourself.
As long as the assets are worth $14,000 or less (when combined with any other 2017 gifts to the child), there will be no federal gift tax consequences — thanks to the annual gift tax exclusion. Married couples can give twice that amount tax-free if they split the gift. And if you don’t mind using up some of your lifetime exemption ($5.49 million for 2017), you can give even more. Plus, there’s the possibility that the gift and estate taxes could be repealed. If that were to happen, there’d be no limit on how much you could give tax-free (for federal purposes).
Low federal interest rates. Another tax-friendly option is lending funds to the child. Now is a good time for taking this step, too. Currently, Applicable Federal Rates — the rates that can be charged on intrafamily loans without causing unwanted tax consequences — are still quite low by historical standards. But these rates have begun to rise and are also expected to continue to increase this year. So lending money to a loved one for a home purchase sooner rather than later might be a good idea.
If you choose the loan option, it’s important to put a loan agreement in writing and actually collect payment (including interest) on the loan. Otherwise the IRS could deem the loan to actually be a taxable gift. Keep in mind that you’ll have to report the interest as income. But if the interest rate is low, the tax impact should be minimal.
If you have questions about these or other tax-efficient ways to help your child or grandchild buy a home, please contact us.
It’s a smaller business world after all. With the ease and popularity of e-commerce, as well as the incredible efficiency of many supply chains, companies of all sorts are finding it easier than ever to widen their markets. Doing so has become so much more feasible that many businesses quickly find themselves crossing state lines.
But therein lies a risk: Operating in another state means possibly being subject to taxation in that state. The resulting liability can, in some cases, inhibit profitability. But sometimes it can produce tax savings.
Do you have “nexus”?
Essentially, “nexus” means a business presence in a given state that’s substantial enough to trigger that state’s tax rules and obligations.
Precisely what activates nexus in a given state depends on that state’s chosen criteria. Triggers can vary but common criteria include:
Then again, one generally can’t say that nexus has a “hair trigger.” A minimal amount of business activity in a given state probably won’t create tax liability there. For example, an HVAC company that makes a few tech calls a year across state lines probably wouldn’t be taxed in that state. Or let’s say you ask a salesperson to travel to another state to establish relationships or gauge interest. As long as he or she doesn’t close any sales, and you have no other activity in the state, you likely won’t have nexus.
If your company already operates in another state and you’re unsure of your tax liabilities there — or if you’re thinking about starting up operations in another state — consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematic approach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activities may expose you.
Keep in mind that the results of a nexus study may not be negative. You might find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboring state. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state (if you don’t already have it) by, say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocate some income to that state and lower your tax bill.
The complexity of state tax laws offers both risk and opportunity. Contact us for help ensuring your business comes out on the winning end of a move across state lines.
Many business owners use a calendar year as their company’s tax year. It’s intuitive and aligns with most owners’ personal returns, making it about as simple as anything involving taxes can be. But for some businesses, choosing a fiscal tax year can make more sense.
What’s a fiscal tax year?
A fiscal tax year consists of 12 consecutive months that don’t begin on January 1 or end on December 31 — for example, July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The year doesn’t necessarily need to end on the last day of a month. It might end on the same day each year, such as the last Friday in March.
Flow-through entities (partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies) using a fiscal tax year must file their return by the 15th day of the third month following the close of their fiscal year. So, if their fiscal year ends on March 31, they would need to file their return by June 15. (Fiscal-year C corporations generally must file their return by the 15th day of the fourth month following the fiscal year close.)
When a fiscal year makes sense
A key factor to consider is that if you adopt a fiscal tax year you must use the same time period in maintaining your books and reporting income and expenses. For many seasonal businesses, a fiscal year can present a more accurate picture of the company’s performance.
For example, a snowplowing business might make the bulk of its revenue between November and March. Splitting the revenue between December and January to adhere to a calendar year end would make obtaining a solid picture of performance over a single season difficult.
In addition, if many businesses within your industry use a fiscal year end and you want to compare your performance to your peers, you’ll probably achieve a more accurate comparison if you’re using the same fiscal year.
Before deciding to change your fiscal year, be aware that the IRS requires businesses that don’t keep books and have no annual accounting period, as well as most sole proprietorships, to use a calendar year.
It can make a difference
If your company decides to change its tax year, you’ll need to obtain permission from the IRS. The change also will likely create a one-time “short tax year” — a tax year that’s less than 12 months. In this case, your income tax typically will be based on annualized income and expenses. But you might be able to use a relief procedure under Section 443(b)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code to reduce your tax bill.
Although choosing a tax year may seem like a minor administrative matter, it can have an impact on how and when a company pays taxes. We can help you determine whether a calendar or fiscal year makes more sense for your business.
Each year, millions of taxpayers claim an income tax refund. To be sure, receiving a payment from the IRS for a few thousand dollars can be a pleasant influx of cash. But it means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan for close to a year, which isn’t the best use of your money.
Fortunately, there is a way to begin collecting your 2017 refund now: You can review the amounts you’re having withheld and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making, and adjust them to keep more money in your pocket during the year.
Reasons to modify amounts
It’s particularly important to check your withholding and/or estimated tax payments if:
Even if you haven’t encountered any major life changes during the past year, changes in the tax law may affect withholding levels, making it worthwhile to double-check your withholding or estimated tax payments.
Making a change
You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even several times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.
While reducing withholdings or estimated tax payments will, indeed, put more money in your pocket now, you also need to be careful that you don’t reduce them too much. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you file your return, even if you pay your outstanding tax liability by the April 2018 deadline.
If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the rest of the year, please contact us.
Picking someone to lead your company after you step down is probably among the hardest aspects of retiring (or otherwise moving on). Sure, there are some business owners who have a ready-made successor waiting in the wings at a moment’s notice. But many have a few viable candidates to consider — others have too few.
