Tax Guide: Individual Gift Tax Return

Abstract:   As the combined gift and estate tax exemption continues to increase, fewer families will be subject to federal gift taxes. If a person’s wealth is well within the exemption amount, does that mean he or she doesn’t need to file a gift tax return? This article examines situations in which it’s necessary (and desirable) to file a return. A sidebar explains the benefits of making direct payments of medical and education expenses.

Do you need to file gift tax returns?

Avoid these common mistakes

For 2019, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption has reached a whopping $11.40 million ($22.80 million for married couples). As a result, few people will be subject to federal gift taxes. If your wealth is well within the exemption amount, does that mean there’s no need to file gift tax returns? Not necessarily. There are many situations in which it’s necessary (or desirable) to file Form 709, “United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return” — even if you’re not liable for any gift taxes.

All gifts are taxable, except . . .

The federal gift tax regime begins with the assumption that all transfers of property by gift (including below-market sales or loans) are taxable, and then sets forth several exceptions. Nontaxable transfers that need not be reported on Form 709 include:

·      Gifts of present interests (as opposed to future interests; see below) within the gift tax annual exclusion amount ($15,000 per recipient in 2019),

·      Direct payments of qualifying medical or educational expenses on behalf of an individual (see “Medical and educational expenses: Direct payments only”),

·      Gifts to political organizations and certain tax-exempt organizations,

·      Deductible charitable gifts, and

·      Gifts to your U.S.-citizen spouse, either outright or to a trust that meets certain requirements, or gifts to your noncitizen spouse within a special annual exclusion amount ($155,000 for 2019).

If all your gifts for the year fall into these categories, no gift tax return is required. But gifts that don’t meet these requirements are generally considered taxable — and must be reported on Form 709 — even if they’re shielded from tax by the lifetime exemption.

Traps to avoid

If you make gifts during the year, consider whether you’re required to file Form 709. And watch out for these common traps:

Future interests. Gifts of future interests, such as transfers to a trust, aren’t covered by the gift tax annual exclusion, so you’re required to report them on Form 709 even if they’re less than $15,000. Be aware, however, that it’s possible to have gifts in trust meet the present interest requirement by giving beneficiaries Crummey withdrawal powers (the right to withdraw a contribution for a limited time after it’s made).

Spousal gifts. If you make a gift to a trust for your spouse’s benefit and want the gift to qualify as a nontaxable transfer, the trust must 1) provide that your spouse is entitled to all the trust’s income for life, payable at least annually, 2) give your spouse a general power of appointment over its assets and 3) not be subject to any other person’s power of appointment. Otherwise, the gift must be reported. And be careful with gifts to a noncitizen spouse: If they exceed the $155,000 annual exclusion, they must be reported regardless of whether they’re outright gifts or gifts in trust.

Gift splitting. Spouses may elect to split a gift to a child or other donee, so that each spouse is deemed to have made one-half of the gift, even if one spouse wrote the check. This allows married couples to combine their annual exclusions and give up to $30,000 to each recipient in 2019. To make the election, the donor spouse must file Form 709, and the other spouse must sign a consent or, in some cases, file a separate gift tax return. Keep in mind that, once you make this election, you and your spouse must split all gifts to third parties during the year.

529 plans. If you make gifts to a 529 college savings plan, you have the option of bunching five years’ worth of annual exclusions into the first year. So, for example, you can contribute $75,000 to the plan ($150,000 if you and your spouse split the gift) and treat the gift as if it were made over the next five years for annual exclusion purposes. To take advantage of this benefit, you must file an election on Form 709.

Consider filing voluntarily

It may be a good idea to file a gift tax return even if it’s not required. For example, if you make annual exclusion gifts of difficult-to-value assets, such as interests in a closely held business, a gift tax return that meets “adequate disclosure” requirements will trigger the three-year limitations period for audits.

Suppose you transfer business interests valued at $10 million over a period of years, through a combination of tax-free gifts to your spouse and annual exclusion gifts to your children. If the IRS finds that the interests were worth $15 million, which exceeds the lifetime exemption amount, it can assess gift taxes plus penalties and interest. If you don’t file regular gift tax returns, the IRS has unlimited time to challenge the values of your gifts.

Stay on the right side of the IRS

A smart gifting strategy continues to offer significant benefits for you and your loved ones. However, to keep from running afoul of the IRS, it’s critical to know when you need to file a gift tax return. We can help you in that determination.

Sidebar: Medical and educational expenses: Direct payments only

Paying tuition or unreimbursed medical expenses on behalf of a child or other loved one is a great strategy for making unlimited tax-free gifts without using up any of your $15,000 annual exclusion or $11.40 million lifetime exemption. But it works only if you make the payments directly to a qualifying educational institution or medical provider.

A common mistake is for a parent or grandparent to advance the child the funds he or she needs to pay the expenses or to reimburse him or her for expenses that have already been paid. These payments are treated as gifts to the child, which must be reported on Form 709 if they exceed the annual exclusion amount.

© 2019

Tax Guide: Business Repair vs. Improvement

Abstract:   Business owners may think that, if they repair a piece of tangible property, they’ll qualify for an immediate tax deduction. But the IRS may define that “repair” as an “improvement,” and require the costs to be depreciated over a much longer period. This article explores the difference.

Did you repair your business property or improve it?

Repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, can provide businesses a valuable current tax deduction — as long as the so-called repairs weren’t actually “improvements.”

The costs of incidental repairs and maintenance can be immediately expensed and deducted on the current year’s income tax return. But costs incurred to improve tangible property must be capitalized and recovered through depreciation.

Betterment, restoration or adaptation

Generally, a cost must be depreciated if it results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system), or to other tangible property. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.

Under the “betterment test,” you generally must depreciate 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 depreciate 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 depreciate 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.

Safe harbors

A couple of IRS safe harbors can help distinguish between repairs and improvements:

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 depreciated, 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.

More to learn

To learn more about these safe harbors and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions, contact us.

© 2019

Tax Guide: Individual Investment Accounts

Abstract:   When investing for retirement or other long-term goals, people usually prefer tax-advantaged accounts. But traditional taxable accounts may still make more sense for certain investments. This article discusses the difference between “taxable” and “tax-advantaged” and which types of investments tend to work the best where.

