FMD Supports Special Olympics Event at Pine Trace Golf Club

At Fenner, Melstrom & Dooling, PLC our team has a passion for being a part of the local community. On August 6, we were one of the local sponsors for the Special Olympics of Michigan at the Special Olympics Golf Benefit at Pine Trace Golf Club which is located on South Blvd in Rochester Hills. This 27th annual golf benefit continues to help the local community, and we are thrilled to stay involved and help.

 

At this benefit, typically six golf skill events take place.  However, due to inclement weather, Golfers were unable to participate in this part of the annual event.  Instead participants and sponsors were able to enjoy a delicious meal and get to know one another!

 

Thank you to Mike Bylen and Pine Trace Golf Club for hosting such a great evening.

 

Contemplating compensation increases and pay for performance

As a business grows, one of many challenges it faces is identifying a competitive yet manageable compensation structure. After all, offer too little and you likely won’t have much success in hiring. Offer too much and you may compromise cash flow and profitability.

But the challenge doesn’t end there. Once you have a feasible compensation structure in place, your organization must then set its course for determining the best way for employees to progress through it. And this is when you must contemplate the nature and efficacy of linking pay to performance.

Issues in play

Some observers believe that companies shouldn’t use compensation to motivate employees because workers might stop focusing on quality of work and start focusing on money. Additionally, employees may feel that the merit — or “pay-for-performance” — model pits staff members against each other for the highest raises.

Thus, some businesses give uniform pay adjustments to everyone. In doing so, these companies hope to eliminate competition and ensure that all employees are working toward the same goal. But, if everyone gets the same raise, is there any motivation for employees to continually improve?

2 critical factors

Many businesses don’t think so and do use additional money to motivate employees, whether by bonuses, commissions or bigger raises. In its most basic form, a merit increase is the amount of additional compensation added to current base pay following an employee’s performance review. Two critical factors typically determine the increase:

  1. The amount of money a company sets aside in its “merit” budget for performance-based increases — usually based on competitive market practice, and
  2. Employee performance as determined through a performance review process conducted by management.

Although pay-for-performance can achieve its original intent — recognizing employee performance and outstanding contributions to the company’s success — beware that your employees may perceive merit increases as an entitlement or even nothing more than an inflation adjustment. If they do, pay-for-performance may not be effective as a motivational tool.

Communication is the key

The ideal solution to both compensation structure and pay raises will vary based on factors such as the size of the business and typical compensation levels of its industry. Nonetheless, to avoid unintended ill effects of the pay-for-performance model, be sure to communicate clearly with employees. Be as specific as possible about what contributes to merit increases and ensure that your performance review process is transparent, interactive and understandable. Contact us to discuss this or other compensation-related issues further.

© 2018

An FLP can save tax in a family business succession

One of the biggest concerns for family business owners is succession planning — transferring ownership and control of the company to the next generation. Often, the best time tax-wise to start transferring ownership is long before the owner is ready to give up control of the business.

A family limited partnership (FLP) can help owners enjoy the tax benefits of gradually transferring ownership yet allow them to retain control of the business.

How it works

To establish an FLP, you transfer your ownership interests to a partnership in exchange for both general and limited partnership interests. You then transfer limited partnership interests to your children.

You retain the general partnership interest, which may be as little as 1% of the assets. But as general partner, you can still run day-to-day operations and make business decisions.

Tax benefits

As you transfer the FLP interests, their value is removed from your taxable estate. What’s more, the future business income and asset appreciation associated with those interests move to the next generation.

Because your children hold limited partnership interests, they have no control over the FLP, and thus no control over the business. They also can’t sell their interests without your consent or force the FLP’s liquidation.

The lack of control and lack of an outside market for the FLP interests generally mean the interests can be valued at a discount — so greater portions of the business can be transferred before triggering gift tax. For example, if the discount is 25%, in 2018 you could gift an FLP interest equal to as much as $20,000 tax-free because the discounted value wouldn’t exceed the $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion.

To transfer interests in excess of the annual exclusion, you can apply your lifetime gift tax exemption. And 2018 may be a particularly good year to do so, because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act raised it to a record-high $11.18 million. The exemption is scheduled to be indexed for inflation through 2025 and then drop back down to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026. While Congress could extend the higher exemption, using as much of it as possible now may be tax-smart.

