In some cases, it may be desirable to move a trust to a more favorable jurisdiction. But moving a trust from one state to another can present significant risks, so don’t attempt to do so without considering all the benefits, limitations and risks, and obtaining professional advice.

Reasons to move a trust

There are many reasons for moving a trust to another jurisdiction, such as:

  • Avoiding or reducing state income taxes on the trust’s accumulated ordinary income and capital gains,
  • Taking advantage of trust laws that allow the trustee to improve investment performance,
  • Extending the trust’s duration,
  • Obtaining stronger creditor protection for beneficiaries, and
  • Reducing fees and administrative expenses.

Many people retire to states with more favorable tax laws. But just because you move to a state with lower income or estate taxes doesn’t mean your trusts move with you.

For individual income tax purposes, you’re generally taxed by your state of domicile. The state to which a trust pays taxes, however, depends on its situs.

Can your trust be moved?

Moving a trust means changing its situs from one state to another. Generally, this isn’t a problem for revocable trusts. In fact, it’s possible to change situs for a revocable trust by simply modifying it. Or, if that’s not an option, you can revoke the trust and establish a new one in the desired jurisdiction.

If a trust is irrevocablewhether it can be moved depends, in part, on the language of the trust document. Many trusts specify that the laws of a particular state govern them, in which case those laws would likely continue to apply even if the trust were moved. Some trusts expressly authorize the trustee or beneficiaries to move the trust from one jurisdiction to another.

If the trust document doesn’t designate a situs or establish procedures for changing situs, then the trust’s situs depends on several factors. These include applicable state law, where the trust is administered, the trustee’s state of residence, the domicile of the person who created the trust, the location of the beneficiaries and the location of real property held by the trust.

The actual process of moving the trust may entail creating a new trust to which the existing trust’s assets are transferred, merging the existing trust into a new trust or modifying the existing trust to designate the new state as its situs.

Depending on the trust’s terms and applicable state law, the move may require court approval or the unanimous consent of the trust’s beneficiaries.

Understanding the risks

Depending on your circumstances, moving a trust can offer tax savings and other benefits. Keep in mind, however, that the laws governing trusts are complex and vary considerably from state to state. We can help you determine whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As mitigation measures related to COVID-19 ease, it will be interesting to see which practices and regulatory changes taken in response to the pandemic remain in place long-term. One of them might be relief from a sometimes-inconvenient requirement related to the administration of 401(k) plans.

A virtual solution

In IRS Notice 2021-40, the IRS recently announced a 12-month extension of its temporary relief from the requirement that certain signatures be witnessed “in the physical presence” of a 401(k) plan representative or notary public.

The original relief, which appeared in IRS Notice 2020-42, was provided primarily to facilitate plan loans and distributions under the CARES Act. However, the relief could be used during 2020 for any signature that, under regulations, had to be witnessed in the physical presence of a plan representative or notary public. This included required spousal consents. The relief was subsequently extended through June 30, 2021, under IRS Notice 2021-03.

Under the notices, signatures witnessed remotely by a plan representative satisfy the physical presence requirement if the electronic system uses live audio-video technology and meets four requirements established under the original relief:

  1. Live presentation of a photo ID,
  2. Direct interaction,
  3. Same-day transmission, and
  4. Return with the representative’s acknowledgment.

Signatures witnessed by a notary public satisfy the physical presence requirement if the electronic system for remote notarization uses live audio-video technology and is consistent with state-law requirements for a notary public.

Comments requested

As mentioned, IRS Notice 2021-40 further extends the relief — subject to the same conditions — through June 30, 2022. The notice also requests comments regarding whether permanent modifications should be made to the physical presence requirement. Comments are specifically requested regarding:

  • The costs and other effects of the physical presence requirement and its temporary waiver,
  • Whether the relief has resulted in fraud, coercion or other abuses,
  • How the witnessing requirements are expected to be fulfilled as the pandemic abates,
  • What procedural safeguards should be instituted if the physical presence requirement is permanently modified, and
  • Whether permanent relief should use different procedures for witnessing by plan representatives or notary publics.

Comments should be submitted by September 30, 2021.

More information

Going forward, the need for a signature may often relate to spousal consents. If your business recently established a 401(k), the plan may be designed to limit or even eliminate the need for spousal consents.

