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Do you need to adjust your withholding?

Posted by Admin Posted on May 15 2018

 


If you received a large refund after filing your 2017 income tax return, you’re probably enjoying the influx of cash. But a large refund isn’t all positive. It also means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan. 

That’s why a large refund for the previous tax year would usually indicate that you should consider reducing the amounts you’re having withheld (and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making) for the current year. But 2018 is a little different. 

TCJA and withholding

To reflect changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — such as the increase in the standard deduction, suspension of personal exemptions and changes in tax rates and brackets —the IRS updated the withholding tables that indicate how much employers should hold back from their employees’ paychecks, generally reducing the amount withheld. 

The new tables may provide the correct amount of tax withholding for individuals with simple tax situations, but they might cause other taxpayers to not have enough withheld to pay their ultimate tax liabilities under the TCJA. So even if you received a large refund this year, you could end up owing a significant amount of tax when you file your 2018 return next year. 

Perils of the new tables

The IRS itself cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld. If, for example, you itemize deductions, have dependents age 17 or older, are in a two-income household or have more than one job, you should review your tax situation and adjust your withholding if appropriate. 

The IRS has updated its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to assist taxpayers in reviewing their situations. The calculator reflects changes in available itemized deductions, the increased child tax credit, the new dependent credit and repeal of dependent exemptions.

More considerations

Tax law changes aren’t the only reason to check your withholding. Additional reviews during the year are a good idea if: 

  • You get married or divorced,
  • You add or lose a dependent,
  • You purchase a home,
  • You start or lose a job, or
  • Your investment income changes significantly.

You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even multiple times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. (For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.)

The TCJA and your tax situation

If you rely solely on the new withholding tables, you could run the risk of significantly underwithholding your federal income taxes. As a result, you might face an unexpectedly high tax bill when you file your 2018 tax return next year. Contact us for help determining whether you should adjust your withholding. We can also answer any questions you have about how the TCJA may affect your particular situation.  

© 2018

Can you deduct business travel when it’s combined with a vacation?

Posted by Admin Posted on May 15 2018



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.

General rules 

Business travel expenses are potentially deductible if the travel is within the United States and the expenses are “ordinary and necessary” and directly related to the business. (Foreign travel expenses may also be deductible, but stricter rules apply than are discussed here.)

Currently, business owners and the self-employed are potentially eligible to deduct business travel expenses. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct such expenses. The potential deductions discussed below assume that you’re a business owner or self-employed.

Business vs. pleasure

Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity may be 100% deductible if the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. But if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, generally none of those costs are deductible. 

The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining whether the primary reason for domestic travel is business:

  • 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, 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. 

Deductible expenses

What transportation costs can you deduct? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, etc. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. Examples of these expenses include lodging, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days aren’t deductible.

Keep in mind that only expenses for yourself are deductible. You can’t deduct expenses for family members traveling with you — unless they’re employees of your business and traveling for a bona fide business purpose. 

Substantiation is critical

Be sure to accumulate proof of the business nature of your trip and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions. You also must properly substantiate all of the expenses you’re deducting.

Additional rules and limits apply to the travel expense deduction. Please contact us if you have questions.

© 2018

IRS Audit Techniques Guides provide clues to what may come up if your business is audited

Posted by Admin Posted on May 07 2018




IRS examiners use Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs) to prepare for audits — and so can small business owners. Many ATGs target specific industries, such as construction. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation and fringe benefits. These publications can provide valuable insights into issues that might surface if your business is audited. 

What do ATGs cover? 

The IRS compiles information obtained from past examinations of taxpayers and publishes its findings in ATGs. Typically, these publications explain:
 

• 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, and
• 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.

What do ATGs advise?

ATGs cover the types of documentation IRS examiners should request from taxpayers and what relevant information might be uncovered during a tour of the business premises. These guides are intended in part to help examiners identify potential sources of income that could otherwise slip through the cracks. 

Other issues that ATGs might instruct examiners to inquire about include:
 

• 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, and
• Personal expenses paid with business funds.
 
For example, one ATG focuses specifically on cash-intensive businesses, such as 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 underreport their cash receipts, but franchised operations may have internal controls in place to deter such “skimming.” For instance, a franchisee may be required to purchase products or goods from the franchisor, which provides a paper trail that can be used to verify sales records.

Likewise, for gas stations, examiners must check the methods of determining income, rebates and other incentives. Restaurants and bars should be asked about net profits compared to the industry average, spillage, pouring averages and tipping. 

Avoiding red flags

Although ATGs were created to enhance IRS examiner proficiency, they also can help small businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise red flags with the IRS. To access the complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website. And for more information on the IRS red flags that may be relevant to your business, contact us. 

© 2018

Get started on 2018 tax planning now!

Posted by Admin Posted on May 07 2018




With the April 17 individual income tax filing deadline behind you (or with your 2017 tax return on the back burner if you filed for an extension), you may be hoping to not think about taxes for the next several months. But for maximum tax savings, now is the time to start tax planning for 2018. It’s especially critical to get an early start this year because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has substantially changed the tax environment.

Many variables

A tremendous number of variables affect your overall tax liability for the year. Looking at these variables early in the year can give you more opportunities to reduce your 2018 tax bill. 
For example, the timing of income and deductible expenses can affect both the rate you pay and when you pay. By regularly reviewing your year-to-date income, expenses and potential tax, you may be able to time income and expenses in a way that reduces, or at least defers, your tax liability. 

In other words, tax planning shouldn’t be just a year-end activity. 

Certainty vs. uncertainty

Last year, planning early was a challenge because it was uncertain whether tax reform legislation would be signed into law, when it would go into effect and what it would include. This year, the TCJA tax reform legislation is in place, with most of the provisions affecting individuals in effect for 2018–2025. And additional major tax law changes aren’t expected in 2018. So there’s no need to hold off on tax planning.

But while there’s more certainty about the tax law that will be in effect this year and next, there’s still much uncertainty on exactly what the impact of the TCJA changes will be on each taxpayer. The new law generally reduces individual tax rates, and it expands some tax breaks. However, it reduces or eliminates many other breaks. 

The total impact of these changes is what will ultimately determine which tax strategies will make sense for you this year, such as the best way to time income and expenses. You may need to deviate from strategies that worked for you in previous years and implement some new strategies.
Getting started sooner will help ensure you don’t take actions that you think will save taxes but that actually will be costly under the new tax regime. It will also allow you to take full advantage of new tax-saving opportunities.

Now and throughout the year

To get started on your 2018 tax planning, contact us. We can help you determine how the TCJA affects you and what strategies you should implement now and throughout the year to minimize your tax liability.  

© 2018

Minding the new rules of summer internships

Posted by Admin Posted on May 07 2018



The summer months are almost here and, with them, the prospect of many employers offering unpaid internships to high school and college students. If your organization is considering such a move, tread carefully. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), if an intern is determined to actually be an employee, the employer must pay him or her at least minimum wage, plus overtime to the extent applicable. Fortunately, new rules introduced earlier this year make it a little easier to establish unpaid intern status. 

How it used to be

Previously, an arrangement had to pass a six-factor U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) test to qualify as an unpaid internship:

1. The work must have been performed as an extension of a trade studied by the intern or be akin to his or her school training.
2. The work must have been for the intern’s benefit.
3. The intern couldn’t have replaced regular employees but rather must have worked under their close observation.
4. The employer must have derived no immediate advantage from the internship; the internship must have been primarily an educational experience for the intern.
5. The employer must not have promised the intern employment after the internship.
6. The employer and the intern must have mutually understood that the internship was unpaid.

Employers had to meet all six of these factors. But courts found the rules problematic — especially the “no immediate advantage” factor.

Today’s seven-factor test

In January 2018, the DOL introduced a new seven-factor test based largely on various U.S. federal appeals court decisions in FLSA cases. The new test seeks to establish the “economic reality” of the employer-intern relationship and identify which party is the “primary beneficiary.” As expressed by the DOL, the factors assess the extent to which:

1. The intern and employer clearly understand that there’s no expectation of compensation; any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee (and vice versa),
2. The internship provides training similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions,
3. The internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit,
4. The internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar,
5. The internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning,
6. The intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern, and
7. The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the internship’s conclusion.

In short, the intern must be the primary beneficiary of the relationship. Significantly, unlike the previous six-factor test, this one is flexible; no single factor is determinative. 

Totally worth it

For employers, internships may seem like more trouble than they’re worth. But these arrangements can greatly benefit the students involved, provide energetic help with short-term projects, and improve your reputation in the employment market. Please contact us for more information.

© 2018

Say, just how competitive is your business anyway?

Posted by Admin Posted on May 07 2018



Every business owner launches his or her company wanting to be successful. But once you get out there, it usually becomes apparent that you’re not alone. To reach any level of success, you’ve got to be competitive with other similar businesses in your market.

When strategic planning, one important question to regularly ask is: Just how competitive are we anyway? Objectively making this determination entails scrutinizing key factors that affect profitability, including:

Industry environment. Determine whether there are any threats facing your industry that could affect your business’s ability to operate. This could be anything from extreme weather to a product or service that customers might use less should the economy sour or buying trends significantly change. 

Tangible and intangible resources. Competitiveness can hinge on the resources to which a business has access and how it deploys them to earn a profit. What types of tangible — and intangible — resources does your business have at its disposal? Are you in danger of being cut off or limited from any of them?

For example, do you own state-of-the-art technology that allows you to produce superior products or offer premium services more quickly and cheaply than competitors? Assess how suddenly this technology could become outdated — or whether it already has.

Strength of leadership team. As the owner of the business, you may naturally and rightly assume that its management is in good shape. But be open to an objective examination of its strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, maybe you’ve had some contentious interactions with employees as of late. Ask your managers whether underlying tensions exist and, if so, how you might improve morale going forward. There’s probably no greater danger to competitiveness than a disgruntled workforce.

Relationships with suppliers, customers and regulators. For most businesses to function competitively, they must rely on suppliers and nurture strong relationships with customers. In addition, if your company is subject to regulatory oversight, it has to cooperate with local, state and federal officials.

Discuss with your management team the steps the business is currently taking to measure and manage the state of its relationships with each of these groups. Have you been paying suppliers on time? Are you getting positive customer feedback (directly or online)? Are you in compliance with applicable laws and regulations — and are there any new ones to worry about?

Loss of competitiveness can often sneak up on companies. One minute you’re operating in the same stable market you’ve been in for years, and the next minute a disruptor comes along and upends everything. Contact us for more information and other profit-building ideas.

©2018

A review of significant TCJA provisions affecting small businesses

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 30 2018



Now that small businesses and their owners have filed their 2017 income tax returns (or filed for an extension), it’s a good time to review some of the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that may significantly impact their taxes for 2018 and beyond. Generally, the changes apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and are permanent, unless otherwise noted.

Corporate taxation

  • Replacement of graduated corporate rates ranging from 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21%
  • Replacement of the flat personal service corporation (PSC) rate of 35% with a flat rate of 21%
  • Repeal of the 20% corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT)

Pass-through taxation

  • Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37% — through 2025
  • New 20% qualified business income deduction for owners — through 2025
  • Changes to many other tax breaks for individuals — generally through 2025

New or expanded tax breaks

  • 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 (these amounts will be indexed for inflation after 2018)
  • New tax credit for employer-paid family and medical leave — through 2019

Reduced or eliminated tax breaks

  • 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 noncorporate 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 (generally no more like-kind exchanges for personal property)
  • New limitations on excessive employee compensation
  • New limitations on deductions for certain employee fringe benefits, such as entertainment and, in certain circumstances, meals and transportation

Don’t wait to start 2018 tax planning

This is only a sampling of some of the most significant TCJA changes that will affect small businesses and their owners beginning this year, and additional rules and limits apply. The combined impact of these changes should inform which tax strategies you and your business implement in 2018, such as how to time income and expenses to your tax advantage. The sooner you begin the tax planning process, the more tax-saving opportunities will be open to you. So don’t wait to start; contact us today. 

© 2018

Tax record retention guidelines for individuals

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 30 2018




What 2017 tax records can you toss once you’ve filed your 2017 return? The answer is simple: none. You need to hold on to all of your 2017 tax records for now. But it’s the perfect time to go through old tax records and see what you can discard.

The 3-year and 6-year rules

At minimum, keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you potentially can get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2014 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2014 return, hold on to your records at least until the three-year anniversary of when you filed your extended return.)

However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%. What constitutes an understatement may go beyond simply not reporting items of income. So a common rule of thumb is to save tax records for six years from filing, just to be safe.

What to keep longer

You’ll need to hang on to certain tax-related records beyond the statute of limitations:

  • Keep tax returns themselves forever, so you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed a legitimate return. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.
  • Hold on to W-2 forms until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Questions might arise regarding your work record or earnings for a particular year, and your W-2 could provide the documentation needed.
  • Retain records related to real estate or investments as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return (or six years if you want to be extra safe).
  • Keep records associated with retirement accounts until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years.

Other documents

We’ve covered retention guidelines for some of the most common tax-related records. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.

© 2018

Surprise! Your 401(k) plan has been disqualified

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 30 2018



Most employers, and a fair number of individuals, worry only about an IRS audit of their income tax returns. Unfortunately, the agency can perform another kind of audit that not only may take you by surprise, but also can leave you with a rather shocking result: a disqualified 401(k) plan — and a bevy of potentially nasty tax consequences for you and your employees.

Typical triggers

What could cause such a sorry state of affairs? Plan disqualification can be triggered by:
 

• Failing to identify all employees eligible for your 401(k),
• Neglecting to give participants the opportunity to make deferral elections, and
• Not limiting employee contributions to the amounts allowed under tax law for the calendar year.


In addition, traditional 401(k) plans must be regularly tested to ensure that the contributions don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees. So, your 401(k) must pass all applicable nondiscrimination tests.

Loss of status

Tax law and administrative details that may seem trivial or irrelevant may actually be critical to maintaining a plan’s qualified status. If a plan loses its qualified status, each participant is taxed on the value of his or her vested benefits as of the disqualification date. That can result in large (and completely unexpected) tax liabilities for participants. 

In addition, contributions and earnings that occur after the disqualification date must be included in participants’ taxable incomes. The employer’s tax deductions for plan contributions are also at risk. And there are penalties and fees that can be devastating to a business. Finally, withdrawals made after the disqualification date cannot be rolled over into other tax-favored retirement plans or accounts (such as IRAs).

A preventable problem

Naturally, an employer isn’t without recourse if its 401(k) plan is in danger of disqualification because of an IRS audit. You may be able to follow a voluntary correction process to rectify the problem. And, of course, you can prevent the situation by keeping careful track of plan compliance. Let us provide you with further information and assistance.

© 2018

Manage health benefits costs with a multi pronged approach

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 30 2018



Many companies offer health care benefits to help ensure employee wellness and compete for better job candidates. And the Affordable Care Act has been using both carrots and sticks (depending on employer size) to encourage businesses to offer health coverage.

If you sponsor a health care plan, you know this is no small investment. It may seem next to impossible to control rising plan costs, which are subject to a variety of factors beyond your control. But the truth is, all business owners can control at least a portion of their health care expenses. The trick is taking a multipronged approach — here are some ideas:

Interact with employees to find the best fit. The ideal size and shape of your plan depends on the needs of your workforce. Rather than relying exclusively on vendor-provided materials, actively manage communications with employees regarding health care costs and other topics. Determine which benefits are truly valued and which ones aren’t.

Use metrics. Business owners can apply analytics to just about everything these days, including health care coverage. Measure the financial impacts of gaps between benefits offered and those employees actually use. Then appropriately adjust plan design to close these costly gaps.

Engage an outside consultant. Secure independent (that is, non-vendor-generated) return-on-investment analyses of your existing benefits package, as well as prospective initiatives. This will entail some expense, but an expert external perspective could help you save money in the long run.

Audit medical claims payments and pharmacy benefits management services. Mistakes happen — and fraud is always a possibility. By regularly re-evaluating claims and pharmacy services, you can identify whether you’re losing money to inaccuracies or even wrongdoing. 

Renegotiate pharmacy benefits contracts. As the old saying goes, “Everything is negotiable.” The next time your pharmacy benefits contract comes up for renewal, see whether the vendor will do better. In addition, look around the marketplace for other providers and see if one of them can make a more economical offer.

There’s no silver bullet for lowering the expense of health care benefits. To manage these costs, you must understand the specifics of your plan as well as the economic factors that drive expenses up and down. Please contact our firm for assistance and additional information.

©2018

A net operating loss on your 2017 tax return isn’t all bad news

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 23 2018



When a company’s deductible expenses exceed its income, generally a net operating loss (NOL) occurs. If when filing your 2017 income tax return you found that your business had an NOL, there is an upside: tax benefits. But beware — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes some significant changes to the tax treatment of NOLs.

Pre-TCJA law

Under pre-TCJA law, when a business incurs an NOL, the loss can be carried back up to two years, and then any remaining amount can be carried forward up to 20 years. The carryback can generate an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow. 

The business can, however, elect instead to carry the entire loss forward. If cash flow is strong, this may be more beneficial, such as if the business’s income increases substantially, pushing it into a higher tax bracket — or if tax rates increase. In both scenarios, the carryforward can save more taxes than the carryback because deductions are more powerful when higher tax rates apply. 

But the TCJA has established a flat 21% tax rate for C corporation taxpayers beginning with the 2018 tax year, and the rate has no expiration date. So C corporations don’t have to worry about being pushed into a higher tax bracket unless Congress changes the corporate rates again. 

Also keep in mind that the rules are more complex for pass-through entities, such as partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (if they elected partnership tax treatment). Each owner’s allocable share of the entity’s loss is passed through to the owners and reported on their personal returns. The tax benefit depends on each owner’s particular tax situation.

The TCJA changes

The changes the TCJA made to the tax treatment of NOLs generally aren’t favorable to taxpayers:
 

* 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 carryforward generally can’t be used to shelter more than 80% of taxable income in the carryforward 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.

Complicated rules get more complicated

NOLs can provide valuable tax benefits. The rules, however, have always been complicated, and the TCJA has complicated them further. Please contact us if you’d like more information on the NOL rules and how you can maximize the tax benefit of an NOL.

© 2018

Individual tax calendar: Important deadlines for the remainder of 2018

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 23 2018




While April 15 (April 17 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that you also need to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2018 deadlines, here’s a look at when some key tax-related forms, payments and other actions are due. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. 

Please review the calendar and let us know if you have any questions about the deadlines or would like assistance in meeting them.  

June 15

  • File a 2017 individual income tax return (Form 1040) or file for a four-month extension (Form 4868), and pay any tax and interest due, if you live outside the United States.
  • Pay the second installment of 2018 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

September 17    

  • Pay the third installment of 2018 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

October 1    

  • If you’re the trustee of a trust or the executor of an estate, file an income tax return for the 2017 calendar year (Form 1041) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic five-and-a-half month extension was filed.

