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

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

What is a like-kind exchange?

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

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

Deferred and reverse exchanges

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

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

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

Changes under the TCJA

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

But there’s also some bad news: For 2018 and beyond, the TCJA eliminates tax-deferred like-kind exchange treatment for exchanges of personal property. However, prior-law rules that allow like-kind exchanges of personal property still apply if one leg of an exchange was completed by December 31, 2017, but one leg remained open on that date. Keep in mind that exchanged personal property must be of the same asset or product class.

Complex rules

The rules for like-kind exchanges are complex, so these arrangements present some risks. If, say, you exchange the wrong kind of property or acquire cash or other non-like-kind property in a deal, you may still end up incurring a sizable tax hit. If you’re exploring a like-kind exchange, contact us. We can help you ensure you’re in compliance with the rules.

© 2018

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.

 

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

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

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

Betterment, restoration or adaptation

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

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

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

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

Seeking safety

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

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

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

2017 Sec. 179 benefits

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

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

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

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

Permanent enhancements

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

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

Save now and save later

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

© 2018

For-profit vs. not-for-profit: Compare and contrast financial reporting goals

As the term suggests, for-profit companies are driven primarily by one goal — to maximize profits for their owners. Nonprofits, on the other hand, are generally motivated by a charitable purpose. Here’s how their respective financial statements reflect this difference.

Reporting revenues and expenses

For-profits produce an income statement (also known as a profit and loss statement), listing their revenues, gains, expenses and losses to evaluate financial performance. They report mainly on profitability and increasing assets, which correlate with future dividends and return on investment to owners and shareholders.

By comparison, not-for-profit entities just want revenue to cover the costs of fulfilling their mission now and in the future. They often rely on grants and donations in addition to fees for service income. So they prepare a statement of activities, which lists all revenue less expenses, and classifies the impact on each net asset class.

Many nonprofits currently produce a statement of functional expenses. But a new accounting standard kicks in this year — Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-14, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities. It will require organizations to classify expenses by nature (meaning categories such as salaries and wages, rent, employee benefits and utilities) and function (mainly program services and supporting activities). This information will need to be expressed in a grid format that shows the amount of each natural category spent on each function.

Balance sheet considerations

For-profit companies prepare a balance sheet that lists the owner’s or shareholders’ equity, which is based on the company’s assets, liabilities and prior profits. The equity determines the value of a company’s common and preferred stock.

Nonprofits, which have no owners, prepare a statement of financial position. It also looks at assets, liabilities and prior earnings. The resulting net assets historically have been classified as 1) unrestricted, 2) temporarily restricted, or 3) permanently restricted, based on the presence of donor restrictions. Starting in 2018 for most not-for-profits, the new accounting standard will reduce these classes to two: 1) net assets without donor restrictions and 2) net assets with donor restrictions.

Footnote disclosures

Another key difference: Nonprofits tend to focus more on transparency than for-profit businesses do. Thus, their financial statements and footnotes include a lot of disclosures, such as about the nature and amount of donor-imposed restrictions on net assets. Starting in 2018, ASU No. 2016-14 will require more disclosures on the amount, purpose and type of board designations of net assets. Additional disclosures will be required to outline the availability and liquidity of assets to cover operations in the coming year.

Common denominator

Whether operating for a profit or not, all entities have a common need to produce timely financial statements that stakeholders can trust. Contact us for help reporting accurate financial results for your organization.

© 2018

Small business owners: A SEP may give you one last 2017 tax and retirement saving opportunity

Are you a high-income small-business owner who doesn’t currently have a tax-advantaged retirement plan set up for yourself? A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) may be just what you need, and now may be a great time to establish one. A SEP has high contribution limits and is simple to set up. Best of all, there’s still time to establish a SEP for 2017 and make contributions to it that you can deduct on your 2017 income tax return.

2018 deadlines for 2017

A SEP can be set up as late as the due date (including extensions) of your income tax return for the tax year for which the SEP is to first apply. That means you can establish a SEP for 2017 in 2018 as long as you do it before your 2017 return filing deadline. You have until the same deadline to make 2017 contributions and still claim a potentially hefty deduction on your 2017 return.

Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2017, in order for 2017 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2017 contributions to be made in 2018).

High contribution limits

Contributions to SEPs are discretionary. You can decide how much to contribute each year. But be aware that, if your business has employees other than yourself: 1) Contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for yourself, and 2) employee accounts are immediately 100% vested. The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee.

For 2017, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction) of up to $270,000, subject to a contribution cap of $54,000. (The 2018 limits are $275,000 and $55,000, respectively.)

