The IRS recently issued guidance on how businesses, self-employed individuals and qualified employees can use the per diem rules to substantiate their business travel expenses for tax purposes. The guidance in Revenue Procedure 2019-48 modifies 2011 guidance to reflect changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
In a nutshell, the per diem rules themselves haven’t significantly changed. Primarily, RP 2019-48 deletes guidance for taxpayers who, before the TCJA, were allowed to deduct certain unreimbursed business travel expenses. Here’s a refresher on what changed under the TCJA and the rules for using per diem rates.
The TCJA and business expenses
The TCJA amended the tax code to generally disallow a business’s deductions for expenses related to entertainment, amusement or recreation incurred or paid after December 31, 2017. A business still may claim deductions for employees’ reimbursed business travel expenses for lodging, meals and certain incidentals. Food and beverage expenses related to business travel away from home remain subject to a 50% limit, though. (Different rules and rates apply to the transportation industry.)
The TCJA also suspended all miscellaneous itemized deductions that are subject to the 2% floor until 2026, including most deductions for employees’ unreimbursed business travel expenses. Self-employed taxpayers and qualified employees (military reservists and certain state or local government officials, educators, and performing artists), however, can continue to deduct unreimbursed expenses for travel away from home.
The tax code requires all such expenses, whether claimed on a business’s or an individual’s tax return, to be substantiated. Rev. Proc. 2019-48 provides rules for using a per diem rate to substantiate an employee’s lodging, meal and incidental expenses — or meal and incidental expenses only — that a payer (an employer, its agent or a third party) reimburses. Self-employed individuals and qualified employees may use the rules to substantiate their unreimbursed expenses for business travel.
The guidance makes clear that neither businesses nor individuals must use the methods described. They can instead substantiate actual allowable expenses if they maintain adequate records.
The per diem rules
When a business pays a per diem allowance for lodging, meal and incidental expenses, the amount considered substantiated for each calendar day equals the lesser of 1) the per diem allowance, or 2) the amount computed at the federal per diem rate for the relevant location (generally, the U.S. General Services Administration’s per diem rate for federal workers who travel, which varies by location and time of year). Incidental expenses are limited to fees and tips given to porters, baggage carriers, bellhops and hotel staff.
As long as the employee provides time, place and business purpose substantiation (receipts aren’t required), the per diem is treated as made under an accountable plan, meaning it isn’t reported as wages or other compensation or subject to employment tax withholding and payment.
If the business pays a per diem allowance only for meal and incidental expenses (M&IE), the amount substantiated for each calendar day is the lesser of 1) the allowance for that day, or 2) the amount computed at the federal M&IE rate for the location for that day or partial day.
A per diem allowance is treated as paid for M&IE only if:
Employees again must substantiate the time, place and business purpose of the travel.
Self-employed individuals and qualified employees can substantiate their deductions for M&IE by using an amount computed at the federal rate for the location for each calendar day or partial day of travel. The individual or employee also must document the time, place and business purpose.
If such individuals have incidental expenses but no meal expenses for a calendar day or partial day, they can use the $5 per day incidental-expense-only rate. It, too, will be considered substantiated with documentation of the time, place and business purpose of the travel.
The high-low substantiation method
Alternatively, a business that pays a per diem can use the high-low method to substantiate lodging, meal and incidental expenses or M&IE only. Employees and self-employed individuals, however, aren’t permitted to use this method instead of the M&IE deduction method described above.
Under the high-low method, a uniform high rate applies to all of the designated high-cost locations and a low rate to every other location in the continental United States. The appropriate rate applies as if it were the federal per diem rate for the location, so the amount of expenses substantiated for each calendar day equals the lesser of the actual per diem allowance for that day or the applicable high-low rate.
The federal per diem rates for high-low purposes as of October 1, 2019, are:
IRS Notice 2019-55 lists the high-cost locations for 2019-2020 and includes some changes from the previous year’s list. Transition rules apply in the final three months of a calendar year.
Businesses that use the high-low substantiation method for an employee must apply the method for all amounts paid to that employee for travel away from home within the continental United States during the calendar year. It can use any permissible method of reimbursement.
The guidance is effective for per diem allowances for lodging, meal and incidental expenses, or M&IE only, that are paid to an employee on or after November 26, 2019, for travel on or after that date. For purposes of self-employed individuals and qualified employees who travel, it’s effective for meal and incidental expenses or incidental expenses only paid or incurred on or after the same date. Contact us with any questions.
Operating a business as an S corporation may provide many advantages, including limited liability for owners and no double taxation (at least at the federal level). Self-employed people may also be able to lower their exposure to Social Security and Medicare taxes if they structure their businesses as S corps for federal tax purposes. But not all businesses are eligible — and with changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, S corps may not be as appealing as they once were.
Compare and contrast
The main reason why businesses elect S corp status is to obtain the limited liability of a corporation and the ability to pass corporate income, losses, deductions and credits through to shareholders. In other words, S corps generally avoid double taxation of corporate income — once at the corporate level and again when it’s distributed to shareholders. Instead, tax items pass through to the shareholders’ personal returns, and they pay tax at their individual income tax rates.
But double taxation may be less of a concern today due to the 21% flat income tax rate that now applies to C corporations. Meanwhile, the top individual income tax rate is 37%. S corp owners may be able to take advantage of the qualified business income (QBI) deduction, which can be equal to as much as 20% of QBI.
In order to assess S corp status, you have to run the numbers with your tax advisor, and factor in state taxes to determine which structure will be the most beneficial for you and your business.
S corp qualifications
If you decide to go the S corp route, make sure you qualify and will stay qualified. To be eligible to elect to be an S corp or to convert, your business must:
In addition, certain businesses are ineligible, such as financial institutions and insurance companies.
Base compensation on what’s reasonable
Another important consideration when electing S status is shareholder compensation. One strategy for paying less in Social Security and Medicare employment taxes is to pay modest salaries to yourself and any other S corp shareholder-employees. Then, pay out the remaining corporate cash flow (after you’ve retained enough in the company’s accounts to sustain normal business operations) as federal-employment-tax-free cash distributions.
However, the IRS is on the lookout for S corps that pay shareholder-employees unreasonably low salaries to avoid paying employment taxes and then make distributions that aren’t subject to those taxes.
Paying yourself a modest salary will work if you can prove that your salary is reasonable based on market levels for similar jobs. Otherwise, you run the risk of the IRS auditing your business and imposing back employment taxes, interest and penalties. We can help you decide on a salary and gather proof that it’s reasonable.
Consider all angles
Contact us if you think being an S corporation might help reduce your tax bill while still providing liability protection. We can help with the mechanics of making an election or making a conversion, under applicable state law, and then handling the post-conversion tax issues.
In the past few months, many businesses and employers nationwide have received “no-match” letters from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The purpose of these letters is to alert employers if there’s a discrepancy between the agency’s files and data reported on W-2 forms, which are given to employees and filed with the IRS. Specifically, they point out that an employee’s name and Social Security number (SSN) don’t match the government’s records.
According to the SSA, the purpose of the letters is to “advise employers that corrections are needed in order for us to properly post” employees’ earnings to the correct records. If a person’s earnings are missing, the worker may not qualify for all of the Social Security benefits he or she is entitled to, or the benefit received may be incorrect. The no-match letters began going out in the spring of 2019.
Why discrepancies occur
There are a number of reasons why names and SSNs don’t match. They include typographical errors when inputting numbers and name changes due to marriage or divorce. And, of course, employees could intentionally give the wrong information to employers, as is sometimes the case with undocumented workers.
Some lawmakers, including Democrats on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, have expressed opposition to no-match letters. In a letter to the SSA Commissioner, they wrote that, under “the current immigration enforcement climate,” employers might “mistakenly believe that the no-match letter indicates that workers lack immigration status and will fire these workers — even those who can legally work in the United States.”
How to proceed
If you receive a no-match letter telling you that an employee’s name and SSN don’t match IRS records, the SSA gives the following advice:
The SSA notes that the IRS is responsible for any penalties associated with W-2 forms that have incorrect information. If you have questions, contact us or check out these frequently asked questions from the SSA: https://bit.ly/2Yv87M6
Bitcoin and other forms of virtual currency are gaining popularity. But many businesses, consumers, employees and investors are still confused about how they work and how to report transactions on their federal tax returns. And the IRS just announced that it is targeting virtual currency users in a new “educational letter” campaign.
The nuts and bolts
Unlike cash or credit cards, small businesses generally don’t accept bitcoin payments for routine transactions. However, a growing number of larger retailers — and online businesses — now accept payments. Businesses can also pay employees or independent contractors with virtual currency. The trend is expected to continue, so more small businesses may soon get on board.
Bitcoin has an equivalent value in real currency. It can be digitally traded between users. You can also purchase and exchange bitcoin with real currencies (such as U.S. dollars). The most common ways to obtain bitcoin are through virtual currency ATMs or online exchanges, which typically charge nominal transaction fees.