October 15    

  • File a 2017 income tax return (Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed (or if an automatic four-month extension was filed by a taxpayer living outside the United States).
  • Make contributions for 2017 to certain retirement plans or establish a SEP for 2017, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.
  • File a 2017 gift tax return (Form 709) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.

December 31    

  • Make 2018 contributions to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
  • Make 2018 annual exclusion gifts (up to $15,000 per recipient).
  • Incur various expenses that potentially can be claimed as itemized deductions on your 2018 tax return. Examples include charitable donations, medical expenses and property tax payments.

But remember that some types of expenses that were deductible on 2017 returns won’t be deductible on 2018 returns under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, such as unreimbursed work-related expenses, certain professional fees, and investment expenses. In addition, some deductions will be subject to new limits. Finally, with the nearly doubled standard deduction, you may no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.

© 2018

Should you reconsider providing transportation fringe benefits?

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 23 2018



Although telecommuting is more popular than ever, plenty of employees still have to make a, shall we say, terrestrial commute to work every day. Many employers have long offered transportation fringe benefits to help out these intrepid travelers and enjoyed a tax deduction for doing so. However, with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) late last year, you may want to reconsider providing such benefits.

The rules before

Under previous law, employers could deduct expenses for certain transportation fringe benefits, and the benefits would also be excluded from the employee’s taxable income. Generally, this applied to three main types of fringe benefits, either individually or in any combination:
 

• Mass transit passes,
• Commuter highway vehicle passes, and
• Qualified parking fees.
 

Of course, various rules and limits applied. 

For employees, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 eventually placed these three fringe benefits on an equal footing with a maximum exclusion of $250 per month (indexed for inflation). So, for example, in 2018 an employee can exclude $260 a month in transportation fringe benefits.

Extremely limited

The TCJA doesn’t address this tax-free treatment afforded to employees receiving such benefits, so it presumably still stands. But, for employers, the law significantly changes the tax rules beginning in 2018.

For the most part, no deduction is allowed for the expense of providing a qualified transportation fringe benefit. This includes any payment or reimbursement to employees. In other words, you can’t circumvent the restriction by simply reimbursing employees for their commuting costs.

Key exception: Transportation payments made for an employee’s safety may still be deductible. The IRS will likely flesh out this exception in new guidance, but existing regulations point to two possible scenarios: 

1. An employer pays for an employee’s transportation home when he or she works late at night and it’s not safe to take public transportation.
2. The employer provides employees with special vehicles (for example, armored cars) or chauffeurs for safety reasons.

New approach

Because of the changes under the TCJA, you may want to rethink your approach to transportation fringe benefits. Contact us for help determining how the tax rules apply to your organization and what steps make the most sense for you and your employees.

© 2018

Taking it to the streets: 7 marketing strategies to consider

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 23 2018



With such intense focus on digital marketing these days, business owners can overlook the fact that there are actual, physical places to interact with the buying public. Now that spring is here and summer is on the way, it’s a good time to rediscover the possibilities of “street marketing.” Here are seven strategies to consider:

1. Set up a booth at an outdoor festival or public event. Give out product samples or brochures to inform potential customers about your company. You might also hand out small souvenirs, such as key chains, pens or magnets with your contact info. 

2. Dispatch employees into a crowd or neighborhood. Have staff members walk around outdoor events or busy areas with samples or brochures. Just be sure to train them to be friendly and nonconfrontational. If appropriate, employees might wear distinctive clothing or even costumes or sandwich boards to draw attention.

3. Leave brochures at local businesses. While employees are walking the streets, they may encounter other businesses, such as hair salons and fitness centers, that allow visitors to leave marketing brochures. Some let you leave such information for free, but others may charge a nominal fee. Instruct employees to ask first.

4. Post fliers. Institutions such as libraries, universities and apartment buildings often have bulletin boards where businesses can post information about services or events. Take advantage of such venues.

5. Host a reception or social event. Street marketing doesn’t have to happen on the street. You can become the event by sponsoring a gathering at a restaurant or similar venue. Socializing tends to put current customers and prospects in an approachable mood and gives you a chance to talk up your latest products or services.

6. Hold information sessions on topics of expertise. In a less social but more informative sense, you can position yourself as an expert on a given topic to market your business. For example, a home alarm system company could host a crime-prevention seminar. You might display product or service information at the session but not make a sales pitch.

7. Attend small business seminars or chamber of commerce meetings. If yours is a B2B company, these gatherings can be a great way to subtly publicize your services to other local businesses. Even if you sell directly to the public, you may be able to pick up some sales leads or at least get a better feel for your local economy.

There’s no denying the sea change in marketing over the past decade or two. Digital approaches are now dominant. But augmenting your online activities with some good old-fashioned legwork can help boost your success. For further information and ideas about growing your business, please contact our firm.

© 2018

Haven’t filed your 2017 income tax return yet? Beware of these pitfalls

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 12 2018




The federal income tax filing deadline is slightly later than usual this year — April 17 — but it’s now nearly upon us. So, if you haven’t filed your individual return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Or you may just be concerned about meeting the deadline in the eyes of the IRS. Whatever you do, don’t get tripped up by one of these potential pitfalls.

Filing for an extension

Filing for an extension allows you to delay filing your return until the applicable extension deadline, which for 2017 individual tax returns is October 15, 2018.

While filing for an extension can provide relief from April 17 deadline stress and avoid failure-to-file penalties, there are some possible pitfalls: 

  • If you expect to owe tax, to avoid potential interest and penalties you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by April 17.
  • If you expect a refund, remember that you’re simply extending the amount of time your money is in the government’s pockets rather than your own. (If you’re owed a refund and file late, you won’t be charged a failure-to-file penalty. However, filing for an extension may still be a good idea.)

Meeting the April 17 deadline

The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 17 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. Sounds straightforward, but here’s a potential pitfall: Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 17, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared. You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you can still be hit with both failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties. 

To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:

  • DHL Express 9:00, Express 10:30, Express 12:00 or Express Envelope
  • FedEx First Overnight, Priority Overnight, Standard Overnight or 2Day, or
  • UPS Next Day Air Early A.M., Next Day Air, Next Day Air Saver, 2nd Day Air A.M. or 2nd Day Air.

Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.

Avoiding interest and penalties

Despite the potential pitfalls, filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now. We can help you estimate whether you owe tax and how much you should pay by April 17. Please contact us if you need help or have questions about avoiding interest and penalties.  

© 2018

Outplacement services can enhance your reputation

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 12 2018



If you asked HR professionals to name their least favorite responsibility, many would probably say terminating employees. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s an awkward experience. And under the worst, a termination can be downright contentious.

But let’s go back to best, or at least better, circumstances. Perhaps your organization decides to downsize its workforce. Or you encounter a situation in which an employee has made an honest effort but is simply better suited to another occupation or pursuit. In such cases, offering outplacement services can make the termination process less painful and enhance your reputation as a good employer.

Counseling and support

In a nutshell, outplacement services help employees cope with the loss of a job and assist them in finding a new one. The services are generally centered on counseling, which may include:
 

• Support, both intellectual and emotional, in accepting the employment status change,
• Assessment of professional personality, interest and work style,
• Advice and counsel regarding finding new employment,
• Guidance in developing a job-search plan that considers functional area and discipline, financial requirements, interests and aspirations, and
• Education regarding the job-search process and locating job sources, such as employment agencies and websites.


More specifically, outplacement counseling helps ex-employees develop a complete, concise, marketable accomplishments-oriented resume. And it can teach them to write correspondence that best attracts potential employers’ attention.

When their resumes and correspondence elicit responses, counselors can coach ex-employees on the interview process, stressing the importance of preparation and attention to detail. Last, when job offers start rolling in, outplacement counseling can help applicants negotiate equitable starting salaries.

A competitive move

Small to midsize employers typically don’t have the resources to provide outplacement services themselves. Most outsource the task to specialists. Naturally, cost and effort will be required to choose a vendor and maintain the relationship.

Incurring these expenses may not make sense for every organization. But in today’s highly competitive job market — especially in certain industries — it’s worth considering. Remember, your company’s reputation is its calling card. Establishing yourself as a conscientious and compassionate employer can facilitate future hiring efforts.

Also, just as many people know not to burn bridges when leaving a job, the same holds true for employers. In the case of layoffs or employees who just need to figure things out, you may want to rehire certain individuals in the future.

A little bit ironic

It’s perhaps ironic that outplacement services often help employers with their hiring efforts. But this indeed can be the case. Let us know if you’d like more information or other ideas.

© 2018

Blockchain may soon drive business worldwide

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 12 2018



“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.

Secure structure

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.

Various uses

The financial industry led the way in recognizing blockchain’s potential, foreseeing that users could execute transactions without relying on banks and other third parties. Another potential application is in the M&A sphere. Buyers and sellers could shift due diligence documentation to blockchain, so financial and legal advisors wouldn’t have to spend as much time poring over so many different and disparate records. The M&A process could thereby be completed more quickly.

There are also many industries that could employ blockchain technology to conduct quicker and more secure transactions or simply track data more efficiently.

Take manufacturers, as well as virtually any supply chain business: Blockchain could provide safeguards against errors, fraud or tampering. This functionality could bolster trust among supply chain partners. Over the long run, blockchain may even eliminate the need for third-party payment processors.

Another example: the health care industry. Blockchain could be used to better secure electronic health information, improve billing and claims processing, and enhance the integrity of the prescription drug supply chain. All of this could positively impact the health care insurance market for every employer.

Ahead of the curve

Most business owners don’t need to scramble to incorporate blockchain-related technology right this minute. But you might want to get ahead of the curve by learning more about it now and pondering some ways that blockchain could affect your company. Let us know if you need further information or other ideas on the future of business.

© 2018

You still have time to make 2017 IRA contributions

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 06 2018




Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. The deadline for 2017 contributions is April 17, 2018. Deductible contributions will lower your 2017 tax bill, but even nondeductible contributions can be beneficial.

Don’t lose the opportunity

The 2017 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2017). But any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years. 

This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So to maximize your potential for tax-deferred or tax-free savings, it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible. 

3 types of contributions

If you haven’t already maxed out your 2017 IRA contribution limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 17:

1. Deductible traditional. With traditional IRAs, account growth is tax-deferred and distributions are subject to income tax. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k), the contribution is fully deductible on your 2017 tax return. If you or your spouse does participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your deduction is subject to a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the phaseout range is specific to each spouse based on whether he or she is a participant in an employer-sponsored plan:                                                                                                                                          - - For a spouse who participates: $99,000–$119,000.                                                               - - For a spouse who doesn’t participate: $186,000–$196,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers participating in an employer-sponsored plan: $62,000–$72,000.

Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution; those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution. 

2. Roth. With Roth IRAs, contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Your ability to contribute, however, is subject to a MAGI-based phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly: $186,000–$196,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers: $118,000–$133,000.

You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth. 

Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.

Maximize your tax-advantaged savings

Traditional and Roth IRAs provide a powerful way to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. Contact us to learn more about making 2017 contributions and making the most of IRAs in 2018 and beyond. 

© 2018

Check out the view from a 360-degree performance feedback system

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 06 2018



Many employers struggle with the risks and efficacy of employee performance evaluations. In some cases, there’s so much room for subjectivity that conflicts arise. In others, the entire process gets short shrift as supervisors are too busy to fully commit to it.

One solution that many organizations have considered is 360-degree feedback. Under this model, an employee is evaluated by not only his or her supervisor, but also direct reports (if applicable) and peers — sometimes even vendors or customers. If you’ve been looking for a more expansive view of your workforce, you might want to check it out.

Limits of tradition

First, consider the limitations of the traditional supervisor-only evaluation — particularly for employees who work in teams or who have subordinates of their own. In this environment, direct supervisors often:

• Find it hard to give critical feedback to employees they’ve become close to over the years,
• Hold biases that unduly influence their assessments one way or another, and
• Don’t fully understand how colleagues, subordinates and others may perceive the employee..

As a result, good employees may not receive the full credit they deserve for their work. Or, perhaps worse, bad employees may fly under the radar for long periods.

Cautious climb

A 360-degree feedback system can help you overcome those obstacles. The process may fill in the gaps between what a supervisor sees and what an employee does. It can reveal important interactions that either strengthen or weaken the worker’s case for a positive performance evaluation.

Undertake the climb toward 360-degree feedback carefully, however. It’s typically prudent to integrate it slowly in conjunction with an ongoing development process. For example, you may want to first use 360-feedback to only pinpoint areas where an employee might benefit from additional training. Why? Doing so allows you to gain confidence in your ability to evaluate the feedback you get from the process.

With some experience, you should be able to sidestep comments that amount to complaints from disgruntled subordinates or colleagues. Also, employees are more likely to buy into the process if they know that you’re giving it a trial run. Keep in mind, too, that people ideally need at least six months of working with a person to be able to make valid evaluations.

Pilot project

If your organization is large enough, you might consider starting off with a 360-degree-feedback pilot project in one department or division before launching the program companywide. Again, the view can be spectacular, but you’ll need to exercise patience in getting there. Contact us for more information or additional ideas.

© 2018

3 ways to supercharge your supervisors

Posted by Admin Posted on Apr 06 2018



The attitudes and behaviors of your people managers play a critical role in your company’s success. When your managers are putting forth their best effort, the more likely it is that you’ll, in turn, get the best performances out of the rest of your employees. Here are three ways to supercharge your supervisors:

1. Transform them into teachers. Today’s people managers must be more than team leaders — they must also be teachers. Attentive managers look for situations that will help subordinates learn how to work smarter and more efficiently.

Typically, learning occurs most readily when rewards are applied as close to the intended behavior’s occurrence as possible. Thus, train managers to look for moments when employees are being successful and to immediately recognize those efforts. Managers should praise them in the presence of others and regularly. Low-cost rewards such as the occasional free lunch or gift card can also be highly motivational. 

2. Turbo-boost their reaction times. Be sure people managers address problems right away. The operative word there is “address,” and its meaning may vary depending on the nature of the trouble.

For minor difficulties, just leaving a friendly voice mail or carefully worded email may do the trick. But for more serious conflicts or dilemmas, a thorough investigation is important, followed by face-to-face meetings documented in writing. In either case, it’s imperative not to let problems fester.

3. Turn off their micromanagement switch. While people managers need to keep an eye out for good and bad behavior, they shouldn’t micromanage. Those who perch atop employees’ shoulders, checking every detail of their work, are as bad for a business as rude customer service or defective products.

Why? Because the more people managers micromanage, the more they communicate the wrong message — that they don’t believe employees can get the job done. Micromanaging not only lowers morale, but also hinders efficiency, as the manager is basically spending valuable time doing the employee’s job rather than his or her own.

In the day-to-day grind of keeping a business running, people managers can understandably get worn down. If yours need a lift, consider reinforcing the points above in training sessions or during performance evaluations. For further information and other ideas, contact us.

© 2018

Defer tax with a Section 1031 exchange, but new limits apply this year

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 26 2018




Normally when appreciated business assets such as real estate are sold, tax is owed on the appreciation. But there’s a way to defer this tax: a Section 1031 “like kind” exchange. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduces the types of property eligible for this favorable tax treatment.

What is a like-kind exchange?

Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allows you to defer gains on real or personal property used in a business or held for investment if, instead of selling it, you exchange it solely for property of a “like kind.” Thus, the tax benefit of an exchange is that you defer tax and, thereby, have use of the tax savings until you sell the replacement property.

This technique is especially flexible for real estate, because virtually any type of real estate will be considered to be of a like kind, as long as it’s business or investment property. For example, you can exchange a warehouse for an office building, or an apartment complex for a strip mall.

Deferred and reverse exchanges

Although a like-kind exchange may sound quick and easy, it’s relatively rare for two owners to simply swap properties. You’ll likely have to execute a “deferred” exchange, in which you engage a qualified intermediary (QI) for assistance.

When you sell your property (the relinquished property), the net proceeds go directly to the QI, who then uses them to buy replacement property. To qualify for tax-deferred exchange treatment, you generally must identify replacement property within 45 days after you transfer the relinquished property and complete the purchase within 180 days after the initial transfer.

An alternate approach is a “reverse” exchange. Here, an exchange accommodation titleholder (EAT) acquires title to the replacement property before you sell the relinquished property. You can defer capital gains by identifying one or more properties to exchange within 45 days after the EAT receives the replacement property and, typically, completing the transaction within 180 days.

Changes under the TCJA

There had been some concern that tax reform would include the elimination of like-kind exchanges. The good news is that the TCJA still generally allows tax-deferred like-kind exchanges of business and investment real estate. 

But there’s also some bad news: For 2018 and beyond, the TCJA eliminates tax-deferred like-kind exchange treatment for exchanges of personalproperty. 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.   

Complex rules

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.

© 2018

Minding eligibility rules when managing 401(k) enrollment

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 26 2018



If your organization offers a 401(k) plan, you’re probably aware that you can lay down some rules regarding when participants may enroll. Many plan sponsors strive for a happy medium between immediate enrollment and highly restricted or delayed enrollment.

As you seek to attain the right balance, bear in mind that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act restricts your ability to limit eligibility in multiple ways. Here are a few rules to bear in mind:

Age restriction. You don’t have to enroll employees below the age of 21, but you cannot have an age restriction over such age. This may or may not have an impact, depending on your workforce demographics. Many plans either have no age requirement or use age 18 as the minimum age.

Delayed gratification. You can require employees to wait up to only 18 months to enter the plan. This is accomplished by requiring employees to work at least 1,000 hours over the course of a 12-month period to gain eligibility. The plan then provides that, once eligibility is met, entry into the plan is the next semiannual entry date.

For example, suppose your plan operates on a calendar year. You hire Jane on July 2, 2018, and she completes one year of service and the 1,000-hour requirement by July 2, 2019. She would enter the plan as of January 1, 2020. 

Category-based standard. Plan sponsors can assign different standards for exempt vs. nonexempt employees. For example, you could set more generous eligibility rules for exempt employees. You might want to do so if the labor market is tight for the types of jobs your exempt employees hold, but not your nonexempt employees.

However, your ability to establish these job classification distinctions is limited by your need to satisfy IRS coverage tests. These tests are designed to prevent discrimination against lower-paid workers.

For example, the percentage of participating nonhighly compensated employees (NHCEs) cannot be less than 70% of the participation rate of highly compensated employees (HCEs). In addition, the average benefits received by NHCEs must equal at least 70% of benefits received by HCEs. The average benefits test also features a more subjective nondiscriminatory classification component. You can also create different eligibility rules for union and nonunion jobs, and those distinctions, like the delayed eligibility timing tactic, aren’t subject to the minimum coverage tests.

Restricting 401(k) plan participation eligibility isn’t for everyone. But it may help you better control administration costs. Feel free to reach out to our firm for more information.

