The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) didn’t change the federal tax credit for “increasing research activities,” but several TCJA provisions have an indirect impact on the credit. As a result, the research credit may be available to some businesses for the first time.
Previously, corporations subject to alternative minimum tax (AMT) couldn’t offset the research credit against their AMT liability, which erased the benefits of the credit (although they could carry unused research credits forward for up to 20 years and use them in non-AMT years). By eliminating corporate AMT for tax years beginning after 2017, the TCJA removed this obstacle.
Now that the corporate AMT is gone, unused research credits from prior tax years can be offset against a corporation’s regular tax liability and may even generate a refund (subject to certain restrictions). So it’s a good idea for corporations to review their research activities in recent years and amend prior returns if necessary to ensure they claim all the research credits to which they’re entitled.
The TCJA didn’t eliminate individual AMT, but it did increase individuals’ exemption amounts and exemption phaseout thresholds. As a result, fewer owners of sole proprietorships and pass-through businesses are subject to AMT, allowing more of them to enjoy the benefits of the research credit, too.
More to consider
By reducing corporate and individual tax rates, the TCJA also will increase research credits for many businesses. Why? Because the tax code, to prevent double tax benefits, requires businesses to reduce their deductible research expenses by the amount of the credit.
To avoid this result (which increases taxable income), businesses can elect to reduce the credit by an amount calculated at the highest corporate rate that eliminates the double benefit. Because the highest corporate rate has been reduced from 35% to 21%, this amount is lower and, therefore, the research credit is higher.
Keep in mind that the TCJA didn’t affect certain research credit benefits for smaller businesses. Pass-through businesses can still claim research credits against AMT if their average gross receipts are $50 million or less. And qualifying start-ups without taxable income can still claim research credits against up to $250,000 in payroll taxes.
Do your research
If your company engages in qualified research activities, now’s a good time to revisit the credit to be sure you’re taking full advantage of its benefits.
The expense of preventing fraud is minimal compared to the cost of cleaning up after fraud has been committed. One common fraud deterrent is to monitor employees on the job. But are you legally entitled to monitor employees? The answer is “sometimes.” One thing is certain: You must follow current employment law to the letter.
Two competing interests
Many laws apply to employees’ privacy rights. In general, they attempt to balance employers’ interests in minimizing losses and injuries and maximizing production with employees’ interests in being free from intrusion into their private affairs.
By adopting and clearly communicating employment policies, your company can, within limits, establish its authority to conduct searches and surveillance that might otherwise be deemed intrusive. But before you state your policies, check with your attorney to ensure they don’t violate any federal or state laws.
In most cases, federal law allows employers to take the following actions (but keep in mind that some state laws may be more restrictive):
Electronic activities monitoring. As a general rule, you can’t monitor employees’ use of electronic devices (including tracking Internet use) without their knowledge. But there are two notable exceptions. First, you can monitor if you have a legitimate business need to do so (for example, to record a client’s buy/sell instructions to a stockbroker). The second exception is when one party to a communication consents to the monitoring. If your company clearly states a policy to monitor communications, an employee is usually considered to have consented by remaining in the job.
Phone call monitoring. You’re generally allowed to monitor business-related phone conversations to and from the workplace. However, you can’t monitor personal calls and must hang up as soon as it’s apparent the call isn’t work-related, unless the employee has given you permission to listen in.
Physical searches. Exercise extreme caution before searching an employee’s person. If you feel a body search is necessary, don’t threaten or apply physical force or prevent the employee from leaving the room or workplace. Aside from possible referral to law enforcement, keep the search results confidential. This is to prevent leaks that could form the basis for libel or slander suits.
Surveillance. You can install cameras in your company’s offices or production areas, but usually not in “private” areas such as restrooms and locker rooms. As with other searches, surveillance records must be kept confidential. Only individuals who must know the information to properly perform their duties should have access to evidence of possible wrongdoing.
Avoiding land mines
Protecting your company from fraud while also adhering to employee privacy regulations can be challenging. To avoid legal land mines, develop your company’s policies with the help of an employment law attorney.
Some of your medical expenses may be tax deductible, but only if you itemize deductions and have enough expenses to exceed the applicable floor for deductibility. With proper planning, you may be able to time controllable medical expenses to your tax advantage. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) could make bunching such expenses into 2018 beneficial for some taxpayers. At the same time, certain taxpayers who’ve benefited from the deduction in previous years might no longer benefit because of the TCJA’s increase to the standard deduction.
Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only to the extent that they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example is the medical expense deduction.
Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible medical expenses into a particular year where possible. The TCJA reduced the floor for the medical expense deduction for 2017 and 2018 from 10% to 7.5%. So, it might be beneficial to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2018.
Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible.
However, if your total itemized deductions won’t exceed your standard deduction, bunching medical expenses into 2018 won’t save tax. The TCJA nearly doubled the standard deduction. For 2018, it’s $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.
If your total itemized deductions for 2018 will exceed your standard deduction, bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into 2018 may allow you to exceed the applicable floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.
Planning for uncertainty
Keep in mind that legislation could be signed into law that extends the 7.5% threshold for 2019 and even beyond. For help determining whether you could benefit from bunching medical expenses into 2018, please contact us.
You’ve spent years building your company and now are ready to move on to something else, whether launching a new business, taking advantage of another career opportunity or retiring. Whatever your plans, you want to get the return from your business that you’ve earned from all of the time and money you’ve put into it.
That means not only getting a good price, but also minimizing the tax hit on the proceeds. One option that can help you defer tax and perhaps even reduce it is an installment sale.
With an installment sale, you don’t receive a lump sum payment when the deal closes. Instead, you receive installment payments over a period of time, spreading the gain over a number of years.
This generally defers tax, because you pay most of the tax liability as you receive the payments. Usually tax deferral is beneficial, but it could be especially beneficial if it would allow you to stay under the thresholds for triggering the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) or the 20% long-term capital gains rate.
For 2018, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 per year ($250,000 for married filing jointly and $125,000 for married filing separately) will owe NIIT on some or all of their investment income. And the 20% long-term capital gains rate kicks in when 2018 taxable income exceeds $425,800 for singles, $452,400 for heads of households and $479,000 for joint filers (half that for separate filers).
An installment sale also might help you close a deal or get a better price for your business. For instance, an installment sale might appeal to a buyer that lacks sufficient cash to pay the price you’re looking for in a lump sum.
Or a buyer might be concerned about the ongoing success of your business without you at the helm or because of changing market or other economic factors. An installment sale that includes a contingent amount based on the business’s performance might be the solution.
An installment sale isn’t without tax risk for sellers. For example, depreciation recapture must be reported as gain in the year of sale, no matter how much cash you receive. So you could owe tax that year without receiving enough cash proceeds from the sale to pay the tax. If depreciation recapture is an issue, be sure you have cash from another source to pay the tax.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, if tax rates increase, the overall tax could end up being more. With tax rates currently quite low historically, there might be a greater chance that they could rise in the future. Weigh this risk carefully against the potential benefits of an installment sale.
Pluses and minuses
As you can see, installment sales have both pluses and minuses. To determine whether one is right for you and your business — and find out about other tax-smart options — please contact us.
Many people choose to pass assets to the next generation during life, whether to reduce the size of their taxable estate, to help out family members, or simply to see their loved ones enjoy the gifts. If you’re considering lifetime gifts, be aware that the various assets you choose to give can produce substantially different tax consequences.
Multiple types of taxes
Federal gift and estate taxes generally apply at a rate of 40% to transfers in excess of your available gift and estate tax exemption. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the exemption has approximately doubled through 2025. For 2018, it’s $11.18 million (twice that for married couples with proper estate planning strategies in place).
Even if your estate isn’t large enough for gift and estate taxes to currently be a concern, there are income tax consequences to consider. Plus, the gift and estate tax exemption is scheduled to drop back to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026.
Minimizing estate tax
If your estate is large enough that estate tax is a concern, consider gifting property with the greatest future appreciation potential. You’ll remove that future appreciation from your taxable estate.
If estate tax isn’t a concern, your family may be better off tax-wise if you hold on to the property and let it appreciate in your hands. At your death, the property’s value for income tax purposes will be “stepped up” to fair market value. This means that, if your heirs sell the property, they won’t have to pay any income tax on the appreciation that occurred during your life.
Even if estate tax is a concern, you should compare the potential estate tax savings from gifting the property now to the potential income tax savings for your heirs if you hold on to the property.
Minimizing your beneficiary’s income tax
You can save income tax for your heirs by gifting property that hasn’t appreciated significantly while you’ve owned it. The beneficiary can sell the property at a minimal income tax cost.
On the other hand, hold on to property that has already appreciated significantly so that your heirs can enjoy the step-up in basis at your death. If they sell the property shortly after your death, before it’s had time to appreciate much more, they’ll owe no or minimal income tax on the sale.
Minimizing your own income tax
Don’t gift property that’s declined in value. A better option is generally to sell the property so you can take the tax loss. You can then gift the sale proceeds.
Capital losses can offset capital gains, and up to $3,000 of losses can offset other types of income, such as from salary, bonuses, or retirement plan distributions. Excess losses can be carried forward until death.
Choose gifts wisely
No matter your current net worth, it’s important to choose gifts wisely. Please contact us to discuss the gift, estate, and income tax consequences of any gifts you’d like to make.
Online shopping enables consumers to buy almost anything from the convenience of their own homes. But comfortable surroundings can lull online shoppers into a false sense of security. You wouldn’t leave your wallet unattended in a busy shopping mall or enter a sketchy-looking shop, yet you may be taking similar risks on the Internet.
One of the biggest risks is shopping on fraudulent sites or making purchases from marketplace sellers who have no intention of shipping the goods you’ve paid for. Here are three suggestions for protecting yourself:
1. Use feedback features. When shopping in online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon, pay close attention to ratings and comments provided by previous customers about individual sellers. Bear in mind, however, that some online review platforms allow sellers to request the removal of negative reviews. And, while reputable marketplaces and review sites do their best to block fake reviews, it’s possible for sellers to boost their profile by paying “customers” to post five-star ratings and raves.
2. Perform basic research. Before making a purchase from an unfamiliar retail site, plug the site’s name into a major search engine. Because negative information may not appear at the top of search results, look beyond the first or second page. In some extreme circumstances, disgruntled customers set up their own sites to air grievances about an online retailer. Or, you may find news of legal action. Also, be wary if you find almost no information about a retailer. Some scam artists frequently change the names and addresses of their sites to stay one step ahead of the law.
3. Always pay with a credit card. Credit card companies generally allow their customers to dispute fraudulent charges and get their money back if they don’t receive the goods they purchased. So beware of online sellers who ask you to pay by check, ACH, or wire to avoid credit card processing fees. Online marketplace scammers sometimes ask customers to skip the site’s payment system and pay them directly. This is dangerous because it places a transaction beyond the reach of the marketplace’s fraud detection and prevention systems.
Most online merchants deliver on their customer commitments. However, a small percentage take advantage of the Web’s anonymity to commit fraud. Be sure to check out any site or seller you intend to do business with and, just as important, listen to your gut. If something makes you uneasy, don’t proceed with the transaction.
As we approach the end of the year, it’s a good idea to review your business’s expenses for deductibility. At the same time, consider whether your business would benefit from accelerating certain expenses into this year.
Be sure to evaluate the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which reduces or eliminates many deductions. In some cases, it may be necessary or desirable to change your expense and reimbursement policies.
What’s deductible, anyway?
There’s no master list of deductible business expenses in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Although some deductions are expressly authorized or excluded, most are governed by the general rule of IRC Sec. 162, which permits businesses to deduct their “ordinary and necessary” expenses.
An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your business. (It need not be indispensable.) Even if an expense is ordinary and necessary, it may not be deductible if the IRS considers it lavish or extravagant.
What did the TCJA change?
The TCJA contains many provisions that affect the deductibility of business expenses. Significant changes include these deductions:
Meals and entertainment. The act eliminates most deductions for entertainment expenses, but retains the 50% deduction for business meals. What about business meals provided in connection with nondeductible entertainment? In a recent notice, the IRS clarified that such meals continue to be 50% deductible, provided they’re purchased separately from the entertainment or their cost is separately stated on invoices or receipts.
Transportation. The act eliminates most deductions for qualified transportation fringe benefits, such as parking, vanpooling, and transit passes. This change may lead some employers to discontinue these benefits, although others will continue to provide them because 1) they’re a valuable employee benefit (they’re still tax-free to employees) or 2) they’re required by local law.
Employee expenses. The act suspends employee deductions for unreimbursed job expenses — previously treated as miscellaneous itemized deductions — through 2025. Some businesses may want to implement a reimbursement plan for these expenses. So long as the plan meets IRS requirements, reimbursements are deductible by the business and tax-free to employees.
The deductibility of certain expenses, such as employee wages or office supplies, is obvious. In other cases, it may be necessary to consult IRS rulings or court cases for guidance. For assistance, please contact us.
Your company has landed a lucrative new account, and the customer has already placed several small orders, paying in full, on time. Now the customer wants to place a larger order, but has requested that you first expand its credit account. Warning! There’s a chance that you could become a victim of bankruptcy fraud. Your new customer may be planning a “bust-out” — a common bankruptcy-related scam.
In a bust-out, fraudsters create a bogus company — often with a name similar to that of an established, reliable business — to order goods they have no intention of paying for. In fact, they plan to sell the products for fast cash, file for bankruptcy and leave you, the supplier, holding the empty bag.
In a variation of the scheme, bogus operators buy an existing company and use its good credit to order the goods. Either way, they sell the products they order below cost, for cash, and then file for bankruptcy, writing off the amounts of the supplier’s bill.
You can avoid becoming a bust-out victim by carefully vetting businesses that were formed only recently. Also be wary of established companies with new ownership — particularly if the new owners seem to want to keep their involvement under wraps. And pay particular attention to customers that have:
• Warehouses stuffed with high-volume, low-cost items, • Disproportionate liabilities to assets, • No corporate bank account, and • Principals previously involved with failed companies.
Fraudulent conveyance schemes
Bust-outs are far from the only bankruptcy-related scams. In fact, the most common type of bankruptcy fraud is concealing assets — or fraudulent conveyance. This scheme involves hiding or moving assets in anticipation of a bankruptcy. The owner of a business on the brink of collapse may, for example, transfer property to a third party — most commonly, a spouse — for little or no compensation. The third party holds the property until bankruptcy proceedings have concluded, and then transfers it back to the business owner.
Alternatively, the business owner files for bankruptcy and then, with the court’s approval, sells property below value to a straw buyer. The owner’s relationship with the buyer isn’t disclosed, but the buyer holds the property until the owner is ready to reclaim it at an agreed-upon price.
In either case, the goal is the same: to keep property and monetary compensation out of the hands of creditors.
Fighting bankruptcy fraud typically requires professional legal and financial help. The best protection is prevention, but if you suspect one of your customers is trying to pull a fast one, contact us.
Section 529 plans are a popular education-funding tool because of tax and other benefits. Two types are available: 1) prepaid tuition plans, and 2) savings plans. And one of these plans got even better under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
Enjoy valuable benefits
529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for qualifying education expenses. First and foremost, although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer tax incentives for contributing in the form of deductions or credits.
But that’s not all. 529 plans also usually offer high contribution limits. And, there are no income limits for contributing.
Lock in current tuition rates
With a 529 prepaid tuition plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young.
One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board.
Fund more than just college tuition
A 529 savings plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service, and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
In addition, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expands the definition of qualified expenses to generally include elementary and secondary school tuition. However, tax-free distributions used for such tuition are limited to $10,000 per year.
The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers. Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries.
But each time you make a contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And, every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child.
Picking your plan
Both prepaid tuition plans and savings plans offer attractive benefits. We can help you determine which one is a better fit for you or explore other tax-advantaged education-funding options.
In today’s tightening job market, to attract and retain the best employees, small businesses need to offer not only competitive pay, but also appealing fringe benefits. Benefits that are tax-free are especially attractive to employees. Let’s take a quick look at some popular options.
Businesses can provide their employees with various types of insurance on a tax-free basis. Here are some of the most common:
Health insurance. If you maintain a health care plan for employees, coverage under the plan isn’t taxable to them. Employee contributions are excluded from income if pretax coverage is elected under a cafeteria plan. Otherwise, such amounts are included in their wages, but may be deductible on a limited basis as an itemized deduction.
Disability insurance. Your premium payments aren’t included in employees’ income, nor are your contributions to a trust providing disability benefits. Employees’ premium payments (or other contributions to the plan) generally aren’t deductible by them or excludable from their income. However, they can make pretax contributions to a cafeteria plan for disability benefits, which are excludable from their income.
Long-term care insurance. Your premium payments aren’t taxable to employees. However, long-term care insurance can’t be provided through a cafeteria plan.
Life insurance. Your employees generally can exclude from gross income premiums you pay on up to $50,000 of qualified group term life insurance coverage. Premiums you pay for qualified coverage exceeding $50,000 are taxable to the extent they exceed the employee’s coverage contributions.
Other types of tax-advantaged benefits
Insurance isn’t the only type of tax-free benefit you can provide ¬― but the tax treatment of certain benefits has changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:
Dependent care assistance. You can provide employees with tax-free dependent care assistance up to $5,000 for 2018 though a dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), also known as a Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP).
Adoption assistance. For employees who’re adopting children, you can offer an employee adoption assistance program. Employees can exclude from their taxable income up to $13,810 of adoption benefits in 2018.
Educational assistance. You can help employees on a tax-free basis through educational assistance plans (up to $5,250 per year), job-related educational assistance and qualified scholarships.
Moving expense reimbursement. Before the TCJA, if you reimbursed employees for qualifying job-related moving expenses, the reimbursement could be excluded from the employee’s income. The TCJA suspends this break for 2018 through 2025. However, such reimbursements may still be deductible by your business.
Transportation benefits. Qualified employee transportation fringe benefits, such as parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling, are tax-free to recipient employees. However, the TCJA suspends through 2025 the business deduction for providing such benefits. It also suspends the tax-free benefit of up to $20 a month for bicycle commuting.
Varying tax treatment
As you can see, the tax treatment of fringe benefits varies. Contact us for more information.
To prevent theft by employees or contractors, businesses need to know what items are most likely to be stolen. According to statistics, the number one object of employee theft is cash. The next most prevalent category of employee theft is expensive workplace items that a person can use outside the workplace. And, of course, the most costly and useful items in most offices are laptop and desktop computers and other technological devices. Cash boxes and technology assets can also be targeted for theft by workplace contractors of various sorts. This is why it is important for businesses to put in place a plan to safeguard their valuables.
How can your company protect its technology assets from theft? First, consider adding security plates and indelible markings. These additions can help you track stolen equipment, inhibit resale, and discourage thieves from ever trying to steal.
Security software also can track a stolen computer online. As soon as a thief connects to the Internet using a stolen computer, its software contacts the security firm’s monitoring system, which traces the machine’s current IP address. To locate a physical address, firms use GPS and Wi-Fi tracking. However, there can be legal obstacles to obtaining the actual address of a thief.
Most computers and mobile devices can also be tracked by sites and apps such as Google, Facebook, and Dropbox, which capture the IP addresses of users when they log into their accounts. Apple products can be tracked using iCloud.
Fasten it down
To keep laptop and desktop computers where they belong, you can lock them down with cables and attach motion sensor alarms. If you store numerous laptops on your premises, consider locking them in heavy-duty cabinets or carts when not in use.
To deter desktop computer theft, consider a locked steel case bolted to the desktop. If you prefer not to drill holes in furniture, you can attach super-strength adhesive security pads to desks or other furniture to prevent thieves from lifting the equipment off the surface.
Keep it safe
It’s worth the effort to add extra security and keep your company’s assets where they belong. And, make sure that your business insurance provides adequate coverage for computer losses. Contact us for more information.
If you’re age 70½ or older, you can make direct contributions — up to $100,000 annually — from your IRA to qualified charitable organizations without owing any income tax on the distributions. This break may be especially beneficial now because of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes that affect who can benefit from the itemized deduction for charitable donations.
Counts toward your RMD
A charitable IRA rollover can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions (RMDs). You must begin to take annual RMDs from your traditional IRAs in the year you reach age 70½. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. (Deferral is allowed for the initial year, but you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year.)
So if you don’t need the RMD for your living expenses, a charitable IRA rollover can be a great way to comply with the RMD requirement without triggering the tax liability that would occur if the RMD were paid to you.
Doesn’t require itemizing
You might be able to achieve a similar tax result from taking the RMD and then contributing that amount to charity. But it’s more complex because you must report the RMD as income and then take an itemized deduction for the donation.
And, with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction, fewer taxpayers will benefit from itemizing. Itemizing saves tax only when itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.
Doesn’t have other deduction downsides
Even if you have enough other itemized deductions to exceed your standard deduction, taking your RMD and contributing that amount to charity has two more possible downsides.
First, the reported RMD income might increase your income to the point that you’re pushed into a higher tax bracket, certain additional taxes are triggered and/or the benefits of certain tax breaks are reduced or eliminated. It could even cause Social Security payments to become taxable or increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges.
Second, if your donation would equal a large portion of your income for the year, your deduction might be reduced due to the percentage-of-income limit. You generally can’t deduct cash donations that exceed 60% of your adjusted gross income for the year. (The TCJA raised this limit from 50%, but if the cash donation is to a private nonoperating foundation, the limit is only 30%.) You can carry forward the excess up to five years, but if you make large donations every year, that won’t help you.
A charitable IRA rollover avoids these potential negative tax consequences.
The considerations involved in deciding whether to make a direct IRA rollover have changed in light of the TCJA. So contact us to go over your particular situation and determine what’s right for you.
Businesses that acquire, construct, or substantially improve a building — or did so in previous years — should consider a cost segregation study. It may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions, thus reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And, the potential benefits are now even greater due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related breaks under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
Real property vs. tangible personal property
IRS rules generally allow you to depreciate commercial buildings over 39 years (27½ years for residential properties). Most times, you’ll depreciate a building’s structural components — such as walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring — along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And, land improvements — fences, outdoor lighting, and parking lots, for example — are depreciable over 15 years.
Too often, businesses allocate all or most of a building’s acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for instance — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But often the line between the two is less clear. Items that appear to be part of a building may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs, and decorative lighting.
In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.
A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.
Depreciation break enhancements
Last year’s TCJA enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the TCJA permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing. Sec. 179 allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.
The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold-improvement, retail-improvement, and restaurant property. And, it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).
Assess the potential savings
Cost segregation studies may yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. To find out whether a study would be worthwhile for yours, contact us for help assessing the potential tax savings.
Because most physicians often have little or no background in business management or accounting, medical practices can be targets for occupational fraud. But at a time when reimbursement rates are being squeezed, the last thing a medical practice needs is employee theft. Here are the risks and how to prevent fraud schemes from starting.
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, embezzlement is the most common form of occupational fraud in medical practices. For example, an employee might steal receipts or cash on hand, alter or forge checks, submit fictitious invoices, pay personal expenses with practice funds, or cheat on their expense reimbursement requests.
Unfortunately, the complexity of medical practice paperwork discourages many physicians from involvement in the administrative side of their practice. This can result in unsupervised office staff and accounting processes that receive little oversight.
Prevention is the best medicine
To prevent fraud from getting its foot in the door, implement sound internal controls. These include:
Assessing risk. Examine your practice’s policies, procedures, and processes for any faults in your system for protecting integrity and ethics. Conduct a risk assessment every two years or whenever there’s a major system or personnel change.
Separating staff duties. Avoid having one employee in charge of both approving vendors and purchasing. Although it may be difficult to spread duties among multiple employees in smaller practices, this control is critical to preventing fraud. It is also advised that nonphysician employees not be permitted to sign checks.
Monitoring employee behavior. Look for signs that an employee is involved with or considering fraud. For example, employees who never go on vacation or take a day off may not want you to have access to their work files.
Screening employees. Get criminal background checks for all new hires. It’s also a good idea to conduct credit checks on new hires and current staff. However, be aware that you generally need the person’s permission to run a credit check, and in some states credit checks are allowed only for positions with certain financial responsibilities.
Conducting surprise audits. Employees should know that unannounced audits are possible, but they shouldn’t know what they’ll cover. They could be top-to-bottom audits or cover only specific areas. Also, periodically reconcile overlapping financial records. Someone other than the person who prepares the records should conduct the reconciliation.
Keep your practice healthy
These are only some of the ways to maintain the health of your medical practice. We can help you develop a comprehensive system of internal controls and train your employees on what constitutes fraudulent and illegal actions.
For investors, fall is a good time to review year-to-date gains and losses. Not only can it help you assess your financial health, but it also can help you determine whether to buy or sell investments before year end to save taxes. This year, you also need to keep in mind the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). While the TCJA didn’t change long-term capital gains rates, it did change the tax brackets for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.
For 2018 through 2025, these brackets are no longer linked to the ordinary-income tax brackets for individuals. So, for example, you could be subject to the top long-term capital gains rate even if you aren’t subject to the top ordinary-income tax rate.
For the last several years, individual taxpayers faced three federal income tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends: 0%, 15% and 20%. The rate brackets were tied to the ordinary-income rate brackets.
Specifically, if the long-term capital gains and/or dividends fell within the 10% or 15% ordinary-income brackets, no federal income tax was owed. If they fell within the 25%, 28%, 33% or 35% ordinary-income brackets, they were taxed at 15%. And, if they fell within the maximum 39.6% ordinary-income bracket, they were taxed at the maximum 20% rate.
In addition, higher-income individuals with long-term capital gains and dividends were also hit with the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). It kicked in when modified adjusted gross income exceeded $200,000 for singles and heads of households and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. So, many people actually paid 18.8% (15% + 3.8%) or 23.8% (20% + 3.8%) on their long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.
The TCJA retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends for individual taxpayers. However, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets. Here are the 2018 brackets:
Heads of households:
Married couples filing jointly:
For 2018, the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains and nonqualified dividends, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. (Both the long-term capital gains brackets and the ordinary-income brackets will be indexed for inflation for 2019 through 2025.) The new tax law also retains the 3.8% NIIT and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.