There also may be income tax benefits. The FLP’s income will flow through to the partners for income tax purposes. Your children may be in a lower tax bracket, potentially reducing the amount of income tax paid overall by the family.

FLP risks

Perhaps the biggest downside is that the IRS scrutinizes FLPs. If it determines that discounts were excessive or that your FLP had no valid business purpose beyond minimizing taxes, it could assess additional taxes, interest and penalties.

The IRS pays close attention to how FLPs are administered. Lack of attention to partnership formalities, for example, can indicate that an FLP was set up solely as a tax-reduction strategy.

Right for you?

An FLP can be an effective succession and estate planning tool, but it isn’t risk free. Please contact us for help determining whether an FLP is right for you.

© 2018

Is there a weak link in your supply chain?

In an increasingly global economy, keeping a close eye on your supply chain is imperative. Even if your company operates only locally or nationally, your suppliers could be affected by wider economic conditions and developments. So, make sure you’re regularly assessing where weak links in your supply chain may lie.

3 common risks

Every business faces a variety of risks. Three of the most common are:

1. Legal risks. Are any of your suppliers involved in legal conflicts that could adversely affect their ability to earn revenue or continue serving you?

2. Political risks. Are any suppliers located in a politically unstable region — even nationally? Could the outcome of a municipal, state or federal election adversely affect your industry’s supply chain?

3. Transportation risks. How reliant are your suppliers on a particular type of transportation? For example, what’s their backup plan if winter weather shuts down air routes for a few days? Or could wildfires or mudslides block trucking routes?

Potential fallout

The potential fallout from an unstable supply chain can be devastating. Obviously, first and foremost, you may be unable to timely procure the supplies you need to operate profitably.

Beyond that, high-risk supply chains can also affect your ability to obtain financing. Lenders may view risks as too high to justify your current debt or a new loan request. You could face higher interest rates or more stringent penalties to compensate for it.

Strategies to consider

Just as businesses face many supply chain risks, they can also avail themselves of a variety of coping strategies. For example, you might divide purchases equally among three suppliers — instead of just one — to diversify your supplier base. You might spread out suppliers geographically to mitigate the threat of a regional disaster.

Also consider strengthening protections against unforeseen events by adding to inventory buffers to hedge against short-term shortages. Take a hard look at your supplier contracts as well. You may be able to negotiate long-term deals to include upfront payment terms, exclusivity clauses and access to computerized just-in-time inventory systems to more accurately forecast demand and more closely integrate your operations with supply-chain partners.

Lasting success

You can have a very successful business, but if you can’t keep delivering your products and services to customers consistently, you’ll likely find success fleeting. A solid supply chain fortified against risk is a must. We can provide further information and other ideas.

© 2018

Do you qualify for the home office deduction?

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer claim the home office deduction. If, however, you run a business from your home or are otherwise self-employed and use part of your home for business purposes, the home office deduction may still be available to you.

Home-related expenses

Homeowners know that they can claim itemized deductions for property tax and mortgage interest on their principal residences, subject to certain limits. Most other home-related expenses, such as utilities, insurance and repairs, aren’t deductible.

But if you use part of your home for business purposes, you may be entitled to deduct a portion of these expenses, as well as depreciation. Or you might be able to claim the simplified home office deduction of $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).

Regular and exclusive use

You might qualify for the home office deduction if part of your home is used as your principal place of business “regularly and exclusively,” defined as follows:

1. Regular use. You use a specific area of your home for business on a regular basis. Incidental or occasional business use is not regular use.

2. Exclusive use. You use the specific area of your home only for business. It’s not necessary for the space to be physically partitioned off. But, you don’t meet the requirements if the area is used both for business and personal purposes, such as a home office that also serves as a guest bedroom.

Regular and exclusive business use of the space aren’t, however, the only criteria.

Principal place of business

Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you 1) use the space exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities of your business, and 2) don’t have another fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities.

Examples of activities that are administrative or managerial in nature include:

  • Billing customers, clients or patients,
  • Keeping books and records,
  • Ordering supplies,
  • Setting up appointments, and
  • Forwarding orders or writing reports.

