The deductibility of corporate expenses covered by officers or shareholdersPosted on July 28th, 2021
Do you play a major role in a closely held corporation and sometimes spend money on corporate expenses personally? These costs may wind up being nondeductible both by an officer and the corporation unless proper steps are taken. This issue is more likely to arise in connection with a financially troubled corporation.
Deductible vs. nondeductible expenses
In general, you can’t deduct an expense you incur on behalf of your corporation, even if it’s a legitimate “trade or business” expense and even if the corporation is financially troubled. This is because a taxpayer can only deduct expenses that are his own. And since your corporation’s legal existence as a separate entity must be respected, the corporation’s costs aren’t yours and thus can’t be deducted even if you pay them.
What’s more, the corporation won’t generally be able to deduct them either because it didn’t pay them itself. Accordingly, be advised that it shouldn’t be a practice of your corporation’s officers or major shareholders to cover corporate costs.
When expenses may be deductible
On the other hand, if a corporate executive incurs costs that relate to an essential part of his or her duties as an executive, they may be deductible as ordinary and necessary expenses related to his or her “trade or business” of being an executive. If you wish to set up an arrangement providing for payments to you and safeguarding their deductibility, a provision should be included in your employment contract with the corporation stating the types of expenses which are part of your duties and authorizing you to incur them. For example, you may be authorized to attend out-of-town business conferences on the corporation’s behalf at your personal expense.
Alternatively, to avoid the complete loss of any deductions by both yourself and the corporation, an arrangement should be in place under which the corporation reimburses you for the expenses you incur. Turn the receipts over to the corporation and use an expense reimbursement claim form or system. This will at least allow the corporation to deduct the amount of the reimbursement.
Contact us if you’d like assistance or would like to discuss these issues further.
You may have loads of student debt, but it may be hard to deduct the interestPosted on July 28th, 2021
More than 43 million student borrowers are in debt with an average of $39,351 each, according to the research group EducationData.org. If you have student loan debt, you may wonder if you can deduct the interest you pay. The answer is yes, subject to certain limits. However, the deduction is phased out if your adjusted gross income exceeds certain levels — and they aren’t as high as the income levels for many other deductions.
Basics of the deduction
The maximum amount of student loan interest you can deduct each year is $2,500. The interest must be for a “qualified education loan,” which means a debt incurred to pay tuition, room and board, and related expenses to attend a post-high school educational institution, including certain vocational schools. Post-graduate programs may also qualify. For example, an internship or residency program leading to a degree or certificate awarded by an institution of higher education, hospital, or health care facility offering post-graduate training can qualify.
It doesn’t matter when the loan was taken out or whether interest payments made in earlier years on the loan were deductible or not.
For 2021, the deduction is phased out for single taxpayers with AGI between $70,000 and $85,000 ($140,000 and $170,000 for married couples filing jointly). The deduction is unavailable for single taxpayers with AGI of more than $85,000 ($170,000 or married couples filing jointly).
Married taxpayers must file jointly to claim this deduction.
The deduction is taken “above the line.” In other words, it’s subtracted from gross income to determine AGI. Thus, it’s available even to taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions.
No deduction is allowed to a taxpayer who can be claimed as a dependent on another tax return. For example, let’s say a parent is paying for the college education of a child whom the parent is claiming as a dependent. In this case, the interest deduction is only available for interest the parent pays on a qualifying loan, not for any of the interest the child may pay on a loan the student may have taken out. The child will be able to deduct interest that is paid in later years when he or she is no longer a dependent.
The interest must be on funds borrowed to cover qualified education costs of the taxpayer or his spouse or dependent. The student must be a degree candidate carrying at least half the normal full-time workload. Also, the education expenses must be paid or incurred within a reasonable time before or after the loan is taken out.
Taxpayers must keep records to verify qualifying expenditures. Documenting a tuition expense isn’t likely to pose a problem. However, care should be taken to document other qualifying education-related expenses including books, equipment, fees, and transportation.
Documenting room and board expenses should be straightforward for students living and dining on campus. Student who live off campus should maintain records of room and board expenses, especially when there are complicating factors such as roommates.
Contact us if you’d like help in determining whether you qualify for this deduction or if you have questions about it.
