Tax

Deducting business meal expenses under today’s tax rules

In the course of operating your business, you probably spend time and money “wining and dining” current or potential customers, vendors and employees. What can you deduct on your tax return for these expenses? The rules changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but you can still claim some valuable write-offs.

No more entertainment deductions

One of the biggest changes is that you can no longer deduct most business-related entertainment expenses. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA disallows deductions for entertainment expenses, including those for sports events, theater productions, golf outings and fishing trips.

Meal deductions still allowed

You can still deduct 50% of the cost of food and beverages for meals conducted with business associates. However, you need to follow three basic rules in order to prove that your expenses are business related:

  1. The expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” in carrying on your business. This means your food and beverage costs are customary and appropriate. They shouldn’t be lavish or extravagant.

  2. The expenses must be directly related or associated with your business. This means that you expect to receive a concrete business benefit from them. The principal purpose for the meal must be business. You can’t go out with a group of friends for the evening, discuss business with one of them for a few minutes, and then write off the check.

  3. You must be able to substantiate the expenses. There are requirements for proving that meal and beverage expenses qualify for a deduction. You must be able to establish the amount spent, the date and place where the meals took place, the business purpose and the business relationship of the people involved.

Set up detailed recordkeeping procedures to keep track of business meal costs. That way, you can prove them and the business connection in the event of an IRS audit.

Other considerations

What if you spend money on food and beverages at an entertainment event? The IRS clarified in guidance (Notice 2018-76) that taxpayers can still deduct 50% of food and drink expenses incurred at entertainment events, but only if business was conducted during the event or shortly before or after. The food-and-drink expenses should also be “stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices or receipts,” according to the guidance.

Another related tax law change involves meals provided to employees on the business premises. Before the TCJA, these meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer were 100% deductible by the employer. Beginning in 2018, meals provided for the convenience of an employer in an on-premises cafeteria or elsewhere on the business property are only 50% deductible. After 2025, these meals won’t be deductible at all.

Plan ahead

As you can see, the treatment of meal and entertainment expenses became more complicated after the TCJA. Your tax advisor can keep you up to speed on the issues and suggest strategies to get the biggest tax-saving bang for your business meal bucks.

© 2019


Beware the Ides of March — if you own a pass-through entity

Shakespeare’s words don’t apply just to Julius Caesar; they also apply to calendar-year partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or S corporations for tax purposes. Why? The Ides of March, more commonly known as March 15, is the federal income tax filing deadline for these “pass-through” entities.

Not-so-ancient history

Until the 2016 tax year, the filing deadline for partnerships was the same as that for individual taxpayers: April 15 (or shortly thereafter if April 15 fell on a weekend or holiday). One of the primary reasons for moving up the partnership filing deadline was to make it easier for owners to file their personal returns by the April filing deadline. After all, partnership (and S corporation) income passes through to the owners. The earlier date allows owners to use the information contained in the pass-through entity forms to file their personal returns.

For partnerships with fiscal year ends, tax returns are now due the 15th day of the third month after the close of the tax year. The same deadline applies to fiscal-year S corporations. Under prior law, returns for fiscal-year partnerships were due the 15th day of the fourth month after the close of the fiscal tax year.

Avoiding a tragedy

If you haven’t filed your calendar-year partnership or S corporation return yet and are worried about having sufficient time to complete it, you can avoid the tragedy of a late return by filing for an extension. Under the current law, the maximum extension for calendar-year partnerships is six months (until September 16, 2019, for 2018 returns). This is up from five months under the old law. So the extension deadline is the same — only the length of the extension has changed. The extension deadline for calendar-year S corporations also is September 16, 2019, for 2018 returns.

Whether you’ll be filing a partnership or an S corporation return, you must file for the extension by March 15 if it’s a calendar-year entity.

Extending the drama

Filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now.

But to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by the unextended deadline. There probably won’t be any tax liability from the partnership or S corporation return. But, if filing for an extension for the entity return causes you to also have to file an extension for your personal return, it could cause you to owe interest and penalties in relation to your personal return.

We can help you file your tax returns on a timely basis or determine whether filing for an extension is appropriate. Contact us today.

© 2019

When are LLC members subject to self-employment tax?

Limited liability company (LLC) members commonly claim that their distributive shares of LLC income — after deducting compensation for services in the form of guaranteed payments — aren’t subject to self-employment (SE) tax. But the IRS has been cracking down on LLC members it claims have underreported SE income, with some success in court.

