Choosing the right accounting method for tax purposes

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) liberalized the eligibility rules for using the cash method of accounting, making this method — which is simpler than the accrual method — available to more businesses. Now the IRS has provided procedures a small business taxpayer can use to obtain automatic consent to change its method of accounting under the TCJA. If you have the option to use either accounting method, it pays to consider whether switching methods would be beneficial.

Cash vs. accrual

Generally, cash-basis businesses recognize income when it’s received and deduct expenses when they’re paid. Accrual-basis businesses, on the other hand, recognize income when it’s earned and deduct expenses when they’re incurred, without regard to the timing of cash receipts or payments.

In most cases, a business is permitted to use the cash method of accounting for tax purposes unless it’s:

  1. Expressly prohibited from using the cash method, or
  2. Expressly required to use the accrual method.

Cash method advantages

The cash method offers several advantages, including:

Simplicity. It’s easier and cheaper to implement and maintain.

Tax-planning flexibility. It offers greater flexibility to control the timing of income and deductible expenses. For example, it allows you to defer income to next year by delaying invoices or to shift deductions into this year by accelerating the payment of expenses. An accrual-basis business doesn’t enjoy this flexibility. For example, to defer income, delaying invoices wouldn’t be enough; the business would have to put off shipping products or performing services.

Cash flow benefits. Because income is taxed in the year it’s received, the cash method does a better job of ensuring that a business has the funds it needs to pay its tax bill.

Accrual method advantages

In some cases, the accrual method may offer tax advantages. For example, accrual-basis businesses may be able to use certain tax-planning strategies that aren’t available to cash-basis businesses, such as deducting year-end bonuses that are paid within the first 2½ months of the following year and deferring income on certain advance payments.

The accrual method also does a better job of matching income and expenses, so it provides a more accurate picture of a business’s financial performance. That’s why it’s required under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

If your business prepares GAAP-compliant financial statements, you can still use the cash method for tax purposes. But weigh the cost of maintaining two sets of books against the potential tax benefits.

Making a change

Keep in mind that cash and accrual are the two primary tax accounting methods, but they’re not the only ones. Some businesses may qualify for a different method, such as a hybrid of the cash and accrual methods.

If your business is eligible for more than one method, we can help you determine whether switching methods would make sense and can execute the change for you if appropriate.

Choosing the best business entity structure post-TCJA

For tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) created a flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations. Under prior law, C corporations were taxed at rates as high as 35%. The TCJA also reduced individual income tax rates, which apply to sole proprietorships and pass-through entities, including partnerships, S corporations, and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). The top rate, however, dropped only slightly, from 39.6% to 37%.

On the surface, that may make choosing C corporation structure seem like a no-brainer. But there are many other considerations involved.

Conventional wisdom

Under prior tax law, conventional wisdom was that most small businesses should be set up as sole proprietorships or pass-through entities to avoid the double taxation of C corporations: A C corporation pays entity-level income tax and then shareholders pay tax on dividends — and on capital gains when they sell the stock. For pass-through entities, there’s no federal income tax at the entity level.

Although C corporations are still potentially subject to double taxation under the TCJA, their new 21% tax rate helps make up for it. This issue is further complicated, however, by another provision of the TCJA that allows noncorporate owners of pass-through entities to take a deduction equal to as much as 20% of qualified business income (QBI), subject to various limits. But, unless Congress extends it, the break is available only for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when deciding how to structure a business. The best choice depends on your business’s unique situation and your situation as an owner.

3 common scenarios

Here are three common scenarios and the entity-choice implications:

  1. Business generates tax losses. For a business that consistently generates losses, there’s no tax advantage to operating as a C corporation. Losses from C corporations can’t be deducted by their owners. A pass-through entity will generally make more sense because losses pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns.
  2. Business distributes all profits to owners. For a profitable business that pays out all income to the owners, operating as a pass-through entity generally will be better if significant QBI deductions are available. If not, it’s probably a toss-up in terms of tax liability.
  3. Business retains all profits to finance growth. For a business that’s profitable but holds on to its profits to fund future growth strategies, operating as a C corporation generally will be advantageous if the corporation is a qualified small business (QSB). Why? A 100% gain exclusion may be available for QSB stock sale gains. If QSB status is unavailable, operating as a C corporation is still probably preferred — unless significant QBI deductions would be available at the owner level.