Getting a new business off the ground: How start-up expenses are handled on your tax returnPosted on July 21st, 2021
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials are seeing a large increase in the number of new businesses being launched. From June 2020 through June 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that business applications are up 18.6%. The Bureau measures this by the number of businesses applying for an Employer Identification Number.
Entrepreneurs often don’t know that many of the expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be currently deducted. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your federal tax bill.
How to treat expenses for tax purposes
If you’re starting or planning to launch a new business, keep these three rules in mind:
- Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one.
- Under the tax code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins. As you know, $5,000 doesn’t go very far these days! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
- No deductions or amortization deductions are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business begins. Generally, that means the year when the business has all the pieces in place to start earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Did the activity actually begin?
In general, start-up expenses are those you make to:
- Investigate the creation or acquisition of a business,
- Create a business, or
- Engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business.
To qualify for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.
To be eligible as an “organization expense,” an expense must be related to establishing a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.
If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, you need to decide whether to take the election described above. Recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.
There’s currently a “stepped-up basis” if you inherit property — but will it last?Posted on July 21st, 2021
If you’re planning your estate, or you’ve recently inherited assets, you may be unsure of the “cost” (or “basis”) for tax purposes.
The current rules
Under the current fair market value basis rules (also known as the “step-up and step-down” rules), an heir receives a basis in inherited property equal to its date-of-death value. So, for example, if your grandmother bought stock in 1935 for $500 and it’s worth $1 million at her death, the basis is stepped up to $1 million in the hands of your grandmother’s heirs — and all of that gain escapes federal income tax.
The fair market value basis rules apply to inherited property that’s includible in the deceased’s gross estate, and those rules also apply to property inherited from foreign persons who aren’t subject to U.S. estate tax. It doesn’t matter if a federal estate tax return is filed. The rules apply to the inherited portion of property owned by the inheriting taxpayer jointly with the deceased, but not the portion of jointly held property that the inheriting taxpayer owned before his or her inheritance. The fair market value basis rules also don’t apply to reinvestments of estate assets by fiduciaries.
Gifting before death
It’s crucial to understand the current fair market value basis rules so that you don’t pay more tax than you’re legally required to.
For example, in the above example, if your grandmother decides to make a gift of the stock during her lifetime (rather than passing it on when she dies), the “step-up” in basis (from $500 to $1 million) would be lost. Property that has gone up in value acquired by gift is subject to the “carryover” basis rules. That means the person receiving the gift takes the same basis the donor had in it ($500 in this example), plus a portion of any gift tax the donor pays on the gift.
A “step-down” occurs if someone dies owning property that has declined in value. In that case, the basis is lowered to the date-of-death value. Proper planning calls for seeking to avoid this loss of basis. Giving the property away before death won’t preserve the basis. That’s because when property that has gone down in value is the subject of a gift, the person receiving the gift must take the date of gift value as his basis (for purposes of determining his or her loss on a later sale). Therefore, a good strategy for property that has declined in value is for the owner to sell it before death so he or she can enjoy the tax benefits of the loss.
Change on the horizon?
Be aware that President Biden has proposed ending the ability to step-up the basis for gains in excess of $1 million. There would be exemptions for family-owned businesses and farms. Of course, any proposal must be approved by Congress in order to be enacted.
These are the basic rules. Other rules and limits may apply. For example, in some cases, a deceased person’s executor may be able to make an alternate valuation election. Contact us for tax assistance when estate planning or after receiving an inheritance. We’ll keep you up to date on any tax law changes.
Who in a small business can be hit with the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty?”Posted on July 14th, 2021
There’s a harsh tax penalty that you could be at risk for paying personally if you own or manage a business with employees. It’s called the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty” and it applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from its employees’ wages.
Because taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over. The penalty is also sometimes called the “100% penalty” because the person liable and responsible for the taxes will be penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and IRS is aggressive in enforcing the penalty.
The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty is among the more dangerous tax penalties because it applies to a broad range of actions and to a wide range of people involved in a business.
Here are some answers to questions about the penalty so you can safely avoid it.
What actions are penalized? The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty applies to any willful failure to collect, or truthfully account for, and pay over Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld from employees’ wages.
