Higher mileage rate may mean larger tax deductions for business miles in 2019

This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business increased by 3.5 cents, to the highest level since 2008. As a result, you might be able to claim a larger deduction for vehicle-related expense for 2019 than you can for 2018.

Actual costs vs. mileage rate

Businesses can generally deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases depreciation write-offs on vehicles are subject to certain limits that don’t apply to other types of business assets.

The mileage rate comes into play when taxpayers don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this approach, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses, although you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.

The mileage rate approach also is popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal automobiles. Such reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who’re expected to drive their personal vehicle extensively for business purposes. Why? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their individual income tax returns.

But be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t, you risk having the reimbursements considered taxable wages to the employees.

The 2019 rate

Beginning on January 1, 2019, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 58 cents per mile. For 2018, the rate was 54.5 cents per mile.

The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It is based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. Occasionally, if there is a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the mileage rate midyear.

More considerations

There are certain situations where you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. It depends in part on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past or, if the vehicle is new to your business this year, whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation breaks on it.

As you can see, there are many variables to consider in determining whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. Contact us if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2019 — or claiming them on your 2018 income tax return.

© 2019

7 Tips to Reduce the Risk of Financial Loss in Your Business

In this day of electronic banking, the use of electronic payment methods has become an area easily abused by unscrupulous employees. However, many of the old “tried and true” prevention techniques still work. Stay diligent with your office oversight by implementing these tips in your business to reduce the chances of loss.

1.     Make sure your bank requires two individuals to approve a bank payment (Check/ACH/Wire Transfer) - The Owner and/or a trusted family member that works in the business is preferred as the second approver.

2.     Implement a Positive Pay system with your bank.  Most banks today have systems where checks and other payments are pre-approved before they clear the bank so unknown items will not be processed when submitted for payment.

3.     Open the mail (or the e-mail) from the bank, especially the monthly bank statements.  Have the corporate bank statements mailed to your home, so your office knows that you will be the first one to open and review the monthly bank activity.

4.     Segregate as many duties as possible within your office when it comes to access to cash.  Employees with direct access to cash should not also have the ability to record accounting transactions.

5.     Periodically review the payroll.  Make sure there are no “phantom employees’ and that hourly rates and hours worked appear reasonable.

6.     All employees with direct access to cash should be bonded.

7.     Make sure your employee theft/embezzlement insurance coverage is sufficient.   Premiums are relatively low for this type of coverage and can really pay large benefits if a loss is discovered.

4 business functions you could outsource right now

One thing in plentiful supply in today’s business world is help. Orbiting every industry are providers, consultancies and independent contractors offering a wide array of support services. Simply put, it’s never been easier to outsource certain business functions so you can better focus on fulfilling your company’s mission and growing its bottom line. Here are four such functions to consider:

1. Information technology. This is the most obvious and time-tested choice. Bringing in an outside firm or consultant to handle your IT systems can provide the benefits we’ve mentioned — particularly in the sense of enabling you to stay on task and not get diverted by technology’s constant changes. A competent provider will stay on top of the latest, optimal hardware and software for your business, as well as help you better access, store and protect your data.

2. Payroll and other HR functions. These areas are subject to many complex regulations and laws that change frequently — as does the software needed to track and respond to the revisions. A worthy vendor will be able to not only adjust to these changes, but also give you and your staff online access to payroll and HR data that allows employees to get immediate answers to their questions.

3. Customer service. This may seem an unlikely candidate because you might believe that, for someone to represent your company, he or she must work for it. But this isn’t necessarily so — internal customer service departments often have a high turnover rate, which drives up the costs of maintaining them and drives down customer satisfaction. Outsourcing to a provider with a more stable, loyal staff can make everyone happier.

4. Accounting. You could bring in an outside expert to handle your accounting and financial reporting. A reputable provider can manage your books, collect payments, pay invoices and keep your accounting technology up to date. The right provider can also help generate financial statements that will meet the desired standards of management, investors and lenders.

Naturally, there are potential downsides to outsourcing these or other functions. You’ll incur a substantial and regular cost in engaging a provider. It will be critical to get an acceptable return on that investment. You’ll also have to place considerable trust in any vendor — there’s always a chance that trust could be misplaced. Last, even a good outsourcing arrangement will entail some time and energy on your part to maintain the relationship.

Is this the year your business dips its toe in the vast waters of outsourced services? Maybe. Our firm can help you answer this question, choose the right function to outsource (if the answer is yes) and identify a provider likely to offer the best value.

© 2019

Is there still time to pay 2018 bonuses and deduct them on your 2018 return?

There aren’t too many things businesses can do after a year ends to reduce tax liability for that year. However, you might be able to pay employee bonuses for 2018 in 2019 and still deduct them on your 2018 tax return. In certain circumstances, businesses can deduct bonuses employees have earned during a tax year if the bonuses are paid within 2½ months after the end of that year (by March 15 for a calendar-year company).

