Why it’s important to meet the tax return filing and payment deadlinesPosted on April 29th, 2021
The May 17 deadline for filing your 2020 individual tax return is coming up soon. It’s important to file and pay your tax return on time to avoid penalties imposed by the IRS. Here are the basic rules.
Failure to pay
Separate penalties apply for failing to pay and failing to file. The failure-to-pay penalty is 1/2% for each month (or partial month) the payment is late. For example, if payment is due May 17 and is made June 22, the penalty is 1% (1/2% times 2 months or partial months). The maximum penalty is 25%.
The failure-to-pay penalty is based on the amount shown as due on the return (less credits for amounts paid through withholding or estimated payments), even if the actual tax bill turns out to be higher. On the other hand, if the actual tax bill turns out to be lower, the penalty is based on the lower amount.
For example, if your payment is two months late and your return shows that you owe $5,000, the penalty is 1%, which equals $50. If you’re audited and your tax bill increases by another $1,000, the failure-to-pay penalty isn’t increased because it’s based on the amount shown on the return as due.
Failure to file
The failure-to-file penalty runs at a more severe rate of 5% per month (or partial month) of lateness to a maximum of 25%. If you obtain an extension to file (until October 15), you’re not filing late unless you miss the extended due date. However, a filing extension doesn’t apply to your responsibility for payment.
If the 1/2% failure-to-pay penalty and the failure-to-file penalty both apply, the failure-to-file penalty drops to 4.5% per month (or part) so the total combined penalty is 5%. The maximum combined penalty for the first five months is 25%. After that, the failure-to-pay penalty can continue at 1/2% per month for 45 more months (an additional 22.5%). Thus, the combined penalties could reach 47.5% over time.
The failure-to-file penalty is also more severe because it’s based on the amount required to be shown on the return, and not just the amount shown as due. (Credit is given for amounts paid via withholding or estimated payments. So if no amount is owed, there’s no penalty for late filing.) For example, if a return is filed three months late showing $5,000 owed (after payment credits), the combined penalties would be 15%, which equals $750. If the actual tax liability is later determined to be an additional $1,000, the failure to file penalty (4.5% × 3 = 13.5%) would also apply for an additional $135 in penalties.
A minimum failure to file penalty will also apply if you file your return more than 60 days late. This minimum penalty is the lesser of $210 or the tax amount required to be shown on the return.
Both penalties may be excused by IRS if lateness is due to “reasonable cause.” Typical qualifying excuses include death or serious illness in the immediate family and postal irregularities.
As you can see, filing and paying late can get expensive. Furthermore, in particularly abusive situations involving a fraudulent failure to file, the late filing penalty can reach 15% per month, with a 75% maximum. Contact us if you have questions or need an appointment to prepare your return.
Claiming the business energy credit for using alternative energyPosted on April 28th, 2021
Are you wondering whether alternative energy technologies can help you manage energy costs in your business? If so, there’s a valuable federal income tax benefit (the business energy credit) that applies to the acquisition of many types of alternative energy property.
The credit is intended primarily for business users of alternative energy (other energy tax breaks apply if you use alternative energy in your home or produce energy for sale).
The business energy credit equals 30% of the basis of the following:
- Equipment, the construction of which begins before 2024, that uses solar energy to generate electricity for heating and cooling structures, for hot water, or heat used in industrial or commercial processes (except for swimming pools). If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in calendar year 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 10%.
- Equipment, the construction of which begins before 2024, using solar energy to illuminate a structure’s inside using fiber-optic distributed sunlight. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
- Certain fuel-cell property the construction of which begins before 2024. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
- Certain small wind energy property the construction of which begins before 2024. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
- Certain waste energy property, the construction of which begins before January 1, 2024. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
- Certain offshore wind facilities with construction beginning before 2026. There’s no phase-out of this property.
The credit equals 10% of the basis of the following:
- Certain equipment used to produce, distribute, or use energy derived from a geothermal deposit.
- Certain cogeneration property with construction beginning before 2024.
- Certain microturbine property with construction beginning before 2024.
- Certain equipment, with construction beginning before 2024, that uses the ground or ground water to heat or cool a structure.
Pluses and minuses
However, there are several restrictions. For example, the credit isn’t available for property acquired with certain non-recourse financing. Additionally, if the credit is allowable for property, the “basis” is reduced by 50% of the allowable credit.
