Have you heard of the “nanny tax?” Even if you don’t employ a nanny, it may apply to you. Hiring a house cleaner, gardener or other household employee (who isn’t an independent contractor) may make you liable for federal income and other taxes. You may also have state tax obligations.

If you employ a household worker, you aren’t required to withhold federal income taxes from pay. But you can choose to withhold if the worker requests it. In that case, ask the worker to fill out a Form W-4. However, you may be required to withhold Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes and to pay federal unemployment (FUTA) tax.

2021 and 2022 thresholds

In 2021, you must withhold and pay FICA taxes if your household worker earns cash wages of $2,300 or more (excluding the value of food and lodging). The Social Security Administration recently announced that this amount would increase to $2,400 in 2022. If you reach the threshold, all the wages (not just the excess) are subject to FICA.

However, if a nanny is under age 18 and childcare isn’t his or her principal occupation, you don’t have to withhold FICA taxes. So, if you have a part-time student babysitter, there’s no FICA tax liability.

Both an employer and a household worker may have FICA tax obligations. As an employer, you’re responsible for withholding your worker’s FICA share. In addition, you must pay a matching amount. FICA tax is divided between Social Security and Medicare. The Social Security tax rate is 6.2% for the employer and 6.2% for the worker (12.4% total). Medicare tax is 1.45% each for the employer and the worker (2.9% total).

If you want, you can pay your worker’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you do, your payments aren’t counted as additional cash wages for Social Security and Medicare purposes. However, your payments are treated as additional income to the worker for federal tax purposes, so you must include them as wages on the W-2 form that you must provide.

You also must pay FUTA tax if you pay $1,000 or more in cash wages (excluding food and lodging) to your worker in any calendar quarter. FUTA tax applies to the first $7,000 of wages paid and is only paid by the employer.

Paperwork and payments 

You pay household worker obligations by increasing your quarterly estimated tax payments or increasing withholding from wages, rather than making an annual lump-sum payment.

As an employer of a household worker, you don’t have to file employment tax returns, even if you’re required to withhold or pay tax (unless you own your own business). Instead, employment taxes are reported on your tax return on Schedule H.

When you report the taxes on your return, include your employer identification number (not the same as your Social Security number). You must file Form SS-4 to get one.

However, if you own a business as a sole proprietor, you include the taxes for a household worker on the FUTA and FICA forms (940 and 941) that you file for the business. And you use your sole proprietorship EIN to report the taxes.

Recordkeeping is important 

Keep related tax records for at least four years from the later of the due date of the return or the date the tax was paid. Records should include the worker’s name, address, Social Security number, employment dates, dates and amount of wages paid and taxes withheld, and copies of forms filed.

Contact us for assistance or questions about how to comply with these requirements.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Corporate espionage has long been a threat for U.S. companies. Recently, intellectual property theft by foreign governments and organized crime gangs has grabbed headlines — for good reason. According to the U.S. Justice Department, 80% of its economic espionage prosecutions target schemes that would benefit China. Yet for most businesses, the threat comes from employees and former employees who take advantage of lax environments with few internal controls.

The problem … and a solution

Employees with access to trade secrets may take that information with them when they leave your company for another job — or pad their paychecks by selling it to your competitors while still employed. As with all types of fraud, workers are more likely to participate in corporate espionage if they’re unhappy in the job (motive), have access to sensitive information (opportunity) and can mentally excuse the act (rationalization). For example, thieves may rationalize selling IP because they feel underpaid and that they “deserve” the fraud proceeds.

You can reduce espionage risk from unethical employees by first identifying information that should be secured. New technology and market strategies are clearly sensitive. But customer complaints or component purchasing data may also be valuable to your competitors. Think about which competitors would benefit from what information.

Then determine how much of your sensitive information is at risk and where the vulnerabilities lie. Passwords, firewalls and other security measures are critical to protecting data, but they aren’t invulnerable. You also need to consider who has access to confidential information and how your business processes drive how the information is used.

The last step is to develop a security policy that considers your business methods, potential external weaknesses and staffing patterns. Revisit the plan periodically as your business and competitors change.

Stop loose lips from sinking ships

Be sure to educate employees about the threat of corporate espionage and let them know how to report suspicious activity such as people asking for details about their jobs. Emphasize that secrets can be revealed inadvertently.

For example, a software developer may agree to help a “student” with her research, or an operations manager may participate in a “customer satisfaction survey” by a manufacturer. Employees also need to watch what they discuss with coworkers in public places such as lunch spots and after-hours bars. They never know who’s eavesdropping.

Of course, not all research into your company is illegal. Public documents such as Federal Communications Commission and regulatory filings, content on your website and published articles on your company can give an experienced business analyst a fairly accurate idea of what you’re doing. Actual corporate espionage involves theft of information that hasn’t been made public.

