Are you age 65 and older and have basic Medicare insurance? You may need to pay additional premiums to get the level of coverage you want. The premiums can be expensive, especially if you’re married and both you and your spouse are paying them. But there may be a bright side: You may qualify for a tax break for paying the premiums.

Medicare premiums are medical expenses

You can combine premiums for Medicare health insurance with other qualifying medical expenses for purposes of claiming an itemized deduction for medical expenses on your tax return. This includes amounts for “Medigap” insurance and Medicare Advantage plans. Some people buy Medigap policies because Medicare Parts A and B don’t cover all their health care expenses. Coverage gaps include co-payments, coinsurance, deductibles and other costs. Medigap is private supplemental insurance that’s intended to cover some or all gaps.

Itemizing versus the standard deduction

Qualifying for a medical expense deduction is hard for many people for a couple of reasons. For 2021, you can deduct medical expenses only if you itemize deductions and only to the extent that total qualifying expenses exceeded 7.5% of AGI.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction amounts for 2018 through 2025. As a result, fewer individuals are claiming itemized deductions. For 2021, the standard deduction amounts are $12,550 for single filers, $25,100 for married couples filing jointly and $18,800 for heads of household. (For 2020, these amounts were $12,400, $24,800 and $18,650, respectively.)

However, if you have significant medical expenses, including Medicare health insurance premiums, you may itemize and collect some tax savings.

Note: Self-employed people and shareholder-employees of S corporations can generally claim an above-the-line deduction for their health insurance premiums, including Medicare premiums. So, they don’t need to itemize to get the tax savings from their premiums.

Medical expense deduction basics

In addition to Medicare premiums, you can deduct various medical expenses, including those for dental treatment, ambulance services, dentures, eyeglasses and contacts, hospital services, lab tests, qualified long-term care services, prescription medicines and others.

There are also many items that Medicare doesn’t cover that can be deducted for tax purposes, if you qualify. In addition, you can deduct transportation expenses to get to medical appointments. If you go by car, you can deduct a flat 16-cents-per-mile rate for 2021 (down from 17 cents for 2020), or you can keep track of your actual out-of-pocket expenses for gas, oil and repairs.

Claim all eligible deductions

Contact us if you have additional questions about claiming medical expense deductions on your tax return.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Most restaurants are finally reopening to in-person dining. And while you may now be thinking about luring customers back, hiring enough workers and managing supply-chain shortages, one issue has remained the same: fraud. Restaurants often face fraud threats from employees, customers and vendors. So now isn’t the time to drop your guard.

Potential risks

Your restaurant may have high transaction volumes but lack the technology linking point-of-sale, inventory and accounting systems. This leaves gaps for fraudsters to exploit. Employees could, for example, provide food and drinks to friends without entering the sales — or ring up only a portion of friends’ bills. They might issue voids or refunds when there was no original sale and pocket the proceeds. Or they could overcharge customers by, say, charging for premium beverages but serving cheaper alternatives.

Although it’s less common, intangible property theft is another risk. Your restaurant may use proprietary recipes and confidential marketing plans to compete in the dog-eat-dog world of food service. If a departing employee takes such secrets to a rival, it could threaten your restaurant’s survival.

Watch bookkeepers and vendors 

Owners often employ bookkeepers to manage back-office operations but may neglect to give proper oversight. Such an environment provides criminals — or even ordinary people experiencing unusual financial pressures — with opportunities to cook the books. In one frequently seen scheme, the bookkeeper creates a fake vendor account, submits and approves fraudulent invoices, then directs payments to a bank account he or she controls.

Even when bookkeepers are honest, the invoices they process may not be. It can be hard for managers to keep track of the daily stream of food, beverage and supply deliveries. Vendors might exploit such chaos by inflating their bills to reflect more or pricier items than they actually delivered. When vendors collude with restaurant employees, particularly receiving or accounting staff, theft can exact a heavy financial toll.

Multipronged approach to prevention

Successfully combatting restaurant fraud takes a multipronged approach. For example, if you haven’t already, integrate your accounting, inventory and sales systems. And to manage potential occupational fraud, conduct background checks on new hires, install video surveillance throughout your restaurant and know how to spot red flags. For example, keep your eye on servers who are always flush with cash or purchasing managers with unusually cozy relationships with vendors.