Meetings or storage

If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises. The use of your home must be substantial and integral to the business conducted.

Alternatively, you may be able to claim the home office deduction if you have a storage area in your home — or in a separate free-standing structure (such as a studio, workshop, garage or barn) — that’s used exclusively and regularly for your business.

Valuable tax-savings

The home office deduction can provide a valuable tax-saving opportunity for business owners and other self-employed taxpayers who work from home. If you’re not sure whether you qualify or if you have other questions, please contact us.

© 2018

 

Get SMART When It Comes to Setting Strategic Goals

Strategic planning is key to ensuring every company’s long-term viability, and goal setting is an indispensable step toward fulfilling those plans. Unfortunately, businesses often don’t accomplish their overall strategic plans because they’re unable to fully reach the various goals necessary to get there.

If this scenario sounds all too familiar, trace your goals back to their origin. Those that are poorly conceived typically set up a company for failure. One solution is to follow the SMART approach.

Definitions to work by

The SMART system was first introduced to the business world in the early 1980s. Although the acronym’s letters have been associated with different meanings over the years, they’re commonly defined as:

Specific. Goals must be precise. So, if your strategic plan includes growing the business, your goals must then explicitly state how you’ll do so. For each goal, define the “5 Ws” — who, what, where, when and why.

Measurable. Setting goals is of little value if you can’t easily assess your progress toward them. Pair each goal with one or more metrics to measure progress and success. This may mean increasing revenue by a certain percentage, expanding your customer base by winning a certain number of new accounts, or something else.

Achievable. Unrealistically aggressive goals can crush motivation. No one wants to put time and effort into something that’s likely to fail. Ensure your goals can be accomplished, but don’t make them too easy. The best ones are usually somewhat of a stretch but still doable. Rely on your own business experience and the feedback of your trusted managers to find the right balance.

Relevant. Let’s say you identify a goal that you know you can achieve. Before locking it in, ask whether and how it will move your business forward. Again, goals should directly and clearly support your long-term strategic plan. Sometimes companies can be tempted by “low-hanging fruit” — goals that are easy to accomplish but lead nowhere.

Timely. Assign each goal a deadline. Doing so will motivate those involved by creating a sense of urgency. Also, once you’ve established a deadline, work backwards and set periodic milestones to help everyone pace themselves toward the goal.

Eye on the future

Strategic planning, and the goal setting that goes along with it, might seem like a waste of time. But even if your business is thriving now, it’s important to keep an eye on the future. And that means long-term strategic planning that includes SMART goals. Our firm would be happy to explain further and offer other ideas.
 

 

Wayfair Sales Tax Case

You may have heard that last month, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the State of South Dakota against online sellers Wayfair, Overstock.com, and Newegg in a case that is commonly referred to as the “The Wayfair Case”. The primary focus of the case centered around a state’s right to force out-of-state sellers, without a physical presence in the state, to comply with their sales tax collection laws.  

Since a 1992 Supreme Court Decision (The Quill Case), states have not been allowed to force companies, without a physical presence in the state, to comply with their sales tax laws.  Quill is an office supply company, who at the time was selling primarily via catalogs, national ads, and telephone calls. The court ruled that Quill was not subject to the North Dakota sales tax laws, because they lacked a physical presence in the State of North Dakota. 

With the passage of time and the continued development of online retailing, 41 states, two territories, and Washington D.C. have all requested the court to review the standard established under Quill.  The Wayfair case focused around South Dakota’s enactment of a“Kill Quill” bill in which the State forced any company with more than $100,000 in sales revenue or 200 “transactions” of taxable products delivered into the state to collect and remit Sales and Use tax. 

Because most States have already enacted a Use tax provision (or something similar) the Wayfair case shouldn’t change the amount of tax required to be paid to any individual state.  It may, however, change who is responsible for making sure the tax is collected and paid.  Use tax provisions generally require the purchaser to voluntarily report and pay the tax.  Wayfair shifts that burden to the seller, which most states believe will ultimately generate more revenue to the state.  Studies have historically shown that Use tax is greatly underreported by purchasers. 

