The SECURE Act – What You Need to Know

Congress recently passed—and the President signed into law—the SECURE Act, landmark legislation that affects the rules for creating and maintaining employer-provided retirement plans. Whether you currently offer your employees a retirement plan, or are planning to do so, you should consider how these new rules may affect your current retirement plan (or your decision to create a new one).

Here is a look at some of the more important elements of the SECURE Act that have an impact on employer-sponsors of retirement plans. The changes in the law apply to both large employers and small employers, but some of the changes are especially beneficial to small employers. However, not all of the changes are favorable, and there may be steps you could take to minimize their impact. Please give me a call if you would like to discuss these matters.

It is easier for unrelated employers to band together to create a single retirement plan. A multiple employer plan (MEP) is a single plan maintained by two or more unrelated employers. Starting in 2021, the new rules reduce the barriers to creating and maintaining MEPs, which will help increase opportunities for small employers to band together to obtain more favorable investment results, while allowing for more efficient and less expensive management services.

New small employer automatic plan enrollment credit. Automatic enrollment is shown to increase employee participation and retirement savings. Starting in 2020, the new rules create a new tax credit of up to $500 per year to employers to defray start-up costs for new 401(k) plans and SIMPLE IRA plans that include automatic enrollment. The credit is in addition to an existing plan start-up credit, and is available for three years. The new credit is also available to employers who convert an existing plan to a plan with an automatic enrollment design.

Increased credit for small employer pension plan start-up costs. The new rules increase the credit for plan start-up costs to make it more affordable for small businesses to set up retirement plans. Starting in 2020, the credit is increased by changing the calculation of the flat dollar amount limit on the credit to the greater of

  1. $500, or
  2. The lesser of:
    1. $250 multiplied by the number of nonhighly compensated employees of the eligible employer who are eligible to participate in the plan, or
    2. $5,000.

The credit applies for up to three years.

Expand retirement savings by increasing the auto enrollment safe harbor cap. An annual nondiscrimination test called the actual deferral percentage (ADP) test applies to elective deferrals under a 401(k) plan. The ADP test is deemed to be satisfied if a 401(k) plan includes certain minimum matching or non-elective contributions under either of two safe harbor plan designs and meets certain other requirements. One of the safe harbor plans is an automatic enrollment safe harbor plan.

Starting in 2020, the new rules increase the cap on the default rate under an automatic enrollment safe harbor plan from 10% to 15%, but only for years after the participant’s first deemed election year. For the participant’s first deemed election year, the cap on the default rate is 10%.

Allow long-term part-time employees to participate in 401(k) plans. Currently, employers are generally allowed to exclude part-time employees (i.e., employees who work less than 1,000 hours per year) when providing certain types of retirement plans—like a 401(k) plan—to their employees. As women are more likely than men to work part-time, these rules can be especially harmful for women in preparing for retirement.

However, starting in 2021, the new rules will require most employers maintaining a 401(k) plan to have a dual eligibility requirement under which an employee must complete either a one-year-of-service requirement (with the 1,000-hour rule), or three consecutive years of service where the employee completes at least 500 hours of service per year. For employees who are eligible solely by reason of the new 500-hour rule, the employer will be allowed to exclude those employees from testing under the nondiscrimination and coverage rules, and from the application of the top-heavy rules.

Looser notice requirements and amendment timing rules to facilitate adoption of nonelective contribution 401(k) safe harbor plans. The actual deferral percentage nondiscrimination test is deemed to be satisfied if a 401(k) plan includes certain minimum matching or nonelective contributions under either of two plan designs (referred to as a “401(k) safe harbor plan”), as well as certain required rights and features, and satisfies a notice requirement. Under one type of 401(k) safe harbor plan, the plan either

  1. Satisfies a matching contribution requirement, or
  2. Provides for a nonelective contribution to a defined contribution plan of at least 3% of an employee’s compensation on behalf of each nonhighly compensated employee who is eligible to participate in the plan.

