Thoughtful onboarding is more important than ever

Although many businesses have had to reduce their workforces because of the COVID-19 pandemic, others are hiring or may start adding employees in the weeks or months ahead. A thoughtful onboarding program has become more important than ever in today’s anxious environment of safety concerns and compliance challenges.

Crucial opportunity

Onboarding refers to “[a formal] process of helping new hires adjust to social and performance aspects of their new jobs quickly and smoothly,” according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Traditionally, a comprehensive onboarding program’s objective is to deliver multiple benefits to the company. These include stronger employee performance and productivity, higher job satisfaction and a deeper commitment to the business. New hires who are properly onboarded should also experience reduced stress and an enhanced sense of career direction.

What’s more, an onboarding program allows you to be crystal clear about compliance procedures, HR policies, compensation and benefits offerings. In other words, this is a crucial opportunity for you to explain to a new hire many issues, including all the measures you’re using to cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

3 parts to a program

What does a comprehensive onboarding program look like? Specifics will depend on the size, industry and nature of your company. Generally, however, an onboarding program can be segmented into three parts:

1. Preparing for the job. The onboarding process should begin before a new hire starts work. This involves steps such as discussing his or her specific acclimation needs, choosing and preparing a workspace (or introducing the platform and procedures for working remotely), and designating a coach or mentor.

2. Optimizing day one. As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” An onboarding program might involve an itemized start-date schedule that lays out everything from who will greet the new employee at the door — or who will conduct a first-day video call — to what paperwork must be completed to a detailed itinerary of meetings (virtual or otherwise) throughout the day.

3. Following up regularly. Even a great first day can mean nothing if a new hire feels ignored thereafter. An onboarding program could establish continuing check-in meetings with the employee’s direct supervisor and coach/mentor for the first 30 or 60 days of employment. From then on, interactions with the coach/mentor could be arranged at longer intervals until the employee feels comfortable.

When the time is right

Onboarding in the year 2020 and beyond involves so much more than giving new employees their marching orders. It entails helping a new hire feel safe, supported and fully informed. We can help you calculate when the time is right to expand your workforce and accurately measure the productivity of workers added to your payroll.

© 2020


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Are scholarships tax-free or taxable?

COVID-19 is changing the landscape for many schools this fall. But many children and young adults are going back, even if it’s just for online learning, and some parents will be facing tuition bills. If your child has been awarded a scholarship, that’s cause for celebration! But be aware that there may be tax implications.

Scholarships (and fellowships) are generally tax-free for students at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as those attending college, graduate school or accredited vocational schools. It doesn’t matter if the scholarship makes a direct payment to the individual or reduces tuition.

Tuition and related expenses

However, for a scholarship to be tax-free, certain conditions must be satisfied. A scholarship is tax-free only to the extent it’s used to pay for:

  • Tuition and fees required to attend the school and
  • Fees, books, supplies and equipment required of all students in a particular course.

For example, if a computer is recommended but not required, buying one wouldn’t qualify. Other expenses that don’t qualify include the cost of room and board, travel, research and clerical help.

To the extent a scholarship award isn’t used for qualifying items, it’s taxable. The recipient is responsible for establishing how much of an award is used for tuition and eligible expenses. Maintain records (such as copies of bills, receipts and cancelled checks) that reflect the use of the scholarship money.

Award can’t be payment for services

Subject to limited exceptions, a scholarship isn’t tax-free if the payments are linked to services that your child performs as a condition for receiving the award, even if the services are required of all degree candidates. Therefore, a stipend your child receives for required teaching, research or other services is taxable, even if the child uses the money for tuition or related expenses.

What if you, or a family member, is an employee of an education institution that provides reduced or free tuition? A reduction in tuition provided to you, your spouse or your dependents by the school at which you work isn’t included in your income and isn’t subject to tax.

Returns and recordkeeping

If a scholarship is tax-free and your child has no other income, the award doesn’t have to be reported on a tax return. However, any portion of an award that’s taxable as payment for services is treated as wages. Estimated tax payments may have to be made if the payor doesn’t withhold enough tax. Your child should receive a Form W-2 showing the amount of these “wages” and the amount of tax withheld, and any portion of the award that’s taxable must be reported, even if no Form W-2 is received.

These are just the basic rules. Other rules and limitations may apply. For example, if your child’s scholarship is taxable, it may limit other higher education tax benefits to which you or your child are entitled. As we approach the new school year, best wishes for your child’s success in school. And please contact us if you wish to discuss these or other tax matters further.

