There’s good news about the Section 179 depreciation deduction for business property. The election has long provided a tax windfall to businesses, enabling them to claim immediate deductions for qualified assets, instead of taking depreciation deductions over time. And it was increased and expanded by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
Even better, the Sec. 179 deduction isn’t the only avenue for immediate tax write-offs for qualified assets. Under the 100% bonus depreciation tax break provided by the TCJA, the entire cost of eligible assets placed in service in 2019 can be written off this year.
Sec. 179 basics
The Sec. 179 deduction applies to tangible personal property such as machinery and equipment purchased for use in a trade or business, and, if the taxpayer elects, qualified real property. It’s generally available on a tax year basis and is subject to a dollar limit.
The annual deduction limit is $1.02 million for tax years beginning in 2019, subject to a phaseout rule. Under the rule, the deduction is phased out (reduced) if more than a specified amount of qualifying property is placed in service during the tax year. The amount is $2.55 million for tax years beginning in 2019. (Note: Different rules apply to heavy SUVs.)
There’s also a taxable income limit. If your taxable business income is less than the dollar limit for that year, the amount for which you can make the election is limited to that taxable income. However, any amount you can’t immediately deduct is carried forward and can be deducted in later years (to the extent permitted by the applicable dollar limit, the phaseout rule, and the taxable income limit).
In addition to significantly increasing the Sec. 179 deduction, the TCJA also expanded the definition of qualifying assets to include depreciable tangible personal property used mainly in the furnishing of lodging, such as furniture and appliances.
The TCJA also expanded the definition of qualified real property to include qualified improvement property and some improvements to nonresidential real property, such as roofs; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems.
Bonus depreciation basics
With bonus depreciation, businesses are allowed to deduct 100% of the cost of certain assets in the first year, rather than capitalize them on their balance sheets and gradually depreciate them. (Before the TCJA, you could deduct only 50% of the cost of qualified new property.)
This break applies to qualifying assets placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (by December 31, 2023, for certain assets with longer production periods and for aircraft). After that, the bonus depreciation percentage is reduced by 20% per year, until it’s fully phased out after 2026 (or after 2027 for certain assets described above).
Bonus depreciation is now allowed for both new and used qualifying assets, which include most categories of tangible depreciable assets other than real estate.
Important: When both 100% first-year bonus depreciation and the Sec. 179 deduction are available for the same asset, it’s generally more advantageous to claim 100% bonus depreciation, because there are no limitations on it.
Maximize eligible purchases
These favorable depreciation deductions will deliver tax-saving benefits to many businesses on their 2019 returns. You need to place qualifying assets in service by December 31. Contact us if you have questions, or you want more information about how your business can get the most out of the deductions.
If you’re a volunteer who works for charity, you may be entitled to some tax breaks if you itemize deductions on your tax return. Unfortunately, they may not amount to as much as you think your generosity is worth.
Because donations to charity of cash or property generally are tax deductible for itemizers, it may seem like donations of something more valuable for many people — their time — would also be deductible. However, no tax deduction is allowed for the value of time you spend volunteering or the services you perform for a charitable organization.
It doesn’t matter if the services you provide require significant skills and experience, such as construction, which a charity would have to pay dearly for if it went out and obtained itself. You still don’t get to deduct the value of your time.
However, you potentially can deduct out-of-pocket costs associated with your volunteer work.
The basic rules
As with any charitable donation, to be able to deduct your volunteer expenses, the first requirement is that the organization be a qualified charity. You can check by using the IRS’s “Tax Exempt Organization Search” tool at https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search.
If the charity is qualified, you may be able to deduct out-of-pocket costs that are unreimbursed; directly connected with the services you’re providing; incurred only because of your charitable work; and not “personal, living or family” expenses.
Expenses that may qualify
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 expenses (such as gas costs) or 14 cents per charitable mile driven. The cost of entertaining others (such as potential contributors) on behalf of a charity may also be deductible. However, the cost of your own entertainment or meal isn’t deductible.
Deductions are permitted for away-from-home travel expenses while performing services for a charity. This includes out-of-pocket round-trip travel expenses, taxi fares and other costs of transportation between the airport or station and hotel, plus lodging and meals. However, these expenses aren’t deductible if there’s a significant element of personal pleasure associated with the travel, or if your services for a charity involve lobbying activities.
Recordkeeping is important
The IRS may challenge charitable deductions for out-of-pocket costs, so it’s important to keep careful records and receipts. You must meet the other requirements for charitable donations. For example, no charitable deduction is allowed for a contribution of $250 or more unless you substantiate the contribution with a written acknowledgment from the organization. The acknowledgment generally must include the amount of cash, a description of any property contributed, and whether you got anything in return for your contribution.
And, in order to get a charitable deduction, you must itemize. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, fewer people are itemizing because the law significantly increased the standard deduction amounts. So even if you have expenses from volunteering that qualify for a deduction, you may not get any tax benefit if you don’t have enough itemized deductions.
If you have questions about charitable deductions and volunteer expenses, please contact us.
If you’re considering buying or selling a business — or you’re in the process of a merger or acquisition — it’s important that both parties report the transaction to the IRS in the same way. Otherwise, you may increase your chances of being audited.
If a sale involves business assets (as opposed to stock or ownership interests), the buyer and the seller must generally report to the IRS the purchase price allocations that both use. This is done by attaching IRS Form 8594, “Asset Acquisition Statement,” to each of their respective federal income tax returns for the tax year that includes the transaction.
When buying business assets in an M&A transaction, you must allocate the total purchase price to the specific assets that are acquired. The amount allocated to each asset then becomes its initial tax basis. For depreciable and amortizable assets, the initial tax basis of each asset determines the depreciation and amortization deductions for that asset after the acquisition. Depreciable and amortizable assets include:
In addition to reporting the items above, you must also disclose on Form 8594 whether the parties entered into a noncompete agreement, management contract or similar agreement, as well as the monetary consideration paid under it.
The IRS may inspect the forms that are filed to see if the buyer and the seller use different allocations. If the IRS finds that different allocations are used, auditors may dig deeper and the investigation could expand beyond just the transaction. So, it’s in your best interest to ensure that both parties use the same allocations. Consider including this requirement in your asset purchase agreement at the time of the sale.
The tax implications of buying or selling a business are complicated. Price allocations are important because they affect future tax benefits. Both the buyer and the seller need to report them to the IRS in an identical way to avoid unwanted attention. To lock in the best postacquisition results, consult with us before finalizing any transaction.
During your working days, you pay Social Security tax in the form of withholding from your salary or self-employment tax. And when you start receiving Social Security benefits, you may be surprised to learn that some of the payments may be taxed.
If you’re getting close to retirement age, you may be wondering if your benefits are going to be taxed. And if so, how much will you have to pay? The answer depends on your other income. If you are taxed, between 50% and 85% of your payments will be hit with federal income tax. (There could also be state tax.)
Important: This doesn’t mean you pay 50% to 85% of your benefits back to the government in taxes. It means that you have to include 50% to 85% of them in your income subject to your regular tax rates.
Calculate provisional income
To determine how much of your benefits are taxed, you must calculate your provisional income. It starts with your adjusted gross income on your tax return. Then, you add certain amounts (for example, tax-exempt interest from municipal bonds). Add to that the income of your spouse, if you file jointly. To this, add half of the Social Security benefits you and your spouse received during the year. The figure you come up with is your provisional income. Now apply the following rules:
Caution: If you aren’t paying tax on your Social Security benefits now because your income is below the floor, or you’re paying tax on only 50% of those benefits, an unplanned increase in your income can have a significant tax cost. You’ll have to pay tax on the additional income, you’ll also have to pay tax on (or on more of) your Social Security benefits, and you may get pushed into a higher tax bracket.
For example, this might happen if you receive a large retirement plan distribution during the year or you receive large capital gains. With careful planning, you might be able to avoid this tax result.
Avoid a large tax bill
If you know your Social Security benefits will be taxed, you may want to voluntarily arrange to have tax withheld from the payments by filing a Form W-4V with the IRS. Otherwise, you may have to make estimated tax payments.
Contact us to help you with the exact calculations on whether your Social Security will be taxed. We can also help you with tax planning to keep your taxes as low as possible during retirement.
Small businesses may find it beneficial to barter for goods and services instead of paying cash for them. If your business engages in bartering, be aware that the fair market value of goods that you receive in bartering is taxable income. And if you exchange services with another business, the transaction results in taxable income for both parties.
Income is also realized if services are exchanged for property. For example, if a construction firm does work for a retail business in exchange for unsold inventory, it will have income equal to the fair market value of the inventory.
Many business owners join barter clubs that facilitate barter exchanges. In general, these clubs use a system of “credit units” that are awarded to members who provide goods and services. The credits can be redeemed for goods and services from other members.
Bartering is generally taxable in the year it occurs. But if you participate in a barter club, you may be taxed on the value of credit units at the time they’re added to your account, even if you don’t redeem them for actual goods and services until a later year. For example, let’s say that you earn 2,000 credit units one year, and that each unit is redeemable for $1 in goods and services. In that year, you’ll have $2,000 of income. You won’t pay additional tax if you redeem the units the next year, since you’ve already been taxed once on that income.
If you join a barter club, you’ll be asked to provide your Social Security number or employer identification number. You’ll also be asked to certify that you aren’t subject to backup withholding. Unless you make this certification, the club will withhold tax from your bartering income at a 24% rate.
By January 31 of each year, the barter club will send you a Form 1099-B, “Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions,” which shows the value of cash, property, services, and credits that you received from exchanges during the previous year. This information will also be reported to the IRS.
If you don’t contract with a barter exchange but you do trade services, you don’t file Form 1099-B. But you may have to file a form 1099-MISC.
By bartering, you can trade away excess inventory or provide services during slow times, all while hanging onto your cash. You may also find yourself bartering when a customer doesn’t have the money on hand to complete a transaction. As long as you’re aware of the federal and state tax consequences, these transactions can benefit all parties. Contact us for more information.
Now that most schools are out for the summer, you might be sending your children to day camp. It’s often a significant expense. The good news: You might be eligible for a tax break for the cost.
The value of a credit
Day camp is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care credit, which is worth 20% to 35% of qualifying expenses, subject to a cap. Note: Sleep-away camp does not qualify.
For 2019, the maximum credit amount is $3,000 for one qualifying child and $6,000 for two or more. Other expenses eligible for the credit include payments to a daycare center, nanny, or nursery school.
Keep in mind that tax credits are especially valuable because they reduce your tax liability dollar-for-dollar — $1 of tax credit saves you $1 of taxes. This differs from deductions, which simply reduce the amount of income subject to tax.
For example, if you’re in the 32% tax bracket, $1 of deduction saves you only $0.32 of taxes. So it’s important to take maximum advantage of all tax credits available to you.
For an expense to qualify for the credit, it must be related to employment. In other words, it must enable you to work — or look for work if you’re unemployed. It must also be for the care of your child, stepchild, foster child, or other qualifying relative who is under age 13, lives in your home for more than half the year and meets other requirements.
There’s no age limit if the dependent child is physically or mentally unable to care for him- or herself. Special rules apply if the child’s parents are divorced or separated or if the parents live apart.
Credit vs. FSA
If you participate in an employer-sponsored child and dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you can’t use expenses paid from or reimbursed by the FSA to claim the credit.
If your employer offers a child and dependent care FSA, you may wish to consider participating in the FSA instead of taking the credit. With an FSA for child and dependent care, you can contribute up to $5,000 on a pretax basis. If your marginal tax rate is more than 15%, participating in the FSA is more beneficial than taking the credit. That’s because the exclusion from income under the FSA gives a tax benefit at your highest tax rate, while the credit rate for taxpayers with adjusted gross income over $43,000 is limited to 20%.
Proving your eligibility
On your tax return, you must include the Social Security number of each child who attended the camp or received care. There’s no credit without it. You must also identify the organizations or persons that provided care for your child. So make sure to obtain the name, address and taxpayer identification number of the camp.
Additional rules apply to the child and dependent care credit. Contact us if you have questions. We can help determine your eligibility for the credit and other tax breaks for parents.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has changed the landscape for business taxpayers. That’s because the law introduced a flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations. Under prior law, profitable C corporations paid up to 35%.
The TCJA also cut individual income tax rates, which apply to sole proprietorships and pass-through entities, including partnerships, S corporations, and LLCs (treated as partnerships for tax purposes). However, the top rate dropped from 39.6% to only 37%.
These changes have caused many business owners to ask: What’s the optimal entity choice for me?
Entity tax basics
Before the TCJA, conventional wisdom was that most small businesses should be set up as sole proprietorships or pass-through entities to avoid the double taxation of C corporations. A C corporation pays entity-level income tax and then shareholders pay tax on dividends — and on capital gains when they sell the stock. For pass-through entities, there’s no federal income tax at the entity level.
Although C corporations are still potentially subject to double taxation, their current 21% tax rate helps make up for it. This issue is further complicated, however, by another tax provision that allows noncorporate owners of pass-through entities to take a deduction equal to as much as 20% of qualified business income (QBI), subject to various limits. But, unless Congress extends it, that deduction is available only through 2025.
Many factors to consider
The best entity choice for your business depends on many factors. Keep in mind that one form of doing business might be more appropriate at one time (say, when you’re launching), while another form might be better after you’ve been operating for a few years. Here are a few examples:
As you can see, there are many issues involved and taxes are only one factor.
For example, one often-cited advantage of certain entities is that they allow a business to be treated as an entity separate from the owner. A properly structured corporation can protect you from business debts. But to ensure that the corporation is treated as a separate entity, it’s important to observe various formalities required by the state. These include filing articles of incorporation, adopting by-laws, electing a board of directors, holding organizational meetings and keeping minutes.
The best long-term choice
The TCJA has far-reaching effects on businesses. Contact us to discuss how your business should be set up to lower its tax bill over the long run. But remember that entity choice is easier when starting up a business. Converting from one type of entity to another adds complexity. We can help you examine the ins and outs of making a change.
To help defray health care costs, many people now contribute to, or are thinking about setting up, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). With these accounts, individuals can pay for certain medical expenses on a tax advantaged basis.
With HSAs, you take more responsibility for your health care costs. If you’re covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan, you can contribute pretax income to an employer-sponsored HSA — or make deductible contributions to an HSA you set up yourself.
You own the account, which can bear interest or be invested. It can grow 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. So, unlike Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), undistributed balances in HSAs aren’t forfeited at year end.
For the 2019 tax year, you can make a tax-deductible HSA contribution of up to $3,500 if you have qualifying self-only coverage or up to $7,000 if you have qualifying family coverage (anything other than self-only coverage). If you’re age 55 or older as of December 31, the maximum contribution increases by $1,000.
To be eligible to contribute to an HSA, you must have a qualifying high deductible health insurance policy and no other general health coverage. For 2019, a high deductible health plan is defined as one with a deductible of at least $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage.
For 2019, qualifying policies must have had out-of-pocket maximums of no more than $6,750 for self-only coverage or $13,500 for family coverage.
If you still have an HSA balance after reaching Medicare eligibility age (generally age 65), you can empty the account for any reason without a tax penalty. If you don’t use the withdrawal to cover qualified medical expenses, you’ll owe federal income tax and possibly state income tax. But the 20% tax penalty that generally applies to withdrawals not used for medical expenses won’t apply. There’s no tax penalty on withdrawals made after disability or death.
Alternatively, you can use your HSA balance to pay uninsured medical expenses incurred after reaching Medicare eligibility age. If your HSA still has a balance when you die, your surviving spouse can take over the account tax-free and treat it as his or her own HSA, if he or she is named as the beneficiary. In other cases, the date-of-death HSA balance must generally be included in taxable income on that date by the person who inherits the account.
Deadlines and deductions
If you’re eligible to make an HSA contribution, the deadline is April 15 of the following year (adjusted for weekends and holidays) to open an account and make a tax-deductible contribution for the previous year.
So, if you’re eligible, there’s plenty of time to make a deductible contribution for 2019. The deadline for making 2019 contributions is April 15, 2020.
The write-off for HSA contributions is an “above-the-line” deduction. That means you can claim it even if you don’t itemize.
In addition, an HSA contribution isn’t tied to income. Even wealthy people can make deductible HSA contributions if they have qualifying high deductible health insurance coverage and meet the other requirements.
HSAs can provide a smart tax-saving opportunity for individuals with qualifying high deductible health plans. Contact us to help you set up an HSA or decide how much to contribute for 2019.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2019. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
You’ve probably seen or heard ads urging you to donate your car to charity. “Make a difference and receive tax savings,” one organization states. But donating a vehicle may not result in a big tax deduction — or any deduction at all.
Trade in, sell or donate?
Let’s say you’re buying a new car and want to get rid of your old one. Among your options are trading in the vehicle to the dealer, selling it yourself or donating it to charity.
If you donate, the tax deduction depends on whether you itemize and what the charity does with the vehicle. For cars worth more than $500, the deduction is the amount for which the charity actually sells the car, if it sells without materially improving it. (This limit includes vans, trucks, boats and airplanes.)
Because many charities wind up selling the cars they receive, your donation will probably be limited to the sale price. Furthermore, these sales are often at auction, or even salvage, and typically result in sales below the Kelley Blue Book® value. To further complicate matters, you won’t know the amount of your deduction until the charity sells the car and reports the sale proceeds to you.
If the charity uses the car in its operations or materially improves it before selling, your deduction will be based on the car’s fair market value at the time of the donation. In that case, fair market value is usually set according to the Blue Book listings.
In these cases, the IRS will accept the Blue Book value or another established used car pricing guide for a car that’s the same make, model, and year, sold in the same area and in the same condition, as the car you donated. In some cases, this value may exceed the amount you could get on a sale.
However, if the car is in poor condition, needs substantial repairs or is unsafe to drive, and the pricing guide only lists prices for cars in average or better condition, the guide won’t set the car’s value for tax purposes. Instead, you must establish the car’s market value by any reasonable method. Many used car guides show how to adjust value for items such as accessories or mileage.
You must itemize
In any case, you must itemize your deductions to get the tax benefit. You can’t take a deduction for a car donation if you take the standard deduction. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, fewer people are itemizing because the law significantly increased the standard deduction amounts. So even if you donate a car to charity, you may not get any tax benefit, because you don’t have enough itemized deductions.
If you do donate a vehicle and itemize, be careful to substantiate your deduction. Make sure the charity qualifies for tax deductions. If it sells the car, you’ll need a written acknowledgment from the organization with your name, tax ID number, vehicle ID number, gross proceeds of sale and other information. The charity should provide you with this acknowledgment within 30 days of the sale.
If, instead, the charity uses (or materially improves) the car, the acknowledgment needs to certify the intended use (or improvement), along with other information. This acknowledgment should be provided within 30 days of the donation.
Consider all factors
Of course, a tax deduction isn’t the only reason for donating a vehicle to charity. You may want to support a worthwhile organization. Or you may like the convenience of having a charity pick up a car at your home on short notice. But if you’re donating in order to claim a tax deduction, make sure you understand all the ramifications. Contact us if you have questions.
Is your business hiring this summer? If the employees come from certain “targeted groups,” you may be eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). This includes youth whom you bring in this summer for two or three months. The maximum credit employers can claim is $2,400 to $9,600 for each eligible employee.
10 targeted groups
An employer is generally eligible for the credit only for qualified wages paid to members of 10 targeted groups:
For each employee, there’s also a minimum requirement that the employee have completed at least 120 hours of service for the employer, and that employment begin before January 1, 2020.
Also, the credit isn’t available for certain employees who are related to the employer or work more than 50% of the time outside of a trade or business of the employer (for example, working as a house cleaner in the employer’s home). And it generally isn’t available for employees who have previously worked for the employer.
Calculate the savings
For employees other than summer youth employees, the credit amount is calculated under the following rules. The employer can take into account up to $6,000 of first-year wages per employee ($10,000 for “long-term family assistance recipients” and/or $12,000, $14,000 or $24,000 for certain veterans). If the employee completed at least 120 hours but less than 400 hours of service for the employer, the wages taken into account are multiplied by 25%. If the employee completed 400 or more hours, all of the wages taken into account are multiplied by 40%.
Therefore, the maximum credit available for the first-year wages is $2,400 ($6,000 × 40%) per employee. It is $4,000 [$10,000 × 40%] for “long-term family assistance recipients”; $4,800, $5,600 or $9,600 [$12,000, $14,000 or $24,000 × 40%] for certain veterans. In order to claim a $9,600 credit, a veteran must be certified as being entitled to compensation for a service-connected disability and be unemployed for at least six months during the one-year period ending on the hiring date.
Additionally, for “long-term family assistance recipients,” there’s a 50% credit for up to $10,000 of second-year wages, resulting in a total maximum credit, over two years, of $9,000 [$10,000 × 40% plus $10,000 × 50%].
The “first year” described above is the year-long period which begins with the employee’s first day of work. The “second year” is the year that immediately follows.
For summer youth employees, the rules described above apply, except that you can only take into account up to $3,000 of wages, and the wages must be paid for services performed during any 90-day period between May 1 and September 15. That means that, for summer youth employees, the maximum credit available is $1,200 ($3,000 × 40%) per employee. Summer youth employees are defined as those who are at least 16 years old, but under 18 on the hiring date or May 1 (whichever is later), and reside in an Empowerment Zone, enterprise community or renewal community.
We can help
The WOTC can offset the cost of hiring qualified new employees. There are some additional rules that, in limited circumstances, prohibit the credit or require an allocation of the credit. And you must fill out and submit paperwork to the government. Contact us for assistance or more information about your situation.
When you retire, you may consider moving to another state — say, for the weather or to be closer to your loved ones. Don’t forget to factor state and local taxes into the equation. Establishing residency for state tax purposes may be more complicated than it initially appears to be.
Identify all applicable taxes
It may seem like a no-brainer to simply move to a state with no personal income tax. But, to make a good decision, you must consider all taxes that can potentially apply to a state resident. In addition to income taxes, these may include property taxes, sales taxes and estate taxes.
If the states you’re considering have an income tax, look at what types of income they tax. Some states, for example, don’t tax wages but do tax interest and dividends. And some states offer tax breaks for pension payments, retirement plan distributions and Social Security payments.
Watch out for state estate tax
The federal estate tax currently doesn’t apply to many people. For 2019, the federal estate tax exemption is $11.4 million ($22.8 million for a married couple). But some states levy estate tax with a much lower exemption and some states may also have an inheritance tax in addition to (or in lieu of) an estate tax.
If you make a permanent move to a new state and want to escape taxes in the state you came from, it’s important to establish legal domicile in the new location. The definition of legal domicile varies from state to state. In general, your domicile is your fixed and permanent home location and the place where you plan to return, even after periods of residing elsewhere.
Each state has its own rules regarding domicile. You don’t want to wind up in a worst-case scenario: Two states could claim you owe state income taxes if you established domicile in the new state but didn’t successfully terminate domicile in the old one. Additionally, if you die without clearly establishing domicile in just one state, both the old and new states may claim that your estate owes income taxes and any state estate tax.
How do you establish domicile in a new state? The more time that elapses after you change states and the more steps you take to establish domicile in the new state, the harder it will be for your old state to claim that you’re still domiciled there for tax purposes. Some ways to help lock in domicile in a new state are to:
If an income tax return is required in the new state, file a resident return. File a nonresident return or no return (whichever is appropriate) in the old state. We can help with these returns.
Make an informed choice
Before deciding where you want to live in retirement, do some research and contact us. We can help you avoid unpleasant tax surprises.
If federal income tax and employment taxes (including Social Security) are withheld from employees’ paychecks and not handed over to the IRS, a harsh penalty can be imposed. To make matters worse, the penalty can be assessed personally against a “responsible individual.”
If a business makes payroll tax payments late, there are escalating penalties. And if an employer fails to make them, the IRS will crack down hard. With the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty,” also known as the “100% Penalty,” the IRS can assess the entire unpaid amount against a responsible person who willfully fails to comply with the law.
Some business owners and executives facing a cash flow crunch may be tempted to dip into the payroll taxes withheld from employees. They may think, “I’ll send the money in later when it comes in from another source.” Bad idea!
No corporate protection
The corporate veil won’t shield corporate officers in these cases. Unlike some other liability protections that a corporation or limited liability company may have, business owners and executives can’t escape personal liability for payroll tax debts.
Once the IRS asserts the penalty, it can file a lien or take levy or seizure action against a responsible individual’s personal assets.
The penalty can be assessed against a shareholder, owner, director, officer, or employee. In some cases, it can be assessed against a third party. The IRS can also go after more than one person. To be liable, an individual or party must:
The easiest way out of a delinquent payroll tax mess is to avoid getting into one in the first place. If you’re involved in a small or medium-size business, make sure the federal taxes that have been withheld from employees’ paychecks are paid over to the government on time. Don’t ever allow “borrowing” from withheld amounts.
Consider hiring an outside service to handle payroll duties. A good payroll service provider relieves you of the burden of paying employees, making the deductions, taking care of the tax payments and handling recordkeeping. Contact us for more information.
The IRS just released its audit statistics for the 2018 fiscal year, and fewer taxpayers had their returns examined as compared with prior years. However, even though a small percentage of tax returns are being chosen for audit these days, that will be little consolation if yours is one of them.
Overall, just 0.59% of individual tax returns were audited in 2018, as compared with 0.62% in 2017. This was the lowest percentage of audits conducted since 2002.
However, as in the past, those with very high incomes face greater odds. For example, in 2018, 2.21% of taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of between $1 million and $5 million were audited (down from 3.52% in 2017).
The richest taxpayers, those with AGIs of $10 million and more, experienced a steep decline in audits. In 2018, 6.66% of their returns were audited, compared with 14.52% in 2017.
Surviving an audit
Even though fewer audits are being performed, the IRS will still examine thousands of returns this year. With proper planning, you should fare well even if you’re one of the unlucky ones.
The easiest way to survive an IRS examination is to prepare in advance. On an ongoing basis, you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts, or other proof — for all items reported on your tax returns.
Just because a return is selected for audit doesn’t mean that an error was made. Some returns are randomly selected based on statistical formulas. For example, IRS computers compare income and deductions on returns with what other taxpayers report. If an individual deducts a charitable contribution that’s significantly higher than what others with similar incomes report, the IRS may want to know why.
Returns can also be selected when they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers who were previously selected for audit, such as business partners or investors.
The government generally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and often the exam won’t begin until a year or more after you file your return.
More audit details
The scope of an audit depends on the tax return’s complexity. A return reflecting business or real estate income and expenses is likely to take longer to examine than a return with only salary income.
An audit can be conducted by mail or through an in-person interview and review of records. The interview may be conducted at an IRS office or may be a “field audit” at the taxpayer’s home, business, or accountant’s office.
Important: Even if your return is audited, an IRS examination may be nothing to lose sleep over. In many cases, the IRS asks for proof of certain items and routinely “closes” the audit after the documentation is presented.
It’s advisable to have a tax professional represent you at an audit. A tax pro knows what issues the IRS is likely to scrutinize and can prepare accordingly. In addition, a professional knows that in many instances IRS auditors will take a position (for example, to disallow deduction of a certain expense) even though courts and other guidance have expressed a contrary opinion on the issue. Because pros can point to the proper authority, the IRS may be forced to throw in the towel.
If you receive an IRS audit letter or simply want to improve your recordkeeping, we’re here to assist you. Contact us to discuss this or any other aspect of your taxes.
Summer is just around the corner, so you might be thinking about getting some vacation time. If you’re self-employed or a business owner, you have a golden opportunity to combine a business trip with a few extra days of vacation and offset some of the cost with a tax deduction. But be careful, or you might not qualify for the write-offs you’re expecting.
Business travel expenses can potentially be deducted if the travel is within the United States and the expenses are:
Note: The tax rules for foreign business travel are different from those for domestic travel.
Business owners and the self-employed are generally eligible to deduct business travel expenses if they meet the tests described above. However, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct such expenses. The potential deductions discussed in this article assume that you’re a business owner or self-employed.
A business-vacation trip
Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity may be 100% deductible if the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. But if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, generally no transportation costs are deductible. These costs include plane or train tickets, the cost of getting to and from the airport, luggage handling tips and car expenses if you drive. Costs for driving your personal car are also eligible.
The key factor in determining whether the primary reason for domestic travel is business is the number of days you spend conducting business vs. enjoying vacation days. Any day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours counts as a business day. In addition:
Bottom line: If your business days exceed your personal days, you should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip and deduct your transportation costs.
What else can you deduct?
Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. Examples of these expenses include lodging, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days aren’t deductible.
Keep in mind that only expenses for yourself are deductible. You can’t deduct expenses for family members traveling with you, including your spouse — unless they’re employees of your business and traveling for a bona fide business purpose.
Keep good records
Be sure to retain proof of the business nature of your trip. You must properly substantiate all of the expenses you’re deducting. If you get audited, the IRS will want to see records during travel you claim was for business. Good records are your best defense. Additional rules and limits apply to travel expense deductions. Please contact us if you have questions.
Due to the massive changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the 2019 filing season resulted in surprises. Some filers who have gotten a refund in past years wound up owing money. The IRS reports that the number of refunds paid this year is down from last year — and the average refund is lower. As of May 10, 2019, the IRS paid out 101,590,000 refunds averaging $2,868. This compares with 102,582,000 refunds paid out in 2018 with an average amount of $2,940.
Of course, receiving a tax refund shouldn’t necessarily be your goal. It essentially means you’re giving the government an interest-free loan.
Law changes and withholding
Last year, the IRS updated the withholding tables that indicate how much employers should hold back from their employees’ paychecks. In general, the amount withheld was reduced. This was done to reflect changes under the TCJA — including the increase in the standard deduction, suspension of personal exemptions and changes in tax rates.
The new tables may have provided the correct amount of tax withholding for some individuals, but they might have caused other taxpayers to not have enough money withheld to pay their ultimate tax liabilities.
Conduct a “paycheck checkup”
The IRS is cautioning taxpayers to review their tax situations for this year and adjust withholding, if appropriate.
The tax agency has a withholding calculator to assist you in conducting a paycheck checkup. The calculator reflects tax law changes in areas such as available itemized deductions, the increased child credit, the new dependent credit and the repeal of dependent exemptions. You can access the IRS calculator at https://bit.ly/2aLxK0A.
Situations where changes are needed
There are a number of situations when you should check your withholding. In addition to tax law changes, the IRS recommends that you perform a checkup if you:
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 go into effect several weeks after a new Form W-4 is submitted. (For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly estimated payments are due. The next payment is due on Monday, June 17.)
We can help
Contact us to discuss your specific situation and what you can do to remedy any shortfalls to minimize taxes due, as well as any penalties and interest. We can help you sort through whether or not you need to adjust your withholding.
If you’re a business owner and you hire your children (or grandchildren) this summer, you can obtain tax breaks and other nontax benefits. The kids can gain on-the-job experience, save for college and learn how to manage money. And you may be able to:
It must be a real job
When you hire your child, you get a business tax deduction for employee wage expenses. In turn, the deduction reduces your federal income tax bill, your self-employment tax bill (if applicable), and your state income tax bill (if applicable). However, in order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work performed by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.
For example, let’s say a business owner operates as a sole proprietor and is in the 37% tax bracket. He hires his 16-year-old son to help with office work on a full-time basis during the summer and part-time into the fall. The son earns $10,000 during 2019 and doesn’t have any other earnings.
The business owner saves $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to his son, who can use his 2019 $12,200 standard deduction to completely shelter his earnings.
The family’s taxes are cut even if the son’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction. The reason is that the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the son beginning at a rate of 10%, instead of being taxed at his father’s higher rate.
How payroll taxes might be saved
If your business isn’t incorporated, your child’s wages are exempt from Social Security, Medicare and FUTA taxes if certain conditions are met. Your child must be under age 18 for this to apply (or under age 21 in the case of the FUTA tax exemption). Contact us for how this works.
Be aware that there’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners.
Start saving for retirement early
Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement benefits, depending on the type of plan you have and how it defines qualifying employees. And because your child has earnings from his or her job, he can contribute to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. For the 2018 tax year, a working child can contribute the lesser of his or her earned income, or $6,000 to an IRA or a Roth.
Raising tax-smart children
As you can see, hiring your child can be a tax-smart idea. Be sure to keep the same records as you would for other employees to substantiate the hours worked and duties performed (such as timesheets and job descriptions). Issue your child a Form W-2. If you have any questions about how these rules apply to your situation, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Spring and summer are the optimum seasons for selling a home. And interest rates are currently attractive, so buyers may be out in full force in your area. Freddie Mac reports that the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 4.14% during the week of May 2, 2019, while the 15-year mortgage rate was 3.6%. This is down 0.41 and 0.43%, respectively, from a year earlier.
But before you contact a realtor to sell your home, you should review the tax considerations.
Sellers can exclude some gain
If you’re selling your principal residence, and you meet certain requirements, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain. Gain that qualifies for the exclusion is also excluded from the 3.8% net investment income tax.
To qualify for the exclusion, you must meet these tests:
In addition, you can’t use the exclusion more than once every two years.
Handling bigger gains
What if you’re fortunate enough to have more than $250,000/$500,000 of profit when selling your home? Any gain that doesn’t qualify for the exclusion generally will be taxed at your long-term capital gains rate, provided 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.
Other tax issues
Here are some additional tax considerations when selling a home:
Keep track of your 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.
Be aware that you can’t deduct a loss. If you sell your principal residence at a loss, it 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.
If you’re selling a second home (for example, a vacation 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.
Your home is probably your largest investment. So before selling it, make sure you understand the tax implications. We can help you plan ahead to minimize taxes and answer any questions you have about your situation.
Roth 401(k) accounts have been around for 13 years now. Studies show that more employers are offering them each year. A recent study by the Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA) found that Roth 401(k)s are now available at 70% of employer plans, up from 55.6% of plans in 2016.
However, despite the prevalence of employers offering Roth 401(k)s, most employees aren’t choosing to contribute to them. The PSCA found that only 20% of participants who have access to a Roth 401(k) made contributions to one in 2017. Perhaps it’s because they don’t understand them.
If you offer a Roth 401(k) or you’re considering one, educate your employees about the accounts to boost participation.
A 401(k) with a twist
As the name implies, these plans are a hybrid — taking some characteristics from Roth IRAs and some from employer-sponsored 401(k)s.
An employer with a 401(k), 403(b) or governmental 457(b) plan can offer designated Roth 401(k) accounts.
As with traditional 401(k)s, eligible employees can elect to defer part of their salaries to Roth 401(k)s, subject to annual limits. The employer may choose to provide matching contributions. For 2019, a participating employee can contribute up to $19,000 ($25,000 if he or she is age 50 or older) to a Roth 401(k). The most you can contribute to a Roth IRA for 2019 is $6,000 ($7,000 for those age 50 or older).
Note: The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is phased out for upper-income taxpayers, but there’s no such restriction for a Roth 401(k).
The pros and cons
Unlike with traditional 401(k)s, contributions to employees’ accounts are made with after-tax dollars, instead of pretax dollars. Therefore, employees forfeit a key 401(k) tax benefit. On the plus side, after an initial period of five years, “qualified distributions” are 100% exempt from federal income tax, just like qualified distributions from a Roth IRA. In contrast, regular 401(k) distributions are taxed at ordinary-income rates, which are currently up to 37%.
In general, qualified distributions are those:
Therefore, you can take qualified Roth 401(k) distributions in retirement after age 59½ and pay no tax, as opposed to the hefty tax bill that may be due from traditional 401(k) payouts. And unlike traditional 401(k)s, which currently require retirees to begin taking required minimum distributions after age 70½, Roth 401(k)s have no mandate to take withdrawals.
Not for everyone
A Roth 401(k) is more beneficial than a traditional 401(k) for some participants, but not all. For example, it may be valuable for employees who expect to be in higher federal and state tax brackets in retirement. Contact us if you have questions about adding a Roth 401(k) to your benefits lineup.
It’s that time of year when many people who filed their tax returns in April are checking their mail or bank accounts to see if their refunds have landed. According to the IRS, most refunds are issued in less than 21 calendar days. However, it may take longer — and in rare cases, refunds might not come at all.
Your refund status
If you’re curious about when your refund will arrive, you can use the IRS “Where’s My Refund?” tool. Go to https://bit.ly/2cl5MZo and click “Check My Refund Status.” You’ll need your Social Security number, your filing status (single, married joint filer, etc.) and your exact refund amount.
In some cases, taxpayers who are expecting a refund may be notified that all or part of their refunds aren’t going to be paid. A number of situations can cause this to happen.
Refunds settle debts
The Treasury Offset Program can use all, or part, of a refund to settle certain debts, including:
If the federal government is going to “offset” a refund to pay past-due debts, a letter is sent to the taxpayer listing the original refund, the offset amount and the agency that received the payment. If the taxpayer wants to dispute the offset, he or she should contact the relevant federal agency.
If you file a joint tax return and your tax refund is applied to the past-due debts of your spouse, you may be able to get back your share of the joint refund. For example, let’s say a husband has back child support debt from before he was married. After he and his new spouse file a joint tax return, their joint refund is applied to his child support. His wife can apply for injured spouse relief to get her portion of the refund. This is done by filing Form 8379, “Injured Spouse Allocation.”
No passports in significant cases
Beyond having a refund taken by the government, owing a significant amount of back federal taxes can now also cause a taxpayer to have passport problems. Last year, the IRS began enforcing a tax law provision that gives the IRS the authority to notify the State Department about individuals who have “seriously delinquent tax debts.” The State Department is then tasked with denying the individuals new passports or revoking existing passports.
For these purposes, a seriously delinquent tax debt is defined as an inflation-adjusted $50,000 or more. For 2019, the threshold is $52,000.
In most cases, refunds are routinely sent to taxpayers within a few weeks. However, there may be some delays, or, in worst-case scenarios, refunds may be applied to debts owed to the federal or state governments. If you have questions about your refund, contact us.
If you read the Internal Revenue Code (and you probably don’t want to!), you may be surprised to find that most business deductions aren’t specifically listed. It doesn’t explicitly state that you can deduct office supplies and certain other expenses.
Some expenses are detailed in the tax code, but the general rule is contained in the first sentence of Section 162, which states you can write off “all the ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.”
In general, an expense is ordinary if it’s considered common or customary in the particular trade or business. For example, insurance premiums to protect a store would be an ordinary business expense in the retail industry.
A necessary expense is defined as one that’s helpful or appropriate. For example, let’s say a car dealership purchases an automatic defibrillator. It may not be necessary for the operation of the business, but it might be helpful and appropriate if an employee or customer suffers a heart attack.
It’s possible for an ordinary expense to be unnecessary — but, in order to be deductible, an expense must be ordinary and necessary.
In addition, a deductible amount must be reasonable in relation to the benefit expected. For example, if you’re attempting to land a $3,000 deal, a $65 lunch with a potential client should be OK with the IRS. (Keep in mind that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated most deductions for entertainment expenses but retains the 50% deduction for business meals.)
Examples of not ordinary and unnecessary
Not surprisingly, the IRS and courts don’t always agree with taxpayers about what qualifies as ordinary and necessary expenditures.