When looking for a successor, for best results, keep an open mind. Don’t assume you have to pick any one person — look everywhere. Here are three hot spots to consider.
1. Your family. If yours is a family-owned business, this is a natural place to first look for a successor. Yet, because of the relationships and emotions involved, finding a successor in the family can be particularly complex. Make absolutely sure a son, daughter or other family member really wants to succeed you. But also keep in mind that desire isn’t enough. The loved one must also have the proper qualifications, as well as experience inside and, ideally, outside the company.
2. Nonfamily employees. Keep an eye out for company “stars” who are still early in their careers, regardless of their functional or geographic area. Start developing their leadership skills as early as possible and put them to the test regularly. For example, as time goes on, continually create new projects or positions that give them responsibility for increasingly larger and more complex profit centers to see how they’ll measure up.
3. The wide, wide world. If a family member or current employee just isn’t feasible, you can always look externally. A good way to start is simply by networking with people in your industry, former employees and professional advisors. You can also try placing an ad in a newspaper or trade publication, or on an Internet job site. Don’t forget executive search firms either; they’ll help screen candidates and conduct interviews.
At the end of the day, any successor — whether family member, employee or external candidate — must have the right stuff. Please contact our firm for help setting up an effective succession plan.
Providing a strong package of benefits is a competitive imperative in today’s business world. Like many employers, you’ve probably worked hard to put together a solid menu of offerings to your staff. Unfortunately, many employees don’t perceive the full value of the benefits they receive.
Why is this important? An underwhelming perception of value could cause good employees to move on to “greener” pastures. It could also inhibit better job candidates from seeking employment at your company. Perhaps worst of all, if employees don’t fully value their benefits, they might not fully use them — which means you’re wasting dollars and effort on procuring and maintaining a strong package.
Targeting life stage
Among the most successful communication strategies for promoting benefits’ value is often the least commonly used. That is, target the life stage of your employees.
For example, an employee who’s just entering the workforce in his or her twenties will have a much different view of a 401(k) plan than someone nearing retirement. A younger employee will also likely view health care benefits differently. Employers who tailor their communications to the recipient’s generation can improve their success rate at getting workers to understand their benefits.
Covering all bases
There are many other strategies to consider as well. For starters, create a year-round benefits communication program that features clear, concise language and graphics. Many employers discuss benefits with their workforces only during open enrollment periods.
Also, gather feedback to determine employees’ informational needs. You may learn that you have to start communicating in multiple languages, for instance. You might also be able to identify staff members who are particularly knowledgeable about benefits. These employees could serve as word-of-mouth champions of your package who can effectively explain things to others.
Identifying sound strategies
Given the cost and effort you put into choosing, developing and offering benefits to your employees, the payoff could be much better. We can help you ensure you’re getting the most bang for your benefits buck.
Private companies with more than one owner should have a buy-sell agreement to spell out how ownership shares will change hands should an owner depart. For businesses structured as C corporations, the agreements also have significant tax implications that are important to understand.
A buy-sell agreement sets up parameters for the transfer of ownership interests following stated “triggering events,” such as an owner’s death or long-term disability, loss of license or other legal incapacitation, retirement, bankruptcy, or divorce. The agreement typically will also specify how the purchase price for the departing owner’s shares will be determined, such as by stating the valuation method to be used.
Another key issue a buy-sell agreement addresses is funding. In many cases, business owners don’t have the cash readily available to buy out a departing owner. So insurance is commonly used to fund these agreements. And this is where different types of agreements — which can lead to tax issues for C corporations — come into play.
Under a cross-purchase agreement, each owner buys life or disability insurance (or both) that covers the other owners, and the owners use the proceeds to purchase the departing owner’s shares. Under a redemption agreement, the company buys the insurance and, when an owner exits the business, buys his or her shares.
Sometimes a hybrid agreement is used that combines aspects of both approaches. It may stipulate that the company gets the first opportunity to redeem ownership shares and that, if the company is unable to buy the shares, the remaining owners are then responsible for doing so. Alternatively, the owners may have the first opportunity to buy the shares.
C corp. tax consequences
A C corp. with a redemption agreement funded by life insurance can face adverse tax consequences. First, receipt of insurance proceeds could trigger corporate alternative minimum tax.
Second, the value of the remaining owners’ shares will probably rise without increasing their basis. This, in turn, could drive up their tax liability if they later sell their shares.
Heightened liability for the corporate alternative minimum tax is generally unavoidable under these circumstances. But you may be able to manage the second problem by revising your buy-sell as a cross-purchase agreement. Under this approach, owners will buy additional shares themselves — increasing their basis.
Naturally, there are downsides. If owners are required to buy a departing owner’s shares, but the company redeems the shares instead, the IRS may characterize the purchase as a taxable dividend. Your business may be able to mitigate this risk by crafting a hybrid agreement that names the corporation as a party to the transaction and allows the remaining owners to buy back the shares without requiring them to do so.
For more information on the tax ramifications of buy-sell agreements, contact us. And if your business doesn’t have a buy-sell in place yet, we can help you figure out which type of funding method will best meet your needs while minimizing any negative tax consequences.
Whether you filed your 2016 tax return by the April 18 deadline or you filed for an extension, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of documentation involved. While you need to hold on to all of your 2016 tax records for now, it’s a great time to take a look at your records for previous tax years to see what you can purge.
Consider the statute of limitations
At minimum, keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you likely can shred and toss — or electronically purge — most records related to tax returns for 2013 and earlier years (2012 and earlier if you filed for an extension for 2013).
In some cases, the statute of limitations extends beyond three years. If you understate your adjusted gross income by more than 25%, for example, the limitations period jumps to six years. And there is no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return or file a fraudulent one.
Keep some documents longer
You’ll need to hang on to certain records beyond the statute of limitations:
Tax returns. Keep them forever, so you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed.
