Business deductions for meal, vehicle and travel expenses: Document, document, document

Meal, vehicle and travel expenses are common deductions for businesses. But if you don’t properly document these expenses, you could find your deductions denied by the IRS.

A critical requirement

Subject to various rules and limits, business meal (generally 50%), vehicle and travel expenses may be deductible, whether you pay for the expenses directly or reimburse employees for them. Deductibility depends on a variety of factors, but generally the expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” and directly related to the business.

Proper documentation, however, is one of the most critical requirements. And all too often, when the IRS scrutinizes these deductions, taxpayers don’t have the necessary documentation.

What you need to do

Following some simple steps can help ensure you have documentation that will pass muster with the IRS:

Keep receipts or similar documentation. You generally must have receipts, canceled checks or bills that show amounts and dates of business expenses. If you’re deducting vehicle expenses using the standard mileage rate (54.5 cents for 2018), log business miles driven.

Track business purposes. Be sure to record the business purpose of each expense. This is especially important if on the surface an expense could appear to be a personal one. If the business purpose of an expense is clear from the surrounding circumstances, the IRS might not require a written explanation — but it’s probably better to err on the side of caution and document the business purpose anyway.

Require employees to comply. If you reimburse employees for expenses, make sure they provide you with proper documentation. Also be aware that the reimbursements will be treated as taxable compensation to the employee (and subject to income tax and FICA withholding) unless you make them via an “accountable plan.”

Don’t re-create expense logs at year end or when you receive an IRS deficiency notice. Take a moment to record the details in a log or diary at the time of the event or soon after. The IRS considers timely kept records more reliable, plus it’s easier to track expenses as you go than try to re-create a log later. For expense reimbursements, require employees to submit monthly expense reports (which is also generally a requirement for an accountable plan).

Addressing uncertainty

You’ve probably heard that, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, entertainment expenses are no longer deductible. There’s some debate as to whether this includes business meals with actual or prospective clients. Until there’s more certainty on that issue, it’s a good idea to document these expenses. That way you’ll have what you need to deduct them if Congress or the IRS provides clarification that these expenses are indeed still deductible.

For more information about what meal, vehicle and travel expenses are and aren’t deductible — and how to properly document deductible expenses — please contact us.

© 2018

Tax Efficient Charitable Giving

by Joe Ben Combs, CPA

Tax Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

As we all know there are tax benefits associated with donating to charities, religious organizations, universities, etc. We have written in the past about the basics of charitable contributions but we thought it would be good to take it to the next level and share some of the more sophisticated ways we help our clients maximize the tax benefits of their charitable giving. We’ll start with the simplest ideas first.