© 2018

Home-related tax breaks are valuable on 2017 returns, will be less so for 2018

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 26 2018




Home ownership is a key element of the American dream for many, and the U.S. tax code includes many tax breaks that help support this dream. If you own a home, you may be eligible for several valuable breaks when you file your 2017 return. But under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, your home-related breaks may not be as valuable when you file your 2018 return next year. 

2017 vs. 2018

Here’s a look at various home-related tax breaks for 2017 vs. 2018:

Property tax deduction. For 2017, property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). For 2018, your total deduction for all state and local taxes, including both property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes, is capped at $10,000.

Mortgage interest deduction. For 2017, you generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. However, for 2018, if the mortgage debt was incurred on or after December 15, 2017, the debt limit generally is $750,000. 

Home equity debt interest deduction. For 2017, interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. (If home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes). For 2018, the TCJA suspends the home equity interest deduction. But the IRS has clarified that such interest generally still will be deductible if used for home improvements. 

Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.

Home office deduction. For 2017, if your home office use meets certain tests, you may be able to deduct associated expenses or use a simplified method for claiming the deduction. Employees claim this as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, which means there will be tax savings only to the extent that the home office deduction plus other miscellaneous itemized deductions exceeds 2% of adjusted gross income. The self-employed can deduct home office expenses from self-employment income. For 2018, miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor are suspended, so only the self-employed can deduct home office expenses.

Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Changes to this break had been proposed, but they weren’t included in the final TCJA that was signed into law.

Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it. 

Additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. To learn more, contact us. We can help you determine which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim on your 2017 return and how your 2018 tax situation may be affected by the TCJA.

© 2018

The company retreat conundrum

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 26 2018



When a business decides to hold a retreat for its employees, the first question to be answered usually isn’t “What’s our agenda?” or “Whom should we invite as a guest speaker?” Rather, the first item on the table is, “Where should we have it?”

Many employees, and some business owners, might assume a company retreat, by definition, must take place off-site. But this isn’t necessarily so. Holding an on-site retreat is an option —and a markedly cost-effective one at that. Then again, it may also recall the old adage: You get what you pay for.

Staying put

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.

Heading out

Generally, people are better able to focus on a retreat agenda at off-site locations. They’re in a new, “special” environment that has no visual cues triggering their workday routines. So, even though you’ll incur additional costs, you may get a better return on investment. 

During the planning process, remember that everything is negotiable. Hotels and facilities that host company retreats need and want your business. Get several quotes and compare prices and services. You’ll have more leverage if you avoid scheduling your retreat during a time of year when local venues tend to be busy. 

Because hotels earn bigger margins on food, beverages and meeting setup fees, many will provide complimentary or discounted rooms for guest speakers and out-of-town employees. Also, try to negotiate a set food and beverage price for the entire retreat, rather than a per-person or per-event rate.

In addition, don’t be shy about asking for discounts. For example, if the facility requires an advance deposit and the balance at the end of the retreat rather than giving you 30 days to pay, request a prompt-pay discount.

Thinking it through

Not every company can afford to fly their staff to Aruba and hold beachside brainstorming sessions replete with tropical beverages. But crowding everyone into the break room and expecting mind-blowing strategic ideas to flow forth probably isn’t realistic, either. Find a suitable and productive point somewhere in between. Let us know if we can help with further information or more ideas.

© 2018

Make sure repairs to tangible property were actually repairs before you deduct the cost

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 19 2018



Repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, can provide businesses a valuable current tax deduction — as long as the so-called repairs weren’t actually “improvements.” The costs of incidental repairs and maintenance can be immediately expensed and deducted on the current year’s income tax return. But costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years.

So the size of your 2017 deduction depends on whether the expense was a repair or an improvement.

Betterment, restoration or adaptation
In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be depreciated. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.

Under the “betterment test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.

Under the “restoration test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.

Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.

Seeking safety

Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:

1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS.

Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be depreciated, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.

2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.

There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. To learn more about these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions, contact us.

© 2018

Casualty losses can provide a 2017 deduction, but rules tighten for 2018

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 19 2018




If you suffered damage to your home or personal property last year, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your 2017 federal income tax return. For 2018 through 2025, however, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspends this deduction except for losses due to an event officially declared a disaster by the President.

What is a casualty? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses on your 2017 return:

When to deduct. Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss on your return for the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year. 

Amount of loss. Your loss is generally the lesser of 1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or 2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty. This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive. (If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.)

$100 rule. After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

10% rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.

Note that special relief has been provided to certain victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and California wildfires that affects some of these rules. For details on this relief or other questions about casualty losses, please contact us.

© 2018

Recognize the risks of employees’ off-work misbehavior

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 19 2018



When employees clock out, whether literally or figuratively, how they choose to spend their time is up to them. But that doesn’t mean a staffer’s off-work misbehavior poses no risk to his or her employer. Your organization can be severely harmed by an employee’s actions — even when he or she isn’t on the job.

Now, whether you should take an adverse employment action (such as suspension or termination) against an employee for an outside-of-work incident is a delicate matter. A variety of laws can affect what action you can take, so you should consult an attorney before acting. But it’s still important to recognize the risks to your organization of employees’ off-work misbehavior so you’re not caught off guard if a situation arises.

3 sources of concern

What your employees are doing when not at work generally can be a matter of legitimate concern and possibly warrant action when: 

1. There’s a relationship between that behavior and the employee’s job performance (or the job performance of other employees). In fact, in this type of situation you could put yourself at liability risk if you don’t act, because of the potential negative impact on the rest of your staff and others. One clear-cut example is when an employee who drives other employees or customers in the normal course of his or her job is convicted of driving while intoxicated. But there are many other, more complicated causes for concern — such as sexual harassment or involvement in a hate crime.

2. The behavior or action can damage your organization’s reputation. The extent of the damage will likely vary according to the stature of the individual. A newly hired, entry-level employee’s notorious (but not necessarily criminal) after-hours actions would probably cause less reputational harm than those of a high-level executive. If you do decide to discipline or terminate an employee for unbecoming behavior, you’ll need to be able to show the harm caused — perhaps you’ve lost customers or have had other key employees quit.

3. The action can hurt your business concretely in some other way. The most common examples here are an employee moonlighting for a competitor or freelancing for members of your organization’s customer base. In general, you’re within your rights to establish and enforce a policy barring employees from working for or as competitors on the side.
Another common issue in this day and age is employees running blogs or social media accounts criticizing their employers. Freedom of expression laws come into play here, so you’ve got to step carefully.

Clear communication

No employer can monitor or control its employees’ every waking move — nor should it. But recognizing your risks in this area is important. Also important is clearly communicating employment policies regarding behavior outside of work. Contact our firm for more information.

© 2018

2017 tax filing deadline for pass-through entities is March 15

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 14 2018



When it comes to income tax returns, April 15 (actually April 17 this year, because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday) isn’t the only deadline taxpayers need to think about. The federal income tax filing deadline for calendar-year partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or S corporations for tax purposes is March 15. While this has been the S corporation deadline for a long time, it’s only the second year the partnership deadline has been in March rather than in April. 

Why the deadline change?

One of the primary reasons for moving up the partnership filing deadline was to make it easier for owners to file their personal returns by the April filing deadline. After all, partnership (and S corporation) income passes through to the owners. The earlier date allows owners to use the information contained in the pass-through entity forms to file their personal returns.

What about fiscal-year entities?

For partnerships with fiscal year ends, tax returns are now due the 15th day of the third month after the close of the tax year. The same deadline applies to fiscal-year S corporations. Under prior law, returns for fiscal-year partnerships were due the 15th day of the fourth month after the close of the fiscal tax year. 

What about extensions?

If you haven’t filed your calendar-year partnership or S corporation return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Under the current law, the maximum extension for calendar-year partnerships is six months (until September 17, 2018, for 2017 returns). This is up from five months under prior law. So the extension deadline is the same — only the length of the extension has changed. The extension deadline for calendar-year S corporations also is September 17, 2018, for 2017 returns. 

Whether you’ll be filing a partnership or an S corporation return, you must file for the extension by March 15 if it’s a calendar-year entity.

When does an extension make sense?

Filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now. 

But keep in mind that, to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by the unextended deadline. There may not be any tax liability from the partnership or S corporation return. If, however, filing for an extension for the entity return causes you to also have to file an extension for your personal return, you need to keep this in mind related to the individual tax return April 17 deadline.

Have more questions about the filing deadlines that apply to you or avoiding interest and penalties? Contact us. 

© 2018

Size of charitable deductions depends on many factors

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 14 2018



Whether you’re claiming charitable deductions on your 2017 return or planning your donations for 2018, be sure you know how much you’re allowed to deduct. Your deduction depends on more than just the actual amount you donate.

Type of gift

One of the biggest factors affecting your deduction is what you give:

Cash. You may deduct 100% gifts made by check, credit card or payroll deduction. 

Ordinary-income property. For stocks and bonds held one year or less, inventory, and property subject to depreciation recapture, you generally may deduct only the lesser of fair market value or your tax basis.

Long-term capital gains property. You may deduct the current fair market value of appreciated stocks and bonds held for more than one year.

Tangible personal property. Your deduction depends on the situation:

  • If the property isn’t related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated for a charity auction), your deduction is limited to your basis.
  • If the property is related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated to a museum for its collection), you can deduct the fair market value.

Vehicle. Unless the vehicle is being used by the charity, you generally may deduct only the amount the charity receives when it sells the vehicle.

Use of property. Examples include use of a vacation home and a loan of artwork. Generally, you receive no deduction because it isn’t considered a completed gift. 

Services. You may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.

Other factors
First, you’ll benefit from the charitable deduction only if you itemize deductions rather than claim the standard deduction. Also, your annual charitable donation deductions may be reduced if they exceed certain income-based limits. 

In addition, your deduction generally must be reduced by the value of any benefit received from the charity. Finally, various substantiation requirements apply, and the charity must be eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. 

2018 planning

While December’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) preserves the charitable deduction, it temporarily makes itemizing less attractive for many taxpayers, reducing the tax benefits of charitable giving for them. 

Itemizing saves tax only if itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction - plus, it limits or eliminates some common itemized deductions. As a result, you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction, in which case your charitable donations won’t save you tax. 

You might be able to preserve your charitable deduction by “bunching” donations into alternating years, so that you’ll exceed the standard deduction and can claim a charitable deduction (and other itemized deductions) every other year.

Let us know if you have questions about how much you can deduct on your 2017 return or what your charitable giving strategy should be going forward, in light of the TCJA. 

© 2018

How up-to-date job descriptions can help every organization

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 14 2018



Words have power. Do you believe in this expression? If so, it follows that up-to-date, accurate job descriptions form the foundation of every organization’s staffing efforts. Without clear, focused documentation of what each position does, you may struggle to hire and retain good employees. And you could be drastically undermining productivity.

Look at everything

The solution is relatively simple: Regularly review your job descriptions to ensure they’re current and comprehensive. Check to see whether they list outdated procedures or other outmoded elements, such as software that you’ve since phased out.

If you don’t already have written job descriptions for each position, don’t panic. Ask employees in those jobs to document their responsibilities and everyday duties. Each worker’s manager should then verify and, if necessary, help revise the description.

Turn information into improvements

After you have updated your job descriptions, you can use them to increase organizational efficiency. Weed out the marginal duties from essential ones. Eliminate superfluous and redundant tasks, focusing each position on activities that generate revenue or eliminate expenses. You may be able to make improvements in other areas, too, such as:

Workload distribution. Are workloads properly distributed among employees? If not, rearrange them. You may find this necessary when job duties change.

Cross-training. Can your employees handle their co-workers’ responsibilities? In emergencies, and as a fraud-prevention measure, having workers who can handle each other’s jobs temporarily can serve an organization well.

Recruiting. Are you hiring people with the right skills? Up-to-date job descriptions provide a better road map for finding ideal candidates to fill your open positions.

Performance evaluations. Are employees doing their best? Detailed job descriptions allow managers to better determine whether workers are completing their assigned duties and if they’re meeting — or exceeding — expectations.

Get started soon

The longer you wait to review and rewrite job descriptions, the harder it will be to revise them. Once you’ve got them up to date, the task becomes much easier from year to year. Contact our firm for more ideas and information.

© 2018

Building a sales prospect pipeline for your business

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 14 2018



An old business adage says, “Sales is a numbers game.” In other words, the more potential buyers you face, the better your chances of making sales. This isn’t completely true, of course; success also depends on execution.

Nonetheless, when a company builds a pipeline to funnel prospects to its sales team, it will increase the opportunities for these staff members to strike and close deals. Here are some ways to undertake construction.

Do your research

First, establish a profile of the organizations that are the best candidates for your products or services. Criteria should include:

• Location,
• Number of employees,
• Sales volume,
• Industry, and
• 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.

3 ways to reach out

Once you identify prospects, your sales team has got to reach out. Here are three ways to consider:

1. Cold calls. Every salesperson has done traditional cold calling — assembling a list of prospects that fit into your established customer profile and then calling or visiting them. Cold calling requires many attempts, and the percentage of interested parties tends to be small. Encourage your sales staff to personalize their message to each prospect so the calls don’t have a “canned” feel.

2. Researched cold calling. Select a subset of the most desirable candidates from your prospect list and do deeper research into these organizations to discover some need that your product or service would satisfy. Work with your sales team to write customized letters to the appropriate decision makers, highlighting your company’s skills in meeting their needs. If possible, quote an existing customer and quantify the benefits. The letter should come from the sales rep and state that he or she will be following up with a phone call. Often, after sending such a letter, getting in the door is a little easier.

3. Referrals. Research potential referral sources just as you study up on sales prospects themselves. Your goal is to develop and maintain a referral network of satisfied customers and other professionals who interact with your prospects. When you get referrals, be sure to send thank-you notes to the sources and keep them informed of your progress.

Go with the flow

Does your business regularly find itself hitting dry spells in which sales prospects seem to evaporate into thin air? If so, it may be because you lack a solid pipeline to keep the identities of those potential buyers flowing in. Contact us for further ideas and information.

© 2018

Now may be a good time to start a paid family and medical leave program

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 05 2018



Does your organization have a formalized program under which it offers employees paid time off for an illness or family emergency? If not, there’s now an excellent reason to consider establishing one: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed late last year, created a tax credit for qualifying employers that begin providing paid family and medical leave to their employees.

Qualifications and percentages

The credit is available only in 2018 and 2019. To qualify, employers must grant full-time employees at least two weeks of annual family and medical leave during which they receive at least half of their normal wages. In addition, all less-than-full-time qualifying employees must receive a commensurate amount of paid leave on a pro rata basis.

Ordinary paid leave that employees are already entitled to doesn’t qualify for the tax incentive. For example, if you already provide full-time employees with, say, five days of paid sick time per year, you can’t claim the credit for that paid time off. Similarly, if you’re already subject to mandatory paid sick leave requirements by your state or local government, you won’t be able to claim the new tax credit for leave paid under those requirements. 

Employees whose paid family and medical leave is covered by this provision must have worked for the employer for at least one year, and not had pay in the preceding year exceeding 60% of the highly compensated employee threshold. 

The credit is equal to a minimum of 12.5% of the employee’s wages paid during that leave. That credit amount increases to the extent that employees are paid more than the minimum 50% of their normal compensation, to a maximum of 25% of wages paid. The maximum amount of paid family and medical leave that can be eligible for the tax credit is 12 weeks per year.

Competitive advantage

Establishing a paid family and medical leave program can boost morale and serve as a point in your favor when competing for job candidates. But additional rules and limits may apply beyond the points discussed here. Please contact us for further details and assistance.

© 2018

Sec. 179 expensing provides small businesses tax savings on 2017 returns — and more savings in the future

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 05 2018



If you purchased qualifying property by December 31, 2017, you may be able to take advantage of Section 179 expensing on your 2017 tax return. You’ll also want to keep this tax break in mind in your property purchase planning, because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law this past December, significantly enhances it beginning in 2018. 

2017 Sec. 179 benefits 

Sec. 179 expensing allows eligible taxpayers to deduct the entire cost of qualifying new or used depreciable property and most software in Year 1, subject to various limitations. For tax years that began in 2017, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $510,000. The maximum deduction is phased out dollar for dollar to the extent the cost of eligible property placed in service during the tax year exceeds the phaseout threshold of $2.03 million. 

Qualified real property improvement costs are also eligible for Sec. 179 expensing. This real estate break applies to:

  • Certain improvements to interiors of leased nonresidential buildings,
  • Certain restaurant buildings or improvements to such buildings, and
  • Certain improvements to the interiors of retail buildings.

Deductions claimed for qualified real property costs count against the overall maximum for Sec. 179 expensing. 

Permanent enhancements 

The TCJA permanently enhances Sec. 179 expensing. Under the new law, for qualifying property placed in service in tax years beginning in 2018, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is increased to $1 million, and the phaseout threshold is increased to $2.5 million. For later tax years, these amounts will be indexed for inflation. For purposes of determining eligibility for these higher limits, property is treated as acquired on the date on which a written binding contract for the acquisition is signed.

The new law also expands the definition of eligible property to include certain depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging. The definition of qualified real property eligible for Sec. 179 expensing is also expanded to include the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems. 

Save now and save later

Many rules apply, so please contact us to learn if you qualify for this break on your 2017 return. We’d also be happy to discuss your future purchasing plans so you can reap the maximum benefits from enhanced Sec. 179 expensing and other tax law changes under the TCJA.

© 2018

Tax deduction for moving costs: 2017 vs. 2018

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 05 2018




If you moved for work-related reasons in 2017, you might be able to deduct some of the costs on your 2017 return — even if you don’t itemize deductions. (Or, if your employer reimbursed you for moving expenses, that reimbursement might be excludable from your income.) The bad news is that, if you move in 2018, the costs likely won’t be deductible, and any employer reimbursements will probably be included in your taxable income. 

Suspension for 2018–2025

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law this past December, suspends the moving expense deduction for the same period as when lower individual income tax rates generally apply: 2018 through 2025. For this period it also suspends the exclusion from income of qualified employer reimbursements of moving expenses.

The TCJA does provide an exception to both suspensions for active-duty members of the Armed Forces (and their spouses and dependents) who move because of a military order that calls for a permanent change of station. 

Tests for 2017

If you moved in 2017 and would like to claim a deduction on your 2017 return, the first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.

The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if notmoving would have increased your commute significantly.

Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)

Deductible expenses

The moving expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means it’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your adjusted gross income. It’s not an itemized deduction, so you don’t have to itemize to benefit.

Generally, you can deduct:

  • Transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving,
  • The cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property,
  • The expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit, and
  • Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities.

But don’t expect to deduct everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible - nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.