Once you (or your customers) obtain bitcoin, it can be used to pay for goods or services using “bitcoin wallet” software installed on your computer or mobile device. Some merchants accept bitcoin to avoid transaction fees charged by credit card companies and online payment providers (such as PayPal).
Virtual currency has triggered many tax-related questions. The IRS has issued limited guidance to address them. In a 2014 guidance, the IRS established that virtual currency should be treated as property, not currency, for federal tax purposes.
As a result, businesses that accept bitcoin payments for goods and services must report gross income based on the fair market value of the virtual currency when it was received. This is measured in equivalent U.S. dollars.
From the buyer’s perspective, purchases made using bitcoin result in a taxable gain if the fair market value of the property received exceeds the buyer’s adjusted basis in the currency exchanged. Conversely, a tax loss is incurred if the fair market value of the property received is less than its adjusted tax basis.
Wages paid using virtual currency are taxable to employees and must be reported by employers on W-2 forms. They’re subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date of receipt.
Virtual currency payments made to independent contractors and other service providers are also taxable. In general, the rules for self-employment tax apply and payers must issue 1099-MISC forms.
The IRS announced it is sending letters to taxpayers who potentially failed to report income and pay tax on virtual currency transactions or didn’t report them properly. The letters urge taxpayers to review their tax filings and, if appropriate, amend past returns to pay back taxes, interest and penalties.
By the end of August, more than 10,000 taxpayers will receive these letters. The names of the taxpayers were obtained through compliance efforts undertaken by the IRS. The IRS Commissioner warned, “The IRS is expanding our efforts involving virtual currency, including increased use of data analytics.”
Last year, the tax agency also began an audit initiative to address virtual currency noncompliance and has stated that it’s an ongoing focus area for criminal cases.
Implications of going virtual
Contact us if you have questions about the tax considerations of accepting virtual currency or using it to make payments for your business. And if you receive a letter from the IRS about possible noncompliance, consult with us before responding.
The IRS uses Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs) to help IRS examiners get ready for audits. Your business can use the same guides to gain insight into what the IRS is looking for in terms of compliance with tax laws and regulations.
Many ATGs target specific industries or businesses, such as construction, aerospace, art galleries, child care providers and veterinary medicine. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation, passive activity losses and capitalization of tangible property.
How they’re used
IRS auditors need to examine all types of businesses, as well as individual taxpayers and tax-exempt organizations. Each type of return might have unique industry issues, business practices and terminology. Before meeting with taxpayers and their advisors, auditors do their homework to understand various industries or issues, the accounting methods commonly used, how income is received, and areas where taxpayers may not be in compliance.
By using a specific ATG, an auditor may be able to reconcile discrepancies when reported income or expenses aren’t consistent with what’s normal for the industry or to identify anomalies within the geographic area in which the business is located.
For example, one ATG focuses specifically on businesses that deal in cash, such as auto repair shops, car washes, check-cashing operations, gas stations, laundromats, liquor stores, restaurants., bars, and salons. The “Cash Intensive Businesses” ATG tells auditors “a financial status analysis including both business and personal financial activities should be done.” It explains techniques such as:
Auditors are obviously looking for cash-intensive businesses that underreport their cash receipts but how this is uncovered varies. For example, when examining a restaurants or bar, auditors are told to ask about net profits compared to the industry average, spillage, pouring averages and tipping.
Learn the red flags
Although ATGs were created to help IRS examiners ferret out common methods of hiding income and inflating deductions, they also can help businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise audit red flags. Contact us if you have questions about your business. For a complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website here: https://bit.ly/2rh7umD
Working from home has its perks. Not only can you skip the commute, but you also might be eligible to deduct home office expenses on your tax return. Deductions for these expenses can save you a bundle, if you meet the tax law qualifications.
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer claim the home office deduction. If, however, you run a business from your home or are otherwise self-employed and use part of your home for business purposes, the home office deduction may still be available to you.
If you’re a homeowner and use part of your home for business purposes, you may be entitled to deduct a portion of actual expenses such as mortgage, property taxes, utilities, repairs and insurance, as well as depreciation. Or you might be able to claim the simplified home office deduction of $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).
Requirements to qualify
To qualify for home office deductions, part of your home must be used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business. This is defined as follows:
1. Regular use. You use a specific area of your home for business on a regular basis. Incidental or occasional business use isn’t considered regular use.
2. Exclusive use. You use a specific area of your home only for business. It’s not required that the space be physically partitioned off. But you don’t meet the requirements if the area is used for both business and personal purposes, such as a home office that you also use as a guest bedroom.
Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you 1) use the space exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities of your business, and 2) don’t have another fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities.
Examples of activities that meet this requirement include:
Other ways to qualify
If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on the premises. The use of your home must be substantial and integral to the business conducted.
Alternatively, you may be able to claim the home office deduction if you have a storage area in your home — or in a separate free-standing structure (such as a studio, workshop, garage or barn) — that’s used exclusively and regularly for your business.
An audit target
Be aware that claiming expenses on your tax return for a home office has long been a red flag for an IRS audit, since many people don’t qualify. But don’t be afraid to take a home office deduction if you’re entitled to it. You just need to pay close attention to the rules to ensure that you’re eligible — and make sure that your recordkeeping is complete.
The home office deduction can provide a valuable tax-saving opportunity for business owners and other self-employed taxpayers who work from home. Keep in mind that, when you sell your house, there can be tax implications if you’ve claimed a home office. Contact us if you have questions or aren’t sure how to proceed in your situation.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has changed the landscape for business taxpayers. That’s because the law introduced a flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations. Under prior law, profitable C corporations paid up to 35%.
The TCJA also cut individual income tax rates, which apply to sole proprietorships and pass-through entities, including partnerships, S corporations, and LLCs (treated as partnerships for tax purposes). However, the top rate dropped from 39.6% to only 37%.
These changes have caused many business owners to ask: What’s the optimal entity choice for me?
Entity tax basics
Before the TCJA, conventional wisdom was that most small businesses should be set up as sole proprietorships or pass-through entities to avoid the double taxation of C corporations. A C corporation pays entity-level income tax and then shareholders pay tax on dividends — and on capital gains when they sell the stock. For pass-through entities, there’s no federal income tax at the entity level.
Although C corporations are still potentially subject to double taxation, their current 21% tax rate helps make up for it. This issue is further complicated, however, by another tax provision that allows noncorporate owners of pass-through entities to take a deduction equal to as much as 20% of qualified business income (QBI), subject to various limits. But, unless Congress extends it, that deduction is available only through 2025.
Many factors to consider
The best entity choice for your business depends on many factors. Keep in mind that one form of doing business might be more appropriate at one time (say, when you’re launching), while another form might be better after you’ve been operating for a few years. Here are a few examples:
As you can see, there are many issues involved and taxes are only one factor.
For example, one often-cited advantage of certain entities is that they allow a business to be treated as an entity separate from the owner. A properly structured corporation can protect you from business debts. But to ensure that the corporation is treated as a separate entity, it’s important to observe various formalities required by the state. These include filing articles of incorporation, adopting by-laws, electing a board of directors, holding organizational meetings and keeping minutes.
The best long-term choice
The TCJA has far-reaching effects on businesses. Contact us to discuss how your business should be set up to lower its tax bill over the long run. But remember that entity choice is easier when starting up a business. Converting from one type of entity to another adds complexity. We can help you examine the ins and outs of making a change.
Is your business hiring this summer? If the employees come from certain “targeted groups,” you may be eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). This includes youth whom you bring in this summer for two or three months. The maximum credit employers can claim is $2,400 to $9,600 for each eligible employee.
10 targeted groups
An employer is generally eligible for the credit only for qualified wages paid to members of 10 targeted groups:
For each employee, there’s also a minimum requirement that the employee have completed at least 120 hours of service for the employer, and that employment begin before January 1, 2020.
Also, the credit isn’t available for certain employees who are related to the employer or work more than 50% of the time outside of a trade or business of the employer (for example, working as a house cleaner in the employer’s home). And it generally isn’t available for employees who have previously worked for the employer.
Calculate the savings
For employees other than summer youth employees, the credit amount is calculated under the following rules. The employer can take into account up to $6,000 of first-year wages per employee ($10,000 for “long-term family assistance recipients” and/or $12,000, $14,000 or $24,000 for certain veterans). If the employee completed at least 120 hours but less than 400 hours of service for the employer, the wages taken into account are multiplied by 25%. If the employee completed 400 or more hours, all of the wages taken into account are multiplied by 40%.
Therefore, the maximum credit available for the first-year wages is $2,400 ($6,000 × 40%) per employee. It is $4,000 [$10,000 × 40%] for “long-term family assistance recipients”; $4,800, $5,600 or $9,600 [$12,000, $14,000 or $24,000 × 40%] for certain veterans. In order to claim a $9,600 credit, a veteran must be certified as being entitled to compensation for a service-connected disability and be unemployed for at least six months during the one-year period ending on the hiring date.