For plan years beginning after Dec. 31, 2019, the new rules change the nonelective contribution 401(k) safe harbor to provide greater flexibility, improve employee protection, and facilitate plan adoption. The new rules eliminate the safe harbor notice requirement, but maintain the requirement to allow employees to make or change an election at least once per year. The rules also permit amendments to nonelective status at any time before the 30th day before the close of the plan year. Amendments after that time are allowed if the amendment provides

  1. A nonelective contribution of at least 4% of compensation (rather than at least 3%) for all eligible employees for that plan year, and
  2. The plan is amended no later than the last day for distributing excess contributions for the plan year (i.e., by the close of following plan year).

Expanded portability of lifetime income options. Starting in 2020, the new rules permit certain retirement plans to make a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer to another employer-sponsored retirement plan, or IRA, of a lifetime income investment or distributions of a lifetime income investment in the form of a qualified plan distribution annuity, if a lifetime income investment is no longer authorized to be held as an investment option under the plan. This change permits participants to preserve their lifetime income investments and avoid surrender charges and fees.

Qualified employer plans barred from making loans through credit cards and similar arrangements. For loans made after Dec. 20, 2019, plan loans may no longer be distributed through credit cards or similar arrangements. This change is intended to ensure that plan loans are not used for routine or small purchases, thereby helping to preserve retirement savings.

Nondiscrimination rules modified to protect older, longer service participants in closed plans. Starting in 2020, the nondiscrimination rules as they pertain to closed pension plans (i.e., plans closed to new entrants) are being changed to permit existing participants to continue to accrue benefits. The modification will protect the benefits for older, longer-service employees as they near retirement.

Plans adopted by filing due date for year may be treated as in effect as of close of year. Starting in 2020, employers can elect to treat qualified retirement plans adopted after the close of a tax year, but before the due date (including extensions) of the tax return, as having been adopted as of the last day of the year. The additional time to establish a plan provides flexibility for employers who are considering adopting a plan, and the opportunity for employees to receive contributions for that earlier year.

New annual disclosures required for estimated lifetime income streams. The new rules (starting at a to-be-determined future date) will require that plan participants’ benefit statements include a lifetime income disclosure at least once during any 12-month period. The disclosure will have to illustrate the monthly payments the participant would receive if the total account balance were used to provide lifetime income streams, including a qualified joint and survivor annuity for the participant and the participant s surviving spouse and a single life annuity.

Fiduciary safe harbor added for selection of annuity providers. When a plan sponsor selects an annuity provider for the plan, the sponsor is considered a plan “fiduciary,” which generally means that the sponsor must discharge his or her duties with respect to the plan solely in the interests of plan participants and beneficiaries (this is known as the “prudence requirement”).

Starting on Dec. 20, 2019 (the date the SECURE Act was signed into law), fiduciaries have an optional safe harbor to satisfy the prudence requirement in their selection of an insurer for a guaranteed retirement income contract, and are protected from liability for any losses that may result to participants or beneficiaries due to an insurer’s future inability to satisfy its financial obligations under the terms of the contract. Removing ambiguity about the applicable fiduciary standard eliminates a roadblock to offering lifetime income benefit options under a plan.

Increased penalties for failure-to-file retirement plan returns. Starting in 2020, the new rules modify the failure-to-file penalties for retirement plan returns.

The penalty for failing to file a Form 5500 (for annual plan reporting) is changed to $250 per day, not to exceed $150,000.

A taxpayer’s failure to file a registration statement incurs a penalty of $10 per participant per day, not to exceed $50,000.

The failure to file a required notification of change results in a penalty of $10 per day, not to exceed $10,000.

The failure to provide a required withholding notice results in a penalty of $100 for each failure, not to exceed $50,000 for all failures during any calendar year.

Accelerate depreciation deductions with a cost segregation study

Is your business depreciating over a 39-year period the entire cost of constructing the building that houses your operation? If so, you should consider a cost segregation study. It may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And under current law, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.

