As we approach the end of the year, it’s a good idea to start reviewing business expenses for deductibility. At the same time, consider whether your business would benefit from accelerating certain expenses into this year.
Be sure to evaluate the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which reduces or eliminates many deductions. In some cases, it may be necessary or desirable to change your expense and reimbursement policies.
There’s no master list of deductible business expenses in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Although some deductions are expressly authorized or excluded, most are governed by the general rule of IRC Sec. 162, which permits businesses to deduct their “ordinary and necessary” expenses.
An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your business. (It need not be indispensable.) Even if an expense is ordinary and necessary, it may not be deductible if the IRS considers it lavish or extravagant.
The TCJA contains many provisions that affect the deductibility of business expenses. Significant changes include these deductions:
Meals and entertainment. The act eliminates most deductions for entertainment expenses, but retains the 50% deduction for business meals. What about business meals provided in connection with nondeductible entertainment? In a recent notice, the IRS clarified that such meals continue to be 50% deductible, provided they’re purchased separately from the entertainment or their cost is separately stated on invoices or receipts.
Transportation. The act eliminates most deductions for qualified transportation fringe benefits, such as parking, vanpooling and transit passes. This change may lead some employers to discontinue these benefits, although others will continue to provide them because 1) they’re a valuable employee benefit (they’re still tax-free to employees) or 2) they’re required by local law.
Employee expenses. The act suspends employee deductions for unreimbursed job expenses — previously treated as miscellaneous itemized deductions — through 2025. Some businesses may want to implement a reimbursement plan for these expenses. So long as the plan meets IRS requirements, reimbursements are deductible by the business and tax-free to employees.
The deductibility of certain expenses, such as employee wages or office supplies, is obvious. In other cases, it may be necessary to consult IRS rulings or court cases for guidance. For assistance in reviewing business expenses, please contact us.
© 2018Read more
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. At Accounting Freedom (Grafton WI accountant), we have four pillars for a solid sales process:
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 out-of-date? 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.
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.
There will always be some degree of record keeping 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.
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 Accounting Freedom (Grafton WI accountant) to discuss these and other ideas on reinforcing your sales process.
© 2018Read more
In today’s tightening job market, to attract and retain the best employees, small businesses need to offer not only competitive pay, but also appealing fringe benefits. Tax free fringe benefits are especially attractive to employees. Let’s take a quick look at some popular options.
Businesses can provide their employees with various types of insurance on a tax-free basis. Here are some of the most common:
Health insurance. If you maintain a health care plan for employees, coverage under the plan isn’t taxable to them. Employee contributions are excluded from income if pretax coverage is elected under a cafeteria plan. Otherwise, such amounts are included in their wages, but may be deductible on a limited basis as an itemized deduction.
Disability insurance. Your premium payments aren’t included in employees’ income, nor are your contributions to a trust providing disability benefits. Employees’ premium payments (or other contributions to the plan) generally aren’t deductible by them or excludable from their income. However, they can make pretax contributions to a cafeteria plan for disability benefits, which are excludable from their income.
Long-term care insurance. Your premium payments aren’t taxable to employees. However, long-term care insurance can’t be provided through a cafeteria plan.
Life insurance. Your employees generally can exclude from gross income premiums you pay on up to $50,000 of qualified group term life insurance coverage. Premiums you pay for qualified coverage exceeding $50,000 are taxable to the extent they exceed the employee’s coverage contributions.
Insurance isn’t the only type of the tax free fringe benefits you can provide. However, the tax treatment of certain benefits has changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:
Dependent care assistance. You can provide employees with tax-free dependent care assistance up to $5,000 for 2018 though a dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), also known as a Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP).
Adoption assistance. For employees who’re adopting children, you can offer an employee adoption assistance program. Employees can exclude from their taxable income up to $13,810 of adoption benefits in 2018.
Educational assistance. You can help employees on a tax-free basis through educational assistance plans (up to $5,250 per year), job-related educational assistance and qualified scholarships.
Moving expense reimbursement. Before the TCJA, if you reimbursed employees for qualifying job-related moving expenses, the reimbursement could be excluded from the employee’s income. The TCJA suspends this break for 2018 through 2025. However, such reimbursements may still be deductible by your business.
Transportation benefits. Qualified employee transportation fringe benefits, such as parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling, are tax-free to recipient employees. However, the TCJA suspends through 2025 the business deduction for providing such benefits. It also suspends the tax-free benefit of up to $20 a month for bicycle commuting.
As you can see, the tax treatment of fringe benefits varies. Contact us for more information.
© 2018Read more
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 BYOD implementation plan and 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 implementation plan and 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:
• Use strong passwords and automatic lock-outs after periods of inactivity,• Immediately report lost or stolen devices,• Install mandated antivirus software and other protective measures,• Regularly back up their devices,• Keep apps and operating systems up to date, and• Encrypt their devices.
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 implementation plan now can help prevent costly mistakes and potential litigation down the road. We can provide further information.
© 2018Read more
Businesses that acquire, construct or substantially improve a building — or did so in previous years — should consider a cost segregation study. It may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions, thus reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And the potential benefits are now even greater due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related breaks under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
IRS rules generally allow you to depreciate commercial buildings over 39 years (27½ years for residential properties). Most times, you’ll depreciate a building’s structural components — such as walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring — along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements — fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, for example — are depreciable over 15 years.
Too often, businesses allocate all or most of a building’s acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for instance — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But often the line between the two is less clear. Items that appear to be part of a building may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.
In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.
A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.
Last year’s TCJA enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing. Sec. 179 allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.
The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold-improvement, retail-improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).
Cost segregation studies may yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. To find out whether a study would be worthwhile for yours, contact us for help assessing the potential tax savings.
© 2018Read more
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 making a new business plan can be a great way to plan for the year ahead.
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 you're making a business plan and it 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. While making a new business plan, it 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. While making a new business plan also keep in mind to include a balance sheet summarizing current assets, liabilities and equity.
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. If you are making a new business plan, our firm can help you review it and generate accurate financials that allow you to take on the coming year with confidence.
© 2018Read more
Tax identity theft may seem like a problem only for individual taxpayers. But, according to the IRS, business identity theft is increasingly becoming common. And identity thieves have become more sophisticated, knowing filing practices, the tax code and the best ways to get valuable data.
In tax identity theft, a taxpayer’s identifying information (such as Social Security number) is used to fraudulently obtain a refund or commit other crimes. Business identity theft occurs when a criminal uses the identifying information of a business to obtain tax benefits or to enable individual tax identity theft schemes.
For example, a thief could use an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to file a fraudulent business tax return and claim a refund. Or a fraudster may report income and withholding for fake employees on false W-2 forms. Then, he or she can file fraudulent individual tax returns for these “employees” to claim refunds.
The consequences can include significant dollar amounts, lost time sorting out the mess and damage to your reputation.
There are some red flags that indicate possible tax identity theft. For example, your business’s identity may have been compromised if:
- Your business doesn’t receive expected or routine mailings from the IRS.
- You receive an IRS notice that doesn’t relate to anything your business submitted, that’s about fictitious employees or that’s related to a defunct, closed or dormant business after all account balances have been paid.
- The IRS rejects an e-filed return or an extension-to-file request, saying it already has a return with that identification number — or the IRS accepts it as an amended return.
- You receive an IRS letter stating that more than one tax return has been filed in your business’s name.
- You receive a notice from the IRS that you have a balance due when you haven’t yet filed a return.
Keep in mind, though, that some of these could be the result of a simple error, such as an inadvertent transposition of numbers. Nevertheless, you should contact the IRS immediately if you receive any notices or letters from the agency that you believe might indicate that someone has fraudulently used your Employer Identification Number.
Businesses should take steps such as the following to protect their own information as well as that of their employees:
- Provide training to accounting, human resources and other employees. Educate them on the latest tax fraud schemes and how to spot phishing emails.
- Use secure methods to send W-2 forms to employees.
- Implement risk management strategies designed to flag suspicious communications.
Of course identity theft can go beyond tax identity theft. Be sure to have a comprehensive plan in place to protect the data of your business, your employees and your customers. If you’re concerned your business has become a victim, or you have questions about prevention, please contact us.
© 2018Read more
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.
Maintaining cash reserves for business is one way to ensure that there’s always a king in the castle, so to speak. 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 reserves for business? 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:
- Working capital = current assets – current liabilities.
- Current ratio = current assets / current liabilities.
- Accounts payable turnover = cost of goods sold / accounts payable.
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.
Just as individuals should set aside some money for a rainy day, so should businesses. But, when it comes to your cash reserves for business, 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.
© 2018Read more
Does your business offer employee travel expense reimbursements? If you do, you know that it can help you attract and retain employees. If you don’t, you might want to start, because changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) make such reimbursements even more attractive to employees. Travel reimbursements also come with tax benefits, but only if you follow a method that passes muster with the IRS.
Before the TCJA, unreimbursed work-related travel expenses generally were deductible on an employee’s individual tax return (subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. However, many employees weren’t able to benefit from the deduction because either they didn’t itemize deductions or they didn’t have enough miscellaneous itemized expenses to exceed the 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor that applied.
For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of AGI floor. That means even employees who itemize deductions and have enough expenses that they would exceed the floor won’t be able to enjoy a tax deduction for business travel. Therefore, the employee travel expense reimbursements are now more impactful.
Your business can deduct qualifying reimbursements, and they’re excluded from the employee’s taxable income. The deduction is subject to a 50% limit for meals. But, under the TCJA, entertainment expenses are no longer deductible.
To be deductible and excludable, travel expenses must be legitimate business expenses and the reimbursements must comply with IRS rules. You can use either an accountable plan or the per diem method to ensure compliance.
An accountable plan is a formal arrangement to advance, reimburse or provide allowances for business expenses. To qualify as “accountable,” your plan must meet the following criteria:
- Payments must be for “ordinary and necessary” business expenses.
- Employees must substantiate these expenses — including amounts, times and places — ideally at least monthly.
- Employees must return any advances or allowances they can’t substantiate within a reasonable time, typically 120 days.
The IRS will treat plans that fail to meet these conditions as non-accountable, transforming all reimbursements into wages taxable to the employee, subject to income taxes (employee) and employment taxes (employer and employee).
With the per diem method, instead of tracking actual expenses, you use IRS tables to determine reimbursements for lodging, meals and incidental expenses, or just for meals and incidental expenses, based on location. (If you don’t go with the per diem method for lodging, you’ll need receipts to substantiate those expenses.)
Be sure you don’t pay employees more than the appropriate per diem amount. The IRS imposes heavy penalties on businesses that routinely overpay per diems.
To learn more about employee travel expense reimbursements and deductions post-TCJA, contact us. We can help you determine whether you should reimburse such expenses and which reimbursement option is better for you.
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 if you are a small business opening a second location.
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: As a small business opening a second location, how might this 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.
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.
As a small business opening a second 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.
Here are some of the key deadlines Q4 2018 affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
- If a calendar-year C corporation that filed an automatic six-month extension.
- File a 2017 income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
- Make contributions for 2017 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2018 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See exception below under “November 13.”).
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2018 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
- If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the fourth installment of 2018 estimated income taxes.
© 2018Read more
Every business with more than one owner needs a company 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.
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 company 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.
At minimum, the buy-sell agreement needs to prescribe various valuation protocols to follow when the agreement is triggered, including:
- How “value” will be defined
- Who will value the business
- Determining whether valuation discounts will apply.
- Who will pay appraisal fees.
- What the timeline will be for the valuation process.
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.
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 company 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.
© 2018Read more
Taxes for independent contractor hire is much cheaper than an employee. In fact, classifying a worker as an independent contractor frees a business from payroll tax liability and allows it to forgo providing overtime pay, unemployment compensation and other employee benefits. It also frees the business from responsibility for withholding income taxes and the worker’s share of payroll taxes.
For these reasons, the federal government views misclassifying a bona fide employee as an independent contractor unfavorably. If the IRS reclassifies a worker as an employee, your business could be hit with back taxes, interest and penalties.
When assessing worker classification, the IRS typically looks at the:
Level of behavioral control. This means the extent to which the company instructs a worker on when and where to do the work, what tools or equipment to use, whom to hire, where to purchase supplies and so on. Also, control typically involves providing training and evaluating the worker’s performance. The more control the company exercises, the more likely the worker is an employee.
Level of financial control. Independent contractors are more likely to invest in their own equipment or facilities, incur unreimbursed business expenses, and market their services to other customers. Employees are more likely to be paid by the hour or week or some other time period; independent contractors are more likely to receive a flat fee.
Relationship of the parties. Independent contractors are often engaged for a discrete project, while employees are typically hired permanently (or at least for an indefinite period). Also, workers who serve a key business function are more likely to be classified as employees.
The IRS examines a variety of factors within each category. You need to consider all of the facts and circumstances surrounding each worker relationship.
Once you’ve completed your review, there are several strategies you can use to minimize your exposure. When in doubt, reclassify questionable independent contractors as employees. This may increase your tax and benefit costs, but it will eliminate reclassification risk.
From there, modify your relationships with independent contractors to better ensure compliance. For example, you might exercise less behavioral control by reducing your level of supervision or allowing workers to set their own hours or work from home.
Also, consider using an employee-leasing company. Workers leased from these firms are employees of the leasing company, which is responsible for taxes, benefits and other employer obligations.
Keep in mind that taxes, interest and penalties aren’t the only possible negative consequences of a worker being reclassified as an employee. In addition, your business could be liable for employee benefits that should have been provided but weren’t. Fortunately, careful handling of contractors can help ensure that independent contractor status will pass IRS scrutiny. Contact our accounting services team if you have questions about worker classification.
© 2018Read more
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 of the HSA with high deductible health plan 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.
© 2018Read more
If your small business doesn’t offer its employees a retirement plan, you may want to consider a SIMPLE IRA. Offering a retirement plan can provide your business with valuable tax deductions and help you attract and retain employees. For a variety of reasons, a SIMPLE IRA plans for small businesses can be a particularly appealing option. The deadline for setting one up for this year is October 1, 2018.
SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” As the name implies, these plans are simple to set up and administer. Unlike 401(k) plans, SIMPLE IRAs don’t require annual filings or discrimination testing.
SIMPLE IRAs are available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Employers must contribute and employees have the option to contribute. The contributions are pretax, and accounts can grow tax-deferred like a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, with distributions taxed when taken in retirement.
As the employer, you can choose from two contribution options:
1. Make a “non-elective” contribution equal to 2% of compensation for all eligible employees. You must make the contribution regardless of whether the employee contributes. This applies to compensation up to the annual limit of $275,000 for 2018 (annually adjusted for inflation).
2. Match employee contributions up to 3% of compensation. Here, you contribute only if the employee contributes. This isn’t subject to the annual compensation limit.
Employees are immediately 100% vested in all SIMPLE IRA contributions.
Any employee who has compensation of at least $5,000 in any prior two years, and is reasonably expected to earn $5,000 in the current year, can elect to have a percentage of compensation put into a SIMPLE IRA.
SIMPLE IRA plans for small businesses offer greater income deferral opportunities than ordinary IRAs, but lower limits than 401(k)s. An employee may contribute up to $12,500 to a SIMPLE IRA in 2018. Employees age 50 or older can also make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000. This compares to $5,500 and $1,000, respectively, for ordinary IRAs, and to $18,500 and $6,000 for 401(k)s. (Some or all of these limits may increase for 2019 under annual cost-of-living adjustments.)
A SIMPLE IRA plans for small businesses might be a good choice for you, but it isn’t the only option. The more-complex 401(k) plan we’ve already mentioned is one alternative. Some others are a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and a defined-benefit pension plan. These two plans don’t allow employee contributions and have other pluses and minuses. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement plan alternatives for your business.
© 2018Read more
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 business community examples that might inspire you.
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.
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.
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.
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 business community ideas and help you assess return on investment.
© 2018Read more
The S corporation business structure offers many advantages, including limited liability for owners and no double taxation (at least at the federal level). Due to certain S Corp requirements, not all businesses are eligible. Plus, with the new 21% flat income tax rate that now applies to C corporations, S corps may not be quite as attractive as they once were.
The primary reason for electing S status is the combination of the limited liability of a corporation and the ability to pass corporate income, losses, deductions and credits through to shareholders. In other words, S corps generally avoid double taxation of corporate income — once at the corporate level and again when distributed to the shareholder. Instead, S corp tax items pass through to the shareholders’ personal returns and the shareholders pay tax at their individual income tax rates.
But now that the C corp rate is only 21% and the top rate on qualified dividends remains at 20%, while the top individual rate is 37%, double taxation might be less of a concern. On the other hand, S corp owners may be able to take advantage of the new qualified business income (QBI) deduction, which can be equal to as much as 20% of QBI.
You have to run the numbers with your tax advisor, factoring in state taxes, too, to determine which structure will be the most tax efficient for you and your business.
If S corp status makes tax sense for your business, you need to make sure you qualify - and stay qualified. S Corp requirements for eligibility to elect to be an S corp or to convert to S status, your business must:
- Be a domestic corporation and have only one class of stock.
- Have no more than 100 shareholders.
- Have only “allowable” shareholders, including individuals, certain trusts and estates. Shareholders can’t include partnerships, corporations and nonresident alien shareholders.
In addition, certain businesses are ineligible, such as insurance companies.
Another important consideration when electing S status is shareholder compensation. The IRS is on the lookout for S corps that pay shareholder-employees an unreasonably low salary to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes and then make distributions that aren’t subject to payroll taxes.
Compensation paid to a shareholder should be reasonable considering what a non-owner would be paid for a comparable position. If a shareholder’s compensation doesn’t reflect the fair market value of the services he or she provides, the IRS may reclassify a portion of distributions as unpaid wages. The company will then owe payroll taxes, interest and penalties on the reclassified wages.
S corp status isn’t the best option for every business. To ensure your business meets the S Corp requirements and that you’ve considered all the pros and cons, contact us. Assessing the tax differences can be tricky — especially with the tax law changes going into effect this year.
© 2018Read more
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 next relationship with an IT solutions company:
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.
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.
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 IT solutions company / consultant to your company phone list. Also, alert your staff that you have engaged a consultant and, to alleviate potential concerns, explain why.
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.
Conduct regular project status meetings with the IT solutions company / consultant to assess progress and provide feedback. Notify the consultant or the internal project manager immediately if you suspect the job is off track.
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 IT solutions company / 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.
© 2018Read more
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) liberalized the eligibility rules for using the cash method of accounting, making this method — which is simpler than the accrual method — available to more businesses. Now the IRS has provided procedures a small business taxpayer can use to obtain automatic consent to change its method of accounting under the TCJA. If you have the option to use either of the tax accounting methods, it pays to consider whether switching methods would be beneficial.
Generally, cash-basis businesses recognize income when it’s received and deduct expenses when they’re paid. Accrual-basis businesses, on the other hand, recognize income when it’s earned and deduct expenses when they’re incurred, without regard to the timing of cash receipts or payments.
In most cases, a business is permitted to use the cash method of the tax accounting methods for tax purposes unless it’s:
1. Expressly prohibited from using the cash method.
2. Expressly required to use the accrual method.
The cash method offers several advantages, including:
- Simplicity. It’s easier and cheaper to implement and maintain.
- Tax-planning flexibility. It offers greater flexibility to control the timing of income and deductible expenses. For example, it allows you to defer income to next year by delaying invoices or to shift deductions into this year by accelerating the payment of expenses. An accrual-basis business doesn’t enjoy this flexibility. For example, to defer income, delaying invoices wouldn’t be enough; the business would have to put off shipping products or performing services.
- Cash flow benefits. Because income is taxed in the year it’s received, the cash method does a better job of ensuring that a business has the funds it needs to pay its tax bill.
In some cases, the accrual method may offer tax advantages. For example, accrual-basis businesses may be able to use certain tax-planning strategies that aren’t available to cash-basis businesses, such as deducting year-end bonuses that are paid within the first 2½ months of the following year and deferring income on certain advance payments.
The accrual technique of the tax accounting methods also does a better job of matching income and expenses. So, in turn, it provides a more accurate picture of a business’s financial performance. That’s why it’s required under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).
If your business prepares GAAP-compliant financial statements, you can still use the cash method for tax purposes. But weigh the cost of maintaining two sets of books against the potential tax benefits.
Keep in mind that cash and accrual are the two primary tax accounting methods, but they’re not the only ones. Some businesses may qualify for a different method, such as a hybrid of the cash and accrual methods.
If your business is eligible for more than one method, we can help you determine whether switching methods would make sense and can execute the change for you if appropriate.
© 2018Read more
As a business grows, one of many challenges it faces is identifying a competitive yet manageable sales 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 sales 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.
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?
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. This is usually based on competitive market practice, and
2. Employee performance as determined through a performance review process conducted by management.
Pay-for-performance can achieve its original intent, recognizing employee performance and outstanding contributions to the company’s success. However, 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.
The ideal solution to both a sales 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.
© 2018Read more
One of the biggest concerns for family business owners is succession planning. Success is a family business transfer of ownership and control of the company to the next generation. Often, the best time tax-wise to start transferring ownership is long before the owner is ready to give up control of the business.
A family limited partnership (FLP) can help owners enjoy the tax benefits of gradually completing a family business transfer of ownership yet allow them to retain control of the business.
To establish an FLP, you transfer your ownership interests to a partnership in exchange for both general and limited partnership interests. You then transfer limited partnership interests to your children.
You retain the general partnership interest, which may be as little as 1% of the assets. But as general partner, you can still run day-to-day operations and make business decisions.
As you transfer the FLP interests, their value is removed from your taxable estate. What’s more, the future business income and asset appreciation associated with those interests move to the next generation.
Because your children hold limited partnership interests, they have no control over the FLP, and thus no control over the business. They also can’t sell their interests without your consent or force the FLP’s liquidation.
The lack of control and lack of an outside market for the FLP interests generally mean the interests can be valued at a discount — so greater portions of the business can be transferred before triggering gift tax. For example, if the discount is 25%, in 2018 you could gift an FLP interest equal to as much as $20,000 tax-free because the discounted value wouldn’t exceed the $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion.
To transfer interests in excess of the annual exclusion, you can apply your lifetime gift tax exemption. And 2018 may be a particularly good year to do so, because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act raised it to a record-high $11.18 million. The exemption is scheduled to be indexed for inflation through 2025 and then drop back down to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026. While Congress could extend the higher exemption, using as much of it as possible now may be tax-smart.
There also may be income tax benefits. The FLP’s income will flow through to the partners for income tax purposes. Your children may be in a lower tax bracket, potentially reducing the amount of income tax paid overall by the family.
Perhaps the biggest downside is that the IRS scrutinizes a family business transfer of ownership with FLPs. If it determines that discounts were excessive or that your FLP had no valid business purpose beyond minimizing taxes, it could assess additional taxes, interest and penalties.
The IRS pays close attention to how FLPs are administered. Lack of attention to partnership formalities, for example, can indicate that an FLP was set up solely as a tax-reduction strategy.
An FLP can be an effective succession and estate planning tool, but it isn’t risk free. Please contact us for help determining whether an FLP is right for your family business transfer of ownership.
© 2018Read more
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 supply chain challenges within your company may lie.
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.
Just as businesses face many supply chain challenges, 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.
© 2018Read more
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer claim the home office tax deduction. If, however, you run a business from your home or are otherwise self-employed and use part of your home for business purposes, the home office deduction may still be available to you.
Homeowners know that they can claim itemized deductions for property tax and mortgage interest on their principal residences, subject to certain limits. Most other home-related expenses, such as utilities, insurance and repairs, aren’t deductible.
But if you use part of your home for business purposes, you may be entitled to deduct a portion of these expenses, as well as depreciation. Or you might be able to claim the simplified home office tax deduction of $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).
You might qualify for the home office tax deduction if part of your home is used as your principal place of business “regularly and exclusively,” defined as follows:
1. Regular use. You use a specific area of your home for business on a regular basis. Incidental or occasional business use is not regular use.
2. Exclusive use. You use the specific area of your home only for business. It’s not necessary for the space to be physically partitioned off. But, you don’t meet the requirements if the area is used both for business and personal purposes, such as a home office that also serves as a guest bedroom.
Regular and exclusive business use of the space aren’t, however, the only criteria.
Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you:
1) use the space exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities of your business.
2) don’t have another fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities.
Examples of activities that are administrative or managerial in nature include:
- Billing customers, clients or patients.
- Keeping books and records.
- Ordering supplies.
- Setting up appointments.
- Forwarding orders or writing reports.
If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises. The use of your home must be substantial and integral to the business conducted.
Alternatively, you may be able to claim the home office tax deduction if you have a storage area in your home — or in a separate free-standing structure (such as a studio, workshop, garage or barn) — that’s used exclusively and regularly for your business.
The home office deduction can provide a valuable tax-saving opportunity for business owners and other self-employed taxpayers who work from home. If you’re not sure whether you qualify or if you have other questions, please contact us.
© 2018Read more
A strategic planning process 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 for your strategic planning process.
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 go through the temptation of “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.
The strategic planning process, 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.
© 2018Read more
Vehicle, travel and meals expenses tax deductions are common for businesses. But if you don’t properly document these expenses, you could find your deductions denied by the IRS.
Subject to various rules and limits, business meal (generally 50%), vehicle and travel expenses may be deductible, whether you pay for the expenses directly or reimburse employees for them. Deductibility depends on a variety of factors, but generally the expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” and directly related to the business.
Proper documentation, however, is one of the most critical requirements. And all too often, when the IRS scrutinizes these deductions, taxpayers don’t have the necessary documentation.
Following some simple steps can help ensure you have documentation that will pass muster with the IRS:
Keep receipts or similar documentation. You generally must have receipts, canceled checks or bills that show amounts and dates of business expenses. If you’re deducting vehicle expenses using the standard mileage rate (54.5 cents for 2018), log business miles driven.
Track business purposes. Be sure to record the business purpose of each expense. This is especially important if on the surface an expense could appear to be a personal one. If the business purpose of an expense is clear from the surrounding circumstances, the IRS might not require a written explanation — but it’s probably better to err on the side of caution and document the business purpose anyway.
Require employees to comply. If you reimburse employees for expenses, make sure they provide you with proper documentation. Also be aware that the reimbursements will be treated as taxable compensation to the employee (and subject to income tax and FICA withholding) unless you make them via an “accountable plan.”
Don’t re-create expense logs at year end or when you receive an IRS deficiency notice. Take a moment to record the details in a log at the time of the event or soon after. The IRS considers timely kept records more reliable, plus it’s easier to track expenses as you go than try to re-create a log later. For expense reimbursements, require employees to submit monthly expense reports (which is also generally a requirement for an accountable plan).
You’ve probably heard that, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, entertainment expenses are no longer deductible. There’s some debate as to whether this includes business meals with actual or prospective clients. Until there’s more certainty on that issue, it’s a good idea to document these expenses. That way you’ll have what you need to deduct them if Congress or the IRS provides clarification that these expenses are indeed still deductible.
For more information about what meal, vehicle and travel expenses are and aren’t deductible — and how to properly document deductible expenses — please contact us.
© 2018Read more
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides a valuable new tax break to non-corporate owners of pass-through entities: a deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI). The deduction generally applies to income from sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). It can equal as much as 20% of QBI. But once taxable income exceeds $315,000 for married couples filing jointly or $157,500 for other filers, a wage limit begins to phase in.
When the wage limit is fully phased in, at $415,000 for joint filers and $207,500 for other filers, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of:
- 50% of the amount of W-2 wages paid to employees during the tax year, or
- The sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified business property (QBP).
When the wage limit applies but isn’t yet fully phased in, the amount of the limit is reduced and the final deduction is calculated as follows:
1. The difference between taxable income and the applicable threshold is divided by $100,000 for joint filers or $50,000 for other filers.
2. The resulting percentage is multiplied by the difference between the gross deduction and the fully wage-limited deduction.
