The week of September 13-17 has been declared National Small Business Week by the Small Business Administration. To commemorate the week, here are three tax breaks to consider.

1. Claim bonus depreciation or a Section 179 deduction for asset additions

Under current law, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that’s acquired and placed in service in calendar year 2021. That means your business might be able to write off the entire cost of some or all asset additions on this year’s return. Consider making acquisitions between now and December 31.

Note: It doesn’t always make sense to claim a 100% bonus depreciation deduction in the first year that qualifying property is placed in service. For example, if you think that tax rates will increase in the future — either due to tax law changes or a change in your income — it might be better to forgo bonus depreciation and instead depreciate your 2021 asset acquisitions over time.

There’s also a Section 179 deduction for eligible asset purchases. The maximum Section 179 deduction is $1.05 million for qualifying property placed in service in 2021. Recent tax laws have enhanced Section 179 and bonus depreciation but most businesses benefit more by claiming bonus depreciation. We can explain the details of these tax breaks and which is right for your business. You don’t have to decide until you file your tax return.

2. Claim bonus depreciation for a heavy vehicle 

The 100% first-year bonus depreciation provision can have a sizable, beneficial impact on first-year depreciation deductions for new and used heavy SUVs, pickups and vans used over 50% for business. For federal tax purposes, heavy vehicles are treated as transportation equipment so they qualify for 100% bonus depreciation.

This option is available only when 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.

Buying an eligible vehicle and placing it in service before the end of the year can deliver a big write-off on this year’s return. Before signing a sales contract, we can help evaluate what’s right for your business.

3. Maximize the QBI deduction for pass-through businesses 

A valuable deduction is the one based on qualified business income (QBI) from pass-through entities. For tax years through 2025, the deduction can be up to 20% of a pass-through entity owner’s QBI. This deduction is subject to restrictions that can apply at higher income levels and based on the owner’s taxable income.

For QBI deduction purposes, pass-through entities are defined as sole proprietorships, single-member LLCs that are treated as sole proprietorships for tax purposes, partnerships, LLCs that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes and S corporations. For these taxpayers, the deduction can also be claimed for up to 20% of income from qualified real estate investment trust dividends and 20% of qualified income from publicly traded partnerships.

Because of various limitations on the QBI deduction, tax planning moves can unexpectedly increase or decrease it. For example, strategies that reduce this year’s taxable income can have the negative side-effect of reducing your QBI deduction. 

Plan ahead

These are only a few of the tax breaks your small business may be able to claim. Contact us to help evaluate your planning options and optimize your tax results.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

A business may be able to claim a federal income tax deduction for a theft loss. But does embezzlement count as theft? In most cases it does but you’ll have to substantiate the loss. A recent U.S. Tax Court decision illustrates how that’s sometimes difficult to do.

Basic rules for theft losses 

The tax code allows a deduction for losses sustained during the taxable year and not compensated by insurance or other means. The term “theft” is broadly defined to include larceny, embezzlement and robbery. In general, a loss is regarded as arising from theft only if there’s a criminal element to the appropriation of a taxpayer’s property.

In order to claim a theft loss deduction, a taxpayer must prove:

  • The amount of the loss,
  • The date the loss was discovered, and
  • That a theft occurred under the law of the jurisdiction where the alleged loss occurred.

Facts of the recent court case

Years ago, the taxpayer cofounded an S corporation with another shareholder. At the time of the alleged embezzlement, the other original shareholder was no longer a shareholder, and she wasn’t supposed to be compensated by the business. However, according to court records, she continued to manage the S corporation’s books and records.

The taxpayer suffered an illness that prevented him from working for most of the year in question. During this time, the former shareholder paid herself $166,494. Later, the taxpayer filed a civil suit in a California court alleging that the woman had misappropriated funds from the business.

On an amended tax return, the corporation reported a $166,494 theft loss due to the embezzlement. The IRS denied the deduction. After looking at the embezzlement definition under California state law, the Tax Court agreed with the IRS.

The Tax Court stated that the taxpayer didn’t offer evidence that the former shareholder “acted with the intent to defraud,” and the taxpayer didn’t show that the corporation “experienced a theft meeting the elements of embezzlement under California law.”