Depreciation basics

Business buildings generally have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Most times, you depreciate a building’s structural components, including walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring, along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.

Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for example — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But the line between the two is frequently less clear. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.

Identifying and substantiating costs

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

Speedier depreciation tax breaks

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold-improvement, retail-improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).

Making favorable depreciation changes

Fortunately, it isn’t too late to get the benefit of speedier depreciation for items that were incorrectly assumed to be part of your building for depreciation purposes. You don’t have to amend your past returns (or meet a deadline for claiming tax refunds) to claim the depreciation that you could have already claimed. Instead, you can claim that depreciation by following procedures, in connection with the next tax return that you file, that will result in “automatic” IRS consent to a change in your accounting for depreciation.

Cost segregation studies can yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. We must judge whether a study will result in overall tax savings greater than the costs of the study itself. To find out whether this would be worthwhile for you, contact us

The tax implications of a company car

The use of a company vehicle is a valuable fringe benefit for owners and employees of small businesses. This benefit results in tax deductions for the employer as well as tax breaks for the owners and employees using the cars. (And of course, they get the nontax benefits of driving the cars!) Even better, recent tax law changes and IRS rules make the perk more valuable than before.

Here’s an example

Let’s say you’re the owner-employee of a corporation that’s going to provide you with a company car. You need the car to visit customers, meet with vendors and check on suppliers. You expect to drive the car 8,500 miles a year for business. You also expect to use the car for about 7,000 miles of personal driving, including commuting, running errands and weekend trips with your family. Therefore, your usage of the vehicle will be approximately 55% for business and 45% for personal purposes. You want a nice car to reflect positively on your business, so the corporation buys a new luxury $50,000 sedan.

Your cost for personal use of the vehicle will be equal to the tax you pay on the fringe benefit value of your 45% personal mileage. By contrast, if you bought the car yourself to be able to drive the personal miles, you’d be out-of-pocket for the entire purchase cost of the car.

Your personal use will be treated as fringe benefit income. For tax purposes, your corporation will treat the car much the same way it would any other business asset, subject to depreciation deduction restrictions if the auto is purchased. Out-of-pocket expenses related to the car (including insurance, gas, oil and maintenance) are deductible, including the portion that relates to your personal use. If the corporation finances the car, the interest it pays on the loan would be deductible as a business expense (unless the business is subject to business-interest limitation under the tax code).

In contrast, if you bought the auto yourself, you wouldn’t be entitled to any deductions. Your outlays for the business-related portion of your driving would be unreimbursed employee business expenses that are nondeductible from 2018 to 2025 due to the suspension of miscellaneous itemized deductions under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. And if you financed the car yourself, the interest payments would be nondeductible.

And finally, the purchase of the car by your corporation will have no effect on your credit rating.

Administrative tasks

Providing an auto for an owner’s or key employee’s business and personal use comes with complications and paperwork. Personal use will have to be tracked and valued under the fringe benefit tax rules and treated as income. This article only explains the basics.

Despite the necessary valuation and paperwork, a company-provided car is still a valuable fringe benefit for business owners and key employees. It can provide them with the use of a vehicle at a low tax cost while generating tax deductions for their businesses. We can help you stay in compliance with the rules and explain more about this prized perk.

Please contact our office if you are interested in the pros and cons of a company car for your business.

Businesses can utilize the same information IRS auditors use to examine tax returns

The IRS uses Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs) to help IRS examiners get ready for audits. Your business can use the same guides to gain insight into what the IRS is looking for in terms of compliance with tax laws and regulations.

Many ATGs target specific industries or businesses, such as construction, aerospace, art galleries, child care providers and veterinary medicine. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation, passive activity losses and capitalization of tangible property.

How they’re used

IRS auditors need to examine all types of businesses, as well as individual taxpayers and tax-exempt organizations. Each type of return might have unique industry issues, business practices and terminology. Before meeting with taxpayers and their advisors, auditors do their homework to understand various industries or issues, the accounting methods commonly used, how income is received, and areas where taxpayers may not be in compliance.

