If your business is depreciating over a 30-year period the entire cost of constructing the building that houses your operation, you should consider a cost segregation study. It might allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And under current law, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.

Fundamentals of depreciation

Generally, business buildings have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Usually, you depreciate a building’s structural components, including walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring, along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.

Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for example — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But the line between the two is frequently less clear. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.

Classify property into the appropriate asset classes

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold improvement, retail improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).

The savings can be substantial

Fortunately, it isn’t too late to get the benefit of speedier depreciation for items that were incorrectly assumed to be part of your building for depreciation purposes. You don’t have to amend your past returns (or meet a deadline for claiming tax refunds) to claim the depreciation that you could have already claimed. Instead, you can claim that depreciation by following procedures, in connection with the next tax return that you file, that will result in “automatic” IRS consent to a change in your accounting for depreciation.

Cost segregation studies can yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. We can judge whether a study will result in overall tax savings greater than the costs of the study itself. Contact us to find out whether this would be worthwhile for you.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Many businesses provide education fringe benefits so their employees can improve their skills and gain additional knowledge. An employee can receive, on a tax-free basis, up to $5,250 each year from his or her employer for educational assistance under a “qualified educational assistance program.”

For this purpose, “education” means any form of instruction or training that improves or develops an individual’s capabilities. It doesn’t matter if it’s job-related or part of a degree program. This includes employer-provided education assistance for graduate-level courses, including those normally taken by an individual pursuing a program leading to a business, medical, law or other advanced academic or professional degree.

Additional requirements

The educational assistance must be provided under a separate written plan that’s publicized to your employees, and must meet a number of conditions, including nondiscrimination requirements. In other words, it can’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees. In addition, not more than 5% of the amounts paid or incurred by the employer for educational assistance during the year may be provided for individuals who (including their spouses or dependents) who own 5% or more of the business.

No deduction or credit can be taken by the employee for any amount excluded from the employee’s income as an education assistance benefit.

Job-related education 

If you pay more than $5,250 for educational benefits for an employee during the year, he or she must generally pay tax on the amount over $5,250. Your business should include the amount in income in the employee’s wages. However, in addition to, or instead of applying, the $5,250 exclusion, an employer can satisfy an employee’s educational expenses, on a nontaxable basis, if the educational assistance is job-related. To qualify as job-related, the educational assistance must:

  • Maintain or improve skills required for the employee’s then-current job, or
  • Comply with certain express employer-imposed conditions for continued employment.

“Job-related” employer educational assistance isn’t subject to a dollar limit. To be job-related, the education can’t qualify the employee to meet the minimum educational requirements for qualification in his or her employment or other trade or business.

Educational assistance meeting the above “job-related” rules is excludable from an employee’s income as a working condition fringe benefit.

Student loans

In addition to education assistance, some employers offer student loan repayment assistance as a recruitment and retention tool. Recent COVID-19 relief laws may provide your employees with tax-free benefits. Contact us to learn more about setting up an education assistance or student loan repayment plan at your business.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Are you wondering whether alternative energy technologies can help you manage energy costs in your business? If so, there’s a valuable federal income tax benefit (the business energy credit) that applies to the acquisition of many types of alternative energy property.

The credit is intended primarily for business users of alternative energy (other energy tax breaks apply if you use alternative energy in your home or produce energy for sale).

Eligible property

The business energy credit equals 30% of the basis of the following:

  • Equipment, the construction of which begins before 2024, that uses solar energy to generate electricity for heating and cooling structures, for hot water, or heat used in industrial or commercial processes (except for swimming pools). If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in calendar year 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 10%.
  • Equipment, the construction of which begins before 2024, using solar energy to illuminate a structure’s inside using fiber-optic distributed sunlight. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
  • Certain fuel-cell property the construction of which begins before 2024. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
  • Certain small wind energy property the construction of which begins before 2024. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
  • Certain waste energy property, the construction of which begins before January 1, 2024. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
  • Certain offshore wind facilities with construction beginning before 2026. There’s no phase-out of this property.