The IRS and the court also denied the taxpayer’s alternate argument that the corporation should be allowed to claim a compensation deduction for the amount of money the former shareholder paid herself. The court stated that the taxpayer didn’t provide evidence that the woman was entitled to be paid compensation from the corporation and therefore, the corporation wasn’t entitled to a compensation deduction. (TC Memo 2021-66) 

How to proceed if you’re victimized

If your business is victimized by theft, embezzlement or internal fraud, you may be able to claim a tax deduction for the loss. Keep in mind that a deductible loss can only be claimed for the year in which the loss is discovered, and that you must meet other tax-law requirements. Keep records to substantiate the claimed theft loss, including when you discovered the loss. If you receive an insurance payment or other reimbursement for the loss, that amount must be subtracted when computing the deductible loss for tax purposes. Contact us with any questions you may have about theft and casualty loss deductions.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Commercial loans, particularly small business loans, have been in the news over the past year or so. The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program has been helpful to many companies, though fraught with administrative challenges.

As your business pushes forward, you may find yourself in need of cash in the months ahead. If so, more traditional commercial loan options are still out there. Before you apply, however, think like a lender to be as prepared as possible and know for sure that the loan is a good idea.

4 basic questions

At the most basic level, a lender has four questions in mind:

  1. How much money do you want?
  2. How do you plan to use it?
  3. When do you need it?
  4. How soon can you repay the loan?

Pose these questions to yourself and your leadership team. Be sure you’re crystal clear on the answers. You’ll need to explain your business objectives in detail and provide a history of previous lender financing as well as other capital contributions.

Lenders will also look at your company’s track record with creditors. This includes business credit reports and your company’s credit score.

Consider the three C’s

Lenders want to minimize risk. So, while you’re role-playing as one, consider the three C’s of your company:

1. Character. The strength of the management team — its skills, reputation, training and experience — is a key indicator of whether a business loan will be repaid. Strive to work through natural biases that can arise when reviewing your own performance. What areas of your business could be viewed as weaknesses, and how can you assure a lender that you’re improving them?

2. Capacity. Lenders want to know how you’ll use the loan proceeds to increase cash flow enough to make payments by the maturity date. Work up reasonable cash flow and profitability projections that demonstrate the feasibility of your strategic objectives. Convince yourself before you try to convince the bank!

3. Collateral. These are the assets pledged if you don’t generate enough incremental cash flow to repay the loan. Collateral is a lender’s backup plan in case your financial projections fall short. Examples include real estate, savings, stock, inventory and equipment.

As part of your effort to think like a lender, use your financial statements to create a thorough inventory of assets that could end up as collateral. Doing so will help you clearly see what’s at stake with the loan. You may need to put personal assets on the line as well.

Gain some insight

Applying for a business loan can be a stressful and even frustrating experience. By taking on the lender’s mindset, you’ll be better prepared for the process. What’s more, you could gain insights into how to better develop strategic initiatives. Contact our firm for help.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

For many small to midsize businesses, spending money on marketing calls for a leap of faith that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Much of the planning process tends to focus on the initial expenses incurred rather than how to measure return on investment.

Here are five questions to ask yourself and your leadership team to put a finer point on whether your marketing efforts are likely to pay off:

1. What do we hope to accomplish? Determine as specifically as possible what marketing success looks like. If the goal is to increase sales, what metric(s) are you using to calculate whether you’ve achieved adequate sales growth? Put differently, how will you know that your money was well spent?

2. Where and how often do we plan to spend money? Decide how much of your marketing will be based on recurring activity versus “one off” or ad-hoc initiatives.

For example, do you plan to buy six months of advertising on certain websites, social media platforms, or in a magazine or newspaper? Have you decided to set up a booth at an annual trade show?

Fine tune your efforts going forward by comparing inflows to outflows from various types of marketing spends. Will you be able to create a revenue inflow from sales that at least matches, if not exceeds, the outflow of marketing dollars?

3. Can we track sources of new business, as well as leads and customers? It’s critical to ask new customers how they heard about your company. This one simple question can provide invaluable information about which aspects of your marketing plan are generating the most leads.

Further, once you have discovered a lead or new customer, ensure that you maintain contact with the person or business. Letting leads and customers fall through the cracks will undermine your marketing efforts. If you haven’t already, explore customer relationship management software to help you track and analyze key data points.