By using a specific ATG, an auditor may be able to reconcile discrepancies when reported income or expenses aren’t consistent with what’s normal for the industry or to identify anomalies within the geographic area in which the business is located.

For example, one ATG focuses specifically on businesses that deal in cash, such as auto repair shops, car washes, check-cashing operations, gas stations, laundromats, liquor stores, restaurants., bars, and salons. The “Cash Intensive Businesses” ATG tells auditors “a financial status analysis including both business and personal financial activities should be done.” It explains techniques such as:

  • How to examine businesses with and without cash registers,
  • What a company’s books and records may reveal,
  • How to analyze bank deposits and checks written from known bank accounts,
  • What to look for when touring a business,
  • Ways to uncover hidden family transactions,
  • How cash invoices found in an audit of one business may lead to another business trying to hide income by dealing mainly in cash.

Auditors are obviously looking for cash-intensive businesses that underreport their cash receipts but how this is uncovered varies. For example, when examining a restaurants or bar, auditors are told to ask about net profits compared to the industry average, spillage, pouring averages and tipping.

Learn the red flags

Although ATGs were created to help IRS examiners ferret out common methods of hiding income and inflating deductions, they also can help businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise audit red flags. Contact us if you have questions about your business. For a complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website here.

Tax-smart domestic travel: Combining business with pleasure

Summer is just around the corner, so you might be thinking about getting some vacation time. If you’re self-employed or a business owner, you have a golden opportunity to combine a business trip with a few extra days of vacation and offset some of the cost with a tax deduction. But be careful, or you might not qualify for the write-offs you’re expecting.

Basic rules

Business travel expenses can potentially be deducted if the travel is within the United States and the expenses are:

  • “Ordinary and necessary” and
  • Directly related to the business.

Note: The tax rules for foreign business travel are different from those for domestic travel.

Business owners and the self-employed are generally eligible to deduct business travel expenses if they meet the tests described above. However, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct such expenses. The potential deductions discussed in this article assume that you’re a business owner or self-employed.

A business-vacation trip

Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity may be 100% deductible if the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. But if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, generally no transportation costs are deductible. These costs include plane or train tickets, the cost of getting to and from the airport, luggage handling tips and car expenses if you drive. Costs for driving your personal car are also eligible.

The key factor in determining whether the primary reason for domestic travel is business is the number of days you spend conducting business vs. enjoying vacation days. Any day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours counts as a business day. In addition:

  • Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays — if they fall between days devoted to business and it wouldn’t be practical to return home.
  • Standby days (days when your physical presence might be required) also count as business days, even if you aren’t ultimately called upon to work on those days.

Bottom line: If your business days exceed your personal days, you should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip and deduct your transportation costs.

What else can you deduct?

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. Examples of these expenses include lodging, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days aren’t deductible.

Keep in mind that only expenses for yourself are deductible. You can’t deduct expenses for family members traveling with you, including your spouse — unless they’re employees of your business and traveling for a bona fide business purpose.

Keep good records

Be sure to retain proof of the business nature of your trip. You must properly substantiate all of the expenses you’re deducting. If you get audited, the IRS will want to see records during travel you claim was for business. Good records are your best defense. Additional rules and limits apply to travel expense deductions. Please contact us if you have questions.

Taxpayers should include tax plans in their wedding plans

Couples getting married this year know there are a lot of details in planning a wedding. Along with the cake and gift registry, their first tax return as a married couple should be on their checklist. The IRS has tips and tools to help newlyweds consider how marriage may affect their taxes.

Here are five simple steps that can make filing their first tax return as newlyweds less stressful.

Step 1: Taxpayers should check their withholding at the beginning of each year, or when their personal circumstances change — like after getting married. Using the IRS Withholding Calculator is a good way for taxpayers to check their withholding. Taxpayers who need to change their withholding should complete and submit a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to their employer.