Taxable vs. tax-advantaged: Where to hold investments

When investing for retirement or other long-term goals, people usually prefer tax-advantaged accounts, such as IRAs, 401(k)s or 403(b)s. Certain assets are well suited to these accounts, but it may make more sense to hold other investments in taxable accounts.

Know the rules

Some investments, such as fast-growing stocks, can generate substantial capital gains. These gains are recognized and generally taxable when you sell a security for more than you paid for it.

If you’ve owned that position for over a year, you qualify for the long-term gains rate, generally 15% or 20%. The long-term gains rate also applies to qualified dividends. In contrast, short-term gains, on investments held a year or less, are taxed at your ordinary-income tax rate — which might be as high as 37%. Nonqualified dividends and interest income are also generally subject to your ordinary-income rate. The 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) might also apply to capital gains, dividends and interest, depending on your income.

But if an investment is held in a tax-deferred account, like a traditional IRA, 401(k) or 403(b), there’s no tax liability until you take distributions from the account. At that time, the distribution is taxed at your ordinary-income tax rate. However, the NIIT doesn’t apply to retirement plan distributions.

Choose tax efficiency

Generally, the more tax efficient an investment, the more benefit you’ll get from owning it in a taxable account. Conversely, investments that lack tax efficiency normally are best suited to tax-advantaged vehicles.

Consider municipal bonds (“munis”), either held individually or through mutual funds. Munis are attractive to tax-sensitive investors because their income is exempt from federal income taxes and sometimes state and local income taxes. Because you don’t get a double benefit when you own an already tax-advantaged security in a tax-advantaged account, holding munis in your 401(k) or IRA would result in a lost opportunity.

Similarly, tax-efficient investments such as passively managed index mutual funds or exchange-traded funds, or long-term stock holdings, are generally appropriate for taxable accounts. These securities are more likely to generate long-term capital gains, which have more favorable tax treatment. Securities that generate more of their total return via capital appreciation or that pay qualified dividends are also better taxable account options.

Take advantage of income

What investments work best for tax-advantaged accounts? Taxable investments that tend to produce much of their return in income. This category includes corporate bonds, especially high-yield bonds, as well as real estate investment trusts (REITs), which are required to pass through most of their earnings as shareholder income. Most REIT dividends are nonqualified and therefore taxed at your ordinary-income rate.

Another tax-advantaged-appropriate investment may be an actively managed mutual fund. Funds with significant turnover — meaning their portfolio managers are actively buying and selling securities — have increased potential to generate short-term gains that ultimately get passed through to you. Because short-term gains are taxed at a higher rate than long-term gains, these funds would be less desirable in a taxable account.

Get specific advice

The above concepts are only general suggestions. Please contact us for specific advice on what may be best for you.

© 2019

Tax Guide: Individual Charitable IRA Rollover

Abstract:   One downside of contributing to a traditional IRA is that, once the taxpayer reaches age 70½, he or she must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) — and pay taxes on them — whether or not he or she needs the money. But a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), also known as a “charitable IRA rollover,” lets people avoid taxes on up to $100,000 in RMDs. This article highlights the advantages of QCDs over ordinary donations and explains their requirements.

Charitable IRA rollover eases tax pain of RMDs

One downside of contributing to a traditional IRA is that, once you reach age 70½, you must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) — and pay taxes on those distributions — whether you need the money or not. But if you’re charitably inclined, you can use a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) to avoid taxes on up to $100,000 in RMDs per year.

Also known as a “charitable IRA rollover,” a QCD is a direct transfer from your IRA to an eligible charity. It counts as a distribution for RMD purposes, but it’s excluded from your income. And it has certain tax advantages over traditional charitable contributions.

Advantage of QCDs over ordinary donations

When you receive an RMD, it’s taxable to the extent it’s attributable to deductible contributions and earnings on those contributions. (Amounts attributable to nondeductible contributions are tax-free.)

One strategy for reducing these taxes is to donate the taxable portion (or an equivalent amount) to charity. If the donation is fully deductible, it will offset the taxable income that’s generated by the distribution. Depending on your tax situation, however, this strategy may be less effective than a QCD:

·      A charitable deduction will benefit you only if you itemize. And that’s less likely now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has nearly doubled the standard deduction.

·      Even if you itemize, adjusted gross income (AGI) limits may reduce your charitable deductions. For instance, deductions for cash gifts to public charities are currently limited to 60% of AGI.

·      By boosting your income, IRA distributions may trigger AGI-based rules that punch up certain taxes or deflate the benefits of certain tax breaks.

A QCD avoids these issues because it bypasses your income altogether. It allows you to take the equivalent of a charitable deduction — regardless of your income level or whether you itemize — and it won’t increase your AGI. Another advantage of QCDs is that they’re deemed to come from the taxable portion of your IRA first, increasing the portion of the remaining balance that’s nontaxable.

QCD requirements

If you’re considering a QCD, you must meet several requirements:

·      You must be at least 70½ at the time of the distribution. (Reaching that age during the tax year isn’t enough.)

·      The IRA must distribute the funds directly to an eligible charity — generally, a public charity, private operating foundation or “conduit” private foundation. 

·      The donation must be “otherwise deductible.” In other words, it would have been fully deductible (disregarding AGI limits) had you funded it with non-IRA assets. If you receive something of value in exchange for your gift (tickets to an event, for example), it’s not a QCD.

·      The distribution must be “otherwise taxable.” It’s not a QCD to the extent it would be tax-free if distributed to you directly.

In addition, QCDs are subject to the same substantiation requirements as other charitable donations.

A tax-efficient strategy

If you don’t need your IRA funds for living expenses and you plan to donate to charity anyway, a QCD offers a tax-efficient strategy for satisfying your RMD requirements. The TCJA may enhance the advantages of QCDs because it increased standard deduction amounts, but keep in mind that these amounts are scheduled to return to their previous levels in 2026. Contact us for help determining the best RMD and charitable giving strategies for you.

© 2019

Tax Guide: Business Loss Deductions

Abstract:   Sole proprietorships and pass-through entity structures, which include partnerships, S corporations and certain limited liability companies (LLCs), provide owners with some valuable tax benefits, such as avoidance of double taxation and the potential ability to deduct losses from the business on their individual tax returns. But the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has placed some limitations on deducting business losses. This article looks at the changes in the rules and how they affect sole proprietors and owners of pass-throughs.

