Are you the founder of your company? If so, congratulations — you’ve created something truly amazing! And it’s more than understandable that you’d want to protect your legacy: the company you created.
But, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly important that you give serious thought to a succession plan. When this topic comes up, many business owners show signs of suffering from an all-too-common affliction.
In the nonprofit sphere, they call it “founder’s syndrome.” The term refers to a set of “symptoms” indicating that an organization’s founder maintains a disproportionate amount of power and influence over operations. Although founder’s syndrome is usually associated with not-for-profits, it can give business owners much to think about as well. Common symptoms include:
It’s worth noting that a founder’s reluctance to loosen his or her grip isn’t necessarily because of a power-hungry need to control. Many founders simply fear that the organization — whether nonprofit or business — would falter without their intensive oversight.
The good news is that founder’s syndrome is treatable. The first step is to address whether you yourself are either at risk for the affliction or already suffering from it. Doing so can be uncomfortable, but it’s critical. Here are some advisable actions:
Form a succession plan. This is a vital measure toward preserving the longevity of any company. If you’d prefer not involve anyone in your business just yet, consider a professional advisor or consultant.
Prepare for the transition, no matter how far away. Remember that a succession plan doesn’t necessarily spell out the end of your involvement in the company. It’s simply a transformation of role. Your vast knowledge and experience needs to be documented so the business can continue to benefit from it.
Ask for help. Your management team may need to step up its accountability as the succession plan becomes more fully formed. Managers must educate themselves about the organization in any areas where they’re lacking.
In addition to transferring leadership responsibilities, there’s the issue of transferring your ownership interests, which is also complex and requires careful planning.
Blood, sweat and tears
You’ve no doubt invested the proverbial blood, sweat and tears into launching your business and overseeing its growth. But planning for the next generation of leadership is, in its own way, just as important as the company itself. Let us help you develop a succession plan that will help ensure the long-term well-being of your business.
One important step to both reducing taxes and saving for retirement is to contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement plan. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, contributing to that is likely your best first step.
If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution rate between now and year end. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions sooner rather than later can have a significant impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.
A traditional 401(k) offers many benefits:
For 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000. So if your current contribution rate will leave you short of the limit, try to increase your contribution rate through the end of the year to get as close to that limit as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by less than the dollar amount of the contribution, because the contributions are pre-tax so income tax isn’t withheld.
If you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31, you can also make “catch-up” contributions (up to $6,000 for 2017). So if you didn’t contribute much when you were younger, this may allow you to partially make up for lost time. Even if you did make significant contributions before age 50, catch-up contributions can still be beneficial, allowing you to further leverage the power of tax-deferred compounding
Employers can include a Roth option in their 401(k) plans. If your plan offers this, you can designate some or all of your contribution as Roth contributions. While such contributions don’t reduce your current MAGI, qualified distributions will be tax-free.
Roth 401(k) contributions may be especially beneficial for higher-income earners, because they don’t have the option to contribute to a Roth IRA. On the other hand, if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement, you may be better off sticking with traditional 401(k) contributions.
Finally, keep in mind that any employer matches to Roth 401(k) contributions will be pretax and go into your traditional 401(k) account.
How much and which type
Have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth contributions? Contact us. We’d be pleased to discuss the tax and retirement-saving considerations with you.
“We love our customers!” Every business owner says it. But all customers aren’t created equal, and it’s in your strategic interest to know which customers are really strengthening your bottom line and by how much.
Sorting out the data
If your business systems track individual customer purchases, and your accounting system has good cost accounting or decision support capabilities, determining individual customer profitability will be simple. If you have cost data for individual products, but not at the customer level, you can manually “marry” product-specific purchase history with the cost data to determine individual customer value.
For example, if a customer purchased 10 units of Product 1 and five units of Product 2 last year, and Product 1 had a margin of $100 and Product 2 had a margin of $500, the total margin generated by the customer would be $3,500. Be sure to include data from enough years to even out normal fluctuations in purchases.
Don’t maintain cost data? No worries; you can sort the good from the bad by reviewing customer purchase volume and average sale price. Often, such data can be supplemented by general knowledge of the relative profitability of different products. Be sure that sales are net of any returns.
Incorporating indirect costs
High marketing, handling, service or billing costs for individual customers or segments of customers can have a significant effect on their profitability even if they purchase high-margin products. If you use activity-based costing, your company will already have this information allocated accurately.
If you don’t track individual customers, you can still generalize this analysis to customer segments or products. For instance, if a group of customers is served by the same distributor, you can estimate the resources used to support that channel and their associated costs. Or, you can have individual departments track employees’ time by customer or product for a specific period.
Knowing their value
There’s nothing wrong with loving your customers. But it’s even more important to know them and how much value they’re contributing to your profitability from operating period to operating period. Contact us for help breaking down the numbers.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
If a calendar-year C corporation that filed an automatic six-month extension:
You’ve probably heard the term and wondered whether it could happen to your company. Maybe it already has. We’re referring to “digital disruption” — when new technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services.
Perhaps the most notorious recent example of this is the rise of ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, which have turned the taxi industry on its ear. But it’s hardly a fait accompli that a business will fall flat on its face because of digital disruption. You may be able to dance right through it with the right digital transformation strategy. Here are five steps to consider:
1. Focus on customers. Businesses often view the world through the filters of marketing, sales and maximized revenues. Instead of thinking about business success, target the customer experience.
2. Make analytics your friend. Develop a strategy to access, analyze and use that data. Tap the brains of analysts who can think outside the box of departmental silos in order to combine all types of data, including point of sale, sensors and machines, logs and social streams. Then use that big data to innovate.
3. Unify operations. Best-practice organizations assess digital requirements from across the business and then set objectives. Most organizations have multiple teams and departments involved in digital transformation. It’s crucial to ensure that all of your business is aligned and operating toward the digital goals you’ve defined.
4. Think visually. Data visualization is the ability to see various data in a variety of formats such as charts, graphs or other representations. Infographics often play a role in visualization. If your company has a hard time understanding how data can be used to drive digital transformation, consult an advisor who can help you leverage this critical information.
5. Be nimble. By the time a project is completed, the market and customer requirements have often changed. To avoid this problem, develop digital agility that will let your business embrace operational changes as a matter of routine by using digital technologies. Digital agility is rooted in the concept of learn, launch, relearn and relaunch.
Digital disruption — and transformation, for that matter — are very much the new normal. We can help you crunch the numbers and target the trends that enable you to waltz around trouble and boogie your way to continued success.
If you acquire a company, your to-do list will be long, which means you can’t devote all of your time to the deal’s potential tax implications. However, if you neglect tax issues during the negotiation process, the negative consequences can be serious. To improve the odds of a successful acquisition, it’s important to devote resources to tax planning before your deal closes.
Complacency can be costly
During deal negotiations, you and the seller should discuss such issues as whether and how much each party can deduct their transaction costs and how much in local, state and federal tax obligations the parties will owe upon signing the deal. Often, deal structures (such as asset sales) that typically benefit buyers have negative tax consequences for sellers and vice versa. So it’s common for the parties to wrangle over taxes at this stage.
Just because you seem to have successfully resolved tax issues at the negotiation stage doesn’t mean you can become complacent. With adequate planning, you can spare your company from costly tax-related surprises after the transaction closes and you begin to integrate the acquired business. Tax management during integration can also help your company capture synergies more quickly and efficiently.
You may, for example, have based your purchase price on the assumption that you’ll achieve a certain percentage of cost reductions via postmerger synergies. However, if your taxation projections are flawed or you fail to follow through on earlier tax assumptions, you may not realize such synergies.
Merging accounting functions
One of the most important tax-related tasks is the integration of your seller’s and your own company’s accounting departments. There’s no time to waste: You generally must file federal and state income tax returns — either as a combined entity or as two separate sets — after the first full quarter following your transaction’s close. You also must account for any short-term tax obligations arising from your acquisition.
To ensure the two departments integrate quickly and are ready to prepare the required tax documents, decide well in advance of closing which accounting personnel you’ll retain. If you and your seller use different tax processing software or follow different accounting methods, choose between them as soon as feasible. Understand that, if your acquisition has been using a different accounting method, you’ll need to revise the company’s previous tax filings to align them with your own accounting system.
The tax consequences of M&A decisions may be costly and could haunt your company for years. We can help you ensure you plan properly and minimize any potentially negative tax consequences.
From the baseball field to the boardroom, statistical analysis has changed various industries nationwide. With proper preparation and guidance, business owners can have at their fingertips a wealth of stats-based insight into how their companies are performing — far beyond the bottom line on an income statement.
The metrics in question are commonly referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs). These formula-based measurements reveal the trends underlying a company’s operations. And seeing those trends can help you find the right path forward and give you fair warning when you’re headed in the wrong direction.Getting started
A good place to start is with some of the KPIs that apply to most businesses. For example, take current ratio (current assets / current liabilities). It can help you determine your capacity to meet your short-term liabilities with cash and other relatively liquid assets.
Another KPI to regularly calculate is working capital turnover ratio (revenue / average working capital). Many companies struggle with temperamental cash flows that can wax and wane based on buying trends or seasonal fluctuations. This ratio shows the amount of revenue supported by each dollar of net working capital used.
Debt is also an issue for many businesses. You can monitor your debt-to-equity (total debt / net worth) ratio to measure your degree of leverage. The higher the ratio, the greater the risk that creditors are assuming and the tougher it may be to obtain financing.Choosing wisely
There are many other KPIs we could discuss. The exact ones you should look at depend on the size of your company and the nature of its work. Please contact our firm for help choosing the right KPIs and calculating them accurately.
At back-to-school time, much of the focus is on the students returning to the classroom — and on their parents buying them school supplies, backpacks, clothes, etc., for the new school year. But let’s not forget about the teachers. It’s common for teachers to pay for some classroom supplies out of pocket, and the tax code provides a special break that makes it a little easier for these educators to deduct some of their expenses.
The miscellaneous itemized deductionstrong>
Generally, your employee expenses are deductible if they’re unreimbursed by your employer and ordinary and necessary to your business of being an employee. An expense is ordinary if it is common and accepted in your business. An expense is necessary if it is appropriate and helpful to your business.
These expenses must be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and are subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if all your deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceed 2% of your AGI. For many taxpayers, including teachers, this can be a difficult threshold to meet.
The educator expense deductionstrong>
Congress created the educator expense deduction to allow more teachers and other educators to receive a tax benefit from some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom expenses. The break was made permanent under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. Since 2016, the deduction has been annually indexed for inflation (though because of low inflation it hasn’t increased yet) and has included professional development expenses.
Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct up to $250 of qualified expenses. (If you’re married filing jointly and both you and your spouse are educators, you can deduct up to $500 of unreimbursed expenses — but not more than $250 each.)
Qualified expenses include amounts paid or incurred during the tax year for books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health and physical education, the costs for supplies are qualified expenses only if related to athletics.
An added benefitstrong>
The educator expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means you don’t have to itemize and it reduces your AGI, which has an added benefit: Because AGI-based limits affect a variety of tax breaks (such as the previously mentioned miscellaneous itemized deductions), lowering your AGI might help you maximize your tax breaks overall.
Contact us for more details about the educator expense deduction or tax breaks available for other work-related expenses.
When businesses provide meals to their employees, generally their deduction is limited to 50%. But there are exceptions. One is if the meal qualifies as a de minimis fringe benefit under the Internal Revenue Code.
A recent U.S. Tax Court ruling could ultimately mean that more employer-provided meals will be 100% deductible under this exception. The court found that the Boston Bruins hockey team’s pregame meals to players and personnel at out-of-town hotels qualified as a de minimis fringe benefit.
For meals to qualify as a de minimis fringe benefit, generally they must be occasional and have so little value that accounting for them would be unreasonable or administratively impracticable. But meals provided at an employer-operated eating facility for employees can also qualify.
For meals at an employer-operated facility, one requirement is that they be provided in a nondiscriminatory manner: Access to the eating facility must be available “on substantially the same terms to each member of a group of employees, which is defined under a reasonable classification set up by the employer that doesn’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.”
Assuming that definition is met, employee meals generally constitute a de minimis fringe benefit if the following conditions also are met:
The meals generally also must be furnished for the convenience of the employer rather than primarily as a form of additional compensation.
On the road
What’s significant about the Bruins case is that the meals were provided at hotels while the team was on the road. The Tax Court determined that the Bruins met all of the de minimis tests related to an employer-operated facility for their away-game team meals. The court’s reasoning included the following:
If your business provides meals under similar circumstances, it’s possible you might also be eligible for a 100% deduction. But be aware that the facts of this case are specific and restrictive. Also the IRS could appeal, and an appeals court could rule differently.
Questions about deducting meals you’re providing to employees? Contact us.
A buy-sell agreement is a critical component of succession planning for many businesses. It sets the terms and conditions under which an owner’s business interest can be sold to another owner (or owners) should an unexpected tragedy or turn of events occurs. It also establishes the method for determining the price of the interest.
This may sound cut and dried. And a properly conceived, well-written buy-sell agreement should be — it is, after all, a legal document. But there’s a human side to these arrangements as well. And it’s one that you shouldn’t underestimate.
Turmoil and conflicts
A business owner’s unexpected death or disability can lead to turmoil and potential conflicts between the surviving owners and the deceased or disabled owner’s family members. Such disorder has the potential of disrupting normal business operations and can result in instability for employees, customers, creditors, investors and other stakeholders.
A buy-sell agreement ensures that an owner’s heirs are fairly compensated for the deceased owner’s business ownership interest based on a predetermined method. The other owners, meanwhile, don’t have to worry about the deceased’s spouse (or other family members) becoming unwilling (and unknowledgeable) co-owners. And employees will benefit from less workplace stress and disruption than would otherwise be caused if an owner dies or becomes disabled.
Indeed, among the worst potential succession-planning scenarios is when a deceased or disabled owner’s spouse becomes an unwilling participant in the business. Without a properly structured buy-sell agreement in place, the spouse could be thrown into this situation — even if he or she knows little about the business and doesn’t want to actively participate in running it.
There’s also the less tragic, though still difficult, possibility of divorce. When a business owner and his or her spouse decide to end their marriage, the ramifications on the business can be enormous. A buy-sell helps clarify everyone’s rights and holdings.
Ownership successions are rarely easy — even under the best of circumstances. These transitions can go much more peacefully with a sound buy-sell agreement in place. Please contact us for help with the tax and financial aspects of drawing one up.
Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can provide tax-free growth and the ability to withdraw funds tax-free in retirement. But what if you convert a traditional IRA — subject to income taxes on all earnings and deductible contributions — and then discover that you would have been better off if you hadn’t converted it? Fortunately, it’s possible to undo a Roth IRA conversion, using a “recharacterization.”
Reasons to recharacterize
There are several possible reasons to undo a Roth IRA conversion. For example:
Generally, when you convert to a Roth IRA, if you extend your tax return, you have until October 15 of the following year to undo it. (For 2016 returns, the extended deadline is October 16 because the 15th falls on a weekend in 2017.)
In some cases it can make sense to undo a Roth IRA conversion and then redo it. If you want to redo the conversion, you must wait until the later of 1) the first day of the year following the year of the original conversion, or 2) the 31st day after the recharacterization.
Keep in mind that, if you reversed a conversion because your IRA’s value declined, there’s a risk that your investments will bounce back during the waiting period. This could cause you to reconvert at a higher tax cost.
Recharacterization in action
Nick had a traditional IRA with a balance of $100,000. In 2016, he converted it to a Roth IRA, which, combined with his other income for the year, put him in the 33% tax bracket. So normally he’d have owed $33,000 in federal income taxes on the conversion in April 2017. However, Nick extended his return and, by September 2017, the value of his account drops to $80,000.
On October 1, Nick recharacterizes the account as a traditional IRA and files his return to exclude the $100,000 in income. On November 1, he reconverts the traditional IRA, whose value remains at $80,000, to a Roth IRA. He’ll report that amount on his 2017 tax return. This time, he’ll owe $26,400 — deferred for a year and resulting in a tax savings of $6,600. If the $20,000 difference in income keeps him in the 28% tax bracket or tax reform legislation is signed into law that reduces rates retroactively to January 1, 2017, he could save even more.
If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, monitor your financial situation. If the advantages of the conversion diminish, we can help you assess your options.
If your business offers health insurance benefits to employees, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a climb in premium costs in recent years — perhaps a dramatic one. To meet the challenge of rising costs, some employers are opting for a creative alternative to traditional health insurance known as “captive insurance.” A captive insurance company generally is wholly owned and controlled by the employer. So it’s essentially like forming your own insurance company. And it provides tax advantages, too.
Potential benefits of forming a captive insurance company include:
You can customize your coverage package and charge premiums that more accurately reflect your business’s true loss exposure.
Another big benefit is that you can participate in the captive’s underwriting profits and investment income. When you pay commercial health insurance premiums, a big chunk of your payment goes toward the insurer’s underwriting profit. But when you form a captive, you retain this profit through the captive.
Also, your business can enjoy investment and cash flow benefits by investing premiums yourself instead of paying them to a commercial insurer.
A captive insurance company may also save you tax dollars. For example, premiums paid to a captive are tax-deductible and the captive can deduct most of its loss reserves. To qualify for federal income tax purposes, a captive must meet several criteria. These include properly priced premiums based on actuarial and underwriting considerations and a sufficient level of risk distribution as determined by the IRS.
Recent U.S. Tax Court rulings have determined that risk distribution exists if there’s a large enough pool of unrelated risks — or, in other words, if risk is spread over a sufficient number of employees. This is true regardless of how many entities are involved.
Additional tax benefits may be available if your captive qualifies as a “microcaptive” (a captive with $2.2 million or less in premiums that meets certain additional tests): You may elect to exclude premiums from income and pay taxes only on net investment income. Be aware, however, that you’ll lose certain deductions with this election.
Also keep in mind that there are some potential drawbacks to forming a captive insurance company. Contact us to learn more about the tax treatment and other pros and cons of captive insurance. We can help you determine whether this alternative may be right for your business.
August is back-to-school time across the country. Whether the school buses are already rumbling down your block, or will be soon, the start of the school year brings marketing opportunities for savvy business owners. Here are some examples of ways companies can promote themselves.
An education break
A creative agency posts on social media a vibrant photographic slideshow of employees and their children on the first day of school. It gives the parents an opportunity to show off their kids — and creates a buzz on the agency’s Facebook page.
The brag book’s innovative design also demonstrates the agency’s creative skills in a fun, personal way. And it helps attract talent by showcasing the company’s fun, family-friendly atmosphere.
Promos for parents
In August, many parents are in the midst of desperately trying to complete checklists of required school supply purchases. To help them cope, a home remodeling / landscape business offers free school supplies with every estimate completed during the month.
Customers receive colorful bags containing relatively inexpensive items such as pencils, pens, pads of paper and glue sticks all stamped with the company’s logo. And even though every estimate won’t result in a new job, completing more estimates helps create an uptick in fall projects.
Freebies for students
During the first week of school, a suburban burger joint offers students a free milkshake with the purchase of a burger. Kids love milkshakes and, because the freebie is associated with a purchase, the business preserves its profitability.
Meanwhile, the promotion brings entire families into the restaurant — widening the customer base and adding revenue. The campaign creates goodwill in the community by nurturing students’ enthusiasm for the beginning of the school year, too.
Determine what’s right for you
Obviously, these examples are industry-specific. But we hope you find them informative and inspirational. Our firm can help you leverage smart marketing moves to strengthen profitability and add long-term value to your business.
Among the taxes that are being considered for repeal as part of tax reform legislation is the estate tax. This tax applies to transfers of wealth at death, hence why it’s commonly referred to as the “death tax.” Its sibling, the gift tax — also being considered for repeal — applies to transfers during life. Yet most taxpayers won’t face these taxes even if the taxes remain in place.
Exclusions and exemptions
For 2017, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.49 million per taxpayer. (The exemption is annually indexed for inflation.) If your estate doesn’t exceed your available exemption at your death, then no federal estate tax will be due.
Any gift tax exemption you use during life does reduce the amount of estate tax exemption available at your death. But every gift you make won’t use up part of your lifetime exemption. For example:
What’s your estate tax exposure?
Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.
Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. (But keep in mind that there could be estate tax exposure on your surviving spouse’s death, depending on the size of his or her estate.) The net number represents your taxable estate.
You can then apply the exemption amount you expect to have available at death. Remember, any gift tax exemption amount you use during your life must be subtracted. But if your spouse predeceases you, then his or her unused estate tax exemption, if any, may be added to yours (provided the applicable requirements are met).
If your taxable estate is equal to or less than your available estate tax exemption, no federal estate tax will be due at your death. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, the excess will be subject to federal estate tax.
Be aware that many states impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does. So you could have state estate tax exposure even if you don’t need to worry about federal estate tax.
If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us. We also can keep you up to date on any estate tax law changes.
It’s a safe bet that state tax authorities will let you know if you haven’t paid enough sales and use taxes, but what are the odds that you’ll be notified if you’ve paid too much? The chances are slim — so slim that many businesses use reverse audits to find overpayments so they can seek refunds.
Take all of your exemptions
In most states, businesses are exempt from sales tax on equipment used in manufacturing or recycling, and many states don’t require them to pay taxes on the utilities and chemicals used in these processes, either. In some states, custom software, computers and peripherals are exempt if they’re used for research and development projects.
This is just a sampling of sales and use tax exemptions that might be available. Unless you’re diligent about claiming exemptions, you may be missing out on some to which you’re entitled.
Many businesses have sales and use tax compliance systems to guard against paying too much, but if you haven’t reviewed yours recently, it may not be functioning properly. Employee turnover, business expansion or downsizing, and simple mistakes all can take their toll.
Look back and broadly
The audit should extend across your business, going back as far as the statute of limitations on state tax reviews. If your state auditors can review all records for the four years preceding the audit, for example, your reverse audit should encompass the same timeframe.
What types of payments should be reviewed? You may have made overpayments on components of manufactured products as well as on the equipment you use to make the products. Other areas where overpayments may occur, depending on state laws, include:
When considering whether you may have overpaid taxes in these and other areas, a clear understanding of your operations is key. If, for example, you want to ensure you’re receiving maximum benefit from industrial processing exemptions, you must know where your manufacturing process begins and ends.
Save now and later
Reverse audits can be time consuming and complicated, but a little pain can bring significant gain. Use your reverse audit not only to reap tax refund rewards now but also to update your compliance systems to help ensure you don’t overpay taxes in the future.
Rules and regulations surrounding state sales and use tax refunds are complicated. We can help you understand them and ensure your refund claims are properly prepared before you submit them.
Many business owners and executives would like to save more money for retirement than they’re allowed to sock away in their 401(k) plan. For 2017, the annual elective deferral contribution limit for a 401(k) is just $18,000, or $24,000 if you’re 50 years of age or older.
This represents a significantly lower percentage of the typical owner-employee’s or executive’s salary than the percentage of the average employee’s salary. Therefore, it can be difficult for these highly compensated employees to save enough money to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement. That’s where a nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan comes in.
NQDC plans enable owner-employees, executives and other highly paid key employees to significantly boost their retirement savings without running afoul of the nondiscrimination rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). These rules apply to qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, and prevent highly compensated employees from benefiting disproportionately in comparison to rank-and-file employees.
NQDC plans are essentially agreements that the business will pay out at some future time, such as at retirement, compensation that participants earn now. Not only do such plans not have to comply with ERISA nondiscrimination rules, but they aren’t subject to the IRS contribution limits and distribution rules that apply to qualified retirement plans. So businesses can tailor benefit amounts, payment terms and conditions to the participants’ specific needs.
There are several types of NQDC plans. Among the most common are:
The key to an NQDC plan: Because the promised compensation hasn’t been transferred to the participants, it’s not yet counted as earned income — and therefore it isn’t currently taxed. This allows the compensation to grow tax-deferred.
Naturally, there are challenges to consider. NQDC plans are subject to strict rules under Internal Revenue Code Sections 409A and 451, and plan loans generally aren’t allowed. But attracting and retaining top executive talent is a business imperative, and an NQDC plan can help you win the talent race with a powerful benefits package. Please contact our firm for further details.
Most of the talk about possible tax legislation this year has focused on either wide-sweeping tax reform or taxes that are part of the Affordable Care Act. But there are a few other potential tax developments for individuals to keep an eye on.
Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The question now is whether Congress will extend them for 2017.
An education break
One break the PATH Act extended through 2016 was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).
You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.
Mortgage-related tax breaks
Under the PATH Act, through 2016 you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.
The PATH Act likewise extended through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modified the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2017 income tax return.
Please check back with us for the latest information. In the meantime, keep in mind that, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2016 income tax return yet, you can take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended returns is October 16, 2017.
If your business is a limited liability company (LLC) or a limited liability partnership (LLP), you know that these structures offer liability protection and flexibility as well as tax advantages. But they once also had a significant tax disadvantage: The IRS used to treat all LLC and LLP owners as limited partners for purposes of the passive activity loss (PAL) rules, which can result in negative tax consequences. Fortunately, these days LLC and LLP owners can be treated as general partners, which means they can meet any one of seven “material participation” tests to avoid passive treatment.
The PAL rules
The PAL rules prohibit taxpayers from offsetting losses from passive business activities (such as limited partnerships or rental properties) against nonpassive income (such as wages, interest, dividends and capital gains). Disallowed losses may be carried forward to future years and deducted from passive income or recovered when the passive business interest is sold.
There are two types of passive activities: 1) trade or business activities in which you don’t materially participate during the year, and 2) rental activities, even if you do materially participate (unless you qualify as a “real estate professional” for federal tax purposes).
The 7 tests
Material participation in this context means participation on a “regular, continuous and substantial” basis. Unless you’re a limited partner, you’re deemed to materially participate in a business activity if you meet just one of seven tests:
The rules are more restrictive for limited partners, who can establish material participation only by satisfying tests 1, 5 or 6.
In many cases, meeting one of the material participation tests will require diligently tracking every hour spent on your activities associated with that business. Questions about the material participation tests? Contact us.
Is business going so well that you’re thinking about adding another location? If this is the case, congratulations! But before you start planning the ribbon-cutting ceremony, take a step back and ask yourself some tough questions about whether a new location will grow your company — or stretch it too thin. Here are four to get you started:
1. What’s driving your interest in another location? It’s important to articulate specifically how the new location will help your business move toward its long-term goals. Expanding simply because the time seems right isn’t a compelling enough reason to take on the risk.
2. How solidly is your current location performing? Your time and attention will be diverted while you get the second location up and running. Yet you’ll need to maintain the revenue your first location is generating — especially until the second one is earning enough to support itself. So your original operation needs to be able to operate well with minimal management guidance.
3. How strong is the location you’re considering? Just as you presumably did with your first location, ensure the surrounding market is strong enough to support your company. The setting should complement your business, not pose potentially insurmountable challenges.
Also consider proximity to competitors. In some cases, such as a cluster of restaurants in a small downtown, proximity can help. The area becomes known as a destination for those seeking a night out. But too many competitors could leave you fighting with multiple other businesses for the same small group of customers.4. Can you expand in other ways that are less costly and risky? You might be able to boost sales by adding inventory or extending hours at your current location. Another option is to revamp your website or mobile app to encourage more online sales. Investments such as these would likely require a fraction of the dollars needed to open another physical location. Then again, a successful new site could mean a substantial inflow of revenue and additional market visibility. Let us help you crunch the numbers that will lead you to the right decision.
Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement efforts appear to have collapsed, at least for the time being, it’s a good time for a refresher on the tax penalty the ACA imposes on individuals who fail to have “minimum essential” health insurance coverage for any month of the year. This requirement is commonly called the “individual mandate.”
Before we review how the penalty is calculated, let’s take a quick look at exceptions to the penalty. Taxpayers may be exempt if they fit into one of these categories for 2017:
Calculating the tax
So how much can the penalty cost? That’s a tricky question. If you owe the penalty, the tentative amount equals the greater of the following two prongs:
1. The applicable percentage of your household income above the applicable federal income tax return filing threshold, or
2. The applicable dollar amount times the number of uninsured individuals in your household, limited to 300% of the applicable dollar amount.
In terms of the percentage-of-income prong of the penalty, the applicable percentage of income is 2.5% for 2017.
In terms of the dollar-amount prong of the penalty, the applicable dollar amount for each uninsured household member is $695 for 2017. For a household member who’s under age 18, the applicable dollar amounts are cut by 50%, to $347.50. The maximum penalty under this prong for 2017 is $2,085 (300% of $695).
The final penalty amount per person can’t exceed the national average cost of “bronze coverage” (the cheapest category of ACA-compliant coverage) for your household. The important thing to know is that a high-income person or household could owe more than 300% of the applicable dollar amount but not more than the cost of bronze coverage.
If you have minimum essential coverage for only part of the year, the final penalty is calculated on a monthly basis using prorated annual figures.
Also be aware that the extent to which the penalty will continue to be enforced isn’t certain. The IRS has been accepting 2016 tax returns even if a taxpayer hasn’t completed the line indicating health coverage status. That said, the ACA is still the law, so compliance is highly recommended. For more information about this and other ACA-imposed taxes, contact us.
Unemployment tax rates for employers vary from state to state. Your unemployment tax bill may be influenced by the number of former employees who’ve filed unemployment claims with the state, your current number of employees and your business’s age. Typically, the more claims made against a business, the higher the unemployment tax bill.
Here are six ways to control your unemployment tax costs:
If you have questions about unemployment taxes and how you can reduce them, contact our firm. We’d be pleased to help.
“Sorry, we don’t carry that item.” Or perhaps, “No, that’s not part of our service package.” How many times a year do your salespeople utter these words or ones like them? The specific number is critical because, if you don’t know it, you could be losing out on profit potential.
Although you have to focus on your strengths and not get too far afield, your customers may be crying out for a new product or service. And among the best ways to hear them is to track lost sales data and decipher the message.
3 steps to success
A successful lost sales tracking effort generally involves three steps:
1. Get the data. Ask your sales associates to log every customer request and to question customers further to get at the heart of what they need. Train sales associates to record information such as the date of request, item requested and the reason the item was unavailable.
2. Crunch the numbers. Calculate how much you could sell if you had the new items in stock or offered the additional service. Naturally, you’ll need to bear in mind that meeting customer demand might involve spending money on equipment or personnel to expand your product or service line. Key data points to examine include:
Develop a report that lays out this and other information, so you can see it in black and white.
3. Talk about it. Run a lost sales report monthly and discuss the results with your management team. Seek to establish consensus on where your best strategic opportunities lie. Sometimes you’ll want to be patient and let trends develop before acting. Other times, you might want to strike early to seize an underdeveloped market.
A better grip
Lost sales are lost opportunities. By getting a better grip on your customers’ needs, you can build a stronger bottom line. Please contact us for help creating and maintaining a lost sales tracking system that best suits your company’s distinctive needs.
In the quest to reduce your tax bill, year end planning can only go so far. Tax-saving strategies take time to implement, so review your options now. Here are three strategies that can be more effective if you begin executing them midyear:
1. Consider your bracket
The top income tax rate is 39.6% for taxpayers with taxable income over $418,400 (singles), $444,550 (heads of households) and $470,700 (married filing jointly; half that amount for married filing separately). If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold, consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the top bracket. For example, you could take steps to defer income and accelerate deductible expenses. (This strategy can save tax even if you’re not at risk for the 39.6% bracket or you can’t avoid the bracket.)
You could also shift income to family members in lower tax brackets by giving them income-producing assets. This strategy won’t work, however, if the recipient is subject to the “kiddie tax.” Generally, this tax applies the parents’ marginal rate to unearned income (including investment income) received by a dependent child under the age of 19 (24 for full-time students) in excess of a specified threshold ($2,100 for 2017).
2. Look at investment income
This year, the capital gains rate for taxpayers in the top bracket is 20%. If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.
Depending on what happens with health care and tax reform legislation, you also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Under the Affordable Care Act, this tax can affect taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). The NIIT applies to net investment income for the year or the excess of MAGI over the threshold, whichever is less. So, if the NIIT remains in effect (check back with us for the latest information), you may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.
3. Plan for medical expenses
The threshold for deducting medical expenses is 10% of AGI. You can deduct only expenses that exceed that floor. (The threshold could be affected by health care legislation. Again, check back with us for the latest information.)
Deductible expenses may include health insurance premiums (if not deducted from your wages pretax); long-term care insurance premiums (age-based limits apply); medical and dental services and prescription drugs (if not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account); and mileage driven for health care purposes (17 cents per mile driven in 2017). You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into every other year and exceed the applicable floor.
These are just a few ideas for slashing your 2017 tax bill. To benefit from midyear tax planning, consult us now. If you wait until the end of the year, it may be too late to execute the strategies that would save you the most tax.
With an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), employee participants take part ownership of the business through a retirement savings arrangement. Meanwhile, the business and its existing owner(s) can benefit from some potential tax breaks, an extra-motivated workforce and potentially a smoother path for succession planning.
How ESOPs work
To implement an ESOP, you establish a trust fund and either:
The shares in the trust are allocated to individual employees’ accounts, often using a formula based on their respective compensation. The business has to formally adopt the plan and submit plan documents to the IRS, along with certain forms.
Among the biggest benefits of an ESOP is that contributions to qualified retirement plans such as ESOPs typically are tax-deductible for employers. However, employer contributions to all defined contribution plans, including ESOPs, are generally limited to 25% of covered payroll. In addition, C corporations with leveraged ESOPs can deduct contributions used to pay interest on the loan. That is, the interest isn’t counted toward the 25% limit.
Dividends paid on ESOP stock passed through to employees or used to repay an ESOP loan, so long as they’re reasonable, may be tax-deductible for C corporations. Dividends voluntarily reinvested by employees in company stock in the ESOP also are usually deductible by the business. (Employees, however, should review the tax implications of dividends.)
In another potential benefit, shareholders in some closely held C corporations can sell stock to the ESOP and defer federal income taxes on any gains from the sale, with several stipulations. One is that the ESOP must own at least 30% of the company’s stock immediately after the sale. In addition, the sellers must reinvest the proceeds (or an equivalent amount) in qualified replacement property securities of domestic operation corporations within a set period of time.
Finally, when a business owner is ready to retire or otherwise depart the company, the business can make tax-deductible contributions to the ESOP to buy out the departing owner’s shares or have the ESOP borrow money to buy the shares.
More tax considerations
There are tax benefits for employees, too. Employees don’t pay tax on stock allocated to their ESOP accounts until they receive distributions. But, as with most retirement plans, if they take a distribution before they turn 59½ (or 55, if they’ve terminated employment), they may have to pay taxes and penalties — unless they roll the proceeds into an IRA or another qualified retirement plan.
Also be aware that an ESOP’s tax impact for entity types other than C corporations varies somewhat from what we’ve discussed here. And while an ESOP offers many potential benefits, it also presents risks. For help determining whether an ESOP makes sense for your business, contact us.
From the time a business opens its doors, the owner is told “cash is king.” It may seem to follow that having a very large amount of cash could never be a bad thing. But, the truth is, a company that’s hoarding excessive cash may be doing itself more harm than good.
What’s the harm in stockpiling cash? Granted, an extra cushion helps weather downturns or fund unexpected repairs and maintenance. But cash has a carrying cost — the difference between the return companies earn on their cash and the price they pay to obtain cash.
For instance, checking accounts often earn no interest, and savings accounts typically generate returns below 2% and in many cases well below 1%. Most cash hoarders simultaneously carry debt on their balance sheets, such as equipment loans, mortgages and credit lines. Borrowers are paying higher interest rates on loans than they’re earning from their bank accounts. This spread represents the carrying cost of cash.
A variety of possibilities
What opportunities might you be missing out on by neglecting to reinvest a cash surplus to earn a higher return? There are a variety of possibilities. You could:
Acquire a competitor (or its assets). You may be in a position to profit from a competitor’s failure. When expanding via acquisition, formal due diligence is key to avoiding impulsive, unsustainable projects.
Invest in marketable securities. As mentioned, cash accounts provide nominal return. More aggressive businesses might consider mutual funds or diversified stock and bond portfolios. A financial planner can help you choose securities. Some companies also use surplus cash to repurchase stock — especially when minority shareholders routinely challenge the owner’s decisions.
Repay debt. This reduces the carrying cost of cash reserves. And lenders look favorably upon borrowers who reduce their debt-to-equity ratios.
Optimal cash balance
Taking a conservative approach to saving up cash isn’t necessarily wrong. But every company has an optimal cash balance that will help safeguard cash flow while allocating dollars for smart spending. Our firm can assist you in identifying and maintaining this mission-critical amount.
Your compensation may take several forms, including salary, fringe benefits and bonuses. If you work for a corporation, you might also receive stock-based compensation, such as stock options. These come in two varieties: nonqualified (NQSOs) and incentive (ISOs). With both NQSOs and ISOs, if the stock appreciates beyond your exercise price, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re trading for.
The tax consequences of these types of compensation can be complex. So smart tax planning is critical. Let’s take a closer look at the tax treatment of NQSOs, and how it differs from that of the perhaps better known ISOs.
NQSOs create compensation income — taxed at ordinary-income rates — on the “bargain element” (the difference between the stock’s fair market value and the exercise price) when exercised. This is regardless of whether the stock is held or sold immediately.
ISOs, on the other hand, generally don’t create compensation income taxed at ordinary rates unless you sell the stock from the exercise without holding it for more than a year, in a “disqualified disposition.” If the stock from an ISO exercise is held more than one year, then generally your lower long-term capital gains tax rate applies when you sell the stock.
Also, NQSO exercises don’t create an alternative minimum tax (AMT) preference item that can trigger AMT liability. ISO exercises can trigger AMT unless the stock is sold in a disqualified disposition (though it’s possible the AMT could be repealed under tax reform legislation).
More tax consequences to consider
When you exercise NQSOs, you may need to make estimated tax payments or increase withholding to fully cover the tax. Otherwise you might face underpayment penalties.
Also keep in mind that an exercise could trigger or increase exposure to top tax rates, the additional 0.9% Medicare tax and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). These two taxes might be repealed or reduced as part of Affordable Care Act repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation, possibly retroactive to January 1 of this year. But that’s still uncertain.
Have tax questions about NQSOs or other stock-based compensation? Let us know — we’d be happy to answer them.
Tax reform has been a major topic of discussion in Washington, but it’s still unclear exactly what such legislation will include and whether it will be signed into law this year. However, the last major tax legislation that was signed into law — back in December of 2015 — still has a significant impact on tax planning for businesses. Let’s look at three midyear tax strategies inspired by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act:
1. Buy equipment.The PATH Act preserved both the generous limits for the Section 179 expensing election and the availability of bonus depreciation. These breaks generally apply to qualified fixed assets, including equipment or machinery, placed in service during the year. For 2017, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $510,000, subject to a $2,030,000 phaseout threshold. Without the PATH Act, the 2017 limits would have been $25,000 and $200,000, respectively. Higher limits are now permanent and subject to inflation indexing.
Additionally, for 2017, your business may be able to claim 50% bonus depreciation for qualified costs in excess of what you expense under Sec. 179. Bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019 before it’s set to expire on December 31, 2019.
2. Ramp up research. After years of uncertainty, the PATH Act made the research credit permanent. For qualified research expenses, the credit is generally equal to 20% of expenses over a base amount that’s essentially determined using a historical average of research expenses as a percentage of revenues. There’s also an alternative computation for companies that haven’t increased their research expenses substantially over their historical base amounts.
In addition, a small business with $50 million or less in gross receipts may claim the credit against its alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability. And, a start-up company with less than $5 million in gross receipts may claim the credit against up to $250,000 in employer Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes.
3. Hire workers from “target groups.” Your business may claim the Work Opportunity credit for hiring a worker from one of several “target groups,” such as food stamp recipients and certain veterans. The PATH Act extended the credit through 2019. It also added a new target group: long-term unemployment recipients.
Generally, the maximum Work Opportunity credit is $2,400 per worker. But it’s higher for workers from certain target groups, such as disabled veterans.
One last thing to keep in mind is that, in terms of tax breaks, “permanent” only means that there’s no scheduled expiration date. Congress could still pass legislation that changes or eliminates “permanent” breaks. But it’s unlikely any of the breaks discussed here would be eliminated or reduced for 2017. To keep up to date on tax law changes and get a jump start on your 2017 tax planning, contact us.
What could stop your company from operating for a day, a month or a year? A flood or fire? Perhaps a key supplier shuts down temporarily or permanently. Or maybe a hacker or technical problem crashes your website or you suddenly lose power. Whatever the potential cause might be, every business needs a disaster recovery plan.
Distinctive threatsGet started by brainstorming as many scenarios as possible that could devastate your business. The operative word there is “your.” Every company faces distinctive threats related to its size, location(s), and products or services.
There are some constants to consider, however. Seek out alternative suppliers who could fill in for your current ones if necessary. Moreover, identify a strong IT consulting firm with disaster recovery capabilities and have them a phone call away.
The right voice
Another critical factor during and after a crisis is communication, both internal and external. You and most of your management team will need to concentrate on restoring operations, so appoint one manager or other employee with the necessary skills to keep stakeholders abreast of your recovery progress. These parties include:
He or she should be prepared to spread the word through channels such as your company’s voice mail, email, website, and even traditional and social media.
Whatever you do, don’t expect to create a disaster recovery plan and then toss it on a shelf. Revisit the plan at least annually, looking for shortcomings.
You’ll also want to keep your plan fresh in the minds of your employees. Be sure that everyone — including new hires — knows exactly what to do by holding regular meetings on the subject or even conducting an occasional surprise drill. And be prepared to coordinate with fire, police and government officials who might be able to offer assistance during a catastrophe.
Thoughts and concepts
These are just a few thoughts and concepts to consider when designing, implementing and updating your company’s disaster recovery plan. Our firm can help you identify both risks and cost-effective ways to safeguard your employees and assets.
According to IRS Publication 5137, Fringe Benefit Guide, a fringe benefit is “a form of pay (including property, services, cash or cash equivalent), in addition to stated pay, for the performance of services.” But the tax treatment of a fringe benefit can vary dramatically based on the type of benefit.
Generally, the IRS takes one of four tax approaches to fringe benefits:
1. Taxable/includable. The value of benefits in this category are taxable because they must be included in employees’ gross income as wages and reported on Form W-2. They’re usually also subject to federal income tax withholding, Social Security tax (unless the employee has already reached the current year Social Security wage base limit) and Medicare tax. Typical examples include cash bonuses and the personal use of a company vehicle.
2. Nontaxable/excludable. Benefits in this category are considered nontaxable because you may exclude them from employees’ wages under a specific section of the Internal Revenue Code. Examples include:
3. Partially taxable. In some cases, the value of a fringe benefit will be excluded under an IRC section up to a certain dollar limit with the remainder taxable. A public transportation subsidy under Section 132 is one example.
4. Tax-deferred. This designation applies to fringe benefits that aren’t taxable when received but that will be subject to tax later. A common example is employer contributions to a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) plan.
Are you applying the proper tax treatment to each fringe benefit you provide? If not, you could face unexpected tax liabilities or other undesirable consequences. Please contact us with any questions you have about the proper tax treatment of a particular benefit you currently offer or are considering offering.
As a business evolves, so must its compensation strategy. Hopefully, your company is growing — perhaps adding employees or promoting staff members who are key to your success. But other things can spur the need to fine-tune your compensation strategy as well, such as economic changes or the rise of an intense competitor. A goal for many businesses is to provide equitable compensation.
Do your research
One aspect of equitable compensation is external equity; in other words, making sure compensation is in alignment with industry or regional norms. The U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics have a wealth of comparable data on their Web sites (dol.gov and stats.bls.gov, respectively). You might also consult with a professional recruiting firm, some of which offer free or low-cost compensation data.
Granted, job roles within smaller companies make it difficult to directly compare position responsibilities in the market and get reliable salary comparison data. A company’s degree of competitiveness and ability to pay what the market bears can also be challenging.
Yet, to achieve and maintain external equity, you must consider the going market rate. Especially in a business where employees believe they can receive better pay for doing the same job elsewhere, workers have little incentive to remain with an employer — therefore, you must be concerned with external equity.
Pinpoint a range
From both a marketplace perspective and an internal company viewpoint, it’s important to group together jobs of similar value. This also gets at the concept of internal equity, which essentially means that employees feel they’re being paid fairly in terms of the value of their work as well as compared to what others in the company who have equivalent responsibilities are paid.
Once you’ve grouped jobs together, develop competitive salaries around the market rates for those positions. A typical salary range consists of a minimum, a maximum and a midpoint (or control point).
The minimum is the lowest competitive rate for jobs within that range and normally applies to less experienced staff. The maximum represents the highest competitive rate for jobs in a given range. This is typically a premium rate for “star” employees and industry veterans.
The midpoint represents the competitive market rate for fully performing workers in jobs assigned to that range. Think of it as a guideline for slotting various positions and individuals in appropriate salary ranges.
Find the right approach
These are just a few concepts involved with establishing the right approach to compensation. Please contact us for help with your company’s specific needs.
You may be tempted to forget all about taxes during summertime, when “the livin’ is easy,” as the Gershwin song goes. But if you start your tax planning now, you may avoid an unpleasant tax surprise when you file next year. Summer is also a good time to set up a storage system for your tax records. Here are some tips:
Take action when life changes occur. Some life events (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child) can change the amount of tax you owe. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.
Keep records accessible but safe. Put your 2016 tax return and supporting records together in a place where you can easily find them if you need them, such as if you’re ever audited by the IRS. You also may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid. Although accessibility is important, so is safety.
A good storage medium for hard copies of important personal documents like tax returns is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. You may want to maintain a duplicate set of records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box. You can also store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to an external storage device (which you can keep in your home safe or bank safety deposit box). If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.
Stay organized. Make tax time easier by putting records you’ll need when you file in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records next February or March. Some examples include substantiation of charitable donations, receipts from work-related travel not reimbursed by your employer, and documentation of medical expenses not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account.
For more information on summertime tax planning or organizing your tax-related information, contact us.
It’s common for a business to own not only typical business assets, such as equipment, inventory and furnishings, but also the building where the business operates — and possibly other real estate as well. There can, however, be negative consequences when a business’s real estate is included in its general corporate assets. By holding real estate in a separate entity, owners can save tax and enjoy other benefits, too.
Capturing tax savings
Many businesses operate as C corporations so they can buy and hold real estate just as they do equipment, inventory and other assets. The expenses of owning the property are treated as ordinary expenses on the company’s income statement. However, if the real estate is sold, any profit is subject to double taxation: first at the corporate level and then at the owner’s individual level when a distribution is made. As a result, putting real estate in a C corporation can be a costly mistake.
If the real estate is held instead by the business owner(s) or in a pass-through entity, such as a limited liability company (LLC) or limited partnership, and then leased to the corporation, the profit on a sale of the property is taxed only once — at the individual level.
LLC: The entity of choice
The most straightforward and seemingly least expensive way for an owner to maximize the tax benefits is to buy the real estate outright. However, this could transfer liabilities related to the property (such as for injuries suffered on the property) directly to the owner, putting other assets — including the business — at risk. In essence, it would negate part of the rationale for organizing the business as a corporation in the first place.
So, it’s generally best to put real estate in its own limited liability entity. The LLC is most often the vehicle of choice for this. Limited partnerships can accomplish the same ends if there are multiple owners, but the disadvantage is that you’ll incur more expense by having to set up two entities: the partnership itself and typically a corporation to serve as the general partner.
We can help you create a plan of ownership for real estate that best suits your situation.
Many business owners buy accounting software and, even if the installation goes well, eventually grow frustrated when they don’t get the return on investment they’d expected. There’s a simple reason for this: Stuff changes.
Technological improvements are occurring at a breakneck speed. So yesterday’s cutting-edge system can quickly become today’s sluggishly performing albatross. And this isn’t the only reason to regularly upgrade your accounting software. Here are two more to consider.
1. Cleaning up
You’ve probably heard that old tech adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” The “garbage” referred to is bad data. If inaccurate or garbled information goes into your system, the reports coming out of it will be flawed. And this is a particular danger as software ages.
For example, you may be working off of inaccurate inventory counts or struggling with duplicate vendor entries. On a more serious level, your database may store information that reflects improperly closed quarters or unbalanced accounts because of data entry errors.
A regular implementation of upgraded software should uncover some or, one hopes, all of such problems. You can then clean up the bad data and adjust entries to tighten the accuracy of your accounting records and, thereby, improve your financial reporting.
2. Getting better
Neglecting to regularly upgrade or even replace your accounting software can also put you at risk of missing a major business-improvement opportunity. When implementing a new system, you’ll have the chance to enhance your accounting procedures. You may be able to, for instance, add new code groups that allow you to manage expenses much more efficiently and closely.
Other opportunities for improvement include optimizing your chart of accounts and strengthening your internal controls. Again, to obtain these benefits, you’ll need to take a slow, patient approach to the software implementation and do it often enough to prevent outdated ways of doing things from getting the better of your company.
Choosing the best
These days, every business bigger than a lemonade stand needs the best accounting software it can afford to buy. Our firm can help you set a budget and choose the product that best fits your current needs.
Summer is a popular time to move, whether it’s so the kids don’t have to change schools mid-school-year, to avoid having to move in bad weather or simply because it can be an easier time to sell a home. Unfortunately, moving can be expensive. The good news is that you might be eligible for a federal tax deduction for your moving costs.
Pass the tests
The first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.
The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would increase your commute significantly.
Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)
So which expenses can be written off? Generally, you can deduct transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving.
In addition, you can likely deduct the cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property. And you may be able to deduct the expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit. Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities are usually deductible, too.
But don’t expect to write off everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible. Nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.
Questions about whether your moving expenses are deductible? Or what you can deduct? Contact us.
Donating to charity is more than good business citizenship; it can also save tax. Here are three lesser-known federal income tax breaks for charitable donations by businesses.
1. Food donations
Charitable write-offs for donated food (such as by restaurants and grocery stores) are normally limited to the lower of the taxpayer’s basis in the food (generally cost) or fair market value (FMV), but an enhanced deduction equals the lesser of:
To qualify, the food must be apparently wholesome at the time it’s donated. Your total charitable write-off for food donations under the enhanced deduction provision can’t exceed:
2. Qualified conservation contributions
Qualified conservation contributions are charitable donations of real property interests, including remainder interests and easements that restrict the use of real property. For qualified C corporation farming and ranching operations, the maximum write-off for qualified conservation contributions is increased from the normal 10% of adjusted taxable income to 100% of adjusted taxable income.
Qualified conservation contributions in excess of what can be written off in the year of the donation can be carried forward for 15 years.
3. S corporation appreciated property donations
A favorable tax basis rule is available to shareholders of S corporations that make charitable donations of appreciated property. For such donations, each shareholder’s basis in the S corporation stock is reduced by only the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s tax basis in the donated asset.
Without this provision, a shareholder’s basis reduction would equal the passed-through write-off for the donation (a larger amount than the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s basis in the donated asset). This provision is generally beneficial to shareholders, because it leaves them with higher tax basis in their S corporation shares.
If you believe you may be eligible to claim one or more of these tax breaks, contact us. We can help you determine eligibility, prepare the required documentation and plan for charitable donations in future years.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
* Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)
* File a 2016 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.
* Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
* If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.
* If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
* File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
* Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
The tax consequences of the sale of an investment, as well as your net return, can be affected by a variety of factors. You’re probably focused on factors such as how much you paid for the investment vs. how much you’re selling it for, whether you held the investment long-term (more than one year) and the tax rate that will apply.
But there are additional details you should pay attention to. If you don’t, the tax consequences of a sale may be different from what you expect. Here are a few details to consider when selling an investment:
Which shares you’re selling. If you bought the same security at different times and prices and want to sell high-tax-basis shares to reduce gain or increase a loss to offset other gains, be sure to specifically identify which block of shares is being sold.
Trade date vs. settlement date. When it gets close to year end, keep in mind that the trade date, not the settlement date, of publicly traded securities determines the year in which you recognize the gain or loss.
Transaction costs. While transaction costs, such as broker fees, aren’t taxes, like taxes they can have a significant impact on your net returns, especially over time, because they also reduce the amount of money you have available to invest.
If you have questions about the potential tax impact of an investment sale you’re considering — or all of the details you should keep in mind to minimize it — please contact us.
It’s common for closely held businesses to transfer money into and out of the company, often in the form of a loan. However, the IRS looks closely at such transactions: Are they truly loans, or actually compensation, distributions or contributions to equity?
Loans to owners
When an owner withdraws funds from the company, the transaction can be characterized as compensation, a distribution or a loan. Loans aren’t taxable, but compensation is and distributions may be.
If the company is a C corporation and the transaction is considered a distribution, it can trigger double taxation. If a transaction is considered compensation, it’s deductible by the corporation, so it doesn’t result in double taxation — but it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes.
If the company is an S corporation or other pass-through entity and the transaction is considered a distribution, there’s no entity-level tax, so double taxation won’t be an issue. But distributions reduce an owner’s tax basis, which makes it harder to deduct business losses. If the transaction is considered compensation, as with a C corporation, it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes.
Loans to the business
There are also benefits to treating transfers of money from owners to the business as loans. If such advances are treated as contributions to equity, for example, any reimbursements by the company may be taxed as distributions.
Loan payments, on the other hand, aren’t taxable, apart from the interest, which is deductible by the company. A loan may also give the owner an advantage in the event of the company’s bankruptcy, because debt obligations are paid before equity is returned.
Is it a loan or not?
To enjoy the tax advantages of a loan, it’s important to establish that a transaction is truly a loan. Simply calling a withdrawal or advance a “loan” doesn’t make it so.
Whether a transaction is a loan is a matter of intent. It’s a loan if the borrower has an unconditional intent to repay the amount received and the lender has an unconditional intent to obtain repayment. Because the IRS and the courts aren’t mind readers, it’s critical to document loans and treat them like other arm’s-length transactions. This includes:
Also, to avoid a claim that loans to owner-employees are disguised compensation, you must ensure that they receive reasonable salaries.
If you’re considering a loan to or from your business, contact us for more details on how to help ensure it will be considered a loan by the IRS.
When it comes time to transition your role as business owner to someone else, you’ll face many changes. One of them is becoming a mentor. As such, you’ll have to communicate clearly, show some patience and have a clear conception of what you want to accomplish before stepping down. Here are some tips on putting your successor in a position to succeed.
