What businesses need to know about the tax treatment of bitcoin and other virtual currencies


Over the last several years, virtual currency has become increasingly popular. Bitcoin is the most widely recognized form of virtual currency, also commonly referred to as digital, electronic or crypto currency.

While most smaller businesses aren’t yet accepting bitcoin or other virtual currency payments from their customers, more and more larger businesses are. And the trend may trickle down to smaller businesses. Businesses also can pay employees or independent contractors with virtual currency. But what are the tax consequences of these transactions?

Bitcoin 101

Bitcoin has an equivalent value in real currency and can be digitally traded between users. It also can be purchased with real currencies or exchanged for real currencies. Bitcoin is most commonly obtained through virtual currency ATMs or online exchanges.

Goods or services can be paid for using “bitcoin wallet” software. When a purchase is made, the software digitally posts the transaction to a global public ledger. This prevents the same unit of virtual currency from being used multiple times.

Tax impact

Questions about the tax impact of virtual currency abound. And the IRS has yet to offer much guidance.

The IRS did establish in a 2014 ruling that bitcoin and other convertible virtual currency should be treated as property, not currency, for federal income tax purposes. This means that businesses accepting bitcoin payments for goods and services must report gross income based on the fair market value of the virtual currency when it was received, measured in equivalent U.S. dollars.

When a business uses virtual currency to pay wages, the wages are taxable to the employees to the extent any other wage payment would be. You must, for example, report such wages on your employees’ W-2 forms. And they’re subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date received by the employee.

When a business uses virtual currency to pay independent contractors or other service providers, those payments are also taxable to the recipient. The self-employment tax rules generally apply, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date received. Payers generally must issue 1099-MISC forms to recipients.

Finally, payments made with virtual currency are subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property.

Deciding whether to go virtual

Accepting bitcoin can be beneficial because it may avoid transaction fees charged by credit card companies and online payment providers (such as PayPal) and attract customers who want to use virtual currency. But the IRS is targeting virtual currency transactions in an effort to raise tax revenue, and it hasn’t issued much guidance on the tax treatment or reporting requirements. So bitcoin can also be a bit risky from a tax perspective.

To learn more about tax considerations when deciding whether your business should accept bitcoin or other virtual currencies — or use them to pay employees, independent contractors or other service providers — contact us.


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Ask the right questions about your IT strategy


Most businesses approach technology as an evolving challenge. You don’t want to overspend on bells and whistles you’ll never fully use, but you also don’t want to get left behind as competitors use the latest tech tools to operate more nimbly.

To refine your IT strategy over time, you’ve got to regularly reassess your operations and ask the right questions. Here are a few to consider:

Are we bogged down by outdated tech? More advanced analytical software can eliminate many time-consuming, repeatable tasks. Systems based on paper files and handwritten notes are obviously ripe for an upgrade, but even traditional digital spreadsheets aren’t as powerful as they used to be.

Do we have information silos? Most companies today use multiple applications. But if these solutions can’t “talk” to each other, you may suffer from information silos. This is when different people and teams keep important data to themselves, slowing communication. Determine whether this is occurring and, if so, how to integrate your key systems.

Do we have a digital asset-sharing policy? Businesses tend to generate tremendous amounts of paperwork, but hard copies can get misfiled or lost. Sharing documents electronically can speed distribution and enable real-time collaboration. A digital asset-sharing policy could help define how to grant system access, share documents and track communications.

Do we have a training program? Mandatory training and ongoing refresher sessions ensure that all users are taking full advantage of available technology and following proper protocols. If you don’t feel like you can provide this in-house, you could shop for vendors that provide training and resources matching your needs.

Do we have a security policy? A security policy is the first line of defense against hackers, viruses and other threats. It also helps protect customers’ sensitive data. Every business needs to establish a policy for regularly changing passwords, removing inactive users and providing ongoing security training.

