The importance of S corporation basis and distribution elections

S corporations can provide tax advantages over C corporations in the right circumstances. This is true if you expect that the business will incur losses in its early years because shareholders in a C corporation generally get no tax benefit from such losses. Conversely, as an S corporation shareholder, you can deduct your percentage share of these losses on your personal tax return to the extent of your basis in the stock and any loans you personally make to the entity.

Losses that can’t be deducted because they exceed your basis are carried forward and can be deducted by you when there’s sufficient basis.

Therefore, your ability to use losses that pass through from an S corporation depends on your basis in the corporation’s stock and debt. And, basis is important for other purposes such as determining the amount of gain or loss you recognize if you sell the stock. Your basis in the corporation is adjusted to reflect various events such as distributions from the corporation, contributions you make to the corporation and the corporation’s income or loss.

Adjustments to basis

However, you may not be aware that several elections are available to an S corporation or its shareholders that can affect the basis adjustments caused by distributions and other events. Here is some information about four elections:

  1. An S corporation shareholder may elect to reverse the normal order of basis reductions and have the corporation’s deductible losses reduce basis before basis is reduced by nondeductible, noncapital expenses. Making this election may permit the shareholder to deduct more pass-through losses.
  2. An election that can help eliminate the corporation’s accumulated earnings and profits from C corporation years is the “deemed dividend election.” This election can be useful if the corporation isn’t able to, or doesn’t want to, make an actual dividend distribution.
  3. If a shareholder’s interest in the corporation terminates during the year, the corporation and all affected shareholders can agree to elect to treat the corporation’s tax year as having closed on the date the shareholder’s interest terminated. This election affords flexibility in the allocation of the corporation’s income or loss to the shareholders and it may affect the category of accumulated income out of which a distribution is made.
  4. An election to terminate the S corporation’s tax year may also be available if there has been a disposition by a shareholder of 20% or more of the corporation’s stock within a 30-day period. 

Contact us if you would like to go over how these elections, as well as other S corporation planning strategies, can help maximize the tax benefits of operating as an S corporation.

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Best practices when forecasting cash flow

Cash flow is a top concern for most businesses today. Cash flow forecasts can help you predict potential shortfalls and proactively address working capital gaps. They can also help avoid late payments, identify late-paying customers and find alternative sources of funding when cash is tight. To keep your company’s cash flow positive, consider applying these four best practices.

1. Identify peak needs

Many businesses are cyclical, and their cash flow needs may vary by month or season. Trouble can arise when an annual budget doesn’t reflect, for example, three months of peak production in the summer to fill holiday orders followed by a return to normal production in the fall.

For seasonal operations — such as homebuilders, farms, landscaping companies, recreational facilities and many nonprofits — using a one-size-fits-all approach can throw budgets off, sometimes dramatically. It’s critical to identify peak sales and production times, forecast your cash flow needs and plan accordingly.

2. Account for everything

Effective cash flow management requires anticipating and capturing every expense and incoming payment, as well as — to the greatest extent possible — the exact timing of each payable and receivable. But pinpointing exact costs and expenditures for every day of the week can be challenging.

Companies can face an array of additional costs, overruns and payment delays. Although inventorying all possible expenses can be a tedious and time-consuming exercise, it can help avoid problems down the road.

3. Seek sources of contingency funding

As your business expands or contracts, a dedicated line of credit with a bank can help meet your cash flow needs, including any periodic cash shortages. Interest rates on these credit lines can be comparatively high compared to other types of loans. So, lines of credit typically are used to cover only short-term operational costs, such as payroll and supplies. They also may require significant collateral and personal guarantees from the company’s owners.

4. Identify potential obstacles

For most companies, the biggest cash flow obstacle is slow collections from customers. Your business should invoice customers in a timely manner and offer easy, convenient ways for customers to pay (such as online bill pay). For new customers, it’s important to perform a thorough credit check to avoid delayed payments and write-offs.