SE tax background

Self-employment income is subject to a 12.4% Social Security tax (up to the wage base) and a 2.9% Medicare tax. Generally, if you’re a member of a partnership — including an LLC taxed as a partnership — that conducts a trade or business, you’re considered self-employed.

General partners pay SE tax on all their business income from the partnership, whether it’s distributed or not. Limited partners, however, are subject to SE tax only on any guaranteed payments for services they provide to the partnership. The rationale is that limited partners, who have no management authority, are more akin to passive investors.

(Note, however, that “service partners” in service partnerships, such as law firms, medical practices, and architecture and engineering firms, generally may not claim limited partner status regardless of their level of participation.)

LLC uncertainty

Over the years, many LLC members have taken the position that they’re equivalent to limited partners and, therefore, exempt from SE tax (except on guaranteed payments for services). But there’s a big difference between limited partners and LLC members. Both enjoy limited personal liability, but, unlike limited partners, LLC members can actively participate in management without jeopardizing their liability protection.

Arguably, LLC members who are active in management or perform substantial services related to the LLC’s business are subject to SE tax, while those who more closely resemble passive investors should be treated like limited partners. The IRS issued proposed regulations to that effect in 1997, but hasn’t finalized them — although it follows them as a matter of internal policy.

Some LLC members have argued that the IRS’s failure to finalize the regulations supports the claim that their distributive shares aren’t subject to SE tax. But the IRS routinely rejects this argument and has successfully litigated its position. The courts generally have imposed SE tax on LLC members unless, like traditional limited partners, they lack management authority and don’t provide significant services to the business.

Review your situation

The law in this area remains uncertain, particularly with regard to capital-intensive businesses. But given the IRS’s aggressiveness in collecting SE taxes from LLCs, LLC members should assess whether the IRS might claim that they’ve underpaid SE taxes.

Those who wish to avoid or reduce these taxes in the future may have some options, including converting to an S corporation or limited partnership, or restructuring their ownership interests. When evaluating these strategies, there are issues to consider beyond taxes. Contact us to discuss your specific situation.

© 2019

Fundamental tax truths for C corporations

The flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has been great news for these entities and their owners. But some fundamental tax truths for C corporations largely remain the same:

C corporations are subject to double taxation. Double taxation occurs when corporate income is taxed once at the corporate level and again at the shareholder level as dividends are paid out. The cost of double taxation, however, is now generally less because of the 21% corporate rate.

And double taxation isn’t a problem when a C corporation needs to retain all its earnings to finance growth and capital investments. Because all the earnings stay “inside” the corporation, no dividends are paid to shareholders, and, therefore, there’s no double taxation.

Double taxation also isn’t an issue when a C corporation’s taxable income levels are low. This can often be achieved by paying reasonable salaries and bonuses to shareholder-employees and providing them with tax-favored fringe benefits (deductible by the corporation and tax-free to the recipient shareholder-employees).

C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures with appreciating assets or certain depreciable assets. If assets such as real estate are eventually sold for substantial gains, it may be impossible to extract the profits from the corporation without being subject to double taxation. In contrast, if appreciating assets are held by a pass-through entity (such as an S corporation, partnership or limited liability company treated as a partnership for tax purposes), gains on such sales will be taxed only once, at the owner level.

But assets held by a C corporation don’t necessarily have to appreciate in value for double taxation to occur. Depreciation lowers the tax basis of the property, so a taxable gain results whenever the sale price exceeds the depreciated basis. In effect, appreciation can be caused by depreciation when depreciable assets hold their value.

To avoid this double-taxation issue, you might consider using a pass-through entity to lease to your C corporation appreciating assets or depreciable assets that will hold their value.

C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures that will incur ongoing tax losses. When a venture is set up as a C corporation, losses aren’t passed through to the owners (the shareholders) like they would be in a pass-through entity. Instead, they create corporate net operating losses (NOLs) that can be carried over to future tax years and then used to offset any corporate taxable income.

This was already a potential downside of C corporations, because it can take many years for a start-up to be profitable. Now, under the TCJA, NOLs that arise in tax years beginning after 2017 can’t offset more than 80% of taxable income in the NOL carryover year. So it may take even longer to fully absorb tax losses.

Do you have questions about C corporation tax issues post-TCJA? Contact us.