  1. “Bunching” contributions. You may be familiar with the concept as it is often applied to property taxes. The idea is that if you accelerate next year’s giving into this year (bunching multiple years’ deductions into one year) you can get both deductions this year and then next year you can take the standard deduction that have otherwise been wasted. It’s something I personally have taken advantage of on multiple occasions but it certainly doesn’t make sense for everyone. There are a host of factors that may limit the benefits so it’s definitely worth a quick conversation with your CPA or financial advisor before pulling the trigger.
  2. Qualified charitable distributions. A QCD is a distribution directly from your IRA to a qualified charity. You will not get a deduction for the contribution but the distribution is also not included in your income, which usually yields a better result than if you were to take a taxable distribution and then deduct the charitable contribution. What’s even better is these distributions can be used to satisfy your annual required minimum distributions (RMDs). It is a highly tax efficient way to give to charity. However, there are two major limitations. First, you must be at least age 70 1/2 to make a QCD. Second, the maximum amount you can distribute as a QCD is $100,000 per year.
  3. Donation of appreciated stock. This is one of the most powerful and underutilized charitable giving strategies available. Let’s look at an example to illustrate. Assume you intend to donate $100,000 to a charity. You currently hold a stock that you purchased for $60,000 and now happens to be worth $100,000. You could sell the stock and donate the $100,000 to charity, creating a taxable gain of $40,000 (and a tax hit of $6,000 of tax, assuming a 15% capital gains tax rate). Or you could donate the stock directly to the charity. If you do this, the tax rules allow you to take the same $100,000 deduction as if you had donated cash but avoid recognizing the capital gain. One thing to keep in mind – this strategy cannot be used to avoid short term capital gains as the contributed property must be held for more than a year.
  4. Donor advised funds. A donor advised fund (DAF) essentially functions as a charitable giving account. You are allowed a tax deduction when you contribute to the fund. Once the funds are in the account they are legally no longer in your control but you are allowed to give instructions (technically grant recommendations) to the organization managing the account about how to distribute the funds. They will often even allow you to select how the funds are invested while they are in the account so they continue to grow. This is a great way to manage your charitable giving and can help to facilitate some of the strategies already mentioned. For example, if you want to bunch your contributions this year but you don’t know which charity you want to give to or you just don’t want to give it all right now, you can contribute to your DAF and decide later where and when to distribute the funds. Or let’s say you want to donate a piece of appreciated stock but the organization you want to donate to does not have the structure in place to receive stock donations. You can contribute the stock to your DAF, the DAF will sell the stock, and you can direct the cash proceeds be donated to the charity. DAFs are also a useful tool for those who want to contribute anonymously.
  5. Charitable trusts. There are a variety of trust arrangements that can be used – usually as estate planning tools – to accomplish your charitable goals. We won’t go into all the particulars here but these usually involve a noncharitable beneficiary receiving income for a certain period of time (generally his or her lifetime) and a charitable beneficiary receiving the remainder, or vice versa. Charitable trusts are a good option for those with substantial wealth looking to retain income for their lifetime, maintain control over charitable assets, or create a more flexible plan of disposition for their assets that includes charitable and noncharitable goals. Needless to say, consultation with your CPA and/or attorney is highly recommended before pursuing this option.
  6. Private foundation. For those with substantial wealth who are interested in creating an ongoing charitable operation, a private foundation may be the solution. While these can be expensive to create and maintain, they provide opportunities that none of the previous strategies do. For example, if you are interested in providing free tutoring to underprivileged children in an area that is not served by any other organization, you can create a foundation that does just that. You can claim a tax deduction for contributions to the foundation, maintain control of the operational aspects, and involve friends or family members in the leadership of the organization if desired. Of course there are numerous tax, legal, and administrative considerations to be discussed with your CPA and attorney before going down this road.

2018 Q3 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

July 31

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2018 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See the exception below, under “August 10.”)
  • File a 2017 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.

August 10

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2018 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.

September 17

  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2018 estimated income taxes.
  • If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
    • File a 2017 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
    • Make contributions for 2017 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.

© 2018

2 tax law changes that may affect your business’s 401(k) plan

When you think about recent tax law changes and your business, you’re probably thinking about the new 20% pass-through deduction for qualified business income or the enhancements to depreciation-related breaks. Or you may be contemplating the reduction or elimination of certain business expense deductions. But there are also a couple of recent tax law changes that you need to be aware of if your business sponsors a 401(k) plan.

1. Plan loan repayment extension

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) gives a break to 401(k) plan participants with outstanding loan balances when they leave their employers. While plan sponsors aren’t required to allow loans, many do.

Before 2018, if an employee with an outstanding plan loan left the company sponsoring the plan, he or she would have to repay the loan (or contribute the outstanding balance to an IRA or his or her new employer’s plan) within 60 days to avoid having the loan balance deemed a taxable distribution (and be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty if the employee was under age 59½).

Under the TCJA, beginning in 2018, former employees in this situation have until their tax return filing due date — including extensions — to repay the loan (or contribute the outstanding balance to an IRA or qualified retirement plan) and avoid taxes and penalties.

2. Hardship withdrawal limit increase

Beginning in 2019, the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) eases restrictions on employee 401(k) hardship withdrawals. Most 401(k) plans permit hardship withdrawals, though plan sponsors aren’t required to allow them. Hardship withdrawals are subject to income tax and the 10% early distribution tax penalty.

Currently, hardship withdrawals are limited to the funds employees contributed to the accounts. (Such withdrawals are allowed only if the employee has first taken a loan from the same account.)

Under the BBA, the withdrawal limit will also include accumulated employer matching contributions plus earnings on contributions. If an employee has been participating in your 401(k) for several years, this modification could add substantially to the amount of funds available for withdrawal.

Nest egg harm

These changes might sound beneficial to employees, but in the long run they could actually hurt those who take advantage of them. Most Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement, and taking longer to pay back a plan loan (and thus missing out on potential tax-deferred growth during that time) or taking larger hardship withdrawals can result in a smaller, perhaps much smaller, nest egg at retirement.

So consider educating your employees on the importance of letting their 401(k) accounts grow undisturbed and the potential negative tax consequences of loans and early withdrawals. Please contact us if you have questions.