3. The result is subtracted from the gross deduction to determine the final deduction.
Let’s say Chris and Leslie have taxable income of $600,000. This includes $300,000 of qualified business income from Chris’s pass-through business, which pays $100,000 in wages and has $200,000 of QBP. The gross deduction would be $60,000 (20% of $300,000), but the wage limit applies in full because the married couple’s taxable income exceeds the $415,000 top of the phase-in range for joint filers. Computing the deduction is fairly straightforward in this situation.
The first option for the wage limit calculation is $50,000 (50% of $100,000). The second option is $30,000 (25% of $100,000 + 2.5% of $200,000). So the wage limit — and the deduction — is $50,000.
What if Chris and Leslie’s taxable income falls within the phase-in range? The calculation is a bit more complicated. Let’s say their taxable income is $400,000. The full wage limit is still $50,000, but only 85% of the full limit applies:
($400,000 taxable income - $315,000 threshold)/$100,000 = 85%
To calculate the amount of their deduction, the couple must first calculate 85% of the difference between the gross deduction of $60,000 and the fully wage-limited deduction of $50,000:
($60,000 - $50,000) × 85% = $8,500
That amount is subtracted from the $60,000 gross deduction for a final deduction of $51,500.
Be aware that another restriction may apply: For income from “specified service businesses,” the Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction is reduced if an owner’s taxable income falls within the applicable income range and eliminated if income exceeds it. Please contact us to learn whether your business is a specified service business or if you have other questions about the QBI deduction.
© 2018Read more
For small businesses, managing payroll can be one of the most arduous tasks. Adding to the burden earlier this year was adjusting income tax withholding based on the new tables issued by the IRS. (Those tables account for changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.) But it’s crucial not only to withhold the appropriate taxes — including both income tax and employment taxes — but also to remit them on time to the federal government.
If you don’t, you, personally, could face harsh payroll tax penalties. This is true even if your business is an entity that normally shields owners from personal liability, such as a corporation or limited liability company.
Employers must withhold federal income and employment taxes (such as Social Security) as well as applicable state and local taxes on wages paid to their employees. The federal taxes must then be remitted to the federal government according to a deposit schedule.
If a business makes payments late, there are escalating penalties. And if it fails to make them, the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty could apply. Under this penalty, also known as the 100% penalty, the IRS can assess the entire unpaid amount against a “responsible person.”
The corporate veil won’t shield corporate owners in this instance. The liability protections that owners of corporations — and limited liability companies — typically have don’t apply to payroll tax debts.
When the IRS assesses the 100% penalty, it can file a lien or take levy or seizure action against personal assets of a responsible person.
The penalty can be assessed against a shareholder, owner, director, officer or employee. In some cases, it can be assessed against a third party. The IRS can also go after more than one person. To be liable, an individual or party must:
1. Be responsible for collecting, accounting for and remitting withheld federal taxes.
2. Willfully fail to remit those taxes. That means intentionally, deliberately, voluntarily and knowingly disregarding the requirements of the law.
When it comes to the 100% penalty, prevention is the best medicine. So make sure that federal taxes are being properly withheld from employees’ paychecks and are being timely remitted to the federal government. (It’s a good idea to also check state and local requirements and potential payroll tax penalties.)
If you aren’t already using a payroll service, consider hiring one. A good payroll service provider relieves you of the burden of withholding the proper amounts, taking care of the tax payments and handling record-keeping. Contact us for more information.
© 2018Read more
You’ve probably heard about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing state and local governments to impose more out of state sales tax laws. The ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. is welcome news for brick-and-mortar retailers, who felt previous rulings gave an unfair advantage to their online competitors. And state and local governments are pleased to potentially be able to collect more sales tax.
But for businesses with out-of-state online sales that haven’t had to collect sales tax from out-of-state customers in the past, the decision brings many questions and concerns.
Even before Wayfair, a state could require an out-of-state business to collect sales tax from its residents on online sales if the business had a “substantial nexus” — or connection — with the state. The nexus requirement is part of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Previous Supreme Court rulings had found that a physical presence in a state (such as retail outlets, employees or property) was necessary to establish substantial nexus. As a result, some online retailers have already been collecting tax from out-of-state customers, while others have not had to.
In Wayfair, South Dakota had enacted a law requiring out-of-state retailers that made at least 200 sales or sales totaling at least $100,000 in the state to collect and remit sales tax. The Supreme Court found that the physical presence rule is “unsound and incorrect,” and that the South Dakota tax satisfies the substantial nexus requirement.
The Court said that the physical presence rule puts businesses with a physical presence at a competitive disadvantage compared with remote sellers that needn’t charge customers for taxes.
In addition, the Court found that the physical presence rule treats sellers differently for arbitrary reasons. A business with a few items of inventory in a small warehouse in a state is subject to sales tax on all of its sales in the state, while a business with a pervasive online presence but no physical presence isn’t subject to the same tax for the sales of the same items.
Wayfair doesn’t necessarily mean that you must immediately begin collecting sales tax on online sales to all of your out-of-state customers. You’ll be required to collect such taxes only if the particular state requires it. Some states already have laws on the books similar to South Dakota’s, but many states will need to revise or enact legislation.
Also keep in mind that the substantial nexus requirement isn’t the only principle in the Commerce Clause doctrine that can invalidate a state tax. The others weren’t argued in Wayfair, but the Court observed that South Dakota’s tax system included several features that seem designed to prevent discrimination against or undue burdens on interstate commerce, such as a prohibition against retroactive application and a safe harbor for taxpayers who do only limited business in the state.
Please contact us with any questions you have about the out of state sales tax laws and collection requirements.
© 2018Read more
For tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) created a flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations. Under prior law, C corporations were taxed at rates as high as 35%. The TCJA also reduced individual income tax rates, which apply to sole proprietorships and pass-through entities, including partnerships, S corporations, and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). The top rate, however, dropped only slightly, from 39.6% to 37%.
On the surface, that may make choosing C corporation structure seem like a no-brainer. But there are many other considerations involved in making a choice of business entity.
Under prior tax law, conventional wisdom was that most small businesses should be set up as sole proprietorships or pass-through entities to avoid the double taxation of C corporations: A C corporation pays entity-level income tax and then shareholders pay tax on dividends — and on capital gains when they sell the stock. For pass-through entities, there’s no federal income tax at the entity level.
Although C corporations are still potentially subject to double taxation under the TCJA, their new 21% tax rate helps make up for it. This issue is further complicated, however, by another provision of the TCJA that allows non-corporate owners of pass-through entities to take a deduction equal to as much as 20% of qualified business income (QBI), subject to various limits. But, unless Congress extends it, the break is available only for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when deciding how to structure a business. The best choice depends on your business’s unique situation and your situation as an owner.
Here are three common scenarios and the entity-choice implications:
1. Business generates tax losses. For a business that consistently generates losses, there’s no tax advantage to operating as a C corporation. Losses from C corporations can’t be deducted by their owners. A pass-through entity will generally make more sense because losses pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns.
2. Business distributes all profits to owners. For a profitable business that pays out all income to the owners, operating as a pass-through entity generally will be better if significant QBI deductions are available. If not, it’s probably a toss-up in terms of tax liability.
3. Business retains all profits to finance growth. For a business that’s profitable but holds on to its profits to fund future growth strategies, operating as a C corporation generally will be advantageous if the corporation is a qualified small business (QSB). Why? A 100% gain exclusion may be available for QSB stock sale gains. If QSB status is unavailable, operating as a C corporation is still probably preferred — unless significant QBI deductions would be available at the owner level.
These are only some of the issues to consider when making the C corporation vs. pass-through choice of business entity. We can help you evaluate your options.
© 2018Read more
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. Going through a midyear business evaluation checklist can be of great benefit. It can help you and your management team determine which objectives are still “meetable” and which one’s 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.
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 to the end of the year to assess the progress of your 2018 strategic plan. Conduct a midyear business evaluation checklist and review. Get the information you need to make any adjustments necessary to help ensure success. Let us know how we can help.
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 sourcing strategy over time, you’ve got to regularly reassess your operations and ask the right questions. Here are a few to consider:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A successful IT sourcing 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 sourcing 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.
© 2018Read more
If you own a business and have a child in high school or college, hiring him or her for the summer can provide a multitude of benefits, including tax savings. And hiring family members as employee can make more sense than ever due to changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
By shifting some of your business earnings to a child as wages for services performed, you can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income. For your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done must be legitimate and the child’s wages must be reasonable.
Here’s an example: A sole proprietor is in the 37% tax bracket. He hires his 20-year-old daughter, who’s majoring in marketing, to work as a marketing coordinator full-time during the summer. She earns $12,000 and doesn’t have any other earnings.
The father saves $4,440 (37% of $12,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to his daughter, who can use her $12,000 standard deduction (for 2018) to completely shelter her earnings. This is nearly twice as much as would have been sheltered last year, pre-TCJA, when the standard deduction was only $6,350.
The father can save an additional $2,035 in taxes if he keeps his daughter on the payroll as a part-time employee into the fall and pays her an additional $5,500. She can shelter the additional income from tax by making a tax-deductible contribution to her own traditional IRA.
Family taxes will be cut even if an employee-child’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction and IRA deduction. Why? The unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the child beginning at a rate of 10% instead of being taxed at the parent’s higher rate.
TCJA changes to the “kiddie tax” also make income-shifting through hiring your child (rather than, say, giving him or her income-producing investments) more appealing. The kiddie tax generally applies to children under age 19 and to full-time students under age 24. Before 2018, the unearned income of a child subject to the kiddie tax was generally taxed at the parents’ tax rate.
The TCJA makes the kiddie tax harsher. For 2018-2025, a child’s unearned income will be taxed according to the tax brackets used for trusts and estates, which for 2018 are taxed at the highest rate of 37% once taxable income reaches $12,500. In contrast, for a married couple filing jointly, the 37% rate doesn’t kick in until their taxable income tops $600,000. In other words, children’s unearned income often will be taxed at higher rates than their parents’ income.
But the kiddie tax doesn’t apply to earned income.
If your business isn’t incorporated or a partnership that includes non-parent partners, you might also save some employment tax dollars. Contact us to learn more about the tax rules surrounding hiring your child, how the kiddie tax works or other family-related tax-saving strategies.
© 2018Read more
It’s not uncommon for businesses to sometimes generate tax losses. But the losses that can be deducted are limited by tax law in some situations. Businesses implementing a tax loss strategy are now facing more difficult challenges. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) further restricts the amount of losses that sole proprietors, partners, S corporation shareholders and, typically, limited liability company (LLC) members can currently deduct — beginning in 2018. This could negatively impact owners of start-ups and businesses facing adverse conditions.
Under pre-TCJA law, an individual taxpayer’s business losses could usually be fully deducted in the tax year when they arose unless:
- The passive activity loss (PAL) rules or some other provision of tax law limited that favorable outcome, or
- The business loss was so large that it exceeded taxable income from other sources, creating a net operating loss (NOL).
The TCJA temporarily changes the rules for deducting an individual taxpayer’s business losses. If your pass-through business generates a tax loss for a tax year beginning in 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct an “excess business loss” in the current year. An excess business loss is the excess of your aggregate business deductions for the tax year over the sum of:
- Your aggregate business income and gains for the tax year, and $250,000 ($500,000 if you’re a married taxpayer filing jointly).
- The excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for NOLs.
For business losses passed through to individuals from S corporations, partnerships and LLCs treated as partnerships for tax purposes, the new excess business loss limitation rules apply at the owner level. In other words, each owner’s allocable share of business income, gain, deduction or loss is passed through to the owner and reported on the owner’s personal federal income tax return for the owner’s tax year that includes the end of the entity’s tax year.
Keep in mind that the new loss limitation rules apply after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your business or rental activity loss, you don’t get to the new loss limitation rules.
The rationale underlying the new loss limitation rules is to restrict the ability of individual taxpayers to use current-year business losses to offset income from other sources, such as salary, self-employment income, interest, dividends and capital gains.
The practical impact is that your allowable current-year business losses can’t offset more than $250,000 of income from such other sources (or more than $500,000 for joint filers). The requirement that excess business losses be carried forward as an NOL forces you to wait at least one year to get any tax benefit from those excess losses.
If you’re expecting your business to generate a tax loss in 2018, contact us to determine whether you’ll be affected by the new loss limitation rules. We can also provide more information about the PAL and NOL rules.
© 2018Read more
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 improve customer support and encourage innovation in your customer service department:
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 to improve customer support.
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.
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.
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 customer support within a company 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.
© 2018Read more
At this time of year, a summer vacation is on many people’s minds. If you travel for business, combining a business trip with a vacation to offset some of the cost with a tax deduction can sound appealing. But tread carefully, or you might not be eligible for the deduction you’re expecting.
Business travel expenses are potentially deductible if the travel is within the United States and the expenses are “ordinary and necessary” and directly related to the business. (Foreign travel expenses may also be deductible, but stricter rules apply than are discussed here.)
Currently, business owners and the self-employed are potentially eligible to deduct business travel expenses. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct such expenses. The potential deductions discussed below assume that you’re a business owner or self-employed.
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. So, are vacations tax deductible? Well, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, generally none of those costs are deductible.
The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining whether the primary reason for domestic travel is business:
- Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays — if they fall between days devoted to business and it would be impractical to return home.
- Standby days (days when your physical presence is required) also count as business days. This also counts even if you aren’t called upon to work those days.
- Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours also counts as a business day.
You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip if business days exceed personal days.
What transportation costs can you deduct? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, etc. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.
Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. Examples of these expenses include lodging, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days aren’t deductible.
Keep in mind that only expenses for yourself are deductible. You can’t deduct expenses for family members traveling with you — unless they’re employees of your business and traveling for a bona fide business purpose.
Be sure to accumulate proof of the business nature of your trip and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions. You also must properly substantiate all of the expenses you’re deducting.
Additional rules and limits apply to the travel expense deduction. Please contact us if you have questions.
© 2018Read more
“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.
Business 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.
While performing a systematic review of the operations and resources, business cost control will drive you to ask some tough questions. Examples include the following:
- Is the activity in question operating as efficiently as possible?
- Are we paying reasonable prices for supplies or materials while maintaining quality?
- Can we upgrade our technology to minimize labor costs?
