IRS Clarifies Deductible Expenses

The Internal Revenue Service has updated the rules to reflect changes resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This article will help you zero in on changes involving deductible expenses and make sure you’re in compliance.

The IRS is offering some updated rules as guidance for deductible expenses that may have been murky as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The rules being updated involve using optional standard mileage rates when figuring the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving expense purposes, among other issues.

There are more succinct rules to substantiate the amount of an employee’s ordinary and necessary travel expenses reimbursed by an employer using the optional standard mileage rates. But know that you’re not required to use this method and that you may substantiate your actual allowable expenses, provided you maintain adequate records.

The TCJA suspended the miscellaneous itemized deduction for most employees with unreimbursed business expenses, including the costs of operating an automobile for business purposes. However, self-employed individuals and certain employees, armed forces reservists, qualifying state or local government officials, educators, and performing artists may continue to deduct unreimbursed business expenses during the suspension.

The TCJA also suspended the deduction for moving expenses. However, this suspension doesn’t apply to a member of the armed forces on active duty who moves pursuant to a military order and incident to a permanent change of station.

The IRS has also made it clear that the TCJA amended prior rules to disallow a deduction for expenses for entertainment, amusement or recreation paid for or incurred after Dec. 31, 2017. Otherwise, allowable meal expenses remain deductible if the food and beverages are purchased separately from the entertainment, or if the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment.

…from the Team of Professional at RE-MMAP We are just a click or call away. www.re-mmap.com and phone # (561-623-0241).

5 Ways to Lower Your SUTA Tax Rate

An employer’s SUTA tax rate is susceptible to fluctuation. If yours is escalating, contrary to popular belief, you actually might be able to reduce it! Check out these five strategiesn provided by personal tax accountant sydney to curb your SUTA tax rate.

Because the State Unemployment Tax Act – or SUTA – tax is mandatory, you may think you have no control over your SUTA rate. But to some extent, you do. The first thing to remember is that each state sets its own criteria for state unemployment tax, and rates vary by employer.

Typically, new employers are assigned a standard “new employer” rate. Over time, they receive an “experience rating,” which can be higher or lower than the new employer rate. The experience rating mainly depends on how many former employees have drawn unemployment benefits on the employer’s account. The more benefits claimed on an employer’s account, the higher its SUTA tax rate. Other determinants may include whether the employer is in the construction industry and the employer’s payroll size.

You may be powerless against some of these influencers – such as your business’s age and industry — but there are other ways to lower your SUTA rate. Here are five tactics.

1. Hire only when needed

Letting employees go because you don’t need them any more likely renders them eligible for unemployment benefits. If they file for unemployment benefits, your SUTA rate is likely to increase. So, make sure you truly need an employee before hiring him or her.

2. Help your employees succeed

Employees terminated for gross misconduct typically do not qualify for unemployment benefits. However, employees fired for poor performance – such as due to lack of skills – may be eligible. To reduce the likelihood of terminating employees for poor performance, give them the resources they need to succeed, including proper tools and training.

3. Use independent contractors

You can avoid unemployment claims by legally hiring independent contractors instead of employees. If you decide to take this route, ensure all mandatory requirements for independent contractor status are met, including the Internal Revenue Service’s “right-to-control” test and applicable state tests.

4. Contest dubious unemployment claims

Dubious unemployment claims may involve former employees providing the state workforce agency with false information to obtain benefits or filing a claim even though they were rightfully terminated for gross misconduct. Before you fight an unemployment claim, consult with unemployment benefits expert to gauge the strength of your case. Also, make sure you have supporting documents to back up your version of events.

5. Make voluntary contributions

Many states allow employers with an experience rating to voluntarily make a “buydown” payment, which cancels all or part of the benefits charged to their account, thereby reducing their SUTA tax rate.

More tips

Consider alternatives to layoffs, such as reducing employees’ work hours via your state’s work-sharing program.

Offer departing employees a solid severance package as well as outplacement services to help them quickly find a job. This way, they will be less inclined to rely on unemployment benefits.

Keep an eye on your SUTA tax rate. If it’s spiking for unknown reasons, contact your state’s workforce agency for an explanation.

…from the Team of Professional at RE-MMAP We are just a click or call away. www.re-mmap.com and phone # (561-623-0241).

The Ongoing Problem: Abusive Tax Shelters

As long as there have been taxes, shady promoters have tried to sell taxpayers on schemes to get out of paying their fair share. Learn about abusive tax shelters, and how to recognize and avoid them.

