Do you play a major role in a closely held corporation and sometimes spend money on corporate expenses personally? These costs may wind up being nondeductible both by an officer and the corporation unless proper steps are taken. This issue is more likely to arise in connection with a financially troubled corporation.

Deductible vs. nondeductible expenses

In general, you can’t deduct an expense you incur on behalf of your corporation, even if it’s a legitimate “trade or business” expense and even if the corporation is financially troubled. This is because a taxpayer can only deduct expenses that are his own. And since your corporation’s legal existence as a separate entity must be respected, the corporation’s costs aren’t yours and thus can’t be deducted even if you pay them.

What’s more, the corporation won’t generally be able to deduct them either because it didn’t pay them itself. Accordingly, be advised that it shouldn’t be a practice of your corporation’s officers or major shareholders to cover corporate costs.

When expenses may be deductible

On the other hand, if a corporate executive incurs costs that relate to an essential part of his or her duties as an executive, they may be deductible as ordinary and necessary expenses related to his or her “trade or business” of being an executive. If you wish to set up an arrangement providing for payments to you and safeguarding their deductibility, a provision should be included in your employment contract with the corporation stating the types of expenses which are part of your duties and authorizing you to incur them. For example, you may be authorized to attend out-of-town business conferences on the corporation’s behalf at your personal expense.

Alternatively, to avoid the complete loss of any deductions by both yourself and the corporation, an arrangement should be in place under which the corporation reimburses you for the expenses you incur. Turn the receipts over to the corporation and use an expense reimbursement claim form or system. This will at least allow the corporation to deduct the amount of the reimbursement.

Contact us if you’d like assistance or would like to discuss these issues further.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials are seeing a large increase in the number of new businesses being launched. From June 2020 through June 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that business applications are up 18.6%. The Bureau measures this by the number of businesses applying for an Employer Identification Number.

Entrepreneurs often don’t know that many of the expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be currently deducted. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your federal tax bill.

How to treat expenses for tax purposes

If you’re starting or planning to launch a new business, keep these three rules in mind:

  1. Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one. 
  2. Under the tax code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins. As you know, $5,000 doesn’t go very far these days! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
  3. No deductions or amortization deductions are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business begins. Generally, that means the year when the business has all the pieces in place to start earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Did the activity actually begin?

Eligible expenses

In general, start-up expenses are those you make to:

  • Investigate the creation or acquisition of a business,
  • Create a business, or
  • Engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business.

To qualify for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.

To be eligible as an “organization expense,” an expense must be related to establishing a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.

Plan now

If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, you need to decide whether to take the election described above. Recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Do you have significant investment-related expenses, including the cost of subscriptions to financial services, home office expenses and clerical costs? Under current tax law, these expenses aren’t deductible through 2025 if they’re considered investment expenses for the production of income. But they’re deductible if they’re considered trade or business expenses.

For years before 2018, production-of-income expenses were deductible, but they were included in miscellaneous itemized deductions, which were subject to a 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor. (These rules are scheduled to return after 2025.) If you do a significant amount of trading, you should know which category your investment expenses fall into, because qualifying for trade or business expense treatment is more advantageous now.

In order to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses, you must be engaged in a trade or business. The U.S. Supreme Court held many years ago that an individual taxpayer isn’t engaged in a trade or business merely because the individual manages his or her own securities investments — regardless of the amount or the extent of the work required.

A trader vs. an investor

However, if you can show that your investment activities rise to the level of carrying on a trade or business, you may be considered a trader, who is engaged in a trade or business, rather than an investor, who isn’t. As a trader, you’re entitled to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses. A trader is also entitled to deduct home office expenses if the home office is used exclusively on a regular basis as the trader’s principal place of business. An investor, on the other hand, isn’t entitled to home office deductions since the investment activities aren’t a trade or business.

Since the Supreme Court decision, there has been extensive litigation on the issue of whether a taxpayer is a trader or investor. The U.S. Tax Court has developed a two-part test that must be satisfied in order for a taxpayer to be a trader. Under this test, a taxpayer’s investment activities are considered a trade or business only where both of the following are true:

  1. The taxpayer’s trading is substantial (in other words, sporadic trading isn’t considered a trade or business), and
  2. The taxpayer seeks to profit from short-term market swings, rather than from long-term holding of investments.

Profit in the short term

So, the fact that a taxpayer’s investment activities are regular, extensive and continuous isn’t in itself sufficient for determining that a taxpayer is a trader. In order to be considered a trader, you must show that you buy and sell securities with reasonable frequency in an effort to profit on a short-term basis. In one case, a taxpayer who made more than 1,000 trades a year with trading activities averaging about $16 million annually was held to be an investor rather than a trader because the holding periods for stocks sold averaged about one year.

Contact us if you have questions or would like to figure out whether you’re an investor or a trader for tax purposes.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If you’re claiming deductions for business meals or auto expenses, expect the IRS to closely review them. In some cases, taxpayers have incomplete documentation or try to create records months (or years) later. In doing so, they fail to meet the strict substantiation requirements set forth under tax law. Tax auditors are adept at rooting out inconsistencies, omissions and errors in taxpayers’ records, as illustrated by one recent U.S. Tax Court case.

Facts of the case

In the case, the taxpayer ran a notary and paralegal business. She deducted business meals and vehicle expenses that she allegedly incurred in connection with her business.

The deductions were denied by the IRS and the court. Tax law “establishes higher substantiation requirements” for these and certain other expenses, the court noted. No deduction is generally allowed “unless the taxpayer substantiates the amount, time and place, business purpose, and business relationship to the taxpayer of the person receiving the benefit” for each expense with adequate records or sufficient evidence.

The taxpayer in this case didn’t provide adequate records or other sufficient evidence to prove the business purpose of her meal expenses. She gave vague testimony that she deducted expenses for meals where she “talked strategies” with people who “wanted her to do some work.” The court found this was insufficient to show the connection between the meals and her business.

When it came to the taxpayer’s vehicle expense deductions, she failed to offer credible evidence showing where she drove her vehicle, the purpose of each trip and her business relationship to the places visited. She also conceded that she used her car for both business and personal activities. (TC Memo 2021-50)

Best practices for business expenses

This case is an example of why it’s critical to maintain meticulous records to support business expenses for meals and vehicle deductions. Here’s a list of “DOs and DON’Ts” to help meet the strict IRS and tax law substantiation requirements for these items:

DO keep detailed, accurate records. For each expense, record the amount, the time and place, the business purpose, and the business relationship of any person to whom you provided a meal. If you have employees who you reimburse for meals and auto expenses, make sure they’re complying with all the rules.

DON’T reconstruct expense logs at year end or wait until you receive a notice from the IRS. Take a moment to record the details in a log or diary or on a receipt at the time of the event or soon after. Require employees to submit monthly expense reports.

DO respect the fine line between personal and business expenses. Be careful about combining business and pleasure. Your business checking account shouldn’t be used for personal expenses.

DON’T be surprised if the IRS asks you to prove your deductions. Meal and auto expenses are a magnet for attention. Be prepared for a challenge.

With organization and guidance from us, your tax records can stand up to scrutiny from the IRS. There may be ways to substantiate your deductions that you haven’t thought of, and there may be a way to estimate certain deductions (“the Cohan rule”), if your records are lost due to a fire, theft, flood or other disaster. 

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Attending college is one of the biggest investments that parents and students ever make. If you or your child (or grandchild) attends (or plans to attend) an institution of higher learning, you may be eligible for tax breaks to help foot the bill.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was enacted recently, made some changes to the tax breaks. Here’s a rundown of what has changed.

Deductions vs. credits

Before the new law, there were tax breaks available for qualified education expenses including the Tuition and Fees Deduction, the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Tax credits are generally better than tax deductions. The difference? A tax deduction reduces your taxable income while a tax credit reduces the amount of taxes you owe on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

First, let’s look at the deduction

For 2020, the Tuition and Fees Deduction could be up to $4,000 at lower income levels or up to $2,000 at middle income levels. If your 2020 modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) allows you to be eligible, you can claim the deduction whether you itemize or not. Here are the income thresholds:

  • For 2020, a taxpayer with a MAGI of up to $65,000 ($130,000 for married filing jointly) could deduct qualified expenses up to $4,000.
  • For 2020, a taxpayer with a MAGI between $65,001 and $80,000 ($130,001 and $160,000 for married filing jointly) could deduct up to $2,000.
  • For 2020, the allowable 2020 deduction was phased out and was zero if your MAGI was more than $80,000 ($160,000 for married filing jointly).

As you’ll see below, the Tuition and Fees Deduction is not available after the 2020 tax year.

Two credits aligned

Before the new law, an unfavorable income phase-out rule applied to the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can be worth up to $2,000 per tax return annually. For 2021 and beyond, the new law aligns the phase-out rule for the Lifetime Learning Credit with the more favorable phase-out rule for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which can be worth up to $2,500 per student each year. The CAA also repeals the Tuition and Fees Deduction for 2021 and later years. Basically, the law trades the old-law write-off for the more favorable new-law Lifetime Learning Credit phase-out rule.

Under the CAA, both the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit are phased out for 2021 and beyond between a MAGI of $80,001 and $90,000 for unmarried individuals ($160,001 and $180,000 for married couples filing jointly). Before the new law, the Lifetime Learning Credit was phased out for 2020 between a MAGI of $59,001 and $69,000 for unmarried individuals ($118,001 and $138,000 married couples filing jointly).