W-2 forms. Consider holding them until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Why? In case a question arises regarding your work record or earnings for a particular year.
Records related to real estate or investments. Keep these as long as you own the asset, plus three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return (or six years if you’re concerned about the six-year statute of limitations).
This is only a sampling of retention guidelines for tax-related documents. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.
Just about every business intends to provide world-class customer service. And though many claim their customer service is exceptional, very few can back up that assertion. After all, once a company has established a baseline level of success in interacting with customers, it’s not easy to get to that next level of truly great service. But, fear not, there are ways to elevate your game and, ultimately, strengthen your bottom line in the process.
Start at the top
As is the case for many things in business, success starts at the top. Encourage your fellow owners (if any) and management team to regularly serve customers. Doing so cements customer relationships and communicates to employees that serving others is important and rewarding. Your involvement shows that customer service is the source of your company’s ultimate triumph.
Moving down the organizational chart, cultivate customer-service heroes. Publish articles about your customer service achievements in your company’s newsletter or post them on your website. Champion these heroes in meetings. Public praise turns ordinary employees into stars and encourages future service excellence.
Just make sure to empower all employees to make customer-service decisions. Don’t talk of catering to customers unless your staff can really take the initiative to meet your customers’ needs.
Create a system
Like everyone in today’s data-driven world, customers want information. So strive to provide immediate feedback to customers with a highly visible response system. This will let customers know that their input matters and you’ll reward them for speaking up.
The size and shape of this system will depend on the size, shape and specialty of the company itself. But it should likely encompass the right combination of instant, electronic responses to customer inquires along with phone calls and, where appropriate, face-to-face interactions that reinforce how much you value their business.
Give them a thrill
Consistently great customer service can be an elusive goal. You may succeed for months at a time only to suffer setbacks. Don’t get discouraged. Our firm can help you build a profitable company that excels at thrilling your customers.
Today’s businesses operate in an era of hyper-connectedness and, unfortunately, a burgeoning global cybercrime industry. You can’t afford to hope you’ll luck out and avoid a cyberattack. It’s essential to establish policies and procedures to minimize risk. One specific area on which to focus is your employees.
Know the threats
There are a variety of cybercrimes you need to guard against. For instance, thieves may steal proprietary or sensitive business data with the intention of selling that information to competitors or other hackers. Or they may be more interested in your employees’ or customers’ personal information for the same reason.
Some cybercriminals may not be necessarily looking to steal anything but rather disable or damage your business systems. For example, they may install “ransomware” that locks you out of your own data until you pay their demands. Or they might launch a “denial-of-service attack,” under which hackers overwhelm your site with millions of data requests until it can no longer function.
Naturally, crimes may be committed by shadowy outsiders. But, all too often, it’s a company employee who either leaves the door open for a cybercriminal or perpetrates the crime him- or herself.
For this reason, it’s essential for your hiring managers to be mindful of cybersecurity when reviewing employment applications — particularly those for positions that involve open access to sensitive company data. If an applicant has an unusual or spotty job history, be sure to find out why before hiring. Check references and conduct background checks as well.
For both new and existing employees, make sure your cybersecurity policies are crystal clear. Include a statement in your employment handbook informing employees that their communications are stored in a backup system, and that you reserve the right to monitor and examine company computers and emails (sent and received) on your system. When such monitoring systems are in place, prudence or suspicious activity will dictate when they should be ramped up.
These are just a few points to bear in mind in relation to your employees and cybercrime. Although most workers are honest and not looking to do harm, all it takes is one mistake or one bad apple to compromise your company’s cybersecurity. We can provide you with more ideas for protecting your data and your business systems.
Bartering might seem like something that happened only in ancient times, but the practice is still common today. And the general definition remains the same: the exchange of goods and services without the exchange of money. Because no cash changes hands in a typical barter transaction, it’s easy to forget about taxes. But, as one might expect, you can’t cut Uncle Sam out of the deal.
A taxing transaction
The IRS generally treats a barter exchange similarly to a transaction involving cash, so you must report as income the fair market value of the products or services you receive. If there are business expenses associated with the transaction, those can be deducted. Any income arising from a bartering arrangement is generally taxable in the year you receive the bartered product or service.
And income tax liability isn’t the only thing you’ll need to consider. Barter activities may also trigger self-employment taxes, employment taxes or an excise tax.
Barter in action
Let’s look at an example. Mike, a painting contractor, requires legal representation for a lawsuit. He engages Maria as legal counsel to represent him during the litigation. Maria charges Mike $6,000 for her work on the case.
Being short of cash, Mike agrees to paint Maria’s office in exchange for her $6,000 fee. Both Mike and Maria must report $6,000 of taxable gross income during the year the exchange takes place. Because Mike and Maria each operate a viable business, they’re entitled to deduct any business expenses resulting from the barter transaction.
Using an exchange company
You may wish to arrange a bartering deal though an exchange company. For a fee, one of these companies can allow you to network with other businesses looking to trade goods and services. For tax purposes, a barter exchange company typically must issue a Form 1099-B, “Proceeds From Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions,” annually to its clients or members.
Although bartering may appear cut and dried, the tax implications can complicate the deal. We can help you assess a bartering arrangement and manage the tax impact.
While April 15 (April 18 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that are important to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2017 deadlines, here’s a look at when some key tax-related forms, payments and other actions are due. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you.
Please review the calendar and let us know if you have any questions about the deadlines or would like assistance in meeting them.
It’s easy to think of lenders as doing your company a favor. But business financing relationships are just that: relationships. Yes, a lender has the working capital you need to grow. But a stable, successful business represents an enormously beneficial opportunity for the lender as well. So you should be just as picky with your lender as it is with your financials.