More thresholds, more complexity
With more tax rate thresholds to keep in mind, year-end tax planning for investments is especially complicated in 2018. If you have questions, please contact us.
Tax identity theft may seem like a problem only for individual taxpayers. But, according to the IRS, increasingly businesses are also becoming victims. And identity thieves have become more sophisticated, knowing filing practices, the tax code, and the best ways to get valuable data.
How it works
In tax identity theft, a taxpayer’s identifying information (such as Social Security number) is used to fraudulently obtain a refund or commit other crimes. Business tax identity theft occurs when a criminal uses the identifying information of a business to obtain tax benefits or to enable individual tax identity theft schemes.
For example, a thief could use an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to file a fraudulent business tax return and claim a refund. Or a person may report income and withholding for fake employees on false W-2 forms. Then, he or she can file fraudulent individual tax returns for these “employees” to claim refunds.
The consequences can include significant dollar amounts, lost time sorting out the mess, and damage to a business's reputation.
There are some red flags that indicate possible tax identity theft. For example, your business’s identity may have been compromised if:
Keep in mind, though, that some of these circumstances could be the result of a simple error, such as an inadvertent transposition of numbers. Nevertheless, you should contact the IRS immediately if you receive any notices or letters from the agency that you believe might indicate that someone has fraudulently used your Employer Identification Number.
Businesses should take steps such as the following to protect their own information as well as that of their employees:
Of course identity theft can go beyond tax identity theft, so be sure to have a comprehensive plan in place to protect the data of your business, your employees, and your customers. If you’re concerned your business has become a victim, or you have questions about prevention, please contact us.
If your company is tired of being a fraud target, it’s time to train employees how to recognize and uncover unscrupulous activities — before irreparable damage is done. Here’s how.
Enlist an expert
A forensic accountant can conduct on-site, broad-based training for employees in the form of live presentations. This expert might use role-playing to help staff understand the various forms fraud can take, and how perpetrators think and identify their victims’ vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Specific antifraud education can be provided based on employees’ departments and positions.
For example, warehouse workers might be trained to spot shipping and receiving scams. Managers might learn how to verify expense reimbursement requests and documentation.
Some of the topics that might be covered in an employee fraud presentation include:
Payroll theft. This comes in many forms, including paying phantom employees; manipulating time records; making and accepting unapproved pay rate adjustments; creating and accepting extra bonus or payroll checks; and committing W-2 or withholding fraud. To beat thieves, managers and employees working with payroll need to observe internal financial controls, such as keeping a close eye on payroll-related records.
Cyberfraud. Almost nothing employees do poses a greater fraud risk than using computers and mobile devices. Phishing, social engineering, and other techniques are designed to trick them into revealing company, customer, and other confidential data or providing access to your network. They need to learn how to keep information safe by handling email carefully, changing passwords often, and updating security software when required.
Loan scams. Thieves call businesses offering loans at low interest rates, often asking for an upfront “processing” or “application” fee. Legitimate lenders, however, don’t require payment in advance of approving loans. Fraud experts educate employees to check lenders’ validity and get loan terms in writing — including the payment schedule and interest rate — before signing documents.
Fraudulent charitable solicitations. If businesses aren’t careful, charitable donations they think they’re making to the police or fire department or other worthy causes may end up in someone else’s pocket. Employees can be taught to check with charity watchdog organizations and the IRS to ensure an organization is valid and tax-exempt.
Your business can avoid a lot of headaches and protect your bottom lines by calling a forensic accounting expert to provide antifraud training. Contact us to discuss your specific employee training needs.
If you’re charitably inclined and you collect art, appreciated artwork can make one of the best charitable gifts from a tax perspective. In general, donating appreciated property is doubly beneficial because you can both enjoy a valuable tax deduction and avoid the capital gains taxes you’d owe if you sold the property. The extra benefit from donating artwork comes from the fact that the top long-term capital gains rate for art and other “collectibles” is 28%, as opposed to 20% for most other appreciated property.
The first thing to keep in mind if you’re considering a donation of artwork is that you must itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions. Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has nearly doubled the standard deduction and put tighter limits on many itemized deductions (but not the charitable deduction), many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing.
For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Your total itemized deductions must exceed the applicable standard deduction for you to enjoy a tax benefit from donating artwork.
Something else to be aware of is that most artwork donations require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser.” IRS rules contain detailed requirements about the qualifications an appraiser must possess and the contents of an appraisal.
IRS auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $20,000 or more to the IRS Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation.
Finally, note that, if you own both the work of art and the copyright to the work, you must assign the copyright to the charity to qualify for a charitable deduction.
Maximizing your deduction
The charity you choose and how the charity will use the artwork can have a significant impact on your tax deduction. Donations of artwork to a public charity, such as a museum or university with public charity status, can entitle you to deduct the artwork’s full fair market value. If you donate art to a private foundation, however, your deduction will be limited to your cost.
For your donation to a public charity to qualify for a full fair-market-value deduction, the charity’s use of the donated artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. If, for example, you donate a painting to a museum for display or to a university’s art history department for use in its research, you’ll satisfy the related-use rule. But if you donate it to, say, a children’s hospital to auction off at its annual fundraising gala, you won’t satisfy the rule.
Donating artwork is a great way to share enjoyment of the work with others. But to reap the maximum tax benefit, too, you must plan your gift carefully and follow all of the applicable rules. Contact us to learn more.
Does your business reimburse employees’ work-related travel expenses? If you do, you know that it can help you attract and retain employees. If you don’t, you might want to start, because changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) make such reimbursements even more attractive to employees. Travel reimbursements also come with tax benefits, but only if you follow a method that passes muster with the IRS.
The TCJA’s impact
Before the TCJA, unreimbursed work-related travel expenses generally were deductible on an employee’s individual tax return (subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. However, many employees weren’t able to benefit from the deduction because either they didn’t itemize deductions or they didn’t have enough miscellaneous itemized expenses to exceed the 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor that applied.
For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of AGI floor. That means even employees who itemize deductions and have enough expenses that they would exceed the floor won’t be able to enjoy a tax deduction for business travel. Therefore, business travel expense reimbursements are now more important to employees.
The potential tax benefits
Your business can deduct qualifying reimbursements, and they’re excluded from the employee’s taxable income. The deduction is subject to a 50% limit for meals. But, under the TCJA, entertainment expenses are no longer deductible.
To be deductible and excludable, travel expenses must be legitimate business expenses and the reimbursements must comply with IRS rules. You can use either an accountable plan or the per diem method to ensure compliance.
Reimbursing actual expenses
An accountable plan is a formal arrangement to advance, reimburse, or provide allowances for business expenses. To qualify as “accountable,” your plan must meet the following criteria:
The IRS will treat plans that fail to meet these conditions as nonaccountable, transforming all reimbursements into wages taxable to the employee, subject to income taxes (employee) and employment taxes (employer and employee).
Keeping it simple
With the per diem method, instead of tracking actual expenses, you use IRS tables to determine reimbursements for lodging, meals and incidental expenses, or just for meals and incidental expenses, based on location. (If you don’t go with the per diem method for lodging, you’ll need receipts to substantiate those expenses.)
Be sure you don’t pay employees more than the appropriate per diem amount. The IRS imposes heavy penalties on businesses that routinely overpay per diems.
What’s right for your business?
To learn more about business travel expense deductions and reimbursements post-TCJA, contact us. We can help you determine whether you should reimburse such expenses and which reimbursement option is better for you.
Your company may have strong fraud prevention controls in place. But they do little good if a senior manager overrides those controls. In the worst cases, managers may alter records, manipulate financial results, intentionally misstate the timing of transactions, or use any of dozens of other tactics to hide financial problems.
Something isn’t right
Management override of financial controls can be difficult to detect. However, it’s a warning signal when a manager:
• Disputes auditor findings on accounting or reporting matters,
• Fails to identify business risks in a timely manner,
• Fails to correct known problems,
• Is unwilling to discuss issues that could require financial adjustments,
• Is lax in enforcing antifraud controls, or
• Produces overly optimistic reports of current or future performance.
Such behavior doesn’t prove that fraud is occurring. However, it suggests that you need to improve or open new paths of communication and remain vigilant. And if you do suspect fraud, you must be willing to investigate — regardless of whom it might implicate.
A healthy culture
To prevent management overrides, build a culture that encourages honesty and supports employees who speak up when they suspect something’s wrong. Think about whether your senior managers experience pressure that unwittingly encourages fraud. For example, if your industry has seen increased business failures, these employees may think they need to keep profits at specified levels. They might also feel stressed if their compensation depends on achieving stretch goals for cash flow or operating results.
Employees a level or two below senior managers are most likely to observe management overrides. Give them access to a confidential hotline and they’re more likely to report fraud before it seriously harms your business. And if you extend your hotline to vendors and customers, you’ll increase your chances for learning of improprieties early.
The risk of management override of internal controls to distort financial performance is real for any organization. Market shifts, aggressive performance targets, industry uncertainties, personal financial stress and other factors may lead to a senior manager’s fraudulent activity. We can help you identify flaws in your current fraud-prevention program and design controls that are more difficult to override.
The typical business or other organization loses 5% of its revenues to fraud each year, with a median loss of $130,000. And, about one-fifth of fraud cases involve losses of $1 million or more. That’s according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ (ACFE’s) Report to the Nations: 2018 Global Study on Occupational Fraud and Abuse. Updated every other year, this report provides valuable guidance to help prevent and detect fraud.
The report recognizes three basic categories of occupational fraud:
1. Asset misappropriation. This form of fraud occurred in 89% of cases studied in the ACFE report, although it resulted in the lowest median loss ($114,000).
2. Financial statement fraud. Misstatement occurred in only 10% of cases but caused the greatest damage — a whopping median loss of $800,000.
3. Corruption. This category includes bribery and conflicts of interest. It occurred in 38% of cases and produced a median loss of $250,000.
Fraud risks vary depending on an organization’s size. Corruption is more common in larger organizations. Conversely, asset misappropriation schemes involving check tampering, skimming, payroll, and cash larceny are far more common in smaller organizations.
In the 2018 ACFE study, 40% of the frauds were detected from tips by employees, customers, vendors, and other outside parties. Other detection methods include:
• Internal audit (15% of the cases), • Management review (13%), and • Discovered by accident (7%).
Confidential hotlines are a particularly effective way to solicit fraud tips. Fraud losses are 50% lower for organizations with hotlines than for those without. Although telephone hotlines are the most common fraud reporting mechanism (42% of cases), email (26%) and Web-based forms (23%) are widely used, too.
Active detection methods — such as monitoring, IT controls, account reconciliation and internal audits — are also associated with lower median losses and fraud durations. Passive detection methods — such as notification by police or accidental discovery — generally are associated with higher losses and durations.
Antifraud controls, including external audits of financial statements, codes of conduct, internal audits, management certification of financial statements, and management reviews, also play an important role. Regardless of their effectiveness in detecting fraud, they’re highly effective in deterring fraud. For help implementing strong internal controls, contact us. We can also help if you suspect a fraud scheme is underway.
Do you own a vacation home? If you both rent it out and use it personally, you might save tax by taking steps to ensure it qualifies as a rental property this year. Vacation home expenses that qualify as rental property expenses aren’t subject to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s (TCJA’s) new limit on the itemized deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) or the lower debt limit for the itemized mortgage interest deduction.
Rental or personal property?
If you rent out your vacation home for 15 days or more, what expenses you can deduct depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on the amount of personal vs. rental use:
Rental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for 14 days or less, or under 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a rental property. You can deduct rental expenses, including losses, subject to the real estate activity rules.
Your deduction for property tax attributable to the rental use of the home isn’t subject to the TCJA’s new SALT deduction limit. And your deduction for mortgage interest on the home isn’t subject to the debt limit that applies to the itemized deduction for mortgage interest. You can’t deduct any interest that’s attributable to your personal use of the home, but you can take the personal portion of property tax as an itemized deduction (subject to the new SALT limit).
Nonrental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for more than 14 days or 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a personal residence. You can deduct rental expenses only to the extent of your rental income. Any excess can be carried forward to offset rental income in future years.
If you itemize deductions, you also can deduct the personal portion of both property tax and mortgage interest, subject to the TCJA’s new limits on those deductions. The SALT deduction limit is $10,000 for the combined total of state and local property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes ($5,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). For mortgage interest debt incurred after December 15, 2017, the debt limit (with some limited exceptions) has been reduced to $750,000.
Be aware that many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing because of the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction. Itemizing saves tax only if total itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction for the taxpayer’s filing status.
Keep in mind that, if you rent out your vacation home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income. But expenses associated with the rental (such as advertising and cleaning) won’t be deductible.
Now is a good time to review your vacation home use year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. By increasing the number of days you rent it out and/or reducing the number of days you use it personally between now and year end, you might be able to ensure it’s classified as a rental property and save some tax. But there also could be circumstances where personal property treatment would be beneficial. Please contact us to discuss your particular situation.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2018. 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 you suspect an employee of fraud, you’ll want to enlist the help of financial and legal advisors to handle the bulk of the investigation. Ahead of their arrival, however, you may need to perform interviews to help resolve any doubts and obtain information before memories fade.
Prepare for the pros
In advance of requesting any meetings, decide what information you’re looking for. Knowing what you want helps you get to the truth of the matter quickly and avoid getting sidetracked by extraneous information. Then identify who’s best able to supply that information.
Say, for example, you suspect an accounts receivable employee of siphoning money. You may want to talk to that person’s supervisor and a member of your IT department to get information on work habits, unusual behavior, or signs of file tampering. Remember, though, that people may be reluctant to share information if they feel it reflects poorly on them or if it might land someone else in hot water.
Just the facts, please
When you sit down for an interview, set the tone with some introductory questions and ask the interviewee to agree to cooperate. In most cases, you’ll be looking for information that helps prove or disprove your suspicions, and the interview will be fact-finding in nature. It should last long enough for you to obtain all the information the subject has to offer. But don’t prolong sessions unnecessarily.
Aim for an informal, relaxed conversation, and be sure to remain professional, calm, and nonthreatening. Don’t interrupt unnecessarily, suggest that you have preconceived ideas about who did what, or assert your authority unnecessarily. If you suspect someone is withholding information, try asking more detailed questions. And, if someone says something you believe is untrue, ask for clarification. You might suggest that your question was misunderstood or that the employee didn’t give it enough thought before answering.
Finally, never make threats or promises to encourage an employee to change a statement or confess. If the case ends up in court, such tactics could make the evidence you collect inadmissible. If someone persists in lying, ask them to put their statement in writing and sign it. Then turn the statement — and your suspicions — over to experienced fraud investigators.
Interview, don’t interrogate
Finding evidence of fraud is bad enough. Turning interviews into interrogations will only make matters worse and could hinder your ability to pursue and punish fraud offenders. Contact us if you need help conducting fraud interviews.
To avoid interest and penalties, individual taxpayers must make sufficient federal income tax payments long before your April filing deadline through withholding, estimated tax payments, or a combination of the two. The third 2018 estimated tax payment deadline for individuals is September 17.
If you don’t have an employer withholding tax from your pay, you likely need to make estimated tax payments. But even if you do have withholding, you might need to pay estimated tax. It can be necessary if you have more than a nominal amount of income from sources such as self-employment, interest, dividends, alimony, rent, prizes, awards, or the sales of assets.
A two-prong test
Generally, you must pay estimated tax for 2018 if both of these statements apply:
1. You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting tax withholding and credits, and
2. You expect withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of 90% of your tax for 2018 or 100% of the tax on your 2017 return — 110% if your 2017 adjusted gross income was more than $150,000 ($75,000 for married couples filing separately).
If you’re a sole proprietor, partner, or S corporation shareholder, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe $1,000 or more in tax when you file your return.
Estimated tax payments are spaced through the year into four periods or due dates. Generally, the due dates are April 15, June 15, and September 15 of the tax year and January 15 of the next year, unless the date falls on a weekend or holiday (hence the September 17 deadline this year).
Estimated tax is calculated by factoring in expected gross income, taxable income, deductions, and credits for the year. The easiest way to pay estimated tax is electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. You can also pay estimated tax by check or money order using the Estimated Tax Payment Voucher or by credit or debit card.
If you determine you don’t need to make estimated tax payments for 2018, it’s a good idea to confirm that the appropriate amount is being withheld from your paycheck. To reflect changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the IRS updated the tables that indicate how much employers should withhold from their employees’ pay, generally reducing the amount withheld.
The new tables might cause some taxpayers to not have enough withheld to pay their ultimate tax liabilities under the TCJA. The IRS has updated its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to assist taxpayers in reviewing their situations.
Keep in mind that, if you underpaid estimated taxes in earlier quarters, you generally can’t avoid penalties by making larger estimated payments in later quarters. But if you also have withholding, you may be able to avoid penalties by having the estimated tax shortfall withheld.
To learn more about estimated tax and withholding — and for help determining how much tax you should be paying during the year — 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.
A business owner first became suspicious when one of her managers bought an expensive boat that seemed beyond his pay grade. A closer look at the employee and his department revealed sloppy record keeping and financial discrepancies. Was he stealing from the company?
Forensic accountants can help answer such questions. One of the most effective techniques for finding hidden income sources or assets is lifestyle analysis. It involves developing a financial profile of the subject and then looking closely at any mismatches between known resources and lifestyle.
Developing a financial profile can be challenging because many people with unreported income receive it in cash. Forensic accountants use the following methods to uncover it:
Bank deposit. The expert reconstructs the subject’s income by analyzing bank deposits, canceled checks and currency transactions, as well as accounts for cash payments from undeposited receipts and nonincome cash sources (such as gifts and insurance proceeds).
Expenditure. Here, the expert analyzes the subject’s personal income sources and uses of cash during a given time period. If the person is spending more than he or she is taking in, the excess likely is unreported income.
Asset. This method assumes that unsubstantiated increases in a subject’s net worth reflect unreported income. To estimate net worth, an expert reviews bank and brokerage statements, real estate records, and loan and credit card applications.
Proving that a person has unreported income is one thing. Tracing that income to assets or accounts that can be used to support a legal claim or enforce a judgment is another story. To do this, forensic accountants may scrutinize the assets noted above, as well as:
• Insurance policies,
• Court filings,
• Employment applications,
• Credit reports, and
• Tax returns.
Tax returns can be particularly useful because people have strong incentives to prepare accurate returns. For example, they may fear being charged with tax evasion if they lie to the IRS. As a result, tax return entries often reveal clues about assets or income that someone is otherwise attempting to conceal. Another potentially fruitful strategy is to interview people with knowledge about the subject’s finances, such as accountants, real estate agents, and business partners.
Improve the odds
When someone is actively attempting to conceal income and assets, you need the expertise of a forensic accountant. Contact us to improve the odds of a satisfactory litigation result.
When teachers are setting up their classrooms for the new school year, it’s common for them to pay for a portion of their classroom supplies out of pocket. A special tax break allows these educators to deduct some of their expenses. This educator expense deduction is especially important now due to some changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
The old miscellaneous itemized deduction
Before 2018, employee expenses were potentially deductible if they were unreimbursed by the employer and ordinary and necessary to the “business” of being an employee. A teacher’s out-of-pocket classroom expenses could qualify.
But these expenses had to be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and were subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This meant employees, including teachers, could enjoy a tax benefit only if they itemized deductions (rather than taking the standard deduction) and all their deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceeded 2% of their AGI.
Now, for 2018 through 2025, the TCJA has suspended miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of AGI floor. Fortunately, qualifying educators can still deduct some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom costs under the educator expense deduction.
The above-the-line educator expense deduction
Back in 2002, Congress created the above-the-line educator expense deduction because, for many teachers, the 2% of AGI threshold for the miscellaneous itemized deduction was difficult to meet. An above-the-line deduction is one that’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your AGI.
You don’t have to itemize to claim an above-the-line deduction. This is especially significant with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction, which means fewer taxpayers will benefit from itemizing.
Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct up to $250 of qualified expenses. If you’re married filing jointly and both you and your spouse are educators, you can deduct up to $500 of unreimbursed expenses — but not more than $250 each.
Qualified expenses include amounts paid or incurred during the tax year for books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health and physical education, the costs of supplies are qualified expenses only if related to athletics.
Many rules, many changes
Some additional rules apply to the educator expense deduction. Contact us for more details or to discuss other tax deductions that may be available to you this year. The TCJA has made significant changes to many deductions for individuals.
Hackers target all types of businesses. But manufacturers that rely on automation, robotics, and connected networks are especially vulnerable to cyberattacks. Here’s what you can do to protect your manufacturing business.
Know your risks
It’s only natural that manufacturers fear data breaches — and unfortunately hackers often can use that fear to cripple organizations through ransomware. This type of malware is installed on a computer or network without the user’s consent. Hackers demand that the company pay a ransom to regain control.
Cyberattacks can harm a manufacturer or distributor by causing safety issues, negative publicity, lost productivity, and compromised personal and corporate data. The average cost of a data breach in the United States is approximately $3.6 million, according to the independent research group Ponemon Institute.
Safeguard your operations
Employees are a manufacturer’s first line of defense against hackers, but they can also be a liability if they’re not vigilant and knowledgeable about cyberthreats. Negligent employees are the No. 1 cause of data breaches in small and midsize businesses, according to Ponemon. So, it’s critical to provide training about the latest scams and encourage employees to report suspicious emails immediately to your IT department.
Many hackers look for easy targets, so even the simplest security measure will deter some cyberbreaches. For example, you can use inexpensive, over-the-counter encryption software and phishing filters to make it harder for hackers to get inside your network.
To minimize losses if a breach occurs, consider purchasing cyberinsurance products to cover direct losses from breaches and the costs of responding to them. Your traditional business liability policy probably doesn’t include such coverage.
You can also assemble a breach response team before a breach occurs. Once it’s formed, the response team can also identify potential weaknesses in your network and conduct breach response drills. Contact us for more information about protecting your company from cyberattacks and other forms of fraud.
If your small business doesn’t offer its employees a retirement plan, you may want to consider a SIMPLE IRA. Offering a retirement plan can provide your business with valuable tax deductions and help you attract and retain employees. For a variety of reasons, a SIMPLE IRA can be a particularly appealing option for small businesses. The deadline for setting one up for this year is October 1, 2018.
SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” As the name implies, these plans are simple to set up and administer. Unlike 401(k) plans, SIMPLE IRAs don’t require annual filings or discrimination testing.
SIMPLE IRAs are available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Employers must contribute and employees have the option to contribute. The contributions are pretax, and accounts can grow tax-deferred like a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, with distributions taxed when taken in retirement.
As the employer, you can choose from two contribution options:
1. Make a “nonelective” contribution equal to 2% of compensation for all eligible employees. You must make the contribution regardless of whether the employee contributes. This applies to compensation up to the annual limit of $275,000 for 2018 (annually adjusted for inflation).
2. Match employee contributions up to 3% of compensation. Here, you contribute only if the employee contributes. This isn’t subject to the annual compensation limit.
Employees are immediately 100% vested in all SIMPLE IRA contributions.
Employee contribution limits
Any employee who has compensation of at least $5,000 in any prior two years, and is reasonably expected to earn $5,000 in the current year, can elect to have a percentage of compensation put into a SIMPLE IRA.
SIMPLE IRAs offer greater income deferral opportunities than ordinary IRAs, but lower limits than 401(k)s. An employee may contribute up to $12,500 to a SIMPLE IRA in 2018. Employees age 50 or older can also make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000. This compares to $5,500 and $1,000, respectively, for ordinary IRAs, and to $18,500 and $6,000 for 401(k)s. (Some or all of these limits may increase for 2019 under annual cost-of-living adjustments.)
You’ve got options
A SIMPLE IRA might be a good choice for your small business, but it isn’t the only option. The more-complex 401(k) plan we’ve already mentioned is one alternative. Some others are a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and a defined-benefit pension plan. These two plans don’t allow employee contributions and have other pluses and minuses. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement plan alternatives for your business.
One of the most common ways that employees choose to defraud their employers is by cheating on or padding expense reimbursement reports. Fortunately, this type of fraud can be stopped with strict controls and by punishing the perpetrators.
Plenty of ways to cheat
Employees often cheat on their reimbursement reports by inventing expenses. They might, for example, submit to their company the bill for a lavish dinner with friends or expense hotel costs accrued while extending a business trip for leisure. Employees may also exaggerate the amount of legitimate expenses by, say, claiming larger service tips than they actually paid.
Other common reimbursement fraud schemes include submitting:
• Bills for trips that were never taken, such as canceled airline tickets or hotel registration refunds,
• Claims for items employees didn’t purchase, such as office supplies,
• Separate auto mileage bills from employees who actually traveled together,
• Inflated mileage totals, and
• Bills for nonreimbursable expenses, such as alcohol or leisure activity tickets.
Some employees may even submit fraudelent expenses in a highly frequent pattern, stocking up on blank receipts from cab companies and restaurants to submit with false expense reports.
Here are some suggestions for companies on how to prevent fraudulent expense reimbursements submissions:
1. Develop a policy for expense reimbursement that, for example, requires original receipts and documentation for expenses over a certain amount. Require every employee to read and sign the policy.
2. Make supervisors accountable for approving and verifying expenses. They should scrutinize suspicious items and any reports containing multiple expenses that fall just below the amount requiring documentation.
3. Regarding company credit cards, verify on a regular basis that employee charges haven’t been canceled and that balances are being paid in full.
4. Establish a confidential fraud hotline. Employees may know if colleagues are submitting fraudulent expense reports.
Companies need to enforce their expense reimbursement policies to the letter. If, for example, a policy states that everyone must submit original receipts for single expenditures of more than $25, don’t make exceptions for executives.
And, if an employee has been submitting false claims, it is important to take action. This may include termination of employment and criminal charges. Consult with your attorney.
Holding costs down
Individual incidents of expense reimbursement fraud don’t typically involve significant sums. But left unchecked, they can add up, particularly if executives or frequent travelers are the perpetrators. Contact us with any questions.