Tax avoidance? Accelerating tax deductions, deferring income, changing one’s tax status through incorporation, and setting up a charitable trust or foundation. All of these are legal tax shelters.

Tax evasion – that’s a different story. In tax evasion, you plan to reduce tax payable through illegal means. Abusive tax shelters reduce taxes, promoting the promise of tax benefits with no meaningful change in your income or net worth.

Turns out that in the 1990s, because penalties were too small to have a deterrent effect, tax shelters became quite popular to cushion one-time large capital gains. But these days, the tide has turned against promoting abusive tax shelters. Today, Treasury regulations and IRS rules dealing with tax shelters note that certain types of transactions will no longer pass muster.

The bottom line? Talk to a professional about legitimate ways to reduce your tax burden. Don’t go to some shady guy your brother-in-law knows, or follow advice in a book written by someone with no distinguished credentials such as “CFP,” “CPA” or “JD” after their names. Various trusts can help with long-term tax planning. And even modest families can legally game the tax system with such vehicles as IRAs, 401(k) plans and 529 plans.

Just in case you’re already considering something not too kosher, note that the IRS has its Dirty Dozen list of tax scams – schemes that encourage the use of phony tax shelters designed to avoid paying what is owed. The IRS warns that you could end up paying a lot more in penalties, back taxes and interest than the phony tax shelter saved you in the first place.

Don’t Try This at Home

One such tax scam on the IRS radar is abusive micro-captive structures: crooked promoters persuade owners of closely-held entities to participate in poorly structured or illegal insurance arrangements. For example, coverages may insure implausible risks, fail to match genuine business needs, or duplicate the taxpayer’s commercial coverages. Premium amounts may be unsupported by underwriting or actuarial analysis may be geared to a desired deduction amount or may be significantly higher than premiums for comparable commercial coverage, according to the IRS. It’s all in the name of illusory tax savings. So only work with qualified professionals.

There is a fine line between legitimate tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion. The IRS says it won’t hesitate to impose penalties on both participants and promoters of abusive tax shelters. Tax fraud convictions can mean fines or even prison. In brief, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

…from the Team of Professional at RE-MMAP We are just a click or call away. www.re-mmap.com and phone # (561-623-0241).

When Businesses Owe the IRS

The IRS urges businesses to file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether you can pay in full. Indeed, you have options if you’re having problems raising the cash.

File all tax returns due, even if you can’t pay in full. File them the same way and to the same location that you file on-time returns. If you’ve received a notice, send your past due return to the location indicated on the notice.

This is advice straight from the IRS. You may be eligible for a long-term payment plan — your specific tax situation will determine what options are available – an installment plan, if you will, that allows you to pay in more than 120 days is one of the available options.

How do you get in on this? You’ve filed all required returns and realize you owe $25,000 or less in combined tax, penalties, and interest. Apply online because setup fees are higher if you apply by phone or mail or in person.

What do you need to apply? The basics – log in with the user ID and password that you receive when you register for an online payment agreement. You’ll need:

  • Your Employer Identification Number.
  • The date your business was established.
  • The address you used on your most recently filed tax return.
  • Your caller ID from the notice, if you received one.
  • Possibly your balance due amount, the tax form filed or examined, and the relevant tax period.

How much is this going to cost you? If the IRS approves your payment plan, you’ll have a fee added to your tax bill. And you should know that if you owe a balance over $10,000, you must pay by direct debit.

If you’ve chosen a long-term payment plan, you’ll be slapped with a $31 setup fee, plus accrued penalties and interest until the balance is paid in full. This works with direct debit. If you don’t want direct debit, you’ll have to pay a $149 setup fee and accrued penalties and interest until the balance is fully paid. Suppose you want to revise an existing payment plan or reinstate a default – the fee is only $10.

To view the details of your current payment plan and log in to the online payment agreement tool, use the Apply/Revise button and make the following changes:

  • Change your monthly payment amount.
  • Change your monthly payment due date.
  • Convert an existing agreement to a direct debit agreement.
  • Reinstate after default.

If your new monthly payment amount doesn’t meet the requirements, you’ll be prompted to revise the payment amount. If you’re unable to make the minimum required, you’ll receive directions for completing Form 433-F, Collection Information Statement, as a PDF, and how to submit it.

If your plan has lapsed through default and is being reinstated, you may incur a reinstatement fee.

…from the Team of Professional at RE-MMAP We are just a click or call away. www.re-mmap.com and phone # (561-623-0241).

