Business or Hobby?

Credit Score Ingredients

When you incorrectly claim your favorite hobby as a business, it’s like waving a red flag that says “Audit Me!” to the IRS. However, there are tax benefits if you can correctly categorize your activity as a business.

Why does hobby versus business activity matter?

Chiefly, you’re allowed to reduce your taxable income by the amount of your qualified business expenses, even if your business activity results in a loss.

On the other hand, you cannot deduct losses from hobby activities. Hobby expenses are treated as miscellaneous itemized deductions and don’t reduce taxable income until they (and other miscellaneous expenses) surpass 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Here are some tips to determine whether you can define your activity as a business.

BUSINESS versus HOBBY
You have a reasonable expectation of making a profit. Profit Motive You may sell occasionally, but making money is not your main goal.
You invest significant personal time and effort. You depend on the resulting income. Effort and Income It’s something you do in your free time; you make the bulk of your money elsewhere.
Your expenses are ordinary and necessary to run your business. Reasonable Expenses Your expenses are driven by your personal preferences and not strictly necessary.
You have a track record in this industry, and/or a history of making profits. Background You don’t have professional training in the field and have rarely or never turned a profit.
You have multiple customers or professional clients. Customers You have few customers, mainly relatives and friends.
You keep professional records, including a separate checkbook and balance sheet; you have business cards, stationery and a branded business website. Professionalism You don’t keep strict professional records of your activities; you don’t have a formal business website or business cards.

The IRS will consider all these factors to make a broad determination whether you operate your activity in a businesslike manner. If you need help ensuring you meet these criteria, reach out to schedule an appointment.

 

Overtime Rules Go Into Overtime

Time Clock

The fate of a Labor Department rule extending mandatory overtime pay to workers by doubling the eligible salary cap is uncertain under the new presidential administration.

The rule introduced by the Labor Department under the direction of former President Barack Obama increases the salary cap for workers eligible to receive mandatory overtime to $47,476. It extends mandatory overtime, or time-and-a-half pay, to workers primarily in managerial or administrative roles in the retail, restaurant, and nonprofit industries.

Opponents of the rule won a court injunction blocking it in November 2016. The case may be abandoned altogether depending on the priorities set by President Donald Trump’s appointee to lead the Labor Department. Andrew Puzder, chief executive of fast food corporation CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc. (owner of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.) is undergoing Senate confirmation for the role. Until the case is resolved, the previous salary cap of $23,660 remains in place.

 

Save

Save

2017 Standard Mileage Rates

The IRS recently announced mileage rates to be used for travel in 2017. The business mileage rate decreases by 0.5 cents while medical and moving mileage rates are lowered by 2 cents. Charitable mileage rates are unchanged.

2017 Standard Mileage Rates
Mileage Rate/Mile
Business Travel 53.5¢
Medical/Moving 17.0¢
Charitable Work 14.0¢
Mileage Rates

Here are the 2016 rates for your reference as well.

2016 Standard Mileage Rates
Mileage Rate/Mile
Business Travel 54.0¢
Medical/Moving 19.0¢
Charitable Work 14.0¢
Mileage Rates

Remember to properly document your mileage to receive full credit for your miles driven.

Last Year’s Tax Bill Makes This Year’s Opportunity

Hand moving chess piece

For the first time in many years, it looks like a last minute tax law change will not upset your ability to fulfill a well thought out tax plan. In addition to making last minute moves to reduce your tax obligation, consider some opportunities to take advantage of recent legislation.

Educators. The $250, above the line deduction is now permanent. If you are a qualified teacher, please make sure you save receipts for your out-of-pocket classroom expenses.

Action: Add up your receipts now. If less than $250, consider your needs prior to the end of the year to maximize your use of this tax law.

Small Business. There are numerous provisions for small business tax savings opportunities in recent tax legislation. Most of them benefit specific industries, but a couple are worth considering for most businesses.

Action: Consider 1st year bonus depreciation and Section 179 provisions to expense qualified capital equipment purchases. Also review your possible use of the Research Credit recently made a permanent part of the tax code.

Seniors who donate. If a senior age 70½ or older, you can now make direct contributions to charities from qualified retirement accounts. The limit is $100,000. The benefit of these direct contributions is they control your adjusted gross income to help you become more tax efficient.

Action: Consider a direct contribution to a preferred charity, especially if you would make the donation with after-tax funds anyway.

Sales tax or state deduction. The option to deduct general sales tax as an itemized deduction versus using state income taxes is now permanent.