© 2018

Top 5 tips for small business owners

by Alvin Wu, CPA

Tax Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

 

Top 5 Tips for Small Business Owners

1. Decide on entity structure

When a business outgrows a schedule C, generally, it’s beneficial for small business owners to elect to be a S corporation or a partnership (LLP, LP, LLC etc.) depending on the number of business owners in the entity.  Partnerships normally require at least two partners while S corporations can have one.  One of the main advantages of these two structures are that there is a single level of taxation on the individual return and no tax on the business return.   A corporation on the other hand taxes business owners first on the corporation’s return (21% starting in 2018) and then again on the individual owner’s return when they receive any dividends from the corporation.

2. Keep personal finances separate

It is crucial to have a business checking account to keep personal funds separate from the business.  This makes things easier when creating any cash reconciliations schedules or financial statements, which will inevitably be needed as the business grows.  Future in house or third-party accountants will also have an easier time utilizing the business’s financial records if there are no comingled personal funds, which in turn will save the business owner on fees.

3. Keep a record of any travel expenses and meals

Unfortunately, entertainment expenses for clients was eliminated in the Jobs Act of 2017, however, meals where business is conducted is still 50% deductible.  In addition, travel for business remains 100% deductible.  Keeping an accurate record of these expenses can reduce any tax liability.

4. Take advantage of the de minimis safe harbor

Furniture and equipment with useful life greater than 1 year is required to be capitalized, which forces businesses to only recognize a fraction of the total cost as expense each year for the item’s useful tax life.  Tax years starting January 1st, 2016 and after, the IRS allows businesses and individuals to elect to fully expense items with a cost of less than $2,500.

5. Remember to take office in home deductions

Small business owners often work out of their home office.  The IRS allows business owners to either take the expenses on schedule A, or on the business’s return, assuming the business is no longer on a schedule C.  Keep accurate expense records and consult a tax advisor to optimize the tax benefits of reporting on the individual return vs the business return.

 

The TCJA changes some rules for deducting pass-through business losses

It’s not uncommon for businesses to sometimes generate tax losses. But the losses that can be deducted are limited by tax law in some situations. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) further restricts the amount of losses that sole proprietors, partners, S corporation shareholders and, typically, limited liability company (LLC) members can currently deduct — beginning in 2018. This could negatively impact owners of start-ups and businesses facing adverse conditions.

Before the TCJA

Under pre-TCJA law, an individual taxpayer’s business losses could usually be fully deducted in the tax year when they arose unless:

  • The passive activity loss (PAL) rules or some other provision of tax law limited that favorable outcome, or
  • The business loss was so large that it exceeded taxable income from other sources, creating a net operating loss (NOL).

After the TCJA

The TCJA temporarily changes the rules for deducting an individual taxpayer’s business losses. If your pass-through business generates a tax loss for a tax year beginning in 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct an “excess business loss” in the current year. An excess business loss is the excess of your aggregate business deductions for the tax year over the sum of:

  • Your aggregate business income and gains for the tax year, and
  • $250,000 ($500,000 if you’re a married taxpayer filing jointly).

The excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for NOLs.

For business losses passed through to individuals from S corporations, partnerships and LLCs treated as partnerships for tax purposes, the new excess business loss limitation rules apply at the owner level. In other words, each owner’s allocable share of business income, gain, deduction or loss is passed through to the owner and reported on the owner’s personal federal income tax return for the owner’s tax year that includes the end of the entity’s tax year.

Keep in mind that the new loss limitation rules apply after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your business or rental activity loss, you don’t get to the new loss limitation rules.

Expecting a business loss?

The rationale underlying the new loss limitation rules is to restrict the ability of individual taxpayers to use current-year business losses to offset income from other sources, such as salary, self-employment income, interest, dividends and capital gains.

The practical impact is that your allowable current-year business losses can’t offset more than $250,000 of income from such other sources (or more than $500,000 for joint filers). The requirement that excess business losses be carried forward as an NOL forces you to wait at least one year to get any tax benefit from those excess losses.

If you’re expecting your business to generate a tax loss in 2018, contact us to determine whether you’ll be affected by the new loss limitation rules. We can also provide more information about the PAL and NOL rules.

© 2018

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

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

A review of significant TCJA provisions affecting small businesses

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

Get ready for the new lease standard

A new accounting rule for reporting leases goes into effect in 2019 for public companies. Although private companies have been granted a one-year reprieve, no business should wait until the last minute to start the implementation process. Some recently revised guidance is intended to ease implementation. Here’s an overview of what’s changing.