4. Are we able to gauge brand awareness? In addition to generating leads, marketing can help improve brand awareness. Although an increase in brand awareness may not immediately translate to increased sales, it tends to do so over time. Identify ways to measure the impact of marketing efforts on brand awareness. Possibilities include customer surveys, website traffic data and social media interaction metrics.

5. Are we prepared for an increase in demand? It may sound like a nice problem to have, but sometimes a company’s marketing efforts are so successful that a sudden upswing in orders occurs. If the business is ill-prepared, cash flow can be strained and customers left disappointed and frustrated.

Make sure you have the staff, technology and inventory in place to meet an increase in demand that effective marketing often produces. We can help you assess the efficacy of your marketing efforts, including calculating informative metrics, and suggest ideas for improvement.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

In order to prepare for a business audit, an IRS examiner generally does research about the specific industry and issues on the taxpayer’s return. Examiners may use IRS “Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs).” A little-known secret is that these guides are available to the public on the IRS website. In other words, your business can use the same guides to gain insight into what the IRS is looking for in terms of compliance with tax laws and regulations. 

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

Unique issues

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

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

Updates and revisions

Some guides were written several years ago and others are relatively new. There is not a guide for every industry. Here are some of the guide titles that have been revised or added this year:

  • Retail Industry (March 2021),
  • Construction Industry (April 2021),
  • Nonqualified Deferred Compensation (June 2021), and
  • Real Estate Property Foreclosure and Cancellation of Debt (August 2021).

Although ATGs were created to help IRS examiners uncover common methods of hiding income and inflating deductions, they also can help businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise audit red flags. For a complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website here: https://www.checkpointmarketing.net/newsletter/linkShimRadar.cfm?key=89521181G3971J9375406&l=72457

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If your business receives large amounts of cash or cash equivalents, you may be required to report these transactions to the IRS.

What are the requirements?

Each person who, in the course of operating a trade or business, receives more than $10,000 in cash in one transaction (or two or more related transactions), must file Form 8300. What is considered a “related transaction?” Any transactions conducted in a 24-hour period. Transactions can also be considered related even if they occur over a period of more than 24 hours if the recipient knows, or has reason to know, that each transaction is one of a series of connected transactions.

To complete a Form 8300, you’ll need personal information about the person making the cash payment, including a Social Security or taxpayer identification number. 

Why does the government require reporting?

Although many cash transactions are legitimate, the IRS explains that “information reported on (Form 8300) can help stop those who evade taxes, profit from the drug trade, engage in terrorist financing and conduct other criminal activities. The government can often trace money from these illegal activities through the payments reported on Form 8300 and other cash reporting forms.”

You should keep a copy of each Form 8300 for five years from the date you file it, according to the IRS.

What’s considered “cash” and “cash equivalents?”

For Form 8300 reporting purposes, cash includes U.S. currency and coins, as well as foreign money. It also includes cash equivalents such as cashier’s checks (sometimes called bank checks), bank drafts, traveler’s checks and money orders.

Money orders and cashier’s checks under $10,000, when used in combination with other forms of cash for a single transaction that exceeds $10,000, are defined as cash for Form 8300 reporting purposes.

Note: Under a separate reporting requirement, banks and other financial institutions report cash purchases of cashier’s checks, treasurer’s checks and/or bank checks, bank drafts, traveler’s checks and money orders with a face value of more than $10,000 by filing currency transaction reports.

Can the forms be filed electronically?

Businesses required to file reports of large cash transactions on Form 8300 should know that in addition to filing on paper, e-filing is an option. The form is due 15 days after a transaction and there’s no charge for the e-file option. Businesses that file electronically get an automatic acknowledgment of receipt when they file.

The IRS also reminds businesses that they can “batch file” their reports, which is especially helpful to those required to file many forms.

How can we set up an electronic account? 

To file Form 8300 electronically, a business must set up an account with FinCEN’s Bank Secrecy Act E-Filing System. For more information, visit: https://bsaefiling.fincen.treas.gov/AboutBsa.html. Interested businesses can also call the BSA E-Filing Help Desk at 866-346-9478 (Monday through Friday from 8 am to 6 pm EST). Contact us with any questions or for assistance.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Business owners are regularly urged to create and update their succession plans. And rightfully so — in the event of an ownership change, a solid succession plan can help prevent conflicts and preserve the legacy you’ve spent years or decades building.