If you gamble, be sure you understand the tax consequences. Both wins and losses can affect your income tax bill. And changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) could also have an impact.
Wins and taxable income
You must report 100% of your gambling winnings as taxable income. The value of complimentary goodies (“comps”) provided by gambling establishments must also be included in taxable income as winnings.
Winnings are subject to your regular federal income tax rate. You might pay a lower rate on gambling winnings this year because of rate reductions under the TCJA.
Amounts you win may be reported to you on IRS Form W-2G (“Certain Gambling Winnings”). In some cases, federal income tax may be withheld, too. Anytime a Form W-2G is issued, the IRS gets a copy. So if you’ve received such a form, remember that the IRS will expect to see the winnings on your tax return.
Losses and tax deductions
You can write off gambling losses as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. While miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor are not allowed for 2018 through 2025 under the TCJA, the deduction for gambling losses isn’t subject to that floor. So gambling losses are still deductible.
But the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018 (to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of households and $12,000 for singles and separate filers) means that, even if you typically itemized deductions in the past, you may no longer benefit from itemizing. Itemizing saves tax only when total itemized deductions exceed the applicable standard deduction.
Also be aware that the deduction for gambling losses is limited to your winnings for the year, and any excess losses cannot be carried forward to future years. Also, out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, meals, lodging and so forth can’t be deducted unless you qualify as a gambling professional.
And, for 2018 through 2025, the TCJA modifies the limit on gambling losses for professional gamblers so that all deductions for expenses incurred in carrying out gambling activities, not just losses, are limited to the extent of gambling winnings.
Tracking your activities
To claim a deduction for gambling losses, you must adequately document them, including:
1. The date and type of gambling activity.
2. The name and address or location of the gambling establishment.
3. The names of other persons (if any) present with you at the gambling establishment. (Obviously, this is not possible when the gambling occurs at a public venue such as a casino, race track, or bingo parlor.)
4. The amount won or lost.
You can document income and losses from gambling on table games by recording the number of the table you played and keeping statements showing casino credit issued to you. For lotteries, you can use winning statements and unredeemed tickets as documentation.
Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about the tax treatment of gambling wins and losses.
The S corporation business structure offers many advantages, including limited liability for owners and no double taxation (at least at the federal level). But not all businesses are eligible - and, with the new 21% flat income tax rate that now applies to C corporations, S corps may not be quite as attractive as they once were.
The primary reason for electing S status is the combination of 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 distributed to the shareholder. Instead, S corp tax items pass through to the shareholders’ personal returns and the shareholders pay tax at their individual income tax rates.
But now that the C corp rate is only 21% and the top rate on qualified dividends remains at 20%, while the top individual rate is 37%, double taxation might be less of a concern. On the other hand, S corp owners may be able to take advantage of the new qualified business income (QBI) deduction, which can be equal to as much as 20% of QBI.
You have to run the numbers with your tax advisor, factoring in state taxes, too, to determine which structure will be the most tax efficient for you and your business.
S eligibility requirements
If S corp status makes tax sense for your business, you need to make sure you qualify - and stay qualified. To be eligible to elect to be an S corp or to convert to S status, your business must:
In addition, certain businesses are ineligible, such as insurance companies.
Another important consideration when electing S status is shareholder compensation. The IRS is on the lookout for S corps that pay shareholder-employees an unreasonably low salary to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes and then make distributions that aren’t subject to payroll taxes.
Compensation paid to a shareholder should be reasonable considering what a nonowner would be paid for a comparable position. If a shareholder’s compensation doesn’t reflect the fair market value of the services he or she provides, the IRS may reclassify a portion of distributions as unpaid wages. The company will then owe payroll taxes, interest, and penalties on the reclassified wages.
Pros and cons
S corp status isn’t the best option for every business. To ensure that you’ve considered all the pros and cons, contact us. Assessing the tax differences can be tricky — especially with the tax law changes going into effect this year.
Whether your company wants to sell a vehicle, buy office furniture, or liquidate obsolete inventory, there’s likely an online peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace available to help you do it. Yet unlike banks and other financial services organizations, P2P providers sometimes lack the technology, processes, and experience to fully vet buyers and sellers. This creates an opportunity for criminals looking to launder money.
Distancing money from crime
Here’s one way a scheme might work: A money launderer — masquerading as a legitimate buyer — agrees to purchase, say, office furniture your company advertises for sale on a P2P site. Instead of taking possession of the furniture, the money launderer sends the amount due to a colluding employee in the company and instructs the employee to keep a small percentage for facilitating the sham transaction. The employee then sends most of the sales proceeds back to the launderer via check, ACH or wire.
Each fake transaction recorded on the P2P platform further weakens the connection between the money and the crime that produces it.
To avoid becoming party to a P2P money laundering scheme, choose your online marketplace carefully. Start by searching online for news and reviews by buyers and sellers. Although you’re likely to encounter a few negative items for every site, stay away from marketplaces with pervasive problems or fraud claims. Also research how the P2P provider screens and verifies buyer and seller identities. If verification doesn’t appear to be a priority, that’s a red flag.
Because P2P money laundering schemes usually require accomplices on the “inside,” you should monitor the email of employees who work with P2P accounts. Let employees know whom they should notify if they receive a solicitation from a money launderer or if a P2P transaction raises concerns.
P2P money laundering is only one of many new and evolving fraud schemes targeting businesses online. Use P2P providers with caution. Contact us for help shielding your company from such risks.
When most people think of organized crime, they imagine unsavory activities conducted in a murky underworld — one that doesn’t affect them. But organized crime is involved in other activities, such as labor racketeering, that lead to diminished competition, reduced wages and higher costs, all of which can affect legitimate businesses.
Ripples reach far
Much of organized crime’s labor racketeering efforts have been concentrated in unions. But there is a ripple effect that touches politics, financial markets, major industries, and, in some cases, individual businesses.
Shady benefits service providers are particularly alarming, because they can cause substantial financial losses by affecting multiple plans. Plus, they’re sophisticated enough to conceal their activities through complex financial machinations. Recently, five individuals were sentenced for their roles in a wide-ranging $70 million Ponzi scheme. Approximately $1.9 million of that amount was stolen from an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)–covered employee pension plan.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult for employers to tell when their providers aren’t on the up-and-up. If something doesn’t ring true, however, talk to a trusted financial advisor to learn more about how things are supposed to work. A plan administrator who’s evasive or can’t easily answer questions about the plan, for example, or an account that doesn’t appear to be performing to your expectations merits closer attention. Even if such concerns are unrelated to organized crime, they should be addressed and, if necessary, corrected.
Fight goes on
Catching racketeers can be difficult. Organized crime takes pains to remain invisible while it affects legitimate businesses. Businesses, in turn, may not be aware that organized crime is part of the reason the cost of their benefits is rising.
Federal authorities are well aware of the influence organized crime wields. In recent years, as FBI resources have increasingly been diverted to antiterrorism efforts, the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has taken a more prominent role in combating organized crime. To report suspicious activities, visit the OIG’s site at oig.dol.gov. For questions about fraud or help evaluating employee benefit plans, contact us.
The pieces of tax legislation garnering the most attention these days are the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) signed into law last December and the possible “Tax Reform 2.0” that Congress might pass this fall. But for certain individual taxpayers, what happens with “extenders” legislation is also important.
Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The TCJA didn’t address these breaks, but they were retroactively extended through December 31, 2017, by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA), which was signed into law on February 9, 2018.
Now the question is whether Congress will extend them for 2018 and, if so, when. In July, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) released a broad outline of what Tax Reform 2.0 legislation may contain. And, he indicated that it probably wouldn’t include the so-called “extenders” but that they would likely be addressed by separate legislation.
Mortgage insurance and loan forgiveness
Under the BBA, through 2017, you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. This was an itemized deduction that phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.
The BBA likewise extended through 2017 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also allowed the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2018 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2017. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2018 income tax return.
Tuition and related expenses
Also available through 2017 under the BBA was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. It was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).
You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit, and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.
Still time . . .
There’s still plenty of time for Congress to extend these breaks for 2018. And, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2017 income tax return yet, there’s even still time to take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended 2017 returns is October 15, 2018. Contact us with questions about these breaks and whether you can benefit.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) liberalized the eligibility rules for using the cash method of accounting, making this method — which is simpler than the accrual method — available to more businesses. Now the IRS has provided procedures a small business taxpayer can use to obtain automatic consent to change its method of accounting under the TCJA. If you have the option to use either accounting method, it pays to consider whether switching methods would be beneficial.
Cash vs. accrual
Generally, cash-basis businesses recognize income when it’s received and deduct expenses when they’re paid. Accrual-basis businesses, on the other hand, recognize income when it’s earned and deduct expenses when they’re incurred, without regard to the timing of cash receipts or payments.
In most cases, a business is permitted to use the cash method of accounting for tax purposes unless it’s:
1. Expressly prohibited from using the cash method, or
2. Expressly required to use the accrual method.
Cash method advantages
The cash method offers several advantages, including:
Simplicity. It’s easier and cheaper to implement and maintain.
Tax-planning flexibility. It offers greater flexibility to control the timing of income and deductible expenses. For example, it allows you to defer income to next year by delaying invoices or to shift deductions into this year by accelerating the payment of expenses. An accrual-basis business doesn’t enjoy this flexibility. For example, to defer income, delaying invoices wouldn’t be enough; the business would have to put off shipping products or performing services.
Cash flow benefits. Because income is taxed in the year it’s received, the cash method does a better job of ensuring that a business has the funds it needs to pay its tax bill.
Accrual method advantages
In some cases, the accrual method may offer tax advantages. For example, accrual-basis businesses may be able to use certain tax-planning strategies that aren’t available to cash-basis businesses, such as deducting year-end bonuses that are paid within the first 2½ months of the following year and deferring income on certain advance payments.
The accrual method also does a better job of matching income and expenses, so it provides a more accurate picture of a business’s financial performance. That’s why it’s required under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).
If your business prepares GAAP-compliant financial statements, you can still use the cash method for tax purposes. But weigh the cost of maintaining two sets of books against the potential tax benefits.
Making a change
Keep in mind that cash and accrual are the two primary tax accounting methods, but they’re not the only ones. Some businesses may qualify for a different method, such as a hybrid of the cash and accrual methods.
If your business is eligible for more than one method, we can help you determine whether switching methods would make sense and can execute the change for you if appropriate.
One of the ways perpetrators get away with fraud is by tailoring their approach to exploit a company’s specific weaknesses. But machine learning — a form of artificial intelligence where technology adapts to more effectively detect fraud schemes — can help combat the “ingenuity” of even the cleverest thieves.
Rise of digitization
More and more, businesses rely on digitization to deliver the goods and services their customers want. Unfortunately, digitization also makes it easier both for cybercriminals and stakeholders, such as employees, vendors, and customers, to steal. Preventing fraud in the digital age requires new approaches.
Machine learning is one such approach. Traditional rules-based fraud detection software flags transactions — such as purchase orders of a certain type or over a certain amount — that are suspicious according to static rules. Fraud detection software that includes machine learning, on the other hand, uses large sets of historical data to “learn,” or create algorithms, about the patterns associated with new fraud schemes, enabling it to detect fraud in the future.
Experience improves accuracy
The machine learning process typically follows several steps:
• The software captures historical transaction data (the more data, the better).• The company reviews the historical data to ensure it presents an accurate picture of transactions.• The software applies algorithms to analyze the data to identify potentially suspicious items. This process creates the first fraud detection model.• The software analyzes the same set of data repeatedly and produces new models for the company to review. The company provides feedback on each model to help the software develop more accurate algorithms.
Through this process, the model learns what constitutes fraud, and the number of false positives drops significantly. In the end, the company selects the most accurate fraud detection model to put into production.
Some companies develop machine learning programs to detect fraud from scratch, but many vendors also sell software if you’re looking for an out-of-the-box solution. Need help finding fraud detection software, or simply have questions about fraud? Contact us.
Backdated stock options can be particularly lucrative for the executives who receive them. However, companies must be careful about how they award them. It’s fraud when options are backdated without telling shareholders, or when companies change documents such as board meeting minutes or board approvals to support the backdating.
In the money
Companies have historically granted stock options “at the money,” meaning the exercise price is equal to the stock’s fair market value on the grant date. If properly structured, at-the-money grants offer certain tax and financial advantages over “in-the-money” — more commonly known as “discounted” — stock options, where the exercise price is lower than the stock’s fair market value on the grant date.
Options have value only when the underlying stock’s price is higher than the exercise price, allowing executives to purchase the stock at a discount. Companies engaged in backdating wait for stock prices to rise and then grant executives at-the-money options that are dated earlier, when prices were lower. Executives can enjoy instant profits, and they and the company can avoid some of the negative consequences typically associated with in-the-money options.
Not necessarily illegal
Stock option backdating isn’t necessarily illegal, but it’s a problem if you don’t:
• Disclose the practice to investors,
• Record the appropriate compensation expense in your company’s financial statements, and
• Report the transaction properly for tax purposes.
Regulators recognize that legitimate discrepancies may exist between the date an option is granted and the date it’s finalized due to innocent administrative delays. However, companies must report their option grants within two days of their issue and list all stock options as expenses. To avoid backdating problems, be sure that your option-granting practices are consistent and well documented.
Backdating can be permissible if it’s transparent. But improper backdating may require restatements of earnings. And, public companies guilty of backdating may violate federal securities disclosure and reporting requirements, exposing themselves to regulatory or criminal investigations as well as securities fraud litigation. If you decide to award backdated stock options, contact us about how to do it the right way.
Insurance fraud schemes — slip ’n’ falls, fake car accidents, etc. — have a timeless appeal for perpetrators of insurance fraud because they can lead to big payoffs. To protect your business from the premium hikes and litigation that often attend such fraud, take steps to expose insurance cheats.
Slip ’n’ fall fails
Here’s one example of how an insurance fraud scheme might play out. A woman states that she slipped on a wet sidewalk outside a business and that the fall caused injuries that ultimately led to a miscarriage. She claims that the business’s owner had failed to maintain the premises or warn her of any danger. The woman provides an emergency room report documenting the miscarriage and demands a $75,000 settlement.
Later, when the business’s insurance company orders the woman’s medical records directly from the hospital, there’s no mention of a miscarriage. It’s determined that she has falsified the report and that her claim is fraudulent.
Unfortunately, insurance companies can’t always expose false claims. This type of fraud does succeed at times because there’s no reliable evidence to disprove it.
First and best defense
A security camera system is recommended because it can help you monitor activity on your premises and capture fraud evidence. But employees are your company’s first and best defense. Train them to respond properly to accidents by photographing the site immediately and then collecting and documenting these items:
All accidents should be reported to your company’s insurance carrier, along with any suspicious behaviors or comments employees witnessed. And, include the warning signs of common insurance schemes in your company’s fraud prevention program. If you suspect an insurance fraud incident in your business, contact us for help.
Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can provide tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement. But what if you convert your traditional IRA — subject to income taxes on all earnings and deductible contributions — and then discover you would have been better off if you hadn’t converted it?
Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), you could undo a Roth IRA conversion using a “recharacterization.” Effective with 2018 conversions, the TCJA prohibits recharacterizations — permanently. But if you executed a conversion in 2017, you may still be able to undo it.
Reasons to recharacterize
Generally, if you converted to a Roth IRA in 2017, you have until October 15, 2018, to undo it and avoid the tax hit.
Here are some reasons you might want to recharacterize a 2017 Roth IRA conversion:
If you recharacterize your 2017 conversion but would still like to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, you must wait until the 31st day after the recharacterization. If you undo a conversion because your IRA’s value declined, there’s a risk that your investments will bounce back during the waiting period, causing you to reconvert at a higher tax cost.
Recharacterization in action
Here's an example: Sally had a traditional IRA with a balance of $100,000 when she converted it to a Roth IRA in 2017. Her 2017 tax rate was 33%, so she owed $33,000 in federal income taxes on the conversion.
However, by August 1, 2018, the value of her account had dropped to $80,000. So Sally recharacterizes the account as a traditional IRA and amends her 2017 tax return to exclude the $100,000 in income.
On September 1, she reconverts the traditional IRA, whose value remains at $80,000, to a Roth IRA. She will report that amount when she files her 2018 tax return. The 33% rate has dropped to 32% under the TCJA. Assuming Sally is still in this bracket, this time she’ll owe $25,600 ($80,000 × 32%) — deferred for a year and resulting in a tax savings of $7,400.
(Be aware that the thresholds for the various brackets have changed for 2018-- in some cases increasing, but in others decreasing. This, combined with other TCJA provisions and changes in your income, could cause you to be in a higher or lower bracket in 2018.)
Know your options
If you converted a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2017, it’s worthwhile to see if you could save tax by undoing the conversion. If you’re considering a Roth conversion in 2018, keep in mind that you won’t have the option to recharacterize. We can help you assess whether recharacterizing a 2017 conversion or executing a 2018 conversion makes sense for you.
In a world of increasing exposure to online security threats, we like to think of voicemail as risk-free communication. In reality, we must safeguard all our communications technologies, including phone and voicemail systems. A voicemail system can be hacked, so it is wise to take some precautions.
Passwords as passports
In the most common scheme, hackers figure out the passwords for voicemail boxes. Most frequently, they call numbers until they’re transferred to voicemail, and then try different combinations of numbers until they find the password. Once they’re in a voicemail box, they change the greeting to authorize collect or third-party calls.
In some cases, hackers use voicemail to enable lengthy, international conference calls. In others, they distribute the compromised phone numbers to friends and relatives overseas. These individuals can then call the United States, asking that the calls be billed to their “home” numbers. Because such calls are typically placed at times when voicemail is likely to pick up, such as weekends and holidays, the voicemail greeting authorizes the calls and the business is left holding the bill. Phone companies may or may not waive such charges.
Unauthorized calls aren’t the only way that hackers can exploit voicemail. Anyone who gains access to passwords can use them to listen to messages. Thus, hackers can get access to confidential business information.
Prevention is the key to safe and secure voicemail
Simple precautions can prevent these fraudulent activities. The easiest is to make sure everyone in your company creates a unique password. Fraud perpetrators know that many people either don’t bother to change the default “1234” password or simply use their extension numbers as their passwords.
Changing passwords regularly, just as with computer network logons, is another way to discourage voicemail fraud. Even better, encourage your employees to use six-digit — instead of the more common four-digit — passwords. Hackers would have to try 100,000 combinations to hit on the right one. It’s much easier for them to find default passwords somewhere else.
Another prevention method is to ask employees to routinely check their greetings. In addition, your business may want to disable capabilities such as international calling, auto-attendant features, call-forwarding, and out-paging.
It is an unfortunate reality that in our current era, fraud perpetrators are endlessly inventive when it comes to scamming individuals and businesses. Contact us with questions.
One of the biggest concerns for family business owners is succession planning — transferring ownership and control of the company to the next generation. Often, the best time tax-wise to start transferring ownership is long before the owner is ready to give up control of the business.
A family limited partnership (FLP) can help owners enjoy the tax benefits of gradually transferring ownership yet allow them to retain control of the business.
How it works
To establish an FLP, you transfer your ownership interests to a partnership in exchange for both general and limited partnership interests. You then transfer limited partnership interests to your children.
You retain the general partnership interest, which may be as little as 1% of the assets. But as general partner, you can still run day-to-day operations and make business decisions.
As you transfer the FLP interests, their value is removed from your taxable estate. What’s more, the future business income and asset appreciation associated with those interests move to the next generation.
Because your children hold limited partnership interests, they have no control over the FLP, and thus no control over the business. They also can’t sell their interests without your consent or force the FLP’s liquidation.
The lack of control and lack of an outside market for the FLP interests generally mean the interests can be valued at a discount — so greater portions of the business can be transferred before triggering gift tax. For example, if the discount is 25%, in 2018 you could gift an FLP interest equal to as much as $20,000 tax-free because the discounted value wouldn’t exceed the $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion.
To transfer interests in excess of the annual exclusion, you can apply your lifetime gift tax exemption. And, 2018 may be a particularly good year to do so, because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act raised it to a record-high $11.18 million. The exemption is scheduled to be indexed for inflation through 2025 and then drop back down to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026. While Congress could extend the higher exemption, using as much of it as possible now may be tax-smart.
There also may be income tax benefits. The FLP’s income will flow through to the partners for income tax purposes. Your children may be in a lower tax bracket, potentially reducing the amount of income tax paid overall by the family.
Perhaps the biggest downside is that the IRS scrutinizes FLPs. If it determines that discounts were excessive or that your FLP had no valid business purpose beyond minimizing taxes, it could assess additional taxes, interest, and penalties.
The IRS pays close attention to how FLPs are administered. Lack of attention to partnership formalities, for example, can indicate that an FLP was set up solely as a tax-reduction strategy.
Right for you?
An FLP can be an effective succession and estate planning tool, but it isn’t risk- free. Please contact us for help determining whether an FLP is right for you.
Recovering from tax-related identity theft can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. But the IRS can help remove fraudulent, inaccurate information from your federal tax records and ensure that your legitimate return is processed correctly. The key is to address the issue as soon as you realize your identity has been compromised.
Tax-related identity theft can occur in many ways. A thief may steal someone’s Social Security number (SSN), file a tax return and fraudulently claim a refund. Many thefts occur early in the filing season, so the rightful holders of the SSNs aren’t aware of the crime until they file their own, legitimate returns.
In another scheme, an identity thief uses a person’s SSN to apply for a job. After the perpetrator starts work, the employer will likely report the employee’s wages to the IRS using the stolen SSN. The rightful owner of the SSN won’t know about this until he or she receives a notice from the IRS — for neglecting to report wages.
Paths to recovery
If you receive an IRS notice stating that more than one return was filed under your SSN, call the number provided. You’ll likely need to complete Form 14039, “Identity Theft Affidavit.” This form is for victims of identity theft, as well as those whose identity has been compromised in a way that could impact future tax returns (for example, whose wallet has been stolen).
If you don’t receive a notice but believe you’ve been victimized or are at risk for identity theft, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490.
Also, depending on where you live, you may receive a “CP01F Notice.” It allows some identity theft victims to obtain unique six-digit numbers, called “IP PINs,” that help prevent misuse of their SSNs on federal tax returns and show that the taxpayers are the rightful filers.
Above all, continue to pay your taxes and file your returns • even if you must do so on paper. And remember that the IRS will never ask for personal or financial information via electronic communication, such as email, text messages or social media.
Even if you take care to protect your SSN and other personal information, it’s possible that your tax identity will be stolen. If this happens, contact us for information about regaining control of it.
One of the most difficult administrative tasks for retailers, manufacturers, and contractors is keeping tabs on inventory. If the numbers don’t seem to add up during your physical inventory count, it may be time to bring in a fraud expert to uncover the source of the discrepancy.
Stolen or misplaced
Before assuming theft, a fraud expert will determine whether the items were really stolen or simply misplaced. In many cases, employees keep sloppy records or fail to follow proper procedures, resulting in “missing” inventory.
If there’s no innocent explanation for missing inventory, the expert looks for signs that the environment is conducive to fraud. For example, a company with poor controls over purchasing, receiving, and cash disbursement is at high risk of inventory theft.
When experts believe inventory could have been stolen, they comb records for clues. Anything that doesn’t follow established inventory procedures could be suspicious — such as odd journal entries posted to inventory or large gross margin decreases.
Next, the expert works to prove the fraud. Perpetrators may leave a paper (or electronic) trail, so experts typically review journal entries for unusual patterns. For example, an entry recording a physical count adjustment made during a period when no count was taken obviously warrants investigation. The expert follows up by tracing unusual entries to supporting documents.
Vendor lists also may show suspicious patterns, such as post office box addresses substituting for street addresses. Even if they’ve found no evidence in the areas mentioned above, fraud experts may then look at vendor invoices and purchase orders for anomalies, such as unusually large invoices.
Discrepancies among the amounts due per invoice, the original purchase order, and the amount actually paid warrant investigation. Finally, experts familiarize themselves with the cost, timing, and purpose of routine purchases and flag any that deviate from the norm.
It’s obviously important to confirm physical inventory as well. Although a count performed by employees may disrupt normal business routines, it’s a good way to learn exactly what merchandise may be missing — and could lead directly to the thief. Fraud experts observe warehouse activity once employees realize a count is imminent because thieves may attempt to shift inventory from another location to substitute for missing items.
Inventory at remote locations also can disappear. So fraud experts often will confirm quantities with the storage facility.
Limit the damage
Stolen inventory can damage your company’s bottom line and reputation. Contact us if you believe you may need help determining if you have missing inventory or other inventory discrepancies.
There was talk of repealing the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) as part of last year’s tax reform legislation. A repeal wasn’t included in the final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but the TCJA will reduce the number of taxpayers subject to the AMT.
Now is a good time to familiarize yourself with the changes, assess your AMT risk, and see if there are any steps you can take during the last several months of the year to avoid the AMT, or at least minimize any negative impact.
AMT vs. regular tax
The top AMT rate is 28%, compared to the top regular ordinary-income tax rate of 37%. But the AMT rate typically applies to a higher taxable income base and will result in a larger tax bill if you’re subject to it.
The TCJA reduced the number of taxpayers who’ll likely be subject to the AMT in part by increasing the AMT exemption and the income phaseout ranges for the exemption:
You’ll be subject to the AMT if your AMT liability is greater than your regular tax liability.
In the past, common triggers of the AMT were differences between deductions allowed for regular tax purposes and AMT purposes. Some popular deductions aren’t allowed under the AMT.
New limits on some of these deductions for regular tax purposes, such as on state and local income and property tax deductions, mean they’re less likely to trigger the AMT. And certain deductions not allowed for AMT purposes are now not allowed for regular tax purposes either, such as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor.
But deductions aren’t the only things that can trigger the AMT. Some income items might do so, too, such as:
AMT planning tips
If it looks like you could be subject to the AMT in 2018, consider accelerating income into this year. Doing sosa may allow you to benefit from the lower maximum AMT rate. And, deferring expenses you can’t deduct for AMT purposes may allow you to preserve those deductions. If you also defer expenses you can deduct for AMT purposes, the deductions may become more valuable because of the higher maximum regular tax rate.
