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

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.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The premium tax credit (PTC) is a refundable credit that helps individuals and families pay for insurance obtained from a Health Insurance Marketplace (commonly known as an “Exchange”). A provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) created the credit.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law in March 2021, made several significant enhancements to the PTC. Although these changes expand access to the credit for individuals and families, they could increase the risk of some businesses incurring an ACA penalty.

More eligible people

Under pre-ARPA law, individuals with household income above 400% of the federal poverty line (FPL) were ineligible for the PTC. Under ARPA, for 2021 and 2022, the PTC is available to taxpayers with household incomes that exceed 400% of the FPL. This change will increase the number of PTC-eligible people.

For example, a 45-year-old single person earning $58,000 in 2021 (450% of FPL) would have been ineligible for the PTC under pre-ARPA law. Under ARPA, that individual is eligible for a PTC of about $1,250.

Lower income cap

The PTC is calculated on a sliding scale based on household income, expressed as a percentage of the FPL. The amount of the credit is limited to the excess of the premiums for the applicable benchmark plan over the taxpayer’s required share of those premiums. The required share comes from a table divided into income tiers.

Because the required share is less under the new tables for 2021 and 2022 than it otherwise would have been, the PTC will be greater. Under pre-ARPA law, a taxpayer might have had to spend as much as 9.83% of household income in 2021 on health insurance premiums. Under ARPA, that amount is capped at 8.5% for 2021 and 2022.

More penalty exposure

As mentioned, the expanded PTC will help individuals and families obtain coverage through a Health Insurance Marketplace. However, because applicable large employers (ALEs) potentially face shared responsibility penalties if full-time employees receive PTCs, expanded eligibility could increase penalty exposure for ALEs that don’t offer affordable, minimum-value coverage to all full-time employees as mandated under the ACA.

An employer’s size, for ACA purposes, is determined in any given year by its number of employees in the previous year. Generally, if your company had 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees on average during the previous year, you’ll be considered an ALE for the current calendar year. A full-time employee is someone employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week.

Assess your risk

If your business is an ALE, be sure you’re aware of this development when designing or revising your employer-provided health care benefits. Should you decide to add staff this year, keep an eye on the tipping point of when you could become an ALE. Our firm can further explain the ARPA’s premium tax credit provisions and help you determine whether you qualify as an ALE — or may soon will.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If you were to ask your IT staff about how tech support for remote employees is going, they might say something along the lines of, “Fantastic! Never better!” However, if you asked remote workers the same question, their response could be far less enthusiastic.

This was among the findings of a report by IT solutions provider 1E entitled “2021: Assessing IT’s readiness for the year of flexible working,” which surveyed 150 IT workers and 150 IT managers in large U.S. organizations. The report strikingly found that, while 100% of IT managers said they believed their internal clients were satisfied with tech support, only 44% of remote employees agreed.

Bottom line impact

By now, over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become common practice. Some businesses may begin reopening their offices and facilities as employees get vaccinated and, one hopes, virus metrics fall to manageable levels. However, that doesn’t mean everyone will be heading back to a communal working environment.

Flexible work arrangements, which include the option to telecommute, are expected to remain a valued employment feature. Remote work is also generally less expensive for employers, so many will likely continue offering or mandating it after the pandemic fades.

For business owners, this means that providing optimal IT support to remote employees will remain a mission-critical task. Failing to do so will likely hinder productivity, lower morale, and may lead to reduced employee retention and longer times to hire — all costly detriments to the bottom line.

Commonsense tips

So, how can you ensure your remote employees are well-supported? Here are some commonsense tips:

Ask them about their experiences. In many cases, business owners are simply unaware of the troubles and frustrations of remote workers when it comes to technology. Develop a relatively short, concisely worded survey and gather their input.

Invest in ongoing training for support staff. If you have IT staffers who, for years, provided mostly in-person desktop support to on-site employees, they might not serve remote workers as effectively. Having them take one or more training courses may trigger some “ah ha!” moments that improve their interactions and response times.