The credit equals 10% of the basis of the following:

  • Certain equipment used to produce, distribute, or use energy derived from a geothermal deposit.
  • Certain cogeneration property with construction beginning before 2024.
  • Certain microturbine property with construction beginning before 2024.
  • Certain equipment, with construction beginning before 2024, that uses the ground or ground water to heat or cool a structure.

Pluses and minuses

However, there are several restrictions. For example, the credit isn’t available for property acquired with certain non-recourse financing. Additionally, if the credit is allowable for property, the “basis” is reduced by 50% of the allowable credit.

On the other hand, a favorable aspect is that, for the same property, the credit can sometimes be used in combination with other benefits — for example, federal income tax expensing, state tax credits or utility rebates.

There are business considerations unrelated to the tax and non-tax benefits that may influence your decision to use alternative energy. And even if you choose to use it, you might do so without owning the equipment, which would mean forgoing the business energy credit.

As you can see, there are many issues to consider. We can help you address these alternative energy considerations. 

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic impact have hurt many companies, especially small businesses. However, for others, the jarring challenges this year have created opportunities and accelerated changes that were probably going to occur all along.

One particular area of speedy transformation is technology. It’s never been more important for businesses to wield their internal IT effectively, enable customers and vendors to easily interact with those systems, and make the most of artificial intelligence and “big data” to spot trends.

Accomplishing all this is a tall order for even the most energetic business owner or CEO. That’s why many companies end up creating one or more tech-specific executive positions. Assuming you don’t already employ such an individual, should you consider adding an IT exec? Perhaps so.

3 common positions

There are three widely used position titles for technology executives:

1. Chief Information Officer (CIO). This person is typically responsible for managing a company’s internal IT infrastructure and operations. In fact, an easy way to remember the purpose of this position is to replace the word “Information” with “Internal.” A CIO’s job is to oversee the purchase, implementation and proper use of technological systems and products that will maximize the efficiency and productivity of the business.

2. Chief Technology Officer (CTO). In contrast to a CIO, a CTO focuses on external processes — specifically, with customers and vendors. This person usually oversees the development and eventual production of technological products or services that will meet customer needs and increase revenue. The position demands the ability to live on the cutting edge by doing constant research into tech trends while also being highly collaborative with employees and vendors.

3. Chief Digital Officer (CDO). For some companies, the CIO and/or CTO are so busy with their respective job duties that they’re unable to look very far ahead. This is where a CDO typically comes into play. His or her primary objective is to spot new markets, channels or even business models that the company can target, explore and perhaps eventually profit from. So, while a CIO looks internally and a CTO looks externally, a CDO’s gaze is set on a more distant horizon.

Costs vs. benefits

As mentioned, these are three of the most common IT executive positions. Their specific objectives and job duties may vary depending on the business in question. And they are by no means the only examples of such positions. There are many variations, including Chief Marketing Technologist and Chief Information Security Officer.

So, getting back to our original question: is this a good time to add one or more of these execs to your staff? The answer very much depends on the financial strength and projected direction of your company. These positions will call for major expenditures in hiring, payroll and benefits. Our firm can help you weigh the costs vs. benefits.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

When a couple is going through a divorce, taxes are probably not foremost in their minds. But without proper planning and advice, some people find divorce to be an even more taxing experience. Several tax concerns need to be addressed to ensure that taxes are kept to a minimum and that important tax-related decisions are properly made. Here are four issues to understand if you’re in the midst of a divorce.

Issue 1: Alimony or support payments. For alimony under divorce or separation agreements that are executed after 2018, there’s no deduction for alimony and separation support payments for the spouse making them. And the alimony payments aren’t included in the gross income of the spouse receiving them. (The rules are different for divorce or separation agreements executed before 2019.)

Issue 2: Child support. No matter when a divorce or separation instrument is executed, child support payments aren’t deductible by the paying spouse (or taxable to the recipient).

Issue 3: Your residence. Generally, if a married couple sells their home in connection with a divorce or legal separation, they should be able to avoid tax on up to $500,000 of gain (as long as they’ve owned and used the residence as their principal residence for two of the previous five years). If one spouse continues to live in the home and the other moves out (but they both remain owners of the home), they may still be able to avoid gain on the future sale of the home (up to $250,000 each), but special language may have to be included in the divorce decree or separation agreement to protect the exclusion for the spouse who moves out.