Please contact us if you have questions about whether you could be subject to the AMT this year or about minimizing negative consequences from the AMT.
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.
Homeowners know that they can claim itemized deductions for property tax and mortgage interest on their principal residences, subject to certain limits. Most other home-related expenses, such as utilities, insurance, and repairs, aren’t deductible.
But if you use part of your home for business purposes, you may be entitled to deduct a portion of these expenses, as well as depreciation. Or, you might be able to claim the simplified home office deduction of $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).
Regular and exclusive use
You might qualify for the home office deduction if part of your home is used as your principal place of business “regularly and exclusively,” defined as follows:
1. Regular use. You use a specific area of your home for business on a regular basis. Incidental or occasional business use is not regular use.
2. Exclusive use. You use the specific area of your home only for business. It’s not necessary for the space to be physically partitioned off. But, you don’t meet the requirements if the area is used both for business and personal purposes, such as a home office that also serves as a guest bedroom.
Regular and exclusive business use of the space aren’t, however, the only criteria.
Principal place of business
Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you 1) use the space exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities of your business, and 2) don’t have another fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities.
Examples of activities that are administrative or managerial in nature include:
Conducting meetings or use of a storage area
If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if you physically meet with patients, clients, or customers on your premises. The use of your home must be substantial and integral to the business conducted.
Alternatively, you may be able to claim the home office deduction if you have a storage area in your home — or in a separate, free-standing structure (such as a studio, workshop, garage or barn) — that’s used exclusively and regularly for your business, in substantial ways that are integral to the activities of your business.
The home office deduction can provide a valuable tax-saving opportunity for business owners and other self-employed taxpayers who work from home. If you’re not sure whether you qualify or if you have other questions, please contact us.
The Social Security Administration isn’t the only organization that needs to worry about disability fraud. Many employers provide private disability insurance policies. Self-employed and some traditionally employed individuals also purchase private disability coverage.
Fraud perpetrators can file false claims under any of these types of policies, leaving insurers on the hook — and the rest of us paying higher premiums. But fraud experts have tools for detecting such scams.
Disability fraud typically takes one of these forms:
• An individual who had a legitimate disability continues to make claims after he or she has recovered or is again able to work, or
• A perpetrator fakes an injury.
False disability claims are relatively easy to make because pain can’t be measured objectively, And there are plenty of unethical medical providers willing to provide false documentation, for either a share of the proceeds or reimbursement from insurers.
One of the newer tools for finding false disability claims is predictive analytics. Private insurers and government agencies have used it to extract information from existing data sets to determine patterns and predict future outcomes.
In the case of disability fraud, analytics can identify red flags (for example, a disproportionate number of claims involving a specific health care provider) to allow for further investigation before a potentially fraudulent claim is paid. Early detection holds obvious advantages over the historical “pay-and-chase” model.
Forensic accounting techniques also can be used when evaluating claims. It’s not unusual for claimants to report preinjury income higher than they actually earned or postinjury income lower than received. A forensic accountant can review income and expense documentation to obtain an accurate picture of the claimant’s losses.
Take a fraud perpetrator who is self-employed and owns his business’s property. He might try to hide income by paying above-market rent. In such a case, a fraud expert would look for a rent increase. The expert might also compare the subject’s business expense ratio against industry averages.
Social media is useful for ferreting out false disability claims, too. Fraud experts often find photos of sports participation or other evidence that contradicts supposed physical limitations. Even when perpetrators are smart enough to leave such evidence off their own social media accounts, experts often find it on their friends’ and family members’ pages.
While the methods of committing disability fraud don’t change much, techniques for detecting it continue to evolve. Contact us for information about disabling disability fraud.
Classifying workers as independent contractors — rather than employees — can save businesses money and provide other benefits. But as you are probably already aware, the IRS can notice when businesses do this improperly to avoid taxes and employee benefit obligations.
To find out how the IRS will classify a particular worker, businesses can file optional IRS Form SS-8, “Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.” However, the IRS has historically classified workers frequently as employees, and filing this form may alert the IRS that a business has classification issues — and even inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit.
Contractor vs. employee status
A business enjoys several advantages when it classifies a worker as an independent contractor rather than as an employee. For example, it isn’t required to pay payroll taxes, withhold taxes, pay benefits, or comply with most wage and hour laws.
On the downside, if the IRS determines that a business improperly classified employees as independent contractors, the business can be subject to significant back taxes, interest, and penalties. That’s why filing IRS Form SS-8 for an up-front determination may sound appealing.
But because of the risks involved, instead of filing the form, it can be better to simply properly treat independent contractors so they meet the tax code rules. Among other things, this generally includes that a business: (1) not control how the worker performs his or her duties, (2) ensure that it is not the worker’s only client, (3) provide Form 1099, and, overall, (4) not treat the worker like an employee.
A worker can also file Form SS-8
Workers seeking determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they may feel entitled to health, retirement, and other employee benefits and/or may want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.
After a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS sends a letter to the business. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return it to the IRS, which will render a classification decision. But the Form SS-8 determination process doesn’t constitute an official IRS audit.
Proper worker status determination
If a business properly classifies workers as independent contractors, it should not worry if a worker files a Form SS-8. If you are a small business in this situation, contact us before replying to the IRS. We can advise in your decision-making process regarding worker status determination. Giving your situation a thorough and honest thought process, and then making a proper response to the IRS, you may be able to continue to classify the worker as a contractor. We can also assist you in setting up independent contractor relationships that are properly constructed and are within IRS rules.
Once upon a time, some parents and grandparents would attempt to save tax by putting investments in the names of their young children or grandchildren in lower income tax brackets. To discourage such strategies, Congress created the “kiddie tax" back in 1986. Since then, this tax has gradually become more far-reaching. Now, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the "kiddie tax" on a child's unearned income has become the subject of a cautionary tale.
First, a short history
Years ago, the "kiddie tax" applied only to children under age 14 — which still provided families with ample opportunity to enjoy significant tax savings from income shifting. In 2006, the tax was expanded to children under age 18. And since 2008, the kiddie tax has generally applied to children under age 19 and to full-time students under age 24 (unless the students provide more than half of their own support from earned income).
What about the kiddie tax rate? Before the TCJA, for children subject to the kiddie tax, any unearned income beyond a certain amount ($2,100 for 2017) was taxed at their parents’ marginal rate (assuming it was higher), rather than their own likely low rate.
A fiercer kiddie tax
The TCJA doesn’t further expand who’s subject to the kiddie tax. But it will effectively increase the kiddie tax rate in many cases.
For 2018–2025, a child’s unearned income beyond the threshold ($2,100 again for 2018) will be taxed according to the tax brackets used for trusts and estates. For ordinary income (such as interest and short-term capital gains), trusts and estates are taxed at the highest marginal rate of 37% once 2018 taxable income exceeds $12,500. In contrast, for a married couple filing jointly, the highest rate doesn’t kick in until their 2018 taxable income tops $600,000.
Similarly, the 15% long-term capital gains rate takes effect at $77,201 for joint filers but at only $2,601 for trusts and estates. And the 20% rate kicks in at $479,001 and $12,701, respectively.
In other words, in many cases, children’s unearned income will be taxed at higher rates than their parents’ income. As a result, income shifting to children subject to the kiddie tax will not only not save tax, but it could actually increase a family’s overall tax liability.
The moral of the story
To avoid inadvertently increasing your family’s taxes, be sure to consider these changes in kiddie tax before transferring income-producing or highly appreciated assets to a child or grandchild who’s a minor or college student. If you’d like to shift income, and you have adult children or grandchildren who are no longer subject to the kiddie tax but in a lower tax bracket, consider transferring such assets to them.
Please contact us for more information about the kiddie tax — or other TCJA tax law changes that may affect your family.
Meal, vehicle, and travel expenses are common deductions for businesses. But if you don’t properly document these expenses, you could find your deductions denied by the IRS.
A critical requirement
Subject to various rules and limits, business meal (generally 50%), vehicle, and travel expenses may be deductible, whether the employee pays for the expenses directly or is reimbursed for them. Deductibility depends on a variety of factors, but generally the expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” and directly related to the business.
Proper documentation, however, is one of the most critical requirements. And all too often, when the IRS scrutinizes these deductions, taxpayers don’t have the necessary documentation.
What you need to do
Following some simple steps can help ensure you have documentation that will pass muster with the IRS:
Keep receipts or similar documentation. You generally must have receipts, canceled checks, or bills that show amounts and dates of business expenses. If you’re deducting vehicle expenses using the standard mileage rate (54.5 cents for 2018), log business miles driven.
Track business purposes. Be sure to record the business purpose of each expense. This is especially important if, on the surface, an expense could appear to be a personal one. If the business purpose of an expense is clear from the surrounding circumstances, the IRS might not require a written explanation — but it’s probably better to err on the side of caution and document the business purpose anyway.
Businesses and their employees should follow a plan of accountability. If employees are reimbursed for expenses, they should make sure they provide proper documentation. Also be aware that the reimbursements to employees will be treated as taxable compensation to the employee (and subject to income tax and FICA withholding) unless the business reimburses them via an “accountable plan.”
Don't re-create expense records at year-end or when you receive an IRS deficiency notice. Take a moment to record the details in a log or diary at the time of the event, or soon after. The IRS considers timely-kept records more reliable. Plus, it’s easier to track expenses as you go than to try to re-create a log later. For expense reimbursements, employees should submit monthly expense reports (which is also generally a requirement for an accountable plan).
Addressing uncertainty about what expenses are now deductible
You’ve probably heard that, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, entertainment expenses are no longer deductible. There’s some debate as to whether this includes business meals with actual or prospective clients. Until there’s more certainty on that issue, it’s a good idea to document these expenses. That way you’ll have what you need to deduct them if Congress and/or the IRS provides clarification that these expenses are indeed still deductible.
For more guidance on properly documenting meal, vehicle, and travel expenses, please contact us.
If you received a large refund for the previous tax year, this would usually indicate that you should consider reducing the amounts you’re having withheld (and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making) for the current year. But 2018 is a little different.
TCJA and withholding
To reflect changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — such as the increase in the standard deduction, suspension of personal exemptions, and changes in tax rates and brackets —the IRS updated the withholding tables that indicate how much employers should hold back from their employees’ paychecks, generally reducing the amount withheld.
The new tables may provide the correct amount of tax withholding for individuals with simple tax situations, but they might cause other taxpayers to not have enough withheld to pay their ultimate tax liabilities under the TCJA. So even if you received a large refund this year, you could end up owing a significant amount of tax when you file your 2018 return next year.
Perils of the new tables
The IRS itself cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld. If, for example, you itemize deductions, have dependents age 17 or older, are in a two-income household, or have more than one job, you should review your tax situation and adjust your withholding if appropriate.
The IRS has updated its withholding calculator (available here: https://bit.ly/2aLxK0A ) and provides guidance in IRS Publication 505 (2018), "Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax," found here: https://bit.ly/2IZHOkp to assist taxpayers in reviewing their situations. The calculator reflects changes in available itemized deductions, the increased child tax credit, the new dependent credit, and repeal of dependent exemptions. Publication 505 (2018) outlines the details of these changes, and more.
Tax law changes aren’t the only reason to check your withholding. Additional reviews during the year are a good idea if:
You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even multiple times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. (For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.)
The TCJA and your tax situation
If you rely solely on the new withholding tables, you could potentially run the risk of significantly underwithholding your federal income taxes, especially if your tax situation is more complex. Consult IRS Publication 505 (2018). Contact us for help determining whether you should adjust your withholding. We can also answer any questions you have about how the TCJA may affect your particular situation.
You may have the filing of your 2017 tax return well behind you (or be looking to complete it soon if you filed for an extension). But if you still have an abundance of paper records consisting of years’ worth of tax returns, receipts, canceled checks, and other financial information (and/or your computer desktop is filled with a multitude of digital tax-related files), you might want some guidance regarding what records you need to keep. Follow these retention guidelines as you go through your files.
Retain records that support items shown on your tax return at least until the statute of limitations runs out — generally three years from the due date of the return, or the date you filed -- whichever is later. That means you can now potentially throw out (shred) records for the 2014 tax year if you filed the return for that year by the regular filing deadline. But some records should be kept longer.
For example, there’s no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return or file a fraudulent one. So you’ll generally want to keep copies of your returns themselves permanently, so you can show that you did file a legitimate return.
Also bear in mind that, if you understate your adjusted gross income by more than 25%, the statute of limitations period is six years.
Some specifics for businesses
Records substantiating costs and deductions associated with business property are necessary to determine the basis and any gain or loss when the property is sold. According to IRS guidelines, you should keep these for as long as you own the property, plus seven years.
The IRS recommends keeping employee records for three years after an employee has been terminated. In addition, you should maintain records that support employee earnings for at least four years. (This timeframe generally will cover varying state and federal requirements.) Also keep employment tax records for four years from the date the tax was due or the date it was paid, whichever is longer.
For travel and transportation expenses supported by mileage logs and other receipts, keep supporting documents for the three-year statute of limitations period.
Regulations for sales tax returns vary by state. Check the rules for the states where you file sales tax returns. Retention periods typically range from three to six years.
When in doubt, don’t throw it out
It’s easy to accumulate a mountain of paperwork (physical or digital) from years of filing tax returns. If you’re unsure whether you should retain a document, a good rule of thumb is to hold on to it for at least six years, or, for property-related records, at least seven years after you dispose of the property. But, again, you should keep tax returns themselves permanently, and other rules or guidelines might apply in certain situations. Please contact us with any questions.
To help fight crime, including terrorism, money laundering, and identity theft, federal laws and regulations require banks and certain other organizations to “know” their customers. Know-your-customer (KYC) programs entail verifying customer identities and assessing risks associated with them. But even if your company isn’t required to adopt such programs, KYC can be beneficial.
As part of their KYC processes, financial institutions generally verify customers’ names, addresses, and dates of birth and check them against lists of known criminals. In addition, they monitor transaction trends and high-risk accounts to determine their risk and whether they merit filing suspicious-activity reports with the government. Customer due diligence techniques support KYC programs by digging deeper. For example, a bank might use enhanced due diligence for high-transaction-value accounts or accounts that deal with high-risk activities or countries.
For their part, companies that export products must be careful not to sell to customers on certain lists maintained by the federal government, including customers that have been denied export privileges. Exporters also are expected to review all information they receive about customers to ensure that nothing should have alerted them to the possibility a violation could occur.
Benefits of knowing your customers
Even if you’re not in the financial services industry and don’t sell products overseas, it can pay to understand who your customers are. Performing credit checks, for example, can help prevent your business from falling victim to “phoenix” companies that try to profit from bankruptcy.
What’s more, creating a comprehensive history of each customer’s credit limits and transactions enables you to identify your top customers. Doing so may not expose fraud or money laundering, but it will help you assess how vulnerable you are should you lose one or a few of your biggest customers.
And, analyzing customers’ purchasing behavior allows you to isolate cross-selling and up-selling opportunities — along with any irregularities that could indicate nefarious activity. For example, if a customer with a long record of annual purchases suddenly begins placing monthly orders, for example, you should delve deeper. The change may signal nothing more than your customer landing a large new account or expanding its customer base, but it could also be a sign that fraud may be taking place somewhere in your company.
Want to know more?
To learn more about how your company can use KYC practices to prevent fraud and increase profitability, contact us.
With its many changes to individual tax rates, brackets and breaks, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) means taxpayers need to revisit their tax planning strategies. Certain strategies that were once tried-and-true will no longer save or defer tax. But there are some that will hold up for many taxpayers. And they’ll be more effective if you begin implementing them this summer, rather than waiting until year end. Take a look at these three ideas, and contact us to discuss what midyear strategies make sense for you.
1. Look at your bracket
Under the TCJA, the top income tax rate is now 37% (down from 39.6%) for taxpayers with taxable income over $500,000 (single and head-of-household filers) or $600,000 (married couples filing jointly). These thresholds are higher than for the top rate in 2017 ($418,400, $444,550 and $470,700, respectively). So the top rate might be less of a concern.
However, singles and heads of households in the middle and upper brackets could be pushed into a higher tax bracket much more quickly this year. For example, for 2017 the threshold for the 33% tax bracket was $191,650 for singles and $212,500 for heads of households. For 2018, the rate for this bracket has been reduced slightly to 32% — but the threshold for the bracket is now only $157,500 for both singles and heads of households.
So a lot more of these filers could find themselves in this bracket. (Fortunately for joint filers, their threshold for this bracket has increased from $233,350 to $315,000.)
If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold for a higher bracket, consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the next bracket. For example, you could take steps to accelerate deductible expenses.
But carefully consider the changes the TCJA has made to deductions. For example, you might no longer benefit from itemizing because of the nearly doubled standard deduction and the reduction or elimination of certain itemized deductions. For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households and $24,000 for joint filers.
2. Incur medical expenses
One itemized deduction the TCJA has retained and — temporarily — enhanced is the medical expense deduction. If you expect to benefit from itemizing on your 2018 return, take a look at whether you can accelerate deductible medical expenses into this year.
You can deduct only expenses that exceed a floor based on your adjusted gross income (AGI). Under the TCJA, the floor has dropped from 10% of AGI to 7.5%. But it’s scheduled to return to 10% for 2019 and beyond.
Deductible expenses may include:
You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into 2018 and exceed the floor while it’s only 7.5%.
3. Review your investments
The TCJA didn’t make changes to the long-term capital gains rate, so the top rate remains at 20%. However, that rate now kicks in before the top ordinary-income tax rate. For 2018, the 20% rate applies to taxpayers with taxable income exceeding $425,800 (singles), $452,400 (heads of households), or $479,000 (joint filers).
If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.
You also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). It can affect taxpayers with modified AGI (MAGI) over $200,000 for singles and heads of households, $250,000 for joint filers. You may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides a valuable new tax break to noncorporate owners of pass-through entities: a deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI). The deduction generally applies to income from sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). It can equal as much as 20% of QBI. But once taxable income exceeds $315,000 for married couples filing jointly or $157,500 for other filers, a wage limit begins to phase in.
Full vs. partial phase-in
When the wage limit is fully phased in, at $415,000 for joint filers and $207,500 for other filers, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of:
When the wage limit applies but isn’t yet fully phased in, the amount of the limit is reduced and the final deduction is calculated as follows:
1. The difference between taxable income and the applicable threshold is divided by $100,000 for joint filers or $50,000 for other filers.
2. The resulting percentage is multiplied by the difference between the gross deduction and the fully wage-limited deduction.
3. The result is subtracted from the gross deduction to determine the final deduction.
Let’s say Chris and Leslie have taxable income of $600,000. This includes $300,000 of QBI from Chris’s pass-through business, which pays $100,000 in wages and has $200,000 of QBP. The gross deduction would be $60,000 (20% of $300,000), but the wage limit applies in full because the married couple’s taxable income exceeds the $415,000 top of the phase-in range for joint filers. Computing the deduction is fairly straightforward in this situation.
The first option for the wage limit calculation is $50,000 (50% of $100,000). The second option is $30,000 (25% of $100,000 + 2.5% of $200,000). So the wage limit — and the deduction — is $50,000.
What if Chris and Leslie’s taxable income falls within the phase-in range? The calculation is a bit more complicated. Let’s say their taxable income is $400,000. The full wage limit is still $50,000, but only 85% of the full limit applies:
($400,000 taxable income - $315,000 threshold)/$100,000 = 85%
To calculate the amount of their deduction, the couple must first calculate 85% of the difference between the gross deduction of $60,000 and the fully wage-limited deduction of $50,000:
($60,000 - $50,000) × 85% = $8,500
That amount is subtracted from the $60,000 gross deduction for a final deduction of $51,500.
That’s not all
Be aware that another restriction may apply: For income from “specified service businesses,” the QBI deduction is reduced if an owner’s taxable income falls within the applicable income range and eliminated if income exceeds it. Please contact us to learn whether your business is a specified service business or if you have other questions about the QBI deduction.
Today many employees receive stock-based compensation from their employer as part of their compensation and benefits package. The tax consequences of such compensation can be complex — subject to ordinary-income, capital gains, employment and other taxes. But if you receive restricted stock awards, you might have a tax-saving opportunity in the form of the Section 83(b) election.
Convert ordinary income to long-term capital gains
Restricted stock is stock your employer grants you subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture. Income recognition is normally deferred until the stock is no longer subject to that risk (that is, it’s vested) or you sell it.
At that time, you pay taxes on the stock’s fair market value (FMV) at your ordinary-income rate. The FMV will be considered FICA income, so it also could trigger or increase your exposure to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax.
But you can instead make a Sec. 83(b) election to recognize ordinary income when you receive the stock. This election, which you must make within 30 days after receiving the stock, allows you to convert future appreciation from ordinary income to long-term capital gains income and defer it until the stock is sold.
The Sec. 83(b) election can be beneficial if the income at the grant date is negligible or the stock is likely to appreciate significantly. With ordinary-income rates now especially low under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), it might be a good time to recognize such income.
Weigh the potential disadvantages
There are some potential disadvantages, however:
As you can see, tax planning for restricted stock is complicated. Let us know if you’ve recently been awarded restricted stock or expect to be awarded such stock this year. We can help you determine whether the Sec. 83(b) election makes sense in your specific situation.
Over the last several years, virtual currency has become increasingly popular. Bitcoin is the most widely recognized form of virtual currency, also commonly referred to as digital, electronic, or "crypto" currency.
While most smaller businesses aren’t yet accepting bitcoin or other virtual currency payments from their customers, more and more larger businesses are. And the trend may trickle down to smaller businesses. Businesses also can pay employees or independent contractors with virtual currency. But what are the tax consequences of these transactions?
Bitcoin has an equivalent value in real currency and can be digitally traded between users. It also can be purchased with real currencies or exchanged for real currencies. Bitcoin is most commonly obtained through virtual currency ATMs or online exchanges.
Goods or services can be paid for using “bitcoin wallet” software. When a purchase is made, the software digitally posts the transaction to a global public ledger. This prevents the same unit of virtual currency from being used multiple times.
Questions about the tax impact of virtual currency abound. And the IRS has yet to offer much guidance.
The IRS did establish in a 2014 ruling that bitcoin and other convertible virtual currency should be treated as property, not currency, for federal income tax purposes. This means that businesses accepting bitcoin payments for goods and services must report gross income based on the fair market value of the virtual currency when it was received, measured in equivalent U.S. dollars.
When a business uses virtual currency to pay wages, the wages are taxable to the employees to the extent any other wage payment would be. Business must, for example, report such wages on employees’ W-2 forms. And the wages are subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date received by the employee.
When a business uses virtual currency to pay independent contractors or other service providers, those payments are also taxable to the recipient. The self-employment tax rules generally apply, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date received. Payers generally must issue 1099-MISC forms to recipients.
Finally, payments made with virtual currency are subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property.
Deciding whether to go virtual
For a business, accepting bitcoin can be beneficial because it may avoid transaction fees charged by credit card companies and online payment providers (such as PayPal) and attract customers who want to use virtual currency. But the IRS is targeting virtual currency transactions in an effort to raise tax revenue, and it hasn’t issued much guidance on the tax treatment or reporting requirements. So bitcoin can also be a bit risky from a tax perspective.
To learn more about tax considerations when deciding whether your business should accept bitcoin or other virtual currencies — or use them to pay employees, independent contractors, or other service providers — contact us.
Many Americans relocate to another state when they retire. If you’re thinking about such a move, state and local taxes should factor into your decision.
Income, property, and sales tax
Choosing a state that has no personal income tax may appear to be the best option. But that might not be the case once you consider property taxes and sales taxes.
For example, suppose you’ve narrowed your decision down to two states: State 1 has no individual income tax, and State 2 has a flat 5% individual income tax rate. At first glance, State 1 might appear to be much less expensive from a tax perspective. What happens when you factor in other state and local taxes?
Let’s say the property tax rate in your preferred locality in State 1 is 5%, while it’s only 1% in your preferred locality in State 2. That difference could potentially cancel out any savings in state income taxes in State 1, depending on your annual income and the assessed value of the home.
Also keep in mind that home values can vary dramatically from location to location. So if home values are higher in State 1, there’s an even greater chance that State 1’s overall tax cost could be higher than State 2’s, despite State 1’s lack of income tax.
The potential impact of sales tax can be harder to estimate, but it’s a good idea at minimum to look at the applicable rates in the various retirement locations you’re considering.
More to think about
If states you’re considering have an income tax, also look at what types of income they tax. Some states, for example, don’t tax wages but do tax interest and dividends. Others offer tax breaks for retirement plan and Social Security income.
In the past, the federal income tax deduction for state and local property and income or sales tax could help make up some of the difference between higher- and lower-tax states. But with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) limiting that deduction to $10,000 ($5,000 for married couples filing separately), this will be less help — at least through 2025, after which the limit is scheduled to expire.
There’s also estate tax to consider. Not all states have estate tax, but it can be expensive in states that do. While under the TJCA the federal estate tax exemption has more than doubled from the 2017 level to $11.18 million for 2018, states aren’t necessarily keeping pace with the federal exemption. So state estate tax could be levied after a much lower exemption.
As you can see, it’s important to factor in state and local taxes as you decide where to live in retirement. You might ultimately decide on a state with higher taxes if other factors are more important to you. But at least you will have made an informed decision and avoid unpleasant tax surprises. Contact us to learn more.
Because donations to charity of cash or property generally are tax deductible (if you itemize), it only seems logical that the donation of something even more valuable to you — your time — would also be deductible. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Donations of time or services aren’t deductible. It doesn’t matter if it’s simple administrative work, such as checking in attendees at a fundraising event, or if it’s work requiring significant experience and expertise that would be much more costly to the charity if it had to pay for it, such as skilled carpentry or legal counsel.
However, you can potentially deduct out-of-pocket costs associated with your volunteer work.