Excess business loss rule may be unfavorable to you

Sole proprietorships and pass-through entity structures, which include partnerships, S corporations and certain limited liability companies (LLCs), provide owners with some valuable tax benefits, such as avoidance of double taxation and the potential ability to deduct losses from the business on their individual tax returns. But the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has placed some limitations on deducting business losses. Here’s a look at the changes in the rules and how they might affect you.

The way it was

Before the TCJA, an individual taxpayer’s business losses could usually be fully deducted in the tax year when they arose. That was the result unless the passive activity loss (PAL) rules or some other provision of tax law limited that favorable outcome, or the business loss was so large that it exceeded taxable income from other sources, creating a net operating loss (NOL).

Under prior law, you could carry back an NOL to the two preceding tax years. You also could carry it forward for up to 20 tax years.

The way it is now

Through 2025, the TCJA changes the rules for deducting an individual taxpayer’s business losses. Unfortunately, the changes are unfavorable to affected taxpayers.

Before we look at the changes, it’s important to review how the PAL rules work. They may apply if your business is a rental operation or you don’t actively participate in the business.

In general, the PAL rules allow you to deduct passive losses only to the extent you have passive income from other sources, such as positive income from other business or rental activities or gains from selling them. Passive losses that can’t be currently deducted are carried forward to future years until you either have sufficient passive income to absorb them or you sell the activity that produced the losses.

If you successfully cleared the hurdles imposed by the PAL rules, the TCJA places a new hurdle in front of you: For tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct an “excess business loss” in the current year. For 2019, an excess business loss is the excess of your aggregate business deductions for the tax year over the sum of $255,000 (or $510,000 if you’re a married joint-filer) and your aggregate business income and gains for the tax year.

The excess business loss is carried forward to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for NOL carryforwards. For NOLs that arise in tax years ending after December 31, 2017, you generally can’t use an NOL carryforward to shelter more than 80% of your taxable income in the carryforward year. (Under prior law, you could usually shelter up to 100%.)

In addition, NOLs that arise in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, can’t be carried back to an earlier tax year. Instead, they can be carried forward indefinitely.

More considerations

As noted, the new loss limitation rules apply after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your business or rental activity loss, the loss limitation rules are irrelevant.

For business losses passed through to individuals from S corporations, partnerships and LLCs that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes, the new loss limitation rules apply at the owner level. In other words, each owner’s allocable share of business income, gain, deduction or loss is passed through to the owner and reported on the owner’s personal federal income tax return for the owner’s tax year that includes the end of the entity’s tax year.

Practical impact

The rationale underlying the new loss limitation rules is to further restrict the ability of individual taxpayers to use current-year business losses (including losses from rental activities) to offset income from other sources, such as salary, self-employment income, interest, dividends and capital gains.

The practical impact is that, if you have excess business losses for 2019, the requirement that such losses must be carried forward as an NOL forces you to wait at least one year to get any tax benefit from those excess losses.

If it looks like your business may generate a loss in 2019, contact us to help you determine the impact of the TCJA on your tax situation.

© 2019

6 ways to ensure your marketing plan drives sales

“Love and marriage,” goes the old song: “…You can’t have one without the other.” This also holds true for sales and marketing. Even the best of sales staffs will struggle if not supported by a well-researched and carefully executed marketing plan. Here are six ways to ensure your marketing plan is likely to drive strong sales:

1. Keep customers aware of all your products and services. Among the fundamental objectives of any marketing plan is to familiarize those who buy from you with everything you’re offering. But what often happens is that customers get overly focused on just a few products or services, which in turn limits sales. Make sure your marketing plan maintains the visibility of your total product or service line.

2. Distinguish your products and services from those of competitors. Your salespeople will stand a much greater chance of success if your customers believe you’re the only place to get precisely what they’re looking for. Your marketing plan should emphasize the distinctive value offered by your products or services and how they differ from those of competitors. A key part of this effort involves monitoring the competition’s marketing activities and responding in kind.

3. Benchmark your marketing/advertising budgets. Are competitors outspending you? If so, your sales staff is fighting an uphill battle. To find out, use competitive intelligence and publicly available industry data to determine the average marketing and advertising budgets for companies of similar size and specialty in your area.

4. Search for new markets. While your sales staff is out on the front lines, your marketing team needs to be spending time back at the office looking for additional buyers (or types of buyers). Undertake this research carefully and methodically. When you believe you’ve found a new market, adjust your marketing plan as necessary and train salespeople on how to best traverse this unfamiliar terrain.

5. Track new leads generated through marketing. A good marketing plan not only keeps existing customers engaged and informed, but also pulls in new prospects. Do you know how successful your company has been at doing so? Your sales team may be able to generate some leads themselves, but your marketing department must do its fair share. If it’s not, something needs to change.

6. Update your marketing plan regularly. Coming up with a comprehensive, viable marketing plan isn’t easy. Once they’ve got one, many businesses make the mistake of sticking with it too long, leaving their sales departments to struggle in a dynamic, ever-changing marketplace.

Review your marketing plan often, at least quarterly, and adjust it based on both hard numbers (metrics and sales results) and feedback from your sales staff. Our firm can help you identify, track and better understand the analytical data that aligns a good marketing plan with strong sales figures.

© 2019

Understanding and controlling the unemployment tax costs of your business

As an employer, you must pay federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on amounts up to $7,000 paid to each employee as wages during the calendar year. The rate of tax imposed is 6% but can be reduced by a credit (described below). Most employers end up paying an effective FUTA tax rate of 0.6%. An employer taxed at a 6% rate would pay FUTA tax of $420 for each employee who earned at least $7,000 per year, while an employer taxed at 0.6% pays $42.

Tax credit

Unlike FICA taxes, only employers — and not employees — are liable for FUTA tax. Most employers pay both federal and a state unemployment tax. Unemployment tax rates for employers vary from state to state. The FUTA tax may be offset by a credit for contributions paid into state unemployment funds, effectively reducing (but not eliminating) the net FUTA tax rate.

However, the amount of the credit can be reduced — increasing the effective FUTA tax rate —for employers in states that borrowed funds from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits and defaulted on repaying the loan.