Who is at risk? The penalty can be imposed on anyone “responsible” for collection and payment of the tax. This has been broadly defined to include a corporation’s officers, directors and shareholders under a duty to collect and pay the tax as well as a partnership’s partners, or any employee of the business with such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally exempt from responsibility, can be subject to this penalty under some circumstances. In some cases, responsibility has even been extended to family members close to the business, and to attorneys and accountants.
According to the IRS, responsibility is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are (or aren’t) paid may be responsible. There’s often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. You may not be directly involved with the payroll tax withholding process in your business. But if you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and have the power to pay them but instead make payments to creditors and others, you become a responsible person.
Although a taxpayer held liable can sue other responsible people for contribution, this action must be taken entirely on his or her own after the penalty is paid. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.
What’s considered “willful?” For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bending to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes that are due the government is willful behavior. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Your failure to take care of the job yourself can be treated as the willful element.
Never borrow from taxes
Under no circumstances should you fail to withhold taxes or “borrow” from withheld amounts. All funds withheld should be paid over to the government on time. Contact us with any questions about making tax payments.
Can taxpayers who manage their own investment portfolios deduct related expenses? It depends.Posted on July 14th, 2021
Do you have significant investment-related expenses, including the cost of subscriptions to financial services, home office expenses and clerical costs? Under current tax law, these expenses aren’t deductible through 2025 if they’re considered investment expenses for the production of income. But they’re deductible if they’re considered trade or business expenses.
For years before 2018, production-of-income expenses were deductible, but they were included in miscellaneous itemized deductions, which were subject to a 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor. (These rules are scheduled to return after 2025.) If you do a significant amount of trading, you should know which category your investment expenses fall into, because qualifying for trade or business expense treatment is more advantageous now.
In order to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses, you must be engaged in a trade or business. The U.S. Supreme Court held many years ago that an individual taxpayer isn’t engaged in a trade or business merely because the individual manages his or her own securities investments — regardless of the amount or the extent of the work required.
A trader vs. an investor
However, if you can show that your investment activities rise to the level of carrying on a trade or business, you may be considered a trader, who is engaged in a trade or business, rather than an investor, who isn’t. As a trader, you’re entitled to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses. A trader is also entitled to deduct home office expenses if the home office is used exclusively on a regular basis as the trader’s principal place of business. An investor, on the other hand, isn’t entitled to home office deductions since the investment activities aren’t a trade or business.
Since the Supreme Court decision, there has been extensive litigation on the issue of whether a taxpayer is a trader or investor. The U.S. Tax Court has developed a two-part test that must be satisfied in order for a taxpayer to be a trader. Under this test, a taxpayer’s investment activities are considered a trade or business only where both of the following are true:
- The taxpayer’s trading is substantial (in other words, sporadic trading isn’t considered a trade or business), and
- The taxpayer seeks to profit from short-term market swings, rather than from long-term holding of investments.
Profit in the short term
So, the fact that a taxpayer’s investment activities are regular, extensive and continuous isn’t in itself sufficient for determining that a taxpayer is a trader. In order to be considered a trader, you must show that you buy and sell securities with reasonable frequency in an effort to profit on a short-term basis. In one case, a taxpayer who made more than 1,000 trades a year with trading activities averaging about $16 million annually was held to be an investor rather than a trader because the holding periods for stocks sold averaged about one year.
Contact us if you have questions or would like to figure out whether you’re an investor or a trader for tax purposes.
10 facts about the pass-through deduction for qualified business incomePosted on July 8th, 2021
Are you eligible to take the deduction for qualified business income (QBI)? Here are 10 facts about this valuable tax break, referred to as the pass-through deduction, QBI deduction or Section 199A deduction.
- It’s available to owners of sole proprietorships, single member limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships and S corporations. It may also be claimed by trusts and estates.
- The deduction is intended to reduce the tax rate on QBI to a rate that’s closer to the corporate tax rate.
- It’s taken “below the line.” That means it reduces your taxable income but not your adjusted gross income. But it’s available regardless of whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction.
- The deduction has two components: 20% of QBI from a domestic business operated as a sole proprietorship or through a partnership, S corporation, trust or estate; and 20% of the taxpayer’s combined qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership income.
- QBI is the net amount of a taxpayer’s qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss relating to any qualified trade or business. Items of income, gain, deduction and loss are qualified to the extent they’re effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business in the U.S. and included in computing taxable income.