The basic rules
As with any charitable donation, for you to be able to deduct your volunteer expenses, the first requirement is that the organization be a qualified charity. You can use the IRS’s “Tax Exempt Organization Search” tool (formerly “Select Check”) at http://bit.ly/2KXWl5b to find out.
Assuming the charity is qualified, you may be able to deduct out-of-pocket costs that are:
Supplies, uniforms, and transportation
A wide variety of expenses can qualify for the deduction. For example, supplies you use in the activity may be deductible. And, the cost of a uniform you must wear during the activity may also be deductible (if it’s required and not something you’d wear when not volunteering).
Transportation costs to and from the volunteer activity generally are deductible, either the actual cost or 14 cents per charitable mile driven. But you have to be the volunteer. If, say, you drive your elderly mother to the nature center where she’s volunteering, you can’t deduct the cost.
You also can’t deduct transportation costs you’d be incurring even if you weren’t volunteering. For example, if you take a commuter train downtown to work, then walk to a nearby volunteer event after work and take the train back home afterwards, you won’t be able to deduct your train fares. But if you take a cab from work to the volunteer event, then you can potentially deduct the cab fare for that leg of your transportation.
Transportation costs may also be deductible for out-of-town travel associated with volunteering. This can include air, rail, and bus transportation; driving expenses; and taxi or other transportation costs between an airport or train station and wherever you’re staying. Lodging and meal costs also might be deductible.
The key to deductibility is that there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel. That said, according to the IRS, the deduction for travel expenses won’t be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. But you must be volunteering in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip. If only a small portion of your trip involves volunteer work, your travel expenses generally won’t be deductible.
Keep careful records
The IRS may challenge charitable deductions for out-of-pocket costs, so it’s important to keep careful records. If you have questions about what volunteer expenses are and aren’t deductible, please contact us.
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 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.
When you think about recent tax law changes and your business, you’re probably thinking about the new 20% pass-through deduction for qualified business income or the enhancements to depreciation-related breaks. Or you may be contemplating the reduction or elimination of certain business expense deductions. But there are also a couple of recent tax law changes that you need to be aware of if your business sponsors a 401(k) plan.
1. Plan loan repayment extension
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) gives a break to 401(k) plan participants with outstanding loan balances when they leave their employers. While plan sponsors aren’t required to allow loans, many do.
Before 2018, if an employee with an outstanding plan loan left the company sponsoring the plan, he or she would have to repay the loan (or contribute the outstanding balance to an IRA or his or her new employer’s plan) within 60 days to avoid having the loan balance deemed a taxable distribution (and be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty if the employee was under age 59-1/2).
Under the TCJA, beginning in 2018, former employees in this situation have until their tax return filing due date — including extensions — to repay the loan (or contribute the outstanding balance to an IRA or qualified retirement plan) and avoid taxes and penalties.
2. Hardship withdrawal limit increase
Beginning in 2019, the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) eases restrictions on employee 401(k) hardship withdrawals. Most 401(k) plans permit hardship withdrawals, though plan sponsors aren’t required to allow them. Hardship withdrawals are subject to income tax and the 10% early distribution tax penalty.
Currently, hardship withdrawals are limited to the funds employees contributed to the accounts. (Such withdrawals are allowed only if the employee has first taken a loan from the same account.)
Under the BBA, the withdrawal limit will also include accumulated employer matching contributions plus earnings on contributions. If an employee has been participating in your 401(k) for several years, this modification could add substantially to the amount of funds available for withdrawal.
Nest egg harm
These changes might sound beneficial to employees, but in the long run they could actually hurt those who take advantage of them. Most Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement, and taking longer to pay back a plan loan (and thus missing out on potential tax-deferred growth during that time) or taking larger hardship withdrawals can result in a smaller, perhaps much smaller, nest egg at retirement.
So consider educating your employees on the importance of letting their 401(k) accounts grow undisturbed and the potential negative tax consequences of loans and early withdrawals. Please contact us if you have questions.
Going green” at home — whether it’s your principal residence or a second home — can reduce your tax bill in addition to your energy bill, all while helping the environment, too. The catch is that, to reap all three benefits, you need to buy and install certain types of renewable energy equipment in the home.
Invest in green and save green
For 2018 and 2019, you may be eligible for a tax credit of 30% of expenditures (including costs for site preparation, assembly, installation, piping, and wiring) for installing the following types of renewable energy equipment:
Because these items can be expensive, the credits can be substantial. To qualify, the equipment must be installed at your U.S. residence, including a vacation home — except for fuel cell equipment, which must be installed at your principal residence. You can’t claim credits for equipment installed at a property that’s used exclusively as a rental.
To qualify for the credit for solar water heating equipment, at least 50% of the energy used to heat water for the property must be generated by the solar equipment. And no credit is allowed for solar water heating equipment unless it’s certified for performance by the nonprofit Solar Rating & Certification Corporation or a comparable entity endorsed by the state in which your residence is located. (Keep this certification with your tax records.)
The credit rate for these expenditures is scheduled to drop to 26% in 2020 and then to 22% in 2021. After that, the credits are scheduled to expire.
Document and explore
As with all tax breaks, documentation is key when claiming credits for green investments in your home. Keep proof of how much you spend on qualifying equipment, including any extra amounts for site preparation, assembly and installation. Also keep a record of when the installation is completed, because you can claim the credit only for the year when that occurs.
Be sure to look beyond the federal tax credits and explore other ways to save by going green. Your green home investments might also be eligible for state and local tax benefits, subsidized state and local financing deals, and utility company rebates.
To learn more about federal, state and local tax breaks available for green home investments, contact us.
You’ve probably heard about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing state and local governments to impose sales taxes on more out-of-state online sales. The ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. is welcome news for brick-and-mortar retailers, who felt previous rulings gave an unfair advantage to their online competitors. And, state and local governments are pleased to potentially be able to collect more sales tax.
But for businesses with out-of-state online sales that haven’t had to collect sales tax from out-of-state customers in the past, the decision brings many questions and concerns.
What the requirements used to be
Even before Wayfair, a state could require an out-of-state business to collect sales tax from its residents on online sales if the business had a “substantial nexus” — or connection — with the state. The nexus requirement is part of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Previous Supreme Court rulings had found that a physical presence in a state (such as retail outlets, employees or property) was necessary to establish substantial nexus. As a result, some online retailers have already been collecting tax from out-of-state customers, while others have not had to.
What has changed
In Wayfair, South Dakota had enacted a law requiring out-of-state retailers that made at least 200 sales or sales totaling at least $100,000 in the state to collect and remit sales tax. The Supreme Court found that the physical presence rule is “unsound and incorrect,” and that the South Dakota tax satisfies the substantial nexus requirement.
The Court said that the physical presence rule puts businesses with a physical presence at a competitive disadvantage compared with remote sellers that needn’t charge customers for taxes.
In addition, the Court found that the physical presence rule treats sellers differently for arbitrary reasons. A business with a few items of inventory in a small warehouse in a state is subject to sales tax on all of its sales in the state, while a business with a pervasive online presence but no physical presence isn’t subject to the same tax for the sales of the same items.
What the decision means
Wayfair doesn’t necessarily mean that you must immediately begin collecting sales tax on online sales to all of your out-of-state customers. You’ll be required to collect such taxes only if the particular state requires it. Some states already have laws on the books similar to South Dakota’s, but many states will need to revise or enact legislation.
Also keep in mind that the substantial nexus requirement isn’t the only principle in the Commerce Clause doctrine that can invalidate a state tax. The others weren’t argued in Wayfair, but the Court observed that South Dakota’s tax system included several features that seem designed to prevent discrimination against or undue burdens on interstate commerce, such as a prohibition against retroactive application and a safe harbor for taxpayers who do only limited business in the state.
Please contact us with any questions you have about sales tax collection requirements.
Home ownership is a key element of the American dream for many, and the U.S. tax code has included many tax breaks that help support this dream. If you own a home, several valuable breaks have been in place for your 2017 return, if you already filed and were eligible, or if you filed for an extension and are eligible. But under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, your home-related breaks may not be as valuable when you file your 2018 return next year.
2017 vs. 2018
Here’s a look at various home-related tax breaks for 2017 vs. 2018:
Property tax deduction. For 2017, property tax was generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). For 2018, your total deduction for all state and local taxes, including both property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes, is capped at $10,000.
Mortgage interest deduction. For 2017, you generally could deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build, or improve your principal residence and a second residence. However, for 2018, if the mortgage debt was incurred on or after December 15, 2017, the debt limit generally is $750,000.
Home equity debt interest deduction. For 2017, interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) might have been deductible. (If home equity debt wasn't used for home improvements, the interest wasn't deductible for AMT purposes.) For 2018, the TCJA suspends the home equity interest deduction. But the IRS has clarified that such interest generally still will be deductible if used for home improvements.
Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.
Home office deduction. For 2017, if your home office use met certain tests, the possibility existed to deduct associated expenses or use a simplified method for claiming the deduction. Employees claimed this as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, which means there were tax savings only to the extent that the home office deduction plus other miscellaneous itemized deductions exceeded 2% of adjusted gross income. The self-employed were able to deduct home office expenses from self-employment income. For 2018, miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor are suspended, so only the self-employed can deduct home office expenses.
Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Changes to this break had been proposed, but they weren’t included in the final TCJA that was signed into law.
Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale, or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.
Additional rules and limits apply to these home-related tax breaks. To learn more, contact us. We can help you determine which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim on your 2017 return (if you filed for an extension), and how your 2018 tax situation may be affected by the TCJA.
It’s not uncommon for businesses to sometimes generate tax losses. But the losses that can be deducted are limited by tax law in some situations. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) further restricts the amount of losses that sole proprietors, partners, S corporation shareholders and, typically, limited liability company (LLC) members can currently deduct — beginning in 2018. This could negatively impact owners of start-ups and businesses facing adverse conditions.
Before the TCJA
Under pre-TCJA law, an individual taxpayer’s business losses could usually be fully deducted in the tax year when they arose unless:
After the TCJA
The TCJA temporarily changes the rules for deducting an individual taxpayer’s business losses. If your pass-through business generates a tax loss for a tax year beginning in 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct an “excess business loss” in the current year. An excess business loss is the excess of your aggregate business deductions for the tax year over the sum of:
The excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for NOLs.
For business losses passed through to individuals from S corporations, partnerships and LLCs treated as partnerships for tax purposes, the new excess business loss limitation rules apply at the owner level. In other words, each owner’s allocable share of business income, gain, deduction or loss is passed through to the owner and reported on the owner’s personal federal income tax return for the owner’s tax year that includes the end of the entity’s tax year.
Keep in mind that the new loss limitation rules apply after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your business or rental activity loss, you don’t get to the new loss limitation rules.
Expecting a business loss?
The rationale underlying the new loss limitation rules is to restrict the ability of individual taxpayers to use current-year business losses to offset income from other sources, such as salary, self-employment income, interest, dividends and capital gains.
The practical impact is that your allowable current-year business losses can’t offset more than $250,000 of income from such other sources (or more than $500,000 for joint filers). The requirement that excess business losses be carried forward as an NOL forces you to wait at least one year to get any tax benefit from those excess losses.
If you’re expecting your business to generate a tax loss in 2018, contact us to determine whether you’ll be affected by the new loss limitation rules. We can also provide more information about the PAL and NOL rules.
Identity theft isn’t just a consumer problem. Criminals steal the identities of businesses, too. In addition to filing fraudulent tax returns, criminals assume the identities of companies to apply for credit, impersonate authorized users and empty bank accounts. Here are five ways you can reduce the chance it will happen to your business.
1. Protect confidential documents
Secure sensitive paper documents such as financial statements, invoices, bank statements and aging schedules in locked file cabinets. Store digital files in secure, password-protected locations.
2. Shred documents you no longer need
When you no longer need sensitive paper documents, destroy them using a cross-cutting shredder. If you need to shred a significant volume of paper, hire a service to destroy documents on your premises.
3. Don’t drop your guard online
Thieves use malware to infect computers and gather sensitive data. They also create fake websites that trick employees into entering login and password information. To protect against these tactics, deploy software patches when prompted and maintain up-to-date antivirus software on computers.
4. Educate employees
Coach everyone from executives to rank-and-file employees about the types of threats facing your company and how they can do their part to ensure sensitive data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
5. Monitor bank accounts
If a fraudulent transaction posts to your bank account, you must notify your bank within a certain time period to not be liable for the transaction. To avoid missing out on this window, reconcile your bank accounts daily. Also note that criminals often use wires to move stolen money overseas and beyond the reaches of U.S. law enforcement. If you never send wires, instruct your bank to block that capability from your accounts.
Once criminals get ahold of sufficient information about a company’s identity, they can commit fraud that is difficult to detect and might lead to significant financial losses. We can help you establish controls to fend off these identity thieves.
There continues to be much uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act and how such uncertainty will impact health care costs. So it’s critical to leverage all tax-advantaged ways to fund health care expenses, including HSAs, FSAs and HRAs. Here’s how to make sense of this alphabet soup of health care accounts.
If you’re covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can contribute pretax income to an employer-sponsored Health Savings Account — or make deductible contributions to an HSA you set up yourself — up to $3,450 for self-only coverage and $6,900 for family coverage for 2018. Plus, if you’re age 55 or older, you may contribute an additional $1,000.
You own the account, which can bear interest or be invested, growing tax-deferred similar to an IRA. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and you can carry over a balance from year to year.
Regardless of whether you have an HDHP, you can redirect pretax income to an employer-sponsored Flexible Spending Account up to an employer-determined limit — not to exceed $2,650 in 2018. The plan pays or reimburses you for qualified medical expenses.
What you don’t use by the plan year’s end, you generally lose — though your plan might allow you to roll over up to $500 to the next year. Or it might give you a grace period of two and a half months to incur expenses to use up the previous year’s contribution. If you have an HSA, your FSA is limited to funding certain “permitted” expenses.
A Health Reimbursement Account is an employer-sponsored account that reimburses you for medical expenses. Unlike an HSA, no HDHP is required. Unlike an FSA, any unused portion typically can be carried forward to the next year.
There’s no government-set limit on HRA contributions. But only your employer can contribute to an HRA; employees aren’t allowed to contribute.
Maximize the benefit
If you have one of these health care accounts, it’s important to understand the applicable rules so you can get the maximum benefit from it. But tax-advantaged accounts aren’t the only way to save taxes in relation to health care. If you have questions about tax planning and health care expenses, please contact us.
For tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) created a flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations. Under prior law, C corporations were taxed at rates as high as 35%. The TCJA also reduced individual income tax rates, which apply to sole proprietorships and pass-through entities, including partnerships, S corporations, and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). The top rate, however, dropped only slightly, from 39.6% to 37%.
On the surface, that may make choosing C corporation structure seem like a no-brainer. But there are many other considerations involved.
Under prior tax law, 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 under the TCJA, their new 21% tax rate helps make up for it. This issue is further complicated, however, by another provision of the TCJA 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, the break is available only for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when deciding how to structure a business. The best choice depends on your business’s unique situation and your situation as an owner.
3 common scenarios
Here are three common scenarios and the entity-choice implications:
1. Business generates tax losses. For a business that consistently generates losses, there’s no tax advantage to operating as a C corporation. Losses from C corporations can’t be deducted by their owners. A pass-through entity will generally make more sense because losses pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns.
2. Business distributes all profits to owners. For a profitable business that pays out all income to the owners, operating as a pass-through entity generally will be better if significant QBI deductions are available. If not, it’s probably a toss-up in terms of tax liability.
3. Business retains all profits to finance growth. For a business that’s profitable but holds on to its profits to fund future growth strategies, operating as a C corporation generally will be advantageous if the corporation is a qualified small business (QSB). Why? A 100% gain exclusion may be available for QSB stock sale gains. If QSB status is unavailable, operating as a C corporation is still probably preferred — unless significant QBI deductions would be available at the owner level.
These are only some of the issues to consider when making the C corporation vs. pass-through entity choice. We can help you evaluate your options.
IRS examiners use Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs) to prepare for audits — and so can small business owners. Many ATGs target specific industries, such as construction. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation and fringe benefits. These publications can provide valuable insights into issues that might surface if your business is audited.
What do ATGs cover?
The IRS compiles information obtained from past examinations of taxpayers and publishes its findings in ATGs. Typically, these publications explain:
By using a specific ATG, an examiner may, for example, 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 taxpayer resides.
What do ATGs advise?
ATGs cover the types of documentation IRS examiners should request from taxpayers and what relevant information might be uncovered during a tour of the business premises. These guides are intended in part to help examiners identify potential sources of income that could otherwise slip through the cracks.
Other issues that ATGs might instruct examiners to inquire about include:
Cash-intensive businesses may be tempted to underreport their cash receipts, but franchised operations may have internal controls in place to deter such “skimming.” For instance, a franchisee may be required to purchase products or goods from the franchisor, which provides a paper trail that can be used to verify sales records.
Likewise, for gas stations, examiners must check the methods of determining income, rebates and other incentives. Restaurants and bars should be asked about net profits compared to the industry average, spillage, pouring averages and tipping.
Avoiding red flags
Although ATGs were created to enhance IRS examiner proficiency, they also can help small businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise red flags with the IRS. To access the complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website. And for more information on the IRS red flags that may be relevant to your business, contact us.
Now that small businesses and their owners have filed their 2017 income tax returns (or filed for an extension), it’s a good time to review some of the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that may significantly impact their taxes for 2018 and beyond. Generally, the changes apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and are permanent, unless otherwise noted.
New or expanded tax breaks
Reduced or eliminated tax breaks
A good time for 2018 tax planning
This is only a sampling of some of the most significant TCJA changes that will affect small businesses and their owners beginning this year, and additional rules and limits apply. The combined impact of these changes should inform which tax strategies you and your business implement in 2018, such as how to time income and expenses to your tax advantage. The sooner you begin the tax planning process, the more tax-saving opportunities will be open to you. To maximize tax savings, contact us today.
With the April 17 individual income tax filing deadline behind you (or with your 2017 tax return on the back burner if you filed for an extension), you may be hoping to not think about taxes for the next several months. But for maximum tax savings, now is the time to start tax planning for 2018. It’s especially critical to get an early start this year because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has substantially changed the tax environment.
A tremendous number of variables affect your overall tax liability for the year. Looking at these variables early in the year can give you more opportunities to reduce your 2018 tax bill.
For example, the timing of income and deductible expenses can affect both the rate you pay and when you pay. By regularly reviewing your year-to-date income, expenses and potential tax, you may be able to time income and expenses in a way that reduces, or at least defers, your tax liability.
In other words, tax planning shouldn’t be just a year-end activity.
Certainty vs. uncertainty
Last year, planning early was a challenge because it was uncertain whether tax reform legislation would be signed into law, when it would go into effect and what it would include. This year, the TCJA tax reform legislation is in place, with most of the provisions affecting individuals in effect for 2018–2025. And additional major tax law changes aren’t expected in 2018. So there’s no need to hold off on tax planning.
But while there’s more certainty about the tax law that will be in effect this year and next, there’s still much uncertainty on exactly what the impact of the TCJA changes will be on each taxpayer. The new law generally reduces individual tax rates, and it expands some tax breaks. However, it reduces or eliminates many other breaks.
The total impact of these changes is what will ultimately determine which tax strategies will make sense for you this year, such as the best way to time income and expenses. You may need to deviate from strategies that worked for you in previous years and implement some new strategies.
Getting started sooner will help ensure you don’t take actions that you think will save taxes but that actually will be costly under the new tax regime. It will also allow you to take full advantage of new tax-saving opportunities.
Now and throughout the year
To get started on your 2018 tax planning, contact us. We can help you determine how the TCJA affects you and what strategies you should implement now and throughout the year to minimize your tax liability.
While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced most ordinary-income tax rates for individuals, it didn’t change long-term capital gains rates. They remain at 0%, 15% and 20%.
The 0% rate generally applies to taxpayers in the bottom two ordinary-income tax brackets (now 10% and 12%), but you no longer have to be in the top ordinary-income tax bracket (now 37%) to be subject to the top long-term capital gains rate of 20%. Many taxpayers in the 35% tax bracket also will be subject to the 20% rate.
So finding ways to defer or minimize taxes on investments is still important. One way to do that — and diversify your portfolio, too — is to invest in qualified small business (QSB) stock.
To be a QSB, a business must be a C corporation engaged in an active trade or business and must not have assets that exceed $50 million when you purchase the shares.
The corporation must be a QSB on the date the stock is issued and during substantially all the time you own the shares. If, however, the corporation’s assets exceed the $50 million threshold while you’re holding the shares, it won’t cause QSB status to be lost in relation to your shares.
2 tax advantages
QSBs offer investors two valuable tax advantages:
1. Up to a 100% exclusion of gain. Generally, taxpayers selling QSB stock are allowed to exclude a portion of their gain if they’ve held the stock for more than five years. The amount of the exclusion depends on the acquisition date. The exclusion is 100% for stock acquired on or after Sept. 28, 2010. So if you purchase QSB stock in 2018, you can enjoy a 100% exclusion if you hold it until sometime in 2023. (The specific date, of course, depends on the date you purchase the stock.)
2. Tax-free gain rollovers. If you don’t want to hold the QSB stock for five years, you still have the opportunity to enjoy a tax benefit: Within 60 days of selling the stock, you can buy other QSB stock with the proceeds and defer the tax on your gain until you dispose of the new stock. The rolled-over gain reduces your basis in the new stock. For determining long-term capital gains treatment, the new stock’s holding period includes the holding period of the stock you sold.
More to think about
Additional requirements and limits apply to these breaks. For example, there are many types of business that don’t qualify as QSBs, ranging from various professional fields to financial services to hospitality, and more.
Before investing, it’s important to also consider nontax factors, such as your risk tolerance, time horizon, and overall investment goals. Contact us to learn more about QSB stock.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
• Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2018 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See the exception below, under “August 10.”)
• File a 2017 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.
• Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2018 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
Septem ber 17
• If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2018 estimated income taxes.
• If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
• File a 2017 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
• Make contributions for 2017 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
At this time of year, a summer vacation is on many people’s minds. If you travel for business, combining a business trip with a vacation to offset some of the cost with a tax deduction can sound appealing. But tread carefully, or you might not be eligible for the deduction you’re expecting.
Business travel expenses are potentially deductible if the travel is within the United States and the expenses are “ordinary and necessary” and directly related to the business. (Foreign travel expenses may also be deductible, but stricter rules apply than are discussed here.)
Currently, business owners and the self-employed are potentially eligible to deduct business travel expenses. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct such expenses. The potential deductions discussed below assume that you’re a business owner or self-employed.
Business vs. pleasure
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 none of those costs are deductible.
The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining whether the primary reason for domestic travel is business. You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip if business days exceed personal days. In determining which days count as business days, keep in mind the following:
What transportation costs can you deduct? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, etc. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.
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 — unless they’re employees of your business and traveling for a bona fide business purpose.
Substantiation is critical
Be sure to accumulate proof of the business nature of your trip and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions. You also must properly substantiate all of the expenses you’re deducting.
Additional rules and limits apply to the travel expense deduction. Please contact us if you have questions.
In many parts of the country, summer is peak season for selling a home. If you’re planning to put your home on the market soon, you’re probably thinking about things like how quickly it will sell and how much you’ll get for it. But don’t neglect to consider the tax consequences.
Home sale gain exclusion
The U.S. House of Representatives’ original version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act included a provision tightening the rules for the home sale gain exclusion. Fortunately, that provision didn’t make it into the final version that was signed into law.
As a result, if you’re selling your principal residence, there’s still a good chance you’ll be able to exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain. Gain that qualifies for exclusion also is excluded from the 3.8% net investment income tax.
To qualify for the exclusion, you must meet certain tests. For example, you generally must own and use the home as your principal residence for at least two years during the five-year period preceding the sale. (Gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.) In addition, you can’t use the exclusion more than once every two years.
More tax considerations
Any gain that doesn’t qualify for the exclusion generally will be taxed at your long-term capital gains rate, as long as you owned the home for at least a year. If you didn’t, the gain will be considered short-term and subject to your ordinary-income rate, which could be more than double your long-term rate.
Here are some additional tax considerations when selling a home:
Tax basis. To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain thorough records, including information on your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed based on business use.
Losses. A loss on the sale of your principal residence generally isn’t deductible. But if part of your home is rented out or used exclusively for your business, the loss attributable to that portion may be deductible.
Second homes. If you’re selling a second home, be aware that it won’t be eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 exchange. Or you may be able to deduct a loss.
A big investment
Your home is likely one of your biggest investments, so it’s important to consider the tax consequences before selling it. If you’re planning to put your home on the market, we can help you assess the potential tax impact.
Contact us to learn more.
If you own a business and have a child in high school or college, hiring him or her for the summer can provide a multitude of benefits, including tax savings. And hiring can make more sense than ever due to changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
How it works
By shifting some of your business earnings to a child as wages for services performed, you can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income. For your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done must be legitimate and the child’s wages must be reasonable.
Here’s an example: A sole proprietor is in the 37% tax bracket. He hires his 20-year-old daughter, who’s majoring in marketing, to work as a marketing coordinator full-time during the summer. She earns $12,000 and doesn’t have any other earnings.
The father saves $4,440 (37% of $12,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to his daughter, who can use her $12,000 standard deduction (for 2018) to completely shelter her earnings. This is nearly twice as much as would have been sheltered last year, pre-TCJA, when the standard deduction was only $6,350.
The father can save an additional $2,035 in taxes if he keeps his daughter on the payroll as a part-time employee into the fall and pays her an additional $5,500. She can shelter the additional income from tax by making a tax-deductible contribution to her own traditional IRA.
Family taxes will be cut even if an employee-child’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction and IRA deduction. Why? The unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the child beginning at a rate of 10% instead of being taxed at the parent’s higher rate.
Avoiding the “kiddie tax”
TCJA changes to the “kiddie tax” also make income-shifting through hiring your child (rather than, say, giving him or her income-producing investments) more appealing. The kiddie tax generally applies to children under age 19 and to full-time students under age 24. Before 2018, the unearned income of a child subject to the kiddie tax was generally taxed at the parents’ tax rate.