Additionally, for “long-term family assistance recipients,” there’s a 50% credit for up to $10,000 of second-year wages, resulting in a total maximum credit, over two years, of $9,000 [$10,000 × 40% plus $10,000 × 50%].
The “first year” described above is the year-long period which begins with the employee’s first day of work. The “second year” is the year that immediately follows.
For summer youth employees, the rules described above apply, except that you can only take into account up to $3,000 of wages, and the wages must be paid for services performed during any 90-day period between May 1 and September 15. That means that, for summer youth employees, the maximum credit available is $1,200 ($3,000 × 40%) per employee. Summer youth employees are defined as those who are at least 16 years old, but under 18 on the hiring date or May 1 (whichever is later), and reside in an Empowerment Zone, enterprise community or renewal community.
We can help
The WOTC can offset the cost of hiring qualified new employees. There are some additional rules that, in limited circumstances, prohibit the credit or require an allocation of the credit. And you must fill out and submit paperwork to the government. Contact us for assistance or more information about your situation.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2019. 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 federal income tax and employment taxes (including Social Security) are withheld from employees’ paychecks and not handed over to the IRS, a harsh penalty can be imposed. To make matters worse, the penalty can be assessed personally against a “responsible individual.”
If a business makes payroll tax payments late, there are escalating penalties. And if an employer fails to make them, the IRS will crack down hard. With the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty,” also known as the “100% Penalty,” the IRS can assess the entire unpaid amount against a responsible person who willfully fails to comply with the law.
Some business owners and executives facing a cash flow crunch may be tempted to dip into the payroll taxes withheld from employees. They may think, “I’ll send the money in later when it comes in from another source.” Bad idea!
No corporate protection
The corporate veil won’t shield corporate officers in these cases. Unlike some other liability protections that a corporation or limited liability company may have, business owners and executives can’t escape personal liability for payroll tax debts.
Once the IRS asserts the penalty, it can file a lien or take levy or seizure action against a responsible individual’s personal assets.
The penalty can be assessed against a shareholder, owner, director, officer, or employee. In some cases, it can be assessed against a third party. The IRS can also go after more than one person. To be liable, an individual or party must:
The easiest way out of a delinquent payroll tax mess is to avoid getting into one in the first place. If you’re involved in a small or medium-size business, make sure the federal taxes that have been withheld from employees’ paychecks are paid over to the government on time. Don’t everallow “borrowing” from withheld amounts.
Consider hiring an outside service to handle payroll duties. A good payroll service provider relieves you of the burden of paying employees, making the deductions, taking care of the tax payments and handling recordkeeping. Contact us for more information.
Summer is just around the corner, so you might be thinking about getting some vacation time. If you’re self-employed or a business owner, you have a golden opportunity to combine a business trip with a few extra days of vacation and offset some of the cost with a tax deduction. But be careful, or you might not qualify for the write-offs you’re expecting.
Business travel expenses can potentially be deducted if the travel is within the United States and the expenses are:
Note: The tax rules for foreign business travel are different from those for domestic travel.
Business owners and the self-employed are generally eligible to deduct business travel expenses if they meet the tests described above. However, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct such expenses. The potential deductions discussed in this article assume that you’re a business owner or self-employed.
A business-vacation trip
Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity may be 100% deductible if the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. But if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, generally no transportation costs are deductible. These costs include plane or train tickets, the cost of getting to and from the airport, luggage handling tips and car expenses if you drive. Costs for driving your personal car are also eligible.
The key factor in determining whether the primary reason for domestic travel is business is the number of days you spend conducting business vs. enjoying vacation days. Any day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours counts as a business day. In addition:
Bottom line: If your business days exceed your personal days, you should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip and deduct your transportation costs.
What else can you deduct?
Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. Examples of these expenses include lodging, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days aren’t deductible.
Keep in mind that only expenses for yourself are deductible. You can’t deduct expenses for family members traveling with you, including your spouse — unless they’re employees of your business and traveling for a bona fide business purpose.
Keep good records
Be sure to retain proof of the business nature of your trip. You must properly substantiate all of the expenses you’re deducting. If you get audited, the IRS will want to see records during travel you claim was for business. Good records are your best defense. Additional rules and limits apply to travel expense deductions. Please contact us if you have questions.
If you’re a business owner and you hire your children (or grandchildren) this summer, you can obtain tax breaks and other nontax benefits. The kids can gain on-the-job experience, save for college and learn how to manage money. And you may be able to:
It must be a real job
When you hire your child, you get a business tax deduction for employee wage expenses. In turn, the deduction reduces your federal income tax bill, your self-employment tax bill (if applicable), and your state income tax bill (if applicable). However, in order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work performed by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.
For example, let’s say a business owner operates as a sole proprietor and is in the 37% tax bracket. He hires his 16-year-old son to help with office work on a full-time basis during the summer and part-time into the fall. The son earns $10,000 during 2019 and doesn’t have any other earnings.
The business owner saves $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to his son, who can use his 2019 $12,200 standard deduction to completely shelter his earnings.
The family’s taxes are cut even if the son’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction. The reason is that the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the son beginning at a rate of 10%, instead of being taxed at his father’s higher rate.
How payroll taxes might be saved
If your business isn’t incorporated, your child’s wages are exempt from Social Security, Medicare and FUTA taxes if certain conditions are met. Your child must be under age 18 for this to apply (or under age 21 in the case of the FUTA tax exemption). Contact us for how this works.
Be aware that there’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners.
Start saving for retirement early
Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement benefits, depending on the type of plan you have and how it defines qualifying employees. And because your child has earnings from his or her job, he can contribute to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. For the 2018 tax year, a working child can contribute the lesser of his or her earned income, or $6,000 to an IRA or a Roth.
Raising tax-smart children
As you can see, hiring your child can be a tax-smart idea. Be sure to keep the same records as you would for other employees to substantiate the hours worked and duties performed (such as timesheets and job descriptions). Issue your child a Form W-2. If you have any questions about how these rules apply to your situation, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Roth 401(k) accounts have been around for 13 years now. Studies show that more employers are offering them each year. A recent study by the Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA) found that Roth 401(k)s are now available at 70% of employer plans, up from 55.6% of plans in 2016.
However, despite the prevalence of employers offering Roth 401(k)s, most employees aren’t choosing to contribute to them. The PSCA found that only 20% of participants who have access to a Roth 401(k) made contributions to one in 2017. Perhaps it’s because they don’t understand them.
If you offer a Roth 401(k) or you’re considering one, educate your employees about the accounts to boost participation.
A 401(k) with a twist
As the name implies, these plans are a hybrid — taking some characteristics from Roth IRAs and some from employer-sponsored 401(k)s.
An employer with a 401(k), 403(b) or governmental 457(b) plan can offer designated Roth 401(k) accounts.
As with traditional 401(k)s, eligible employees can elect to defer part of their salaries to Roth 401(k)s, subject to annual limits. The employer may choose to provide matching contributions. For 2019, a participating employee can contribute up to $19,000 ($25,000 if he or she is age 50 or older) to a Roth 401(k). The most you can contribute to a Roth IRA for 2019 is $6,000 ($7,000 for those age 50 or older).
Note: The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is phased out for upper-income taxpayers, but there’s no such restriction for a Roth 401(k).
The pros and cons
Unlike with traditional 401(k)s, contributions to employees’ accounts are made with after-tax dollars, instead of pretax dollars. Therefore, employees forfeit a key 401(k) tax benefit. On the plus side, after an initial period of five years, “qualified distributions” are 100% exempt from federal income tax, just like qualified distributions from a Roth IRA. In contrast, regular 401(k) distributions are taxed at ordinary-income rates, which are currently up to 37%.
In general, qualified distributions are those:
Therefore, you can take qualified Roth 401(k) distributions in retirement after age 59½ and pay no tax, as opposed to the hefty tax bill that may be due from traditional 401(k) payouts. And unlike traditional 401(k)s, which currently require retirees to begin taking required minimum distributions after age 70½, Roth 401(k)s have no mandate to take withdrawals.
Not for everyone
A Roth 401(k) is more beneficial than a traditional 401(k) for some participants, but not all. For example, it may be valuable for employees who expect to be in higher federal and state tax brackets in retirement. Contact us if you have questions about adding a Roth 401(k) to your benefits lineup.
If you read the Internal Revenue Code (and you probably don’t want to!), you may be surprised to find that most business deductions aren’t specifically listed. It doesn’t explicitly state that you can deduct office supplies and certain other expenses.
Some expenses are detailed in the tax code, but the general rule is contained in the first sentence of Section 162, which states you can write off “all the ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.”
In general, an expense is ordinary if it’s considered common or customary in the particular trade or business. For example, insurance premiums to protect a store would be an ordinary business expense in the retail industry.
A necessary expense is defined as one that’s helpful or appropriate. For example, let’s say a car dealership purchases an automatic defibrillator. It may not be necessary for the operation of the business, but it might be helpful and appropriate if an employee or customer suffers a heart attack.
It’s possible for an ordinary expense to be unnecessary — but, in order to be deductible, an expense must be ordinary and necessary.