Review and, if necessary, upgrade systems and software. Your IT support may be falling short because it’s not fully equipped to deal with so many remote employees — a common problem during the pandemic. Assess whether:

  • Your VPN system and licensing suit your needs,
  • Additional or better cloud solutions could help, and
  • Your remote access software is helping or hampering support.

Ensure employees know how to work safely. Naturally, the remote workers themselves play a role in the stability and security of their devices and network connections. Require employees to undergo basic IT training and demonstrate understanding and compliance with your security and usage policies.

Your technological future

The pandemic has been not only a tragic crisis, but also a marked accelerator of the business trend toward remote work. We can help you evaluate your technology costs, measure productivity and determine whether upgrades are likely to be cost-effective.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law in early March, aims at offering widespread financial relief to individuals and employers adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The law specifically targets small businesses in many of its provisions.

If you own a small company, you may want to explore funding via the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. And if you happen to own a restaurant or similar enterprise, the ARPA offers a special type of grant just for you.

EIDL advances

Under the ARPA, eligible small businesses may receive targeted EIDL advances from the SBA. Amounts received as targeted EIDL advances are excluded from the gross income of the person who receives the funds. The law stipulates that no deduction or basis increase will be denied, and no tax attribute will be reduced, because of the ARPA’s gross income exclusion.

In the case of a partnership or S corporation that receives a targeted EIDL advance, any amount of the advance excluded from income under the ARPA will be treated as tax-exempt income for federal tax purposes. Because targeted EIDL advances are treated as such, they’ll be allocated to the partners or shareholders — increasing their bases in their partnership interests.

The IRS is expected to prescribe rules for determining a partner’s distributive share of EIDL advances for federal tax purposes. S corporation shareholders will receive allocations of tax-exempt income from targeted EIDL advances in proportion to their ownership interests in the company under the single-class-of-stock rule.

Restaurant revitalization grants

Under the ARPA, eligible restaurants, food trucks and similar businesses may receive restaurant revitalization grants from the SBA. As is the case for EIDL loans:

  • Amounts received as restaurant revitalization grants are excluded from the gross income of the person who receives the funds, and
  • No deduction or basis increase will be denied, and no tax attribute will be reduced, because of the ARPA’s gross income exclusion.

In the case of a partnership or S corporation that receives a restaurant revitalization grant, any amount of the grant excluded from income under the ARPA will be treated as tax-exempt income for federal tax purposes. Because restaurant revitalization grants are treated as tax-exempt income, they’ll be allocated to partners or shareholders and increase their bases in their partnership interests.

Just like EIDL advances, the IRS is expected to prescribe rules for determining a partner’s distributive share of the grant for federal tax purposes. And S corporation shareholders will receive allocations of tax-exempt income from restaurant revitalization grants in proportion to their ownership interests in the company under the single-class-of-stock rule.

Help with the process

The provisions related to EIDL advances and restaurant revitalization grants are effective as of the ARPA’s date of enactment: March 11, 2021. Contact us for help determining whether your small business or restaurant may qualify for financial relief under the ARPA and, if so, for assistance with the application process.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, which is of interest to employers. It clarifies the duration of certain COVID-19-related deadline extensions that apply to health care benefits plans.

Extensions to continue

The DOL and IRS issued guidance last year specifying that the COVID-19 outbreak period — defined as beginning March 1, 2020, and ending 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 national emergency — should be disregarded when calculating various deadlines under COBRA, ERISA and HIPAA’s special enrollment provisions.

The original emergency declaration would have expired on March 1, 2021, but it was recently extended. Although the agencies defined the outbreak period solely by reference to the COVID-19 national emergency, they relied on statutes allowing them to specify disregarded periods for a maximum of one year. Therefore, questions arose as to whether the outbreak period was required to end on February 28, 2021, one year after it began.

Notice 2021-01answers those questions by providing that the extensions have continued past February 28 and will be measured on a case-by-case basis. Specifically, applicable deadlines for individuals and plans that fall within the outbreak period will be extended (that is, the disregarded period will last) until the earlier of:

  • One year from the date the plan or individual was first eligible for outbreak period relief, or
  • The end of the outbreak period.