Find ways to continuously pass on your knowledge. Too often, vital business knowledge is lost when leadership or ownership changes — causing a difficult and chaotic transition for the successor. Although you can impart a great deal of expertise by mentoring your replacement, you need to do more. For instance, create procedures for you and other executives to share your wisdom.
Begin by documenting your business systems, processes and methods through a secure online employee information portal, which provides links to company databases. You also could set up a training program around core business methods and practices — workers could attend classes or complete computer-based courses. Then, you can create an annual benchmarking report of key activities and results for internal use.
Prepare your company to adapt and grow. With customer needs and market factors continually changing, your successor will likely face challenges that are different from what you encountered.
To enable your company to adapt to an ever-changing business world, ensure your successor understands how each department works and knows the fundamentals of key areas, including customer service, marketing and accounting. One way is to have your successor work in each business area.
Also have your successor join industry trade associations and community organizations to meet other executives and successors in diverse industries. In addition, require him or her to review and, if necessary, help update your company’s business plan.
To encourage your successor to develop relationships with key players inside and outside your company, include him or her in meetings with managers and trusted advisors, such as your accountant, lawyer, banker and insurance agent.
Ideally, when you walk away from your company, your successor will feel completely comfortable and ready to guide the business into a fruitful future. Please contact our firm for more help maximizing the effectiveness of your succession plan.
With school letting out you might be focused on summer plans for your children (or grandchildren). But the end of the school year is also a good time to think about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) — especially if the children are in grade school or younger.
One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.
Here are some other key ESA benefits:
* Although contributions aren’t deductible, plan assets can grow tax-deferred.
* You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
* You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.
A sibling or first cousin is a typical example of a qualifying family member, if he or she is eligible to be an ESA beneficiary (that is, under age 18 or has special needs).
The ESA annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. The total contributions for a particular ESA beneficiary cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established or how many people are contributing.
However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income. The phaseout range is modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000–$220,000 for married couples filing jointly and $95,000–$110,000 for other filers. You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, and no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.
If there is a balance in the ESA when the beneficiary reaches age 30 (unless the beneficiary is a special needs individual), it must generally be distributed within 30 days. The portion representing earnings on the account will be taxable and subject to a 10% penalty. But these taxes can be avoided by rolling over the full balance to another ESA for a qualifying family member.
Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!
If your employees incur work-related travel expenses, you can better attract and retain the best talent by reimbursing these expenses. But to secure tax-advantaged treatment for your business and your employees, it’s critical to comply with IRS rules.
Reasons to reimburse
While unreimbursed work-related travel expenses generally are deductible on a taxpayer’s individual tax return (subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, many employees won’t be able to benefit from the deduction. Why?
It’s likely that some of your employees don’t itemize. Even those who do may not have enough miscellaneous itemized expenses to exceed the 2% of adjusted gross income floor. And only expenses in excess of the floor can actually be deducted.
On the other hand, reimbursements can provide tax benefits to both your business and the employee. Your business can deduct the reimbursements (also subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment), and they’re excluded from the employee’s taxable income — provided that the expenses are legitimate business expenses and the reimbursements comply with IRS rules. Compliance can be accomplished by using either the per diem method or an accountable plan.
Per diem method
The per diem method is simple: Instead of tracking each individual’s actual expenses, you use IRS tables to determine reimbursements for lodging, meals and incidental expenses, or just for meals and incidental expenses. (If you don’t go with the per diem method for lodging, you’ll need receipts to substantiate those expenses.)
The IRS per diem tables list localities here and abroad. They reflect seasonal cost variations as well as the varying costs of the locales themselves — so London’s rates will be higher than Little Rock’s. An even simpler option is to apply the “high-low” per diem method within the continental United States to reimburse employees up to $282 a day for high-cost localities and $189 for other localities.
You must be extremely careful to pay employees no more than the appropriate per diem amount. The IRS imposes heavy penalties on businesses that routinely fail to do so.
An accountable plan is a formal arrangement to advance, reimburse or provide allowances for business expenses. To qualify as “accountable,” your plan must meet the following criteria:
If you fail to meet these conditions, the IRS will treat your plan as nonaccountable, transforming all reimbursements into wages taxable to the employee, subject to income taxes (employee) and employment taxes (employer and employee).
Whether you have questions about which reimbursement option is right for your business or the additional rules and limits that apply to each, contact us. We’d be pleased to help.
You’d be hard pressed to find a company not looking to generate more leads, boost sales and improve its profit margins. Fortunately, you can take advantage of the sales and marketing opportunities offered by today’s digital technologies to do so. Here are four digital marketing tips for every business:
1. Add quality content to your website.Few things disappoint and disinterest customers like an outdated or unchanging website. Review yours regularly to ensure it doesn’t look too old and consider a noticeable redesign every few years.
As far as content goes, think variety. Helpful blog posts, articles and even whitepapers can establish your business as a knowledge leader in your industry. And don’t forget videos: They’re a great way to showcase just about anything. Beware, however, that posting amateurish-looking videos could do more harm than good. If you don’t have professional video production capabilities, you may need to hire a professional.
2. Leverage social media.If you’re not using social media tools already, focus on a couple of popular social media outlets — perhaps Facebook and Twitter — and actively post content on them. Remember, with some social media platforms, you can create posts and tweets in advance and then schedule them for release over time.
3. Interact frequently. This applies to all of your online channels, including your website, social media platforms, email and online review sites. For example, be sure to respond promptly to any queries you receive on your site or via email, and be quick to reply to questions and comments posted on your social media pages.
4. Tie it all together. It’s easy to end up with a hodgepodge of different online marketing tools that are operating independently of one another. Integrate your online marketing initiatives so they all have a similar style and tone. Doing so helps reassure customers that your business is an organized entity focused on delivering a clear message — and quality products or services.
When it comes to marketing, you don’t want to swing and miss. Our firm can help you assess the financial impact of your efforts and budget the appropriate amount to boosting visibility.
In today’s competitive environment, offering employees an equity interest in your business can be a powerful tool for attracting, retaining and motivating quality talent. If your business is organized as a partnership, however, there are some tax traps you should watch out for. Once an employee becomes a partner, you generally can no longer treat him or her as an employee for tax and benefits purposes, which has significant tax implications.
Employees pay half of the Social Security and Medicare taxes on their wages, through withholdings from their paychecks. The employer pays the other half. Partners, on the other hand, are treated as being self-employed — they pay the full amount of “self-employment” taxes through quarterly estimates.
Often, when employees receive partnership interests, the partnership continues to treat them as employees for tax purposes, withholding employment taxes from their wages and paying the employer’s share. The problem with this practice is that, because a partner is responsible for the full amount of employment taxes, the partnership’s payment of a portion of those taxes will likely be treated as a guaranteed payment to the partner.
That payment would then be included in income and trigger additional employment taxes. Any employment taxes not paid by the partnership on a partner’s behalf are the partner’s responsibility.
Treating a partner as an employee can also result in overpayment of employment taxes. Suppose your partnership pays half of a partner’s employment taxes and the partner also has other self-employment activities — for example, interests in other partnerships or sole proprietorships. If those activities generate losses, the losses will offset the partner’s earnings from your partnership, reducing or even eliminating self-employment taxes.
Partners and employees are treated differently for purposes of many benefit plans. For example, employees are entitled to exclude the value of certain employer-provided health, welfare and fringe benefits from income, while partners must include the value in their income (although they may be entitled to a self-employed health insurance deduction). And partners are prohibited from participating in a cafeteria plan.
Continuing to treat a partner as an employee for benefits purposes may trigger unwanted tax consequences. And it could disqualify a cafeteria plan.
There are techniques that allow you to continue treating newly minted partners as employees for tax and benefits purposes. For example, you might create a tiered partnership structure and offer employees of a lower-tier partnership interests in an upper-tier partnership. Because these employees aren’t partners in the partnership that employs them, many of the problems discussed above will be avoided.
If your business is contemplating offering partnership interests to key employees, contact us for more information about the potential tax consequences and how to avoid any pitfalls.
Every company has at least one owner. And, in many cases, there exists leadership down through the organizational chart. But not every business has strong governance.
In a nutshell, governance is the set of rules, practices and processes by which a company is directed and controlled. Strengthening it can help ensure productivity, reduce legal risks and, when the time comes, ease ownership transitions.
Looking at business structure
Good governance starts with the initial organization (or reorganization) of a business. Corporations, for example, are required by law to have a board of directors and officers and to observe certain other formalities. So this entity type is a good place to explore the concept.
Other business structures, such as partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs), have greater flexibility in designing their management and ownership structures. But these entities can achieve strong governance with well-designed partnership or LLC operating agreements and a centralized management structure. They might, for instance, establish management committees that exercise powers similar to those of a corporate board.
Specifying the issues
For the sake of simplicity, however, let’s focus on governance issues in the context of a corporation. In this case, the business’s articles of incorporation and bylaws lay the foundation for future governance. The organizational documents might:
As you look over this list, consider whether and how any of these items might pertain to your company. There are, of course, other aspects to governance, such as establishing an ethics code and setting up protocols for information technology.
At the end of the day, strong governance is all about knowing your company and identifying the best ways to oversee its smooth and professional operation. Please contact our firm for help running a profitable, secure business.
If you recently filed your 2016 income tax return (rather than filing for an extension) you may now be wondering whether it’s likely that your business could be audited by the IRS based on your filing. Here’s what every business owner should know about the process.
Catching the IRS’s eye
Many business audits occur randomly, but a variety of tax-return-related items are likely to raise red flags with the IRS and may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:
An owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can also catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.
If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS won’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.
The good news is that many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the most severe version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors.
More good news: In no instance will the agency demand an immediate response. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. To do so, you’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.
If the IRS selects you for an audit, our firm can help you:
Don’t let an IRS audit ruin your year — be it this year, next year or whenever that letter shows up in the mail. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one happens in the first place.
Many companies take an ad hoc approach to technology. If you’re among them, it’s understandable; you probably had to automate some tasks before others, your tech needs have likely evolved over time, and technology itself is always changing.
Unfortunately, all of your different hardware and software may not communicate so well. What’s worse, lack of integration can leave you more vulnerable to security risks. For these reasons, some businesses reach a point where they decide to implement a strategic IT plan.
The objective of a strategic IT plan is to — over a stated period — roll out consistent, integrated, and secure hardware and software. In doing so, you’ll likely eliminate many of the security dangers wrought by lack of integration, while streamlining data-processing efficiency.
To get started, define your IT objectives. Identify not only the weaknesses of your current infrastructure, but also opportunities to improve it. Employee feedback is key: Find out who’s using what and why it works for them.From a financial perspective, estimate a reasonable return on investment that includes a payback timetable for technology expenditures. Be sure your projections factor in both:
Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances. (Special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test.)
Working in phases
When you’re ready to implement your strategic IT plan, devise a reasonable and patient time line. Ideally, there should be no need to rush. You can take a phased approach, perhaps laying the foundation with a new server and then installing consistent, integrated applications on top of it.
A phased implementation can also help you stay within budget. You’ll need to have a good idea of how much the total project will cost. But you can still allow flexibility for making measured progress without putting your cash flow at risk.
Bringing it all together.
There’s nothing wrong or unusual about wandering the vast landscape of today’s business technology. But, at some point, every company should at least consider bringing all their bits and bytes under one roof. Please contact our firm for help managing your IT spending in a measured, strategic way.
Income and losses from investment real estate or rental property are passive by definition — unless you’re a real estate professional. Why does this matter? Passive income may be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and passive losses generally are deductible only against passive income, with the excess being carried forward.
Of course the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and might be eliminated under ACA repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation. But if/when such legislation will be passed and signed into law is uncertain. Even if the NIIT is eliminated, the passive loss issue will still be an important one for many taxpayers investing in real estate.
To qualify as a real estate professional, you must annually perform:
Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances. (Special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test.)
If you’re concerned you’ll fail either test and be subject to the 3.8% NIIT or stuck with passive losses, consider doing one of the following:
Increasing your involvement in the real estate activity. If you can pass the real estate professional tests, the activity no longer will be subject to passive activity rules.
Looking at other activities. If you have passive losses from your real estate investment, consider investing in another income-producing trade or business that will be passive to you. That way, you’ll have passive income that can absorb some or all of your passive losses.
Disposing of the activity. This generally allows you to deduct all passive losses — including any loss on disposition (subject to basis and capital loss limitations). But, again, the rules are complex.
Also be aware that the IRS frequently challenges claims of real estate professional status — and is often successful. One situation where the IRS commonly prevails is when the taxpayer didn’t keep adequate records of time spent on real estate activities.
If you’re not sure whether you qualify as a real estate professional, please contact us. We can help you make this determination and guide you on how to properly document your hours.
It can be difficult in the current job market for students and recent graduates to find summer or full-time jobs. If you’re a business owner with children in this situation, you may be able to provide them with valuable experience and income while generating tax savings for both your business and your family overall.
By shifting some of your business earnings to a child as wages for services performed by him or her, you can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income. For your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s wages must be reasonable.
Here’s an example of how this works: A business owner operating as a sole proprietor is in the 39.6% tax bracket. He hires his 17-year-old son to help with office work full-time during the summer and part-time into the fall. The son earns $6,100 during the year and doesn’t have any other earnings.
The business owner saves $2,415.60 (39.6% of $6,100) in income taxes at no tax cost to his son, who can use his $6,350 standard deduction (for 2017) to completely shelter his earnings. The business owner can save an additional $2,178 in taxes if he keeps his son on the payroll longer and pays him an additional $5,500. The son can shelter the additional income from tax by making a tax-deductible contribution to his own IRA.
Family taxes will be cut even if the employee-child’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction and IRA deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the child beginning at a rate of 10% instead of being taxed at the parent’s higher rate.
Saving employment taxes
If your business isn’t incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners, you might also save some employment tax dollars. Services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent aren’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes. And a similar exemption applies for federal unemployment tax (FUTA) purposes. It exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 while employed by his or her parent.
If you have questions about how these rules apply in your particular situation or would like to learn about other family-related tax-saving strategies, contact us.
Mortgage interest rates are still at low levels, but they likely will increase as the Fed continues to raise rates. So if you’ve been thinking about helping your child — or grandchild — buy a home, consider acting soon. There also are some favorable tax factors that will help:
0% capital gains rate. If the child is in the 10% or 15% income tax bracket, instead of giving cash to help fund a down payment, consider giving long-term appreciated assets such as stock or mutual fund shares. The child can sell the assets without incurring any federal income taxes on the gain, and you can save the taxes you’d owe if you sold the assets yourself.
As long as the assets are worth $14,000 or less (when combined with any other 2017 gifts to the child), there will be no federal gift tax consequences — thanks to the annual gift tax exclusion. Married couples can give twice that amount tax-free if they split the gift. And if you don’t mind using up some of your lifetime exemption ($5.49 million for 2017), you can give even more. Plus, there’s the possibility that the gift and estate taxes could be repealed. If that were to happen, there’d be no limit on how much you could give tax-free (for federal purposes).
Low federal interest rates. Another tax-friendly option is lending funds to the child. Now is a good time for taking this step, too. Currently, Applicable Federal Rates — the rates that can be charged on intrafamily loans without causing unwanted tax consequences — are still quite low by historical standards. But these rates have begun to rise and are also expected to continue to increase this year. So lending money to a loved one for a home purchase sooner rather than later might be a good idea.
If you choose the loan option, it’s important to put a loan agreement in writing and actually collect payment (including interest) on the loan. Otherwise the IRS could deem the loan to actually be a taxable gift. Keep in mind that you’ll have to report the interest as income. But if the interest rate is low, the tax impact should be minimal.
If you have questions about these or other tax-efficient ways to help your child or grandchild buy a home, please contact us.
It’s a smaller business world after all. With the ease and popularity of e-commerce, as well as the incredible efficiency of many supply chains, companies of all sorts are finding it easier than ever to widen their markets. Doing so has become so much more feasible that many businesses quickly find themselves crossing state lines.
But therein lies a risk: Operating in another state means possibly being subject to taxation in that state. The resulting liability can, in some cases, inhibit profitability. But sometimes it can produce tax savings.
Do you have “nexus”?
Essentially, “nexus” means a business presence in a given state that’s substantial enough to trigger that state’s tax rules and obligations.
Precisely what activates nexus in a given state depends on that state’s chosen criteria. Triggers can vary but common criteria include:
Then again, one generally can’t say that nexus has a “hair trigger.” A minimal amount of business activity in a given state probably won’t create tax liability there. For example, an HVAC company that makes a few tech calls a year across state lines probably wouldn’t be taxed in that state. Or let’s say you ask a salesperson to travel to another state to establish relationships or gauge interest. As long as he or she doesn’t close any sales, and you have no other activity in the state, you likely won’t have nexus.
If your company already operates in another state and you’re unsure of your tax liabilities there — or if you’re thinking about starting up operations in another state — consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematic approach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activities may expose you.
Keep in mind that the results of a nexus study may not be negative. You might find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboring state. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state (if you don’t already have it) by, say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocate some income to that state and lower your tax bill.
The complexity of state tax laws offers both risk and opportunity. Contact us for help ensuring your business comes out on the winning end of a move across state lines.
Picking someone to lead your company after you step down is probably among the hardest aspects of retiring (or otherwise moving on). Sure, there are some business owners who have a ready-made successor waiting in the wings at a moment’s notice. But many have a few viable candidates to consider — others have too few.
When looking for a successor, for best results, keep an open mind. Don’t assume you have to pick any one person — look everywhere. Here are three hot spots to consider.
1. Your family. If yours is a family-owned business, this is a natural place to first look for a successor. Yet, because of the relationships and emotions involved, finding a successor in the family can be particularly complex. Make absolutely sure a son, daughter or other family member really wants to succeed you. But also keep in mind that desire isn’t enough. The loved one must also have the proper qualifications, as well as experience inside and, ideally, outside the company.
2. Nonfamily employees. Keep an eye out for company “stars” who are still early in their careers, regardless of their functional or geographic area. Start developing their leadership skills as early as possible and put them to the test regularly. For example, as time goes on, continually create new projects or positions that give them responsibility for increasingly larger and more complex profit centers to see how they’ll measure up.
3. The wide, wide world. If a family member or current employee just isn’t feasible, you can always look externally. A good way to start is simply by networking with people in your industry, former employees and professional advisors. You can also try placing an ad in a newspaper or trade publication, or on an Internet job site. Don’t forget executive search firms either; they’ll help screen candidates and conduct interviews.
At the end of the day, any successor — whether family member, employee or external candidate — must have the right stuff. Please contact our firm for help setting up an effective succession plan.
Each year, millions of taxpayers claim an income tax refund. To be sure, receiving a payment from the IRS for a few thousand dollars can be a pleasant influx of cash. But it means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan for close to a year, which isn’t the best use of your money.
Fortunately, there is a way to begin collecting your 2017 refund now: You can review the amounts you’re having withheld and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making, and adjust them to keep more money in your pocket during the year.
Reasons to modify amounts
It’s particularly important to check your withholding and/or estimated tax payments if:
Even if you haven’t encountered any major life changes during the past year, changes in the tax law may affect withholding levels, making it worthwhile to double-check your withholding or estimated tax payments.
Making a change
You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even several times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.
While reducing withholdings or estimated tax payments will, indeed, put more money in your pocket now, you also need to be careful that you don’t reduce them too much. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you file your return, even if you pay your outstanding tax liability by the April 2018 deadline.
If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the rest of the year, please contact us.
Many business owners use a calendar year as their company’s tax year. It’s intuitive and aligns with most owners’ personal returns, making it about as simple as anything involving taxes can be. But for some businesses, choosing a fiscal tax year can make more sense.
What’s a fiscal tax year?
A fiscal tax year consists of 12 consecutive months that don’t begin on January 1 or end on December 31 — for example, July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The year doesn’t necessarily need to end on the last day of a month. It might end on the same day each year, such as the last Friday in March.
Flow-through entities (partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies) using a fiscal tax year must file their return by the 15th day of the third month following the close of their fiscal year. So, if their fiscal year ends on March 31, they would need to file their return by June 15. (Fiscal-year C corporations generally must file their return by the 15th day of the fourth month following the fiscal year close.)
When a fiscal year makes sense
A key factor to consider is that if you adopt a fiscal tax year you must use the same time period in maintaining your books and reporting income and expenses. For many seasonal businesses, a fiscal year can present a more accurate picture of the company’s performance.
For example, a snowplowing business might make the bulk of its revenue between November and March. Splitting the revenue between December and January to adhere to a calendar year end would make obtaining a solid picture of performance over a single season difficult.
In addition, if many businesses within your industry use a fiscal year end and you want to compare your performance to your peers, you’ll probably achieve a more accurate comparison if you’re using the same fiscal year.
Before deciding to change your fiscal year, be aware that the IRS requires businesses that don’t keep books and have no annual accounting period, as well as most sole proprietorships, to use a calendar year.
It can make a difference
If your company decides to change its tax year, you’ll need to obtain permission from the IRS. The change also will likely create a one-time “short tax year” — a tax year that’s less than 12 months. In this case, your income tax typically will be based on annualized income and expenses. But you might be able to use a relief procedure under Section 443(b)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code to reduce your tax bill.
Although choosing a tax year may seem like a minor administrative matter, it can have an impact on how and when a company pays taxes. We can help you determine whether a calendar or fiscal year makes more sense for your business.
Providing a strong package of benefits is a competitive imperative in today’s business world. Like many employers, you’ve probably worked hard to put together a solid menu of offerings to your staff. Unfortunately, many employees don’t perceive the full value of the benefits they receive.
Why is this important? An underwhelming perception of value could cause good employees to move on to “greener” pastures. It could also inhibit better job candidates from seeking employment at your company. Perhaps worst of all, if employees don’t fully value their benefits, they might not fully use them — which means you’re wasting dollars and effort on procuring and maintaining a strong package.
Targeting life stage
Among the most successful communication strategies for promoting benefits’ value is often the least commonly used. That is, target the life stage of your employees.
For example, an employee who’s just entering the workforce in his or her twenties will have a much different view of a 401(k) plan than someone nearing retirement. A younger employee will also likely view health care benefits differently. Employers who tailor their communications to the recipient’s generation can improve their success rate at getting workers to understand their benefits.
Covering all bases
There are many other strategies to consider as well. For starters, create a year-round benefits communication program that features clear, concise language and graphics. Many employers discuss benefits with their workforces only during open enrollment periods.
Also, gather feedback to determine employees’ informational needs. You may learn that you have to start communicating in multiple languages, for instance. You might also be able to identify staff members who are particularly knowledgeable about benefits. These employees could serve as word-of-mouth champions of your package who can effectively explain things to others.
Identifying sound strategies
Given the cost and effort you put into choosing, developing and offering benefits to your employees, the payoff could be much better. We can help you ensure you’re getting the most bang for your benefits buck.
Private companies with more than one owner should have a buy-sell agreement to spell out how ownership shares will change hands should an owner depart. For businesses structured as C corporations, the agreements also have significant tax implications that are important to understand.
A buy-sell agreement sets up parameters for the transfer of ownership interests following stated “triggering events,” such as an owner’s death or long-term disability, loss of license or other legal incapacitation, retirement, bankruptcy, or divorce. The agreement typically will also specify how the purchase price for the departing owner’s shares will be determined, such as by stating the valuation method to be used.
Another key issue a buy-sell agreement addresses is funding. In many cases, business owners don’t have the cash readily available to buy out a departing owner. So insurance is commonly used to fund these agreements. And this is where different types of agreements — which can lead to tax issues for C corporations — come into play.
Under a cross-purchase agreement, each owner buys life or disability insurance (or both) that covers the other owners, and the owners use the proceeds to purchase the departing owner’s shares. Under a redemption agreement, the company buys the insurance and, when an owner exits the business, buys his or her shares.
Sometimes a hybrid agreement is used that combines aspects of both approaches. It may stipulate that the company gets the first opportunity to redeem ownership shares and that, if the company is unable to buy the shares, the remaining owners are then responsible for doing so. Alternatively, the owners may have the first opportunity to buy the shares.
C corp. tax consequences
A C corp. with a redemption agreement funded by life insurance can face adverse tax consequences. First, receipt of insurance proceeds could trigger corporate alternative minimum tax. Second, the value of the remaining owners’ shares will probably rise without increasing their basis. This, in turn, could drive up their tax liability if they later sell their shares.
Heightened liability for the corporate alternative minimum tax is generally unavoidable under these circumstances. But you may be able to manage the second problem by revising your buy-sell as a cross-purchase agreement. Under this approach, owners will buy additional shares themselves — increasing their basis.
Naturally, there are downsides. If owners are required to buy a departing owner’s shares, but the company redeems the shares instead, the IRS may characterize the purchase as a taxable dividend. Your business may be able to mitigate this risk by crafting a hybrid agreement that names the corporation as a party to the transaction and allows the remaining owners to buy back the shares without requiring them to do so.
For more information on the tax ramifications of buy-sell agreements, contact us. And if your business doesn’t have a buy-sell in place yet, we can help you figure out which type of funding method will best meet your needs while minimizing any negative tax consequences.
Just about every business intends to provide world-class customer service. And though many claim their customer service is exceptional, very few can back up that assertion. After all, once a company has established a baseline level of success in interacting with customers, it’s not easy to get to that next level of truly great service. But, fear not, there are ways to elevate your game and, ultimately, strengthen your bottom line in the process.
Start at the top
As is the case for many things in business, success starts at the top. Encourage your fellow owners (if any) and management team to regularly serve customers. Doing so cements customer relationships and communicates to employees that serving others is important and rewarding. Your involvement shows that customer service is the source of your company’s ultimate triumph.
Moving down the organizational chart, cultivate customer-service heroes. Publish articles about your customer service achievements in your company’s newsletter or post them on your website. Champion these heroes in meetings. Public praise turns ordinary employees into stars and encourages future service excellence. Just make sure to empower all employees to make customer-service decisions. Don’t talk of catering to customers unless your staff can really take the initiative to meet your customers’ needs.
Create a system
Like everyone in today’s data-driven world, customers want information. So strive to provide immediate feedback to customers with a highly visible response system. This will let customers know that their input matters and you’ll reward them for speaking up.
The size and shape of this system will depend on the size, shape and specialty of the company itself. But it should likely encompass the right combination of instant, electronic responses to customer inquires along with phone calls and, where appropriate, face-to-face interactions that reinforce how much you value their business.
Give them a thrill
Consistently great customer service can be an elusive goal. You may succeed for months at a time only to suffer setbacks. Don’t get discouraged. Our firm can help you build a profitable company that excels at thrilling your customers.
Because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday, the 2016 tax return filing deadline for individual taxpayers is Tuesday, April 18. The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 18 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. But dropping your return in a mailbox on the 18th may not be sufficient.
Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 18, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared.
You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you’re hit with failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties totaling $1,500.
Avoiding penalty risk
To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:
Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.
If you’re concerned about meeting the April 18 deadline, another option is to file for an extension. If you owe tax, you’ll still need to pay that by April 18 to avoid risk of late-payment penalties as well as interest.
