CPA austin

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

Projecting your business income and expenses for this year and next can allow you to time when you recognize income and incur deductible expenses to your tax advantage. Typically, it’s better to defer tax. This might end up being especially true this year, if tax reform legislation is signed into law.

Timing strategies for businesses

Here are two timing strategies that can help businesses defer taxes:

1. Defer income to next year. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.

2. Accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before December 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.

Potential impact of tax reform

These deferral strategies could be particularly powerful if tax legislation is signed into law this year that reflects the nine-page “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” that President Trump and congressional Republicans released on September 27.

Among other things, the framework calls for reduced tax rates for corporations and flow-through entities as well as the elimination of many business deductions. If such changes were to go into effect in 2018, there could be a significant incentive for businesses to defer income to 2018 and accelerate deductible expenses into 2017.

But if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year (such as if your business is having a bad year in 2017 but the outlook is much brighter for 2018 and you don’t expect that tax rates will go down), consider taking the opposite approach instead — accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses. This will increase your tax bill this year but might save you tax over the two-year period.

Be prepared

Because of tax law uncertainty, in 2017 you may want to wait until closer to the end of the year to implement some of your year-end tax planning strategies. But you need to be ready to act quickly if tax legislation is signed into law. So keep an eye on developments in Washington and contact us to discuss the best strategies for you this year based on your particular situation.

© 2017

Should your business use per diem rates for travel reimbursement?

Updated travel per diem rates go into effect October 1. To simplify recordkeeping, they can be used for reimbursement of ordinary and normal business expenses incurred while employees travel away from home.

Per diem advantages

As long as employees properly account for their business-travel expenses, reimbursements are generally tax-free to the employees and deductible by the employer. But keeping track of actual costs can be a headache.

With the per diem rates, employees don’t have to keep receipts for covered travel expenses. They just need to document the time, place and business purpose of the travel. Assuming that the travel qualifies as a business expense, the employer simply pays the employee the per diem allowance designated for the specific travel destination and deducts the per diem paid.

Although the per diem rates are set by the General Services Administration (GSA) to cover travel by government employees, private employers may use them for tax purposes. The rates are updated annually for the following areas:

  • The 48 states in the continental United States and the District of Columbia (CONUS),
  • Nonstandard Areas (NSAs) that are in CONUS but have per diem rates higher than the standard CONUS rates,
  • Certain areas outside the continental United States, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and U.S. possessions (OCONUS), and
  • Foreign countries.

The rates include amounts for lodging and for meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) but not airfare and other transportation costs.

What’s new?

For October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018, the per diem standard CONUS rate is $144, an increase of $2 over the prior year. This rate consists of $93 for lodging and $51 for M&IE. Also effective October 1, there are 332 NSAs. The following locations have moved from NSAs into the standard CONUS rate:

  • California: Redding
  • Iowa: Cedar Rapids
  • Idaho: Bonners Ferry / Sandpoint
  • North Dakota: Dickenson / Beulah
  • New York: Watertown
  • Ohio: Youngstown
  • Oklahoma: Enid
  • Pennsylvania: Mechanicsburg
  • Texas: Laredo, McAllen, Pearsall and San Angelo
  • Wyoming: Gillette.

There are no new NSA locations.

What’s right for you?

As noted earlier, the per diem changes go into effect on October 1, 2017. During the last three months of 2017, an employer may switch to the new rates or continue with the old rates. But an employer must select one set of rates for this quarter and stick with it; it can’t use the old rates for some employees and the new rates for others.

Because travel expenses often attract IRS attention, they require careful recordkeeping. The per diem method can help, but it’s not the best solution for all employers. An even simpler “high-low” per diem method is also available. And, in some cases, a policy of reimbursing actual expenses could be beneficial, despite the recordkeeping hassles. If you have questions regarding travel expense reimbursements, please contact us.

© 2017

2017 Q4 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 fourth quarter of 2017. 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.

October 16

  • If a calendar-year C corporation that filed an automatic six-month extension:
    • File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
    • Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.

October 31

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)

November 13

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.

December 15

  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the fourth installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.