In addition, a deductible amount must be reasonable in relation to the benefit expected. For example, if you’re attempting to land a $3,000 deal, a $65 lunch with a potential client should be OK with the IRS. (Keep in mind that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated most deductions for entertainment expenses but retains the 50% deduction for business meals.)
Examples of not ordinary and unnecessary
Not surprisingly, the IRS and courts don’t always agree with taxpayers about what qualifies as ordinary and necessary expenditures.
In one case, a man engaged in a business with his brother was denied deductions for his private airplane expenses. The U.S. Tax Court noted that the taxpayer had failed to prove the expenses were ordinary and necessary to the business. In addition, only one brother used the plane and the flights were to places that the taxpayer could have driven to or flown to on a commercial airline. And, in any event, the stated expenses including depreciation expenses, weren’t adequately substantiated, the court added. (TC Memo 2018-108)
In another case, the Tax Court ruled that a business owner wasn’t entitled to deduct legal and professional fees he’d incurred in divorce proceedings defending his ex-wife’s claims to his interest in, or portion of, distributions he received from his LLC. The IRS and the court ruled the divorce legal fees were nondeductible personal expenses and weren’t ordinary and necessary. (TC Memo 2018-80)
Proceed with caution
The deductibility of some expenses is clear. But for other expenses, it can get more complicated. Generally, if an expense seems like it’s not normal in your industry — or if it could be considered fun, personal or extravagant in nature — you should proceed with caution. And keep records to substantiate the expenses you’re deducting. Consult with us for guidance.
Many employers prefer to classify workers as independent contractors to lower costs, even if it means having less control over a worker’s day-to-day activities. But the government is on the lookout for businesses that classify workers as independent contractors simply to reduce taxes or avoid their employee benefit obligations.
Why it matters
When your business classifies a worker as an employee, you generally must withhold federal income tax and the employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes from his or her wages. Your business must then pay the employer’s share of these taxes, pay federal unemployment tax, file federal payroll tax returns and follow other burdensome IRS and U.S. Department of Labor rules.
You may also have to pay state and local unemployment and workers’ compensation taxes and comply with more rules. Dealing with all this can cost a bundle each year.
On the other hand, with independent contractor status, you don’t have to worry about employment tax issues. You also don’t have to provide fringe benefits like health insurance, retirement plans and paid vacations. If you pay $600 or more to an independent contractor during the year, you must file a Form 1099-MISC with the IRS and send a copy to the worker to report what you paid. That’s basically the extent of your bureaucratic responsibilities.
But if you incorrectly treat a worker as an independent contractor — and the IRS decides the worker is actually an employee — your business could be assessed unpaid payroll taxes plus interest and penalties. You also could be liable for employee benefits that should have been provided but weren’t, including penalties under federal laws.
Filing an IRS form
To find out if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, you can file optional IRS Form SS-8, “Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.” Then, the IRS will let you know how to classify a worker. However, be aware that the IRS has a history of classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors.
Businesses should consult with us before filing Form SS-8 because it may alert the IRS that your business has worker classification issues — and inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit.
It can be better to simply treat independent contractors so the relationships comply with the tax rules. This generally includes not controlling how the workers perform their duties, ensuring that you’re not the workers’ only customer, providing annual Forms 1099 and, basically, not treating the workers like employees.
Workers can also ask for a determination
Workers who want an official determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.
If a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS will send a letter to the business. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return the form to the IRS, which will render a classification decision.
Defending your position
If your business properly handles independent contractors, don’t panic if a worker files a Form SS-8. Contact us before replying to the IRS. With a proper response, you may be able to continue to classify the worker as a contractor. We also can assist you in setting up independent contractor relationships that stand up to IRS scrutiny.
Have you recently started a new business? Or are you contemplating starting one? Launching a new venture is a hectic, exciting time. And as you know, before you even open the doors, you generally have to spend a lot of money. You may have to train workers and pay for rent, utilities, marketing and more.
Entrepreneurs are often unaware that many expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be deducted right away. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your tax bill.
Key points on how expenses are handled
When starting or planning a new enterprise, keep these factors in mind:
Examples of expenses
Start-up expenses generally include all expenses that are incurred to:
To be eligible for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example would be the money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.
To qualify as an “organization expense,” the outlay must be related to the creation of a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing the new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.
An important decision
Time may be of the essence if you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year. You need to decide whether to take the elections described above. Recordkeeping is important. Contact us about your business start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new venture.
In the course of operating your business, you probably spend time and money “wining and dining” current or potential customers, vendors and employees. What can you deduct on your tax return for these expenses? The rules changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but you can still claim some valuable write-offs.
No more entertainment deductions
One of the biggest changes is that you can no longer deduct most business-related entertainment expenses. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA disallows deductions for entertainment expenses, including those for sports events, theater productions, golf outings and fishing trips.
Meal deductions still allowed
You can still deduct 50% of the cost of food and beverages for meals conducted with business associates. However, you need to follow three basic rules in order to prove that your expenses are business related:
Set up detailed recordkeeping procedures to keep track of business meal costs. That way, you can prove them and the business connection in the event of an IRS audit.
What if you spend money on food and beverages at an entertainment event? The IRS clarified in guidance (Notice 2018-76) that taxpayers can still deduct 50% of food and drink expenses incurred at entertainment events, but only if business was conducted during the event or shortly before or after. The food-and-drink expenses should also be “stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices or receipts,” according to the guidance.
Another related tax law change involves meals provided to employees on the business premises. Before the TCJA, these meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer were 100% deductible by the employer. Beginning in 2018, meals provided for the convenience of an employer in an on-premises cafeteria or elsewhere on the business property are only 50% deductible. After 2025, these meals won’t be deductible at all.
As you can see, the treatment of meal and entertainment expenses became more complicated after the TCJA. Your tax advisor can keep you up to speed on the issues and suggest strategies to get the biggest tax-saving bang for your business meal bucks.
If you’re getting a divorce, you know it’s a highly stressful time. But if you’re a business owner, tax issues can complicate matters even more. Your business ownership interest is one of your biggest personal assets and your marital property will include all or part of it.
Transferring property tax-free
You can generally divide most assets, including cash and business ownership interests, between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse without any federal income or gift tax consequences. When an asset falls under this tax-free transfer rule, the spouse who receives the asset takes over its existing tax basis (for tax gain or loss purposes) and its existing holding period (for short-term or long-term holding period purposes).
For example, let’s say that, under the terms of your divorce agreement, you give your house to your spouse in exchange for keeping 100% of the stock in your business. That asset swap would be tax-free. And the existing basis and holding periods for the home and the stock would carry over to the person who receives them.
Tax-free transfers can occur before the divorce or at the time it becomes final. Tax-free treatment also applies to postdivorce transfers so long as they’re made “incident to divorce.” This means transfers that occur within:
Future tax implications
Eventually, there will be tax implications for assets received tax-free in a divorce settlement. The ex-spouse who winds up owning an appreciated asset — when the fair market value exceeds the tax basis — generally must recognize taxable gain when it’s sold (unless an exception applies).
What if your ex-spouse receives 49% of your highly appreciated small business stock? Thanks to the tax-free transfer rule, there’s no tax impact when the shares are transferred. Your ex will continue to apply the same tax rules as if you had continued to own the shares, including carryover basis and carryover holding period. When your ex-spouse ultimately sells the shares, he or she will owe any capital gains taxes. You will owe nothing.
Note that the person who winds up owning appreciated assets must pay the built-in tax liability that comes with them. From a net-of-tax perspective, appreciated assets are worth less than an equal amount of cash or other assets that haven’t appreciated. That’s why you should always take taxes into account when negotiating your divorce agreement.
In addition, the IRS now extends the beneficial tax-free transfer rule to ordinary-income assets, not just to capital-gains assets. For example, if you transfer business receivables or inventory to your ex-spouse in divorce, these types of ordinary-income assets can also be transferred tax-free. When the asset is later sold, converted to cash or exercised (in the case of nonqualified stock options), the person who owns the asset at that time must recognize the income and pay the tax liability.
Avoid adverse tax consequences
Like many major life events, divorce can have major tax implications. For example, you may receive an unexpected tax bill if you don’t carefully handle the splitting up of qualified retirement plan accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) and IRAs. And if you own a business, the stakes are higher. Your tax advisor can help you minimize the adverse tax consequences of settling your divorce under today’s laws.
Merger and acquisition activity has been brisk in recent years. If your business is considering merging with or acquiring another business, it’s important to understand how the transaction will be taxed under current law.
Stocks vs. assets
From a tax standpoint, a transaction can basically be structured in two ways:
1. Stock (or ownership interest). A buyer can directly purchase a seller’s ownership interest if the target business is operated as a C or S corporation, a partnership, or a limited liability company (LLC) that’s treated as a partnership for tax purposes.
The now-permanent 21% corporate federal income tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes buying the stock of a C corporation somewhat more attractive. Reasons: The corporation will pay less tax and generate more after-tax income. Plus, any built-in gains from appreciated corporate assets will be taxed at a lower rate when they’re eventually sold.