If you don’t have one, set up a confidential fraud reporting hotline. Also engage a CPA to review your financial records at least once a year for discrepancies. Contact us for assistance. We can investigate fraud suspicions or simply go over your operations for potential fraud gaps that can be closed with better internal controls. 

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As we continue to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be traveling again for business. Under tax law, there are a number of rules for deducting the cost of your out-of-town business travel within the United States. These rules apply if the business conducted out of town reasonably requires an overnight stay.

Note that under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can’t deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses through 2025 on their own tax returns. That’s because unreimbursed employee business expenses are “miscellaneous itemized deductions” that aren’t deductible through 2025.

However, self-employed individuals can continue to deduct business expenses, including away-from-home travel expenses.

Here are some of the rules that come into play. 

Transportation and meals

The actual costs of travel (for example, plane fare and cabs to the airport) are deductible for out-of-town business trips. You’re also allowed to deduct the cost of meals and lodging. Your meals are deductible even if they’re not connected to a business conversation or other business function. The Consolidated Appropriations Act includes a provision that removes the 50% limit on deducting eligible business meals for 2021 and 2022. The law allows a 100% deduction for food and beverages provided by a restaurant. Takeout and delivery meals provided by a restaurant are also fully deductible.

Keep in mind that no deduction is allowed for meal or lodging expenses that are “lavish or extravagant,” a term that’s been interpreted to mean “unreasonable.”

Personal entertainment costs on the trip aren’t deductible, but business-related costs such as those for dry cleaning, phone calls and computer rentals can be written off. 

Combining business and pleasure

Some allocations may be required if the trip is a combined business/pleasure trip, for example, if you fly to a location for five days of business meetings and stay on for an additional period of vacation. Only the cost of meals, lodging, etc., incurred for the business days are deductible — not those incurred for the personal vacation days.

On the other hand, with respect to the cost of the travel itself (plane fare, etc.), if the trip is “primarily” business, the travel cost can be deducted in its entirety and no allocation is required. Conversely, if the trip is primarily personal, none of the travel costs are deductible. An important factor in determining if the trip is primarily business or personal is the amount of time spent on each (although this isn’’t the sole factor).

If the trip doesn’t involve the actual conduct of business but is for the purpose of attending a convention, seminar, etc., the IRS may check the nature of the meetings carefully to make sure they aren’t vacations in disguise. Retain all material helpful in establishing the business or professional nature of this travel.

Other expenses

The rules for deducting the costs of a spouse who accompanies you on a business trip are very restrictive. No deduction is allowed unless the spouse is an employee of you or your company, and the spouse’s travel is also for a business purpose.

Finally, note that personal expenses you incur at home as a result of taking the trip aren’t deductible. For example, the cost of boarding a pet while you’re away isn’t deductible. Contact us if you have questions about your small business deductions. 

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The “sandwich generation” is a large segment of the population. These are people who find themselves caring for both their children and their parents at the same time. As a result, estate planning — which traditionally focuses on providing for one’s children — has expanded in many cases to include one’s aging parents as well.

Steps to ease complex issues

Including your parents as beneficiaries of your estate may raise a number of complex issues. As you discuss these issues with your advisor, consider these five planning tips:

  1. Plan for long-term care (LTC) costsThe annual cost of LTC — which may include assisted living facilities, nursing homes or home health care — can reach well into six figures. These expenses aren’t covered by traditional health insurance policies or Social Security, and Medicare provides little, if any, assistance. To prevent LTC expenses from devouring your parents’ resources, work with them to develop a plan for funding their health care needs through LTC insurance, investments or other strategies.
  2. Make giftsOne of the simplest ways to help your parents financially is to make cash gifts to them. If gift and estate taxes are a concern, you can take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion, which currently allows you to give each parent up to $15,000 per year without triggering gift taxes.
  3. Pay medical expensesYou can pay an unlimited amount of medical expenses on your parents’ behalf, without tax consequences, so long as you make the payments directly to medical providers.
  4. Set up trustsThere are many trust-based strategies you can use to assist your parents. For example, in the event you predecease your parents, your estate plan might establish a trust for their benefit, with any remaining assets passing to your children after your parents die. Another option is to set up trusts during your lifetime that leverage your $11.7 million exemption. Properly designed, these trusts can remove assets — together with all future appreciation in their value — from your taxable estate. They can provide income to your parents during their lives, eventually passing to your children free of gift and estate taxes.
  5. Buy your parents’ homeIf your parents have built up significant equity in their home, consider buying it and leasing it back to them. This arrangement allows your parents to tap their home’s equity without moving out while providing you with valuable tax deductions for mortgage interest, depreciation, maintenance and other expenses. To avoid negative tax consequences, be sure to pay a fair price for the home (supported by a qualified appraisal) and charge your parents fair-market rent.