Simple to set up

A SEP is established by completing and signing the very simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). Form 5305-SEP is not filed with the IRS, but it should be maintained as part of the business’s permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement.

Additional rules and limits do apply to SEPs, but they’re generally much less onerous than those for other retirement plans. Contact us to learn more about SEPs and how they might reduce your tax bill for 2017 and beyond.

© 2018

Claiming bonus depreciation on your 2017 tax return may be particularly beneficial

With bonus depreciation, a business can recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law in December, enhances bonus depreciation.

Typically, taking this break is beneficial. But in certain situations, your business might save more tax long-term by skipping it. That said, claiming bonus depreciation on your 2017 tax return may be particularly beneficial.

Pre- and post-TCJA

Before TCJA, bonus depreciation was 50% and qualified property included new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment), off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified improvement property.

The TCJA significantly expands bonus depreciation: For qualified property placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (or by December 31, 2023, for certain property with longer production periods), the first-year bonus depreciation percentage increases to 100%. In addition, the 100% deduction is allowed for not just new but also used qualifying property.

But be aware that, under the TCJA, beginning in 2018 certain types of businesses may no longer be eligible for bonus depreciation. Examples include real estate businesses and auto dealerships, depending on the specific circumstances.

A good tax strategy • or not?

Generally, if you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation is likely a good tax strategy (though you should also factor in available Section 179 expensing). It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial.

On the other hand, if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax this year, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re paying a higher tax rate.

What to do on your 2017 return

The greater tax-saving power of deductions when rates are higher is why 2017 may be a particularly good year to take bonus depreciation. As you’re probably aware, the TCJA permanently replaces the graduated corporate tax rates of 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21% beginning with the 2018 tax year. It also reduces most individual rates, which benefits owners of pass-through entities such as S corporations, partnerships and, typically, limited liability companies, for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.

If your rate will be lower in 2018, there’s a greater likelihood that taking bonus depreciation for 2017 would save you more tax than taking all of your deduction under normal depreciation schedules over a period of years, especially if the asset meets the deadlines for 100% bonus depreciation.

If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2017 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us.

© 2018

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

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

1. Credit for paying health care coverage premiums

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

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

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

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

2. Credit for starting a retirement plan

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

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

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

Determining eligibility

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

© 2018

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

New tax law impacts M&A in a way you would not expect

I wanted to give you a heads up in the case you had not already seen this that the new tax law has a hidden issue related to M&A.  Since it is so new there is no Code section to refer to, but Paragraph 1504 of the new law adds to the list of assets that are excluded from the definition of capital assets.

 

Prior law excluded copyrights, literary, musical, or artistic compositions, letters or memoranda, or similar property from the definition of a capital asset if the asset is held either by the taxpayer who created the property, or a taxpayer for whom the property was produced.  Seldom in M&A do we see these assets being transferred.  The new law however changes this considerably.  The new law adds to this list patents, inventions, model or design, and a secret formula or process which is held by the taxpayer who created the property (or for whom the property was created).

The added items are encountered many time in the sale of a business.  The problem is that these items are intangibles and the value of these items have, historically been included in the portion of the purchase price that is allocated to goodwill.  Goodwill is a capital asset, and therefore subject to capital gains tax, whereas the previously mentioned items are not capital assets if the sale occurs in 2018 or later and must be excluded from goodwill value.  This give us an opportunity and creates some danger.  The opportunity is now we have another category of purchase price we can negotiate, the danger is if we do not separately state the allocation to these assets and they accidentally end up in the goodwill allocation the IRS could, upon audit make a sizable adjustment for the portion of the goodwill that they deem to be the value of these excluded items.  Fair Market Value in a sale between unrelated parties is whatever they agree upon.  If they do not agree then the IRS will have the ability to create a value.  In most cases the value of a business in excess of the value of its tangible personal or real property is considered “goodwill”.  This represents the value of the cash flow in excess of the tangible asset value.  If the business makes its money from the production of a product that has a patent or uses a secret formula then much of this excess value may actually be attributable to the patent or secret formula, which would render that portion of the purchase price subject to ordinary income tax rates and not be treated as capital gains.  If the value of these excluded assets are separately stated and the value is agreed to in the purchase agreement the IRS would have a hard time adjusting it.

The bottom line is if the business possesses any of the excluded assets it would be wise to allocate a negotiated portion of the purchase price to this class of assets.

Let me know if I can help further.

Harold F. Ingersoll, CPA/ABV/CFF, CVA, CM&AA

Partner at Atchley & Associates, LLP