Step 2: Marriage may mean a change in name. If either – or both – of the newlyweds legally change their name, it’s important to report that change to the Social Security Administration. The names on the taxpayers’ tax return must match the names on file at the SSA. If it doesn’t, it could delay any refund.

Step 3: If a marriage means a change in address, the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service need to know. Newlyweds can file Form 8822, Change of Address, to update their mailing address with the IRS. They should notify the postal service to forward their mail by going online at USPS.com or by visiting their local post office.

Step 4: Taxpayers who receive advance payments of the premium tax credit should report changes in circumstances to their Health Insurance Marketplace as they happen. Certain changes to household, income or family size may affect the amount of the premium tax credit. This can affect a tax refund or the amount of tax owed. Taxpayers should also notify the Marketplace when they move out of the area covered by their current Marketplace plan.

Step 5: Newlyweds should consider their filing status. A taxpayer’s marital status on December 31 determines whether they’re considered married for that full year. Generally, the tax law allows married couples to file their federal income tax return either jointly or separately in any given year. Taxpayers can use the Interactive Tax Assistant to determine which status is best for them.

Source: IRS Tax Tip 2019-68

Hire your children this summer: Everyone wins

If you’re a business owner and you hire your children (or grandchildren) this summer, you can obtain tax breaks and other nontax benefits. The kids can gain on-the-job experience, save for college and learn how to manage money. And you may be able to:

  • Shift your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income,
  • Realize payroll tax savings (depending on the child’s age and how your business is organized), and
  • Enable retirement plan contributions for the children.

It must be a real job

When you hire your child, you get a business tax deduction for employee wage expenses. In turn, the deduction reduces your federal income tax bill, your self-employment tax bill (if applicable), and your state income tax bill (if applicable). However, in order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work performed by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.

For example, let’s say a business owner operates as a sole proprietor and is in the 37% tax bracket. He hires his 16-year-old son to help with office work on a full-time basis during the summer and part-time into the fall. The son earns $10,000 during 2019 and doesn’t have any other earnings.

The business owner saves $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to his son, who can use his 2019 $12,200 standard deduction to completely shelter his earnings.

The family’s taxes are cut even if the son’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction. The reason is that the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the son beginning at a rate of 10%, instead of being taxed at his father’s higher rate.

How payroll taxes might be saved

If your business isn’t incorporated, your child’s wages are exempt from Social Security, Medicare and FUTA taxes if certain conditions are met. Your child must be under age 18 for this to apply (or under age 21 in the case of the FUTA tax exemption). Contact us for how this works.

Be aware that there’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners.

Start saving for retirement early

Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement benefits, depending on the type of plan you have and how it defines qualifying employees. And because your child has earnings from his or her job, he can contribute to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. For the 2018 tax year, a working child can contribute the lesser of his or her earned income, or $6,000 to an IRA or a Roth.

Raising tax-smart children

As you can see, hiring your child can be a tax-smart idea. Be sure to keep the same records as you would for other employees to substantiate the hours worked and duties performed (such as timesheets and job descriptions). Issue your child a Form W-2. If you have any questions about how these rules apply to your situation, don’t hesitate to contact us.

What type of expenses can’t be written off by your business?

If you read the Internal Revenue Code (and you probably don’t want to!), you may be surprised to find that most business deductions aren’t specifically listed. It doesn’t explicitly state that you can deduct office supplies and certain other expenses.

Some expenses are detailed in the tax code, but the general rule is contained in the first sentence of Section 162, which states you can write off “all the ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.”

Basic definitions

In general, an expense is ordinary if it’s considered common or customary in the particular trade or business. For example, insurance premiums to protect a store would be an ordinary business expense in the retail industry.

A necessary expense is defined as one that’s helpful or appropriate. For example, let’s say a car dealership purchases an automatic defibrillator. It may not be necessary for the operation of the business, but it might be helpful and appropriate if an employee or customer suffers a heart attack.

It’s possible for an ordinary expense to be unnecessary — but, in order to be deductible, an expense must be ordinary and necessary.