Do we evaluate user feedback? A successful IT strategy is built on user feedback. Talk to your employees who use your technology and find out what works, what doesn’t and why.
Answering questions such as these is a good first step toward crafting a total IT strategy. Doing so can also help you better control expenses by eliminating redundancies and lowering the risk of costly mistakes and data losses. Let us know how we can help.


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Should you file Form SS-8 to ask the IRS to determine a worker’s status?


Classifying workers as independent contractors — rather than employees — can save businesses money and provide other benefits. But the IRS is on the lookout for businesses that do this improperly to avoid taxes and employee benefit obligations.

To find out how the IRS will classify a particular worker, businesses can file optional IRS Form SS-8, “Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.” However, the IRS has a history of reflexively classifying workers as employees, and filing this form may alert the IRS that your business has classification issues — and even inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit.

Contractor vs. employee status

A business enjoys several advantages when it classifies a worker as an independent contractor rather than as an employee. For example, it isn’t required to pay payroll taxes, withhold taxes, pay benefits or comply with most wage and hour laws.

On the downside, if the IRS determines that you’ve improperly classified employees as independent contractors, you can be subject to significant back taxes, interest and penalties. That’s why filing IRS Form SS-8 for an up-front determination may sound appealing.

But because of the risks involved, instead of filing the form, it can be better to simply properly treat independent contractors so they meet the tax code rules. Among other things, this generally includes not controlling how the worker performs his or her duties, ensuring you’re not the worker’s only client, providing Form 1099 and, overall, not treating the worker like an employee.

Be prepared for workers filing the form

Workers seeking determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to health, retirement and other employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.

After a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS sends a letter to the business. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return it to the IRS, which will render a classification decision. But the Form SS-8 determination process doesn’t constitute an official IRS audit.

Passing IRS muster

If your business properly classifies workers as independent contractors, don’t panic if a worker files a Form SS-8. Contact us before replying to the IRS. With a proper response, you may be able to continue to classify the worker as a contractor. We also can assist you in setting up independent contractor relationships that can pass muster with the IRS.

© 2018


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Making the right choice about your office space


For many companies, there comes a time when owners must decide whether to renew a lease, move on to a different one or buy new (or pre-existing) space. In some cases, it’s a relatively easy decision. Maybe you’re happy where you are and feel like such a part of the local community that moving isn’t an option.

But, in other cases, a move can be an important step forward. For example, if a business is looking to cut costs, reducing office space and signing a less expensive lease can generally help the bottom line. Conversely, a growing company might decide to buy property and build new to increase its prestige and visibility. Making the right choice is critical.

Buyers beware

Buying office space is clearly a major undertaking. But owning your own building can give you flexibility and tax advantages a lease can’t offer. For instance, you can:

  • Control how to configure and use the property,
  • Sublet some of the space if you so choose, and 
  • Decorate, landscape and maintain it as you wish.

You’ll also benefit from mortgage interest and depreciation deductions at tax time.

Naturally, there are risks to ownership. For one, you won’t be able to easily pick up and move on. And if you’re structured as a flow-through entity, you’ll need to decide how the owners will share the cost of buying and maintaining the building. Keep in mind that the building need not be owned in the same proportion as the business itself.

There are other matters to consider as well. You’ll have to delegate responsibility for arranging and overseeing activities such as exterior maintenance, cleaning, and paying taxes and insurance. Plus, if you decide to sublet some of your space, you’ll need to wear one more hat — that of a landlord.

Lessees look out

Of course, as you may well know from doing it for a number of years, leasing business space has its downsides, too. Perhaps you’ve dealt with a particularly unresponsive landlord or property management company. You may also have less freedom to change or rearrange space — not to mention ever-increasing rent and the loss of mortgage interest and depreciation tax deductions. If you decide to move, though, it’s easier to leave a rented office than to sell one you own.

Ultimately, it’s a question of net present values. Will the present value of the capital appreciation you ultimately gain when the property is sold be greater than the current cash flow advantage you’d likely have under a lease?

Consider your options

These are just a few of the issues to study as you consider your company’s location and office space heading into a new year. Remember, there may be tax issues not mentioned here or other factors affecting the right decision. Contact us for a full assessment of your options.