In one case, a man engaged in a business with his brother was denied deductions for his private airplane expenses. The U.S. Tax Court noted that the taxpayer had failed to prove the expenses were ordinary and necessary to the business. In addition, only one brother used the plane and the flights were to places that the taxpayer could have driven to or flown to on a commercial airline. And, in any event, the stated expenses including depreciation expenses, weren’t adequately substantiated, the court added. (TC Memo 2018-108)
In another case, the Tax Court ruled that a business owner wasn’t entitled to deduct legal and professional fees he’d incurred in divorce proceedings defending his ex-wife’s claims to his interest in, or portion of, distributions he received from his LLC. The IRS and the court ruled the divorce legal fees were nondeductible personal expenses and weren’t ordinary and necessary. (TC Memo 2018-80)
Proceed with caution
The deductibility of some expenses is clear. But for other expenses, it can get more complicated. Generally, if an expense seems like it’s not normal in your industry — or if it could be considered fun, personal or extravagant in nature — you should proceed with caution. And keep records to substantiate the expenses you’re deducting. Consult with us for guidance.
While the number of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) is still small compared with other cars on the road, it’s growing — especially in certain parts of the country. If you’re interested in purchasing an electric or hybrid vehicle, you may be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500. (Depending on where you live, there may also be state tax breaks and other incentives.)
However, the federal tax credit is subject to a complex phaseout rule that may reduce or eliminate the tax break based on how many sales are made by a given manufacturer. The vehicles of two manufacturers have already begun to be phased out, which means they now qualify for only a partial tax credit.
Tax credit basics
You can claim the federal tax credit for buying a qualifying new (not used) plug-in EV. The credit can be worth up to $7,500. There are no income restrictions, so even wealthy people can qualify.
A qualifying vehicle can be either fully electric or a plug-in electric-gasoline hybrid. In addition, the vehicle must be purchased rather than leased, because the credit for a leased vehicle belongs to the manufacturer.
The credit equals $2,500 for a vehicle powered by a four-kilowatt-hour battery, with an additional $417 for each kilowatt hour of battery capacity beyond four hours. The maximum credit is $7,500. Buyers of qualifying vehicles can rely on the manufacturer’s or distributor’s certification of the allowable credit amount.
How the phaseout rule works
The credit begins phasing out for a manufacturer over four calendar quarters once it sells more than 200,000 qualifying vehicles for use in the United States. The IRS recently announced that GM had sold more than 200,000 qualifying vehicles through the fourth quarter of 2018. So, the phaseout rule has been triggered for GM vehicles, as of April 1, 2019. The credit for GM vehicles purchased between April 1, 2019, and September 30, 2019, is reduced to 50% of the otherwise allowable amount. For GM vehicles purchased between October 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, the credit is reduced to 25% of the otherwise allowable amount. No credit will be allowed for GM vehicles purchased after March 31, 2020.
The IRS previously announced that Tesla had sold more than 200,000 qualifying vehicles through the third quarter of 2018. So, the phaseout rule was triggered for Tesla vehicles, effective as of January 1, 2019. The credit for Tesla vehicles purchased between January 1, 2019, and June 30, 2019, is reduced to 50% of the otherwise allowable amount. For Tesla vehicles purchased between July 1, 2019, and December 31, 2019, the credit is reduced to 25% of the otherwise allowable amount. No credit will be allowed for Tesla vehicles purchased after December 31, 2019.
Despite the phaseout kicking in for GM and Tesla vehicles, there are still many other EVs on the market if you’re interested in purchasing one. For an index of manufacturers and credit amounts, visit this IRS Web page: https://bit.ly/2vqC8vM. Contact us if you want more information about the tax breaks that may be available for these vehicles.
Many employers prefer to classify workers as independent contractors to lower costs, even if it means having less control over a worker’s day-to-day activities. But the government is on the lookout for businesses that classify workers as independent contractors simply to reduce taxes or avoid their employee benefit obligations.
Why it matters
When your business classifies a worker as an employee, you generally must withhold federal income tax and the employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes from his or her wages. Your business must then pay the employer’s share of these taxes, pay federal unemployment tax, file federal payroll tax returns and follow other burdensome IRS and U.S. Department of Labor rules.
You may also have to pay state and local unemployment and workers’ compensation taxes and comply with more rules. Dealing with all this can cost a bundle each year.
On the other hand, with independent contractor status, you don’t have to worry about employment tax issues. You also don’t have to provide fringe benefits like health insurance, retirement plans and paid vacations. If you pay $600 or more to an independent contractor during the year, you must file a Form 1099-MISC with the IRS and send a copy to the worker to report what you paid. That’s basically the extent of your bureaucratic responsibilities.
But if you incorrectly treat a worker as an independent contractor — and the IRS decides the worker is actually an employee — your business could be assessed unpaid payroll taxes plus interest and penalties. You also could be liable for employee benefits that should have been provided but weren’t, including penalties under federal laws.
Filing an IRS form
To find out if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, you can file optional IRS Form SS-8, “Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.” Then, the IRS will let you know how to classify a worker. However, be aware that the IRS has a history of classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors.
Businesses should consult with us before filing Form SS-8 because it may alert the IRS that your business has worker classification issues — and inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit.
It can be better to simply treat independent contractors so the relationships comply with the tax rules. This generally includes not controlling how the workers perform their duties, ensuring that you’re not the workers’ only customer, providing annual Forms 1099 and, basically, not treating the workers like employees.
Workers can also ask for a determination
Workers who want an official determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.
If a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS will send a letter to the business. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return the form to the IRS, which will render a classification decision.
Defending your position
If your business properly handles independent contractors, don’t panic if a worker files a Form SS-8. Contact us before replying to the IRS. With a proper response, you may be able to continue to classify the worker as a contractor. We also can assist you in setting up independent contractor relationships that stand up to IRS scrutiny.
Unforeseen disasters happen all the time and they may cause damage to your home or personal property. Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, eligible casualty loss victims could claim a deduction on their tax returns. But there are new restrictions that make these deductions much more difficult to take.
What’s considered a casualty for tax purposes? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, or fire; an accident or act of vandalism; or even a terrorist attack.
For losses incurred in 2018 through 2025, the TCJA generally eliminates deductions for personal casualty losses, except for losses due to federally declared disasters. For example, during 2019, there were presidential declarations of major disasters in parts of Iowa and Nebraska after severe storms and flooding. So victims there would be eligible for casualty loss deductions.
Note: There’s an exception to the general rule of allowing casualty loss deductions only in federally declared disaster areas. If you have personal casualty gains because your insurance proceeds exceed the tax basis of the damaged or destroyed property, you can deduct personal casualty losses that aren’t due to a federally declared disaster up to the amount of your personal casualty gains.
Special timing election
If your casualty loss is due to a federally declared disaster, a special election allows you to deduct the loss on your tax return for the preceding year. If you’ve already filed your return for the preceding year, you can file an amended return to make the election and claim the deduction in the earlier year. This can help you get extra cash when you need it.
This election must be made by no later than six months after the due date (without considering extensions) for filing your tax return for the year in which the disaster occurs. However, the election itself must be made on an original or amended return for the preceding year.
Calculating personal losses
To calculate the casualty loss deduction for personal-use property in an area declared a federal disaster, you must take the following three steps:
Important: Another factor that now makes it harder to claim a casualty loss is that you must itemize deductions to claim one. For 2018 through 2025, fewer people will itemize, because the TCJA significantly increased the standard deduction amounts. For 2019, they are $12,200 for single filers, $18,350 for heads of households, and $24,400 for married joint-filing couples.
So even if you qualify for a casualty deduction, you might not get any tax benefit, because you don’t have enough itemized deductions.
We can help
These are the rules for personal property. Keep in mind that the rules for business or income-producing property are different. If you have disaster-related losses, we can help you navigate the complex rules.
Have you recently started a new business? Or are you contemplating starting one? Launching a new venture is a hectic, exciting time. And as you know, before you even open the doors, you generally have to spend a lot of money. You may have to train workers and pay for rent, utilities, marketing and more.
Entrepreneurs are often unaware that many expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be deducted right away. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your tax bill.
Key points on how expenses are handled
When starting or planning a new enterprise, keep these factors in mind:
Examples of expenses
Start-up expenses generally include all expenses that are incurred to:
To be eligible for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example would be the money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.
To qualify as an “organization expense,” the outlay must be related to the creation of a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing the new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.
Once your 2018 tax return has been successfully filed with the IRS, you may still have some questions. Here are brief answers to three questions that we’re frequently asked at this time of year.
Question #1: What tax records can I throw away now?
At a minimum, keep tax records related to your return for as long as the IRS can audit your return or assess additional taxes. In general, the statute of limitations is three years after you file your return. So you can generally get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2015 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2015 return, hold on to your records until at least three years from when you filed the extended return.)
However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%.
You’ll need to hang on to certain tax-related records longer. For example, keep the actual tax returns indefinitely, so you can prove to the IRS that you filed a legitimate return. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.)
When it comes to retirement accounts, keep records associated with them until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years. And retain records related to real estate or investments for as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return. (You can keep these records for six years if you want to be extra safe.)
Question #2: Where’s my refund?
The IRS has an online tool that can tell you the status of your refund. Go to irs.gov and click on “Refund Status” to find out about yours. You’ll need your Social Security number, filing status and the exact refund amount.
Question #3: Can I still collect a refund if I forgot to report something?
In general, you can file an amended tax return and claim a refund within three years after the date you filed your original return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. So for a 2018 tax return that you filed on April 15 of 2019, you can generally file an amended return until April 15, 2022.
However, there are a few opportunities when you have longer to file an amended return. For example, the statute of limitations for bad debts is longer than the usual three-year time limit for most items on your tax return. In general, you can amend your tax return to claim a bad debt for seven years from the due date of the tax return for the year that the debt became worthless.
We can help
Contact us if you have questions about tax record retention, your refund or filing an amended return. We’re available all year long — not just at tax filing time!
In the course of operating your business, you probably spend time and money “wining and dining” current or potential customers, vendors and employees. What can you deduct on your tax return for these expenses? The rules changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but you can still claim some valuable write-offs.
No more entertainment deductions
One of the biggest changes is that you can no longer deduct most business-related entertainment expenses. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA disallows deductions for entertainment expenses, including those for sports events, theater productions, golf outings and fishing trips.
Meal deductions still allowed
You can still deduct 50% of the cost of food and beverages for meals conducted with business associates. However, you need to follow three basic rules in order to prove that your expenses are business related:
Set up detailed recordkeeping procedures to keep track of business meal costs. That way, you can prove them and the business connection in the event of an IRS audit.
What if you spend money on food and beverages at an entertainment event? The IRS clarified in guidance (Notice 2018-76) that taxpayers can still deduct 50% of food and drink expenses incurred at entertainment events, but only if business was conducted during the event or shortly before or after. The food-and-drink expenses should also be “stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices or receipts,” according to the guidance.
Another related tax law change involves meals provided to employees on the business premises. Before the TCJA, these meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer were 100% deductible by the employer. Beginning in 2018, meals provided for the convenience of an employer in an on-premises cafeteria or elsewhere on the business property are only 50% deductible. After 2025, these meals won’t be deductible at all.
As you can see, the treatment of meal and entertainment expenses became more complicated after the TCJA. Your tax advisor can keep you up to speed on the issues and suggest strategies to get the biggest tax-saving bang for your business meal bucks.
Americans who are 65 and older qualify for basic Medicare insurance, and they may need to pay additional premiums to get the level of coverage they desire. The premiums can be expensive, especially if you’re married and both you and your spouse are paying them. But one aspect of paying premiums might be positive: If you qualify, they may help lower your tax bill.
Medicare premium tax deductions
Premiums for Medicare health insurance can be combined with other qualifying health care expenses for purposes of claiming an itemized deduction for medical expenses on your individual tax return. This includes amounts for “Medigap” insurance and Medicare Advantage plans. Some people buy Medigap policies because Medicare Parts A and B don’t cover all their health care expenses. Coverage gaps include co-payments, co-insurance, deductibles and other costs. Medigap is private supplemental insurance that’s intended to cover some or all gaps.
Fewer people now itemize
Qualifying for a medical expense deduction can be difficult for a couple of reasons. For 2019, you can deduct medical expenses only if you itemize deductions and only to the extent that total qualifying expenses exceeded 10% of AGI. (This threshold was 7.5% for the 2018 tax year.)
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction amounts for 2018 through 2025. For 2019, the standard deduction amounts are $12,200 for single filers, $24,400 for married joint-filing couples and $18,350 for heads of households. So, fewer individuals are claiming itemized deductions.
However, if you have significant medical expenses (including Medicare health insurance premiums), you may itemize and collect some tax savings.
Important note: Self-employed people and shareholder-employees of S corporations can generally claim an above-the-line deduction for their health insurance premiums, including Medicare premiums. So, they don’t need to itemize to get the tax savings from their premiums.
Other deductible medical expenses
In addition to Medicare premiums, you can deduct a variety of medical expenses, including those for ambulance services, dental treatment, dentures, eyeglasses and contacts, hospital services, lab tests, qualified long-term care services, prescription medicines and others.
Keep in mind that many items that Medicare doesn’t cover can be written off for tax purposes, if you qualify. You can also deduct transportation expenses to get to medical appointments. If you go by car, you can deduct a flat 20-cents-per-mile rate for 2019, or you can keep track of your actual out-of-pocket expenses for gas, oil and repairs.
Need more information?
Contact us if you have additional questions about Medicare coverage options or claiming medical expense deductions on your personal tax return. Your advisor can help determine the optimal overall tax-planning strategy based on your personal circumstances.
If you’re getting a divorce, you know it’s a highly stressful time. But if you’re a business owner, tax issues can complicate matters even more. Your business ownership interest is one of your biggest personal assets and your marital property will include all or part of it.
Transferring property tax-free
You can generally divide most assets, including cash and business ownership interests, between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse without any federal income or gift tax consequences. When an asset falls under this tax-free transfer rule, the spouse who receives the asset takes over its existing tax basis (for tax gain or loss purposes) and its existing holding period (for short-term or long-term holding period purposes).
For example, let’s say that, under the terms of your divorce agreement, you give your house to your spouse in exchange for keeping 100% of the stock in your business. That asset swap would be tax-free. And the existing basis and holding periods for the home and the stock would carry over to the person who receives them.
Tax-free transfers can occur before the divorce or at the time it becomes final. Tax-free treatment also applies to postdivorce transfers so long as they’re made “incident to divorce.” This means transfers that occur within:
Future tax implications
Eventually, there will be tax implications for assets received tax-free in a divorce settlement. The ex-spouse who winds up owning an appreciated asset — when the fair market value exceeds the tax basis — generally must recognize taxable gain when it’s sold (unless an exception applies).
What if your ex-spouse receives 49% of your highly appreciated small business stock? Thanks to the tax-free transfer rule, there’s no tax impact when the shares are transferred. Your ex will continue to apply the same tax rules as if you had continued to own the shares, including carryover basis and carryover holding period. When your ex-spouse ultimately sells the shares, he or she will owe any capital gains taxes. You will owe nothing.
Note that the person who winds up owning appreciated assets must pay the built-in tax liability that comes with them. From a net-of-tax perspective, appreciated assets are worth less than an equal amount of cash or other assets that haven’t appreciated. That’s why you should always take taxes into account when negotiating your divorce agreement.
In addition, the IRS now extends the beneficial tax-free transfer rule to ordinary-income assets, not just to capital-gains assets. For example, if you transfer business receivables or inventory to your ex-spouse in divorce, these types of ordinary-income assets can also be transferred tax-free. When the asset is later sold, converted to cash or exercised (in the case of nonqualified stock options), the person who owns the asset at that time must recognize the income and pay the tax liability.
Avoid adverse tax consequences
Like many major life events, divorce can have major tax implications. For example, you may receive an unexpected tax bill if you don’t carefully handle the splitting up of qualified retirement plan accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) and IRAs. And if you own a business, the stakes are higher. Your tax advisor can help you minimize the adverse tax consequences of settling your divorce under today’s laws.
Do you want to save more for retirement on a tax-favored basis? If so, and if you qualify, you can make a deductible traditional IRA contribution for the 2018 tax year between now and the tax filing deadline and claim the write-off on your 2018 return. Or you can contribute to a Roth IRA and avoid paying taxes on future withdrawals.
You can potentially make a contribution of up to $5,500 (or $6,500 if you were age 50 or older as of December 31, 2018). If you’re married, your spouse can potentially do the same, thereby doubling your tax benefits.
The deadline for 2018 traditional and Roth contributions for most taxpayers is April 15, 2019 (April 17 for those in Maine and Massachusetts).
There are some ground rules. You must have enough 2018 earned income (from jobs, self-employment or alimony) to equal or exceed your IRA contributions for the tax year. If you’re married, either spouse can provide the necessary earned income. And you can’t make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA if you were 70½ or older as of December 31, 2018. (But you can make one to a Roth IRA after that age.)
Finally, deductible IRA contributions are phased out (reduced or eliminated) if last year’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is too high.
Types of contributions
If you haven’t already maxed out your 2018 IRA contribution limit, consider making one of these three types of contributions by the April deadline:
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 2018 tax return. If you or your spouse do participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your deduction is subject to the following MAGI phaseout:
Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution. But those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution.
2. Roth. Roth IRA contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free, if you satisfy certain requirements.
Your ability to contribute, however, is subject to a MAGI-based phaseout:
You can make a partial contribution if your 2018 MAGI is 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 only be taxed on the growth.
Traditional and Roth IRAs provide a powerful way to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. Contact us to learn more about making 2018 contributions and making the most of IRAs in 2019 and beyond.
Merger and acquisition activity has been brisk in recent years. If your business is considering merging with or acquiring another business, it’s important to understand how the transaction will be taxed under current law.
Stocks vs. assets
From a tax standpoint, a transaction can basically be structured in two ways:
1. Stock (or ownership interest). A buyer can directly purchase a seller’s ownership interest if the target business is operated as a C or S corporation, a partnership, or a limited liability company (LLC) that’s treated as a partnership for tax purposes.
The now-permanent 21% corporate federal income tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes buying the stock of a C corporation somewhat more attractive. Reasons: The corporation will pay less tax and generate more after-tax income. Plus, any built-in gains from appreciated corporate assets will be taxed at a lower rate when they’re eventually sold.
The TCJA’s reduced individual federal tax rates may also make ownership interests in S corporations, partnerships and LLCs more attractive. Reason: The passed-through income from these entities also will be taxed at lower rates on a buyer’s personal tax return. However, the TCJA’s individual rate cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2025, and, depending on future changes in Washington, they could be eliminated earlier or extended.
2. Assets. A buyer can also purchase the assets of a business. This may happen if a buyer only wants specific assets or product lines. And it’s the only option if the target business is a sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC that’s treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes.
Note: In some circumstances, a corporate stock purchase can be treated as an asset purchase by making a “Section 338 election.” Ask your tax advisor for details.
Buyer vs. seller preferences
For several reasons, buyers usually prefer to purchase assets rather than ownership interests. Generally, a buyer’s main objective is to generate enough cash flow from an acquired business to pay any acquisition debt and provide an acceptable return on the investment. Therefore, buyers are concerned about limiting exposure to undisclosed and unknown liabilities and minimizing taxes after the deal closes.
A buyer can step up (increase) the tax basis of purchased assets to reflect the purchase price. Stepped-up basis lowers taxable gains when certain assets, such as receivables and inventory, are sold or converted into cash. It also increases depreciation and amortization deductions for qualifying assets.
Meanwhile, sellers generally prefer stock sales for tax and nontax reasons. One of their main objectives is to minimize the tax bill from a sale. That can usually be achieved by selling their ownership interests in a business (corporate stock or partnership or LLC interests) as opposed to selling business assets.
With a sale of stock or other ownership interest, liabilities generally transfer to the buyer and any gain on sale is generally treated as lower-taxed long-term capital gain (assuming the ownership interest has been held for more than one year).
Keep in mind that other issues, such as employee benefits, can also cause unexpected tax issues when merging with, or acquiring, a business.
Professional advice is critical
Buying or selling a business may be the most important transaction you make during your lifetime, so it’s important to seek professional tax advice as you negotiate. After a deal is done, it may be too late to get the best tax results. Contact us for the best way to proceed in your situation.
If you participate in a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k), you must generally begin taking required withdrawals from the plan no later than April 1 of the year after which you turn age 70½. However, there’s an exception that applies to certain plan participants who are still working for the entire year in which they turn 70½.
The basics of RMDs
Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are the amounts you’re legally required to withdraw from your qualified retirement plans and traditional IRAs after reaching age 70½. Essentially, the tax law requires you to tap into your retirement assets — and begin paying taxes on them — whether you want to or not.
Under the tax code, RMDs must begin to be taken from qualified pension, profit sharing and stock bonus plans by a certain date. That date is April 1 of the year following the later of the calendar year in which an employee:
Once they begin, RMDs must generally continue each year. The tax penalty for withdrawing less than the RMD amount is 50% of the portion that should have been withdrawn but wasn’t.
However, there’s an important exception to the still-working exception. If owner-employees own at least 5% of the company, they must begin taking RMDs from their 401(k)s beginning at 70½, regardless of their work status.
The still-working rule doesn’t apply to distributions from IRAs (including SEPs or SIMPLE IRAs). RMDs from these accounts must begin no later than April 1 of the year following the calendar year such individuals turn age 70½, even if they’re not retired.
The law and regulations don’t state how many hours an employee needs to work in order to postpone 401(k) RMDs. There’s no requirement that he or she work 40 hours a week for the exception to apply. However, the employee must be doing legitimate work and receiving W-2 wages.
For a customized plan
The RMD rules for qualified retirement plans (and IRAs) are complex. With careful planning, you can minimize your taxes and preserve more assets for your heirs. If you’re still working after age 70½, it may be beneficial to delay taking RMDs but there could also be disadvantages. Contact us to customize the optimal plan based on your individual retirement and estate planning goals.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines that apply to businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2019. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
If you’re the parent of a child who is age 17 to 23, and you pay all (or most) of his or her expenses, you may be surprised to learn you’re not eligible for the child tax credit. But there’s a dependent tax credit that may be available to you. It’s not as valuable as the child tax credit, but when you’re saving for college or paying tuition, every dollar counts!
Background of the credits
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) increased the child credit to $2,000 per qualifying child under the age of 17. The law also substantially increased the phaseout income thresholds for the credit so more people qualify for it. Unfortunately, the TCJA eliminated dependency exemptions for older children for 2018 through 2025. But the TCJA established a new $500 tax credit for dependents who aren’t under-age-17 children who qualify for the child tax credit. However, these individuals must pass certain tests to be classified as dependents.
A qualifying dependent for purposes of the $500 credit includes:
To be eligible for the $500 credit, you must provide over half of the person’s support for the year and he or she must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or U.S. resident.
Both the child tax credit and the dependent credit begin to phase out at $200,000 of modified adjusted gross income ($400,000 for married joint filers).
The child’s income
After the TCJA passed, it was unclear if your child would qualify you for the $500 credit if he or she had any gross income for the year. Fortunately, IRS Notice 2018-70 favorably resolved the income question. According to the guidance, a dependent will pass the income test for the 2018 tax year if he or she has gross income of $4,150 or less. (The $4,150 amount will be adjusted for inflation in future years.)
More spending money
Although $500 per child doesn’t cover much for today’s college student, it can help with books, clothing, software and other needs. Contact us with questions about whether you qualify for either the child or the dependent tax credits.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created a new federal tax credit for employers that provide qualified paid family and medical leave to their employees. It’s subject to numerous rules and restrictions and the credit is only available for two tax years — those beginning between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2019. However, it may be worthwhile for some businesses.
The value of the credit
An eligible employer can claim a credit equal to 12.5% of wages paid to qualifying employees who are on family and medical leave, if the leave payments are at least 50% of the normal wages paid to them. For each 1% increase over 50%, the credit rate increases by 0.25%, up to a maximum credit rate of 25%.
An eligible employee is one who’s worked for your company for at least one year, with compensation for the preceding year not exceeding 60% of the threshold for highly compensated employees for that year. For 2019, the threshold for highly compensated employees is $125,000 (up from $120,000 for 2018). That means a qualifying employee’s 2019 compensation can’t exceed $72,000 (60% × $120,000).
Employers that claim the family and medical leave credit must reduce their deductions for wages and salaries by the amount of the credit.
For purposes of the credit, family and medical leave is defined as time off taken by a qualified employee for these reasons:
Employer-provided vacation, personal, medical or sick leave (other than leave defined above) isn’t eligible.
When a policy must be established
The general rule is that, to claim the credit for your company’s first tax year that begins after December 31, 2017, your written family and medical leave policy must be in place before the paid leave for which the credit will be claimed is taken.
However, under a favorable transition rule for the first tax year beginning after December 31, 2017, your company’s written leave policy (or an amendment to an existing policy) is considered to be in place as of the effective date of the policy (or amendment) rather than the later adoption date.
The new family and medical leave credit could be an attractive perk for your company’s employees. However, it can be expensive because it must be provided to all qualifying full-time employees. Consult with us if you have questions or want more information.
Did you make large gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs last year? If so, it’s important to determine whether you’re required to file a 2018 gift tax return — or whether filing one would be beneficial even if it isn’t required.
Generally, you must file a gift tax return for 2018 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:
Keep in mind that you’ll owe gift tax only to the extent an exclusion doesn’t apply and you’ve used up your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption ($11.18 million for 2018). As you can see, some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax.
No return required
No gift tax return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of gifts that are tax-free because they qualify as:
But if you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.
Be ready for April 15
The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2018 returns, it’s April 15, 2019 — or October 15, 2019, if you file for an extension. But keep in mind that, if you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is April 15, regardless of whether you file for an extension. If you’re not sure whether you must (or should) file a 2018 gift tax return, contact us.
If you own a business and don’t have a tax-advantaged retirement plan, it’s not too late to establish one and reduce your 2018 tax bill. A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) can still be set up for 2018, and you can make contributions to it that you can deduct on your 2018 income tax return.
A SEP can be set up as late as the due date (including extensions) of your income tax return for the tax year for which the SEP is to first apply. That means you can establish a SEP for 2018 in 2019 as long as you do it before your 2018 return filing deadline. You have until the same deadline to make 2018 contributions and still claim a potentially substantial deduction on your 2018 return.
Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2018, in order for 2018 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2018 contributions to be made in 2019).
With a SEP, you can decide how much to contribute each year. You aren’t obligated to make any certain minimum contributions annually.
But, if your business has employees other than you:
The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee.
For 2018, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction), subject to a contribution cap of $55,000. (The 2019 cap is $56,000.)
To set up a SEP, you just need to complete and sign the very simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). You don’t need to file Form 5305-SEP with the IRS, but you should keep it as part of your permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement.
Although there are rules and limits that apply to SEPs beyond what we’ve discussed here, SEPs generally are much simpler to administer than other retirement plans. Contact us with any questions you have about SEPs and to discuss whether it makes sense for you to set one up for 2018 (or 2019).
It’s not just businesses that can deduct vehicle-related expenses. Individuals also can deduct them in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) might reduce your deduction compared to what you claimed on your 2017 return.
For 2017, miles driven for business, moving, medical and charitable purposes were potentially deductible. For 2018 through 2025, business and moving miles are deductible only in much more limited circumstances. TCJA changes could also affect your tax benefit from medical and charitable miles.
Current limits vs. 2017
Before 2018, if you were an employee, you potentially could deduct business mileage not reimbursed by your employer as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. But the deduction was subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor, which meant that mileage was deductible only to the extent that your total miscellaneous itemized deductions for the year exceeded 2% of your AGI. For 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct the mileage regardless of your AGI. Why? The TCJA suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor.
If you’re self-employed, business mileage is deducted from 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 a work-related move in 2017 were generally deductible “above the line” (that is, itemizing isn’t required to claim the deduction). But for 2018 through 2025, under the TCJA, moving expenses are deductible only for certain military families.
Miles driven for health-care-related purposes are deductible as part of the medical expense itemized deduction. Under the TCJA, for 2017 and 2018, medical expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your AGI. For 2019, the floor returns to 10%, unless Congress extends the 7.5% floor.
The limits for deducting expenses for charitable miles driven haven’t changed, but keep in mind that it’s an itemized deduction. So, you can claim the deduction only if you itemize. For 2018 through 2025, the standard deduction has been nearly doubled. Depending on your total itemized deductions, you might be better off claiming the standard deduction, in which case you’ll get no tax benefit from your charitable miles (or from your medical miles, even if you exceed the AGI floor).
Differing mileage rates
Rather than keeping track of your actual vehicle expenses, you can use a standard mileage rate to compute your deductions. The rates vary depending on the purpose and the year:
In addition to deductions based on the standard mileage rate, you may deduct related parking fees and tolls. There are also substantiation requirements, which include tracking miles driven.
Do you have questions about deducting vehicle-related expenses? Contact us. We can help you with your 2018 return and 2019 tax planning.
Recent changes to federal tax law and accounting rules could affect whether you decide to lease or buy equipment or other fixed assets. Although there’s no universal “right” choice, many businesses that formerly leased assets are now deciding to buy them.
Pros and cons of leasing
From a cash flow perspective, leasing can be more attractive than buying. And leasing does provide some tax benefits: Lease payments generally are tax deductible as “ordinary and necessary” business expenses. (Annual deduction limits may apply.)
Leasing used to be advantageous from a financial reporting standpoint. But new accounting rules that bring leases to the lessee’s balance sheet go into effect in 2020 for calendar-year private companies. So, lease obligations will show up as liabilities, similar to purchased assets that are financed with traditional bank loans.
Leasing also has some potential drawbacks. Over the long run, leasing an asset may cost you more than buying it, and leasing doesn’t provide any buildup of equity. What’s more, you’re generally locked in for the entire lease term. So, you’re obligated to keep making lease payments even if you stop using the equipment. If the lease allows you to opt out before the term expires, you may have to pay an early-termination fee.
Pros and cons of buying
Historically, the primary advantage of buying over leasing has been that you’re free to use the assets as you see fit. But an advantage that has now come to the forefront is that Section 179 expensing and first-year bonus depreciation can provide big tax savings in the first year an asset is placed in service.
These two tax breaks were dramatically enhanced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — enough so that you may be convinced to buy assets that your business might have leased in the past. Many businesses will be able to write off the full cost of most equipment in the year it’s purchased. Any remainder is eligible for regular depreciation deductions over IRS-prescribed schedules.
The primary downside of buying fixed assets is that you’re generally required to pay the full cost upfront or in installments, although the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax benefits are still available for property that’s financed. If you finance a purchase through a bank, a down payment of at least 20% of the cost is usually required. This could tie up funds and affect your credit rating. If you decide to finance fixed asset purchases, be aware that the TCJA limits interest expense deductions (for businesses with more than $25 million in average annual gross receipts) to 30% of adjusted taxable income.
When deciding whether to lease or buy a fixed asset, there are a multitude of factors to consider, including tax implications. We can help you determine the approach that best suits your circumstances.
Incentive stock options (ISOs) are a popular form of compensation for executives and other employees of corporations. They allow you to buy company stock in the future at a fixed price equal to or greater than the stock’s fair market value on the ISO grant date. If the stock appreciates, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re then trading for. But careful tax planning is required because of the complex rules that apply.
Tax advantages abound
Although ISOs must comply with many rules, they receive tax-favored treatment. You owe no tax when ISOs are granted. You also owe no regular income tax when you exercise ISOs. There could be alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences, but the AMT is less of a risk now because of the high AMT exemption under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
There are regular income tax consequences when you sell the stock. If you sell the stock after holding it at least one year from the exercise date and two years from the grant date, you pay tax on the sale at your long-term capital gains rate. You also may owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).
If you sell the stock before long-term capital gains treatment applies, a “disqualifying disposition” occurs and any gain is taxed as compensation at ordinary-income rates.
Impact on your 2018 return
If you were granted ISOs in 2018, there likely isn’t any impact on your 2018 income tax return. But if in 2018 you exercised ISOs or you sold stock you’d acquired via exercising ISOs, then it could affect your 2018 tax liability.
It’s important to properly report the exercise or sale on your 2018 return to avoid potential interest and penalties for underpayment of tax.
Planning for the future
If you receive ISOs in 2019 or already hold ISOs that you haven’t yet exercised, plan carefully when to exercise them. Waiting to exercise ISOs until just before the expiration date (when the stock value may be the highest, assuming the stock is appreciating) may make sense. But exercising ISOs earlier can be advantageous in some situations.
Once you’ve exercised ISOs, the question is whether to immediately sell the shares received or to hold on to them long enough to garner long-term capital gains treatment. The latter strategy often is beneficial from a tax perspective, but there’s also market risk to consider. For example, it may be better to sell the stock in a disqualifying disposition and pay the higher ordinary-income rate if it would avoid AMT on potentially disappearing appreciation.
The timing of the sale of stock acquired via an exercise could also positively or negatively affect your liability for higher ordinary-income tax rates, the top long-term capital gains rate and the NIIT.
If you need help tax planning for your ISOs, please contact us.
Shakespeare’s words don’t apply just to Julius Caesar; they also apply to calendar-year partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or S corporations for tax purposes. Why? The Ides of March, more commonly known as March 15, is the federal income tax filing deadline for these “pass-through” entities.
Until the 2016 tax year, the filing deadline for partnerships was the same as that for individual taxpayers: April 15 (or shortly thereafter if April 15 fell on a weekend or holiday). One of the primary reasons for moving up the partnership filing deadline was to make it easier for owners to file their personal returns by the April filing deadline. After all, partnership (and S corporation) income passes through to the owners. The earlier date allows owners to use the information contained in the pass-through entity forms to file their personal returns.
For partnerships with fiscal year ends, tax returns are now due the 15th day of the third month after the close of the tax year. The same deadline applies to fiscal-year S corporations. Under prior law, returns for fiscal-year partnerships were due the 15th day of the fourth month after the close of the fiscal tax year.
Avoiding a tragedy
If you haven’t filed your calendar-year partnership or S corporation return yet and are worried about having sufficient time to complete it, you can avoid the tragedy of a late return by filing for an extension. Under the current law, the maximum extension for calendar-year partnerships is six months (until September 16, 2019, for 2018 returns). This is up from five months under the old law. So the extension deadline is the same — only the length of the extension has changed. The extension deadline for calendar-year S corporations also is September 16, 2019, for 2018 returns.
Whether you’ll be filing a partnership or an S corporation return, you must file for the extension by March 15 if it’s a calendar-year entity.
Extending the drama
Filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now.
But to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by the unextended deadline. There probably won’t be any tax liability from the partnership or S corporation return. But, if filing for an extension for the entity return causes you to also have to file an extension for your personal return, it could cause you to owe interest and penalties in relation to your personal return.
We can help you file your tax returns on a timely basis or determine whether filing for an extension is appropriate. Contact us today.
While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduces most income tax rates and expands some tax breaks, it limits or eliminates several itemized deductions that have been valuable to many individual taxpayers. Here are five deductions you may see shrink or disappear when you file your 2018 income tax return:
1. State and local tax deduction. For 2018 through 2025, your total itemized deduction for all state and local taxes combined — including property tax — is limited to $10,000 ($5,000 if you’re married and filing separately). 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.
2. Mortgage interest deduction. You generally can claim an itemized deduction for interest on mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. Points paid related to your principal residence also may be deductible. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA reduces the mortgage debt limit from $1 million to $750,000 for debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, with some limited exceptions.
3. Home equity debt interest deduction. Before the TCJA, an itemized deduction could be claimed for interest on up to $100,000 of home equity debt used for any purpose, such as to pay off credit cards (for which interest isn’t deductible). The TCJA effectively limits the home equity interest deduction for 2018 through 2025 to debt that would qualify for the home mortgage interest deduction.
4. Miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor. This deduction for expenses such as certain professional fees, investment expenses and unreimbursed employee business expenses is suspended for 2018 through 2025. If you’re an employee and work from home, this includes the home office deduction. (Business owners and the self-employed may still be able to claim a home office deduction against their business or self-employment income.)
5. Personal casualty and theft loss deduction. For 2018 through 2025, this itemized deduction is suspended except if the loss was due to an event officially declared a disaster by the President.
Be aware that additional rules and limits apply to many of these deductions. Also keep in mind that the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction. The combination of a much larger standard deduction and the reduction or elimination of many itemized deductions means that, even if itemizing has typically benefited you in the past, you might be better off taking the standard deduction when you file your 2018 return. Please contact us with any questions you have.
If you run your business from your home or perform certain functions at home that are related to your business, you might be able to claim a home office deduction against your business income on your 2018 income tax return. There are now two methods for claiming this deduction: the actual expenses method and the simplified method.
Basics of the deduction
In general, you’ll qualify for a home office deduction if part of your home is used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business.
If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if 1) you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises, or 2) you use a storage area in your home (or a separate free-standing structure, such as a garage) exclusively and regularly for your business.
Traditionally, taxpayers have deducted actual expenses when they claim a home office deduction. Deductible home office expenses may include:
But keeping track of actual expenses can be time consuming.
The simplified method
Fortunately, there’s a simplified method that’s been available since 2013: You can deduct $5 for each square foot of home office space, up to a maximum total of $1,500.
For example, if you’ve converted a 300-square-foot bedroom to an office you use exclusively and regularly for business, you can write off $1,500 under the simplified method (300 square feet x $5). However, if your business is located in a 600-square-foot finished basement, the deduction will still be only $1,500 because of the cap on the deduction under this method.
As you can see, the cap can make the simplified method less beneficial for larger home office spaces. But even for spaces of 300 square feet or less, taxpayers may qualify for a bigger deduction using the actual expense method. So, tracking your actual expenses can be worth the extra hassle.
Flexibility in filing
When claiming the home office deduction, you’re not locked into a particular method. For instance, you might choose the actual expense method on your 2018 return, use the simplified method when you file your 2019 return next year and then switch back to the actual expense method thereafter. The choice is yours.
Unsure whether you qualify for the home office deduction? Or wondering whether you should deduct actual expenses or use the simplified method? Contact us. We can help you determine what’s right for your specific situation.
When you file your 2018 income tax return, you’ll likely find that some big tax law changes affect you — besides the much-discussed tax rate cuts and reduced itemized deductions. For 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes significant changes to personal exemptions, standard deductions and the child credit. The degree to which these changes will affect you depends on whether you have dependents and, if so, how many. It also depends on whether you typically itemize deductions.
1. No more personal exemptions
For 2017, taxpayers could 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 could 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 and other changes, might mitigate this increase.
2. Nearly doubled standard deduction
Taxpayers can choose to itemize certain deductions or take the standard deduction based on their filing status. 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 were $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. For 2019, they’re $12,200, $18,350 and $24,400, respectively. (These amounts will continue to be adjusted for inflation annually through 2025.)
For some taxpayers, the increased standard deduction could compensate for the elimination of the exemptions, and perhaps 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.
3. Enhanced 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 TCJA also makes the child credit available to more families. 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.
Maximize your tax savings
These are just some of the TCJA changes that may affect you when you file your 2018 tax return and for the next several years. We can help ensure you claim all of the breaks available to you on your 2018 return and implement TCJA-smart tax-saving strategies for 2019.