© 2019

Depreciation-related breaks on business real estate: What you need to know when you file your 2018 return

Commercial buildings and improvements generally are depreciated over 39 years, which essentially means you can deduct a portion of the cost every year over the depreciation period. (Land isn’t depreciable.) But special tax breaks that allow deductions to be taken more quickly are available for certain real estate investments.

Some of these were enhanced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and may provide a bigger benefit when you file your 2018 tax return. But there’s one break you might not be able to enjoy due to a drafting error in the TCJA.

Section 179 expensing

This allows you to deduct (rather than depreciate over a number of years) qualified improvement property — a definition expanded by the TCJA from qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property. The TCJA also allows Sec. 179 expensing for certain depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging and for the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.

Under the TCJA, for qualifying property placed in service in tax years starting in 2018, the expensing limit increases to $1 million (from $510,000 for 2017), subject to a phaseout if your qualified asset purchases for the year exceed $2.5 million (compared to $2.03 million for 2017). These amounts will be adjusted annually for inflation, and for 2019 they’re $1.02 million and $2.55 million, respectively.

Accelerated depreciation

This break allows a shortened recovery period of 15 years for qualified improvement property. Before the TCJA, the break was available only for qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property.

Bonus depreciation

This additional first-year depreciation allowance is available for qualified assets, which before the TCJA included qualified improvement property. But due to a drafting error in the new law, qualified improvement property will be eligible for bonus depreciation only if a technical correction is issued.

When available, bonus depreciation is increased to 100% (up from 50%) for qualified property placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, but before Jan. 1, 2023. For 2023 through 2026, bonus depreciation is scheduled to be gradually reduced. Warning: Under the TCJA, real estate businesses that elect to deduct 100% of their business interest will be ineligible for bonus depreciation starting in 2018.

Can you benefit?

Although the enhanced depreciation-related breaks may offer substantial savings on your 2018 tax bill, it’s possible they won’t prove beneficial over the long term. Taking these deductions now means forgoing deductions that could otherwise be taken later, over a period of years under normal depreciation schedules. In some situations — such as if in the future your business could be in a higher tax bracket or tax rates go up — the normal depreciation deductions could be more valuable long-term.

For more information on these breaks or advice on whether you should take advantage of them, please contact us.

© 2019

Many tax-related limits affecting businesses increase for 2019

A variety of tax-related limits affecting businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have gone up for 2019. Here’s a look at some that may affect you and your business.

Deductions

  • Section 179 expensing:

    • Limit: $1.02 million (up from $1 million)

    • Phaseout: $2.55 million (up from $2.5 million)

  • Income-based phase-ins for certain limits on the Sec. 199A qualified business income deduction:

    • Married filing jointly: $321,400-$421,400 (up from $315,000-$415,000)

    • Married filing separately: $160,725-$210,725 (up from $157,500-$207,500)

    • Other filers: $160,700-$210,700 (up from $157,500-$207,500)

Retirement plans

  • Employee contributions to 401(k) plans: $19,000 (up from $18,500)

  • Catch-up contributions to 401(k) plans: $6,000 (no change)

  • Employee contributions to SIMPLEs: $13,000 (up from $12,500)

  • Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs: $3,000 (no change)

  • Combined employer/employee contributions to defined contribution plans (not including catch-ups): $56,000 (up from $55,000)

  • Maximum compensation used to determine contributions: $280,000 (up from $275,000)

  • Annual benefit for defined benefit plans: $225,000 (up from $220,000)

  • Compensation defining “highly compensated employee”: $125,000 (up from $120,000)

  • Compensation defining “key employee”: $180,000 (up from $175,000)

Other employee benefits

  • Qualified transportation fringe-benefits employee income exclusion: $265 per month (up from $260)

  • Health Savings Account contributions:

    • Individual coverage: $3,500 (up from $3,450)

    • Family coverage: $7,000 (up from $6,900)

    • Catch-up contribution: $1,000 (no change)

  • Flexible Spending Account contributions:

    • Health care: $2,700 (up from $2,650)

    • Dependent care: $5,000 (no change)

Additional rules apply to these limits, and they are only some of the limits that may affect your business. Please contact us for more information.

© 2019

New tax law enhances the appeal of C corporations

Many owners of private companies have been leery of operating as a regular C corporation. If you make that choice, you will be exposed to double-taxation of business income.

First, a corporate income tax applies to the company’s profits. Second, any dividends that pass to you and other shareholders will be subject to personal income taxes. Making matters even more expensive, your C corporation won’t get an income tax deduction for the dividends it pays out.