Please contact us if you have questions about whether you can deduct moving expenses on your 2017 return or about what other tax breaks won’tbe available for 2018 under the TCJA.

© 2018

Not necessarily a luxury: Outsourcing

Posted by Admin Posted on Mar 05 2018

For many years, owners of small and midsize businesses looked at outsourcing much like some homeowners viewed hiring a cleaning person. That is, they saw it as a luxury. But no more — in today’s increasingly specialized economy, outsourcing has become a common way to cut costs and obtain expert assistance.

Why would you?

Outsourcing certain tasks that your company has been handling all along offers many benefits. Let’s begin with cost savings. Outsourcing a function effectively could save you a substantial percentage of in-house management expenses by reducing overhead, staffing and training costs. And thanks to the abundant number of independent contractors and providers of outsourced services, you may be able to bargain for competitive pricing.

Outsourcing also allows you to leave administration and support tasks to someone else, freeing up staff members to focus on your company’s core purpose. Plus, the firms that perform these functions are specialists, offering much higher service quality and greater innovations and efficiencies than you could likely muster.

Last, think about accountability — in many cases, vendors will be much more familiar with the laws, regulations and processes behind their specialties and therefore be in a better position to help ensure tasks are done in compliance with any applicable laws and regulations. 

What’s the catch?

Of course, potential disadvantages exist as well. Outsourcing a business function obviously means surrendering some control of your personal management style in that area. Some business owners and executives have a tough time with this. 

Another issue: integration. Every provider may not mesh with your company’s culture. A bad fit may lead to communication breakdowns and other problems.

Also, in rare cases, you may risk negative publicity from a vendor’s actions. There have been many stories over the years of companies suffering PR damage because of poor working conditions or employment practices at an outsourced facility. You’ve got to research any potential vendor thoroughly to ensure its actions won’t reflect poorly on your business.

To further protect yourself, stipulate your needs carefully in the contract. Pinpoint milestones you can use to ensure deliverables produced up to that point are complete, correct, on time and within budget. And don’t hesitate to tie partial payments to these milestones and assess penalties or even reserve the right to terminate if service falls below a specified level. 

Last, build in clauses giving you intellectual property rights to any software or other items a provider develops. After all, you paid for it.

Need more time?

Outsourcing may not be the right solution every time. But it could help your business find more time to flourish and grow. We can help you assess the costs, benefits and risks.

© 2018

Tax credit for hiring from certain “target groups” can provide substantial tax savings

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 26 2018



Many businesses hired in 2017, and more are planning to hire in 2018. If you’re among them and your hires include members of a “target group,” you may be eligible for the Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC). If you made qualifying hires in 2017 and obtained proper certification, you can claim the WOTC on your 2017 tax return. 

Whether or not you’re eligible for 2017, keep the WOTC in mind in your 2018 hiring plans. Despite its proposed elimination under the House’s version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the credit survived the final version that was signed into law in December, so it’s also available for 2018. 

“Target groups,” defined

Target groups include:

  • Qualified individuals who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more,
  • Designated community residents who live in Empowerment Zones or rural renewal counties,
  • Long-term family assistance recipients,
  • Qualified ex-felons,
  • Qualified recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),
  • Qualified veterans,
  • Summer youth employees,
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients,
  • Supplemental Security Income benefits recipients, and
  • Vocational rehabilitation referrals for individuals who suffer from an employment handicap resulting from a physical or mental handicap.

Before you can claim the WOTC, you must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you. Unfortunately, this means that, if you hired someone from a target group in 2017 but didn’t obtain the certification, you can’t claim the WOTC on your 2017 return.

A potentially valuable credit

Qualifying employers can claim the WOTC as a general business credit against their income tax. The amount of the credit depends on the:

  • Target group of the individual hired,
  • Wages paid to that individual, and
  • Number of hours that individual worked during the first year of employment.

The maximum credit that can be earned for each member of a target group is generally $2,400 per employee. The credit can be as high as $9,600 for certain veterans. 

Employers aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible individuals they can hire. In other words, if you hired 10 individuals from target groups that qualify for the $2,400 credit, your total credit would be $24,000. 

Remember, credits reduce your tax bill dollar-for-dollar; they don’t just reduce the amount of income subject to tax like deductions do. So that’s $24,000 of actual tax savings. 

Offset hiring costs

The WOTC can provide substantial tax savings when you hire qualified new employees, offsetting some of the cost. Contact us for more information.

© 2018

State and local sales tax deduction remains, but subject to a new limit

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 26 2018




Individual taxpayers who itemize their deductions can deduct either state and local income taxes or state and local sales taxes. The ability to deduct state and local taxes — including income or sales taxes, as well as property taxes — had been on the tax reform chopping block, but it ultimately survived. However, for 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act imposes a new limit on the state and local tax deduction. Will you benefit from the sales tax deduction on your 2017 or 2018 tax return?

Your 2017 return

The sales tax deduction can be valuable if you reside in a state with no or low income tax or purchased a major item in 2017, such as a car or boat. How do you determine whether you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2017 return? Compare your potential deduction for state and local income tax to your potential deduction for state and local sales tax. 

This isn’t as difficult as you might think: You don’t have to have receipts documenting all of the sales tax you actually paid during the year to take full advantage of the deduction. Your deduction can be determined by using an IRS sales tax calculator that will base the deduction on your income and the sales tax rates in your locale plus the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases (for which you will need substantiation).

Your 2018 return

Under the TCJA, for 2018 through 2025, your total deduction for all state and local taxes combined — including property tax — is limited to $10,000. You still must choose between deducting income and sales tax; you can’t deduct both, even if your total state and local tax deduction wouldn’t exceed $10,000.

Also keep in mind that the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction. So even if itemizing has typically benefited you in the past, you could end up being better off taking the standard deduction when you file your 2018 return.

So if you’re considering making a large purchase in 2018, you shouldn’t necessarily count on the sales tax deduction providing you significant tax savings. You need to look at what your total state and local tax liability likely will be, as well as whether your total itemized deductions are likely to exceed the standard deduction.

Questions?

Let us know if you have questions about whether you can benefit from the sales tax deduction on your 2017 return or about the impact of the TCJA on your 2018 tax planning. We’d be pleased to help.

© 2018

Putting a number on employee turnover

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 26 2018



Many employers have spent countless hours and dollars recruiting good people. On the one hand, each new hire brings fresh strategic ideas, offers creative feedback and, most important, provides distinctive insight into your organization’s mission and operations. On the other hand, recruiting procedures — even effective ones — can drain financial resources.

The solution is obvious: Retaining employees reduces these substantial recruiting costs. Unfortunately, many employers still find themselves seemingly helpless to stop the random and sometimes constant departure of skilled workers. One way to diagnose the severity of your turnover trouble is to put a number on it. 

Playing the percentages

There are a variety of methods of calculating turnover costs. The easiest one is averaging. First, choose a position that has experienced significant turnover and determine how many people have left it during the last year. Next, identify those employees’ salaries at the time of departure.

One rule of thumb calculation involves totaling the average cost of employee annual salary and benefits (average salary plus 30% of that salary) and then multiplying the sum by 25%. The result is the average turnover cost per employee. To determine your organization’s total turnover cost, multiply average turnover expense per employee by the number of departed employees.

Again, this is just a rule of thumb approach. The exact percentages and formula you should use may vary depending on your organization’s industry or specialization, and the compensation trends in your geographic location.

Working at retention

Bear in mind that no employer can completely avoid turnover. People move, switch careers or experience lifestyle changes. But, along with calculating the cost of turnover, you can track common reasons for employee departures by conducting exit interviews. Then, based on these trends, you should be able to develop better retention strategies.

After all, as mentioned, the cost of retaining good employees pales in comparison to the deficit that occurs when they leave. For further assistance calculating your organization’s employment costs, please contact us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you.

© 2018

Use benchmarking to swim with the big fish

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 26 2018



You may keep a wary eye on your competitors, but sometimes it helps to look just a little bit deeper. Even if you’re a big fish in your pond, someone a little bigger may be swimming up just beneath you. Being successful means not just being aware of these competitors, but also knowing their approaches and results.

And that’s where benchmarking comes in. By comparing your company with the leading competition, you can identify weaknesses in your business processes, set goals to correct these problems and keep a constant eye on how your company is doing. In short, benchmarking can help your company grow more successful.

2 basic methods

The two basic benchmarking methods are:

1. Quantitative benchmarking. This compares performance results in terms of key performance indicators (formulas or ratios) in areas such as production, marketing, sales, market share and overall financials.

2. Qualitative benchmarking. Here you compare operating practices — such as production techniques, quality of products or services, training methods, and morale — without regard to results.

You can break down each of these basic methods into more specific methods, defined by how the comparisons are made. For example, internal benchmarking compares similar operations and disseminates best practices within your organization, while competitive benchmarking compares processes and methods with those of your direct competitors.

Waters, familiar and new

The specifics of any benchmarking effort will very much depend on your company’s industry, size, and product or service selection, as well as the state of your current market. Nonetheless, by watching how others navigate the currents, you can learn to swim faster and more skillfully in familiar waters. And, as your success grows, you may even identify optimal opportunities to plunge into new bodies of water.

For more information on this topic, or other profit-enhancement ideas, please contact our firm. We would welcome the opportunity to help you benchmark your way to greater success.

© 2018

Meals, entertainment and transportation may cost businesses more under the TCJA

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 19 2018



Along with tax rate reductions and a new deduction for pass-through qualified business income, the new tax law brings the reduction or elimination of tax deductions for certain business expenses. Two expense areas where the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes the rules — and not to businesses’ benefit — are meals/entertainment and transportation. In effect, the reduced tax benefits will mean these expenses are more costly to a business’s bottom line.

Meals and entertainment

Prior to the TCJA, taxpayers generally could deduct 50% of expenses for business-related meals and entertainment. Meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer on the employer’s business premises were 100% deductible by the employer and tax-free to the recipient employee. 

Under the new law, for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017, deductions for business-related entertainment expenses are disallowed. 

Meal expenses incurred while traveling on business are still 50% deductible, but the 50% limit now also applies to meals provided via an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises for the convenience of the employer. After 2025, the cost of meals provided through an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises will no longer be deductible. 

Transportation

The TCJA disallows employer deductions for the cost of providing commuting transportation to an employee (such as hiring a car service), unless the transportation is necessary for the employee’s safety. 

The new law also eliminates employer deductions for the cost of providing qualified employee transportation fringe benefits. Examples include parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling. These benefits are, however, still tax-free to recipient employees. 

Transportation expenses for employee work-related travel away from home are still deductible (and tax-free to the employee), as long as they otherwise qualify for such tax treatment. (Note that, for 2018 through 2025, employees can’t deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as travel expenses, as a miscellaneous itemized deduction.)

Assessing the impact

The TCJA’s changes to deductions for meals, entertainment and transportation expenses may affect your business’s budget. Depending on how much you typically spend on such expenses, you may want to consider changing some of your policies and/or benefits offerings in these areas. We’d be pleased to help you assess the impact on your business.

© 2018

TCJA temporarily lowers medical expense deduction threshold

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 19 2018




With rising health care costs, claiming whatever tax breaks related to health care that you can is more important than ever. But there’s a threshold for deducting medical expenses that may be hard to meet. Fortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has temporarily reduced the threshold.

What expenses are eligible?

Medical expenses may be deductible if they’re “qualified.” Qualified medical expenses involve the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. Examples include payments to physicians, dentists and other medical practitioners, as well as equipment, supplies, diagnostic devices and prescription drugs. 

Mileage driven for health-care-related purposes is also deductible at a rate of 17 cents per mile for 2017 and 18 cents per mile for 2018. Health insurance and long-term care insurance premiums can also qualify, with certain limits.

Expenses reimbursed by insurance or paid with funds from a tax-advantaged account such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account can’t be deducted. Likewise, health insurance premiums aren’t deductible if they’re taken out of your paycheck pretax.

The AGI threshold

Before 2013, you could claim an itemized deduction for qualified unreimbursed medical expenses paid for you, your spouse and your dependents, to the extent those expenses exceeded 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). AGI includes all of your taxable income items reduced by certain  “above-the-line” deductions, such as those for deductible IRA contributions and student loan interest.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, a higher deduction threshold of 10% of AGI went into effect in 2014 for most taxpayers and was scheduled to go into effect in 2017 for taxpayers age 65 or older. But under the TCJA, the 7.5%-of-AGI deduction threshold now applies to all taxpayers for 2017 and 2018.

However, this lower threshold is temporary. Beginning January 1, 2019, the 10% threshold will apply to all taxpayers, including those over age 65, unless Congress takes additional action.

Consider “bunching” expenses into 2018

Because the threshold is scheduled to increase to 10% in 2019, you might benefit from accelerating deductible medical expenses into 2018, to the extent they’re within your control. 

However, keep in mind that you have to itemize deductions to deduct medical expenses. Itemizing saves tax only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. And with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.

Contact us if you have questions about what expenses are eligible and whether you can qualify for a deduction on your 2017 tax return. We can also help you determine whether bunching medical expenses into 2018 will likely save you tax.

© 2018

Payroll matters: 2018 withholding tables are a-changin’

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 19 2018



For employers, managing payroll smoothly and properly is a delicate, critical matter. There may be no quicker way to turn a happy employee into a disgruntled one than by mishandling his or her paycheck.

This year, employers have an additional challenge to contend with in this area. When Congress passed and the President signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) late last year, it meant the IRS withholding tables would have to be updated. And now they have been.

Incorporate the changes

As you’re no doubt aware, the withholding tables enable employers (or their payroll services) to determine the amount to withhold from employees’ paychecks in light of their wages, marital status and number of withholding allowances.

The revised tables reflect the TCJA’s increase to the standard deduction, suspension of personal exemptions, and changes in tax rates and brackets. The new withholding tables are also designed to work with the Forms W-4 that employers already have on file for their employees. In other words, your employees don’t need to complete any new forms or take any other action now.

Employers, on the other hand, must move to incorporate the new tables into their payroll systems as soon as possible — and no later than February 15, 2018. (Continue to use the 2017 withholding tables until you adopt the new figures.)

Communicate with employees

As you adopt the new withholding tables, it’s a good idea to also communicate the changes and their implications to your employees.

The IRS expects that many working taxpayers will see increases in their paychecks after the new tables are instituted in February. But it’s possible that some of your employees could find themselves unexpectedly hit with bigger income tax bills when it comes time to file their 2018 tax returns. This is because the TCJA eliminates or restricts many popular tax breaks a lot of taxpayers have claimed on their returns in past years. In some cases, lower rates and a higher standard deduction won’t make up for the diminished breaks.

Make sure your employees are aware that it’s their responsibility to alert you, their employer, of any adjustments they’d like to make to avoid under- or overwitholding of taxes from their paychecks. You might point out that the IRS is updating its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to assist taxpayers in reviewing their situations. The agency expects the new calculator to be available by the end of February and reflect changes in available itemized deductions, as well as several other important tax-related points.

Rise to the challenge

Getting payroll right matters — significantly. Although the TCJA brought some potentially beneficial tax-saving opportunities for employers, it also ushered in some challenges. Please contact our firm for more information.

© 2018

Business interruption insurance can help some companies

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 19 2018



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.

The difference

You might say, “But wait! We already have commercial property insurance. Doesn’t that typically pay the costs of a disaster-related disruption?” Not exactly. Your policy may cover some of the individual repairs involved, but it won’t keep you operational.

Business interruption coverage allows you to relocate or temporarily close so you can make the necessary repairs. Essentially, the policy will provide the cash flow to cover revenues lost and expenses incurred while your normal operations are suspended.

2 types of coverage

Generally, business interruption insurance isn’t sold as a separate policy. Instead, it’s added to your existing property coverage. There are two basic types of coverage:

1. Named perils policies. Only specific occurrences listed in the policy are covered, such as fire, water damage and vandalism.

2. All-risk policies. All disasters are covered unless specifically excluded. Many all-risk policies exclude damage from earthquakes and floods, but such coverage can generally be added for an additional fee.

Business interruption insurance usually pays for income that’s lost while operations are suspended. It also covers continuing expenses — including salaries, related payroll costs and other amounts required to restart a business. Depending on the policy, additional expenses might include: 

• 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%.

Pros and cons

As good as business interruption coverage may sound, your company might not need it if you operate in an area where major natural disasters are uncommon and your other business interruption risks are minimal. The decision on whether to buy warrants careful consideration.

First consult with your insurance agent about business interruption coverage options that could be added to your current property coverage. If you’re still interested, perhaps convene a meeting involving your agent, management team and other professional advisors to brainstorm worst-case scenarios and ask “what if” questions. After all, you don’t want to overinsure, but you also don’t want to underemphasize risk management.

Potential value

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.

© 2018

New tax law gives pass-through businesses a valuable deduction

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 13 2018



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 noncorporate “pass-through” entities may see some major — albeit temporary — relief in the form of a new deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI). 

A 20% deduction

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026, the new 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 noncorporate 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. 

The limitations

For pass-through entities other than sole proprietorships, 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 by the qualified business during the tax year, or
  • The sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified property.

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.

Careful planning required

Additional rules and limits apply to the QBI deduction, and careful planning will be necessary to gain maximum benefit. Please contact us for more details.

© 2018

Can you deduct home office expenses?

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 13 2018




Working from home has become commonplace. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it. And for 2018, even fewer taxpayers will be eligible for a home office deduction.

Changes under the TCJA

For employees, home office expenses are a miscellaneous itemized deduction. For 2017, this means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus your other miscellaneous itemized expenses (such as unreimbursed work-related travel, certain professional fees and investment expenses) exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income. 

For 2018 through 2025, this means that, if you’re an employee, you won’t be able to deduct any home office expenses. Why? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor for this period.

If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income. Therefore, the deduction will still be available to you for 2018 through 2025.  

Other eligibility requirements

If you’re an employee, your use of your home office must be for your employer’s convenience, not just your own. If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions. 

Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space. 

2 deduction options

If you’re eligible, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. You have two options for the deduction:

  1. Deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space. This requires calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses.
  2. Take the “safe harbor” deduction. Only one simple calculation is necessary: $5 × the number of square feet of the office space. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on a maximum of 300 square feet.

More rules and limits

Be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may be eligible for the home office deduction on your 2017 return or would like to know if there’s anything additional you need to do to be eligible on your 2018 return, contact us.

© 2018

Remind soon-to-be retirees about RMDs

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 13 2018



Do you have employees in their late 60s? If so, are they aware of the required minimum distribution (RMD) obligations beginning at age 70½ for their individual IRAs and possibly their 401(k) plans? It’s important that they know what to expect when they reach that age so they can avoid a potentially whopping penalty. As their employer, you can stand to benefit from helping them out with a friendly reminder. 

IRAs vs. 401(k)s

Generally, IRA account holders must take RMDs on reaching age 70½. However, the first payment can be delayed until April 1 of the year following the year in which the individual turns 70½. (For inherited IRAs, RMDs are generally required earlier.)