Find the right balance

As you review these and other options for assisting your aging parents, be cautious of pitfalls. For example, if you give your parents too much, these assets could end up back in your estate and potentially be exposed to gift or estate taxes. Contact us for help in addressing both your children and parents in your estate plan.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Most of us are taught from a young age never to assume anything. Why? Well, because when you assume, you make an … you probably know how the rest of the expression goes.

A dangerous assumption that many business owners make is that, if their companies are profitable, their cash flow must also be strong. But this isn’t always the case. Taking a closer look at the accounting involved can provide an explanation.

Investing in the business

What are profits, really? In accounting terms, they’re closely related to taxable income. Reported at the bottom of your company’s income statement, profits are essentially the result of revenue less the cost of goods sold and other operating expenses incurred in the accounting period.

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) require companies to “match” costs and expenses to the period in which revenue is recognized. Under accrual-basis accounting, it doesn’t necessarily matter when you receive payments from customers or when you pay expenses.

For example, inventory sitting in a warehouse or retail store can’t be deducted — even though it may have been long paid for (or financed). The expense hits your income statement only when an item is sold or used. Your inventory account contains many cash outflows that are waiting to be expensed.

Other working capital accounts — such as accounts receivable, accrued expenses and trade payables — also represent a difference between the timing of cash flows. As your business grows and strives to increase future sales, you invest more in working capital, which temporarily depletes cash.

However, the reverse also may be true. That is, a mature business may be a “cash cow” that generates ample dollars, despite reporting lackluster profits.

Accounting for expenses

The difference between profits and cash flow doesn’t begin and end with working capital. Your income statement also includes depreciation and amortization, which are noncash expenses. And it excludes changes in fixed assets, bank financing and owners’ capital accounts, which affect cash on hand.

Suppose your company uses tax depreciation schedules for book purposes. Let say, in 2020, you bought new equipment to take advantage of the expanded Section 179 and bonus depreciation allowances. Then you deducted the purchase price of these items from profits in 2020. However, because these purchases were financed with debt, the actual cash outflows from the investments in 2020 were minimal.

In 2021, your business will make loan payments that will reduce the amount of cash in your checking account. But your profits will be hit with only the interest expense (not the amount of principal that’s being repaid). Plus, there will be no “basis” left in the 2020 purchases to depreciate in 2021. These circumstances will artificially boost profits in 2021, without a proportionate increase in cash.

Keeping your eye on the ball

It’s dangerous to assume that, just because you’re turning a profit, your cash position is strong. Cash flow warrants careful monitoring. Our firm can help you generate accurate financial statements and glean the most important insights from them.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If you’re a parent with a college-bound child, you may be concerned about being able to fund future tuition and other higher education costs. You want to take maximum advantage of tax benefits to minimize your expenses. Here are some possible options.

Savings bonds

Series EE U.S. savings bonds offer two tax-saving opportunities for eligible families when used to finance college:

  • You don’t have to report the interest on the bonds for federal tax purposes until the bonds are cashed in, and
  • Interest on “qualified” Series EE (and Series I) bonds may be exempt from federal tax if the bond proceeds are used for qualified education expenses.

To qualify for the tax exemption for college use, you must purchase the bonds in your name (not the child’s) or jointly with your spouse. The proceeds must be used for tuition, fees and certain other expenses — not room and board. If only part of the proceeds is used for qualified expenses, only that part of the interest is exempt.

The exemption is phased out if your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain amounts.