A good way to determine whether your company’s expenses are remaining within reason is to compare them to current industry benchmarks.
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.
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 business cost control, and customized help succeeding at it, please contact us.
© 2018Read more
IRS examiners use Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs) to prepare for audits — and so can small business owners. Many ATGs target specific industries, such as construction. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation and fringe benefits. These publications can provide valuable insights into issues that might surface if your business is audited. It can also help address what to expect during an IRS audit and how to better prepare.
The IRS compiles information obtained from past examinations of taxpayers and publishes its findings in ATGs. Typically, these publications explain:
- The nature of the industry or issue.
- Accounting methods commonly used in an industry.
- Relevant audit examination techniques.
- Common and industry-specific compliance issues.
- Business practices.
- Industry terminology.
- Sample interview questions.
By using a specific ATG, an examiner may, for example, be able to reconcile discrepancies when reported income or expenses aren’t consistent with what’s normal for the industry or to identify anomalies within the geographic area in which the taxpayer resides.
ATGs cover the types of documentation IRS examiners should request from taxpayers and what relevant information might be uncovered during a tour of the business premises. These guides are intended in part to help examiners identify potential sources of income that could otherwise slip through the cracks.
Other issues on what to expect during an IRS audit that ATGs might instruct examiners to inquire about include:
- Internal controls (or lack of controls).
- The sources of funds used to start the business
- A list of suppliers and vendors.
- The availability of business records.
- Names of individual(s) responsible for maintaining business records.
- Nature of business operations (for example, hours and days open).
- Names and responsibilities of employees.
- Names of individual(s) with control over inventory.
- Personal expenses paid with business funds.
For example, one ATG focuses specifically on cash-intensive businesses. This includes auto repair shops, check-cashing operations, gas stations, liquor stores, restaurants and bars, and salons. It highlights the importance of reviewing cash receipts and cash register tapes for these types of businesses.
Cash-intensive businesses may be tempted to under-report their cash receipts, but franchised operations may have internal controls in place to deter such “skimming.” For instance, a franchisee may be required to purchase products or goods from the franchisor, which provides a paper trail that can be used to verify sales records.
Likewise, for gas stations, examiners must check the methods of determining income, rebates and other incentives. Restaurants and bars should be asked about net profits compared to the industry average, spillage, pouring averages and tipping.
Although ATGs were created to enhance IRS examiner proficiency, they also can help small businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise red flags with the IRS. To access the complete list of ATGs and learn more on what to expect during an IRS audit, visit the IRS website. And for more information on the IRS red flags that may be relevant to your business, contact us.
© 2018Read 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 staying competitive in business 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:
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.
The struggle in staying competitive in business can hinge on the resources that it 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.
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.
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?
Staying competitive in business can be a struggle and 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.
Now that small businesses and their owners have filed their 2017 income tax returns (or filed for an extension), it’s a good time to review some of the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that may significantly impact their taxes for 2018 and beyond. Generally, the new tax rules for small businesses apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and are permanent, unless otherwise noted.
This is only a sampling of some of the most significant TCJA changes to the new tax rules for small businesses and their owners beginning this year, and additional rules and limits apply. The combined impact of these changes should inform which tax strategies you and your business implement in 2018, such as how to time income and expenses to your tax advantage. The sooner you begin the tax planning process, the more tax-saving opportunities will be open to you. So don’t wait to start; contact us today.
© 2018Read more
Many companies offer employer provided health 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 the expenses to their employer provided health benefits. The trick is taking a multi-pronged approach — here are some ideas:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 employer provided health 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.
You may have breathed a sigh of relief after filing your 2017 income tax return (or requesting an extension). But if your office is strewn with reams of paper consisting of years’ worth of tax returns, receipts, canceled checks and other financial records (or your computer desktop is filled with a multitude of digital tax-related files), you probably want to get rid of what you can. Follow these guidelines for keeping tax records as you clean up.
Retain records that support items shown on your tax return at least until the statute of limitations runs out — generally three years from the due date of the return or the date you filed, whichever is later. That means you can now potentially throw out records for the 2014 tax year if you filed the return for that year by the regular filing deadline. But some records should be kept longer.
For example, there’s no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return or file a fraudulent one. So you’ll generally want to keep copies of your returns themselves permanently, so you can show that you did file a legitimate return.
Also bear in mind that, if you understate your adjusted gross income by more than 25%, the statute of limitations period is six years.
Records substantiating costs and deductions associated with business property are necessary to determine the basis and any gain or loss when the property is sold. According to IRS guidelines, you should keep these for as long as you own the property, plus seven years.
The IRS recommends keeping employee records for three years after an employee has been terminated. In addition, you should maintain records that support employee earnings for at least four years. (This timeframe generally will cover varying state and federal requirements.) Also keep employment tax records for four years from the date the tax was due or the date it was paid, whichever is longer.
For travel and transportation expenses supported by mileage logs and other receipts, keep supporting documents for the three-year statute of limitations period.
Regulations for sales tax returns vary by state. Check the rules for the states where you file sales tax returns. Retention periods typically range from three to six years.
It’s easy to accumulate a mountain of paperwork (physical or digital) from years of filing tax returns. If you’re unsure whether you should retain a document, a good rule of thumb is to hold on to it for at least six years or, for property-related records, at least seven years after you dispose of the property. But, again, you should be keeping tax returns themselves permanently, and other rules or guidelines might apply in certain situations. Please contact us with any questions.
© 2018Read more
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 traditional marketing techniques to consider:
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.
Have staff members walk around outdoor events or busy areas with samples or brochures. Just be sure to train them to be friendly and non-confrontational. If appropriate, employees might wear distinctive clothing or even costumes or sandwich boards to draw attention.
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.
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.
Street traditional marketing techniques 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.
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.
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 traditional marketing techniques 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.
© 2018Read more
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) includes many changes affecting employee benefits tax breaks. Among the changes are four negatives and one positive that will impact not only employees but also the businesses providing the benefits.
Beginning with the 2018 tax year, the TCJA reduces or eliminates employee benefits tax breaks in the following areas:
1. Transportation benefits. The TCJA eliminates business deductions for the cost of providing qualified employee transportation fringe benefits, such as parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling. (These benefits are still tax-free to recipient employees.) It also disallows business deductions for the cost of providing commuting transportation to an employee (such as hiring a car service), unless the transportation is necessary for the employee’s safety. And it suspends through 2025 the tax-free benefit of up to $20 a month for bicycle commuting.
2. On-premises meals. The TCJA reduces to 50% a business’s deduction for providing certain meals to employees on the business premises, such as when employees work late or if served in a company cafeteria. (The deduction is scheduled for elimination in 2025.) For employees, the value of these benefits continues to be tax-free.
3. Moving expense reimbursements. The TCJA suspends through 2025 the exclusion from employees’ taxable income of a business’s reimbursements of employees’ qualified moving expenses. However, businesses generally will still be able to deduct such reimbursements.
4. Achievement awards. The TCJA eliminates the business tax deduction and corresponding employee tax exclusion for employee achievement awards that are provided in the form of cash, gift coupons or certificates, vacations, meals, lodging, tickets to sporting or theater events, securities and “other similar items.” However, the tax breaks are still available for gift certificates that allow the recipient to select tangible property from a limited range of items preselected by the employer. The deduction/exclusion limits remain at up to $400 of the value of achievement awards for length of service or safety and $1,600 for awards under a written nondiscriminatory achievement plan.
For 2018 and 2019, the TCJA creates a tax credit for wages paid to qualifying employees on family and medical leave. To qualify, a business must offer at least two weeks of annual paid family and medical leave, as described by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), to qualified employees. The paid leave must provide at least 50% of the employee’s wages. Leave required by state or local law or that was already part of the business’s employee benefits program generally doesn’t qualify.
The credit equals a minimum of 12.5% of the amount of wages paid during a leave period. The credit is increased gradually for payments above 50% of wages paid and tops out at 25%. No double-dipping: Employers can’t also deduct wages claimed for the credit.
Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these employee benefits tax breaks, and that the TCJA makes additional changes affecting employee benefits. Contact us for more details.
© 2018Read more
“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 technology implementation.
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 technology implementation 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.
Most business owners don’t need to scramble to for blockchain technology implementation 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.
© 2018Read more
When a company’s deductible expenses exceed its income, generally a net operating loss (NOL) occurs. If when filing your 2017 income tax return you found that your business had an NOL, there is an upside: tax benefits, including a net operating loss carryback. But beware — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes some significant changes to the tax treatment of NOLs.
Under pre-TCJA law, when a business incurs a loss, a net operating loss carryback can be applied for up to two years. From there, any remaining amount can be carried forward up to 20 years. The net operating loss carryback can generate an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow.
The business can, however, elect instead to carry the entire loss forward. If cash flow is strong, this may be more beneficial, such as if the business’s income increases substantially, pushing it into a higher tax bracket — or if tax rates increase. In both scenarios, the carryforward can save more taxes than the net operating loss carryback because deductions are more powerful when higher tax rates apply.
But the TCJA has established a flat 21% tax rate for C corporation taxpayers beginning with the 2018 tax year, and the rate has no expiration date. So C corporations don’t have to worry about being pushed into a higher tax bracket unless Congress changes the corporate rates again.
Also keep in mind that the rules are more complex for pass-through entities, such as partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (if they elected partnership tax treatment). Each owner’s allocable share of the entity’s loss is passed through to the owners and reported on their personal returns. The tax benefit depends on each owner’s particular tax situation.
The changes the TCJA made to the tax treatment of NOLs generally aren’t favorable to taxpayers:
For NOLs arising in tax years ending after December 31, 2017, a qualifying NOL can’t be carried back at all. This may be especially detrimental to start-up businesses, which tend to generate NOLs in their early years and can greatly benefit from the cash-flow boost of a carried-back NOL. (On the plus side, the TCJA allows NOLs to be carried forward indefinitely, as opposed to the previous 20-year limit.)
For NOLs arising in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, an NOL carry-forward generally can’t be used to shelter more than 80% of taxable income in the carry-forward year. (Under prior law, generally up to 100% could be sheltered.)
The differences between the effective dates for these changes may have been a mistake, and a technical correction might be made by Congress. Also be aware that, in the case of pass-through entities, owners’ tax benefits from the entity’s net loss might be further limited under the TCJA’s new “excess business loss” rules.
NOLs can provide valuable tax benefits. The rules, however, have always been complicated, and the TCJA has complicated them further. Please contact us if you’d like more information on the NOL rules and how you can maximize the tax benefit of an NOL.
© 2018Read more
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 improving employee performance and supercharge your supervisors:
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.
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.
While people managers need to keep an eye out for good and bad behavior, they shouldn’t micro-manage. 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. Micro-managing 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.
© 2018Read more
Classifying workers as independent contractors — rather than employees — can save businesses money and provide other benefits. But the IRS is on the lookout for businesses that do this improperly to avoid taxes and employee benefit obligations. This is why it is important to look at an employee vs contractor criteria.
To find out how the IRS will classify a particular worker, businesses can file optional IRS Form SS-8, “Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.” However, the IRS has a history of reflexively classifying workers as employees, and filing this form may alert the IRS that your business has classification issues — and even inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit.
A business enjoys several advantages when it classifies a worker as an independent contractor rather than as an employee. For example, it isn’t required to pay payroll taxes, withhold taxes, pay benefits or comply with most wage and hour laws.
On the downside, if the IRS determines that you’ve improperly classified employees as independent contractors, you can be subject to significant back taxes, interest and penalties. That’s why filing IRS Form SS-8 for an up-front determination may sound appealing.
But because of the risks involved, instead of filing the form, it can be better to simply properly treat independent contractors so they meet the tax code rules. Among other things, this generally includes not controlling how the worker performs his or her duties, ensuring you’re not the worker’s only client, providing Form 1099 and, overall, not treating the worker like an employee.
Workers seeking determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to health, retirement and other employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.
After a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS sends a letter to the business. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return it to the IRS, which will render a classification decision. But the Form SS-8 determination process doesn’t constitute an official IRS audit.
If your business properly classifies workers as independent contractors, don’t panic if a worker files a Form SS-8. Contact us before replying to the IRS. With a proper response, you may be able to continue to classify the worker as a contractor. We also can assist you in setting up independent contractor relationships that can pass muster with the IRS.
© 2018Read more
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 ideal financial 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 and ideal financial ratios include:
• Gross margin [(revenue – cost of sales) / revenue],
• Current ratio (current assets / current liabilities),
• Total asset turnover ratio (annual revenue / total assets), and
• Interest coverage ratio (earnings before interest and taxes / interest expense).
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 ideal financial 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.
© 2018Read more
Here are some of the key deadlines q2 2018 for taxes affecting businesses and other employers. 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 key deadlines q2 2018 and to learn more about the filing requirements.
Electronically file 2017 Form 1096, Form 1098, Form 1099 (except if an earlier deadline applies) and Form W-2G.
If a calendar-year C corporation, file a 2017 income tax return (Form 1120) or file for an automatic six-month extension (Form 7004), and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2017 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the first installment of 2018 estimated income taxes.
Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for first quarter 2018 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below under “May 10.”)
Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for first quarter 2018 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the second installment of 2018 estimated income taxes.
© 2018Read more
When a business decides in planning a company 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 process of planning a company retreat, 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.
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.
© 2018Read more
Normally when appreciated business assets such as real estate are sold, tax is owed on the appreciation. But there’s a way to defer this tax: a Section 1031 "like kind exchange accounting." However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduces the types of property eligible for this favorable tax treatment.
Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allows you to defer gains on real or personal property used in a business or held for investment if, instead of selling it, you exchange it solely for property of a “like kind.” Thus, the tax benefit of an exchange is that you defer tax and, thereby, have use of the tax savings until you sell the replacement property.
This technique is especially flexible for real estate, because virtually any type of real estate will be considered to be of a like kind, as long as it’s business or investment property. For example, you can exchange a warehouse for an office building, or an apartment complex for a strip mall.
Although a like kind exchange accounting may sound quick and easy, it’s relatively rare for two owners to simply swap properties. You’ll likely have to execute a “deferred” exchange, in which you engage a qualified intermediary (QI) for assistance.