However, plans that offer annuity forms of distribution are still subject to the spousal consent rules. And other 401(k) plans must require spousal consent if a married participant wants to name a nonspouse as primary beneficiary. Feel free to contact our firm for more information on the latest IRS guidance addressing employee benefits.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The IRS just released its audit statistics for the 2020 fiscal year and fewer taxpayers had their returns examined as compared with prior years. But even though a small percentage of returns are being chosen for audit these days, that will be little consolation if yours is one of them.

Latest statistics

Overall, just 0.5% of individual tax returns were audited in 2020. However, as in the past, those with higher incomes were audited at higher rates. For example, in 2020, 2.2% of taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of between $1 million and $5 million were audited. Among the richest taxpayers, those with AGIs of $10 million and more, 7% of returns were audited in 2020.

These are among the lowest percentages of audits conducted in recent years. However, the Biden administration has announced it would like to raise revenue by increasing tax compliance and enforcement. In other words, audits may be on the rise in coming years.

Prepare in advance 

Even though fewer audits were performed in 2020, the IRS will still examine thousands of returns this year. With proper planning, you may fare well even if you’re one of the unlucky ones.

The easiest way to survive an IRS examination is to prepare in advance. On a regular basis, you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts, or other proof — for all items reported on your tax returns.

It’s possible you didn’t do anything wrong. Just because a return is selected for audit doesn’t mean that an error was made. Some returns are randomly selected based on statistical formulas. For example, IRS computers compare income and deductions on returns with what other taxpayers report. If an individual deducts a charitable contribution that’s significantly higher than what others with similar incomes report, the IRS may want to know why.

Returns can also be selected if they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers who were previously selected for audit, such as business partners or investors.

The government generally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and often the exam won’t begin until a year or more after you file your return.

Complex vs. simple returns

The scope of an audit depends on the tax return’s complexity. A return reflecting business or real estate income and expenses will obviously take longer to examine than a return with only salary income.

An audit may be conducted by mail or through an in-person interview and review of records. The interview may be conducted at an IRS office or may be a “field audit” at the taxpayer’s home, business, or accountant’s office.

Important: Even if your chosen for audit, an IRS examination may be nothing to lose sleep over. In many cases, the IRS asks for proof of certain items and routinely “closes” the audit after the documentation is presented.

Don’t go it alone

It’s advisable to have a tax professional represent you at an audit. A tax pro knows the issues that the IRS is likely to scrutinize and can prepare accordingly. In addition, a professional knows that in many instances IRS auditors will take a position (for example, to disallow certain deductions) even though courts and other guidance have expressed contrary opinions on the issues. Because pros can point to the proper authority, the IRS may be forced to concede on certain issues.

If you receive an IRS audit letter or simply want to improve your recordkeeping, we’re here to help. Contact us to discuss this or any other aspect of your taxes.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

According to the Federal Trade Commission, veterans lost approximately $60 million to fraud in 2020. Active-duty military personnel and their spouses and dependents also suffered big financial losses to fraud last year. In fact, in 2020, military consumers lost more than the general public to fraud — a median $600 compared to $311 for nonmilitary consumers. Here’s what you and military friends and family need to know.

Beware of imposters

The greatest fraud threat to this group is “imposter” fraud. In this scheme, a criminal calls, emails or texts potential victims and pretends to be working for the Veterans Administration or another government agency. Perpetrators may claim they need personal information, such as Social Security or bank account numbers, to authorize the release of benefits. Instead, they use that data to commit identity theft.

In a variation of this scam, perpetrators pose as financial advisors who convince vets to exchange their pensions for up-front cash payouts. In most cases, the payouts are worth less than the pensions. Or fraudulent advisors may tout special benefits programs that can only be accessed by paying a fee. After paying, the fraud targets learn the programs don’t exist.

Unfortunately, many other types of fraud focus on vets and active-duty members — including fake job recruiting, loan, tax and charity schemes. One particularly vicious scam targets family members of deployed military personnel. Criminals claim the military member has been injured or is stranded and that the family must wire money. 

Foil fraud 

If you receive a communication from someone claiming to be a government official, offer to contact him or her at the agency’s official phone number. Don’t provide any information about yourself until you’ve independently confirmed the person’s identity.

In addition:

  • Never give anyone Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers over the phone or in response to an electronic communication. Legitimate representatives from, for example, the VA, IRS or state unemployment agencies, won’t ask for them.
  • Don’t click on links or download attachments contained in suspicious emails. Visit sites by typing their URLs directly into your browser.
  • Regularly monitor your credit reports for unusual activity and investigate sudden drops in your credit score.
  • Be wary of anyone claiming you must “act fast” to respond to an offer. Take time to confirm that individuals, programs and products are legitimate before handing over any money. Along the same lines, only work with financial advisors you know and trust. 