Limited liability company (LLC) members commonly claim that their distributive shares of LLC income — after deducting compensation for services in the form of guaranteed payments — aren’t subject to self-employment (SE) tax. But the IRS has been cracking down on LLC members it claims have underreported SE income, with some success in court.
SE tax background
Self-employment income is subject to a 12.4% Social Security tax (up to the wage base) and a 2.9% Medicare tax. Generally, if you’re a member of a partnership — including an LLC taxed as a partnership — that conducts a trade or business, you’re considered self-employed.
General partners pay SE tax on all their business income from the partnership, whether it’s distributed or not. Limited partners, however, are subject to SE tax only on any guaranteed payments for services they provide to the partnership. The rationale is that limited partners, who have no management authority, are more akin to passive investors.
(Note, however, that “service partners” in service partnerships, such as law firms, medical practices, and architecture and engineering firms, generally may not claim limited partner status regardless of their level of participation.)
Over the years, many LLC members have taken the position that they’re equivalent to limited partners and, therefore, exempt from SE tax (except on guaranteed payments for services). But there’s a big difference between limited partners and LLC members. Both enjoy limited personal liability, but, unlike limited partners, LLC members can actively participate in management without jeopardizing their liability protection.
Arguably, LLC members who are active in management or perform substantial services related to the LLC’s business are subject to SE tax, while those who more closely resemble passive investors should be treated like limited partners. The IRS issued proposed regulations to that effect in 1997, but hasn’t finalized them — although it follows them as a matter of internal policy.
Some LLC members have argued that the IRS’s failure to finalize the regulations supports the claim that their distributive shares aren’t subject to SE tax. But the IRS routinely rejects this argument and has successfully litigated its position. The courts generally have imposed SE tax on LLC members unless, like traditional limited partners, they lack management authority and don’t provide significant services to the business.
Review your situation
The law in this area remains uncertain, particularly with regard to capital-intensive businesses. But given the IRS’s aggressiveness in collecting SE taxes from LLCs, LLC members should assess whether the IRS might claim that they’ve underpaid SE taxes.
Those who wish to avoid or reduce these taxes in the future may have some options, including converting to an S corporation or limited partnership, or restructuring their ownership interests. When evaluating these strategies, there are issues to consider beyond taxes. Contact us to discuss your specific situation.
The IRS opened the 2018 income tax return filing season on January 28. Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April 15 deadline, this year consider filing as soon as you can. Why? You can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft — and reap other benefits, too.
What is tax identity theft?
In a tax identity theft scheme, a thief uses your personal information to file a fraudulent tax return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund.
You discover the fraud when you file your return and are informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with your Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. While you should ultimately be able to prove that your return is the legitimate one, tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay your refund.
Filing early may be your best defense: If you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a would-be thief that will be rejected — not yours.
What if you haven’t received your W-2s and 1099s?
To file your tax return, you must have received all of your W-2s and 1099s. January 31 was the deadline for employers to issue 2018 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099 to recipients of any 2018 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.
If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the IRS for help.
What are other benefits of filing early?
Besides protecting yourself from tax identity theft, the most obvious benefit of filing early is that, if you’re getting a refund, you’ll get that refund sooner. The IRS expects more than nine out of ten refunds to be issued within 21 days.
But even if you owe tax, filing early can be beneficial. You still won’t need to pay your tax bill until April 15, but you’ll know sooner how much you owe and can plan accordingly. Keep in mind that some taxpayers who typically have gotten refunds in the past could find themselves owing tax when they file their 2018 return due to tax law changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and reduced withholding from 2018 paychecks.
If you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2018 return early, please contact us. While the new Form 1040 essentially does fit on a postcard, many taxpayers will also have to complete multiple schedules along with the form. And the TCJA has changed many tax breaks. We can help you ensure you file an accurate return that takes advantage of all of the breaks available to you.
The flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has been great news for these entities and their owners. But some fundamental tax truths for C corporations largely remain the same:
C corporations are subject to double taxation. Double taxation occurs when corporate income is taxed once at the corporate level and again at the shareholder level as dividends are paid out. The cost of double taxation, however, is now generally less because of the 21% corporate rate.
And double taxation isn’t a problem when a C corporation needs to retain all its earnings to finance growth and capital investments. Because all the earnings stay “inside” the corporation, no dividends are paid to shareholders, and, therefore, there’s no double taxation.
Double taxation also isn’t an issue when a C corporation’s taxable income levels are low. This can often be achieved by paying reasonable salaries and bonuses to shareholder-employees and providing them with tax-favored fringe benefits (deductible by the corporation and tax-free to the recipient shareholder-employees).
C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures with appreciating assets or certain depreciable assets. If assets such as real estate are eventually sold for substantial gains, it may be impossible to extract the profits from the corporation without being subject to double taxation. In contrast, if appreciating assets are held by a pass-through entity (such as an S corporation, partnership or limited liability company treated as a partnership for tax purposes), gains on such sales will be taxed only once, at the owner level.
But assets held by a C corporation don’t necessarily have to appreciate in value for double taxation to occur. Depreciation lowers the tax basis of the property, so a taxable gain results whenever the sale price exceeds the depreciated basis. In effect, appreciation can be caused by depreciation when depreciable assets hold their value.
To avoid this double-taxation issue, you might consider using a pass-through entity to lease to your C corporation appreciating assets or depreciable assets that will hold their value.
C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures that will incur ongoing tax losses. When a venture is set up as a C corporation, losses aren’t passed through to the owners (the shareholders) like they would be in a pass-through entity. Instead, they create corporate net operating losses (NOLs) that can be carried over to future tax years and then used to offset any corporate taxable income.
This was already a potential downside of C corporations, because it can take many years for a start-up to be profitable. Now, under the TCJA, NOLs that arise in tax years beginning after 2017 can’t offset more than 80% of taxable income in the NOL carryover year. So it may take even longer to fully absorb tax losses.
Do you have questions about C corporation tax issues post-TCJA? Contact us.
As you likely know by now, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced or eliminated many deductions for individuals. One itemized deduction the TCJA kept intact is for investment interest expense. This is interest on debt used to buy assets held for investment, such as margin debt used to buy securities. But if you have investment interest expense, you can’t count on benefiting from the deduction.
There are a few hurdles you must pass to benefit from the investment interest deduction even if you have investment interest expense:
You may elect to treat net long-term capital gains or qualified dividends as investment income in order to deduct more of your investment interest. But if you do, that portion of the long-term capital gain or dividend will be taxed at ordinary-income rates.
Will interest expense save you tax?
As you can see, the answer to the question depends on multiple factors. We can review your situation and help you determine whether you can benefit from the investment interest expense deduction on your 2018 tax return.
Commercial buildings and improvements generally are depreciated over 39 years, which essentially means you can deduct a portion of the cost every year over the depreciation period. (Land isn’t depreciable.) But special tax breaks that allow deductions to be taken more quickly are available for certain real estate investments.
Some of these were enhanced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and may provide a bigger benefit when you file your 2018 tax return. But there’s one break you might not be able to enjoy due to a drafting error in the TCJA.
Section 179 expensing
This allows you to deduct (rather than depreciate over a number of years) qualified improvement property — a definition expanded by the TCJA from qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property. The TCJA also allows Sec. 179 expensing for certain depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging and for the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.
Under the TCJA, for qualifying property placed in service in tax years starting in 2018, the expensing limit increases to $1 million (from $510,000 for 2017), subject to a phaseout if your qualified asset purchases for the year exceed $2.5 million (compared to $2.03 million for 2017). These amounts will be adjusted annually for inflation, and for 2019 they’re $1.02 million and $2.55 million, respectively.
This break allows a shortened recovery period of 15 years for qualified improvement property. Before the TCJA, the break was available only for qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property.
This additional first-year depreciation allowance is available for qualified assets, which before the TCJA included qualified improvement property. But due to a drafting error in the new law, qualified improvement property will be eligible for bonus depreciation only if a technical correction is issued.
When available, bonus depreciation is increased to 100% (up from 50%) for qualified property placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, but before Jan. 1, 2023. For 2023 through 2026, bonus depreciation is scheduled to be gradually reduced. Warning: Under the TCJA, real estate businesses that elect to deduct 100% of their business interest will be ineligible for bonus depreciation starting in 2018.
Can you benefit?
Although the enhanced depreciation-related breaks may offer substantial savings on your 2018 tax bill, it’s possible they won’t prove beneficial over the long term. Taking these deductions now means forgoing deductions that could otherwise be taken later, over a period of years under normal depreciation schedules. In some situations — such as if in the future your business could be in a higher tax bracket or tax rates go up — the normal depreciation deductions could be more valuable long-term.
For more information on these breaks or advice on whether you should take advantage of them, please contact us.
This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business increased by 3.5 cents, to the highest level since 2008. As a result, you might be able to claim a larger deduction for vehicle-related expense for 2019 than you can for 2018.
Actual costs vs. mileage rate
Businesses can generally deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases depreciation write-offs on vehicles are subject to certain limits that don’t apply to other types of business assets.
The mileage rate comes into play when taxpayers don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this approach, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses, although you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.
The mileage rate approach also is popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal automobiles. Such reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who’re expected to drive their personal vehicle extensively for business purposes. Why? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their individual income tax returns.
But be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t, you risk having the reimbursements considered taxable wages to the employees.
The 2019 rate
Beginning on January 1, 2019, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 58 cents per mile. For 2018, the rate was 54.5 cents per mile.
The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It is based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. Occasionally, if there is a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the mileage rate midyear.
There are certain situations where you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. It depends in part on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past or, if the vehicle is new to your business this year, whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation breaks on it.
As you can see, there are many variables to consider in determining whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. Contact us if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2019 — or claiming them on your 2018 income tax return.
If you’re like many Americans, letters from your favorite charities have been appearing in your mailbox in recent weeks acknowledging your 2018 year-end donations. But what happens if you haven’t received such a letter — can you still claim an itemized deduction for the gift on your 2018 income tax return? It depends.
To support a charitable deduction, you need to comply with IRS substantiation requirements. This generally includes obtaining a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the donation, whether you received any goods or services in consideration for the donation, and the value of any such goods or services.
“Contemporaneous” means the earlier of 1) the date you file your tax return, or 2) the extended due date of your return. So if you made a donation in 2018 but haven’t yet received substantiation from the charity, it’s not too late — as long as you haven’t filed your 2018 return. Contact the charity and request a written acknowledgment.
Keep in mind that, if you made a cash gift of under $250 with a check or credit card, generally a canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement is sufficient. However, if you received something in return for the donation, you generally must reduce your deduction by its value — and the charity is required to provide you a written acknowledgment as described earlier.
Substantiation is serious business
Don’t take the substantiation requirements lightly. In one U.S. Tax Court case, the taxpayers substantiated a donation deduction with canceled checks and a written acknowledgment. The IRS denied the deduction, however, because the acknowledgment failed to state whether the taxpayers received goods or services in consideration for their donation.
The taxpayers obtained a second acknowledgment including the required statement. But the Tax Court didn’t accept it because it wasn’t contemporaneous (that is, it was obtained after the tax return was filed).
2018 and 2019 deductions
Additional substantiation requirements apply to some types of donations. We can help you determine whether you have sufficient substantiation for the donations you hope to deduct on your 2018 income tax return — and guide you on the substantiation you’ll need for gifts you’re planning this year to ensure you can enjoy the desired deductions on your 2019 return.
A variety of tax-related limits affecting businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have gone up for 2019. Here’s a look at some that may affect you and your business.
Other employee benefits
Additional rules apply to these limits, and they are only some of the limits that may affect your business. Please contact us for more information.
While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) generally reduced individual tax rates for 2018 through 2025, some taxpayers could see their taxes go up due to reductions or eliminations of certain tax breaks — and, in some cases, due to their filing status. But some may see additional tax savings due to their filing status.
Unmarried vs. married taxpayers
In an effort to further eliminate the marriage “penalty,” the TCJA made changes to some of the middle tax brackets. As a result, some single and head of household filers could be pushed into higher tax brackets more quickly than pre-TCJA. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for singles for 2018 is $157,501, whereas it was $191,651 for 2017 (though the rate was 33%). For heads of households, the beginning of this bracket has decreased even more significantly, to $157,501 for 2018 from $212,501 for 2017.
Married taxpayers, on the other hand, won’t be pushed into some middle brackets until much higher income levels for 2018 through 2025. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for joint filers for 2018 is $315,001, whereas it was $233,351 for 2017 (again, the rate was 33% then).
2018 filing and 2019 brackets
Because there are so many variables, it will be hard to tell exactly how specific taxpayers will be affected by TCJA changes, including changes to the brackets, until they file their 2018 tax returns. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to begin to look at 2019. As before the TCJA, the tax brackets are adjusted annually for inflation.
Below is a look at the 2019 brackets under the TCJA. Contact us for help assessing what your tax rate likely will be for 2019 — and for help filing your 2018 tax return.
10%: $0 - $9,700
12%: $9,701 - $39,475
22%: $39,476 - $84,200
24%: $84,201 - $160,725
32%: $160,726 - $204,100
35%: $204,101 - $510,300
37%: Over $510,300
Heads of households
10%: $0 - $13,850
12%: $13,851 - $52,850
22%: $52,851 - $84,200
24%: $84,201 - $160,700
32%: $160,701 - $204,100
35%: $204,101 - $510,300
37%: Over $510,300
Married individuals filing joint returns and surviving spouses
10%: $0 - $19,400
12%: $19,401 - $78,950
22%: $78,951 - $168,400
24%: $168,401 - $321,450
32%: $321,451 - $408,200
35%: $408,201 - $612,350
37%: Over $612,350
Married individuals filing separate returns
10%: $0 - $9,700
12%: $9,701 - $39,475
22%: $39,476 - $84,200
24%: $84,201 - $160,725
32%: $160,726 - $204,100
35%: $204,101 - $306,175
37%: Over $306,175
While most provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) went into effect in 2018 and either apply through 2025 or are permanent, there are two major changes under the act for 2019. Here’s a closer look.
1. Medical expense deduction threshold
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 was already difficult for many taxpayers to meet, and it may be even harder to meet this year.
The TCJA temporarily reduced the threshold from 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 7.5% of AGI. Unfortunately, the reduction applies only to 2017 and 2018. So for 2019, the threshold returns to 10% — unless legislation is signed into law extending the 7.5% threshold. Only qualified, unreimbursed expenses exceeding the threshold can be deducted.
Also, 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 through 2025, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.
2. Tax treatment of alimony
Alimony has generally been deductible by the ex-spouse paying it and included in the taxable income of the ex-spouse receiving it. Child support, on the other hand, hasn’t been deductible by the payer or taxable income to the recipient.
Under the TCJA, for divorce agreements executed (or, in some cases, modified) after December 31, 2018, alimony payments won’t be deductible — and will be excluded from the recipient’s taxable income. So, essentially, alimony will be treated the same way as child support.
Because the recipient ex-spouse would typically pay income taxes at a rate lower than that of the paying ex-spouse, the overall tax bite will likely be larger under this new tax treatment. This change is permanent.
TCJA impact on 2018 and 2019
Most TCJA changes went into effect in 2018, but not all. Contact us if you have questions about the medical expense deduction or the tax treatment of alimony — or any other changes that might affect you in 2019. We can also help you assess the impact of the TCJA when you file your 2018 tax return.
There aren’t too many things businesses can do after a year ends to reduce tax liability for that year. However, you might be able to pay employee bonuses for 2018 in 2019 and still deduct them on your 2018 tax return. In certain circumstances, businesses can deduct bonuses employees have earned during a tax year if the bonuses are paid within 2½ months after the end of that year (by March 15 for a calendar-year company).
First, only accrual-basis taxpayers can take advantage of the 2½ month rule. Cash-basis taxpayers must deduct bonuses in the year they’re paid, regardless of when they’re earned.
Second, even for accrual-basis taxpayers, the 2½ month rule isn’t automatic. The bonuses can be deducted on the tax return for the year they’re earned only if the business’s bonus liability was fixed by the end of the year.
Passing the test
For accrual-basis taxpayers, a liability (such as a bonus) is deductible when it is incurred. To determine this, the IRS applies the “all-events test.” Under this test, a liability is incurred when:
Generally, the last requirement isn’t an issue; it’s satisfied when an employee performs the services required to earn a bonus. But the first two requirements can delay your tax deduction until the year of payment, depending on how your bonus plan is designed.
For example, many bonus plans require an employee to still be an employee on the payment date to receive the bonus. Even when the amount of each employee’s bonus is fixed at the end of the tax year, if employees who leave the company before the payment date forfeit their bonuses, the all-events test isn’t satisfied until the payment date. Why? The business’s liability for bonuses isn’t fixed until then.
Diving into a bonus pool
Fortunately, it’s possible to accelerate deductions with a carefully designed bonus pool arrangement. According to the IRS, employers may deduct bonuses in the year they’re earned — even if there’s a risk of forfeiture — as long as any forfeited bonuses are reallocated among the remaining employees in the bonus pool rather than retained by the employer.
Under such a plan, an employer satisfies the all-events test because the aggregate bonus amount is fixed at the end of the year. It doesn’t matter that amounts allocated to specific employees aren’t determined until the payment date.
When you can deduct bonuses
So does your current bonus plan allow you to take 2018 deductions for bonuses paid in early 2019? If you’re not sure, contact us. We can review your situation and determine when you can deduct your bonus payments.
If you’re an accrual taxpayer but don’t qualify to accelerate your bonus deductions this time, we can help you design a bonus plan for 2019 that will allow you to accelerate deductions when you file your 2019 return next year.
Now that 2019 has begun, there isn’t too much you can do to reduce your 2018 income tax liability. But it’s smart to begin preparing for filing your 2018 return. Because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which was signed into law at the end of 2017, likely will have a major impact on your 2018 taxes, it’s a good time to review the most significant provisions impacting individual taxpayers.
Rates and exemptions
Generally, taxpayers will be subject to lower tax rates for 2018. But a couple of rates stay the same, and changes to some of the brackets for certain types of filers (individuals and heads of households) could cause them to be subject to higher rates. Some exemptions are eliminated, while others increase. Here are some of the specific changes:
Credits and deductions
Generally, tax breaks are reduced for 2018. However, a few are enhanced. Here’s a closer look:
How are you affected?
As you can see, the TCJA changes for individuals are dramatic. Many rules and limits apply, so contact us to find out exactly how you’re affected. We can also tell you if any other provisions affect you, and help you begin preparing for your 2018 tax return filing and 2019 tax planning.
The dawning of 2019 means the 2018 income tax filing season will soon be upon us. After year end, it’s generally too late to take action to reduce 2018 taxes. Business owners may, therefore, want to shift their focus to assessing whether they’ll likely owe taxes or get a refund when they file their returns this spring, so they can plan accordingly.
With the biggest tax law changes in decades — under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — generally going into effect beginning in 2018, most businesses and their owners will be significantly impacted. So, refreshing yourself on the major changes is a good idea.
Taxation of pass-through entities
These changes generally affect owners of S corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships, as well as sole proprietors:
Taxation of corporations
These changes generally affect C corporations, personal service corporations (PSCs) and LLCs treated as C corporations:
Tax break positives
These changes generally apply to both pass-through entities and corporations:
Tax break negatives
These changes generally also apply to both pass-through entities and corporations:
Preparing for 2018 filing
Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to the rates and breaks covered here. Also, these are only some of the most significant and widely applicable TCJA changes; you and your business could be affected by other changes as well. Contact us to learn precisely how you might be affected and for help preparing for your 2018 tax return filing — and beginning to plan for 2019, too.
Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, and many have gone up for 2019, giving you opportunities to increase your retirement savings:
One exception is catch-up contributions for taxpayers age 50 or older, which remain at the same levels as for 2018:
Keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions.
For more on how to make the most of your tax-advantaged retirement-saving opportunities in 2019, please contact us.
Tax planning is a juggling act for business owners. You have to keep your eye on your company’s income and expenses and applicable tax breaks (especially if you own a pass-through entity). But you also must look out for your own financial future.
For example, you need to develop an exit strategy so that taxes don’t trip you up when you retire or leave the business for some other reason. An exit strategy is a plan for passing on responsibility for running the company, transferring ownership and extracting your money from the business.
When a business has more than one owner, a buy-sell agreement can be a powerful tool. The agreement controls what happens to the business when a specified event occurs, such as an owner’s retirement, disability or death. Among other benefits, a well-drafted agreement:
A key issue with any buy-sell agreement is providing the buyer(s) with a means of funding the purchase. Life or disability insurance often helps fulfill this need and can give rise to several tax issues and opportunities. One of the biggest advantages of life insurance as a funding method is that proceeds generally are excluded from the beneficiary’s taxable income.
Succession within the family
You can pass your business on to family members by giving them interests, selling them interests or doing some of each. Be sure to consider your income needs, the tax consequences, and how family members will feel about your choice.
Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can gift up to $15,000 of ownership interests without using up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Valuation discounts may further reduce the taxable value of the gift.
With the gift and estate tax exemption approximately doubled through 2025 ($11.4 million for 2019), gift and estate taxes may be less of a concern for some business owners. But others may want to make substantial transfers now to take maximum advantage of the high exemption. What’s right for you will depend on the value of your business and your timeline for transferring ownership.
If you don’t have co-owners or want to pass the business to family members, other options include a management buyout, an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) or a sale to an outsider. Each involves a variety of tax and nontax considerations.
Please contact us to discuss your exit strategy. To be successful, your strategy will require planning well in advance of the transition.
Do you have investments outside of tax-advantaged retirement plans? If so, you might still have time to shrink your 2018 tax bill by selling some investments • you just need to carefully select which investments you sell.
Try balancing gains and losses
If you’ve sold investments at a gain this year, consider selling some losing investments to absorb the gains. This is commonly referred to as “harvesting” losses.
If, however, you’ve sold investments at a loss this year, consider selling other investments in your portfolio that have appreciated, to the extent the gains will be absorbed by the losses. If you believe those appreciated investments have peaked in value, essentially you’ll lock in the peak value and avoid tax on your gains.
Review your potential tax rates
At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains (on investments held one year or less). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains. But, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets, instead of aligning with various ordinary-income brackets.
For example, these are the thresholds for the top long-term gains rate for 2018:
But the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. The TCJA also retains the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.
Don’t forget the netting rules
Before selling investments, consider the netting rules for gains and losses, which depend on whether gains and losses are long term or short term. To determine your net gain or loss for the year, long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. In the same way, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains.
You may use up to $3,000 of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income. Any remaining net losses are carried forward to future years.
Turn on your computer or mobile device, scroll through Facebook or Twitter, or skim a business-oriented website, and you’ll likely come across the term “emerging technologies.” It has become so ubiquitous that you might be tempted to ignore it and move on to something else. That would be a mistake.
In today’s competitive business landscape, your ability to stay up to date — or, better yet, get ahead of the curve — on the emerging technologies in your industry could make or break your company.
Watch the competition
There’s a good chance that some of your competitors already are trying to adapt emerging technologies such as these:
Machine learning. A form of artificial intelligence, machine learning refers to the ability of machines to learn and improve at a specific task with little or no programming or human intervention. For instance, you could use machine learning to search through large amounts of consumer data and make predictions about future purchase patterns. Think of Amazon’s suggested products or Netflix’s recommended viewing.
Natural language processing (NLP). This technology employs algorithms to analyze unstructured human language in emails, texts, documents, conversation or otherwise. It could be used to find specific information in a document based on the other words around that information.
Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is the networking of objects (for example, vehicles, building systems and household appliances) embedded with electronics, software, sensors and Internet connectivity. It allows the collection, sending and receiving of data about users and their interactions with their environments.
Robotic process automation (RPA). You can use RPA to automate repetitive manual tasks that eat up a lot of staff time but don’t require decision making. Relying on business rules and structured inputs, RPA can perform such tasks with greater speed and accuracy than any human possibly could.
Not so difficult
If you fall behind on these or other emerging technologies that your competitors may already be incorporating, you run the risk of never catching up. But how can you stay informed and know when to begin seriously pursuing an emerging technology? It’s not as difficult as you might think:
Taking the time for these steps will reduce the odds that you’ll be caught by surprise and unable to catch up or break ahead.
When you’re ready to undertake the process of integrating an emerging technology into your business operation, forecasting both the implementation and maintenance costs will be critical. We can help you create a reasonable budget and manage the financial impact.
With the dawn of 2019 on the near horizon, here’s a quick list of tax and financial to-dos you should address before 2018 ends:
Check your FSA balance. If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for health care expenses, you need to incur qualifying expenses by December 31 to use up these funds or you’ll potentially lose them. (Some plans allow you to carry over up to $500 to the following year or give you a 2½-month grace period to incur qualifying expenses.) Use expiring FSA funds to pay for eyeglasses, dental work or eligible drugs or health products.
Max out tax-advantaged savings. Reduce your 2018 income by contributing to traditional IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans or Health Savings Accounts to the extent you’re eligible. (Certain vehicles, including traditional and SEP IRAs, allow you to deduct contributions on your 2018 return if they’re made by April 15, 2019.)
Take RMDs. If you’ve reached age 70½, you generally must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs or qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans before the end of the year to avoid a 50% penalty. If you turned 70½ this year, you have until April 1, 2019, to take your first RMD. But keep in mind that, if you defer your first distribution, you’ll have to take two next year.
Consider a QCD. If you’re 70½ or older and charitably inclined, a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) allows you to transfer up to $100,000 tax-free directly from your IRA to a qualified charity and to apply the amount toward your RMD. This is a big advantage if you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a charitable deduction (because you don’t itemize, for example).
Use it or lose it. Make the most of annual limits that don’t carry over from year to year, even if doing so won’t provide an income tax deduction. For example, if gift and estate taxes are a concern, make annual exclusion gifts up to $15,000 per recipient. If you have a Coverdell Education Savings Account, contribute the maximum amount you’re allowed.
Contribute to a Sec. 529 plan. Sec. 529 prepaid tuition or college savings plans aren’t subject to federal annual contribution limits and don’t provide a federal income tax deduction. But contributions may entitle you to a state income tax deduction (depending on your state and plan).
Review withholding. The IRS cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld due to changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Use its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to review your situation. If it looks like you could face underpayment penalties, increase withholdings from your or your spouse’s wages for the remainder of the year. (Withholdings, unlike estimated tax payments, are treated as if they were paid evenly over the year.)
For assistance with these and other year-end planning ideas, please contact us.
Those who run family-owned businesses often underestimate the need for a succession plan. After all, they say, we’re a family business — there will always be a family member here to keep the company going and no one will stand in the way.
Not necessarily. In one all-too-common scenario, two of the owner’s children inherit the business and, while one wants to keep the business in the family, the other is eager to sell. Such conflicts can erupt into open combat between heirs and even destroy the company. So, it’s important for you, as a family business owner, to create a formal succession plan — and to communicate it well before it’s needed.
Talk it out
A good succession plan addresses the death, incapacity or retirement of an owner. It answers questions now about future ownership and any potential sale so that successors don’t have to scramble during what can be an emotionally traumatic time.
The key to making any plan work is to clearly communicate it with all stakeholders. Allow your children to voice their intentions. If there’s an obvious difference between siblings, resolving that conflict needs to be central to your succession plan.
Perhaps the simplest option, if you have sufficient assets outside your business, is to leave your business only to those heirs who want to be actively involved in running it. You can leave assets such as investment securities, real estate or insurance policies to your other heirs.
Another option is for the heirs who’d like to run the business to buy out the other heirs. But they’ll need capital to do that. You might buy an insurance policy with proceeds that will be paid to the successor on your death. Or, as you near retirement, it may be possible to arrange buyout financing with your company’s current lenders.
If those solutions aren’t viable, hammer out a temporary compromise between your heirs. In a scenario where they are split about selling, the heirs who want to sell might compromise by agreeing to hold off for a specified period. That would give the other heirs time to amass capital to buy their relatives out or find a new co-owner, such as a private equity investor.
Family comes first
For a family-owned business, family should indeed come first. To ensure that your children or other relatives won’t squabble over the company after your death, make a succession plan that will accommodate all your heirs’ wishes. We can provide assistance, including helping you divide your assets fairly and anticipating the applicable income tax and estate tax issues.
As the holidays approach and the year draws to a close, many taxpayers make charitable gifts — both in the spirit of the season and as a year-end tax planning strategy. But with the tax law changes that go into effect in 2018 and the many rules that apply to the charitable deduction, it’s a good idea to check deductibility before making any year-end donations.
Confirm you can still benefit from itemizing
Last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) didn’t put new limits on or suspend the charitable deduction, like it did to many other itemized deductions. Nevertheless, it will reduce or eliminate the tax benefits of charitable giving for many taxpayers this year.
Itemizing saves tax only if itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA significantly increases the standard deduction, to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of households, and $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately.
The nearly doubled standard deduction combined with the new limits or suspensions of some common itemized deductions means you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction. And if that’s the case, your donations won’t save you tax.
So before you make any year-end charitable gifts, total up your potential itemized deductions for the year, including the donations you’re considering. If the total is less than your standard deduction, your year-end donations won’t provide a tax benefit.
You might, however, be able to preserve your charitable deduction by “bunching” donations into alternating years. This can allow you to exceed the standard deduction and claim a charitable deduction (and other itemized deductions) every other year.
Meet the delivery deadline
To be deductible on your 2018 return, a charitable gift must be made by Dec. 31, 2018. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:
Check. The date you mail it.
Credit card. The date you make the charge.
Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.
Make sure the organization is “qualified”
To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
The IRS’s online search tool, Tax Exempt Organization Search, can help you easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access this tool at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly. Remember that political donations aren’t deductible.
Consider other rules
We’ve discussed only some of the rules for the charitable deduction; many others apply. We can answer any questions you have about the deductibility of donations or changes to the standard deduction and itemized deductions.
Many factors go into the success of a company. You’ve got to offer high-quality products or services, provide outstanding customer service, and manage your inventory or supply chain. But there’s at least one other success factor that many business owners often overlook: internal leadership training and development.
Even if all your executive and management positions are filled with seasoned leaders right now, there’s still a major benefit to continually training, coaching and mentoring employees for leadership responsibilities. After all, even someone who doesn’t work in management can champion a given initiative or project that brings in revenue or elevates the company’s public image.
Ideas to consider
Internal leadership development is practiced when owners and executives devote time to helping current managers as well as employees who might one day be promoted to positions of leadership.
To do this, shift your mindset from being only “the boss” to being someone who holds an important responsibility to share leadership knowledge with others. Here are a few tips to consider:
Contribute to performance development. Most employees’ performance reviews will reveal both strengths and weaknesses. Sit down with current and potential leaders and generously share your knowledge and experience to bolster strong points and shore up shortcomings.
Invite current and potential leaders to meetings. Give them the opportunity to participate in important meetings they might not otherwise attend, and solicit their input during these gatherings. This includes both internal meetings and interactions with external vendors, customers and prospects. Again, look to reinforce positive behaviors and offer guidance on areas of growth.
Introduce them to the wider community. Get current and potential leaders involved with an industry trade association or a local chamber of commerce. By meeting and networking with others in your industry, these individuals can get a broader perspective on the challenges that your company faces — as well as its opportunities.
Give them real decision-making authority. Probably not right away but, at some point, put a new leader to the test. Give them control of a project and then step back and observe the results. Don’t be afraid to let them fail if their decisions don’t pan out. This can help your most promising employees learn real-world lessons now that can prove invaluable in the future.
Dedicating some time and energy to internal leadership development can pay off in ways beyond having well-trained managers. You’ll likely boost retention by strengthening relationships with your best employees. Furthermore, you may discover potential problems and avail yourself of new ideas that, otherwise, may have never reached you. Our firm can provide further information and other ideas.
Prepaying property taxes related to the current year but due the following year has long been one of the most popular and effective year-end tax-planning strategies. But does it still make sense in 2018?
The answer, for some people, is yes — accelerating this expense will increase their itemized deductions, reducing their tax bills. But for many, particularly those in high-tax states, changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminate the benefits.
The TCJA made two changes that affect the viability of this strategy. First, it nearly doubled the standard deduction to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of household, and $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, so fewer taxpayers will itemize. Second, it placed a $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, including property taxes plus income or sales taxes.
For property tax prepayment to make sense, two things must happen:
If you don’t itemize, or you’ve already used up your $10,000 limit (on income or sales taxes or on previous property tax installments), accelerating your next property tax installment will provide no benefit.
Joe and Mary, a married couple filing jointly, have incurred $5,000 in state income taxes, $5,000 in property taxes, $18,000 in qualified mortgage interest, and $4,000 in charitable donations, for itemized deductions totaling $32,000. Their next installment of 2018 property taxes, $5,000, is due in the spring of 2019. They’ve already reached the $10,000 SALT limit, so prepaying property taxes won’t reduce their tax bill.
Now suppose they live in a state with no income tax. In that case, prepayment would potentially make sense because it would be within the SALT limit and would increase their 2018 itemized deductions.
Look before you leap
Before you prepay property taxes, review your situation carefully to be sure it will provide a tax benefit. And keep in mind that, just because prepayment will increase your 2018 itemized deductions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best strategy. For example, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2019, paying property taxes when due will likely produce a greater benefit over the two-year period.
For help determining whether prepaying property taxes makes sense for you this year, contact us. We can also suggest other year-end tips for reducing your taxes.
As the year winds down, business owners can be thankful for the gift of perspective (among other things, we hope). Assuming you created a budget for the calendar year, you should now be able to accurately assess that budget by comparing its estimates to actual results. Your objective is to determine whether your budget was reasonable, and, if not, how to adjust it to be more accurate for 2019.
Identify notable changes
Your estimates, like those of many companies, probably start with historical financial statements. From there, you may simply apply an expected growth rate to annual revenues and let it flow through the remaining income statement and balance sheet items. For some businesses, this simplified approach works well. But future performance can’t always be expected to mirror historical results.
For example, suppose you renegotiated a contract with a major supplier during the year. The new contract may have affected direct costs and profit margins. So, what was reasonable at the beginning of the year may be less so now and require adjustments when you draft your 2019 budget.
Often, a business can’t maintain its current growth rate indefinitely without investing in additional assets or incurring further fixed costs. As you compare your 2018 estimates to actuals, and look at 2019, consider whether your company is planning to:
External and internal factors — such as regulatory changes, product obsolescence, and in-process research and development — also may require specialized adjustments to your 2019 budget to keep it reasonable.
Find the best way to track
The most analytical way to gauge reasonableness is to generate year-end financials and then compare the results to what was previously budgeted. Are you on track to meet those estimates? If not, identify the causes and factor them into a revised budget for next year.
If you discover that your actuals are significantly different from your estimates — and if this takes you by surprise — you should consider producing interim financials next year. Some businesses feel overwhelmed trying to prepare a complete set of financials every month. So, you might opt for short-term cash reports, which highlight the sources and uses of cash during the period. These cash forecasts can serve as an early warning system for “budget killers,” such as unexpected increases in direct costs or delinquent accounts.
Alternatively, many companies create 12-month rolling budgets — which typically mirror historical financial statements — and update them monthly to reflect the latest market conditions.
Do it all
The budgeting process is rarely easy, but it’s incredibly important. And that process doesn’t end when you create the budget; checking it regularly and performing a year-end assessment are key. We can help you not only generate a workable budget, but also identify the best ways to monitor your financials throughout the year.
Will you be age 50 or older on December 31? Are you still working? Are you already contributing to your 401(k) plan or Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) up to the regular annual limit? Then you may want to make “catch-up” contributions by the end of the year. Increasing your retirement plan contributions can be particularly advantageous if your itemized deductions for 2018 will be smaller than in the past because of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
Catch-up contributions are additional contributions beyond the regular annual limits that can be made to certain retirement accounts. They were designed to help taxpayers who didn’t save much for retirement earlier in their careers to “catch up.” But there’s no rule that limits catch-up contributions to such taxpayers.
So catch-up contributions can be a great option for anyone who is old enough to be eligible, has been maxing out their regular contribution limit and has sufficient earned income to contribute more. The contributions are generally pretax (except in the case of Roth accounts), so they can reduce your taxable income for the year.
More benefits now?
This additional reduction to taxable income might be especially beneficial in 2018 if in the past you had significant itemized deductions that now will be reduced or eliminated by the TCJA. For example, the TCJA eliminates miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor — such as unreimbursed employee expenses (including home-off expenses) and certain professional and investment fees.
If, say, in 2018 you have $5,000 of expenses that in the past would have qualified as miscellaneous itemized deductions, an additional $5,000 catch-up contribution can make up for the loss of those deductions. Plus, you benefit from adding to your retirement nest egg and potential tax-deferred growth.
Other deductions that are reduced or eliminated include state and local taxes, mortgage and home equity interest expenses, casualty and theft losses, and moving expenses. If these changes affect you, catch-up contributions can help make up for your reduced deductions.
2018 contribution limits
Under 2018 401(k) limits, if you’re age 50 or older and you have reached the $18,500 maximum limit for all employees, you can contribute an extra $6,000, for a total of $24,500. If your employer offers a SIMPLE instead, your regular contribution maxes out at $12,500 in 2018. If you’re 50 or older, you’re allowed to contribute an additional $3,000 — or $15,500 in total for the year.
But, check with your employer because, while most 401(k) plans and SIMPLEs offer catch-up contributions, not all do. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply.
Catch-up contributions are also available for IRAs, but the deadline for 2018 contributions is later: April 15, 2019. And whether your traditional IRA contributions will be deductible depends on your income and whether you or your spouse participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Please contact us for more information about catch-up contributions and other year-end tax planning strategies.
A strong economy leads some company owners to cut back on marketing. Why spend the money if business is so good? Others see it differently — a robust economy means more sales opportunities, so pouring dollars into marketing is the way to go.
The right approach for your company depends on many factors, but one thing is for sure: Few businesses can afford to cut back drastically on marketing or stop altogether, no matter how well the economy is doing. Yet spending recklessly may be dangerous as well. Here are three ways to creatively get more from your marketing dollars so you can cut back or ramp up as prudent:
1. Do more digitally. There are good reasons to remind yourself of digital marketing’s potential value: the affordable cost, the ability to communicate with customers directly, faster results and better tracking capabilities. Consider or re-evaluate strategies such as:
2. Search for media deals. During boom times, you may feel at the mercy of high advertising rates. The good news is that there are many more marketing/advertising channels than there used to be and, therefore, much more competition among them. Finding a better deal is often a matter of knowing where to look.
Track your marketing efforts carefully and dedicate time to exploring new options. For example, podcasts remain enormously popular. Could a marketing initiative that exploits their reach pay dividends? Another possibility is shifting to smaller, less expensive ads posted in a wider variety of outlets over one massive campaign.
3. Don’t forget public relations (PR). These days, business owners tend to fear the news. When a company makes headlines, it’s all too often because of an accident, scandal or oversight. But you can turn this scenario on its head by using PR to your advantage.