Some services performed by an employee aren’t considered employment for FUTA purposes. Even if an employee’s services are considered employment for FUTA purposes, some compensation received for those services — for example, most fringe benefits — aren’t subject to FUTA tax.

Recognizing the insurance principle of taxing according to “risk,’’ states have adopted laws permitting some employers to pay less. Your unemployment tax bill may be influenced by the number of former employees who’ve filed unemployment claims with the state, the current number of employees you have and the age of your business. Typically, the more claims made against a business, the higher the unemployment tax bill.

Here are four ways to help control your unemployment tax costs:

1. If your state permits it, “buy down” your unemployment tax rate. Some states allow employers to annually buy down their rate. If you’re eligible, this could save you substantial unemployment tax dollars.

2. Hire conservatively and assess candidates. 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.

It’s often worth having job candidates undergo assessments before they’re hired to see if they’re the right match for your business and the position available. Hiring carefully can increase the likelihood that new employees will work out.

3. Train for success. Many unemployment insurance claimants are awarded benefits despite employer assertions that the employees failed to perform adequately. This may occur because the hearing officer concludes the employer didn’t provide the employee with enough training to succeed in the job.

4. Handle terminations carefully. If you must terminate an employee, consider giving him or her severance as well as 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 a claimant finds a new job.

If you have questions about unemployment taxes and how you can reduce them, contact us. We’d be pleased to help.

© 2019

Kiddie tax: New hazards, new opportunities

Despite its name, the “kiddie tax” is far from child’s play. And a change made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) puts some adult teeth into the tax. Now, children with unearned income may find themselves in a tax bracket higher than that of their parents. At the same time, the TCJA creates new opportunities for family income shifting. 

Income shifting discouraged 

At one time, parents could substantially reduce their families’ tax bills by transferring investments or other income-producing assets to their children in lower tax brackets. To discourage this strategy, Congress established the kiddie tax in 1986. The tax essentially eliminated the advantages of income shifting by taxing all but a small portion of a child’s unearned income at his or her parents’ marginal rate. 

When the kiddie tax was first enacted, it applied only to children under 14, but in 2007 Congress raised the age threshold to 19 (24 for full-time students). Note that the kiddie tax doesn’t apply to children who reach 19 (or 24, if applicable) by the last day of the tax year. In addition, the tax doesn’t apply to children who either 1) are married and file joint returns, or 2) are 18 or older and have earned income that exceeds half of their living expenses. 

Tax bite bigger 

Now the kiddie tax applies according to the tax brackets for trusts and estates, rather than at the parents’ marginal rate. In previous years, the kiddie tax essentially undid the benefits of shifting investment income to one’s children. By applying the parents’ marginal rate to that income, the tax result was about the same as if the parents had retained ownership of the assets.  

But the TCJA’s approach can push children into a tax bracket higher than that of their parents in many cases. That’s because, for 2019, the highest marginal tax rate for trusts and estates — currently, 37% — kicks in when taxable income exceeds $12,750. For individuals, that rate doesn’t apply until taxable income reaches $510,300 ($612,350 for joint filers). 

Planning opportunity 

Although the new kiddie tax rules can lead to harsh consequences for many families, they may create tax-saving opportunities for higher-income taxpayers. Because the tax is now applied using the progressive rate structure for trusts and estates, rather than the parents’ marginal rate, parents can shift a limited amount of investment income to their children at lower tax rates. For example, parents in the 37% tax bracket can shift income up to $14,950 (the $2,200 unearned income threshold plus $12,750) before the 37% rate applies. 

There are also several ways to shift income to your kids without triggering kiddie tax issues. For example, you can: 

  • Transfer investments that emphasize capital appreciation over current income, allowing the child to defer income until the kiddie tax no longer applies, 

  • Transfer tax-deferred savings bonds, 

  • Transfer tax-exempt municipal bonds, 

  • Contribute to 529 college savings plans, and 

  • Hire your kids. 

Employing your children can be beneficial because earned income isn’t subject to kiddie tax; plus, your business can deduct the expense. 

Look before leaping 

Depending on your circumstances, shifting income to your children may reduce your tax bill. But given the risk that income-shifting may increase it, look closely at the kiddie tax before you attempt this strategy. 

© 2019 

Meal, travel and entertainment expenses: Know what’s deductible and properly substantiate

When owners, managers and salespeople attend trade shows, call on customers or evaluate suppliers, they may incur meal, travel and entertainment expenses. Many of these expenses may be deductible if they’re properly substantiated, but some of the rules have changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).  

Entertainment expenses no longer deductible 

“Entertainment” expenses used to often be lumped in with meal and travel expenses, but the rules for entertainment expenses have changed dramatically under the TCJA. Specifically, it disallows deductions for most business-related entertainment expenses, including the cost of facilities used to entertain customers. 

Examples of nondeductible expenses under the TCJA include: 

  • Tickets to sporting events, 

  • License fees for stadium or arena seating rights, 

  • Private boxes at sporting events, 

  • Theater tickets, 

  • Golf club dues and greens fees, 

  • Company golf outings for customers, and 

  • Hunting, fishing, and sailing outings.  

Some business-related entertainment expenses may still be deductible, but only in very limited circumstances (such as when entertainment is presented at an event open to the public).  

Keep detailed records  

Business meal and travel expenses are still deductible if they qualify as legitimate business expenses, though the deduction for meal expenses continues to be limited to 50% in most cases.  

You must keep detailed records to substantiate any business expense. But it’s especially important for meal and travel expenses. Why? These expenses are IRS hot buttons, so those records are likely to be scrutinized if you’re audited.  

Proper substantiation includes these details about the expense: 

  • The amount, 

  • The time and place, and 

  • The business purpose.  

The IRS allows recordkeeping shortcuts under certain circumstances. For example, a business owner may opt to use the standard mileage rate, as established by the IRS for a given tax year, in lieu of substantiating actual auto expenses. In 2019, the standard mileage rate is 58 cents per mile for business travel. In addition, if you drive the same route consistently, you may be able to use an accurate record for part of the year to show your business mileage for the whole year. 

If you reimburse employees for meal and travel expenses, make sure they’re complying with all the rules. And enforce a policy that requires timely expense report submission. It’s almost impossible to re-create expense logs at year end or to wait until the IRS sends a deficiency notice.  