- QBI doesn’t necessarily equal the net profit or loss from a business, even if it’s a qualified trade or business. In addition to the profit or loss from Schedule C, QBI must be adjusted by certain other gain or deduction items related to the business.
- A qualified trade or business is any trade or business other than a specified service trade or business (SSTB). But an SSTB is treated as a qualified trade or business for taxpayers whose taxable income is under a threshold amount.
- SSTBs include health, law, accounting, actuarial science, certain performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, investment, trading, dealing securities and any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of its employees or owners.
- There are limits based on W-2 wages. Inflation-adjusted threshold amounts also apply for purposes of applying the SSTB rules. For tax years beginning in 2021, the threshold amounts are $164,900 for singles and heads of household; $164,925 for married filing separately; and $329,800 for married filing jointly. The limits phase in over a $50,000 range ($100,000 for a joint return). This means that the deduction reduces ratably, so that by the time you reach the top of the range ($214,900 for singles and heads of household; $214,925 for married filing separately; and $429,800 for married filing jointly) the deduction is zero for income from an SSTB.
- For businesses conducted as a partnership or S corporation, the pass-through deduction is calculated at the partner or shareholder level.
As you can see, this substantial deduction is complex, especially if your taxable income exceeds the thresholds discussed above. Other rules apply. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.
IRS audits may be increasing, so be preparedPosted on July 8th, 2021
The IRS just released its audit statistics for the 2020 fiscal year and fewer taxpayers had their returns examined as compared with prior years. But even though a small percentage of returns are being chosen for audit these days, that will be little consolation if yours is one of them.
Overall, just 0.5% of individual tax returns were audited in 2020. However, as in the past, those with higher incomes were audited at higher rates. For example, in 2020, 2.2% of taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of between $1 million and $5 million were audited. Among the richest taxpayers, those with AGIs of $10 million and more, 7% of returns were audited in 2020.
These are among the lowest percentages of audits conducted in recent years. However, the Biden administration has announced it would like to raise revenue by increasing tax compliance and enforcement. In other words, audits may be on the rise in coming years.
Prepare in advance
Even though fewer audits were performed in 2020, the IRS will still examine thousands of returns this year. With proper planning, you may fare well even if you’re one of the unlucky ones.
The easiest way to survive an IRS examination is to prepare in advance. On a regular basis, you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts, or other proof — for all items reported on your tax returns.
It’s possible you didn’t do anything wrong. Just because a return is selected for audit doesn’t mean that an error was made. Some returns are randomly selected based on statistical formulas. For example, IRS computers compare income and deductions on returns with what other taxpayers report. If an individual deducts a charitable contribution that’s significantly higher than what others with similar incomes report, the IRS may want to know why.
Returns can also be selected if they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers who were previously selected for audit, such as business partners or investors.
The government generally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and often the exam won’t begin until a year or more after you file your return.
Complex vs. simple returns
The scope of an audit depends on the tax return’s complexity. A return reflecting business or real estate income and expenses will obviously take longer to examine than a return with only salary income.
An audit may be conducted by mail or through an in-person interview and review of records. The interview may be conducted at an IRS office or may be a “field audit” at the taxpayer’s home, business, or accountant’s office.
Important: Even if your chosen for audit, an IRS examination may be nothing to lose sleep over. In many cases, the IRS asks for proof of certain items and routinely “closes” the audit after the documentation is presented.
Don’t go it alone
It’s advisable to have a tax professional represent you at an audit. A tax pro knows the issues that the IRS is likely to scrutinize and can prepare accordingly. In addition, a professional knows that in many instances IRS auditors will take a position (for example, to disallow certain deductions) even though courts and other guidance have expressed contrary opinions on the issues. Because pros can point to the proper authority, the IRS may be forced to concede on certain issues.
If you receive an IRS audit letter or simply want to improve your recordkeeping, we’re here to help. Contact us to discuss this or any other aspect of your taxes.
Eligible Businesses: Claim the Employee Retention Tax CreditPosted on June 30th, 2021
The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) is a valuable tax break that was extended and modified by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), enacted in March of 2021. Here’s a rundown of the rules.
Back in March of 2020, Congress originally enacted the ERTC in the CARES Act to encourage employers to hire and retain employees during the pandemic. At that time, the ERTC applied to wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. However, Congress later modified and extended the ERTC to apply to wages paid before July 1, 2021.