In addition, a deductible amount must be reasonable in relation to the benefit expected. For example, if you’re attempting to land a $3,000 deal, a $65 lunch with a potential client should be OK with the IRS. (Keep in mind that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated most deductions for entertainment expenses but retains the 50% deduction for business meals.)

Examples of not ordinary and unnecessary

Not surprisingly, the IRS and courts don’t always agree with taxpayers about what qualifies as ordinary and necessary expenditures.

In one case, a man engaged in a business with his brother was denied deductions for his private airplane expenses. The U.S. Tax Court noted that the taxpayer had failed to prove the expenses were ordinary and necessary to the business. In addition, only one brother used the plane and the flights were to places that the taxpayer could have driven to or flown to on a commercial airline. And, in any event, the stated expenses including depreciation expenses, weren’t adequately substantiated, the court added. (TC Memo 2018-108)

In another case, the Tax Court ruled that a business owner wasn’t entitled to deduct legal and professional fees he’d incurred in divorce proceedings defending his ex-wife’s claims to his interest in, or portion of, distributions he received from his LLC. The IRS and the court ruled the divorce legal fees were nondeductible personal expenses and weren’t ordinary and necessary. (TC Memo 2018-80)

Proceed with caution

The deductibility of some expenses is clear. But for other expenses, it can get more complicated. Generally, if an expense seems like it’s not normal in your industry — or if it could be considered fun, personal or extravagant in nature — you should proceed with caution. And keep records to substantiate the expenses you’re deducting. Consult with us for guidance.

How entrepreneurs must treat expenses on their tax returns

Have you recently started a new business? Or are you contemplating starting one? Launching a new venture is a hectic, exciting time. And as you know, before you even open the doors, you generally have to spend a lot of money. You may have to train workers and pay for rent, utilities, marketing and more.

Entrepreneurs are often unaware that many expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be deducted right away. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your tax bill.

Key points on how expenses are handled

When starting or planning a new enterprise, keep these factors in mind:

  1. Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one.
  2. Under the federal tax code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins. We don’t need to tell you that $5,000 doesn’t go far these days! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
  3. No deductions or amortization write-offs are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business commences. That usually means the year when the enterprise has all the pieces in place to begin earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Has the activity actually begun?

Examples of expenses

Start-up expenses generally include all expenses that are incurred to:

  • Investigate the creation or acquisition of a business,
  • Create a business, or
  • Engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business.

To be eligible for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example would be the money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.

To qualify as an “organization expense,” the outlay must be related to the creation of a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing the new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.

An important decision

Time may be of the essence if you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year. You need to decide whether to take the elections described above. Recordkeeping is important. Contact us about your business start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new venture.

For assistance getting your business off the ground, contact Paul Glantz CPA at paul@launchconsultinginc.com

Recent Developments That May Affect Your Tax Situation

The following is a summary of important tax developments that occurred in October, November, and December of 2018 that may affect you, your family, your investments, and your livelihood. Please call us for more information about any of these developments and what steps you should implement to take advantage of favorable developments and to minimize the impact of those that are unfavorable.

Business meals. One of the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) disallows a deduction for any item with respect to an activity that is of a type generally considered to constitute entertainment, amusement, or recreation. However, the TCJA did not address the circumstances in which the provision of food and beverages might constitute entertainment. The new guidance clarifies that, as in the past, taxpayers generally may continue to deduct 50% of otherwise allowable business meal expenses if:

  1. The expense is an ordinary and necessary expense paid or incurred during the tax year in carrying on any trade or business;
  2. The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances;
  3. The taxpayer, or an employee of the taxpayer, is present at the furnishing of the food or beverages;
  4. The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant, or similar business contact; and
  5. In the case of food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity, the food and beverages are purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices, or receipts.