If the couple doesn’t meet the two-year ownership and use tests, any gain from the sale may qualify for a reduced exclusion due to unforeseen circumstances.

Issue 4: Pension benefits. A spouse’s pension benefits are often part of a divorce property settlement. In these cases, the commonly preferred method to handle the benefits is to get a “qualified domestic relations order” (QDRO). This gives one spouse the right to share in the pension benefits of the other and taxes the spouse who receives the benefits. Without a QDRO the spouse who earned the benefits will still be taxed on them even though they’re paid out to the other spouse.

More to consider

These are just some of the issues you may have to deal with if you’re getting a divorce. In addition, you must decide how to file your tax return (single, married filing jointly, married filing separately or head of household). You may need to adjust your income tax withholding and you should notify the IRS of any new address or name change. If you own a business, you may have to pay your spouse a share. There are also estate planning considerations. Contact us to help you work through the financial issues involved in divorce.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Do you own a business with one or more individuals? Undoubtedly, your interest in the business represents a substantial part of your net worth and is likely your “pride and joy.” So it’s normal if your fondest wish is for the business to continue long after you’re gone or for you to keep it running if a co-owner or partner dies.

However, if adequate provisions aren’t made, the business may flounder if a leadership void isn’t filled. Or bitter family disputes may tear the organization apart. In the end, a “distress sale” may leave your heirs with substantially less than the company’s current value.

Fortunately, disastrous results may be avoided if you have a buy-sell agreement drafted during your lifetime. The agreement can dictate how the business is sold, to whom and for how much. Life insurance policies are often used to fund the transaction.

Buy-sell agreements in a nutshell

A buy-sell agreement may be used for virtually every type of business entity, including C corporations, S corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies. Typically, it applies to the shares of stock and any business real estate held by respective owners.

Although variations exist, the agreement essentially provides for the sale of a business interest to other owners or partners, the business entity itself, or a hybrid. Alternatively, the agreement may cover a sale to one or more long-time employees.

The agreement, which is typically signed by all affected parties, imposes restrictions on the future sale of the business or property. For instance, if you intend to leave a business interest to your children, you may provide for each child to sell or transfer his or her interest to another party or parties named in the agreement, such as grandchildren or other relatives.

Significantly, a buy-sell agreement often establishes a formula for determining the sale price of the business and its components. The formula may be based on financial statement figures, such as book value, adjusted book value, or the weighted average of historical earnings, or a combination of variables.

Understanding the benefits

Having a valid buy-sell agreement in writing removes much of the uncertainty that can happen when a business owner passes away. It provides a “ready, willing and able” buyer who’s arranged to purchase shares under the formula or at a fixed price. There’s no argument about what the business is worth among co-owners, partners or family members.

The buy-sell agreement addresses a host of problems about co-ownership of assets. For instance, if you have one partner who dies first, the partnership shares might pass to a family member who has a different vision for the future than you do.

Work with us to design a buy-sell agreement that helps preserve the value of your business for your family.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Many businesses now offer, as part of their health care benefits, various types of accounts that reimburse employees for medical expenses on a tax-advantaged basis. These include health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRAs) and Health Savings Account (HSAs, which are usually offered in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan).

For employees to get the full value out of such accounts, they need to educate themselves on what expenses are eligible for reimbursement by a health FSA or HRA, or for a tax-free distribution from an HSA. Although an employer shouldn’t provide tax advice to employees, you can give them a heads-up that the rules for reimbursements or distributions vary depending on the type of account.

Pub. 502

Unfortunately, no single publication provides an exhaustive list of official, government-approved expenses eligible for reimbursement by a health FSA or HRA, or for a tax-free distribution from an HSA. IRS Publication 502 — “Medical and Dental Expenses” (Pub. 502) comes the closest, but it should be used with caution.