On the other hand, a favorable aspect is that, for the same property, the credit can sometimes be used in combination with other benefits — for example, federal income tax expensing, state tax credits or utility rebates.
There are business considerations unrelated to the tax and non-tax benefits that may influence your decision to use alternative energy. And even if you choose to use it, you might do so without owning the equipment, which would mean forgoing the business energy credit.
As you can see, there are many issues to consider. We can help you address these alternative energy considerations.
Unemployed last year? Buying health insurance this year? You may benefit from favorable new changesPosted on April 21st, 2021
In recent months, there have been a number of tax changes that may affect your individual tax bill. Many of these changes were enacted to help mitigate the financial damage caused by COVID-19.
Here are two changes that may result in tax savings for you on your 2020 or 2021 tax returns. The 2020 return is due on May 17, 2021 (because the IRS extended many due dates from the usual April 15 this year). If you can’t file by that date, you can request an extra five months to file your 2020 tax return by October 15, 2021. Your 2021 return will be due in April of 2022.
1. Some unemployment compensation from last year is tax free.
Many people lost their jobs last year due to pandemic shutdowns. Generally, unemployment compensation is included in gross income for federal tax purposes. But thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), enacted on March 11, 2021, up to $10,200 of unemployment compensation can be excluded from federal gross income on 2020 federal returns for taxpayers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) under $150,000. In the case of a joint return, the first $10,200 per spouse isn’t included in gross income. That means if both spouses lost their jobs and collected unemployment last year, they’re eligible for up to a $20,400 exclusion.
However, keep in mind that some states tax unemployment compensation that is exempt from federal income tax under the ARPA.
The IRS has announced that taxpayers who already filed their 2020 individual tax returns without taking advantage of the 2020 unemployment benefit exclusion, don’t need to file an amended return to take advantage of it. Any resulting overpayment of tax will be either refunded or applied to other outstanding taxes owed.
The IRS will take steps in the spring and summer to make the appropriate change to the returns, which may result in a refund. The first refunds are expected to be made in May and will continue into the summer.
2. More taxpayers may qualify for a tax credit for buying health insurance.
The premium tax credit (PTC) is a refundable credit that assists individuals and families in paying for health insurance obtained through a Marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act. The ARPA made several significant enhancements to this credit.
For example, under pre-ARPA law, individuals with household income above 400% of the federal poverty line (FPL) weren’t eligible for the PTC. But under the new law, for 2021 and 2022, the premium tax credit is available to taxpayers with household incomes that exceed 400% of the FPL. This change increases the number of people who are eligible for the credit.
Let’s say a 45-year-old unmarried man has income of $58,000 (450% of FPL) in 2021. He wouldn’t have been eligible for the PTC before ARPA was enacted. But under the ARPA, he’s eligible for a premium tax credit of about $1,250.
Other favorable changes were also made to the premium tax credit.
Many more changes
The 2020 unemployment benefit exclusion and the enhanced premium tax credit are just two of the many recent tax changes that may be beneficial to you. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.
Keep you network’s connection’s strongPosted on April 20th, 2021
Whether your employees are working from home, in the office or on the move, you need to protect network connections from illicit access. The following security steps can help foil cybercriminals:
- Have employees use business-issued devices whenever possible.
- If workers need to use their own devices, require them to be registered with your company and secured according to your policies.
- Consider implementing a virtual private network (VPN) that encrypts data as it’s sent and decrypts data when it’s received.
- Implement dual-factor authorization that, for example, requires employees to use both a network password and a one-time code sent to their mobile devices.
- Use role-based access control (RBAC) to allow only certain positions or departments to gain access to sensitive applications and data.
Learn more by reading our “Prevent and detect insider cyberattacks” blog, here.
For more tips on preventing cybercrime, contact us for help.
Know the ins and outs of “reasonable compensation” for a corporate business ownerPosted on April 19th, 2021
Owners of incorporated businesses know that there’s a tax advantage to taking money out of a C corporation as compensation rather than as dividends. The reason: A corporation can deduct the salaries and bonuses that it pays executives, but not dividend payments. Thus, if funds are paid as dividends, they’re taxed twice, once to the corporation and once to the recipient. Money paid out as compensation is only taxed once — to the employee who receives it.