If you’re owed a refund and file late, you won’t be charged a failure-to-file penalty. However, filing for an extension may still be a good idea.
We can help you determine if filing for an extension makes sense for you — and help estimate whether you owe tax and how much you should pay by April 18.
It’s easy to think of lenders as doing your company a favor. But business financing relationships are just that: relationships. Yes, a lender has the working capital you need to grow. But a stable, successful business represents an enormously beneficial opportunity for the lender as well. So you should be just as picky with your lender as it is with your financials.
Where to start
If you indeed have a long-standing relationship with a local bank, make that your first call. There’s no understating the importance of familiarity, good communication and an amicable rapport when negotiating terms, making payments and dealing with whatever business complications may come up.
But should your local bank not offer the size or scope of financing needed, or if you’d just like to get an idea of what else is out there, don’t hesitate to shop around. Look for a lender with multiple loan products, so you have a better chance at structuring one to your liking. And get some referrals regarding the strength of service and support.
If yours is a small business, check into the availability of Small Business Administration or other government-backed loan programs. These are often designed to boost local economies, so you may be able to get favorable terms and rates.
Last, but not least, don’t limit yourself to traditional lenders. Today’s lending environment is competitive and technology driven. So businesses have a wide variety of alternatives, many of which are just a few clicks away. These include angel investors, online peer-to-peer lending networks and crowdsourcing.
Many, if not most, companies can’t grow without taking on some debt. But precisely how you go about using debt to your advantage depends largely on the lenders with which you choose to do business. Let us play matchmaker and help you find the ideal partner. We can also offer assistance in structuring and presenting your financial statements for best results.
Currently, home ownership comes with many tax-saving opportunities. Consider both deductions and exclusions when you’re filing your 2016 return and tax planning for 2017:
Property tax deduction. Property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).
Mortgage interest deduction. You generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. Points paid related to your principal residence also may be deductible.
Home equity debt interest deduction. Interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. But keep in mind that, if home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes.
Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.
Home office deduction. If your home office use meets certain tests, you generally can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, and the depreciation allocable to the space. Or you may be able to use a simplified method for claiming the deduction.
Rental income exclusion. If you rent out all or a portion of your principal residence or second home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income. But expenses directly associated with the rental, such as advertising and cleaning, won’t be deductible.
Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Be aware that gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.
Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.
The debt forgiveness exclusion and mortgage insurance premium deduction aren’t the only home-related breaks that might not be available in the future. There have been proposals to eliminate other breaks, such as the property tax deduction, as part of tax reform.
Whether such changes will be signed into law and, if so, when they’d go into effect is uncertain. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So contact us for information on the latest tax reform developments or which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim.
Now that the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been withdrawn and it’s uncertain whether there will be any other health care reform legislation this year, it’s a good time to review some of the tax-related ACA provisions affecting businesses:
Small employer tax credit. Qualifying small employers can claim a credit to cover a portion of the cost of premiums paid to provide health insurance to employees. The maximum credit is 50% of premiums paid by the employer, provided it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium.
Penalties for not offering complying coverage. Applicable large employers (ALEs) — those with at least 50 full-time employees (or the equivalent) — are required to offer full-time employees affordable health coverage that meets certain minimum standards. If they don’t, they can be charged a penalty if just one full-time employee receives a tax credit for purchasing his or her own coverage through a health care marketplace. This is sometimes called the “employer mandate.”
Reporting of health care costs to employees. The ACA generally requires employers who filed 250 or more W-2 forms in the preceding year to annually report to employees the value of health insurance coverage they provide. The reporting requirement is informational only; it doesn’t cause health care benefits to become taxable.
Additional 0.9% Medicare tax. This applies to:
* Wages and/or self-employment (SE) income above $200,000 for single and head of household filers, or
* Combined wages and/or SE income above $250,000 for married couples filing jointly ($125,000 for married couples filing separately).
While there is no employer portion of this tax, employers are responsible for withholding the tax once an employee’s compensation for the calendar year exceeds $200,000, regardless of the employee’s filing status or income from other sources.
Cap on health care FSA contributions. The Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cap is indexed for inflation. For 2017, the maximum annual FSA contribution by an employee is $2,600.
There’s also one significant change that hasn’t kicked in yet: Beginning in 2020, the ACA calls for health insurance companies that service the group market and administrators of employer-sponsored health plans to pay a 40% excise tax on premiums that exceed the applicable threshold, generally $10,200 for self-only coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. This is commonly referred to as the “Cadillac tax.”
The ACA remains the law, at least for now. Contact us if you have questions about how it affects your business’s tax situation.
If you suffered damage to your home or personal property last year, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your 2016 federal income tax return. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.
Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses:
When to deduct. Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss on your return for the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.
Amount of loss. Your loss is generally the lesser of 1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or 2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty. This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive. (If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.)
$100 rule. After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.
10% rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.
Have questions about deducting casualty losses? Contact us!
Like many businesses, yours may allow retirement plan participants to take out loans from their accounts. Such loans are governed by many IRS and Department of Labor (DOL) rules and regulations. So if your company offers plan loans, your plan document must comply with current laws — including setting a “reasonable” interest rate.
Neither the IRS nor DOL provides a set percentage for plan sponsors to use. Yet both require the rate to be “reasonable.” The IRS asks if the interest rate is similar to local interest rates and to what local banks charge individuals for similar loans with similar credit and collateral. Meanwhile, DOL regulations say that an interest rate is reasonable if it’s equal to commercial lending interest rates under similar circumstances.
The DOL provides several examples of how to determine the interest rate. For example, suppose the plan loan interest rate is set at 8%, but local banks offer between 10% and 12% for similar circumstances. In this example, the loan will fail to meet the reasonable standard.
Keep in mind that the plan participant pays the interest to his or her own retirement plan account. That’s one reason why charging an interest rate that’s lower than what local banks are charging isn’t considered reasonable. The purpose of charging interest on retirement plan loans is to help prevent long-term harm to the participant’s retirement nest egg.
If your plan fails to assess a reasonable interest rate, participant loans may result in a prohibited transaction. What does this mean? Prohibited transactions are certain transactions between a retirement plan and a disqualified person. Disqualified persons taking part in a prohibited transaction must pay a tax.
A prohibited transaction includes the lending of money or other extension of credit between a plan and a disqualified person. However, the laws specifically exempt plan loans from the prohibited transaction list as long as they comply with applicable rules. If your interest rate isn’t reasonable, the plan loan may lose its exempt status and become subject to the prohibited transaction tax.
Ensuring you’re offering a reasonable plan loan interest rate is an ongoing task. Review your plan document and loan policy statement to determine whether the plan sets an interest rate. You may need to update the document to comply with the more recent regulations and interest rates. We can help you with this review, as well as in calculating a reasonable rate.
If you have a child in college, you may be eligible to claim the American Opportunity credit on your 2016 income tax return. If, however, your income is too high, you won’t qualify for the credit — but your child might. There’s one potential downside: If your dependent child claims the credit, you must forgo your dependency exemption for him or her. And the child can’t take the exemption.
The maximum American Opportunity credit, per student, is $2,500 per year for the first four years of postsecondary education. It equals 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified expenses, plus 25% of the next $2,000 of such expenses.
The ability to claim the American Opportunity credit begins to phase out when modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) enters the applicable phaseout range ($160,000–$180,000 for joint filers, $80,000–$90,000 for other filers). It’s completely eliminated when MAGI exceeds the top of the range.
Running the numbers
If your American Opportunity credit is partially or fully phased out, it’s a good idea to assess whether there’d be a tax benefit for the family overall if your child claimed the credit. As noted, this would come at the price of your having to forgo your dependency exemption for the child. So it’s important to run the numbers.
Dependency exemptions are also subject to a phaseout, so you might lose the benefit of your exemption regardless of whether your child claims the credit. The 2016 adjusted gross income (AGI) thresholds for the exemption phaseout are $259,400 (singles), $285,350 (heads of households), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).
If your exemption is fully phased out, there likely is no downside to your child taking the credit. If your exemption isn’t fully phased out, compare the tax savings your child would receive from the credit with the savings you’d receive from the exemption to determine which break will provide the greater overall savings for your family.
We can help you run the numbers and can provide more information about qualifying for the American Opportunity credit.
If you run a business “on the side” and derive most of your income from another source (whether from another business you own, employment or investments), you may face a peculiar risk: Under certain circumstances, this on-the-side business might not be a business at all in the eyes of the IRS. It may be a hobby.
The hobby loss rules
Generally, a taxpayer can deduct losses from profit-motivated activities, either from other income in the same tax year or by carrying the loss back to a previous tax year or forward to a future tax year. But, to ensure these pursuits are really businesses — and not mere hobbies intended primarily to offset other income — the IRS enforces what are commonly referred to as the “hobby loss” rules.
If you haven’t earned a profit from your business in three out of five consecutive years, including the current year, you’ll bear the burden of proof to show that the enterprise isn’t merely a hobby. But if this profit test can be met, the burden falls on the IRS. In either case, the agency looks at factors such as the following to determine whether the activity is a business or a hobby:
Dangers of reclassification
If your enterprise is reclassified as a hobby, you can’t use a loss from the activity to offset other income. You may still write off certain expenses related to the hobby, but only to the extent of income the hobby generates. If you’re concerned about the hobby loss rules, we can help you evaluate your situation.
Company retreats can cost enormous amounts of time and money. Are they worth it? Sometimes. Large-scale get-togethers can involve considerable out-of-pocket costs. And if the retreat is poorly planned or executed, participants’ wasted time is the biggest expense.
But a properly budgeted, planned and executed retreat can be hugely profitable, producing fresh ideas, renewed enthusiasm and heightened employee morale. Here are a few ways to get your money’s worth out of a company retreat.
Create specific objectives
First, nail down your goals and objectives. Several months ahead of time, determine and prioritize a list of the important issues you want to address. But include only the top two or three on the final agenda. Otherwise, you risk rushing through some items without adequate time for discussion and formalized action plans.
If one of the objectives is to include time for socializing, recreation or relaxation, great. Mixing fun with work keeps people energized. But if staff see the retreat as merely time away from the office to party and golf, don’t expect to complete many work-related agenda items. One successful way to mix work and pleasure is to schedule work sessions for the morning and more fun, team-building exercises later in the day.
Set limits, allow flexibility
Next, work on the budget. Determining available resources early in the planning process will help you set limits for such variable costs as location, accommodations, food, transportation, speakers and entertainment.
Instead of insisting on certain days for the retreat, select a range of possible dates. This openness helps with site selection and makes it easier to negotiate favorable hotel and travel rates. Keep your budget as flexible as possible, building in a 5% to 10% safety cushion. Always expect unforeseen, last-minute expenses.
Company retreats are serious business in the sense that you’re sacrificing time and productivity to identify strategic goals and improve teamwork. But these events should still be fun experiences for you and your staff. We can help you establish a reasonable budget to help ensure an enjoyable, productive and cost-effective retreat.
Like many business owners, you might also own highly appreciated business or investment real estate. Fortunately, there’s an effective tax planning strategy at your disposal: the Section 1031 “like kind” exchange. It can help you defer capital gains tax on appreciated property indefinitely.
How it works
Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allows you to defer gains on real or personal property used in a business or held for investment if, instead of selling it, you exchange it solely for property of a “like kind.” In fact, these arrangements are often referred to as “like-kind exchanges.” Thus, the tax benefit of an exchange is that you defer tax and, thereby, have use of the tax savings until you sell the replacement property.
Personal property must be of the same asset or product class. But virtually any type of real estate will qualify as long as it’s business or investment property. For example, you can exchange a warehouse for an office building, or an apartment complex for a strip mall.
Executing the deal
Although an exchange may sound quick and easy, it’s relatively rare for two owners to simply swap properties. You’ll likely have to execute a “deferred” exchange, in which you engage a qualified intermediary (QI) for assistance.
When you sell your property (the relinquished property), the net proceeds go directly to the QI, who then uses them to buy replacement property. To qualify for tax-deferred exchange treatment, you generally must identify replacement property within 45 days after you transfer the relinquished property and complete the purchase within 180 days after the initial transfer.
An alternate approach is a “reverse” exchange. Here, an exchange accommodation titleholder (EAT) acquires title to the replacement property before you sell the relinquished property. You can defer capital gains by identifying one or more properties to exchange within 45 days after the EAT receives the replacement property and, typically, completing the transaction within 180 days.
The rules for like-kind exchanges are complex, so these arrangements present some risks. If, say, you exchange the wrong kind of property or acquire cash or other non-like-kind property in a deal, you may still end up incurring a sizable tax hit. Be sure to contact us when exploring a Sec. 1031 exchange.
Yes, there’s still time to make 2016 contributions to your IRA. The deadline for such contributions is April 18, 2017. If the contribution is deductible, it will lower your 2016 tax bill. But even if it isn’t, making a 2016 contribution is likely a good idea.
Benefits beyond a deduction
Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. But annual contributions are limited by tax law, and any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years.
This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible.
The 2016 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2016). If you haven’t already maxed out your 2016 limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 18:
1. Deductible traditional. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) — or you do but your income doesn’t exceed certain limits — the contribution is fully deductible on your 2016 tax return. Account growth is tax-deferred; distributions are subject to income tax.
2. Roth. The contribution isn’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Income-based limits, however, may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute.
3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth. Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.
Want to know which option best fits your situation? Contact us.
It’s not uncommon for adult children to help support their aging parents. If you’re in this position, you might qualify for the adult-dependent exemption. It allows eligible taxpayers to deduct up to $4,050 for each adult dependent claimed on their 2016 tax return.
For you to qualify for the adult-dependent exemption, in most cases your parent must have less gross income for the tax year than the exemption amount. (Exceptions may apply if your parent is permanently and totally disabled.) Generally Social Security is excluded, but payments from dividends, interest and retirement plans are included.
In addition, you must have contributed more than 50% of your parent’s financial support. If you shared caregiving duties with a sibling and your combined support exceeded 50%, the exemption can be claimed even though no one individually provided more than 50%. However, only one of you can claim the exemption.
Factors to consider
Even though Social Security payments can usually be excluded from the adult dependent’s income, they can still affect your ability to qualify. Why? If your parent is using Social Security money to pay for medicine or other expenses, you may find that you aren’t meeting the 50% test.
Don’t forget about your home. If your parent lives with you, the amount of support you claim under the 50% test can include the fair market rental value of part of your residence. If the parent lives elsewhere — in his or her own residence or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home — any amount of financial support you contribute to that housing expense counts toward the 50% test.
Easing the financial burden
Sometimes caregivers fall just short of qualifying for the exemption. Should this happen, you may still be able to claim an itemized deduction for the medical expenses that you pay for the parent. To receive a tax benefit, the combined medical expenses paid for you, your dependents and your parent must exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.
The adult-dependent exemption is just one tax break that you may be able to employ to ease the financial burden of caring for an elderly parent. Contact us for more information on qualifying for this break or others.
The federal income tax filing deadline for calendar-year partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or S corporations for tax purposes is March 15. While this deadline is nothing new for S corporation returns, it’s earlier than previous years for partnership returns.
In addition to providing continued funding for federal transportation projects, the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 changed the due dates for several types of tax and information returns, including partnership income tax returns. The revised due dates are generally effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2015. In other words, they apply to the tax returns for 2016 that are due in 2017.
The new deadlines
The new due date for partnerships with tax years ending on December 31 to file federal income tax returns is March 15. For partnerships with fiscal year ends, tax returns are due the 15th day of the third month after the close of the tax year.
Under prior law, returns for calendar-year partnerships were due April 15. And returns for fiscal-year partnerships were due the 15th day of the fourth month after the close of the fiscal tax year.
One of the primary reasons for moving up the partnership filing deadline was to make it easier for owners to file their personal returns by the April 15 deadline (April 18 in 2017 because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday). After all, partnership (and S corporation) income flows through to the owners. The new date should allow owners to use the information contained in the partnership forms to file their personal returns.
If you haven’t filed your partnership or S corporation return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Under the new law, the maximum extension for calendar-year partnerships is six months (until September 15). This is up from five months under prior law. So the extension deadline doesn’t change — only the length of the extension. The extension deadline for calendar-year S corporations also remains at September 15. But you must file for the extension by March 15.
Keep in mind that, to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by the unextended deadline. There may not be any tax liability from the partnership or S corporation return. But if filing for an extension for the entity return causes you to also have to file an extension for your personal return, you need to keep this in mind related to the individual tax return April 18 deadline.
Filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now. Please contact us if you need help or have questions about the filing deadlines that apply to you or avoiding interest and penalties.
Many business owners are accustomed to running the whole show. But as your company grows, you’ll likely be better off sharing responsibility for major decisions. Whether you’ve recruited experienced managers or developed “home grown” talent, you can empower these employees by taking a more collaborative approach to management.
Not employees — team members
Successful collaboration starts with a new mindset. Stop thinking of your managers as employees and instead regard them as team members working toward the same common goals. To promote collaboration and make the best use of your human resources, clearly communicate your strategic objectives. For example, if you’ve prioritized expanding into new territories, make sure your managers aren’t still focusing on extracting new business from current sales areas.
You also must be willing to listen to your managers’ ideas — and to act on the viable ones. Relinquishing control can be hard for business owners, but keep the advantages in mind. A collaborative approach distributes the decision-making burden, so it doesn’t fall on just your shoulders. This may relieve stress and allow you to focus on areas of the company you may have neglected.
Confidence and development
Even as you move to a more collaborative management model and include employees in strategic decisions, don’t forget to recognize their individual skills and talents. You and other managers may have uncertainties about a new marketing plan, for instance, but you should trust your marketing director to carry it out with minimal oversight.
To ensure that managers know they have your confidence, conduct regular performance reviews where you note their contributions and accomplishments and explore opportunities for growth. Moreover, help them grow professionally by providing constructive, ongoing training to develop their leadership and teamwork skills.
An open mind
As you learn to trust your management team with greater responsibility, keep in mind that the process can be bumpy. In a crisis, your instinct may be to take charge and brush off your managers’ advice. But it’s critical to keep your mind open and be receptive to input from people who may one day run your company. Let our firm assist you in assessing the profitability impact of your management team.
Some business owners make major decisions by relying on gut instinct. But investments made on a “hunch” often fall short of management’s expectations.
In the broadest sense, you’re really trying to answer a simple question: If my company buys a given asset, will the asset’s benefits be greater than its cost? The good news is that there are ways — using financial metrics — to obtain an answer.
Perhaps the most common and basic way to evaluate investment decisions is with a calculation called “accounting payback.” For example, a piece of equipment that costs $100,000 and generates an additional gross margin of $25,000 per year has an accounting payback period of four years ($100,000 divided by $25,000).
But this oversimplified metric ignores a key ingredient in the decision-making process: the time value of money. And accounting payback can be harder to calculate when cash flows vary over time.
Discounted cash flow metrics solve these shortcomings. These are often applied by business appraisers. But they can help you evaluate investment decisions as well. Examples include:
Net present value (NPV). This measures how much value a capital investment adds to the business. To estimate NPV, a financial expert forecasts how much cash inflow and outflow an asset will generate over time. Then he or she discounts each period’s expected net cash flows to its current market value, using the company’s cost of capital or a rate commensurate with the asset’s risk. In general, assets that generate an NPV greater than zero are worth pursuing.
Internal rate of return (IRR). Here an expert estimates a single rate of return that summarizes the investment opportunity. Most companies have a predetermined “hurdle rate” that an investment must exceed to justify pursuing it. Often the hurdle rate equals the company’s overall cost of capital — but not always.
A mathematical approach
Like most companies, yours probably has limited funds and can’t pursue every investment opportunity that comes along. Using metrics improves the chances that you’ll not only make the right decisions, but that other stakeholders will buy into the move. Please contact our firm for help crunching the numbers and managing the decision-making process.
If last year your business made repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, you may be eligible for a valuable deduction on your 2016 income tax return. But you must make sure they were truly “repairs,” and not actually “improvements.”
Why? Costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years. But costs incurred on incidental repairs and maintenance can be expensed and immediately deducted.
What’s an “improvement”?
In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be capitalized. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.
Under the “betterment test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.
Under the “restoration test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.
Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.
2 safe harbors
Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:
1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS.
Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be capitalized, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.
2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.
There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. Contact us for details on these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions.
Most business owners spend a lifetime building their business. And when it comes to succession, they face the difficult decision of whether to sell, dissolve or transfer the business to family members (or a nonfamily successor).
Many complicated issues are involved, including how to divvy up business interests, allocate value and tackle complex tax issues. Thus, as you put together your succession plan, include not only your financial and legal advisors, but also a qualified valuation professional.
Various value factors
When drafting a succession plan, a valuation expert can help you put a number on various factors that will affect your company’s value. Just a few examples include:
Projected cash flows. According to both the market and income valuation approaches, future earnings determine value. To the extent that a business experiences decreasing, or increasing, demand and rising (or falling) prices, expected cash flows will be affected. Historical financial statements may require adjustments to reflect changes in future expectations.
Perceived risk. Greater risk results in higher discount rates (under the income approach) and lower pricing multiples (under the market approach), which translates into lower values (and vice versa). When selecting comparables, the transaction date is an important selection criterion a valuator considers.
Expected growth. Greater expected revenue growth contributes to value. In addition, there’s a high correlation between revenue growth and earnings (and thus, cash flow) growth.
Other determinants of discounts In many cases, valuation discounts are applied to a company’s value. For example, decreased liquidity translates into higher marketability discounts, while increased liquidity reduces marketability discounts. Other factors that affect the magnitude of valuation discounts include:
Discounts vary significantly, but can reach (or exceed) 40% of the entity’s net asset value, depending on the specifics of the situation.
For best results
An accurate and timely value estimate can facilitate the succession process and prevent costly and time-consuming conflicts. Please contact our firm for more information.
Rather than keeping track of the actual cost of operating a vehicle, employees and self-employed taxpayers can use a standard mileage rate to compute their deduction related to using a vehicle for business. But you might also be able to deduct miles driven for other purposes, including medical, moving and charitable purposes.
What are the deduction rates?
The rates vary depending on the purpose and the year:
Business: 54 cents (2016), 53.5 cents (2017)
Medical: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)
Moving: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)
Charitable: 14 cents (2016 and 2017)
What other limits apply?
The rules surrounding the various mileage deductions are complex. Some are subject to floors and some require you to meet specific tests in order to qualify. For example, miles driven for health-care-related purposes are deductible as part of the medical expense deduction. But medical expenses generally are deductible only to the extent they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. (For 2016, the deduction threshold is 7.5% for qualifying seniors.)
And while miles driven related to moving can be deductible, the move must be work-related. In addition, among other requirements, the distance from your old residence to the new job must be at least 50 miles more than the distance from your old residence to your old job.
There are also substantiation requirements, which include tracking miles driven. And, in some cases, you might be better off deducting actual expenses rather than using the mileage rates.
So contact us to help ensure you deduct all the mileage you’re entitled to on your 2016 tax return — but not more. You don’t want to risk back taxes and penalties later. And if you drove potentially eligible miles in 2016 but can’t deduct them because you didn’t track them, start tracking your miles now so you can potentially take advantage of the deduction when you file your 2017 return next year.
A good basketball team is at its best when its top players are on the floor. Similarly, a company is the most productive, efficient and innovative when its best employees are in the right positions, doing great work.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for good employees to battle personal problems, such as substance dependence, financial and legal woes, or mental health issues. These struggles can negatively affect their productivity and the working environment around them. One way employers can help is by offering a benefit called an employee assistance program (EAP).
A benefit with benefits
An EAP helps identify at-risk employees and assist them in finding the professional help they need. An employee who enrolls in the EAP may, for example, immediately be put in touch with a counselor or social worker.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, EAPs have been shown to contribute to:
An EAP is, of course, not a substitute for health care insurance.
Employers don’t have to create and administer EAPs on their own. A wide variety of vendors are available. But, as is the case with any benefit, it’s important to choose a vendor carefully and make sure you get good value for your investment. Please contact our firm for assistance in assessing the costs and specific features of an EAP.
Last year you may have made significant gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs as part of your estate planning strategy. Or perhaps you just wanted to provide loved ones with some helpful financial support. Regardless of the reason for making a gift, it’s important to know under what circumstances you’re required to file a gift tax return.
Some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax. And sometimes it’s desirable to file a return even if it isn’t required.
When filing is required
Generally, you’ll need to file a gift tax return for 2016 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:
When filing isn’t required
No return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of annual exclusion gifts, present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse, qualifying educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, and political or charitable contributions.
If you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.
Meeting the deadline
The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2016 returns, it’s April 18, 2017 (or October 16 if you file for an extension). If you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is also April 18, regardless of whether you file for an extension.
Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) are sometimes regarded as the “no-brainer” first choice for high-income small-business owners who don’t currently have tax-advantaged retirement plans set up for themselves. Why? Unlike other types of retirement plans, a SEP is easy to establish and a powerful retroactive tax planning tool: The deadline for setting up a SEP is favorable and contribution limits are generous.
SEPs do have a couple of downsides if the business has employees other than the owner: 1) Contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for the owner, and 2) employee accounts are immediately 100% vested.
Deadline for set-up and contributions
A SEP can be established as late as the due date (including extensions) of the business’s income tax return for the tax year for which the SEP is to first apply. For example:
The deadlines for limited liability companies (LLCs) depend on the tax treatment the LLC has elected. Furthermore, the business has until these same deadlines to make 2016 contributions and still claim a potentially hefty deduction on its 2016 return.
Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2016, in order for 2016 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2016 contributions to be made in 2017).
Contributions to SEPs are discretionary. The business can decide what amount of contribution it will make each year. The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee.
For 2016, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction) of up to $265,000, subject to a contribution cap of $53,000. The 2017 limits are $270,000 and $54,000, respectively.
Setting up a SEP is easy
A SEP is established by completing and signing the very simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). Form 5305-SEP is not filed with the IRS, but it should be maintained as part of the business’s permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement.
Of course, additional rules and limits do apply to SEPs, but they’re generally much less onerous than those for other retirement plans. If you think a SEP might be good for your business, please contact us.
Many companies reach a point in their development where they could benefit from an advisory board. It’s all too easy in today’s complex business world to get caught up in an “echo chamber” of ideas and perspectives that only originate internally.
For many business owners, an understandable first question about the concept is: What should my advisory board look like? To find an answer, start by envisioning the ideal size and composition of your company’s board in terms of skill sets and personalities.
The guest list
First and foremost, participants in your advisory board should have skills, experience and expertise that complement your company’s in-house staff. Second, they should support your established long-term strategic goals.
Ideal board candidates can think creatively and provide constructive advice while maintaining discretion with sensitive business issues. This allows the board to honestly discuss every aspect of your operations, including:
Selecting advisory members is similar to selecting friends and colleagues to invite to an intimate dinner party. You want a diverse mix of backgrounds, expertise and skills. For example, try to balance impulsive, assertive personalities with more thoughtful, cautious ones.
An evolving entity
Bear in mind that, as your business needs change, you may need to rotate some board members out and bring in new blood. For instance, if the company needs to upgrade to a new technology platform to minimize data breaches, board members who were invaluable when the company began — and technology perhaps played a less prominent role — may lack the experience needed to get the business through the next phase.