Sidestep risks

Military personnel, veterans and their families face a myriad of fraud risks. Be skeptical when reviewing claims, offers or information requests that aren’t delivered through official channels. Contact us with questions.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Are you eligible to take the deduction for qualified business income (QBI)? Here are 10 facts about this valuable tax break, referred to as the pass-through deduction, QBI deduction or Section 199A deduction. 

  1. It’s available to owners of sole proprietorships, single member limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships and S corporations. It may also be claimed by trusts and estates.
  2. The deduction is intended to reduce the tax rate on QBI to a rate that’s closer to the corporate tax rate.
  3. It’s taken “below the line.” That means it reduces your taxable income but not your adjusted gross income. But it’s available regardless of whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction.
  4. The deduction has two components: 20% of QBI from a domestic business operated as a sole proprietorship or through a partnership, S corporation, trust or estate; and 20% of the taxpayer’s combined qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership income.
  5. QBI is the net amount of a taxpayer’s qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss relating to any qualified trade or business. Items of income, gain, deduction and loss are qualified to the extent they’re effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business in the U.S. and included in computing taxable income.
  6. QBI doesn’t necessarily equal the net profit or loss from a business, even if it’s a qualified trade or business. In addition to the profit or loss from Schedule C, QBI must be adjusted by certain other gain or deduction items related to the business.
  7. A qualified trade or business is any trade or business other than a specified service trade or business (SSTB). But an SSTB is treated as a qualified trade or business for taxpayers whose taxable income is under a threshold amount.
  8. SSTBs include health, law, accounting, actuarial science, certain performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, investment, trading, dealing securities and any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of its employees or owners.
  9. There are limits based on W-2 wages. Inflation-adjusted threshold amounts also apply for purposes of applying the SSTB rules. For tax years beginning in 2021, the threshold amounts are $164,900 for singles and heads of household; $164,925 for married filing separately; and $329,800 for married filing jointly. The limits phase in over a $50,000 range ($100,000 for a joint return). This means that the deduction reduces ratably, so that by the time you reach the top of the range ($214,900 for singles and heads of household; $214,925 for married filing separately; and $429,800 for married filing jointly) the deduction is zero for income from an SSTB.
  10. For businesses conducted as a partnership or S corporation, the pass-through deduction is calculated at the partner or shareholder level.

As you can see, this substantial deduction is complex, especially if your taxable income exceeds the thresholds discussed above. Other rules apply. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Many people, when planning their estates, simply divide their assets equally among their children. But “equal” may not necessarily mean “fair.” It all depends on your family’s circumstances. Specifically, providing for grandchildren is one area where equal treatment may inadvertently result in unfairness.

Consider this scenario

Bob has two adult children, Ted and Carol. Ted has two children and Carol has four. Suppose Bob’s estate plan calls for his $8 million estate to be divided equally between his two children.

When he dies, Ted and Carol each receive $4 million. But after they die, Ted’s two children receive $2 million each from their grandparent’s inheritance, while Carol’s four children receive only $1 million each. (This assumes, of course, that Ted and Carol each preserve the full amount of their inheritances.)

Possible solutions

To help ensure that Bob’s grandchildren are treated equally, he can purchase a life insurance policy, with the proceeds divided equally among his grandchildren. Alternatively, he can arrange policies on the lives of Ted and Carol designed to provide equal amounts to each grandchild. One advantage of this approach is that, because Ted and Carol are younger, the available death benefits would be greater. Bob could use gifts or loans to help Ted and Carol pay the premiums.

Life insurance allows Bob to provide more for his grandchildren, on an equal basis, while still dividing his other assets equally between his children. Depending on how Ted and Carol spend their inheritances, Ted’s children may still receive more than Carol’s on a per capita basis, but the additional assets provided by life insurance will likely make Bob’s estate plan appear “more fair” in the eyes of his grandchildren.

If you have concerns about how to properly address certain family members in your estate plan, please contact us. We’d be happy to assess your situation and offer the proper guidance.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

At many businesses, job descriptions have it easy. They were “hired” (that is, written) many years ago. They haven’t had to change or do anything, really, besides get copied and pasted into a want ad occasionally. They’re not really good at what they do, but they’re used again and again because everyone assumes they’re just fine.

The problem is, they’re not. Outdated, vague or inaccurate job descriptions can lead to longer hiring times, bad hires, workplace conflicts and even legal exposure in employment law actions. So, now the million-dollar question: Are your company’s job descriptions pulling their weight?