Old rules, new rules

Under the existing rules, companies must record lease obligations on their balance sheets only if the arrangements are considered financing transactions. Few arrangements get recorded, because accounting rules give companies leeway to arrange the agreements in a way that they can be treated as simple rentals for financial reporting purposes. If an obligation isn’t recorded on a balance sheet, it makes a business look like it is less leveraged than it really is.

In 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued a new standard that calls for major changes to current accounting practices for leases. In a nutshell, Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842), will require companies to recognize on their balance sheets the assets and liabilities associated with rentals.

Most existing arrangements that currently are reported as leases will continue to be reported as leases under the new standard. In addition, the new definition is expected to encompass many more types of arrangements that aren’t reported as leases under current practice.

Revised guidance

Recently, the FASB revised two provisions to make the lease guidance easier to apply:

1. Modified retrospective approach. Upon adoption of the new lease accounting standard, companies may elect to present results using the current lease guidance for prior periods. This will allow management to focus on accounting for current and future transactions under the new rules — rather than looking backward at old leases.

2. Maintenance charges. On March 28, the FASB agreed to give lessors and property managers the option not to separately account for the fees for “common area maintenance” charges, such as security, elevator repairs and snow removal.

In addition, the FASB has provided a practical expedient to utilities, oil-and-gas companies and energy providers that hold rights-of-way to accommodate gas pipelines or electric wires. Under the revised guidance, companies that hold such land easements won’t have to sort through years of old contracts to determine whether they meet the definition of a lease. This practical expedient applies only to existing land easements, however.

Need help?

The lease standard is expected to add more than $1.25 trillion of operating lease obligations to public company balance sheets starting in 2018. How will it affect your business? Contact us to help answer this question and evaluate which of your contracts must be reported as lease obligations under the new rules.

© 2018

TCJA changes to employee benefits tax breaks: 4 negatives and a positive

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) includes many changes that affect tax breaks for employee benefits. Among the changes are four negatives and one positive that will impact not only employees but also the businesses providing the benefits.

4 breaks curtailed

Beginning with the 2018 tax year, the TCJA reduces or eliminates tax breaks in the following areas:

1. Transportation benefits. The TCJA eliminates business deductions for the cost of providing qualified employee transportation fringe benefits, such as parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling. (These benefits are still tax-free to recipient employees.) It also disallows business deductions for the cost of providing commuting transportation to an employee (such as hiring a car service), unless the transportation is necessary for the employee’s safety. And it suspends through 2025 the tax-free benefit of up to $20 a month for bicycle commuting.

2. On-premises meals. The TCJA reduces to 50% a business’s deduction for providing certain meals to employees on the business premises, such as when employees work late or if served in a company cafeteria. (The deduction is scheduled for elimination in 2025.) For employees, the value of these benefits continues to be tax-free.

3. Moving expense reimbursements. The TCJA suspends through 2025 the exclusion from employees’ taxable income of a business’s reimbursements of employees’ qualified moving expenses. However, businesses generally will still be able to deduct such reimbursements.

4. Achievement awards. The TCJA eliminates the business tax deduction and corresponding employee tax exclusion for employee achievement awards that are provided in the form of cash, gift coupons or certificates, vacations, meals, lodging, tickets to sporting or theater events, securities and “other similar items.” However, the tax breaks are still available for gift certificates that allow the recipient to select tangible property from a limited range of items preselected by the employer. The deduction/exclusion limits remain at up to $400 of the value of achievement awards for length of service or safety and $1,600 for awards under a written nondiscriminatory achievement plan.

1 new break

For 2018 and 2019, the TCJA creates a tax credit for wages paid to qualifying employees on family and medical leave. To qualify, a business must offer at least two weeks of annual paid family and medical leave, as described by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), to qualified employees. The paid leave must provide at least 50% of the employee’s wages. Leave required by state or local law or that was already part of the business’s employee benefits program generally doesn’t qualify.

The credit equals a minimum of 12.5% of the amount of wages paid during a leave period. The credit is increased gradually for payments above 50% of wages paid and tops out at 25%. No double-dipping: Employers can’t also deduct wages claimed for the credit.

More rules, limits and changes

Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these breaks, and that the TCJA makes additional changes affecting employee benefits. Contact us for more details.

© 2018