Steps for Reconciling IRS Form 941 to Payroll

Form 941 is a crucial tool for ensuring your payroll data is accurately reported to the government and for balancing payroll in general. Get insight into reconciling Form 941 with your payroll on a quarterly and a year-end basis.

Most employers must report employees’ wages paid and taxes withheld plus their own share of certain payroll taxes quarterly to the IRS. Additionally, employers must report each employee’s wages and taxes annually, on Form W-2, to the Social Security Administration. Employers use Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, to report income taxes, Social Security tax or Medicare tax withheld from employees’ paychecks and to pay their portion of Social Security or Medicare tax.

In the end, the information on your quarterly 941s must match your submitted Form W-2s. By reconciling your 941 forms with your payroll, you can verify the accuracy of these filings. For best results, reconciliation should be done on a quarterly and a year-end basis.

Quarterly 941 Reconciliation

Step 1: Run a payroll register for the quarter. The register should show wages and deductions for each employee during that quarter.

Step 2: Compare the data on the payroll register with your 941 for the quarterly period.

Areas to check are:

  • Number of employees who received wages, tips or other compensation.
  • Total compensation paid to employees.
  • Federal income tax withheld from employees’ wages.
  • Taxable Social Security wages and tips.
  • Taxable Medicare wages and tips.
  • Total tax payments made for the quarter, including federal income tax, Social Security tax and Medicare tax withheld from employees’ wages plus your own share of Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Step 3: Fix discrepancies as soon as you find them. For example, you might need to correct the employee’s wages and taxes in your payroll system and file an amended Form 941 for the quarter with the IRS.

Year-End 941 Reconciliation

Step 1: Run a report that shows annual payroll amounts. Compare those figures with the totals reported on all four 941s for the year.

Step 2: Make sure the amounts reported on all the 941s for the year match the respective data fields for your W-2 forms.

For example:

  • For compensation, compare Line 2 of all your 941s with Box 1 of your W-2s.
  • For federal income tax withheld, compare Line 3 of all your 941s with Box 2 of your W-2s.
  • For Social Security wages, compare Line 5a Column 1 of all your 941s with Box 3 of your W-2s.
  • For Social Security tips, compare Line 5b Column 1 of your 941s with Box 7 of your W-2s.
  • For Medicare wages, compare Line 5c Column 1 of your 941s with Box 5 of your W-2s. Also, make sure your total Social Security and Medicare taxes for the year are correct.

Step 3: Perform the necessary adjustments. For example, you may need to file a corrected W-2 form with the SSA and/or an amended 941 with the IRS.

As you can see, this form can get complicated, so it’s a good idea to get professional help with it.

…from the Team of Professional at RE-MMAP We are just a click or call away. www.re-mmap.com and phone # (561-623-0241).

Social Security: Note the Key Changes for 2020

The Social Security Administration has released new numbers for those paying Social Security and those collecting it. Check out the new maximum taxable earnings amount as well as COLA and other key adjustments.

Every year, the Social Security Administration takes a fresh look at its numbers and typically makes adjustments. Here are the basics for 2020 — what has changed, and what hasn’t.

First, the basic percentages have not changed:

  • Employees and employers continue to pay 7.65% each, with the self-employed paying both halves.
  • The Medicare portion remains 1.45% on all earnings, with high earners continuing to pay an additional 0.9% in Medicare taxes.
  • The Social Security portion (OASDI) remains 6.20% on earnings up to the applicable taxable maximum amount — and that’s what’s changing:

Starting in 2020, the maximum taxable amount is $137,700, up from the 2019 maximum of $132,900. This actually affects relatively few workers; the Society for Human Resource Management notes in an article that only about 6% of employees earn more than the current taxable maximum.

Also changing is the retirement earnings test exempt amount. Those who have not yet reached normal retirement age but are collecting benefits will find the SSA withholds $1 in benefits for every $2 in earnings above a certain limit. That limit is $17,640 per year for 2019 and will be $18,240 for 2020. (See the SSA for additional information on how this works.)

Cost-of-living adjustments

Those collecting Social Security will see a slight increase in their checks: Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will receive a 1.6% COLA for 2020. This is based on the increase in the consumer price index from the third quarter of 2018 through the third quarter of 2019, according to the SSA.

detailed fact sheet about the changes is available on the SSA site.

Payroll Taxes: Who’s Responsible?