© 2017

Changes to I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form

Effective September 18, 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a revised version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Federal law requires that this form be used by any employer to ensure and verify your employee’s identity and employment authorization.

What are some of the revisions made to Form I-9?

  • Instructions for Form I-9 have been updated
  • List C – Documents that Establish Employment Authorization has been changed

Some things to consider with this newest form:

  • Employers must being using this newest version of Form I-9 [Form I-9 07/17/17 N]. All previous versions of I-9 after 09/19/17 will not be valid.
  • For any current employees, the previously completed Form I-9 on file will be valid.

For a complete list of formats and instructions available for I-9, please visit the USCIS website: www.uscis.gov/i-9.

Grant Funding and the Benefit of Single Audits

by Jeremy Myers, CPA

Audit Senior Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

 

Austin has a growing population of non-profit organizations who receive grant funds, which can be federal or state sourced and can come in many different sources: Grants, Loans, usages of land, and food / other commodities.  While the receipt of these funds helps organizations meet the needs of the community and reach their missions/goals, there are a number of other requirements that organizations may face.

Grant Monitoring and Reporting

Once an organization receives grant funds, they are typically subject to monitoring from the grantor.  Most grant contracts include either optional or required monitoring.  This monitoring can be performed by the granting agency or by a third party that the granting agency hires to perform monitoring.  This would be in addition to any reports required by the grantors to fill out.  Grant Reporting can range from monthly reimbursement requests, quarterly or annual performance reporting, or cost reports.

Necessary Non-Grant Funding

Many of the non-profit organizations in Austin have to review the requirements of the grant funds they receive and their own ability to meet those requirements.  These requirements may have limitations on both on a time and financial basis.  While organizations will want to receive grant funding, they have to look at the time required to fill out any reporting, keeping records of how the funds were spent, detailed records of those helped, and any necessary hiring and training of the staff to fulfill the grant’s purpose.  Also many grants do not cover some of these necessary items and the organization may not have the resources on its own to cover the costs of running programs in which the grant does not specifically allow.  Non-profits typically have to depend on public support to fill in the gaps the grants do not cover.

Requirements for Uniform Guidance Audit

If an organization who receives federal or state grant funding and expends $750,000 or more, in one year, of federal or state funding (looking at just federal or just state funds, not combined) is required to have an audit under Title 2 U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 200, Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements of Federal Awards, also known as Uniform Guidance.  For example, if an organization receives a $1,000,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services and spends $600,000 in year 1 and $400,000 in year 2 – this organization would not be required to have an audit under Uniform Guidance.  But if that same organization spends $800,000 in year 1 and $200,000 in year 2, they would meet the requirements to have an audit performed under Uniform Guidance.  The main trigger is spending the funds, not receiving the funds, which under the accrual method of accounting means that you will need to account for those expense incurred but not reimbursed during the organization’s fiscal year.  If you are unsure if the funds you have received are subject to Uniform Guidance, you should inquire to the granting agency and look for Catalog Of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) numbers associated with the grant you have received.  Each grant should be tracked by their CFDA numbers as that number will be how the grant funds are presented on the Schedule of Expenditures of Federal or State Awards (SEFA or SESA).

Benefits of a Single Audit

If an organization is subject to a Uniform Guidance audit, then it would be required to go under a full financial and Uniform Guidance audit, also known as a Single Audit.  The term “Single Audit” is used to refer to the idea that an organization would only have to go through one audit versus multiple monitoring by different grantors and could meet any requirements from outside lenders.  The benefits of having a Single Audit performed are:

  • Your organization will have met the requirements of receiving federal or state funding
  • Having an objective view of your organization’s internal controls over both financial and grant programs,
  • Your organization will have audited financial statements that they can use to obtain future funding from both public sources and if necessary from financial institutions.
  • Making sure that your organization is using industry best practices across all aspects of the organization, not just grant or financial reporting
  • Grantors may choose to rely on the results of the Single Audit, the organization may save time from going through additional monitoring.
  • Since one firm can perform a Single Audit, it can be performed in conjunction with your financial audit, there is some dual purpose testing that can be performed that would bring efficiency to the entire Single Audit process.
  • Finally, all Single Audits are uploaded to the Federal Audit Clearinghouse (https://harvester.census.gov/facweb/) and organizations fulfill the requirements of making their financial statements available to the public and to their current and future grantors.