Pain relief

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 has made this tax parlay easier to bear. Personal income tax rates generally have come down: the top federal rate, from now through 2025, has been lowered from 39.6% to 37%, for example.

During these years, corporate income will be taxed at a flat 21%, regardless of the amount. (Formerly, there was a graduated tax schedule, going up to 35%.) These tax rate reductions, combined with the retention of the 15% or 20% tax rates on qualified dividends received (which are based on the capital gains rates), may make it cost effective to operate your business as a C corporation.

Pros and cons

Other factors should be weighed when deciding on a business entity. For example, C corporations have some tax advantages, such as the ability to deduct the cost of certain fringe benefits and not pass on imputed income to significant shareholders.

At the same time, C corporations pose other tax perils. Owners may have to contend with possible unreasonable compensation (paying too much in salary and bonus) and excess accumulated earnings (saving too much, rather than paying dividends) issues. Our office can help you put numbers on all of these looming tax traps, so you can make an informed decision.

Note: The IRS explains how corporations on a fiscal tax year, rather than a calendar year, may have to deal with the transition to new tax rates at www.irs.gov/newsroom/many-corporations-will-pay-a-blended-federal-income-tax-this-year-under-the-new-tax-reform-law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy business assets before year end to reduce your 2018 tax liability

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has enhanced two depreciation-related breaks that are popular year-end tax planning tools for businesses. To take advantage of these breaks, you must purchase qualifying assets and place them in service by the end of the tax year. That means there’s still time to reduce your 2018 tax liability with these breaks, but you need to act soon.

Section 179 expensing 

Sec. 179 expensing is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in Year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 expensing can be used for assets such as equipment, furniture and software. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA expanded the list of qualifying assets to include qualified improvement property, certain property used primarily to furnish lodging and the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.

The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2018 is $1 million, up from $510,000 for 2017. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2018 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.5 million, up from $2.03 million for 2017.

100% bonus depreciation 

For qualified assets that your business places in service in 2018, the TCJA allows you to claim 100% first-year bonus depreciation • compared to 50% in 2017. This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment and office furniture. The TCJA has expanded eligible assets to include used assets; previously, only new assets were eligible.

However, due to a TCJA drafting error, qualified improvement property will be eligible only if a technical correction is issued. Also be aware that, under the TCJA, certain businesses aren’t eligible for bonus depreciation in 2018, such as real estate businesses that elect to deduct 100% of their business interest and auto dealerships with floor plan financing (if the dealership has average annual gross receipts of more than $25 million for the three previous tax years).

Traditional, powerful strategy

Keep in mind that Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation can also be used for business vehicles. So purchasing vehicles before year end could reduce your 2018 tax liability. But, depending on the type of vehicle, additional limits may apply.

Investing in business assets is a traditional and powerful year-end tax planning strategy, and it might make even more sense in 2018 because of the TCJA enhancements to Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation. If you have questions about these breaks or other ways to maximize your depreciation deductions, please contact us.

© 2018

ESOPs offer a tax-efficient exit strategy for business owners

Do you own a closely-held company? Are you approaching retirement age? If so, you may be struggling to balance conflicting goals for your business. An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) may help.

A look at the problem

Business owners often need to tap at least some of the value of their business to fund their retirement. At the same time, they may wish to preserve their company for their children, employees and community.

Further complicating matters is that there can be tax advantages to transferring ownership to the next generation as early as possible. Yet owners aren’t always prepared to walk away from their company when it makes the best sense from a tax perspective.

Possible solution

Enter the ESOP. This tool can provide a tax-efficient exit strategy that allows you to remain in control until you’re fully ready to retire. A note of caution: ESOPs are available only to corporations. So if your business is organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership or limited liability company (LLC), you’ll have to convert it into corporate form (a potentially complicated proposition) to take advantage of this strategy.

An ESOP is a type of qualified retirement plan. But instead of investing in publicly traded stocks, bonds and mutual funds, an ESOP is designed to invest primarily in your company’s stock. Like other qualified plans, it’s subject to rules and restrictions, including contribution limits and coverage requirements. Unlike other plans, however, ESOPs must obtain annual independent appraisals of their stock.

When employees become eligible for benefits, they receive the vested portion of their ESOP account balance in the form of stock or cash. If your company is closely held, employees who receive stock must be given a “put option” — the right to sell the stock back to the company during specified time windows at fair market value.