In addition, the size of your board may change over time. Generally, business owners should limit the number of members to three to seven people. This will help keep the board affordable and manageable, particularly in terms of effective deliberation and decision making. But it may need to grow beyond that in number if your company itself gets larger.
Innovation and competition
Sage advice and diversity of opinion can be invaluable when looking to innovate and gain a competitive edge. Please contact our firm for help assessing whether now is the time for your business to form an advisory board.
Incentive stock options allow you to buy company stock in the future at a fixed price equal to or greater than the stock’s fair market value on the grant date. If the stock appreciates, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re then trading for. However, complex tax rules apply to this type of compensation.
Current tax treatment
ISOs must comply with many rules but receive tax-favored treatment:
So if you were granted ISOs in 2016, there likely isn’t any impact on your 2016 income tax return. But if in 2016 you exercised ISOs or you sold stock you’d acquired via exercising ISOs, then it could affect your 2016 tax liability. And it’s important to properly report the exercise or sale on your return to avoid potential interest and penalties for underpayment of tax.
Future exercises and stock sales
If you receive ISOs in 2017 or already hold ISOs that you haven’t yet exercised, plan carefully when to exercise them. Waiting to exercise ISOs until just before the expiration date (when the stock value may be the highest, assuming the stock is appreciating) may make sense. But exercising ISOs earlier can be advantageous in some situations.
Once you’ve exercised ISOs, the question is whether to immediately sell the shares received or to hold on to them long enough to garner long-term capital gains treatment. The latter strategy often is beneficial from a tax perspective, but there’s also market risk to consider. For example, it may be better to sell the stock in a disqualifying disposition and pay the higher ordinary-income rate if it would avoid AMT on potentially disappearing appreciation.
The timing of the sale of stock acquired via an exercise could also positively or negatively affect your liability for higher ordinary-income tax rates, the top long-term capital gains rate and the NIIT.
Keep in mind that the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and lawmakers in Washington are starting to take steps to repeal or replace the ACA. So the NIIT may not be a factor in the future. In addition, tax law changes are expected later this year that might include elimination of the AMT and could reduce ordinary and long-term capital gains rates for some taxpayers. When changes might go into effect and exactly what they’ll be is still uncertain.
If you’ve received ISOs, contact us. We can help you ensure you’re reporting everything properly on your 2016 return and evaluate the risks and crunch the numbers to determine the best strategy for you going forward.
“I’m taking a sick day!” This familiar refrain usually is uttered with just cause, but not always. What if there were no sick days? No, we’re not suggesting employees be forced to work when they’re under the weather. Rather, many businesses are adopting a different paradigm when it comes to paid time off (PTO).
Under the “PTO bank” concept, employers merge most (or all) of the traditional components of excused absences (vacation time, sick time, personal days and so on) into one simple employee-managed account, typically offering not quite as many PTO days as under a traditional PTO system. One benefit of this approach is that employers are no longer put in a position to have to judge whether leave is used appropriately. PTO banks may not work for every business, but more and more companies are finding them beneficial.
6 primary motivations
There are a number of reasons that employers are offering PTO banks. Specifically, according to a survey by the HR professional society WorldatWork, here are the six primary motivations:
1. Greater flexibility for employees. Like their employers, many employees appreciate not having to worry about distinguishing vacation time from sick time.
2. Ease of administration. Employers don’t have to deal with the complications of separating the various PTO components, which makes the HR and payroll staff’s job easier.
3. Increased cost effectiveness. More efficient administration often reduces the costs of time and resources spent dealing with employee absences and lost productivity.
4. The ability to stay competitive with other companies. Many employees and job candidates view PTO banks as a more contemporary and appealing approach to excused absences.
5. Reduced absenteeism. Interestingly, some employers have seen employees miss fewer work days once PTO banks have been established — possibly because of the greater sense of control employees have over their time.
6. Improved employee morale. Simplifying the PTO process and gaining greater command over their time off is typically viewed as a positive, empowering thing by employees.
Although these many potential benefits may seem enticing, PTO banks may not be right for every employer. For example, you may not want to disrupt your current system if it’s working well. Please contact our firm for a review of your PTO approach and how it’s affecting your financials.
Was a college student in your family last year? Or were you a student yourself? You may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2016 return. To max out your higher education breaks, you need to see which ones you’re eligible for and then claim the one(s) that will provide the greatest benefit. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return.
Credits vs. deductions
Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed. A couple of credits are available for higher education expenses:
But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.
If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, the Lifetime Learning credit isn’t necessarily the best alternative.
Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.
Be aware that the tuition and fees deduction expired December 31, 2016. So it won’t be available on your 2017 return unless Congress extends it or makes it permanent.
How much can your family save?
Keep in mind that, if you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2016 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.
The Section 199 deduction is intended to encourage domestic manufacturing. In fact, it’s often referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction.” But this potentially valuable tax break can be used by many other types of businesses besides manufacturing companies.
Sec. 199 deduction 101
The Sec. 199 deduction, also called the “domestic production activities deduction,” is 9% of the lesser of qualified production activities income or taxable income. The deduction is also limited to 50% of W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer that are allocable to domestic production gross receipts.
Yes, the deduction is available to traditional manufacturers. But businesses engaged in activities such as construction, engineering, architecture, computer software production and agricultural processing also may be eligible.
The deduction isn’t allowed in determining net self-employment earnings and generally can’t reduce net income below zero. But it can be used against the alternative minimum tax.
How income is calculated
To determine a company’s Sec. 199 deduction, its qualified production activities income must be calculated. This is the amount of domestic production gross receipts (DPGR) exceeding the cost of goods sold and other expenses allocable to that DPGR. Most companies will need to allocate receipts between those that qualify as DPGR and those that don’t — unless less than 5% of receipts aren’t attributable to DPGR.
DPGR can come from a number of activities, including the construction of real property in the United States, as well as engineering or architectural services performed stateside to construct real property. It also can result from the lease, rental, licensing or sale of qualifying production property, such as:
The property must have been manufactured, produced, grown or extracted in whole or “significantly” within the United States. While each situation is assessed on its merits, the IRS has said that, if the labor and overhead incurred in the United States accounted for at least 20% of the total cost of goods sold, the activity typically qualifies.
Contact us to learn whether this potentially powerful deduction could reduce your business’s tax liability when you file your 2016 return.
At the beginning of the year, many people decide they’re going to get in the best shape of their lives. Similarly, many business owners declare that they intend to cut costs and operate at peak efficiency going forward.
But, like keeping up an exercise routine, controlling costs takes an ongoing effort. You need to not only review expenses now, but also commit yourself to doing so regularly. Here are some key points to keep in mind.
Choosing where to slim down
A good cost-control plan starts by clearly identifying manageable expenses in every business area — no exceptions. Prime candidates include:
Controlling expenses in these and other areas doesn’t mean one-time cost cutting, which is really just a reaction to a problem. Cost control requires foresight and strategic management.
Going the distance
Indeed, many business owners sometimes confuse cost-control programs with cost-cutting initiatives. The difference is that a cost-control plan should be a long-term solution — not just a quick-fix measure to make budget or shore up a bad quarter.
Managing expenses should be a strategic decision that starts at the top and is clearly communicated down the organizational chart. Train and encourage your managers to accurately track costs with an eye toward maximizing profitability. In turn, team leaders should work with their employees to solve the problems driving up expenses. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive.
Boosting cash flow
Controlling costs is among the best ways to maintain or increase cash flow. Tightly managed expenses free up dollars for profitable operations, prevent excessive inventory and wasteful spending, and keep cash available for business growth. Need help with your cost-control regimen? Please contact our firm.
Bonus depreciation allows businesses to recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The PATH Act, signed into law a little over a year ago, extended 50% bonus depreciation through 2017.
Claiming this break is generally beneficial, though in some cases a business might save more tax in the long run if they forgo it. However, 2016 may be an especially good year to take bonus depreciation. Keep this in mind when you’re filing your 2016 tax return.
New tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment) qualifies for bonus depreciation. So does off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified improvement property. And beginning in 2016, the qualified improvement property doesn’t have to be leased.
It isn’t enough, however, to have acquired the property in 2016. You must also have placed the property in service in 2016.
Now vs. later
If you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation (to the extent you’ve exhausted any Section 179 expensing available to you) is likely a good tax strategy. It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial.
But if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax for 2016, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re paying a higher tax rate.
Making a decision for 2016
The greater tax-saving power of deductions when rates are higher is why 2016 may be a particularly good year to take bonus depreciation. With both President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress wishing to reduce tax rates, there’s a good chance that such legislation could be signed into law.
This means your tax rate could be lower for 2017 (if changes go into effect for 2017) and future years. If that happens, there’s a greater likelihood that taking bonus depreciation for 2016 would save you more tax than taking all of your deduction under normal depreciation schedules over a period of years.
Also keep in mind that, under the PATH Act, bonus depreciation is scheduled to drop to 40% for 2018, drop to 30% for 2019, and expire Dec. 31, 2019. Of course, Congress could pass legislation extending 50% bonus depreciation or making it permanent — or it could eliminate it or reduce the bonus depreciation percentage sooner.
If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2016 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us.
As the saying goes, nothing lasts forever — and that goes for most companies. Then again, with the right succession plan in place, you can do your part to ensure your business continues down a path of success for at least another generation. From there, it will be your successor’s job to propel it further into perpetuity.
Some business owners make the mistake of largely ignoring succession planning under the assumption that it’s taken care of within their estate plans. Others create a succession plan but fail to adequately integrate it into their estate plan. To avoid these mistakes, it’s important to recognize the difference between succession planning and estate planning.
Similar, but different
Essentially, succession planning is the careful identification and training of those who will not only take over the day-to-day operations of your company, but also lead it forward to future growth. Your family members and other heirs will likely be affected here. But many others will be as well — including your named successor (whether or not a family member), business partners, employees, vendors and customers.
Estate planning, meanwhile, involves determining the distribution of your assets through gifting strategies, wills and other tools (such as trusts and insurance). The people affected by it are your family members and other heirs.
Because of this important distinction, it’s critical to undertake succession planning and estate planning as a joint effort. After all, who gets leadership responsibilities in the business and who gets ownership interests in the business may or may not be the same.
You must ask yourself who is best suited to run the business when you depart, and what ownership transfer plan will treat you and all of your heirs fairly or otherwise achieve your estate planning goals. This includes, among other things, knowing when you want to retire and how much income you’ll need to do it.
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Do you have both a clear succession plan and a well-documented estate plan? And are the two compatible in every respect? To make absolutely sure you can answer “yes” to both of these questions, please contact us. Our firm can help you develop plans that will distribute your assets per your wishes while putting your company in the best position to succeed going forward.
The break allowing taxpayers to take an itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes was made “permanent” a little over a year ago. This break can be valuable to those residing in states with no or low income taxes or who purchase major items, such as a car or boat.
Your 2016 tax return
How do you determine whether you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2016 return? Compare your potential deduction for state and local income tax to your potential deduction for state and local sales tax.
Don’t worry — you don’t have to have receipts documenting all of the sales tax you actually paid during the year to take full advantage of the deduction. Your deduction can be determined by using an IRS sales tax calculator that will base the deduction on your income and the sales tax rates in your locale plus the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases (for which you will need substantiation).
2017 and beyond
If you’re considering making a large purchase in 2017, you shouldn’t necessarily count on the sales tax deduction being available on your 2017 return. When the PATH Act made the break “permanent” in late 2015, that just meant that there’s no scheduled expiration date for it. Congress could pass legislation to eliminate the break (or reduce its benefit) at any time.
Recent Republican proposals have included elimination of many itemized deductions, and the new President has proposed putting a cap on itemized deductions. Which proposals will make it into tax legislation in 2017 and when various provisions will be signed into law and go into effect is still uncertain.
Questions about the sales tax deduction or other breaks that might help you save taxes on your 2016 tax return? Or about the impact of possible tax law changes on your 2017 tax planning? Contact us — we can help you maximize your 2016 savings and effectively plan for 2017.
Your company probably offers its employees a retirement plan. If so, can you identify all of your plan fiduciaries? From a risk management perspective, it’s critical for business owners to know who has fiduciary status — and the associated liability. Here are some common, though in some cases overlooked, plan fiduciaries:
Named fiduciaries. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requires a plan to have named fiduciaries. The plan document identifies the corporate entity or individual serving as the named fiduciary. If they aren’t immediately identified, the plan document will set the requirements for naming them.
Plan trustees. These are people who have exclusive authority and discretion to manage and control the plan assets. The trustee can be subject to the direction of a named fiduciary. These plan fiduciaries have a broad scope of responsibility.
Board of directors and committee members. The individuals who choose plan trustees and administrative committee members are considered under ERISA to be fiduciaries. Typically these are the members of the corporate board of directors. The scope of their fiduciary duty focuses on how they fulfill that specific function, and not on everything that happens with the plan itself. The law also sees as fiduciaries people who exercise discretion in key decisions about plan administration, including members of the administrative committee, if such a committee exists.
Investment managers and advisors. The named fiduciary can appoint one or more investment managers for the plan’s assets. People or firms who manage plan assets are plan fiduciaries. However, individuals employed by third party service providers can fall into different fiduciary categories. The investment manager who has complete discretion over plan asset investments has the greatest fiduciary responsibility. In contrast, a corporation or individual who offers investment advice, but doesn’t actually call the shots, has a lesser fiduciary responsibility.
These are just a few examples. Anyone who exercises discretionary authority over any vital facet of plan operations may be considered a “functional fiduciary.” Please contact our firm for a review of your retirement plan and its fiduciaries.
In December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act. The long and complex bill covers a broad range of health care topics, but of particular interest to some businesses should be the Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) provision. Specifically, qualified small employers can now use HRAs to reimburse employees who purchase individual insurance coverage, rather than providing employees with costly group health plans.
The need for HRA relief
Employers can use HRAs to reimburse their workers’ medical expenses, including health insurance premiums, up to a certain amount each year. The reimbursements are excludable from employees’ taxable income, and untapped amounts can be rolled over to future years. HRAs generally have been considered to be group health plans for tax purposes.
But the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits group health plans from imposing annual or lifetime benefits limits and requires such plans to provide certain preventive services without any cost-sharing by employees. And according to previous IRS guidance, “standalone HRAs” — those not tied to an existing group health plan — didn’t comply with these rules, even if the HRAs were used to purchase health insurance coverage that did comply. Businesses that provided the HRAs were subject to fines of $100 per day for each affected employee.
The IRS position was troublesome for smaller businesses that struggled to pay for traditional group health plans or to administer their own self-insurance plans. The changes in the Cures Act give these employers a third option for providing one of the benefits most valued by today’s employees.
Under the Cures Act, certain small employers can maintain general purpose, standalone HRAs that aren’t “group health plans” for most purposes under the Internal Revenue Code, Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Public Health Service Act.
More specifically, the legislation allows employers that aren’t “applicable large employers” under the ACA to provide a Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA) if they don’t offer a group health plan to any of their employees. Annual benefits under a QSEHRA:
QSEHRA benefits must be offered on the same terms to all “eligible employees” (certain individuals can be disregarded) and may be excluded from income only if the recipient has minimum essential coverage. There is a notice requirement and employees’ permitted benefits must be reported on Form W-2. If you’re interested in exploring the QSEHRA option for your business, contact us for further details.
If you’re like many Americans, you might not start thinking about filing your tax return until close to this year’s April 18 deadline. You might even want to file for an extension so you don’t have to send your return to the IRS until October 16.
But there’s another date you should keep in mind: January 23. That’s the date the IRS will begin accepting 2016 returns, and filing as close to that date as possible could protect you from tax identity theft.
Why early filing helps
In an increasingly common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.
A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.
Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.
Another important date
Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2016 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue 1099s to recipients of any 2016 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.
Delays for some refunds
The IRS reminded taxpayers claiming the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit to expect a longer wait for their refunds. A law passed in 2015 requires the IRS to hold refunds on tax returns claiming these credits until at least February 15.
An additional benefit
Let us know if you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2016 return early. If you’ll be getting a refund, an added bonus of filing early is that you’ll be able to enjoy your refund sooner.
We live and work in the information age. As such, the opportunity to gather knowledge about your company’s competitors and industry as a whole has never been better. This practice — commonly known as “competitive intelligence” — can help you stay more nimble in the marketplace and avoid getting left behind as innovation surges forward.
Before you dive into competitive intelligence, however, it’s important to establish a formal policy governing your efforts. (If you’ve already gotten started, perhaps slow down and integrate a policy going forward.) Generally, a competitive intelligence policy should follow four primary principles:
1. Be authentic. When gathering information, don’t hide behind secret identities or misrepresent your affiliation. For instance, if you sign up to receive marketing e-mails from a competitor, use an official company address and, if asked, state “product or service evaluation” as the reason you’re subscribing.
2. Respect all formal agreements. In the course of gathering competitive intelligence, you or your employees may establish sources within the industry or even with a specific competitor. Be sure you don’t encourage these sources, even inadvertently, to violate any standing confidentiality or noncompete agreements.
3. Abide by all intellectual property rights and laws. As you may know, the technicalities of intellectual property law are complex. It can be easy to run afoul of the rules unintentionally. When accessing or studying another company’s products or services, proceed carefully and consult your attorney before putting any lessons learned into practice.
4. Monitor consultants closely. When it comes to competitive intelligence, the Achilles’ heel of many companies isn’t their employees but outside consultants. If you engage third parties for any purpose, be sure they know and abide by your policy.
With the Internet booming and social media thriving, there’s a wealth of information out there about your competitors. It can help you shape your strategic planning and stay in better touch with your industry. Please contact our firm for assistance in integrating competitive intelligence into your profit enhancement goals.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
File 2016 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS and provide copies to recipients. (Note that Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation in Box 7 must be filed by January 31, beginning with 2016 forms filed in 2017.)
If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2016 tax return. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2016 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
In popular culture, the word “spinoff” usually refers to a television show whose main characters originated from an already established show. But the word applies to the business world, too. Here it describes a division or subsidiary of a company being sold off to a buyer as a separate entity.
The process is hardly simple. As a seller, you need to not only get a good price for your division or subsidiary, but also minimize any negative impact on your remaining holdings.
Many factors can drive a company to spin off a division. Common reasons include:
Spinoffs are usually executed more quickly than full-blown business sales, which can be appealing. Also, in consolidated industries with limited buyer pools, management may worry that a full sale would raise red flags with antitrust authorities.
If it’s a standalone subsidiary being sold, the spinoff will likely be relatively easy. The unit is already legally separate from its parent and probably won’t have much overlap with its parent’s operations.
More challenging is spinning off an internal division — also known as a “carveout.” Here the seller has to determine which of its employees, clients and product lines will be included in the carved-out division. The seller also must legally extricate the division’s assets, debts and liabilities from those of the parent company.
Because a company must decide which employees, products and property belong with the selling division, battles over ownership of certain assets are possible. For example, if the carveout and a unit that’s remaining with the parent company both rely on the same exclusive intellectual property, who retains ownership postsale?
Is your company looking to streamline operations? Could it use the cash from selling a strong division? If so, a spinoff is worth considering. But you’ll need to think through the strategy thoroughly and execute the deal carefully. Please contact our firm to discuss the concept further and assess the financials involved.
Nevertheless, if you’re not already maxing out your contributions, you still have an opportunity to save more in 2017. And if you turn age 50 in 2017, you can begin to take advantage of catch-up contributions.
However, keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions. If you have questions about how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2017, check with us.
Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, but with inflation remaining low, most of the limits remain unchanged for 2017. The only limit that has increased from the 2016 level is for contributions to defined contribution plans, which has gone up by $1,000.
Type of limit
Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans
Contributions to defined contribution plans
Contributions to SIMPLEs
Contributions to IRAs
Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans
Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs
Catch-up contributions to IRAs
Business owners get to make executive decisions. It’s one of the perks of the job. But acting unilaterally when buying business software can be a risky move. Because new technology affects the entire team, the entire team (or at least key members) should have input on the choice. And while it may be impossible to please everyone, it’s possible to come close.
Certain kinds of new business software (or upgrades) may appear no-brainers. But you’d be surprised. Managers may see a lot of bells and whistles in a just-released product, but few useful features. You also have to consider the software’s compatibility with your company’s other applications. So begin by gathering feedback from your management team. In particular, note which features are “must haves” and which ones are “just wants.” Then work with your IT and financial departments (or advisors) to target the right software within a specific budgetary range.
Even if your managers agree on a product, the process isn’t over. Although giving lower-level employees a say in the software selection process might seem to create more problems than it solves, they’ll be using it too. So lay the groundwork for a smooth implementation by hearing their thoughts as well. As you do so, try to assuage any fear or confusion about the prospective new software. Typically effective moves include:
This approach can make employees feel like they’re part of the initiative and help foster more rapid buy-in.
A smart buy
Whether shopping for the holidays or buying mission-critical business software, everyone wants to make a smart buy. Please contact our firm for help setting a budget and engaging in a procurement process that ensures you make a smart buy.
There are many ways to save for a child’s or grandchild’s education. But one has annual contribution limits, and if you don’t make a 2016 contribution by December 31, the opportunity will be lost forever. We’re talking about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).
Not just for college
One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.
Another advantage is that you have more investment options. So ESAs are beneficial if you’d like to have direct control over how and where your contributions are invested.
Annual contribution limits
The annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income.
The limit begins to phase out at a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000 for married filing jointly and $95,000 for other filers. No contribution can be made when MAGI hits $220,000 and $110,000, respectively.
Maximizing ESA savings
Because the annual contribution limit is low, if you want to maximize your ESA savings, it’s important to contribute every year in which you’re eligible. The contribution limit doesn’t carry over from year to year. In other words, if you don’t make a $2,000 contribution in 2016, you can’t add that $2,000 to the 2017 limit and make a $4,000 contribution next year.
However, because the contribution limit applies on a per beneficiary basis, before contributing make sure no one else has contributed to an ESA on behalf of the same beneficiary. If someone else has, you’ll need to reduce your contribution accordingly.
Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!
If your business involves the production, purchase or sale of merchandise, your inventory accounting method can significantly affect your tax liability. In some cases, using the last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventory accounting method, rather than first-in, first-out (FIFO), can reduce taxable income, giving cash flow a boost. Tax savings, however, aren’t the only factor to consider.
FIFO vs. LIFOstrong
FIFO assumes that merchandise is sold in the order it was acquired or produced. Thus, the cost of goods sold is based on older — and often lower — prices. The LIFO method operates under the opposite assumption: It allocates the most recent costs to the cost of sales.
If your inventory costs generally rise over time, LIFO offers a definite tax advantage. By allocating the most recent — and, therefore, higher — costs first, it maximizes your cost of goods sold, which minimizes your taxable income. But LIFO involves more sophisticated record keeping and more complex calculations, so it’s more time-consuming and expensive than FIFO.
LIFO can create a problem if your inventory levels begin to decline. As higher inventory costs are used up, you’ll need to start dipping into lower-cost “layers” of inventory, triggering taxes on “phantom income” that the LIFO method previously has allowed you to defer. If you use LIFO and this phantom income becomes significant, consider switching to FIFO. It will allow you to spread out the tax on phantom income.
If you currently use FIFO and are contemplating a switch to LIFO, beware of the IRS’s LIFO conformity rule. It generally requires you to use the same inventory accounting method for tax and financial statement purposes. Switching to LIFO may reduce your tax bill, but it will also depress your earnings and reduce the value of inventories on your balance sheet, which may place you at a disadvantage in comparison to competitors that don’t use LIFO. There are various issues to address and forms to complete, so be fully informed and consult your tax advisor before making a switch.
The method you use to account for inventory can have a big impact on your tax bill and financial statements. These are only a few of the factors to consider when choosing an inventory accounting method. Contact us for help assessing which method will provide the best fit with your current financial situation
Year end is just about here. You know what that means, right? It’s a great time to settle in by a roaring fire and catch up on reading … your company’s financial statements. One chapter worth a careful perusal is the balance sheet. Therein may lie some important lessons.
3 ratios to consider
In a nutshell, a balance sheet summarizes a company’s assets, liabilities and shareholders’ equity at a specific point in time. Its objective: To provide an accurate snapshot of the financial standing of the business.
Yet a balance sheet can do so much more. There are a number of ratios you can draw from this report, which can help you lay out strategic plans for next year. Here are three to consider:
1. The ratio of current assets to current liabilities. If this ratio falls below 1, the company may struggle to pay bills coming due. Some business experts believe a current ratio of less than 2:1 is problematic. But the ideal ratio varies from industry to industry.
2. Growth in accounts receivable compared to growth in sales. If receivables are growing faster than increases in sales, your company might be building up bad debts or you could be selling to large customers under disadvantageous terms. You may even be the victim of fraud. (Note: Sales are expressed on your income statement, so you’ll need to look at that statement, as well.)
3. Growth in inventory vs. growth in sales. When inventory levels increase at a faster rate than sales, a business is producing products faster than they’re being sold. Or, in the retail industry, a company may be overbuying — an inefficient use of working capital. There can be many mitigating circumstances, however, so it’s critical to determine exactly what’s going on.
These are just a few things you can learn from your balance sheet. And we haven’t even gotten into the thrilling tales lying within your income statement and statement of cash flow — the other two parts of your financial statements. Please contact our firm for help making the most of this important information.
A tried-and-true estate planning strategy is to make tax-free gifts to loved ones during life, because it reduces potential estate tax at death. There are many ways to make tax-free gifts, but one of the simplest is to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion with direct gifts. Even in a potentially changing estate tax environment, making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still be a good idea.
What is the annual exclusion?
The 2016 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your $5.45 million lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $28,000 per recipient. The gifts are also generally excluded from the generation-skipping transfer tax, which typically applies to transfers to grandchildren and others more than one generation below you.
The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can also avoid gift and estate taxes.
Making gifts in 2016
The exclusion is scheduled to remain at $14,000 ($28,000 for split gifts) in 2017. But that’s not a reason to skip making annual exclusion gifts this year. You need to use your 2016 exclusion by Dec. 31 or you’ll lose it.
The exclusion doesn’t carry from one year to the next. For example, if you don’t make an annual exclusion gift to your daughter this year, you can’t add $14,000 to your 2017 exclusion to make a $28,000 tax-free gift to her next year.
While the President-elect and Republicans in Congress have indicated that they want to repeal the estate tax, it’s uncertain exactly what tax law changes will be passed, since the Republicans don’t have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Plus, in some states there’s a state-level estate tax. So if you have a large estate, making 2016 annual exclusion gifts is generally still well worth considering.
We can help you determine how to make the most of your 2016 gift tax annual exclusion.
Many businesses find themselves short-staffed from Thanksgiving through December 31 as employees take time off to spend with family and friends. But if you limit how many vacation days employees can roll over to the new year, you might find your workplace a ghost town as workers scramble to use, rather than lose, their time off. A paid time off (PTO) contribution arrangement may be the solution.
How it works
A PTO contribution program 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.
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.
To offer a PTO contribution arrangement, simply amend your plan. However, you must still follow the plan document’s eligibility, vesting, rollover, distribution and loan terms. Additional rules apply.
To learn more about PTO contribution arrangements, including their tax implications, please contact us.
A successful family business can provide long-term financial security for you as its owner, as well as for your loved ones. To improve the chances that your company will continue to benefit your heirs after you’re gone, take steps now to keep it in the family.