When you sell your property (the relinquished property), the net proceeds go directly to the QI, who then uses them to buy replacement property. To qualify for tax-deferred exchange treatment, you generally must identify replacement property within 45 days after you transfer the relinquished property and complete the purchase within 180 days after the initial transfer.
An alternate approach is a “reverse” exchange. Here, an exchange accommodation titleholder (EAT) acquires title to the replacement property before you sell the relinquished property. You can defer capital gains by identifying one or more properties to exchange within 45 days after the EAT receives the replacement property and, typically, completing the transaction within 180 days.
There had been some concern that tax reform would include the elimination of like-kind exchanges. The good news is that the TCJA still generally allows tax-deferred like-kind exchanges of business and investment real estate.
But there’s also some bad news: For 2018 and beyond, the TCJA eliminates tax-deferred like kind exchange accounting treatment for exchanges of personal property. However, prior-law rules that allow like-kind exchanges of personal property still apply if one leg of an exchange was completed by December 31, 2017, but one leg remained open on that date. Keep in mind that exchanged personal property must be of the same asset or product class.
The rules for like-kind exchanges are complex, so these arrangements present some risks. If, say, you exchange the wrong kind of property or acquire cash or other non-like-kind property in a deal, you may still end up incurring a sizable tax hit. If you’re exploring a like-kind exchange, contact us. We can help you ensure you’re in compliance with the rules.
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 sales prospecting tips ways to undertake construction.
First, establish a profile of the organizations that are the best candidates for your products or services. Criteria should include:
• Specific needs
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.
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. The last key piece to our sales prospecting tips, 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.
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 sales prospecting tip, ideas and information.
© 2018Read more
A repairs deduction to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, can be valuable for a business' current taxes. This is applicable as long as the so-called repairs weren’t actually “improvements.” The costs of incidental repairs and maintenance can be immediately expensed and deducted on the current year’s income tax return. But costs incurred to improve tangible property does not count as a repairs deduction. Improvements must depreciate over a period of years.
So the size of your 2017 deduction depends on whether the expense was a repair or an improvement.
In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be depreciated. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.
Under the “betterment test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.
Under the “restoration test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.
Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.
Distinguishing between an improvement and repairs deduction can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:
1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS.
Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be depreciated, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.
2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.
There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. To learn more about these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions, contact us.
© 2018Read more
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 is our selling your business checklist with seven ways to prepare:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Value can be added by removing non-operating assets that aren’t part of normal operations, minimizing inventory levels, and evaluating the condition of capital equipment and debt-financing levels.
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.
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.
Hope you found our selling your business checklist helpful. 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.
© 2018Read more
When it comes to income tax returns, April 15 (actually April 17 this year, because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday) isn’t the only deadline taxpayers need to think about. The federal income tax filing deadline for calendar-year a pass through partnership is March 15. This includes S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or S corporations for tax purposes. While this has been the S corporation deadline for a long time, it’s only the second year the pass through partnership deadline has been in March rather than in April.
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 partnership 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.
If you haven’t filed your calendar-year partnership or S corporation return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Under the current law, the maximum extension for calendar-year partnerships is six months (until September 17, 2018, for 2017 returns). This is up from five months under prior law. So the extension deadline is the same — only the length of the extension has changed. The extension deadline for calendar-year S corporations also is September 17, 2018, for 2017 returns.
Whether you’ll be filing a partnership or an S corporation return, you must file for the extension by March 15 if it’s a calendar-year entity.
Filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now.
But keep in mind that, to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by the unextended deadline. There may not be any tax liability from the partnership or S corporation return. If, however, filing for an extension for the entity return causes you to also have to file an extension for your personal return, you need to keep this in mind related to the individual tax return April 17 deadline.
Have more questions about the filing deadlines that apply to you or avoiding interest and penalties? Contact us.
© 2018Read more
Employees tend not to fully appreciate or use their company retirement benefits. This is due to their employer not communicating 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:
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.
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.
Some employers have tried using their social media accounts to keep employees engaged and reminded about their company retirement 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.
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 company retirement benefits or the fundamentals of retirement planning.
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 company retirement benefits, effective communication is worth some investment. Let us know how we can help.
© 2018Read more
The recently passed tax reform bill, commonly referred to as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA), is the most expansive federal tax legislation since 1986. It includes a multitude of provisions that will have a major impact on businesses.
Here’s we provide a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act analysis with a look at some of the most significant changes. They generally apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, except where noted.
- Replacement of graduated corporate tax rates ranging from 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21%.
- Repeal of the 20% corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT).
- New 20% qualified business income deduction for owners of flow-through entities (such as partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations) and sole proprietorships — through 2025.
- Doubling of bonus depreciation to 100% and expansion of qualified assets to include used assets — effective for assets acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023.
- Doubling of the Section 179 expensing limit to $1 million and an increase of the expensing phaseout threshold to $2.5 million.
- Other enhancements to depreciation-related deductions.
- New disallowance of deductions for net interest expense in excess of 30% of the business’s adjusted taxable income (exceptions apply).
- New limits on net operating loss (NOL) deductions.
- Elimination of the Section 199 deduction, also commonly referred to as the domestic production activities deduction or manufacturers’ deduction — effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, for non-corporate taxpayers and for tax years beginning after December 31, 2018, for C corporation taxpayers.
- New rule limiting like-kind exchanges to real property that is not held primarily for sale.
- New tax credit for employer-paid family and medical leave — through 2019.
- New limitations on excessive employee compensation.
- New limitations on deductions for employee fringe benefits, such as entertainment and, in certain circumstances, meals and transportation.
Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to what we’ve covered here, and there are other TCJA provisions that may affect your business. Contact us for more details and to discuss what your business needs to do in light of these changes.
© 2018Read more
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 on how to implement a social media strategy that is best for your business. Here are five to consider:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2018Read more
Many businesses hired in 2017, and more are planning to hire in 2018. If you’re among them and your hires include members of a “target group,” you may be eligible for the Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC). If you made qualifying hires in 2017 and obtained proper certification, you can claim the WOTC on your 2017 tax return.
Whether or not you’re eligible for 2017, keep the work opportunity tax credit program in mind in your 2018 hiring plans. Despite its proposed elimination under the House’s version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the credit survived the final version that was signed into law in December, so it’s also available for 2018.
Target groups qualifying for the work opportunity tax credit program include:
Before you can claim the WOTC, you must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you. Unfortunately, this means that, if you hired someone from a target group in 2017 but didn’t obtain the certification, you can’t claim the work opportunity tax credit program on your 2017 return.
Qualifying employers can claim the WOTC as a general business credit against their income tax. The amount of the credit depends on the:
The maximum credit that each member can earn of a target group is generally $2,400 per employee. The credit can be as high as $9,600 for certain veterans.
Employers aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible individuals they can hire. In other words, if you hired 10 individuals from target groups that qualify for the $2,400 credit, your total credit would be $24,000.
Remember, credits reduce your tax bill dollar-for-dollar; they don’t just reduce the amount of income subject to tax like deductions do. So that’s $24,000 of actual tax savings.
The Work Opportunity tax credit program can provide substantial tax savings when you hire qualified new employees, offsetting some of the cost. Contact us for more information.
© 2018Read more
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.
This is when we look into the purpose of benchmarking. 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.
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.
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.
© 2018Read more
Are you a high-income small-business owner who doesn’t currently have a tax-advantaged retirement plan set up for yourself? A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) may be just what you need, and now may be a great time to establish one. The SEP tax benefits have high contribution limits and is simple to set up. Best of all, there’s still time to establish a SEP for 2017 and make contributions to it that you can deduct on your 2017 income tax return.
A SEP can be set up as late as the due date (including extensions) of your income tax return for the tax year for which the SEP is to first apply. That means you can establish a SEP for 2017 in 2018 as long as you do it before your 2017 return filing deadline. You have until the same deadline to make 2017 contributions and still claim a potentially hefty deduction on your 2017 return.
Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2017, in order for 2017 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2017 contributions to be made in 2018).
Contributions for SEP tax benefits are discretionary. You can decide how much to contribute each year. But be aware that, if your business has employees other than yourself: 1) Contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for yourself, and 2) employee accounts are immediately 100% vested. The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee.
For 2017, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction) of up to $270,000, subject to a contribution cap of $54,000. (The 2018 limits are $275,000 and $55,000, respectively.)
A SEP is established by completing and signing the very simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). Form 5305-SEP is not filed with the IRS, but it should be maintained as part of the business’s permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement.
Additional rules and limits do apply to SEP tax benefits, but they’re generally much less onerous than those for other retirement plans. Contact us to learn more about SEPs and how they might reduce your tax bill for 2017 and beyond.
© 2018Read more
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 with our employee training tips. Learn how to get your workforce involved in coming up with profitable ideas. Then, putting those concepts into action.
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 employee training tips and 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.
Most employees want to not only succeed at their own jobs, but also work for a successful business. Solid employee training tips and 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.
© 2018Read more
With the bonus depreciation deduction, a business can recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law in December, enhances bonus depreciation.
Typically, taking this break is beneficial. But in certain situations, your business might save more tax long-term by skipping it. That said, claiming the bonus depreciation deduction on your 2017 tax return may be particularly beneficial.
Before TCJA, bonus depreciation was 50% and qualified property included new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment), off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified improvement property.
The TCJA significantly expands bonus depreciation: For qualified property placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (or by December 31, 2023, for certain property with longer production periods), the first-year bonus depreciation percentage increases to 100%. In addition, the 100% deduction is allowed for not just new but also used qualifying property.
But be aware that, under the TCJA, beginning in 2018 certain types of businesses may no longer be eligible for bonus depreciation. Examples include real estate businesses and auto dealerships, depending on the specific circumstances.
Generally, if you’re eligible for the bonus depreciation deduction and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation is likely a good tax strategy. However, you should also factor in available Section 179 expensing. It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial.
On the other hand, if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax this year, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re paying a higher tax rate.
The greater tax-saving power of deductions when rates are higher is why 2017 may be a particularly good year to take bonus depreciation. As you’re probably aware, the TCJA permanently replaces the graduated corporate tax rates of 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21% beginning with the 2018 tax year. It also reduces most individual rates, which benefits owners of pass-through entities such as S corporations, partnerships and, typically, limited liability companies, for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.
If your rate will be lower in 2018, there’s a greater likelihood that taking bonus depreciation for 2017 would save you more tax than taking all of your deduction under normal depreciation schedules over a period of years, especially if the asset meets the deadlines for 100% bonus depreciation.
If you’re unsure whether you should take the bonus depreciation deduction on your 2017 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us.
© 2018Read more
What is business interruption insurance? 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.
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:
• Relocation to a temporary building (or permanent relocation if necessary),
• Replacement of inventory, machinery and parts,
• Overtime wages to make up for lost production time, and
• Advertising stating that your business is still operating.
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%.
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 over-insure, 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.
© 2018Read more
Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, potentially making them more valuable than deductions, which reduce only the amount of income subject to tax. Maximizing available credits is especially important now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has reduced or eliminated some tax breaks for businesses. Small businesses can still receive two tax credits for employee benefits.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. Despite various congressional attempts to repeal the ACA in 2017, nearly all of its provisions remain intact, including this potentially valuable tax credit.
The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, if it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium. For 2017, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $26,200 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,400.
The credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.) If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2017 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away in the future if lawmakers in Washington continue to try to repeal or replace the ACA.
At this point, most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2019 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2017, you may also be able to claim it on your 2018 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the tax credits for employee benefits while it’s available.
Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs.
Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.
If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2017, you might still have time to do so. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions. If you’d like to set up a different type of plan, consider doing so for 2018 so you can potentially take advantage of the retirement plan credit (and other tax benefits) when you file your 2018 return next year.
Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to tax credits for employee benefits. We’d be happy to help you determine whether you’re eligible for these or other credits on your 2017 return and also plan for credits you might be able to claim on your 2018 return if you take appropriate actions this year.
© 2018Read more
Every company, big or small, should have one. Are you wondering why is a mission statement important? 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2018Read more
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.
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 strategies 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.
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.
© 2018Read more
Along with tax rate reductions and a new deduction for pass-through qualified business income, the new tax law brings the reduction or elimination of tax deductions for certain business expenses. Two expense areas where the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes the rules — and not to businesses’ benefit — are the transportation along with the meals and entertainment deduction. In effect, the reduced tax benefits will mean these expenses are more costly to a business’s bottom line.
Prior to the TCJA, taxpayers generally could deduct 50% of expenses for business-related meals and entertainment. Meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer on the employer’s business premises were 100% deductible by the employer and tax-free to the recipient employee.
Under the new law, for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017, the entertainment portion of expenses to the meals and entertainment deduction for business-related entertainment are disallowed.
Meal expenses incurred while traveling on business are still 50% deductible, but the 50% limit now also applies to meals provided via an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises for the convenience of the employer. After 2025, the cost of meals provided through an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises will no longer be deductible.
The TCJA disallows employer deductions for the cost of providing commuting transportation to an employee (such as hiring a car service), unless the transportation is necessary for the employee’s safety.
The new law also eliminates employer deductions for the cost of providing qualified employee transportation fringe benefits. Examples include parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling. These benefits are, however, still tax-free to recipient employees.
Transportation expenses for employee work-related travel away from home are still deductible (and tax-free to the employee), as long as they otherwise qualify for such tax treatment. (Note that, for 2018 through 2025, employees can’t deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as travel expenses, as a miscellaneous itemized deduction.)
The TCJA’s changes to the transportation meals and entertainment deduction may affect your business’s budget. Depending on how much you typically spend on such expenses, you may want to consider changing some of your policies and/or benefits offerings in these areas. We’d be pleased to help you assess the impact on your business.
© 2018Read more
While many provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) will save businesses tax, the new law also reduces or eliminates some tax breaks for businesses. One break it eliminates is the Section 199 deduction, commonly referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction.” When it’s available, this potentially valuable tax break can be claimed by many types of businesses beyond just manufacturing companies. Under the TCJA, 2017 is the last tax year non-corporate taxpayers can take the manufacturers deduction (2018 for C corporation taxpayers).
