Dos and Don’ts of Business Expensing

Home office deductions

Knowing whether you can or can’t expense a purchase for business purposes can be complicated. However, there are a few hard-and-fast rules to help you.

According to the IRS, business expenses must be ordinary and necessary to be deductible. That means they are common and accepted in your business, as well as helpful and appropriate. You’ll need to maintain records (such as statements and ledgers) and supporting documents (receipts and invoices) to substantiate your deductions. Certain expenses are subject to extra requirements, as described below.

Travel expenses pertain to business trips and can include transportation to and from airports, your hotel and business meeting places. They also generally include lodging, meals, tips and other related incidentals.

Do: + Maintain trip logs describing your business expenses and the purpose of each. If your trip is mostly for business but includes personal components, separate them in your log. These nondeductible personal items could include extending your stay for a vacation or taking personal side trips.
+ Deduct travel-related meal costs, but only up to the 50 percent limit allowed by the IRS.
Don’t: Rely on estimates to determine the business vs. personal components of your expenses.
Deduct any of your travel expenses if your trip is primarily for personal purposes.
Deduct any of your meal costs if they could be considered unreasonably extravagant.

Entertainment expenses need to be either directly related to or associated with the conduct of your business. That means that business is the main purpose of the activities and it’s highly likely you’ll get income or future business benefits. Expenses from entertainment that aren’t considered directly related may still be deductible if they are associated with your business and happen right before or after an important business discussion.

Do: + Keep records of entertainment expenses, including who was present and clear descriptions of the nature, dates and times of the pertinent business discussions.
+ Deduct up to 50 percent of entertainment expenses, as allowed by the IRS.
Don’t: Claim the costs of pleasure boat outings or entertainment facilities (e.g., hunting lodges) that are not related to business activity.

Business use of your personal car is calculated according to your actual business-related expenses, or by multiplying your business mileage by the prescribed IRS rate (53.5 cents per mile in 2017).

Do: + Log odometer readings for each business trip and record your business purpose.
+ Claim actual business deductions by applying the ratio of your business-miles-to-total mileage.
Don’t: Claim mileage or expenses pertaining to commuting to and from work.

If you have any questions about how to handle your business expenses, reach out for further guidance.

Contractor or Employee?

Company benefits

Knowing the difference is important

Is a worker an independent contractor or an employee? This seemingly simple question is often the contentious subject of IRS audits. As an employer, getting this wrong could cost you plenty in the way of Social Security, Medicare, and other employment-related taxes. Here is what you need to know.

 The basics…

 

As the worker. If you are a contractor and not considered an employee you must:

Bullet Point Employee Pay self-employment taxes (Social Security and Medicare-related taxes)
Bullet Point Employee Make estimated federal and state tax payments.
Bullet Point Employee Handle your own benefits, insurance and bookkeeping.

As the employer. You must ensure your employee versus independent contractor determination is correct. Getting this wrong in the eyes of the IRS can lead to:

Bullet Point Employer Payment and penalties related to Social Security and Medicare taxes.
Bullet Point Employer Payment of possible overtime including penalties for a contractor reclassified as an employee.
Bullet Point Employer Legal obligation to pay for benefits.

Things to consider

When the IRS recharacterizes an independent contractor as an employee they look at the business relationship between the employer and the worker. The IRS focuses on the degree of control exercised by the employer over the work done and they assess the worker’s independence. Here are some guidelines:

Bullet Point Consider The more the employer has the right to control the work (when, how and where the work is done), the more likely the worker is an employee.
Bullet Point Consider The more the financial relationship is controlled by the employer the more likely the relationship will be seen as an employee and not an independent contractor. To clarify this, an independent contractor should have a contract, have multiple customers, invoice the company for work done, and handle financial matters in a professional manner.
Bullet Point Consider The more businesslike the arrangement the more likely you have an independent contractor relationship.

While there are no hard-set rules, the more reasonable your basis for classification and the more consistently it is applied, the more likely an independent contractor classification will not be challenged.

Simplified Home Office Deduction

Time ClockThere’s a simple “safe harbor” home office deduction.

You take the square footage of your office, up to 300 square feet, and multiply it by $5. This gives you a potential $1,500 deduction under the simplified option. However, your savings could be much greater than $1,500, so it’s often worth getting help to calculate your full deduction using the standard rules.

Five Home Office Deduction Mistakes

Home office deductions

If you operate a business out of your home, you may be able to deduct a wide variety of expenses. These may include part of your rent or mortgage costs, insurance, utilities, repairs, maintenance, and cleaning costs related to the space you use.

It is a tricky area of the tax code that’s full of pitfalls for the unwary. Here are some of the top mistakes people make.