Specifically, ask your marketing department to craft clear, concise but exciting press releases regarding your newest products or services. Then distribute these press releases via both traditional and online channels to complement your marketing efforts. In this manner, you can make the news, get information out to more people and even improve your search engine rankings — all typically at only the cost of your marketing team’s time.
These are just a few ideas to help ensure your marketing dollars play a winning role in your company’s investment in itself. We can provide further assistance in evaluating your spending in this area, as well as in developing a feasible budget for next year.
As we approach the end of 2018, it’s a good idea to review the mutual fund holdings in your taxable accounts and take steps to avoid potential tax traps. Here are some tips.
Avoid surprise capital gains
Unlike with stocks, you can’t avoid capital gains on mutual funds simply by holding on to the shares. Near the end of the year, funds typically distribute all or most of their net realized capital gains to investors. If you hold mutual funds in taxable accounts, these gains will be taxable to you regardless of whether you receive them in cash or reinvest them in the fund.
For each fund, find out how large these distributions will be and get a breakdown of long-term vs. short-term gains. If the tax impact will be significant, consider strategies to offset the gain. For example, you could sell other investments at a loss.
Avoid buying into a mutual fund shortly before it distributes capital gains and dividends for the year. There’s a common misconception that investing in a mutual fund just before the ex-dividend date (the date by which you must own shares to qualify for a distribution) is like getting free money.
In reality, the value of your shares is immediately reduced by the amount of the distribution. So you’ll owe taxes on the gain without actually making a profit.
If you plan to sell mutual fund shares that have appreciated in value, consider waiting until just after year end so you can defer the gain until 2019 — unless you expect to be subject to a higher rate next year. In that scenario, you’d likely be better off recognizing the gain and paying the tax this year.
When you do sell shares, keep in mind that, if you bought them over time, each block will have a different holding period and cost basis. To reduce your tax liability, it’s possible to select shares for sale that have higher cost bases and longer holding periods, thereby minimizing your gain (or maximizing your loss) and avoiding higher-taxed short-term gains.
Think beyond just taxes
Investment decisions shouldn’t be driven by tax considerations alone. For example, you need to keep in mind your overall financial goals and your risk tolerance.
But taxes are still an important factor to consider. Contact us to discuss these and other year-end strategies for minimizing the tax impact of your mutual fund holdings.
For several years now, cloud computing has been touted as the perfect way for companies large and small to meet their software and data storage needs. But, when it comes to choosing and deploying a solution, one size doesn’t fit all.
Many businesses have found it difficult to fully commit to the cloud for a variety of reasons — including complexity of choices and security concerns. If your company has struggled to make a decision in this area, a hybrid cloud might provide the answer.
Public vs. private
The “cloud” in cloud computing is generally categorized as public or private. A public cloud — such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure — is shared by many users. Private clouds, meanwhile, are created for and restricted to one business or individual.
Not surprisingly, public clouds generally are considered less secure than private ones. Public clouds also require Internet access to use whatever is stored on them. A private cloud may be accessible via a company’s local network.
Hybrid computing, as the name suggests, combines public and private clouds. The clouds remain separate and distinct, but data and applications can be shared between them. This approach offers several potential advantages, including:
Scalability. For less sensitive data, public clouds give businesses access to enormous storage capabilities. As your needs expand or shrink — whether temporarily or for the long term — you can easily adjust the size of a public cloud without incurring significant costs for additional on-site or remote private servers.
Security. When it comes to more sensitive data, you can use a private cloud to avoid the vulnerabilities associated with publicly available options. For even greater security, procure multiple private clouds — this way, if one is breached, your company won’t lose access or suffer damage to all of its data.
Accessibility. Public clouds generally are easier for remote workers to access than private clouds. So, your business could use these for productivity-related apps while confidential data is stored on a private cloud.
Risks and costs
Using a blended computer infrastructure like this isn’t without risks and costs. For example, it requires more sophisticated technological expertise to manage and support compared to a straight public cloud approach. You’ll likely have to invest more dollars in procuring multiple public and private cloud solutions, as well as in the IT talent to maintain and support the infrastructure.
Overall, though, many businesses that have been reluctant to solely rely on either a public or private cloud may find that hybrid cloud computing brings the best of both worlds. Our firm can help you assess the financial considerations involved.
If you’re an executive or other key employee, your employer may offer you a nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan. As the name suggests, NQDC plans pay employees in the future for services currently performed. The plans allow deferral of the income tax associated with the compensation.
But to receive this attractive tax treatment, NQDC plans must meet many requirements. One is that employees must make the deferral election before the year they perform the services for which the compensation is earned. So, if you wish to defer part of your 2019 compensation, you generally must make the election by the end of 2018.
NQDC plans vs. qualified plans
NQDC plans differ from qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, in that:
While some rules are looser for NQDC plans, there are also many rules that apply to them that don’t apply to qualified plans.
2 more NQDC rules
In addition to the requirement that deferral elections be made before the start of the year, there are two other important NQDC rules to be aware of:
1. Distributions. Benefits must be paid on a specified date, according to a fixed payment schedule or after the occurrence of a specified event — such as death, disability, separation from service, change in ownership or control of the employer, or an unforeseeable emergency.
2. Elections to make certain changes. The timing of benefits can be delayed but not accelerated. Elections to change the timing or form of a payment must be made at least 12 months in advance. Also, new payment dates must be at least five years after the date the payment would otherwise have been made.
Be aware that the penalties for noncompliance with NQDC rules can be severe: You can be taxed on plan benefits at the time of vesting, and a 20% penalty and interest charges also may apply. So if you’re receiving NQDC, check with your employer to make sure it’s addressing any compliance issues.
No deferral of employment tax
Another important NQDC tax issue is that employment taxes are generally due when services are performed or when there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture, whichever is later. This is true even though the compensation isn’t actually paid or recognized for income tax purposes until later years.
So your employer may withhold your portion of the tax from your salary or ask you to write a check for the liability. Or your employer might pay your portion, in which case you’ll have additional taxable income.
Questions about NQDC — or other executive comp, such as incentive stock options or restricted stock? Contact us. We can answer them and help you determine what, if any, steps you need to take before year end to defer taxes and avoid interest and penalties.
Business owners are constantly bombarded with terminology and buzzwords. Although you probably feel a need to keep up with the latest trends, you also may find that many of these ideas induce more anxiety than relief. One example is change management.
This term is used to describe the philosophies and processes an organization uses to manage change. Putting change management into practice in your company may seem scary. What is our philosophy toward change? How should we implement change for best results? Can’t we just avoid all this and let the chips fall where they may?
About that last question — yes, you could. But businesses that proactively manage change tend to suffer far fewer negative consequences from business transformations large and small. Here are some ways to implement change management slowly and, in doing so, make it a little less scary.
Set the tone
When a company creates a positive culture, change is easier. Engaged, well-supported employees feel connected to your mission and are more likely to buy in to transformative ideas. So, the best place to start laying the foundation for successful change management is in the HR department.
When hiring, look for candidates who are open to new ideas and flexible in their approaches to a position. As you “on board” new employees, talk about the latest developments at your company and the possibility of future transformation. From there, encourage openness to change in performance reviews.
Strive for solutions
The most obvious time to seek change is when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, this is also when a company can turn on itself. Fingers start pointing and the possibility of positive change begins to drift further and further away as conflicts play out.
Among the core principles of change management is to view every problem as an opportunity to grow. When you’ve formally discussed this concept among your managers and introduced it to your employees, you’ll be in a better position to avoid a destructive reaction to setbacks and, instead, use them to improve your organization.
Change from the top down
It’s not uncommon for business owners to implement change via a “bottom-up” approach. Doing so involves ordering lower-level employees to modify how they do something and then growing frustrated when resistance arises.
For this reason, another important principle of change management is transforming a business from the top down. Every change, no matter how big or small, needs to originate with leadership and then gradually move downward through the organizational chart through effective communication.
As the cliché goes, change is scary — and change management can be even more so. But many of the principles of the concept are likely familiar to you. In fact, your company may already be doing a variety of things to make change management far less daunting. Contact us to discuss this and other business-improvement ideas.
A tried-and-true year end tax strategy is to make charitable donations. As long as you itemize and your gift qualifies, you can claim a charitable deduction. But did you know that you can enjoy an additional tax benefit if you donate long-term appreciated stock instead of cash?
2 benefits from 1 gift
Appreciated publicly traded stock you’ve held more than one year is long-term capital gains property. If you donate it to a qualified charity, you may be able to enjoy two tax benefits:
Donating appreciated stock can be especially beneficial to taxpayers facing the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) or the top 20% long-term capital gains rate this year.
Stock vs. cash
Let’s say you donate $10,000 of stock that you paid $3,000 for, your ordinary-income tax rate is 37% and your long-term capital gains rate is 20%. Let’s also say you itemize deductions.
If you sold the stock, you’d pay $1,400 in tax on the $7,000 gain. If you were also subject to the 3.8% NIIT, you’d pay another $266 in NIIT.
By instead donating the stock to charity, you save $5,366 in federal tax ($1,666 in capital gains tax and NIIT plus $3,700 from the $10,000 income tax deduction). If you donated $10,000 in cash, your federal tax savings would be only $3,700.
Watch your step
First, remember that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction, to $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. The charitable deduction will provide a tax benefit only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. Because the standard deduction is so much higher, even if you’ve itemized deductions in the past, you might not benefit from doing so for 2018.
Second, beware that donations of long-term capital gains property are subject to tighter deduction limits — 30% of your adjusted gross income for gifts to public charities, 20% for gifts to nonoperating private foundations (compared to 60% and 30%, respectively, for cash donations).
Finally, don’t donate stock that’s worth less than your basis. Instead, sell the stock so you can deduct the loss and then donate the cash proceeds to charity.
Minimizing tax and maximizing deductions
For charitably inclined taxpayers who own appreciated stock and who’ll have enough itemized deductions to benefit from itemizing on their 2018 tax returns, donating the stock to charity can be an excellent year-end tax planning strategy. This is especially true if the stock is highly appreciated and you’d like to sell it but are worried about the tax liability. Please contact us with any questions you have about minimizing capital gains tax or maximizing charitable deductions.
When a business is launched, its owners typically welcome every customer through the door with a sigh of relief. But after the company has established itself, those same owners might start looking at their buying constituency a little more critically.
If your business has reached this point, regularly assessing your customer base is indeed an important strategic planning activity. One way to approach it is to simply follow the ABCs.
Assign profitability levels
First, pick a time period — perhaps one, three or five years — and calculate the profitability level of each customer or group of customers based on sales numbers and both direct and indirect costs. (We can help you choose the ideal calculations and run the numbers.)
Once you’ve determined the profitability of each customer or group of customers, divide them into three groups:
With the A customers, your objective should be to grow your business relationship with them. Identify what motivates them to buy, so you can continue to meet their needs. Is it something specific about your products or services? Is it your customer service? Developing a good understanding of this group will help you not only build your relationship with these critical customers, but also target marketing efforts to attract other, similar ones.
Category B customers have value but, just by virtue of sitting in the middle, they can slide either way. There’s a good chance that, with the right mix of product and marketing resources, some of them can be turned into A customers. Determine which ones have the most in common with your best customers; then focus your marketing efforts on them and track the results.
When it comes to the C group, spend a nominal amount of time to see whether any of them might move up the ladder. It’s likely, though, that most of your C customers simply aren’t a good fit for your company. Fortunately, firing your least desirable customers won’t require much effort. Simply curtail your marketing and sales efforts, or stop them entirely, and most will wander off on their own.
Cut costs, bring in more
The thought of purposefully losing customers may seem like a sure recipe for disaster. But doing so can help you cut fruitless costs and bring in more revenue from engaged buyers. Our firm can help you review the pertinent financial data and develop a customer strategy that builds your bottom line.
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 which assets you 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.
Is your sales process getting off-balance? Sometimes it can be hard to tell. Fluctuations in the economy, changes in customer interest and dips in demand may cause slowdowns that are beyond your control. But if the numbers keep dropping and you’re not sure why, you may need to double-check the structural soundness of how you sell your company’s products or services. Here are four pillars of a solid sales process:
1. Synergy with marketing. The sales staff can’t go it alone. Your marketing department has a responsibility to provide some assistance and direction in generating leads. You may have a long-standing profile of the ideal candidates for your products or services, but is it outdated? Could it use some tweaks? Creating a broader universe of customers who are likely to benefit from your offerings will add focus and opportunity to your salespeople’s efforts.
2. Active responsiveness. A sense of urgency is crucial to the sales process. Whether a prospect responded to some form of advertisement or is being targeted for cold calling, making timely and appropriate contact will ease the way for the salesperson to get through to the decision maker. If selling your product or service requires a face-to-face presence, making and keeping of appointments is critical. Gather data on how quickly your salespeople are following up on leads and make improvements as necessary.
3. Clear documentation. There will always be some degree of recordkeeping associated with sales. Your salespeople will interact with many potential customers and must keep track of what was said or promised at each part of the sales cycle. Fortunately, today’s technology (typically in the form of a customer relationship system) can help streamline this activity. Make sure yours is up to date and properly used. Effective performers spend most of their time calling or meeting with customers. They carry out the administrative parts of their jobs either early or late in the day and don’t use paperwork as an excuse to avoid actively selling.
4. Consistency. A process is defined as a series of related steps that lead to a specific end. Lagging sales are often the result of deficiencies in steps of the sales process. If your business is struggling to maintain or increase its numbers, it may be time to audit your sales process to identify irregularities. You might also hold a sales staff retreat to get everyone back on the same page. Contact us to discuss these and other ideas on reinforcing your sales process.
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.
It’s easy to understand why more and more businesses are taking a “bring your own device” (BYOD) approach to the smartphones, tablets and laptops many employees rely on to do their jobs. BYOD can boost employee efficiency and satisfaction, often while reducing a company’s IT costs. But the approach isn’t without risk for both you and your staff. So, it’s highly advisable to create a strong formal policy that combines convenience with security.
As an employer, your primary concern with BYOD is no doubt the inevitable security risks that arise when your networks are accessible to personal devices that could be stolen, lost or hacked. But you also must think about various legal compliance issues, such as electronic document retention for litigation purposes or liability for overtime pay when nonexempt employees use their devices to work outside of normal hours.
For employees, the main worry comes down to privacy. Will you, their employer, have access to personal information, photos and other non-work-related data on the device? Could an employee lose all of that if you’re forced to “wipe” the device because it’s been lost or stolen, or when the employee leaves your company?
A BYOD policy must address these and other issues. Each company’s individual circumstances will determine the final details, but most employers should, at minimum, require employees to sign an acknowledgment of their obligations to:
The policy also should prohibit the use of public wi-fi networks or require employees to log in through a secure virtual private network when connecting via public wi-fi. You may want to forbid certain apps, too.
In addition, you need to spell out your rights to access, monitor and delete data on employees’ devices — including the types of data you can access and under which conditions. In particular, explain your wiping procedures and the steps employees can take to protect their personal information from permanent erasure.
Nearly everyone who works for your company likely has a smartphone at this point. As such devices integrate themselves ever more deeply into our daily lives, it’s only natural that they’ll affect our jobs. Establishing a BYOD policy now can help prevent costly mistakes and potential litigation down the road. We can provide further 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.
Like many business owners, you probably created a business plan when you launched your company. But, as is also often the case, you may not have looked at it much since then. Now that fall has arrived and year end is coming soon, why not dig it out? Reviewing and revising a business plan can be a great way to plan for the year ahead.
6 sections to scrutinize
Comprehensive business plans traditionally are composed of six sections. When revisiting yours, look for insights in each one:
1. Executive summary. This should read like an “elevator pitch” regarding your company’s purpose, its financial position and requirements, its state of competitiveness, and its strategic goals. If your business plan is out of date, the executive summary won’t quite jibe with what you do today. Don’t worry: You can rewrite it after you revise the other five sections.
2. Business description. A company’s key features are described here. These include its name, entity type, number of employees, key assets, core competencies, and product or service menu. Look at whether anything has changed and, if so, what. Maybe your workforce has grown or you’ve added products or services.
3. Industry and marketing analysis. This section analyzes the state of a company’s industry and explicates how the business will market itself. Your industry may have changed since your business plan’s original writing. What are the current challenges? Where do opportunities lie? How will you market your company’s strengths to take advantage of these opportunities?
4. Management team description. The business plan needs to recognize the company’s current leadership. Verify the accuracy of who’s identified as an owner and, if necessary, revise the list of management-level employees, providing brief bios of each. As you look over your management team, ask yourself: Are there gaps or weak links? Is one person handling too much?
5. Operational plan. This section explains how a business functions on a day-to-day basis. Scrutinize your operating cycle — that is, the process by which a product or service is delivered to customers and, in turn, how revenue is brought in and expenses are paid. Is it still accurate? The process of revising this description may reveal inefficiencies or redundancies of which you weren’t even aware.
6. Financials. The last section serves as a reasonable estimate of how your company intends to manage its finances in the near future. So, you should review and revise it annually. Key projections to generate are forecasts of your profits and losses, as well as your cash flow, in the coming year. Many business plans also include a balance sheet summarizing current assets, liabilities and equity.
Keep it fresh
The precise structure of business plans can vary but, when regularly revisited, they all have one thing in common: a wealth of up-to-date information about the company described. Don’t leave this valuable document somewhere to gather dust — keep it fresh. Our firm can help you review your business plan and generate accurate financials that allow you to take on the coming year with confidence.
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:
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.
You’ve no doubt heard the old business cliché “cash is king.” And it’s true: A company in a strong cash position stands a much better chance of obtaining the financing it needs, attracting outside investors or simply executing its own strategic plans.
One way to ensure that there’s always a king in the castle, so to speak, is to maintain a cash reserve. Granted, setting aside a substantial amount of dollars isn’t the easiest thing to do — particularly for start-ups and smaller companies. But once your reserve is in place, life can get a lot easier.
Now you may wonder: What’s the optimal amount of cash to keep in reserve? The right answer is different for every business and may change over time, given fluctuations in the economy or degree of competitiveness in your industry.
If you’ve already obtained financing, your bank’s liquidity covenants can give you a good idea of how much of a cash reserve is reasonable and expected of your company. To take it a step further, you can calculate various liquidity metrics and compare them to industry benchmarks. These might include:
There may be other, more complex metrics that better apply to the nature and size of your business.
Believe it or not, many companies don’t suffer from a lack of cash reserves but rather a surplus. This often occurs because a business owner decides to start hoarding cash following a dip in the local or national economy.
What’s the problem? Substantial increases in liquidity — or metrics well above industry norms — can signal an inefficient deployment of capital.
To keep your cash reserve from getting too high, create financial forecasts for the next 12 to 18 months. For example, a monthly projected balance sheet might estimate seasonal ebbs and flows in the cash cycle. Or a projection of the worst-case scenario might be used to establish your optimal cash balance. Projections should consider future cash flows, capital expenditures, debt maturities and working capital requirements.
Formal financial forecasts provide a coherent method to building up cash reserves, which is infinitely better than relying on rough estimates or gut instinct. Be sure to compare actual performance to your projections regularly and adjust as necessary.
More isn’t always better
Just as individuals should set aside some money for a rainy day, so should businesses. But, when it comes to your company’s cash reserves, the notion that “more is better” isn’t necessarily correct. You’ve got to find the right balance. Contact us to discuss your reserve and identify your ideal liquidity metrics.
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.
Most business owners want to grow their companies. And one surefire sign of growth is when ownership believes the company can expand its operations to a second location.
If your business has reached this point, or is nearing it, both congratulations and caution are in order. You’ve clearly done a great job with growth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to expand. Here are a few points to keep in mind.
Among the most fundamental questions to ask is: Can we duplicate the success of our current location? If your first location is doing well, it’s likely because you’ve put in place the people and processes that keep the business running smoothly. It’s also because you’ve developed a culture that resonates with your customers. You need to feel confident you can do the same at subsequent locations.
Another important question is: How might expansion affect business at both locations? Opening a second location prompts a consideration that didn’t exist with your first: how the two locations will interact. Placing the two operations near each other can make it easier to manage both, but it also can lead to one operation cannibalizing the other. Ideally, the two locations will have strong, independent markets.
Finances and taxes
Of course, you’ll also need to consider the financial aspects. Look at how you’re going to fund the expansion. Ideally, the first location will generate enough revenue so that it can both sustain itself and help fund the second. But it’s not uncommon for construction costs and timelines to exceed initial projections. You’ll want to include some extra dollars in your budget for delays or surprises. If you have to starve your first location of capital to fund the second, you’ll risk the success of both.
It’s important to account for the tax ramifications as well. Property taxes on two locations will affect your cash flow and bottom line. You may be able to cut your tax bill with various tax breaks or by locating the second location in an Enterprise Zone. But, naturally, the location will need to make sense from a business perspective. There may be other tax issues as well — particularly if you’re crossing state lines.
A significant step
Opening another location is a significant step, to say the least. We can help you address all the pertinent issues involved to minimize risk and boost the likelihood of success.
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.
Every business with more than one owner needs a buy-sell agreement to handle both expected and unexpected ownership changes. When creating or updating yours, be sure you’re prepared for the valuation issues that will come into play.
Issues, what issues?
Emotions tend to run high when owners face a “triggering event” that activates the buy-sell. Such events include the death of an owner, the divorce of married owners or an owner dispute.
The departing owner (or his or her estate) suddenly is in the position of a seller who wants to maximize buyout proceeds. The buyer’s role is played by either the other owners or the business itself — and it’s in the buyer’s financial interest to pay as little as possible. A comprehensive buy-sell agreement takes away the guesswork and helps ensure that all parties are treated equitably.
Some owners decide to have the business valued annually to minimize surprises when a buyout occurs. This is often preferable to using a static valuation formula in the buy-sell agreement, because the value of the interest is likely to change as the business grows and market conditions evolve.
What are our protocols?
At minimum, the buy-sell agreement needs to prescribe various valuation protocols to follow when the agreement is triggered, including:
It’s also important to discuss the appropriate “as of” date for valuing the business interest. The loss of a key person could affect the value of a business interest, so timing may be critical.
Are we ready?
Business owners tend to put planning issues on the back burner — especially when they’re young and healthy and owner relations are strong. But the more details that you put in place today, including a well-crafted buy-sell agreement with the right valuation components, the easier it will be to resolve buyout issues when they arise. Our firm would be happy to help.
To avoid interest and penalties, you 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.
If you’ve done any research into employee benefits for your business recently, you may have come across a bit of alphabet soup in the form of “HSA + HDHP.” Although perhaps initially confusing, this formula represents an increasingly popular model for health care benefits — that is, offering a Health Savings Account (HSA) coupled with, as required by law, a high-deductible health plan (HDHP).
An HSA operates somewhat like a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), which employers can also offer to eligible employees. An FSA permits eligible employees to defer a pretax portion of their pay to later use to reimburse out-of-pocket medical expenses. But, unlike an FSA, an HSA is permitted to carry over unused account balances to the next year and beyond.
The most significant requirement for offering your employees an HSA is that, as mentioned, you must also cover them under an HDHP. For 2019, this means that each participant’s health insurance coverage must come with at least a $1,350 deductible for single coverage or $2,700 for family coverage. It’s okay if the HDHP doesn’t impose any deductible for preventive care (such as annual checkups), but participants can’t be eligible for Medicare benefits or claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return.
The benefit of the high deductible requirement is that premiums for HDHPs are typically less expensive than for health plans with lower deductibles. You and your employees can use some or all of the money saved on premiums to fund their HSAs.
You and the employee combined can make pretax HSA contributions in 2019 of up to $3,500 for single coverage or $7,000 for family coverage. An account beneficiary who is age 55 or older by the end of the tax year for which the HSA contribution is made may contribute an additional $1,000.
The good news for you, the business owner: First, employer contributions are optional. Second, pretax contributions to an employee’s HSA, whether by you or the employee, are exempt from Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes.
Just how popular is the HSA + HDHP model? A 2018 report by the trade association America’s Health Insurance Plans found that enrollment in these plans increased by nearly 400% over the last 10 years — from about 4.5 million in 2007 to about 21.8 million in 2017. Of course, this doesn’t mean your business should blindly jump on the bandwagon. Contact us to discuss the concept further or for other ideas regarding affordable employee benefits.
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.
Late summer and early fall, when so many families have members returning to educational facilities of all shapes and sizes, is also a good time for businesses to creatively step up their business development efforts, whether it’s launching new marketing initiatives, developing future employees or simply generating goodwill in the community. Here are a few examples that might inspire you.
Becoming a sponsor
A real estate agency sponsors a local middle school’s parent-teacher organization (PTO). The sponsorship includes ads in the school’s weekly e-newsletter and in welcome packets for new PTO members. Individual agents in the group also conduct monthly gift card drawings for parents and teachers who follow them on Facebook.
The agency hopes parents and teachers will remember its agents’ names and faces when they’re ready to buy or sell their homes.
Planting the seeds of STEM
An engineering firm donates old computers and printers to an elementary school that serves economically disadvantaged students. The equipment will be used in the school district’s K-12 program to get kids interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.
At back-to-school time, a firm rep gives presentations at the schools and hands out literature. Then, in the spring, the company will mentor a select group of high school seniors who are planning to pursue engineering degrees in college.
Participating in STEM programs fosters corporate charity and goodwill. It can also pay back over the long run: When the firm’s HR department is looking for skilled talent, kids who benefited from the firm’s STEM efforts may return as loyal, full-time employees.
Launching an apprenticeship program
The back-to-school season motivates a high-tech manufacturer to partner with a vocational program at the local community college to offer registered apprenticeships through a state apprenticeship agency. In exchange for working for the manufacturer, students will receive college credits, on-the-job training and weekly paychecks. Their hourly wages will increase as they demonstrate proficiency.
The company hopes to hire at least some of these apprentices to fill full-time positions in the coming year or two.
Finding the right fit
Whether schools near you are already in session or will open soon, it’s not too late to think about how your business can benefit. Sit down with your management team and brainstorm ways to leverage relationships with local schools to boost revenues, give back to your community and add long-term value. We can provide other ideas and help you assess return on investment.
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.
IT consultants are many things — experts in their field, champions of the workaround and, generally, the “people persons” of the tech field. But they’re not magicians who, with the wave of a smartphone, can solve any dilemma you throw at them. Here are six ways to get more value from your company’s next IT consulting relationship:
1. Spell out your needs. Define your desired outcome in as much detail as possible up front, so that both you and the consultant know what’s expected of each party. To do so, create a project scope document that clearly delineates the job’s purpose, timeframe, resources, personnel, reporting requirements, critical success factors and conflict resolution methods.
2. Appoint an internal contact. Assign someone within your organization as the internal project manager as early in the process as possible. He or she will be the go-to person for the consultant and, therefore, needs to have a thorough knowledge of the job’s requirements and be able to fairly assess the consultant’s performance.
3. Put in some prep time. Before the consultant arrives, prepare his or her workstation, ensuring that any equipment you’re providing works and allows appropriate access to the required systems — including email. Don’t forget to set up the phone, too, and add the consultant to your company phone list. Also, alert your staff that you have engaged a consultant and, to alleviate potential concerns, explain why.
4. Roll out the welcome wagon. Try to arrange an orientation on the Friday before the start date (assuming it’s a Monday). That way, you can give the consultant the project scope document as well as a written company overview (perhaps your employee procedures manual) that includes policies, safety protocols, office hours and tips on company culture to review over the weekend.
5. Keep in touch. Conduct regular project status meetings with the consultant to assess progress and provide feedback. Notify the consultant or the internal project manager immediately if you suspect the job is off track.
6. Conclude courteously. If you need to end the consulting engagement earlier than expected (for reasons other than poor performance) or extend it beyond the agreed-on timeframe, give as much notice as possible.
Act toward a good consultant as you would any valued vendor with whom you’d like to work again. After all, establishing a positive relationship with someone who knows your business could provide even greater return on investment in the future. Our firm would be happy to explain further or explore other ideas.
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.
As a business grows, one of many challenges it faces is identifying a competitive yet manageable compensation structure. After all, offer too little and you likely won’t have much success in hiring. Offer too much and you may compromise cash flow and profitability.
But the challenge doesn’t end there. Once you have a feasible compensation structure in place, your organization must then set its course for determining the best way for employees to progress through it. And this is when you must contemplate the nature and efficacy of linking pay to performance.
Issues in play
Some observers believe that companies shouldn’t use compensation to motivate employees because workers might stop focusing on quality of work and start focusing on money. Additionally, employees may feel that the merit — or “pay-for-performance” — model pits staff members against each other for the highest raises.
Thus, some businesses give uniform pay adjustments to everyone. In doing so, these companies hope to eliminate competition and ensure that all employees are working toward the same goal. But, if everyone gets the same raise, is there any motivation for employees to continually improve?
2 critical factors
Many businesses don’t think so and do use additional money to motivate employees, whether by bonuses, commissions or bigger raises. In its most basic form, a merit increase is the amount of additional compensation added to current base pay following an employee’s performance review. Two critical factors typically determine the increase:
1) The amount of money a company sets aside in its “merit” budget for performance-based increases — usually based on competitive market practice, and
2) Employee performance as determined through a performance review process conducted by management.
Although pay-for-performance can achieve its original intent — recognizing employee performance and outstanding contributions to the company’s success — beware that your employees may perceive merit increases as an entitlement or even nothing more than an inflation adjustment. If they do, pay-for-performance may not be effective as a motivational tool.
Communication is the key
The ideal solution to both compensation structure and pay raises will vary based on factors such as the size of the business and typical compensation levels of its industry. Nonetheless, to avoid unintended ill effects of the pay-for-performance model, be sure to communicate clearly with employees. Be as specific as possible about what contributes to merit increases and ensure that your performance review process is transparent, interactive and understandable. Contact us to discuss this or other compensation-related issues further.
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
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 an increasingly global economy, keeping a close eye on your supply chain is imperative. Even if your company operates only locally or nationally, your suppliers could be affected by wider economic conditions and developments. So, make sure you’re regularly assessing where weak links in your supply chain may lie.
3 common risks
Every business faces a variety of risks. Three of the most common are:
1. Legal risks. Are any of your suppliers involved in legal conflicts that could adversely affect their ability to earn revenue or continue serving you?
2. Political risks. Are any suppliers located in a politically unstable region — even nationally? Could the outcome of a municipal, state or federal election adversely affect your industry’s supply chain?
3. Transportation risks. How reliant are your suppliers on a particular type of transportation? For example, what’s their backup plan if winter weather shuts down air routes for a few days? Or could wildfires or mudslides block trucking routes?
The potential fallout from an unstable supply chain can be devastating. Obviously, first and foremost, you may be unable to timely procure the supplies you need to operate profitably.
Beyond that, high-risk supply chains can also affect your ability to obtain financing. Lenders may view risks as too high to justify your current debt or a new loan request. You could face higher interest rates or more stringent penalties to compensate for it.
Strategies to consider
Just as businesses face many supply chain risks, they can also avail themselves of a variety of coping strategies. For example, you might divide purchases equally among three suppliers — instead of just one — to diversify your supplier base. You might spread out suppliers geographically to mitigate the threat of a regional disaster.
Also consider strengthening protections against unforeseen events by adding to inventory buffers to hedge against short-term shortages. Take a hard look at your supplier contracts as well. You may be able to negotiate long-term deals to include upfront payment terms, exclusivity clauses and access to computerized just-in-time inventory systems to more accurately forecast demand and more closely integrate your operations with supply-chain partners.
You can have a very successful business, but if you can’t keep delivering your products and services to customers consistently, you’ll likely find success fleeting. A solid supply chain fortified against risk is a must. We can provide further information and other ideas.
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 so 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.
Strategic planning is key to ensuring every company’s long-term viability, and goal setting is an indispensable step toward fulfilling those plans. Unfortunately, businesses often don’t accomplish their overall strategic plans because they’re unable to fully reach the various goals necessary to get there.
If this scenario sounds all too familiar, trace your goals back to their origin. Those that are poorly conceived typically set up a company for failure. One solution is to follow the SMART approach.
Definitions to work by
The SMART system was first introduced to the business world in the early 1980s. Although the acronym’s letters have been associated with different meanings over the years, they’re commonly defined as:
Specific. Goals must be precise. So, if your strategic plan includes growing the business, your goals must then explicitly state how you’ll do so. For each goal, define the “5 Ws” — who, what, where, when and why.
Measurable. Setting goals is of little value if you can’t easily assess your progress toward them. Pair each goal with one or more metrics to measure progress and success. This may mean increasing revenue by a certain percentage, expanding your customer base by winning a certain number of new accounts, or something else.
Achievable. Unrealistically aggressive goals can crush motivation. No one wants to put time and effort into something that’s likely to fail. Ensure your goals can be accomplished, but don’t make them too easy. The best ones are usually somewhat of a stretch but still doable. Rely on your own business experience and the feedback of your trusted managers to find the right balance.
Relevant. Let’s say you identify a goal that you know you can achieve. Before locking it in, ask whether and how it will move your business forward. Again, goals should directly and clearly support your long-term strategic plan. Sometimes companies can be tempted by “low-hanging fruit” — goals that are easy to accomplish but lead nowhere.
Timely. Assign each goal a deadline. Doing so will motivate those involved by creating a sense of urgency. Also, once you’ve established a deadline, work backwards and set periodic milestones to help everyone pace themselves toward the goal.
Eye on the future
Strategic planning, and the goal setting that goes along with it, might seem like a waste of time. But even if your business is thriving now, it’s important to keep an eye on the future. And that means long-term strategic planning that includes SMART goals. Our firm would be happy to explain further and offer other ideas.
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 has become more dangerous than ever.
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 the big, bad 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’re 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 changes that may affect your family.
When business use of websites began, getting noticed was the name of the game. Remember pop-up ads? Text scrolling up the screen? How about those mesmerizing rotating banners? Yes, there were — and remain — a variety of comical and some would say annoying ways to get visitors’ attention.
Nowadays, most Internet users are savvy enough not to be impressed by flashy graphics. They tend to want simplicity and the ability to navigate intuitively. Most of all, they want to feel protected from scams and hackers. That’s why, when maintaining or updating your company’s website, trust is an essential building block.
Make it personal
Among the simplest ways to establish trust with customers and prospects is conveying to them that you’re a bona fide business staffed by actual human beings.
Include an “About Us” page with the names, photos and short bios of the owner, executives and key staff members. This will help make the site friendlier and more relatable. You don’t want to look anonymous — it makes customers suspicious and less likely to buy.
Beyond that, be sure to clearly provide general contact info. This includes a phone number and email address, hours of operation (including time zone), and your mailing address. If you’re a small business, use a street address if possible. Some companies won’t deliver to a P.O. box — and some customers won’t buy if you use one.
Keep contact links easy to find. No one wants to search all over a site looking for a way to get in touch with someone at the business. Include at least one contact link on every page.
Mind the details
Everyone makes mistakes, but typos and inaccuracies on a website can send many users to the “close tab” button. Remember, one of the hallmarks of many Internet trolls and scamsters is ineffective or even nonsensical use of the English language.
Check and doublecheck the spelling and grammar used on your site. Bear in mind that spellcheck programs look only for misspelled words. If you have correctly spelled a word but it’s misused — for example, “to” instead of “two” — spellcheck won’t catch it.
Also, regularly check all links. Nothing sends a customer off to a competitor more quickly than the frustration of encountering nonfunctioning links. Such problems may also lead visitors to think they’ve been hacked. Link-checker software can automatically find broken links within your site and links to other sites.
Construct good content
Obviously, there are many more technical ways to secure your website. It goes without saying that cybersecurity measures such as encryption software and firewalls must be maintained to the fullest. But, from a content perspective, your site should be constructed first and foremost on a foundation of trust. Our firm can provide other ideas and further information.
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.
Technology is tricky. Much of today’s software is engineered so well that it will perform adequately for years. But new and better features are being created all the time. And if you’re not getting as much out of your financial data as your competitors are, you could be at a disadvantage.
For these reasons, it can be hard to decide when to upgrade your company’s accounting software. Here are three keys to consider:
1. Your users are ready. When making a major change to your accounting software, the sophistication of the system needs to align with the technological savvy of its primary users. Sometimes companies buy expensive software only to have many of its features gather virtual dust because the employees who use it are resistant to change.
But if your users are well trained and adaptable, they may be able to extract added value from a more sophisticated accounting system. For instance, they could track key performance indicators to generate more meaningful financial reports.
2. The price is right. You’ll of course need to consider the costs involved. As holds true for any technology purchase, project leaders must set a budget and focus the search on products and vendors offering only the functions your company needs.
But don’t stop there. Explore add-on services such as free trials, initial training and ongoing support. You want to get the most value from the software, which goes beyond the new and improved features themselves.
3. You need to integrate. This is the concept of networking your accounting system with your other mission-critical systems such as sales, inventory and production.
For most companies today, integration is essential to maximizing the return on investment in accounting software. So, if you haven’t yet implemented this functionality, an upgrade may be highly advisable. Just be aware that a successful companywide integration will call for buy-in from every nook and cranny of your business.
Typically, if a company doesn’t need any major accounting process changes, it probably doesn’t need a major accounting software change either. But if upgrading both will help grow your business, it’s absolutely a step worth considering. We can provide further guidance and info.
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 potentially can 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 https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search 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 potentially can 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.
On one level, every company’s inventory is a carefully curated collection of inanimate objects ready for sale. But, on another, it can be a confounding, slippery and unpredictable creature that can shrink too small or grow too big — despite your best efforts to keep it contained. If your inventory has been getting the better of you lately, don’t give up on showing it who’s boss.
Check your math
Getting the upper hand on inventory is essentially one part mathematics and another part strategic planning. You need to have accurate inventory counts as well as the controls in place to regulate quality and keep things moving.
As is true for so much in business, timing is everything. Companies need raw materials and key components in place before starting a production run, but they don’t want to bring them in too soon and suffer excess costs. The same holds true for finished products — you need enough on hand to fulfill sales without over- or understocking.
If you’re struggling in this area, re-evaluate your counting process. One alternative to consider is cycle counting. This process involves taking a weekly or monthly physical count of part of your warehoused inventory. These physical counts are then compared against the levels shown on your inventory management system.
The goal is to pinpoint as many inventory discrepancies as possible. By identifying the source of accuracy problems, you can figure out the best solutions. Of course, you can’t conduct cycle counting once and expect a cure-all. You’ll need to use it regularly.
With all this data flying around, you need the right tools to gather, process and store it. So, investing in a good inventory software system (or upgrading the one you have) is key. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out” — imprecise information coming from your current system could be leading to all those write-offs, inflated costs, missed sales and lost profits.
As always, you get what you pay for: Investing in a new software system and then paying ongoing maintenance fees (which are usually recommended to keep it running smoothly) could seem like a bitter pill to swallow. But, in the long run, strong inventory management can pay for itself.
Another way to use technology for inventory purposes is as a communication tool. Knowing which products are hot and which are not will go a long way toward developing correct purchasing and stocking levels. Consider using online surveys, email contests and even social networking (such as a Facebook page) to keep in touch with customers and gather this info.
Show some tough love
In an ideal world, every company’s inventory would be its best friend. But don’t be surprised if you have to regularly show yours some tough love to keep it from making a mess of your bottom line. Let us help you identify the best metrics and methods for managing your inventory.