The Sec. 199 deduction, also called the “domestic production activities deduction,” is 9% of the lesser of qualified production activities income or taxable income. The deduction is also limited to 50% of W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer that are allocable to domestic production gross receipts (DPGR).
Yes, the manufacturers deduction is available to traditional manufacturers. But businesses engaged in activities such as construction, engineering, architecture, computer software production and agricultural processing also may be eligible.
The deduction isn’t allowed in determining net self-employment earnings and generally can’t reduce net income below zero. But it can be used against the alternative minimum tax.
To determine a company’s Sec. 199 deduction, its qualified production activities income must be calculated. This is the amount of DPGR exceeding the cost of goods sold and other expenses allocable to that DPGR. Most companies will need to allocate receipts between those that qualify as DPGR and those that don’t ? unless less than 5% of receipts aren’t attributable to DPGR.
DPGR can come from a number of activities, including the construction of real property in the United States, as well as engineering or architectural services performed stateside to construct real property. It also can result from the lease, rental, licensing or sale of qualifying production property, such as tangible personal property (for example, machinery and office equipment), computer software, and master copies of sound recordings.
The property must have been manufactured, produced, grown or extracted in whole or “significantly” within the United States. While each situation is assessed on its merits, the IRS has said that, if the labor and overhead incurred in the United States accounted for at least 20% of the total cost of goods sold, the activity typically qualifies.
Contact us to learn whether this potentially powerful deduction could reduce your business’s tax liability when you file your 2017 return. We can also help address any questions you may have about other business tax breaks that have been reduced or eliminated by the TCJA.
© 2018Read more
Is outsourcing good or bad? 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.
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. So, when we ask ourselves is outsourcing good or bad, these are definitely a few positive factors to take into account.
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.
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.
© 2018Read more
Although the drop of the corporate tax rate from a top rate of 35% to a flat rate of 21% may be one of the most talked about provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), C corporations aren’t the only type of entity significantly benefiting from the new law. Owners of non-corporate “pass-through” entities may see some major — albeit temporary — relief in the form of a new federal tax deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI).
For tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026, the new federal tax deduction is available to individuals, estates and trusts that own interests in pass-through business entities. Such entities include sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). The deduction generally equals 20% of QBI, subject to restrictions that can apply if taxable income exceeds the applicable threshold — $157,500 or, if married filing jointly, $315,000.
QBI is generally defined as the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss from any qualified business of the non-corporate owner. For this purpose, qualified items are income, gain, deduction and loss that are effectively connected with the conduct of a U.S. business. QBI doesn’t include certain investment items, reasonable compensation paid to an owner for services rendered to the business or any guaranteed payments to a partner or LLC member treated as a partner for services rendered to the partnership or LLC.
The QBI deduction isn’t allowed in calculating the owner’s adjusted gross income (AGI), but it reduces taxable income. In effect, it’s treated the same as an allowable itemized deduction.
For pass-through entities other than sole proprietorships, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of:
Qualified property is the depreciable tangible property (including real estate) owned by a qualified business as of year end and used by the business at any point during the tax year for the production of qualified business income.
Another restriction is that the QBI deduction generally isn’t available for income from specified service businesses. Examples include businesses that involve investment-type services and most professional practices (other than engineering and architecture).
The W-2 wage limitation and the service business limitation don’t apply as long as your taxable income is under the applicable threshold. In that case, you should qualify for the full 20% QBI deduction.
Additional rules and limits apply to this new federal tax deduction for Qualified Businesses Income. Careful planning will be necessary to gain maximum benefit. Please contact us for more details.
© 2018Read more
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances some tax breaks for businesses while reducing or eliminating others. One break it enhances — temporarily — is bonus depreciation. While most TCJA provisions go into effect for the 2018 tax year, you might be able to benefit from the bonus depreciation enhancements when you file your 2017 tax return.
Under pre-TCJA law, for qualified new assets that your business placed in service in 2017, you can claim a 50% first-year bonus depreciation deduction. Used assets don’t qualify. This tax break is available for the cost of new computer systems, purchased software, vehicles, machinery, equipment, office furniture, etc.
In addition, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any qualified improvement to the interior portion of a nonresidential building if the improvement is placed in service after the date the building is placed in service. But qualified improvement costs don’t include expenditures for the enlargement of a building, an elevator or escalator, or the internal structural framework of a building.
The TCJA significantly expands bonus depreciation: For qualified property placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (or by December 31, 2023, for certain property with longer production periods), the first-year bonus depreciation percentage increases to 100%. In addition, the 100% deduction is allowed for not just new but also used qualifying property.
The new law also allows 100% bonus depreciation for qualified film, television and live theatrical productions placed in service on or after September 28, 2017. Productions are considered placed in service at the time of the initial release, broadcast or live commercial performance.
Beginning in 2023, bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced 20 percentage points each year. So, for example, it would be 80% for property placed in service in 2023, 60% in 2024, etc., until it would be fully eliminated in 2027.
For certain property with longer production periods, the reductions are delayed by one year. For example, 80% bonus depreciation would apply to long-production-period property placed in service in 2024.
Bonus depreciation is only one of the business tax breaks that have changed under the TCJA. Contact us for more information on this and other changes that will impact your business.
© 2018Read more
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. Why is location important in business; because 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.
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?
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.
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 some organizational strategic planning.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2017Read more
Several businesses have been asking us, are holiday parties tax deductible? Many businesses are hosting holiday parties for employees this time of year. It’s a great way to reward your staff for their hard work and have a little fun. And you can probably deduct 100% of your 2017 party’s cost as a meal and entertainment (M&E) expense. Next year may be a different story.
For 2017, businesses generally are limited to deducting 50% of allowable meal and entertainment expenses. But certain expenses are 100% deductible, including expenses:
- For recreational or social activities for employees, such as holiday parties and summer picnics.
- For food and beverages furnished at the workplace primarily for employees.
- That are excludable from employees’ income as de minimis fringe benefits.
There is one caveat for a 100% deduction: The entire staff must be invited. Otherwise, expenses are deductible under the regular business entertainment rules.
Whether you deduct 50% or 100% of allowable expenses, there are a number of requirements, including certain records you must keep to prove your expenses.
If your company has substantial meal and entertainment expenses, you can reduce your 2017 tax bill by separately accounting for and documenting expenses that are 100% deductible. If doing so would create an administrative burden, you may be able to use statistical sampling methods to estimate the portion of meal and entertainment expenses that are fully deductible.
It appears the M&E deduction for employee parties — along with deductions for many other M&E expenses — will be eliminated beginning in 2018 under the reconciled version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. For more information about deducting business meals and entertainment, including how to take advantage of the 100% deduction when you file your 2017 return, please contact us.
© 2017Read more
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! Our Chicago accounting services firm can take a critical look at your company and make some earnest promises about improving profitability in 2018.
As experts in Chicago accounting services, we suggest you 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.
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.
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.
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 Chicago accounting services firm. Accounting Freedom, Ltd can work with you to identify areas of your business ready for change and help you attain a higher level of success next year.
© 2017Read more
You might be asking yourself is buying a new car tax deductible for your 2017 tax bill if purchased before year end. We advise to not make a purchase without first looking at what your 2017 deduction would be. You'd also need to see whether tax reform legislation could affect the tax benefit of a 2017 vs. 2018 purchase.
Business-related purchases of new or used vehicles may be eligible for Section 179 expensing. This will allow you to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate over a period of years, some or all of the vehicle’s cost. But the size of your 2017 deduction will depend on several factors. One is the gross vehicle weight rating.
The normal Sec. 179 expensing limit generally applies to vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 14,000 pounds. The limit for 2017 is $510,000, and the break begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.03 million.
But a $25,000 limit applies to SUVs rated at more than 6,000 pounds but no more than 14,000 pounds. Vehicles rated at 6,000 pounds or less are subject to the passenger automobile limits. For 2017, under current law, the depreciation limit is $3,160. And the amount that may be deducted under the combination of Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) depreciation and Sec. 179 for the first year is limited under the luxury auto rules to $11,160.
In addition, if a vehicle is used for business and personal purposes, the associated expenses, including depreciation, must be allocated between deductible business use and nondeductible personal use. The depreciation limit is reduced if the business use is less than 100%. If the business use is 50% or less, you can’t use Sec. 179 expensing or the accelerated regular MACRS; you must use the straight-line method.
If tax reform legislation is signed into law and it will cause your marginal rate to go down in 2018, then purchasing a vehicle by December 31, 2017, could save you more tax than waiting until 2018. Why? Tax deductions are more powerful when rates are higher. But if your 2017 Sec. 179 expense deduction would be reduced or eliminated because of the asset acquisition phaseout, then you might be better off waiting until 2018 to buy.
Also be aware that tax reform legislation could affect the depreciation limits for passenger vehicles, even if purchased in 2017.
These are just a few factors to look at. Many additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So if you’re considering a business vehicle purchase, contact us to discuss whether it would make more tax sense to buy this year or next.
© 2017Read more
The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution isn’t coming — it’s here. While its potential for your company might not seem immediately obvious, artificial intelligence investment management 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.
Businesses can use AI to improve a variety of functions. Three specific applications to consider are:
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.
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.
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 artificial intelligence investment management should fit into your overall plans for investing in your business.
© 2017Read more
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable key deadlines q1 2018 and to learn more about the filing requirements.
- File 2017 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
- Provide copies of 2017 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
- File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC reporting non-employee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS.
- File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2017. If your un-deposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.
- File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2017. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
- File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2017 to report income tax withheld on all non-payroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.
- File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. Otherwise, the filing deadline is April 2.
- If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2017 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2017 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
© 2017Read more
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. Here are some ways to reduce costs for an organization when the company has already gone over their budget.
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 re-structuring 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.
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.
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. We specialize in finding the best ways to reduce costs for an organization. Contact us for a full assessment of your company’s budget.
© 2017Read more
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 employee appreciation during the holidays and at holiday parties. Doing so will make everyone feel engaged and rewarded for their hard work. Here are some ways to do so:
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.
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 to show employee appreciation during the holidays and for workers to learn more about other cultures.
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.
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, employee appreciation during the holidays with 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.
© 2017Read more
With the possibility that tax law changes could go into effect next year that would significantly reduce income tax rates for many businesses, 2017 may be an especially good year to accelerate deductible expenses. Why? Deductions save more tax when rates are higher.
Timing income and expenses can be a little more challenging for accrual-basis taxpayers than for cash-basis ones. But being an accrual-basis taxpayer also offers valuable year-end tax planning opportunities when it comes to deductions. Here are some key tips for accrual tax reporting.
The key to saving tax as an accrual-basis taxpayer is to properly record and recognize expenses that were incurred this year but won’t be paid until 2018. This will enable you to deduct those expenses on your 2017 federal tax return. Common examples of such expenses include:
You can also accelerate deductions into 2017 without actually paying for the expenses in 2017 by charging them on a credit card. (This works for cash-basis taxpayers, too.)
As noted, accelerating deductible expenses into 2017 may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2018.
Also review all prepaid expense accounts. Then write off any items that have been used up before the end of the year.
If you prepay insurance for a period of time beginning in 2017, you can expense the entire amount this year rather than spreading it between 2017 and 2018, as long as a proper method election is made. This is treated as a tax expense and thus won’t affect your internal financials.
Here are a few more year-end tips for accrual tax reporting to consider:
To learn more about how the tips for accrual tax reporting and other year-end tax strategies may help your business reduce its 2017 tax bill, contact us.
© 2017Read more
At this time of year, it’s common for businesses to make thank-you gifts to customers, clients, employees and other business entities and associates. Unfortunately, the tax rules limit the deduction for business gifts to $25 per person per year, a limitation that has remained the same since it was added into law back in 1962. Fifty-five years later, the $25 limit is unrealistically small in many business gift-giving situations. Fortunately, there are a few exceptions. Here we go over what qualifies as a business gift and how to work around the $25 deduction limit.
Here’s a quick rundown of what qualifies as a business gift and the major exceptions to the $25 limit:
Gifts to a business entity. The $25 limit applies only to gifts directly or indirectly given to an individual. Gifts given to a company for use in the business aren’t subject to the limit. For example, a gift of a $200 reference manual to a company for its employees to use while doing their jobs would be fully deductible because it’s used in the company’s business.
Gifts to a married couple. If you have a business connection with both spouses and the gift is for both of them, the $25 limit doubles to $50.
Incidental costs of making a gift. Such costs aren’t subject to the limit. For example, the costs of custom engraving on jewelry or of packing, insuring and mailing a gift are deductible over and above the $25 limit for the gift itself.
Gifts to employees. Although employee gifts have their own limitations and may be treated as taxable compensation, an employer is generally allowed to deduct the full cost of gifts made to employees.
In some situations related to gifts of tickets to sporting or other events, a taxpayer may choose whether to claim the deduction as a gift or as entertainment. Under current law, entertainment expenses are normally 50% deductible, so the gift deduction is a better deal for lower-priced tickets. But once the combined price of the gifted tickets exceeds $50, claiming them as an entertainment expense is more beneficial.
Be aware, however, that the elimination of the entertainment expense deduction has been included in proposed tax reform legislation. If legislation with such a provision is signed into law, it likely won’t go into effect until 2018.
To the extent your business qualifies for any of these exceptions, be sure to track the qualifying expenses separately (typically by charging them to a separate account in your accounting records) so that a full deduction can be claimed.
In addition, you must retain documentation of the following:
Are you wondering what qualifies as a business gift for a full deduction? Or perhaps you would like to know how to properly isolate and account for them in your records. If so, please contact us, as we would be happy to help!
© 2017Read more
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.
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).
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.
© 2017Read more
Two valuable depreciation-related tax breaks can potentially reduce your 2017 taxes if you acquire and place in service qualifying assets by the end of the tax year. Tax reform could enhance these breaks, so you’ll want to keep an eye on legislative developments as you plan your asset purchases.
Sec. 179 expensing allows businesses to deduct up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets (new or used) in Year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 can be used for fixed assets, such as equipment, software and real property improvements.