 

If you have any additional questions about Single Audits or requirements under Uniform Guidance, please feel free to reach out to Jeremy Myers (JMyers@atchleycpas.com).

A Simple Technique for Reducing Future Taxes

by Joe Ben Combs, CPA

Tax Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

 

If you’ve ever done any sort of investment planning you’re probably familiar with the concept of tax loss harvesting. This is the practice of selling an investment that has decreased in value and purchasing a comparable investment, triggering capital losses which can be deducted against your other income. (There are a number of associated tax and non-tax issues that we will not address in this article so please consult a financial advisor or tax professional. before executing on this strategy.)

While tax loss harvesting is a great tax-saving move for a lot of people, the exact opposite can be even more beneficial for some and is far less often discussed. Tax gain harvesting is the practice of selling appreciated securities and immediately repurchasing the same or similar securities. Now instead of triggering capital losses you have created potentially taxable gains. So why would you do this?

Long term capital gains (gains on the sale of capital assets held for more than a year) are taxed at reduced rates. For people in most tax brackets this means a rate of 15%. However, if you are in the 10% or 15% tax brackets, qualified dividends and long term capital gains are taxed at 0%!

That’s no tax.

So how does this help you? Why is this beneficial when I could just as easily avoid tax by not selling anything? The benefit is not in the selling but in the repurchasing. By purchasing the same assets at a higher price you are now holding the same investment as before but you have increased your cost basis, thereby reducing future gains. All without any current tax cost. While it won’t save you any tax dollars today, your future self will thank you!

So now that we’ve covered the fun part – there are a few things to watch out for.

  1. First and foremost, the preferential rates only apply to assets held for more than one year. If you are selling shares of a security that you have purchased at various dates, make sure to select lots with the requisite holding period.
  2. While the wash sale rule that applies to loss harvesting (aimed at discouraging the repurchase of a security within 30 days of sale) does not apply to gain harvesting, some mutual funds will not allow an investor who has sold out of the fund to buy back in before a certain time period has passed. You will want to review any potential reinvestment restrictions applicable to the assets you intend to sell so that you can plan accordingly.
  3. Beware of state income taxes. Depending on where you live that 0% rate may not apply and state income taxes may cut into the benefit of the increase in basis. If you’re here in Texas that won’t be an issue but if you live in a state that taxes capital gains it may be something to consider.
  4. While a capital gain itself may avoid taxation, it still increases your adjusted gross income (AGI), which can affect the calculation of a number of credits and deductions. On top of this the additional income may increase the amount of Social Security benefits subject to tax.
  5. If you already have realized losses for the year it may defeat the purpose of harvesting gains, depending on the situation. This is certainly something to discuss with an advisor.

There are a number of other planning considerations that we don’t have time to discuss here but needless to say, we highly recommend discussing this or any other tax planning strategy with a qualified advisor.

3 midyear tax planning strategies for business

Tax reform has been a major topic of discussion in Washington, but it’s still unclear exactly what such legislation will include and whether it will be signed into law this year. However, the last major tax legislation that was signed into law — back in December of 2015 — still has a significant impact on tax planning for businesses. Let’s look at three midyear tax strategies inspired by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act:

  1. Buy equipment. The PATH Act preserved both the generous limits for the Section 179 expensing election and the availability of bonus depreciation. These breaks generally apply to qualified fixed assets, including equipment or machinery, placed in service during the year. For 2017, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $510,000, subject to a $2,030,000 phaseout threshold. Without the PATH Act, the 2017 limits would have been $25,000 and $200,000, respectively. Higher limits are now permanent and subject to inflation indexing.

Additionally, for 2017, your business may be able to claim 50% bonus depreciation for qualified costs in excess of what you expense under Sec. 179. Bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019 before it’s set to expire on December 31, 2019.

  1. Ramp up research. After years of uncertainty, the PATH Act made the research credit permanent. For qualified research expenses, the credit is generally equal to 20% of expenses over a base amount that’s essentially determined using a historical average of research expenses as a percentage of revenues. There’s also an alternative computation for companies that haven’t increased their research expenses substantially over their historical base amounts.