The TCJA makes the kiddie tax harsher. For 2018-2025, a child’s unearned income will be taxed according to the tax brackets used for trusts and estates, which for 2018 are taxed at the highest rate of 37% once taxable income reaches $12,500. In contrast, for a married couple filing jointly, the 37% rate doesn’t kick in until their taxable income tops $600,000. In other words, children’s unearned income often will be taxed at higher rates than their parents’ income.
But the kiddie tax doesn’t apply to earned income.
Other tax considerations
If your business isn’t incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners, you might also save some employment tax dollars.
Contact us to learn more about the tax rules surrounding hiring your child, how the kiddie tax works or other family-related tax-saving strategies.
The massive changes the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made to income taxes have garnered the most attention. But the new law also made major changes to gift and estate taxes. While the TCJA didn’t repeal these taxes, it did significantly reduce the number of taxpayers who’ll be subject to them, at least for the next several years. Nevertheless, factoring taxes into your estate planning is still important.
The TCJA more than doubles the combined gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption, from $5.49 million for 2017 to $11.18 million for 2018.
This amount will continue to be annually adjusted for inflation through 2025. Absent further congressional action, however, the exemptions will revert to their 2017 levels (adjusted for inflation) for 2026 and beyond.
The rate for all three taxes remains at 40% — only three percentage points higher than the top income tax rate.
Even before the TCJA, the vast majority of taxpayers didn’t have to worry about federal gift and estate taxes. While the TCJA protects even more taxpayers from these taxes, those with estates in the roughly $6 million to $11 million range (twice that for married couples) still need to keep potential post-2025 estate tax liability in mind in their estate planning. Although their estates would escape estate taxes if they were to die while the doubled exemption is in effect, they could face such taxes if they live beyond 2025.
Any taxpayer who could be subject to gift and estate taxes after 2025 may want to consider making gifts now to take advantage of the higher exemptions while they’re available.
Factoring taxes into your estate planning is also still important if you live in a state with an estate tax. Even before the TCJA, many states imposed estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government did. Now the differences in some states will be even greater.
Finally, income tax planning, which became more important in estate planning back when exemptions rose to $5 million more than 15 years ago, is now an even more important part of estate planning.
For example, holding assets until death may be advantageous if estate taxes aren’t a concern. When you give away an appreciated asset, the recipient takes over your tax basis in the asset, triggering capital gains tax should he or she turn around and sell it. When an appreciated asset is inherited, on the other hand, the recipient’s basis is “stepped up” to the asset’s fair market value on the date of death, erasing the built-in capital gain. So retaining appreciating assets until death can save significant income tax.
Review your estate plan
Whether or not you need to be concerned about federal gift and estate taxes, having an estate plan in place and reviewing it regularly is important. Contact us to discuss the potential tax impact of the TCJA on your estate plan.
What 2017 tax records can you toss once you’ve filed your 2017 return? The answer is simple: none. You need to hold on to all of your 2017 tax records for now. But it’s the perfect time to go through old tax records and see what you can discard.
The 3-year and 6-year rules
At minimum, keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you potentially can get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2014 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2014 return, hold on to your records at least until the three-year anniversary of when you filed your extended return.)
However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%. What constitutes an understatement may go beyond simply not reporting items of income. So a common rule of thumb is to save tax records for six years from filing, just to be safe.
What to keep longer
You’ll need to hang on to certain tax-related records beyond the statute of limitations:
We’ve covered retention guidelines for some of the most common tax-related records. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.
Employers that suspect occupational fraud generally have the right to search employee desks and computers, but they should approach such searches with care. Even if you think you know an employee is stealing, you risk invading that person’s privacy, which could lead to a lawsuit.
Can vs. should
Laws vary from state to state, so consult your attorney before conducting a workplace search. Most states, however, allow you to search company-owned computers, desks, lockers and other personal workspace equipment if:
Similarly, you can monitor emails, texts, online activity and phone calls if you have a well-communicated policy stating that electronic communications are to be used only for business purposes and that you reserve the right to monitor such communications.
But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Perform a risk/benefit analysis every time you’re considering a search, regardless of your policies. And search an employee’s workspace only when you’re reasonably certain you’ll find what you’re looking for and you have procedures in place to deal with what you find.
Don’t risk a lawsuit
The biggest risk is a lawsuit claiming invasion of privacy, discrimination or harassment. While there’s no constitutional right to workplace privacy, workers who can demonstrate they were justified in believing certain areas wouldn’t be searched often have a strong basis for a lawsuit.
In addition, unless you have justifiable reasons to inspect personal work areas, employees in protected classes may claim discrimination or sexual harassment if they’re singled out for a search or the search is too intrusive. Justifiable reasons include investigation of workplace misconduct and retrieval of missing files, whether or not due to suspected misconduct. Even if your reasons are beyond reproach, document them before beginning a search.
If the suspected employee is a union member, it’s wise to have a union representative present during the search. To further guard against claims, never conduct random searches or search an employee’s body.
Proceed with caution
The laws surrounding workplace searches are complex, so seek legal counsel before conducting one. Also document your right to search employees’ workspaces and ensure that workers understand your policy. For questions about preventing and detecting occupational fraud, contact us.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) includes many changes that affect tax breaks for employee benefits. Among the changes are four negatives and one positive that will impact not only employees but also the businesses providing the benefits.
4 breaks curtailed
Beginning with the 2018 tax year, the TCJA reduces or eliminates tax breaks in the following areas:
1. Transportation benefits. The TCJA eliminates business deductions for the cost of providing qualified employee transportation fringe benefits, such as parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling. (These benefits are still tax-free to recipient employees.) It also disallows business deductions for the cost of providing commuting transportation to an employee (such as hiring a car service), unless the transportation is necessary for the employee’s safety. And it suspends through 2025 the tax-free benefit of up to $20 a month for bicycle commuting.
2. On-premises meals. The TCJA reduces to 50% a business’s deduction for providing certain meals to employees on the business premises, such as when employees work late or if served in a company cafeteria. (The deduction is scheduled for elimination in 2025.) For employees, the value of these benefits continues to be tax-free.
3. Moving expense reimbursements. The TCJA suspends through 2025 the exclusion from employees’ taxable income of a business’s reimbursements of employees’ qualified moving expenses. However, businesses generally will still be able to deduct such reimbursements.
4. Achievement awards. The TCJA eliminates the business tax deduction and corresponding employee tax exclusion for employee achievement awards that are provided in the form of cash, gift coupons or certificates, vacations, meals, lodging, tickets to sporting or theater events, securities and “other similar items.” However, the tax breaks are still available for gift certificates that allow the recipient to select tangible property from a limited range of items preselected by the employer. The deduction/exclusion limits remain at up to $400 of the value of achievement awards for length of service or safety and $1,600 for awards under a written nondiscriminatory achievement plan.
1 new break
For 2018 and 2019, the TCJA creates a tax credit for wages paid to qualifying employees on family and medical leave. To qualify, a business must offer at least two weeks of annual paid family and medical leave, as described by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), to qualified employees. The paid leave must provide at least 50% of the employee’s wages. Leave required by state or local law or that was already part of the business’s employee benefits program generally doesn’t qualify.
The credit equals a minimum of 12.5% of the amount of wages paid during a leave period. The credit is increased gradually for payments above 50% of wages paid and tops out at 25%. No double-dipping: Employers can’t also deduct wages claimed for the credit.
More rules, limits and changes
Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these breaks, and that the TCJA makes additional changes affecting employee benefits. Contact us for more details.
While April 15 (April 17 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that you also need to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2018 deadlines, here’s a look at when some key tax-related forms, payments and other actions are due. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you.
Please review the calendar and let us know if you have any questions about the deadlines or would like assistance in meeting them.
But remember that some types of expenses that were deductible on 2017 returns won’t be deductible on 2018 returns under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, such as unreimbursed work-related expenses, certain professional fees, and investment expenses. In addition, some deductions will be subject to new limits. Finally, with the nearly doubled standard deduction, you may no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.
Identity thieves don’t rely on just real identities to commit fraud. With “synthetic” identity theft, they use only a portion of your personal data to help them create fictitious identities. But that doesn’t necessarily lessen the negative impact on your credit. Forensic experts estimate that synthetic identity theft is actually more prevalent than so-called “true-name” fraud.
How it works
Traditionally, identity theft occurs when a thief gets hold of someone’s personal information and uses it to assume his or her identity. With synthetic identity theft, the perpetrator typically combines real and fabricated information to produce a fictitious identity and then uses it to apply for credit. Alternatively, a perpetrator combines the real personal information of multiple identities. For example, someone could use your Social Security number (SSN) with another individual’s name and a third person’s address.
The thief’s initial credit application using the synthetic identity usually is rejected. But credit reporting agencies will generally open a new credit file for the identity. The fraudster can then try again — and stands a good chance of approval. Some card issuers offer small credit lines to applicants with little or no credit history. These “starter” cards can be used to establish a credit history, paving the way to more lucrative opportunities for fraud in the future.
Why it’s costly
Credit agencies can take months or even years to clean up negative data from fragmented files. In the meantime, creditors rely on false information in your credit report.
Experienced perpetrators often seek out SSNs that aren’t actively used. For example, a thief who incorporates a child’s SSN might not be discovered until the victim tries to apply for student loans or jobs with employers that check credit histories.
What to do
To prevent becoming victim to this type of theft, obtain free credit reports annually and consider subscribing to identity theft protection services that provide real-time monitoring. Contact us for help reviewing credit reports for signs of synthetic fraud and working with credit agencies to correct errors.
When a company’s deductible expenses exceed its income, generally a net operating loss (NOL) occurs. If when filing your 2017 income tax return you found that your business had an NOL, there is an upside: tax benefits. But beware — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes some significant changes to the tax treatment of NOLs.
Under pre-TCJA law, when a business incurs an NOL, the loss can be carried back up to two years, and then any remaining amount can be carried forward up to 20 years. The carryback can generate an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow.
The business can, however, elect instead to carry the entire loss forward. If cash flow is strong, this may be more beneficial, such as if the business’s income increases substantially, pushing it into a higher tax bracket — or if tax rates increase. In both scenarios, the carryforward can save more taxes than the carryback because deductions are more powerful when higher tax rates apply.
But the TCJA has established a flat 21% tax rate for C corporation taxpayers beginning with the 2018 tax year, and the rate has no expiration date. So C corporations don’t have to worry about being pushed into a higher tax bracket unless Congress changes the corporate rates again.
Also keep in mind that the rules are more complex for pass-through entities, such as partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (if they elected partnership tax treatment). Each owner’s allocable share of the entity’s loss is passed through to the owners and reported on their personal returns. The tax benefit depends on each owner’s particular tax situation.
The TCJA changes
The changes the TCJA made to the tax treatment of NOLs generally aren’t favorable to taxpayers:
The differences between the effective dates for these changes may have been a mistake, and a technical correction might be made by Congress. Also be aware that, in the case of pass-through entities, owners’ tax benefits from the entity’s net loss might be further limited under the TCJA’s new “excess business loss” rules.
Complicated rules get more complicated
NOLs can provide valuable tax benefits. The rules, however, have always been complicated, and the TCJA has complicated them further. Please contact us if you’d like more information on the NOL rules and how you can maximize the tax benefit of an NOL.
The federal income tax filing deadline is slightly later than usual this year — April 17 — but it’s now nearly upon us. So, if you haven’t filed your individual return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Or you may just be concerned about meeting the deadline in the eyes of the IRS. Whatever you do, don’t get tripped up by one of these potential pitfalls.
Filing for an extension
Filing for an extension allows you to delay filing your return until the applicable extension deadline, which for 2017 individual tax returns is October 15, 2018.
While filing for an extension can provide relief from April 17 deadline stress and avoid failure-to-file penalties, there are some possible pitfalls:
Meeting the April 17 deadline
The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 17 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. Sounds straightforward, but here’s a potential pitfall: Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 17, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared. You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you can still be hit with both failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties.
To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:
Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.
Avoiding interest and penalties
Despite the potential pitfalls, 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. We can help you estimate whether you owe tax and how much you should pay by April 17. Please contact us if you need help or have questions about avoiding interest and penalties.
One of the things that make family businesses such appealing places to work is trust. Trust is also one of the things that make family businesses vulnerable to fraud. It only takes one lone wolf to damage or destroy an enterprise you and your family have spent years building.
Accept the possibility
One of the biggest obstacles for family businesses is acknowledging that a family member would be capable of initiating or overlooking unethical or illegal activities. But like any other business, your family enterprise must make fraud difficult by establishing a system of checks and balances. It may be awkward for one family member to exercise authority over others, but someone needs to take charge if issues arise.
Of course, the person in charge potentially could be the one defrauding the company. That’s why independent auditors and attorneys are critical. Your family business should look outside its immediate circles to retain professional advisors who can be objective when assessing the company. In particular, audited financial statements from independent accountants protect your business and supply peace of mind to its stakeholders. And if your company is large enough to have a board of directors, whether formal or informal, it should include at least one outsider who’s strong enough to tell you things you may not want to hear.
Punish or perish
Another problem family businesses might face is what to do if they find that someone in the family has, indeed, defrauded the company. While legal action is an option, it’s one families rarely can bring themselves to pursue against one of their own — at least not at first.
If you find your business in that situation, ask a trusted advisor to explain to the perpetrator the illegality and possible consequences of the fraudulent actions. If such interventions don’t work, you and other family members may have no choice but to pursue legal action.
Avoid blind trust
Just as it’s more difficult to accept that the family closet is hiding a fraudster, it’s also harder to resist a loved one’s pleas for assistance. In worst cases, families may have to choose between maintaining ethical professional standards and saving a loved one from scandal or punishment.
Objective professional advisors and a corporate culture based on trust — but not blind trust — can help prevent a rogue family member from harming what should be a source of mutual prosperity. Contact us for more information.
Classifying workers as independent contractors — rather than employees — can save businesses money and provide other benefits. But the IRS is on the lookout for businesses that do this improperly to avoid taxes and employee benefit obligations.
To find out how the IRS will classify a particular worker, businesses can file optional IRS Form SS-8, “Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.” However, the IRS has a history of reflexively classifying workers as employees, and filing this form may alert the IRS that your business has classification issues — and even inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit.
Contractor vs. employee status
A business enjoys several advantages when it classifies a worker as an independent contractor rather than as an employee. For example, it isn’t required to pay payroll taxes, withhold taxes, pay benefits or comply with most wage and hour laws.
On the downside, if the IRS determines that you’ve improperly classified employees as independent contractors, you can be subject to significant back taxes, interest and penalties. That’s why filing IRS Form SS-8 for an up-front determination may sound appealing.
But because of the risks involved, instead of filing the form, it can be better to simply properly treat independent contractors so they meet the tax code rules. Among other things, this generally includes not controlling how the worker performs his or her duties, ensuring you’re not the worker’s only client, providing Form 1099 and, overall, not treating the worker like an employee.
Be prepared for workers filing the form
Workers seeking determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to health, retirement and other employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.
After a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS sends a letter to the business. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return it to the IRS, which will render a classification decision. But the Form SS-8 determination process doesn’t constitute an official IRS audit.
Passing IRS muster
If your business properly classifies workers as 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 can pass muster with the IRS.
Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. The deadline for 2017 contributions is April 17, 2018. Deductible contributions will lower your 2017 tax bill, but even nondeductible contributions can be beneficial.
Don’t lose the opportunity
The 2017 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2017). But any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years.
This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So to maximize your potential for tax-deferred or tax-free savings, it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible.
3 types of contributions
If you haven’t already maxed out your 2017 IRA contribution limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 17:
1. Deductible traditional. With traditional IRAs, account growth is tax-deferred and distributions are subject to income tax. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k), the contribution is fully deductible on your 2017 tax return. If you or your spouse does participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your deduction is subject to a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) phaseout:
Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution; those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution.
2. Roth. With Roth IRAs, contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Your ability to contribute, however, is subject to a MAGI-based phaseout:
You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.
3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth.
Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.
Maximize your tax-advantaged savings
Traditional and Roth IRAs provide a powerful way to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. Contact us to learn more about making 2017 contributions and making the most of IRAs in 2018 and beyond.
For many entrepreneurs, getting a “doing business as” (DBA) certificate enables them to open a small business. However, DBAs can also be used to open shell companies. These businesses, which have no assets of their own, may be legitimate — for example, when they’re used to hold another company’s assets. But they also can be used to perpetrate fraud.
Stealing on the cheap
For most businesses, the biggest threat posed by shell companies is that unscrupulous employees will use them to perpetrate billing fraud. Such schemes can take two forms.
1. An employee sets up a shell company to send out ― and collect on ― fictitious bills. Of course, perpetrators don’t even have to send the bills for nonexistent goods and services to the company for which they work. But it’s easier, and can help them evade detection, if they do.
Consider, for example, an accounting employee who knows that her company rarely scrutinizes invoices for less than $2,500. She gets a DBA certificate for a fictitious business, using a post office box, and opens a business account at a local bank. Voila! She’s ready to bill her employer for services that cost less than $2,500 per invoice.
2. An employee sets up a shell company to sell products to his or her employer at a marked-up price. Because the employee’s shell company has no overhead or expenses, the employee pockets the proceeds.
Following the paper trail
Shell company schemes can go undetected for a long time, particularly if the fraudsters are savvy enough to attempt to cover their tracks — and don’t get too greedy. Most perpetrators, however, leave a paper trail of invoices that:
Shell company scams work only if the employee can pay the invoices or get the shell company authorized as a legitimate vendor. A quick credit check on a new vendor will reveal whether it has an operating history and deserves greater scrutiny.
System of checks
Familiarize yourself with the signs of shell company abuse and put in place a system so that you’ll catch billing fraud before it begins. Contact us for help.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2018. 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.
Perhaps. It depends on several factors, such as your parent’s income and how much financial support you provided. If you qualify for the adult-dependent exemption on your 2017 income tax return, you can deduct up to $4,050 per qualifying adult dependent. However, for 2018, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the dependency exemption is eliminated.
Income and support
For you to qualify for the adult-dependent exemption, in most cases your parent must have less gross income for the tax year than the exemption amount. (Exceptions may apply if your parent is permanently and totally disabled.) Generally Social Security is excluded, but payments from dividends, interest and retirement plans are included.
In addition, you must have contributed more than 50% of your parent’s financial support. If you shared caregiving duties with a sibling and your combined support exceeded 50%, the exemption can be claimed even though no one individually provided more than 50%. However, only one of you can claim the exemption.
Keep in mind that, even though Social Security payments can usually be excluded from the adult dependent’s income, they can still affect your ability to qualify. Why? If your parent is using Social Security money to pay for medicine or other expenses, you may find that you aren’t meeting the 50% test.
Don’t forget about your home. If your parent lived with you, the amount of support you claim under the 50% test can include the fair market rental value of part of your residence.
If the parent lived elsewhere — in his or her own residence or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home — any amount of financial support you contributed to that housing expense counts toward the 50% test.
Other savings opportunities
Sometimes caregivers fall just short of qualifying for the exemption. Should this happen, you may still be able to claim an itemized deduction for the medical expenses that you pay for the parent. To receive a tax benefit on your 2017 (or 2018) return, you must itemize deductions and the combined medical expenses paid for you, your dependents and your parent for the year must exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
The adult-dependent exemption is just one tax break that you may be able to employ to ease the financial burden of caring for an elderly parent. For 2018 through 2025, while the exemption is suspended, you might be eligible for a $500 “family” tax credit for your adult dependent. We’d be happy to provide additional information. Contact us to learn more.
If you’ve ever considered paying employees in cash under the table, resist the temptation. Not only do you and your workers risk penalties, but the practice may do significant financial damage to your business and could even result in criminal prosecution.
Justifying the practice
Employers may make financial justifications for paying cash wages. It lowers tax and insurance costs, reduces bookkeeping time, and can provide owners with a competitive advantage. Sometimes employees ask to be paid in cash — and cash wages are routine in certain industries, such as restaurants and construction.
However, to avoid possible legal repercussions, employers must withhold taxes from employees’ pay. You can, of course, pay employees in cash if you:
Paying the piper
If you’re caught paying workers under the table, the consequences can be severe. Business owners found guilty have been sentenced to pay steep fines and restitution and serve prison time.
Even if you’re caught paying undocumented wages on a small scale, the IRS will likely be
interested in you. It has broad powers to go after employers that don’t withhold taxes from employees’ paychecks, and violators can be liable for as much as 100% of the taxes they should have paid, plus interest and penalties. Then there’s state and local taxes and unemployment premiums, along with associated interest and penalties.
If regulators find unreported wages during an audit of your business, you’ll likely be required to reconstruct your payroll records going back at least to the time you stopped reporting wages. If officials suspect you were intentionally breaking the law, they can keep going back further, potentially all the way to your company’s inception.
Employees who receive unreported wages share the blame. They can be subject to tax audits for not reporting their wages and will be liable for any resulting back taxes, interest and penalties. And these workers have no paycheck stubs or W-2 forms to verify their wages, which could make getting a bank loan or lease difficult. Worse, the employees aren’t accruing Social Security benefits and could be denied unemployment compensation if they lose their jobs.
Under-the-table wages may seem like a good deal both for your balance sheet and your employees’ pocketbooks, but the practice comes at a high cost. Contact us for more information.
Normally when appreciated business assets such as real estate are sold, tax is owed on the appreciation. But there’s a way to defer this tax: a Section 1031 “like kind” exchange. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduces the types of property eligible for this favorable tax treatment.
What is a like-kind exchange?
Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allows you to defer gains on real or personal property used in a business or held for investment if, instead of selling it, you exchange it solely for property of a “like kind.” Thus, the tax benefit of an exchange is that you defer tax and, thereby, have use of the tax savings until you sell the replacement property.
This technique is especially flexible for real estate, because virtually any type of real estate will be considered to be of a like kind, as long as it’s business or investment property. For example, you can exchange a warehouse for an office building, or an apartment complex for a strip mall.
Deferred and reverse exchanges
Although a like-kind exchange may sound quick and easy, it’s relatively rare for two owners to simply swap properties. You’ll likely have to execute a “deferred” exchange, in which you engage a qualified intermediary (QI) for assistance.
When you sell your property (the relinquished property), the net proceeds go directly to the QI, who then uses them to buy replacement property. To qualify for tax-deferred exchange treatment, you generally must identify replacement property within 45 days after you transfer the relinquished property and complete the purchase within 180 days after the initial transfer.
An alternate approach is a “reverse” exchange. Here, an exchange accommodation titleholder (EAT) acquires title to the replacement property before you sell the relinquished property. You can defer capital gains by identifying one or more properties to exchange within 45 days after the EAT receives the replacement property and, typically, completing the transaction within 180 days.
Changes under the TCJA
There had been some concern that tax reform would include the elimination of like-kind exchanges. The good news is that the TCJA still generally allows tax-deferred like-kind exchanges of business and investment real estate.
But there’s also some bad news: For 2018 and beyond, the TCJA eliminates tax-deferred like-kind exchange treatment for exchanges of personal property. However, prior-law rules that allow like-kind exchanges of personal property still apply if one leg of an exchange was completed by December 31, 2017, but one leg remained open on that date. Keep in mind that exchanged personal property must be of the same asset or product class.
The rules for like-kind exchanges are complex, so these arrangements present some risks. If, say, you exchange the wrong kind of property or acquire cash or other non-like-kind property in a deal, you may still end up incurring a sizable tax hit. If you’re exploring a like-kind exchange, contact us. We can help you ensure you’re in compliance with the rules.
Home ownership is a key element of the American dream for many, and the U.S. tax code includes many tax breaks that help support this dream. If you own a home, you may be eligible for several valuable breaks when you file your 2017 return. But under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, your home-related breaks may not be as valuable when you file your 2018 return next year.
2017 vs. 2018
Here’s a look at various home-related tax breaks for 2017 vs. 2018:
Property tax deduction. For 2017, property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). For 2018, your total deduction for all state and local taxes, including both property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes, is capped at $10,000.
Mortgage interest deduction. For 2017, you generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. However, for 2018, if the mortgage debt was incurred on or after December 15, 2017, the debt limit generally is $750,000.
Home equity debt interest deduction. For 2017, interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. (If home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes). For 2018, the TCJA suspends the home equity interest deduction. But the IRS has clarified that such interest generally still will be deductible if used for home improvements.
Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.
Home office deduction. For 2017, if your home office use meets certain tests, you may be able to deduct associated expenses or use a simplified method for claiming the deduction. Employees claim this as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, which means there will be tax savings only to the extent that the home office deduction plus other miscellaneous itemized deductions exceeds 2% of adjusted gross income. The self-employed can deduct home office expenses from self-employment income. For 2018, miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor are suspended, so only the self-employed can deduct home office expenses.
Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Changes to this break had been proposed, but they weren’t included in the final TCJA that was signed into law.
Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.
Additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. To learn more, contact us. We can help you determine which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim on your 2017 return and how your 2018 tax situation may be affected by the TCJA.
If someone steals your credit or debit card — or just your account number — and uses it to make purchases, will your card company hold you liable? The answer may depend on the type of card, whether the physical card is still in your possession and when you alert the card issuer.
If your card is lost or stolen and you report it to the card provider before your card is used in a fraudulent transaction, you can’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges. If you report it after unauthorized charges have been made, you may be responsible for up to $50 in charges. Some card issuers have decided not to hold their customers liable for any fraudulent charges regardless of when they notify the card company. And if your account number is stolen but not the actual card, your liability is $0. But note that either you or the card issuer must identify the fraudulent transactions for them to be removed.
When reporting a card loss or fraudulent transaction, contact the issuer via phone. Then follow up with a letter or email. This should include your account number, the date you noticed the card was missing (if applicable), and the date you initially reported the card loss or fraudulent transaction.
If you report a missing debit card before any unauthorized transactions are made, you aren’t responsible for any unauthorized transactions. If you report a card loss within two business days after you learn of the loss, your maximum liability for unauthorized transactions is $50.