Count the benefits

The advantages for owners are significant. By selling some of your company stock to an ESOP, you achieve greater liquidity, diversification and financial security. What’s more, if your company is a C corporation and the ESOP acquires at least 30% of its stock, you can defer any taxable capital gains on the sale by reinvesting the proceeds in certain qualified securities.

Giving up ownership, however, doesn’t mean giving up control — at least not right away. You can continue to serve as your company’s CEO and, as a trustee of the ESOP trust, vote on most corporate decisions.

ESOPs also make sense from an estate planning perspective. Selling shares to your company’s plan provides you with liquid assets to distribute to children or other family members who aren’t involved in the business. At the same time, you can hold on to enough stock to transfer control of the business to those who are involved.

Business boon

By tying the value of the ESOP to your company’s stock, you give employees a powerful incentive to work hard for the business’s future. Company contributions to the ESOP that are used to acquire your stock are tax-deductible, and the company can even borrow the funds it needs — essentially allowing it to deduct both interest and principal payments on the loan.

If your company is structured as an S corporation, the ESOP’s allocable share of its income is exempt from federal income taxes. (A similar exemption is available in most states.) This means that an S corporation owned 100% by an ESOP can avoid federal income taxes — and often state income taxes — altogether. However, keep in mind that S corporation ESOPs present certain tax disadvantages as well, such as preventing owners from deferring gains on shares sold to the ESOP.

Consider the costs

Despite the benefits, ESOP costs can add up — including the expense of annual appraisals, stock repurchase obligations, loan payments and qualified plan administration. Weigh such costs with your advisors before adopting this strategy. In addition, tax reform could potentially affect ESOP and estate planning strategies. So be sure to consult your tax advisor.

© 2018

Year-end business tax planning

Under the TCJA, equipment expensing permitted by Section 179 of the tax code was expanded. In 2018, your business can take a first-year deduction of up to $1 million worth of equipment purchases. You might buy, say, $400,000 worth of equipment and deduct $400,000 from your company’s profits this year. Without the Section 179 tax break, that $400,000 tax deduction would be spread over multiple years.

            New and used equipment that is bought or leased can qualify for first-year expensing. The equipment must be placed in service by December 31 to earn a 2018 deduction. For this purpose, the date you pay for the equipment doesn’t matter.

            Section 179 is meant to benefit smaller companies, not giant corporations. Therefore, this tax break phases out, dollar for dollar, at $2.5 million of outlays in 2018.

 

Bonus depreciation

The TCJA also expanded the use of “bonus” depreciation: first-year deductions for equipment expenditures that don’t qualify for Section 179 expensing. Prior law allowed for 50% bonus depreciation, but that has been increased to 100% deductions in the year of acquisition.

            Certain equipment is excluded from bonus depreciation, but most of the items you use in your business probably will qualify. Indeed, bonus depreciation now applies to some used equipment, as well, whereas only new equipment qualified in the past. Again, exceptions apply, but 100% tax deductions probably will be available for items that have not been used by your company in the past and have not been acquired from a related party.

Acting by year-end may lock in substantial depreciation deductions for this year. You even may be able to use bonus depreciation deductions that exceed business income to reduce your personal income tax bill for 2018.

 Sport-utility vehicles

For more than a decade, large passenger autos defined as sport-utility vehicles have faced a $25,000 cap in regard to Section 179 expensing. 

Changing times

For business owners, this first year-end tax planning opportunity under the TCJA of 2017 may be a time to reconsider how the company is structured. Broadly, your choice is between operating as a regular C corporation or as a flow-through entity, such as an S corporation or a limited liability company.

            The new tax law lowered the corporate income tax, which has been set at a relatively attractive flat 21% rate. However, C corporations still impose two levels of tax: the corporate income tax plus personal tax paid by company owners. Dividends are not tax deductible, so business owners effectively pay double tax on dividends received.

            Flow-through entities may qualify for a newly enacted 20% deduction on qualified business income (QBI).

 

Tax-free fringe benefits help small businesses and their employees

In today’s tightening job market, to attract and retain the best employees, small businesses need to offer not only competitive pay, but also appealing fringe benefits. Benefits that are tax-free are especially attractive to employees. Let’s take a quick look at some popular options.

