Year-End Tax Checklist

Year-End Tax Checklist

Now is a good time to review your year-end tax situation while there is still time to act. Here’s a handy checklist to help you do that. There are details on “must-dos” to get the most out of your charitable donations. As the year draws to a close, there are several tax-saving ideas you should consider. Use this checklist to make sure you don’t miss an opportunity before the year is out.

Bullet Point Retirement distributions and contributions. Make final contributions to your qualified retirement plan, and take any required minimum distributions from your retirement accounts. The penalty for not taking minimum distributions can be high.
Bullet Point Investment management. Rebalance your investment portfolio, and take any final investment gains and losses. Capital losses can be used to net against your capital gains. You can also take up to $3,000 of capital losses in excess of capital gains each year and use it to lower your taxable ordinary income.
Bullet Point Last-minute charitable giving. Make a late-year charitable donation. Even better, make the donation with appreciated stock you’ve owned more than a year. You often can make a larger donation and get a larger deduction without paying capital gains taxes.
Bullet Point Noncash donation opportunity. Gather up noncash items for donation, document the items, and give those in good condition to your favorite charity. Make sure you get a receipt from the charity, and take a photo of the items donated.
Bullet Point Gifts to dependents and others. You may provide gifts to an individual of up to $14,000 per year in total. Remember that all gifts given (birthdays, holidays, etc.) count toward the annual total.
Bullet Point Organize records now. Start collecting and organizing your end-of-year tax records. Estimate your tax liability and make any required estimated tax payments.

 

 

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.

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.

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

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.

 

The Chances of Being Audited

2015 audit statistics show continued changes

What are the Chances?

Every year the IRS publishes the statistics on the number of tax returns they are examining. Provided here are the last three years of published information and a look back to 2008 to see any trends:

Percent of Individual Tax Returns Audited

Fiscal Year Year 2015 2014 2013 2008
All Individual Tax Returns 0.84% 0.86% 0.96% 1.00 %
No Income (AGI) 3.78% 5.26% 6.04% 2.15%
Income under $25,000 1.01% .93% 1.00% .90%
$25,000 – 50,000 .50% .54% .62% .72%
$50,000 – 75,000 .47% .53% .60% .69%
$75,000 – 100,000 .49% .52% .58% .69%
$100,000 – 200,000 .64% .65% .77% .98%
$200,000 – 500,000 1.54% 1.75% 2.06% 1.92%
$500,000 – $1 million 3.81% 3.62% 3.79% 2.98%
$1 million – $5 million 8.42% 6.21% 9.02% 4.02%
$5 million – 10 million 19.44% 10.53% 15.98% 6.47%
$10 million and over 34.69% 16.22% 24.16% 9.77%
Note: These audit rates are stated as a percent of total tax returns in each Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) class as claimed on individual tax returns. In general the examinations are for tax returns filed in the previous calendar year.

Source: IRS Data Books

Observations:

Point Overall, you have less than 1 out of 100 chance of being selected for an audit. The .84% audit rate is down .02% versus 2014.
Point The IRS is continuing its focus on returns with no AGI or negative income. This group’s 3.78% audit rate is down versus last year, but is still significantly higher than the 2.15% audit rate in 2008.
Point The IRS continues its focus on who pays the income tax. Those with incomes over $500,000 continue to have audit rates significantly higher than in 2008.
Point Over 1/3 of those with incomes over $10 million were faced with an audit.

Having good records
Your best defense in case of an audit is retaining adequate records for as long as you need them. This includes retaining copies of original tax returns and any supporting documentation. Please keep all receipts, statements and cancelled checks that support any tax return entry. Also retain legal documents, confirmation of asset purchases, asset sales, real estate transactions, mileage logs, and informational tax forms. Remember the IRS can audit your tax return for three years after the later of the filing date or when you filed your tax return. This time-frame is six years if your income is understated by more than 25%. Include any state record retention requirements as you review when it is safe to destroy old records. This can add one to two years to your recordkeeping requirements

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.