The TCJA’s reduced individual federal tax rates may also make ownership interests in S corporations, partnerships and LLCs more attractive. Reason: The passed-through income from these entities also will be taxed at lower rates on a buyer’s personal tax return. However, the TCJA’s individual rate cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2025, and, depending on future changes in Washington, they could be eliminated earlier or extended.
2. Assets. A buyer can also purchase the assets of a business. This may happen if a buyer only wants specific assets or product lines. And it’s the only option if the target business is a sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC that’s treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes.
Note: In some circumstances, a corporate stock purchase can be treated as an asset purchase by making a “Section 338 election.” Ask your tax advisor for details.
Buyer vs. seller preferences
For several reasons, buyers usually prefer to purchase assets rather than ownership interests. Generally, a buyer’s main objective is to generate enough cash flow from an acquired business to pay any acquisition debt and provide an acceptable return on the investment. Therefore, buyers are concerned about limiting exposure to undisclosed and unknown liabilities and minimizing taxes after the deal closes.
A buyer can step up (increase) the tax basis of purchased assets to reflect the purchase price. Stepped-up basis lowers taxable gains when certain assets, such as receivables and inventory, are sold or converted into cash. It also increases depreciation and amortization deductions for qualifying assets.
Meanwhile, sellers generally prefer stock sales for tax and nontax reasons. One of their main objectives is to minimize the tax bill from a sale. That can usually be achieved by selling their ownership interests in a business (corporate stock or partnership or LLC interests) as opposed to selling business assets.
With a sale of stock or other ownership interest, liabilities generally transfer to the buyer and any gain on sale is generally treated as lower-taxed long-term capital gain (assuming the ownership interest has been held for more than one year).
Keep in mind that other issues, such as employee benefits, can also cause unexpected tax issues when merging with, or acquiring, a business.
Professional advice is critical
Buying or selling a business may be the most important transaction you make during your lifetime, so it’s important to seek professional tax advice as you negotiate. After a deal is done, it may be too late to get the best tax results. Contact us for the best way to proceed in your situation.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines that apply to businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2019. 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.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created a new federal tax credit for employers that provide qualified paid family and medical leave to their employees. It’s subject to numerous rules and restrictions and the credit is only available for two tax years — those beginning between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2019. However, it may be worthwhile for some businesses.
The value of the credit
An eligible employer can claim a credit equal to 12.5% of wages paid to qualifying employees who are on family and medical leave, if the leave payments are at least 50% of the normal wages paid to them. For each 1% increase over 50%, the credit rate increases by 0.25%, up to a maximum credit rate of 25%.
An eligible employee is one who’s worked for your company for at least one year, with compensation for the preceding year not exceeding 60% of the threshold for highly compensated employees for that year. For 2019, the threshold for highly compensated employees is $125,000 (up from $120,000 for 2018). That means a qualifying employee’s 2019 compensation can’t exceed $72,000 (60% × $120,000).
Employers that claim the family and medical leave credit must reduce their deductions for wages and salaries by the amount of the credit.
For purposes of the credit, family and medical leave is defined as time off taken by a qualified employee for these reasons:
• The birth, adoption or fostering of a child (and to care for the child),
• To care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition,
• If the employee has a serious health condition,
• Any qualifying need due to an employee’s spouse, child or parent being on covered active duty in the Armed Forces (or being notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty), and
• To care for a spouse, child, parent or next of kin who’s a covered veteran or member of the Armed Forces.
Employer-provided vacation, personal, medical or sick leave (other than leave defined above) isn’t eligible.
When a policy must be established
The general rule is that, to claim the credit for your company’s first tax year that begins after December 31, 2017, your written family and medical leave policy must be in place before the paid leave for which the credit will be claimed is taken.
However, under a favorable transition rule for the first tax year beginning after December 31, 2017, your company’s written leave policy (or an amendment to an existing policy) is considered to be in place as of the effective date of the policy (or amendment) rather than the later adoption date.
The new family and medical leave credit could be an attractive perk for your company’s employees. However, it can be expensive because it must be provided to all qualifying full-time employees. Consult with us if you have questions or want more information.
The Trump administration has released its long-awaited proposed rule to update the overtime exemptions for so-called white-collar workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The rule increases the minimum weekly standard salary level for both regular workers and highly compensated employees (HCEs). It also increases the total annual compensation requirement for HCEs that’s required to qualify them as exempt. In addition, it retains the often confusing “duties test.”
The Trump administration rule generally is more favorable to employers than the Obama administration’s 2016 rule, which a federal district court judge in Texas halted before it could take effect. While the latter was expected to make 4.1 million salaried workers newly eligible for overtime (absent some intervening action by their employers), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) predicts that the newly proposed rule will make 1.3 million currently exempt employees nonexempt. The DOL estimates the direct costs for employers under the proposed rule will ring in at $224 million less per year than under the 2016 rule. (It’s unclear whether these figures take into account payroll tax obligations.)
The current rule
The regulations regarding the overtime exemptions for executive, administrative and professional employees haven’t been updated since 2004. Under them, an employer generally can’t classify a white-collar employee as exempt from overtime requirements unless the employee satisfies three tests:
1. Salary basis test. The employee is paid a predetermined and fixed salary that isn’t subject to reduction because of variations in the quality or quantity of the work performed.
2. Salary level test. The employee is paid at least $455 per week or $23,660 annually.
3. Duties test. The employee primarily performs executive, administrative or professional duties.
Neither job title nor salary alone can justify an exemption; the employee’s specific job duties and earnings must also meet applicable requirements.
Certain employees (for example, doctors, teachers and lawyers) aren’t subject to either the salary basis or salary level tests. The current rules also provide an easier-to-satisfy duties test for certain HCEs who are paid total annual compensation of at least $100,000 (including commissions, nondiscretionary bonuses and other nondiscretionary compensation) and at least $455 salary per week.
The Obama administration’s proposed rule
The 2016 rule focused primarily on the salary level test, increasing the threshold for exempt employees to $913 per week, or $47,476 per year. The levels would have automatically updated every three years beginning January 1, 2020. At the time, President Obama argued that the overtime regulations had “not kept up with our modern economy.”
By more than doubling the salary level test, the rule would have made it unnecessary for employers to even consider an employee’s duties in many cases. If the employee’s pay fell under the threshold for exemption, the duties would be irrelevant — the employee already couldn’t be exempt.
The Obama rule also would have raised the HCE threshold above which the looser duties test applies. It boosted the level to the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally, or $134,004 per year. The rule would have continued the requirement that HCEs receive at least the full standard salary amount — or $913 — per week on a salary or fee basis without regard to the payment of nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments. However, such payments would have counted toward the total annual compensation requirement.
The Obama rule was scheduled to take effect on December 1, 2016. On November 22, 2016, however, a district court judge granted a preliminary injunction stopping the implementation. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently declined to review the case until the DOL issued revisions.
The latest proposed rule
The DOL’s newly proposed rule would raise the standard salary level threshold to $679 per week, or $35,308 per year. For employees whose salary exceeds this level, overtime eligibility will depend on whether they primarily perform executive, administrative or professional duties. That determination would continue to turn on various checklists of criteria, many of which can seem outdated and not reflective of today’s workplace. Moreover, they’ve long invited litigation by employees challenging their employers’ application of the criteria.
The proposed rule raises the total annual compensation requirement for HCEs to $147,414, and HCEs also must make at least $679 per week on a salary or fee basis without regard to the payment of nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments. But it would allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) that are paid annually or more frequently to satisfy up to 10% of the standard salary level test. This means an employee’s production or performance bonuses could push him or her over the threshold and into exempt status (assuming the salary basis and looser duties tests are satisfied).
A catch-up payment is allowed for employees who don’t earn enough in nondiscretionary bonus or incentive payments in a given 52-week period to meet the HCE salary threshold and retain his or her exempt status. Within one pay period of the end of the 52-week period, the employer can make a payment of up to 10% of the total standard salary level for the preceding 52-week period. This payment will count toward only the previous year’s salary amount — it doesn’t count toward the salary amount in the year it’s paid.
The duties test isn’t the only part of the existing rules that wouldn’t change under the proposed rule. No changes are made to the overtime protections for certain categories of employees, including police officers; firefighters; paramedics; nurses; and specified nonmanagement employees, such as production-line employees and maintenance and construction workers.
The proposed rule also leaves out the automatic adjustments to the salary thresholds that were included in the Obama rule. The DOL acknowledges, though, that such thresholds can become “substantially less effective over time.” It proposes updates every four years and solicits public comment on how best to implement these future updates.
Not a sure thing
The DOL has solicited public comments on the proposed rule and indicated it expects the finalized rule to take effect on January 1, 2020. Legal challenges are likely from both business and worker groups, though. Some have questioned whether the DOL even has the authority to base overtime eligibility on salary levels. Stay tuned for more developments.
If you own a business and don’t have a tax-advantaged retirement plan, it’s not too late to establish one and reduce your 2018 tax bill. A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) can still be set up for 2018, and you can make contributions to it that you can deduct on your 2018 income tax return.