Once the disregarded period has ended, the timeframes that were previously disregarded will resume. Thus, the outbreak period will continue until 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency, but the maximum disregarded period for calculating relevant deadlines for any individual or plan cannot exceed one year.

Communication is necessary

The DOL advises plan sponsors to consider sending notices to participants regarding the end of the relief period, which may include reissuing or amending previous disclosures that are no longer accurate. Sponsors are also advised to notify participants who are losing coverage of other coverage options, such as through the recently announced COVID-19 special enrollment period in Health Insurance Marketplaces (commonly known as “Exchanges”).

Notice 2021-01 acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic and other circumstances may disrupt normal plan operations. The DOL reassures fiduciaries acting in good faith and with reasonable diligence that enforcement will emphasize compliance assistance and other relief. The notice further states that the IRS and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concur with the guidance and its application to laws under their jurisdiction.

Challenges ahead

Plan sponsors and administrators will likely welcome this clarification but may be disappointed in its timing and in how it interprets the one-year limitation. Determinations of the disregarded period that depend on individual circumstances could create significant administrative challenges.

In addition to making case-by-case determinations, plan sponsors and administrators must quickly develop a strategy for communicating these complex rules to participants. Contact us for further information and updates.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The U.S. economy is still a far cry from where it was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit about a year ago. Nonetheless, as vaccination efforts continue to ramp up, many experts expect stronger jobs growth and more robust economic activity in the months ahead.

No matter what your business does, you don’t want your sales staff hamstrung by overly complicated procedures as they strive to seize opportunities in the presumably brighter near-future. Here are five ways to streamline and energize your sales process:

1. Reassess territories. Business travel isn’t what it used to be, so you may not need to revise the geographic routes that your sale staff used to physically traverse. Nonetheless, you may see real efficiency gains by creating a strategic sales territory plan that aligns salespeople with regions or markets containing the prospects they’re most likely to win.

2. Focus on top-tier customers. If purchases from your most valued customers have slowed recently, find out why and reverse the trend. For your sales staff, this may mean shifting focus from winning new business to tending to these important accounts. See whether you can craft a customized plan aimed at meeting a legacy customer’s long-term needs. It might include discounts, premiums and extended warranties.

3. Cut down on “paperwork.” More than likely, “paperwork” is a figurative term these days, as most businesses have implemented electronic means to track leads, document sales efforts and record closings. Nevertheless, outdated or overly complicated software can slow a salesperson’s momentum.

You might conduct a survey to gather feedback on whether your current customer relationship management or sales management software is helping or hindering their efforts. Based on the data, you can then make sensible choices about whether to upgrade or change your system.

4. Issue a carefully chosen challenge. What allows a business to grow is not only retaining top customers, but also creating organic sales growth from new products or services. Consider creating a sales challenge that will motivate staff to push your company’s latest offerings. One facet of such a challenge may be to replace across-the-board commission rates with higher commissions on new products or “tough sells.”

5. Align commissions with financial objectives. Along with considering commissions tied to new products or difficult-to-sell products, investigate other ways you might revise commissions to incentivize your team. Examples include commissions based on:

  • Actual customer payments rather than billable orders,
  • More sales to current customers,
  • Increased order sizes,
  • Delivery of items when customers prepay, or
  • Number of new customers.

Again, these are just ideas to consider. Ultimately, you want to set up a sales compensation plan based on measurable financial goals that allow your sales staff to clearly understand how their efforts contribute to the profitability of your business. Contact us for help evaluating your sales process and targeting helpful changes.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

When the Small Business Administration (SBA) launched the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) last year, the program’s stated objective was “to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.” However, according to federal officials, the recently issued second round of funding has distributed only a small percentage of the $15 billion set aside for small businesses and low- to moderate-income “first-draw” borrowers.

In late February, the SBA, in cooperation with the Biden Administration, announced adjustments to the PPP aimed at “increasing access and much-needed aid to Main Street businesses that anchor our neighborhoods and help families build wealth,” according to SBA Senior Advisor Michael Roth.

5 primary objectives

The adjustments address five primary objectives:

1. Move the smallest businesses to the front of the line. The SBA has established a two-week exclusive application period for businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees. It began on February 24. The agency has reassured larger eligible companies that they’ll still have time to apply for and receive support before the program is set to expire on March 31.