The Wayfair case could fundamentally change how sales and use tax are collected over state lines. The question is, “How will the rules evolve?”  Some states have already adopted the $100,000 and 200 transaction tests used by South Dakota. Both the opinion of the Quill case and in the dissenting opinion of Wayfair suggested that Congress should resolve this issue. 

It is too early to tell how this may ultimately be resolved.  If your organization has out-of-state retail sales, please contact a FMD representative at your earliest convenience to discuss how Wayfair may affect your organization.

 

 

Business deductions for meal, vehicle and travel expenses: Document, document, document

Meal, vehicle and travel expenses are common deductions for businesses. But if you don’t properly document these expenses, you could find your deductions denied by the IRS.

A critical requirement

Subject to various rules and limits, business meal (generally 50%), vehicle and travel expenses may be deductible, whether you pay for the expenses directly or reimburse employees for them. Deductibility depends on a variety of factors, but generally the expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” and directly related to the business.

Proper documentation, however, is one of the most critical requirements. And all too often, when the IRS scrutinizes these deductions, taxpayers don’t have the necessary documentation.

What you need to do

Following some simple steps can help ensure you have documentation that will pass muster with the IRS:

Keep receipts or similar documentation. You generally must have receipts, canceled checks or bills that show amounts and dates of business expenses. If you’re deducting vehicle expenses using the standard mileage rate (54.5 cents for 2018), log business miles driven.

Track business purposes. Be sure to record the business purpose of each expense. This is especially important if on the surface an expense could appear to be a personal one. If the business purpose of an expense is clear from the surrounding circumstances, the IRS might not require a written explanation — but it’s probably better to err on the side of caution and document the business purpose anyway.

Require employees to comply. If you reimburse employees for expenses, make sure they provide you with proper documentation. Also be aware that the reimbursements will be treated as taxable compensation to the employee (and subject to income tax and FICA withholding) unless you make them via an “accountable plan.”

Don’t re-create expense logs at year end or when you receive an IRS deficiency notice. Take a moment to record the details in a log or diary at the time of the event or soon after. The IRS considers timely kept records more reliable, plus it’s easier to track expenses as you go than try to re-create a log later. For expense reimbursements, require employees to submit monthly expense reports (which is also generally a requirement for an accountable plan).

Addressing uncertainty

You’ve probably heard that, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, entertainment expenses are no longer deductible. There’s some debate as to whether this includes business meals with actual or prospective clients. Until there’s more certainty on that issue, it’s a good idea to document these expenses. That way you’ll have what you need to deduct them if Congress or the IRS provides clarification that these expenses are indeed still deductible.

For more information about what meal, vehicle and travel expenses are and aren’t deductible — and how to properly document deductible expenses — please contact us.

© 2018

CLOSE-UP ON THE NEW QBI DEDUCTION’S WAGE LIMIT

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides a valuable new tax break to noncorporate owners of pass-through entities: a deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI). The deduction generally applies to income from sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). It can equal as much as 20% of QBI. But once taxable income exceeds $315,000 for married couples filing jointly or $157,500 for other filers, a wage limit begins to phase in.

Full vs. partial phase-in

When the wage limit is fully phased in, at $415,000 for joint filers and $207,500 for other filers, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of:

  • 50% of the amount of W-2 wages paid to employees during the tax year, or
  • The sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified business property (QBP).

When the wage limit applies but isn’t yet fully phased in, the amount of the limit is reduced and the final deduction is calculated as follows:

  1. The difference between taxable income and the applicable threshold is divided by $100,000 for joint filers or $50,000 for other filers.
  2. The resulting percentage is multiplied by the difference between the gross deduction and the fully wage-limited deduction.
  3. The result is subtracted from the gross deduction to determine the final deduction.

Some examples

Let’s say Chris and Leslie have taxable income of $600,000. This includes $300,000 of QBI from Chris’s pass-through business, which pays $100,000 in wages and has $200,000 of QBP. The gross deduction would be $60,000 (20% of $300,000), but the wage limit applies in full because the married couple’s taxable income exceeds the $415,000 top of the phase-in range for joint filers. Computing the deduction is fairly straightforward in this situation.