The ARPA again extended and modified the ERTC to apply to wages paid after June 30, 2021, and before January 1, 2022. Thus, an eligible employer can claim the refundable ERTC against “applicable employment taxes” equal to 70% of the qualified wages it pays to employees in the third and fourth quarters of 2021. Except as discussed below, qualified wages are generally limited to $10,000 per employee per 2021 calendar quarter. Thus, the maximum ERTC amount available is generally $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter or $28,000 per employee in 2021.
For purposes of the ERTC, a qualified employer is eligible if it experiences a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of business due to a government order. Employers with up to 500 full-time employees can claim the credit without regard to whether the employees for whom the credit is claimed actually perform services. But, except as explained below, employers with more than 500 full-time employees can only claim the ERTC with respect to employees that don’t perform services.
Employers who got a Payroll Protection Program loan in 2020 can still claim the ERTC. But the same wages can’t be used both for seeking loan forgiveness or satisfying conditions of other COVID relief programs (such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program) in calculating the ERTC.
Beginning in the third quarter of 2021, the following modifications apply to the ERTC:
- Applicable employment taxes are the Medicare hospital taxes (1.45% of the wages) and the Railroad Retirement payroll tax that’s attributable to the Medicare hospital tax rate. For the first and second quarters of 2021, “applicable employment taxes” were defined as the employer’s share of Social Security or FICA tax (6.2% of the wages) and the Railroad Retirement Tax Act payroll tax that was attributable to the Social Security tax rate.
- Recovery startup businesses are qualified employers. These are generally defined as businesses that began operating after February 15, 2020, and that meet certain gross receipts requirements. These recovery startup businesses will be eligible for an increased maximum credit of $50,000 per quarter, even if they haven’t experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or been subject to a full or partial suspension under a government order.
- A “severely financially distressed” employer that has suffered a decline in quarterly gross receipts of 90% or more compared to the same quarter in 2019 can treat wages (up to $10,000) paid during those quarters as qualified wages. This allows an employer with over 500 employees under severe financial distress to treat those wages as qualified wages whether or not employees actually provide services.
- The statute of limitations for assessments relating to the ERTC won’t expire until five years after the date the original return claiming the credit is filed (or treated as filed).
Contact us if you have any questions related to your business claiming the ERTC.
Are you a nonworking spouse? You may still be able to contribute to an IRAPosted on June 30th, 2021
Married couples may not be able to save as much as they need for retirement when one spouse doesn’t work outside the home — perhaps so that spouse can take care of children or elderly parents. In general, an IRA contribution is allowed only if a taxpayer earns compensation. However, there’s an exception involving a “spousal” IRA. It allows contributions to be made for nonworking spouses.
For 2021, the amount that an eligible married couple can contribute to an IRA for a nonworking spouse is $6,000, which is the same limit that applies for the working spouse.
As you may know, IRAs offer two types of advantages for taxpayers who make contributions to them.
- Contributions of up to $6,000 a year to an IRA may be tax deductible.
- The earnings on funds within the IRA are not taxed until withdrawn. (Alternatively, you may make contributions to a Roth IRA. There’s no deduction for Roth IRA contributions, but, if certain requirements are met, distributions are tax-free.)
As long as the couple together has at least $12,000 of earned income, $6,000 can be contributed to an IRA for each, for a total of $12,000. (The contributions for both spouses can be made to either a regular IRA or a Roth IRA, or split between them, as long as the combined contributions don’t exceed the $12,000 limit.)
Boost contributions if 50 or older
In addition, individuals who are age 50 or older can make “catch-up” contributions to an IRA or Roth IRA in the amount of $1,000. Therefore, for 2021, for a taxpayer and his or her spouse, both of whom will have reached age 50 by the end of the year, the combined limit of the deductible contributions to an IRA for each spouse is $7,000, for a combined deductible limit of $14,000.
There’s one catch, however. If, in 2021, the working spouse is an active participant in either of several types of retirement plans, a deductible contribution of up to $6,000 (or $7,000 for a spouse who will be 50 by the end of the year) can be made to the IRA of the nonparticipant spouse only if the couple’s AGI doesn’t exceed $125,000. This limit is phased out for AGI between $198,000 and $208,000.
Contact us if you’d like more information about IRAs or you’d like to discuss retirement planning.