Where to start
If you indeed have a long-standing relationship with a local bank, make that your first call. There’s no understating the importance of familiarity, good communication and an amicable rapport when negotiating terms, making payments and dealing with whatever business complications may come up.
But should your local bank not offer the size or scope of financing needed, or if you’d just like to get an idea of what else is out there, don’t hesitate to shop around. Look for a lender with multiple loan products, so you have a better chance at structuring one to your liking. And get some referrals regarding the strength of service and support.
If yours is a small business, check into the availability of Small Business Administration or other government-backed loan programs. These are often designed to boost local economies, so you may be able to get favorable terms and rates.
Last, but not least, don’t limit yourself to traditional lenders. Today’s lending environment is competitive and technology driven. So businesses have a wide variety of alternatives, many of which are just a few clicks away. These include angel investors, online peer-to-peer lending networks and crowdsourcing.
Many, if not most, companies can’t grow without taking on some debt. But precisely how you go about using debt to your advantage depends largely on the lenders with which you choose to do business. Let us play matchmaker and help you find the ideal partner. We can also offer assistance in structuring and presenting your financial statements for best results.
Now that the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been withdrawn and it’s uncertain whether there will be any other health care reform legislation this year, it’s a good time to review some of the tax-related ACA provisions affecting businesses:
Small employer tax credit. Qualifying small employers can claim a credit to cover a portion of the cost of premiums paid to provide health insurance to employees. The maximum credit is 50% of premiums paid by the employer, provided it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium.
Penalties for not offering complying coverage. Applicable large employers (ALEs) — those with at least 50 full-time employees (or the equivalent) — are required to offer full-time employees affordable health coverage that meets certain minimum standards. If they don’t, they’re charged a penalty if just one full-time employee receives a tax credit for purchasing his or her own coverage through a health care marketplace. This is sometimes called the “employer mandate.”
Reporting of health care costs to employees. The ACA generally requires employers who filed 250 or more W-2 forms in the preceding year to annually report to employees the value of health insurance coverage they provide. The reporting requirement is informational only; it doesn’t cause health care benefits to become taxable.
Additional 0.9% Medicare tax. This applies to:
While there is no employer portion of this tax, employers are responsible for withholding the tax once an employee’s compensation for the calendar year exceeds $200,000, regardless of the employee’s filing status or income from other sources.
Cap on health care FSA contributions. The Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cap is indexed for inflation. For 2017, the maximum annual FSA contribution by an employee is $2,600.
There’s also one significant change that hasn’t kicked in yet: Beginning in 2020, the ACA calls for health insurance companies that service the group market and administrators of employer-sponsored health plans to pay a 40% excise tax on premiums that exceed the applicable threshold, generally $10,200 for self-only coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. This is commonly referred to as the “Cadillac tax.”
The ACA remains the law, at least for now. Contact us if you have questions about how it affects your business’s tax situation.
In business, and in life, among the most important ways to manage risk is through insurance. For certain types of companies — particularly start-ups and small businesses — one major threat is the sudden loss of an owner or hard-to-replace employee. To safeguard against this risk, insurers offer key person insurance.
Under a key person policy, a business buys life insurance covering the owner or employee, pays the premiums and names itself beneficiary. Should the key person die while the policy is in effect, the business receives the payout. As you formulate and adjust your succession plan, one of these policies can serve as a critical safeguard.
Costs and coverage
Key person insurance can take a variety of forms. Term policies last for a specified number of years, typically five to 20. Whole life (or permanent) policies, which are generally more expensive, provide coverage as long as premiums are paid, and they gradually build up cash surrender value. This value appears on a business’s balance sheet and may be drawn on, if the business needs working capital.
The cost of key person insurance also depends on the covered individual’s health, age and medical history, as well as the desired death benefit. When budgeting for premiums, bear in mind that premiums generally aren’t tax deductible. On the flip side, death benefits typically aren’t included in the business’s taxable income when received.
In terms of coverage limits, insurers may quote a rule of thumb of eight to 10 times the key person’s annual salary. But every business will have different cash flow needs when a key person unexpectedly dies. A more accurate estimate typically comes from evaluating lost income (or value), as well as the costs of finding and training a suitable replacement.
An important decision
If you’ve already chosen a successor, you can buy a policy that covers both of you. And if you haven’t, it may be even more critical to buy coverage on your life to protect the solvency of your business. Please contact our firm for help deciding whether key person insurance is for you.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
If you suffered damage to your home or personal property last year, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your 2016 federal income tax return. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.
Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses:
When to deduct. Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss on your return for the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.
Amount of loss. Your loss is generally the lesser of 1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or 2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty. This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive. (If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.)
$100 rule. After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.
10% rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.
Have questions about deducting casualty losses? Contact us!
Like many businesses, yours may allow retirement plan participants to take out loans from their accounts. Such loans are governed by many IRS and Department of Labor (DOL) rules and regulations. So if your company offers plan loans, your plan document must comply with current laws — including setting a “reasonable” interest rate.
Neither the IRS nor DOL provides a set percentage for plan sponsors to use. Yet both require the rate to be “reasonable.” The IRS asks if the interest rate is similar to local interest rates and to what local banks charge individuals for similar loans with similar credit and collateral. Meanwhile, DOL regulations say that an interest rate is reasonable if it’s equal to commercial lending interest rates under similar circumstances.
The DOL provides several examples of how to determine the interest rate. For example, suppose the plan loan interest rate is set at 8%, but local banks offer between 10% and 12% for similar circumstances. In this example, the loan will fail to meet the reasonable standard.
Keep in mind that the plan participant pays the interest to his or her own retirement plan account. That’s one reason why charging an interest rate that’s lower than what local banks are charging isn’t considered reasonable. The purpose of charging interest on retirement plan loans is to help prevent long-term harm to the participant’s retirement nest egg.