But if you want to take your succession plan to the next level, consider expanding its scope beyond ownership. Many companies have key employees, perhaps a CFO or an account executive, who play a critical role in the success of the business.

Your succession plan could include any employee who’s considered indispensable and difficult to replace because of experience, industry or technical knowledge, or other characteristics.

Look to the future

The first step is to identify those you consider essential employees. Whose departure would have the most significant consequence for your business and its strategic plan? Then, when you have a list of names, who might succeed them?

Pinpointing successors calls for more than simply reviewing or updating job descriptions. The right candidates must have the capability to carry out your company’s short- and long-term strategic plans and goals, which their job descriptions might not reflect.

Succession planning should take a forward-looking perspective. The current jobholder’s skills, experience and qualifications are only a starting point. What worked for the last 10 or 20 years might not cut it for the next 10 or 20.

Identify your HiPos

When the time comes, many businesses publicize open positions and invite external candidates to apply. However, it’s easier (and often advantageous) to groom internal candidates before the need arises. To do so, you’ll want to identify your “high potential” (HiPo) employees — those with the ambition, motivation and ability to move up substantially in your organization.

Assess your staff using performance evaluations, discussions about career plans and other tools to determine who can assume greater responsibility now, in a year or in several years. And look beyond the executive or management level; you may discover HiPos in lower-ranking positions.

Develop individual action plans

Once you’ve identified potential internal candidates, develop individual plans for each to follow. Consider your business’s needs, as well as each candidate’s personality and learning style.

An action plan should include multiple components. One example is job shadowing. It will give the candidate a good sense of what is involved in the position under consideration. Other components could include leadership roles on special projects, training, and mentoring and coaching.

Share your vision for the person’s future to ensure common goals. You can update action plans as your company’s and employees’ needs evolve.

Account for the job market

Succession planning beyond ownership is more important than ever in a tight job market. Vacancies for key employees are often difficult to fill — especially for demanding, highly skilled and top-tier positions. We’d be happy to help you review your succession plan and identify which positions may have the greatest financial impact on the continued profitability of your business.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

DEI programs are good for business

Many businesses are spending more time and resources on supporting the well-being of their employees. This includes recognizing and addressing issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

A thoughtfully designed DEI program can do more than just head off potential conflicts and disruptions among coworkers; it can help you attract good job candidates, retain your best employees and create a more engaged, productive workforce.

Strategic objectives

Essentially, DEI programs are formal efforts to help employees better understand, accept and appreciate differences among everyone on staff. Differences addressed typically include race, ethnicity, gender identification, age, religion, disabilities and sexual orientation. They may also include education, personality types, skill sets and life experiences. A program can comprise training courses, seminars, guest speakers, group discussions and social events.

Strategic objectives may vary depending on the business. Some companies wish to improve collaboration and productivity within or among teams, departments or business units. Others are looking to attract more diverse job candidates. And still others want to connect with growing multicultural markets that don’t necessarily respond to “traditional” messaging.

Think of implementing a DEI program as an investment. It should include specific goals and achievable, measurable returns.

Key components

Many DEI programs fail because of lack of consensus regarding their value or faulty design. Begin with executive buy-in. Successful programs start with the support of ownership and senior leadership. If they’re not committed to the program, it probably won’t last long (if it gets off the ground at all). Typically, a champion will need to build the case of why a DEI program is needed and explain how it will positively impact the organization.

You’ll also need to assemble the right team. Form a DEI committee to identify objectives and give the program its initial size and shape. If you happen to employ someone who has been involved in launching a DEI program in the past, learn all you can from that employee’s experience. Otherwise, encourage your team to research successful and unsuccessful programs. You might even engage a consultant who specializes in the field.

For clarity and consistency, put your DEI program in writing. The committee needs to develop clear language spelling out each goal. The objectives can then be reviewed, discussed and revised. Ensure the objectives support your strategic plan and that you can accurately measure progress toward each. Don’t launch the program until you’re confident it will improve your organization, not distract it.

How work is done

Events of the last year or so have led most businesses to reconsider the size, composition and operational approach of their workforces. In many industries, DEI awareness and training is playing an important role in this reckoning. We’d be happy to help you assess the costs and feasibility of a program for your business.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Perhaps you operate your small business as a sole proprietorship and want to form a limited liability company (LLC) to protect your assets. Or maybe you are launching a new business and want to know your options for setting it up. Here are the basics of operating as an LLC and why it might be appropriate for your business.