Insurance

Businesses can provide their employees with various types of insurance on a tax-free basis. Here are some of the most common:

Health insurance. If you maintain a health care plan for employees, coverage under the plan isn’t taxable to them. Employee contributions are excluded from income if pretax coverage is elected under a cafeteria plan. Otherwise, such amounts are included in their wages, but may be deductible on a limited basis as an itemized deduction.

Disability insurance. Your premium payments aren’t included in employees’ income, nor are your contributions to a trust providing disability benefits. Employees’ premium payments (or other contributions to the plan) generally aren’t deductible by them or excludable from their income. However, they can make pretax contributions to a cafeteria plan for disability benefits, which are excludable from their income.

Long-term care insurance. Your premium payments aren’t taxable to employees. However, long-term care insurance can’t be provided through a cafeteria plan.

Life insurance. Your employees generally can exclude from gross income premiums you pay on up to $50,000 of qualified group term life insurance coverage. Premiums you pay for qualified coverage exceeding $50,000 are taxable to the extent they exceed the employee’s coverage contributions.

Other types of tax-advantaged benefits

Insurance isn’t the only type of tax-free benefit you can provide — but the tax treatment of certain benefits has changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:

Dependent care assistance. You can provide employees with tax-free dependent care assistance up to $5,000 for 2018 though a dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), also known as a Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP).

Adoption assistance. For employees who’re adopting children, you can offer an employee adoption assistance program. Employees can exclude from their taxable income up to $13,810 of adoption benefits in 2018.

Educational assistance. You can help employees on a tax-free basis through educational assistance plans (up to $5,250 per year), job-related educational assistance and qualified scholarships.

Moving expense reimbursement. Before the TCJA, if you reimbursed employees for qualifying job-related moving expenses, the reimbursement could be excluded from the employee’s income. The TCJA suspends this break for 2018 through 2025. However, such reimbursements may still be deductible by your business.

Transportation benefits. Qualified employee transportation fringe benefits, such as parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling, are tax-free to recipient employees. However, the TCJA suspends through 2025 the business deduction for providing such benefits. It also suspends the tax-free benefit of up to $20 a month for bicycle commuting.

Varying tax treatment

As you can see, the tax treatment of fringe benefits varies. Contact us for more information.

© 2018


Businesses aren’t immune to tax identity theft

Tax identity theft may seem like a problem only for individual taxpayers. But, according to the IRS, increasingly businesses are also becoming victims. And identity thieves have become more sophisticated, knowing filing practices, the tax code and the best ways to get valuable data.

How it works

In tax identity theft, a taxpayer’s identifying information (such as Social Security number) is used to fraudulently obtain a refund or commit other crimes. Business tax identity theft occurs when a criminal uses the identifying information of a business to obtain tax benefits or to enable individual tax identity theft schemes.

For example, a thief could use an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to file a fraudulent business tax return and claim a refund. Or a fraudster may report income and withholding for fake employees on false W-2 forms. Then, he or she can file fraudulent individual tax returns for these “employees” to claim refunds.

The consequences can include significant dollar amounts, lost time sorting out the mess and damage to your reputation.

Red flags

There are some red flags that indicate possible tax identity theft. For example, your business’s identity may have been compromised if:

  *   Your business doesn’t receive expected or routine mailings from the IRS,
  *   You receive an IRS notice that doesn’t relate to anything your business submitted, that’s about fictitious employees or that’s related to a defunct, closed or dormant business after all account balances have been paid,
  *   The IRS rejects an e-filed return or an extension-to-file request, saying it already has a return with that identification number — or the IRS accepts it as an amended return,
  *   You receive an IRS letter stating that more than one tax return has been filed in your business’s name, or
  *   You receive a notice from the IRS that you have a balance due when you haven’t yet filed a return.

Keep in mind, though, that some of these could be the result of a simple error, such as an inadvertent transposition of numbers. Nevertheless, you should contact the IRS immediately if you receive any notices or letters from the agency that you believe might indicate that someone has fraudulently used your Employer Identification Number.

Prevention tips

Businesses should take steps such as the following to protect their own information as well as that of their employees:

  *   Provide training to accounting, human resources and other employees to educate them on the latest tax fraud schemes and how to spot phishing emails.
  *   Use secure methods to send W-2 forms to employees.
  *   Implement risk management strategies designed to flag suspicious communications.

Of course identity theft can go beyond tax identity theft, so be sure to have a comprehensive plan in place to protect the data of your business, your employees and your customers. If you’re concerned your business has become a victim, or you have questions about prevention, please contact us.

© 2018