However, there are limits to how much money you can take out of the corporation this way. Under tax law, compensation can be deducted only to the extent that it’s reasonable. Any unreasonable portion isn’t deductible and, if paid to a shareholder, may be taxed as if it were a dividend. Keep in mind that the IRS is generally more interested in unreasonable compensation payments made to someone “related” to a corporation, such as a shareholder-employee or a member of a shareholder’s family.
Determining reasonable compensation
There’s no easy way to determine what’s reasonable. In an audit, the IRS examines the amount that similar companies would pay for comparable services under similar circumstances. Factors that are taken into account include the employee’s duties and the amount of time spent on those duties, as well as the employee’s skills, expertise and compensation history. Other factors that may be reviewed are the complexities of the business and its gross and net income.
There are some steps you can take to make it more likely that the compensation you earn will be considered “reasonable,” and therefore deductible by your corporation. For example, you can:
- Keep compensation in line with what similar businesses are paying their executives (and keep whatever evidence you can get of what others are paying to support what you pay).
- In the minutes of your corporation’s board of directors, contemporaneously document the reasons for compensation paid. For example, if compensation is being increased in the current year to make up for earlier years in which it was low, be sure that the minutes reflect this. (Ideally, the minutes for the earlier years should reflect that the compensation paid then was at a reduced rate.) Cite any executive compensation or industry studies that back up your compensation amounts.
- Avoid paying compensation in direct proportion to the stock owned by the corporation’s shareholders. This looks too much like a disguised dividend and will probably be treated as such by IRS.
- If the business is profitable, pay at least some dividends. This avoids giving the impression that the corporation is trying to pay out all of its profits as compensation.
You can avoid problems and challenges by planning ahead. If you have questions or concerns about your situation, contact us.
Home sales: How to determine your “basis”Posted on April 14th, 2021
The housing market in many parts of the country is strong this spring. If you’re buying or selling a home, you should know how to determine your “basis.”
How it works
You can claim an itemized deduction on your tax return for real estate taxes and home mortgage interest. Most other home ownership costs can’t be deducted currently. However, these costs may increase your home’s “basis” (your cost for tax purposes). And a higher basis can save taxes when you sell.
The law allows an exclusion from income for all or part of the gain realized on the sale of your home. The general exclusion limit is $250,000 ($500,000 for married taxpayers). You may feel the exclusion amount makes keeping track of the basis relatively unimportant. Many homes today sell for less than $500,000. However, that reasoning doesn’t take into account what may happen in the future. If history is any indication, a home that’s owned for 20 or 30 years appreciates greatly. Thus, you want your basis to be as high as possible in order to avoid or reduce the tax that may result when you eventually sell.
To prove the amount of your basis, keep accurate records of your purchase price, closing costs, and other expenses that increase your basis. Save receipts and other records for improvements and additions you make to the home. When you eventually sell, your basis will establish the amount of your gain. Keep the supporting documentation for at least three years after you file your return for the sale year.
Start with the purchase price
The main element in your home’s basis is the purchase price. This includes your down payment and any debt, such as a mortgage. It also includes certain settlement or closing costs. If you had your house built on land you own, your basis is the cost of the land plus certain costs to complete the house.
You add to the cost of your home expenses that you paid in connection with the purchase, including attorney’s fees, abstract fees, owner’s title insurance, recording fees and transfer taxes. The basis of your home is affected by expenses after a casualty to restore damaged property and depreciation if you used your home for business or rental purposes,
Over time, you may make additions and improvements to your home. Add the cost of these improvements to your basis. Improvements that add to your home’s basis include:
- A room addition,
- Finishing the basement,
- A fence,
- Storm windows or doors,
- A new heating or central air conditioning system,
- A new roof, and
- Driveway paving.
Home expenses that don’t add much to the value or the property’s life are considered repairs, not improvements. Therefore, you can’t add them to the property’s basis. Repairs include painting, fixing gutters, repairing leaks and replacing broken windows. However, an entire job is considered an improvement if items that would otherwise be considered repairs are done as part of extensive remodeling.
The cost of appliances purchased for your home generally don’t add to your basis unless they are considered attached to the house. Thus, the cost of a built-in oven or range would increase basis. But an appliance that can be easily removed wouldn’t.
Plan for best results
Other rules and requirements may apply. We can help you plan for the best tax results involving your home’s basis.