Convenience of the employer. IRS provided new guidance under the Code provision allowing for the exclusion of the value of any meals furnished by or on behalf of an individual’s employer if the meals are furnished on the employer’s business premises for the convenience of the employer. IRS determined that the “Kowalski test” — which provides that the exclusion applies to employer-provided meals only if the meals are necessary for the employee to properly perform his or her duties — still applies. Under this test, the carrying out of the employee’s duties in compliance with employer policies for that employee’s position must require that the employer provide the employee meals in order for the employee to properly discharge such duties in order to be “for the convenience of the employer”. While IRS is precluded from substituting its judgment for the business decisions of a taxpayer as to its business needs and concerns and what specific business policies or practices are best suited to addressing such, IRS can determine whether an employer actually follows and enforces its stated business policies and practices, and whether these policies and practices, and the needs and concerns they address, necessitate the provision of meals so that there is a substantial noncompensatory business reason for furnishing meals to employees.

Depreciation and expensing. IRS provided guidance on deducting expenses under Code Sec. 179(a) and depreciation under the alternate depreciation system (ADS) of Code Sec. 168(g), as amended by the TCJA. The guidance explains how taxpayers can elect to treat qualified real property, as defined under the TCJA, as property eligible for the expense election. The TCJA amended the definition of qualified real property to mean qualified improvement property and some improvements to nonresidential real property, such as: roofs; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning property; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems. The guidance also explains how real property trades or businesses or farming businesses, electing out of the TCJA interest deduction limitations, can change to the ADS for property placed in service before 2018, and provides that such is not a change in accounting method. In addition, the guidance provides an optional depreciation table for residential rental property depreciated under the ADS with a 30-year recovery period.

Partnerships. IRS issued final regulations implementing the new centralized partnership audit regime, which is generally effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 (although partnerships could have elected to have its provisions apply earlier). Under the new rules, adjustments to partnership-related items are determined at the partnership level. The final regulations clarify that items or amounts relating to transactions of the partnership are partnership-related items only if those items or amounts are shown, or required to be shown, on the partnership return or are required to be maintained in the partnership’s books and records. A partner must, on his or her own return, treat a partnership item in a manner that’s consistent with the treatment of that item on the partnership’s return. The regulations clarify that so long as a partner notifies the IRS of an inconsistent treatment, in the form and manner prescribed by the IRS, by attaching a statement to the partner’s return (including an amended return) on which the partnership-related item is treated inconsistently, this consistency requirement is met, and the effect of inconsistent treatment does not apply to that partnership-related item. If IRS adjusts any partnership-related items, the partnership, rather than the partners, is subject to the liability for any imputed underpayment and will take any other adjustments into account in the adjustment year. As an alternative to the general rule that the partnership must pay the imputed underpayment, a partnership may elect to “push out” the adjustments, that is, elect to have its reviewed year partners take into account the adjustments made by the IRS and pay any tax due as a result of these adjustments.

State & local taxes. IRS has provided safe harbors allowing a deduction for certain payments made by a C corporation or a “specified pass-through entity” to or for the use of a charitable organization if, in return for such payment, they receive or expect to receive a state or local tax credit that reduces a state or local tax imposed on the entity. Such payment is treated as meeting the requirements of an ordinary and necessary business expense. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the TCJA limits an individual’s deduction to $10,000 ($5,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return) for the aggregate amount of the following state and local taxes paid during the calendar year:

  1. Real property taxes;
  2. Personal property taxes;
  3. Income, war profits, and excess profits taxes, and
  4. General sales taxes.

This limitation does not apply to certain taxes that are paid and incurred in carrying on a trade or business or a for-profit activity. An entity will be considered a specified pass-through entity only if:

  1. The entity is a business entity other than a C corporation that is regarded for all federal income tax purposes as separate from its owners;
  2. The entity operates a trade or business;
  3. The entity is subject to a state or local tax incurred in carrying on its trade or business that is imposed directly on the entity; and
  4. In return for a payment to a charitable organization, the entity receives or expects to receive a state or local tax credit that the entity applies or expects to apply to offset a state or local tax described in (3), above, other than a state or local income tax.