If your plan fails to assess a reasonable interest rate, participant loans may result in a prohibited transaction. What does this mean? Prohibited transactions are certain transactions between a retirement plan and a disqualified person. Disqualified persons taking part in a prohibited transaction must pay a tax.
A prohibited transaction includes the lending of money or other extension of credit between a plan and a disqualified person. However, the laws specifically exempt plan loans from the prohibited transaction list as long as they comply with applicable rules. If your interest rate isn’t reasonable, the plan loan may lose its exempt status and become subject to the prohibited transaction tax.
Ensuring you’re offering a reasonable plan loan interest rate is an ongoing task. Review your plan document and loan policy statement to determine whether the plan sets an interest rate. You may need to update the document to comply with the more recent regulations and interest rates. We can help you with this review, as well as in calculating a reasonable rate.
If you run a business “on the side” and derive most of your income from another source (whether from another business you own, employment or investments), you may face a peculiar risk: Under certain circumstances, this on-the-side business might not be a business at all in the eyes of the IRS. It may be a hobby.
The hobby loss rules
Generally, a taxpayer can deduct losses from profit-motivated activities, either from other income in the same tax year or by carrying the loss back to a previous tax year or forward to a future tax year. But, to ensure these pursuits are really businesses — and not mere hobbies intended primarily to offset other income — the IRS enforces what are commonly referred to as the “hobby loss” rules.
If you haven’t earned a profit from your business in three out of five consecutive years, including the current year, you’ll bear the burden of proof to show that the enterprise isn’t merely a hobby. But if this profit test can be met, the burden falls on the IRS. In either case, the agency looks at factors such as the following to determine whether the activity is a business or a hobby:
Dangers of reclassification
If your enterprise is reclassified as a hobby, you can’t use a loss from the activity to offset other income. You may still write off certain expenses related to the hobby, but only to the extent of income the hobby generates. If you’re concerned about the hobby loss rules, we can help you evaluate your situation.
If you have a child in college, you may be eligible to claim the American Opportunity credit on your 2016 income tax return. If, however, your income is too high, you won’t qualify for the credit — but your child might. There’s one potential downside: If your dependent child claims the credit, you must forgo your dependency exemption for him or her. And the child can’t take the exemption.
The maximum American Opportunity credit, per student, is $2,500 per year for the first four years of postsecondary education. It equals 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified expenses, plus 25% of the next $2,000 of such expenses.
The ability to claim the American Opportunity credit begins to phase out when modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) enters the applicable phaseout range ($160,000–$180,000 for joint filers, $80,000–$90,000 for other filers). It’s completely eliminated when MAGI exceeds the top of the range.
Running the numbers
If your American Opportunity credit is partially or fully phased out, it’s a good idea to assess whether there’d be a tax benefit for the family overall if your child claimed the credit. As noted, this would come at the price of your having to forgo your dependency exemption for the child. So it’s important to run the numbers.
Dependency exemptions are also subject to a phaseout, so you might lose the benefit of your exemption regardless of whether your child claims the credit. The 2016 adjusted gross income (AGI) thresholds for the exemption phaseout are $259,400 (singles), $285,350 (heads of households), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).
If your exemption is fully phased out, there likely is no downside to your child taking the credit. If your exemption isn’t fully phased out, compare the tax savings your child would receive from the credit with the savings you’d receive from the exemption to determine which break will provide the greater overall savings for your family.
We can help you run the numbers and can provide more information about qualifying for the American Opportunity credit.
Company retreats can cost enormous amounts of time and money. Are they worth it? Sometimes. Large-scale get-togethers can involve considerable out-of-pocket costs. And if the retreat is poorly planned or executed, participants’ wasted time is the biggest expense.
But a properly budgeted, planned and executed retreat can be hugely profitable, producing fresh ideas, renewed enthusiasm and heightened employee morale. Here are a few ways to get your money’s worth out of a company retreat.
Create specific objectives
First, nail down your goals and objectives. Several months ahead of time, determine and prioritize a list of the important issues you want to address. But include only the top two or three on the final agenda. Otherwise, you risk rushing through some items without adequate time for discussion and formalized action plans.
If one of the objectives is to include time for socializing, recreation or relaxation, great. Mixing fun with work keeps people energized. But if staff see the retreat as merely time away from the office to party and golf, don’t expect to complete many work-related agenda items. One successful way to mix work and pleasure is to schedule work sessions for the morning and more fun, team-building exercises later in the day.
Set limits, allow flexibility
Next, work on the budget. Determining available resources early in the planning process will help you set limits for such variable costs as location, accommodations, food, transportation, speakers and entertainment.
Instead of insisting on certain days for the retreat, select a range of possible dates. This openness helps with site selection and makes it easier to negotiate favorable hotel and travel rates. Keep your budget as flexible as possible, building in a 5% to 10% safety cushion. Always expect unforeseen, last-minute expenses.
Company retreats are serious business in the sense that you’re sacrificing time and productivity to identify strategic goals and improve teamwork. But these events should still be fun experiences for you and your staff. We can help you establish a reasonable budget to help ensure an enjoyable, productive and cost-effective retreat.
Like many business owners, you might also own highly appreciated business or investment real estate. Fortunately, there’s an effective tax planning strategy at your disposal: the Section 1031 “like kind” exchange. It can help you defer capital gains tax on appreciated property indefinitely.
How it works
Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allows you to defer gains on real or personal property used in a business or held for investment if, instead of selling it, you exchange it solely for property of a “like kind.” In fact, these arrangements are often referred to as “like-kind exchanges.” Thus, the tax benefit of an exchange is that you defer tax and, thereby, have use of the tax savings until you sell the replacement property.
Personal property must be of the same asset or product class. But virtually any type of real estate will qualify as long as it’s business or investment property. For example, you can exchange a warehouse for an office building, or an apartment complex for a strip mall.