Many considerations

These are only some of the issues to consider when making the C corporation vs. pass-through entity choice. We can help you evaluate your options

 

C corp vs  S-Corp Launch Consulting

Two-income Families Should Check Withholding Amount

Two income families and those who work multiple jobs typically end up under-withheld. We recommend using the IRS Withholding Calculator to help navigate the complexities of multiple employer tax situations and to determine if the correct amount of tax for each employer is being withheld.

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which will affect 2018 tax returns that will be filed in early 2019, makes checking withholding amounts even more important. These tax law changes include:

  • Increased standard deduction
  • Eliminated personal exemptions
  • Increased Child Tax Credit
  • Limited or discontinued certain deductions
  • Changed the tax rates and brackets

Individuals with more complex tax profiles, such as two incomes or multiple jobs, may be more vulnerable to being under-withheld or over-withheld following these major law changes. We recommend performing check on your withholding as early as possible, as doing so gives more time for withholding to take place evenly throughout the year. Waiting means you could end up with a hefty tax bill come filing season.

The IRS calculator will recommend how to complete a new Form W-4 for any or all of your employers, if needed. Please contact us if you need assistance with a check up.

 

 

Law Change Affects Moving, Mileage and Travel Expenses

Changes to the deduction for move-related vehicle expenses

The passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act  (“TCJA”) suspended the deduction for moving expenses for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, through Jan. 1, 2026. Previously, taxpayers were allowed to deduct the costs incurred for certain work related moves, given the requirements were met. Under the TCJA this deduction has been suspended for all moving expenses with the exception of those made by members of the Armed Forces of the United States on active duty who move pursuant to a military order related to a permanent change of station.

Changes to the deduction for un-reimbursed employee expenses

The TCJA at also suspended all miscellaneous itemized deductions that are subject to the 2 percent of adjusted gross income floor. This change affects unreimbursed employee expenses such as uniforms, union dues and the deduction for business-related meals, entertainment and travel.

Thus, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used to claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed employee travel expenses in taxable years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2026.

Standard mileage rates for 2018

The standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck for 2018 are as follows:

  • 54.5 cents for every mile of business travel driven, a 1 cent increase from 2017.
  • 18 cents per mile driven for medical purposes, a 1 cent increase from 2017.
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations, which is set by statute and remains unchanged.

 

 

Be Weary of State SALT Deduction Workarounds

With the pass of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), a new limit has been placed on the deduction for SALT, State And Local Taxes. These limits severely impact residents of states that derive the majority of their revenue through state income taxes and high property taxes.

Several states have or are in the process of implementing workarounds to the deduction limits. For example, New York established new “charitable gifts trust funds” to which taxpayers can make deductible contributions and claim a tax credit equal to 85% of the donation. Similarly, New Jersey enacted legislation that permits localities to establish charitable funds to which taxpayers can contribute and receive a 90% New Jersey property tax credit. California and Connecticut are among the other states that have been weighing similar options.

It’s important to note that when applying the substance over form doctrine, many of these transactions would not qualify for the charitable deduction the states are hoping. Remember, charitable contributions are only deductible to the extent that no goods or services (benefit) is received in exchange. Transactions that are “quid pro quo” would reduce your charitable deduction, dollar for dollar by the fair market value of any benefit received.

The IRS is planning to issue regulations to address these transactions in the coming months. We advise our clients to wait for these proposed regulations, as our professional opinion is the IRS will not recognize a charitable contribution deduction that is a disguised SALT deduction.

Three Ways to Maximize Charitable Giving Under the New Tax Code

As many of you are aware by now, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) almost doubled the standard deduction for many taxpayers, raising the limits to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married joint taxpayers. Naturally, this makes it more difficult for taxpayers to write off charitable giving.