Simple retirement savings options for your small businessPosted on April 11th, 2021
Are you thinking about setting up a retirement plan for yourself and your employees, but you’re worried about the financial commitment and administrative burdens involved in providing a traditional pension plan? Two options to consider are a “simplified employee pension” (SEP) or a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE).
SEPs are intended as an alternative to “qualified” retirement plans, particularly for small businesses. The relative ease of administration and the discretion that you, as the employer, are permitted in deciding whether or not to make annual contributions, are features that are appealing.
If you don’t already have a qualified retirement plan, you can set up a SEP simply by using the IRS model SEP, Form 5305-SEP. By adopting and implementing this model SEP, which doesn’t have to be filed with the IRS, you’ll have satisfied the SEP requirements. This means that as the employer, you’ll get a current income tax deduction for contributions you make on behalf of your employees. Your employees won’t be taxed when the contributions are made but will be taxed later when distributions are made, usually at retirement. Depending on your needs, an individually-designed SEP — instead of the model SEP — may be appropriate for you.
When you set up a SEP for yourself and your employees, you’ll make deductible contributions to each employee’s IRA, called a SEP-IRA, which must be IRS-approved. The maximum amount of deductible contributions that you can make to an employee’s SEP-IRA, and that he or she can exclude from income, is the lesser of: 25% of compensation and $58,000 for 2021. The deduction for your contributions to employees’ SEP-IRAs isn’t limited by the deduction ceiling applicable to an individual’s own contribution to a regular IRA. Your employees control their individual IRAs and IRA investments, the earnings on which are tax-free.
There are other requirements you’ll have to meet to be eligible to set up a SEP. Essentially, all regular employees must elect to participate in the program, and contributions can’t discriminate in favor of the highly compensated employees. But these requirements are minor compared to the bookkeeping and other administrative burdens connected with traditional qualified pension and profit-sharing plans.
The detailed records that traditional plans must maintain to comply with the complex nondiscrimination regulations aren’t required for SEPs. And employers aren’t required to file annual reports with IRS, which, for a pension plan, could require the services of an actuary. The required recordkeeping can be done by a trustee of the SEP-IRAs — usually a bank or mutual fund.
Another option for a business with 100 or fewer employees is a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE). Under these plans, a “SIMPLE IRA” is established for each eligible employee, with the employer making matching contributions based on contributions elected by participating employees under a qualified salary reduction arrangement. The SIMPLE plan is also subject to much less stringent requirements than traditional qualified retirement plans. Or, an employer can adopt a “simple” 401(k) plan, with similar features to a SIMPLE plan, and automatic passage of the otherwise complex nondiscrimination test for 401(k) plans.
For 2021, SIMPLE deferrals are up to $13,500 plus an additional $3,000 catch-up contributions for employees age 50 and older.
Contact us for more information or to discuss any other aspect of your retirement planning.
Need a new business vehicle? Consider a heavy SUVPosted on April 9th, 2021
Are you considering buying or replacing a vehicle that you’ll use in your business? If you choose a heavy sport utility vehicle (SUV), you may be able to benefit from lucrative tax rules for those vehicles.
Under current law, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that’s acquired and placed in service in a calendar year. New and pre-owned heavy SUVs, pickups and vans acquired and put to business use in 2021 are eligible for 100% first-year bonus depreciation. The only requirement is that you must use the vehicle more than 50% for business. If your business usage is between 51% and 99%, you can deduct that percentage of the cost in the first year the vehicle is placed in service. This generous tax break is available for qualifying vehicles that are acquired and placed in service through December 31, 2022.
The 100% first-year bonus depreciation write-off will reduce your federal income tax bill and self-employment tax bill, if applicable. You might get a state tax income deduction, too.
This option is available only if the manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is above 6,000 pounds. You can verify a vehicle’s GVWR by looking at the manufacturer’s label, usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door where the door hinges meet the frame.
Note: These tax benefits are subject to adjustment for non-business use. And if business use of an SUV doesn’t exceed 50% of total use, the SUV won’t be eligible for the expensing election, and would have to be depreciated on a straight-line method over a six-tax-year period.
Detailed, contemporaneous expense records are essential — in case the IRS questions your heavy vehicle’s claimed business-use percentage.