The Sec. 179 expensing limit for 2017 is $510,000. The break begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2017 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.03 million. Under current law, both limits are indexed for inflation annually.
Under the initial version of the House bill, the limit on Section 179 expensing would rise to $5 million, with the phaseout threshold increasing to $20 million. These higher amounts would be adjusted for inflation, and the definition of qualifying assets would be expanded slightly. The higher limits generally would apply for 2018 through 2022.
The initial version of the Senate bill also would increase the Sec. 179 expensing limit, but only to $1 million, and would increase the phaseout threshold, but only to $2.5 million. The higher limits would be indexed for inflation and generally apply beginning in 2018. Significantly, unlike under the House bill, the higher limits would be permanent under the Senate bill. There would also be some small differences in which assets would qualify under the Senate bill vs. the House bill.
For qualified new assets (including software) that your business places in service in 2017, you can claim 50% first-year bonus depreciation. Examples of qualifying assets include computer systems, software, machinery, equipment, office furniture and qualified improvement property. Currently, bonus depreciation is scheduled to drop to 40% for 2018 and 30% for 2019 and then disappear for 2020.
The initial House bill would boost bonus depreciation to 100% for qualifying assets (which would be expanded to include certain used assets) acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023 (with an additional year for certain property with a longer production period).
The initial Senate bill would allow 100% bonus depreciation for qualifying assets acquired and placed in service during the same period as under the House bill. However, there would be some differences in which assets would qualify.
If you’ve been thinking about buying business assets, consider doing it before year end to reduce your 2017 tax bill. If, however, you could save more taxes under tax reform legislation, for now you might want to limit your asset investments to the maximum 179 expense election currently available to you. From there, you can then consider additional investments depending on what happens with tax reform. It’s still uncertain what the final legislation will contain. We also do not know yet if the passing and signing into law this year will be successful. Contact us to discuss the best strategy for your particular situation.
© 2017Read more
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 as businesses are accounting for marketing expenses, 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:
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
The first thing readers see upon opening an email is the headline, so make it:
Example: Rock Your Stockroom Now
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.
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 us for help accounting for marketing expenses ensuring your initiatives are cost effective.
© 2017Read more
With Veterans Day on November 11, it’s an especially good time to think about the sacrifices veterans have made for us and how we can support them. One way businesses can support veterans is to hire them. The Work Opportunity tax credit 2017 (WOTC) can help businesses do just that. However, it may not be available for hires made after this year.
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 eliminate the WOTC for hires after December 31, 2017. So you may want to consider hiring qualifying veterans before year end.
You can claim the Work Opportunity tax credit 2017 for a portion of wages paid to a new hire from a qualifying target group. Among the target groups are eligible veterans who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as “food stamps”), who have a service-related disability or who have been unemployed for at least four weeks. The maximum credit depends in part on which of these factors apply below.
The amount of the credit also depends on the wages paid to the veteran and the number of hours the veteran worked during the first year of employment.
You aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible veterans you can hire. For example, if you hire 10 disabled long-term-unemployed veterans, the credit can be as much as $96,000.
Before claiming the WOTC, you generally must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you.
Also be aware that veterans aren’t the only target groups from which you can hire and claim the Work Opportunity tax credit 2017. But in many cases hiring a veteran will provided the biggest credit. Plus, research assembled by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University suggests that the skills and traits of people with a successful military employment track record make for particularly good civilian employees.
It’s still uncertain if there will be an appeal to the WOTC. A revision is likely on the House bill as lawmakers negotiate on tax reform. It is also possible Congress will be unable to pass tax legislation this year. Under current law, the WOTC is still available through 2019.
But if you’re looking to hire this year, hiring veterans is worth considering for both tax and non-tax reasons. Contact us for more information on the Work Opportunity tax credit 2017 or on other year-end tax planning strategies in light of possible tax law changes.
© 2017Read more
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). Here we will be covering on how to implement ERM within your business.
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.
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. Contact us if you would like to learn more on how to implement ERM within your business.
© 2017Read more
Does your small business engage in qualified research activities? If so, you may be eligible for a research tax credit. And you can use R&D tax credit qualified expenses to offset your federal payroll tax bill.
This relatively new privilege allows the research credit to benefit small businesses that may not generate enough taxable income to use the credit to offset their federal income tax bills, such as those that are still in the unprofitable start-up phase where they owe little or no federal income tax.
Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, a qualified small business (QSB) can elect to use up to $250,000 of its research credits to reduce the Social Security tax portion of its federal payroll tax bills. Under the old rules, QSBs could use the credit to offset only their federal income tax bills. However, many small businesses owe little or no federal income tax. This especially applies to small start-ups that tend to incur significant research expenses.
For the purposes of the research credit, we define a QSB generally as a business with:
The allowable payroll tax reduction credit can’t exceed the employer portion of the Social Security tax liability imposed for any calendar quarter. Any excess credit can be carried forward to the next calendar quarter, subject to the Social Security tax limitation for that quarter.
To be eligible for the research credit, a business must have engaged in “qualified” research activities. To be considered “qualified,” activities must meet the following four-factor test:
1. The purpose must be to create new (or improve existing) functionality, performance, reliability or quality of a product, process, technique, invention, formula or computer software that will be sold or in use for your trade or business.
2. There must be an intention to eliminate uncertainty.
3. There must be a process of experimentation. In other words, there must be a trial-and-error process.
4. The process of experimentation must fundamentally rely on principles of physical or biological science, engineering or computer science.
Expenses that qualify for the credit include wages for time spent engaging in supporting, supervising or performing qualified research, supplies consumed in the process of experimentation, and 65% of any contracted outside research expenses.
The ability to use the R&D tax credit qualified expenses to reduce payroll tax is a welcome change for eligible small businesses. However, the rules are complex and we’ve only touched on the basics here. We can help you determine whether you qualify and, if you do, assist you with making the election for your business and filing payroll tax returns to take advantage of the new privilege.
© 2017Read more
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. Here is a look on how to improve inventory management control.
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:
• Reduces interest and storage costs,
• Improves your ability to prevent fraud and theft, and
• Increases your capacity to track what’s in stock.
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 on how to improve inventory management control. 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.
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.
© 2017Read more
If your employees incur work-related travel expenses, you can better attract and retain the best talent by reimbursing these expenses. But to secure tax-advantaged treatment for your business and your employees, it’s critical to comply with IRS rules. It is also important to know for your company the best way to reimburse employees for expenses.
While unreimbursed work-related travel expenses generally are deductible on a taxpayer’s individual tax return (subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, many employees won’t be able to benefit from the deduction. Why?
It’s likely that some of your employees don’t itemize. Even those who do may not have enough miscellaneous itemized expenses to exceed the 2% of adjusted gross income floor. And you can only apply a deduction of expenses in excess of the floor.
On the other hand, reimbursements can provide tax benefits to both your business and the employee. Your business can deduct the reimbursements (also subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment). This deduction excludes from the employee’s taxable income — provided that the expenses are legitimate business expenses and the reimbursements comply with IRS rules. The best way to reimburse employees for expenses can be accomplished by using either the per diem method or an accountable plan.
The per diem method is simple: Instead of tracking each individual’s actual expenses, you use IRS tables to determine reimbursements for lodging, meals and incidental expenses, or just for meals and incidental expenses. (If you don’t go with the per diem method for lodging, you’ll need receipts to substantiate those expenses.)
The IRS per diem tables list localities here and abroad. They reflect seasonal cost variations as well as the varying costs of the locales themselves — so London’s rates will be higher than Little Rock’s. An even simpler option is to apply the “high-low” per diem method within the continental United States to reimburse employees up to $282 a day for high-cost localities and $189 for other localities.
You must be extremely careful to pay employees no more than the appropriate per diem amount. The IRS imposes heavy penalties on businesses that routinely fail to do so.
An accountable plan is a formal arrangement to advance, reimburse or provide allowances for business expenses. To qualify as “accountable,” your plan must meet the following criteria:
If you fail to meet these conditions, the IRS will treat your plan as non-accountable. This will result in transforming all reimbursements into wages taxable to the employee, subject to income taxes (employee) and employment taxes (employer and employee).
Whether you have questions about the best way to reimburse employees for expenses for your business or the additional rules and limits that apply to each, contact us. We’d be pleased to help.
Donating to charity is more than good business citizenship; it can also save tax. Here are three lesser-known federal income tax deductions for charitable donations by businesses.
Charitable write-offs for donated food (such as by restaurants and grocery stores) are normally limited to the lower of the taxpayer’s basis in the food (generally cost) or fair market value (FMV), but an enhanced deduction equals the lesser of:
To qualify, the food must be apparently wholesome at the time it’s donated. Your total charitable write-off for food donations under the enhanced deduction provision can’t exceed:
Qualified conservation contributions are charitable donations of real property interests, including remainder interests and easements that restrict the use of real property. For qualified C corporation farming and ranching operations, the maximum write-off for qualified conservation contributions is increased from the normal 10% of adjusted taxable income to 100% of adjusted taxable income.
Qualified conservation contributions in excess of what can be written off in the year of the donation can be carried forward for 15 years.
A favorable tax basis rule is available to shareholders of S corporations that make charitable donations of appreciated property. For such donations, each shareholder’s basis in the S corporation stock is reduced by only the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s tax basis in the donated asset.
Without this provision, a shareholder’s basis reduction would equal the passed-through write-off for the donation. This means a larger amount than the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s basis in the donated asset. This provision is generally beneficial to shareholders, because it leaves them with higher tax basis in their S corporation shares.
If you believe you may be eligible to claim one or more of these tax deductions for charitable donations, contact us. We can help you determine eligibility, prepare the required documentation and plan for charitable donations in future years.
© 2017Read more
Currently, a valuable income tax deduction related to real estate is for depreciation, but the depreciation period for such property is long and land itself isn’t depreciable. Whether you rent it out or occupy it by your business, here’s how you can maximize your real estate depreciation deductions.
Generally, buildings and improvements to them must depreciate over 39 years (27.5 years for residential rental real estate and certain other types of buildings or improvements). But real estate depreciation deductions for personal property, such as furniture and equipment, can generally be over much shorter periods. Plus, for the tax year such assets are acquired and put into service. Additionally, they may qualify for 50% bonus depreciation or Section 179 expensing (up to $510,000 for 2017, subject to a phaseout if total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.03 million).
If you can identify and document the items that are personal property, the depreciation deductions for those items generally can be taken more quickly. In some cases, items you’d expect to consider as parts of the building actually can qualify as personal property. For example, depending on the circumstances, lighting, wall and floor coverings, and even plumbing and electrical systems, may qualify.
As noted above, the cost of land isn’t depreciable. But the cost of improvements to land counts in real estate depreciation deductions. Separating out land improvement costs from the land itself by identifying and documenting those improvements can provide depreciation deductions. Common examples include landscaping, roads, and, in some cases, grading and clearing.
Because land isn’t depreciable, you may want to consider real estate investment alternatives that don’t involve traditional ownership. Such options can allow you to enjoy tax deductions for land costs that provide a similar tax benefit to depreciation deductions. For example, you can lease land long-term. Rent you pay under such a “ground lease” is deductible.
Another option is to purchase an “estate-for-years,” under which you own the land for a set period and an unrelated party owns the interest in the land that begins when your estate-for-years ends. You can deduct the cost of the estate-for-years over its duration.
There are additional limits and considerations involved in these strategies. Also keep in mind that tax reform legislation could affect these techniques. For example, immediate deductions could become more widely available for many costs that currently require depreciation. If you’d like to learn more about saving income taxes with business real estate, please contact us.
© 2017Read more
Any business owner that is in the process of succession planning 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 during the process of succession planning .
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.
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. Are you wanting your children to take over, while also freeing up cash for retirement? If so, 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 process of succession planning 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.
© 2017Read more
On October 12, there was a signing of an executive order that, among other things, seeks to expand Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). HRAs are just one type of tax-advantaged account you can provide your employees to help fund their health care expenses. Also available are Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs). Which one should you include in your benefits package? Here’s HRA HSA FSA comparison, looking at the similarities and differences:
An HRA is an employer-sponsored account that reimburses employees for medical expenses. HRAs exclude contributions from taxable income and there’s no government-set limit on their annual amount. But only you as the employer can contribute to an HRA; employees can't contribute.
Also, the Affordable Care Act puts some limits on how HRAs can be offered. The October 12 executive order directs the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services to consider proposing regs or revising guidance to “increase the usability of HRAs,” expand the ability of employers to offer HRAs to their employees, and “allow HRAs to be used in conjunction with non-group coverage.”
If you provide employees a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can also sponsor HSAs for them. Both you and the employee can make pre-tax contributions. The 2017 contribution limits (employer and employee combined) are $3,400 for self-only coverage and $6,750 for family coverage. The 2018 limits are $3,450 and $6,900, respectively. Plus, for employees age 55 or older, they can contribute an additional $1,000.
The employee owns the account, which can bear interest or have an investment, growing tax-deferment similar to an IRA. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and employees can carry over a balance from year to year.
Regardless of whether you provide an HDHP, you can sponsor FSAs that allow employees to redirect pretax income up to a limit you set (not to exceed $2,600 in 2017 and expected to remain the same for 2018). You, as the employer, can make additional contributions, generally either by matching employer contributions up to 100% or by contributing up to $500. The plan pays or reimburses employees for qualified medical expenses.
What employees don’t use by the plan year’s end, they generally lose — though you can choose to have your plan allow employees to roll over up to $500 to the next year or give them a 2 1/2-month grace period to incur expenses to use up the previous year’s contribution. If employees have an HSA, than they must limit their FSA to funding certain “permitting” expenses.
If you’d like to offer your employees a tax-advantaged way to fund health care costs but are unsure which type of account is best for your business and your employees, please contact us. We can provide you the additional details in our HRA HSA FSA comparison to make a sound decision.
© 2017Read more
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 big data management accounting in order:
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.
Put together a formal big data management accounting effort toward getting organized. This 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.
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.
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 email has recently grown in significance. This medium 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 big data management accounting 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.
© 2017Read more
Business owners may not be able to set aside as much as they’d like in tax-advantaged retirement plans. Typically, business owners are older and more highly compensated than their employees. However, restrictions on contributions to 401(k) and profit-sharing plans can hamper retirement-planning efforts. One solution may be a cash balance plan for self employed.