Any business with employees must withhold money from its employees’ paychecks for income and employment taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes (known as Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes, or FICA), and forward that money to the government. A business that knowingly or unknowingly fails to remit these withheld taxes in a timely manner will find itself in trouble with the IRS.

The IRS may levy a penalty, known as the trust fund recovery penalty, on individuals classified as “responsible persons.” The penalty is equal to 100% of the unpaid federal income and FICA taxes withheld from employees’ pay.

Who’s a Responsible Person?

Any person who is responsible for collecting, accounting for, and paying over withheld taxes and who willfully fails to remit those taxes to the IRS is a responsible person who can be liable for the trust fund recovery penalty. A company’s officers and employees in charge of accounting functions could fall into this category. However, the IRS will take the facts and circumstances of each individual case into consideration.

The IRS states that a responsible person may be:

  • An officer or an employee of a corporation
  • A member or employee of a partnership
  • A corporate director or shareholder
  • Another person with authority and control over funds to direct their disbursement
  • Another corporation or third-party payer
  • Payroll service providers

The IRS will target any person who has significant influence over whether certain bills or creditors should be paid or is responsible for day-to-day financial management.

Working With the IRS

If your responsibilities make you a “responsible person,” then you must make certain that all payroll taxes are being correctly withheld and remitted in a timely manner. Talk to a tax advisor if you need to know more about the requirements.

…from the Team of Professional at RE-MMAP We are just a click or call away. www.re-mmap.com and phone # (561-623-0241).

Understanding Sales Tax in the Post-Wayfair World

If your business operates in two or more taxing jurisdictions, the Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair applies to you.

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court decided South Dakota v. Wayfair. Since then, businesses that operate in two or more of the nation’s 10,000-plus tax jurisdictions have been struggling to understand what they need to do to comply with the new definition of economic nexus. Wayfair affects all businesses, from strictly online sellers to manufacturers and wholesalers to brick-and-mortar retailers.

The Court’s ruling was vastly different from its 1992 ruling in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, which found that sales tax did not have to be collected unless the company had a physical presence in the state. Then again, Quill was decided when the Internet was in its infancy.

Understanding Wayfair

Wayfair did not expressly state a threshold for collecting sales tax, but the South Dakota statute in the case stipulates that any out-of-state business that makes $100,000 in sales or that has 200 or more sales in South Dakota must collect sales tax. Although that is a good guideline, businesses need to remember that not all jurisdictions follow it: some are higher and others are lower.

This creates problems for businesses for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Business registration. Every state has different rules about how businesses must register as taxing entities. In some states, it is enough to register at the state level, whereas in others, the business needs to register at the county and municipality level as well. Some jurisdictions may ask businesses to prove they do or do not meet its thresholds. Noncompliance with these requests can lead to steep penalties. Other jurisdictions have voluntary disclosure programs that can help limit exposure.
  • Goods and service exemptions. There is no one standard for taxing goods and services. For example, clothing is not taxed in New Jersey, but in New York, a neighboring state, the only clothing that costs more than $110 is taxed. There is a never-ending list of discrepancies between jurisdictions, and this list can change quickly.
  • Other factors. Your business may need to rethink its operations. For example, is your inventory stored in another jurisdiction?
  • Effective dates. Just as there is no universal list of which goods and services are taxed, there is no one list of effective dates. A new effective date takes effect every time a jurisdiction decides to tax a good or service, exempt one from taxation or impose a new dollar limit.

Analyzing Exposure

The Wayfair ruling is not going away, so businesses need to take several steps to analyze their exposure. Businesses need to:

  • perform a detailed analysis of the business’s annual sales and number of transactions in every jurisdiction in which it operates;
  • determine which goods and services are taxable in each of those jurisdictions;
  • figure out when and where to register, what penalties it may incur and whether registering will make it subject to other taxes, such as franchise taxes; and
  • determine how it will manage sales tax compliance going forward.

Businesses don’t need to do this on their own. Contact us today for professional help in figuring out your business’s sales tax responsibilities.

Family Loans — Tax Considerations

Obtaining financing to start or expand small businesses and buy homes can sometimes be difficult. If your child or grandchild is having a hard time getting a loan from a commercial lender, you may be willing to help out by lending the money yourself. Another thing you might need to consider is a debt consolidation for payday loans in case you have more than one loan.

Have a Written Agreement

Start by putting the loan agreement in writing. This may seem like an unnecessary formality, but without a written loan document, the IRS could argue that the transaction was a gift instead of a loan, potentially creating gift tax issues.