©2018


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Run the numbers before you extend customer credit


Funny thing about customers: They can keep you in business — but they can also put you out of it. The latter circumstance often arises when a company overly relies on a few customers that abuse their credit to the point where the company’s cash flow is dramatically impacted.

To guard against this, you need to diligently assess every customer’s creditworthiness before getting too deeply involved. And this includes running the numbers on entities you do business with, just as lenders and investors do with you.

Information, please

A first step is to ask new customers to complete a credit application. The application should request the company’s:

• Name, address, phone number and website address,
• Tax identification number,
• General history (number of years in existence),
• Legal entity type and parent company (if one exists), and
• A bank reference and several trade references.

Depending on which industry or industries you serve, there may be other important data points to gather, as well. If you haven’t updated your credit application form in a while, consider doing so — especially if you’ve gotten burned on the same type of credit failure multiple times.

Financial data

When dealing with private companies, consider asking for an income statement and balance sheet. You’ll want to analyze financial data such as profit margin, or net income divided by net sales. Ideally, this will have remained steady or increased during the past few years. The profit margin also should be like those of other companies in the customer’s industry.

From the balance sheet, you can calculate the current ratio, or the customer’s current assets divided by its current liabilities. The higher this is, the more likely the customer will be able to cover its bills. Generally, a current ratio of 2:1 is considered acceptable. Again, there may be other metrics that are particularly important for the types of businesses you work with.

An evolving challenge

Reviewing financials is only one key step in determining whether a customer is creditworthy. It’s also important to contact the references the customer provided, and you may want to purchase a credit report. Finally, be sure to look at coverage of the customer both by traditional media and on social media. Doing so could reveal information that will impact your decision on whether to extend credit.

When competing to win and keep customers, it’s easy to get carried away with credit. Approach this task carefully and bear in mind that, for most businesses, extending customer credit is a learning process and an evolving challenge. For further help and info on assessing customers’ creditworthiness, please contact our firm.


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Could a long-term deal ease your succession planning woes?


Some business owners — particularly those who founded their companies — may find it hard to give up control to a successor. Maybe you just can’t identify the right person internally to fill your shoes. While retirement isn’t in your immediate future, you know you must eventually step down.

One potential solution is to find an outside buyer for your company and undertake a long-term deal to gradually cede control to them. Going this route can enable a transition to proceed at a more manageable pace.

Time and capital

For privately held businesses, long-term deals typically begin with the business owner selling a minority stake to a potential buyer. This initiates a tryout period to assess the two companies’ compatibility. The parties may sign an agreement in which the minority stakeholder has the option to offer a takeover bid after a specified period.

Beyond clearing a path for your succession plan, the deal also may provide needed capital. You can use the cash infusion from selling a minority stake to fund improvements such as:

• Hiring additional staff,
• Paying down debt,
• Conducting research and development, or
• Expanding your facilities.

Any or all of these things can help grow your company’s market share and improve profitability. In turn, you’ll feel more comfortable in retirement knowing your business is doing well and in good hands.

Benefits for the buyer

You may be wondering what’s in it for the buyer. A minority-stake purchase requires less cash than a full acquisition, helping buyers avoid finding outside deal financing. It’s also less risky than a full purchase. Buyers can, for example, push for the company to achieve certain performance objectives before committing to buying it.

Integration may also be easier because buyers have time to coordinate with sellers to implement changes — an advantage when their IT, accounting or other major systems are dissimilar. In addition, in a typical M&A transaction, decisions must be made quickly. But under a long-term deal, the parties can debate and negotiate options, which may improve the arrangement for everyone.

What’s right for you

There are, of course, a wide variety of other strategies for creating and executing a succession plan. But if you’re leaning toward finding a buyer and are in no rush to complete a sale, a long-term deal might be for you. Our firm can provide further information.


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Do you still need to worry about the AMT?


There was talk of repealing the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) as part of last year’s tax reform legislation. A repeal wasn’t included in the final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but the TCJA will reduce the number of taxpayers subject to the AMT.