Review policies and procedures 

If you haven’t done so already, it’s important to assess your company’s expense allowance policies to determine if the TCJA provisions warrant changes — especially for entertainment expenses.  

© 2019 

The TCJA limit on interest expense deductions... Does it affect your business?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) introduced a variety of tax benefits for businesses. Among other things, it slashed corporate income tax rates, temporarily reduced individual rates and established a new 20% deduction for certain pass-through income. At the same time, the act placed limits on several tax breaks, including the amount of interest expense a business may deduct. 

“Small” businesses are exempt 

Before you worry about the mechanics of the business interest limit, you should determine whether you qualify for the small business exemption. Businesses whose average annual gross receipts for the preceding three years are $25 million or less aren’t subject to the limit and, with a few rare exceptions, may deduct all their business interest expense.  

Keep in mind that some related businesses must combine their gross receipts for purposes of the $25 million test. So, you can’t avoid the limit by splitting a larger business into separate entities. 

How it works 

If your gross receipts exceed the $25 million threshold, then under the TCJA your annual deduction for business interest expense is limited to the sum of: 

  1. Your business interest income, 

  1. 30% of your adjusted taxable income, and 

  1. Your floor-plan financing interest (for dealers in some motor vehicles, boats and farm equipment).  

Put another way, aside from floor-plan financing, your net interest expense — that is, interest expense less interest income — is deductible up to 30% of adjusted taxable income. Note: The limit doesn’t apply to investment interest.  

Your adjusted taxable income is your taxable income without regard to: 

  • Nonbusiness income, 

  • Business interest expense or income, 

  • The amount of any net operating loss deduction, 

  • The 20% pass-through deduction, and 

  • Depreciation, amortization or depletion. 

The last adjustment expires at the end of 2021. In other words, beginning in 2022, adjusted taxable income will be reduced by the amount of depreciation, amortization and depletion, limiting business interest deductions even further. 

Disallowed interest expense may be carried forward indefinitely and deducted in subsequent years, subject to the same limits. 

Real property and farming businesses may opt out 

Some real property businesses — including development, construction, management, leasing and brokerage — may elect not to apply the business interest limit. The trade-off is that these businesses must forgo 100% bonus depreciation and depreciate specific assets over longer periods.  

Once made, the election is irrevocable. A similar election is available for farming businesses. 

What about pass-through entities? 

A complete discussion of the application of the business interest limit to pass-through entities is beyond the scope of this article. But in general, the limit applies at the entity level.  

For a partnership, any interest above the limit is passed through to the partners and carried forward until it can be offset against “excess taxable income” allocated to the partners.  Excess taxable income is essentially partnership income in each year that’s sufficient to support interest deductions beyond the partnership’s actual interest expense for that year.  

For an S corporation, excess interest is carried over at the entity level until the corporation generates sufficient income to absorb it. 

Next steps to take 

If your average annual gross receipts exceed $25 million, estimate the impact of the business interest limit on your tax bill. If it’s significant, consider strategies for softening the blow, such as shifting from debt to equity financing. If you have a real property or farming business, weigh the costs and benefits of opting out of the interest limit. 

© 2019 

The chances of an IRS audit are low, but business owners should be prepared

Many business owners ask: How can I avoid an IRS audit? The good news is that the odds against being audited are in your favor. In fiscal year 2018, the IRS audited approximately 0.6% of individuals. Businesses, large corporations and high-income individuals are more likely to be audited but, overall, audit rates are historically low.

There’s no 100% guarantee that you won’t be picked for an audit, because some tax returns are chosen randomly. However, completing your returns in a timely and accurate fashion with our firm certainly works in your favor. And it helps to know what might catch the attention of the IRS.

Audit red flags

A variety of tax-return entries may raise red flags with the IRS and may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:

  • Significant inconsistencies between previous years’ filings and your most current filing,

  • Gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of other businesses in your industry, and

  • Miscalculated or unusually high deductions.

Certain types of deductions may be questioned by the IRS because there are strict recordkeeping requirements for them • for example, auto and travel expense deductions. In addition, an owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.

How to respond

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.

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 harshest version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors. (Note: Ignore unsolicited email messages about an audit. The IRS doesn’t contact people in this manner. These are scams.)

Keep in mind that the tax agency won’t demand an immediate response to a mailed notice. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. 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 chooses you for an audit, our firm can help you:

  • Understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always crystal clear),

  • Gather the specific documents and information needed, and

  • •Respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.

Don’t panic if you’re contacted by the IRS. Many audits are routine. 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 will happen in the first place.

© 2019

Does your team know the profitability game plan?

Autumn brings falling leaves and … the gridiron. Football teams — from high school to pro — are trying to put as many wins on the board as possible to make this season a special one.

For business owners, sports can highlight important lessons about profitability. One in particular is that you and your coaches must learn from your mistakes and adjust your game plan accordingly to have a winning year.

Spot the fumbles

More specifically, your business needs to identify the profit fumbles that are hurting your ability to score bottom-line touchdowns and, in response, execute earnings plays that improve the score. Doing so is always important but takes on added significance as the year winds down and you want to finish strong.

Your company’s earnings game plan should be based partly on strong strategic planning for the year and partly from uncovering and working to eliminate such profit fumbles as:

  • Employees interacting with customers poorly, giving a bad impression or providing inaccurate information,

  • Pricing strategies that turn off customers or bring in inadequate revenue, and

  • Supply chain issues that slow productivity.

Ask employees at all levels whether and where they see such fumbles. Then assign a negative dollar value to each fumble that keeps your organization from reaching its full profit potential.

Once you start putting a value on profit fumbles, you can add them to your income statement for a clearer picture of how they affect net profit. Historically, unidentified and unmeasured profit fumbles are buried in lower sales and inflated costs of sales and overhead.

Fortify your position

After you’ve identified one or more profit blunders, act to fortify your offensive line as you drive downfield. To do so:

Define (or redefine) the game plan. Work with your coaches (management, key employees) to devise specific profit-building initiatives. Calculate how much each initiative could add to the bottom line. To arrive at these values, you’ll need to estimate the potential income of each initiative — but only after you’ve projected the costs as well.

Appoint team leaders. Each profit initiative must have a single person assigned to champion it. When profit-building strategies become everyone’s job, they tend to become no one’s job. All players on the field must know their jobs and where to look for leadership.