529 plans

A qualified tuition program (also known as a 529 plan) allows you to buy tuition credits for a child or make contributions to an account set up to meet a child’s future higher education expenses. Qualified tuition programs are established by state governments or private education institutions.

Contributions aren’t deductible. The contributions are treated as taxable gifts to the child, but they’re eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion ($15,000 for 2021). A donor who contributes more than the annual exclusion limit for the year can elect to treat the gift as if it were spread out over a five-year period.

The earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free until college costs are paid from the funds. Distributions from 529 plans are tax-free to the extent the funds are used to pay “qualified higher education expenses.” Distributions of earnings that aren’t used for qualified expenses will be subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty tax.

Coverdell education savings accounts (ESAs)

You can establish a Coverdell ESA and make contributions of up to $2,000 annually for each child under age 18.

The right to make contributions begins to phase out once your AGI is over a certain amount. If the income limitation is a problem, a child can contribute to his or her own account.

Although the contributions aren’t deductible, income in the account isn’t taxed, and distributions are tax-free if used on qualified education expenses. If the child doesn’t attend college, the money must be withdrawn when he or she turns 30, and any earnings will be subject to tax and penalty. But unused funds can be transferred tax-free to a Coverdell ESA of another member of the child’s family who hasn’t reached age 30. (Some ESA requirements don’t apply to individuals with special needs.)

Plan ahead

These are just some of the tax-favored ways to build up a college fund for your children. Once your child is in college, you may qualify for tax breaks such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. Contact us if you’d like to discuss any of the options.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2021. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

Monday, August 2

  • Employers report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2021 (Form 941) and pay any tax due.
  • Employers file a 2020 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.

Tuesday, August 10

  • Employers report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2021 (Form 941), if you deposited all associated taxes that were due in full and on time.

Wednesday, September 15

  • Individuals pay the third installment of 2021 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).
  • If a calendar-year corporation, pay the third installment of 2021 estimated income taxes.
  • If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic extension:
    • File a 2020 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
    • Make contributions for 2020 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

To use their ill-gotten cash, criminals must make it appear legitimate. That’s the job performed by money launderers, who increasingly use cryptocurrencies. According to digital currency analytics company Elliptic, crooks use them to launder $3 to $4 billion per year. With over 4,000 digital currencies to choose from, they gain access to a liquid asset that’s cost effective and usually untraceable.

But cryptocurrencies may also have something to offer legitimate businesses. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Accepting cryptocurrencies

Some banks deny customers the ability to deposit digital currencies. They often cite laws that make it illegal to process cryptocurrencies, concerns about security and a lack of infrastructure to support such transactions.

But even though banks are reluctant to embrace cryptocurrency, there are some potential benefits for businesses. For example, if you accept cryptocurrency, it can:

  • Provide another way for customers to purchase goods and services, which could generate revenue you wouldn’t otherwise realize,
  • Enable you to avoid the fees charged by banks and credit card companies to use their payment networks, and
  • Prevent transactions from being cancelled or charged back to you once the cryptocurrency payment is final.

Understanding the risks 

Of course, there are also risks associated with accepting payment in cryptocurrency. One is the fact that digital currencies fluctuate in value — sometimes wildly. This can work in your company’s favor if the price of a currency increases. But it can also lead to big losses if the price declines.

What’s more, you should know that government regulation of cryptocurrency continues to lag — making the future of oversight unpredictable and subject to change. And digital wallets used to hold cryptocurrency aren’t necessarily secure and could be compromised by sophisticated criminals. Law enforcement is constantly working to improve its ability to monitor these transactions, which includes seizing payments connected to crimes.

Maintaining your wallet

Although all of these risks demand your attention, probably the most pressing challenge facing businesses relates to the maintenance and security of digital wallets. Before you decide to accept cryptocurrency payments, make sure you thoroughly understand how digital wallets — and price fluctuations — work. Contact us for more information.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If you’re getting ready to retire, you’ll soon experience changes in your lifestyle and income sources that may have numerous tax implications.

Here’s a brief rundown of four tax and financial issues you may deal with when you retire:

Taking required minimum distributions. This is the minimum amount you must withdraw from your retirement accounts. You generally must start taking withdrawals from your IRA, SEP, SIMPLE and other retirement plan accounts when you reach age 72 (70½ before January 1, 2020). Roth IRAs don’t require withdrawals until after the death of the owner.