Another common obstacle is poor resource management. Redundant machinery, misguided investments and oversize offices are just a few examples of poorly managed expenses and overhead that can negatively affect cash flow.

Adjusting as you grow and adapt

Your company’s cash flow needs today likely aren’t what they were three years ago — or even six months ago. And they’ll probably change as you continue to adjust to the new normal. That’s why it’s important to make cash flow forecasting an integral part of your overall business planning. We can help.

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Year-end SWOT analysis can uncover risks

As your company plans for the coming year, management should assess your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A SWOT analysis identifies what you’re doing right (and wrong) and what outside forces could impact performance in a positive (or negative) manner. A current assessment may be particularly insightful, because market conditions have changed significantly during the year — and some changes may be permanent.

Inventorying strengths and weaknesses

Start your analysis by identifying internal strengths and weaknesses keeping in mind the customer’s perspective. Strengths represent potential areas for boosting revenues and building value, including core competencies and competitive advantages. Examples might include a strong brand or an exceptional sales team.

It’s important to unearth the source of each strength. When strengths are largely tied to people, rather than the business itself, consider what might happen if a key person suddenly left the business. To offset key person risks, consider purchasing life insurance policies on key people, initiating noncompete agreements and implementing a formal succession plan.

Alternatively, weaknesses represent potential risks and should be minimized or eliminated. They might include low employee morale, weak internal controls, unreliable quality or a location with poor accessibility. Often weaknesses are evaluated relative to the company’s competitors.

Anticipating opportunities and threats

The next part of a SWOT analysis looks externally at what’s happening in the industry, economy and regulatory environment. Opportunities are favorable external conditions that could increase revenues and value if the company acts on them before its competitors do.

Threats are unfavorable conditions that might prevent your company from achieving its goals. They might come from the economy, technological changes, competition and government regulations, including COVID-19-related operating restrictions. The idea is to watch for and minimize existing and potential threats.

Think like an auditor

During a financial statement audit, your accountant conducts a risk assessment. That assessment can provide a meaningful starting point for your SWOT analysis. Contact us for more information.

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Small businesses: Cash in on depreciation tax savers

As we approach the end of the year, it’s a good time to think about whether your business needs to buy business equipment and other depreciable property. If so, you may benefit from the Section 179 depreciation tax deduction for business property. The election provides a tax windfall to businesses, enabling them to claim immediate deductions for qualified assets, instead of taking depreciation deductions over time.

Even better, the Sec. 179 deduction isn’t the only avenue for immediate tax write-offs for qualified assets. Under the 100% bonus depreciation tax break, the entire cost of eligible assets placed in service in 2020 can be written off this year.

But to benefit for this tax year, you need to buy and place qualifying assets in service by December 31.

What qualifies?

The Sec. 179 deduction applies to tangible personal property such as machinery and equipment purchased for use in a trade or business, and, if the taxpayer elects, qualified real property. It’s generally available on a tax year basis and is subject to a dollar limit.

The annual deduction limit is $1.04 million for tax years beginning in 2020, subject to a phaseout rule. Under the rule, the deduction is phased out (reduced) if more than a specified amount of qualifying property is placed in service during the tax year. The amount is $2.59 million for tax years beginning in 2020. (Note: Different rules apply to heavy SUVs.)

There’s also a taxable income limit. If your taxable business income is less than the dollar limit for that year, the amount for which you can make the election is limited to that taxable income. However, any amount you can’t immediately deduct is carried forward and can be deducted in later years (to the extent permitted by the applicable dollar limit, the phaseout rule, and the taxable income limit).

In addition to significantly increasing the Sec. 179 deduction, the TCJA also expanded the definition of qualifying assets to include depreciable tangible personal property used mainly in the furnishing of lodging, such as furniture and appliances.

The TCJA also expanded the definition of qualified real property to include qualified improvement property and some improvements to nonresidential real property, such as roofs; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems.

