benefits

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.

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

Employee Benefit Plan Audits

by Jeremy Myers, CPA

Senior Audit Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

 

We are getting closer to the time of the year that human resource professionals in every industry are putting together their employee benefit plan’s census to start the process of filing their annual IRS Form 5500.  Depending on the size of your plan, you may file as a small plan or a large plan.  Plan sponsors can review their prior year Form 5500 which details the number of participants at year end. If that number is greater than 100, then you are likely to file as a large plan.  When filing as a large plan, your employee benefit plan is required to be audited by an independent auditor and that audit must be filed with your Form 5500.

Filing Deadlines

For plans with December 31st year end, IRS Form 5500 has a normal filing deadline of July 31st which is extendable to October 15th using Form 5558.

Employee Benefit Plan Audit Requirements

Once a benefit plan reaches 100 or more eligible participants at the beginning of the plan year, the plan is considered to be a large plan and an audit is required.  Eligibility is defined by the plan adoption agreement and is unique to each plan; it does not matter if the employee decides to enroll in the plan or not.

  • 80-120 Rule – There is a specific exemption for plans that have between 80-120 eligible plan participants at the beginning of the plan year to file their Form 5500 the same way it was filed in the previous year. With the 80-120 rule, plans can defer the audit requirement until the plan reaches more than 120 eligible plan participants.  A plan cannot change between a large plan to a small plan unless the plan begins the year with under 100 eligible participants.

Type of Audit – Full-Scope or Limited-Scope

There are two types of audits, Full-Scope or Limited-Scope, based on the certification of plan investments and loan balances.  If the investments are certified by the TPA, typically the Trustee who holds the investments, under 29 CFR 2520.103-8 of the Department of Labor’s Rules and Regulations for Reporting and Disclosure under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, the audit qualifies as a Limited-Scope Audit.  Limited-Scope Audits allow the auditor to rely on the certified investment statements and not perform additional procedures on those investments or loans.  Full-Scope Audits also include an audit of the investment and loan transactions.

What a Limited-Scope Audit Covers

The most common audits are Limited-Scope Audits and we typically test/verify information related to the employees of the plan sponsor(s).  An audit typically consists of the following steps:

  • Insuring that eligibility of participants was determined properly
  • Testing employee and employer contributions for both value and timing in accordance with the plan document and the Department of Labor (DOL) timing guidelines
  • Verifying that loans and distributions were made in accordance with plan documents and vesting schedules
  • Verifying that earnings allocated to plan participants are in line with overall plan investment performance
  • Insuring that the Form 5500 reconciles with the audit, although we do not prepare/provide assurance on the Form 5500, we do review it to insure the required information is presented

Benefits of an Audit

In the case of benefit plan audits, as these can be required once you meet the eligibility criteria mentioned above, I’d like to highlight the benefits you will receive in addition to meeting the DOL requirements:

  • Assurance that your plan is operating in accordance with DOL requirements.
  • If contributions are not being made properly, we can help plan sponsors determine additional funding requirements.
  • We are not the DOL and we will help your plan stay in compliance to limit the impact of a DOL audit.
  • We can make suggestions to help management improve their internal controls, processes, and documentation around plan activities.
  • If forfeitures can be used to pay plan expenses, the audit qualifies to be paid out of the forfeiture account.

If you have any additional questions about Employee Benefit Plan Audits, please feel free to reach out to Jeremy Myers, CPA, Audit Senior Manager via email jmyers@atchleycpas.com or directly at (512) 590-7587.

 

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

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

Meals and entertainment

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

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

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

Transportation

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

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

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

Assessing the impact

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

© 2018

Use qualified auditors for your employee benefit plans

Employee benefit plans with 100 or more participants must generally provide an audit report when filing IRS Form 5500 each year. Plan administrators have fiduciary responsibilities to hire independent qualified public accountants to perform quality audits.

Select a qualified auditor

ERISA guidelines require employee benefit plan auditors to be licensed or certified public accountants. They also require auditors to be independent. In other words, they can’t have a financial interest in the plan or the plan sponsor that would bias their opinion about a plan’s financial condition.

But specialization also matters. The more training and experience that an auditor has with plan audits, the more familiar he or she will be with benefit plan practices and operations, as well as the special auditing standards and rules that apply to such plans. Examples of audit areas that are unique to employee benefit plans include contributions, benefit payments, participant data, and party-in-interest and prohibited transactions.

Ask questions

Employee benefit plan audits are a matter of more than just compliance. The auditor’s report highlights any problems unearthed during the audit, which can serve as a springboard for improving plan operations. The conclusion of audit work is a good time to ask such questions as the following:

  • Have plan assets covered by the audit been fairly valued?
  • Are plan obligations properly stated and described?
  • Were contributions to the plan received in a timely manner?
  • Were benefit payments made in accordance with plan terms?
  • Did the auditor identify any issues that may impact the plan’s tax status?
  • Did the auditor identify any transactions that are prohibited under ERISA?

Experienced auditors can also suggest ways to improve your plan’s operations based on their audit findings.

Protect yourself

Employee benefit plan audits offer critical protection to plan administrators and employees. Your company can’t afford to skimp when it comes to hiring an auditor who is unbiased, experienced and reliable. Contact us for more information on hiring a plan auditor.

© 2017

Take small-business tax credits where credits are due

Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, making them particularly valuable. Two available credits are especially for small businesses that provide certain employee benefits. And one of them might not be available after 2017.
1. Small-business health care credit
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, provided it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium.
For 2016, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $25,000 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,000.
To qualify for the credit, online enrollment in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) generally is required. In addition, the credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.)
If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2016 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away for 2018 because lawmakers in Washington are starting to take steps to repeal or replace the ACA.
Most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2018 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2016, you may also be able to claim it on your 2017 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the credit while it’s available.
2. Retirement plan credit 
Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs.
Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.
If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2016, it might not be too late. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions.
Maximize tax savings
Be aware that additional rules apply beyond what we’ve discussed here. We can help you determine whether you’re eligible for these credits. We can also advise you on what other credits you might be eligible for when you file your 2016 return so that you can maximize your tax savings.
© 2017

Will your business have a net operating loss? Make the most of it

When the deductible expenses of a business exceed its income, a net operating loss (NOL) generally occurs. If you’re planning ahead or filing your income tax return after an extension request and you find that your business has a qualifying NOL, there’s some good news: The loss may generate some tax benefits.

Carrying back or forward

The specific rules and exact computations to figure an NOL can be complex. But when a business incurs a qualifying NOL, the loss can be carried back up to two years, and any remaining amount can be carried forward up to 20 years. The carryback can generate an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow during a time when you need it.

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

Your situation is unique

Your business may want to opt for a carryforward if its alternative minimum tax liability in previous years makes the carryback less beneficial. In the case of flow-through entities, owners might be able to reap individual tax benefits from the NOL. Also note that there are different NOL rules for farming businesses.

Please contact us if you’d like more information on the NOL rules and how you can maximize the tax benefits of an NOL.

© 2016