That means you’ll need to keep track of the miles you’re driving for business purposes, compared to the vehicle’s total mileage for the year. Recordkeeping is much simpler today, now that there are apps and mobile technology you can use. Or simply keep a small calendar or mileage log in your car and record details as business trips occur.
If you’re considering buying an eligible vehicle, doing so and placing it in service before the end of this tax year could deliver a big write-off on your 2021 tax return. Before signing a sales contract, consult with us to help evaluate the right tax moves for your business.
Tax advantages of hiring your child at your small businessPosted on April 8th, 2021
As a business owner, you should be aware that you can save family income and payroll taxes by putting your child on the payroll.
Here are some considerations.
Shifting business earnings
You can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income by shifting some business earnings to a child as wages for services performed. In order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.
For example, suppose you’re a sole proprietor in the 37% tax bracket. You hire your 16-year-old son to help with office work full-time in the summer and part-time in the fall. He earns $10,000 during the year (and doesn’t have other earnings). You can save $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to your son, who can use his $12,550 standard deduction for 2021 to shelter his earnings.
Family taxes are cut even if your son’s earnings exceed his standard deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to him beginning at a 10% rate, instead of being taxed at your higher rate.
Income tax withholding
Your business likely will have to withhold federal income taxes on your child’s wages. Usually, an employee can claim exempt status if he or she had no federal income tax liability for last year and expects to have none this year.
However, exemption from withholding can’t be claimed if: 1) the employee’s income exceeds $1,100 for 2021 (and includes more than $350 of unearned income), and 2) the employee can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return.
Keep in mind that your child probably will get a refund for part or all of the withheld tax when filing a return for the year.
Social Security tax savings
If your business isn’t incorporated, you can also save some Social Security tax by shifting some of your earnings to your child. That’s because services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent isn’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes.
A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA (unemployment) tax, which exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 employed by a parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting only of his or her parents.
Note: There’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or is a partnership that includes non-parent partners. However, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work you’d pay someone else to do.
Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement savings, depending on your plan and how it defines qualifying employees. For example, if you have a SEP plan, a contribution can be made for the child up to 25% of his or her earnings (not to exceed $58,000 for 2021).
Contact us if you have any questions about these rules in your situation. Keep in mind that some of the rules about employing children may change from year to year and may require your income-shifting strategies to change too.
Is an S corporation the best choice of entity for your business?Posted on April 7th, 2021
Are you thinking about launching a business with some partners and wondering what type of entity to form? An S corporation may be the most suitable form of business for your new venture. Here’s an explanation of the reasons why.
The biggest advantage of an S corporation over a partnership is that as S corporation shareholders, you won’t be personally liable for corporate debts. In order to receive this protection, it’s important that the corporation be adequately financed, that the existence of the corporation as a separate entity be maintained and that various formalities required by your state be observed (for example, filing articles of incorporation, adopting by-laws, electing a board of directors and holding organizational meetings).
If you expect that the business will incur losses in its early years, an S corporation is preferable to a C corporation from a tax standpoint. Shareholders in a C corporation generally get no tax benefit from such losses. In contrast, as S corporation shareholders, each of you can deduct your percentage share of these losses on your personal tax returns to the extent of your basis in the stock and in any loans you 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.
Once the S corporation begins to earn profits, the income will be taxed directly to you whether or not it’s distributed. It will be reported on your individual tax return and be aggregated with income from other sources. To the extent the income is passed through to you as qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the 20% pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations. Your share of the S corporation’s income won’t be subject to self-employment tax, but your wages will be subject to Social Security taxes.
Are you planning to provide fringe benefits such as health and life insurance? If so, you should be aware that the costs of providing such benefits to a more than 2% shareholder are deductible by the entity but are taxable to the recipient.
Be careful with S status
Also be aware that the S corporation could inadvertently lose its S status if you or your partners transfers stock to an ineligible shareholder such as another corporation, a partnership or a nonresident alien. If the S election were terminated, the corporation would become a taxable entity. You would not be able to deduct any losses and earnings could be subject to double taxation — once at the corporate level and again when distributed to you. In order to protect you against this risk, it’s a good idea for each of you to sign an agreement promising not to make any transfers that would jeopardize the S election.
Consult with us before finalizing your choice of entity. We can answer any questions you have and assist in launching your new venture.