Communicating clearly and building consensus. Explain each initiative to employees and outline the steps you’ll need to achieve them. If the wide receiver doesn’t know his route, he won’t be in the right place when the quarterback throws the ball. Most important, that wide receiver must believe in the play.

Win the game

With a strong profit game plan in place, everyone wins. Your company’s bottom line is strong, employees are motivated by the business’s success and, oh yes, customers are satisfied. Touchdown! We can help you perform the financial analyses to identity your profit fumbles and come up with budget-smart initiatives likely to build your bottom line.

© 2019

How to treat your business website costs for tax purposes

These days, most businesses need a website to remain competitive. It’s an easy decision to set one up and maintain it. But determining the proper tax treatment for the costs involved in developing a website isn’t so easy.

That’s because the IRS hasn’t released any official guidance on these costs yet. Consequently, you must apply existing guidance on other costs to the issue of website development costs.

Hardware and software

First, let’s look at the hardware you may need to operate a website. The costs involved fall under the standard rules for depreciable equipment. Specifically, once these assets are up and running, you can deduct 100% of the cost in the first year they’re placed in service (before 2023). This favorable treatment is allowed under the 100% first-year bonus depreciation break.

In later years, you can probably deduct 100% of these costs in the year the assets are placed in service under the Section 179 first-year depreciation deduction privilege. However, Sec. 179 deductions are subject to several limitations.

For tax years beginning in 2019, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $1.02 million, subject to a phaseout rule. Under the rule, the deduction is phased out if more than a specified amount of qualified property is placed in service during the year. The threshold amount for 2019 is $2.55 million.

There’s also a taxable income limit. Under it, your Sec. 179 deduction can’t exceed your business taxable income. In other words, Sec. 179 deductions can’t create or increase an overall tax loss. However, any Sec. 179 deduction amount that you can’t immediately deduct is carried forward and can be deducted in later years (to the extent permitted by the applicable limits).

Similar rules apply to purchased off-the-shelf software. However, software license fees are treated differently from purchased software costs for tax purposes. Payments for leased or licensed software used for your website are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

Software developed internally

If your website is primarily for advertising, you can also currently deduct internal website software development costs as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

An alternative position is that your software development costs represent currently deductible research and development costs under the tax code. To qualify for this treatment, the costs must be paid or incurred by December 31, 2022.

A more conservative approach would be to capitalize the costs of internally developed software. Then you would depreciate them over 36 months.

Third party payments

Some companies hire third parties to set up and run their websites. In general, payments to third parties are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

Before business begins

Start-up expenses can include website development costs. Up to $5,000 of otherwise deductible expenses that are incurred before your business commences can generally be deducted in the year business commences. However, if your start-up expenses exceed $50,000, the $5,000 current deduction limit starts to be chipped away. Above this amount, you must capitalize some, or all, of your start-up expenses and amortize them over 60 months, starting with the month that business commences.

We can help

We can determine the appropriate treatment for these costs for federal income tax purposes. Contact us if you have questions or want more information.

© 2019

How to research a business customer’s creditworthiness

Extending credit to business customers can be an effective way to build goodwill and nurture long-term buyers. But if you extend customer credit, it also brings sizable financial risk to your business, as cash flow could grind to a halt if these customers don’t make their payments. Even worse, they could declare bankruptcy and bow out of their obligations entirely.

For this reason, it’s critical to thoroughly research a customer’s creditworthiness before you offer any arrangement. Here are some ways to do so:

Follow up on references. When dealing with vendors and other businesses, trade references are key. As you’re likely aware, these are sources that can describe past payment experiences between a business and a vendor (or other credit user).

Contact the potential customer’s trade references to check the length of time the parties have been working together, the approximate size of the potential customer’s account and its payment record. Of course, a history of late payments is a red flag.

Check banking info. Similarly, you’ll want to follow up on the company’s bank references to determine the balances in its checking and savings accounts, as well as the amount available on its line of credit. Equally important, determine whether the business has violated any of its loan covenants. If so, the bank could withdraw its credit, making it difficult for the company to pay its bills.

Order a credit report. You may want to order a credit report on the business from one of the credit rating agencies, such as Dun & Bradstreet or Experian. Among other information, the reports describe the business’s payment history and tell whether it has filed for bankruptcy or had a lien or judgment against it.

Most credit reports can be had for a nominal amount these days. The more expensive reports, not surprisingly, contain more information. The higher price tag also may allow access to updated information on a company over an extended period.

Explore traditional and social media. After you’ve completed your financial analysis, find out what others are saying — especially if the potential customer could make up a significant portion of your sales. Search for articles in traditional media outlets such as newspapers, magazines and trade publications. Look for anything that may raise concerns, such as stories about lawsuits or plans to shut down a division.

You can also turn to social media and look at the business’s various accounts to see its public “face.” And you might read reviews of the business to see what customers are saying and how the company reacts to inevitable criticisms. Obviously, social media shouldn’t be used as a definitive source for information, but you might find some useful insights.

Although assessing a potential customer’s ability to pay its bills requires some work up front, making informed credit decisions is one key to running a successful company. Our firm can help you with this or other financially critical business practices.

© 2019

5 ways to withdraw cash from your corporation while avoiding dividend treatment

Do you want to withdraw cash from your closely held corporation at a low tax cost? The easiest way is to distribute cash as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax-efficient, since it’s taxable to you to the extent of your corporation’s “earnings and profits.” But it’s not deductible by the corporation.

Different approaches

Fortunately, there are several alternative methods that may allow you to withdraw cash from a corporation while avoiding dividend treatment. Here are five ideas:

1. Capital repayments. To the extent that you’ve capitalized the corporation with debt, including amounts that you’ve advanced to the business, the corporation can repay the debt without the repayment being treated as a dividend. Additionally, interest paid on the debt can be deducted by the corporation. This assumes that the debt has been properly documented with terms that characterize debt and that the corporation doesn’t have an excessively high debt-to-equity ratio. If not, the “debt” repayment may be taxed as a dividend. If you make cash contributions to the corporation in the future, consider structuring them as debt to facilitate later withdrawals on a tax-advantaged basis.