But if you report the card loss after two business days but within 60 calendar days of the date your statement showing an unauthorized transaction was mailed, liability can jump to $500. Finally, if you report the card loss more than 60 calendar days after your statement showing unauthorized transactions was mailed, you could be liable for all charges.
What if you notice an unauthorized debit card transaction on your statement, but your card is still in your possession? You have 60 calendar days after the statement showing the unauthorized transaction is mailed to report it and still avoid liability.
Lower protections required on debit cards may make you wonder if you’re safer using a credit card. But some debit card companies offer protections that go above what the law requires. If you’re unsure about your liability for unauthorized charges, contact your card issuer.
Repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, can provide businesses a valuable current tax deduction — as long as the so-called repairs weren’t actually “improvements.” The costs of incidental repairs and maintenance can be immediately expensed and deducted on the current year’s income tax return. But costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years.
So the size of your 2017 deduction depends on whether the expense was a repair or an improvement.
Betterment, restoration or adaptation
In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be depreciated. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.
Under the “betterment test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.
Under the “restoration test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.
Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.
Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:
1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS.
Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be depreciated, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.
2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.
There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. To learn more about these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions, contact us.
If you suffered damage to your home or personal property last year, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your 2017 federal income tax return. For 2018 through 2025, however, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspends this deduction except for losses due to an event officially declared a disaster by the President.
What is a casualty? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.
Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses on your 2017 return:
When to deduct. Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss on your return for the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.
Amount of loss. Your loss is generally the lesser of 1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or 2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty. This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive. (If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.)
$100 rule. After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.
10% rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.
Note that special relief has been provided to certain victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and California wildfires that affects some of these rules. For details on this relief or other questions about casualty losses, please contact us.
Uncovering and documenting facts in a fraud case is just the precursor to what may be the most important part of an investigation: producing a report that will stand up in court. Here’s what a fraud investigator will do to ensure that his or her report effectively supports your position.
To ensure evidence standards are met, fraud experts document their findings throughout an investigation. This means that they write a dated memorandum of every witness interview — as soon as possible after the interview. In general, such memoranda include the identities of the investigator and witness, the time and location of the interview, and any other relevant details.
Investigators prepare separate memos for each interview. Combining reports of several interviews into one narrative may seem like a good way to save time, but the convenience comes at a risk. With a combined document, an opposing attorney asking to see one interview can gain access to all interviews.
The expert’s opinion shouldn’t appear in any interview memo or final fraud report. These documents are intended to detail facts and only information relevant to the case at hand.
Effective, clear presentation is an important part of a good fraud report. Your report will contain a summary of basic issues and a list of witnesses and exhibits in chronological order. Reports 10 pages or longer should have an index listing evidence collected during the investigation, names of everyone involved and visual aids that help clarify the fraud.
Savvy investigators avoid question-and-answer formats. This approach enables defense attorneys to inquire why one question was asked but another wasn’t, or why a question was phrased in a certain way. Diversions like this can sidetrack a jury, drawing attention to how the investigation was conducted rather than the facts of the case.
The report’s language should be neither too casual nor overly formal, and facts and ideas should be clearly stated. Charts and diagrams can help clarify complex information or provide a guide to a circuitous money trail.
Quality pays off
In the end, fraud reports are as critical to the eventual conviction and punishment of perpetrators as are the investigations that identify them. If you require a fraud investigation, please contact us.
When it comes to income tax returns, April 15 (actually April 17 this year, because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday) isn’t the only deadline taxpayers need to think about. The federal income tax filing deadline for calendar-year partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or S corporations for tax purposes is March 15. While this has been the S corporation deadline for a long time, it’s only the second year the partnership deadline has been in March rather than in April.
Why the deadline change?
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.
What about fiscal-year entities?
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.
What about extensions?
If you haven’t filed your calendar-year partnership or S corporation return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Under the current law, the maximum extension for calendar-year partnerships is six months (until September 17, 2018, for 2017 returns). This is up from five months under prior 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 17, 2018, for 2017 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.
When does an extension make sense?
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 keep in mind that, to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by the unextended deadline. There may not be any tax liability from the partnership or S corporation return. If, however, filing for an extension for the entity return causes you to also have to file an extension for your personal return, you need to keep this in mind related to the individual tax return April 17 deadline.
Have more questions about the filing deadlines that apply to you or avoiding interest and penalties? Contact us.
Whether you’re claiming charitable deductions on your 2017 return or planning your donations for 2018, be sure you know how much you’re allowed to deduct. Your deduction depends on more than just the actual amount you donate.
Type of gift
One of the biggest factors affecting your deduction is what you give:
Cash. You may deduct 100% gifts made by check, credit card or payroll deduction.
Ordinary-income property. For stocks and bonds held one year or less, inventory, and property subject to depreciation recapture, you generally may deduct only the lesser of fair market value or your tax basis.
Long-term capital gains property. You may deduct the current fair market value of appreciated stocks and bonds held for more than one year.
Tangible personal property. Your deduction depends on the situation:
Vehicle. Unless the vehicle is being used by the charity, you generally may deduct only the amount the charity receives when it sells the vehicle.
Use of property. Examples include use of a vacation home and a loan of artwork. Generally, you receive no deduction because it isn’t considered a completed gift.
Services. You may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.
First, you’ll benefit from the charitable deduction only if you itemize deductions rather than claim the standard deduction. Also, your annual charitable donation deductions may be reduced if they exceed certain income-based limits.
In addition, your deduction generally must be reduced by the value of any benefit received from the charity. Finally, various substantiation requirements apply, and the charity must be eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
While December’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) preserves the charitable deduction, it temporarily makes itemizing less attractive for many taxpayers, reducing the tax benefits of charitable giving for them.
Itemizing saves tax only if itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction ? plus, it limits or eliminates some common itemized deductions. As a result, you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction, in which case your charitable donations won’t save you tax.
You might be able to preserve your charitable deduction by “bunching” donations into alternating years, so that you’ll exceed the standard deduction and can claim a charitable deduction (and other itemized deductions) every other year.
Let us know if you have questions about how much you can deduct on your 2017 return or what your charitable giving strategy should be going forward, in light of the TCJA.
When thinking about the ways financial experts can uncover fraud, what usually comes to mind are data analysis and other forensic accounting techniques. But qualified experts also keep everyday managerial accounting practices in their fraud toolkit.
After an organization finalizes its budget, management may perform a variance analysis, reviewing differences between actual and budgeted performance. If, for example, actual wages significantly exceed budgeted wages, the difference could be due to such factors as wage increases, productivity declines or greater downtime. But it could also signal phantom employees on the payroll.
Fraud experts pay particular attention to variances related to inventory and purchase pricing. Supply-related variances could indicate the existence of kickbacks. Or they might suggest fictitious vendors — where payments go to the perpetrator and no inventory is received in exchange.
The absence of variances when they’re expected can also be cause for concern. If the cost of a critical production component has unexpectedly increased, then the actual numbers should show a variance. If no such variance is found, it could be a sign of financial reporting fraud.
The term “contribution margin” generally refers to the difference between a unit’s sale price and its variable costs. It’s often used to make pricing decisions, calculate breakeven point and evaluate profitability. But it can also be used to detect fraud.
In general, the contribution margin as a percentage of revenue should remain fairly consistent over time. If the contribution margin is dramatically lower than usual, skimming or inventory theft could be to blame.
These techniques can raise alarms that fraud might be occurring, yet it’s important to remember that they don’t constitute solid evidence. If you suspect fraud, contact us to help you make a defensible determination.
A survey finds that employers have adapted to the recently enacted tax law changes but employees are concerned about how the changes affect them. According to the new American Payroll Association survey, employers had no problems meeting the Feb. 15 deadline to begin using 2018 federal income tax withholding tables to reflect the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes. But many employees are asking questio ns, including “Will I have enough taxes withheld from my paycheck to not owe taxes when I file in 2019?” and “Will I need to complete a new W-4 form?”
The IRS has released an online updated withholding calculator, as well as a new version of Form W-4, to help taxpayers check their 2018 withholding in light of changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The IRS encourages employees to use the tools to perform a quick “paycheck checkup.” It can help protect against having too little tax withheld and facing an unexpected tax bill or penalty at tax t ime in 2019. The IRS has also issued a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the withholding calculator. Read them here: http://bit.ly/2FdYQh2
The IRS has started releasing refunds for taxpayers who claimed the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit. Many of the refunds should arrive in bank accounts or on debit cards this week. The IRS also explained some facts about tax refunds, such as: Nine out of 10 are usually issued in less than 21 days, IRS customer service representatives can’t provide refund information un til 21 days have passed since a return was filed and requesting a transcript won’t reveal the status of a refund. Read the details here: http://bit.ly/2ou8ouP
If you purchased qualifying property by December 31, 2017, you may be able to take advantage of Section 179 expensing on your 2017 tax return. You’ll also want to keep this tax break in mind in your property purchase planning, because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law this past December, significantly enhances it beginning in 2018.
2017 Sec. 179 benefits
Sec. 179 expensing allows eligible taxpayers to deduct the entire cost of qualifying new or used depreciable property and most software in Year 1, subject to various limitations. For tax years that began in 2017, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $510,000. The maximum deduction is phased out dollar for dollar to the extent the cost of eligible property placed in service during the tax year exceeds the phaseout threshold of $2.03 million.
Qualified real property improvement costs are also eligible for Sec. 179 expensing. This real estate break applies to:
Deductions claimed for qualified real property costs count against the overall maximum for Sec. 179 expensing.
The TCJA permanently enhances Sec. 179 expensing. Under the new law, for qualifying property placed in service in tax years beginning in 2018, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is increased to $1 million, and the phaseout threshold is increased to $2.5 million. For later tax years, these amounts will be indexed for inflation. For purposes of determining eligibility for these higher limits, property is treated as acquired on the date on which a written binding contract for the acquisition is signed.
The new law also expands the definition of eligible property to include certain depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging. The definition of qualified real property eligible for Sec. 179 expensing is also expanded to include the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.
Save now and save later
Many rules apply, so please contact us to learn if you qualify for this break on your 2017 return. We’d also be happy to discuss your future purchasing plans so you can reap the maximum benefits from enhanced Sec. 179 expensing and other tax law changes under the TCJA.
Individuals can deduct some vehicle-related expenses in certain circumstances. Rather than keeping track of the actual costs, you can use a standard mileage rate to compute your deductions. For 2017, you might be able to deduct miles driven for business, medical, moving and charitable purposes. For 2018, there are significant changes to some of these deductions under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
Mileage rates vary
The rates vary depending on the purpose and the year:
Business: 53.5 cents (2017), 54.5 cents (2018)
Medical: 17 cents (2017), 18 cents (2018)
Moving: 17 cents (2017), 18 cents (2018)
Charitable: 14 cents (2017 and 2018)
The business standard mileage rate is considerably higher than the medical, moving and charitable rates because the business rate contains a depreciation component. No depreciation is allowed for the medical, moving or charitable use of a vehicle. The charitable rate is lower than the medical and moving rate because it isn’t adjusted for inflation.
In addition to deductions based on the standard mileage rate, you may deduct related parking fees and tolls.
2017 and 2018 limits
The rules surrounding the various mileage deductions are complex. Some are subject to floors and some require you to meet specific tests in order to qualify.
For example, if you’re an employee, only business mileage not reimbursed by your employer is deductible. It’s a miscellaneous itemized deduction subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. For 2017, this means mileage is deductible only to the extent that your total miscellaneous itemized deductions for the year exceed 2% of your AGI. For 2018, it means that you can’t deduct the mileage, because the TCJA suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor for 2018 through 2025.
If you’re self-employed, business mileage can be deducted against self-employment income. Therefore, it’s not subject to the 2% floor and is still deductible for 2018 through 2025, as long as it otherwise qualifies.
Miles driven for health-care-related purposes are deductible as part of the medical expense deduction. And an AGI floor applies. Under the TCJA, for 2017 and 2018, medical expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. For 2019, the floor will return to 10%, unless Congress extends the 7.5% floor.
And while miles driven related to moving can be deductible on your 2017 return, the move must be work-related and meet other tests. For 2018 through 2025, under the TCJA, moving expenses are deductible only for certain military families.
Substantiation and more
There are also substantiation requirements, which include tracking miles driven. And, in some cases, you might be better off deducting actual expenses rather than using the mileage rates.
We can help ensure you deduct all the mileage you’re entitled to on your 2017 tax return but don’t risk back taxes and penalties later for deducting more than allowed. Contact us for assistance and to learn how your mileage deduction for 2018 might be affected by the TCJA.
Matt was a trusted long-term employee who, unfortunately, was deeply in debt. Recognizing that his company’s payroll controls were loose enough to be exploited, he put a “ghost” employee, “Scott,” on the payroll, opened a bank account in Scott’s name and arranged for direct deposit of Scott’s paychecks.
Although both Scott and Matt are fictitious, they have plenty of real-life counterparts. “Ghost” employees go unnoticed in many companies because employees are trusted too much and internal controls are nonexistent — or only haphazardly applied.
Small businesses at risk
It may seem like it would be easier to hide ghost employees in large companies. In fact, small businesses, where a single employee may handle all the payroll accounting, are more vulnerable. In some cases, the perpetrator enlists a friend or relative to forge endorsements or deposit checks; in others, no assistance is necessary. The thief simply exploits weaknesses in the payroll system.
But ghost employees are just one way for dishonest employees to manipulate your payroll system. Perhaps the easiest scam to perpetrate is to overpay withholding or payroll taxes. The government sends a refund to your company, and the employee deposits it in an account in his or her name. Other methods of defrauding your payroll system include falsifying hours, increasing commission rates and filing false workers’ compensation claims.
Follow the tracks
The good news is that payroll schemes usually leave traces. Look for:
• Paychecks with no tax or Social Security deductions,
• Dual endorsements on paychecks,
• Duplicate names, addresses or Social Security numbers in payroll records,
• Higher-than-budgeted payroll expenses, and
• Unusual spikes in the number of payroll checks presented for payment.
To prevent this type of fraud, it’s essential to segregate payroll duties. If one employee writes checks, reconciles statements and keeps the books, that employee may be tempted to steal — particularly if that person feels overworked or underpaid.
You might also consider outsourcing your payroll process. If that’s not practical, make sure your computer system is secure and that all records are password-protected and access-limited.
It’s fairly easy to invent ghost employees and conjure up other payroll fraud schemes. But it’s also easy to prevent and detect them. You just need to take control. We can help.
Alert: The interest on your home equity loan may still be deductible. Despite new restrictions under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the IRS announced taxpayers can often still deduct interest on a home equity loan, home equity line of credit, or second mortgage, regardless of how the loan is labeled. On Feb. 21, the IRS clarified that the TCJA does suspend the deduction for interest paid on home equity loans and lines of credit, UNLESS they’re used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan. (IR 2018-32)
An audit finds many taxpayers aren’t informed that they’re victims of employment identity theft. A recent Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) audit assessed the IRS’s processes to notify victims. It found that “most identified victims remain unaware that their identities are being used by other individuals” to gain employment. TIGTA said that, due to a programming error, the IRS failed to notify more than 456,000 repeat victims of employment identity theft that it identified in processing year 2017. Read the report at http://bit.ly/2oc0Dsr
Many businesses hired in 2017, and more are planning to hire in 2018. If you’re among them and your hires include members of a “target group,” you may be eligible for the Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC). If you made qualifying hires in 2017 and obtained proper certification, you can claim the WOTC on your 2017 tax return.
Whether or not you’re eligible for 2017, keep the WOTC in mind in your 2018 hiring plans. Despite its proposed elimination under the House’s version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the credit survived the final version that was signed into law in December, so it’s also available for 2018.
“Target groups,” defined
Target groups include:
Before you can claim the WOTC, you must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you. Unfortunately, this means that, if you hired someone from a target group in 2017 but didn’t obtain the certification, you can’t claim the WOTC on your 2017 return.
A potentially valuable credit
Qualifying employers can claim the WOTC as a general business credit against their income tax. The amount of the credit depends on the:
The maximum credit that can be earned for each member of a target group is generally $2,400 per employee. The credit can be as high as $9,600 for certain veterans.
Employers aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible individuals they can hire. In other words, if you hired 10 individuals from target groups that qualify for the $2,400 credit, your total credit would be $24,000.
Remember, credits reduce your tax bill dollar-for-dollar; they don’t just reduce the amount of income subject to tax like deductions do. So that’s $24,000 of actual tax savings.
Offset hiring costs
The WOTC can provide substantial tax savings when you hire qualified new employees, offsetting some of the cost. Contact us for more information.
If you moved for work-related reasons in 2017, you might be able to deduct some of the costs on your 2017 return — even if you don’t itemize deductions. (Or, if your employer reimbursed you for moving expenses, that reimbursement might be excludable from your income.) The bad news is that, if you move in 2018, the costs likely won’t be deductible, and any employer reimbursements will probably be included in your taxable income.
Suspension for 2018–2025
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law this past December, suspends the moving expense deduction for the same period as when lower individual income tax rates generally apply: 2018 through 2025. For this period it also suspends the exclusion from income of qualified employer reimbursements of moving expenses.
The TCJA does provide an exception to both suspensions for active-duty members of the Armed Forces (and their spouses and dependents) who move because of a military order that calls for a permanent change of station.
Tests for 2017
If you moved in 2017 and would like to claim a deduction on your 2017 return, the first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.
The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would have increased your commute significantly.
Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)
The moving expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means it’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your adjusted gross income. It’s not an itemized deduction, so you don’t have to itemize to benefit.
Generally, you can deduct:
But don’t expect to deduct everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible - nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.
Please contact us if you have questions about whether you can deduct moving expenses on your 2017 return or about what other tax breaks won’t be available for 2018 under the TCJA.
A company’s solvency can come into play if it paid another creditor when it had an obligation to pay you first. If such circumstances lead to litigation, you should consider hiring a solvency expert to determine whether the company actually could meet its long-term interest and repayment obligations at the time of the payment.
Solvency experts consider several key issues when examining a subject:
With those questions in mind, the expert applies three tests to analyze solvency:
1. Balance sheet. At the time of the transaction at issue, did the subject’s asset value exceed its liability value? Assets are generally valued at fair market value, rather than at book value. The latter is typically based on historic cost, and fixed assets (such as vehicles and equipment) may be reduced by annual depreciation expense. But the balance sheet is just a starting point. Adjustments may be needed to balance sheet items so that they more accurately reflect the fair market value of assets.
2. Cash flow. This test examines whether the subject incurred debts that were beyond its ability to pay as they matured. It involves analysis of a series of projections of future financial performance. Experts consider a range of scenarios. These include management’s growth expectations, lower-than-expected growth, and no growth — as well as past performance, current economic conditions and future prospects.
3. Adequate capital. The final test determines whether a company is likely to survive in the normal course of business, bearing in mind reasonable fluctuations in the future. In addition to looking at the value of net equity and cash flow, experts consider factors such as asset volatility, debt repayment schedules and available credit.
All or nothing
A company must pass all three of these tests to be considered solvent. Courts generally presume that a company is insolvent, unless it’s proven otherwise. With a comprehensive solvency analysis performed by a credentialed valuation expert, you can provide objective support for yor position. Contact us for more information.
Be on alert for new tax scams. The IRS is warning about new ways thieves are stealing from taxpayers. In one scam, criminals pose as debt collection agency officials acting on behalf of the IRS. They contact taxpayers to say refunds were deposited in their accounts in error. They ask the taxpayers to send the money back. In another scam, taxpayers receive automated calls saying erroneous refunds were deposited and threatening criminal charges and “blacklisting” of Social Security numbers if the money isn’t returned. Hang up on these types of calls immediately.
Are you a high-income small-business owner who doesn’t currently have a tax-advantaged retirement plan set up for yourself? A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) may be just what you need, and now may be a great time to establish one. A SEP has high contribution limits and is simple to set up. Best of all, there’s still time to establish a SEP for 2017 and make contributions to it that you can deduct on your 2017 income tax return.
2018 deadlines for 2017
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 2017 in 2018 as long as you do it before your 2017 return filing deadline. You have until the same deadline to make 2017 contributions and still claim a potentially hefty deduction on your 2017 return.
Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2017, in order for 2017 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2017 contributions to be made in 2018).
High contribution limits
Contributions to SEPs are discretionary. You can decide how much to contribute each year. But be aware that, if your business has employees other than yourself: 1) Contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for yourself, and 2) employee accounts are immediately 100% vested. The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee.
For 2017, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction) of up to $270,000, subject to a contribution cap of $54,000. (The 2018 limits are $275,000 and $55,000, respectively.)
Simple to set up
A SEP is established by completing and signing the very simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). Form 5305-SEP is not filed with the IRS, but it should be maintained as part of the business’s permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement.
Additional rules and limits do apply to SEPs, but they’re generally much less onerous than those for other retirement plans. Contact us to learn more about SEPs and how they might reduce your tax bill for 2017 and beyond.
With bonus depreciation, a business can recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law in December, enhances bonus depreciation.
Typically, taking this break is beneficial. But in certain situations, your business might save more tax long-term by skipping it. That said, claiming bonus depreciation on your 2017 tax return may be particularly beneficial.
Pre- and post-TCJA
Before TCJA, bonus depreciation was 50% and qualified property included new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment), off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified improvement property.
The TCJA significantly expands bonus depreciation: For qualified property placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (or by December 31, 2023, for certain property with longer production periods), the first-year bonus depreciation percentage increases to 100%. In addition, the 100% deduction is allowed for not just new but also used qualifying property.
But be aware that, under the TCJA, beginning in 2018 certain types of businesses may no longer be eligible for bonus depreciation. Examples include real estate businesses and auto dealerships, depending on the specific circumstances.
A good tax strategy ? or not?
Generally, if you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation is likely a good tax strategy (though you should also factor in available Section 179 expensing). It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial.
On the other hand, if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax this year, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re paying a higher tax rate.
What to do on your 2017 return
The greater tax-saving power of deductions when rates are higher is why 2017 may be a particularly good year to take bonus depreciation. As you’re probably aware, the TCJA permanently replaces the graduated corporate tax rates of 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21% beginning with the 2018 tax year. It also reduces most individual rates, which benefits owners of pass-through entities such as S corporations, partnerships and, typically, limited liability companies, for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.
If your rate will be lower in 2018, there’s a greater likelihood that taking bonus depreciation for 2017 would save you more tax than taking all of your deduction under normal depreciation schedules over a period of years, especially if the asset meets the deadlines for 100% bonus depreciation.
If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2017 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us.
Whether you had a child in college (or graduate school) last year or were a student yourself, you may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2017 return. One such break that had expired December 31, 2016, was just extended under the recently passed Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018: the tuition and fees deduction.
But a couple of tax credits are also available. Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed.
Higher education breaks 101
While multiple higher-education breaks are available, a taxpayer isn’t allowed to claim all of them. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return. So first you need to see which breaks you’re eligible for. Then you need to determine which one will provide the greatest benefit.
Also keep in mind that you generally can’t claim deductions or credits for expenses that were paid for with distributions from tax-advantaged accounts, such as 529 plans or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts.
Two credits are available for higher education expenses:
1. The American Opportunity credit — up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education.
2. The Lifetime Learning credit — up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses, even beyond the first four years.
But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.
If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, consider claiming the Lifetime Learning credit. But first determine if the tuition and fees deduction might provide more tax savings.
Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.
Be aware that the tuition and fees deduction was extended only through December 31, 2017. So it won’t be available on your 2018 return unless Congress extends it again or makes it permanent.
Maximizing your savings
If you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2017 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.
With rising health care costs, claiming whatever tax breaks related to health care that you can is more important than ever. But there’s a threshold for deducting medical expenses that may be hard to meet. Fortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has temporarily reduced the threshold.
What expenses are eligible?
Medical expenses may be deductible if they’re “qualified.” Qualified medical expenses involve the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. Examples include payments to physicians, dentists and other medical practitioners, as well as equipment, supplies, diagnostic devices and prescription drugs.
Mileage driven for health-care-related purposes is also deductible at a rate of 17 cents per mile for 2017 and 18 cents per mile for 2018. Health insurance and long-term care insurance premiums can also qualify, with certain limits.
Expenses reimbursed by insurance or paid with funds from a tax-advantaged account such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account can’t be deducted. Likewise, health insurance premiums aren’t deductible if they’re taken out of your paycheck pretax.
The AGI threshold
Before 2013, you could claim an itemized deduction for qualified unreimbursed medical expenses paid for you, your spouse and your dependents, to the extent those expenses exceeded 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). AGI includes all of your taxable income items reduced by certain “above-the-line” deductions, such as those for deductible IRA contributions and student loan interest.
As part of the Affordable Care Act, a higher deduction threshold of 10% of AGI went into effect in 2014 for most taxpayers and was scheduled to go into effect in 2017 for taxpayers age 65 or older. But under the TCJA, the 7.5%-of-AGI deduction threshold now applies to all taxpayers for 2017 and 2018.
However, this lower threshold is temporary. Beginning January 1, 2019, the 10% threshold will apply to all taxpayers, including those over age 65, unless Congress takes additional action.
Consider “bunching” expenses into 2018
Because the threshold is scheduled to increase to 10% in 2019, you might benefit from accelerating deductible medical expenses into 2018, to the extent they’re within your control.
However, keep in mind that you have to itemize deductions to deduct medical expenses. Itemizing saves tax only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. And with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.
Contact us if you have questions about what expenses are eligible and whether you can qualify for a deduction on your 2017 tax return. We can also help you determine whether bunching medical expenses into 2018 will likely save you tax.
Wouldn’t it be nice if employees prone to fraud had the letter “F” stamped on their forehead? You could monitor them closely and make sure they never had access to the accounting books. But potential thieves are never that obvious.
It starts with pressure
In many cases, employees who commit fraud are the most likable people in the office — personable, helpful and good at their jobs . . . and seemingly trustworthy. But fraud doesn’t begin with dishonesty; it begins with pressure. The pressure may be work-related (corporate demands to meet revenue goals) or personal (gambling debts or substance abuse).