While there is a bi-partisan effort to push for charitable deductions for non-itemizing taxpayers (H.R. 5771), below are some steps you can take to maximize your charitable efforts in the meantime:

1. Bunching: Make the bulk of your charitable donations in the tax years you expect to itemize deductions and skip gift-giving in other years. For instance, if you’re already contemplating a large gift in 2018, you might be a little extra-generous toward the end of the year to include your donation goals for 2019, increasing the tax payoff for the 2018 tax year. In 2019, you can skip or reduce your gifting efforts, since you included these gifts in the 2018 tax year.

2. Donor-advised funds: With a donor-advised fund (DAF), you can make a large initial contribution this year and qualify a deduction. Then, the DAF distributes this money to your favorite charities over a period of time. This has the same practical effect as bunching.

3. Gifts of property: This is one of my favorite techniques. By giving capital gain property that has appreciated in value, like appreciated stock, art, or other collectibles, you can generally deduct the property’s current fair market value, instead of its initial cost. Thus, you increase your deduction while avoiding tax on the appreciation in value.

 

2017 Compliance Deadlines

Just a quick reminder, the 2017 tax compliance deadlines are quickly approaching. For reference, the ones you need to be aware of are:

January 31, 2018

  • Deadline to distribute annual wage and tax reports to employees and independent
    contractors who did work for you in 2017.
  • Deadline to submit transmittal forms for W-2s to the Social Security Administration
    (Form W-3, all W-2s and Form 1096, along with all 1099 forms) is now January 31—NEW
    for 2018.
  • Deadline for Annual Payroll tax reports, due for 2017 payroll taxes, including annual
    wage and tax reports, unemployment tax reports, and Form 941 (the quarterly payroll
    tax report).
  • Deadline for the monthly payment on federal unemployment (FUTA) taxes and the
    Federal Unemployment Tax Report for 2017.

March 15, 2018

  • Deadline for Partnerships and S-Corporations to file tax returns.

April 17, 2018

  • Deadline for C-Corporations, sole proprietors, and individuals to file tax returns.

2017 Tax Reform Update

Below is a brief summary of the current differences between the House & Senate Tax Bills. Source: Thomson Reuters

2017 Tax Reform: Key differences between the Senate and House tax bills

The Senate and the House have each passed their own version of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”. The two versions of the bill have many similar provisions, but they also have a number of key differences that will have to be reconciled by the Conference Committee as the two bills are merged into a single piece of legislation.

It is unclear at this point how these differences will be resolved. However, there is generally an inclination that the Senate’s provisions carry somewhat more weight because, since the Senate is subject to budgetary restraints as part of the reconciliation process, there is less flexibility to make changes to their bill.

The House voted on December 4 to go to conference with the Senate to reconcile the two bills, and the Senate is expected to name conferees later in the week. There has also been some speculation that the House might take up the Senate version and forego a conference, but this possibility is generally considered slight, especially considering the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) provision in the Senate bill (see below) which Conference Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) has identified as an issue that needs to be resolved.

Individual Provisions

Sunset provision. The Senate bill, in order to comply with certain budgetary constraints, provided an expiration date of Jan. 1, 2026 for many of the tax breaks in its bill, especially those for individuals. The House, on the other hand, largely made the changes in its bill permanent.

Individual rates and brackets. The Senate bill has seven tax brackets for individuals with rates ranging from 10% to 38.5%. The House bill has four tax brackets ranging from 12% to 39.6%, retaining the top rate under current law.

Individual alternative minimum tax (AMT). The House bill would repeal AMT for individuals. The Senate bill would retain the individual AMT, with increases to the exemption amounts.

Estate tax. Both bills would significantly increase the estate and gift tax exemption, but the House would also repeal the estate tax after Dec. 31, 2024.

Individual mandate. The Senate bill would effectively repeal the individual mandate (i.e., by reducing the penalty amount to zero). The House version has no such provision.