Review and revise

There’s only one way to find out: Conduct a thorough review of your job descriptions to determine whether they’re current and comprehensive.

Check to see whether they list outdated procedures or other outmoded elements, such as software you’ve long since phased out. As necessary, carefully revise the wording to describe the duties and responsibilities for a particular position as it exists today.

If you don’t already have formal, written job descriptions for every position, don’t panic. Ask employees in those positions to document their everyday duties and responsibilities. Each worker’s supervisor should then verify and, if necessary, help refine the description.

Put them to work

After you’ve updated or created your job descriptions, you can use them to increase organizational efficiency. Weed out the marginal duties from essential ones. Eliminate superfluous and redundant tasks, focusing each position on activities that generate revenue or eliminate expenses. You may be able to make improvements in other areas, too, such as:

Recruiting. Are you hiring people with the right skills? Up-to-date job descriptions provide a better road map for finding ideal candidates to fill your open positions.

Compensation. A complete and accurate description of the hiring requirements, job duties and responsibilities of a position provide context and rationalization for how that person is compensated.

Workload distribution. Are workloads efficiently distributed among employees? If not, rearrange them. You may find this necessary and beneficial when duties change because of revisions to job descriptions.

Cross-training. Can your employees handle their coworkers’ duties and responsibilities? In both emergencies and non-emergencies (vacations, for instance) — and as a fraud-prevention measure — having workers who are able to cover for each other temporarily is critical.

Performance management. Are employees doing their best? Detailed job descriptions allow supervisors to better determine whether workers are completing their assigned duties, meeting or exceeding expectations and growing with the company.

Stop the slackers

No business should put up with slacker job descriptions that do nothing but hang around the break room exchanging gossip and eating all the donuts. Ensure yours are actively contributing to your company’s success by managing their performance just as you do for real-live humans.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Credit and debit card fraud was already a big problem when COVID-19 hit. Although how much payment card fraud increased in 2020 depends on the source, most experts agree that, like most types of fraud, it flourished during the pandemic. COVID-19-related prevention and treatment scams and increased online shopping likely contributed to this rise.

If you become a victim, it’s probably good to hear that the law protects consumers from serious losses. But to reduce financial liability, you need to follow the reporting rules carefully.

Unauthorized credit card charges

If your credit card is lost or stolen and you report the loss to the card issuer before your card is used in a fraudulent transaction, you can’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges. If you report it after unauthorized charges have been made, you may be responsible for up to $50 in charges.

Some card issuers have decided not to hold their customers liable for any fraudulent charges regardless of when they notify the card company. And if your account number is stolen but not the actual card, your liability is $0. But either you or the card issuer must identify the fraudulent transactions for them to be removed.

Compromised debit cards 

If you report a missing debit card before any unauthorized transactions are made, you aren’t responsible for any unauthorized transactions. If you report a card loss within two business days after you learn of the loss, your maximum liability for unauthorized transactions is $50.

If you report the card loss after two business days but within 60 calendar days of the date your statement showing an unauthorized transaction was mailed, your liability can jump to $500. Finally, if you report the card loss more than 60 calendar days after your statement showing unauthorized transactions was sent, you could be liable for all charges. This includes money taken from accounts linked to your debit account.

What if you notice an unauthorized debit card transaction on your statement, but your card is still in your possession? You have 60 calendar days after the statement showing the unauthorized transaction is sent to report it and avoid liability.

Action steps

When reporting a card loss or fraudulent transaction, contact the issuer via phone. Then follow up with a letter or email. This should include your account number, the date you noticed the card was missing (if applicable), and the date you initially reported the card loss or fraudulent transaction.

Because liability levels depend in some circumstances on your card issuer, it pays to find out your issuer’s policies — before you’re subject to them. Also take steps to protect your payment card and personal information. The Federal Trade Commission provides a good list of fraud protection practices at consumer.ftc.gov (search for “credit card fraud”). Contact us for more information.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Among the only certainties of business technology is that it will continue changing. One consequence of this is a regular need for companies to undertake IT projects such as developing custom software or upgrading network infrastructure.

Much like a physical construction job, IT projects often look eminently feasible on “paper” but may get bogged down in a gradual expansion of parameters (“scope creep”), missed deadlines and disagreements. As a result, more and more resources are consumed, and the budget is eventually blown.

One potential solution to keeping IT projects on schedule and within budget is to follow an approach called the critical path method (CPM).