401(k) accounts are a different story. Account holders don’t have to begin taking distributions from their 401(k)s if they’re still working for the employer sponsoring the plan. Although the regulations don’t state how many hours employees need to work to postpone 401(k) RMDs, they must be doing legitimate work and receiving wages reported on a W-2 form.

There’s an important exception, however: Workers who own at least 5% of the company must begin taking RMDs from the 401(k) beginning at 70½, regardless of their work status. 

If someone has multiple IRAs, it doesn’t matter which one he or she takes RMDs from so long as the total amount reflects their aggregate IRA assets. In contrast, RMDs based on 401(k) plan assets must be taken specifically from the 401(k) plan account.

Other pertinent facts

Here are some additional RMD facts you can share with employees approaching retirement:

Calculation of RMD. The IRS determines how RMD amounts change as the account holder ages, using a formula and life expectancy tables. For example, at age 72, the IRS “distribution period” is 26.5, meaning that the IRS assumes that the individual will live another 26½ years. Thus, he or she must withdraw the percentage of the IRA or 401(k) account that is 1 divided by 26.5 (3.77%).

Beneficiary spouses. Account holders who have a beneficiary spouse at least 10 years younger are subject to a different RMD formula that allows them to take out smaller amounts to preserve retirement assets for the younger spouse.

Tax penalty. The penalty for withdrawing less than the RMD amount is 50% of the portion that should have been withdrawn but wasn’t. 

Form of distribution. RMDs can be in cash or be taken in stock shares whose value is the same as the RMD amount. Although this can be administratively burdensome for you as the employer, it allows your employees to defer incurring brokerage commissions on securities they don’t want to sell. 

Informed employees

Remember, informed employees are happy employees. Educating your older employees about their RMD obligations can help maintain strong morale among these employees and demonstrate to your entire workforce (and job candidates) that you care about retirement planning. Let us know how we can help with this important effort.

© 2018

Turning employee ideas into profitable results

Posted by Admin Posted on Feb 13 2018



Many businesses train employees how to do their jobs and only their jobs. But amazing things can happen when you also teach staff members to actively involve themselves in a profitability process — that is, an ongoing, idea-generating system aimed at adding value to your company’s bottom line.

Let’s take a closer look at how to get your workforce involved in coming up with profitable ideas and then putting those concepts into action.

6 steps to implementation

Without a system to discover ideas that originate from the day-in, day-out activities of your business, you’ll likely miss opportunities to truly maximize profitability. What you want to do is put a process in place for gathering profit-generating ideas, picking out the most actionable ones and then turning those ideas into results. Here are six steps to implementing such a system:
 

1. Share responsibility for profitability with your management team.
2. Instruct managers to challenge their employees to come up with profit-building ideas.
3. Identify the employee-proposed ideas that will most likely increase sales, maximize profit margins or control expenses.
4. Tie each chosen idea to measurable financial goals.
5. Name those accountable for executing each idea.
6. Implement the ideas through a clear, patient and well-monitored process.


For the profitability process to be effective, it must be practical, logical and understandable. All employees — not just management — should be able to use it to turn ideas and opportunities into bottom-line results. As a bonus, a well-constructed process can improve business skills and enhance morale as employees learn about profit-enhancement strategies, come up with their own ideas and, in some cases, see those concepts turned into reality.

A successful business

Most employees want to not only succeed at their own jobs, but also work for a successful business. A strong profitability process can help make this happen. To learn more about this and other ways to build your company’s bottom line, contact us.

© 2018

2 tax credits just for small businesses may reduce your 2017 and 2018 tax bills

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 31 2018



Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, potentially making them more valuable than deductions, which reduce only the amount of income subject to tax. Maximizing available credits is especially important now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has reduced or eliminated some tax breaks for businesses. Two still-available tax credits are especially for small businesses that provide certain employee benefits. 

1. Credit for paying health care coverage premiums 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. Despite various congressional attempts to repeal the ACA in 2017, nearly all of its provisions remain intact, including this potentially valuable tax credit.

The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, if it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium. For 2017, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $26,200 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,400. 

The credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.) If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2017 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away in the future if lawmakers in Washington continue to try to repeal or replace the ACA. 

At this point, most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2019 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2017, you may also be able to claim it on your 2018 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the credit while it’s available.

2. Credit for starting a retirement plan

Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs.

Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.

If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2017, you might still have time to do so. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions. If you’d like to set up a different type of plan, consider doing so for 2018 so you can potentially take advantage of the retirement plan credit (and other tax benefits) when you file your 2018 return next year.

Determining eligibility

Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these tax credits. We’d be happy to help you determine whether you’re eligible for these or other credits on your 2017 return and also plan for credits you might be able to claim on your 2018 return if you take appropriate actions this year. 

© 2018

Most individual tax rates go down under the TCJA

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 31 2018




The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) generally reduces individual tax rates for 2018 through 2025. It maintains seven individual income tax brackets but reduces the rates for all brackets except 10% and 35%, which remain the same.

It also makes some adjustments to the income ranges each bracket covers. For example, the 2017 top rate of 39.6% kicks in at $418,401 of taxable income for single filers and $470,701 for joint filers, but the reduced 2018 top rate of 37% takes effect at $500,001 and $600,001, respectively.

Below is a look at the 2018 brackets under the TCJA. Keep in mind that the elimination of the personal exemption, changes to the standard and many itemized deductions, and other changes under the new law could affect the amount of your income that’s subject to tax. Contact us for help assessing what your tax rate likely will be for 2018.

Single individuals



Heads of households



Married individuals filing joint returns and surviving spouses


Married individuals filing separate returns


© 2018

Providing insurance (and peace of mind) as a fringe benefit

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 31 2018



The environment for hiring and retaining top-notch employees remains competitive. One strategy for combating high turnover rates is offering a competitive package of employee benefits that goes beyond health care coverage and a retirement plan. This is where the right fringe benefits can really pay off.

One type of fringe benefit that many employers overlook is insurance. Offering certain types of policies to your staff members may strengthen their loyalty to your organization by improving their own peace of mind.

3 coverage types to consider 

There are a wide variety of insurance policies you could present to employees as a fringe benefit. But here are three of the more commonly used varieties:
 

1. Disability insurance. Fear of losing one’s ability to work weighs on many employees — particularly in industries or occupations where illness or injuries are common. When triggered, a disability policy disburses periodic payments while the disabled insured is unable to work. Coverage can be either short-term or long-term, and many employers offer both types.
2. Long-term care (LTC) insurance. More and more employees are grappling with concerns about soaring nursing home and assisted living costs in light of lengthening life expectancies. LTC policies help pay for the cost of long-term nursing care or assistance with activities of daily living, such as eating and bathing. Policy specifics vary, but most LTC insurance covers care provided in the home, an assisted living facility or a nursing home.
3. Life insurance. Most people understand that life insurance provides some income for their families should they die unexpectedly. But that doesn’t mean every employee has life insurance or is adequately covered. Many employers offer group term life insurance policies, which provide a benefit to beneficiaries if a covered individual dies during the covered period.
 

Carefully chosen policy

Most employers help employees with their immediate well-being through health care benefits and with their retirement savings through a 401(k) or similar plan. But your staff members may have other concerns that you might address with a carefully chosen insurance policy offered as a fringe benefit. We can help you pick the right coverage and take full advantage of the tax and employment benefits of this strategy.

© 2017

Making the right choice about your office space

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 31 2018




For many companies, there comes a time when owners must decide whether to renew a lease, move on to a different one or buy new (or pre-existing) space. In some cases, it’s a relatively easy decision. Maybe you’re happy where you are and feel like such a part of the local community that moving isn’t an option.

But, in other cases, a move can be an important step forward. For example, if a business is looking to cut costs, reducing office space and signing a less expensive lease can generally help the bottom line. Conversely, a growing company might decide to buy property and build new to increase its prestige and visibility. Making the right choice is critical.

Buyers beware

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:

  • Control how to configure and use the property,
  • Sublet some of the space if you so choose, and 
  • Decorate, landscape and maintain it as you wish.

You’ll also benefit from mortgage interest and depreciation deductions at tax time.

Naturally, there are risks to ownership. For one, you won’t be able to easily pick up and move on. And if you’re structured as a flow-through entity, you’ll need to decide how the owners will share the cost of buying and maintaining the building. Keep in mind that the building need not be owned in the same proportion as the business itself.

There are other matters to consider as well. You’ll have to delegate responsibility for arranging and overseeing activities such as exterior maintenance, cleaning, and paying taxes and insurance. Plus, if you decide to sublet some of your space, you’ll need to wear one more hat — that of a landlord.

Lessees look out

Of course, as you may well know from doing it for a number of years, leasing business space has its downsides, too. Perhaps you’ve dealt with a particularly unresponsive landlord or property management company. You may also have less freedom to change or rearrange space — not to mention ever-increasing rent and the loss of mortgage interest and depreciation tax deductions. If you decide to move, though, it’s easier to leave a rented office than to sell one you own. 

Ultimately, it’s a question of net present values. Will the present value of the capital appreciation you ultimately gain when the property is sold be greater than the current cash flow advantage you’d likely have under a lease?

Consider your options

These are just a few of the issues to study as you consider your company’s location and office space heading into a new year. Remember, there may be tax issues not mentioned here or other factors affecting the right decision. Contact us for a full assessment of your options.

©2018

The TCJA temporarily expands bonus depreciation

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 22 2018

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.

Pre-TCJA bonus depreciation

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.

TCJA expansion

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.

© 2018

Even if your income is high, your family may be able to benefit from the 0% long-term capital gains rate

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 22 2018

We’re entering the giving season, and if making financial gifts to your loved ones is part of your plans — or if you’d simply like to reduce your capital gains tax — consider giving appreciated stock instead of cash this year. Doing so might allow you to eliminate all federal tax liability on the appreciation, or at least significantly reduce it.

Leveraging lower rates

Investors generally are subject to a 15% tax rate on their long-term capital gains (20% if they’re in the top ordinary income tax bracket of 39.6%). But the long-term capital gains rate is 0% for gain that would be taxed at 10% or 15% based on the taxpayer’s ordinary-income rate. 

In addition, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 per year ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately) may owe the net investment income tax (NIIT). The NIIT equals 3.8% of the lesser of your net investment income or the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold. 

If you have loved ones in the 0% bracket, you may be able to take advantage of it by transferring appreciated assets to them. The recipients can then sell the assets at no or a low federal tax cost.

The strategy in action

Faced with a long-term capital gains tax rate of 23.8% (20% for the top tax bracket, plus the 3.8% NIIT), Rick and Sara decide to transfer some appreciated stock to their adult daughter, Maia. Just out of college and making only enough from her entry-level job to leave her with $25,000 in taxable income, Maia falls into the 15% income tax bracket. Therefore, she qualifies for the 0% long-term capital gains rate. 

However, the 0% rate applies only to the extent that capital gains “fill up” the gap between Maia’s taxable income and the top end of the 15% bracket. In 2017, the 15% bracket for singles tops out at $37,950. 

When Maia sells the stock her parents transferred to her, her capital gains are $20,000. Of that amount $12,950 qualifies for the 0% rate and the remaining $7,050 is taxed at 15%. Maia pays only $1,057.50 of federal tax on the sale vs. the $4,760 her parents would have owed had they sold the stock themselves.

Additional considerations

Before acting, make sure the recipients won’t be subject to the “kiddie tax.” Also consider any gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax consequences. 

For more information on transfer taxes, the kiddie tax or capital gains planning, please contact us. We can help you find the strategies that will best achieve your goals.  

© 2017

IRS extends deadlines for ACA information reporting

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 22 2018

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), certain employers must report health care plan information to the IRS and employees. Specifically, Forms 1094/1095-B (B Forms) and Forms 1094/1095-C (C Forms) may need to be submitted for the 2017 tax year. The agency recently extended submission deadlines for these forms under some circumstances. Let’s delve into the details.

Background

The B Forms are filed by minimum essential coverage providers — mostly insurers and government-sponsored programs, but also some self-insuring employers and others. The C Forms are filed by applicable large employers (ALEs — generally, employers that employed 50 or more full-time employees or the equivalent during the previous year) to provide information the IRS needs to administer the ACA’s employer shared responsibility and premium tax credit provisions. ALEs with self-insured health plans also report coverage information on Form 1095-C. Forms 1095-B and 1095-C must also be furnished to employees.

General extension

The IRS recently issued Notice 2018-06 to announce limited relief for information reporting on Forms 1094 and 1095 for the 2017 tax year. The deadline for furnishing Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to employees has been extended by 30 days, from January 31 to March 2, 2018. Because of this automatic extension, the discretionary 30-day extension isn’t available, and no further extensions may be obtained.

The notice doesn’t, however, extend the due date for filing Forms 1094-B and 1094-C (and accompanying Forms 1095) with the IRS. Accordingly, the deadlines remain February 28, 2018, for paper filings and April 2, 2018, for electronic filings. (Electronic filing is mandatory for employers required to file 250 or more Forms 1095.) However, filers may obtain an automatic 30-day extension by filing Form 8809 on or before the regular due date. 

Good faith relief

In addition, the IRS will again provide penalty relief for employers that can show they have made good faith efforts at compliance. No penalties will be imposed on employers that report incorrect or incomplete information — either on statements furnished to employees or returns filed with the IRS — if they can show they made good faith efforts to comply with the reporting requirements.

The notice specifies that the relief applies to missing and inaccurate taxpayer identification numbers and dates of birth, as well as other required information. Penalty relief isn’t available to employers that:
 

• Fail to furnish statements or file returns,
• Miss an applicable deadline, or
• Otherwise don’t make good faith efforts to comply.


Evidence of good faith efforts may include gathering necessary data and transmitting it to a third party to prepare the required reports, testing the ability to transmit data to the IRS, and taking steps to ensure compliance for the 2018 tax year.

Total compliance

If your organization self-insures or is defined as an ALE for the 2017 tax year, make sure you’re in total compliance with the ACA’s information reporting requirements. Our firm can help you with the pertinent details.

© 2018

Find time for strategic planning

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 22 2018

As a business owner, you know that it’s easy to spend nearly every working hour on the multitude of day-to-day tasks and crises that never seem to end. It’s essential to your company’s survival, however, to find time for strategic planning.

Lost in the weeds

Business owners put off strategic planning for many reasons. New initiatives, for example, usually don’t begin to show tangible results for some time, which can prove frustrating. But perhaps the most significant hurdle is the view that strategic planning is a time-sucking luxury that takes one’s focus off of the challenges directly in front of you.

Although operational activities are obviously essential to keeping your company running, they’re not enough to keep it moving forward and evolving. Accomplishing the latter requires strategic planning. Without it, you can get lost in the weeds, working constantly yet blindly, only to look up one day to find your business teetering on the edge of a cliff — whether because of a tough new competitor, imminent product or service obsolescence, or some other development that you didn’t see coming.

Quality vs. quantity

So how much time should you and your management team devote to strategic planning? There’s no universal answer. Some experts say a CEO should spend only 50% of his or her time on daily operations, with the other half going to strategy — a breakdown that could be unrealistic for some.

The emphasis is better put on quality rather than quantity. However many hours you decide to spend on strategic planning, use that time solely for plotting the future of your company. Block off your schedule, choose a designated and private place (such as a conference room), and give it your undivided attention. Make time for strategic planning just as you would for tending to an important customer relationship.

Time well spent

Effective strategic planning calls for not only identifying the right business-growing initiatives, but also regularly re-evaluating and adjusting them as circumstances change. Thus, strategizing should be part of your weekly or monthly routine — not just a “once in a while, as is convenient” activity. You may need to delegate some of your current operational tasks to make that happen but, in the long run, it will be time well spent. Please let us know how we can help.

©2017

Don’t be a victim of tax identity theft: File your 2017 return early

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 09 2018

The IRS has just announced that it will begin accepting 2017 income tax returns on January 29. You may be more concerned about the April 17 filing deadline, or even the extended deadline of October 15 (if you file for an extension by April 17). After all, why go through the hassle of filing your return earlier than you have to?

But it can be a good idea to file as close to January 29 as possible: Doing so helps protect you from tax identity theft. 

All-too-common scam

Here’s why early filing helps: In an all-too-common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns. 

A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.

Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.

The IRS is working with the tax industry and states to improve safeguards to protect taxpayers from tax identity theft. But filing early may be your best defense.

W-2s and 1099s

Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2017 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099 to recipients of any 2017 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments. 

If you don’t receive a W-2 or 1099, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If by mid-February you still haven’t received it, you can contact the IRS for help. 

Earlier refunds

Of course, if you’ll be getting a refund, another good thing about filing early is that you’ll get your refund sooner. The IRS expects over 90% of refunds to be issued within 21 days. 

E-filing and requesting a direct deposit refund generally will result in a quicker refund and also can be more secure. If you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2017 return early, please contact us. 

© 2018

How employers can assess their HR effectiveness

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 09 2018

If someone were to burst into your office one day and demand to know how effective your organization handled its HR obligations, what would you say? At the very least, you’d probably shrug and say, “Pretty well,” and “Could you close the door on your way out?”

But, seriously, taking a step back once in a while and objectively assessing overall HR effectiveness is a good idea. You may be doing some things better than others, and the sum total may or may not add up to a positive. Here are a few of the major areas to look at.

Recruitment and talent

When evaluating the success of your recruitment and talent efforts, look first at items such as first- and second-year unwanted turnover, terminations for cause, promotions, and employees who plateau at the level at which they were hired.

You might also calculate cost per hire. Included are the direct and indirect costs associated with hiring. The most common elements are recruiter and other interviewer time. But also try to quantify support staff’s time spent on the telephone or conducting email communications related to hiring.

In addition, track dollars spent on staffing-related advertising, recruitment materials, placement agency fees and employee referral bonuses. And don’t forget medical exams, background checks and other processing costs for adding new employees to the payroll system.

Once you’ve accumulated all of this data, you may be able to benchmark it against other, similar organizations if such industry data is available from a trade association or publication. Or you can at least compare your current staffing costs to those you’ve incurred historically.

Pay and benefits

Balancing the need to control payroll and benefits costs with the need to stay competitive isn’t easy. Many measures have been developed over the years, including benefits as a percentage of payroll, payroll as a percentage of manufacturing costs and number of employees per million dollars of revenue.

Two fundamental ratios that can dramatically show your organization’s performance relative to competitors or similar organizations are:

1. Payroll as a percentage of operating expense, and
2. Benefits costs as a percentage of operating expense.

A simple XY chart of these two figures showing the changes over time between your organization and industry averages provides important strategic information.

Training and development

Measuring training and development can be complex. Of course, you can pinpoint direct costs — such as participant materials and program supplies, travel expenses, and food and beverages. And you can likely identify indirect costs, such as the salaries and benefits for trainers and trainees, and the purchase and maintenance of durable supplies.