Action: Review your situation. If you anticipate low or no state income taxes, but could itemize, you may wish to use this deduction. Remember to keep receipts of any large purchases to track large sales and use tax payements.

Everyone’s health care reporting. Remember to look for your Form 1095 this year. It should accurately report your family’s health care coverage. Many providers of this form have had a hard time getting this information from insurance carriers.

Action: Look for this form in January. Confirm that the information is correctly reported. Notify the provider immediately if the form contains any errors.

Save

Want to Deduct an Event Ticket?

Event stadium

Things to consider

As an employee, can you ever deduct the cost of a sporting event or other ticket on your expense report? Surprisingly, the answer can be yes, but only if you know and abide by the rules.

The accountable plan

If your employer uses accountable plan rules for reimbursing expenses, the IRS will not only provide the ability for you to be reimbursed by your employer for your qualified expenses, it will also allow your employer to deduct the expense on their corporate tax return. To be a qualified expense, three rules must be met:

Number 1 Expenses must be related to the duties and responsibilities of the employee for their employer.
Number 2 The expenses must be properly substantiated in a timely manner. This is usually within 30 to 60 days.
Number 3 Any excess reimbursements to the employee must be returned to the employer.

Applying the rules

To apply these expense deduction rules to a sporting event:

Checkmark There must be a business purpose for attending the event and
Checkmark an employee must accompany a prospective customer, a current customer or supplier to the event.

If you apply these rules, your employer can usually deduct 50% of the ticket cost and related expenses.

What can go wrong?

As you can imagine, the IRS looks closely at those who deduct entertainment as a qualified business expense. Here are some things to watch for:

Caution No customer or supplier is in attendance. Make sure you attend the event with your customer or the tickets are deemed a gift.
Caution The environment does not provide for a quiet place to conduct business. Do not try to deduct concert tickets or sporting events if you do not first meet in a quiet place prior to or after the event to conduct your business affairs.
Caution Over-charging the ticket price. You may only deduct the price of a ticket that is generally available to the public.
Caution Bringing friends. Generally you can include a spouse in the event, but other family members or unrelated guests can raise red flags.

As you can imagine, this area of expense deductibility is often the focus for the IRS during a review. If in doubt, please ask for help and clarification on the deductibility of this type of entertainment expense.

As always, should you have any questions or concerns regarding your situation please feel free to call.

Small Business Tax Review May be in Order

Setting up your business accounting system

The recent tax legislation addresses a number of tax credits and other provisions that impact small business. Planning your business’ tax bill is now more important than ever. Here are some of the key changes:

Point First year bonus depreciation is now available through 2019.
Point Section 179 capital expensing is now $500,000 per year and will be indexed to inflation.
Point The Research and Development Credit is now permanent.
Point The Affordable Care Act requires many small businesses to carry qualified health insurance or face potential penalties.
 Point Other General Business Credits have been extended or made permanent.
Point The flow-through nature of the tax code may now be exposing shareholder income to additional surtax as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Create your cash flow snapshot

Identify your challenges. See if you have months where more cash is going out than is coming into your bank account. This is often when large bills are due. Try to balance these known high-expense months out over the year if at all possible. Common causes are:

Check The holidays
Check Property tax payments
Check Car and homeowners insurance
Check Annual income tax payments
Check Vacations
Bullet Item Build a reserve. If you know there are challenging months, project how much additional cash you will need and begin to save for this reserve in positive cash months.
Bullet Item Cut back on annuities. See what monthly expense drivers are in your life. Can any of them be reduced? Can you live with fewer cell phone add-ons? How about cutting costs in your cable bill? Is it time for an insurance review?
Bullet Item Shop your current services. Some of your larger bills may create an opportunity for savings. This is especially true with homeowners and car insurance.
Bullet Item Don’t confuse savings with cash flow. Think of your savings as the accumulation of positive cash flows from prior months. A high savings balance can often mask a monthly cash flow problem where more is going out than is coming in over a period of time.
Bullet Item Create savings “expense” to add to cash flow. Consider adding a “bill to yourself” in your cash outflows. This money saved is a simple technique to create positive cash flow each month to build an emergency reserve.

 

New Overtime Rules

Timeclock

Employer and employee alert

On May 18, 2016 President Obama and Labor Secretary Perez announced new Department of Labor overtime regulations that go into place December 1, 2016. The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has information everyone needs to know to comply with these new rules.