The basic concept

CPM is a scheduling technique used to calculate a project’s duration and illustrate how schedules are affected when certain variables change. It identifies the “critical path,” which is the most efficient sequence of scheduled activities that determines when a project can be completed. Any delay in the critical path slows down the job.

In many cases, some tasks won’t affect other activities and can be pushed back without pushing out the planned completion date. Other tasks can be performed in parallel with the primary steps. However, each task that lies on the critical path must be completed before any later tasks can begin.

Visualizing success

CPM breaks an IT project into several manageable activities and displays them in a flow or Gantt chart showing the “activity sequence” (the order in which tasks must be performed). It then calculates the project timeline based on the estimated duration of each task.

For smaller projects, this can be done on a virtual or physical whiteboard. The project manager draws a diagram with circles that represent activities/time durations and — where one activity cannot begin until another is completed — connecting those circles with arrows to show the necessary order of primary job tasks. The completed diagram will reveal arrow paths indicating activity sequences and how long it will take to complete them.

Helpful software

For larger, more complex IT projects that may have multiple critical paths and overlapping, interconnected activities, creating charts by hand can be time consuming and difficult. CPM software makes the process faster, easier and less prone to human error. When things are constantly changing — particularly at the beginning or end of a project — these applications allow far easier updating of the analysis and production of new charts.

Many of today’s CPM software products are moderately priced and worth considering. They can quickly identify the critical path, instantly process updates and even calculate float times for noncritical activities. Some solutions can model the effects of schedule-compression techniques, such as fast-tracking (tackling multiple tasks simultaneously) and crashing (adding extra resources).

Plan and execute

CPM isn’t a silver bullet for every slow-moving, budget-busting IT project. But it’s helped many companies plan and execute technology initiatives. We can help you identify the costs of — and establish reasonable budgets for — any IT projects you’re considering.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) is a valuable tax break that was extended and modified by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), enacted in March of 2021. Here’s a rundown of the rules.

Background

Back in March of 2020, Congress originally enacted the ERTC in the CARES Act to encourage employers to hire and retain employees during the pandemic. At that time, the ERTC applied to wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. However, Congress later modified and extended the ERTC to apply to wages paid before July 1, 2021.

The ARPA again extended and modified the ERTC to apply to wages paid after June 30, 2021, and before January 1, 2022. Thus, an eligible employer can claim the refundable ERTC against “applicable employment taxes” equal to 70% of the qualified wages it pays to employees in the third and fourth quarters of 2021. Except as discussed below, qualified wages are generally limited to $10,000 per employee per 2021 calendar quarter. Thus, the maximum ERTC amount available is generally $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter or $28,000 per employee in 2021.

For purposes of the ERTC, a qualified employer is eligible if it experiences a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of business due to a government order. Employers with up to 500 full-time employees can claim the credit without regard to whether the employees for whom the credit is claimed actually perform services. But, except as explained below, employers with more than 500 full-time employees can only claim the ERTC with respect to employees that don’t perform services.

Employers who got a Payroll Protection Program loan in 2020 can still claim the ERTC. But the same wages can’t be used both for seeking loan forgiveness or satisfying conditions of other COVID relief programs (such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program) in calculating the ERTC. 

Modifications

Beginning in the third quarter of 2021, the following modifications apply to the ERTC:

  • Applicable employment taxes are the Medicare hospital taxes (1.45% of the wages) and the Railroad Retirement payroll tax that’s attributable to the Medicare hospital tax rate. For the first and second quarters of 2021, “applicable employment taxes” were defined as the employer’s share of Social Security or FICA tax (6.2% of the wages) and the Railroad Retirement Tax Act payroll tax that was attributable to the Social Security tax rate.
  • Recovery startup businesses are qualified employers. These are generally defined as businesses that began operating after February 15, 2020, and that meet certain gross receipts requirements. These recovery startup businesses will be eligible for an increased maximum credit of $50,000 per quarter, even if they haven’t experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or been subject to a full or partial suspension under a government order.
  • A “severely financially distressed” employer that has suffered a decline in quarterly gross receipts of 90% or more compared to the same quarter in 2019 can treat wages (up to $10,000) paid during those quarters as qualified wages. This allows an employer with over 500 employees under severe financial distress to treat those wages as qualified wages whether or not employees actually provide services.
  • The statute of limitations for assessments relating to the ERTC won’t expire until five years after the date the original return claiming the credit is filed (or treated as filed). 

Contact us if you have any questions related to your business claiming the ERTC.

© 2021 Covenant CPA