Having written documentation is also important in case the borrower fails to repay all or part of the loan. In that situation, you’d want to be able to show you’re entitled to write off the unpaid amount as a nonbusiness bad debt.

Charge Adequate Interest

The second step is setting an interest rate. While there’s no rule against interest-free loans or loans that have below-market interest rates, in a family context they can lead to tax complications. If you don’t charge sufficient interest, the difference between the amount of interest you actually receive (if any) and the amount you should have received — referred to as “imputed” interest — is taxable to you.

You can avoid the imputed interest rules by charging interest at the appropriate “applicable federal rate” (AFR). The IRS publishes AFRs monthly for loans of different maturities. These rates have been relatively low recently, reflecting the current market interest rate environment. For example, in November 2019, the annual AFR (using a monthly compounding assumption) was:

  • 1.68% for a short-term loan (three or fewer years)
  • 1.59% for a mid-term loan (more than three but no more than nine years)
  • 1.94% for a long-term loan (more than nine years)

These are the minimum rates for intra-family loans initiated in November 2019. For a term loan, the rate can remain fixed for the life of the loan. For a demand loan (one that gives you the right to demand full repayment at any time), you have to charge a floating AFR to avoid imputed interest issues.

Exceptions

When you lend your child or grandchild no more than $100,000, the amount that can be added to your taxable interest income under the below-market interest rate rules generally can’t exceed the borrower’s net investment income. Even better, you won’t have to report any imputed interest if the borrower’s net investment income amounts to $1,000 or less. You can also sidestep imputed interest on small loans of no more than $10,000 (all outstanding principal) provided the borrowed funds aren’t used to buy or carry income-producing assets.

 

Can You Take Advantage of the Research and Development Tax Credit?

You don’t have to wear a while lab coat to claim the federal research and development tax credit if you meet the four criteria outlined in Internal Revenue Code Section 41 and its regulations. Learn why failing to explore this credit may be leaving money on the table.

Many manufacturing companies fail to take advantage of the generous research and development (R&D) tax credit simply because they don’t have staff working in a lab. The Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) definition of R&D is codified at Internal Revenue Code Section 41 and its related regulations — and it may not be exactly what you think it is.

From 2018 to 2027, the estimated value of R&D tax credits to be claimed by U.S. companies is estimated at $163 billion, with $148 billion of that going to corporations.

You can take advantage of this tax credit as long as your company performs activities such as the following:

  • Redesigns its production process to be more efficient.
  • Introduces artificial intelligence or robotics into your manufacturing process.
  • Develops software that enhances your company’s processes or procedures.
  • Designs, constructs or tests product prototypes.
  • Develops second-generation or improved products.

This list is not all-inclusive. According to the IRS, many activities may qualify if they are performed in the United States and meet the following four-part test.

Part 1. Permitted purpose

The IRS test is to create a new or improved product, business component or process that increases performance, function, reliability, composition or quality or that reduces costs for your company. It does not have to be new to your industry.

Development of internal use software may meet the permitted purpose test if it:

  • is an innovation that provides economically significant results;
  • requires a certain amount of economic risk and use of resources to develop when recovery of the cost is uncertain over a reasonable time; and
  • is not commercially available for the intended purpose, although commercially available software may be eligible if it is significantly modified.

Part 2. Technological in nature

The research must fundamentally rely on the hard or physical sciences, such as engineering, physics, chemistry, biology or computer science.

Part 3. Uncertainty eliminated

You must be able to demonstrate that you’ve attempted to eliminate any uncertainty about the usefulness of the development, improvement or design.

Part 4. Process of experimentation

You must be able to demonstrate during the research process that you’ve experimented and evaluated alternatives. This may have been done through research techniques like modeling, simulation, trial and error or some other method.

Documenting R&D Activities

Claiming the credit requires a lot of supporting documentation, however. It is worth taking the time to assess whether the amount of tax relief you’ll get is worth the effort. For example, you’ll need to determine how much of a credit your company is eligible for, how difficult it will be to document your company’s R&D activities, whether the credit can be used to offset alternative minimum tax liability and whether you can claim previously unused credits.

Many, if not all, manufacturers may find they can reduce their taxes by taking advantage of the federal R&D tax credit. In addition, many states have an R&D credit that is available to manufacturers. It’s worth investigating and we can help. Contact us today to determine whether you should be claiming this credit.

…from the Team of Professional at RE-MMAP We are just a click or call away. www.re-mmap.com and phone # (561-623-0241).