“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.
By and large, today’s employees expect employers to offer a tax-advantaged retirement plan. A 401(k) is an obvious choice to consider, but you may not be aware that there are a variety of types to choose from. Let’s check out some of the most popular options:
Traditional. Employees contribute on a pretax basis, with the employer matching all or a percentage of their contributions if it so chooses. Traditional 401(k)s are subject to rigorous testing requirements to ensure the plan is offered equitably to all employees and doesn’t favor highly compensated employees (HCEs).
In 2018, employees can defer a total amount of $18,500 through salary reductions. Those age 50 or older by year end can defer an additional $6,000.
Roth. Employees contribute after-tax dollars but take tax-free withdrawals (subject to certain limitations). Other rules apply, including that employer contributions can go into only traditional 401(k) accounts, not Roth 401(k)s. Usually a Roth 401(k) is offered as an option to employees in addition to a traditional 401(k), not instead of the traditional plan.
The Roth 401(k) contribution limits are the same as those for traditional 401(k)s. But this applies on a combined basis for total contributions to both types of plans.
Safe harbor. For businesses that may encounter difficulties meeting 401(k) testing requirements, this could be a solution. Employers must make certain contributions, which must vest immediately. But owners and HCEs can maximize contributions without worrying about part of their contributions being returned to them because rank-and-file employees haven’t been contributing enough.
To qualify for the safe harbor election, the employer needs to either contribute 3% of compensation for all eligible employees, even those who don’t make their own contributions, or match 100% of employee deferrals up to the first 3% of compensation and 50% of deferrals up to the next 2% of compensation. The contribution limits for these plans are the same as those for traditional 401(k)s.
Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE). If your business has 100 or fewer employees, consider one of these. As with a Safe Harbor 401(k), the employer must make certain, immediately vested contributions, and there’s no rigorous testing.
So, how is the SIMPLE 401(k) different from a safe harbor 401(k)? Both the required employer contributions and the limits on participant deferrals are lower: The employer generally needs to either contribute 2% of compensation for all eligible employees or match employee contributions up to 3% of compensation. The employee deferral limits are $12,500 in 2018, with a $3,000 catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older.
This has been but a brief look at these types of 401(k)s. Our firm can provide you with more information on each, as well as guidance on finding the right one for your business.
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 these 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.
Funny thing about customers: They can keep you in business — but they can also put you out of it. The latter circumstance often arises when a company overly relies on a few customers that abuse their credit to the point where the company’s cash flow is dramatically impacted.
To guard against this, you need to diligently assess every customer’s creditworthiness before getting too deeply involved. And this includes running the numbers on entities you do business with, just as lenders and investors do with you.
A first step is to ask new customers to complete a credit application. The application should request the company’s:
Depending on which industry or industries you serve, there may be other important data points to gather, as well. If you haven’t updated your credit application form in a while, consider doing so — especially if you’ve gotten burned on the same type of credit failure multiple times.
When dealing with private companies, consider asking for an income statement and balance sheet. You’ll want to analyze financial data such as profit margin, or net income divided by net sales. Ideally, this will have remained steady or increased during the past few years. The profit margin also should be like those of other companies in the customer’s industry.
From the balance sheet, you can calculate the current ratio, or the customer’s current assets divided by its current liabilities. The higher this is, the more likely the customer will be able to cover its bills. Generally, a current ratio of 2:1 is considered acceptable. Again, there may be other metrics that are particularly important for the types of businesses you work with.
An evolving challenge
Reviewing financials is only one key step in determining whether a customer is creditworthy. It’s also important to contact the references the customer provided, and you may want to purchase a credit report. Finally, be sure to look at coverage of the customer both by traditional media and on social media. Doing so could reveal information that will impact your decision on whether to extend credit.
When competing to win and keep customers, it’s easy to get carried away with credit. Approach this task carefully and bear in mind that, for most businesses, extending customer credit is a learning process and an evolving challenge. For further help and info on assessing customers’ creditworthiness, please contact our firm.
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.
Every year is a journey for a business. You begin with a set of objectives for the months ahead, probably encounter a few bumps along the way and, hopefully, reach your destination with some success and a few lessons learned.
The middle of the year is the perfect time to stop for a breather. A midyear review can help you and your management team determine which objectives are still “meetable” and which ones may need tweaking or perhaps even elimination.
Naturally, this will involve looking at your financials. There are various metrics that can tell you whether your cash flow is strong and debt load manageable, and if your profitability goals are within reach. But don’t stop there.
3 key areas
Here are three other key areas of your business to review at midyear:
1. HR. Your people are your most valuable asset. So, how is your employee turnover rate trending compared with last year or previous years? High employee turnover could be a sign of underlying problems, such as poor training, lax management or low employee morale.
2. Sales and marketing. Are you meeting your monthly goals for new sales, in terms of both sales volume and number of new customers? Are you generating an adequate return on investment (ROI) for your marketing dollars? If you can’t answer this last question, enhance your tracking of existing marketing efforts so you can gauge marketing ROI going forward.
3. Production. If you manufacture products, what’s your unit reject rate so far this year? Or if yours is a service business, how satisfied are your customers with the level of service being provided? Again, you may need to tighten up your methods of tracking product quality or measuring customer satisfaction to meet this year’s strategic goals.
Don’t wait until the end of the year to assess the progress of your 2018 strategic plan. Conduct a midyear review and get the information you need to make any adjustments necessary to help ensure success. Let us know how we can help.
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.
Some business owners — particularly those who founded their companies — may find it hard to give up control to a successor. Maybe you just can’t identify the right person internally to fill your shoes. While retirement isn’t in your immediate future, you know you must eventually step down.
One potential solution is to find an outside buyer for your company and undertake a long-term deal to gradually cede control to them. Going this route can enable a transition to proceed at a more manageable pace.
Time and capital
For privately held businesses, long-term deals typically begin with the business owner selling a minority stake to a potential buyer. This initiates a tryout period to assess the two companies’ compatibility. The parties may sign an agreement in which the minority stakeholder has the option to offer a takeover bid after a specified period.
Beyond clearing a path for your succession plan, the deal also may provide needed capital. You can use the cash infusion from selling a minority stake to fund improvements such as:
Any or all of these things can help grow your company’s market share and improve profitability. In turn, you’ll feel more comfortable in retirement knowing your business is doing well and in good hands.
Benefits for the buyer
You may be wondering what’s in it for the buyer. A minority-stake purchase requires less cash than a full acquisition, helping buyers avoid finding outside deal financing. It’s also less risky than a full purchase. Buyers can, for example, push for the company to achieve certain performance objectives before committing to buying it.
Integration may also be easier because buyers have time to coordinate with sellers to implement changes — an advantage when their IT, accounting or other major systems are dissimilar. In addition, in a typical M&A transaction, decisions must be made quickly. But under a long-term deal, the parties can debate and negotiate options, which may improve the arrangement for everyone.
What’s right for you
There are, of course, a wide variety of other strategies for creating and executing a succession plan. But if you’re leaning toward finding a buyer and are in no rush to complete a sale, a long-term deal might be for you. Our firm can provide further information.
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.
Do bad sales months often take you by surprise? If so, don’t forget the power of flash reports — that is, snapshots of critical data for quick, timely viewing every day or week.
One specific way to use them is to track bookings vs. shippings. Doing so can help you determine what percentage of volume for certain months should be booked by specific dates. These reports are particularly useful if more than 30 days elapse between these activities.
Get super specific
Here’s how your flash report might work: Every workday, record the new orders taken (bookings) and the orders filled (shippings).
Sort the flash report by order date and subtotal the sales amounts at various points in time before the last day of the month.
Look at how many of the month’s shipped orders are booked 60, 45, 30 and 15 days before the end of the month. If you don’t have this historical data, start recording it for at least three months to establish meaningful trends.
Once you know the timeframes of your bookings and shippings, expand this activity to your sales staff by displaying the totals of bookings and shippings by salesperson on the flash report. Use the percentage of business that ideally should be booked at certain time intervals to establish individual sales goals and compare your progress with these goals.
See the future
Don’t wait until month’s end to discover that your sales weren’t up to your desired results. With flash reports, you can tell in advance that sales performance is lagging and have enough time to take corrective action. What’s more, today’s business dashboard software can enable you to generate this data more quickly than ever. For further information about flash reports, and help developing your own that are specific to your company’s needs, please contact us.
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.
Most businesses approach technology as an evolving challenge. You don’t want to overspend on bells and whistles you’ll never fully use, but you also don’t want to get left behind as competitors use the latest tech tools to operate more nimbly.
To refine your IT strategy over time, you’ve got to regularly reassess your operations and ask the right questions. Here are a few to consider:
Are we bogged down by outdated tech? More advanced analytical software can eliminate many time-consuming, repeatable tasks. Systems based on paper files and handwritten notes are obviously ripe for an upgrade, but even traditional digital spreadsheets aren’t as powerful as they used to be.
Do we have information silos? Most companies today use multiple applications. But if these solutions can’t “talk” to each other, you may suffer from information silos. This is when different people and teams keep important data to themselves, slowing communication. Determine whether this is occurring and, if so, how to integrate your key systems.
Do we have a digital asset-sharing policy? Businesses tend to generate tremendous amounts of paperwork, but hard copies can get misfiled or lost. Sharing documents electronically can speed distribution and enable real-time collaboration. A digital asset-sharing policy could help define how to grant system access, share documents and track communications.
Do we have a training program? Mandatory training and ongoing refresher sessions ensure that all users are taking full advantage of available technology and following proper protocols. If you don’t feel like you can provide this in-house, you could shop for vendors that provide training and resources matching your needs.
Do we have a security policy? A security policy is the first line of defense against hackers, viruses and other threats. It also helps protect customers’ sensitive data. Every business needs to establish a policy for regularly changing passwords, removing inactive users and providing ongoing security training.
Do we evaluate user feedback? A successful IT strategy is built on user feedback. Talk to your employees who use your technology and find out what works, what doesn’t and why.
Answering questions such as these is a good first step toward crafting a total IT strategy. Doing so can also help you better control expenses by eliminating redundancies and lowering the risk of costly mistakes and data losses. Let us know how we can help.
When school lets out, kids participate in a wide variety of summer activities. If one of the activities your child is involved with is day camp, you might be eligible for a tax credit!
Day camp (but not overnight camp) is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care credit, which is worth 20% of qualifying expenses (more if your adjusted gross income is less than $43,000), subject to a cap. For 2018, the maximum expenses allowed for the credit are $3,000 for one qualifying child and $6,000 for two or more.
Remember that tax credits are particularly valuable because they reduce your tax liability dollar-for-dollar — $1 of tax credit saves you $1 of taxes. This differs from deductions, which simply reduce the amount of income subject to tax. For example, if you’re in the 24% tax bracket, $1 of deduction saves you only $0.24 of taxes. So it’s important to take maximum advantage of the tax credits available to you.
Qualifying for the credit
A qualifying child is generally a dependent under age 13. (There’s no age limit if the dependent child is unable physically or mentally to care for him- or herself.) Special rules apply if the child’s parents are divorced or separated or if the parents live apart.
Eligible costs for care must be work-related. This means that the child care is needed so that you can work or, if you’re currently unemployed, look for work.
If you participate in an employer-sponsored child and dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), also sometimes referred to as a Dependent Care Assistance Program, you can’t use expenses paid from or reimbursed by the FSA to claim the credit.
Additional rules apply to the child and dependent care credit. If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible, contact us. We can help you determine your eligibility for this credit and other tax breaks for parents.
When business people speak of innovation, the focus is usually on a pioneering product or state-of-the-art service that will “revolutionize the industry.” But innovation can apply to any aspect of your company — including customer service.
Many business owners perceive customer service as a fairly cut-and-dried affair. Customers call, you answer their questions or solve their problems — and life goes on. Yet there are ways to transform this function and, when companies do, word gets around. People want to do business with organizations that are easy to interact with.
Here are four ways to encourage innovation in your customer service department:
1. Welcome failure. Providing world-class customer service involves risk, and inevitably you’ll sometimes fail. For example, many businesses have jumped at the chance to use “big data” to develop automated systems to direct customers to answers and solutions. But the impersonality of these systems can frustrate the buying public until you establish the right balance of machine and human interaction. Remember, every failure opens the door to better strategies for serving your customers.
2. Link compensation to employees’ contributions. Companies that fail to reward innovation aren’t likely to retain their best customers or establish a good reputation. Because customer service employees tend to be paid hourly or relatively nominal salaries, consider a cash bonus program for the “most innovative idea of the year.” Or you could hold semiannual or even quarterly innovation challenges with prizes such as gift cards or additional time off.
3. Praise the groundbreakers. Employees who challenge customer-service tradition may find themselves at odds with management. But don’t be too quick to reprimand those with new ideas or methods. Fresh language and modes of communication enter the public consciousness regularly. Give companywide recognition to those who find ways to adapt — even if their initial efforts bend the rules a bit.
4. Be the customer. Among the most simple and practical ways to innovate your customer service is to simply pretend you’re a customer to get a firsthand view on how your employees treat those who contact your business. Business owners can make these calls themselves or, if your voice is too recognizable, find someone who’s less familiar but capable of taking detailed notes of the interaction.
Finding new ways to improve your company’s customer service isn’t easy. But innovations are always just one bright idea away. If you’d like more information and ideas about building your bottom line, contact our firm.
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.
Every business owner launches his or her company wanting to be successful. But once you get out there, it usually becomes apparent that you’re not alone. To reach any level of success, you’ve got to be competitive with other similar businesses in your market.
When strategic planning, one important question to regularly ask is: Just how competitive are we anyway? Objectively making this determination entails scrutinizing key factors that affect profitability, including:
Industry environment. Determine whether there are any threats facing your industry that could affect your business’s ability to operate. This could be anything from extreme weather to a product or service that customers might use less should the economy sour or buying trends significantly change.
Tangible and intangible resources. Competitiveness can hinge on the resources to which a business has access and how it deploys them to earn a profit. What types of tangible — and intangible — resources does your business have at its disposal? Are you in danger of being cut off or limited from any of them?
For example, do you own state-of-the-art technology that allows you to produce superior products or offer premium services more quickly and cheaply than competitors? Assess how suddenly this technology could become outdated — or whether it already has.
Strength of leadership team. As the owner of the business, you may naturally and rightly assume that its management is in good shape. But be open to an objective examination of its strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, maybe you’ve had some contentious interactions with employees as of late. Ask your managers whether underlying tensions exist and, if so, how you might improve morale going forward. There’s probably no greater danger to competitiveness than a disgruntled workforce.
Relationships with suppliers, customers and regulators. For most businesses to function competitively, they must rely on suppliers and nurture strong relationships with customers. In addition, if your company is subject to regulatory oversight, it has to cooperate with local, state and federal officials.
Discuss with your management team the steps the business is currently taking to measure and manage the state of its relationships with each of these groups. Have you been paying suppliers on time? Are you getting positive customer feedback (directly or online)? Are you in compliance with applicable laws and regulations — and are there any new ones to worry about?
Loss of competitiveness can often sneak up on companies. One minute you’re operating in the same stable market you’ve been in for years, and the next minute a disruptor comes along and upends everything. Contact us for more information and other profit-building ideas.
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.
“That’s just the cost of doing business.” You’ve probably heard this expression many times. It’s true that, to invoke another cliché, you’ve got to spend money to make money. But that doesn’t mean you have to take rising operational costs sitting down.
Cost control is a formal management technique through which you evaluate your company’s operations and isolate activities costing you too much money. This isn’t something you can do on your own — you’ll need a total team effort from your managers and advisors. Done properly, however, the results can be well worth it.
Asking tough questions
While performing a systematic review of the operations and resources, cost control will drive you to ask some tough questions. Examples include the following:
A good way to determine whether your company’s expenses are remaining within reason is to compare them to current industry benchmarks.
Working with your team
There’s no way around it — cost-control programs take a lot of hard work. Reducing expenses in a lasting, meaningful way also requires creativity and imagination. It’s one thing to declare, “We must reduce shipping costs by 10%!” Getting it done (and keeping it done) is another matter.
The first thing you’ll need is cooperation from management and staff. Business success is about teamwork; no single owner or manager can do it alone.
In addition, best-in-class companies typically seek help from trusted advisors. An outside expert can analyze your efficiency, including the results of cost-control efforts. This not only brings a new viewpoint to the process, but also provides an objective review of your internal processes.
Sometimes it’s difficult to be impartial when you manage a business every single day. Professional analysts can take a broader view of operations, resulting in improved cost-control strategies.
Staying in the game
An effective, ongoing program to assess and contain expenses can help you prevent both gradual and sudden financial losses while staying competitive in your market. For further information about cost control, and customized help succeeding at it, please contact us.
If you received a large refund after filing your 2017 income tax return, you’re probably enjoying the influx of cash. But a large refund isn’t all positive. It also means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan.
That’s why a large refund for the previous tax year 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.
The 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 at irs.gov) 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.
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 run the risk of significantly underwithholding your federal income taxes. As a result, you might face an unexpectedly high tax bill when you file your 2018 tax return next year. 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.
Many companies offer health care benefits to help ensure employee wellness and compete for better job candidates. And the Affordable Care Act has been using both carrots and sticks (depending on employer size) to encourage businesses to offer health coverage.
If you sponsor a health care plan, you know this is no small investment. It may seem next to impossible to control rising plan costs, which are subject to a variety of factors beyond your control. But the truth is, all business owners can control at least a portion of their health care expenses. The trick is taking a multipronged approach — here are some ideas:
Interact with employees to find the best fit. The ideal size and shape of your plan depends on the needs of your workforce. Rather than relying exclusively on vendor-provided materials, actively manage communications with employees regarding health care costs and other topics. Determine which benefits are truly valued and which ones aren’t.
Use metrics. Business owners can apply analytics to just about everything these days, including health care coverage. Measure the financial impacts of gaps between benefits offered and those employees actually use. Then appropriately adjust plan design to close these costly gaps.
Engage an outside consultant. Secure independent (that is, non-vendor-generated) return-on-investment analyses of your existing benefits package, as well as prospective initiatives. This will entail some expense, but an expert external perspective could help you save money in the long run.
Audit medical claims payments and pharmacy benefits management services. Mistakes happen — and fraud is always a possibility. By regularly re-evaluating claims and pharmacy services, you can identify whether you’re losing money to inaccuracies or even wrongdoing.
Renegotiate pharmacy benefits contracts. As the old saying goes, “Everything is negotiable.” The next time your pharmacy benefits contract comes up for renewal, see whether the vendor will do better. In addition, look around the marketplace for other providers and see if one of them can make a more economical offer.
There’s no silver bullet for lowering the expense of health care benefits. To manage these costs, you must understand the specifics of your plan as well as the economic factors that drive expenses up and down. Please contact our firm for assistance and additional information.
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 adjusted gross income (AGI) 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.
With such intense focus on digital marketing these days, business owners can overlook the fact that there are actual, physical places to interact with the buying public. Now that spring is here and summer is on the way, it’s a good time to rediscover the possibilities of “street marketing.” Here are seven strategies to consider:
1. Set up a booth at an outdoor festival or public event. Give out product samples or brochures to inform potential customers about your company. You might also hand out small souvenirs, such as key chains, pens or magnets with your contact info.
2. Dispatch employees into a crowd or neighborhood. Have staff members walk around outdoor events or busy areas with samples or brochures. Just be sure to train them to be friendly and nonconfrontational. If appropriate, employees might wear distinctive clothing or even costumes or sandwich boards to draw attention.
3. Leave brochures at local businesses. While employees are walking the streets, they may encounter other businesses, such as hair salons and fitness centers, that allow visitors to leave marketing brochures. Some let you leave such information for free, but others may charge a nominal fee. Instruct employees to ask first.
4. Post fliers. Institutions such as libraries, universities and apartment buildings often have bulletin boards where businesses can post information about services or events. Take advantage of such venues.
5. Host a reception or social event. Street marketing doesn’t have to happen on the street. You can become the event by sponsoring a gathering at a restaurant or similar venue. Socializing tends to put current customers and prospects in an approachable mood and gives you a chance to talk up your latest products or services.
6. Hold information sessions on topics of expertise. In a less social but more informative sense, you can position yourself as an expert on a given topic to market your business. For example, a home alarm system company could host a crime-prevention seminar. You might display product or service information at the session but not make a sales pitch.
7. Attend small business seminars or chamber of commerce meetings. If yours is a B2B company, these gatherings can be a great way to subtly publicize your services to other local businesses. Even if you sell directly to the public, you may be able to pick up some sales leads or at least get a better feel for your local economy.
There’s no denying the sea change in marketing over the past decade or two. Digital approaches are now dominant. But augmenting your online activities with some good old-fashioned legwork can help boost your success. For further information and ideas about growing your business, please contact our firm.
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.
“Blockchain” may sound like something that goes on a vehicle’s tires in icy weather or that perhaps is part of that vehicle’s engine. Indeed it is a type of technology that may help drive business worldwide at some point soon — but digitally, not physically. No matter what your industry, now’s a good time to start learning about blockchain.
Blockchain is sometimes also called “distributed ledger technology.” It was introduced in 2009 to support digital “cryptocurrencies” such as bitcoin. Entries in each digital ledger are stored in blocks, with each block containing a timestamp and providing a link to the previous block.
Typically, a blockchain is managed on a secure peer-to-peer network with protocols for validating blocks. Once data is recorded, no one can change it without altering all other blocks — which requires approval by most network participants. Blockchain proponents argue that this process essentially authenticates all information entered.
The financial industry led the way in recognizing blockchain’s potential, foreseeing that users could execute transactions without relying on banks and other third parties. Another potential application is in the M&A sphere. Buyers and sellers could shift due diligence documentation to blockchain, so financial and legal advisors wouldn’t have to spend as much time poring over so many different and disparate records. The M&A process could thereby be completed more quickly.
There are also many industries that could employ blockchain technology to conduct quicker and more secure transactions or simply track data more efficiently.
Take manufacturers, as well as virtually any supply chain business: Blockchain could provide safeguards against errors, fraud or tampering. This functionality could bolster trust among supply chain partners. Over the long run, blockchain may even eliminate the need for third-party payment processors.
Another example: the health care industry. Blockchain could be used to better secure electronic health information, improve billing and claims processing, and enhance the integrity of the prescription drug supply chain. All of this could positively impact the health care insurance market for every employer.
Ahead of the curve
Most business owners don’t need to scramble to incorporate blockchain-related technology right this minute. But you might want to get ahead of the curve by learning more about it now and pondering some ways that blockchain could affect your company. Let us know if you need further information or other ideas on the future of business.
The attitudes and behaviors of your people managers play a critical role in your company’s success. When your managers are putting forth their best effort, the more likely it is that you’ll, in turn, get the best performances out of the rest of your employees. Here are three ways to supercharge your supervisors:
1. Transform them into teachers. Today’s people managers must be more than team leaders — they must also be teachers. Attentive managers look for situations that will help subordinates learn how to work smarter and more efficiently.
Typically, learning occurs most readily when rewards are applied as close to the intended behavior’s occurrence as possible. Thus, train managers to look for moments when employees are being successful and to immediately recognize those efforts. Managers should praise them in the presence of others and regularly. Low-cost rewards such as the occasional free lunch or gift card can also be highly motivational.
2. Turbo-boost their reaction times. Be sure people managers address problems right away. The operative word there is “address,” and its meaning may vary depending on the nature of the trouble.
For minor difficulties, just leaving a friendly voice mail or carefully worded email may do the trick. But for more serious conflicts or dilemmas, a thorough investigation is important, followed by face-to-face meetings documented in writing. In either case, it’s imperative not to let problems fester.
3. Turn off their micromanagement switch. While people managers need to keep an eye out for good and bad behavior, they shouldn’t micromanage. Those who perch atop employees’ shoulders, checking every detail of their work, are as bad for a business as rude customer service or defective products.
Why? Because the more people managers micromanage, the more they communicate the wrong message — that they don’t believe employees can get the job done. Micromanaging not only lowers morale, but also hinders efficiency, as the manager is basically spending valuable time doing the employee’s job rather than his or her own.
In the day-to-day grind of keeping a business running, people managers can understandably get worn down. If yours need a lift, consider reinforcing the points above in training sessions or during performance evaluations. For further information and other ideas, contact us.
We live and work in an era of big data. Banks are active participants, keeping a keen eye on metrics that help them accurately estimate risk of default.
As you look for a loan, try to find out how each bank will evaluate your default probability. Many do so using spreadsheets that track multiple financial ratios. When one of these key ratios goes askew, a red flag goes up on their end — and the loan may be denied.
To avoid getting “ratio’d” in this manner, business owners should familiarize themselves with some of the more common metrics that banks use to gauge creditworthiness.
For example, banks will compare cash and receivables to current liabilities. If this ratio starts slipping, you’ll likely need to push accounts receivable so money comes in more quickly or better manage inventory to keep cash flow moving. Other examples of financial benchmarks include:
Some banks may also calculate company- or industry-specific performance metrics. For instance, a warehouse might report daily shipments or inventory turnover, not just total asset turnover. Meanwhile, a retailer might provide sales graphs that highlight product mixes, sales rep performance, daily units sold and variances over the same week’s sales from the previous year.
Bear in mind that not every bank uses ratios to evaluate performance, or they may combine ratio analysis with other benchmarking tools. Some use community-based scoring, by which a selected group of finance professionals rate and review companies based on their payment histories. Others use proprietary commercial-scoring models that use creditor reports to develop credit scores for businesses.
When a strategic initiative fails to launch because your business can’t obtain financing, it can be crushing. To prevent such disappointment, have your financials in order and target as many common ratios as possible. Please contact our firm for help evaluating your performance and determining where you may need to improve to obtain a loan.
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.
When a business decides to hold a retreat for its employees, the first question to be answered usually isn’t “What’s our agenda?” or “Whom should we invite as a guest speaker?” Rather, the first item on the table is, “Where should we have it?”
Many employees, and some business owners, might assume a company retreat, by definition, must take place off-site. But this isn’t necessarily so. Holding an on-site retreat is an option — and a markedly cost-effective one at that. Then again, it may also recall the old adage: You get what you pay for.
There are several ways that staying put can better keep out-of-pocket expenses in check. The most obvious is that you won’t need to rent one or more meeting rooms. Perhaps even more important, no one at your company will need to spend valuable time and energy calling around to various hotels, gathering information and negotiating costs.
You’ll also likely spend less on food and beverages. A local restaurant can probably cater in the food for a nominal sum, and you could buy beverages in bulk. Furthermore, you’ll have no concerns or expenses associated with transporting employees to the retreat location (as long as your employees all work on site).
Problem is, employees tend to view on-site retreats as just another day at the office, making it hard to turn on creative juices and accomplish goals. They’re constantly tempted to run back to their desks to check their emails and voice mails. Worse yet, they may consider their employer a little too cost-conscious, if you catch our drift.
Generally, people are better able to focus on a retreat agenda at off-site locations. They’re in a new, “special” environment that has no visual cues triggering their workday routines. So, even though you’ll incur additional costs, you may get a better return on investment.
During the planning process, remember that everything is negotiable. Hotels and facilities that host company retreats need and want your business. Get several quotes and compare prices and services. You’ll have more leverage if you avoid scheduling your retreat during a time of year when local venues tend to be busy.
Because hotels earn bigger margins on food, beverages and meeting setup fees, many will provide complimentary or discounted rooms for guest speakers and out-of-town employees. Also, try to negotiate a set food and beverage price for the entire retreat, rather than a per-person or per-event rate.
In addition, don’t be shy about asking for discounts. For example, if the facility requires an advance deposit and the balance at the end of the retreat rather than giving you 30 days to pay, request a prompt-pay discount.
Thinking it through
Not every company can afford to fly their staff to Aruba and hold beachside brainstorming sessions replete with tropical beverages. But crowding everyone into the break room and expecting mind-blowing strategic ideas to flow forth probably isn’t realistic, either. Find a suitable and productive point somewhere in between. Let us know if we can help with further information or more ideas.
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.
An old business adage says, “Sales is a numbers game.” In other words, the more potential buyers you face, the better your chances of making sales. This isn’t completely true, of course; success also depends on execution.
Nonetheless, when a company builds a pipeline to funnel prospects to its sales team, it will increase the opportunities for these staff members to strike and close deals. Here are some ways to undertake construction.
Do your research
First, establish a profile of the organizations that are the best candidates for your products or services. Criteria should include:
Next, think lead generation. The two best sources for generating leads are companywide marketing activities and individual salesperson initiatives, both of which create name recognition and educate prospects on the benefits of your products or services. Although you may find one method works better for you than the other, try not to be too dependent on either.
3 ways to reach out
Once you identify prospects, your sales team has got to reach out. Here are three ways to consider:
1. Cold calls. Every salesperson has done traditional cold calling — assembling a list of prospects that fit into your established customer profile and then calling or visiting them. Cold calling requires many attempts, and the percentage of interested parties tends to be small. Encourage your sales staff to personalize their message to each prospect so the calls don’t have a “canned” feel.
2. Researched cold calling. Select a subset of the most desirable candidates from your prospect list and do deeper research into these organizations to discover some need that your product or service would satisfy. Work with your sales team to write customized letters to the appropriate decision makers, highlighting your company’s skills in meeting their needs. If possible, quote an existing customer and quantify the benefits. The letter should come from the sales rep and state that he or she will be following up with a phone call. Often, after sending such a letter, getting in the door is a little easier.
3. Referrals. Research potential referral sources just as you study up on sales prospects themselves. Your goal is to develop and maintain a referral network of satisfied customers and other professionals who interact with your prospects. When you get referrals, be sure to send thank-you notes to the sources and keep them informed of your progress.
Go with the flow
Does your business regularly find itself hitting dry spells in which sales prospects seem to evaporate into thin air? If so, it may be because you lack a solid pipeline to keep the identities of those potential buyers flowing in. Contact us for further ideas and information.
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.
For some business owners, succession planning is a complex and delicate matter involving family members and a long, gradual transition out of the company. Others simply sell the business and move on. There are many variations in between, of course, but if you’re leaning toward a business sale, here are seven ways to prepare:
1. Develop or renew your business plan. Identify the challenges and opportunities of your company and explain how and why it’s ready for a sale. Address what distinguishes your business from the competition, and include a viable strategy that speaks to sustainable growth.
2. Ensure you have a solid management team. You should have a management team in place that’s, essentially, a redundancy of you. Your leaders should have the vision and know-how to keep the company moving forward without disruption during and after a sale.
3. Upgrade your technology. Buyers will look much more favorably on a business with up-to-date, reliable and cost-effective IT systems. This may mean investing in upgrades that make your company a “plug and play” proposition for a new owner.
4. Estimate the true value of your business. Obtaining a realistic, carefully calculated business appraisal will lessen the likelihood that you’ll leave money on the table. A professional valuator can calculate a defensible, marketable value estimate.
5. Optimize balance sheet structure. Value can be added by removing nonoperating assets that aren’t part of normal operations, minimizing inventory levels, and evaluating the condition of capital equipment and debt-financing levels.
6. Minimize tax liability. Seek tax advice early in the sale process — before you make any major changes or investments. Recent tax law changes may significantly affect a business owner’s tax position.
7. Assemble all applicable paperwork. Gather and update all account statements and agreements such as contracts, leases, insurance policies, customer/supplier lists and tax filings. Prospective buyers will request these documents as part of their due diligence.
Succession planning should play a role in every business owner’s long-term goals. Selling the business may be the simplest option, though there are many other ways to transition ownership. Please contact our firm for further ideas and information.
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.
Employees tend not to fully appreciate or use their retirement benefits unless their employer communicates with them about the plan clearly and regularly. But workers may miss or ignore your messaging if it all looks and “sounds” the same. That’s why you might want to consider getting more creative. Consider these ideas:
Brighter, more dynamic print materials. There’s no getting around the fact that printed materials remain a widely used method of conveying retirement plan info to participants. But if yours still look the same way they did 10 years ago, employees may file them directly into the recycle bin. Look into whether you should redesign your materials to bring them up to date.
A targeted number of well-formatted emails. You probably augment printed materials with email communications. But finding the right balance here is key. If you’re bombarding employees with too many messages, they might get in the habit of deleting them with barely a glance. Then again, too few messages means your message probably isn’t getting through. Also, like your printed materials, emails need to be well written and formatted.
Social media. Some employers have tried using their social media accounts to keep employees engaged and reminded about benefits. The effectiveness of this will depend on how active you are on social media and how many staff members follow you. It may work well if you have a younger workforce.
“Gamification.” As the name suggests, gamification involves incorporating some fun and a competitive element into benefits education — offering virtual rewards, status indicators or gift cards to successful competitors. Games can include quizzes testing employees’ understanding of their benefits or the fundamentals of retirement planning.
Robocalls. Granted, this may not be an immediately enticing option. These prerecorded calls have largely gotten a bad reputation because of their overuse for sales purposes. But, some employees may appreciate an occasional robocall as a reminder or update that they may have otherwise missed.
Making the problem of benefits communication even tougher is the fact that many companies budget little or even nothing to accomplish this important task. But, considering the cost and effort you put into choosing and maintaining your retirement benefits, effective communication is worth some investment. Let us know how we can help.
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.
Social media can be an inexpensive, but effective, way to market a company’s products or services. Like most businesses today, you’ve probably at least dipped your toe into its waters. Or perhaps you have a full-blown, ongoing social media strategy involving multiple sites and a variety of content.
In either case, it’s important to ask yourself — and keep asking yourself — some fundamental questions about why and how you’re using social media. Here are five to consider:
1. What differentiates your company? This question is more complex than it may appear. When striving to stand out on social media, you’ve got to separate yourself from not only your competitors, but also many other entities vying for your followers’ attention. Look closely into whether your brand “pops” and how dynamic your messages may or may not be.
2. What will your followers react to? Get to know your company’s followers. Remember, this may include current customers and prospects, as well as potential new hires and community leaders or activists. Be careful: In their efforts to get noticed, many companies have crossed the line into offensive or just plain embarrassing content.
3. What do you hope to accomplish? Your social media strategy should be no different from any other profit-building initiative. Establish clear, trackable objectives; allocate a reasonable budget; and assess regularly whether you’re succeeding or failing.
4. How often should you post? There’s no hard and fast rule for how often to post new content. Anyone who’s active on social media knows there’s a limit before you become a nuisance. Then again, posting too infrequently may inhibit you from gaining any traction in the competitive online environment. Appropriate frequency depends in part on the social media site — you should generally post much more often on Twitter than on LinkedIn, for example.
5. Who’s minding the store? Social media requires ongoing attention. In addition to creating new posts, you’ll need to continuously watch for inappropriate comments and block social media “trolls” looking to cause mischief. Make sure that someone’s stated job duties include keeping an eye on every social media account associated with your business.
The answers to these questions can help guide your company’s overall social media strategy. Remember, the social media world is constantly in flux, with new trends and sites arising all the time. You’ve got to keep an inquisitive mind. We can help your business find the right answers to building its bottom line in a variety of ways.
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.
You may keep a wary eye on your competitors, but sometimes it helps to look just a little bit deeper. Even if you’re a big fish in your pond, someone a little bigger may be swimming up just beneath you. Being successful means not just being aware of these competitors, but also knowing their approaches and results.
And that’s where benchmarking comes in. By comparing your company with the leading competition, you can identify weaknesses in your business processes, set goals to correct these problems and keep a constant eye on how your company is doing. In short, benchmarking can help your company grow more successful.
2 basic methods
The two basic benchmarking methods are:
1. Quantitative benchmarking. This compares performance results in terms of key performance indicators (formulas or ratios) in areas such as production, marketing, sales, market share and overall financials.
2. Qualitative benchmarking. Here you compare operating practices — such as production techniques, quality of products or services, training methods, and morale — without regard to results.
You can break down each of these basic methods into more specific methods, defined by how the comparisons are made. For example, internal benchmarking compares similar operations and disseminates best practices within your organization, while competitive benchmarking compares processes and methods with those of your direct competitors.
Waters, familiar and new
The specifics of any benchmarking effort will very much depend on your company’s industry, size, and product or service selection, as well as the state of your current market. Nonetheless, by watching how others navigate the currents, you can learn to swim faster and more skillfully in familiar waters. And, as your success grows, you may even identify optimal opportunities to plunge into new bodies of water.
For more information on this topic, or other profit-enhancement ideas, please contact our firm. We would welcome the opportunity to help you benchmark your way to greater success.
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:
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.
Many businesses train employees how to do their jobs and only their jobs. But amazing things can happen when you also teach staff members to actively involve themselves in a profitability process — that is, an ongoing, idea-generating system aimed at adding value to your company’s bottom line.
Let’s take a closer look at how to get your workforce involved in coming up with profitable ideas and then putting those concepts into action.
6 steps to implementation
Without a system to discover ideas that originate from the day-in, day-out activities of your business, you’ll likely miss opportunities to truly maximize profitability. What you want to do is put a process in place for gathering profit-generating ideas, picking out the most actionable ones and then turning those ideas into results. Here are six steps to implementing such a system:
For the profitability process to be effective, it must be practical, logical and understandable. All employees — not just management — should be able to use it to turn ideas and opportunities into bottom-line results. As a bonus, a well-constructed process can improve business skills and enhance morale as employees learn about profit-enhancement strategies, come up with their own ideas and, in some cases, see those concepts turned into reality.
A successful business
Most employees want to not only succeed at their own jobs, but also work for a successful business. A strong profitability process can help make this happen. To learn more about this and other ways to build your company’s bottom line, 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.
Natural disasters and other calamities can affect any company at any time. Depending on the type of business and its financial stability, a few weeks or months of lost income can leave it struggling to turn a profit indefinitely — or force ownership to sell or close. One way to guard against this predicament is through the purchase of business interruption insurance.
You might say, “But wait! We already have commercial property insurance. Doesn’t that typically pay the costs of a disaster-related disruption?” Not exactly. Your policy may cover some of the individual repairs involved, but it won’t keep you operational.
Business interruption coverage allows you to relocate or temporarily close so you can make the necessary repairs. Essentially, the policy will provide the cash flow to cover revenues lost and expenses incurred while your normal operations are suspended.
2 types of coverage
Generally, business interruption insurance isn’t sold as a separate policy. Instead, it’s added to your existing property coverage. There are two basic types of coverage:
1. Named perils policies. Only specific occurrences listed in the policy are covered, such as fire, water damage and vandalism.
2. All-risk policies. All disasters are covered unless specifically excluded. Many all-risk policies exclude damage from earthquakes and floods, but such coverage can generally be added for an additional fee.
Business interruption insurance usually pays for income that’s lost while operations are suspended. It also covers continuing expenses — including salaries, related payroll costs and other amounts required to restart a business. Depending on the policy, additional expenses might include:
Business interruption coverage that insures you against 100% of losses can be costly. Therefore, more common are policies that cover 80% of losses while the business shoulders the remaining 20%.
Pros and cons
As good as business interruption coverage may sound, your company might not need it if you operate in an area where major natural disasters are uncommon and your other business interruption risks are minimal. The decision on whether to buy warrants careful consideration.