A SEP can be set up as late as the due date (including extensions) of your income tax return for the tax year for which the SEP is to first apply. That means you can establish a SEP for 2018 in 2019 as long as you do it before your 2018 return filing deadline. You have until the same deadline to make 2018 contributions and still claim a potentially substantial deduction on your 2018 return.
Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2018, in order for 2018 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2018 contributions to be made in 2019).
With a SEP, you can decide how much to contribute each year. You aren’t obligated to make any certain minimum contributions annually.
But, if your business has employees other than you:
1. Contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for yourself, and
2. Employee accounts must be immediately 100% vested.
The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee.
For 2018, 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), subject to a contribution cap of $55,000. (The 2019 cap is $56,000.)
To set up a SEP, you just need to complete and sign the very simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). You don’t need to file Form 5305-SEP with the IRS, but you should keep it as part of your permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement.
Although there are rules and limits that apply to SEPs beyond what we’ve discussed here, SEPs generally are much simpler to administer than other retirement plans. Contact us with any questions you have about SEPs and to discuss whether it makes sense for you to set one up for 2018 (or 2019).
Recent changes to federal tax law and accounting rules could affect whether you decide to lease or buy equipment or other fixed assets. Although there’s no universal “right” choice, many businesses that formerly leased assets are now deciding to buy them.
Pros and cons of leasing
From a cash flow perspective, leasing can be more attractive than buying. And leasing does provide some tax benefits: Lease payments generally are tax deductible as “ordinary and necessary” business expenses. (Annual deduction limits may apply.)
Leasing used to be advantageous from a financial reporting standpoint. But new accounting rules that bring leases to the lessee’s balance sheet go into effect in 2020 for calendar-year private companies. So, lease obligations will show up as liabilities, similar to purchased assets that are financed with traditional bank loans.
Leasing also has some potential drawbacks. Over the long run, leasing an asset may cost you more than buying it, and leasing doesn’t provide any buildup of equity. What’s more, you’re generally locked in for the entire lease term. So, you’re obligated to keep making lease payments even if you stop using the equipment. If the lease allows you to opt out before the term expires, you may have to pay an early-termination fee.
Pros and cons of buying
Historically, the primary advantage of buying over leasing has been that you’re free to use the assets as you see fit. But an advantage that has now come to the forefront is that Section 179 expensing and first-year bonus depreciation can provide big tax savings in the first year an asset is placed in service.
These two tax breaks were dramatically enhanced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — enough so that you may be convinced to buy assets that your business might have leased in the past. Many businesses will be able to write off the full cost of most equipment in the year it’s purchased. Any remainder is eligible for regular depreciation deductions over IRS-prescribed schedules.
The primary downside of buying fixed assets is that you’re generally required to pay the full cost upfront or in installments, although the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax benefits are still available for property that’s financed. If you finance a purchase through a bank, a down payment of at least 20% of the cost is usually required. This could tie up funds and affect your credit rating. If you decide to finance fixed asset purchases, be aware that the TCJA limits interest expense deductions (for businesses with more than $25 million in average annual gross receipts) to 30% of adjusted taxable income.
When deciding whether to lease or buy a fixed asset, there are a multitude of factors to consider, including tax implications. We can help you determine the approach that best suits your circumstances.
Shakespeare’s words don’t apply just to Julius Caesar; they also apply to calendar-year partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or S corporations for tax purposes. Why? The Ides of March, more commonly known as March 15, is the federal income tax filing deadline for these “pass-through” entities.
Until the 2016 tax year, the filing deadline for partnerships was the same as that for individual taxpayers: April 15 (or shortly thereafter if April 15 fell on a weekend or holiday). One of the primary reasons for moving up the partnership filing deadline was to make it easier for owners to file their personal returns by the April filing deadline. After all, partnership (and S corporation) income passes through to the owners. The earlier date allows owners to use the information contained in the pass-through entity forms to file their personal returns.
For partnerships with fiscal year ends, tax returns are now due the 15th day of the third month after the close of the tax year. The same deadline applies to fiscal-year S corporations. Under prior law, returns for fiscal-year partnerships were due the 15th day of the fourth month after the close of the fiscal tax year.
Avoiding a tragedy
If you haven’t filed your calendar-year partnership or S corporation return yet and are worried about having sufficient time to complete it, you can avoid the tragedy of a late return by filing for an extension. Under the current law, the maximum extension for calendar-year partnerships is six months (until September 16, 2019, for 2018 returns). This is up from five months under the old law. So the extension deadline is the same — only the length of the extension has changed. The extension deadline for calendar-year S corporations also is September 16, 2019, for 2018 returns.
Whether you’ll be filing a partnership or an S corporation return, you must file for the extension by March 15 if it’s a calendar-year entity.
Extending the drama
Filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now.
But to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by the unextended deadline. There probably won’t be any tax liability from the partnership or S corporation return. But, if filing for an extension for the entity return causes you to also have to file an extension for your personal return, it could cause you to owe interest and penalties in relation to your personal return.
We can help you file your tax returns on a timely basis or determine whether filing for an extension is appropriate. Contact us today.
If you run your business from your home or perform certain functions at home that are related to your business, you might be able to claim a home office deduction against your business income on your 2018 income tax return. Thanks to a tax law change back in 2013, there are now two methods for claiming this deduction: the actual expenses method and the simplified method.
Basics of the deduction
In general, you’ll qualify for a home office deduction if part of your home is used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business.
If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if 1) you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises, or 2) you use a storage area in your home (or a separate free-standing structure, such as a garage) exclusively and regularly for your business.
Traditionally, taxpayers have deducted actual expenses when they claim a home office deduction. Deductible home office expenses may include:
But keeping track of actual expenses can be time consuming.
The simplified method
Fortunately, there’s a simplified method that’s been available since 2013: You can deduct $5 for each square foot of home office space, up to a maximum total of $1,500.
For example, if you’ve converted a 300-square-foot bedroom to an office you use exclusively and regularly for business, you can write off $1,500 under the simplified method (300 square feet x $5). However, if your business is located in a 600-square-foot finished basement, the deduction will still be only $1,500 because of the cap on the deduction under this method.
As you can see, the cap can make the simplified method less beneficial for larger home office spaces. But even for spaces of 300 square feet or less, taxpayers may qualify for a bigger deduction using the actual expense method. So, tracking your actual expenses can be worth the extra hassle.
Flexibility in filing
When claiming the home office deduction, you’re not locked into a particular method. For instance, you might choose the actual expense method on your 2018 return, use the simplified method when you file your 2019 return next year and then switch back to the actual expense method thereafter. The choice is yours.
Unsure whether you qualify for the home office deduction? Or wondering whether you should deduct actual expenses or use the simplified method? Contact us. We can help you determine what’s right for your specific situation.
Limited liability company (LLC) members commonly claim that their distributive shares of LLC income — after deducting compensation for services in the form of guaranteed payments — aren’t subject to self-employment (SE) tax. But the IRS has been cracking down on LLC members it claims have underreported SE income, with some success in court.
SE tax background
Self-employment income is subject to a 12.4% Social Security tax (up to the wage base) and a 2.9% Medicare tax. Generally, if you’re a member of a partnership — including an LLC taxed as a partnership — that conducts a trade or business, you’re considered self-employed.
General partners pay SE tax on all their business income from the partnership, whether it’s distributed or not. Limited partners, however, are subject to SE tax only on any guaranteed payments for services they provide to the partnership. The rationale is that limited partners, who have no management authority, are more akin to passive investors.
(Note, however, that “service partners” in service partnerships, such as law firms, medical practices, and architecture and engineering firms, generally may not claim limited partner status regardless of their level of participation.)
Over the years, many LLC members have taken the position that they’re equivalent to limited partners and, therefore, exempt from SE tax (except on guaranteed payments for services). But there’s a big difference between limited partners and LLC members. Both enjoy limited personal liability, but, unlike limited partners, LLC members can actively participate in management without jeopardizing their liability protection.
Arguably, LLC members who are active in management or perform substantial services related to the LLC’s business are subject to SE tax, while those who more closely resemble passive investors should be treated like limited partners. The IRS issued proposed regulations to that effect in 1997, but hasn’t finalized them — although it follows them as a matter of internal policy.
Some LLC members have argued that the IRS’s failure to finalize the regulations supports the claim that their distributive shares aren’t subject to SE tax. But the IRS routinely rejects this argument and has successfully litigated its position. The courts generally have imposed SE tax on LLC members unless, like traditional limited partners, they lack management authority and don’t provide significant services to the business.
Review your situation
The law in this area remains uncertain, particularly with regard to capital-intensive businesses. But given the IRS’s aggressiveness in collecting SE taxes from LLCs, LLC members should assess whether the IRS might claim that they’ve underpaid SE taxes.
Those who wish to avoid or reduce these taxes in the future may have some options, including converting to an S corporation or limited partnership, or restructuring their ownership interests. When evaluating these strategies, there are issues to consider beyond taxes. Contact us to discuss your specific situation.
The flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has been great news for these entities and their owners. But some fundamental tax truths for C corporations largely remain the same:
C corporations are subject to double taxation. Double taxation occurs when corporate income is taxed once at the corporate level and again at the shareholder level as dividends are paid out. The cost of double taxation, however, is now generally less because of the 21% corporate rate.
And double taxation isn’t a problem when a C corporation needs to retain all its earnings to finance growth and capital investments. Because all the earnings stay “inside” the corporation, no dividends are paid to shareholders, and, therefore, there’s no double taxation.
Double taxation also isn’t an issue when a C corporation’s taxable income levels are low. This can often be achieved by paying reasonable salaries and bonuses to shareholder-employees and providing them with tax-favored fringe benefits (deductible by the corporation and tax-free to the recipient shareholder-employees).
C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures with appreciating assets or certain depreciable assets. If assets such as real estate are eventually sold for substantial gains, it may be impossible to extract the profits from the corporation without being subject to double taxation. In contrast, if appreciating assets are held by a pass-through entity (such as an S corporation, partnership or limited liability company treated as a partnership for tax purposes), gains on such sales will be taxed only once, at the owner level.
But assets held by a C corporation don’t necessarily have to appreciate in value for double taxation to occur. Depreciation lowers the tax basis of the property, so a taxable gain results whenever the sale price exceeds the depreciated basis. In effect, appreciation can be caused by depreciation when depreciable assets hold their value.
To avoid this double-taxation issue, you might consider using a pass-through entity to lease to your C corporation appreciating assets or depreciable assets that will hold their value.
C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures that will incur ongoing tax losses. When a venture is set up as a C corporation, losses aren’t passed through to the owners (the shareholders) like they would be in a pass-through entity. Instead, they create corporate net operating losses (NOLs) that can be carried over to future tax years and then used to offset any corporate taxable income.
This was already a potential downside of C corporations, because it can take many years for a start-up to be profitable. Now, under the TCJA, NOLs that arise in tax years beginning after 2017 can’t offset more than 80% of taxable income in the NOL carryover year. So it may take even longer to fully absorb tax losses.
Do you have questions about C corporation tax issues post-TCJA? Contact us.
Commercial buildings and improvements generally are depreciated over 39 years, which essentially means you can deduct a portion of the cost every year over the depreciation period. (Land isn’t depreciable.) But special tax breaks that allow deductions to be taken more quickly are available for certain real estate investments.
Some of these were enhanced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and may provide a bigger benefit when you file your 2018 tax return. But there are two breaks you might not be able to enjoy due to a drafting error in the TCJA.
Section 179 expensing
This allows you to deduct (rather than depreciate over a number of years) qualified improvement property — a definition expanded by the TCJA from qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property. The TCJA also allows Sec. 179 expensing for certain depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging and for the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.
Under the TCJA, for qualifying property placed in service in tax years starting in 2018, the expensing limit increases to $1 million (from $510,000 for 2017), subject to a phaseout if your qualified asset purchases for the year exceed $2.5 million (compared to $2.03 million for 2017). These amounts will be adjusted annually for inflation, and for 2019 they’re $1.02 million and $2.55 million, respectively.
This break historically allowed a shortened recovery period of 15 years for property that qualified. Before the TCJA, the break was available for qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property. Again, the TCJA expanded the definition to “qualified improvement property.”
But, due to a drafting error, no recovery period was given to such property, so it defaults to 39-year property. For accelerated depreciation to be available for qualified improvement property, a technical correction must be issued.
This additional first-year depreciation allowance is available for qualified assets, which before the TCJA included qualified improvement property. But due to the drafting error noted above, qualified improvement property will be eligible for bonus depreciation only if a technical correction is issued.
When available, bonus depreciation is increased to 100% (up from 50%) for qualified property placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, but before Jan. 1, 2023. For 2023 through 2026, bonus depreciation is scheduled to be gradually reduced. Warning: Under the TCJA, real estate businesses that elect to deduct 100% of their business interest will be ineligible for bonus depreciation starting in 2018.
Can you benefit?
Although the enhanced depreciation-related breaks may offer substantial savings on your 2018 tax bill, it’s possible they won’t prove beneficial over the long term. Taking these deductions now means forgoing deductions that could otherwise be taken later, over a period of years under normal depreciation schedules. In some situations — such as if in the future your business could be in a higher tax bracket or tax rates go up — the normal depreciation deductions could be more valuable long-term.
For more information on these breaks or advice on whether you should take advantage of them, please contact us.
A variety of tax-related limits affecting businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have gone up for 2019. Here’s a look at some that may affect you and your business.
Other employee benefits
Additional rules apply to these limits, and they are only some of the limits that may affect your business. Please contact us for more information.
This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business increased by 3.5 cents, to the highest level since 2008. As a result, you might be able to claim a larger deduction for vehicle-related expense for 2019 than you can for 2018.
Actual costs vs. mileage rate
Businesses can generally deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases depreciation write-offs on vehicles are subject to certain limits that don’t apply to other types of business assets.
The mileage rate comes into play when taxpayers don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this approach, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses, although you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.
The mileage rate approach also is popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal automobiles. Such reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who’re expected to drive their personal vehicle extensively for business purposes. Why? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their individual income tax returns.
But be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t, you risk having the reimbursements considered taxable wages to the employees.
The 2019 rate
Beginning on January 1, 2019, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 58 cents per mile. For 2018, the rate was 54.5 cents per mile.
The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It is based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. Occasionally, if there is a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the mileage rate midyear.
There are certain situations where you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. It depends in part on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past or, if the vehicle is new to your business this year, whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation breaks on it.
As you can see, there are many variables to consider in determining whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. Contact us if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2019 — or claiming them on your 2018 income tax return.
There aren’t too many things businesses can do after a year ends to reduce tax liability for that year. However, you might be able to pay employee bonuses for 2018 in 2019 and still deduct them on your 2018 tax return. In certain circumstances, businesses can deduct bonuses employees have earned during a tax year if the bonuses are paid within 2½ months after the end of that year (by March 15 for a calendar-year company).
First, only accrual-basis taxpayers can take advantage of the 2½ month rule. Cash-basis taxpayers must deduct bonuses in the year they’re paid, regardless of when they’re earned.
Second, even for accrual-basis taxpayers, the 2½ month rule isn’t automatic. The bonuses can be deducted on the tax return for the year they’re earned only if the business’s bonus liability was fixed by the end of the year.
Passing the test
For accrual-basis taxpayers, a liability (such as a bonus) is deductible when it is incurred. To determine this, the IRS applies the “all-events test.” Under this test, a liability is incurred when:
All events have occurred that establish the taxpayer’s liability,
The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy, and
Economic performance has occurred.
Generally, the last requirement isn’t an issue; it’s satisfied when an employee performs the services required to earn a bonus. But the first two requirements can delay your tax deduction until the year of payment, depending on how your bonus plan is designed.
For example, many bonus plans require an employee to still be an employee on the payment date to receive the bonus. Even when the amount of each employee’s bonus is fixed at the end of the tax year, if employees who leave the company before the payment date forfeit their bonuses, the all-events test isn’t satisfied until the payment date. Why? The business’s liability for bonuses isn’t fixed until then.
Diving into a bonus pool
Fortunately, it’s possible to accelerate deductions with a carefully designed bonus pool arrangement. According to the IRS, employers may deduct bonuses in the year they’re earned — even if there’s a risk of forfeiture — as long as any forfeited bonuses are reallocated among the remaining employees in the bonus pool rather than retained by the employer.
Under such a plan, an employer satisfies the all-events test because the aggregate bonus amount is fixed at the end of the year. It doesn’t matter that amounts allocated to specific employees aren’t determined until the payment date.
When you can deduct bonuses
So does your current bonus plan allow you to take 2018 deductions for bonuses paid in early 2019? If you’re not sure, contact us. We can review your situation and determine when you can deduct your bonus payments.
If you’re an accrual taxpayer but don’t qualify to accelerate your bonus deductions this time, we can help you design a bonus plan for 2019 that will allow you to accelerate deductions when you file your 2019 return next year.
Tax planning is a juggling act for business owners. You have to keep your eye on your company’s income and expenses and applicable tax breaks (especially if you own a pass-through entity). But you also must look out for your own financial future.
For example, you need to develop an exit strategy so that taxes don’t trip you up when you retire or leave the business for some other reason. An exit strategy is a plan for passing on responsibility for running the company, transferring ownership and extracting your money from the business.
When a business has more than one owner, a buy-sell agreement can be a powerful tool. The agreement controls what happens to the business when a specified event occurs, such as an owner’s retirement, disability or death. Among other benefits, a well-drafted agreement:
A key issue with any buy-sell agreement is providing the buyer(s) with a means of funding the purchase. Life or disability insurance often helps fulfill this need and can give rise to several tax issues and opportunities. One of the biggest advantages of life insurance as a funding method is that proceeds generally are excluded from the beneficiary’s taxable income.