Now is a good time to familiarize yourself with the changes, assess your AMT risk and see if there are any steps you can take during the last several months of the year to avoid the AMT, or at least minimize any negative impact.

AMT vs. regular tax

The top AMT rate is 28%, compared to the top regular ordinary-income tax rate of 37%. But the AMT rate typically applies to a higher taxable income base and will result in a larger tax bill if you’re subject to it.

The TCJA reduced the number of taxpayers who’ll likely be subject to the AMT in part by increasing the AMT exemption and the income phaseout ranges for the exemption:

  • For 2018, the exemption is $70,300 for singles and heads of households (up from $54,300 for 2017), and $109,400 for married couples filing jointly (up from $84,500 for 2017).
  • The 2018 phaseout ranges are $500,000–$781,200 for singles and heads of households (up from $120,700–$337,900 for 2017) and $1,000,000–$1,437,600 for joint filers (up from $160,900–$498,900 for 2017).

You’ll be subject to the AMT if your AMT liability is greater than your regular tax liability.

AMT triggers

In the past, common triggers of the AMT were differences between deductions allowed for regular tax purposes and AMT purposes. Some popular deductions aren’t allowed under the AMT.

New limits on some of these deductions for regular tax purposes, such as on state and local income and property tax deductions, mean they’re less likely to trigger the AMT. And certain deductions not allowed for AMT purposes are now not allowed for regular tax purposes either, such as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor.

But deductions aren’t the only things that can trigger the AMT. Some income items might do so, too, such as:

  • Long-term capital gains and dividend income, even though they’re taxed at the same rate for both regular tax and AMT purposes,
  • Accelerated depreciation adjustments and related gain or loss differences when assets are sold,
  • Tax-exempt interest on certain private-activity municipal bonds, and
  • The exercise of incentive stock options.

AMT planning tips

If it looks like you could be subject to the AMT in 2018, consider accelerating income into this year. Doing sosa may allow you to benefit from the lower maximum AMT rate. And deferring expenses you can’t deduct for AMT purposes may allow you to preserve those deductions. If you also defer expenses you can deduct for AMT purposes, the deductions may become more valuable because of the higher maximum regular tax rate.

Please contact us if you have questions about whether you could be subject to the AMT this year or about minimizing negative consequences from the AMT.

© 2018


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Manage health benefits costs with a multipronged approach


Many companies offer health care benefits to help ensure employee wellness and compete for better job candidates. And the Affordable Care Act has been using both carrots and sticks (depending on employer size) to encourage businesses to offer health coverage.

If you sponsor a health care plan, you know this is no small investment. It may seem next to impossible to control rising plan costs, which are subject to a variety of factors beyond your control. But the truth is, all business owners can control at least a portion of their health care expenses. The trick is taking a multipronged approach — here are some ideas:

Interact with employees to find the best fit. The ideal size and shape of your plan depends on the needs of your workforce. Rather than relying exclusively on vendor-provided materials, actively manage communications with employees regarding health care costs and other topics. Determine which benefits are truly valued and which ones aren’t.

Use metrics. Business owners can apply analytics to just about everything these days, including health care coverage. Measure the financial impacts of gaps between benefits offered and those employees actually use. Then appropriately adjust plan design to close these costly gaps.

Engage an outside consultant. Secure independent (that is, non-vendor-generated) return-on-investment analyses of your existing benefits package, as well as prospective initiatives. This will entail some expense, but an expert external perspective could help you save money in the long run.

Audit medical claims payments and pharmacy benefits management services. Mistakes happen — and fraud is always a possibility. By regularly re-evaluating claims and pharmacy services, you can identify whether you’re losing money to inaccuracies or even wrongdoing.

Renegotiate pharmacy benefits contracts. As the old saying goes, “Everything is negotiable.” The next time your pharmacy benefits contract comes up for renewal, see whether the vendor will do better. In addition, look around the marketplace for other providers and see if one of them can make a more economical offer.