© 2020


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Back-to-school tax breaks on the books

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, students are going back to school this fall, either remotely, in-person or under a hybrid schedule. In any event, parents may be eligible for certain tax breaks to help defray the cost of education.

Here is a summary of some of the tax breaks available for education.

1. Higher education tax credits. Generally, you may be able to claim either one of two tax credits for higher education expenses — but not both.

  • With the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), you can save a maximum of $2,500 from your tax bill for each full-time college or grad school student. This applies to qualified expenses including tuition, room and board, books and computer equipment and other supplies. But the credit is phased out for moderate-to-upper income taxpayers. No credit is allowed if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is over $90,000 ($180,000 for joint filers).
  • The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) is similar to the AOTC, but there are a few important distinctions. In this case, the maximum credit is $2,000 instead of $2,500. Furthermore, this is the overall credit allowed to a taxpayer regardless of the number of students in the family. However, the LLC is also phased out under income ranges even lower than the AOTC. You can’t claim the credit if your MAGI is $68,000 or more ($136,000 or more if you file a joint return).

For these reasons, the AOTC is generally preferable to the LLC. But parents have still another option.

2. Tuition-and-fees deduction. As an alternative to either of the credits above, parents may claim an above-the-line deduction for tuition and related fees. This deduction is either $4,000 or $2,000, depending on the taxpayer’s MAGI, before it is phased out. No deduction is allowed for MAGI above $80,000 for single filers and $160,000 for joint filers.

The tuition-and-fees deduction, which has been extended numerous times, is currently scheduled to expire after 2020. However, it’s likely to be revived again by Congress.

In addition to these tax breaks, there are other ways to save and pay for college on a tax advantaged basis. These include using Section 529 plans and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. There are limits on contributions to these saving vehicles.

Note: Thanks to a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a 529 plan can now be used to pay for up to $10,000 annually for a child’s tuition at a private or religious elementary or secondary school.

Final lesson

Typically, parents are able to take advantage of one or more of these tax breaks, even though some benefits are phased out above certain income levels. Contact us to maximize the tax breaks for your children’s education.

© 2020


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Why do partners sometimes report more income on tax returns than they receive in cash?

If you’re a partner in a business, you may have come across a situation that gave you pause. In a given year, you may be taxed on more partnership income than was distributed to you from the partnership in which you’re a partner.

Why is this? The answer lies in the way partnerships and partners are taxed. Unlike regular corporations, partnerships aren’t subject to income tax. Instead, each partner is taxed on the partnership’s earnings — whether or not they’re distributed. Similarly, if a partnership has a loss, the loss is passed through to the partners. (However, various rules may prevent a partner from currently using his share of a partnership’s loss to offset other income.)

Separate entity

While a partnership isn’t subject to income tax, it’s treated as a separate entity for purposes of determining its income, gains, losses, deductions and credits. This makes it possible to pass through to partners their share of these items.

A partnership must file an information return, which is IRS Form 1065. On Schedule K of Form 1065, the partnership separately identifies income, deductions, credits and other items. This is so that each partner can properly treat items that are subject to limits or other rules that could affect their correct treatment at the partner’s level. Examples of such items include capital gains and losses, interest expense on investment debts and charitable contributions. Each partner gets a Schedule K-1 showing his or her share of partnership items.

Basis and distribution rules ensure that partners aren’t taxed twice. A partner’s initial basis in his partnership interest (the determination of which varies depending on how the interest was acquired) is increased by his share of partnership taxable income. When that income is paid out to partners in cash, they aren’t taxed on the cash if they have sufficient basis. Instead, partners just reduce their basis by the amount of the distribution. If a cash distribution exceeds a partner’s basis, then the excess is taxed to the partner as a gain, which often is a capital gain.

Here’s an example

Two individuals each contribute $10,000 to form a partnership. The partnership has $80,000 of taxable income in the first year, during which it makes no cash distributions to the two partners. Each of them reports $40,000 of taxable income from the partnership as shown on their K-1s. Each has a starting basis of $10,000, which is increased by $40,000 to $50,000. In the second year, the partnership breaks even (has zero taxable income) and distributes $40,000 to each of the two partners. The cash distributed to them is received tax-free. Each of them, however, must reduce the basis in his partnership interest from $50,000 to $10,000.

Other rules and limitations

The example and details above are an overview and, therefore, don’t cover all the rules. For example, many other events require basis adjustments and there are a host of special rules covering noncash distributions, distributions of securities, liquidating distributions and other matters.

 

© 2020


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Take advantage of a “stepped-up basis” when you inherit property

If you’re planning your estate, or you’ve recently inherited assets, you may be unsure of the “cost” (or “basis”) for tax purposes.