Succession within the family
You can pass your business on to family members by giving them interests, selling them interests or doing some of each. Be sure to consider your income needs, the tax consequences, and how family members will feel about your choice.
Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can gift up to $15,000 of ownership interests without using up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Valuation discounts may further reduce the taxable value of the gift.
With the gift and estate tax exemption approximately doubled through 2025 ($11.4 million for 2019), gift and estate taxes may be less of a concern for some business owners. But others may want to make substantial transfers now to take maximum advantage of the high exemption. What’s right for you will depend on the value of your business and your timeline for transferring ownership.
If you don’t have co-owners or want to pass the business to family members, other options include a management buyout, an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) or a sale to an outsider. Each involves a variety of tax and nontax considerations.
Please contact us to discuss your exit strategy. To be successful, your strategy will require planning well in advance of the transition.
Tax planning is a year-round activity, but there are still some year-end strategies you can use to lower your 2018 tax bill. Here are six last-minute tax moves business owners should consider:
Most of these strategies are subject to various limitations and restrictions beyond what we’ve covered here, so please consult us before you implement them. We can also offer more ideas for reducing your taxes this year and next.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2019. 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.
The holiday season is a great time for businesses to show their appreciation for employees and customers by giving them gifts or hosting holiday parties. Before you begin shopping or sending out invitations, though, it’s a good idea to find out whether the expense is tax deductible and whether it’s taxable to the recipient. Here’s a brief review of the rules.
Gifts to customers
When you make gifts to customers, the gifts are deductible up to $25 per recipient per year. For purposes of the $25 limit, you need not include “incidental” costs that don’t substantially add to the gift’s value, such as engraving, gift-wrapping, packaging or shipping. Also excluded from the $25 limit is branded marketing collateral — such as pens or stress balls imprinted with your company’s name and logo — provided they’re widely distributed and cost less than $4.
The $25 limit is for gifts to individuals. There’s no set limit on gifts to a company (a gift basket for all to share, for example) as long as they’re “reasonable.”
Gifts to employees
Generally anything of value that you transfer to an employee is included in the employee’s taxable income (and, therefore, subject to income and payroll taxes) and deductible by you. But there’s an exception for noncash gifts that constitute “de minimis fringe benefits.”
These are items so small in value and given so infrequently that it would be administratively impracticable to account for them. Common examples include holiday turkeys or hams, gift baskets, occasional sports or theater tickets (but not season tickets), and other low-cost merchandise.
De minimis fringe benefits are not included in an employee’s taxable income yet are still deductible by you. Unlike gifts to customers, there’s no specific dollar threshold for de minimis gifts. However, many businesses use an informal cutoff of $75.
Keep in mind that cash gifts — as well as cash equivalents, such as gift cards — are included in an employee’s income and subject to payroll tax withholding regardless of how small and infrequent.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced certain deductions for business-related meals and eliminated the deduction for business entertainment altogether. There’s an exception, however, for certain recreational activities, including holiday parties.
Holiday parties are fully deductible (and excludible from recipients’ income) provided they’re primarily for the benefit of non-highly-compensated employees and their families. If customers also attend, holiday parties may be partially deductible.
Gifts that give back
If you’re thinking about giving holiday gifts to employees or customers or throwing a holiday party, contact us. With a little tax planning, you may receive a gift of your own from Uncle Sam.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has enhanced two depreciation-related breaks that are popular year-end tax planning tools for businesses. To take advantage of these breaks, you must purchase qualifying assets and place them in service by the end of the tax year. That means there’s still time to reduce your 2018 tax liability with these breaks, but you need to act soon.
Section 179 expensing
Sec. 179 expensing is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in Year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 expensing can be used for assets such as equipment, furniture and software. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA expanded the list of qualifying assets to include qualified improvement property, certain property used primarily to furnish lodging and the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.
The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2018 is $1 million, up from $510,000 for 2017. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2018 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.5 million, up from $2.03 million for 2017.
100% bonus depreciation
For qualified assets that your business places in service in 2018, the TCJA allows you to claim 100% first-year bonus depreciation -- compared to 50% in 2017. This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment and office furniture. The TCJA has expanded eligible assets to include used assets; previously, only new assets were eligible.
However, due to a TCJA drafting error, qualified improvement property will be eligible only if a technical correction is issued. Also be aware that, under the TCJA, certain businesses aren’t eligible for bonus depreciation in 2018, such as real estate businesses that elect to deduct 100% of their business interest and auto dealerships with floor plan financing (if the dealership has average annual gross receipts of more than $25 million for the three previous tax years).
Traditional, powerful strategy
Keep in mind that Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation can also be used for business vehicles. So purchasing vehicles before year end could reduce your 2018 tax liability. But, depending on the type of vehicle, additional limits may apply.
Investing in business assets is a traditional and powerful year-end tax planning strategy, and it might make even more sense in 2018 because of the TCJA enhancements to Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation. If you have questions about these breaks or other ways to maximize your depreciation deductions, please contact us.
Classifying a worker as an independent contractor frees a business from payroll tax liability and allows it to forgo providing overtime pay, unemployment compensation and other employee benefits. It also frees the business from responsibility for withholding income taxes and the worker’s share of payroll taxes.
For these reasons, the federal government views misclassifying a bona fide employee as an independent contractor unfavorably. If the IRS reclassifies a worker as an employee, your business could be hit with back taxes, interest and penalties.
When assessing worker classification, the IRS typically looks at the:
Level of behavioral control. This means the extent to which the company instructs a worker on when and where to do the work, what tools or equipment to use, whom to hire, where to purchase supplies and so on. Also, control typically involves providing training and evaluating the worker’s performance. The more control the company exercises, the more likely the worker is an employee.
Level of financial control. Independent contractors are more likely to invest in their own equipment or facilities, incur unreimbursed business expenses, and market their services to other customers. Employees are more likely to be paid by the hour or week or some other time period; independent contractors are more likely to receive a flat fee.
Relationship of the parties. Independent contractors are often engaged for a discrete project, while employees are typically hired permanently (or at least for an indefinite period). Also, workers who serve a key business function are more likely to be classified as employees.
The IRS examines a variety of factors within each category. You need to consider all of the facts and circumstances surrounding each worker relationship.
Once you’ve completed your review, there are several strategies you can use to minimize your exposure. When in doubt, reclassify questionable independent contractors as employees. This may increase your tax and benefit costs, but it will eliminate reclassification risk.
From there, modify your relationships with independent contractors to better ensure compliance. For example, you might exercise less behavioral control by reducing your level of supervision or allowing workers to set their own hours or work from home.
Also, consider using an employee-leasing company. Workers leased from these firms are employees of the leasing company, which is responsible for taxes, benefits and other employer obligations.
Handle with care
Keep in mind that taxes, interest and penalties aren’t the only possible negative consequences of a worker being reclassified as an employee. In addition, your business could be liable for employee benefits that should have been provided but weren’t. Fortunately, careful handling of contractors can help ensure that independent contractor status will pass IRS scrutiny. Contact us if you have questions about worker classification.
For small businesses, managing payroll can be one of the most arduous tasks. Adding to the burden earlier this year was adjusting income tax withholding based on the new tables issued by the IRS. (Those tables account for changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.) But it’s crucial not only to withhold the appropriate taxes — including both income tax and employment taxes — but also to remit them on time to the federal government.
If you don’t, you, personally, could face harsh penalties. This is true even if your business is an entity that normally shields owners from personal liability, such as a corporation or limited liability company.
The 100% penalty
Employers must withhold federal income and employment taxes (such as Social Security) as well as applicable state and local taxes on wages paid to their employees. The federal taxes must then be remitted to the federal government according to a deposit schedule.
If a business makes payments late, there are escalating penalties. And if it fails to make them, the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty could apply. Under this penalty, also known as the 100% penalty, the IRS can assess the entire unpaid amount against a “responsible person.”
The corporate veil won’t shield corporate owners in this instance. The liability protections that owners of corporations — and limited liability companies — typically have don’t apply to payroll tax debts.
When the IRS assesses the 100% penalty, it can file a lien or take levy or seizure action against personal assets of a responsible person.
“Responsible person,” defined
The penalty can be assessed against a shareholder, owner, director, officer or employee. In some cases, it can be assessed against a third party. The IRS can also go after more than one person. To be liable, an individual or party must:
1. Be responsible for collecting, accounting for and remitting withheld federal taxes, and
2. Willfully fail to remit those taxes. That means intentionally, deliberately, voluntarily and knowingly disregarding the requirements of the law.
Prevention is the best medicine
When it comes to the 100% penalty, prevention is the best medicine. So make sure that federal taxes are being properly withheld from employees’ paychecks and are being timely remitted to the federal government. (It’s a good idea to also check state and local requirements and potential penalties.)
If you aren’t already using a payroll service, consider hiring one. A good payroll service provider relieves you of the burden of withholding the proper amounts, taking care of the tax payments and handling recordkeeping. Contact us for more information.