Watch icon

Any worker making $47,476 or less must be paid overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 in a given week. This is true whether the employee receives a salary or hourly pay. The overtime rate must be at least time and one-half.
Watch icon Up to 10% of the compensation amount can be in the form of nondiscretionary bonuses or incentives.
Watch icon Highly compensated employees (HCE) is now defined as $134,004 or higher. The old rate was $100,000. Those above these income levels are exempt from the overtime rules as long as a minimal duties test is met.
Watch icon The new rule is effective December 1, 2016
Watch icon The wage amount will automatically reset every three years. The next change will be January 1, 2020.
Watch icon Actual implementation documentation has not been published in the Federal Register. Final regulations could still change slightly.

What this means to you

Watch icon There will be change. Any salaried employee who makes less than the $47,476 amount will see a change. It could take any of the following forms:

Point move from salaried employee to hourly employee
Point a raise to $47,476 or more
Point move from a flexible work-week to a scheduled work-week to comply with a strict 40 hour work week
Point increase in the tracking of hours
Watch icon Flex hours a thing of the past? Your work hours must now be tracked. Because of this, working from home and working flexible hours is more difficult. While the legal burden of reporting is placed on employers, employees will now need to track their work time.
Watch icon Required reporting. While the Department of Labor provides flexibility on how employers track hours, the standard of reporting will probably be tested through legal action. Here are some of the options per the Department of Labor.

Point Time clock. Have everyone track their hours by punching in and out.
Point Personal recordkeeping. Have each employee track their daily hours and report them to the employer each pay period on a timesheet.
Point Hard scheduling. Publish a schedule of hours for each employee. Record any deviation from the schedule and place the documentation with payroll records.

Note: Please refer the U.S. Department of Labor Fact Sheet #21 for a summary of the FLSA’s recordkeeping regulations.

Watch icon More than a raise. While many are touting this as a potential raise for more than 4 million employees, many believe two other objectives are in play. The first is to broaden employment. Employers may hire additional people to avoid the necessity of paying overtime. The second possible objective is to help re-establish a work and leisure balance.

No matter what the pundits say, the true impact of this change is unknown. The only certainty is that all employers now face additional administrative duties and potential legal action for non-compliance. This includes businesses, schools, and non-profit organizations. What is important at this point is to be aware of the upcoming change and plan for it.

IRS Revises Safe Harbor Repair Regulations

 

CopierIn November the IRS increased the amount your business can expense versus capitalize from $500 to $2,500. This change impacts businesses that do not publish applicable financial statements. The new rule takes effect starting in 2016, but there is audit protection for using this new limit in prior years.

What this means

This new rule is typically referred to as the safe harbor de minimis limit. Now small businesses may expense versus capitalize purchases of equipment that cost less than $2,500 and not have it challenged by the IRS. Without this change, small businesses would need to capitalize these purchases and then recapture the cost using depreciation over many years.

The irony is that with the recent extension of bonus depreciation through 2019, many small businesses would already expense many of these purchases. If this change could impact recent purchases of your business please ask for a review of your situation.

Déjà vù All Over Again

1040 and Gavel

Will the habit of late law changes continue?
The Congressional habit for repeatedly making late tax law changes is now so bad that the IRS is reserving blank lines on the form 1040 for possible law changes this month. Given the potential for retroactive tax law changes in 2015, please prepare for the extension of the following tax laws that expired in 2014. While there is no guarantee that tax law extensions will be made, by being prepared with the proper documentation you can take advantage of any forecasted changes.
Gavel Bullet Educator’s $250 tax deduction
If you are a teacher and have out-of-pocket expenses please keep your receipts. You may be able to deduct up to $250 of qualified expenses even if you do not itemize deductions.
Gavel Bullet State sales tax itemized deduction option
Keep receipts of any large purchases. The sales tax provision allows for you to take either a general sales tax deduction or a state income tax deduction as an itemized deduction.
Gavel Bullet Direct contribution from retirement accounts for qualified seniors
In 2014, qualified seniors who donated funds directly from their retirement plan could exclude the plan withdrawal from income. Hold off using this technique in 2015 until you receive confirmation from Congress this tax law is extended.
Gavel Bullet Itemized deduction for mortgage insurance premium costs
Keep your mortgage insurance documentation for a potential itemized deduction.
Gavel Bullet Changes in small business depreciation
Through late November, 2015 there is no longer bonus first year depreciation. In addition, Section 179 amounts are greatly reduced from $500,000 in qualified assets to $25,000. Even if the law changes, you have little time to purchase and install equipment. Please plan accordingly.
If other late law changes impact you, rest assured those changes will be applied to your tax return as they become known.