Actual threats

Although your business should put most of its anti-espionage resources into preventing employees from stealing IP and selling it to competitors, actual threats may vary according to your industry or products. The IP of defense contractors and technology companies, for example, may be attractive to foreign states. Contact us to help assess your threat level.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Everyone loves a story. It’s why movies are still big business and many of us spend hours on the couch binge-watching our favorite television shows. What’s important to keep in mind — and to remind your sales team — is that effective storytelling can also drive sales.

This doesn’t mean devising fanciful, fictional tales to entice customers and prospects into buying. Rather, it involves learning the customer or prospect’s story, putting it into words, and then demonstrating how your company’s products or services can add a happy chapter to the tale. Think of it as a three-act play:

Act I: Set the scene. Building rapport is key in sales. Find out from your sales manager(s) how much time sales staffers are spending with customers and prospects. Ensure they’re not rushing through initial contact. Salespeople should take the time to provide a concise overview of your business, telling its story and emphasizing its capabilities.

Act II: Build the plot. Salespeople should generally ask a series of prepared questions that prompt responses outlining the customer or prospect’s needs and goals. The potential buyer should do most of the talking. The more that salespeople listen, the better chance they’ll have in identifying and filling out the plot of the customer’s story and, one hopes, making the sale.

At this point, the sales staffer also wants to uncover any objections the customer or prospect might have about doing business with your company. These “subplots” can often go overlooked and ultimately ruin the ending of the story for you.

Act III: Resolve the problem. The final scene should be a climactic one. The salesperson needs to summarize the customer or prospect’s story — identifying the key needs revealed by the questions asked. Then, the sales staffer must present a viable solution to meeting those needs and emphasize your company’s ability to efficiently fulfill the products ordered or provide the necessary service(s).

When executed properly, the three acts above should increase the odds for an encore (or a sequel, as the case may be). Buyers who know that your business understands their story will be more likely to become return customers.

Although using storytelling as a sales tool may seem simplistic, it’s a tool that needs sharpening from time to time. We can help you evaluate your sales process from a financial perspective so you can implement changes as necessary.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Are employees at your business traveling again after months of virtual meetings? In Notice 2021-52, the IRS announced the fiscal 2022 “per diem” rates that became effective October 1, 2021. Taxpayers can use these rates to substantiate the amount of expenses for lodging, meals and incidental expenses when traveling away from home. (Taxpayers in the transportation industry can use a special transportation industry rate.)

Background information

A simplified alternative to tracking actual business travel expenses is to use the high-low per diem method. This method provides fixed travel per diems. The amounts are based on rates set by the IRS that vary from locality to locality.

Under the high-low method, the IRS establishes an annual flat rate for certain areas with higher costs of living. All locations within the continental United States that aren’t listed as “high-cost” are automatically considered “low-cost.” The high-low method may be used in lieu of the specific per diem rates for business destinations. Examples of high-cost areas include Boston, San Francisco and Seattle.

Under some circumstances — for example, if an employer provides lodging or pays the hotel directly — employees may receive a per diem reimbursement only for their meals and incidental expenses. There’s also a $5 incidental-expenses-only rate for employees who don’t pay or incur meal expenses for a calendar day (or partial day) of travel.

Less recordkeeping

If your company uses per diem rates, employees don’t have to meet the usual recordkeeping rules required by the IRS. Receipts of expenses generally aren’t required under the per diem method. But employees still must substantiate the time, place and business purpose of the travel. Per diem reimbursements generally aren’t subject to income or payroll tax withholding or reported on an employee’s Form W-2.

The FY2022 rates

For travel after September 30, 2021, the per diem rate for all high-cost areas within the continental United States is $296. This consists of $222 for lodging and $74 for meals and incidental expenses. For all other areas within the continental United States, the per diem rate is $202 for travel after September 30, 2021 ($138 for lodging and $64 for meals and incidental expenses). Compared to the FY2021 per diems, both the high and low-cost area per diems increased $4.

Important: This method is subject to various rules and restrictions. For example, companies that use the high-low method for an employee must continue using it for all reimbursement of business travel expenses within the continental United States during the calendar year. However, the company may use any permissible method to reimburse that employee for any travel outside the continental United States.

For travel during the last three months of a calendar year, employers must continue to use the same method (per diem or high-low method) for an employee as they used during the first nine months of the calendar year. Also, note that per diem rates can’t be paid to individuals who own 10% or more of the business.

If your employees are traveling, it may be a good time to review the rates and consider switching to the high-low method. It can reduce the time and frustration associated with traditional travel reimbursement. Contact us for more information.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

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