What about bonus depreciation?

With bonus depreciation, businesses are allowed to deduct 100% of the cost of certain assets in the first year, rather than capitalize them on their balance sheets and gradually depreciate them. (Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, you could deduct only 50% of the cost of qualified new property.)

This tax break applies to qualifying assets placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (by December 31, 2023, for certain assets with longer production periods and for aircraft). After that, the bonus depreciation percentage is reduced by 20% per year, until it’s fully phased out after 2026 (or after 2027 for certain assets described above).

Bonus depreciation is allowed for both new and used qualifying assets, which include most categories of tangible depreciable assets other than real estate.

Important: When both 100% first-year bonus depreciation and the Sec. 179 deduction are available for the same asset, it’s generally more advantageous to claim 100% bonus depreciation, because there are no limitations on it.

Need assistance?

These favorable depreciation deductions may deliver tax-saving benefits to your business on your 2020 return. Contact us if you have questions, or you want more information about how your business can maximize the deductions.

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Taking distributions from a traditional IRA

Although planning is needed to help build the biggest possible nest egg in your traditional IRA (including a SEP-IRA and SIMPLE-IRA), it’s even more critical that you plan for withdrawals from these tax-deferred retirement vehicles. There are three areas where knowing the fine points of the IRA distribution rules can make a big difference in how much you and your family will keep after taxes:

Early distributions. What if you need to take money out of a traditional IRA before age 59½? For example, you may need money to pay your child’s education expenses, make a down payment on a new home or meet necessary living expenses if you retire early. In these cases, any distribution to you will be fully taxable (unless nondeductible contributions were made, in which case part of each payout will be tax-free). In addition, distributions before age 59½ may also be subject to a 10% penalty tax. However, there are several ways that the penalty tax (but not the regular income tax) can be avoided, including a method that’s tailor-made for individuals who retire early and need to draw cash from their traditional IRAs to supplement other income.

Naming beneficiaries. The decision concerning who you want to designate as the beneficiary of your traditional IRA is critically important. This decision affects the minimum amounts you must generally withdraw from the IRA when you reach age 72, who will get what remains in the account at your death, and how that IRA balance can be paid out. What’s more, a periodic review of the individual(s) you’ve named as IRA beneficiaries is vital. This helps assure that your overall estate planning objectives will be achieved in light of changes in the performance of your IRAs, as well as in your personal, financial and family situation.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs). Once you attain age 72, distributions from your traditional IRAs must begin. If you don’t withdraw the minimum amount each year, you may have to pay a 50% penalty tax on what should have been paid out — but wasn’t. However, for 2020, the CARES Act suspended the RMD rules — including those for inherited accounts — so you don’t have to take distributions this year if you don’t want to. Beginning in 2021, the RMD rules will kick back in unless Congress takes further action. In planning for required distributions, your income needs must be weighed against the desirable goal of keeping the tax shelter of the IRA going for as long as possible for both yourself and your beneficiaries.

Traditional versus Roth

It may seem easier to put money into a traditional IRA than to take it out. This is one area where guidance is essential, and we can assist you and your family. Contact us to conduct a review of your traditional IRAs and to analyze other aspects of your retirement planning. We can also discuss whether you can benefit from a Roth IRA, which operate under a different set of rules than traditional IRAs.

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Understanding the passive activity loss rules

Are you wondering if the passive activity loss rules affect business ventures you’re engaged in — or might engage in?

If the ventures are passive activities, the passive activity loss rules prevent you from deducting expenses that are generated by them in excess of their income. You can’t deduct the excess expenses (losses) against earned income or against other nonpassive income. Nonpassive income for this purpose includes interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, gains and losses from most property dispositions, and income from certain oil and gas property interests. So you can’t deduct passive losses against those income items either.