Fair market value rules

Under the fair market value basis rules (also known as the “step-up and step-down” rules), an heir receives a basis in inherited property equal to its date-of-death value. So, for example, if your grandfather bought ABC Corp. stock in 1935 for $500 and it’s worth $5 million at his death, the basis is stepped up to $5 million in the hands of your grandfather’s heirs — and all of that gain escapes federal income tax forever.

The fair market value basis rules apply to inherited property that’s includible in the deceased’s gross estate, and those rules also apply to property inherited from foreign persons who aren’t subject to U.S. estate tax. It doesn’t matter if a federal estate tax return is filed. The rules apply to the inherited portion of property owned by the inheriting taxpayer jointly with the deceased, but not the portion of jointly held property that the inheriting taxpayer owned before his or her inheritance. The fair market value basis rules also don’t apply to reinvestments of estate assets by fiduciaries.

Step up, step down or carryover

It’s crucial for you to understand the fair market value basis rules so that you don’t pay more tax than you’re legally required to.

For example, in the above example, if your grandfather decides to make a gift of the stock during his lifetime (rather than passing it on when he dies), the “step-up” in basis (from $500 to $5 million) would be lost. Property that has gone up in value acquired by gift is subject to the “carryover” basis rules. That means the person receiving the gift takes the same basis the donor had in it (just $500), plus a portion of any gift tax the donor pays on the gift.

A “step-down” occurs if someone dies owning property that has declined in value. In that case, the basis is lowered to the date-of-death value. Proper planning calls for seeking to avoid this loss of basis. Giving the property away before death won’t preserve the basis. That’s because when property that has gone down in value is the subject of a gift, the person receiving the gift must take the date of gift value as his basis (for purposes of determining his or her loss on a later sale). Therefore, a good strategy for property that has declined in value is for the owner to sell it before death so he or she can enjoy the tax benefits of the loss.

These are the basic rules. Other rules and limits may apply. For example, in some cases, a deceased person’s executor may be able to make an alternate valuation election. Contact us for tax assistance when estate planning or after receiving an inheritance.

© 2020


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Strengthen your supply chain with constant risk awareness

When the COVID-19 crisis exploded in March, among the many concerns was the state of the nation’s supply chains. Business owners are no strangers to such worry. It’s long been known that, if too much of a company’s supply chain is concentrated (that is, dependent) on one thing, that business is in danger. The pandemic has only complicated matters.

To guard against this risk, you’ve got to maintain a constant awareness of the state of your supply chain and be prepared to adjust as necessary and feasible.

Products or services

The term “concentration” can be applied to both customers and suppliers. Generally, concentration risks become significant when a business relies on a customer or supplier for 10% or more of its revenue or materials, or on several customers or suppliers located in the same geographic region.

Concentration related to your specific products or services is something to keep a close eye on. If your company’s most profitable product or service line depends on a few key customers, you’re essentially at their mercy. If just one or two decide to make budget cuts or switch to a competitor, it could significantly lower your revenues.

Similarly, if a major supplier suddenly increases prices or becomes lax in quality control, your profit margin could narrow considerably. This is especially problematic if your number of alternative suppliers is limited.

To cope, do your research. Regularly look into what suppliers might best serve your business and whether new ones have emerged that might allow you to offset your dependence on one or two providers. Technology can be of great help in this effort — for example, monitor trusted news sources online, follow social media accounts of experts and use artificial intelligence to target the best deals.

Geography

A second type of concentration risk is geographic. When gauging it, assess whether many of your customers or suppliers are in one geographic region. Operating near supply chain partners offers advantages such as lower transportation costs and faster delivery. Conversely, overseas locales may enable you to cut labor and raw materials expenses.

But there are also risks associated with geographic centricity. Local weather conditions, tax rate hikes and regulatory changes can have a substantial impact. As we’ve unfortunately encountered this year, the severity of COVID-19 in different regions of the country is affecting the operational ability and capacity of suppliers in those areas.

These same threats apply when dealing with global partners, with the added complexity of greater physical distances and longer shipping times. Geopolitical uncertainty and exchange rate volatility may also negatively affect overseas suppliers.

Challenges and opportunities

Business owners — particularly those who run smaller companies — have always faced daunting challenges in maintaining strong supply chains. The pandemic has added a new and difficult dimension. Our firm can help you assess your supply chain and identify opportunities for cost-effective improvements.

© 2020


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Even if no money changes hands, bartering is a taxable transaction

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses are strapped for cash. They may find it beneficial to barter for goods and services instead of paying cash for them. If your business gets involved in bartering, remember that the fair market value of goods that you receive in bartering is taxable income. And if you exchange services with another business, the transaction results in taxable income for both parties.