Bullet Point Not taking it. This is probably the biggest mistake those with home offices make. Some believe the deduction is too complicated, while others believe taking a home office deduction increases your chance of being audited. While the rules can be complicated, there are now simple home office deduction methods available to every business.
Bullet Point Not exclusive or regular. Your home office must be used exclusively and regularly for your business.
Exclusively: If you use a spare bedroom as a business office, it can’t double as a guest room, a playroom for the kids, or a place to store your hockey gear. Any kind of non-business use can invalidate your deduction.
Regularly: Your office should be the primary place you conduct your regular business activities. That doesn’t mean that you have to use it every day nor does it stop you from doing work outside the office, but it should be the primary place for business activities such as record keeping, billing, making appointments, ordering equipment, or storing supplies.
Bullet Point Mixing use with other work. If you are an employee for someone else in addition to running your own business, be careful in using your home office to do work for your employer. Generally, IRS rules state you can use a home office deduction as an employee only if your employer doesn’t provide you with a local office.Unfortunately, this means if you run a side business out of your home office, you cannot also bring work home from your employer and do it in your home office. That could invalidate your use of the home office deduction.
Bullet Point The recapture problem. If you have been using your home office deduction, including depreciating part of your home, you could be in for a future tax surprise. When you later sell your home you will need to account for this depreciation. The depreciation recapture rules create a possible tax liability for many unsuspecting home office users.
Bullet Point Not Getting Help. There are special rules that apply to your use of the home office deduction if:
You are an employee of someone else.
You are running a daycare or assisted living facility out of your home.
You have a business renting out your primary residence or a vacation home.

 

The home office deduction can be tricky, so ask for help, especially if you fall under one of these cases.

Common Mistakes When Buying or Selling a Business

It is said with every major purchase there’s some kind of remorse either on the part of the buyer or the seller. This can be especially true when buying or selling a business. No matter which side of the negotiating table you sit on, there are some critical areas that could leave you with feelings of regret. Avoid these mistakes and you’ll feel better about your deals after they’re done.

SELLER MISTAKES BUYER MISTAKES
Not researching the value of similar businesses within the industry
Overestimating the value of the company and losing a well-qualified buyer
Insisting on cash-only terms
Selling price
Overpaying based on emotion
Stretching personal resources too thin
Maintaining sloppy financial records that potential buyers cannot trust
Accounting records
Relying on company financials not prepared by a third-party accounting professional
Not requesting payroll returns and other tax filings in the financial review
Agreeing to seller-financing without proper vetting of the buyer’s creditworthiness
Financing
Settling for a high-interest loan, or one with too short a maturity
Selling the assets of the business when it would have been more tax-efficient to sell the corporate shares instead
Assets
Purchasing less than all of the assets used in the business, overlooking items such as licenses, patents or important contractual arrangements
Making a stock-purchase transaction without understanding the benefits of an asset purchase
Neglecting to check the background of the buyer and assessing their ability to run a business
Failing to verify the buyer’s liquid assets
Due diligence
Not asking why the business is for sale
Conducting too little research into the competition or overall industry trends
Not searching for the existence of company loans and other liabilities
Signing a non-compete agreement that is too restrictive in scope or timeframe
Non-compete
Failing to require a non-compete clause from the seller, especially in a service-industry business
Leaving too much of the sale price dependent on the ongoing success of the company
Transition
Having unclear expectations for seller participation in the business after the sale
Not positioning the business to sell well in advance of the first offer
Requesting professional help too late in the sales process
Expert help
Not assembling a team of legal, tax, and insurance experts before agreeing to terms

Buying or selling a business is likely one of the most important transactions an entrepreneur faces. It is always best to seek professional help.

Don’t Forget to Review Your Insurance

Home office deductionsWhen was the last time you reviewed your insurance coverage?

An annual insurance review makes good financial sense.

 

Here are points to consider as you review your various insurance policies.

Bullet Point Health care. If you have an individual policy, investigate whether your employer, union or professional association offers a less expensive group policy.
Bullet Point Long-term care. Long-term care insurance may be advisable if you’re between the ages of 55 and 72 and you don’t have enough assets to fund long-term care.
Bullet Point Life. The protection you need depends on the number of people who rely on you for support. Whole, variable, and universal life policies combine insurance coverage with an investment future. If you want insurance only, consider term life.
Bullet Point Disability. Studies show that less than one in six Americans own enough disability insurance to provide a comfortable lifestyle during a two-year disability. Disability coverage is generally limited to 60 percent to 70 percent of salaried income. If you have adequate emergency funds, electing a longer waiting period for coverage to kick in will reduce your premiums.
Bullet Point Homeowners. With fluctuations in the real estate market, it’s possible that your home is now under- or over-insured. Coverage equal to the current replacement cost (excluding land), not its original cost, is advisable.
Bullet Point Auto. Liability insurance is a must, but consider dropping collision coverage if you can afford to repair or replace the vehicle on your own. Collision insurance is probably required if your car is financed or leased.
Bullet Point Umbrella liability. Personal liability coverage is included with most homeowner and auto policies. However, if you own substantial assets, umbrella coverage will provide additional protection at minimal cost.
Bullet Point Unnecessary insurance. Carefully examine policies with narrowly defined coverage (such as credit, travel, or cancer insurance). They often duplicate other coverage in policies you may already own.

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.

 

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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.

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