You can withdraw more than the minimum required amount. Your withdrawals will be included in your taxable income except for any part that was taxed before or that can be received tax-free (such as qualified distributions from Roth accounts).

Selling your principal residence. Many retirees want to downsize to smaller homes. If you’re one of them and you have a gain from the sale of your principal residence, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of that gain from your income. If you file a joint return, you may be able to exclude up to $500,000.

To claim the exclusion, you must meet certain requirements. During a five-year period ending on the date of the sale, you must have owned the home and lived in it as your main home for at least two years.

If you’re thinking of selling your home, make sure you’ve identified all items that should be included in its basis, which can save you tax.

Engaging in new work activities. After retirement, many people continue to work as consultants or start new businesses. Here are some tax-related questions to ask:

  • Should the business be a sole proprietorship, S corporation, C corporation, partnership or limited liability company?
  • Are you familiar with how to elect to amortize start-up expenditures and make payroll tax deposits?
  • What expenses can you deduct and can you claim home office deductions?
  • How should you finance the business?

Taking Social Security benefits. If you continue to work, it may have an impact on your Social Security benefits. If you retire before reaching full Social Security retirement age (65 years of age for people born before 1938, rising to 67 years of age for people born after 1959) and the sum of your wages plus self-employment income is over the Social Security annual exempt amount ($18,960 for 2021), you must give back $1 of Social Security benefits for each $2 of excess earnings.

If you reach full retirement age this year, your benefits will be reduced $1 for every $3 you earn over a different annual limit ($50,520 in 2021) until the month you reach full retirement age. Then, your earnings will no longer affect the amount of your monthly benefits, no matter how much you earn.

Speaking of Social Security, you may have to pay federal (and possibly state) tax on your benefits. Depending on how much income you have from other sources, you may have to report up to 85% of your benefits as income on your tax return and pay the resulting federal income tax.

Many decisions

As you can see, tax planning is still important after you retire. We can help maximize the tax breaks you’re entitled to so you can keep more of your hard-earned money.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As vaccination levels rise and major U.S. population centers fully reopen, business owners may find themselves pondering an intriguing thought: Should we have a company retreat this year?

Although there are still health risks to consider, your employees may love the idea of attending an in-person event after so many months of video calls, emails and instant messages. The challenge to you is to plan a retreat that’s safe, productive and enjoyable — and that doesn’t unreasonably disrupt company operations.

Mixing business with fun

First, nail down your primary objectives well in advance. Determine and prioritize a list of the important issues you want to address but include only the top two or three on the final agenda. Otherwise, you risk rushing through some items without adequate time for discussion and formalized action plans.

If one of the objectives is to include time for socializing or recreational activities, great. Mixing business with fun keeps people energized. However, if staff see the retreat as merely time away from the office to party and golf, don’t expect to complete many work-related agenda items. One way to find the right mix is to consider scheduling work sessions for the morning and more fun, team-building exercises later in the day.

Craft a flexible budget

Next, work on the budget. Determining available resources early in the planning process will help you set limits for variable costs such as location, accommodations, food, transportation, speakers and entertainment.

Instead of insisting on certain days for the retreat, select a range of possible dates. Doing so widens site selection and makes it easier to negotiate favorable hotel and travel rates. Keep your budget as flexible as possible, building in a 5% to 10% safety cushion. Always expect unforeseen, last-minute expenses.

The good news is that the hospitality industry is generally trying to rebound from the very difficult downturn it suffered because of the pandemic. So, you may be able to find some special deals offered to “draw out” companies that haven’t held a retreat in a while.

Also, if you wish to truly minimize the health risks, you might want to focus on venues with outdoor facilities, such as farms or golf resorts. You could hold sessions mostly outdoors (weather permitting, of course) where it’s very safe.

Reunite and reenergize

Holding a company retreat this year may be a great way to reunite and reenergize your workforce. As convenient and practical as video meeting technology may be, there’s nothing quite like seeing each other in person. We can help you assess the costs and establish a reasonable budget that supports an enjoyable, productive and cost-effective retreat.

© 2021 Covenant CPA