Personal exemption suspension. IRS provided guidance clarifying how the suspension of the personal exemption deduction from 2018 through 2025 under the TCJA applies to certain rules that referenced that provision and were not also suspended. These include rules dealing with the premium tax credit and, for 2018, the individual shared responsibility provision (also known as the individual mandate). Under the TCJA, for purposes of any other provision, the suspension of the personal exemption (by reducing the exemption amount to zero) is not be taken into account in determining whether a deduction is allowed or allowable, or whether a taxpayer is entitled to a deduction.

Obamacare hardship exemptions. IRS guidance identified additional hardship exemptions from the individual shared responsibility payment (also known as the individual mandate) which a taxpayer may claim on a Federal income tax return without obtaining a hardship exemption certification from the Health Insurance Marketplace (Marketplace). Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare), if a taxpayer or an individual for whom the taxpayer is liable isn’t covered under minimum essential coverage for one or more months before 2019, then, unless an exemption applies, the taxpayer is liable for the individual shared responsibility payment. Under the guidance, a person is eligible for a hardship exemption if the Marketplace determines that:

  1. He or she experienced financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, such that he or she had a significant, unexpected increase in essential expenses that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan;
  2. The expense of purchasing a qualified health plan would have caused him or her to experience serious deprivation of food, shelter, clothing, or other necessities; or
  3. He or she has experienced other circumstances that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan.

Certain Obamacare due dates extended. IRS has extended one of the due dates for the 2018 information reporting requirements under the ACA for insurers, self-insuring employers, and certain other providers of minimum essential coverage, and the information reporting requirements for applicable large employers (ALEs). Specifically, the due date for furnishing to individuals the 2018 Form 1095-B (Health Coverage) and the 2018 Form 1095-C (Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage) is extended to Mar. 4, 2019. Good-faith transition relief from certain penalties for 2018 information reporting requirements is also extended.

Limitation on deducting business interest expense. IRS has provided a safe harbor that allows taxpayers to treat certain infrastructure trades or businesses (such as airports, ports, mass commuting facilities, and sewage and waste disposal facilities) as real property trades or businesses solely for purposes of qualifying as an electing real property trade or business. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the TCJA provides that a deduction allowed for business interest for any tax year can’t exceed the sum of:

  1. The taxpayer’s business interest income for the tax year;
  2. 30% of the taxpayer’s adjusted taxable income for the tax year; plus
  3. The taxpayer’s floor plan financing interest (certain interest paid by vehicle dealers) for the tax year.

The term “business interest” generally means any interest properly allocable to a trade or business, but for purposes of the limitation on the deduction for business interest, it doesn’t include interest properly allocable to an “electing real property trade or business”. Thus, interest expense that is properly allocable to an electing real property trade or business is not properly allocable to a trade or business, and is not business interest expense that is subject to the interest limitation.

Avoiding penalties. IRS has identified the circumstances under which the disclosure on a taxpayer’s income tax return with respect to an item or position is adequate for the purpose of reducing the understatement of income tax under the substantial understatement accuracy-related penalty for 2018 income tax returns. The guidance provides specific descriptions of the information that must be provided for itemized deductions on Form 1040 (Schedule A); certain trade or business expenses; differences in book and income tax reporting; and certain foreign tax and other items. The guidance notes that money amounts entered on a form must be verifiable, and the information on the return must be disclosed in the manner set out in the guidance. An amount is verifiable if, on audit, the taxpayer can prove the origin of the amount (even if that number is not ultimately accepted by the IRS) and the taxpayer can show good faith in entering that number on the applicable form. If the amount of an item is shown on a line of a return that does not have a preprinted description identifying that item (such as on an unnamed line under an “Other Expense” category), the taxpayer must clearly identify the item by including the description on that line. If an item is not covered by this guidance, disclosure is adequate with respect to that item only if made on a properly completed Form 8275 (Disclosure Statement) or 8275-R (Regulation Disclosure Statement), as appropriate, attached to the return for the year or to a qualified amended return.