Careful estate planning can ensure that a business continues to benefit family members and that ownership of the business isn’t diluted — at least until the business is ready to accept outside investors.
For example, a well-designed buy-sell agreement can prevent owners from transferring their shares outside the family, while providing the liquidity they need to exit the business. And prenuptial agreements can prevent married owners from losing a portion of their shares in a divorce.
Trusts or other mechanisms can also restrict the ability of your heirs to transfer shares. If shares are held in trust, however, it’s important to include mechanisms for providing beneficiaries with a say in the business’s affairs — particularly if they work in the business.
For instance, the trust agreement might give some or all of the beneficiaries control over how voting and other ownership rights associated with the underlying shares are exercised. Or, if the beneficiaries are minors or otherwise not ready to assume this responsibility, these rights might be exercised by a trustee, advisory board or other fiduciary (with or without input from the beneficiaries).
Considering many strategies
These are just a few broad concepts to think about when considering how your business fits into your estate plan. The important thing to bear in mind is there are many strategies to consider, some of which could become more or less appealing as time goes on and you close in on retirement. Please contact our firm to discuss your best options now — and in the future.
You may be aware of the rule that allows businesses to 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). But this favorable tax treatment isn’t always available.
For one thing, 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. Even for accrual-basis taxpayers, however, the 2½ month rule isn’t automatic. The bonuses can be deducted in the year they’re earned only if the employer’s bonus liability is fixed by the end of the year.
The all-events test
For accrual-basis taxpayers, the IRS determines when a liability (such as a bonus) has been incurred — and, therefore, is deductible — by applying the “all-events test.” Under this test, a liability is deductible when:
Generally, the third 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 remain in the company’s employ on the payment date as a condition of receiving the bonus. Even if the amount of the bonus is fixed at the end of the tax year, and employees who leave the company before the payment date forfeit their bonuses, the all-events test isn’t satisfied until the payment date. Fortunately, it’s possible to accelerate deductions with a carefully designed bonus pool arrangement.
How a bonus pool works
In a 2011 ruling, the IRS said that 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, even though amounts allocated to specific employees aren’t determined until the payment date.
Additional rules and limits apply to this strategy. To learn whether your current bonus plan allows you to take 2016 deductions for bonuses paid in early 2017, contact us. If you don’t qualify this year, we can also help you design a bonus plan for 2017 that will allow you to accelerate deductions next year.
Could your company’s benefits package use a bit of an upgrade? If so, one idea to consider is adding an option for employees to convert their regular 401(k)s to Roth 401(k)s.
Under a Roth 401(k), participants make after-tax contributions to a qualified plan and receive tax-free distributions, provided the funds are in the plan for at least five years from the date of the initial Roth contribution. Thus, while participants pay a tax on the income that was the source of the contribution, the earnings on the contributions are tax-free.
Penalties to consider
The ability to convert existing pretax balances within a 401(k) to Roth status was expanded by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. It’s generally easier for participants to start making after-tax contributions to Roth accounts within their 401(k) plans than it is to convert a significant existing pretax amount to the plan’s Roth component.
Why? Because, as with an IRA conversion, a Roth 401(k) conversion triggers tax liability that participants must pay on the conversion. If they need to raise the cash from retirement funds and they’re younger than age 59½, they get to keep only 90% of the amount after the 10% premature withdrawal penalty, less whatever amount regular income taxes take.
The initial financial hit of a Roth 401(k) conversion might appear to be a deal-breaker. Yet more and more plan sponsors are offering the option. One possible explanation for this is the rising number of working Millennials (roughly defined as those born between the 1980s and 2000s).
Converting to a Roth 401(k) makes sense for these younger participants because they have a longer period to build tax-free earnings on their contributions — despite the initial penalty. They’re also less likely to face the prospect of a big tax hit by converting an existing pretax 401(k) plan balance to a Roth account, because their existing balances are generally lower.
An intriguing option
Giving employees the opportunity to participate in a Roth 401(k) plan may help them hedge their bets about the income tax environment they’ll face in retirement. And, as Millennials continue to hit the job market, you might draw better candidates when hiring. Please contact our firm for more information.
Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. To ensure your donations will be deductible on your 2016 return, you must make them by year end to qualified charities.
When’s the delivery date?
To be deductible on your 2016 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2016. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:
Check. The date you mail it.
Credit card. The date you make the charge.
Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.
Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.
Is the organization “qualified”?
To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos
Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making. But act soon — you don’t have much time left to make donations that will reduce your 2016 tax bill.
For many of today’s companies, going global seems like a quick and trouble-free growth strategy. Technological advances and expansive supply chains make doing so easier than ever. But business owners who make this move impetuously may soon find themselves on stormy seas, taking on waves of debt and unanticipated expenses.
Chart your course carefully
Globalization strategies are typically based on two objectives: 1) selling to a new market overseas, or 2) lowering production or administrative costs with foreign supply chain partners. (Some companies try to do both.)
If you plan to sell to foreign businesses or consumers, consider conducting a market feasibility study in key target areas to gauge demand on a smaller scale. Also, learn regulations, customs and tax rules to determine whether you can actually turn a profit.
If minimizing production or administrative expenses is your aim, watch out for hidden costs. Examples may include:
In addition, labor, materials and taxes may initially seem cheaper in a foreign country. But wages in some countries, such as China or India, are rising. And the pool of skilled workers sometimes may be limited overseas — especially in high-tech industries.
Prepare your crew
You may be ready to go global, but are your employees? Unexpected red tape can abound. For example, accounting for foreign subsidiaries requires an understanding of international financial reporting standards and complex transfer tax issues that may be beyond the capabilities of in-house accounting personnel.
It also may be unwise to leave accounting and record-keeping to the management of foreign subsidiaries. Lax oversight and informal controls may lead to mistakes, omissions, legal issues and even fraud. At this time, it’s also uncertain what impact the incoming presidential administration could have on foreign business operations.
Check the forecast
Will you find a treasure chest of higher revenues and cost savings overseas? It’s tough to say, matey. Please contact our firm for help reviewing your financials and forecasting your potential profitability to determine whether the trip would be worth it.
In order to take advantage of two important depreciation tax breaks for business assets, you must place the assets in service by the end of the tax year. So you still have time to act for 2016.
Section 179 deduction
The Sec. 179 deduction is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct as depreciation up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 can be used for fixed assets, such as equipment, software and leasehold improvements. Beginning in 2016, air conditioning and heating units were added to the list.
The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2016 is $500,000. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2016 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $200,010,000.
Real property improvements used to be ineligible. However, an exception that began in 2010 was made permanent for tax years beginning in 2016. Under the exception, you can claim a Sec. 179 deduction of up to $500,000 for certain qualified real property improvement costs.
Note: You can use Sec. 179 to buy an eligible heavy SUV for business use, but the rules are different from buying other assets. Heavy SUVs are subject to a $25,000 deduction limitation.
First-year bonus depreciation
For qualified new assets (including software) that your business places in service in 2016, you can claim 50% first-year bonus depreciation. (Used assets don’t qualify.) This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment, and office furniture.
Additionally, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any eligible improvement to the interior of a nonresidential building if the improvement is made after the date the building was first placed in service. However, certain improvements aren’t eligible, such as enlarging a building and installing an elevator or escalator.
Contemplate what your business needs now
If you’ve been thinking about buying business assets, consider doing it before year end. This article explains only some of the rules involved with the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax breaks. Contact us for ideas on how you can maximize your depreciation deductions.
Smart timing of deductible expenses can reduce your tax liability, and poor timing can unnecessarily increase it. When you don’t expect to be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) in the current year, accelerating deductible expenses into the current year typically is a good idea. Why? Because it will defer tax, which usually is beneficial. One deductible expense you may be able to control is your property tax payment.
You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2016 but that are due in 2017, and deduct the payment on your return for this year. But you generally can’t prepay property taxes that relate to 2017 and deduct the payment on this year’s return.
Should you or shouldn’t you?
As noted earlier, accelerating deductible expenses like property tax payments generally is beneficial. Prepaying your property tax may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2017, which could happen based on the outcome of the November election. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.
However, under the President-elect’s proposed tax plan, some taxpayers (such as certain single and head of household filers) might be subject to higher tax rates. These taxpayers may save more tax from the property tax deduction by holding off on paying their property tax until it’s due next year.
Likewise, taxpayers who expect to see a big jump in their income next year that would push them into a higher tax bracket also may benefit by not prepaying their property tax bill.
Property tax isn’t deductible for AMT purposes. If you’re subject to the AMT this year, a prepayment may hurt you because you’ll lose the benefit of the deduction. So before prepaying your property tax, make sure you aren’t at AMT risk for 2016.
Also, don’t forget the income-based itemized deduction reduction. If your income is high enough that the reduction applies to you, the tax benefit of a prepayment will be reduced.
Not sure whether you should prepay your property tax bill or what other deductions you might be able to accelerate into 2016 (or should consider deferring to 2017)? Contact us. We can help you determine the best year-end tax planning strategies for your specific situation.
The last month or so of the year offers accrual-basis taxpayers an opportunity to make some timely moves that might enable them to save money on their 2016 tax bill.
Record and recognize
The key to saving tax as an accrual-basis taxpayer is to properly record and recognize expenses that were incurred this year but won’t be paid until 2017. This will enable you to deduct those expenses on your 2016 federal tax return. Common examples of such expenses include:
You can also accelerate deductions into 2016 without actually paying for the expenses in 2016 by charging them on a credit card. (This works for cash-basis taxpayers, too.) Accelerating deductible expenses into 2016 may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2017, which could happen based on the outcome of the November election. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.
Look at prepaid expenses
Also review all prepaid expense accounts and write off any items that have been used up before the end of the year. If you prepay insurance for a period of time beginning in 2016, you can expense the entire amount this year rather than spreading it between 2016 and 2017, as long as a proper method election is made. This is treated as a tax expense and thus won’t affect your internal financials.
Miscellaneous tax tips
Here are a few more year-end tax tips to consider:
Consult us for more details on how these and other year-end tax strategies may apply to your business.
Many companies, especially smaller ones, minimize in-house training to cut costs. But the current business environment — with its hard-to-predict changes, external threats and regulatory demands — is causing some owners to rethink this strategy. A strong training program can not only help you attract and retain quality talent, but can also help you reduce operational risk.
Today’s companies face many challenges beyond simply turning a profit. Many industries are highly regulated, and just about every type of business has become, in some sense, technology-dependent. This has brought a renewed emphasis on risk management.
One of the keys to managing operational risk is well-trained personnel at all levels. After all, no matter how carefully a business designs its policies, procedures and controls, they’re only as reliable as the employees entrusted to implement them.
2 examples to considerHere are just a couple of examples of operational risks that can be reduced with good training:
1. Compliance. As mentioned, many businesses are now more heavily regulated. (This may change with the incoming presidential administration, but it’s hard to say when or how any deregulatory measures may occur.) Failure to comply with federal, state or local regulations can expose your company to penalties ranging from monetary fines, to rescission of loans or other contracts, to criminal liability. Train your employees to avoid breaking the rules and to spot compliance threats when they arise.
2. Cybersecurity. As companies’ reliance on technology and automation continues to increase, so does the risk of cyberattacks. Although the techniques cybercriminals use are becoming more sophisticated, many businesses also remain vulnerable to simple tactics, such as email phishing.
Phishing involves sending emails to employees or customers that appear to be from a legitimate source. By tricking recipients into clicking on links that install malware, cybercriminals can gain access to company assets or customers’ sensitive personal information. Teach your staff how to deal with suspicious emails and other technology-related threats.
On the lookout
It’s not enough to be aware of risks to your business at the ownership or management level. You’ve got to train your employees to be on the lookout, too. Please contact our firm for help.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States and Republicans have retained control of both chambers of Congress, an overhaul of the U.S. tax code next year is likely. President-elect Trump’s tax reform plan, released earlier this year, includes the following changes that would affect individuals:
The House Republicans’ plan is somewhat different. And because Republicans didn’t reach the 60 Senate members necessary to become filibuster-proof, they may need to compromise on some issues in order to get their legislation through the Senate. The bottom line is that exactly which proposals will make it into legislation and signed into law is uncertain, but major changes are just about a sure thing.
If it looks like you could be eligible for lower income tax rates next year, it may make sense to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016 (when they may be more valuable) and defer income to 2017 (when it might be subject to a lower tax rate). But if it looks like your rates could be higher next year, the opposite approach may be beneficial.
In either situation, there is some risk to these strategies, given the uncertainty as to exactly what tax law changes will be enacted. We can help you create the best year-end tax strategy based on how potential changes may affect your specific situation.
The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States could result in major tax law changes in 2017. Proposed changes spelled out in Trump’s tax reform plan released earlier this year that would affect businesses include:
President-elect Trump’s tax plan is somewhat different from the House Republicans’ plan. With Republicans retaining control of both chambers of Congress, some sort of overhaul of the U.S. tax code is likely. That said, Republicans didn’t reach the 60 Senate members necessary to become filibuster-proof, which means they may need to compromise on some issues in order to get their legislation through the Senate.
So there’s still uncertainty as to which specific tax changes will ultimately make it into legislation and be signed into law. It may make sense to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016 that might not be deductible in 2017 and to defer income to 2017, when it might be subject to a lower tax rate. But there is some risk to these strategies, given the uncertainty as to exactly what tax law changes will be enacted. Plus no single strategy is right for every business. Please contact us to develop the best year-end strategy for your business.
As the year winds down, business owners have a lot to think about. One item that you should keep top of mind is next year’s budget. A well-conceived budget can go a long way toward keeping expenses in line and cash flow strong. The question is: Where to begin? Well, to answer this question, we don’t have just one suggestion — we have three:
1. Investigate your income statement.strong> A good place to start on next year’s budget is with the numbers you put on paper for last year, as well as your year-to-date results. In your income statement, you’ll see information on sales, margins, operating expenses, and profits or losses.
One specific factor to consider is volume. If sales have slipped noticeably in the preceding year, your profits may be markedly down and regaining that volume should likely play a starring role in your 2017 budget.
2. Check your cash flow statement.strong> Look at where cash is coming from in terms of daily operations, as well as external financing and investment sources. The statement will also tell you where cash is going, as you finance business activities and investments.
Even profitable companies can struggle if their cash flow is weak. Where do they go wrong? Under- or unbudgeted asset purchases can have a major negative budget impact. Another culprit is one or two departments regularly going over budget.
3. Peruse your balance sheet. Here you’ll find your company’s assets, liabilities and owner’s equity within the given period. Your balance sheet should give you a good general impression of where your company stands financially.
Take a close look at how your liabilities compare with assets. If your debts are mounting, a good objective for 2017 might be cutting discretionary expenses (such as bonuses or travel costs) or developing a sound refinancing plan.
That’s right — to get started on next year’s budget, simply pull out your most recent set of financial statements, roll up your sleeves and get to work. But you don’t have to do it alone. Our firm can help you understand where your business stands as of today and what next year’s budget should look like.
If you hold investments outside of tax-advantaged retirement plans, you may be able to take steps before year end to reduce your 2016 tax liability.
Offsetting gains with losses
Suppose you’ve sold investments at a loss this year but you have other investments in your portfolio that have appreciated. If you believe those appreciated investments have peaked in value, you may want to sell them before this year ends, at least to the extent that the gains from the sales will be offset by your losses.
What if you’ve sold investments and are fortunate to have gains this year? By the last business day of the year (Dec. 30 in 2016), consider selling some losing investments to absorb the gains.
Tax rates to consider
At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at rates as high as 20% — 23.8% if you’re subject to the net investment income tax. The short-term capital gains rate (on investments held one year or less) is the same as the tax rate you pay on ordinary income and can go as high as 39.6%.
The netting rules
Before taking action, you need to keep in mind the netting rules for gains and losses, which depend on whether gains and losses are long term or short term.
To determine your net gain or loss for the year, long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. In the same way, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains. And you may use up to $3,000 of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income. Any remaining net losses are carried forward to future years.
Start planning now
Careful handling of your capital gains and losses can save you substantial amounts of tax. But make sure you fully understand all of the implications for your tax and investment situation. Contact us if you have questions.
Saving for retirement can be tough if you’re putting most of your money and time into operating a small business. However, many retirement plans aren’t difficult to set up and it’s important to start saving so you can enjoy a comfortable future.
So if you haven’t already set up a tax-advantaged plan, consider doing so this year.
Note: If you have employees, they generally must be allowed to participate in the plan, provided they meet the qualification requirements.
Here are three options:
Contact us if you want more information about setting up the best retirement plan in your situation.
The owners of many companies launch their enterprises with a business plan — a written document outlining the company’s strategic objectives and practical means of accomplishing them. Likewise, many owners leave their businesses via a succession plan, a written document outlining how the company’s ownership will transition.
Often, however, these two documents never cross paths, much less join toward a common goal. If this is the case with your business, and you’ve already identified your likely successor, mentoring can make your succession plan better by uniting it with your business plan.
One of the principles of mentoring is establishing a relationship based on mutual respect and trust. So, as your company evolves, you’ll need to ensure your successor is learning the skills and gaining the knowledge he or she will need to keep your business competitive and, ideally, take it to higher levels of success.
Let’s say, for example, that your company has always just sold widgets and is now expanding to help clients service the widgets. You’ll need to make both strategic and operational changes so that your successor and staff can handle a diversified business that’s both product- and service-based. Under a mentoring relationship, you can disclose these plans to your successor in a confidential setting and start laying the groundwork with him or her to move the business in the new direction.
Another principle of mentoring is making a definite commitment of time and face-to-face contact. So meet with your successor often. The first days of running a company are particularly stressful. But coaching during the period leading up to the transition can help successors manage the pressures.
During this time, you can also provide a secure environment for your successor to apply these new abilities and assume more of your responsibilities. To maximize your mentoring efforts, have your successor meet monthly with key personnel to discuss current matters, growth and operations strategies, your and your competitors’ products and services, and industry trends.
Create an effective plan
These are but two of many principles of mentoring. Please contact our firm for more help maximizing the effectiveness of your succession plan.
Nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plans pay executives at some time in the future for services to be currently performed. They differ from qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, in that:
They also differ in terms of some of the rules that apply to them, and it’s critical to be aware of those rules.
What you need to know
Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 409A and related IRS guidance have tightened and clarified the rules for NQDC plans. Some of the most important rules to be aware of affect:
Timing of initial deferral elections. Executives must make the initial deferral election before the year in which they perform the services for which the compensation is earned. So, for instance, if you wish to defer part of your 2017 compensation to 2018 or beyond, you generally must make the election by the end of 2016.
Timing of distributions. Benefits must be paid on a specified date, according to a fixed payment schedule or after the occurrence of a specified event — such as death, disability, separation from service, change in ownership or control of the employer, or an unforeseeable emergency.
Elections to change timing or form. The timing of benefits can be delayed but not accelerated. Elections to change the timing or form of a payment must be made at least 12 months in advance. Also, new payment dates must be at least five years after the date the payment would otherwise have been made.
Employment tax issues
Another important NQDC tax issue is that employment taxes are generally due when services are performed or when there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture, whichever is later. This is true even though the compensation isn’t actually paid or recognized for income tax purposes until later years. So your employer may:
Consequences of noncompliance
The penalties for noncompliance can be severe: Plan participants (that is, you, the executive) will be taxed on plan benefits at the time of vesting, and a 20% penalty and potential interest charges also will apply. So if you’re receiving NQDC, you should check with your employer to make sure it’s addressing any compliance issues. And we can help incorporate your NQDC or other executive compensation into your year-end tax planning and a comprehensive tax planning strategy for 2016 and beyond.
Although a vehicle’s value typically drops fairly rapidly, the tax rules limit the amount of annual depreciation that can be claimed on most cars and light trucks. Thus, when it’s time to replace a vehicle used in business, it’s not unusual for its tax basis to be higher than its value. This can be costly tax-wise, depending on how you dispose of the vehicle:
Trade-in. If you trade a vehicle in on a new one, the undepreciated basis of the old vehicle simply tacks onto the basis of the new one — even though this extra basis generally doesn’t generate any additional current depreciation because of the annual depreciation limits.
Sale. If you sell the old vehicle rather than trading it in, any excess of basis over the vehicle’s value can be claimed as a deductible loss to the extent of your business use of the vehicle.
For example, if you sell a vehicle you’ve used 100% for business and it has an adjusted basis of $20,000 for $12,000, you’ll get an immediate write-off of $8,000 ($20,000 – $12,000). If you trade in the vehicle rather than selling it, the $20,000 adjusted basis is added to the new vehicle’s depreciable basis and, thanks to the annual depreciation limits, it may be years before any tax deductions are realized.
For details on the depreciation limits or more ideas on how to maximize your vehicle-related deductions, contact us.
Many retirement plan sponsors consider converting to new providers starting with the new plan year. For calendar year plans, that means January 1. If this is the case for your company, now is a good time to ensure your service provider is truly providing.
A good provider should have demonstrable experience in your industry. Check to see whether your current provider (or a prospective one) has clients with plans similar to yours. Ask for references.
Service and administration should be easy, and communications clear. Reports from your provider should be timely and accurate. You shouldn’t have problems contacting your service provider, and they should give quick and accurate answers to routine questions. Look for a provider that offers educational seminars for employees to help them understand the importance of maximizing their savings. Make sure the provider has a website that your employees can access, and that participant statements and reports are user-friendly.
The provider should give ongoing plan reviews. This includes open discussions of participation levels, deferral percentages, loans, nondiscrimination testing, and enrollment and communication strategies.
Remember, cheapest isn’t always best. Certain providers market their services directly to plan sponsors with the idea that the cost of an advisor is unnecessary. Generally, this type of arrangement works only if the plan sponsor has an employee dedicated to certain 401(k) plan functions or the plan accepts less service.
The 401(k) fees paid by a company typically include a one-time fee to establish the plan and an ongoing annual, quarterly or monthly fee to manage it. The costs cover record keeping, support from an account manager, government-required testing and tax forms, and product and service improvements. Administrative expenses vary dramatically based on the provider and the total plan assets.
It’s also important that employees pay the least fees possible so they can invest more of their money. Add up the average fund expenses plus the management fees, participant record-keeping fees, custodial fees or any other fees charged to your employees.
Comprehensive, well-administered benefits are a competitive necessity in today’s business environment. Please contact us for help evaluating the services you’re receiving and their associated costs.
Many tax breaks are reduced or eliminated for higher-income taxpayers. Two of particular note are the itemized deduction reduction and the personal exemption phaseout.
If your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the applicable threshold, most of your itemized deductions will be reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately). The limitation doesn’t apply to deductions for medical expenses, investment interest, or casualty, theft or wagering losses.
Exceeding the applicable AGI threshold also could cause your personal exemptions to be reduced or even eliminated. The personal exemption phaseout reduces exemptions by 2% for each $2,500 (or portion thereof) by which a taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the applicable threshold (2% for each $1,250 for married taxpayers filing separately).
The limits in action
These AGI-based limits can be very costly to high-income taxpayers. Consider this example:
Steve and Mary are married and have four dependent children. In 2016, they expect to have an AGI of $1 million and will be in the top tax bracket (39.6%). Without the AGI-based exemption phaseout, their $24,300 of personal exemptions ($4,050 × 6) would save them $9,623 in taxes ($24,300 × 39.6%). But because their personal exemptions are completely phased out, they’ll lose that tax benefit.
The AGI-based itemized deduction reduction can also be expensive. Steve and Mary could lose the benefit of as much as $20,661 [3% × ($1 million − $311,300)] of their itemized deductions that are subject to the reduction — at a tax cost as high as $8,182 ($20,661 × 39.6%).
These two AGI-based provisions combined could increase the couple’s tax by $17,805!
If your AGI is close to the applicable threshold, AGI-reduction strategies — such as contributing to a retirement plan or Health Savings Account — may allow you to stay under it. If that’s not possible, consider the reduced tax benefit of the affected deductions before implementing strategies to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016. If you expect to be under the threshold in 2017, you may be better off deferring certain deductible expenses to next year.
For more details on these and other income-based limits, help assessing whether you’re likely to be affected by them or more tips for reducing their impact, please contact us.
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 enhanced tax breaks that allow deductions to be taken more quickly are available for certain real estate investments:
1. 50% bonus depreciation. This additional first-year depreciation allowance is available for qualified improvement property. The break expired December 31, 2014, but has been extended through 2019. However, it will drop to 40% for 2018 and 30% for 2019. On the plus side, beginning in 2016, the qualified improvement property doesn’t have to be leased.
2. Section 179 expensing. This election to deduct under Sec. 179 (rather than depreciate over a number of years) qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property expired December 31, 2014, but has been made permanent.
Beginning in 2016, the full Sec. 179 expensing limit of $500,000 can be applied to these investments. (Before 2016, only $250,000 of the expensing election limit, which also is available for tangible personal property and certain other assets, could be applied to leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property.)
The expensing limit is subject to a dollar-for-dollar phaseout if your qualified asset purchases for 2016 exceed $2,010,000. In other words, if, say, your qualified asset purchases for the year are $2,110,000, your expensing limit would be reduced by $100,000 (to $400,000).
Both the expensing limit and the purchase limit are now adjusted annually for inflation.
3. Accelerated depreciation. This break allows a shortened recovery period of 15 years for qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property. It expired December 31, 2014, but has been made permanent.
Although these enhanced depreciation-related breaks may offer substantial savings on your 2016 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.
For more information on these breaks or advice on whether you should take advantage of them, please contact us.
Nearly every business owner wants to grow his or her company. But with growth comes risk, and that can keep you from taking the steps necessary to move forward. Yet if you don’t think big and come up with a long-term strategic plan, you’ll likely continue to spin your wheels.
Eyes on profits and value
Public companies answer to investors who consider earnings per share and stock price to be key indicators of their return on investment. Maximizing earnings is a short-term goal, but building value requires a long-term focus.
Many small to midsize businesses, however, have only their ownerships’ vision to motivate them. You also may have to operate much leaner, with more limited staff and overhead. In doing so, you may sacrifice value-building opportunities.
For example, a company that fails to invest in marketing may lose market share to a competitor that aggressively advertises and offers promotions. Or a business that hires managers only from within or chooses candidates based primarily on minimizing salary expense may lose out on the professional expertise that comes with a more seasoned management team.
Systematic, formal planning
Some companies may be able to run “lean and mean” for a while. But, eventually, most businesses need to grow. And a reasonably ambitious, long-term strategic plan is the first step. It will allow you to communicate a nuanced, specific vision for growth down the organizational chart.
Planning should extend to employees, too. What’s each worker’s expected role in your strategic vision? This is why annual performance reviews are so critical. They’ll help you gauge whether each employee is meeting or exceeding management’s expectations — or whether he or she is truly contributing to your long-term plan.
The right goals
Again, don’t be afraid to think big. A tentative or half-hearted long-term strategic plan may leave you disappointed — and fail to truly motivate anyone. Please contact our firm for help choosing the right goals and putting them into a feasible, reasonable financial context.
In addition to income tax, you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on earned income, such as salary and self-employment income. The 12.4% Social Security tax applies only up to the Social Security wage base of $118,500 for 2016. All earned income is subject to the 2.9% Medicare tax.