Unfortunately, many of the skills needed to successfully commit fraud are also necessary to thrive in the business world. Salesmanship, sociability, determination, persistence, competitiveness and a desire to obtain material possessions all are frequently cited as characteristics of successful professionals — and successful criminals.
The usual suspects
Occupational fraud perpetrators generally share certain traits. For example:
Entitled executives. Upper-level fraud perpetrators tend to be extremely ambitious and to have an overdeveloped sense of superiority. These individuals are likely to be unreasonably sensitive to criticism or scrutiny and to surround themselves with sycophants. They might doctor financial statements to make the company’s — and their own — performance look better or embezzle funds.
Resentful workers. Rank-and-file employees who commit fraud are more likely to feel they’ve been undervalued, underpaid or treated unfairly and justify their theft accordingly. Some steal to seek retribution.
Con artists. Fortunately, this type of thief — capable of lying to people’s faces and leaving them penniless without remorse — isn’t common in the workplace. But con artists can be destructive, and they usually blame their victims.
Some people with these attributes steal only if under pressure, while others withstand similar pressures without turning to fraud. In companies with strong internal controls, fraud is too risky for most employees to attempt, even if they are feeling financial pressure. But in more-lax environments, just about anyone might try their luck. For this reason, comprehensive internal controls are always recommended.
Putting ethics first
It’s not easy for companies to spot dishonest employees. So in addition to shoring up your internal controls, you should also foster an ethical business culture. Promote and reward honesty and punish those who violate rules. For help creating an ethical environment, contact us.
The government shutdown ends. Late on Jan. 22, President Trump signed a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government until Feb. 8. The measure also contains some tax-related changes. It will delay for 2 years the 2.3% medical device excise tax (It took effect on Jan. 1, 2018); delay for 2 years (until 2022) the “Cadillac tax” that employers will pay on high-cost health insurance; and provide a 1-year moratorium on an excise tax imposed on health insurers for the 2019 calendar year. The resolution also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 6 years.
Recent hurricane victims may qualify for a special option to expand an existing tax break. The IRS reminds victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that, for purposes of calculating their earned income tax credit, they have the option to use their 2017 income or 2016 income, if they meet certain conditions. Victims are encouraged to calculate the credit both ways and to use the income that yields a larger credit. Depending on individual circumstances, this refundable credit could be worth up to $14,040. To read more, go to: http://bit.ly/2DGp0Io
Taxes will be a hot topic in states’ 2018 legislative sessions. In a new report, the Tax Policy Center states that how states choose to respond to changes in the new tax law will “have big effects on their revenue and taxes paid by their residents.” The report is titled “The Tax Debate Moves to the States: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Creates Many Questions for States That Link to Federal Income Tax Rules.” It explains why and how states link to federal individual income tax rules. Read the full report here: http://tpc.io/2rzGAZK
Individual taxpayers who itemize their deductions can deduct either state and local income taxes or state and local sales taxes. The ability to deduct state and local taxes — including income or sales taxes, as well as property taxes — had been on the tax reform chopping block, but it ultimately survived. However, for 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act imposes a new limit on the state and local tax deduction. Will you benefit from the sales tax deduction on your 2017 or 2018 tax return?
Your 2017 return
The sales tax deduction can be valuable if you reside in a state with no or low income tax or purchased a major item in 2017, such as a car or boat. How do you determine whether you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2017 return? Compare your potential deduction for state and local income tax to your potential deduction for state and local sales tax.
This isn’t as difficult as you might think: You don’t have to have receipts documenting all of the sales tax you actually paid during the year to take full advantage of the deduction. Your deduction can be determined by using an IRS sales tax calculator that will base the deduction on your income and the sales tax rates in your locale plus the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases (for which you will need substantiation).
Your 2018 return
Under the TCJA, for 2018 through 2025, your total deduction for all state and local taxes combined — including property tax — is limited to $10,000. You still must choose between deducting income and sales tax; you can’t deduct both, even if your total state and local tax deduction wouldn’t exceed $10,000.
Also keep in mind that the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction. So even if itemizing has typically benefited you in the past, you could end up being better off taking the standard deduction when you file your 2018 return.
So if you’re considering making a large purchase in 2018, you shouldn’t necessarily count on the sales tax deduction providing you significant tax savings. You need to look at what your total state and local tax liability likely will be, as well as whether your total itemized deductions are likely to exceed the standard deduction.
Let us know if you have questions about whether you can benefit from the sales tax deduction on your 2017 return or about the impact of the TCJA on your 2018 tax planning. We’d be pleased to help.
In a new report, the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) details the revenue loss due to the delay of three Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes. The continuing resolution signed into law earlier this week to end the government shutdown delayed the 2.3% medical device excise tax through 2019, the “Cadillac tax” through 2021 and an excise tax imposed on health insurers for 2019. The JCT foresees a revenue loss of $31.3 billion from 2018 through 2022 as a result of the three delayed taxes. Download the full report here: http://bit.ly/2Duceto
A group of state attorneys general want changes in the handling of the legal marijuana industry. A bipartisan group from 17 states, D.C. and Guam are urging Congress to pass legislation “that would allow states that have a legalized medical or recreational use of marijuana to bring that commerce into the banking system.” This would help protect public safety and bring “grey-market financial activities” into the regulated banking sector, they said. It would also facilitate tax compliance and greatly expand tax revenue. Read more here: http://bit.ly/2DGvEi9
Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, potentially making them more valuable than deductions, which reduce only the amount of income subject to tax. Maximizing available credits is especially important now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has reduced or eliminated some tax breaks for businesses. Two still-available tax credits are especially for small businesses that provide certain employee benefits.
1. Credit for paying health care coverage premiums
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. Despite various congressional attempts to repeal the ACA in 2017, nearly all of its provisions remain intact, including this potentially valuable tax credit.
The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, if it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium. For 2017, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $26,200 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,400.
The credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.) If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2017 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away in the future if lawmakers in Washington continue to try to repeal or replace the ACA.
At this point, most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2019 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2017, you may also be able to claim it on your 2018 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the credit while it’s available.
2. Credit for starting a retirement plan
Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs.
Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.
If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2017, you might still have time to do so. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions. If you’d like to set up a different type of plan, consider doing so for 2018 so you can potentially take advantage of the retirement plan credit (and other tax benefits) when you file your 2018 return next year.
Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these tax credits. We’d be happy to help you determine whether you’re eligible for these or other credits on your 2017 return and also plan for credits you might be able to claim on your 2018 return if you take appropriate actions this year.
A growing number of businesses have been victimized by W-2 phishing scams. These frauds are a variation on traditional phishing scams, where criminals trick email users into providing confidential information, and then use that information to steal money or the victim’s identity.
How it works
In a W-2 phishing scam, cybercriminals, claiming to be from a company’s management, send emails to employees — typically in payroll, benefits or human resources departments. The emails request a list of employees along with their W-2 forms, Social Security numbers or other confidential data.
At first glance, the emails may look legitimate because scammers use techniques known as business email compromise or business email spoofing. Many contain the company’s logo and the name of actual executives that the thieves have obtained online. The messages use language such as “Kindly send me the individual 2015 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2 of our company staff for a quick review.”
If the employee responds to the phishing email, criminals can use this information to file fraudulent tax returns in the employees’ names. The ultimate objective is to claim their refunds.
Education is key
Recently, the IRS released an alert urging employers to educate payroll and other employees about the dangers of W-2 phishing scams. Be sure to inform all workers, particularly those in areas that handle sensitive data, about the scams. Remind them not to click on links or download attachments from emails that are unsolicited, sent from addresses they don’t recognize or that seem in any way suspicious.
Employees often are nervous about questioning a request that appears to come from upper management. So encourage them to double-check any email request for sensitive information, no matter who appears to be making it. They should do this not by responding to the email in question, but by talking with a supervisor or colleague.
Don’t fall victim
Technology has a role to play as well. Install robust antivirus and spam filters and keep them updated.
With sensible precautions, your business can reduce the risk of falling victim to W-2 phishing scams. But if your company does fall victim, report the attack as soon as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact us for more information.
Working from home has become commonplace. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it. And for 2018, even fewer taxpayers will be eligible for a home office deduction.
Changes under the TCJA
For employees, home office expenses are a miscellaneous itemized deduction. For 2017, this means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus your other miscellaneous itemized expenses (such as unreimbursed work-related travel, certain professional fees and investment expenses) exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.
For 2018 through 2025, this means that, if you’re an employee, you won’t be able to deduct any home office expenses. Why? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor for this period.
If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income. Therefore, the deduction will still be available to you for 2018 through 2025.
Other eligibility requirements
If you’re an employee, your use of your home office must be for your employer’s convenience, not just your own. If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.
Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space.
2 deduction options
If you’re eligible, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. You have two options for the deduction:
More rules and limits
Be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may be eligible for the home office deduction on your 2017 return or would like to know if there’s anything additional you need to do to be eligible on your 2018 return, contact us.
Consumers immediately increased their out-of-pocket healthcare spending by 60% in the week after receiving a tax refund, according to a study by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Institute. And spending stayed elevated for about 75 days, during which consumers spent 20% more out of pocket on healthcare than before the refunds. The study, titled “Deferred Care: How Tax Refunds Enable Healthcare Spending,” analy zed how “an important cash infusion” (in this case a tax refund payment) affects the timing of out-of-pocket expenditures on health care. See it at http://bit.ly/2Dgcf3O
Employers who withhold taxes from employee paychecks but fail to turn them over to the IRS may face a severe penalty. The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty is equal to 100% of the unpaid tax and can be assessed personally against responsible parties. In one case, a plastic surgeon said he’d acted in good faith, but was denied a new trial when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found he’d willfully evaded tax payment. Facts showed he’d paid employees with cashier’s checks and used available funds to pay personal expenses instead of paying taxes owed. (121 AFTR 2d 2018-319)
Innocent spouse relief was granted following no actual knowledge of unreported income. The U.S. Tax Court has concluded that a taxpayer should be relieved from all or part of the liability for the deficiency that resulted from the failure to report on a joint return a distribution from his spouse’s separately owned retirement account. Although the taxpayer should have known about the distribution, for purposes of spousal relief under the tax code, there was no evidence that he had actual knowledge of the distribution, the court ruled. (TC Summary Opinion 2018-1)
What does tax debt have to do with a passport? Passports are issued by the State Dept., not the IRS. But a 2015 law requires the IRS to notify the State Dept. of taxpayers having “seriously delinquent tax debt,” generally defined as tax debt exceeding $50,000 and for which a lien has been filed (for tax years beginning after Jan. 1, 2016). Unless exceptions apply, such tax debt is grounds for deni al of a passport or revocation or limitation of an existing passport. The IRS recently issued guidance for the implementation of this provision, in Notice 2018-1.
Repatriating income to the U.S. has benefits. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) imposes a transition tax on untaxed foreign earnings of foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies by deeming those earnings to be repatriated. Certain corporations must now increase their subpart F income by the amount of their deferred foreign income. Code Sec. 965, enacted as part of the TCJA, contains a loophole that al lows taxpayers to convert such income so it becomes taxable at 8% (instead of the original 15.5%). This applies to the last tax year that began before Jan. 1, 2018.
If a whistleblower provides information to the IRS about another party’s unpaid taxes, the person could receive an award. The IRS pays awards of at least 15%, but not more than 30%, of the collected proceeds resulting from an administrative or judicial action. In fiscal 2017, the IRS Whistleblower Office made 242 award payments totaling just under $34 million, according to its annual report to Con gress. One interesting note: Federal law doesn’t provide whistleblowers protection from retaliation for providing information. Read the report here: http://bit.ly/2mvBzNd
Along with tax rate reductions and a new deduction for pass-through qualified business income, the new tax law brings the reduction or elimination of tax deductions for certain business expenses. Two expense areas where the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes the rules — and not to businesses’ benefit — are meals/entertainment and transportation. In effect, the reduced tax benefits will mean these expenses are more costly to a business’s bottom line.
Meals and entertainment
Prior to the TCJA, taxpayers generally could deduct 50% of expenses for business-related meals and entertainment. Meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer on the employer’s business premises were 100% deductible by the employer and tax-free to the recipient employee.
Under the new law, for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017, deductions for business-related entertainment expenses are disallowed.
Meal expenses incurred while traveling on business are still 50% deductible, but the 50% limit now also applies to meals provided via an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises for the convenience of the employer. After 2025, the cost of meals provided through an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises will no longer be deductible.
The TCJA disallows employer deductions for the cost of providing commuting transportation to an employee (such as hiring a car service), unless the transportation is necessary for the employee’s safety.
The new law also eliminates employer deductions for the cost of providing qualified employee transportation fringe benefits. Examples include parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling. These benefits are, however, still tax-free to recipient employees.
Transportation expenses for employee work-related travel away from home are still deductible (and tax-free to the employee), as long as they otherwise qualify for such tax treatment. (Note that, for 2018 through 2025, employees can’t deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as travel expenses, as a miscellaneous itemized deduction.)
Assessing the impact
The TCJA’s changes to deductions for meals, entertainment and transportation expenses may affect your business’s budget. Depending on how much you typically spend on such expenses, you may want to consider changing some of your policies and/or benefits offerings in these areas. We’d be pleased to help you assess the impact on your business.
Employers and employees: Withholding tables reflecting Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes are now available, and employees could see paycheck changes by February. The IRS has issued new income tax withholding tables for 2018 and advised employers to begin using them as soon as possible, but no later than Feb. 15. Find the IRS’s information release at http://bit.ly/2D2ihJn and the percentage method tables themselves in IRS Notice 1036 at http://bit.ly/1Ne91he Answers to frequently asked questions about using the new tables can be found at http://bit.ly/2D5iWJm
The IRS will deal with major issues in implementing the new tax law, according to the Taxpayer Advocate. In an annual report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson details the challenges the tax agency faces as it implements the many provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. They include drafting and publishing new forms and publications, revising regulations, training employees on the new law and developing its systems to verify compliance with new eligibility and documentation requirements. Read the report here: http://bit.ly/2D3FJpC
Some insurance companies offer employee dishonesty coverage to protect businesses against loss of money and property due to criminal acts by employees. This can be valuable protection. But before you buy a policy, it’s important to understand what you’re getting.
What it does
In addition to covering businesses against theft of money, property and securities, employee dishonesty insurance covers willful damage to property. If, for example, an employee smashes a computer or kicks a hole in a wall, it’s likely covered. And it covers losses from all employees. However, coverage is based on occurrences. So if more than one employee is involved in a single theft, the payout is based on that single occurrence.
Rates and deductibles typically depend on your business’s level of risk. But separate employee dishonesty insurance policies are likely to have higher loss limits and more customized coverage than is available with coverage offered as part of a business insurance package.
What it doesn’t do
Employee dishonesty insurance isn’t liability insurance. It covers only property your business owns, holds for others or is legally liable for. It usually doesn’t cover theft or damages caused by employees of businesses that provide services to your company.
Employee dishonesty insurance also generally won’t cover loss of:
• Intangible assets such as trade secrets or electronic data,
• Loss of employees’ property,
• Damage covered by another insurance policy, and
• The unexplained disappearance of property. (In other words, even if you believe something has been stolen, it’s not covered unless you can prove the theft.)
The burden of proof for employee dishonesty claims is solely on the policy owner. Insurance companies will pay claims only if there is conclusive proof that employee theft caused a loss.
Finally, employee dishonesty insurance isn’t a substitute for a fidelity bond if a bond is required by a funding source or other contractual agreement. Federal Bonding Program bonds, intended to encourage employers to hire hard-to-place applicants, reimburse employers with no deductible for loss due to employee theft.
Consider your options
Your business can cover theft losses in a number of ways — including with commercial general liability policies or fidelity insurance. Consider all of your options before buying employee dishonesty coverage. Also keep in mind that strong internal controls can vastly reduce your risk. We can help you establish a comprehensive risk-reduction program.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address, called the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act “an assault on New York” and asserted “it is illegal and we will challenge it in court as unconstitutional.” Cuomo said the new tax law was “unprecedented double taxation,” and would be opposed in the judicial system “because it violates states’ rights and the principle of equal protection.” He also said he’ll explore creating new opportunities for charitable contributions. To read the address: http://on.ny.gov/2CCKiq6
Whistleblowers who give the IRS information leading to collection of unpaid taxes may qualify for an award. But, in one case, the U.S. Tax Court held that the IRS hadn’t abused its discretion when it denied a whistleblower award to a man who’d provided information that his former employer wasn’t paying overtime compensation to its employees properly. The taxpayer claimed the IRS used the information to increase the amount it was able to collect from the employer. The IRS argued that it hadn’t used the information and the court agreed. (Kasper, 150 TC No 2)
Two Democratic congressmen are questioning whether enough taxes will be taken out of the checks of employees under IRS 2018 withholding tables, which will soon be issued to administer the new tax law. In letters sent to federal tax officials, the lawmakers expressed concern that the new withholding tables would “result in millions of taxpayers receiving larger after-tax paychecks this election year but ultimately owing federal income tax when they file in 2019.” To read one of the letters: http://bit.ly/2Dc2Pr4
If an employer’s retirement plan isn’t currently being audited by the IRS, and it has mistakes with either the language in the plan document or how it’s been run, the employer can apply to correct the mistakes under the IRS’s Voluntary Correction Program (VCP). Under the VCP, a plan sponsor can pay a fee and receive IRS approval for correction of a qualified plan failure. Effective Jan. 2, 2018, the IRS has simplified the user fees charged for most submissions made under the VCP to base them on plan assets. (Revenue Procedure 2018-4)
Despite the real threat — and high cost — of fraud, too many businesses fail to adopt comprehensive, integrated fraud risk management programs. If you’ve put off taking this important step toward protecting your company, now is the time to act.
The first significant challenge is to understand where your company is at risk. Be specific and realistic. Your vulnerabilities aren’t necessarily the same as those of similar-size businesses or even of your close competitors.
You need to examine your risk objectively, as well. The question isn’t whether your long-time bookkeeper would embezzle funds, but whether he or she could. In assessing your risks, consider both internal and external opportunities for malfeasance and how employees at any level of seniority could work alone or in concert to exploit them.
Next consider the costs of your risk, including the consequences and long-term impact of letting it go unaddressed. Risk management is more than buying insurance. It’s working toward reducing your insurance needs because you’ve taken steps to close exploitable gaps.
Put it in writing
If you don’t have a written code of ethics and business conduct, develop both and document them. Fraud prevention begins at the top, with a clearly communicated commitment on the part of management. It isn’t enough that you have a code of ethics; you must be seen following it.
Then look at your internal controls. Your policies should, at a minimum:
• Segregate financial and accounting duties,
• Require annual vacations for employees,
• Restrict unauthorized access to offices and other facilities and computers,
• Protect electronic files with user IDs and frequently changed passwords,
• Address training supervisors and managers to spot fraud, and
• Mandate internal and external audits that include scrutiny of fraud prevention measures.
Not all risk is created equal. Some risk has the potential to cause damage that will ripple throughout the company but, viewed objectively, is highly unlikely to occur. In deciding how best to allocate your fraud prevention resources, assess the probability of different risks, rather than simply their size.
Also set up a continuous monitoring system that will allow you to track and adjust controls as changing circumstances require. We can help you do this. For more information on creating a comprehensive risk control program, contact us.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that office supply scams cost U.S. organizations more than $200 million a year. Large companies aren’t immune, but small businesses and nonprofits are the most common targets.
Be wary of callers
Office supply scams typically start when someone calls your business to obtain your street address and the name of an employee. Having an employee’s name will lend legitimacy to bogus invoices or shoddy products the perpetrator is preparing to send your company.
One common scam involves shipping low-quality products and then following up a week or two later with a pricey invoice. The delay is intentional: The perpetrator expects that you won’t notice the final price is much higher than you’d pay for better quality products from a legitimate supplier. The con artist also hopes that you’ll have used some of the products and feel obligated to pay for them.
Refuse gift horses
Sometimes, thieves don’t bother shipping products. They simply send phony invoices timed to arrive when you would normally receive a bill for an actual purchase. Others call and offer to send a promotional item such as a coffee mug. Before they hang up, however, they mention in passing that they’re going to throw some ink cartridges in with the coffee mug. What they don’t mention is that they’ll also throw in a bill for the ink.
This “gift horse” fraud is designed to pit owners against employees. When you receive a bill with an employee’s name on it, you question the employee. The scammer is hoping the employee will be so nervous about accepting the promotional item that you’ll believe he or she mistakenly ordered the additional merchandise.
The best way to stop office supply scams is to prevent them from starting. Begin by telling employees to refer all telemarketing calls to one or two designated buyers.
Require these buyers to follow established approval procedures. For example, when buyers make purchases, they should forward copies of their orders to accounts payable. Also, they should tell vendors to include your company’s purchase order numbers on their shipment documents. When merchandise arrives, it needs to be inspected and verified.
Note that your company isn’t legally obligated to pay for anything it receives that it didn’t order. Don’t let scammers convince you otherwise. For more tips on preventing office supply scams, contact us.
While many provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) will save businesses tax, the new law also reduces or eliminates some tax breaks for businesses. One break it eliminates is the Section 199 deduction, commonly referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction.” When it’s available, this potentially valuable tax break can be claimed by many types of businesses beyond just manufacturing companies. Under the TCJA, 2017 is the last tax year noncorporate taxpayers can take the deduction (2018 for C corporation taxpayers).
The Sec. 199 deduction, also called the “domestic production activities deduction,” is 9% of the lesser of qualified production activities income or taxable income. The deduction is also limited to 50% of W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer that are allocable to domestic production gross receipts (DPGR).
Yes, the deduction is available to traditional manufacturers. But businesses engaged in activities such as construction, engineering, architecture, computer software production and agricultural processing also may be eligible.
The deduction isn’t allowed in determining net self-employment earnings and generally can’t reduce net income below zero. But it can be used against the alternative minimum tax.
To determine a company’s Sec. 199 deduction, its qualified production activities income must be calculated. This is the amount of DPGR exceeding the cost of goods sold and other expenses allocable to that DPGR. Most companies will need to allocate receipts between those that qualify as DPGR and those that don’t ? unless less than 5% of receipts aren’t attributable to DPGR.
DPGR can come from a number of activities, including the construction of real property in the United States, as well as engineering or architectural services performed stateside to construct real property. It also can result from the lease, rental, licensing or sale of qualifying production property, such as tangible personal property (for example, machinery and office equipment), computer software, and master copies of sound recordings.
The property must have been manufactured, produced, grown or extracted in whole or “significantly” within the United States. While each situation is assessed on its merits, the IRS has said that, if the labor and overhead incurred in the United States accounted for at least 20% of the total cost of goods sold, the activity typically qualifies.
Contact us to learn whether this potentially powerful deduction could reduce your business’s tax liability when you file your 2017 return. We can also help address any questions you may have about other business tax breaks that have been reduced or eliminated by the TCJA.
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), individual income tax rates generally go down for 2018 through 2025. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your income tax liability will go down. The TCJA also makes a lot of changes to tax breaks for individuals, reducing or eliminating some while expanding others. The total impact of all of these changes is what will ultimately determine whether you see reduced taxes. One interrelated group of changes affecting many taxpayers are those to personal exemptions, standard deductions and the child credit.
For 2017, taxpayers can claim a personal exemption of $4,050 each for themselves, their spouses and any dependents. For families with children and/or other dependents, such as elderly parents, these exemptions can really add up.
For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA suspends personal exemptions. This will substantially increase taxable income for large families. However, enhancements to the standard deduction and child credit, combined with lower tax rates, might mitigate this increase.
Taxpayers can choose to itemize certain deductions on Schedule A or take the standard deduction based on their filing status instead. Itemizing deductions when the total will be larger than the standard deduction saves tax, but it makes filing more complicated.
For 2017, the standard deductions are $6,350 for singles and separate filers, $9,350 for head of household filers, and $12,700 for married couples filing jointly.
The TCJA nearly doubles the standard deductions for 2018 to $12,000 for singles and separate filers, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for joint filers. (These amounts will be adjusted for inflation for 2019 through 2025.)
For some taxpayers, the increased standard deduction could compensate for the elimination of the exemptions, and perhaps even provide some additional tax savings. But for those with many dependents or who itemize deductions, these changes might result in a higher tax bill — depending in part on the extent to which they can benefit from enhancements to the child credit.
Credits can be more powerful than exemptions and deductions because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar, rather than just reducing the amount of income subject to tax. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA doubles the child credit to $2,000 per child under age 17.
The new law also makes the child credit available to more families than in the past. For 2018 through 2025, the credit doesn’t begin to phase out until adjusted gross income exceeds $400,000 for joint filers or $200,000 for all other filers, compared with the 2017 phaseout thresholds of $110,000 and $75,000, respectively.
The TCJA also includes, for 2018 through 2025, a $500 credit for qualifying dependents other than qualifying children.
Tip of the iceberg
Many factors will influence the impact of the TCJA on your tax liability for 2018 and beyond. And what’s discussed here is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, the TCJA also makes many changes to itemized deductions. For help assessing the impact on your tax situation, please contact us.
Fraud costs companies 5% of their annual revenues each year, according to the most recent Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). To illustrate what this means, the 2016 edition of the global fraud study reports that the median fraud loss among for-profit businesses was approximately $180,000.
Your company can lower its fraud risks by implementing various policies and procedures. A strong control system reduces the opportunity to commit fraud, making it harder for dishonest people to steal assets, engage in corrupt business practices or manipulate your company’s financial statements.
A worthwhile investment
Managers may be reluctant to invest in internal controls for various reasons. They may have limited resources and underestimate the value of a strong control system. Or they may mistakenly believe that implementing internal controls will signal distrust toward employees, suppliers and customers.
But investing in antifraud measures can be money well spent: The ACFE reports that the presence of strong controls was correlated with both lower fraud losses and quicker detection. Additionally, a lack of internal controls was cited as the primary factor in 29% of the cases analyzed in the 2016 fraud report.
Elements of internal controls
The most common internal control measures implemented by U.S. companies in the 2016 fraud report include: