There may be a tax-advantaged way for people to save for the needs of family members with disabilities — without having them lose eligibility for government benefits to which they’re entitled. It can be done though an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account, which is a tax-free account that can be used for disability-related expenses.

Who is eligible?

ABLE accounts can be created by eligible individuals to support themselves, by family members to support their dependents, or by guardians for the benefit of the individuals for whom they’re responsible. Anyone can contribute to an ABLE account. While contributions aren’t tax-deductible, the funds in the account are invested and grow free of tax.

Eligible individuals must be blind or disabled — and must have become so before turning age 26. They also must be entitled to benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. Alternatively, an individual can become eligible if a disability certificate is filed with the IRS for him or her.

Distributions from an ABLE account are tax-free if used to pay for expenses that maintain or improve the beneficiary’s health, independence or quality of life. These expenses include education, housing, transportation, employment support, health and wellness costs, assistive technology, personal support services, and other IRS-approved expenses.

If distributions are used for nonqualified expenses, the portion of the distribution that represents earnings on the account is subject to income tax — plus a 10% penalty.

More details

Here are some other key factors:

  • An eligible individual can have only one ABLE account. Contributions up to the annual gift-tax exclusion amount, currently $15,000, may be made to an ABLE account each year for the benefit of an eligible person. If the beneficiary works, the beneficiary can also contribute part, or all, of their income to their account. (This additional contribution is limited to the poverty-line amount for a one-person household.)
  • There’s also a limit on the total account balance. This limit, which varies from state to state, is equal to the limit imposed by that state on qualified tuition (Section 529) plans.
  • ABLE accounts have no impact on an individual’s Medicaid eligibility. However, ABLE account balances in excess of $100,000 are counted toward the SSI program’s $2,000 individual resource limit. Therefore, an individual’s SSI benefits are suspended, but not terminated, when his or her ABLE account balance exceeds $102,000 (assuming the individual has no other assets). In addition, distributions from an ABLE account to pay housing expenses count toward the SSI income limit.
  • For contributions made before 2026, the designated beneficiary can claim the saver’s credit for contributions made to his or her ABLE account.

States establish programs

There are many choices. ABLE accounts are established under state programs. An account may be opened under any state’s program (if the state allows out-of-state participants). The funds in an account can be invested in a variety of options and the account’s investment directions can be changed up to twice a year. Contact us if you’d like more details about setting up or maintaining an ABLE account.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

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

What are the requirements?

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

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

Why does the government require reporting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can the forms be filed electronically?

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

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

How can we set up an electronic account? 

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

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Travel — and travel scams — are back

Although COVID-19 remains a concern, many people have started traveling again — both for business and pleasure. Unfortunately, as travel demand has increased, so has travel-related fraud.

For example, some fraud perpetrators posing as airline employees call would-be victims to try to elicit credit card numbers. Other scam artists send phishing emails that appear to offer cheap seats or rooms. And there are plenty of fake websites masquerading as legitimate travel companies.

Don’t fall for fraud

As you plan your next trip, take these steps to help reduce fraud risk:

Ignore unsolicited communications. Whether you receive an email, text, flyer or telemarketing call regarding travel bargains, it’s probably smart to ignore it. Afraid of missing out on a legitimate deal? Directly contact the airline, hotel or rental car company featured in the promotion.

Book with established companies. Whether traveling for business or pleasure, make reservations with companies with names you know. If you’re booking with a new service provider, read online reviews by fellow travelers. Some review platforms allow you to search using keywords, others identify keywords frequently used by reviewers and allow you to filter for those reviews. Also perform an online search with the name of the company and words such as “fraud” or “scam.”

Watch out for lodging scams. Many travelers use online property marketplaces to find lodging. But you need to scrutinize listings. Some fraud perpetrators post ads for nonexistent properties with enticing, below-market rates. If a “property owner” asks you to move the conversation off the site to avoid fees, refuse the request. Reputable platforms provide certain protections, such as insurance in the event the transaction results in fraud. They also keep your credit card information confidential.

Work with trusted services. If you travel frequently for business or pleasure or don’t have time to research trips, consider engaging a travel advisor or travel agent. These professionals maintain close working relationships with legitimate companies, know about the latest deals, may be able to provide insider tips about your destination and can, of course, make reservations for you.

Go with your gut

Before booking your vacation or business trip, scrutinize it for signs of fraud. If you doubt the legitimacy of a service provider or are suspicious of individuals involved in a transaction, go with your gut and look elsewhere. Safe travel requires due diligence that starts long before your journey begins.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

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

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

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

Look to the future

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

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

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

Identify your HiPos

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

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

Develop individual action plans

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

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

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

Account for the job market

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

© 2021 Covenant CPA

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