The taxes are split equally between the employee and the employer. But if you’re self-employed, you pay both the employee and employer portions of these taxes on your self-employment income.
Additional 0.9% Medicare tax
Another employment tax that higher-income taxpayers must be aware of is the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. It applies to FICA wages and net self-employment income exceeding $200,000 per year ($250,000 for married filing jointly and $125,000 for married filing separately).
If your wages or self-employment income varies significantly from year to year or you’re close to the threshold for triggering the additional Medicare tax, income timing strategies may help you avoid or minimize it. For example, as a self-employed taxpayer, you may have flexibility on when you purchase new equipment or invoice customers. If your self-employment income is from a part-time activity and you’re also an employee elsewhere, perhaps you can time with your employer when you receive a bonus.
Something else to consider in this situation is the withholding rules. Employers must withhold the additional Medicare tax beginning in the pay period when wages exceed $200,000 for the calendar year — without regard to an employee’s filing status or income from other sources. So your employer might not withhold the tax even though you are liable for it due to your self-employment income.
If you do owe the tax but your employer isn’t withholding it, consider filing a W-4 form to request additional income tax withholding, which can be used to cover the shortfall and avoid interest and penalties. Or you can make estimated tax payments.
Deductions for the self-employed
For the self-employed, the employer portion of employment taxes (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) is deductible above the line. (No portion of the additional Medicare tax is deductible, because there’s no employer portion of that tax.)
As a self-employed taxpayer, you may benefit from other above-the-line deductions as well. You can deduct 100% of health insurance costs for yourself, your spouse and your dependents, up to your net self-employment income. You also can deduct contributions to a retirement plan and, if you’re eligible, an HSA for yourself. Above-the-line deductions are particularly valuable because they reduce your adjusted gross income (AGI) and modified AGI (MAGI), which are the triggers for certain additional taxes and the phaseouts of many tax breaks.
For more information on the ins and outs of employment taxes and tax breaks for the self-employed, please contact us.
Whether you’re selling your business or acquiring another company, the tax consequences can have a major impact on the transaction’s success or failure.
Consider installment sales, for example. The sale of a business might be structured as an installment sale if the buyer lacks sufficient cash or pays a contingent amount based on the business’s performance. And it sometimes — but not always — can offer the seller tax advantages.
An installment sale may make sense if the seller wishes to spread the gain over a number of years. This could be especially beneficial if it would allow the seller to stay under the thresholds for triggering the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) or the 20% long-term capital gains rate.
For 2016, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 per year ($250,000 for married filing jointly and $125,000 for married filing separately) will owe NIIT on some or all of their investment income. And the 20% long-term capital gains rate kicks in when 2016 taxable income exceeds $415,050 for singles, $441,000 for heads of households and $466,950 for joint filers (half that for separate filers).
But an installment sale can backfire on the seller. For example:
Please let us know if you’d like more information on installment sales — or other aspects of tax planning in mergers and acquisitions. Of course, tax consequences are only one of many important considerations.
Like many companies, yours probably stores at least some of its business files, documents and information in “the cloud.” This is the widely used term referring to the seemingly infinite data storage capacity of the Internet.
Using the cloud generally means lower IT costs, because you don’t have to deploy a lot of expensive hardware and software on-site and it’s scalable — in other words, you can easily expand or diminish your data storage capabilities as necessary. Most cloud services also feature automatic backups and updates.
But these inherently great features don’t guarantee you’ll get a good return on investment. To make the most of the cloud, you’ll need to identify and follow some best practices. Here are two to consider.
A carefully vetted provider
Moving from on-premises, server-based data storage to cloud-based data storage requires a different mindset. You’ll be unable to physically look at and touch a server box and say, “That’s where my data is stored.”
This makes it critical to choose a cloud services provider you can trust and build a strong relationship with as a true business partner. Ask potential providers for the names of two or three of their clients you can speak with about issues such as level of security, responsiveness and technological sophistication.
You need to pinpoint your recovery time objectives and recovery point objectives (that is, the most critical data points for your business) concerning the backup and recovery of your data in an emergency. Be sure you’ve clearly communicated these to your cloud services provider.
Your provider should be able to work with you on an individualized basis to ensure that your objectives will be met. You don’t want to find out during a crisis that you’ve lost mission-critical data.Worth considering
If you haven’t ventured into the cloud yet, give it some consideration — these services are becoming increasingly common. And if you have, be sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
Until recently, estate planning strategies typically focused on minimizing federal gift and estate taxes, such as by giving away assets during life to reduce the taxable estate. Today, however, the focus has moved toward income taxes, making the coordination of income tax planning and estate planning more important.
Why the change?
Since 2001, the federal exemption has grown from $675,000 to $5.45 million, meaning that fewer people have to worry about gift and estate tax liability. In addition, the top gift and estate tax rate has decreased from 55% to 40%, while the top individual income tax rate has increased to 39.6% — nearly as high as the top gift and estate tax rate.
The heightened importance of income taxes means that holding assets until death may be advantageous. If you give away an appreciated asset, the recipient takes over your tax basis in the asset, triggering capital gains tax should he or she turn around and sell it.
When an appreciated asset is inherited, on the other hand, the recipient’s basis is “stepped up” to the asset’s fair market value on the date of death, erasing the built-in capital gain. So retaining appreciating assets until death can save significant income tax.
Year end strategy
It is, however, possible to transfer appreciated assets now without your family taking a capital gains tax hit. Such a strategy can be beneficial if you have appreciated assets you’ve held more than one year that you’d like to sell, but you’re concerned about the impact on your 2016 tax bill.
You just need to have family members who are in the 10% or 15% regular income tax bracket and thus eligible for the 0% long-term capital gains rate. Then you can transfer the appreciated assets to them and they can sell the assets tax-free (to the extent the gains don’t push them into a higher bracket).
The transfer won’t create gift tax liability, either, as long as you can apply your $14,000 per year per recipient gift tax annual exclusion or a portion of your lifetime exemption. But before transferring the assets, make sure the recipient won’t be subject to the “kiddie” tax.
Of course, depending on the outcome of the November elections, gift and estate taxes could again surpass income taxes in estate planning importance for some families. If you have questions about coordinating your income tax planning with your estate plan, please contact us.
Typically, it’s better to defer tax. One way is through controlling when your business recognizes income and incurs deductible expenses. Here are two timing strategies that can help businesses do this:
1. Defer income to next year. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.
2. Accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before Dec. 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.
But if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year (or you expect tax rates to go up), consider taking the opposite approach instead — accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses. This will increase your tax bill this year but can save you tax over the two-year period.
These are only some of the nuances to consider. Please contact us to discuss what timing strategies will work to your tax advantage, based on your specific situation.
Turning receivables into cash is among the most important things a business must do. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Here are five ways to speed up collections:
1. Streamline the billing process. You can’t collect what you don’t bill. Invoice customers promptly — as soon as the product ships, if possible. Or, if your company provides services, track billable hours daily and bill monthly — or as often as permitted under the customer’s contract. Implementing an electronic payment system, or upgrading your existing one, may accelerate invoicing and enable faster receipt of receivables.
2. Reward early birds and penalize procrastinators. Enticing customers to pay before the due date may require early-bird discounts, such as a small percentage off bills or value-added perks for those who pay on time or improve their payment histories. Conversely, you might consider assessing fees on past-due payments. However, many companies decide to waive late charges as an act of goodwill when customers immediately resolve outstanding balances.
3. Take a multifaceted approach. A variety of strategies, rather than a single phone call demanding payment, can yield better results. Courtesy calls may allow you to more quickly discover discrepancies (such as wrong addresses) and settle disputes. Payment plans can help distressed customers catch up on overdue accounts. And promissory notes can help prevent future billing disagreements.
4. Minimize risky business. Before conducting business with anyone, review a prospective customer’s payment history, references and credit score to assess ability to pay. Poor credit shouldn’t necessarily stop you from providing products or services to a customer. But be prepared to alter your typical payment terms when dealing with high-risk buyers.
5. Look for outside help. If late payments become a serious concern, third parties can offer assistance. Turning over particularly bad debts to a reputable collection agency allows you to distance yourself from the matter and focus on business. And let it not go unsaid that our CPA firm can review your financial statements and collection procedures to help you set specific, achievable goals in getting paid faster.
There’s a lot to think about when you change jobs, and it’s easy for a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan to get lost in the shuffle. But to keep building tax-deferred savings, it’s important to make an informed decision about your old plan. First and foremost, don’t take a lump-sum distribution from your old employer’s retirement plan. It generally will be taxable and, if you’re under age 59½, subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty. Here are three tax-smart alternatives:
1. Stay put. You may be able to leave your money in your old plan. But if you’ll be participating in your new employer’s plan or you already have an IRA, keeping track of multiple plans can make managing your retirement assets more difficult. Also consider how well the old plan’s investment options meet your needs.
2. Roll over to your new employer’s plan. This may be beneficial if it leaves you with only one retirement plan to keep track of. But evaluate the new plan’s investment options.
3. Roll over to an IRA. If you participate in your new employer’s plan, this will require keeping track of two plans. But it may be the best alternative because IRAs offer nearly unlimited investment choices.
If you choose a rollover, request a direct rollover from your old plan to your new plan or IRA. If instead the funds are sent to you by check, you’ll need to make an indirect rollover (that is, deposit the funds into an IRA) within 60 days to avoid tax and potential penalties.
Also, be aware that the check you receive from your old plan will, unless an exception applies, be net of 20% federal income tax withholding. If you don’t roll over the gross amount (making up for the withheld amount with other funds), you’ll be subject to income tax — and potentially the 10% penalty — on the difference.
There are additional issues to consider when deciding what to do with your old retirement plan. We can help you make an informed decision — and avoid potential tax traps.
Everyone needs a solid estate plan to distribute assets according to their wishes and benefit their heirs. But this necessity is especially keen for business owners, many of whom have spent years working hard to build up the values of their companies.
If you can relate to this statement, one effective way to reduce estate taxes is to limit the amount of appreciation in your estate — and your company may provide just the ticket for doing so.
You’ll save the most in estate taxes by giving away assets with the highest probability of future appreciation. Why? Because gifting these assets today will keep future appreciation on those assets out of your taxable estate. Thus, there may be no better gift than your company stock, which could be the most rapidly appreciating asset you own.
For example, assume your business is worth $5 million today but is likely to be worth $15 million in several years. By giving away some of the stock today, you’ll keep a substantial portion of the future appreciation out of your taxable estate.
What are the limits?
Naturally, there are limits to how much you can give without tax consequences. Each individual is entitled to give as much as $14,000 per year per recipient without incurring any gift tax or using any of his or her $5.45 million lifetime gift, estate or generation-skipping transfer tax exemption amount.
Also be aware that, because you’re giving away company stock, the IRS may challenge the value you place on the gift and try to increase it substantially. The agency is required to make any challenges to a gift tax return within the normal three-year statute of limitations — even when no tax is payable with the return. But the statute of limitations applies only if certain disclosures are made on the gift tax return. Generally, for gifts of stock that isn’t publicly traded, a professional business valuation is highly recommended.
Who can help?
If the idea of giving away portions of your business to reduce estate tax exposure intrigues you, please contact us. We can help you fully assess the feasibility of this strategy as it pertains to your specific situation.
Employers who offer retirement savings plans are already helping their workforces. But not all employees take advantage of these plans. And many who do still don’t contribute enough to retire comfortably. As a business owner, you can help your employees even more — and drive plan participation — by providing proper education on retirement planning.
Here are five ways to go:
1. Teach them about the general concepts of investing. Many employees are unfamiliar with basic economic and investing concepts. Offer instruction on concepts such as:
Providing such information can help your employees make informed decisions about their options.
2. Explain how the plan functions. For instance, do they need to enroll in the plan, or are they automatically enrolled? Once enrolled, how do they decide how much to contribute and how to allocate their money among different investments?
3. Provide information in various formats. Webinars or other online communication methods will resonate with some employees, while others will prefer printed material. By offering a mix of options, you’ll likely be effective in reaching different segments of your workforce.
4. Arrange face-to-face sessions. Even if your business offers printed and electronic materials, in-person sessions can go a long way in helping employees understand the plan. These sessions also provide an opportunity to reinforce the value of a retirement plan as part of the employee’s overall compensation package. If one-on-one sessions are impractical, consider small groups.
5. Offer information regularly. Providing consistent education is a great way to remind employees of the value of their retirement savings plans.
Remember, employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from proper retirement savings education. As participation increases, plan fees may diminish. And the more non–highly compensated employees sock away in a plan, the more its highly compensated employees can contribute. Please contact our firm for more ways to maximize the strategic value of your retirement plan.
Section 529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for college expenses. Here are just a few of the benefits:
Prepaid tuition plans
With this type of 529 plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young.
One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board.
Considering your options
This type of 529 plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers. Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries.
But each time you make a new contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child.
As you can see, each 529 plan type has its pluses and minuses. Whether a prepaid tuition plan or a savings plan is better depends on your situation and goals. If you’d like help choosing, please contact us.
Many companies reach a point in their development where they have to make an important decision: Innovate themselves or acquire a competitor? Of course, it isn’t always an either/or decision. Nonetheless, business owners should consider the pluses and minuses of both approaches.
Innovating to grow
Innovation is a broad term that encompasses many strategies — all of which are intended to help the company achieve goals such as boosting profits, improving cash flow, or diversifying products or services. Common strategies are:
Each strategy takes time, effort and capital. Understandably, business leaders can be hesitant to devote such vital resources to innovation initiatives and risk decreases in productivity and profitability.
For companies that don’t want to bet the farm on internal development, acquisitions can be appealing. If you’re looking to expand a product line, for example, it might be more time- and cost-effective to buy a competitor that already offers the goods you want.
Your acquisition target has already done the hard work — including funding, testing and creating the product or service and building a client base. By buying this competitor, you may incur less risk than you would by investing your own capital and building the product from scratch. The same holds true for geographic expansion and productivity improvements.
But business combinations come with their own risks. To fully benefit from any acquisition, your company needs to “stick the landing” — efficiently integrate operations and retain divisions and employees capable of ensuring that innovations continue to pay off. For many buyers, that’s a tall order.
Considering your options
In an ideal world, companies would devote resources to innovation and also make the occasional acquisition to bolster their standing in particular markets. But most companies don’t have the luxury to do both simultaneously. Please contact us for help examining the risks and potential rewards associated with each option.
If you have incomplete or missing records and get audited by the IRS, your business will likely lose out on valuable deductions. Here are two recent U.S. Tax Court cases that help illustrate the rules for documenting deductions.
Case 1: Insufficient records
In the first case, the court found that a taxpayer with a consulting business provided no proof to substantiate more than $52,000 in advertising expenses and $12,000 in travel expenses for the two years in question.
The business owner said the travel expenses were incurred “caring for his business.” That isn’t enough. “The taxpayer bears the burden of proving that claimed business expenses were actually incurred and were ordinary and necessary,” the court stated. In addition, businesses must keep and produce “records sufficient to enable the IRS to determine the correct tax liability.” (TC Memo 2016-158)
Case 2: Documents destroyed
In another case, a taxpayer was denied many of the deductions claimed for his company. He traveled frequently for the business, which developed machine parts. In addition to travel, meals and entertainment, he also claimed printing and consulting deductions.
The taxpayer recorded expenses in a spiral notebook and day planner and kept his records in a leased storage unit. While on a business trip to China, his documents were destroyed after the city where the storage unit was located acquired it by eminent domain.
There’s a way for taxpayers to claim expenses if substantiating documents are lost through circumstances beyond their control (for example, in a fire or flood). However, the court noted that a taxpayer still has to “undertake a ‘reasonable reconstruction,’ which includes substantiation through secondary evidence.”
The court allowed 40% of the taxpayer’s travel, meals and entertainment expenses, but denied the remainder as well as the consulting and printing expenses. The reason? The taxpayer didn’t reconstruct those expenses through third-party sources or testimony from individuals whom he’d paid. (TC Memo 2016-135)
Keep detailed, accurate records to protect your business deductions. Record details about expenses as soon as possible after they’re incurred (for example, the date, place, business purpose, etc.). Keep more than just proof of payment. Also keep other documents, such as receipts, credit card slips and invoices. If you’re unsure of what you need, check with us.
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow set out his “hierarchy of needs.” This theory suggested that human behavior is a response to a variety of needs ranging from physical survival to self-actualization.
At this point, you may be wondering, “What does any of this have to do with my business?” The answer is that truly engaged employees are motivated by needs other than just financial compensation.
5 tiers of needs
As mentioned, Maslow theorized that humans have various needs to live a fulfilling life. The hierarchy, beginning with the most basic needs, comprises the following five tiers:
Generally, compensation covers the first tier. Money allows people to nourish themselves and obtain a place to live. (Air is usually free.) Job security and stability, as well as benefits, contribute to the second tier, meeting a person’s safety needs and need for order. And many people are able to meet at least some of their belongingness and other social needs at work (Tier 3).
The last two
It’s the last two tiers that are often trickiest for employers. To empower employees to meet Tiers 4 and 5 at work, you’ll need to learn the specific motivations to which each person seems to respond.
For example, esteem needs could be satisfied by offering various forms of praise to strong performers and those who help others. Meanwhile, self-actualization needs can be met by establishing clear career paths that include promotions.
Your employees have needs and motivations in common with most of the people on the planet. The key is creating a workplace that helps meet these needs and, in turn, produces that critical component of any successful organization — the engaged employee.
If you invest, whether you’re considered an investor or a trader can have a significant impact on your tax bill. Do you know the difference?
Most people who trade stocks are classified as investors for tax purposes. This means any net gains are treated as capital gains rather than ordinary income.
That’s good if your net gains are long-term (that is, you’ve held the investment more than a year) because you can enjoy the lower long-term capital gains rate. However, any investment-related expenses (such as margin interest, stock tracking software, etc.) are deductible only if you itemize and, in some cases, only if the total of the expenses exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income.
Traders have it better in some situations. Their expenses reduce gross income even if they can’t itemize deductions and not just for regular tax purposes, but also for alternative minimum tax purposes.
Plus, in certain circumstances, if traders have a net loss for the year, they can claim it as an ordinary loss (so it can offset other ordinary income) rather than a capital loss. Capital losses are limited to a $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separately) per year deduction once any capital gains have been offset.
Passing the trader test
What does it take to successfully meet the test for trader status? The answer is twofold:
1. The trading must be “substantial.” While there’s no bright line test, the courts have tended to view more than a thousand trades a year, spread over most of the available trading days, as substantial.
2. The trading must be designed to try to catch the swings in the daily market movements. In other words, you must be attempting to profit from these short-term changes rather than from the long-term holding of investments. So the average duration for holding any one position needs to be very short, generally only a day or two.
If you satisfy these conditions, the chances are good that you’d ultimately be able to prove trader vs. investor status. Of course, even if you don’t satisfy one of the tests, you might still prevail, but the odds against you are higher. If you have questions, please contact us.
Has your small business procrastinated in setting up a retirement plan? You might want to take a look at a SIMPLE IRA. SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” If you decide you’re interested in a SIMPLE IRA, you must establish it by no later than October 1 of the year for which you want to make your initial deductible contribution. (If you’re a new employer and come into existence after October 1, you can establish the SIMPLE IRA as soon as administratively feasible.)
Pros and cons
Here are some of the basics of SIMPLEs:
Any employee who has compensation of at least $5,000 in any prior two years, and is reasonably expected to earn $5,000 in the current year, can elect to have a percentage of compensation put into a SIMPLE. An employee may defer up to $12,500 in 2016. This amount is indexed for inflation each year. Employees age 50 or older can make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000 in 2016.
If your business has other employees, you may have to make SIMPLE IRA employer “matching” contributions.
Consider your choices
A SIMPLE IRA might be a good choice for your small business but it isn’t the only choice. You might also be interested in setting up a simplified employee pension plan, a 401(k) or other plan. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement alternatives for your business.
Would you drive a car without a functional dashboard? Perhaps once a month someone could tell you how fast you were going and how much fuel you had left. Sound good? Probably not. Yet this is how many business owners run their companies.
The good news is there’s a solution. With the right software and some help from our firm, you can regularly receive dashboard reports that provide a one- or two-page summary of key business performance metrics in a concise, visual format.
Good looking info
Similar to a car’s control panel, dashboard reports provide business owners and managers with timely, relevant input to make quick but informed decisions. Everything in a dashboard report can typically be found elsewhere in the company’s financial reporting systems, just in a less user-friendly format.
Believe it or not, the concept of dashboard reports has been around since at least the 1990s, when they originally gained popularity. But now, thanks to 21st century technology, these reports are even easier to generate and distribute. Many companies offer them to ownership and management via an internal website or weekly e-mail blasts.
The right metrics
The critical question to ask when creating a dashboard report is: Which metrics should we include? The right answer depends on, among other things, current economic conditions, your industry and the specifics of your business operations. Nonetheless, most dashboard reports include financial ratios such as:
From there, industry-specific performance metrics are typically added. For example, a warehouse might report daily shipments or inventory turnover, not just total asset turnover. Or a retailer might provide sales graphs that highlight product mixes, sales rep performance, daily units sold and variances over the same week’s sales from the previous year.
Here to help
The purpose of dashboard reports is to quickly identify trends that require corrective actions. Just remember that they’re no replacement for sound, well-maintained financial statements. Please contact us for help with both.
If you recently redeemed frequent flyer miles to treat the family to a fun summer vacation or to take your spouse on a romantic getaway, you might assume that there are no tax implications involved. And you’re probably right — but there is a chance your miles could be taxable.
Usually tax free
As a general rule, miles awarded by airlines for flying with them are considered nontaxable rebates, as are miles awarded for using a credit or debit card.
The IRS partially addressed the issue in Announcement 2002-18, where it said “Consistent with prior practice, the IRS will not assert that any taxpayer has understated his federal tax liability by reason of the receipt or personal use of frequent flyer miles or other in-kind promotional benefits attributable to the taxpayer’s business or official travel.”
There are, however, some types of mile awards the IRS might view as taxable. Examples include miles awarded as a prize in a sweepstakes and miles awarded as a promotion.
For instance, in Shankar v. Commissioner, the U.S. Tax Court sided with the IRS, finding that airline miles awarded in conjunction with opening a bank account were indeed taxable. Part of the evidence of taxability was the fact that the bank had issued Forms 1099 MISC to customers who’d redeemed the rewards points to purchase airline tickets.
The value of the miles for tax purposes generally is their estimated retail value.
If you’re concerned you’ve received mile awards that could be taxable, please contact us and we’ll help you determine your tax liability, if any.
If you run your business as an S corporation, you’re probably both a shareholder and an employee. As such, the corporation pays you a salary that reflects the work you do for the business — and you (and your company) must remit payroll tax on some or all of your wages.
By distributing profits in the form of dividends rather than salary, an S corporation and its owners can avoid payroll taxes on these amounts. Because of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately), the potential tax savings from classifying payments as dividends rather than salary may be even greater than it once would have been.
IRS audit target
But paying little or no salary is risky. The IRS targets S corporations with owners’ salaries that it considers unreasonably low and assesses unpaid payroll taxes, penalties and interest.
To avoid such a result, S corporations should establish and document reasonable salaries for each position using compensation surveys, comparable industry studies, company financial data and other evidence. Spell out the reasons for compensation amounts in your corporate minutes. Have the minutes reviewed by a tax professional before being finalized.
Prove a salary is reasonable
There are no specific guidelines for reasonable compensation in the tax code or regulations. Various courts, which have ruled on this issue, have based their determinations on the facts and circumstances of each case. Factors considered in determining reasonable compensation include:
Ascertain the right mix
Do you have questions about compensation? Contact us. We can help you determine the mix of salary and dividends that can keep your tax liability as low as possible while standing up to IRS scrutiny.
The prospect of leaving your company in the hands of someone else likely brings mixed emotions. You’ve no doubt spent a substantial amount of time and a great degree of effort in getting your enterprise to where it is today. So, as the saying goes, parting will be such sweet sorrow.
Yet, when it comes to creating and executing a succession plan, decisive action is critical. You’ve got to respect the importance of timeliness — not only for you and your family, but also for your successor and employees. So here are two key questions to answer.
1. When’s your target date?
By designating your departure date far enough in advance, you’re more likely to pick the right successor, as well as facilitate a smoother transfer of power.
In some industries, it can take years to appoint and train a qualified successor and effectively work through the many management, ownership and organizational issues. But don’t choose a date too far away, because your successor-to-be may get tired of waiting.
2. How will you break the news?
Maybe it’s many years away, maybe it’s sooner than that. But don’t wait too long to reveal to staff when you’re leaving the company and whom you’ve selected as a replacement. Giving everyone ample notice (as long as one to two years) will allow plenty of time for employees to voice their concerns about your successor and the transition as a whole.
Break the news gently to gain their support for the new boss while giving employees good reasons to stay with your company. If disagreements arise, discuss the issues openly. Seek compromise by enabling your successor to exercise his or her newfound decision-making authority but staying involved as a consultant to ensure he or she doesn’t alienate staff.
Need some help?
Coming up with — and carrying out — a succession plan can be among the most difficult things a business owner ever does. Please contact us for help assessing the financial and operational viability of your plan.
Many expenses that may qualify as miscellaneous itemized deductions are deductible only to the extent they exceed, in aggregate, 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Bunching these expenses into a single year may allow you to exceed this “floor.” So now is a good time to add up your potential deductions to date to see if bunching is a smart strategy for you this year.
Should you bunch into 2016?
If your miscellaneous itemized deductions are getting close to — or they already exceed — the 2% floor, consider incurring and paying additional expenses by Dec. 31, such as:
But beware …
These expenses aren’t deductible for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. So don’t bunch them into 2016 if you might be subject to the AMT this year.
Also, if your AGI exceeds the applicable threshold, certain deductions — including miscellaneous itemized deductions — are reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).
If you’d like more information on miscellaneous itemized deductions, the AMT or the itemized deduction limit, let us know.
Many businesses use independent contractors to keep payroll taxes and fringe benefit costs down. But using outside workers may result in other problems. The IRS often questions businesses about whether workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors for federal employment tax purposes.
If the IRS reclassifies a worker as an employee, your company could be hit with back taxes, interest and penalties. In addition, the employer could be liable for employee benefits that should have been provided but weren’t. Audits by state agencies may also occur.
The key is control
So, how can you safeguard your use of independent contractors? Unfortunately, no single factor determines a worker’s legal status. The issue is complicated, but the degree of control you have over how a worker gets the job done is often considered the most important factor. Little or no control indicates independent contractor status.
The IRS looks at a number of other issues, including:
Tools and facilities. Employers usually give tools, equipment and workspace to employees, while contractors invest their own money in these items.
Hours. Employees generally have set schedules, while contractors are allowed greater flexibility. (However, the IRS recognizes that some work must be done at specific times.)
With those guidelines in mind, here are some tips:
1. Clarify the relationship with a written independent contractor agreement. Include details, such as the services the contractor will perform, the term of the agreement and how much you’ll pay. Include statements that the individual is an independent contractor and will pay federal and state taxes.
2. Give contractors leeway over how they perform their duties. Resist the urge to supervise them the way you oversee employees.