Mortgage interest deduction. The Senate bill would leave the deduction for interest on acquisition indebtedness intact but would suspend the deduction for interest on home equity indebtedness. The House bill would allow the deduction for interest on acquisition indebtedness, but would, for newly purchased homes, reduce the current $1 million limitation to $500,000 ($250,000 for married individuals filing separately), and would allow the deduction only for interest on a taxpayer’s principal residence. Interest on home equity indebtedness incurred after the effective date of the House bill would not be deductible.

Medical expense deduction. The House bill would repeal deductions for medical expenses under Code Sec. 213 outright, but the Senate bill would take a step in the opposite direction and temporarily (and retroactively) reduce the floor from 10% under current law to 7.5% for all taxpayers for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2016 and ending before Jan. 1, 2019, after which time the 10% floor would be scheduled to return.

Child tax credit. The Senate bill would increase the child tax credit from $1,000 under current law to $2,000, increase the age limit for a qualifying child by one year (for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2025), increase the income level at which the credit phases out ($75,000 for single filers and $110,000 for joint filers under current law) to $500,000, and reduce the earned income threshold for the refundable portion of the credit from $3,000 to $2,500. The House bill would increase the amount of the credit to $1,600 and increase the income levels at which the credit phases out to $115,000 for single filers and $230,000 for joint filers.

Both bills would also provide a non-child dependent credit, which would be $500 under the Senate bill and $300 under the House bill. The House bill would also provide a “family flexibility credit”; the Senate bill has no equivalent.

Business provisions

Effective date of corporate tax reduction. Both bills would reduce the corporate tax rate to 20%, but the House’s version would go into effect for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, whereas the Senate’s version would go into effect for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2018.

Corporate AMT. The House bill would repeal the corporate AMT. The Senate bill, however, would retain the corporate AMT at its current 20% rate.

RIA observation: The 20% corporate AMT rate is equal to the 20% corporate rate that would go into effect under the Senate bill in tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2018—which would effectively render many corporate tax breaks worthless.

Section 179 expensing. Both bills would increase the expensing cap and phase-out under Code Sec. 179, but the Senate would increase the cap to $1 million and begin the phase-out at $2.5 million (up from $520,000 and $2,070,000 for 2018 under current law), whereas the House would increase the cap to $5 million and start the phase-out at $20 million.

Pass-through provision. The Senate bill would generally allow a non-corporate taxpayer who has qualified business income (QBI) from a partnership, S corporation, or sole proprietorship to claim a deduction equal to 23% of pass-through income. The House bill would provide a new maximum rate of 25% on the “business income” of individuals, with a series of complex anti-abuse rules to prevent the recharacterization of wages as business income.

 

Year-End Business Checklist: 5 Steps To Get You Ready For Tax Season

As the year winds down, now is the best time to get your financials in order and prepare for filing season this spring. Here’s a few tips to ensure you are ready to file early this year:

  1. Reconcile your bank accounts: Whether you use QuickBooks, Xero, or another accounting information system, be sure that your bank and credit card statements have been reconciled to your financials. This will ensure the correct asset and liability ending balances on your balance sheet as well as ensure revenue or expenses are not overstated. Contact our office if you need assistance with this process.
  2. Review your profit & loss: Check your expense categories and ensure that you’ve properly categorized your expenses as best as possible. Any expenses you are unsure about, you can leave in a separate account, such as the “Ask my accountant” account, with a detailed description for us to review.
  3. Verify your vendor files: Since 1099-MISCs may be required for certain vendors or contractors, it’s important all this information as well as total payments to these vendors and contractors is correct. As a reminder, most 1099-MISC returns are due Jan 31, after the close of the year.
  4. Spot check your W-2: If you are an S-Corporation for tax purposes and are paying yourself as a greater than 2% shareholder employee, you need to ensure we are in compliance with the 2% shareholder rules. Contact our office if you have questions about these rules.
  5. Count Inventory: If you are an inventory business, be sure to take a count of your inventory at Dec 31 to ensure we properly calculate cost of goods sold.

If you have any questions about any of the tips above, feel free to reach out so we can make this filing season a breeze!