2. Change the math. The loan calculation formula has been revised to focus on gross profits rather than net profits. The previous formula inadvertently excluded many sole proprietors, independent contractors and self-employed individuals.

3. Eliminate the non-fraud felony exclusion. Under the original PPP rules, a business was disqualified from funding if it was at least 20% owned by someone with either 1) an arrest or conviction for a felony related to financial assistance fraud in the previous five years, or 2) any other felony in the previous year. The new rules eliminate the one-year lookback for any kind of felony unless the applicant or owner is incarcerated at the time of application.

4. Eventually remove the student loan exclusion. Current rules prohibit PPP loans to any business that’s at least 20% owned by an individual who’s delinquent or has defaulted on a federal debt, which includes federal student loans, within the previous seven years. The SBA intends to collaborate with the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Education to remove the student loan delinquency restriction to broaden PPP access.

5. Clarify loan eligibility for noncitizen small business. The CARES Act stipulates that any lawful U.S. resident can apply for a PPP loan. However, holders of Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), such as Green Card holders and those in the United States on a visa, have been unable to consistently access the program. The SBA has committed to issuing new guidance to address this issue, which, in part, will state that otherwise eligible applicants can’t be denied PPP loans solely because they use ITINs when paying their taxes.

What’s ahead

The PPP could evolve further as the year goes along, potentially as an indirect result of the COVID-19 relief bill currently making its way through Congress. Our firm can keep you updated on all aspects of the program, including the tax impact of loan proceeds.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If your business sponsors a 401(k) plan, you might someday consider adding designated Roth contributions. Here are some factors to explore when deciding whether such a feature would make sense for your company and its employees.

Key differences

Roth contributions differ from other elective deferrals in two key tax respects. First, they’re irrevocably designated to be made on an after-tax basis, rather than pretax. Second, if all applicable requirements are met and the distribution constitutes a “qualified distribution,” the earnings won’t be subject to federal income tax when distributed.

To be qualified, a distribution generally must occur after a five-year waiting period, as well as after the participant reaches age 59½, becomes disabled or dies. Because of the different tax treatment, plans must maintain separate accounts for designated Roth contributions.

Pluses and minuses

The Roth option gives participants an opportunity to hedge against the possibility that their income tax rates will be higher in retirement. However, if tax rates fall or participants are in lower tax brackets during retirement, Roth contributions may provide less after-tax retirement income than comparable pretax contributions. The result could also be worse than that of ordinary elective deferrals if Roth amounts aren’t held long enough to make distributions tax-free.

Nonetheless, if your business employs a substantial number of relatively highly paid employees, a Roth 401(k) component may be well-appreciated. This is because participants can make much larger designated Roth 401(k) contributions than they can for a Roth IRA — in 2020 and 2021, $19,500 for designated Roth 401(k) versus $6,000 for Roth IRA.

Catch-up contributions for individuals 50 or older are also considerably higher for designated Roth 401(k) contributions — in 2020 and 2021, $6,500 for designated Roth 401(k)s versus $1,000 for Roth IRAs. And higher-paid participants who are ineligible to make Roth IRA contributions because of the income cap on eligibility could make designated Roth contributions to your plan.

Yet participants will need to know what they’re getting into. They’ll have to consider:

  • Current and future tax rates,
  • Various investment alternatives,
  • The risk of needing a distribution before they qualify for tax-free treatment of earnings (which would trigger taxation of those earnings), and
  • Loss of some rollover options.

For plan sponsors, the separate accounting required for Roth contributions may raise plan costs and increase the risk of error. (One common mistake: treating elected contributions as pretax when the participant elected Roth contributions, or vice versa.)

And because Roth contributions are treated as elective deferrals for other purposes — including nondiscrimination requirements, vesting rules and distribution restrictions — plan administration and communication will be more complex.

Not for everyone

Before adding Roth contributions to your 401(k), be sure participants are adequately engaged and savvy, and will derive enough benefit, to make it worth the risks and burdens. We can assist you in deciding whether this would be an appropriate move for your business.

© 2021 Covenant CPA