For example, if a computer consultant agrees to exchange services with an advertising agency, both parties are taxed on the fair market value of the services received. This is the amount they would normally charge for the same services. If the parties agree to the value of the services in advance, that will be considered the fair market value unless there is contrary evidence.

In addition, if services are exchanged for property, income is realized. For example, if a construction firm does work for a retail business in exchange for unsold inventory, it will have income equal to the fair market value of the inventory. Another example: If an architectural firm does work for a corporation in exchange for shares of the corporation’s stock, it will have income equal to the fair market value of the stock. 

Joining a club

Many businesses join barter clubs that facilitate barter exchanges. In general, these clubs use a system of “credit units” that are awarded to members who provide goods and services. The credits can be redeemed for goods and services from other members.

Bartering is generally taxable in the year it occurs. But if you participate in a barter club, you may be taxed on the value of credit units at the time they’re added to your account, even if you don’t redeem them for actual goods and services until a later year. For example, let’s say that you earn 2,000 credit units one year, and that each unit is redeemable for $1 in goods and services. In that year, you’ll have $2,000 of income. You won’t pay additional tax if you redeem the units the next year, since you’ve already been taxed once on that income.

If you join a barter club, you’ll be asked to provide your Social Security number or employer identification number. You’ll also be asked to certify that you aren’t subject to backup withholding. Unless you make this certification, the club will withhold tax from your bartering income at a 24% rate.

Forms to file

By January 31 of each year, a barter club will send participants a Form 1099-B, “Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions,” which shows the value of cash, property, services and credits that you received from exchanges during the previous year. This information will also be reported to the IRS.

Many benefits

By bartering, you can trade away excess inventory or provide services during slow times, all while hanging onto your cash. You may also find yourself bartering when a customer doesn’t have the money on hand to complete a transaction. As long as you’re aware of the federal and state tax consequences, these transactions can benefit all parties. Contact us if you need assistance or would like more information.

 

© 2020


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The possible tax consequences of PPP loans

If your business was fortunate enough to get a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan taken out in connection with the COVID-19 crisis, you should be aware of the potential tax implications.

PPP basics

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted on March 27, 2020, is designed to provide financial assistance to Americans suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act authorized up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP. In April, Congress authorized additional PPP funding and it’s possible more relief could be part of another stimulus law.

The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with an interest rate of 1%. PPP loan proceeds must be used by the business on certain eligible expenses. The PPP allows the interest and principal on the PPP loan to be entirely forgiven if the business spends the loan proceeds on these expense items within a designated period of time and uses a certain percentage of the PPP loan proceeds on payroll expenses.

An eligible recipient may have a PPP loan forgiven in an amount equal to the sum of the following costs incurred and payments made during the covered period:

  1. Payroll costs;
  2. Interest (not principal) payments on covered mortgage obligations (for mortgages in place before February 15, 2020);
  3. Payments for covered rent obligations (for leases that began before February 15, 2020); and
  4. Certain utility payments.

An eligible recipient seeking forgiveness of indebtedness on a covered loan must verify that the amount for which forgiveness is requested was used to retain employees, make interest payments on a covered mortgage, make payments on a covered lease or make eligible utility payments.

Cancellation of debt income

In general, the reduction or cancellation of non-PPP indebtedness results in cancellation of debt (COD) income to the debtor, which may affect a debtor’s tax bill. However, the forgiveness of PPP debt is excluded from gross income. Your tax attributes (net operating losses, credits, capital and passive activity loss carryovers, and basis) wouldn’t generally be reduced on account of this exclusion.

Expenses paid with loan proceeds

The IRS has stated that expenses paid with proceeds of PPP loans can’t be deducted, because the loans are forgiven without you having taxable COD income. Therefore, the proceeds are, in effect, tax-exempt income. Expenses allocable to tax-exempt income are nondeductible, because deducting the expenses would result in a double tax benefit.

However, the IRS’s position on this issue has been criticized and some members of Congress have argued that the denial of the deduction for these expenses is inconsistent with legislative intent. Congress may pass new legislation directing IRS to allow deductions for expenses paid with PPP loan proceeds.

PPP Audits

Be aware that leaders at the U.S. Treasury and the Small Business Administration recently announced that recipients of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $2 million or more should expect an audit if they apply for loan forgiveness. This safe harbor will protect smaller borrowers from PPP audits based on good faith certifications. However, government leaders have stated that there may be audits of smaller PPP loans if they see possible misuse of funds.