Basic requirements

First, only accrual-basis taxpayers can take advantage of the 2½ month rule. Cash-basis taxpayers must deduct bonuses in the year they’re paid, regardless of when they’re earned.

Second, even for accrual-basis taxpayers, the 2½ month rule isn’t automatic. The bonuses can be deducted on the tax return for the year they’re earned only if the business’s bonus liability was fixed by the end of the year.

Passing the test

For accrual-basis taxpayers, a liability (such as a bonus) is deductible when it is incurred. To determine this, the IRS applies the “all-events test.” Under this test, a liability is incurred when:

  • All events have occurred that establish the taxpayer’s liability,

  • The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy, and

  • Economic performance has occurred.

Generally, the last requirement isn’t an issue; it’s satisfied when an employee performs the services required to earn a bonus. But the first two requirements can delay your tax deduction until the year of payment, depending on how your bonus plan is designed.

For example, many bonus plans require an employee to still be an employee on the payment date to receive the bonus. Even when the amount of each employee’s bonus is fixed at the end of the tax year, if employees who leave the company before the payment date forfeit their bonuses, the all-events test isn’t satisfied until the payment date. Why? The business’s liability for bonuses isn’t fixed until then.

Diving into a bonus pool

Fortunately, it’s possible to accelerate deductions with a carefully designed bonus pool arrangement. According to the IRS, employers may deduct bonuses in the year they’re earned — even if there’s a risk of forfeiture — as long as any forfeited bonuses are reallocated among the remaining employees in the bonus pool rather than retained by the employer.

Under such a plan, an employer satisfies the all-events test because the aggregate bonus amount is fixed at the end of the year. It doesn’t matter that amounts allocated to specific employees aren’t determined until the payment date.

When you can deduct bonuses

So does your current bonus plan allow you to take 2018 deductions for bonuses paid in early 2019? If you’re not sure, contact us. We can review your situation and determine when you can deduct your bonus payments.

If you’re an accrual taxpayer but don’t qualify to accelerate your bonus deductions this time, we can help you design a bonus plan for 2019 that will allow you to accelerate deductions when you file your 2019 return next year.

© 2019

Economic damages: Recovering what was lost

A business can suffer economic damages arising from a variety of illegal conduct. Common examples include breach of contract, patent infringement and commercial negligence. If your company finds itself headed to court looking to recover lost profits, diminished business value or both, its important to know how the damages might be determined.

What methods are commonly used?

The goal of any economic damages case is to make your company, the plaintiff, “whole” again. In other words, one critical question must be answered: Where would your business be today “but for” the defendants alleged wrongdoing? When financial experts calculate economic damages, they generally rely on the following methods:

Before-and-after. Here, the expert assumes that, if it hadnt been for the breach or other tortious act, the companys operating trends would have continued in pace with past performance. In other words, damages equal the difference between expected and actual performance. A similar approach quantifies damages as the difference between the companys value before and after the alleged “tort” (damaging incident) occurred.

Yardstick. Under this technique, the expert benchmarks a damaged companys performance to external sources, such as publicly traded comparables or industry guidelines. The presumption is that the companys performance would have mimicked that of its competitors if not for the tortious act.

Sales projection. Projections or forecasts of the companys expected cash flow serve as the basis for damages under this method. Damages involving niche players and start-ups often call for the sales projection method, because they have limited operating history and few meaningful comparables.

An expert considers the specific circumstances of the case to determine the appropriate valuation method (or methods) for that situation.

What’s next?

After financial experts have estimated lost profits, they discount their estimates to present value. Some jurisdictions have prescribed discount rates, but, in many instances, experts subjectively determine the discount rate based on their professional opinions about risk. Small differences in the discount rate can generate large differences in final conclusions. As a result, the subjective discount rate is often a contentious issue.

The final step is to address mitigating factors. What could the damaged party have done to minimize its loss? Most jurisdictions hold plaintiffs at least partially responsible for mitigating their own damages. Like discount rates, this subjective adjustment often triggers widely divergent opinions among the parties involved.

Are you prepared?

You probably don’t relish the thought of heading to court to fight for economic damages. But these situations can occur — often quite unexpectedly — and it’s better to be prepared than surprised. Contact us for more information.

© 2019

A refresher on major tax law changes for small business owners

The dawning of 2019 means the 2018 income tax filing season will soon be upon us. After year end, it’s generally too late to take action to reduce 2018 taxes. Business owners may, therefore, want to shift their focus to assessing whether they’ll likely owe taxes or get a refund when they file their returns this spring, so they can plan accordingly.