2. Salary. Reasonable compensation that you, or family members, receive for services rendered to the corporation is deductible by the business. However, it’s also taxable to the recipient. The same rule applies to any compensation (in the form of rent) that you receive from the corporation for the use of property. In either case, the amount of compensation must be reasonable in relation to the services rendered or the value of the property provided. If it’s excessive, the excess will be nondeductible and treated as a corporate distribution.

3. Loans. You may withdraw cash from the corporation tax-free by borrowing money from it. However, to avoid having the loan characterized as a corporate distribution, it should be properly documented in a loan agreement or a note and be made on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would lend money to you. This should include a provision for interest and principal. All interest and principal payments should be made when required under the loan terms. Also, consider the effect of the corporation’s receipt of interest income.

4. Fringe benefits. Consider obtaining the equivalent of a cash withdrawal in fringe benefits that are deductible by the corporation and not taxable to you. Examples are life insurance, certain medical benefits, disability insurance and dependent care. Most of these benefits are tax-free only if provided on a nondiscriminatory basis to other employees of the corporation. You can also establish a salary reduction plan that allows you (and other employees) to take a portion of your compensation as nontaxable benefits, rather than as taxable compensation.

5. Property sales. You can withdraw cash from the corporation by selling property to it. However, certain sales should be avoided. For example, you shouldn’t sell property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a loss, since the loss will be disallowed. And you shouldn’t sell depreciable property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a gain, since the gain will be treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain. A sale should be on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would purchase the property. You may need to obtain an independent appraisal to establish the property’s value.

Minimize taxes

If you’re interested in discussing any of these ideas, contact us. We can help you get the maximum out of your corporation at the minimum tax cost.

© 2019

For best results, start your strategic planning early

Time flies when you’re having fun — and running a business. Although it’s probably too early to start chilling a bottle of bubbly for New Year’s Eve, it’s certainly not too early for business owners to start doing some strategic planning for next year. Here are some ways to get started.

Begin with your financials

A good place to find inspiration for strategic objectives is your financial statements. They’ll tell you whether you’re excelling or struggling so you can decide how strategically ambitious or cautious to be in the coming year.

Use the numbers to look at key performance indicators such as gross profit, which tells you how much money you made after your production and selling costs were paid. It’s calculated by subtracting the cost of goods sold from your total revenue. Also calculate current ratio, which is calculated by dividing current assets by current liabilities. It helps you gauge the strength of your cash flow.

Examine other areas

Human resources is another critical area of strategic planning. What was your employee turnover rate last year? High turnover could be a sign of poor training, substandard management or low morale. Any of these problems could undercut the strategic objectives you set.

Examine sales and marketing, too. Did you meet your goals for new sales last year, as measured in both sales volume and number of new customers? Did you generate an adequate return on investment for your marketing dollars?

Finally, take a close look at your production and operations. Many companies track a metric called customer reject rate that measures the number of complete units rejected or returned by external customers. Sometimes a business must improve this rate before it moves forward with growth objectives. If yours is a service business, you should similarly track and assess customer satisfaction.

Set new objectives

With a review of your financials and key business areas complete, you can more reasonably set goals for next year under the banner of your strategic plan. On the financial side, for instance, your objective might be to boost gross profit from 20% to 30%. But how will you lower your costs or increase efficiency to make this goal a reality?

Or maybe you want to lower your employee turnover rate from 20% to 10%. What will you do differently from a training and management standpoint to keep your employees from jumping ship this year?

Act now

Don’t let year end creep any closer without reviewing your business’s recent performance. Then, use this data to set realistic goals for the coming year. We can help you choose the best metrics, crunch the numbers and put together a solid strategic plan.

© 2019

Putting together the succession planning and retirement planning puzzle

Everyone needs to plan for retirement. But as a business owner, you face a distinctive challenge in that you must save for your golden years while also creating, updating and eventually executing a succession plan. This is no easy task, but you can put the puzzle pieces together by answering some fundamental questions:

When do I want to retire? This may be the most important question regarding your succession plan, because it’s at this time that your successor will take over. Think about a date by which you’ll be ready to let go and will have the financial resources to support yourself for your postretirement life expectancy.

How much will I need to retire? To maintain your current lifestyle, you’ll likely need a substantial percentage of your current annual income. You may initially receive an influx of cash from perhaps either the sale of your company or a payout from a buy-sell agreement.

But don’t forget to consider inflation. This adds another 2% to 4% per year to the equation. If, like many retirees, you decide to move to a warmer climate, you also need to take the cost of living in that state into consideration — especially if you’ll maintain two homes.

What are my sources of retirement income? As mentioned, selling your business (if that’s what your succession plan calls for) will likely help at first. Think about whether you’d prefer a lump-sum payment to add to your retirement savings or receive installments.

Of course, many business owners don’t sell but pass along their company to family members or trusted employees. You might stay on as a paid consultant, which would provide some retirement income. And all of this would be in addition to whatever retirement accounts you’ve been contributing to, as well as Social Security.

Am I saving enough? This is a question everyone must ask but, again, business owners have special considerations. Let’s say you’d been saving diligently for retirement, but economic or market difficulties have recently forced you to lower your salary or channel more of your own money into the company. This could affect your retirement date and, thus, your succession plan’s departure date.

Using a balance sheet, add up all your assets and debts. Heavy spending and an excessive debt load can significantly delay your retirement. In turn, this negatively affects your succession plan because it throws the future leadership of your company into doubt and confusion. As you get closer to retirement, integrate debt management and elimination into your personal financial approach so you can confidently set a departure date. We can help you identify all the different pieces related to succession planning and retirement planning — and assemble them all into a practical whole.

© 2019

The key to retirement security is picking the right plan for your business

If you’re a small business owner or you’re involved in a start-up, you may want to set up a tax-favored retirement plan for yourself and any employees. Several types of plans are eligible for tax advantages.

401(k) plan

One of the best-known retirement plan options is the 401(k) plan. It provides for employer contributions made at the direction of employees. Specifically, the employee elects to have a certain amount of pay deferred and contributed by the employer on his or her behalf to an individual account. Employee contributions can be made on a pretax basis, saving employees current income tax on the amount contributed.

Employers may, or may not, provide matching contributions on behalf of employees who make elective deferrals to 401(k) plans. Establishing and operating a 401(k) plan means some up-front paperwork and ongoing administrative effort. Matching contributions may be subject to a vesting schedule. 401(k) plans are subject to testing requirements, so that highly compensated employees don’t contribute too much more than non-highly compensated employees. However, these tests can be avoided if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan.