Any losses that you can’t use aren’t lost. Instead, they’re carried forward, indefinitely, to tax years in which your passive activities generate enough income to absorb the losses. To the extent your passive losses from an activity aren’t used up in this way, you’ll be allowed to use them in the tax year in which you dispose of your interest in the activity in a fully taxable transaction, or in the tax year you die.

Passive vs. material

Passive activities are trades, businesses or income-producing activities in which you don’t “materially participate.” The passive activity loss rules also apply to any items passed through to you by partnerships in which you’re a partner, or by S corporations in which you’re a shareholder. This means that any losses passed through to you by partnerships or S corporations will be treated as passive, unless the activities aren’t passive for you.

For example, let’s say that in addition to your regular professional job, you’re a limited partner in a partnership that cleans offices. Or perhaps you’re a shareholder in an S corp that operates a manufacturing business (but you don’t participate in the operations).

If you don’t materially participate in the partnership or S corporation, those activities are passive. On the other hand, if you “materially participate,” the activities aren’t passive (except for rental activities, discussed below), and the passive activity rules won’t apply to the losses. To materially participate, you must be involved in the operations on a regular, continuous and substantial basis.

The IRS uses several tests to establish material participation. Under the most frequently used test, you’re treated as materially participating in an activity if you participate in it for more than 500 hours in the tax year. While other tests require fewer hours, all the tests require you to establish how you participated and the amount of time spent. You can establish this by any reasonable means such as contemporaneous appointment books, calendars, time reports or logs.

Rental activities

Rental activities are automatically treated as passive, regardless of your participation. This means that, even if you materially participate in them, you can’t deduct the losses against your earned income, interest, dividends, etc. There are two important exceptions:

  • You can deduct up to $25,000 of losses from rental real estate activities (even though they’re passive) against earned income, interest, dividends, etc., if you “actively participate” in the activities (requiring less participation than “material participation”) and if your adjusted gross income doesn’t exceed specified levels.
  • If you qualify as a “real estate professional” (which requires performing substantial services in real property trades or businesses), your rental real estate activities aren’t automatically treated as passive. So losses from those activities can be deducted against earned income, interest, dividends, etc., if you materially participate.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss how these rules apply to your business.

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Now more than ever, carefully track payroll records

The subject of payroll has been top-of-mind for business owners this year. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered economic changes that caused considerable fluctuations in the size of many companies’ workforces. Employees have been laid off, furloughed and, in some cases, rehired. There has also been crisis relief for eligible businesses in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program and the payroll tax credit.

Payroll recordkeeping was important in the “old normal,” but it’s even more important now as businesses continue to navigate their way through a slowly recovering economy and ongoing public health crisis.

Four years

Most employers must withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes from their employees’ paychecks. As such, you must keep records relating to these taxes for at least four years after the due date of an employee’s personal income tax return (generally, April 15) for the year in which the payment was made. This is often referred to as the “records-in-general rule.”

These records include your Employer Identification Number, as well as your employees’ names, addresses, occupations and Social Security numbers. You should also keep for four years the total amounts and dates of payments of compensation and amounts withheld for taxes or otherwise — including reported tips and the fair market value of noncash payments.

In addition, track and retain the compensation amounts subject to withholding for federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes, as well as the corresponding amounts withheld for each tax (and the date withheld if withholding occurred on a day different from the payment date). Where applicable, note the reason(s) why total compensation and taxable amount for each tax rate are different.

So much more

A variety of other data and documents fall under the records-in-general rule. Examples include:

  • The pay period covered by each payment of compensation,
  • Forms W-4, “Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate,” and
  • Each employee’s beginning and ending dates of employment.

If your business involves customer tipping, you should retain statements provided by employees reporting tips received. Also carefully track fringe benefits provided to employees, including any required substantiation. Retain evidence of adjustments or settlements of taxes and amounts and dates of tax deposits.