There’s no silver bullet for lowering the expense of health care benefits. To manage these costs, you must understand the specifics of your plan as well as the economic factors that drive expenses up and down. Please contact our firm for assistance and additional information.

©2018


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How to avoid getting hit with payroll tax penalties


For small businesses, managing payroll can be one of the most arduous tasks. Adding to the burden earlier this year was adjusting income tax withholding based on the new tables issued by the IRS. (Those tables account for changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.) But it’s crucial not only to withhold the appropriate taxes — including both income tax and employment taxes — but also to remit them on time to the federal government.

If you don’t, you, personally, could face harsh penalties. This is true even if your business is an entity that normally shields owners from personal liability, such as a corporation or limited liability company.

The 100% penalty

Employers must withhold federal income and employment taxes (such as Social Security) as well as applicable state and local taxes on wages paid to their employees. The federal taxes must then be remitted to the federal government according to a deposit schedule.

If a business makes payments late, there are escalating penalties. And if it fails to make them, the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty could apply. Under this penalty, also known as the 100% penalty, the IRS can assess the entire unpaid amount against a “responsible person.”

The corporate veil won’t shield corporate owners in this instance. The liability protections that owners of corporations — and limited liability companies — typically have don’t apply to payroll tax debts.

When the IRS assesses the 100% penalty, it can file a lien or take levy or seizure action against personal assets of a responsible person.

“Responsible person,” defined

The penalty can be assessed against a shareholder, owner, director, officer or employee. In some cases, it can be assessed against a third party. The IRS can also go after more than one person. To be liable, an individual or party must:

1. Be responsible for collecting, accounting for and remitting withheld federal taxes, and

2. Willfully fail to remit those taxes. That means intentionally, deliberately, voluntarily and knowingly disregarding the requirements of the law.

Prevention is the best medicine

When it comes to the 100% penalty, prevention is the best medicine. So make sure that federal taxes are being properly withheld from employees’ paychecks and are being timely remitted to the federal government. (It’s a good idea to also check state and local requirements and potential penalties.)

If you aren’t already using a payroll service, consider hiring one. A good payroll service provider relieves you of the burden of withholding the proper amounts, taking care of the tax payments and handling recordkeeping. Contact us for more information.


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Do you know the ABCs of HSAs, FSAs and HRAs?


There continues to be much uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act and how such uncertainty will impact health care costs. So it’s critical to leverage all tax-advantaged ways to fund these expenses, including HSAs, FSAs and HRAs. Here’s how to make sense of this alphabet soup of health care accounts.

HSAs

If you’re covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can contribute pretax income to an employer-sponsored Health Savings Account — or make deductible contributions to an HSA you set up yourself — up to $3,450 for self-only coverage and $6,900 for family coverage for 2018. Plus, if you’re age 55 or older, you may contribute an additional $1,000.

You own the account, which can bear interest or be invested, growing tax-deferred similar to an IRA. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and you can carry over a balance from year to year.

FSAs

Regardless of whether you have an HDHP, you can redirect pretax income to an employer-sponsored Flexible Spending Account up to an employer-determined limit — not to exceed $2,650 in 2018. The plan pays or reimburses you for qualified medical expenses.

What you don’t use by the plan year’s end, you generally lose — though your plan might allow you to roll over up to $500 to the next year. Or it might give you a grace period of two and a half months to incur expenses to use up the previous year’s contribution. If you have an HSA, your FSA is limited to funding certain “permitted” expenses.

HRAs

A Health Reimbursement Account is an employer-sponsored account that reimburses you for medical expenses. Unlike an HSA, no HDHP is required. Unlike an FSA, any unused portion typically can be carried forward to the next year.

There’s no government-set limit on HRA contributions. But only your employer can contribute to an HRA; employees aren’t allowed to contribute.

Maximize the benefit

If you have one of these health care accounts, it’s important to understand the applicable rules so you can get the maximum benefit from it. But tax-advantaged accounts aren’t the only way to save taxes in relation to health care. If you have questions about tax planning and health care expenses, please contact us.

© 2018


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