Pub. 502 is written largely to help taxpayers determine what medical expenses can be deducted on their income tax returns; it’s not meant to address the tax-favored health care accounts in question. Although the rules for deductibility overlap in many respects with the rules governing health FSAs, HRAs and HSAs, there are some important differences. Thus, employees shouldn’t use Pub. 502 as the sole determinant for whether an expense is reimbursable by a health FSA or HRA, or eligible for tax-free distribution from an HSA.

Various factors

You might warn health care account participants that various factors affect whether and when a medical expense is reimbursable or a distribution allowable. These include:

Timing rules. Pub. 502 notes that expenses may be deducted only for the year in which they were paid, but it doesn’t explain the different timing rules for the tax-favored accounts. For example, a health FSA can reimburse an expense only for the year in which it was incurred, regardless of when it was paid.

Insurance restrictions. Taxpayers may deduct health insurance premiums on their tax returns if certain requirements are met. However, reimbursement of such premiums by health FSAs, HRAs and HSAs is subject to restrictions that vary according to the type of tax-favored account.

Over-the-counter (OTC) drug documentation. OTC drugs other than insulin aren’t tax-deductible, but they may be reimbursed by health FSAs, HRAs and HSAs if substantiation and other requirements are met.

Greater appreciation

The pandemic has put a renewed emphasis on the importance of employer-provided health care benefits. The federal government has even passed COVID-19-related relief measures for some tax-favored accounts.

As mentioned, the more that employees understand these benefits, the more they’ll be able to effectively use them — and the greater appreciation they’ll have of your business for providing them. Our firm can help you fully understand the tax implications, for both you and employees, of any type of health care benefit.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

When Congress authorized an additional $600 in monthly unemployment benefits as part of the CARES Act, out-of-work Americans weren’t the only ones it helped. Criminals have descended like locusts on state unemployment insurance agencies, using stolen identities to fraudulently claim both standard benefits and the additional funds administered by the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. States have lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Individuals have also suffered, as government efforts to control fraud have clogged up benefit systems and delayed payments to the jobless.

States struggle

Washington state was the first to experience a COVID-19 outbreak and has since estimated losses of $650 million to unemployment insurance fraud. According to the Secret Service, a scam was detected when someone noticed that multiple direct deposits of benefits had been made to individuals residing out of state. These deposits were subsequently transferred overseas — likely by organized crime gangs.

But Washington is hardly alone. Many other states have discovered fraud. In May, Rhode Island’s labor agency reported that it had almost as many illegitimate unemployment insurance claims as legitimate ones. And widescale fraud in Michigan forced that state to stop payment on nearly 20% of unemployment claims pending review.

Fighting back

If you’re currently employed and receive an unemployment benefit check or debit card or a letter confirming an application for unemployment benefits, immediately contact your state. If you can’t get ahold of your state agency (a problem encountered by thousands of potential fraud victims), report your suspicions to police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at identitytheft.gov. Your identity has likely been stolen and sold to criminals on the dark web. Be sure to request copies of your credit reports and review them for illegitimate activity.

Businesses can help fight unemployment insurance fraud, too. The FTC suggests that companies:

  • Ask employees to speak up if they suspect their identities are being used to perpetrate unemployment insurance fraud, 
  • Direct HR to flag state unemployment agency notices about currently employed workers,
  • Report suspected fraud to a state agency — preferably via its website,
  • Provide a copy of the documentation to affected employees and let them know if the state requires them to also make a report,
  • Bolster cybersecurity to prevent the loss of personal data that could be used to commit fraud.

This last tip is particularly important if your employees currently are working from home.

An easy target

The pandemic has probably unleashed more fraud activity than any other recent event. Even though PUA program payments were due to expire on July 25, state unemployment benefits are too easy and lucrative a target for fraudsters to pass up. But you can do your part to help disrupt these schemes.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Are you a multitasker? If so, you may appreciate an estate planning technique that can convert assets into a stream of lifetime income, provide a current tax deduction and leave the remainder to your favorite charity — all in one fell swoop. It’s the aptly named charitable remainder trust (CRT).

