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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Year end can’t get here soon enough for some business owners — especially those whose companies have exceeded their annual budgets. If you find yourself in this unenviable position, you can still cut costs to either improve this year’s financial picture or put yourself in a better position for next year.
Tackle staffing issues
It’s easy to put off tough staffing decisions, but those issues may represent an unnecessary drain on your finances. If you have employees who don’t have enough work to keep busy, think about restructuring jobs so everyone’s productive. You might let go of extra staff, or, alternatively, offer mostly idle workers unpaid time off during slow periods.
You also need to face the hard facts about underperforming workers. Few business owners enjoy firing anyone, but it makes little sense to continue to pay poor performers.
Take control of purchasing
Are you getting the most out of your company’s combined purchasing power? You may have different departments independently buying the same supplies or services (for example, paper, computers, photocopying). By consolidating such purchases, you might be able to negotiate reduced prices.
To strengthen your bargaining power with suppliers when seeking discounts, pay your bills promptly. Even if it doesn’t help you land reduced prices, you’ll avoid late payment fees and credit card interest charges.
But don’t just continue to pay bills mindlessly. Review all of your service invoices — especially those that are automatically deducted from your bank accounts or charged to credit cards — to confirm you’re actually using the services. Consider canceling any services you haven’t used in 90 days.
Redirect your marketing efforts
Advertising costs can take a significant bite out of your budget, and the priciest efforts often have the lowest returns on investment. Cut programs and initiatives that haven’t clearly paid off, and move your marketing to social media and other more cost-efficient avenues — at least temporarily. A single, positively received tweet may reach exponentially more people than a costly directory listing, print ad or trade show booth.
Resist the urge to solve your budget shortfalls with one dramatic cut — the risks are simply too high. The better approach is to execute a combination of incremental actions that will add up to savings. Contact us for a full assessment of your company’s budget.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Any business owner developing a succession plan should rightfully assume that regular business valuations are a must. When envisioning the valuation process, you’re likely to focus on its end result: a reasonable, defensible value estimate of your business as of a certain date. But lurking beneath this number is a variety of often hard-to-see issues.
Estate tax liability
One sometimes blurry issue is the valuation implications of whether you intend to transfer the business to the next generation during your lifetime, at your death or upon your spouse’s death. If, for example, you decide to bequeath the company to your spouse, no estate tax will be due upon your death because of the marital deduction (as long as your spouse is a U.S. citizen). But estate tax may be due on your spouse’s death, depending on the business’s value and estate tax laws at the time.
Speaking of which, President Trump and congressional Republicans have called for an estate tax repeal under the “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” issued in late September. But there’s no guarantee such a provision will pass and, even if it does, the repeal might be only temporary.
So an owner may be tempted to minimize the company’s value to reduce the future estate tax liability on the spouse’s death. But be aware that businesses that appear to have been undervalued in an effort to minimize taxes will raise a red flag with the IRS.
Inactive heirs and retirement
Bear in mind, too, that your heirs may have different views of the business’s proper value. This is particularly true of “inactive heirs” ― those who won’t inherit the business and whose share, therefore, may need to be “equalized” with other assets, such as insurance proceeds or real estate. Your appraiser will need to clearly understand the valuation’s purpose and your estate plan.
When (or if) you plan to retire is another major issue to be resolved. If you want your children to take over, but you need to free up cash for retirement, you may be able to sell shares to successors. Several methods (such as using trusts) can provide tax advantages as well as help the children fund a business purchase.
Obtaining a valuation in relation to your succession plan involves much more than establishing a sale price, transitioning ownership (or selling the company), and sauntering off to retirement. The details are many and potential conflicts abundant. Let us help you anticipate and manage these complexities to ensure a smooth succession.
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.
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.
Are you the founder of your company? If so, congratulations — you’ve created something truly amazing! And it’s more than understandable that you’d want to protect your legacy: the company you created.
But, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly important that you give serious thought to a succession plan. When this topic comes up, many business owners show signs of suffering from an all-too-common affliction.
In the nonprofit sphere, they call it “founder’s syndrome.” The term refers to a set of “symptoms” indicating that an organization’s founder maintains a disproportionate amount of power and influence over operations. Although founder’s syndrome is usually associated with not-for-profits, it can give business owners much to think about as well. Common symptoms include:
• 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.
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.
Most of the talk about possible tax legislation this year has focused on either wide-sweeping tax reform or taxes that are part of the Affordable Care Act. But there are a few other potential tax developments for individuals to keep an eye on.
Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The question now is whether Congress will extend them for 2017.
An education break
One break the PATH Act extended through 2016 was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).
You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.
Mortgage-related tax breaks
Under the PATH Act, through 2016 you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.
The PATH Act likewise extended through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modified the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2017 income tax return.
Please check back with us for the latest information. In the meantime, keep in mind that, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2016 income tax return yet, you can take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended returns is October 16, 2017.
“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.
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.
Every business has some degree of ups and downs during the year. But cash flow fluctuations are much more intense for seasonal businesses. So, if your company defines itself as such, it’s important to optimize your operating cycle to anticipate and minimize shortfalls.
A high-growth example
To illustrate: Consider a manufacturer and distributor of lawn-and-garden products such as topsoil, potting soil and ground cover. Its customers are lawn-and-garden retailers, hardware stores and mass merchants.
The company’s operating cycle starts when customers place orders in the fall — nine months ahead of its peak selling season. So the business begins amassing product in the fall, but curtails operations in the winter. In late February, product accumulation continues, with most shipments going out in April.
At this point, a lot of cash has flowed out of the company to pay operating expenses, such as utilities, salaries, raw materials costs and shipping expenses. But cash doesn’t start flowing into the company until customers pay their bills around June. Then, the company counts inventory, pays remaining expenses and starts preparing for the next year. Its strategic selling window — which will determine whether the business succeeds or fails — lasts a mere eight weeks.
The power of projections
Sound familiar? Ideally, a seasonal business such as this should stockpile cash received at the end of its operating cycle, and then use those cash reserves to finance the next operating cycle. But cash reserves may not be enough — especially for high-growth companies.
So, like many seasonal businesses, you might want to apply for a line of credit to avert potential shortfalls. To increase the chances of loan approval, compile a comprehensive loan package, including historical financial statements and tax returns, as well as marketing materials and supplier affidavits (if available).
More important, draft a formal business plan that includes financial projections for next year. Some companies even project financial results for three to five years into the future. Seasonal business owners can’t rely on gut instinct. You need to develop budgets, systems, processes and procedures ahead of the peak season to effectively manage your operating cycle.
Seasonal businesses face many distinctive challenges. Please contact our firm for assistance overcoming these obstacles and strengthening your bottom line.
From the baseball field to the boardroom, statistical analysis has changed various industries nationwide. With proper preparation and guidance, business owners can have at their fingertips a wealth of stats-based insight into how their companies are performing — far beyond the bottom line on an income statement.
The metrics in question are commonly referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs). These formula-based measurements reveal the trends underlying a company’s operations. And seeing those trends can help you find the right path forward and give you fair warning when you’re headed in the wrong direction.
A good place to start is with some of the KPIs that apply to most businesses. For example, take current ratio (current assets / current liabilities). It can help you determine your capacity to meet your short-term liabilities with cash and other relatively liquid assets.
Another KPI to regularly calculate is working capital turnover ratio (revenue / average working capital). Many companies struggle with temperamental cash flows that can wax and wane based on buying trends or seasonal fluctuations. This ratio shows the amount of revenue supported by each dollar of net working capital used.
Debt is also an issue for many businesses. You can monitor your debt-to-equity (total debt / net worth) ratio to measure your degree of leverage. The higher the ratio, the greater the risk that creditors are assuming and the tougher it may be to obtain financing.
There are many other KPIs we could discuss. The exact ones you should look at depend on the size of your company and the nature of its work. Please contact our firm for help choosing the right KPIs and calculating them accurately.
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.
With kids back in school, it’s a good time for parents (and grandparents) to think about college funding. One option, which can be especially beneficial if the children in question still have many years until they’ll be starting their higher education, is a Section 529 plan.
529 plans are generally state-sponsored, and the savings-plan option offers the opportunity to potentially build up a significant college nest egg because of tax-deferred compounding. So these plans can be particularly powerful if contributions begin when the child is quite young. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer tax incentives for contributing.
Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
529 plans offer other benefits as well:
- 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.
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.
As we head toward year end, your company may be reviewing its business strategy for 2017 or devising plans for 2018. As you do so, be sure to give some attention to the prices you’re asking for your existing products and services, as well as those you plan to launch in the near future.
The cost of production is a logical starting point. After all, if your prices don’t exceed costs over the long run, your business will fail. This critical connection demands regular re-evaluation.
One simple way to assess costs is to apply a desired “markup” percentage to your expected costs. For example, if it costs $1 to produce a widget and you want to achieve a 10% return, your selling price should be $1.10.
Of course, you’ve got to factor more than just direct materials and labor into the equation. You should consider all of the costs of producing, marketing and distributing your products, including overhead expenses. Some indirect costs, such as sales commissions and shipping, vary based on the number of units you sell. But most are fixed in the current accounting period, including rent, research and development, depreciation, insurance, and selling and administrative salaries.
“Product costing” refers to the process of spreading these variable and fixed costs over the units you expect to sell. The trick to getting this allocation right is to accurately predict demand.
Deliberate over demand
Changing demand is an important factor to consider. Incurring higher costs in the short term may be worth it if you reasonably believe that rising customer demand will eventually enable you to cover expenses and turn a profit. In other words, rising demand can reduce per-unit costs and increase margin.
Determining the number of units people will buy is generally easier when you’re:
• 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.