First consult with your insurance agent about business interruption coverage options that could be added to your current property coverage. If you’re still interested, perhaps convene a meeting involving your agent, management team and other professional advisors to brainstorm worst-case scenarios and ask “what if” questions. After all, you don’t want to overinsure, but you also don’t want to underemphasize risk management.
Proper insurance coverage is essential for every company. Let us help you run the numbers and assess the potential value of a business interruption policy.
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.
Every company, big or small, should have a mission statement. Why? When carefully conceived and well written, a mission statement can serve as a beacon to the world — letting everyone know what the business stands for and where it’s headed. It can build customer loyalty and mobilize people behind a common cause. And it can define the company’s collective personality, provide clear direction, and most of all, serve as a starting point for all of your marketing efforts. Here are some elements to consider when writing a mission statement:
Target audience. This starts with customers, of course. But it also includes employees, job candidates, investors, lenders and the community at large. You can focus a mission statement on a combination of these groups or just one of them.
Length. Some mission statements are only a single sentence. Others are long and complex, encompassing philosophies, objectives, plans and strategies. Generally, it’s best to come up with something in the middle that’s concise, easy to understand and actionable — again, a viewpoint from which your company will express itself and make decisions.
Tone. Establishing the correct tone involves a process of intentional word selection. If the language is too flowery and cumbersome, readers may not take a mission statement seriously. Then again, something too short may come off as vague or flippant. Use appropriate language that’s directed at the target audience and reflects your strategic plans.
Endurance. A mission statement should be able to withstand the test of time and, ultimately, have meaning in the long term. By the same token, its language should be current enough to reflect changes in the business and its competitive environment. A statement created years ago may no longer be relevant.
Distinctiveness. Every company is different — even those in the same industry. Customize your mission statement to express what’s different and distinguishing about your business.
An effective mission statement can be a great asset to an organization. Develop yours as part of an overall strategic planning process, starting with an analysis of your company’s culture, development, and prioritization of goals and objectives. Contact our firm to discuss this and other ways to enhance profitability.
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.
You’ve probably heard or read the term “big data” at least once in the past few years. Maybe your response was a sarcastic “big deal!” under the assumption that this high-tech concept applies only to large corporations. But this isn’t necessarily true. With so much software so widely available, companies of all sizes may be able to devise and implement big data strategies all their own.
Trends, patterns, relationships
The term “big data” generally refers to any large set of electronic information that, with the right hardware and software, can be analyzed to identify trends, patterns and relationships.
Most notably for businesses, it can help you better understand and predict customer behavior — specifically buying trends (upward and downward) and what products or services customers might be looking for. But big data can also lend insights to your HR function, helping you better understand employees and potential hires, and enabling you to fine-tune your benefits program.
Think of big data as the product recommendation function on Amazon. When buying anything via the site or app, customers are provided a list of other items they also may be interested in. These recommendations are generated through a patented software process that makes an educated guess, based on historical data, on consumer preferences. These same software tools can make predictions about aspects of your business, too — from sales to marketing return on investment, to employee retention and performance.
Here are a couple of specific areas where big data may help improve your company:
Sales. Many businesses still adhere to the tried-and-true sales funnel that includes the various stages of prospecting, assessment, qualification and closing. Overlaying large proprietary consumer-behavior data sets over your customer database may allow you to reach conclusions about the most effective way to close a deal with your ideal prospects.
Inventory management. If your company has been around for a while, you may think you know your inventory pretty well. But do you, really? Using big data, you may be able to better determine and predict which items tend to disappear too quickly and which ones are taking up too much space.
Planning and optimization
Big data isn’t exactly new anymore. But it continues to evolve with the widespread use of cloud computing, which allows companies of any size to securely store and analyze massive amounts of data online. Our firm can offer assistance in planning and optimizing your technology spending.
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.
For many years, owners of small and midsize businesses looked at outsourcing much like some homeowners viewed hiring a cleaning person. That is, they saw it as a luxury. But no more — in today’s increasingly specialized economy, outsourcing has become a common way to cut costs and obtain expert assistance.
Why would you?
Outsourcing certain tasks that your company has been handling all along offers many benefits. Let’s begin with cost savings. Outsourcing a function effectively could save you a substantial percentage of in-house management expenses by reducing overhead, staffing and training costs. And thanks to the abundant number of independent contractors and providers of outsourced services, you may be able to bargain for competitive pricing.
Outsourcing also allows you to leave administration and support tasks to someone else, freeing up staff members to focus on your company’s core purpose. Plus, the firms that perform these functions are specialists, offering much higher service quality and greater innovations and efficiencies than you could likely muster.
Last, think about accountability — in many cases, vendors will be much more familiar with the laws, regulations and processes behind their specialties and therefore be in a better position to help ensure tasks are done in compliance with any applicable laws and regulations.
What’s the catch?
Of course, potential disadvantages exist as well. Outsourcing a business function obviously means surrendering some control of your personal management style in that area. Some business owners and executives have a tough time with this.
Another issue: integration. Every provider may not mesh with your company’s culture. A bad fit may lead to communication breakdowns and other problems.
Also, in rare cases, you may risk negative publicity from a vendor’s actions. There have been many stories over the years of companies suffering PR damage because of poor working conditions or employment practices at an outsourced facility. You’ve got to research any potential vendor thoroughly to ensure its actions won’t reflect poorly on your business.
To further protect yourself, stipulate your needs carefully in the contract. Pinpoint milestones you can use to ensure deliverables produced up to that point are complete, correct, on time and within budget. And don’t hesitate to tie partial payments to these milestones and assess penalties or even reserve the right to terminate if service falls below a specified level.
Last, build in clauses giving you intellectual property rights to any software or other items a provider develops. After all, you paid for it.
Need more time?
Outsourcing may not be the right solution every time. But it could help your business find more time to flourish and grow. We can help you assess the costs, benefits and risks.
The IRS has just announced that it will begin accepting 2017 income tax returns on January 29. You may be more concerned about the April 17 filing deadline, or even the extended deadline of October 15 (if you file for an extension by April 17). After all, why go through the hassle of filing your return earlier than you have to?
But it can be a good idea to file as close to January 29 as possible: Doing so helps protect you from tax identity theft.
Here’s why early filing helps: In an all-too-common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.
A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.
Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.
The IRS is working with the tax industry and states to improve safeguards to protect taxpayers from tax identity theft. But filing early may be your best defense.
W-2s and 1099s
Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2017 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099 to recipients of any 2017 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.
If you don’t receive a W-2 or 1099, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If by mid-February you still haven’t received it, you can contact the IRS for help.
Of course, if you’ll be getting a refund, another good thing about filing early is that you’ll get your refund sooner. The IRS expects over 90% of refunds to be issued within 21 days.
E-filing and requesting a direct deposit refund generally will result in a quicker refund and also can be more secure. If you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2017 return early, please contact us.
For many companies, there comes a time when owners must decide whether to renew a lease, move on to a different one or buy new (or pre-existing) space. In some cases, it’s a relatively easy decision. Maybe you’re happy where you are and feel like such a part of the local community that moving isn’t an option.
But, in other cases, a move can be an important step forward. For example, if a business is looking to cut costs, reducing office space and signing a less expensive lease can generally help the bottom line. Conversely, a growing company might decide to buy property and build new to increase its prestige and visibility. Making the right choice is critical.
Buying office space is clearly a major undertaking. But owning your own building can give you flexibility and tax advantages a lease can’t offer. For instance, you can:
You’ll also benefit from mortgage interest and depreciation deductions at tax time.
Naturally, there are risks to ownership. For one, you won’t be able to easily pick up and move on. And if you’re structured as a flow-through entity, you’ll need to decide how the owners will share the cost of buying and maintaining the building. Keep in mind that the building need not be owned in the same proportion as the business itself.
There are other matters to consider as well. You’ll have to delegate responsibility for arranging and overseeing activities such as exterior maintenance, cleaning, and paying taxes and insurance. Plus, if you decide to sublet some of your space, you’ll need to wear one more hat — that of a landlord.
Lessees look out
Of course, as you may well know from doing it for a number of years, leasing business space has its downsides, too. Perhaps you’ve dealt with a particularly unresponsive landlord or property management company. You may also have less freedom to change or rearrange space — not to mention ever-increasing rent and the loss of mortgage interest and depreciation tax deductions. If you decide to move, though, it’s easier to leave a rented office than to sell one you own.
Ultimately, it’s a question of net present values. Will the present value of the capital appreciation you ultimately gain when the property is sold be greater than the current cash flow advantage you’d likely have under a lease?
Consider your options
These are just a few of the issues to study as you consider your company’s location and office space heading into a new year. Remember, there may be tax issues not mentioned here or other factors affecting the right decision. Contact us for a full assessment of your options.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) generally reduces individual tax rates for 2018 through 2025. It maintains seven individual income tax brackets but reduces the rates for all brackets except 10% and 35%, which remain the same.
It also makes some adjustments to the income ranges each bracket covers. For example, the 2017 top rate of 39.6% kicks in at $418,401 of taxable income for single filers and $470,701 for joint filers, but the reduced 2018 top rate of 37% takes effect at $500,001 and $600,001, respectively.
Below is a look at the 2018 brackets under the TCJA. Keep in mind that the elimination of the personal exemption, changes to the standard and many itemized deductions, and other changes under the new law could affect the amount of your income that’s subject to tax. Contact us for help assessing what your tax rate likely will be for 2018.
Not over $9,525
10% of the taxable income
Over $9,525 but not over $38,700
$952.50 plus 12% of the excess over $9,525
Over $38,700 but not over $82,500
$4,453.50 plus 22% of the excess over $38,700
Over $82,500 but not over $157,500
$14,089.50 plus 24% of the excess over $82,500
Over $157,500 but not over $200,000
$32,089.50 plus 32% of the excess over $157,500
Over $200,000 but not over $500,000
$45,689.50 plus 35% of the excess over $200,000
$150,689.50 plus 37% of the excess over $500,000
Heads of households
Not over $13,600
10% of the taxable income
Over $13,600 but not over $51,800
$1,360 plus 12% of the excess over $13,600
Over $51,800 but not over $82,500
$5,944 plus 22% of the excess over $51,800
Over $82,500 but not over $157,500
$12,698 plus 24% of the excess over $82,500
Over $157,500 but not over $200,000
$30,698 plus 32% of the excess over $157,500
Over $200,000 but not over $500,000
$44,298 plus 35% of the excess over $200,000
$149,298 plus 37% of the excess over $500,000
Married individuals filing joint returns and surviving spouses
Not over $19,050
10% of the taxable income
Over $19,050 but not over $77,400
$1,905 plus 12% of the excess over $19,050
Over $77,400 but not over $165,000
$8,907 plus 22% of the excess over $77,400
Over $165,000 but not over $315,000
$28,179 plus 24% of the excess over $165,000
Over $315,000 but not over $400,000
$64,179 plus 32% of the excess over $315,000
Over $400,000 but not over $600,000
$91,379 plus 35% of the excess over $400,000
$161,379 plus 37% of the excess over $600,000
Married individuals filing separate returns
Not over $9,525
10% of the taxable income
Over $9,525 but not over $38,700
$952.50 plus 12% of the excess over $9,525
Over $38,700 but not over $82,500
$4,453.50 plus 22% of the excess over $38,700
Over $82,500 but not over $157,500
$14,089.50 plus 24% of the excess over $82,500
Over $157,500 but not over $200,000
$32,089.50 plus 32% of the excess over $157,500
Over $200,000 but not over $300,000
$45,689.50 plus 35% of the excess over $200,000
$80,689.50 plus 37% of the excess over $300,000
As a business owner, you know that it’s easy to spend nearly every working hour on the multitude of day-to-day tasks and crises that never seem to end. It’s essential to your company’s survival, however, to find time for strategic planning.
Lost in the weeds
Business owners put off strategic planning for many reasons. New initiatives, for example, usually don’t begin to show tangible results for some time, which can prove frustrating. But perhaps the most significant hurdle is the view that strategic planning is a time-sucking luxury that takes one’s focus off of the challenges directly in front of you.
Although operational activities are obviously essential to keeping your company running, they’re not enough to keep it moving forward and evolving. Accomplishing the latter requires strategic planning. Without it, you can get lost in the weeds, working constantly yet blindly, only to look up one day to find your business teetering on the edge of a cliff — whether because of a tough new competitor, imminent product or service obsolescence, or some other development that you didn’t see coming.
Quality vs. quantity
So how much time should you and your management team devote to strategic planning? There’s no universal answer. Some experts say a CEO should spend only 50% of his or her time on daily operations, with the other half going to strategy — a breakdown that could be unrealistic for some.
The emphasis is better put on quality rather than quantity. However many hours you decide to spend on strategic planning, use that time solely for plotting the future of your company. Block off your schedule, choose a designated and private place (such as a conference room), and give it your undivided attention. Make time for strategic planning just as you would for tending to an important customer relationship.
Time well spent
Effective strategic planning calls for not only identifying the right business-growing initiatives, but also regularly re-evaluating and adjusting them as circumstances change. Thus, strategizing should be part of your weekly or monthly routine — not just a “once in a while, as is convenient” activity. You may need to delegate some of your current operational tasks to make that happen but, in the long run, it will be time well spent. Please let us know how we can help.
On December 20, Congress completed passage of the largest federal tax reform law in more than 30 years. Commonly called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA), the new law means substantial changes for individual taxpayers.
The following is a brief overview of some of the most significant provisions. Except where noted, these changes are effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026.
Be aware that additional rules and limits apply. Also, there are many more changes in the TCJA that will impact individuals. If you have questions or would like to discuss how you might be affected, please contact us.
There’s an old saying regarding family-owned businesses: “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” It means the first-generation owner started in shirtsleeves and built the company up from nothing but, by the third generation, the would-be owner is back in shirtsleeves with nothing because the business failed or was sold.
Although you can’t guarantee your company will buck this trend, you can take extra care when choosing a successor to give your family business a fighting chance. Here are seven steps to consider:
1. Make no assumptions. Many business owners assume their son or daughter wants to run the company or that a particular child is right for the role. But such an assumption can doom the company.
2. Decide which family members are viable candidates, if any. External parties such as professional advisors or an advisory board can provide invaluable input. Outsiders are more likely to be impartial and have no vested interest in your decision. They might help you realize that someone who’s not in your family is the best choice.
3. Look at skills and temperament. Once you’ve settled on a few candidates, hold private meetings with each to discuss the leadership role. Get a feel for whether anyone you’re considering may lack the skills or temperament to run the business.
4. If there are multiple candidates, give each a fair shot. This is no different from what happens in publicly held companies and larger private businesses. Allow each qualified candidate to fill a position at the company and move up the management ladder.
5. Rotate the jobs each candidate performs, if possible. Let them gain experience in many areas of the business, gradually increasing their responsibilities and setting more rigorous goals. You’ll not only groom a better leader, but also potentially create a deeper management team.
6. Clearly communicate your decision. After a reasonable period of time, pick your successor. Meet with the chosen candidate to discuss a transition time line, compensation and other important issues. Also sit down with those not selected and explain your choice. Ideally, these individuals can stay on to provide the aforementioned management depth. Some, however, may choose to leave or be better off working elsewhere. Be forewarned: This can be a difficult, emotional time for family members.
7. Work with your successor on a well-communicated transition of power. Once you’ve picked a successor, he or she effectively becomes a business partner. It’s up to the two of you to gradually shift power from one generation to the next (assuming the business is staying in the family). Don’t underestimate the human element and how much time and effort will be required to make the succession work. Let us help you meet and overcome this critical challenge.
Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, but with inflation remaining low, most of the limits remain unchanged for 2018. But one piece of good news for taxpayers who’re already maxing out their contributions is that the 401(k) limit has gone up by $500. The only other limit that has increased from the 2017 level is for contributions to defined contribution plans, which has gone up by $1,000.
Type of limit
Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2)
Contributions to defined contribution plans
Contributions to SIMPLEs
Contributions to IRAs
Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2)
Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs
Catch-up contributions to IRAs
If you’re not already maxing out your contributions to other plans, you still have an opportunity to save more in 2018. And if you turn age 50 in 2018, you can begin to take advantage of catch-up contributions.
Higher-income taxpayers should also be pleased that some limits on their retirement plan contributions that had been discussed as part of tax reform didn’t make it into the final legislation.
However, keep in mind that there are still additional factors that may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions.
If you have questions about how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2018, check with us.
Many people scoff at New Year’s resolutions. It’s no mystery why — these self-directed promises to visit the gym regularly or read a book a month tend to quickly fade once the unavoidable busyness of life sets in.
But, for business owners, the phrase “New Year’s resolutions” is just a different way of saying “strategic plans.” And these are nothing to scoff at. In fact, now is the perfect time to take a critical look at your company and make some earnest promises about improving profitability in 2018.
Ask tough questions
Begin by asking some tough questions. For example: How satisfied are you with the status quo of your business? Are you happy with your profitability or had you anticipated a much stronger bottom line at this point in your company’s existence? If you were to sell tomorrow, would you get a fair return based on what you’ve invested in effort and money?
If your answers to these questions leave you more dissatisfied than pleased, your New Year’s resolutions may have to be bold. This doesn’t mean you should do something rash. But there’s no harm in envisioning next year as the greatest 12 months in the history of your business and then trying to figure out how you might get there.
Rate your profitability
To assess your company’s financial status, begin by honestly gauging your current performance. Rate your profitability on a scale of 1 to 10, where adequate working capital, long-term employees and customers, consistent growth in revenues and profit, and smooth operations equal a 10.
Many business owners will apply numbers somewhere between a 5 and a 7 to these categories. If you rate your business a 6, for example, this means your company isn’t tapping into 40% of its profit-generating capacity. Consider the level of improvement you would realize by moving up just one notch — to a 7.
Identify areas for improvement
One way to discover your company’s unrealized profit enhancement opportunities is to ask your customers and employees. They know firsthand what you are good at, as well as what needs improvement.
For instance, years ago, when the American auto industry was taking its biggest hits from foreign imports, one of the Big Three manufacturers was experiencing significant customer complaints about poor paint jobs. An upper-level executive visited the paint shop in one of its factories and asked an employee about the source of the problem. The worker replied, “I thought you’d never ask,” and proceeded to explain in detail what was wrong and how to solve it.
Get ready for change
If you have a few New Year’s resolutions in mind but aren’t sure how to implement these ideas or how financially feasible they might be, please contact our firm. We can work with you to identify areas of your business ready for change and help you attain a higher level of success next year.
Charitable giving can be a powerful tax-saving strategy: Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and you have complete control over when and how much you give. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind this year to ensure you receive the tax benefits you desire.
To be deductible on your 2017 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2017. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?
The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:
Check. The date you mail it.
Credit card. The date you make the charge.
Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.
Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.
Qualified charity status
To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.
Potential impact of tax reform
The charitable donation deduction isn’t among the deductions that have been proposed for elimination or reduction under tax reform. In fact, income-based limits on how much can be deducted in a particular year might be expanded, which will benefit higher-income taxpayers who make substantial charitable gifts.
However, for many taxpayers, accelerating into this year donations that they might normally give next year may make sense for a couple of tax-reform-related reasons:
Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making — or the potential impact of tax reform on your charitable giving plans.
The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution isn’t coming — it’s here. While AI’s potential for your company might not seem immediately obvious, this technology is capable of helping businesses of all shapes and sizes “get smart.”
AI generally refers to the use of computer systems to perform tasks commonly thought to require human intelligence. Examples include image perception, voice recognition, problem solving and decision making. AI includes machine learning, an iterative process where machines improve their performance over time based on examples and structured feedback rather than explicit programming.
3 applications to consider
Businesses can use AI to improve a variety of functions. Three specific applications to consider are:
1. Sales and marketing. You might already use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, but introducing AI to it can really put the pedal to the metal. AI can go much further — and much faster — than traditional CRM.
For example, AI is able to analyze buyer behavior and consumer sentiments across a range of media, including recorded phone conversations, email, social media and reviews. AI also can, in a relative blink of the eye, process consumer and market data from a far wider range of sources than previously thought possible. And it can automate the repetitive tasks that eat up your sales or marketing team’s time.
All of this results in quicker generation of qualified leads. With AI, you can deploy your sales force and marketing resources more efficiently and effectively, reducing your cost of customer acquisition along the way.
2. Customer service. Keeping customers satisfied is the key to retaining them. But customers don’t always tell you when they’re unhappy. AI can pick up on negative signals and find correlations to behavior in customer data, empowering you to save important relationships.
You can integrate AI into your customer support function, too. By leaving tasks such as classifying tickets and routing calls to AI, you’ll reduce wait times and free up representatives to focus on customers who need the human touch.
3. Competitive intelligence. Imagine knowing your competitors’ strategies and moves almost as well as your own. AI-based competitive analysis tools will track other companies’ activities across different channels, noting pricing and product changes and subtle shifts in messaging. They can highlight competitors’ strengths and weaknesses that will help you plot your own course.
The future is now
AI isn’t a fad; it’s becoming more and more entrenched in our business and personal lives. Companies that recognize this sea change and jump on board now can save time, cut costs and develop a clear competitive edge. We can assist you in determining how technology investments like AI should fit into your overall plans for investing in your business.
The year is quickly drawing to a close, but there’s still time to take steps to reduce your 2017 tax liability — you just must act by December 31:
Many of these strategies could be particularly beneficial if tax reform is signed into law this year that, beginning in 2018, reduces tax rates and limits or eliminates certain deductions (such as property tax, mortgage interest and medical expense deductions — though the Senate bill would actually reduce the medical expense deduction AGI floor to 7.5% for 2017 and 2018, potentially allowing more taxpayers to qualify for the deduction in these years and to enjoy a larger deduction).
Keep in mind, however, that in certain situations these strategies might not make sense. For example, if you’ll be subject to the alternative minimum tax this year or be in a higher tax bracket next year, taking some of these steps could have undesirable results. (Even with tax reform legislation, some taxpayers might find themselves in higher brackets next year.)
If you’re unsure whether these steps are right for you, consult us before taking action.
Year end can’t get here soon enough for some business owners — especially those whose companies have exceeded their annual budgets. If you find yourself in this unenviable position, you can still cut costs to either improve this year’s financial picture or put yourself in a better position for next year.
Tackle staffing issues
It’s easy to put off tough staffing decisions, but those issues may represent an unnecessary drain on your finances. If you have employees who don’t have enough work to keep busy, think about restructuring jobs so everyone’s productive. You might let go of extra staff, or, alternatively, offer mostly idle workers unpaid time off during slow periods.
You also need to face the hard facts about underperforming workers. Few business owners enjoy firing anyone, but it makes little sense to continue to pay poor performers.
Take control of purchasing
Are you getting the most out of your company’s combined purchasing power? You may have different departments independently buying the same supplies or services (for example, paper, computers, photocopying). By consolidating such purchases, you might be able to negotiate reduced prices.
To strengthen your bargaining power with suppliers when seeking discounts, pay your bills promptly. Even if it doesn’t help you land reduced prices, you’ll avoid late payment fees and credit card interest charges.
But don’t just continue to pay bills mindlessly. Review all of your service invoices — especially those that are automatically deducted from your bank accounts or charged to credit cards — to confirm you’re actually using the services. Consider canceling any services you haven’t used in 90 days.
Redirect your marketing efforts
Advertising costs can take a significant bite out of your budget, and the priciest efforts often have the lowest returns on investment. Cut programs and initiatives that haven’t clearly paid off, and move your marketing to social media and other more cost-efficient avenues — at least temporarily. A single, positively received tweet may reach exponentially more people than a costly directory listing, print ad or trade show booth.
Resist the urge to solve your budget shortfalls with one dramatic cut — the risks are simply too high. The better approach is to execute a combination of incremental actions that will add up to savings. Contact us for a full assessment of your company’s budget.
We’re entering the giving season, and if making financial gifts to your loved ones is part of your plans — or if you’d simply like to reduce your capital gains tax — consider giving appreciated stock instead of cash this year. Doing so might allow you to eliminate all federal tax liability on the appreciation, or at least significantly reduce it.
Leveraging lower rates
Investors generally are subject to a 15% tax rate on their long-term capital gains (20% if they’re in the top ordinary income tax bracket of 39.6%). But the long-term capital gains rate is 0% for gain that would be taxed at 10% or 15% based on the taxpayer’s ordinary-income rate.
In addition, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 per year ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately) may owe the net investment income tax (NIIT). The NIIT equals 3.8% of the lesser of your net investment income or the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold.
If you have loved ones in the 0% bracket, you may be able to take advantage of it by transferring appreciated assets to them. The recipients can then sell the assets at no or a low federal tax cost.
The strategy in action
Faced with a long-term capital gains tax rate of 23.8% (20% for the top tax bracket, plus the 3.8% NIIT), Rick and Sara decide to transfer some appreciated stock to their adult daughter, Maia. Just out of college and making only enough from her entry-level job to leave her with $25,000 in taxable income, Maia falls into the 15% income tax bracket. Therefore, she qualifies for the 0% long-term capital gains rate.
However, the 0% rate applies only to the extent that capital gains “fill up” the gap between Maia’s taxable income and the top end of the 15% bracket. In 2017, the 15% bracket for singles tops out at $37,950.
When Maia sells the stock her parents transferred to her, her capital gains are $20,000. Of that amount $12,950 qualifies for the 0% rate and the remaining $7,050 is taxed at 15%. Maia pays only $1,057.50 of federal tax on the sale vs. the $4,760 her parents would have owed had they sold the stock themselves.
Before acting, make sure the recipients won’t be subject to the “kiddie tax.” Also consider any gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax consequences.
For more information on transfer taxes, the kiddie tax or capital gains planning, please contact us. We can help you find the strategies that will best achieve your goals.
It’s that time of year, business owners — a time when you’re not only trying to wind down the calendar in profitable fashion, but also preparing year-end financials and contemplating next year’s budget.
And amidst all this, you likely have a holiday employee gathering to plan. This seemingly innocuous task can be just as tricky as the rest. It’s imperative to practice the fine art of inclusion at holiday parties so everyone feels engaged and rewarded for their hard work. Here are some ways to do so:
Involve staff in the planning. Have workers of different faiths and cultures serve on your holiday party committee. Be sure to incorporate as much of their personal holiday traditions as possible or employees may feel like they wasted their time participating on this task. By sharing family customs, workers will get to know one another better.
Celebrate differences. Rather than prohibiting all holiday-specific ornamentation in your office or at your holiday party, allow an assortment of decorations that reflect your staff’s varying traditions. And encourage employees to bring in their favorite holiday treats for all to sample. This is a great opportunity for workers to learn more about other cultures.
Say thank you to everyone. Food, drinks and bonus checks have become a holiday party focal point for many businesses. But, remember, there’s real power in explicitly saying thanks to workers. Doing so can range from passing out holiday cards with handwritten messages (from ownership or a direct supervisor) to having each department head give a presentation remarking on everyone’s individual achievements.
Pay attention to details. Like most work matters, details count — especially when planning a party. Here are some questions to ask when setting up your event:
In worst cases, a poorly planned holiday party can end up hurting morale and even triggering legal expenses if someone feels particularly excluded or offended. On the brighter side, a fun and inclusive gathering can conclude the year on a wonderful note. Let us help you manage the cost-effectiveness (and just plain effectiveness) of your company’s employee engagement activities.
As the end of the year approaches, most of us have a lot of things on our to-do lists, from gift shopping to donating to our favorite charities to making New Year’s Eve plans. For taxpayers “of a certain age” with a tax-advantaged retirement account, as well as younger taxpayers who’ve inherited such an account, there may be one more thing that’s critical to check off the to-do list before year end: Take required minimum distributions (RMDs).
A huge penalty
After you reach age 70½, you generally must take annual RMDs from your:
An RMD deferral is available in the initial year, but then you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year. The RMD rule can be avoided for Roth 401(k) accounts by rolling the balance into a Roth IRA.
For taxpayers who inherit a retirement plan, the RMD rules generally apply to defined-contribution plans and both traditional and Roth IRAs. (Special rules apply when the account is inherited from a spouse.)
RMDs usually must be taken by December 31. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t.
Should you withdraw more than the RMD?
Taking only RMDs generally is advantageous because of tax-deferred compounding. But a larger distribution in a year your tax bracket is low may save tax.
Be sure, however, to consider the lost future tax-deferred growth and, if applicable, whether the distribution could: 1) cause Social Security payments to become taxable, 2) increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges, or 3) affect other tax breaks with income-based limits.
Also keep in mind that, while retirement plan distributions aren’t subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax or 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), they are included in your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). That means they could trigger or increase the NIIT, because the thresholds for that tax are based on MAGI.
For more information on RMDs or tax-savings strategies for your retirement plan distributions, please contact us.
Business owners have to make tough choices when it comes to providing benefits to their employees. Many companies, especially newer or smaller ones, may understandably prioritize flexibility. No one wants to get locked into a benefits offering that’s cumbersome to administer and expensive to maintain.
Well, there’s one possibility that has the word “flexible” built right into its name: the health care Flexible Spending Account (FSA). And these arrangements certainly offer that.
No HDHP required, employee contributions allowed
You’ve probably heard about Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). These increasingly popular benefits options allow employees to pay for qualifying health care costs with pretax dollars. But each one comes with a critical catch: You must offer HSAs in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and your business can be the only contributor to an HRA.
These limitations don’t apply to FSAs. An HDHP isn’t required, and both employees and the business itself can contribute to the account. Employee contributions are made pretax directly from their compensation, and any contributions you make as an employer aren’t included in your company’s taxable income. (Note: For employees who have an HSA, their FSA would be limited to funding certain “permitted” expenses.)
So there’s that flexibility we mentioned. You can establish an FSA relatively quickly without having to commit to an HDHP, and both you and your employees can contribute. Now the drawback: FSAs are “use it or lose it” accounts. In other words, a participant generally must forfeit any unused balance remaining in his or her account after year end.
There is, however, a way to soften this downside. Employers can include in their FSAs either a grace period of up to 2½ months or a $500 carryover amount. Doing so can add even more flexibility to the FSA concept.
If you decide to establish a health care FSA, be prepared to regularly communicate with employees about it throughout the year. When funding their accounts, participants will need to carefully estimate how much money they’re likely to spend over the course of the year. And around the end of the year you’ll need to remind them that, if funds remain in their FSAs, employees will need to incur reimbursable expenses by Dec. 31 to use up those dollars (again, assuming you don’t have a grace period or carryover amount).
No easy answers
There are no easy answers when it comes to employee benefits these days. But FSAs can be a relatively simple to administer benefit that’s appealing to employees. Let us help you assess your options and make the best choice for your business.
Accelerating deductible expenses, such as property tax on your home, into the current year typically is a good idea. Why? It will defer tax, which usually is beneficial. Prepaying property tax may be especially beneficial this year, because proposed tax legislation might reduce or eliminate the benefit of the property tax deduction beginning in 2018.
The initial version of the House tax bill would cap the property tax deduction for individuals at $10,000. The initial version of the Senate tax bill would eliminate the property tax deduction for individuals altogether.
In addition, tax rates under both bills would go down for many taxpayers, making deductions less valuable. And because the standard deduction would increase significantly under both bills, some taxpayers might no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.
2017 year-end planning
You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2017 but that are due in 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return. But you generally can’t prepay property tax that relates to 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return.
Prepaying property tax will in most cases be beneficial if the property tax deduction is eliminated beginning in 2018. But even if the property tax deduction is retained, prepaying could still be beneficial. Here’s why:
However, there are a few caveats:
It’s still uncertain what the final legislation will contain and whether it will be passed and signed into law this year. We can help you make the best decision based on tax law change developments and your specific situation.
No business owner wants to send out spam. Even the term “email blast,” the practice of launching a flurry of targeted messages at customers and prospects, has mixed connotations these days.
Yet email remains a viable and even necessary communications channel. Here are four tips on making your marketing emails a blast (in the fun and informative sense) and keeping them out of recipients’ spam folders:
1. Craft a catchy subject line. It should be no longer than eight words and shouldn’t be in all caps. Put yourself in the customer’s place, particularly considering his or her demographic, and ask yourself whether you would open the email. Also, clearly indicate the message’s content.
Example: Office Supplies Blowout! 30% Year-End Discount
2. Write a compelling headline. The first thing readers see upon opening an email is the headline, so make it:
Example: Rock Your Stockroom Now
3. Make it quick, keep it simple. Most people will read very little text and may not wait for slow-loading images. So think of each marketing email as an “elevator speech,” a quick and concise pitch for specific products or services. And keep images relatively small and easy to download.
Customers want to fulfill their needs at a reasonable price. Don’t expect them to search for answers about whether you can meet these expectations. Tell them why they should buy.
Example: Buying office supplies in bulk now will save you time and money throughout next year.
4. Close with a “call to action.” Instill a sense of urgency in readers by setting a deadline and telling them precisely what to do. Otherwise, they may interpret the email as merely informational and file it away for reference or simply delete it. Be sure to include clear, “clickable” contact info.
Example: Offer expires November 30. Call or visit our website now!
Speaking of calls to action, please contact our firm for help ensuring your marketing initiatives are cost effective.
A fundamental tax planning strategy is to accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. This typically will defer (and in some cases permanently reduce) your taxes. But there are exceptions. One is if the additional deductions this year trigger the alternative minimum tax (AMT).
Complicating matters for 2017 is the fact that tax legislation might be signed into law between now and year end that could affect year-end tax planning. For example, as released by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 2, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would repeal the AMT for 2018 and beyond. But the bill would also limit the benefit of some deductions and eliminate others.
The AMT and deductions
Some deductions that currently are allowed for regular tax purposes can trigger the AMT because they aren’t allowed for AMT purposes:
Under traditional AMT strategies, if you expected to be subject to the AMT this year but not next year, to the extent possible, you’d try to defer these expenses until next year. If you ended up not being subject to the AMT this year, in the long-term you generally wouldn’t be any worse off because you could enjoy the tax benefits of these deferred expenses next year.
But under the November 2 version of the House bill, the state and local income tax deduction and certain miscellaneous itemized deductions would be eliminated beginning in 2018. And the property tax deduction would be limited. So if you were to defer such expenses to next year, you might permanently lose some or all of their tax benefit.
Income-related AMT triggers
Deductions aren’t the only things that can trigger the AMT. So can certain income-related items, such as:
If you could be subject to the AMT this year, you may want to avoid exercising stock options. And before executing any asset sales that could involve depreciation adjustments, carefully consider the AMT implications.
Uncertainty complicates planning
It’s still uncertain whether the AMT will be repealed and whether various deductions will be eliminated or limited. The House bill will be revised as lawmakers negotiate on tax reform, and the Senate is releasing its own tax reform bill. It’s also possible Congress won’t be able to pass tax legislation this year.
With proper planning, you may be able to avoid the AMT, reduce its impact or even take advantage of its lower maximum rate (28% vs. 39.6%). But AMT planning is more complicated this year because of tax law uncertainty. We can help you determine the best strategies for your situation.
House Republicans released their tax reform bill on Nov. 2 and it contains many provisions that have been discussed in the past and were included in the framework of the version released in September. While the bill is a step forward in the overall goal of tax reform, there is still a long way to go before comprehensive legislation is passed. We wanted you to be aware of some of the provisions included in this bill that may have particular interest for you and/or your business. They are as follows:
Business Tax Provisions
Individual Tax Provisions
Estate and Gift Tax Provisions
We will continue to monitor the status of this bill to keep our clients and colleagues informed of any changes that may impact them. Please contact us with questions.
Hundreds of years ago, prosperous towns managed the various risks of foreign invaders, thieves and wild animals by fortifying their entire communities with walls and towers. Today’s business owners can take a similar approach with enterprise risk management (ERM).
In short, ERM is an integrated, companywide system of identifying and planning for risk. Many larger companies have entire departments devoted to it. If your business is ready to implement an ERM program, be prepared for a lengthy building process.
This isn’t an undertaking most business owners will be able to complete themselves. You’ll need to sell your managers and employees on ERM from the top down. After you’ve gained commitment from key players, spend time assessing the risks your business may face. Typical examples include:
Because every business is different, you’ll likely need to add other risks distinctive to your company and industry.
Developing the program
Recognizing risks is only the first phase. To truly address threats under your ERM program, you’ll need to clarify what your company’s appetite and capacity for each risk is, and develop a cohesive philosophy and plan for how they should be handled. Say you’re about to release a new product. The program would need to address risks such as:
Again, the key to success in the planning stage is conducting a detailed risk analysis of your business. Gather as much information as possible from each department and employee.
Depending on your company’s size, engage workers in brainstorming sessions and workshops to help you analyze how specific events could alter your company’s landscape. You may also want to designate an “ERM champion” in each department who will develop and administer the program.
Yes, just as medieval soldiers looked out from their battlements across field and forest to spot incoming dangers, you and your employees must maintain a constant gaze for developing risks. An ERM program, while an ambitious undertaking, can provide the structure for doing so. We can assist you in managing risks to your business in a financially sound manner.
Many investors, especially more risk-averse ones, hold much of their portfolios in “income investments” — those that pay interest or dividends, with less emphasis on growth in value. But all income investments aren’t alike when it comes to taxes. So it’s important to be aware of the different tax treatments when managing your income investments.
Varying tax treatment
The tax treatment of investment income varies partly based on whether the income is in the form of dividends or interest. Qualified dividends are taxed at your favorable long-term capital gains tax rate (currently 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on your tax bracket) rather than at your ordinary-income tax rate (which might be as high as 39.6%). Interest income generally is taxed at ordinary-income rates. So stocks that pay dividends might be more attractive tax-wise than interest-paying income investments, such as CDs and bonds.
But there are exceptions. For example, some dividends aren’t qualified and therefore are subject to ordinary-income rates, such as certain dividends from:
Also, the tax treatment of bond interest varies. For example:
One of many factors
Keep in mind that tax reform legislation could affect the tax considerations for income investments. For example, if your ordinary rate goes down under tax reform, there could be less of a difference between the tax rate you’d pay on qualified vs. nonqualified dividends.
While tax treatment shouldn’t drive investment decisions, it’s one factor to consider — especially when it comes to income investments. For help factoring taxes into your investment strategy, contact us.
Your business financials — where they stand currently and where they might be going next year — are incredibly important. Obviously, sales and expenses play enormous roles in the strength of your position. But a fundamental and often-overlooked way of making your cash flow statement shine is to minimize inventory or services so you have just enough to fulfill demand.
Carrying too much inventory can devastate a budget as the value of the surplus items drops throughout the year. In turn, your financial statements simply won’t look as good as they could. Taking stock and perhaps cutting back on excess inventory:
One item to perhaps budget for here: upgraded inventory tracking and ordering software. Newer applications can help you better forecast demand, minimize overstocking, and even share data with suppliers to improve accuracy and efficiency.
If yours is a more service-oriented business, you can apply a similar approach. Check into whether you’re “overstocking” on services that just aren’t adding enough revenue to the bottom line. Keeping infrastructure and, yes, even employees in place that aren’t improving profitability is much like leaving items on the shelves that aren’t selling.
Making improvements may require some tough calls. You might have long-time customers to whom you provide certain services that just aren’t substantially profitable anymore. If it’s getting to the point where your company might start losing money on these customers, you may have to discontinue the services and sacrifice their business.