An LLC is somewhat of a hybrid entity because it can be structured to resemble a corporation for owner liability purposes and a partnership for federal tax purposes. This duality may provide the owners with the best of both worlds. 

Personal asset protection

Like the shareholders of a corporation, the owners of an LLC (called “members” rather than shareholders or partners) generally aren’t liable for the debts of the business except to the extent of their investment. Thus, the owners can operate the business with the security of knowing that their personal assets are protected from the entity’s creditors. This protection is far greater than that afforded by partnerships. In a partnership, the general partners are personally liable for the debts of the business. Even limited partners, if they actively participate in managing the business, can have personal liability.

Tax implications

The owners of an LLC can elect under the “check-the-box” rules to have the entity treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes. This can provide a number of important benefits to the owners. For example, partnership earnings aren’t subject to an entity-level tax. Instead, they “flow through” to the owners, in proportion to the owners’ respective interests in profits, and are reported on the owners’ individual returns and are taxed only once.

To the extent the income passed through to you is qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the Code Section 199A pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations. In addition, since you’re actively managing the business, you can deduct on your individual tax return your ratable shares of any losses the business generates. This, in effect, allows you to shelter other income that you and your spouse may have.

An LLC that’s taxable as a partnership can provide special allocations of tax benefits to specific partners. This can be an important reason for using an LLC over an S corporation (a form of business that provides tax treatment that’s similar to a partnership). Another reason for using an LLC over an S corporation is that LLCs aren’t subject to the restrictions the federal tax code imposes on S corporations regarding the number of owners and the types of ownership interests that may be issued. 

Review your situation

In summary, an LLC can give you corporate-like protection from creditors while providing the benefits of taxation as a partnership. For these reasons, you should consider operating your business as an LLC. Contact us to discuss in more detail how an LLC might benefit you and the other owners.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Most business owners would likely agree that strategic planning is important. Yet many companies rarely engage in active measures to gather and discuss strategy. Sometimes strategic planning is tacked on to a meeting about something else; other times it occurs only at the annual company retreat when employees may feel out of their element and perhaps not be fully focused.

Businesses should take strategic planning seriously. One way to do so is to hold meetings exclusively focused on discussing your company’s direction, establishing goals and identifying the resources you’ll need to achieve them. To get the most from strategy sessions, follow some of the best practices you’d use for any formal business meeting.

Set an agenda

Every strategy session should have an agenda that’s relevant to strategic planning — and only strategic planning. Allocate an appropriate amount of time for each agenda item so that the meeting is neither too long nor too short.

Before the meeting, distribute a document showing who’ll be presenting on each agenda topic. The idea is to create a “no surprises” atmosphere in which attendees know what to expect and can thereby think about the topics in advance and bring their best ideas and feedback.

Lay down rules (if necessary)

Depending on your workplace culture, you may want to state some upfront rules. Address the importance of timely attendance and professional decorum — either in writing or by announcement as the meeting begins.

Every business may not need to do this, but meetings that become hostile or chaotic with personal conflicts or “side chatter” can undermine the purpose of strategic planning. Consider whether to identify conflict resolution methods that participants must agree to follow.

Choose a facilitator

A facilitator should oversee the meeting. He or she is responsible for:

  • Starting and ending on time,
  • Transitioning from one agenda item to the next,
  • Enforcing the rules as necessary,
  • Motivating participation from everyone, and
  • Encouraging a positive, productive atmosphere.

If no one at your company feels up to the task, you could engage an outside consultant. Although you’ll need to vet the person carefully and weigh the financial cost, a skilled professional facilitator can make a big difference.

Keep minutes

Recording the minutes of a strategic planning meeting is essential. An official record will document what took place and which decisions (if any) were made. It will also serve as a log of potentially valuable ideas or future agenda items.

In addition, accurate meeting minutes will curtail miscommunications and limit memory lapses of what was said and by whom. If no record is kept, people’s memories may differ about the conclusions reached and disagreements could later arise about where the business is striving to head.

Gather ’round

By gathering your best and brightest to discuss strategic planning, you’ll put your company in a stronger competitive position. Contact our firm for help laying out some of the tax, accounting and financial considerations you’ll need to talk about.

© 2021 Covenant CPA