The two most popular qualified retirement plans — 401(k) and profit-sharing plans — are defined contribution plans. These plans specify the amount that goes into an employee’s retirement account today. The amount is typically a percentage of compensation or a specific dollar amount.
In contrast, a cash balance plan is a defined benefit plan. This plan specifies the amount a participant will receive in retirement. Cash balance plans express those benefits in the form of a 401(k)-style account balance. In contrast, traditional benefit plans (such as pensions) are in conjunction to years of service and salary history.
The plan allocates annual “pay credits” and “interest credits” to hypothetical employee accounts. This allows participants to earn benefits more uniformly over their careers, and provides a clearer picture of benefits than a traditional pension plan.
A cash balance plan offers significant advantages for business owners — particularly those who are behind on their retirement saving and whose employees are younger and lower-paid. In 2017, the IRS limits employer contributions and employee deferrals to defined contribution plans to $54,000 ($60,000 for employees age 50 or older). And nondiscrimination rules, which prevent a plan from unfairly favoring highly compensated employees (HCEs), can reduce an owner’s contributions even further.
But cash balance plans aren’t bound by these limits. Instead, as defined benefit plans, they’re subject to a cap on annual benefit payouts in retirement (currently, $216,000), and the nondiscrimination rules require that only benefits for HCEs and non-HCEs be comparable.
Contributions may be as high as necessary to fund those benefits. Therefore, a company may make sizable contributions on behalf of owner/employees approaching retirement (often as much as three or four times defined contribution limits), and relatively smaller contributions on behalf of younger, lower-paid employees.
There are some potential risks. The most notable one is that, unlike with profit-sharing plans, you can’t reduce or suspend contributions during difficult years. A key factor must be accounted prior to implementing a cash balance plan for self employed. This includes ensuring that your company’s cash flow will be steady enough to meet its funding obligations.
Although cash balance plans can be more expensive than defined contribution plans, they’re a great way to turbocharge your retirement savings. We can help you decide whether one might be right for you.
© 2017Read more
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 factor on how to price a product or service 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, when looking on how to price a product or service 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. This is 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.
Changing demand is an important factor on how to price a product or service, and she be put into consideration. 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:
• Re-evaluating the prices of existing products that have a predictable sales history.
• Setting the price for a new product that’s similar to your existing products.
Forecasting demand for a new product that’s a lot different from your current product line can be extremely challenging. This is especially true 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.
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.
© 2017Read more
Projecting your business income and expenses for this year and next can allow you to time when you recognize income and incur deductible expenses to your tax advantage. Typically, it’s better to defer tax. This might end up being especially true this year, if the Trump tax reform bill is signed into law.
Here are two timing strategies that can help businesses defer taxes:
1. Defer income to next year. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.
2. Accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before December 31. This would be so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash (and accrual) basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card. Then they can deduct the expenses in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.
These deferral strategies could be particularly powerful if tax legislation is signed into law this year that reflects the nine-page “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” that President Trump and congressional Republicans released on September 27.
Among other things, the framework calls for reduced tax rates for corporations and flow-through entities as well as the elimination of many business deductions. If such changes were to go into effect in 2018, there could be a significant incentive for businesses to defer income to 2018 and accelerate deductible expenses into 2017.
But if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year (such as if your business is having a bad year in 2017 but the outlook is much brighter for 2018 and you don’t expect that tax rates will go down), consider taking the opposite approach instead — accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses. This will increase your tax bill this year but might save you tax over the two-year period.
There are still uncertainties with the tax law. As such, you may want to wait until year-end to implement some of your tax planning strategies. However, you need to be ready to act quickly for the passing into law of the Trump tax reform bill. So keep an eye on developments in Washington and contact us to discuss the best strategies for you this year based on your particular situation.
© 2017Read more
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. Data that provides insight into how 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 financial KPIs for small business can help you find the right path forward and give you fair warning when you’re heading 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 in addition to financial KPIs for small business. 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.
© 2017Read more
It can be difficult in the current job market for students and recent graduates to find summer or full-time jobs. If you’re a business owner with children in this situation, you may be able to provide them with valuable experience and income while generating tax savings for both your business and your family overall. Here is a further look into how much you can pay your child tax free 2018.
There are benefits in shifting some of your business earnings to a child as wages for services performed by him or her. This includes turning some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income. For your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s wages must be reasonable.
Here’s an example of how this works: A business owner operating as a sole proprietor is in the 39.6% tax bracket. He hires his 17-year-old son to help with office work full-time during the summer and part-time into the fall. The son earns $6,100 during the year and doesn’t have any other earnings.
The business owner saves $2,415.60 (39.6% of $6,100) in income taxes at no tax cost to his son, who can use his $6,350 standard deduction (for 2017) to completely shelter his earnings. The business owner can save an additional $2,178 in taxes if he keeps his son on the payroll longer and pays him an additional $5,500. The son can shelter the additional income from tax by making a tax-deductible contribution to his own IRA.
Family taxes will be cut even if the employee-child’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction and IRA deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the child beginning at a rate of 10% instead of being taxed at the parent’s higher rate.
If your business isn’t incorporated or a partnership that includes non-parent partners, you might also save some employment tax dollars. Services that a child performs under age 18 while working for a parent are not considered employment for FICA tax purposes. And a similar exemption applies for federal unemployment tax (FUTA) purposes. It exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 while employed by his or her parent.
If you have questions about how these rules apply in your particular situation or would like to learn about other family-related tax-saving strategies, contact us.
© 2017Read more
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. However, the truth is, a company that’s hoarding excessive cash may be doing itself more harm than good. This, in turn, can be creating small business cash flow challenges.
What’s the harm in stockpiling cash? Granted, an extra cushion helps weather downturns or fund unexpected repairs and maintenance. But there are small business cash flow challenges since cash has a carrying cost. This is 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.
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.
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.
© 2017Read more
Are you the founder of your company? If so, congratulations — you’ve created something truly amazing! As such, it is 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 into developing a succession planning strategy. When this topic comes up, many business owners show signs of suffering from an all-too-common affliction.
In the non-profit 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:
• Continually making important decision without input from others.
• Recruiting or promoting employees who will act primarily out of loyalty to the founder.
• Failing to mentor others in leadership matters.
• Being unwilling to begin creating a succession planning strategy.
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 planning strategy. This is a vital measure toward preserving the longevity of any company. If you’d prefer not to 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.
You’ve no doubt invested the proverbial blood, sweat and tears into launching your business and overseeing its growth. However, 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.
© 2017Read more
“We love our customers!” Every business owner says it. But all customers aren’t created equal! This is why it is in your strategic interest to know which customers are really strengthening your bottom line and by how much. This can be seen with a customer profitability analysis.
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 within your customer profitability analysis 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, many can supplement such data by general knowledge of the relative profitability of different products. Be sure that sales are net of any returns.
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 distributor serves a specific group of customers, you can estimate the resources that are supporting that channel and its additional costs. Or, you can have individual departments track employees’ time by customer or product for a specific period.
There’s nothing wrong with loving your customers but it’s even more important to know them. How much value they’re contributing to your profitability from operating period to operating period? Contact us for help with your customer profitability analysis and breaking down the numbers.
© 2017Read more
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 start a business expansion strategy. As you are strategizing, 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:
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.
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.
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.
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 within you business expansion strategy that will lead you to the right decision.
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If you own a profitable, un-incorporated business with your spouse, you probably find the high self-employment (SE) tax bills burdensome. In the partnership business structure, an un-incorporated business in which both spouses are active is typically treated by the IRS as a partnership owned 50/50 by the spouses. (For simplicity, when we refer to “partnerships,” we’ll include in our definition limited liability companies that are treated as partnerships for federal tax purposes.)
For 2017, that means you’ll each pay the maximum 15.3% SE tax rate on the first $127,200 of your respective shares of net SE income from the business. Those bills can mount up if your business is profitable. To illustrate: Suppose your business generates $250,000 of net SE income in 2017. Each of you will owe $19,125 ($125,000 × 15.3%), for a combined total of $38,250.
Fortunately, there are ways within the partnership business structure that spouse-owned businesses can lower their combined SE tax hit. Here are two.
While the IRS creates the impression that involvement by both spouses in an unincorporated business automatically creates a partnership for federal tax purposes, in many cases, it will have a tough time making the argument — especially when:
If you can establish that your business is a sole proprietorship (or a single-member LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes), only the spouse who is considered the proprietor owes SE tax.
Let’s assume the same facts as in the previous example, except that your business is a sole proprietorship operated by one spouse. Now you have to calculate SE tax for only that spouse. For 2017, the SE tax bill is $23,023 [($127,200 × 15.3%) + ($122,800 × 2.9%)]. That’s much less than the combined SE tax bill from the first example ($38,250).
Even if you do have a spouse-owned partnership, it’s not a given that it’s a 50/50 one within the partnership business structure. Your business might more properly be characterized as owned, say, 80% by one spouse and 20% by the other spouse, because one spouse does much more work than the other.
Let’s assume the same facts as in the first example, except that your business is an 80/20 spouse-owned partnership. In this scenario, the 80% spouse has net SE income of $200,000, and the 20% spouse has net SE income of $50,000. For 2017, the SE tax bill for the 80% spouse is $21,573 [($127,200 × 15.3%) + ($72,800 × 2.9%)], and the SE tax bill for the 20% spouse is $7,650 ($50,000 × 15.3%). The combined total SE tax bill is only $29,223 ($21,573 + $7,650).
More complicated strategies are also available. Contact us to learn more about how you can reduce your spouse-owned business’s SE taxes.
© 2017Read more
Here are some of the key 2017 tax due dates affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact our accounting & bookkeeping team to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
If a calendar-year C corporation that filed an automatic six-month extension:
- File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
- Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
- If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the fourth installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.
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“Sorry, we don’t carry that item.” Or perhaps, “No, that’s not part of our service package.” How many times a year do your salespeople utter these words or ones like them? The specific number is critical because, if you don’t know it, you could be losing out on profit potential.
Although you have to focus on your strengths and not get too far afield, your customers may be crying out for a new product or service. And among the best ways to hear them is to track and develop a lost sales analysis and decipher the message.
A successful lost sales tracking effort generally involves three steps:
1. Get the data. Ask your sales associates to log every customer request and to question customers further to get at the heart of what they need. Train sales associates to record information such as the date of request, item requested and the reason the item was unavailable.
2. Crunch the numbers. Calculate how much you could sell if you had the new items in stock or offered the additional service. Naturally, you’ll need to bear in mind that meeting customer demand might involve spending money on equipment or personnel to expand your product or service line. Key data points to examine include:
• Estimated gross profit losses.
Develop a report that lays out this and other information, so you can see it in black and white.
3. Talk about it. Run a lost sales report monthly and discuss the results with your management team. Seek to establish consensus on where your best strategic opportunities lie. Sometimes you’ll want to be patient and let trends develop before acting. Other times, you might want to strike early to seize an underdeveloped market.
Lost sales are lost opportunities. By getting a better grip on your customers’ needs, you can build a stronger bottom line. Please contact us for help creating and maintaining a lost sales analysis and tracking system that best suits your company’s distinctive needs.
© 2017Read more
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.
One aspect of an equitable compensation strategy 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.
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.
These are just a few concepts involved with establishing the right approach to a compensation strategy. Please contact us for help with your company’s specific needs.
© 2017Read more
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.
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.
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.
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Every business has some degree of ups and downs during the year. But cash flow fluctuations are much more intense for a seasonal business. So, if your company defines itself as such, it’s important to optimize your operating cycle to anticipate and minimize shortfalls.
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 seasonal business 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.
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.
© 2017Read more
Many business owners and executives would like to save more money for their retirement freedom plan than they’re currently allowed to sock away in their 401(k). 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 non-qualified 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. This includes benefits at retirement, and 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 retirement freedom plan: Since participants did not receive a transfer of the promising compensation, it’s not yet actual income of earning — which means no current taxing. 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. They also generally do not allow plan loans. But attracting and retaining top executive talent is a business imperative, and an NQDC retirement freedom plan can help you win the talent race with a powerful benefits package. Please contact our firm for further details.
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Adequate insurance coverage is, in many cases, a legal requirement for a business. Even if it’s not for your company, proper coverage remains a risk management imperative. But that doesn’t mean you have to take high insurance costs for business sitting down.
There are a wide variety of ways you can decrease insurance costs for business. Just two examples are staying on top of facilities maintenance and improving the safety of those who work there.
For starters, have an electrician check your facility. Can the building’s electrical system handle the load at peak times? Are there circuits at risk of being overloaded?
Also look at installing a sprinkler system (or upgrading your existing system if needed). Some insurance carriers provide premium discounts for installing fire prevention equipment such as sprinklers. And check your fire extinguishers. Are they well maintained and the right type? The type of extinguisher you need for an electrical fire isn’t the one you need for a kitchen grease fire.
Many municipalities offer free or low-cost fire safety inspection services. Your local fire department may be able to recommend steps that not only reduce hazards, but also reduce insurance premiums.
And don’t forget to consider how much maintenance you’re actually obligated to perform. Renting or leasing real estate, rather than owning it directly, is often less costly because the property owner may be responsible for much of the upkeep. Ownership has its advantages, of course, but it also brings potential liability with it that has to be insured against.
Employee injuries can drive up insurance and workers’ compensation expenses. Inspect your floors and other high-traffic areas for slippery spots, lack of nonslip surfacing, ice buildup or other hazards. Also eliminate clutter, poor carpet installation, loose steps and handrails, and anything else that could potentially generate a slip and fall claim.
Additionally, consider asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a courtesy inspection. Doing so may help you avoid potential penalties as well as prevent injuries and other incidents that would raise your premiums.
Yes, buying the right array of insurance policies is a cost of doing business. But you may have more control over these expenses than you think. We can help you assess your insurance costs and identify opportunities for savings.
© 2017Read more
Many business owners buy company 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 company accounting software. Here are two more to consider.
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.
Neglecting to regularly upgrade or even replace your company 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.
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.
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