You can ease difficult transitions like this by referring customers to another, reputable service provider. Meanwhile, of course, your business should be looking to either find new service areas to generate revenue or expand existing services.
Brightening the future
A variety of threats can cast a dark shadow on your company’s financial statements. Keeping your inventory or service selection in tip-top shape can help ensure that the numbers — and your business’s future — look bright. Contact our firm for help specific to your situation.
Any business owner developing a succession plan should rightfully assume that regular business valuations are a must. When envisioning the valuation process, you’re likely to focus on its end result: a reasonable, defensible value estimate of your business as of a certain date. But lurking beneath this number is a variety of often hard-to-see issues.
Estate tax liability
One sometimes blurry issue is the valuation implications of whether you intend to transfer the business to the next generation during your lifetime, at your death or upon your spouse’s death. If, for example, you decide to bequeath the company to your spouse, no estate tax will be due upon your death because of the marital deduction (as long as your spouse is a U.S. citizen). But estate tax may be due on your spouse’s death, depending on the business’s value and estate tax laws at the time.
Speaking of which, President Trump and congressional Republicans have called for an estate tax repeal under the “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” issued in late September. But there’s no guarantee such a provision will pass and, even if it does, the repeal might be only temporary.
So an owner may be tempted to minimize the company’s value to reduce the future estate tax liability on the spouse’s death. But be aware that businesses that appear to have been undervalued in an effort to minimize taxes will raise a red flag with the IRS.
Inactive heirs and retirement
Bear in mind, too, that your heirs may have different views of the business’s proper value. This is particularly true of “inactive heirs” — those who won’t inherit the business and whose share, therefore, may need to be “equalized” with other assets, such as insurance proceeds or real estate. Your appraiser will need to clearly understand the valuation’s purpose and your estate plan.
When (or if) you plan to retire is another major issue to be resolved. If you want your children to take over, but you need to free up cash for retirement, you may be able to sell shares to successors. Several methods (such as using trusts) can provide tax advantages as well as help the children fund a business purchase.
Obtaining a valuation in relation to your succession plan involves much more than establishing a sale price, transitioning ownership (or selling the company), and sauntering off to retirement. The details are many and potential conflicts abundant. Let us help you anticipate and manage these complexities to ensure a smooth succession.
If you’re an executive or other key employee, you might be rewarded for your contributions to your company’s success with compensation such as restricted stock, stock options or nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC). Tax planning for these forms of “exec comp,” however, is generally more complicated than for salaries, bonuses and traditional employee benefits.
And planning gets even more complicated if you could potentially be subject to two taxes under the Affordable Care Act (ACA): 1) the additional 0.9% Medicare tax, and 2) the net investment income tax (NIIT). These taxes apply when certain income exceeds the applicable threshold: $250,000 for married filing jointly, $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for other taxpayers.
Additional Medicare tax
The following types of exec comp could be subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax if your earned income exceeds the applicable threshold:
The following types of gains from stock acquired through exec comp will be included in net investment income and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold:
Keep in mind that the additional Medicare tax and the NIIT could possibly be eliminated under tax reform or ACA-related legislation. If you’re concerned about how your exec comp will be taxed, please contact us. We can help you assess the potential tax impact and implement strategies to reduce it.
With so much data flying around these days, it’s easy for a company of any size to get overwhelmed. If something important falls through the cracks, say a contract renewal or outstanding bill, your financial standing and reputation could suffer. Here are four ways to get — and keep — your business data in order:
1. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Look at your data in broad categories and see whether and how you can simplify things. Sometimes refiling documents under basic designations such as “vendors,” “leases” and “employee contracts” can help you get better perspective on your information. In other cases, you may need to realign your network or file storage to more closely follow how your company operates today.
2. Implement a data storage policy. A formal effort toward getting organized can help you target what’s wrong and determine what to do about it. In creating this policy, spell out which information you must back up, how much money you’ll spend on this effort, how often backups must occur and where you’ll store backups.
3. Reconsider the cloud. Web-based data storage, now commonly known as “the cloud,” has been around for years. It allows you to store files and even access software on a secure remote server. Your company may already use the cloud to some extent. If so, review how you’re using the cloud, whether your security measures are adequate, and if now might be a good time to renegotiate with your vendor or find a new one.
4. Don’t forget about email. Much of your company’s precious data may not be in files or spreadsheets but in emails. Although it’s been around for decades, this medium has grown in significance recently as email continues to play a starring role in many legal proceedings. If you haven’t already, establish an email retention policy to specify everyone’s responsibilities when it comes to creating, organizing and deleting (or not deleting) emails.
Virtually every company operating today depends on data, big and small, to compete in its marketplace and achieve profitability. Please contact us regarding cost-effective ways to store, organize and deploy your company’s mission-critical information.
The extended deadline for filing 2016 individual federal income tax returns is October 16. If you extended your return and know you owe tax but can’t pay the bill, you may be wondering what to do next.
File by October 16
First and foremost, file your return by October 16. Filing by the extended deadline will allow you to avoid the 5%-per-month failure-to-file penalty.
The only cost for failing to pay what you owe is an interest charge. Because an extension of time to file isn’t an extension of time to pay, generally the interest will begin to accrue after the April 18 filing deadline even if you filed for an extension. If you still can’t pay when you file by the extended October 16 due date, interest will continue to accrue until you pay the tax.
Consider your payment options
So when must you pay the balance due? As soon as possible, if you want to halt the IRS interest charges. Here are a few options:
Pay with a credit card. You can pay your federal tax bill with American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa. But before pursuing this option, ask about the one-time fee your credit card company will charge (which might be deductible) and the interest rate.
Take out a loan. If you can borrow at a reasonable rate, this may be a good option.
Arrange an IRS installment agreement. You can request permission from the IRS to pay off your bill in installments. Approval of your installment payment request is automatic if you:
As long as you have an unpaid balance, you’ll be charged interest. But this may be at a much lower rate than what you’d pay on a credit card or could arrange with a commercial lender.
Be aware that, when you enter into an installment agreement, you must pledge to stay current on your future taxes.
Filing a 2016 federal income tax return is important even if you can’t pay the tax due right now. If you need assistance or would like more information, please contact us.
As we head toward year end, your company may be reviewing its business strategy for 2017 or devising plans for 2018. As you do so, be sure to give some attention to the prices you’re asking for your existing products and services, as well as those you plan to launch in the near future.
The cost of production is a logical starting point. After all, if your prices don’t exceed costs over the long run, your business will fail. This critical connection demands regular re-evaluation.
One simple way to assess costs is to apply a desired “markup” percentage to your expected costs. For example, if it costs $1 to produce a widget and you want to achieve a 10% return, your selling price should be $1.10.
Of course, you’ve got to factor more than just direct materials and labor into the equation. You should consider all of the costs of producing, marketing and distributing your products, including overhead expenses. Some indirect costs, such as sales commissions and shipping, vary based on the number of units you sell. But most are fixed in the current accounting period, including rent, research and development, depreciation, insurance, and selling and administrative salaries.
“Product costing” refers to the process of spreading these variable and fixed costs over the units you expect to sell. The trick to getting this allocation right is to accurately predict demand.
Deliberate over demand
Changing demand is an important factor to consider. Incurring higher costs in the short term may be worth it if you reasonably believe that rising customer demand will eventually enable you to cover expenses and turn a profit. In other words, rising demand can reduce per-unit costs and increase margin.
Determining the number of units people will buy is generally easier when you’re:
Forecasting demand for a new product that’s a lot different from your current product line can be extremely challenging — especially if there’s nothing like it in the marketplace. But if you don’t factor customer and market considerations into your pricing decisions, you could be missing out on money-making opportunities.
Check your wiring
Like an electrical outlet and plug, the connection between costs and pricing can grow loose over time and sometimes short out completely. Don’t risk operating in the dark. Our firm can help you make pricing decisions that balance ambitiousness and reason.
Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only if 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. If tax reform legislation is signed into law, it might be especially beneficial to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017.
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 — but only to the extent that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. The 10% floor applies for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.
Beginning in 2017, even taxpayers age 65 and older are subject to the 10% floor. Previously, they generally enjoyed a 7.5% floor, except for AMT purposes, where they were also subject to the 10% floor.
Benefits of bunching
By bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years, you may increase your ability to exceed the applicable floor. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.
Normally, if it’s looking like you’re close to exceeding the floor in the current year, it’s tax-smart to consider accelerating controllable expenses into the current year. But if you’re far from exceeding the floor, the traditional strategy is, to the extent possible (without harming your or your family’s health), to put off medical expenses until the next year, in case you have enough expenses in that year to exceed the floor.
However, in 2017, sticking to these traditional strategies might not make sense.
The nine-page “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” that President Trump and congressional Republicans released on September 27 proposes a variety of tax law changes. Among other things, the framework calls for increasing the standard deduction and eliminating “most” itemized deductions. While the framework doesn’t specifically mention the medical expense deduction, the only itemized deductions that it specifically states would be retained are those for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.
If an elimination of the medical expense deduction were to go into effect in 2018, there could be a significant incentive for individuals to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017. Even if you’re not close to exceeding the floor now, it could be beneficial to see if you can accelerate enough qualifying expense into 2017 to do so.
Keep in mind that tax reform legislation must be drafted, passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President. It’s still uncertain exactly what will be included in any legislation, whether it will be passed and signed into law this year, and, if it is, when its provisions would go into effect. For more information on how to bunch deductions, exactly what expenses are deductible, or other ways tax reform legislation could affect your 2017 year-end tax planning, please contact us.
In their efforts to grow and succeed, many companies eventually reach the edge of a precipice. Across the divide lies a big step forward — perhaps the acquisition of a competitor or the purchase of a new property — but, financially, there’s no way across. The money is just not there.
One way to bridge that divide is with a mezzanine loan. These instruments (also known as junior liens and second liens) can bridge financing shortfalls — so long as you meet certain qualifications and can accept possible risks.
Mezzanine financing works by layering a junior loan on top of a senior (or primary) loan. It combines aspects of senior secured debt from a bank and equity obtained from direct investors. Sources of mezzanine financing can include private equity groups, mutual funds, insurance companies and buyout firms.
Unlike bank loans, mezzanine debt typically is unsecured by the borrower’s assets or has liens subordinate to other lenders. So the cost of obtaining financing is higher than that of a senior loan.
However, the cost generally is lower than what’s required to acquire funding purely from equity investment. Yet most mezzanine instruments do enable the lender to participate in the borrowing company’s success — or failure. Generally, the lower your interest rate, the more equity you must offer. Importantly, mezzanine debt may even convert to equity if the borrower doesn’t repay it on time.
Advantages and drawbacks
The primary advantage of mezzanine financing is that it can provide capital when you can’t obtain it elsewhere or can’t qualify for the amount you’re looking for. This is why it’s often referred to as a “bridge” to undertaking ambitious objectives such as a business acquisition or desirable piece of commercial property. But mezzanine loans aren’t necessarily an option of last resort. Many companies prefer the flexibility of these loans when it comes to negotiating terms.
Naturally, mezzanine loans have drawbacks to consider. In addition to having higher interest rates, mezzanine financing has a few other potential disadvantages. Loan covenants can be restrictive. And though some lenders are relatively hands-off, they may retain the right to a significant say in company operations — particularly if you don’t repay the loan in a timely manner.
Mezzanine financing can also make an M&A deal more complicated. It introduces an extra interested party to the negotiation table and can make an already tricky deal that much harder.
Best financing decisions
If your company qualifies for mezzanine financing, it might help you close a deal that you otherwise couldn’t. But there are other options to consider. We can help you make the best financing decisions.
A tried-and-true tax-saving strategy for investors is to sell assets at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during the year. So if you’ve cashed in some big gains this year, consider looking for unrealized losses in your portfolio and selling those investments before year end to offset your gains. This can reduce your 2017 tax liability.
But what if you expect an investment that would produce a loss if sold now to not only recover but thrive in the future? Or perhaps you simply want to minimize the impact on your asset allocation. You might think you can simply sell the investment at a loss and then immediately buy it back. Not so fast: You need to beware of the wash sale rule.
The rule up close
The wash sale rule prevents you from taking a loss on a security if you buy a substantially identical security (or an option to buy such a security) within 30 days before or after you sell the security that created the loss. You can recognize the loss only when you sell the replacement security.
Keep in mind that the rule applies even if you repurchase the security in a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as a traditional or Roth IRA.
Achieving your goals
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the wash sale rule and still achieve your goals:
If you have a bond that would generate a loss if sold, you can do a bond swap, where you sell a bond, take a loss and then immediately buy another bond of similar quality and duration from a different issuer. Generally, the wash sale rule doesn’t apply because the bonds aren’t considered substantially identical. Thus, you can achieve a tax loss with virtually no change in economic position.
For more ideas on saving taxes on your investments, please contact us.
Are you the founder of your company? If so, congratulations — you’ve created something truly amazing! And it’s more than understandable that you’d want to protect your legacy: the company you created.
But, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly important that you give serious thought to a succession plan. When this topic comes up, many business owners show signs of suffering from an all-too-common affliction.
In the nonprofit sphere, they call it “founder’s syndrome.” The term refers to a set of “symptoms” indicating that an organization’s founder maintains a disproportionate amount of power and influence over operations. Although founder’s syndrome is usually associated with not-for-profits, it can give business owners much to think about as well. Common symptoms include:
It’s worth noting that a founder’s reluctance to loosen his or her grip isn’t necessarily because of a power-hungry need to control. Many founders simply fear that the organization — whether nonprofit or business — would falter without their intensive oversight.
The good news is that founder’s syndrome is treatable. The first step is to address whether you yourself are either at risk for the affliction or already suffering from it. Doing so can be uncomfortable, but it’s critical. Here are some advisable actions:
Form a succession plan. This is a vital measure toward preserving the longevity of any company. If you’d prefer not involve anyone in your business just yet, consider a professional advisor or consultant.
Prepare for the transition, no matter how far away. Remember that a succession plan doesn’t necessarily spell out the end of your involvement in the company. It’s simply a transformation of role. Your vast knowledge and experience needs to be documented so the business can continue to benefit from it.
Ask for help. Your management team may need to step up its accountability as the succession plan becomes more fully formed. Managers must educate themselves about the organization in any areas where they’re lacking.
In addition to transferring leadership responsibilities, there’s the issue of transferring your ownership interests, which is also complex and requires careful planning.
Blood, sweat and tears
You’ve no doubt invested the proverbial blood, sweat and tears into launching your business and overseeing its growth. But planning for the next generation of leadership is, in its own way, just as important as the company itself. Let us help you develop a succession plan that will help ensure the long-term well-being of your business.
One important step to both reducing taxes and saving for retirement is to contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement plan. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, contributing to that is likely your best first step.
If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution rate between now and year end. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions sooner rather than later can have a significant impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.
A traditional 401(k) offers many benefits:
For 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000. So if your current contribution rate will leave you short of the limit, try to increase your contribution rate through the end of the year to get as close to that limit as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by less than the dollar amount of the contribution, because the contributions are pre-tax so income tax isn’t withheld.
If you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31, you can also make “catch-up” contributions (up to $6,000 for 2017). So if you didn’t contribute much when you were younger, this may allow you to partially make up for lost time. Even if you did make significant contributions before age 50, catch-up contributions can still be beneficial, allowing you to further leverage the power of tax-deferred compounding.
Employers can include a Roth option in their 401(k) plans. If your plan offers this, you can designate some or all of your contribution as Roth contributions. While such contributions don’t reduce your current MAGI, qualified distributions will be tax-free.
Roth 401(k) contributions may be especially beneficial for higher-income earners, because they don’t have the option to contribute to a Roth IRA. On the other hand, if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement, you may be better off sticking with traditional 401(k) contributions.
Finally, keep in mind that any employer matches to Roth 401(k) contributions will be pretax and go into your traditional 401(k) account.
How much and which type
Have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth contributions? Contact us. We’d be pleased to discuss the tax and retirement-saving considerations with you
“We love our customers!” Every business owner says it. But all customers aren’t created equal, and it’s in your strategic interest to know which customers are really strengthening your bottom line and by how much.
Sorting out the data
If your business systems track individual customer purchases, and your accounting system has good cost accounting or decision support capabilities, determining individual customer profitability will be simple. If you have cost data for individual products, but not at the customer level, you can manually “marry” product-specific purchase history with the cost data to determine individual customer value.
For example, if a customer purchased 10 units of Product 1 and five units of Product 2 last year, and Product 1 had a margin of $100 and Product 2 had a margin of $500, the total margin generated by the customer would be $3,500. Be sure to include data from enough years to even out normal fluctuations in purchases.
Don’t maintain cost data? No worries; you can sort the good from the bad by reviewing customer purchase volume and average sale price. Often, such data can be supplemented by general knowledge of the relative profitability of different products. Be sure that sales are net of any returns.
Incorporating indirect costs
High marketing, handling, service or billing costs for individual customers or segments of customers can have a significant effect on their profitability even if they purchase high-margin products. If you use activity-based costing, your company will already have this information allocated accurately.
If you don’t track individual customers, you can still generalize this analysis to customer segments or products. For instance, if a group of customers is served by the same distributor, you can estimate the resources used to support that channel and their associated costs. Or, you can have individual departments track employees’ time by customer or product for a specific period.
Knowing their value
There’s nothing wrong with loving your customers. But it’s even more important to know them and how much value they’re contributing to your profitability from operating period to operating period. Contact us for help breaking down the numbers.
With kids back in school, it’s a good time for parents (and grandparents) to think about college funding. One option, which can be especially beneficial if the children in question still have many years until they’ll be starting their higher education, is a Section 529 plan.
529 plans are generally state-sponsored, and the savings-plan option offers the opportunity to potentially build up a significant college nest egg because of tax-deferred compounding. So these plans can be particularly powerful if contributions begin when the child is quite young. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer tax incentives for contributing.
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.
529 plans offer other benefits as well:
Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions, which means you can make up to a $70,000 contribution (or $140,000 if you split the gift with your spouse) in 2017. In the case of grandparents, this also can avoid generation-skipping transfer taxes.
One negative of a 529 plan is that your investment options are limited. Another is that you can make changes to your options only twice a year or if you change the beneficiary.
But whenever you make a new contribution, you can choose a different option for that contribution, no matter how many times you contribute during the year. Also, you can make a tax-free rollover to another 529 plan for the same child every 12 months.
We’ve focused on 529 savings plans here; a prepaid tuition version of 529 plans is also available. If you’d like to learn more about either type of 529 plan, please contact us. We can also tell you about other tax-smart strategies for funding education expenses.
You’ve probably heard the term and wondered whether it could happen to your company. Maybe it already has. We’re referring to “digital disruption” — when new technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services.
Perhaps the most notorious recent example of this is the rise of ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, which have turned the taxi industry on its ear. But it’s hardly a fait accompli that a business will fall flat on its face because of digital disruption. You may be able to dance right through it with the right digital transformation strategy. Here are five steps to consider:
1. Focus on customers. Businesses often view the world through the filters of marketing, sales and maximized revenues. Instead of thinking about business success, target the customer experience.
2. Make analytics your friend. Develop a strategy to access, analyze and use that data. Tap the brains of analysts who can think outside the box of departmental silos in order to combine all types of data, including point of sale, sensors and machines, logs and social streams. Then use that big data to innovate.
3. Unify operations. Best-practice organizations assess digital requirements from across the business and then set objectives. Most organizations have multiple teams and departments involved in digital transformation. It’s crucial to ensure that all of your business is aligned and operating toward the digital goals you’ve defined.
4. Think visually. Data visualization is the ability to see various data in a variety of formats such as charts, graphs or other representations. Infographics often play a role in visualization. If your company has a hard time understanding how data can be used to drive digital transformation, consult an advisor who can help you leverage this critical information.
5. Be nimble. By the time a project is completed, the market and customer requirements have often changed. To avoid this problem, develop digital agility that will let your business embrace operational changes as a matter of routine by using digital technologies. Digital agility is rooted in the concept of learn, launch, relearn and relaunch.
Digital disruption — and transformation, for that matter — are very much the new normal. We can help you crunch the numbers and target the trends that enable you to waltz around trouble and boogie your way to continued success.
Charitable giving allows you to help an organization you care about and, in most cases, enjoy a valuable income tax deduction. If you’re considering a large gift, a noncash donation such as appreciated real estate can provide additional benefits. For example, if you’ve held the property for more than one year, you generally will be able to deduct its full fair market value and avoid any capital gains tax you’d owe if you sold the property. There are, however, potential tax pitfalls you must watch out for:
Donation to a private foundation. While real estate donations to a public charity generally can be deducted at the property’s fair market value, your deduction for such a donation to a private foundation is limited to the lower of fair market value or your cost basis in the property.
Property subject to a mortgage. In this case, you may recognize taxable income for all or a portion of the loan’s value. And charities might not accept mortgaged property because it may trigger unrelated business income tax. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to pay off the mortgage before you donate the property or ask the lender to accept another property as collateral for the loan.
Failure to properly substantiate your donation. This can result in loss of the deduction and overvaluation penalties. Generally, real estate donations require a qualified appraisal. You’ll also need to complete Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions,” have your appraiser sign it and file it with your federal tax return. If the property is valued at more than $500,000, you’ll generally need to include the appraisal report as well.
Sale of the property within three years. The charity must report the sale to the IRS, and if the price is substantially less than the amount you claimed as a tax deduction, the IRS may challenge your deduction. To avoid this result, be sure your initial appraisal is accurate and well documented.
Sale of the property to someone related to you. If the charity sells the property you donated to your relative (or to someone with whom you negotiated a potential sale), the IRS may argue that the sale was prearranged and tax you on any capital gain.
If you’re considering a real estate donation, plan carefully and contact us for help ensuring that you avoid these pitfalls.
From the baseball field to the boardroom, statistical analysis has changed various industries nationwide. With proper preparation and guidance, business owners can have at their fingertips a wealth of stats-based insight into how their companies are performing — far beyond the bottom line on an income statement.
The metrics in question are commonly referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs). These formula-based measurements reveal the trends underlying a company’s operations. And seeing those trends can help you find the right path forward and give you fair warning when you’re headed in the wrong direction.
A good place to start is with some of the KPIs that apply to most businesses. For example, take current ratio (current assets / current liabilities). It can help you determine your capacity to meet your short-term liabilities with cash and other relatively liquid assets.
Another KPI to regularly calculate is working capital turnover ratio (revenue / average working capital). Many companies struggle with temperamental cash flows that can wax and wane based on buying trends or seasonal fluctuations. This ratio shows the amount of revenue supported by each dollar of net working capital used.
Debt is also an issue for many businesses. You can monitor your debt-to-equity (total debt / net worth) ratio to measure your degree of leverage. The higher the ratio, the greater the risk that creditors are assuming and the tougher it may be to obtain financing.
There are many other KPIs we could discuss. The exact ones you should look at depend on the size of your company and the nature of its work. Please contact our firm for help choosing the right KPIs and calculating them accurately.
At back-to-school time, much of the focus is on the students returning to the classroom — and on their parents buying them school supplies, backpacks, clothes, etc., for the new school year. But let’s not forget about the teachers. It’s common for teachers to pay for some classroom supplies out of pocket, and the tax code provides a special break that makes it a little easier for these educators to deduct some of their expenses.
The miscellaneous itemized deduction
Generally, your employee expenses are deductible if they’re unreimbursed by your employer and ordinary and necessary to your business of being an employee. An expense is ordinary if it is common and accepted in your business. An expense is necessary if it is appropriate and helpful to your business.
These expenses must be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and are subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if all your deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceed 2% of your AGI. For many taxpayers, including teachers, this can be a difficult threshold to meet.
The educator expense deduction
Congress created the educator expense deduction to allow more teachers and other educators to receive a tax benefit from some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom expenses. The break was made permanent under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. Since 2016, the deduction has been annually indexed for inflation (though because of low inflation it hasn’t increased yet) and has included professional development expenses.
Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct up to $250 of qualified expenses. (If you’re married filing jointly and both you and your spouse are educators, you can deduct up to $500 of unreimbursed expenses — but not more than $250 each.)
Qualified expenses include amounts paid or incurred during the tax year for books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health and physical education, the costs for supplies are qualified expenses only if related to athletics.
An added benefit
The educator expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means you don’t have to itemize and it reduces your AGI, which has an added benefit: Because AGI-based limits affect a variety of tax breaks (such as the previously mentioned miscellaneous itemized deductions), lowering your AGI might help you maximize your tax breaks overall.
Contact us for more details about the educator expense deduction or tax breaks available for other work-related expenses.
A buy-sell agreement is a critical component of succession planning for many businesses. It sets the terms and conditions under which an owner’s business interest can be sold to another owner (or owners) should an unexpected tragedy or turn of events occurs. It also establishes the method for determining the price of the interest.
This may sound cut and dried. And a properly conceived, well-written buy-sell agreement should be — it is, after all, a legal document. But there’s a human side to these arrangements as well. And it’s one that you shouldn’t underestimate.
Turmoil and conflicts
A business owner’s unexpected death or disability can lead to turmoil and potential conflicts between the surviving owners and the deceased or disabled owner’s family members. Such disorder has the potential of disrupting normal business operations and can result in instability for employees, customers, creditors, investors and other stakeholders.
A buy-sell agreement ensures that an owner’s heirs are fairly compensated for the deceased owner’s business ownership interest based on a predetermined method. The other owners, meanwhile, don’t have to worry about the deceased’s spouse (or other family members) becoming unwilling (and unknowledgeable) co-owners. And employees will benefit from less workplace stress and disruption than would otherwise be caused if an owner dies or becomes disabled.
Indeed, among the worst potential succession-planning scenarios is when a deceased or disabled owner’s spouse becomes an unwilling participant in the business. Without a properly structured buy-sell agreement in place, the spouse could be thrown into this situation — even if he or she knows little about the business and doesn’t want to actively participate in running it.
There’s also the less tragic, though still difficult, possibility of divorce. When a business owner and his or her spouse decide to end their marriage, the ramifications on the business can be enormous. A buy-sell helps clarify everyone’s rights and holdings.
Ownership successions are rarely easy — even under the best of circumstances. These transitions can go much more peacefully with a sound buy-sell agreement in place. Please contact us for help with the tax and financial aspects of drawing one up.
Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can provide tax-free growth and the ability to withdraw funds tax-free in retirement. But what if you convert a traditional IRA — subject to income taxes on all earnings and deductible contributions — and then discover that you would have been better off if you hadn’t converted it? Fortunately, it’s possible to undo a Roth IRA conversion, using a “recharacterization.”
Reasons to recharacterize
There are several possible reasons to undo a Roth IRA conversion. For example:
Generally, when you convert to a Roth IRA, if you extend your tax return, you have until October 15 of the following year to undo it. (For 2016 returns, the extended deadline is October 16 because the 15th falls on a weekend in 2017.)
In some cases it can make sense to undo a Roth IRA conversion and then redo it. If you want to redo the conversion, you must wait until the later of 1) the first day of the year following the year of the original conversion, or 2) the 31st day after the recharacterization.
Keep in mind that, if you reversed a conversion because your IRA’s value declined, there’s a risk that your investments will bounce back during the waiting period. This could cause you to reconvert at a higher tax cost.
Recharacterization in action
Nick had a traditional IRA with a balance of $100,000. In 2016, he converted it to a Roth IRA, which, combined with his other income for the year, put him in the 33% tax bracket. So normally he’d have owed $33,000 in federal income taxes on the conversion in April 2017. However, Nick extended his return and, by September 2017, the value of his account drops to $80,000.
On October 1, Nick recharacterizes the account as a traditional IRA and files his return to exclude the $100,000 in income. On November 1, he reconverts the traditional IRA, whose value remains at $80,000, to a Roth IRA. He’ll report that amount on his 2017 tax return. This time, he’ll owe $26,400 — deferred for a year and resulting in a tax savings of $6,600. If the $20,000 difference in income keeps him in the 28% tax bracket or tax reform legislation is signed into law that reduces rates retroactively to January 1, 2017, he could save even more.
If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, monitor your financial situation. If the advantages of the conversion diminish, we can help you assess your options.
August is back-to-school time across the country. Whether the school buses are already rumbling down your block, or will be soon, the start of the school year brings marketing opportunities for savvy business owners. Here are some examples of ways companies can promote themselves.
A virtual “brag book”
A creative agency posts on social media a vibrant photographic slideshow of employees and their children on the first day of school. It gives the parents an opportunity to show off their kids — and creates a buzz on the agency’s Facebook page.
The brag book’s innovative design also demonstrates the agency’s creative skills in a fun, personal way. And it helps attract talent by showcasing the company’s fun, family-friendly atmosphere.
Promos for parents
In August, many parents are in the midst of desperately trying to complete checklists of required school supply purchases. To help them cope, a home remodeling / landscape business offers free school supplies with every estimate completed during the month.
Customers receive colorful bags containing relatively inexpensive items such as pencils, pens, pads of paper and glue sticks all stamped with the company’s logo. And even though every estimate won’t result in a new job, completing more estimates helps create an uptick in fall projects.
Freebies for students
During the first week of school, a suburban burger joint offers students a free milkshake with the purchase of a burger. Kids love milkshakes and, because the freebie is associated with a purchase, the business preserves its profitability.
Meanwhile, the promotion brings entire families into the restaurant — widening the customer base and adding revenue. The campaign creates goodwill in the community by nurturing students’ enthusiasm for the beginning of the school year, too.
Determine what’s right for you
Obviously, these examples are industry-specific. But we hope you find them informative and inspirational. Our firm can help you leverage smart marketing moves to strengthen profitability and add long-term value to your business.
Among the taxes that are being considered for repeal as part of tax reform legislation is the estate tax. This tax applies to transfers of wealth at death, hence why it’s commonly referred to as the “death tax.” Its sibling, the gift tax — also being considered for repeal — applies to transfers during life. Yet most taxpayers won’t face these taxes even if the taxes remain in place.
Exclusions and exemptions
For 2017, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.49 million per taxpayer. (The exemption is annually indexed for inflation.) If your estate doesn’t exceed your available exemption at your death, then no federal estate tax will be due.
Any gift tax exemption you use during life does reduce the amount of estate tax exemption available at your death. But every gift you make won’t use up part of your lifetime exemption. For example:
What’s your estate tax exposure?
Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.
Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. (But keep in mind that there could be estate tax exposure on your surviving spouse’s death, depending on the size of his or her estate.) The net number represents your taxable estate.
You can then apply the exemption amount you expect to have available at death. Remember, any gift tax exemption amount you use during your life must be subtracted. But if your spouse predeceases you, then his or her unused estate tax exemption, if any, may be added to yours (provided the applicable requirements are met).
If your taxable estate is equal to or less than your available estate tax exemption, no federal estate tax will be due at your death. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, the excess will be subject to federal estate tax.
Be aware that many states impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does. So you could have state estate tax exposure even if you don’t need to worry about federal estate tax.
If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us. We also can keep you up to date on any estate tax law changes.
Many business owners and executives would like to save more money for retirement than they’re allowed to sock away in their 401(k) plan. For 2017, the annual elective deferral contribution limit for a 401(k) is just $18,000, or $24,000 if you’re 50 years of age or older.
This represents a significantly lower percentage of the typical owner-employee’s or executive’s salary than the percentage of the average employee’s salary. Therefore, it can be difficult for these highly compensated employees to save enough money to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement. That’s where a nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan comes in.
NQDC plans enable owner-employees, executives and other highly paid key employees to significantly boost their retirement savings without running afoul of the nondiscrimination rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). These rules apply to qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, and prevent highly compensated employees from benefiting disproportionately in comparison to rank-and-file employees.
NQDC plans are essentially agreements that the business will pay out at some future time, such as at retirement, compensation that participants earn now. Not only do such plans not have to comply with ERISA nondiscrimination rules, but they aren’t subject to the IRS contribution limits and distribution rules that apply to qualified retirement plans. So businesses can tailor benefit amounts, payment terms and conditions to the participants’ specific needs.
There are several types of NQDC plans. Among the most common are:
The key to an NQDC plan: Because the promised compensation hasn’t been transferred to the participants, it’s not yet counted as earned income — and therefore it isn’t currently taxed. This allows the compensation to grow tax-deferred.
Naturally, there are challenges to consider. NQDC plans are subject to strict rules under Internal Revenue Code Sections 409A and 451, and plan loans generally aren’t allowed. But attracting and retaining top executive talent is a business imperative, and an NQDC plan can help you win the talent race with a powerful benefits package. Please contact our firm for further details.
Most of the talk about possible tax legislation this year has focused on either wide-sweeping tax reform or taxes that are part of the Affordable Care Act. But there are a few other potential tax developments for individuals to keep an eye on.
Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The question now is whether Congress will extend them for 2017.
An education break
One break the PATH Act extended through 2016 was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).
You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.
Mortgage-related tax breaks
Under the PATH Act, through 2016 you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.
The PATH Act likewise extended through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modified the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2017 income tax return.
Please check back with us for the latest information. In the meantime, keep in mind that, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2016 income tax return yet, you can take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended returns is October 16, 2017.
Is business going so well that you’re thinking about adding another location? If this is the case, congratulations! But before you start planning the ribbon-cutting ceremony, take a step back and ask yourself some tough questions about whether a new location will grow your company — or stretch it too thin. Here are four to get you started:
1. What’s driving your interest in another location? It’s important to articulate specifically how the new location will help your business move toward its long-term goals. Expanding simply because the time seems right isn’t a compelling enough reason to take on the risk.
2. How solidly is your current location performing? Your time and attention will be diverted while you get the second location up and running. Yet you’ll need to maintain the revenue your first location is generating — especially until the second one is earning enough to support itself. So your original operation needs to be able to operate well with minimal management guidance.
3. How strong is the location you’re considering? Just as you presumably did with your first location, ensure the surrounding market is strong enough to support your company. The setting should complement your business, not pose potentially insurmountable challenges.
Also consider proximity to competitors. In some cases, such as a cluster of restaurants in a small downtown, proximity can help. The area becomes known as a destination for those seeking a night out. But too many competitors could leave you fighting with multiple other businesses for the same small group of customers.
4. Can you expand in other ways that are less costly and risky? You might be able to boost sales by adding inventory or extending hours at your current location. Another option is to revamp your website or mobile app to encourage more online sales.
Investments such as these would likely require a fraction of the dollars needed to open another physical location. Then again, a successful new site could mean a substantial inflow of revenue and additional market visibility. Let us help you crunch the numbers that will lead you to the right decision.
Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement efforts appear to have collapsed, at least for the time being, it’s a good time for a refresher on the tax penalty the ACA imposes on individuals who fail to have “minimum essential” health insurance coverage for any month of the year. This requirement is commonly called the “individual mandate.”
Before we review how the penalty is calculated, let’s take a quick look at exceptions to the penalty. Taxpayers may be exempt if they fit into one of these categories for 2017:
Calculating the tax
So how much can the penalty cost? That’s a tricky question. If you owe the penalty, the tentative amount equals the greater of the following two prongs:
In terms of the percentage-of-income prong of the penalty, the applicable percentage of income is 2.5% for 2017.
In terms of the dollar-amount prong of the penalty, the applicable dollar amount for each uninsured household member is $695 for 2017. For a household member who’s under age 18, the applicable dollar amounts are cut by 50%, to $347.50. The maximum penalty under this prong for 2017 is $2,085 (300% of $695).
The final penalty amount per person can’t exceed the national average cost of “bronze coverage” (the cheapest category of ACA-compliant coverage) for your household. The important thing to know is that a high-income person or household could owe more than 300% of the applicable dollar amount but not more than the cost of bronze coverage.
If you have minimum essential coverage for only part of the year, the final penalty is calculated on a monthly basis using prorated annual figures.
Also be aware that the extent to which the penalty will continue to be enforced isn’t certain. The IRS has been accepting 2016 tax returns even if a taxpayer hasn’t completed the line indicating health coverage status. That said, the ACA is still the law, so compliance is highly recommended. For more information about this and other ACA-imposed taxes, contact us.
In the quest to reduce your tax bill, year end planning can only go so far. Tax-saving strategies take time to implement, so review your options now. Here are three strategies that can be more effective if you begin executing them midyear:
1. Consider your bracket
The top income tax rate is 39.6% for taxpayers with taxable income over $418,400 (singles), $444,550 (heads of households) and $470,700 (married filing jointly; half that amount for married filing separately). If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold, consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the top bracket. For example, you could take steps to defer income and accelerate deductible expenses. (This strategy can save tax even if you’re not at risk for the 39.6% bracket or you can’t avoid the bracket.)
You could also shift income to family members in lower tax brackets by giving them income-producing assets. This strategy won’t work, however, if the recipient is subject to the “kiddie tax.” Generally, this tax applies the parents’ marginal rate to unearned income (including investment income) received by a dependent child under the age of 19 (24 for full-time students) in excess of a specified threshold ($2,100 for 2017).
2. Look at investment income
This year, the capital gains rate for taxpayers in the top bracket is 20%. If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.
Depending on what happens with health care and tax reform legislation, you also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Under the Affordable Care Act, this tax can affect taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). The NIIT applies to net investment income for the year or the excess of MAGI over the threshold, whichever is less. So, if the NIIT remains in effect (check back with us for the latest information), you may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.
3. Plan for medical expenses
The threshold for deducting medical expenses is 10% of AGI. You can deduct only expenses that exceed that floor. (The threshold could be affected by health care legislation. Again, check back with us for the latest information.)
Deductible expenses may include health insurance premiums (if not deducted from your wages pretax); long-term care insurance premiums (age-based limits apply); medical and dental services and prescription drugs (if not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account); and mileage driven for health care purposes (17 cents per mile driven in 2017). You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into every other year and exceed the applicable floor.
These are just a few ideas for slashing your 2017 tax bill. To benefit from midyear tax planning, consult us now. If you wait until the end of the year, it may be too late to execute the strategies that would save you the most tax.
From the time a business opens its doors, the owner is told “cash is king.” It may seem to follow that having a very large amount of cash could never be a bad thing. But, the truth is, a company that’s hoarding excessive cash may be doing itself more harm than good.
What’s the harm in stockpiling cash? Granted, an extra cushion helps weather downturns or fund unexpected repairs and maintenance. But cash has a carrying cost — the difference between the return companies earn on their cash and the price they pay to obtain cash.
For instance, checking accounts often earn no interest, and savings accounts typically generate returns below 2% and in many cases well below 1%. Most cash hoarders simultaneously carry debt on their balance sheets, such as equipment loans, mortgages and credit lines. Borrowers are paying higher interest rates on loans than they’re earning from their bank accounts. This spread represents the carrying cost of cash.
A variety of possibilities
What opportunities might you be missing out on by neglecting to reinvest a cash surplus to earn a higher return? There are a variety of possibilities. You could:
Acquire a competitor (or its assets). You may be in a position to profit from a competitor’s failure. When expanding via acquisition, formal due diligence is key to avoiding impulsive, unsustainable projects.
Invest in marketable securities. As mentioned, cash accounts provide nominal return. More aggressive businesses might consider mutual funds or diversified stock and bond portfolios. A financial planner can help you choose securities. Some companies also use surplus cash to repurchase stock — especially when minority shareholders routinely challenge the owner’s decisions.