In addition, a small business with $50 million or less in gross receipts may claim the credit against its alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability. And, a start-up company with less than $5 million in gross receipts may claim the credit against up to $250,000 in employer Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes.

  1. Hire workers from “target groups.” Your business may claim the Work Opportunity credit for hiring a worker from one of several “target groups,” such as food stamp recipients and certain veterans. The PATH Act extended the credit through 2019. It also added a new target group: long-term unemployment recipients.

Generally, the maximum Work Opportunity credit is $2,400 per worker. But it’s higher for workers from certain target groups, such as disabled veterans.

One last thing to keep in mind is that, in terms of tax breaks, “permanent” only means that there’s no scheduled expiration date. Congress could still pass legislation that changes or eliminates “permanent” breaks. But it’s unlikely any of the breaks discussed here would be eliminated or reduced for 2017. To keep up to date on tax law changes and get a jump start on your 2017 tax planning, contact us.

© 2017

3 breaks for business charitable donations you may not know about

Donating to charity is more than good business citizenship; it can also save tax. Here are three lesser-known federal income tax breaks for charitable donations by businesses.

  1. Food donations

Charitable write-offs for donated food (such as by restaurants and grocery stores) are normally limited to the lower of the taxpayer’s basis in the food (generally cost) or fair market value (FMV), but an enhanced deduction equals the lesser of:

  • The food’s basis plus one-half the FMV in excess of basis, or
  • Two times the basis.

To qualify, the food must be apparently wholesome at the time it’s donated. Your total charitable write-off for food donations under the enhanced deduction provision can’t exceed:

  • 15% of your net income for the year (before considering the enhanced deduction) from all sole proprietorships, S corporations and partnership businesses (including limited liability companies treated as partnerships for tax purposes) from which food donations were made, or
  • For a C corporation taxpayer, 15% of taxable income for the year (before considering the enhanced deduction).
  1. Qualified conservation contributions

Qualified conservation contributions are charitable donations of real property interests, including remainder interests and easements that restrict the use of real property. For qualified C corporation farming and ranching operations, the maximum write-off for qualified conservation contributions is increased from the normal 10% of adjusted taxable income to 100% of adjusted taxable income.

Qualified conservation contributions in excess of what can be written off in the year of the donation can be carried forward for 15 years.

  1. S corporation appreciated property donations

A favorable tax basis rule is available to shareholders of S corporations that make charitable donations of appreciated property. For such donations, each shareholder’s basis in the S corporation stock is reduced by only the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s tax basis in the donated asset.

Without this provision, a shareholder’s basis reduction would equal the passed-through write-off for the donation (a larger amount than the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s basis in the donated asset). This provision is generally beneficial to shareholders, because it leaves them with higher tax basis in their S corporation shares.

If you believe you may be eligible to claim one or more of these tax breaks, contact us. We can help you determine eligibility, prepare the required documentation and plan for charitable donations in future years.

© 2017

2017 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 second quarter of 2017. 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 2017 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)
  • File a 2016 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 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.

September 15

  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.
  • If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
    • File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
    • Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.

© 2017

Business owners: When it comes to IRS audits, be prepared

If you recently filed your 2016 income tax return (rather than filing for an extension) you may now be wondering whether it’s likely that your business could be audited by the IRS based on your filing. Here’s what every business owner should know about the process.

Catching the IRS’s eye

Many business audits occur randomly, but a variety of tax-return-related items are likely to raise red flags with the IRS and may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:

  • Significant inconsistencies between previous years’ filings and your most current filing,
  • Gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of other businesses in your industry, and
  • Miscalculated or unusually high deductions.

An owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can also catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.

Response measures

If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS won’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.

The good news is that many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the most severe version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors.

More good news: In no instance will the agency demand an immediate response. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. To do so, you’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.

If the IRS selects you for an audit, our firm can help you:

  • Understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always crystal clear),
  • Gather the specific documents and information needed, and
  • Respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.

Don’t let an IRS audit ruin your year — be it this year, next year or whenever that letter shows up in the mail. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one happens in the first place.

© 2017