Follow the records-in-general rule, too, for records relating to wage continuation payments made to employees by the employer or third party under an accident or health plan. Documentation should include the beginning and ending dates of the period of absence, and the amount and weekly rate of each payment (including payments made by third parties).

Last, keep copies of each employee’s Form W-4S, “Request for Federal Income Tax Withholding From Sick Pay,” and, where applicable, copies of Form 8922, “Third-Party Sick Pay Recap.”

Valuable information

Proper and comprehensive payroll recordkeeping has become even more critical — and potentially more complex — this year. Our firm can help review your processes in this area and identify improvements that will enable you to avoid compliance problems and make better use of this valuable information.

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Divorcing couples should understand these 4 tax issues

When a couple is going through a divorce, taxes are probably not foremost in their minds. But without proper planning and advice, some people find divorce to be an even more taxing experience. Several tax concerns need to be addressed to ensure that taxes are kept to a minimum and that important tax-related decisions are properly made. Here are four issues to understand if you’re in the midst of a divorce.

Issue 1: Alimony or support payments. For alimony under divorce or separation agreements that are executed after 2018, there’s no deduction for alimony and separation support payments for the spouse making them. And the alimony payments aren’t included in the gross income of the spouse receiving them. (The rules are different for divorce or separation agreements executed before 2019.)

Issue 2: Child support. No matter when a divorce or separation instrument is executed, child support payments aren’t deductible by the paying spouse (or taxable to the recipient).

Issue 3: Your residence. Generally, if a married couple sells their home in connection with a divorce or legal separation, they should be able to avoid tax on up to $500,000 of gain (as long as they’ve owned and used the residence as their principal residence for two of the previous five years). If one spouse continues to live in the home and the other moves out (but they both remain owners of the home), they may still be able to avoid gain on the future sale of the home (up to $250,000 each), but special language may have to be included in the divorce decree or separation agreement to protect the exclusion for the spouse who moves out.

If the couple doesn’t meet the two-year ownership and use tests, any gain from the sale may qualify for a reduced exclusion due to unforeseen circumstances.

Issue 4: Pension benefits. A spouse’s pension benefits are often part of a divorce property settlement. In these cases, the commonly preferred method to handle the benefits is to get a “qualified domestic relations order” (QDRO). This gives one spouse the right to share in the pension benefits of the other and taxes the spouse who receives the benefits. Without a QDRO the spouse who earned the benefits will still be taxed on them even though they’re paid out to the other spouse.

More to consider

These are just some of the issues you may have to deal with if you’re getting a divorce. In addition, you must decide how to file your tax return (single, married filing jointly, married filing separately or head of household). You may need to adjust your income tax withholding and you should notify the IRS of any new address or name change. If you own a business, you may have to pay your spouse a share. There are also estate planning considerations. Contact us to help you work through the financial issues involved in divorce.

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The next estimated tax deadline is January 15 if you have to make a payment

If you’re self-employed and don’t have withholding from paychecks, you probably have to make estimated tax payments. These payments must be sent to the IRS on a quarterly basis. The fourth 2020 estimated tax payment deadline for individuals is Friday, January 15, 2021. Even if you do have some withholding from paychecks or payments you receive, you may still have to make estimated payments if you receive other types of income such as Social Security, prizes, rent, interest, and dividends.

Pay-as-you-go system

You must make sufficient federal income tax payments long before the April filing deadline through withholding, estimated tax payments, or a combination of the two. If you fail to make the required payments, you may be subject to an underpayment penalty, as well as interest.

In general, you must make estimated tax payments for 2020 if both of these statements apply:

  1. You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting tax withholding and credits, and
  2. You expect withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of 90% of your tax for 2020 or 100% of the tax on your 2019 return — 110% if your 2019 adjusted gross income was more than $150,000 ($75,000 for married couples filing separately).

If you’re a sole proprietor, partner or S corporation shareholder, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe $1,000 or more in tax when you file your return.