3. Send each contractor (and the IRS) a Form 1099 showing non-employee income if you pay him or her $600 or more in a calendar year.
4. Maintain good records. Keep an independent contractor’s taxpayer ID number and other information required by the IRS, but also keep items that can help prove the person is self-employed. For example, retain business cards, letterheads, invoices and advertisements from independent contractors.
In many cases, proactive planning can help secure independent contractor status. Contact us if you have questions about worker classification.
When looking to manage benefits costs, employers have many ideas to consider. One in particular is whether and how to offer health care insurance to their employees’ spouses.
The Affordable Care Act doesn’t require spousal coverage. It only requires coverage for dependent children. But many employees may frown on seeing spousal coverage suddenly become expensive or vanish entirely. So this is a question warranting careful forethought.
2 established ways
Essentially, there are two established ways of saving money on spousal coverage: 1) rationalizing the expense through a cost-sharing surcharge, or 2) eliminating coverage altogether through a “spousal carve-out” policy.
Few employers appear willing to lower the boom on spousal coverage by eliminating it (also known as an “absolute carve-out”) — especially when spouses lack access to coverage through their own employers. Forcing workers’ spouses to seek coverage on the individual market, possibly at a very high cost, would likely embitter the affected employees, potentially increasing turnover.
But it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. One variation on the surcharge approach is to give a monetary award to employees whose spouses switch from your plan to the spouse’s employer’s plan.
Or you could have a spousal carve-out program with an escape hatch. Such an arrangement would allow the spouse to remain on your plan if the price the spouse would have to pay for coverage under his or her own employer’s plan exceeds a specified threshold.
Still another approach is to require employed spouses whose own employers offer coverage to enroll in those plans in order to receive benefits under your plan. This way, yours becomes the secondary plan, incurring only the portion of claims not covered by the spouse’s employer’s plan (the primary plan).
Unfortunately, there are no quick and easy ways to keep health care plan costs in check. But policies that ensure you aren’t paying the medical bills of employee spouses who could be getting coverage through their own employers are certainly worth contemplating.
If you go on a business trip within the United States and tack on some vacation days, you can deduct some of your expenses. But exactly what can you write off?
Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity are 100% deductible as long as the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. On the other hand, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, then generally none of your transportation expenses are deductible.
What costs can be included? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.
Business days vs. pleasure days
The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining if the primary reason for domestic travel is business. Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays if they fall between days devoted to business, and it would be impractical to return home.
Standby days (days when your physical presence is required) also count as business days, even if you aren’t called upon to work those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours also counts as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work, but couldn’t due to reasons beyond your control (such as local transportation difficulties).
You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip if business days exceed personal days. Be sure to accumulate proof and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or training seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions.
Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. These expenses include lodging, hotel tips, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days are nondeductible.
We can help
Questions? Contact us if you want more information about business travel deductions.
Many businesses start life small and simple. But with growth comes the need for a stronger company infrastructure and increased operational sophistication. As you pursue a more robust business, focus on these four pillars:
1. Organizational management
Implement a formalized system for measuring performance that begins with written job descriptions and training. Issue a clearly written handbook of company policies. Give employees regular and constructive feedback.
2. Business processes
At the core of your business are its processes. The more you can systematize and document them, the more easily you can train your staff to follow them for increased efficiency, productivity and quality.
Professionalizing your business processes also involves streamlining operations in mission-critical areas. These include sales and marketing, finance, human resources, and customer product and service delivery.
3. Strategic planning
For new businesses and many small ones, business planning discussions occur randomly and informally. But, as your operations become increasingly complex, you’ve got to make strategic planning a regular and formalized activity.
Hold regular strategic planning meetings. Update your written business plan and communicate your strategic goals companywide. Doing so will keep employees in the loop and empower them to make effective decisions and act in alignment with your stated objectives.
4. IT systems
There’s no way around it: Advanced technology runs today’s businesses. Yet, as a company’s operations grow, it can struggle with a conglomeration of outdated and disconnected hardware and applications.
Supporting a professionalized, process-oriented business environment requires integrated IT systems. Employees can more easily access operational information and improve productivity with connected technology.
Every business, no matter how large or small, goes through growing pains. Please contact us for help managing your growth in a measured and financially savvy manner.
Giving away assets during your life will help reduce the size of your taxable estate, which is beneficial if you have a large estate that could be subject to estate taxes. For 2016, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.45 million (twice that for married couples with proper estate planning strategies in place).
Even if your estate tax isn’t large enough for estate taxes to be a concern, there are income tax consequences to consider. Plus it’s possible the estate tax exemption could be reduced or your wealth could increase significantly in the future, and estate taxes could become a concern.
That’s why, no matter your current net worth, it’s important to choose gifts wisely. Consider both estate and income tax consequences and the economic aspects of any gifts you’d like to make.
Here are three strategies for tax-smart giving:
1. To minimize estate tax, gift property with the greatest future appreciation potential. You’ll remove that future appreciation from your taxable estate.
2. To minimize your beneficiary’s income tax, gift property that hasn’t appreciated significantly while you’ve owned it. The beneficiary can sell the property at a minimal income tax cost.
3. To minimize your own income tax, don’t gift property that’s declined in value. Instead, consider selling the property so you can take the tax loss. You can then gift the sale proceeds.
For more ideas on tax-smart giving strategies, contact us.
Business owners may be able to see substantial tax savings faster by conducting cost segregation studies. These studies identify property components and their costs, allowing you to maximize current depreciation deductions by using shorter lives and speeding up depreciation rates available for the qualifying parts of the property.
Buildings generally are depreciated over 27.5 years (residential rental) or 39 years (commercial) using the straight-line method. This recovery period applies to real property, which includes buildings as well as structural components such as walls, concrete floors, paint, windows, ceilings and HVAC systems.
You may be able to write off some parts of a property faster than 27.5 or 39 years by separating the parts that aren’t structural. In some cases, you can use a 5-, 7- or 15-year rate of depreciation. There are no hard-and-fast rules for distinguishing personal property eligible for accelerated depreciation from structural components that are depreciated as part of a building. Various factors come into play, including how the property is affixed to the building, whether it’s designed to remain in place permanently, and how difficult it would be to move or remove.
Examples of personal property that can qualify for a faster depreciation deduction include:
You can also depreciate the allocated portion of certain capitalized indirect or overhead costs — such as architectural and engineering fees. And land improvements that you can isolate with a cost segregation study include parking lots, sidewalks, fences and landscaping.
Consider a cost segregation study when you buy, build or remodel — or when you’ve done so within the last few years. Be aware that the overall benefits may be limited in certain circumstances, such as when a business is subject to the alternative minimum tax or located in a state that doesn’t follow federal depreciation rules. Passive activity loss rules can also defer benefits.
A cost segregation study can be an excellent way for gaining faster write-offs on real estate and construction projects. Contact us to help determine whether you can benefit.
What keeps business owners up at night? Many would say sluggish productivity or escalating expenses. An employee coming to work every day usually doesn’t make the list. But a staff member who never takes a day off can cause problems by showing up sick, distracted or too stressed out to be effective. There’s a name for this problem: presenteeism.
What’s the issue?
The premise of presenteeism is simple. Employees who aren’t feeling well — for whatever reason — don’t perform well. They may:
But it may not end there. When employees come to work while suffering from communicable diseases, such as a cold or the flu, the problem can grow exponentially. One worker coughs on two people who get sick, and they cough on four people who get sick, and so on.
Is there a cure?
Because presenteeism can stem from a gamut of sources, companies must be on guard for dips in productivity. When one occurs, managers should know how to discuss the matter with the potentially affected employees.
Your benefits program may hold the key. Both the employee and your organization may be better served if the worker takes advantage of available benefits — such as paid sick days, an employee assistance program or leave of absence — that will help him or her deal with the outside stressor causing presenteeism.
It’s also important to emphasize wellness. Many companies now offer formal wellness programs to encourage actions such as engaging in exercise, getting an annual physical and learning about healthy living.
What’s the number?
It’s much easier to detect presenteeism when you’re measuring productivity. Choose the right metrics and don’t underestimate this potentially costly threat to your profitability.
For anyone who takes a spin at roulette, cries out “Bingo!” or engages in other wagering activities, it’s important to be familiar with the applicable tax rules. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself at risk for interest or penalties — or missing out on tax-saving opportunities.
You must report 100% of your wagering winnings as taxable income. The value of complimentary goodies (“comps”) provided by gambling establishments must also be included in taxable income because comps are considered gambling winnings. Winnings are subject to your regular federal income tax rate, which may be as high as 39.6%.
Amounts you win may be reported to you on IRS Form W-2G (“Certain Gambling Winnings”). In some cases, federal income tax may be withheld, too. Anytime a Form W-2G is issued, the IRS gets a copy. So if you’ve received such a form, keep in mind that the IRS will expect to see the winnings on your tax return.
You can write off wagering losses as an itemized deduction. However, allowable wagering losses are limited to your winnings for the year, and any excess losses cannot be carried over to future years. Also, out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, meals, lodging and so forth don’t count as gambling losses and, therefore, can’t be deducted.
To claim a deduction for wagering losses, you must adequately document them, including:
The IRS allows you to document income and losses from wagering on table games by recording the number of the table that you played and keeping statements showing casino credit that was issued to you. For lotteries, your wins and losses can be documented by winning statements and unredeemed tickets.
Please contact us if you have questions or want more information. If you qualify as a “professional” gambler, some of the rules are a little different.
If your company engages in research and development, you’re driven to innovate and bring new products and improvements to market. It’s that spirit of discovery that keeps businesses in the United States on the leading edge. Even better, you may qualify for a lucrative federal tax credit for some of your expenses related to R&D. Many states also offer research tax incentives.
Improved and permanent
The federal research tax credit is now permanent, thanks to the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. This is good news because, for more than 30 years, the popular tax break periodically expired and was reinstated (usually for a year or two), which caused uncertainty for businesses.
Generally, the credit is equal to a portion of qualified research expenses incurred during the taxable year. The credit is complicated to calculate and not all research activities are eligible but the tax savings can be sizable.
The PATH Act added two new features that are especially favorable to small businesses.
Tax planning opportunity
Now that the credit is permanent, companies can count on it when they plan R&D projects. There could also be an opportunity to file an amended tax return and collect a refund if you incurred qualified expenses in previous years but didn’t claim them.
Be aware that the IRS announced recently that it “does see a significant amount of misuse of the research credit each year.” Good recordkeeping is important. To claim a credit, taxpayers must document their activities to establish the amount of qualified research expenses paid. Contact us to find out how to maximize the benefits allowed under the law.
Ask employees whether padding expense account reports is wrong and just about everyone will say “yes.” Yet inflated expenses continue to cost businesses thousands of dollars annually. For this reason, every company must establish the right policies to stop it.
How it works
To stop expense padding, you need to know how it works. Expense inflation — where an employee exaggerates the amount of the actual cost of a meal or cab ride and pockets the change — may be the most common expense-padding method.
But cheaters are also capable of inventing expenses and submitting fake documentation to support them or requesting multiple reimbursements by submitting the same receipt more than once. And watch out for mischaracterized expenses. In such schemes, employees provide legitimate documentation for non-business-related expenses, such as treating friends to a night out on the town, and characterize them as “business development” costs.
What to do
To prevent fraud, as well as simply handle expense reporting in a more accurate manner, you’ve got to establish and fine tune effective policies and processes. For example, if you’re still relying on paper reports, switching to an electronic reporting system may make it harder for employees to cheat. Your processes need to scrutinize expense reports and supporting documentation for:
In addition, set limits such as requiring employees to fly coach class, stay in moderately priced hotels and adhere to a daily meal expense allowance. Also, specify the types of supporting documents you’ll accept — for example, original receipts, but not credit-card statements.
If expense padding becomes widespread, or its perpetrators are particularly devious, you may need to hire a fraud expert to conduct a thorough investigation. This will include examining expense records, interviewing suspect employees and gathering evidence. Be prepared to terminate — and perhaps prosecute — guilty parties.
Stop the bleeding
Don’t let employees bleed your business dry with fraudulent paper cuts. Please contact us for help reviewing your expense reporting system and identifying ways to strengthen it.
The IRS may object to the compensation of C corporation shareholder-employees. If it’s deemed too high — or not “reasonable” under the circumstances — the IRS could force you to make adjustments that increase taxes.
This can be particularly troublesome for C corporation owners and executives who are also shareholders, because they’ll then be hit with double taxation.
When double taxation comes into play
When a corporation distributes profits as salaries, the firm gets a deduction for the amount. The owner or executive pays personal income tax on the money, of course, but it’s only taxed once. But if the corporation pays the owner or executive dividends, the money is taxed twice — once at the corporate level and again at the personal level. Plus, the business can’t deduct dividend payments.
But compensation must be reasonable. If the IRS considers it too high, it can label part of the payments as “disguised dividends,” which are taxed twice. There could also be back taxes and penalties.
What’s considered reasonable?
There’s no simple formula for determining a reasonable salary. The IRS will look at the amounts that similar corporations pay their executives for comparable services. Some of the other factors it considers are the employee’s duties, experience, expertise and hours worked.
Not surprisingly, the issue of reasonable compensation frequently winds up in court. To protect yourself, spell out the reasons for compensation amounts in your corporate minutes. The minutes should be reviewed by a tax professional before being finalized. Cite any executive compensation or industry studies, as well as other reasons why the compensation is reasonable.
If your business is profitable, you should generally pay at least some dividends. By doing so, you avoid the impression that the corporation is trying to pay out all profits as compensation. We can help determine whether dividends should be paid and, if so, how much they should be.
Last year a break valued by many charitably inclined retirees was made permanent: the charitable IRA rollover. If you’re age 70½ or older, you can make direct contributions — up to $100,000 annually — from your IRA to qualified charitable organizations without owing any income tax on the distributions.
Satisfy your RMD
A charitable IRA rollover can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions (RMDs). You must begin to take annual RMDs from your traditional IRAs in the year in which you reach age 70½. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. (An RMD deferral is allowed for the initial year, but you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year.)
So if you don’t need the RMD for your living expenses, a charitable IRA rollover can be a great way to comply with the RMD requirement without triggering the tax liability that would occur if the RMD were paid out to you.
You might be able to achieve a similar tax result from taking the RMD payout and then contributing that amount to charity. But it’s more complex because you must report the RMD as income and then take an itemized deduction for the donation. This has two more possible downsides:
A charitable IRA rollover avoids these potential negative tax consequences.
Have questions about charitable IRA rollovers or other giving strategies? Please contact us. We can help you create a giving plan that will meet your charitable goals and maximize your tax savings.
If a substantial portion of your wealth is tied up in a family or closely held business, you may be concerned that your estate will lack sufficient liquid assets to pay estate taxes. In such cases, heirs may be forced to borrow funds or, in a worst-case scenario, sell the business in order to pay the tax.
For some business owners, Internal Revenue Code Section 6166 provides welcome relief. It permits qualifying estates to make an election to defer a portion of their estate tax liability for up to 14 years. Generally, during the first four years of the deferment period, the estate pays interest only, followed by 10 annual installments of principal and interest.
Consider your eligibility
An estate tax deferral is available if the value of an “interest in a closely-held business” exceeds 35% of your adjusted gross estate. A business is closely held if it conducts an active trade or business and it’s a:
To determine whether you meet the 35% test, you may only include assets actually used in actively conducting a trade or business. Passively managing investment assets doesn’t count.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to distinguish between the two — particularly when real estate is involved. The IRS considers several factors and has issued guidance on the matter.
Get professional guidance
An estate tax deferral might lend a helping hand to your family and business. But the rules are complex. We can provide professional guidance on whether this is the right strategy for you.
It’s common for parents, grandparents and others to make gifts to minors and college students. Perhaps you want to help fund education expenses or simply remove assets from your taxable estate. Or maybe you’re hoping to shift income into a lower tax bracket. Whatever the reason, beware of the “kiddie tax.”
What is the kiddie tax?
For children subject to the kiddie tax, any unearned income beyond $2,100 (for 2016) is taxed at their parents’ marginal rate (assuming it’s higher), rather than their own likely low rate.
For example, let’s say you transferred to your 16-year-old some stock you’d held for several years that had appreciated $10,000. You were thinking she’d be eligible for the 0% long-term gains rate so could sell the stock with no tax liability for your family. But you’d be in for an unhappy surprise: Assuming your daughter had no other unearned income, $7,900 of the gain would be taxed at your rate (15% or 20%, depending on your bracket).
Or let’s say you transferred the appreciated stock to your 18-year-old grandson with the plan that he could sell the stock tax-free to pay for his college tuition. If his parents are in a higher tax bracket, he won’t end up with the entire $10,000 gain available for tuition because of the kiddie tax liability.
Who’s a “kiddie”?
Years ago, the kiddie tax applied only to those under age 14 — providing families with the opportunity to enjoy significant tax savings from income shifting. Today, the kiddie tax applies to children under age 19 and to full-time students under age 24 (unless the students provide more than half of their own support from earned income).
Fortunately, there may be ways to achieve your goals without triggering the kiddie tax. For example, if you’d like to shift income and you have adult children who’re no longer subject to the kiddie tax but in a lower tax bracket, consider transferring income-producing or highly appreciated assets to them. Or, if you want to help your grandchild fund college, consider paying tuition directly to his or her school. An added bonus: a direct tuition payment isn’t subject to gift tax.
For more on the kiddie tax and ways to achieve your goals without triggering it, contact us.
You can only deduct losses from an S corporation, partnership or LLC if you “materially participate” in the business. If you don’t, your losses are generally “passive” and can only be used to offset income from other passive activities. Any excess passive loss is suspended and must be carried forward to future years.
Material participation is determined based on the time you spend in a business activity. For most business owners, the issue rarely arises — you probably spend more than 40 hours working on your enterprise. However, there are situations when the IRS questions participation.
To materially participate, you must spend time on an activity on a regular, continuous and substantial basis. You must also generally meet one of the tests for material participation. For example, a taxpayer must:
There are other situations in which you can qualify for material participation. For example, you can qualify if the business is a personal service activity (such as medicine or law). There are also situations, such as rental businesses, where it is more difficult to claim material participation. In those trades or businesses, you must work more hours and meet additional tests.
Proving your involvement
In some cases, a taxpayer does materially participate, but can’t prove it to the IRS. That’s where good recordkeeping comes in. A good, contemporaneous diary or log can forestall an IRS challenge. Log visits to customers or vendors and trips to sites and banks, as well as time spent doing Internet research. Indicate the time spent. If you’re audited, it will generally occur several years from now. Without good records, you’ll have trouble remembering everything you did.
Passive activity losses are a complicated area of the tax code. Consult with your tax adviser for more information on your situation.
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) were created as a tax-favored framework to provide health care benefits mainly for small to midsize businesses and the self-employed. So, assuming your company falls into one of these categories, have you considered the strategy of using these accounts with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP)?
The tax benefits of HSAs are quite favorable and substantial. Eligible individuals can make tax-deductible (as an adjustment to AGI) contributions into HSA accounts. The funds in the account may be invested (somewhat like an IRA), so there’s an opportunity for growth. The earnings inside the HSA are free from federal income tax, and funds withdrawn to pay eligible health care costs are tax-free.
An HSA is a tax-exempt trust or custodial account established exclusively for paying qualified medical expenses of the participant who, for the months for which contributions are made to an HSA, is covered under an HDHP. Consequently, an HSA isn’t insurance; it’s an account, which must be opened with a bank, brokerage firm, or other provider (typically an insurance company). It’s therefore different from a Flexible Spending Account in that it involves an outside provider serving as a custodian or trustee.
The 2016 maximum contribution and deduction for individual self-only coverage under a high-deductible plan is $3,350, while the comparable amount for family coverage is $6,750. Individuals age 55 or older by the end of 2016 are allowed additional contributions and deductions of $1,000. However, when an individual enrolls in Medicare, contributions cannot be made to an HSA.
For 2016, an HDHP is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,300 for self-only coverage and $2,600 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (including deductibles and co-payments, but not premiums) must not exceed $6,550 for self-only coverage or $13,100 for family coverage
Worthy of consideration
An HSA with an HDHP is, of course, but one benefits strategy of many. But it’s worth considering. Please call us for help determining whether it would be the right move for your company this year or perhaps in 2017.
The income tax credit for certain energy-efficient home improvements and equipment purchases was extended through 2016 by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act). So, you still have time to save both energy and taxes by making these eco-friendly investments.
The credit is for expenses related to your principal residence. It equals 10% of certain qualified improvement expenses plus 100% of certain other qualified equipment expenses, subject to a maximum overall credit of $500, which is reduced by any credits claimed in earlier years. (Because of this reduction, many people who previously claimed the credit will be ineligible for any further credits in 2016.)
Examples of improvement investments potentially eligible for the 10% of expense credit include:
Examples of equipment investments potentially eligible for the 100% of expense credit include:
Manufacturer certifications required
When claiming the credit, you must keep with your tax records a certification from the manufacturer that the product qualifies. The certification may be found on the product packaging or the manufacturer’s website. Additional rules and limits apply. For more information about these and other green tax breaks for individuals, contact us.
When the deductible expenses of a business exceed its income, a net operating loss (NOL) generally occurs. If you’re planning ahead or filing your income tax return after an extension request and you find that your business has a qualifying NOL, there’s some good news: The loss may generate some tax benefits.
Carrying back or forward
The specific rules and exact computations to figure an NOL can be complex. But when a business incurs a qualifying NOL, the loss can be carried back up to two years, and any remaining amount can be carried forward up to 20 years. The carryback can generate an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow during a time when you need it. However, there’s an alternative: The business can elect instead to carry the entire loss forward. If cash flow is fairly strong, carrying the loss forward may be more beneficial, such as if the business’s income increases substantially, pushing it into a higher tax bracket — or if tax rates increase. In both scenarios, the carryforward can save more taxes than the carryback because deductions are more powerful when higher tax rates apply.
Your situation is unique
Your business may want to opt for a carryforward if its alternative minimum tax liability in previous years makes the carryback less beneficial. In the case of flow-through entities, owners might be able to reap individual tax benefits from the NOL. Also note that there are different NOL rules for farming businesses. Please contact us if you’d like more information on the NOL rules and how you can maximize the tax benefits of an NOL.
Investing in mutual funds is an easy way to diversify a portfolio, which is one reason why they’re commonly found in retirement plans such as IRAs and 401(k)s. But if you hold such funds in taxable accounts, or are considering such investments, beware of these three tax hazards:
Basic rules for claiming deductions
The part of your home claimed for business use must be used:
If your mutual fund investments aren’t limited to your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, watch out for these hazards. And contact us — we can help you safely navigate them to keep your tax liability to a minimum.
You might be able to claim a deduction for the business use of a home office. If you qualify, you can deduct a portion of expenses, including rent or mortgage interest, depreciation, utilities, insurance, and repairs. The exact amount that can be deducted depends on how much of your home is used for business.
Basic rules for claiming deductions
The part of your home claimed for business use must be used:
A strict interpretation
The words “exclusively” and “regularly” are strictly interpreted by the IRS. Regularly means on a consistent basis. You can’t qualify a room in your home as an office if you use it only a couple of times a year to meet with customers. Exclusively means the specific area is used solely for business. The area can be a room or other separately identifiable space. A room that’s used for both business and personal purposes doesn’t meet the test.
The exclusive use rule doesn’t apply to a daycare facility in your home.
What if you’re audited?
Home office deductions can be an audit target. If you’re audited by the IRS, it shouldn’t result in additional taxes if you follow the rules, keep records of expenses and file an accurate, complete tax return. If you do have a home office, take pictures of the setup in case you sell the house or discontinue the use of the office while the tax return is still open to audit.
There are more rules than can be covered here. Contact us about how your business use of a home affects your tax situation now and in the future. Also be aware that deductions for a home office may affect the tax results when you eventually sell your home.
Many of today’s businesses have taken to outsourcing various IT functions. The goal of doing so is usually to save money. But rushing into such an arrangement could mean losing money on the project itself while diminishing employee morale and even compromising your reputation. Here are a few best practices to follow to help ensure the dollars make sense.
Ask the users
Elicit feedback from your staff and let them help you refine your approach to outsourcing. Ask for candid feedback about whether your company’s technology is really meeting their needs. Also try to gather “lessons learned” from other businesses that have outsourced. How did outsourcing help them? What went wrong? To find such companies, ask your professional advisors or contact a relevant trade association.
Weigh benefits vs. risks
Look at your in-house capabilities and rank your ability to deliver every service your users require. If you’re coming up short on some of them, maybe an outside vendor could do a better job — and, in doing so, help your employees do their jobs better.
But consider risks as well. Generally, you should outsource innovation-based work only to accommodate peak demands or when you absolutely lack expertise. And even then, ensure knowledge transfer and retain control over vital tasks such as program management and client contact.
Be committed and disciplined
If you decide to go forward with IT outsourcing, develop a plan that includes objectives such as:
Remember, it’s not enough to budget for only the monetary expense of IT outsourcing. You’ve got to plan to manage the relationship as well.
Manage it wisely
In many industries, outsourcing has become a competitive necessity. But that doesn’t mean you can’t manage it wisely from a financial perspective. Please contact us for help assessing and executing your next IT outsourcing arrangement.
Executives and other key employees are often compensated with more than just salary, fringe benefits and bonuses: They may also be awarded stock-based compensation, such as restricted stock or stock options. Another form that’s becoming more common is restricted stock units (RSUs). If RSUs are part of your compensation package, be sure you understand the tax consequences — and a valuable tax deferral opportunity.
RSUs vs. restricted stock
RSUs are contractual rights to receive stock (or its cash value) after the award has vested. Unlike restricted stock, RSUs aren’t eligible for the Section 83(b) election that can allow ordinary income to be converted into capital gains.
But RSUs do offer a limited ability to defer income taxes: Unlike restricted stock, which becomes taxable immediately upon vesting, RSUs aren’t taxable until the employee actually receives the stock.
Rather than having the stock delivered immediately upon vesting, you may be able to arrange with your employer to delay delivery. This will defer income tax and may allow you to reduce or avoid exposure to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax (because the RSUs are treated as FICA income). However, any income deferral must satisfy the strict requirements of Internal Revenue Code Section 409A.
If RSUs — or other types of stock-based awards — are part of your compensation package, please contact us. The rules are complex, and careful tax planning is critical.
This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business went down. The reason? Compared with last year, the cost of driving is less because gas prices are lower.
If you use a vehicle for business, you can generally deduct the actual expenses attributable to your business use. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle, based on the percentage of business use. However, depreciation write-offs are subject to “luxury car” limits.
But some taxpayers don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. Another option: You may be able to use the IRS’s standard mileage rate. 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.
This year’s rate
Beginning on January 1, 2016, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 54 cents per mile. For 2015, the rate was 57.5 cents per mile.
The cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually by the IRS. It is based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the costs of operating a vehicle.
Current gas costs
On June 15, 2016, the national average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $2.36 and it fell below $2 a gallon earlier this year. This is down from the average price of $2.80 per gallon a year earlier. (There are variations in fuel prices from one state to another so the per-gallon price in your state could be higher or lower.)
Not all taxpayers can use the cents-per-mile rate. It depends on how they’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past.
If you have questions about deducting mileage expenses in your situation, contact us.