Within limits, participants can borrow from a 401(k) account (assuming the plan document permits it).

For 2019, the maximum amount you can contribute to a 401(k) is $19,000, plus a $6,000 “catch-up” amount for those age 50 or older as of December 31, 2019.

Other tax-favored plans

Of course, a 401(k) isn’t your only option. Here’s a quick rundown of two other alternatives that are simpler to set up and administer:

1. A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA. For 2019, the maximum amount of deductible contributions that you can make to an employee’s SEP plan, and that he or she can exclude from income, is the lesser of 25% of compensation or $56,000. Your employees control their individual IRAs and IRA investments.

2. A SIMPLE IRA. SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” A business with 100 or fewer employees can establish a SIMPLE. Under one, an IRA is established for each employee, and the employer makes matching contributions based on contributions elected by participating employees under a qualified salary reduction arrangement. The maximum amount you can contribute to a SIMPLE in 2019 is $13,000, plus a $3,000 “catch-up” amount if you’re age 50 or older as of December 31, 2019.

Annual contributions to a SEP plan and a SIMPLE are controlled by special rules and aren’t tied to the normal IRA contribution limits. Neither type of plan requires annual filings or discrimination testing. You can’t borrow from a SEP plan or a SIMPLE.

Many choices

These are only some of the retirement savings options that may be available to your business. We can discuss the alternatives and help find the best option for your situation.

© 2019

Some business owners can’t participate in their own companies’ HRAs

Many companies now offer Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) in conjunction with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). HRAs offer some advantages over the perhaps better-known HDHP companion account, the Health Savings Account (HSA). If you’re considering adding an HRA, you might assume that, as a business owner, you can participate in the HRA. But this may not be the case.

Following the rules

Whether an owner can participate in his or her company’s HRA depends on several factors, including how the company is organized and the amount of the business owned by each working owner. Tax-free benefits under an HRA can be provided only to:

  • Current and former employees (including retirees), and their spouses,

  • Covered tax dependents, and

  • Children who haven’t attained age 27 by the end of the tax year.

Owners who are “self-employed individuals” within the meaning of Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC) 401(c) aren’t considered employees for this purpose and aren’t allowed to participate in an HRA on a tax-favored basis.

Defining the self-employed

Generally, a self-employed individual is someone who has net earnings from self-employment as defined in IRC Sec. 1402(a), accounting for only earnings from a trade or business in which the “personal services of the taxpayer are a material income-producing factor.” Ineligible owners include partners, sole proprietors and more-than-2% shareholders in an S corporation. Stock ownership by employees of a C corporation doesn’t preclude their tax-favored HRA participation.

The ownership attribution rules in IRC Sec. 318 apply when determining who’s a more-than-2% shareholder of an S corporation, so any employee who’s the spouse, child, parent or grandparent of a more-than-2% shareholder of an S corporation would also be unable to participate in the S corporation’s HRA on a tax-favored basis. A disqualified individual (whether because of direct or attributed ownership) could, however, be the beneficiary of a qualifying participant’s HRA coverage if he or she is the qualifying participant’s spouse, tax dependent or child under age 27.

Comparing HRAs to HSAs

Although self-employed individuals can’t receive tax-free HSA contributions through a cafeteria plan, at least they can have HSAs. This relative advantage has led some employers to favor HSA programs over HRAs.

But HRAs have other advantages for employers, including more control over how amounts are spent and typically lower costs relative to the nominal amount of benefits provided. (While the full HSA contribution must be funded with cash, HRAs typically are notional accounts that need only be funded when participants incur expenses, and not all participants will incur expenses up to the limit established by the employer.) Thus, the decision can seldom be made based on the participation rules alone.

Going in smart

Controlling costs remains a challenge for most businesses that offer health care benefits. An HRA may be a feasible solution, but make sure you know all the rules going in. Our firm can help you choose health care benefits that suit you and your employees.

© 2019

The tax implications of a company car

The use of a company vehicle is a valuable fringe benefit for owners and employees of small businesses. This benefit results in tax deductions for the employer as well as tax breaks for the owners and employees using the cars. (And of course, they get the nontax benefits of driving the cars!) Even better, recent tax law changes and IRS rules make the perk more valuable than before.

Here’s an example

Let’s say you’re the owner-employee of a corporation that’s going to provide you with a company car. You need the car to visit customers, meet with vendors and check on suppliers. You expect to drive the car 8,500 miles a year for business. You also expect to use the car for about 7,000 miles of personal driving, including commuting, running errands and weekend trips with your family. Therefore, your usage of the vehicle will be approximately 55% for business and 45% for personal purposes. You want a nice car to reflect positively on your business, so the corporation buys a new luxury $50,000 sedan.

Your cost for personal use of the vehicle will be equal to the tax you pay on the fringe benefit value of your 45% personal mileage. By contrast, if you bought the car yourself to be able to drive the personal miles, you’d be out-of-pocket for the entire purchase cost of the car.

Your personal use will be treated as fringe benefit income. For tax purposes, your corporation will treat the car much the same way it would any other business asset, subject to depreciation deduction restrictions if the auto is purchased. Out-of-pocket expenses related to the car (including insurance, gas, oil and maintenance) are deductible, including the portion that relates to your personal use. If the corporation finances the car, the interest it pays on the loan would be deductible as a business expense (unless the business is subject to business-interest limitation under the tax code).

In contrast, if you bought the auto yourself, you wouldn’t be entitled to any deductions. Your outlays for the business-related portion of your driving would be unreimbursed employee business expenses that are nondeductible from 2018 to 2025 due to the suspension of miscellaneous itemized deductions under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. And if you financed the car yourself, the interest payments would be nondeductible.

And finally, the purchase of the car by your corporation will have no effect on your credit rating.

Administrative tasks

Providing an auto for an owner’s or key employee’s business and personal use comes with complications and paperwork. Personal use will have to be tracked and valued under the fringe benefit tax rules and treated as income. This article only explains the basics.

Despite the necessary valuation and paperwork, a company-provided car is still a valuable fringe benefit for business owners and key employees. It can provide them with the use of a vehicle at a low tax cost while generating tax deductions for their businesses. We can help you stay in compliance with the rules and explain more about this prized perk.

© 2019