Contact us with any further questions you might have on PPP loan forgiveness.

© 2020


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The President’s action to defer payroll taxes: What does it mean for your business?

On August 8, President Trump signed four executive actions, including a Presidential Memorandum to defer the employee’s portion of Social Security taxes for some people. These actions were taken in an effort to offer more relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The action only defers the taxes, which means they’ll have to be paid in the future. However, the action directs the U.S. Treasury Secretary to “explore avenues, including legislation, to eliminate the obligation to pay the taxes deferred pursuant to the implementation of this memorandum.”

Legislative history

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. A short time later, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Both laws contain economic relief provisions for employers and workers affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

The CARES Act allows employers to defer paying their portion of Social Security taxes through December 31, 2020. All 2020 deferred amounts are due in two equal installments — one at the end of 2021 and the other at the end of 2022.

New bill talks fall apart 

Discussions of another COVID-19 stimulus bill between Democratic leaders and White House officials broke down in early August. As a result, President Trump signed the memorandum that provides a payroll tax deferral for many — but not all — employees.

The memorandum directs the U.S. Treasury Secretary to defer withholding, deposit and payment of the tax on wages or compensation, as applicable, paid during the period of September 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020. This means that the employee’s share of Social Security tax will be deferred for that time period.

However, the memorandum contains the following two conditions:

  • The deferral is available with respect to any employee, the amount of whose wages or compensation, as applicable, payable during any biweekly pay period generally is less than $4,000, calculated on a pretax basis, or the equivalent amount with respect to other pay periods; and 
  • Amounts will be deferred without any penalties, interest, additional amount, or addition to the tax. 

The Treasury Secretary was ordered to provide guidance to implement the memorandum.

Legal authority

The memorandum (and the other executive actions signed on August 8) note that they’ll be implemented consistent with applicable law. However, some are questioning President Trump’s legal ability to implement the employee Social Security tax deferral.

Employer questions

Employers have questions and concerns about the payroll tax deferral. For example, since this is only a deferral, will employers have to withhold more taxes from employees’ paychecks to pay the taxes back, beginning January 1, 2021? Without a law from Congress to actually forgive the taxes, will employers be liable for paying them back? What if employers can’t get their payroll software changed in time for the September 1 start of the deferral? Are employers and employees required to take part in the payroll tax deferral or is it optional?

Contact us if you have questions about how to proceed. And stay tuned for more details about this action and any legislation that may pass soon.

© 2020


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3 steps to “stress test” your business

During the COVID-19 crisis, you can’t afford to lose sight of other ongoing risk factors, such as cyberthreats, fraud, emerging competition and natural disasters. A so-called “stress test” can help reveal blind spots that threaten to disrupt your business. A comprehensive stress test requires the following three steps.

1. Identify the risks your business faces

Here are the main types of risks to consider:

  • Operational risks (based on the inner workings of the company),
  • Financial risks (involving how the company manages its finances, including the threat of fraud and the effectiveness of internal control procedures),
  • Compliance risks (related to issues that might attract the attention of government regulators, such as environmental agencies and the IRS), and
  • Strategic risks (regarding the company’s market focus and its ability to respond to changes in customer preferences).

If you’ve conducted a risk analysis in prior years, beware: Current risk factors may be different due to changes in market conditions, business operations and technology. For example, if your business pivoted to more online orders or remote working arrangements during the pandemic, it may now be more exposed to cyberattacks than it previously was.

2. Establish a risk management strategy

Meet with managers from all functional lines of business — including sales and marketing, human resources, operations, procurement, IT, and finance and accounting — to discuss the risks that have been identified. The goal is to improve your team’s understanding of business threats and to brainstorm ways to manage those risks.

For example, if your company operates in an area prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes or wildfires, you should have a disaster recovery plan in place. Review copies of the disaster recovery plan and ask when it was last updated.

In addition to asking for feedback about identified risks, encourage managers to share any additional risk factors and projections regarding the potential financial impact. Their frontline experience can be eye-opening, especially during these unprecedented times.

3. Review and update your strategy

Managing risk is a continuous process. After creating your initial risk mitigation strategy, your management team should meet periodically to review whether it’s working. If it isn’t, brainstorm ways to fortify it.

For example, if your company’s disaster recovery plan has been activated recently, ask your management team to assess its effectiveness. Then consider making changes based on that assessment.

Need help?

While risk is part of operating a business, some organizations are more prepared to handle the unexpected than others. To ensure your company falls into the “more prepared” category, implement a stress test. We can help you assess current risks and develop a plan that’s right for you.

© 2020


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