Executing the deal
Although an exchange may sound quick and easy, it’s relatively rare for two owners to simply swap properties. You’ll likely have to execute a “deferred” exchange, in which you engage a qualified intermediary (QI) for assistance.
When you sell your property (the relinquished property), the net proceeds go directly to the QI, who then uses them to buy replacement property. To qualify for tax-deferred exchange treatment, you generally must identify replacement property within 45 days after you transfer the relinquished property and complete the purchase within 180 days after the initial transfer.
An alternate approach is a “reverse” exchange. Here, an exchange accommodation titleholder (EAT) acquires title to the replacement property before you sell the relinquished property. You can defer capital gains by identifying one or more properties to exchange within 45 days after the EAT receives the replacement property and, typically, completing the transaction within 180 days.
The rules for like-kind exchanges are complex, so these arrangements present some risks. If, say, you exchange the wrong kind of property or acquire cash or other non-like-kind property in a deal, you may still end up incurring a sizable tax hit. Be sure to contact us when exploring a Sec. 1031 exchange.
If last year your business made repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, you may be eligible for a valuable deduction on your 2016 income tax return. But you must make sure they were truly “repairs,” and not actually “improvements.”
Why? Costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years. But costs incurred on incidental repairs and maintenance can be expensed and immediately deducted.
What’s an “improvement”?
In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be capitalized. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.
Under the “betterment test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.
Under the “restoration test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.
Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.
2 safe harbors
Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:
1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS.
Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be capitalized, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.
2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.
There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. Contact us for details on these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions.
Employers that hire individuals who are members of a “target group” may be eligible for the Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC). If you made qualifying hires in 2016 and obtained proper certification, you can claim the WOTC on your 2016 tax return. Whether or not you’re eligible for 2016, keep the WOTC in mind in your 2017 hiring, because the credit is also available for 2017.
In fact, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) extended the WOTC through 2019. The PATH Act also expanded the credit beginning in 2016 to apply to employers that hire qualified individuals who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more.
What are the “target groups”?
Besides the long-term unemployed, target groups include:
* Designated community residents who live in Empowerment Zones or rural renewal counties,
* Long-term family assistance recipients,
* Qualified ex-felons,
* Qualified recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),
* Qualified veterans,
* Summer youth employees,
* Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients,
* Supplemental Security Income benefits recipients, and
* Vocational rehabilitation referrals for individuals who suffer from an employment handicap resulting from a physical or mental handicap.
How much is the credit worth?
Qualifying employers can claim the WOTC as a general business credit against their income tax. The amount of the credit depends on the:
* Target group of the individual hired,
* Wages paid to that individual, and
* Number of hours that individual worked during the first year of employment.
The maximum credit that can be earned for each member of a target group is generally $2,400 per employee. The credit can be as high as $9,600 for certain veterans. Employers aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible individuals they can hire. In other words, if there are 10 individuals that qualify, the credit can be 10 times the amount listed.
Before you can claim the WOTC, you must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you.
But if you hired long-term unemployment recipients between January 1, 2016, and May 31, 2016, the IRS extended the deadline to June 29, 2016, as long as the individuals started work for you on or after January 1, 2016, and before June 1, 2016.
The WOTC can lower your company’s tax liability when you hire qualified new employees. We can help you determine whether an employee qualifies, calculate the applicable credit and answer other questions you might have.
Was a college student in your family last year? Or were you a student yourself? You may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2016 return. To max out your higher education breaks, you need to see which ones you’re eligible for and then claim the one(s) that will provide the greatest benefit. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return.
Credits vs. deductions
Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed. A couple of credits are available for higher education expenses:
1. The American Opportunity credit — up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education.
2. The Lifetime Learning credit — up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses, even beyond the first four years.
But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.
If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, the Lifetime Learning credit isn’t necessarily the best alternative.
Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.
Be aware that the tuition and fees deduction expired December 31, 2016. So it won’t be available on your 2017 return unless Congress extends it or makes it permanent.
How much can your family save?
Keep in mind that, if you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2016 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.
Many business owners are accustomed to running the whole show. But as your company grows, you’ll likely be better off sharing responsibility for major decisions. Whether you’ve recruited experienced managers or developed “home grown” talent, you can empower these employees by taking a more collaborative approach to management.
Not employees — team members
Successful collaboration starts with a new mindset. Stop thinking of your managers as employees and instead regard them as team members working toward the same common goals. To promote collaboration and make the best use of your human resources, clearly communicate your strategic objectives. For example, if you’ve prioritized expanding into new territories, make sure your managers aren’t still focusing on extracting new business from current sales areas.
You also must be willing to listen to your managers’ ideas — and to act on the viable ones. Relinquishing control can be hard for business owners, but keep the advantages in mind. A collaborative approach distributes the decision-making burden, so it doesn’t fall on just your shoulders. This may relieve stress and allow you to focus on areas of the company you may have neglected.
Confidence and development
Even as you move to a more collaborative management model and include employees in strategic decisions, don’t forget to recognize their individual skills and talents. You and other managers may have uncertainties about a new marketing plan, for instance, but you should trust your marketing director to carry it out with minimal oversight.
To ensure that managers know they have your confidence, conduct regular performance reviews where you note their contributions and accomplishments and explore opportunities for growth. Moreover, help them grow professionally by providing constructive, ongoing training to develop their leadership and teamwork skills.
An open mind
As you learn to trust your management team with greater responsibility, keep in mind that the process can be bumpy. In a crisis, your instinct may be to take charge and brush off your managers’ advice. But it’s critical to keep your mind open and be receptive to input from people who may one day run your company. Let our firm assist you in assessing the profitability impact of your management team.
The federal income tax filing deadline for calendar-year partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or S corporations for tax purposes is March 15. While this deadline is nothing new for S corporation returns, it’s earlier than previous years for partnership returns.
In addition to providing continued funding for federal transportation projects, the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 changed the due dates for several types of tax and information returns, including partnership income tax returns. The revised due dates are generally effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2015. In other words, they apply to the tax returns for 2016 that are due in 2017.
The new deadlines
The new due date for partnerships with tax years ending on December 31 to file federal income tax returns is March 15. For partnerships with fiscal year ends, tax returns are due the 15th day of the third month after the close of the tax year.
Under prior law, returns for calendar-year partnerships were due April 15. And returns for fiscal-year partnerships were due the 15th day of the fourth month after the close of the fiscal tax year.
One of the primary reasons for moving up the partnership filing deadline was to make it easier for owners to file their personal returns by the April 15 deadline (April 18 in 2017 because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday). After all, partnership (and S corporation) income flows through to the owners. The new date should allow owners to use the information contained in the partnership forms to file their personal returns.
If you haven’t filed your partnership or S corporation return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Under the new law, the maximum extension for calendar-year partnerships is six months (until September 15). This is up from five months under prior law. So the extension deadline doesn’t change — only the length of the extension. The extension deadline for calendar-year S corporations also remains at September 15. But you must file for the extension by March 15.
Keep in mind that, to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by the unextended deadline. There may not be any tax liability from the partnership or S corporation return. But if filing for an extension for the entity return causes you to also have to file an extension for your personal return, you need to keep this in mind related to the individual tax return April 18 deadline.
Filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now. Please contact us if you need help or have questions about the filing deadlines that apply to you or avoiding interest and penalties.
It’s not uncommon for adult children to help support their aging parents. If you’re in this position, you might qualify for the adult-dependent exemption. It allows eligible taxpayers to deduct up to $4,050 for each adult dependent claimed on their 2016 tax return.
For you to qualify for the adult-dependent exemption, in most cases your parent must have less gross income for the tax year than the exemption amount. (Exceptions may apply if your parent is permanently and totally disabled.) Generally Social Security is excluded, but payments from dividends, interest and retirement plans are included.
In addition, you must have contributed more than 50% of your parent’s financial support. If you shared caregiving duties with a sibling and your combined support exceeded 50%, the exemption can be claimed even though no one individually provided more than 50%. However, only one of you can claim the exemption.
Factors to consider
Even though Social Security payments can usually be excluded from the adult dependent’s income, they can still affect your ability to qualify. Why? If your parent is using Social Security money to pay for medicine or other expenses, you may find that you aren’t meeting the 50% test.
Don’t forget about your home. If your parent lives with you, the amount of support you claim under the 50% test can include the fair market rental value of part of your residence. If the parent lives elsewhere — in his or her own residence or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home — any amount of financial support you contribute to that housing expense counts toward the 50% test.
Easing the financial burden
Sometimes caregivers fall just short of qualifying for the exemption. Should this happen, you may still be able to claim an itemized deduction for the medical expenses that you pay for the parent. To receive a tax benefit, the combined medical expenses paid for you, your dependents and your parent must exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.
The adult-dependent exemption is just one tax break that you may be able to employ to ease the financial burden of caring for an elderly parent. Contact us for more information on qualifying for this break or others.
At the beginning of the year, many people decide they’re going to get in the best shape of their lives. Similarly, many business owners declare that they intend to cut costs and operate at peak efficiency going forward.
But, like keeping up an exercise routine, controlling costs takes an ongoing effort. You need to not only review expenses now, but also commit yourself to doing so regularly. Here are some key points to keep in mind.
Choosing where to slim down
A good cost-control plan starts by clearly identifying manageable expenses in every business area — no exceptions. Prime candidates include:
• Contracts for phone and data service, hardware, and software,
• Lease agreements for office space, plant and warehouse space, and equipment,
• Mission-critical supplies and assets (such as safety gear, tools and vehicles),
• Maintenance contracts (for example, janitorial service),
• Repairs and leasehold improvements, and
• Utilities and office supplies.
Controlling expenses in these and other areas doesn’t mean one-time cost cutting, which is really just a reaction to a problem. Cost control requires foresight and strategic management.
Going the distance
Indeed, many business owners sometimes confuse cost-control programs with cost-cutting initiatives. The difference is that a cost-control plan should be a long-term solution — not just a quick-fix measure to make budget or shore up a bad quarter.
Managing expenses should be a strategic decision that starts at the top and is clearly communicated down the organizational chart. Train and encourage your managers to accurately track costs with an eye toward maximizing profitability. In turn, team leaders should work with their employees to solve the problems driving up expenses. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive.
Boosting cash flow
Controlling costs is among the best ways to maintain or increase cash flow. Tightly managed expenses free up dollars for profitable operations, prevent excessive inventory and wasteful spending, and keep cash available for business growth. Need help with your cost-control regimen? Please contact our firm.
Last year you may have made significant gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs as part of your estate planning strategy. Or perhaps you just wanted to provide loved ones with some helpful financial support. Regardless of the reason for making a gift, it’s important to know under what circumstances you’re required to file a gift tax return.
Some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax. And sometimes it’s desirable to file a return even if it isn’t required.
When filing is required
Generally, you’ll need to file a gift tax return for 2016 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:
• That exceeded the $14,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse),
• That exceeded the $148,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse,
• That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $28,000 annual exclusions,
• To a Section 529 college savings plan for your child, grandchild or other loved one and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($70,000) into 2016,
• Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount, or
• Of jointly held or community property.
When filing isn’t required
No return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of annual exclusion gifts, present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse, qualifying educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, and political or charitable contributions.
If you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.
Meeting the deadline
The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2016 returns, it’s April 18, 2017 (or October 16 if you file for an extension). If you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is also April 18, regardless of whether you file for an extension.
Have questions about gift tax and the filing requirements? Contact us to learn more.
As the saying goes, nothing lasts forever — and that goes for most companies. Then again, with the right succession plan in place, you can do your part to ensure your business continues down a path of success for at least another generation. From there, it will be your successor’s job to propel it further into perpetuity.
Some business owners make the mistake of largely ignoring succession planning under the assumption that it’s taken care of within their estate plans. Others create a succession plan but fail to adequately integrate it into their estate plan. To avoid these mistakes, it’s important to recognize the difference between succession planning and estate planning.
Similar, but different
Essentially, succession planning is the careful identification and training of those who will not only take over the day-to-day operations of your company, but also lead it forward to future growth. Your family members and other heirs will likely be affected here. But many others will be as well — including your named successor (whether or not a family member), business partners, employees, vendors and customers.
Estate planning, meanwhile, involves determining the distribution of your assets through gifting strategies, wills and other tools (such as trusts and insurance). The people affected by it are your family members and other heirs.
Because of this important distinction, it’s critical to undertake succession planning and estate planning as a joint effort. After all, who gets leadership responsibilities in the business and who gets ownership interests in the business may or may not be the same.
You must ask yourself who is best suited to run the business when you depart, and what ownership transfer plan will treat you and all of your heirs fairly or otherwise achieve your estate planning goals. This includes, among other things, knowing when you want to retire and how much income you’ll need to do it.
Success today and tomorrow
Do you have both a clear succession plan and a well-documented estate plan? And are the two compatible in every respect? To make absolutely sure you can answer “yes” to both of these questions, please contact us. Our firm can help you develop plans that will distribute your assets per your wishes while putting your company in the best position to succeed going forward.
In December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act. The long and complex bill covers a broad range of health care topics, but of particular interest to some businesses should be the Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) provision. Specifically, qualified small employers can now use HRAs to reimburse employees who purchase individual insurance coverage, rather than providing employees with costly group health plans.
The need for HRA relief
Employers can use HRAs to reimburse their workers’ medical expenses, including health insurance premiums, up to a certain amount each year. The reimbursements are excludable from employees’ taxable income, and untapped amounts can be rolled over to future years. HRAs generally have been considered to be group health plans for tax purposes.
But the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits group health plans from imposing annual or lifetime benefits limits and requires such plans to provide certain preventive services without any cost-sharing by employees. And according to previous IRS guidance, “standalone HRAs” — those not tied to an existing group health plan — didn’t comply with these rules, even if the HRAs were used to purchase health insurance coverage that did comply. Businesses that provided the HRAs were subject to fines of $100 per day for each affected employee.
The IRS position was troublesome for smaller businesses that struggled to pay for traditional group health plans or to administer their own self-insurance plans. The changes in the Cures Act give these employers a third option for providing one of the benefits most valued by today’s employees.
Under the Cures Act, certain small employers can maintain general purpose, standalone HRAs that aren’t “group health plans” for most purposes under the Internal Revenue Code, Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Public Health Service Act.
More specifically, the legislation allows employers that aren’t “applicable large employers” under the ACA to provide a Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA) if they don’t offer a group health plan to any of their employees. Annual benefits under a QSEHRA:
• Can’t exceed an indexed maximum of $4,950 per year ($10,000 if family members are covered),
• Must be employer-funded (no salary reductions), and
• Can be used for only IRC Section 213(d) medical care.
QSEHRA benefits must be offered on the same terms to all “eligible employees” (certain individuals can be disregarded) and may be excluded from income only if the recipient has minimum essential coverage. There is a notice requirement and employees’ permitted benefits must be reported on Form W-2.
If you’re interested in exploring the QSEHRA option for your business, contact us for further details.
“I’m taking a sick day!” This familiar refrain usually is uttered with just cause, but not always. What if there were no sick days? No, we’re not suggesting employees be forced to work when they’re under the weather. Rather, many businesses are adopting a different paradigm when it comes to paid time off (PTO).
Under the “PTO bank” concept, employers merge most (or all) of the traditional components of excused absences (vacation time, sick time, personal days and so on) into one simple employee-managed account, typically offering not quite as many PTO days as under a traditional PTO system. One benefit of this approach is that employers are no longer put in a position to have to judge whether leave is used appropriately. PTO banks may not work for every business, but more and more companies are finding them beneficial.
6 primary motivations
There are a number of reasons that employers are offering PTO banks. Specifically, according to a survey by the HR professional society WorldatWork, here are the six primary motivations:
1. Greater flexibility for employees. Like their employers, many employees appreciate not having to worry about distinguishing vacation time from sick time.
2. Ease of administration. Employers don’t have to deal with the complications of separating the various PTO components, which makes the HR and payroll staff’s job easier.
3. Increased cost effectiveness. More efficient administration often reduces the costs of time and resources spent dealing with employee absences and lost productivity.
4. The ability to stay competitive with other companies. Many employees and job candidates view PTO banks as a more contemporary and appealing approach to excused absences.
5. Reduced absenteeism. Interestingly, some employers have seen employees miss fewer work days once PTO banks have been established — possibly because of the greater sense of control employees have over their time.
6. Improved employee morale. Simplifying the PTO process and gaining greater command over their time off is typically viewed as a positive, empowering thing by employees.
Although these many potential benefits may seem enticing, PTO banks may not be right for every employer. For example, you may not want to disrupt your current system if it’s working well. Please contact our firm for a review of your PTO approach and how it’s affecting your financials.
Section 529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for college expenses. Here are just a few of the benefits:
Prepaid tuition plans
With this type of 529 plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young.
One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board.
This type of 529 plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers. Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries.
But each time you make a new contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child.
As you can see, each 529 plan type has its pluses and minuses. Whether a prepaid tuition plan or a savings plan is better depends on your situation and goals. If you’d like help choosing, please contact us.
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