Repay debt. This reduces the carrying cost of cash reserves. And lenders look favorably upon borrowers who reduce their debt-to-equity ratios.
Optimal cash balance
Taking a conservative approach to saving up cash isn’t necessarily wrong. But every company has an optimal cash balance that will help safeguard cash flow while allocating dollars for smart spending. Our firm can assist you in identifying and maintaining this mission-critical amount.
Your compensation may take several forms, including salary, fringe benefits and bonuses. If you work for a corporation, you might also receive stock-based compensation, such as stock options. These come in two varieties: nonqualified (NQSOs) and incentive (ISOs). With both NQSOs and ISOs, if the stock appreciates beyond your exercise price, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re trading for.
The tax consequences of these types of compensation can be complex. So smart tax planning is critical. Let’s take a closer look at the tax treatment of NQSOs, and how it differs from that of the perhaps better known ISOs.
NQSOs create compensation income — taxed at ordinary-income rates — on the “bargain element” (the difference between the stock’s fair market value and the exercise price) when exercised. This is regardless of whether the stock is held or sold immediately.
ISOs, on the other hand, generally don’t create compensation income taxed at ordinary rates unless you sell the stock from the exercise without holding it for more than a year, in a “disqualified disposition.” If the stock from an ISO exercise is held more than one year, then generally your lower long-term capital gains tax rate applies when you sell the stock.
Also, NQSO exercises don’t create an alternative minimum tax (AMT) preference item that can trigger AMT liability. ISO exercises can trigger AMT unless the stock is sold in a disqualified disposition (though it’s possible the AMT could be repealed under tax reform legislation).
More tax consequences to consider
When you exercise NQSOs, you may need to make estimated tax payments or increase withholding to fully cover the tax. Otherwise you might face underpayment penalties.
Also keep in mind that an exercise could trigger or increase exposure to top tax rates, the additional 0.9% Medicare tax and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). These two taxes might be repealed or reduced as part of Affordable Care Act repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation, possibly retroactive to January 1 of this year. But that’s still uncertain.
Have tax questions about NQSOs or other stock-based compensation? Let us know — we’d be happy to answer them.
What could stop your company from operating for a day, a month or a year? A flood or fire? Perhaps a key supplier shuts down temporarily or permanently. Or maybe a hacker or technical problem crashes your website or you suddenly lose power. Whatever the potential cause might be, every business needs a disaster recovery plan.
Get started by brainstorming as many scenarios as possible that could devastate your business. The operative word there is “your.” Every company faces distinctive threats related to its size, location(s), and products or services.
There are some constants to consider, however. Seek out alternative suppliers who could fill in for your current ones if necessary. Moreover, identify a strong IT consulting firm with disaster recovery capabilities and have them a phone call away.
The right voice
Another critical factor during and after a crisis is communication, both internal and external. You and most of your management team will need to concentrate on restoring operations, so appoint one manager or other employee with the necessary skills to keep stakeholders abreast of your recovery progress. These parties include:
He or she should be prepared to spread the word through channels such as your company’s voice mail, email, website, and even traditional and social media.
Whatever you do, don’t expect to create a disaster recovery plan and then toss it on a shelf. Revisit the plan at least annually, looking for shortcomings.
You’ll also want to keep your plan fresh in the minds of your employees. Be sure that everyone — including new hires — knows exactly what to do by holding regular meetings on the subject or even conducting an occasional surprise drill. And be prepared to coordinate with fire, police and government officials who might be able to offer assistance during a catastrophe.
Thoughts and concepts
These are just a few thoughts and concepts to consider when designing, implementing and updating your company’s disaster recovery plan. Our firm can help you identify both risks and cost-effective ways to safeguard your employees and assets.
Now that we’ve hit midsummer, if you own a vacation home that you both rent out and use personally, it’s a good time to review the potential tax consequences:
If you rent it out 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.
If you rent it out for 15 days or more: You must report the income. But what expenses you can deduct depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on the amount of personal vs. rental use:
Look at the use of your vacation home year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. Adjusting the number of days you rent it out and/or use it personally between now and year end might allow the home to be classified in a more beneficial way.
For assistance, please contact us. We’d be pleased to help.
As a business evolves, so must its compensation strategy. Hopefully, your company is growing — perhaps adding employees or promoting staff members who are key to your success. But other things can spur the need to fine-tune your compensation strategy as well, such as economic changes or the rise of an intense competitor. A goal for many businesses is to provide equitable compensation.
Do your research
One aspect of equitable compensation is external equity; in other words, making sure compensation is in alignment with industry or regional norms. The U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics have a wealth of comparable data on their Web sites (dol.gov and stats.bls.gov, respectively). You might also consult with a professional recruiting firm, some of which offer free or low-cost compensation data.
Granted, job roles within smaller companies make it difficult to directly compare position responsibilities in the market and get reliable salary comparison data. A company’s degree of competitiveness and ability to pay what the market bears can also be challenging.
Yet, to achieve and maintain external equity, you must consider the going market rate. Especially in a business where employees believe they can receive better pay for doing the same job elsewhere, workers have little incentive to remain with an employer — therefore, you must be concerned with external equity.
Pinpoint a range
From both a marketplace perspective and an internal company viewpoint, it’s important to group together jobs of similar value. This also gets at the concept of internal equity, which essentially means that employees feel they’re being paid fairly in terms of the value of their work as well as compared to what others in the company who have equivalent responsibilities are paid.
Once you’ve grouped jobs together, develop competitive salaries around the market rates for those positions. A typical salary range consists of a minimum, a maximum and a midpoint (or control point).
The minimum is the lowest competitive rate for jobs within that range and normally applies to less experienced staff. The maximum represents the highest competitive rate for jobs in a given range. This is typically a premium rate for “star” employees and industry veterans.
The midpoint represents the competitive market rate for fully performing workers in jobs assigned to that range. Think of it as a guideline for slotting various positions and individuals in appropriate salary ranges.
Find the right approach
These are just a few concepts involved with establishing the right approach to compensation. Please contact us for help with your company’s specific needs.
You may be tempted to forget all about taxes during summertime, when “the livin’ is easy,” as the Gershwin song goes. But if you start your tax planning now, you may avoid an unpleasant tax surprise when you file next year. Summer is also a good time to set up a storage system for your tax records. Here are some tips:
Take action when life changes occur. Some life events (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child) can change the amount of tax you owe. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.
Keep records accessible but safe. Put your 2016 tax return and supporting records together in a place where you can easily find them if you need them, such as if you’re ever audited by the IRS. You also may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid. Although accessibility is important, so is safety.
A good storage medium for hard copies of important personal documents like tax returns is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. You may want to maintain a duplicate set of records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box. You can also store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to an external storage device (which you can keep in your home safe or bank safety deposit box). If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.
Stay organized. Make tax time easier by putting records you’ll need when you file in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records next February or March. Some examples include substantiation of charitable donations, receipts from work-related travel not reimbursed by your employer, and documentation of medical expenses not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account.
For more information on summertime tax planning or organizing your tax-related information, contact us.
Many business owners buy accounting software and, even if the installation goes well, eventually grow frustrated when they don’t get the return on investment they’d expected. There’s a simple reason for this: Stuff changes.
Technological improvements are occurring at a breakneck speed. So yesterday’s cutting-edge system can quickly become today’s sluggishly performing albatross. And this isn’t the only reason to regularly upgrade your accounting software. Here are two more to consider.
1. Cleaning up
You’ve probably heard that old tech adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” The “garbage” referred to is bad data. If inaccurate or garbled information goes into your system, the reports coming out of it will be flawed. And this is a particular danger as software ages.
For example, you may be working off of inaccurate inventory counts or struggling with duplicate vendor entries. On a more serious level, your database may store information that reflects improperly closed quarters or unbalanced accounts because of data entry errors.
A regular implementation of upgraded software should uncover some or, one hopes, all of such problems. You can then clean up the bad data and adjust entries to tighten the accuracy of your accounting records and, thereby, improve your financial reporting.
2. Getting better
Neglecting to regularly upgrade or even replace your accounting software can also put you at risk of missing a major business-improvement opportunity. When implementing a new system, you’ll have the chance to enhance your accounting procedures. You may be able to, for instance, add new code groups that allow you to manage expenses much more efficiently and closely.
Other opportunities for improvement include optimizing your chart of accounts and strengthening your internal controls. Again, to obtain these benefits, you’ll need to take a slow, patient approach to the software implementation and do it often enough to prevent outdated ways of doing things from getting the better of your company.
Choosing the best
These days, every business bigger than a lemonade stand needs the best accounting software it can afford to buy. Our firm can help you set a budget and choose the product that best fits your current needs.
Summer is a popular time to move, whether it’s so the kids don’t have to change schools mid-school-year, to avoid having to move in bad weather or simply because it can be an easier time to sell a home. Unfortunately, moving can be expensive. The good news is that you might be eligible for a federal tax deduction for your moving costs.
Pass the tests
The first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.
The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would increase your commute significantly.
Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)
So which expenses can be written off? Generally, you can deduct transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving.
In addition, you can likely deduct the cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property. And you may be able to deduct the expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit. Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities are usually deductible, too.
But don’t expect to write off everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible. Nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.
Questions about whether your moving expenses are deductible? Or what you can deduct? Contact us.
Every business has some degree of ups and downs during the year. But cash flow fluctuations are much more intense for seasonal businesses. So, if your company defines itself as such, it’s important to optimize your operating cycle to anticipate and minimize shortfalls.
A high-growth example
To illustrate: Consider a manufacturer and distributor of lawn-and-garden products such as topsoil, potting soil and ground cover. Its customers are lawn-and-garden retailers, hardware stores and mass merchants.
The company’s operating cycle starts when customers place orders in the fall — nine months ahead of its peak selling season. So the business begins amassing product in the fall, but curtails operations in the winter. In late February, product accumulation continues, with most shipments going out in April.
At this point, a lot of cash has flowed out of the company to pay operating expenses, such as utilities, salaries, raw materials costs and shipping expenses. But cash doesn’t start flowing into the company until customers pay their bills around June. Then, the company counts inventory, pays remaining expenses and starts preparing for the next year. Its strategic selling window — which will determine whether the business succeeds or fails — lasts a mere eight weeks.
The power of projections
Sound familiar? Ideally, a seasonal business such as this should stockpile cash received at the end of its operating cycle, and then use those cash reserves to finance the next operating cycle. But cash reserves may not be enough — especially for high-growth companies.
So, like many seasonal businesses, you might want to apply for a line of credit to avert potential shortfalls. To increase the chances of loan approval, compile a comprehensive loan package, including historical financial statements and tax returns, as well as marketing materials and supplier affidavits (if available).
More important, draft a formal business plan that includes financial projections for next year. Some companies even project financial results for three to five years into the future. Seasonal business owners can’t rely on gut instinct. You need to develop budgets, systems, processes and procedures ahead of the peak season to effectively manage your operating cycle.
Seasonal businesses face many distinctive challenges. Please contact our firm for assistance overcoming these obstacles and strengthening your bottom line.
If your estate plan includes one or more trusts, review them in light of income taxes. For trusts, the income threshold is very low for triggering the:
The threshold is only $12,500 for 2017.
3 ways to soften the blow
Three strategies can help you soften the blow of higher taxes on trust income:
1. Use grantor trusts. An intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) is designed so that you, the grantor, are treated as the trust’s owner for income tax purposes — even though your contributions to the trust are considered “completed gifts” for estate- and gift-tax purposes.
IDGTs offer significant advantages. The trust’s income is taxed to you, so the trust itself avoids taxation. This allows trust assets to grow tax-free, leaving more for your beneficiaries. And it reduces the size of your estate. Further, as the owner, you can sell assets to the trust or engage in other transactions without tax consequences.
Keep in mind that, if your personal income exceeds the applicable thresholds for your filing status, using an IDGT won’t avoid the tax rates described above. Still, the other benefits of these trusts make them attractive.
2. Change your investment strategy. Despite the advantages of grantor trusts, nongrantor trusts are sometimes desirable or necessary. At some point, for example, you may decide to convert a grantor trust to a nongrantor trust to relieve yourself of the burden of paying the trust’s taxes. Also, grantor trusts become nongrantor trusts after the grantor’s death.
One strategy for easing the tax burden on nongrantor trusts is for the trustee to shift investments into tax-exempt or tax-deferred investments.
3. Distribute income. Generally, nongrantor trusts are subject to tax only to the extent they accumulate taxable income. When a trust makes distributions to a beneficiary, it passes along ordinary income (and, in some cases, capital gains), which are taxed at the beneficiary’s marginal rate.
Thus, one strategy for minimizing taxes on trust income is to distribute the income to beneficiaries in lower tax brackets. The trustee might also consider distributing appreciated assets, rather than cash, to take advantage of a beneficiary’s lower capital gains rate.
Of course, this strategy may conflict with a trust’s purposes, such as providing incentives to beneficiaries, preserving assets for future generations and shielding assets from beneficiaries’ creditors.
If you’re concerned about income taxes on your trusts, contact us. We can review your estate plan to uncover opportunities to reduce your family’s tax burden.
When it comes time to transition your role as business owner to someone else, you’ll face many changes. One of them is becoming a mentor. As such, you’ll have to communicate clearly, show some patience and have a clear conception of what you want to accomplish before stepping down. Here are some tips on putting your successor in a position to succeed.
Find ways to continuously pass on your knowledge. Too often, vital business knowledge is lost when leadership or ownership changes — causing a difficult and chaotic transition for the successor. Although you can impart a great deal of expertise by mentoring your replacement, you need to do more. For instance, create procedures for you and other executives to share your wisdom.
Begin by documenting your business systems, processes and methods through a secure online employee information portal, which provides links to company databases. You also could set up a training program around core business methods and practices — workers could attend classes or complete computer-based courses. Then, you can create an annual benchmarking report of key activities and results for internal use.
Prepare your company to adapt and grow. With customer needs and market factors continually changing, your successor will likely face challenges that are different from what you encountered.
To enable your company to adapt to an ever-changing business world, ensure your successor understands how each department works and knows the fundamentals of key areas, including customer service, marketing and accounting. One way is to have your successor work in each business area.
Also have your successor join industry trade associations and community organizations to meet other executives and successors in diverse industries. In addition, require him or her to review and, if necessary, help update your company’s business plan.
To encourage your successor to develop relationships with key players inside and outside your company, include him or her in meetings with managers and trusted advisors, such as your accountant, lawyer, banker and insurance agent.
Ideally, when you walk away from your company, your successor will feel completely comfortable and ready to guide the business into a fruitful future. Please contact our firm for more help maximizing the effectiveness of your succession plan.
With school letting out you might be focused on summer plans for your children (or grandchildren). But the end of the school year is also a good time to think about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) — especially if the children are in grade school or younger.
One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.
Here are some other key ESA benefits:
A sibling or first cousin is a typical example of a qualifying family member, if he or she is eligible to be an ESA beneficiary (that is, under age 18 or has special needs).
The ESA annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. The total contributions for a particular ESA beneficiary cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established or how many people are contributing.
However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income. The phaseout range is modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000–$220,000 for married couples filing jointly and $95,000–$110,000 for other filers. You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, and no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.
If there is a balance in the ESA when the beneficiary reaches age 30 (unless the beneficiary is a special needs individual), it must generally be distributed within 30 days. The portion representing earnings on the account will be taxable and subject to a 10% penalty. But these taxes can be avoided by rolling over the full balance to another ESA for a qualifying family member.
Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!
You’d be hard pressed to find a company not looking to generate more leads, boost sales and improve its profit margins. Fortunately, you can take advantage of the sales and marketing opportunities offered by today’s digital technologies to do so. Here are four digital marketing tips for every business:
1. Add quality content to your website. Few things disappoint and disinterest customers like an outdated or unchanging website. Review yours regularly to ensure it doesn’t look too old and consider a noticeable redesign every few years.
As far as content goes, think variety. Helpful blog posts, articles and even whitepapers can establish your business as a knowledge leader in your industry. And don’t forget videos: They’re a great way to showcase just about anything. Beware, however, that posting amateurish-looking videos could do more harm than good. If you don’t have professional video production capabilities, you may need to hire a professional.
2. Leverage social media. If you’re not using social media tools already, focus on a couple of popular social media outlets — perhaps Facebook and Twitter — and actively post content on them. Remember, with some social media platforms, you can create posts and tweets in advance and then schedule them for release over time.
3. Interact frequently. This applies to all of your online channels, including your website, social media platforms, email and online review sites. For example, be sure to respond promptly to any queries you receive on your site or via email, and be quick to reply to questions and comments posted on your social media pages.
4. Tie it all together. It’s easy to end up with a hodgepodge of different online marketing tools that are operating independently of one another. Integrate your online marketing initiatives so they all have a similar style and tone. Doing so helps reassure customers that your business is an organized entity focused on delivering a clear message — and quality products or services.
When it comes to marketing, you don’t want to swing and miss. Our firm can help you assess the financial impact of your efforts and budget the appropriate amount to boosting visibility.
All charitable donations aren’t created equal — some provide larger deductions than others. And it isn’t necessarily just how much or even what you donate that matters. How the charity uses your donation might also affect your deduction.
Take vehicle donations, for example. If you donate your vehicle, the value of your deduction can vary greatly depending on what the charity does with it.
Determining your deduction
You can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value (FMV) if the charity:
But in most other circumstances, if the charity sells the vehicle, your deduction is limited to the amount of the sales proceeds.
Getting proper substantiation
You also must obtain proper substantiation from the charity, including a written acknowledgment that:
For more information on these and other rules that apply to vehicle donation deductions — or deductions for other charitable gifts — please contact us.
Every company has at least one owner. And, in many cases, there exists leadership down through the organizational chart. But not every business has strong governance.
In a nutshell, governance is the set of rules, practices and processes by which a company is directed and controlled. Strengthening it can help ensure productivity, reduce legal risks and, when the time comes, ease ownership transitions.
Looking at business structure
Good governance starts with the initial organization (or reorganization) of a business. Corporations, for example, are required by law to have a board of directors and officers and to observe certain other formalities. So this entity type is a good place to explore the concept.
Other business structures, such as partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs), have greater flexibility in designing their management and ownership structures. But these entities can achieve strong governance with well-designed partnership or LLC operating agreements and a centralized management structure. They might, for instance, establish management committees that exercise powers similar to those of a corporate board.
Specifying the issues
For the sake of simplicity, however, let’s focus on governance issues in the context of a corporation. In this case, the business’s articles of incorporation and bylaws lay the foundation for future governance. The organizational documents might:
As you look over this list, consider whether and how any of these items might pertain to your company. There are, of course, other aspects to governance, such as establishing an ethics code and setting up protocols for information technology.
At the end of the day, strong governance is all about knowing your company and identifying the best ways to oversee its smooth and professional operation. Please contact our firm for help running a profitable, secure business.
A potential downside of tax-deferred saving through a traditional retirement plan is that you’ll have to pay taxes when you make withdrawals at retirement. Roth plans, on the other hand, allow tax-free distributions; the tradeoff is that contributions to these plans don’t reduce your current-year taxable income.
Unfortunately, your employer might not offer a Roth 401(k) or another Roth option, and modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)-based phaseouts may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA. Fortunately, there is a solution: the “back door” Roth IRA.
Are you phased out?
The 2017 contribution limit for all IRAs combined is $5,500 (plus an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution if you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31). You can make a partial Roth IRA contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable phaseout range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range:
(Note: Married taxpayers filing separately are subject to much lower phaseout ranges.)
Using the back door
If the income-based phaseout prevents you from making Roth IRA contributions and you don’t already have a traditional IRA, a “back door” IRA might be right for you.
How does it work? You set up a traditional account and make a nondeductible contribution to it. You then wait until the transaction clears and convert the traditional account to a Roth account. The only tax due will be on any growth in the account between the time you made the contribution and the date of conversion, which should be little, if any, assuming you’re able to make the conversion quickly.
More limited tax benefit in some cases
If you do already have a traditional IRA, the back-door Roth IRA strategy is still available but there will be more tax liability on the conversion. A portion of the amount you convert to a Roth IRA will be considered attributable to deductible contributions and thus be taxable. It doesn’t matter if you set up a new traditional IRA for the nondeductible contributions; all of your traditional IRAs will be treated as one for tax purposes.
Roth IRAs have other benefits and downsides you need to factor into your decision, and additional rules apply to IRA conversions. Please contact us for assistance in determining whether a backdoor Roth IRA is right for you.
Many companies take an ad hoc approach to technology. If you’re among them, it’s understandable; you probably had to automate some tasks before others, your tech needs have likely evolved over time, and technology itself is always changing.
Unfortunately, all of your different hardware and software may not communicate so well. What’s worse, lack of integration can leave you more vulnerable to security risks. For these reasons, some businesses reach a point where they decide to implement a strategic IT plan.
The objective of a strategic IT plan is to — over a stated period — roll out consistent, integrated, and secure hardware and software. In doing so, you’ll likely eliminate many of the security dangers wrought by lack of integration, while streamlining data-processing efficiency.
To get started, define your IT objectives. Identify not only the weaknesses of your current infrastructure, but also opportunities to improve it. Employee feedback is key: Find out who’s using what and why it works for them.
From a financial perspective, estimate a reasonable return on investment that includes a payback timetable for technology expenditures. Be sure your projections factor in both:
Also calculate the price of doing nothing. Describe the risks and potential costs of falling behind or failing to get ahead of competitors technologically.
Working in phases
When you’re ready to implement your strategic IT plan, devise a reasonable and patient time line. Ideally, there should be no need to rush. You can take a phased approach, perhaps laying the foundation with a new server and then installing consistent, integrated applications on top of it.
A phased implementation can also help you stay within budget. You’ll need to have a good idea of how much the total project will cost. But you can still allow flexibility for making measured progress without putting your cash flow at risk.
Bringing it all together
There’s nothing wrong or unusual about wandering the vast landscape of today’s business technology. But, at some point, every company should at least consider bringing all their bits and bytes under one roof. Please contact our firm for help managing your IT spending in a measured, strategic way.
Income and losses from investment real estate or rental property are passive by definition — unless you’re a real estate professional. Why does this matter? Passive income may be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and passive losses generally are deductible only against passive income, with the excess being carried forward.
Of course the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and might be eliminated under ACA repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation. But if/when such legislation will be passed and signed into law is uncertain. Even if the NIIT is eliminated, the passive loss issue will still be an important one for many taxpayers investing in real estate.
To qualify as a real estate professional, you must annually perform:
Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances. (Special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test.)
If you’re concerned you’ll fail either test and be subject to the 3.8% NIIT or stuck with passive losses, consider doing one of the following:
Increasing your involvement in the real estate activity. If you can pass the real estate professional tests, the activity no longer will be subject to passive activity rules.
Looking at other activities. If you have passive losses from your real estate investment, consider investing in another income-producing trade or business that will be passive to you. That way, you’ll have passive income that can absorb some or all of your passive losses.
Disposing of the activity. This generally allows you to deduct all passive losses — including any loss on disposition (subject to basis and capital loss limitations). But, again, the rules are complex.
Also be aware that the IRS frequently challenges claims of real estate professional status — and is often successful. One situation where the IRS commonly prevails is when the taxpayer didn’t keep adequate records of time spent on real estate activities.
If you’re not sure whether you qualify as a real estate professional, please contact us. We can help you make this determination and guide you on how to properly document your hours.
Concentration risks are a threat to your supply chain. These occur when a company relies on a customer or supplier for 10% or more of its revenue or materials, or on several customers or suppliers located in the same geographic region. If a key customer or supplier experiences turmoil, the repercussions travel up or down the supply chain and can quickly and negatively impact your business.
To protect yourself, it’s important to look for concentration risks as you monitor your financials and engage in strategic planning. Remember to evaluate not only your own success and stability, but also that of your key customers and supply chain partners.
2 types of concentration
Businesses tend to experience two main types of concentration risks:
1. Product-related. If your company’s most profitable product line depends on a few key customers, you’re essentially at their mercy. Key customers that unexpectedly cut budgets or switch to a competitor could significantly lower revenues.
Similarly, if a major supplier suddenly increases prices or becomes lax in quality control, it could cause your profits to plummet. This is especially problematic if your number of alternative suppliers is limited.
2. Geographic. When gauging geographic risks, assess whether a large number of your customers or suppliers are located in one geographic region. Operating near supply chain partners offers advantages such as lower transportation costs and faster delivery. Conversely, overseas locales may enable you to cut labor and raw materials expenses.
But there are also potential risks associated with geographic centricity. Local weather conditions, tax rate hikes and regulatory changes can have a significant impact. And these threats increase substantially when dealing with global partners, which may also present risks in the form of geopolitical uncertainty and exchange rate volatility.
Your supply chain is much like your cash flow: When it’s strong, stable and uninterrupted, you’re probably in pretty good shape. Our firm can help you assess your concentration risks and find financially feasible solutions.
Mortgage interest rates are still at low levels, but they likely will increase as the Fed continues to raise rates. So if you’ve been thinking about helping your child — or grandchild — buy a home, consider acting soon. There also are some favorable tax factors that will help:
0% capital gains rate. If the child is in the 10% or 15% income tax bracket, instead of giving cash to help fund a down payment, consider giving long-term appreciated assets such as stock or mutual fund shares. The child can sell the assets without incurring any federal income taxes on the gain, and you can save the taxes you’d owe if you sold the assets yourself.
As long as the assets are worth $14,000 or less (when combined with any other 2017 gifts to the child), there will be no federal gift tax consequences — thanks to the annual gift tax exclusion. Married couples can give twice that amount tax-free if they split the gift. And if you don’t mind using up some of your lifetime exemption ($5.49 million for 2017), you can give even more. Plus, there’s the possibility that the gift and estate taxes could be repealed. If that were to happen, there’d be no limit on how much you could give tax-free (for federal purposes).
Low federal interest rates. Another tax-friendly option is lending funds to the child. Now is a good time for taking this step, too. Currently, Applicable Federal Rates — the rates that can be charged on intrafamily loans without causing unwanted tax consequences — are still quite low by historical standards. But these rates have begun to rise and are also expected to continue to increase this year. So lending money to a loved one for a home purchase sooner rather than later might be a good idea.
If you choose the loan option, it’s important to put a loan agreement in writing and actually collect payment (including interest) on the loan. Otherwise the IRS could deem the loan to actually be a taxable gift. Keep in mind that you’ll have to report the interest as income. But if the interest rate is low, the tax impact should be minimal.
If you have questions about these or other tax-efficient ways to help your child or grandchild buy a home, please contact us.
Picking someone to lead your company after you step down is probably among the hardest aspects of retiring (or otherwise moving on). Sure, there are some business owners who have a ready-made successor waiting in the wings at a moment’s notice. But many have a few viable candidates to consider — others have too few.
When looking for a successor, for best results, keep an open mind. Don’t assume you have to pick any one person — look everywhere. Here are three hot spots to consider.
1. Your family. If yours is a family-owned business, this is a natural place to first look for a successor. Yet, because of the relationships and emotions involved, finding a successor in the family can be particularly complex. Make absolutely sure a son, daughter or other family member really wants to succeed you. But also keep in mind that desire isn’t enough. The loved one must also have the proper qualifications, as well as experience inside and, ideally, outside the company.
2. Nonfamily employees. Keep an eye out for company “stars” who are still early in their careers, regardless of their functional or geographic area. Start developing their leadership skills as early as possible and put them to the test regularly. For example, as time goes on, continually create new projects or positions that give them responsibility for increasingly larger and more complex profit centers to see how they’ll measure up.
3. The wide, wide world. If a family member or current employee just isn’t feasible, you can always look externally. A good way to start is simply by networking with people in your industry, former employees and professional advisors. You can also try placing an ad in a newspaper or trade publication, or on an Internet job site. Don’t forget executive search firms either; they’ll help screen candidates and conduct interviews.
At the end of the day, any successor — whether family member, employee or external candidate — must have the right stuff. Please contact our firm for help setting up an effective succession plan.
Each year, millions of taxpayers claim an income tax refund. To be sure, receiving a payment from the IRS for a few thousand dollars can be a pleasant influx of cash. But it means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan for close to a year, which isn’t the best use of your money.
Fortunately, there is a way to begin collecting your 2017 refund now: You can review the amounts you’re having withheld and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making, and adjust them to keep more money in your pocket during the year.
Reasons to modify amounts
It’s particularly important to check your withholding and/or estimated tax payments if:
Even if you haven’t encountered any major life changes during the past year, changes in the tax law may affect withholding levels, making it worthwhile to double-check your withholding or estimated tax payments.
Making a change
You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even several times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.
While reducing withholdings or estimated tax payments will, indeed, put more money in your pocket now, you also need to be careful that you don’t reduce them too much. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you file your return, even if you pay your outstanding tax liability by the April 2018 deadline.
If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the rest of the year, please contact us.
Providing a strong package of benefits is a competitive imperative in today’s business world. Like many employers, you’ve probably worked hard to put together a solid menu of offerings to your staff. Unfortunately, many employees don’t perceive the full value of the benefits they receive.
Why is this important? An underwhelming perception of value could cause good employees to move on to “greener” pastures. It could also inhibit better job candidates from seeking employment at your company. Perhaps worst of all, if employees don’t fully value their benefits, they might not fully use them — which means you’re wasting dollars and effort on procuring and maintaining a strong package.
Targeting life stage
Among the most successful communication strategies for promoting benefits’ value is often the least commonly used. That is, target the life stage of your employees.
For example, an employee who’s just entering the workforce in his or her twenties will have a much different view of a 401(k) plan than someone nearing retirement. A younger employee will also likely view health care benefits differently. Employers who tailor their communications to the recipient’s generation can improve their success rate at getting workers to understand their benefits.
Covering all bases
There are many other strategies to consider as well. For starters, create a year-round benefits communication program that features clear, concise language and graphics. Many employers discuss benefits with their workforces only during open enrollment periods.
Also, gather feedback to determine employees’ informational needs. You may learn that you have to start communicating in multiple languages, for instance. You might also be able to identify staff members who are particularly knowledgeable about benefits. These employees could serve as word-of-mouth champions of your package who can effectively explain things to others.
Identifying sound strategies
Given the cost and effort you put into choosing, developing and offering benefits to your employees, the payoff could be much better. We can help you ensure you’re getting the most bang for your benefits buck.
Whether you filed your 2016 tax return by the April 18 deadline or you filed for an extension, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of documentation involved. While you need to hold on to all of your 2016 tax records for now, it’s a great time to take a look at your records for previous tax years to see what you can purge.
Consider the statute of limitations
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 likely can shred and toss — or electronically purge — most records related to tax returns for 2013 and earlier years (2012 and earlier if you filed for an extension for 2013).
In some cases, the statute of limitations extends beyond three years. If you understate your adjusted gross income by more than 25%, for example, the limitations period jumps to six years. And there is no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return or file a fraudulent one.
Keep some documents longer
You’ll need to hang on to certain records beyond the statute of limitations:
Tax returns. Keep them forever, so you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed.
W-2 forms. Consider holding them until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Why? In case a question arises regarding your work record or earnings for a particular year.
Records related to real estate or investments. Keep these as long as you own the asset, plus three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return (or six years if you’re concerned about the six-year statute of limitations).
This is only a sampling of retention guidelines for tax-related documents. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.
Just about every business intends to provide world-class customer service. And though many claim their customer service is exceptional, very few can back up that assertion. After all, once a company has established a baseline level of success in interacting with customers, it’s not easy to get to that next level of truly great service. But, fear not, there are ways to elevate your game and, ultimately, strengthen your bottom line in the process.
Start at the top
As is the case for many things in business, success starts at the top. Encourage your fellow owners (if any) and management team to regularly serve customers. Doing so cements customer relationships and communicates to employees that serving others is important and rewarding. Your involvement shows that customer service is the source of your company’s ultimate triumph.
Moving down the organizational chart, cultivate customer-service heroes. Publish articles about your customer service achievements in your company’s newsletter or post them on your website. Champion these heroes in meetings. Public praise turns ordinary employees into stars and encourages future service excellence.
Just make sure to empower all employees to make customer-service decisions. Don’t talk of catering to customers unless your staff can really take the initiative to meet your customers’ needs.
Create a system
Like everyone in today’s data-driven world, customers want information. So strive to provide immediate feedback to customers with a highly visible response system. This will let customers know that their input matters and you’ll reward them for speaking up.
The size and shape of this system will depend on the size, shape and specialty of the company itself. But it should likely encompass the right combination of instant, electronic responses to customer inquires along with phone calls and, where appropriate, face-to-face interactions that reinforce how much you value their business.
Give them a thrill
Consistently great customer service can be an elusive goal. You may succeed for months at a time only to suffer setbacks. Don’t get discouraged. Our firm can help you build a profitable company that excels at thrilling your customers.
While April 15 (April 18 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that are important to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2017 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.
Today’s businesses operate in an era of hyper-connectedness and, unfortunately, a burgeoning global cybercrime industry. You can’t afford to hope you’ll luck out and avoid a cyberattack. It’s essential to establish policies and procedures to minimize risk. One specific area on which to focus is your employees.
Know the threats
There are a variety of cybercrimes you need to guard against. For instance, thieves may steal proprietary or sensitive business data with the intention of selling that information to competitors or other hackers. Or they may be more interested in your employees’ or customers’ personal information for the same reason.
Some cybercriminals may not be necessarily looking to steal anything but rather disable or damage your business systems. For example, they may install “ransomware” that locks you out of your own data until you pay their demands. Or they might launch a “denial-of-service attack,” under which hackers overwhelm your site with millions of data requests until it can no longer function.
Naturally, crimes may be committed by shadowy outsiders. But, all too often, it’s a company employee who either leaves the door open for a cybercriminal or perpetrates the crime him- or herself.
For this reason, it’s essential for your hiring managers to be mindful of cybersecurity when reviewing employment applications — particularly those for positions that involve open access to sensitive company data. If an applicant has an unusual or spotty job history, be sure to find out why before hiring. Check references and conduct background checks as well.
For both new and existing employees, make sure your cybersecurity policies are crystal clear. Include a statement in your employment handbook informing employees that their communications are stored in a backup system, and that you reserve the right to monitor and examine company computers and emails (sent and received) on your system. When such monitoring systems are in place, prudence or suspicious activity will dictate when they should be ramped up.
These are just a few points to bear in mind in relation to your employees and cybercrime. Although most workers are honest and not looking to do harm, all it takes is one mistake or one bad apple to compromise your company’s cybersecurity. We can provide you with more ideas for protecting your data and your business systems.
Because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday, the 2016 tax return filing deadline for individual taxpayers is Tuesday, April 18. The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 18 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. But dropping your return in a mailbox on the 18th may not be sufficient.
Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 18, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared.
You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you’re hit with failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties totaling $1,500.
Avoiding penalty risk
To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:
Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.
If you’re concerned about meeting the April 18 deadline, another option is to file for an extension. If you owe tax, you’ll still need to pay that by April 18 to avoid risk of late-payment penalties as well as interest.
If you’re owed a refund, however, it isn’t necessary to file for an extension: You won’t be charged a failure-to-file penalty if you file late but don’t owe tax.
We can help you determine if filing for an extension makes sense for you — and help estimate whether you owe tax and how much you should pay by April 18.
It’s easy to think of lenders as doing your company a favor. But business financing relationships are just that: relationships. Yes, a lender has the working capital you need to grow. But a stable, successful business represents an enormously beneficial opportunity for the lender as well. So you should be just as picky with your lender as it is with your financials.
Where to start
If you indeed have a long-standing relationship with a local bank, make that your first call. There’s no understating the importance of familiarity, good communication and an amicable rapport when negotiating terms, making payments and dealing with whatever business complications may come up.
But should your local bank not offer the size or scope of financing needed, or if you’d just like to get an idea of what else is out there, don’t hesitate to shop around. Look for a lender with multiple loan products, so you have a better chance at structuring one to your liking. And get some referrals regarding the strength of service and support.
If yours is a small business, check into the availability of Small Business Administration or other government-backed loan programs. These are often designed to boost local economies, so you may be able to get favorable terms and rates.
Last, but not least, don’t limit yourself to traditional lenders. Today’s lending environment is competitive and technology driven. So businesses have a wide variety of alternatives, many of which are just a few clicks away. These include angel investors, online peer-to-peer lending networks and crowdsourcing.
Many, if not most, companies can’t grow without taking on some debt. But precisely how you go about using debt to your advantage depends largely on the lenders with which you choose to do business. Let us play matchmaker and help you find the ideal partner. We can also offer assistance in structuring and presenting your financial statements for best results.
Currently, home ownership comes with many tax-saving opportunities. Consider both deductions and exclusions when you’re filing your 2016 return and tax planning for 2017:
Property tax deduction. Property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).
Mortgage interest deduction. You generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. Points paid related to your principal residence also may be deductible.
Home equity debt interest deduction. Interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. But keep in mind that, if home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes.
Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.
Home office deduction. If your home office use meets certain tests, you generally can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, and the depreciation allocable to the space. Or you may be able to use a simplified method for claiming the deduction.
Rental income exclusion. If you rent out all or a portion of your principal residence or second home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income. But expenses directly associated with the rental, such as advertising and cleaning, won’t be deductible.
Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Be aware that gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.
Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.
The debt forgiveness exclusion and mortgage insurance premium deduction aren’t the only home-related breaks that might not be available in the future. There have been proposals to eliminate other breaks, such as the property tax deduction, as part of tax reform.
Whether such changes will be signed into law and, if so, when they’d go into effect is uncertain. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So contact us for information on the latest tax reform developments or which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim.
In business, and in life, among the most important ways to manage risk is through insurance. For certain types of companies — particularly start-ups and small businesses — one major threat is the sudden loss of an owner or hard-to-replace employee. To safeguard against this risk, insurers offer key person insurance.
Under a key person policy, a business buys life insurance covering the owner or employee, pays the premiums and names itself beneficiary. Should the key person die while the policy is in effect, the business receives the payout. As you formulate and adjust your succession plan, one of these policies can serve as a critical safeguard.
Costs and coverage
Key person insurance can take a variety of forms. Term policies last for a specified number of years, typically five to 20. Whole life (or permanent) policies, which are generally more expensive, provide coverage as long as premiums are paid, and they gradually build up cash surrender value. This value appears on a business’s balance sheet and may be drawn on, if the business needs working capital.
The cost of key person insurance also depends on the covered individual’s health, age and medical history, as well as the desired death benefit. When budgeting for premiums, bear in mind that premiums generally aren’t tax deductible. On the flip side, death benefits typically aren’t included in the business’s taxable income when received.
In terms of coverage limits, insurers may quote a rule of thumb of eight to 10 times the key person’s annual salary. But every business will have different cash flow needs when a key person unexpectedly dies. A more accurate estimate typically comes from evaluating lost income (or value), as well as the costs of finding and training a suitable replacement.
An important decision
If you’ve already chosen a successor, you can buy a policy that covers both of you. And if you haven’t, it may be even more critical to buy coverage on your life to protect the solvency of your business. Please contact our firm for help deciding whether key person insurance is for you.