With the biggest tax law changes in decades — under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — generally going into effect beginning in 2018, most businesses and their owners will be significantly impacted. So, refreshing yourself on the major changes is a good idea.

Taxation of pass-through entities

These changes generally affect owners of S corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships, as well as sole proprietors:

  • Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%

  • A new 20% qualified business income deduction for eligible owners (the Section 199A deduction)

  • Changes to many other tax breaks for individuals that will impact owners’ overall tax liability

Taxation of corporations

These changes generally affect C corporations, personal service corporations (PSCs) and LLCs treated as C corporations:

  • Replacement of graduated corporate rates ranging from 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21%

  • Replacement of the flat PSC rate of 35% with a flat rate of 21%

  • Repeal of the 20% corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT)

Tax break positives

These changes generally apply to both pass-through entities and corporations:

  • Doubling of bonus depreciation to 100% and expansion of qualified assets to include usedassets

  • Doubling of the Section 179 expensing limit to $1 million and an increase of the expensing phaseout threshold to $2.5 million

  • A new tax credit for employer-paid family and medical leave

Tax break negatives

These changes generally also apply to both pass-through entities and corporations:

  • A new disallowance of deductions for net interest expense in excess of 30% of the business’s adjusted taxable income (exceptions apply)

  • New limits on net operating loss (NOL) deductions

  • Elimination of the Section 199 deduction (not to be confused with the new Sec.199A deduction), which was for qualified domestic production activities and commonly referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction”

  • A new rule limiting like-kind exchanges to real property that is not held primarily for sale (generally no more like-kind exchanges for personal property)

  • New limitations on deductions for certain employee fringe benefits, such as entertainment and, in certain circumstances, meals and transportation

Preparing for 2018 filing

Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to the rates and breaks covered here. Also, these are only some of the most significant and widely applicable TCJA changes; you and your business could be affected by other changes as well. Contact us to learn precisely how you might be affected and for help preparing for your 2018 tax return filing — and beginning to plan for 2019, too.

© 2018

Make sure the price is right with market research

The promise of the new year lies ahead. One way to help ensure it’s a profitable one is to re-evaluate your company’s pricing strategy. You need to devise an approach that considers more than just what it cost you to produce a product or deliver a service; it also must factor in what customers want and value — and how much money they’re willing to spend. Then you need to evaluate how competitors price and position their offerings.

Doing your homework

Optimal pricing decisions don’t occur in a vacuum; they require market research. Examples of economical ways smaller businesses can research their customers and competitors include:

  • Conducting informal focus groups with top customers, 

  • Sending online surveys to prospective, existing and defecting customers, 

  • Monitoring social media reviews, and 

  • Sending free trials in exchange for customer feedback. 

It’s also smart to investigate your competitors’ pricing strategies using ethical means. For example, the owner of a restaurant might eat a meal at each of her local competitors to evaluate the menu, decor and service. Or a manufacturer might visit competitors’ websites and purchase comparable products to evaluate quality, timeliness and customer service.

Charging a premium 

Remember, low-cost pricing isn’t the only way to compete — in fact, it can be disastrous for small players in an industry dominated by large conglomerates. Your business can charge higher prices than competitors do if customers think your products and services offer enhanced value.

Suppose you survey customers and discover that they associate your brand with high quality and superior features. If your target market is more image conscious than budget conscious, you can set a premium price to differentiate your offerings. You’ll probably sell fewer units than your low-cost competitors but earn a higher margin on each unit sold. Premium prices also work for novel or exclusive products that are currently available from few competitors — or, if customers are drawn to the reputation, unique skills or charisma that specific owners or employees possess.

Going in low

Sometimes setting a low price, at least temporarily, does make sense. It can drive competitors out of the market and build your market share — or help you survive adverse market conditions. Being a low-cost leader enables your business to capture market share and possibly lower costs through economies of scale. But you’ll earn a lower margin on each unit sold.

Another approach is to discount some loss leader products to draw in buyers and establish brand loyalty in the hope that customers will subsequently buy complementary products and services at higher margins. You also may decide to offer discounts when seasonal demand is low or when you want to get rid of less popular models to lower inventory carrying costs.

Evolving over time

Do your prices really reflect customer demand and market conditions? Pricing shouldn’t be static — it should evolve with your business and its industry. Whether you’re pricing a new product or service for the first time or reviewing your existing pricing strategy, we can help you analyze the pertinent factors and make an optimal decision.

© 2018


IRS says business meal deductions still apply

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 generally disallowed all deductions for business entertainment, amusement, and recreation (see the May 2018 CPA Client Bulletin). However, the TCJA did not specifically turn thumbs up or down on the deductibility of business meal expenses.

Five points

Drilling down, the IRS listed five tests that must be passed in order to support the deduction:

1.    The expense must be an ordinary and necessary expense, paid or incurred in carrying on a trade or business.

2.    The meal can’t be considered lavish or extravagant, considering the business context.

3.    The taxpayer (or an employee) must be present.  

4.    The other party must be a current or potential business customer, client, consultant, or similar business contact.

5.    In the case of food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity, the food and beverages must be purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages must be stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices, or receipts and must be priced reasonably.

Note that the IRS uses the expression “food and beverages” in this notice. This may imply that the cost of taking a business contact out for coffee or alcoholic drinks may be 50% deductible, even if no meal was served.

It’s also worth noting that activities generally perceived to be entertainment may be deductible business expenses ― if you’re in an appropriate business. The IRS gives examples of a professional theater critic attending a play and a garment manufacturer conducting a fashion show for retailers. Our office can let you know if some type of entertainment could be considered deductible advertising or public relations for your company.

Business owners: An exit strategy should be part of your tax planning

Tax planning is a juggling act for business owners. You have to keep your eye on your company’s income and expenses and applicable tax breaks (especially if you own a pass-through entity). But you also must look out for your own financial future.

For example, you need to develop an exit strategy so that taxes don’t trip you up when you retire or leave the business for some other reason. An exit strategy is a plan for passing on responsibility for running the company, transferring ownership and extracting your money from the business.

Buy-sell agreement

When a business has more than one owner, a buy-sell agreement can be a powerful tool. The agreement controls what happens to the business when a specified event occurs, such as an owner’s retirement, disability or death. Among other benefits, a well-drafted agreement:

  • Provides a ready market for the departing owner’s shares, 

  • Prescribes a method for setting a price for the shares, and 

  • Allows business continuity by preventing disagreements caused by new owners. 

A key issue with any buy-sell agreement is providing the buyer(s) with a means of funding the purchase. Life or disability insurance often helps fulfill this need and can give rise to several tax issues and opportunities. One of the biggest advantages of life insurance as a funding method is that proceeds generally are excluded from the beneficiary’s taxable income.

Succession within the family

You can pass your business on to family members by giving them interests, selling them interests or doing some of each. Be sure to consider your income needs, the tax consequences, and how family members will feel about your choice.

Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can gift up to $15,000 of ownership interests without using up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Valuation discounts may further reduce the taxable value of the gift.

With the gift and estate tax exemption approximately doubled through 2025 ($11.4 million for 2019), gift and estate taxes may be less of a concern for some business owners. But others may want to make substantial transfers now to take maximum advantage of the high exemption. What’s right for you will depend on the value of your business and your timeline for transferring ownership.

Plan ahead

If you don’t have co-owners or want to pass the business to family members, other options include a management buyout, an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) or a sale to an outsider. Each involves a variety of tax and nontax considerations.

Please contact us to discuss your exit strategy. To be successful, your strategy will require planning well in advance of the transition.

© 2018

Do your long-term customers know everything about you?

A technician at a mobility equipment supplier was servicing the motorized wheelchair of a long-time customer and noticed it was a brand-new model. “Where did you buy the chair?” he asked the customer. “At the health care supply store on the other side of town,” the customer replied. The technician paused and then asked, “Well, why didn’t you buy the chair from us?” The customer replied, “I didn’t know you sold wheelchairs.”

Look deeper

Most business owners would likely agree that selling to existing customers is much easier than finding new ones. Yet many companies continue to squander potential sales to long-term, satisfied customers simply because they don’t create awareness of all their products and services.

It seems puzzling that the long-time customer in our example wouldn’t know that his wheelchair service provider also sold wheelchairs. But when you look a little deeper, it’s easy to understand why.

The repair customer always visited the repair shop, which had a separate entrance. While the customer’s chair was being repaired, he sat in the waiting area, which provided a variety of magazines but no product brochures or other promotional materials. The customer had no idea that a new sales facility was on the other side of the building until the technician asked about the new wheelchair.

Be inquisitive

Are you losing business from long-term customers because of a similar disconnect? To find out, ask yourself two fundamental questions:

1. Are your customers buying everything they need from you? To find the answer, you must thoroughly understand your customers’ needs. Identify your top tier of customers — say, the 20% who provide 80% of your revenue. What do they buy from you? What else might they need? Don’t just take orders from them; learn everything you can about their missions, strategic plans and operations.

2. Are your customers aware of everything you offer? The quickest way to learn this is, simply, to ask. Instruct your salespeople to regularly inquire about whether customers would be interested in products or services they’ve never bought. Also, add flyers, brochures or catalogs to orders when you fulfill them. Consider building greater awareness by hosting free lunches or festive corporate events to educate your customers on the existence and value of your products and services.

Raise awareness

If you have long-term customers, you must be doing something right — and that’s to your company’s credit. But, remember, it’s not out of the question that you could lose any one of those customers if they’re unaware of your full spectrum of products and services. That’s an open opportunity for a competitor.

By taking steps to raise awareness of your products and services, you’ll put yourself in a better position to increase sales and profitability. Our firm can help you identify your strongest revenue sources and provide further ideas for enhancing them.

© 2018

Getting ahead of the curve on emerging technologies

Turn on your computer or mobile device, scroll through Facebook or Twitter, or skim a business-oriented website, and you’ll likely come across the term “emerging technologies.” It has become so ubiquitous that you might be tempted to ignore it and move on to something else. That would be a mistake.

In today’s competitive business landscape, your ability to stay up to date — or, better yet, get ahead of the curve — on the emerging technologies in your industry could make or break your company.

Watch the competition

There’s a good chance that some of your competitors already are trying to adapt emerging technologies such as these:

Machine learning. A form of artificial intelligence, machine learning refers to the ability of machines to learn and improve at a specific task with little or no programming or human intervention. For instance, you could use machine learning to search through large amounts of consumer data and make predictions about future purchase patterns. Think of Amazon’s suggested products or Netflix’s recommended viewing.

Natural language processing (NLP). This technology employs algorithms to analyze unstructured human language in emails, texts, documents, conversation or otherwise. It could be used to find specific information in a document based on the other words around that information.

Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is the networking of objects (for example, vehicles, building systems and household appliances) embedded with electronics, software, sensors and Internet connectivity. It allows the collection, sending and receiving of data about users and their interactions with their environments.

Robotic process automation (RPA). You can use RPA to automate repetitive manual tasks that eat up a lot of staff time but don’t require decision making. Relying on business rules and structured inputs, RPA can perform such tasks with greater speed and accuracy than any human possibly could.

Not so difficult

If you fall behind on these or other emerging technologies that your competitors may already be incorporating, you run the risk of never catching up. But how can you stay informed and know when to begin seriously pursuing an emerging technology? It’s not as difficult as you might think:

  • Schedule time to study emerging technologies, just as you would schedule time for doing market research or attending an industry convention. 

  • Join relevant online communities. Follow and try to connect with the thought leaders in your industry, whether authors and writers, successful CEOs, bloggers or otherwise. 

  • Check industry-focused publications and websites regularly. 

Taking the time for these steps will reduce the odds that you’ll be caught by surprise and unable to catch up or break ahead.

When you’re ready to undertake the process of integrating an emerging technology into your business operation, forecasting both the implementation and maintenance costs will be critical. We can help you create a reasonable budget and manage the financial impact.

© 2018


Can a PTO contribution arrangement help your employees and your business?

As the year winds to a close, most businesses see employees taking a lot of vacation time. After all, it’s the holiday season, and workers want to enjoy it. Some businesses, however, find themselves particularly short-staffed in December because they don’t allow unused paid time off (PTO) to be rolled over to the new year, or they allow only very limited rollovers.

There are good business reasons to limit PTO rollovers. Fortunately, there’s a way to reduce the year-end PTO vortex without having to allow unlimited rollovers: a PTO contribution arrangement.

Retirement saving with a twist

A PTO contribution arrangement allows employees with unused vacation hours to elect to convert them to retirement plan contributions. If the plan has a 401(k) feature, it can treat these amounts as a pretax benefit, similar to normal employee deferrals. Alternatively, the plan can treat the amounts as employer profit sharing, converting excess PTO amounts to employer contributions.

This can be appealing to any employees who end up with a lot of PTO left at the end of the year and don’t want to lose it. But it can be especially valued by employees who are concerned about their level of retirement saving or who simply value money more than time off of work.

Good for the business

Of course the biggest benefit to your business may simply be that it’s easier to ensure you have sufficient staffing at the end of the year. But you could reap that same benefit by allowing PTO rollovers (or, if you allow some rollover, increasing the rollover limit).

A PTO contribution arrangement can be a better option than increasing the number of days employees can roll over. Why? Larger rollover limits can result in employees building up large balances that create a significant liability on your books.

Also, a PTO contribution arrangement might help you improve recruiting and retention, because of its appeal to employees who want to save more for retirement or don’t care about having a lot of PTO.

Set-up is simple

To offer a PTO contribution arrangement, simply amend your retirement plan. However, you must still follow the plan document’s eligibility, vesting, rollover, distribution and loan terms. Additional rules apply.

Have questions about PTO contribution arrangements? Contact us. We can help you assess whether such an arrangement would make sense for your business.

© 2018

Family businesses need succession plans, too

Those who run family-owned businesses often underestimate the need for a succession plan. After all, they say, we’re a family business — there will always be a family member here to keep the company going and no one will stand in the way.

Not necessarily. In one all-too-common scenario, two of the owner’s children inherit the business and, while one wants to keep the business in the family, the other is eager to sell. Such conflicts can erupt into open combat between heirs and even destroy the company. So, it’s important for you, as a family business owner, to create a formal succession plan — and to communicate it well before it’s needed.

Talk it out

A good succession plan addresses the death, incapacity or retirement of an owner. It answers questions now about future ownership and any potential sale so that successors don’t have to scramble during what can be an emotionally traumatic time.

The key to making any plan work is to clearly communicate it with all stakeholders. Allow your children to voice their intentions. If there’s an obvious difference between siblings, resolving that conflict needs to be central to your succession plan.

Balancing interests

Perhaps the simplest option, if you have sufficient assets outside your business, is to leave your business only to those heirs who want to be actively involved in running it. You can leave assets such as investment securities, real estate or insurance policies to your other heirs.

Another option is for the heirs who’d like to run the business to buy out the other heirs. But they’ll need capital to do that. You might buy an insurance policy with proceeds that will be paid to the successor on your death. Or, as you near retirement, it may be possible to arrange buyout financing with your company’s current lenders.

If those solutions aren’t viable, hammer out a temporary compromise between your heirs. In a scenario where they are split about selling, the heirs who want to sell might compromise by agreeing to hold off for a specified period. That would give the other heirs time to amass capital to buy their relatives out or find a new co-owner, such as a private equity investor.

Family comes first

For a family-owned business, family should indeed come first. To ensure that your children or other relatives won’t squabble over the company after your death, make a succession plan that will accommodate all your heirs’ wishes. We can provide assistance, including helping you divide your assets fairly and anticipating the applicable income tax and estate tax issues.

© 2018

Devote some time to internal leadership development

Many factors go into the success of a company. You’ve got to offer high-quality products or services, provide outstanding customer service, and manage your inventory or supply chain. But there’s at least one other success factor that many business owners often overlook: internal leadership training and development.

Even if all your executive and management positions are filled with seasoned leaders right now, there’s still a major benefit to continually training, coaching and mentoring employees for leadership responsibilities. After all, even someone who doesn’t work in management can champion a given initiative or project that brings in revenue or elevates the company’s public image.

Ideas to consider

Internal leadership development is practiced when owners and executives devote time to helping current managers as well as employees who might one day be promoted to positions of leadership.

To do this, shift your mindset from being only “the boss” to being someone who holds an important responsibility to share leadership knowledge with others. Here are a few tips to consider:

Contribute to performance development. Most employees’ performance reviews will reveal both strengths and weaknesses. Sit down with current and potential leaders and generously share your knowledge and experience to bolster strong points and shore up shortcomings.

Invite current and potential leaders to meetings. Give them the opportunity to participate in important meetings they might not otherwise attend, and solicit their input during these gatherings. This includes both internal meetings and interactions with external vendors, customers and prospects. Again, look to reinforce positive behaviors and offer guidance on areas of growth.

Introduce them to the wider community. Get current and potential leaders involved with an industry trade association or a local chamber of commerce. By meeting and networking with others in your industry, these individuals can get a broader perspective on the challenges that your company faces — as well as its opportunities.

Give them real decision-making authority. Probably not right away but, at some point, put a new leader to the test. Give them control of a project and then step back and observe the results. Don’t be afraid to let them fail if their decisions don’t pan out. This can help your most promising employees learn real-world lessons now that can prove invaluable in the future.

Benefits beyond

Dedicating some time and energy to internal leadership development can pay off in ways beyond having well-trained managers. You’ll likely boost retention by strengthening relationships with your best employees. Furthermore, you may discover potential problems and avail yourself of new ideas that, otherwise, may have never reached you. Our firm can provide further information and other ideas.

© 2018

Estimates vs. actuals: Was your 2018 budget reasonable?

As the year winds down, business owners can be thankful for the gift of perspective (among other things, we hope). Assuming you created a budget for the calendar year, you should now be able to accurately assess that budget by comparing its estimates to actual results. Your objective is to determine whether your budget was reasonable, and, if not, how to adjust it to be more accurate for 2019.

Identify notable changes

Your estimates, like those of many companies, probably start with historical financial statements. From there, you may simply apply an expected growth rate to annual revenues and let it flow through the remaining income statement and balance sheet items. For some businesses, this simplified approach works well. But future performance can’t always be expected to mirror historical results.

For example, suppose you renegotiated a contract with a major supplier during the year. The new contract may have affected direct costs and profit margins. So, what was reasonable at the beginning of the year may be less so now and require adjustments when you draft your 2019 budget.

Often, a business can’t maintain its current growth rate indefinitely without investing in additional assets or incurring further fixed costs. As you compare your 2018 estimates to actuals, and look at 2019, consider whether your company is planning to:

  • Build a new plant, 

  • Buy a major piece of equipment, 

  • Hire more workers, or 

  • Rent additional space. 

External and internal factors — such as regulatory changes, product obsolescence, and in-process research and development — also may require specialized adjustments to your 2019 budget to keep it reasonable.

Find the best way to track

The most analytical way to gauge reasonableness is to generate year-end financials and then compare the results to what was previously budgeted. Are you on track to meet those estimates? If not, identify the causes and factor them into a revised budget for next year.

If you discover that your actuals are significantly different from your estimates — and if this takes you by surprise — you should consider producing interim financials next year. Some businesses feel overwhelmed trying to prepare a complete set of financials every month. So, you might opt for short-term cash reports, which highlight the sources and uses of cash during the period. These cash forecasts can serve as an early warning system for “budget killers,” such as unexpected increases in direct costs or delinquent accounts.

Alternatively, many companies create 12-month rolling budgets — which typically mirror historical financial statements — and update them monthly to reflect the latest market conditions.

Do it all

The budgeting process is rarely easy, but it’s incredibly important. And that process doesn’t end when you create the budget; checking it regularly and performing a year-end assessment are key. We can help you not only generate a workable budget, but also identify the best ways to monitor your financials throughout the year.

© 2018

A Hidden Issue with the New Wayfair Case

Written by: Gary Leneway

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the State of South Dakota can force Wayfair, and other similar online retailers, to collect and remit sales tax if they meet certain sales thresholds. The sellers will need to collect taxes if they had more than $100,000 in sales or 200 sales transactions to customers in South Dakota in the prior year. Since the Court’s ruling, other states have been assessing how they want to address this issue. Many states are already in the process of passing legislation similar to South Dakota’s law.

While many businesses are assessing the law’s impact to their business, their focus has been primarily on the taxation of sales to their customers. A hidden issue may also arise in a business’ purchasing department. As the law begins to take effect, businesses should be diligent in reviewing their invoices from out-of-state vendors to determine if sales tax is being assessed correctly. 

Purchases that qualify for exemptions related to manufacturing/industrial processing or resale might end up being inadvertently taxed due to the new rule. If your supplier doesn’t have an exemption form on hand for your business, and historically has not been charging sales tax because they were not required, you could end up being charged sales tax under the new law in error.

An annual review of your vendor files, and related tax exemption certificates, is always a good idea, but it may be particularly critical now.  FMD is recommending that all of its business clients review their vendor purchase invoices for the next year to determine if sales tax is being handled properly.  This exercise will help those companies from unexpectedly paying sales tax when not required and might alert them to issues where they are not paying tax but should.

If you have any questions about the Wayfair Case and how it affects your business, please reach out to an FMD CPA today.

 

When holiday gifts and parties are deductible or taxable

The holiday season is a great time for businesses to show their appreciation for employees and customers by giving them gifts or hosting holiday parties. Before you begin shopping or sending out invitations, though, it’s a good idea to find out whether the expense is tax deductible and whether it’s taxable to the recipient. Here’s a brief review of the rules.

Gifts to customers

When you make gifts to customers, the gifts are deductible up to $25 per recipient per year. For purposes of the $25 limit, you need not include “incidental” costs that don’t substantially add to the gift’s value, such as engraving, gift-wrapping, packaging or shipping. Also excluded from the $25 limit is branded marketing collateral — such as pens or stress balls imprinted with your company’s name and logo — provided they’re widely distributed and cost less than $4.

The $25 limit is for gifts to individuals. There’s no set limit on gifts to a company (a gift basket for all to share, for example) as long as they’re “reasonable.”

Gifts to employees

Generally anything of value that you transfer to an employee is included in the employee’s taxable income (and, therefore, subject to income and payroll taxes) and deductible by you. But there’s an exception for noncash gifts that constitute “de minimis fringe benefits.”

These are items so small in value and given so infrequently that it would be administratively impracticable to account for them. Common examples include holiday turkeys or hams, gift baskets, occasional sports or theater tickets (but not season tickets), and other low-cost merchandise.

De minimis fringe benefits are not included in an employee’s taxable income yet are still deductible by you. Unlike gifts to customers, there’s no specific dollar threshold for de minimis gifts. However, many businesses use an informal cutoff of $75.

Keep in mind that cash gifts — as well as cash equivalents, such as gift cards — are included in an employee’s income and subject to payroll tax withholding regardless of how small and infrequent.

Holiday parties

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced certain deductions for business-related meals and eliminated the deduction for business entertainment altogether. There’s an exception, however, for certain recreational activities, including holiday parties.

Holiday parties are fully deductible (and excludible from recipients’ income) provided they’re primarily for the benefit of non-highly-compensated employees and their families. If customers also attend, holiday parties may be partially deductible.

Gifts that give back

If you’re thinking about giving holiday gifts to employees or customers or throwing a holiday party, contact us. With a little tax planning, you may receive a gift of your own from Uncle Sam.

© 2018

Powers of attorney can be vital documents

Most people realize the importance of a will to help direct the transfer of assets after death. During your lifetime, you also may want to have a power of attorney (POA) for convenience and asset protection.

            The person who creates a POA is known as the principal. In the POA, an agent (known as the attorney-in-fact) is given the authority to act on the principal’s behalf. POAs come in different forms with different purposes.

 

General POA

A general or regular POA gives the agent the broad ability to act for the principal. This type might be useful when the principal will be unable to act on his or her own behalf for some reason. Someone in the military, for example, might name an agent to handle financial affairs during the principal’s overseas assignment.

 

Limited POA

As the name suggests, these special POAs are not open-ended. There could be a specified time period when you’re unable to act on your own behalf. Alternatively, a limited POA could be effective only for a designated purpose, such as signing a contract when you can’t be present.

 

Durable POA

Regular or limited POAs may become void if the principal loses mental competence. Unfortunately, that can be the time when a POA is needed most: when assets could be squandered because of poor decisions.

            Therefore, a durable POA can be extremely valuable because it remains in effect if the principal becomes incompetent. The agent can make financial decisions, such as asset management and residential transactions. If a durable POA is not in place, the relatives of an individual deemed to be incompetent might have to go to court to request that a conservator be named, which can be a time-consuming and expensive process with an uncertain outcome.

 

Springing POA

Some people are not comfortable creating a POA while they are still competent, yet an individual who loses mental capability cannot legally create a POA. One solution is to use a springing POA, which takes effect only in certain circumstances, such as a doctor certifying that the principal cannot make financial decisions. Note that some states may not allow springing POAs, and some attorneys are skeptical about using them because the process of getting a physician’s timely certification might be challenging.

 

Health care POA

The POAs described previously empower an agent to make financial decisions. A health care POA is different because it names someone to make medical decisions if the patient cannot do so. The agent named on a financial POA could be someone trusted with money matters, whereas someone with other abilities and concerns could be appropriate for a health care POA.

 

Powerful thoughts

As indicated, the agent you name on any POA should be someone you trust absolutely with your wealth or your health. Married couples are best protected if both spouses have their own POAs.

In addition, you might have to check with the financial firms holding your assets before having a POA drafted. Some companies prefer to use their own forms, so a POA drafted by your attorney might not be readily accepted. Moreover, financial institutions might be reluctant to accept a very old POA, so periodic updating can be helpful.

            When creating a POA, you should make it clear that the power applies to retirement accounts such as IRAs. Your agent should have the ability to execute rollovers and designate beneficiaries, for example. An attorney who is experienced in estate planning can help you obtain a POA with the power to help you and your loved ones, if necessary.

 

Tax reform expands availability of cash accounting

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many more businesses are now eligible to use the cash method of accounting for federal tax purposes. The cash method offers greater tax-planning flexibility, allowing some businesses to defer taxable income. Newly eligible businesses should determine whether the cash method would be advantageous and, if so, consider switching methods.

What’s changed?

Previously, the cash method was unavailable to certain businesses, including:

  • C corporations — as well as partnerships (or limited liability companies taxed as partnerships) with C corporation partners — whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $5 million, and

  • Businesses required to account for inventories, whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $1 million ($10 million for certain industries).

In addition, construction companies whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $10 million were required to use the percentage-of-completion method (PCM) to account for taxable income from long-term contracts (except for certain home construction contracts). Generally, the PCM method is less favorable, from a tax perspective, than the completed-contract method.

The TCJA raised all of these thresholds to $25 million, beginning with the 2018 tax year. In other words, if your business’s average gross receipts for the previous three tax years is $25 million or less, you generally now will be eligible for the cash method, regardless of how your business is structured, your industry or whether you have inventories. And construction firms under the threshold need not use PCM for jobs expected to be completed within two years.

You’re also eligible for streamlined inventory accounting rules. And you’re exempt from the complex uniform capitalization rules, which require certain expenses to be capitalized as inventory costs.

Should you switch?

If you’re eligible to switch to the cash method, you need to determine whether it’s the right method for you. Usually, if a business’s receivables exceed its payables, the cash method will allow more income to be deferred than will the accrual method. (Note, however, that the TCJA has a provision that limits the cash method’s advantages for businesses that prepare audited financial statements or file their financial statements with certain government entities.) It’s also important to consider the costs of switching, which may include maintaining two sets of books.

The IRS has established procedures for obtaining automatic consent to such a change, beginning with the 2018 tax year, by filing Form 3115 with your tax return. Contact us to learn more.

© 2018