Quarterly due dates

Estimated tax payments are spread out through the year. The due dates are April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 of the following year. However, if the date falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline is the next business day.

Estimated tax is calculated by factoring in expected gross income, taxable income, deductions and credits for the year. The easiest way to pay estimated tax is electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. You can also pay estimated tax by check or money order using the Estimated Tax Payment Voucher or by credit or debit card.

Seasonal businesses

Most individuals make estimated tax payments in four installments. In other words, you can determine the required annual payment, divide the number by four and make four equal payments by the due dates. But you may be able to make smaller payments under an “annualized income method.” This can be useful to people whose income isn’t uniform over the year, perhaps because of a seasonal business. You may also want to use the annualized income method if a large portion of your income comes from capital gains on the sale of securities that you sell at various times during the year.

Determining the correct amount

Contact us if you think you may be eligible to determine your estimated tax payments under the annualized income method, or you have any other questions about how the estimated tax rules apply to you.

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Health Savings Accounts for your small business

Small business owners are well aware of the increasing cost of employee health care benefits. As a result, your business may be interested in providing some of these benefits through an employer-sponsored Health Savings Account (HSA). Or perhaps you already have an HSA. It’s a good time to review how these accounts work since the IRS recently announced the relevant inflation-adjusted amounts for 2021.

The basics of HSAs

For eligible individuals, HSAs offer a tax-advantaged way to set aside funds (or have their employers do so) to meet future medical needs. Here are the key tax benefits:

  • Contributions that participants make to an HSA are deductible, within limits.
  • Contributions that employers make aren’t taxed to participants.
  • Earnings on the funds within an HSA aren’t taxed, so the money can accumulate year after year tax free.
  • HSA distributions to cover qualified medical expenses aren’t taxed.
  • Employers don’t have to pay payroll taxes on HSA contributions made by employees through payroll deductions.

Key 2020 and 2021 amounts

To be eligible for an HSA, an individual must be covered by a “high deductible health plan.” For 2020, a “high deductible health plan” is one with an annual deductible of at least $1,400 for self-only coverage, or at least $2,800 for family coverage. For 2021, these amounts are staying the same.

For self-only coverage, the 2020 limit on deductible contributions is $3,550. For family coverage, the 2020 limit on deductible contributions is $7,100. For 2021, these amounts are increasing to $3,600 and $7,200, respectively. Additionally, for 2020, annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits cannot exceed $6,900 for self-only coverage or $13,800 for family coverage. For 2021, these amounts are increasing to $7,000 and $14,000.

An individual (and the individual’s covered spouse, as well) who has reached age 55 before the close of the tax year (and is an eligible HSA contributor) may make additional “catch-up” contributions for 2020 and 2021 of up to $1,000.

Contributing on an employee’s behalf

If an employer contributes to the HSA of an eligible individual, the employer’s contribution is treated as employer-provided coverage for medical expenses under an accident or health plan and is excludable from an employee’s gross income up to the deduction limitation. There’s no “use-it-or-lose-it” provision, so funds can be built up for years. An employer that decides to make contributions on its employees’ behalf must generally make comparable contributions to the HSAs of all comparable participating employees for that calendar year. If the employer doesn’t make comparable contributions, the employer is subject to a 35% tax on the aggregate amount contributed by the employer to HSAs for that period.

Paying for eligible expenses

HSA distributions can be made to pay for qualified medical expenses. This generally means those expenses that would qualify for the medical expense itemized deduction. They include expenses such as doctors’ visits, prescriptions, chiropractic care and premiums for long-term care insurance.

If funds are withdrawn from the HSA for any other reason, the withdrawal is taxable. Additionally, an extra 20% tax will apply to the withdrawal, unless it’s made after reaching age 65, or in the event of death or disability.

As you can see, HSAs offer a flexible option for providing health care coverage, but the rules are somewhat complex. Contact us with questions or if you’d like to discuss offering this benefit to your employees.

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