But cost is only one side of the equation. You must also measure the impact of training and development initiatives. To do so, first develop methods of tracking on-the-job changes in behavior, knowledge, skill and performance following training and development efforts. Then link these changes to organizational productivity, efficiency and effectiveness measures.

The big picture

Successful organizations depend on the efficacy of their HR functions to make good hires, to compensate employees fairly and to develop those employees into better and better workers. Be sure to keep an eye on the big picture, and let us know how we might be of assistance.

© 2018

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Key provisions affecting businesses

Posted by Admin Posted on Jan 03 2018

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 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 noncorporate 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.

© 2017

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Key provisions affecting individuals

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 29 2017

On December 20, Congress completed passage of the largest federal tax reform law in more than 30 years. Commonly called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA), the new law means substantial changes for individual taxpayers. 

The following is a brief overview of some of the most significant provisions. Except where noted, these changes are effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026.

  • Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%
  • Near doubling of the standard deduction to $24,000 (married couples filing jointly), $18,000 (heads of households), and $12,000 (singles and married couples filing separately)
  • Elimination of personal exemptions
  •  Doubling of the child tax credit to $2,000 and other modifications intended to help more taxpayers benefit from the credit
  • Elimination of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act requiring taxpayers not covered by a qualifying health plan to pay a penalty — effective for months beginning after December 31, 2018, and permanent
  • Reduction of the adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold for the medical expense deduction to 7.5% for regular and AMT purposes — for 2017 and 2018
  • New $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local taxes (on a combined basis for property and income taxes; $5,000 for separate filers)
  • Reduction of the mortgage debt limit for the home mortgage interest deduction to $750,000 ($375,000 for separate filers), with certain exceptions
  • Elimination of the deduction for interest on home equity debt
  • Elimination of the personal casualty and theft loss deduction (with an exception for federally declared disasters)
  • Elimination of miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor (such as certain investment expenses, professional fees and unreimbursed employee business expenses)
  • Elimination of the AGI-based reduction of certain itemized deductions
  • Elimination of the moving expense deduction (with an exception for members of the military in certain circumstances)
  • Expansion of tax-free Section 529 plan distributions to include those used to pay qualifying elementary and secondary school expenses, up to $10,000 per student per tax year — permanent
  • AMT exemption increase, to $109,400 for joint filers, $70,300 for singles and heads of households, and $54,700 for separate filers
  • Doubling of the gift and estate tax exemptions, to $10 million (expected to be $11.2 million for 2018 with inflation indexing)

Be aware that additional rules and limits apply. Also, there are many more changes in the TCJA that will impact individuals. If you have questions or would like to discuss how you might be affected, please contact us.

© 2017

6 valid reasons to reject a domestic relations order

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 29 2017

With the U.S. divorce rate in the 40% to 50% range, your retirement plan is likely to receive a domestic relations order. These orders entitle an “alternate payee” to a portion of a participant’s retirement benefits.

But it’s up to you, the plan sponsor or administrator, to determine whether the order is qualified ― making it a qualified domestic relations order. Although domestic relations orders are typically issued by a state authority, you can still reject one if it doesn’t comply with your plan’s terms. Here are six valid reasons to do so:
 

1. Inaccurate details. Sloppily drafted domestic relations orders may identify your retirement plan incorrectly, such as by naming the custodian instead of the plan by its legal name.
2. Inappropriate form of requested payment. This could occur, for example, if you have a defined benefit plan that doesn’t allow for lump-sum distributions, but the order calls for one.
3. Distribution timing issue. The order might request an immediate distribution, but your plan might allow distributions to occur only when the participant reaches retirement age.
4. Valuation timing issue. Suppose your defined contribution plan allows for the valuation of a participant’s vested benefits only on a quarterly basis. If the order calls for an immediate valuation of benefits so that a stipulated proportion (for example, 50%) of assets ultimately can be distributed to the alternate payee, you can reject the order.
5. Fluctuations in asset values. If the order doesn’t address an increase or decrease in the value of plan assets between the order’s date and the date of distribution, this could lead to subsequent confusion and disputes.
6. Addressing the prospect of premature death of an alternate payee. Your plan document might require that the order specify the implications of the death of an alternate payee before paying the retirement benefit. Thus, to be qualified, an order might, for example, stipulate that the benefit be payable to the deceased alternate payee’s estate.


Should you need to reject a domestic relations order, work closely with your professional advisors to follow the applicable rules to issue the required formal notice. Remember, a rejection isn’t likely the end of the matter; whoever drafted the domestic relations order will probably resubmit it. We can advise you on cost-efficient ways to manage your plan.

© 2017

7 steps to choosing a successor for your family business

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 29 2017

There’s an old saying regarding family-owned businesses: “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” It means the first-generation owner started in shirtsleeves and built the company up from nothing but, by the third generation, the would-be owner is back in shirtsleeves with nothing because the business failed or was sold.

Although you can’t guarantee your company will buck this trend, you can take extra care when choosing a successor to give your family business a fighting chance. Here are seven steps to consider:

1. Make no assumptions. Many business owners assume their son or daughter wants to run the company or that a particular child is right for the role. But such an assumption can doom the company.

2. Decide which family members are viable candidates, if any. External parties such as professional advisors or an advisory board can provide invaluable input. Outsiders are more likely to be impartial and have no vested interest in your decision. They might help you realize that someone who’s not in your family is the best choice.

3. Look at skills and temperament. Once you’ve settled on a few candidates, hold private meetings with each to discuss the leadership role. Get a feel for whether anyone you’re considering may lack the skills or temperament to run the business.

4. If there are multiple candidates, give each a fair shot. This is no different from what happens in publicly held companies and larger private businesses. Allow each qualified candidate to fill a position at the company and move up the management ladder.

5. Rotate the jobs each candidate performs, if possible. Let them gain experience in many areas of the business, gradually increasing their responsibilities and setting more rigorous goals. You’ll not only groom a better leader, but also potentially create a deeper management team.

6. Clearly communicate your decision. After a reasonable period of time, pick your successor. Meet with the chosen candidate to discuss a transition time line, compensation and other important issues. Also sit down with those not selected and explain your choice. Ideally, these individuals can stay on to provide the aforementioned management depth. Some, however, may choose to leave or be better off working elsewhere. Be forewarned: This can be a difficult, emotional time for family members.

7. Work with your successor on a well-communicated transition of power. Once you’ve picked a successor, he or she effectively becomes a business partner. It’s up to the two of you to gradually shift power from one generation to the next (assuming the business is staying in the family). Don’t underestimate the human element and how much time and effort will be required to make the succession work. Let us help you meet and overcome this critical challenge.

© 2017

How entity type affects tax planning for owner-employees

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 29 2017

Come tax time, owner-employees face a variety of distinctive tax planning challenges, depending on whether their business is structured as a partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or corporation. Whether you’re thinking about your 2016 filing or planning for 2017, it’s important to be aware of the challenges that apply to your particular situation.

Partnerships and LLCs

If you’re a partner in a partnership or a member of an LLC that has elected to be disregarded or treated as a partnership, the entity’s income flows through to you (as does its deductions). And this income likely will be subject to self-employment taxes — even if the income isn’t actually distributed to you. This means your employment tax liability typically doubles, because you must pay both the employee and employer portions of these taxes. 

The employer portion of self-employment taxes paid (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) is deductible above the line. Above-the-line deductions are particularly valuable because they reduce your adjusted gross income and modified adjusted gross income, which are the triggers for certain additional taxes and phaseouts of many tax breaks.

But flow-through income may not be subject to self-employment taxes if you’re a limited partner or the LLC member equivalent. And be aware that flow-through income might be subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on earned income or the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), depending on the situation. 

S and C corporations

For S corporations, even though the entity’s income flows through to you for income tax purposes, only income you receive as salary is subject to employment taxes and, if applicable, the 0.9% Medicare tax. Keeping your salary relatively — but not unreasonably — low and increasing your distributions of company income (which generally isn’t taxed at the corporate level or subject to employment taxes) can reduce these taxes. The 3.8% NIIT may also apply.

In the case of C corporations, the entity’s income is taxed at the corporate level and only income you receive as salary is subject to employment taxes, and, if applicable, the 0.9% Medicare tax. Nevertheless, if the overall tax paid by both the corporation and you would be less, you may prefer to take more income as salary (which is deductible at the corporate level) as opposed to dividends (which aren’t deductible at the corporate level, are taxed at the shareholder level and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT).

Whether your entity is an S or a C corporation, tread carefully, however. The IRS remains on the lookout for misclassification of corporate payments to shareholder-employees. The penalties and additional tax liability can be costly.

As you can see, tax planning is extra important for owner-employees.  Plus, tax law changes proposed by the President-elect and the Republican majority in Congress could affect tax treatment of  your income in 2017. Please contact us for help identifying the ideal strategies for your situation.

©2016

This year’s company holiday party is probably tax deductible, but next year’s may not be

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 18 2017

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.

The 100% deduction

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, and
  • 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.

Additional requirements

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. 

Possible changes for 2018

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.

© 2017

What you need to know about year-end charitable giving in 2017

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 18 2017

Charitable giving can be a powerful tax-saving strategy: Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and you have complete control over when and how much you give. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind this year to ensure you receive the tax benefits you desire. 

Delivery date

To be deductible on your 2017 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2017. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?

The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Check. The date you mail it. 

Credit card. The date you make the charge. 

Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

Qualified charity status

To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. 

The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://bit.ly/2gFacut Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Potential impact of tax reform

The charitable donation deduction isn’t among the deductions that have been proposed for elimination or reduction under tax reform. In fact, income-based limits on how much can be deducted in a particular year might be expanded, which will benefit higher-income taxpayers who make substantial charitable gifts.

However, for many taxpayers, accelerating into this year donations that they might normally give next year may make sense for a couple of tax-reform-related reasons:

1. If your tax rate goes down for 2018, then 2017 donations will save you more tax because deductions are more powerful when rates are higher. 
2. If the standard deduction is raised significantly and many itemized deductions are eliminated or reduced, then it may not make sense for you to itemize deductions in 2018, in which case you wouldn’t benefit from charitable donation deduction next year.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making — or the potential impact of tax reform on your charitable giving plans. 

© 2017

Flipping the switch with an employee survey

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 18 2017

Many employers operate in the dark. Not literally, of course; there is ample lighting in their workplaces. Rather, they labor along with little to no idea what their employees are really thinking or feeling about a variety of critical employment issues. One way to flip the switch and bring some illumination to the situation is with an employee survey.

Why they’re good

With an employee survey, you can gather open and honest input from those “in the know.” This input is the link between your employees and your company’s productivity, morale and success. Employee surveys help you identify weaknesses, clarify concerns, and enhance communication and cooperation — all in a confidential, nonthreatening style. 

Employee surveys, when done properly, are both time- and cost-efficient because they gather vast amounts of data in a short period. Survey data can cover a wide variety of topics, from HR concerns and communication issues to quality control, customer interaction and employee involvement matters. 

What can go wrong

Conducting a survey demonstrates your commitment to open communication and your respect for your employees’ opinions and well-being. The very act of conducting a survey can improve morale — as long as you subsequently take appropriate actions regarding the expressed concerns.

And therein lies the double-edged sword of employee surveys. If you conduct your survey incorrectly or halfheartedly, the results might not accurately reflect what your employees are thinking. For example, poorly worded questions or a low response rate could lead to misinformation and misconceptions about your workforce and ineffective follow-up actions.

What’s more, even a thoroughly conducted survey can be harmful if you don’t appear willing to act on the information or you say nothing further about it after gathering the data. If you’re not willing to hear bad news or not seriously committed to putting employee input to use, don’t do a survey. A survey without follow-up communication and action will only increase employee cynicism or reinforce negative perceptions of management.

Reaping the benefits

As long as you’re prepared to put in the time and effort necessary to conduct a high-quality survey, open to hearing the bad as well as the good, and willing to take action to solve problem areas, your organization stands to reap great benefits from implementing an employee survey. Our firm can help you turn the potentially productive ideas of your workforce into greater profitability.

© 2017

Practice the fine art of inclusion at your holiday gatherings

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 18 2017

It’s that time of year, business owners — a time when you’re not only trying to wind down the calendar in profitable fashion, but also preparing year-end financials and contemplating next year’s budget.

And amidst all this, you likely have a holiday employee gathering to plan. This seemingly innocuous task can be just as tricky as the rest. It’s imperative to practice the fine art of inclusion at holiday parties so everyone feels engaged and rewarded for their hard work. Here are some ways to do so:

Involve staff in the planning. Have workers of different faiths and cultures serve on your holiday party committee. Be sure to incorporate as much of their personal holiday traditions as possible or employees may feel like they wasted their time participating on this task. By sharing family customs, workers will get to know one another better.

Celebrate differences. Rather than prohibiting all holiday-specific ornamentation in your office or at your holiday party, allow an assortment of decorations that reflect your staff’s varying traditions. And encourage employees to bring in their favorite holiday treats for all to sample. This is a great opportunity for workers to learn more about other cultures.

Say thank you to everyone. Food, drinks and bonus checks have become a holiday party focal point for many businesses. But, remember, there’s real power in explicitly saying thanks to workers. Doing so can range from passing out holiday cards with handwritten messages (from ownership or a direct supervisor) to having each department head give a presentation remarking on everyone’s individual achievements.

Pay attention to details. Like most work matters, details count — especially when planning a party. Here are some questions to ask when setting up your event:

• Does the space or facility accommodate disabled people? 
• Are you serving nonalcoholic drinks and food for vegetarians or others with special dietary needs?
• Could anyone find “funny” speeches or “roasting” of certain employees offensive?
• Does the party’s date conflict with any worker’s religious beliefs?

In worst cases, a poorly planned holiday party can end up hurting morale and even triggering legal expenses if someone feels particularly excluded or offended. On the brighter side, a fun and inclusive gathering can conclude the year on a wonderful note. Let us help you manage the cost-effectiveness (and just plain effectiveness) of your company’s employee engagement activities.

© 2017

Get smart: How AI can help your business

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 12 2017

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The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution isn’t coming — it’s here. While AI’s potential for your company might not seem immediately obvious, this technology is capable of helping businesses of all shapes and sizes “get smart.”

AI generally refers to the use of computer systems to perform tasks commonly thought to require human intelligence. Examples include image perception, voice recognition, problem solving and decision making. AI includes machine learning, an iterative process where machines improve their performance over time based on examples and structured feedback rather than explicit programming.

3 applications to consider

Businesses can use AI to improve a variety of functions. Three specific applications to consider are:

1. Sales and marketing. You might already use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, but introducing AI to it can really put the pedal to the metal. AI can go much further — and much faster — than traditional CRM.

For example, AI is able to analyze buyer behavior and consumer sentiments across a range of media, including recorded phone conversations, email, social media and reviews. AI also can, in a relative blink of the eye, process consumer and market data from a far wider range of sources than previously thought possible. And it can automate the repetitive tasks that eat up your sales or marketing team’s time.

All of this results in quicker generation of qualified leads. With AI, you can deploy your sales force and marketing resources more efficiently and effectively, reducing your cost of customer acquisition along the way.

2. Customer service. Keeping customers satisfied is the key to retaining them. But customers don’t always tell you when they’re unhappy. AI can pick up on negative signals and find correlations to behavior in customer data, empowering you to save important relationships.

You can integrate AI into your customer support function, too. By leaving tasks such as classifying tickets and routing calls to AI, you’ll reduce wait times and free up representatives to focus on customers who need the human touch.

3. Competitive intelligence. Imagine knowing your competitors’ strategies and moves almost as well as your own. AI-based competitive analysis tools will track other companies’ activities across different channels, noting pricing and product changes and subtle shifts in messaging. They can highlight competitors’ strengths and weaknesses that will help you plot your own course.
The future is now

AI isn’t a fad; it’s becoming more and more entrenched in our business and personal lives. Companies that recognize this sea change and jump on board now can save time, cut costs and develop a clear competitive edge. We can assist you in determining how technology investments like AI should fit into your overall plans for investing in your business.

© 2017

Hire your children to save taxes for your business and your family

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 12 2017

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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.

Shifting income

By shifting some of your business earnings to a child as wages for services performed by him or her, 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 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.

Saving employment taxes 

If your business isn’t incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners, you might also save some employment tax dollars. Services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent aren’t 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. 

© 2017

You may need to add RMDs to your year-end to-do list

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 12 2017

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As the end of the year approaches, most of us have a lot of things on our to-do lists, from gift shopping to donating to our favorite charities to making New Year’s Eve plans. For taxpayers “of a certain age” with a tax-advantaged retirement account, as well as younger taxpayers who’ve inherited such an account, there may be one more thing that’s critical to check off the to-do list before year end: Take required minimum distributions (RMDs). 

A huge penalty

After you reach age 70½, you generally must take annual RMDs from your:

  • IRAs (except Roth IRAs), and
  • Defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans (unless you’re still an employee and not a 5%-or-greater shareholder of the employer sponsoring the plan).

An RMD deferral is available in the initial year, but then you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year. The RMD rule can be avoided for Roth 401(k) accounts by rolling the balance into a Roth IRA.

For taxpayers who inherit a retirement plan, the RMD rules generally apply to defined-contribution plans and both traditional and Roth IRAs. (Special rules apply when the account is inherited from a spouse.)

RMDs usually must be taken by December 31. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. 

Should you withdraw more than the RMD?

Taking only RMDs generally is advantageous because of tax-deferred compounding. But a larger distribution in a year your tax bracket is low may save tax. 

Be sure, however, to consider the lost future tax-deferred growth and, if applicable, whether the distribution could: 1) cause Social Security payments to become taxable, 2) increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges, or 3) affect other tax breaks with income-based limits. 

Also keep in mind that, while retirement plan distributions aren’t subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax or 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), they are included in your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). That means they could trigger or increase the NIIT, because the thresholds for that tax are based on MAGI.

For more information on RMDs or tax-savings strategies for your retirement plan distributions, please contact us.

© 2017

Is it time to rethink your holiday bonuses?

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 12 2017

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Many employers feel obligated to hand out holiday bonuses. If you’ve been distributing such checks for years, without regard to merit or longevity, maybe it’s time to rethink this practice.

Merit-based rewards

Citing economic uncertainties or philosophical changes, some employers have done away with holiday bonuses altogether. This is an option, of course, but a better one may be to replace your across-the-board holiday bonuses with a merit-based program that rewards those who deserve extra recognition. 

To do that, you must first give employees fair warning that you plan to discontinue issuing blanket holiday bonuses. Your staff is, after all, accustomed to a year-end bonus and may be counting on it. 