The first option for the wage limit calculation is $50,000 (50% of $100,000). The second option is $30,000 (25% of $100,000 + 2.5% of $200,000). So the wage limit — and the deduction — is $50,000.

What if Chris and Leslie’s taxable income falls within the phase-in range? The calculation is a bit more complicated. Let’s say their taxable income is $400,000. The full wage limit is still $50,000, but only 85% of the full limit applies:

($400,000 taxable income - $315,000 threshold)/$100,000 = 85%

To calculate the amount of their deduction, the couple must first calculate 85% of the difference between the gross deduction of $60,000 and the fully wage-limited deduction of $50,000:

($60,000 - $50,000) × 85% = $8,500

That amount is subtracted from the $60,000 gross deduction for a final deduction of $51,500.

That’s not all

Be aware that another restriction may apply: For income from “specified service businesses,” the QBI deduction is reduced if an owner’s taxable income falls within the applicable income range and eliminated if income exceeds it. Please contact us to learn whether your business is a specified service business or if you have other questions about the QBI deduction.

© 2018

Education as a small-business fringe benefit

As reported in previous issues of the CPA Client Bulletin this year, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 dramatically reduced taxpayers’ ability to itemize deductions. Among the tax deduction opportunities that have vanished, from 2018–2025, are miscellaneous itemized deductions that exceed 2% of the taxpayer’s gross income. Such deductions included unreimbursed employee business expenses.

            Drilling down, those no-longer-deductible employee expenses included education outlays that were related to someone’s work at your company.

            Example 1: Heidi Larson is a supervisor at ABC Corp., where she is responsible for a small group of workers. Heidi is paying for online courses that will ultimately lead to an MBA and help her in her current job. Under prior law, Heidi may have been able to deduct her costs for the MBA program, but that’s not the case now.

 

Filling the gap

Many people will be in Heidi’s situation, unable to offset the cost of paying for education that will bolster their careers. In this environment, your small business can provide valuable education-related assistance. Offering help in this area may allow your company to attract and retain high-quality workers, in addition to improving your employees’ on-the-job performance.

            In 2018, the IRS released an updated Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits, which reflects the new tax law. This guide mentions some ways that employers can offer education benefits that receive favorable tax treatment.

 

Educational assistance programs

An educational assistance program (EAP) must be a written plan created specifically to benefit your company’s employees. Under such a plan, you can exclude from taxable compensation up to $5,250 of educational assistance provided to each covered employee per year.

            Example 2: Suppose that DEF Corp. has an EAP. Ken Matthews, a supervisor there, is taking courses in a local MBA program. DEF provides $5,000 to help Ken pay for his courses this year. DEF can deduct its $5,000 outlay, whereas Ken does not report that $5,000 as taxable income. It makes no difference whether DEF pays the bills directly or reimburses Ken for his outlay.

            Some formality is required when setting up an EAP and certain requirements must be met. The plan can’t favor highly compensated employees or company owners, for example, and it can’t offer cash to employees instead of educational assistance. Our office can help you create an EAP that complies with IRS requirements.

 

Working-condition fringe benefit

The benefits in this category don’t require a formal plan, there is no limit on the amount of educational assistance involved, and no explicit limit on highly compensated employees or owners. However, there are rules that must be followed to earn tax breaks.  

            The education must be required, by the company or by law, in order for the employee to maintain his or her present position, salary, or status at the firm, and the learning must have a valid business purpose for the employer. If those conditions can’t be met, tax breaks still may be available if the education helps to maintain or improves job-related skills.

            Regardless of the previous paragraph, tax benefits will be denied if the education is needed to meet the minimum educational requirements of the employee's current job or if the course will qualify the employee for a new trade or business.

            Example 3: Nora Pearson, a supervisor at GHI Corp., is going to law school at night. Even if learning the law will help Nora do her job better, company funding for her courses won’t qualify for favorable taxation because the education could enable Nora to become an attorney, a new trade for her. Any assistance from GHI will be treated as taxable compensation.

            Note that it is possible to have an EAP and provide over $5,250 to an eligible employee. Assuming that all conditions are met, assistance over $5,250 might be deductible for the employer and excluded from the employee’s taxable compensation as a working-condition fringe benefit.