A CRT in action

You can set up one of two CRT types: a charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT) or a charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT) and fund it with assets you own. The trust then pays out income to the designated beneficiary or beneficiaries — for example, the trust creator or a spouse — for life or a term of 20 years or less. Alternatively, if certain requirements are met, you can choose to have income paid to your children, other family members or an entity.

If it suits your needs, you may postpone taking income distributions until a later date. In the meantime, the assets in the CRT (ideally) continue to appreciate in value.

Typically, a CRT is funded with income-producing assets, such as real estate, securities and even stock in your own company. (Note: S corporation stock can’t be used for this purpose.) These assets may be supplemented by cash deposits or the transfer can be all cash.

When you transfer assets to the CRT, you qualify for a current tax deduction based on several factors, including the value of the assets at the time of transfer, the ages of the income beneficiaries and the Section 7520 rate. Generally, the greater the payout, the lower the deduction.

A matter of control

An important decision relating to a CRT is naming the trustee to manage its affairs. The trustee should be someone with the requisite financial acumen and knowledge of your personal situation. Thus, it could be an advisor, an institutional entity, a family member, a close friend or even you.

Because of the significant dollars at stake, many trust creators opt for a professional, perhaps someone who specializes in managing trust assets. If you’re leaning toward this option, interview several candidates and consider factors such as experience, investment performance and level of services provided.

If you decide to take on the task yourself, consider using a third-party professional to handle most of the paperwork and provide other support.

During the CRT’s term, it’s the trustee — not the charity — who calls the shots. The trustee is obligated to adhere to the terms of the trust and follow your instructions. Thus, you still maintain some measure of control. In fact, you may retain the right to change the trustee if you become dissatisfied or designate a different charity to receive the remainder assets.

Is a CRT right for you?

The short answer is that it depends on your specific circumstances. Be aware that a CRT is irrevocable. In other words, once it’s executed, there’s no going back and you generally can’t make other changes. So, you must be fully committed to this approach. Contact us with any questions.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The IRS recently released the 2021 inflation-adjusted amounts for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). 

HSA basics

An HSA is a trust created or organized exclusively for the purpose of paying the “qualified medical expenses” of an “account beneficiary.” An HSA can only be established for the benefit of an “eligible individual” who is covered under a “high deductible health plan.” In addition, a participant can’t be enrolled in Medicare or have other health coverage (exceptions include dental, vision, long-term care, accident and specific disease insurance).

In general, a high deductible health plan (HDHP) is a plan that has an annual deductible that isn’t less than $1,000 for self-only coverage and $2,000 for family coverage. In addition, the sum of the annual deductible and other annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid under the plan for covered benefits (but not for premiums) cannot exceed $5,000 for self-only coverage, and $10,000 for family coverage.

Within specified dollar limits, an above-the-line tax deduction is allowed for an individual’s contribution to an HSA. This annual contribution limitation and the annual deductible and out-of-pocket expenses under the tax code are adjusted annually for inflation.

Inflation adjustments for 2021 contributions

In Revenue Procedure 2020-32, the IRS released the 2021 inflation-adjusted figures for contributions to HSAs, which are as follows:

Annual contribution limitation. For calendar year 2021, the annual contribution limitation for an individual with self-only coverage under a HDHP is $3,600. For an individual with family coverage, the amount is $7,200. This is up from $3,550 and $7,100, respectively, for 2020.

High deductible health plan defined. For calendar year 2021, an HDHP is a health plan with an annual deductible that isn’t less than $1,400 for self-only coverage or $2,800 for family coverage (these amounts are unchanged from 2020). In addition, annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) can’t exceed $7,000 for self-only coverage or $14,000 for family coverage (up from $6,900 and $13,800, respectively, for 2020).

A variety of benefits

There are many advantages to HSAs. Contributions to the accounts are made on a pre-tax basis. The money can accumulate year after year tax free and be withdrawn tax free to pay for a variety of medical expenses such as doctor visits, prescriptions, chiropractic care and premiums for long-term-care insurance. In addition, an HSA is “portable.” It stays with an account holder if he or she changes employers or leaves the work force. For more information about HSAs, contact your employee benefits and tax advisor.

© 2020 Covenant CPA