Then announce a plan based on individual or team accomplishments. It must hinge on measurable outcomes — for example, a manufacturer could communicate that everyone in a given plant will receive a 10% bonus if that location meets certain production levels. Give the reward within a few days to firmly fix the achievement to the goal. If you don’t, it will lose its luster.

Gift cards, etc.

Another option is to give your department heads a supply of gift cards in various denominations to hand out for exemplary performance. If a shipping clerk stays late every night for two weeks to make sure rush jobs get out on time during a peak period, for example, it may merit a $20 gift card. 

Remember, too, that not all rewards must be monetary. A preferred parking place, a more flexible schedule or a special celebratory lunch all are ways to recognize smaller, but noteworthy, accomplishments. Even a mention in the company newsletter, an announcement during departmental meetings or a photo on a bulletin board can do a lot to make merit bonuses sought-after rewards.

Specific ideas

Whatever bonus plan you choose, make sure it’s fair, impartial and open to all employees and that it includes public recognition as well as a handshake. Please contact our firm for specific ideas about how your organization could improve its bonus program.

© 2017

These year-end tips could save you tax

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 05 2017

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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. 

Tracking incurred expenses 

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:

  • Commissions, salaries and wages,
  • Payroll taxes,
  • Advertising,
  • Interest,
  • Utilities,
  • Insurance, and
  • Property taxes.

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.

Prepaid expenses

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.

And there’s more . . .

Here are a few more year-end tax tips to consider:

  • Review your outstanding receivables and write off any receivables you can establish as uncollectible.
  • Pay interest on all shareholder loans to or from the company.
  • Update your corporate record book to record decisions and be better prepared for an audit.

To learn more about how these and other year-end tax strategies may help your business reduce its 2017 tax bill, contact us.

© 2017

Could the AMT boost your 2017 tax bill?

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 05 2017

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A fundamental tax planning strategy is to accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. This typically will defer (and in some cases permanently reduce) your taxes. But there are exceptions. One is if the additional deductions this year trigger the alternative minimum tax (AMT). 

Complicating matters for 2017 is the fact that tax legislation might be signed into law between now and year end that could affect year-end tax planning. For example, as released by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 2, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would repeal the AMT for 2018 and beyond. But the bill would also limit the benefit of some deductions and eliminate others.

The AMT and deductions

Some deductions that currently are allowed for regular tax purposes can trigger the AMT because they aren’t allowed for AMT purposes:

  • State and local income tax deductions,
  • Property tax deductions, and
  • Miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor, such as investment expenses, tax return preparation expenses and unreimbursed employee business expenses.

Under traditional AMT strategies, if you expected to be subject to the AMT this year but not next year, to the extent possible, you’d try to defer these expenses until next year. If you ended up not being subject to the AMT this year, in the long-term you generally wouldn’t be any worse off because you could enjoy the tax benefits of these deferred expenses next year.

But under the November 2 version of the House bill, the state and local income tax deduction and certain miscellaneous itemized deductions would be eliminated beginning in 2018. And the property tax deduction would be limited. So if you were to defer such expenses to next year, you might permanently lose some or all of their tax benefit. 

Income-related AMT triggers

Deductions aren’t the only things that can trigger the AMT. So can certain income-related items, such as:

  • Incentive stock option exercises,
  • Tax-exempt interest on certain private activity bonds, and
  • Accelerated depreciation adjustments and related gain or loss differences when assets are sold.

If you could be subject to the AMT this year, you may want to avoid exercising stock options. And before executing any asset sales that could involve depreciation adjustments, carefully consider the AMT implications.

Uncertainty complicates planning

It’s still uncertain whether the AMT will be repealed and whether various deductions will be eliminated or limited. The House bill will be revised as lawmakers negotiate on tax reform, and the Senate is releasing its own tax reform bill. It’s also possible Congress won’t be able to pass tax legislation this year. 

With proper planning, you may be able to avoid the AMT, reduce its impact or even take advantage of its lower maximum rate (28% vs. 39.6%). But AMT planning is more complicated this year because of tax law uncertainty. We can help you determine the best strategies for your situation.

© 2017

7 potential benefits of an apprenticeship program

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 05 2017

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According to recent data from the Department of Labor, about half a million workers are participating in apprenticeship programs in more than 1,000 different occupations. Has your organization ever considered one? In a time when skilled labor is at a premium, these initiatives are growing increasingly popular and valuable. Here are seven potential benefits of an apprenticeship program:

1. Specific, thorough training. Apprentices receive customized training from experienced individuals. This results in the development of a highly skilled worker who’s trained to fulfill your organization’s distinctive needs.

2. Greater productivity — from everyone. On-the-job learning from an assigned mentor combined with related technical instruction should eventually increase productivity companywide. This is, in part, because the program can incorporate cross-training so employees can more easily cover for each other.

3. Stronger retention rates. Because their employers have invested in them, apprenticeship program graduates tend to return that investment through longer tenures and may even become mentors themselves.

4. Reduced employment costs. Including safety training in the apprenticeship can reduce workers’ compensation costs and prevent prolonged absences because of injuries or illness. Mentors can teach apprentices how to work efficiently to avoid undue stress and time pressure.

5. Lessened urgency to hire. Once it’s up and running, an apprenticeship program provides a stable and predictable pipeline for the development of qualified workers. This will make your organization less dependent on the fickle employment market. 

6. Enhanced employer reputation. A participating company can gain a reputation as an employer that’s willing to invest in its employees. So, while you’ll be less reliant on the want ads, you may have an easier time attracting job candidates when necessary. 

7. Best-in-class workforce. Successful apprenticeship programs offer a systematic approach to training that ensures employees have the ability to produce at the highest skill levels required for that occupation. 

Interested? Let us help you assess the cost-effectiveness of setting up an apprenticeship program.

© 2017

Cutting costs when you’ve gone over budget

Posted by Admin Posted on Dec 04 2017

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Year end can’t get here soon enough for some business owners — especially those whose companies have exceeded their annual budgets. If you find yourself in this unenviable position, you can still cut costs to either improve this year’s financial picture or put yourself in a better position for next year.

Tackle staffing issues

It’s easy to put off tough staffing decisions, but those issues may represent an unnecessary drain on your finances. If you have employees who don’t have enough work to keep busy, think about restructuring jobs so everyone’s productive. You might let go of extra staff, or, alternatively, offer mostly idle workers unpaid time off during slow periods.

You also need to face the hard facts about underperforming workers. Few business owners enjoy firing anyone, but it makes little sense to continue to pay poor performers.

Take control of purchasing

Are you getting the most out of your company’s combined purchasing power? You may have different departments independently buying the same supplies or services (for example, paper, computers, photocopying). By consolidating such purchases, you might be able to negotiate reduced prices.

To strengthen your bargaining power with suppliers when seeking discounts, pay your bills promptly. Even if it doesn’t help you land reduced prices, you’ll avoid late payment fees and credit card interest charges.

But don’t just continue to pay bills mindlessly. Review all of your service invoices — especially those that are automatically deducted from your bank accounts or charged to credit cards — to confirm you’re actually using the services. Consider canceling any services you haven’t used in 90 days.

Redirect your marketing efforts

Advertising costs can take a significant bite out of your budget, and the priciest efforts often have the lowest returns on investment. Cut programs and initiatives that haven’t clearly paid off, and move your marketing to social media and other more cost-efficient avenues — at least temporarily. A single, positively received tweet may reach exponentially more people than a costly directory listing, print ad or trade show booth.

A caveat

Resist the urge to solve your budget shortfalls with one dramatic cut — the risks are simply too high. The better approach is to execute a combination of incremental actions that will add up to savings. Contact us for a full assessment of your company’s budget.

© 2017

Timing strategies could become more powerful in 2017, depending on what happens with tax reform

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 28 2017

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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 tax reform legislation is signed into law. 

Timing strategies for businesses

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, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.

Potential impact of tax reform

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. 

Be prepared

Because of tax law uncertainty, in 2017 you may want to wait until closer to the end of the year to implement some of your year-end tax planning strategies. But you need to be ready to act quickly if tax legislation is signed into law. 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.

© 2017

Yes, you can undo a Roth IRA conversion

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 28 2017

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Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can provide tax-free growth and the ability to withdraw funds tax-free in retirement. But what if you convert a traditional IRA — subject to income taxes on all earnings and deductible contributions — and then discover that you would have been better off if you hadn’t converted it? Fortunately, it’s possible to undo a Roth IRA conversion, using a “recharacterization.” 

Reasons to recharacterize

There are several possible reasons to undo a Roth IRA conversion. For example:

  • You lack sufficient liquid funds to pay the tax liability.
  • The conversion combined with your other income has pushed you into a higher tax bracket.
  • You expect your tax rate to go down either in the near future or in retirement.
  • The value of your account has declined since the conversion, which means you would owe taxes partially on money you no longer have.

Generally, when you convert to a Roth IRA, if you extend your tax return, you have until October 15 of the following year to undo it. (For 2016 returns, the extended deadline is October 16 because the 15th falls on a weekend in 2017.)

In some cases it can make sense to undo a Roth IRA conversion and then redo it. If you want to redo the conversion, you must wait until the laterof 1) the first day of the year following the year of the original conversion, or 2) the 31st day after the recharacterization.

Keep in mind that, if you reversed a conversion because your IRA’s value declined, there’s a risk that your investments will bounce back during the waiting period. This could cause you to reconvert at a higher tax cost.

Recharacterization in action

Nick had a traditional IRA with a balance of $100,000. In 2016, he converted it to a Roth IRA, which, combined with his other income for the year, put him in the 33% tax bracket. So normally he’d have owed $33,000 in federal income taxes on the conversion in April 2017. However, Nick extended his return and, by September 2017, the value of his account drops to $80,000.

On October 1, Nick recharacterizes the account as a traditional IRA and files his return to 
exclude the $100,000 in income. On November 1, he reconverts the traditional IRA, whose value remains at $80,000, to a Roth IRA. He’ll report that amount on his 2017 tax return. This time, he’ll owe $26,400 — deferred for a year and resulting in a tax savings of $6,600. If the $20,000 difference in income keeps him in the 28% tax bracket or tax reform legislation is signed into law that retroactively reduces rates for 2017, he could save even more. 

If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, monitor your financial situation. If the advantages of the conversion diminish, we can help you assess your options.

© 2017

When small employers can sign up for SHOP coverage

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 28 2017

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The Affordable Care Act allows small employers to make health coverage available to their employees through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). Many of these organizations may wonder whether there are limits on when they can sign up for this coverage.

The short answer is that they can sign up anytime — a SHOP must permit a qualified employer to buy coverage for its employees at any point during the year. (This is often referred to as “rolling enrollment.”) But there are some important details to bear in mind.

Minimum participation

Under the Affordable Care Act, SHOPs are intended to allow eligible small businesses to offer employees a variety of qualified health plans. For SHOP purposes, a small employer is one with at least one and not more than 50 employees on business days in the preceding calendar year. (There is an option for states to expand the cutoff to 100 employees.) A SHOP is required to operate in each state. If a state hasn’t established one, the federal government operates a federally facilitated program for small employers in that state.

Under a SHOP’s rolling enrollment, the employer’s plan year is the 12-month period beginning with the plan’s effective date of coverage. But SHOPs may apply a minimum participation requirement. In most states, this means that at least 70% of employees must accept the offer of SHOP coverage (or be enrolled in other qualifying health coverage) in order for the employer to participate in the program. States can’t, however, impose such a requirement during an annual open enrollment period from November 15 through December 15 of each year.

Accurate prediction

Thus, while your company may sign up for SHOP coverage at any time during the year, you must satisfy the minimum participation requirement unless it’s an annual open enrollment period. A calculator is available here to help employers predict whether they’ll meet the minimum participation SHOP enrollment requirement. Of course, it’s also important to keep an eye on Affordable Care Act developments in Washington, which could affect the SHOP. Please contact our firm for assistance in choosing and administering cost-effective health care benefits.

© 2017

Valuation often affects succession plans in hard-to-see ways

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 27 2017

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Any business owner developing a succession plan should rightfully assume that regular business valuations are a must. When envisioning the valuation process, you’re likely to focus on its end result: a reasonable, defensible value estimate of your business as of a certain date. But lurking beneath this number is a variety of often hard-to-see issues.

Estate tax liability

One sometimes blurry issue is the valuation implications of whether you intend to transfer the business to the next generation during your lifetime, at your death or upon your spouse’s death. If, for example, you decide to bequeath the company to your spouse, no estate tax will be due upon your death because of the marital deduction (as long as your spouse is a U.S. citizen). But estate tax may be due on your spouse’s death, depending on the business’s value and estate tax laws at the time.

Speaking of which, President Trump and congressional Republicans have called for an estate tax repeal under the “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” issued in late September. But there’s no guarantee such a provision will pass and, even if it does, the repeal might be only temporary.

So an owner may be tempted to minimize the company’s value to reduce the future estate tax liability on the spouse’s death. But be aware that businesses that appear to have been undervalued in an effort to minimize taxes will raise a red flag with the IRS. 

Inactive heirs and retirement

Bear in mind, too, that your heirs may have different views of the business’s proper value. This is particularly true of “inactive heirs” ― those who won’t inherit the business and whose share, therefore, may need to be “equalized” with other assets, such as insurance proceeds or real estate. Your appraiser will need to clearly understand the valuation’s purpose and your estate plan.

When (or if) you plan to retire is another major issue to be resolved. If you want your children to take over, but you need to free up cash for retirement, you may be able to sell shares to successors. Several methods (such as using trusts) can provide tax advantages as well as help the children fund a business purchase.

Abundant complexities

Obtaining a valuation in relation to your succession plan involves much more than establishing a sale price, transitioning ownership (or selling the company), and sauntering off to retirement. The details are many and potential conflicts abundant. Let us help you anticipate and manage these complexities to ensure a smooth succession.

© 2017

Investors: Beware of the wash sale rule

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 22 2017

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A tried-and-true tax-saving strategy for investors is to sell assets at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during the year. So if you’ve cashed in some big gains this year, consider looking for unrealized losses in your portfolio and selling those investments before year end to offset your gains. This can reduce your 2017 tax liability. 

But what if you expect an investment that would produce a loss if sold now to not only recover but thrive in the future? Or perhaps you simply want to minimize the impact on your asset allocation. You might think you can simply sell the investment at a loss and then immediately buy it back. Not so fast: You need to beware of the wash sale rule. 

The rule up close

The wash sale rule prevents you from taking a loss on a security if you buy a substantially identical security (or an option to buy such a security) within 30 days before or after you sell the security that created the loss. You can recognize the loss only when you sell the replacement security. 

Keep in mind that the rule applies even if you repurchase the security in a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as a traditional or Roth IRA. 

Achieving your goals

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the wash sale rule and still achieve your goals:

  • Sell the security and immediately buy shares of a security of a different company in the same industry or shares in a mutual fund that holds securities much like the ones you sold.
  • Sell the security and wait 31 days to repurchase the same security.
  • Before selling the security, purchase additional shares of that security equal to the number you want to sell at a loss. Then wait 31 days to sell the original portion.

If you have a bond that would generate a loss if sold, you can do a bond swap, where you sell a bond, take a loss and then immediately buy another bond of similar quality and duration from a different issuer. Generally, the wash sale rule doesn’t apply because the bonds aren’t considered substantially identical. Thus, you can achieve a tax loss with virtually no change in economic position.

For more ideas on saving taxes on your investments, please contact us. 

© 2017

Your retirement plan’s investment fees warrant a closer look

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 21 2017

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If your organization sponsors a retirement plan, it’s important to recognize and understand all of the expenses associated with the plan. As you’re probably aware, plan sponsors may use certain retirement funds to pay allowable administrative and other plan-related expenses.

But your plan document must authorize any payments for expenses. Also, the payment must be in the plan participants’ and beneficiaries’ interest, and the amount paid from the plan must be reasonable.

With that established, you might notice that investment fees make up most of your plan’s expenses. (This is typically the case.) Let’s take a closer look at these fees so you can build some familiarity with them.

Tricky to locate

Investment fees are often referred to as the “expense ratio” within an investment. They’re paid to the mutual fund companies that manage the funds. For example, if a participant invests in Mutual Fund A, the mutual fund provider can deduct fees from any income related to that fund to pay itself for managing the investments of Mutual Fund A.

These fees can be tricky to locate because they’re factored into the “net total return” that’s often reported to participants. For instance, if a particular fund has generated an 8% return for the year, but 1% of that return is used to pay the related investment fees, this results in a net total return of 7% and the fund will report an expense ratio of 1%.

Common types to identify

There are a variety of investment fee types. Common ones include:

Sales charges. Also known as loads or commissions; the investment advisor charges these fees to participants for buying or selling shares of an investment.

Management fees. These are the fees paid to the investment advisor managing the fund. They can vary drastically by manager and usually become more expensive as the investment manager spends more time actively managing the fund. However, as with any financial investment, higher management fees don’t necessarily ensure better performance.

12b-1 fees. These fees are continual amounts paid from fund assets and are usually used to pay for things such as advertising, account servicing and broker commissions. They’ve been a hot topic in the past few years because of their reclusive nature.

One piece of the puzzle

Naturally, investment fees are but one piece of the puzzle when it comes to plan expenses. But they’re an important part nonetheless, so it’s critical to identify them specifically and monitor their impact. Please contact our firm for help ensuring your plan’s investment fees are reasonable and in the best interest of participants.

© 2017

Don’t let “founder’s syndrome” impede your succession plan

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 20 2017

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Are you the founder of your company? If so, congratulations — you’ve created something truly amazing! And it’s more than understandable that you’d want to protect your legacy: the company you created.

But, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly important that you give serious thought to a succession plan. When this topic comes up, many business owners show signs of suffering from an all-too-common affliction.

The symptoms

In the nonprofit sphere, they call it “founder’s syndrome.” The term refers to a set of “symptoms” indicating that an organization’s founder maintains a disproportionate amount of power and influence over operations. Although founder’s syndrome is usually associated with not-for-profits, it can give business owners much to think about as well. Common symptoms include:

• 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, and
• Being unwilling to begin creating a succession plan.

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.

Treatment plan

The good news is that founder’s syndrome is treatable. The first step is to address whether you yourself are either at risk for the affliction or already suffering from it. Doing so can be uncomfortable, but it’s critical. Here are some advisable actions:

Form a succession plan. This is a vital measure toward preserving the longevity of any company. If you’d prefer not 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.

Blood, sweat and tears

You’ve no doubt invested the proverbial blood, sweat and tears into launching your business and overseeing its growth. But planning for the next generation of leadership is, in its own way, just as important as the company itself. Let us help you develop a succession plan that will help ensure the long-term well-being of your business.

© 2017

Will Congress revive expired tax breaks?

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 17 2017

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Most of the talk about possible tax legislation this year has focused on either wide-sweeping tax reform or taxes that are part of the Affordable Care Act. But there are a few other potential tax developments for individuals to keep an eye on.

Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The question now is whether Congress will extend them for 2017. 

An education break

One break the PATH Act extended through 2016 was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).

You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.  
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.  

Mortgage-related tax breaks

Under the PATH Act, through 2016 you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000. 

The PATH Act likewise extended through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modified the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2017 income tax return.

Act now

Please check back with us for the latest information. In the meantime, keep in mind that, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2016 income tax return yet, you can take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended returns is October 16, 2017.

© 2017

How profitable are your customers?

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 16 2017

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“We love our customers!” Every business owner says it. But all customers aren’t created equal, and it’s in your strategic interest to know which customers are really strengthening your bottom line and by how much. 

Sorting out the data

If your business systems track individual customer purchases, and your accounting system has good cost accounting or decision support capabilities, determining individual customer profitability will be simple. If you have cost data for individual products, but not at the customer level, you can manually “marry” product-specific purchase history with the cost data to determine individual customer value.

For example, if a customer purchased 10 units of Product 1 and five units of Product 2 last year, and Product 1 had a margin of $100 and Product 2 had a margin of $500, the total margin generated by the customer would be $3,500. Be sure to include data from enough years to even out normal fluctuations in purchases.

Don’t maintain cost data? No worries; you can sort the good from the bad by reviewing customer purchase volume and average sale price. Often, such data can be supplemented by general knowledge of the relative profitability of different products. Be sure that sales are net of any returns. 

Incorporating indirect costs

High marketing, handling, service or billing costs for individual customers or segments of customers can have a significant effect on their profitability even if they purchase high-margin products. If you use activity-based costing, your company will already have this information allocated accurately.

If you don’t track individual customers, you can still generalize this analysis to customer segments or products. For instance, if a group of customers is served by the same distributor, you can estimate the resources used to support that channel and their associated costs. Or, you can have individual departments track employees’ time by customer or product for a specific period.

Knowing their value

There’s nothing wrong with loving your customers. But it’s even more important to know them and how much value they’re contributing to your profitability from operating period to operating period. Contact us for help breaking down the numbers.

© 2017

Which tax-advantaged health account should be part of your benefits package?

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 15 2017

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On October 12, an executive order was signed 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 a look at the similarities and differences: 

HRA. An HRA is an employer-sponsored account that reimburses employees for medical expenses. Contributions are excluded 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 aren’t allowed to 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 nongroup coverage.”

HSA. If you provide employees a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can also sponsor HSAs for them. Pretax contributions can be made by both you and the employee. 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, an additional $1,000 can be contributed. 

The employee owns the account, which can bear interest or be invested, growing tax-deferred similar to an IRA. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and employees can carry over a balance from year to year. 

FSA. 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, their FSA must be limited to funding certain “permitted” 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 the additional details you need to make a sound decision.

© 2017

Seasonal business? Optimize your operating cycle

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 14 2017

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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 seasonal businesses. So, if your company defines itself as such, it’s important to optimize your operating cycle to anticipate and minimize shortfalls.

A high-growth example

To illustrate: Consider a manufacturer and distributor of lawn-and-garden products such as topsoil, potting soil and ground cover. Its customers are lawn-and-garden retailers, hardware stores and mass merchants.

The company’s operating cycle starts when customers place orders in the fall — nine months ahead of its peak selling season. So the business begins amassing product in the fall, but curtails operations in the winter. In late February, product accumulation continues, with most shipments going out in April.

At this point, a lot of cash has flowed out of the company to pay operating expenses, such as utilities, salaries, raw materials costs and shipping expenses. But cash doesn’t start flowing into the company until customers pay their bills around June. Then, the company counts inventory, pays remaining expenses and starts preparing for the next year. Its strategic selling window — which will determine whether the business succeeds or fails — lasts a mere eight weeks.

The power of projections

Sound familiar? Ideally, a seasonal business such as this should stockpile cash received at the end of its operating cycle, and then use those cash reserves to finance the next operating cycle. But cash reserves may not be enough — especially for high-growth companies.

So, like many seasonal businesses, you might want to apply for a line of credit to avert potential shortfalls. To increase the chances of loan approval, compile a comprehensive loan package, including historical financial statements and tax returns, as well as marketing materials and supplier affidavits (if available).

More important, draft a formal business plan that includes financial projections for next year. Some companies even project financial results for three to five years into the future. Seasonal business owners can’t rely on gut instinct. You need to develop budgets, systems, processes and procedures ahead of the peak season to effectively manage your operating cycle.

Distinctive challenges

Seasonal businesses face many distinctive challenges. Please contact our firm for assistance overcoming these obstacles and strengthening your bottom line.

© 2017

Find the right path forward with KPIs

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 13 2017

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From the baseball field to the boardroom, statistical analysis has changed various industries nationwide. With proper preparation and guidance, business owners can have at their fingertips a wealth of stats-based insight into how their companies are performing — far beyond the bottom line on an income statement.

The metrics in question are commonly referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs). These formula-based measurements reveal the trends underlying a company’s operations. And seeing those trends can help you find the right path forward and give you fair warning when you’re headed in the wrong direction.

Getting started

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.

Choosing wisely

There are many other KPIs we could discuss. The exact ones you should look at depend on the size of your company and the nature of its work. Please contact our firm for help choosing the right KPIs and calculating them accurately.

© 2017

4 ways to get (and keep) your business data in order

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 10 2017

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With so much data flying around these days, it’s easy for a company of any size to get overwhelmed. If something important falls through the cracks, say a contract renewal or outstanding bill, your financial standing and reputation could suffer. Here are four ways to get — and keep — your business data in order:

1. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Look at your data in broad categories and see whether and how you can simplify things. Sometimes refiling documents under basic designations such as “vendors,” “leases” and “employee contracts” can help you get better perspective on your information. In other cases, you may need to realign your network or file storage to more closely follow how your company operates today.

2. Implement a data storage policy. A formal effort toward getting organized can help you target what’s wrong and determine what to do about it. In creating this policy, spell out which information you must back up, how much money you’ll spend on this effort, how often backups must occur and where you’ll store backups.

3. Reconsider the cloud. Web-based data storage, now commonly known as “the cloud,” has been around for years. It allows you to store files and even access software on a secure remote server. Your company may already use the cloud to some extent. If so, review how you’re using the cloud, whether your security measures are adequate, and if now might be a good time to renegotiate with your vendor or find a new one.

4. Don’t forget about email. Much of your company’s precious data may not be in files or spreadsheets but in emails. Although it’s been around for decades, this medium has grown in significance recently as email continues to play a starring role in many legal proceedings. If you haven’t already, establish an email retention policy to specify everyone’s responsibilities when it comes to creating, organizing and deleting (or not deleting) emails.

Virtually every company operating today depends on data, big and small, to compete in its marketplace and achieve profitability. Please contact us regarding cost-effective ways to store, organize and deploy your company’s mission-critical information.

© 2017

Save more for college through the tax advantages of a 529 savings plan

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 09 2017

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With kids back in school, it’s a good time for parents (and grandparents) to think about college funding. One option, which can be especially beneficial if the children in question still have many years until they’ll be starting their higher education, is a Section 529 plan. 

Tax-deferred compounding

529 plans are generally state-sponsored, and the savings-plan option offers the opportunity to potentially build up a significant college nest egg because of tax-deferred compounding. So these plans can be particularly powerful if contributions begin when the child is quite young. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer tax incentives for contributing.

Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.

More pluses

529 plans offer other benefits as well:

  •  They usually have high contribution limits.
  •  There are no income-based phaseouts further limiting contributions.
  •  There’s generally no beneficiary age limit for contributions or distributions.
  • You can control the account, even after the child is a legal adult.
  • You can make tax-free rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions, which means you can make up to a $70,000 contribution (or $140,000 if you split the gift with your spouse) in 2017. In the case of grandparents, this also can avoid generation-skipping transfer taxes.

Minimal minuses

One negative of a 529 plan is that your investment options are limited. Another is that you can make changes to your options only twice a year or if you change the beneficiary.
 
But whenever you make a new contribution, you can choose a different option for that contribution, no matter how many times you contribute during the year. Also, you can make a tax-free rollover to another 529 plan for the same child every 12 months.

We’ve focused on 529 savings plans here; a prepaid tuition version of 529 plans is also available. If you’d like to learn more about either type of 529 plan, please contact us. We can also tell you about other tax-smart strategies for funding education expenses.

© 2017

Critical connection: How costs impact pricing

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 08 2017

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As we head toward year end, your company may be reviewing its business strategy for 2017 or devising plans for 2018. As you do so, be sure to give some attention to the prices you’re asking for your existing products and services, as well as those you plan to launch in the near future.

The cost of production is a logical starting point. After all, if your prices don’t exceed costs over the long run, your business will fail. This critical connection demands regular re-evaluation. 

Reconsider everything

One simple way to assess costs is to apply a desired “markup” percentage to your expected costs. For example, if it costs $1 to produce a widget and you want to achieve a 10% return, your selling price should be $1.10. 

Of course, you’ve got to factor more than just direct materials and labor into the equation. You should consider all of the costs of producing, marketing and distributing your products, including overhead expenses. Some indirect costs, such as sales commissions and shipping, vary based on the number of units you sell. But most are fixed in the current accounting period, including rent, research and development, depreciation, insurance, and selling and administrative salaries.

“Product costing” refers to the process of spreading these variable and fixed costs over the units you expect to sell. The trick to getting this allocation right is to accurately predict demand.

Deliberate over demand

Changing demand is an important factor to consider. Incurring higher costs in the short term may be worth it if you reasonably believe that rising customer demand will eventually enable you to cover expenses and turn a profit. In other words, rising demand can reduce per-unit costs and increase margin.

Determining the number of units people will buy is generally easier when you’re:

• Re-evaluating the prices of existing products that have a predictable sales history, or
• 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 — especially if there’s nothing like it in the marketplace. But if you don’t factor customer and market considerations into your pricing decisions, you could be missing out on money-making opportunities.

Check your wiring

Like an electrical outlet and plug, the connection between costs and pricing can grow loose over time and sometimes short out completely. Don’t risk operating in the dark. Our firm can help you make pricing decisions that balance ambitiousness and reason.

© 2017

2 ways spouse-owned businesses can reduce their self-employment tax bill

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 07 2017

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If you own a profitable, unincorporated business with your spouse, you probably find the high self-employment (SE) tax bills burdensome. An unincorporated 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 spouse-owned businesses can lower their combined SE tax hit. Here are two. 

1. Establish that you don’t have a spouse-owned partnership

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:

  • The spouses have no discernible partnership agreement, and
  • The business hasn’t been represented as a partnership to third parties, such as banks and customers.

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). 

2. Establish that you don’t have a 50/50 spouse-owned partnership 

Even if you do have a spouse-owned partnership, it’s not a given that it’s a 50/50 one. 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. 

© 2017

Sweeping tax changes proposed for individuals and business in House-released bill

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 06 2017

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On November 2, after months of discussion, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee released its sweeping bill to reform the tax code. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the individual and business provisions in the 429-page Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Generally, the changes would go into effect after December 31, 2017, but there are exceptions.

Individual tax breaks

TAX BRACKETS WOULD BE REDUCED.

Currently, there are seven individual tax brackets of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35% and 39.6%. Under the proposed bill, there would be four brackets of 12%, 25%, 35% and 39.6%. The 39.6% bracket would begin to apply to married couples filing jointly with a $1 million annual income ($500,000 for other filers).

STANDARD DEDUCTION WOULD BE INCREASED.

Under current law, the standard deduction for 2017 is $6,350 for single taxpayers and $12,700 for married couples filing jointly. Under the proposed plan, the standard deduction amounts would increase to $12,000 and $24,000, respectively.

THE DEDUCTION FOR PERSONAL EXEMPTIONS WOULD BE REPEALED.

Taxpayers can currently claim personal exemptions for themselves, their spouses and any dependents. For 2017, taxpayers can deduct $4,050 for each personal exemption, but these tax breaks are phased out as adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $261,500 for singles and $313,800 for married joint filers.

THERE WOULD BE AN INCREASED CHILD TAX CREDIT AND A NEW FAMILY CREDIT.

Currently, parents can claim a tax credit of $1,000 for each qualifying child under the age of 17. The credit begins to phase out once AGI is over $75,000 for singles and $110,000 for joint filers. Under the bill, the child tax credit would be increased to $1,600. An additional credit of $300 would be allowed for family members who aren’t qualifying children for tax years before 2023. There are a number of rules and qualifications for these proposed credits, including phaseout amounts.

THE ALTERNATIVE MINIMUM TAX WOULD BE REPEALED AND THE ESTATE TAX WOULD EVENTUALLY DISAPPEAR.

Under the proposal, the estate tax exemption would increase from $5.49 million in 2017 to $10 million in 2018 (indexed for inflation) and the estate tax (along with the generation-skipping transfer tax) would be completely phased out in six years. The gift tax would remain.

THE CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTION DEDUCTION WOULD BE RETAINED.

But several changes would be made to the rules applicable to donations made after 2017. In addition, a special rule that provides a charitable deduction of 80% of the amount paid for the right to purchase tickets for college athletic events would also be repealed.

A NUMBER OF PERSONAL TAX BREAKS WOULD BE REPEALED.

These include the deductions for state and local income or sales taxes, personal casualty losses, medical expenses, alimony payments, moving expenses, student loan interest, tax preparation expenses and more. The adoption tax credit and the credit for plug-in electric vehicles would be repealed, as would the credit for taxpayers age 65 and older or those who are retired and disabled.

Homeowner tax breaks

ACQUISITION DEBT LIMIT FOR MORTGAGE INTEREST DEDUCTION WOULD BE REDUCED.

Currently, an itemized deduction for mortgage interest can be claimed for a principal residence and one other residence on up to $1 million of acquisition debt and up to $100,000 in home equity debt. Under the proposed bill, the $1 million limitation would be reduced to $500,000 for homes purchased after November 2, 2017, and interest could be deducted only on a principal residence. Home equity debt incurred after the effective date wouldn’t be deductible.

PROPERTY TAX DEDUCTION WOULD BE LIMITED.

Currently, there’s no limit on the deduction for state and local property taxes. Under the bill, the deduction would be limited to $10,000.

RULES FOR PRINCIPAL RESIDENCE GAIN EXCLUSION WOULD BE TIGHTENED.

In order to claim the principal residence exclusion of up to $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for joint filers, a taxpayer would generally have to own and use the home for five out of the previous eight years. Currently, the property must be owned and used for only two out of the previous five years.

Business tax breaks

THE CORPORATE TAX RATE WOULD BE REDUCED.

The current maximum corporate rate of 35% would decrease to 20%. Personal service corporations (such as law, architecture and accounting firms) would be subject to a 25% tax rate.

A SPECIAL RATE WOULD BE ESTABLISHED FOR “PASS-THROUGH ENTITIES.”

Currently, owners and shareholders of businesses organized as sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations report net income on their individual tax returns at rates of up to 39.6%. Under the proposal, a portion of net income distributed by a pass-through entity to an owner or shareholder could be treated as “business income” subject to a maximum rate of 25%. The remaining net business income would be treated as compensation and continue to be subject to ordinary individual income tax rates. A number of other rules would be added for pass-through entities.

ENHANCED EXPENSING OF QUALIFIED PROPERTY WOULD BE PERMITTED FOR FIVE YEARS.

Under the proposed bill, instead of bonus depreciation, businesses could fully and immediately expense 100% of the cost of qualified property 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). There would also be enhancements made to the Section 179 expensing deduction.

LIMITS WOULD BE PLACED ON POPULAR TAX STRATEGIES.

This would include limits on businesses claiming net operating losses and on taxpayers engaging in Section 1031 like-kind exchanges.

A NUMBER OF BUSINESS TAX BREAKS WOULD BE REPEALED.

The domestic production activities deduction would be repealed. In addition, no deduction would be allowed for entertainment and recreation activities or facilities. (Currently, a deduction of up to 50% of such expenses is allowed if they’re directly related to a taxpayer’s trade or business.) A number of other tax breaks would also be eliminated, including the Work Opportunity tax credit for hiring employees belonging to certain target groups, the credit for employer-provided child care, the credit for expenses to rehabilitate old and historic buildings, the credit for expenses related to providing access to disabled individuals, and more.

Stay tuned

These are only some of the changes in the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. For example, there are many additional provisions related to taxation of foreign income.

And it’s likely the bill is far from final. In fact, it has been described by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee as a starting point for negotiations. The bill could go through revisions, beginning the week of November 6. Lawmakers and special interest groups will weigh in with their views, including criticisms that the changes will add to the federal deficit.

President Trump and GOP lawmakers would like to pass tax reform sooner rather than later. However, before that can happen, a bill would have to be voted on by the full House and the Senate, which is working on its own tax plan. We’ll keep you updated on all major tax reform news.

How long should you retain payroll records?

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 03 2017

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Employers must exert a certain amount of time and resources to properly retaining their income tax records. But these aren’t the only documents you need to maintain. Retention of your organization’s payroll records is also important.

Rule of thumb

Most employers must withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes from their employees’ paychecks. As such, you must keep records relating to these taxes for at least four years after the due date of an employee’s personal income tax return (generally, April 15) for the year in which the payment was made. This is often referred to as the “records-in-general rule.” 

These records include your Employer Identification Number, as well as your employees’ names, addresses, occupations and Social Security numbers. You should also keep for four years the total amounts and dates of payments of compensation and amounts withheld for taxes or otherwise ― including reported tips and the fair market value of noncash payments.

It’s also important to track and retain the compensation amounts subject to withholding for federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and the corresponding amounts withheld for each tax (and the date withheld if withholding occurred on a day different from the payment date). Where applicable, note the reason(s) why total compensation and taxable amount for each tax rate are different.

Other data and documents

A variety of other data and documents fall under the records-in-general rule. Examples include:

• The pay period covered by each payment of compensation,
• The employee’s Form W-4, “Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate,” 
• Each employee’s beginning and ending dates of employment,
• Statements provided by employees reporting tips received,
• Fringe benefits provided to employees and any required substantiation,
• Adjustments or settlements of taxes, and
• Amounts and dates of tax deposits.

Follow the rule, too, for records relating to wage continuation payments made to employees by the employer or third party under an accident or health plan. Such records should include the beginning and ending dates of the period of absence, and the amount and weekly rate of each payment (including payments made by third parties). Also keep copies of each employee’s Form W-4S, “Request for Federal Income Tax Withholding From Sick Pay,” and, where applicable, copies of Form 8922, “Third-Party Sick Pay Recap.”

Simple rule, complex info

As you can see, the records-in-general rule is fairly simple, but the various forms and types of information involved are complex. Please contact our firm for assistance in managing the financial aspects of your role as an employer.

© 2017

Welcome to Our Blog!

Posted by Admin Posted on Nov 12 2015
This is the home of our new blog. Check back often for updates!