Best for you

Talk with us about which of the two remaining education tax credits is the most beneficial in your situation. Each of them has its own requirements. There are also other education tax opportunities you may be able to take advantage of, including a Section 529 tuition plan and a Coverdell Education Savings Account.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

You may be able to deduct some of your medical expenses, including prescription drugs, on your federal tax return. However, the rules make it hard for many people to qualify. But with proper planning, you may be able to time discretionary medical expenses to your advantage for tax purposes.

Itemizers must meet a threshold

For 2020, the medical expense deduction can only be claimed to the extent your unreimbursed costs exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). This threshold amount is scheduled to increase to 10% of AGI for 2021. You also must itemize deductions on your return in order to claim a deduction.

If your total itemized deductions for 2020 will exceed your standard deduction, moving or “bunching” nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into 2020 may allow you to exceed the 7.5% floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. Controllable expenses include refilling prescription drugs, buying eyeglasses and contact lenses, going to the dentist and getting elective surgery.

In addition to hospital and doctor expenses, here are some items to take into account when determining your allowable costs:

  • Health insurance premiums. This item can total thousands of dollars a year. Even if your employer provides health coverage, you can deduct the portion of the premiums that you pay. Long-term care insurance premiums are also included as medical expenses, subject to limits based on age.
  • Transportation. The cost of getting to and from medical treatments counts as a medical expense. This includes taxi fares, public transportation, or using your own car. Car costs can be calculated at 17¢ a mile for miles driven in 2020, plus tolls and parking. Alternatively, you can deduct certain actual costs, such as for gas and oil.
  • Eyeglasses, hearing aids, dental work, prescription drugs and more. Deductible expenses include the cost of glasses, hearing aids, dental work, psychiatric counseling and other ongoing expenses in connection with medical needs. Purely cosmetic expenses don’t qualify. Prescription drugs (including insulin) qualify, but over-the-counter aspirin and vitamins don’t. Neither do amounts paid for treatments that are illegal under federal law (such as medical marijuana), even if state law permits them. The services of therapists and nurses can qualify as long as they relate to a medical condition and aren’t for general health. Amounts paid for certain long-term care services required by a chronically ill individual also qualify.
  • Smoking-cessation and weight-loss programs. Amounts paid for participating in smoking-cessation programs and for prescribed drugs designed to alleviate nicotine withdrawal are deductible. However, nonprescription nicotine gum and patches aren’t. A weight-loss program is deductible if undertaken as treatment for a disease diagnosed by a physician. Deductible expenses include fees paid to join a program and attend periodic meetings. However, the cost of food isn’t deductible.

Costs for dependents

You can deduct the medical costs that you pay for dependents, such as your children. Additionally, you may be able to deduct medical costs you pay for other individuals, such as an elderly parent. Contact us if you have questions about medical expense deductions.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Many employees take advantage of the opportunity to save taxes by placing funds in their employer’s health or dependent care flexible spending arrangements (FSAs). As the end of 2020 nears, here are some rules and reminders to keep in mind.

Health FSAs 

A pre-tax contribution of $2,750 to a health FSA is permitted in both 2020 and 2021. You save taxes because you use pre-tax dollars to pay for medical expenses that might not be deductible. For example, they wouldn’t be deductible if you don’t itemize deductions on your tax return. Even if you do itemize, medical expenses must exceed a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income in order to be deductible. Additionally, the amounts that you contribute to a health FSA aren’t subject to FICA taxes.

Your plan should have a listing of qualifying items and any documentation from a medical provider that may be needed to get a reimbursement for these items.

To avoid any forfeiture of your health FSA funds because of the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule, you must incur qualifying medical expenditures by the last day of the plan year (Dec. 31 for a calendar year plan), unless the plan allows an optional grace period. A grace period can’t extend beyond the 15th day of the third month following the close of the plan year (March 15 for a calendar year plan).

An additional exception to the use-it-or lose-it rule permits health FSAs to allow a carryover of a participant’s unused health FSA funds of up to $550. Amounts carried forward under this rule are added to the up-to-$2,750 amount that you elect to contribute to the health FSA for 2021. An employer may allow a carryover or a grace period for an FSA, but not both features.

Examining your year-to-date expenditures now will also help you to determine how much to set aside for next year. Don’t forget to reflect any changed circumstances in making your calculation.

Dependent care FSAs 

Some employers also allow employees to set aside funds on a pre-tax basis in dependent care FSAs. A $5,000 maximum annual contribution is permitted ($2,500 for a married couple filing separately).

These FSAs are for a dependent-qualifying child under age 13, or a dependent or spouse who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care and who has the same principal place of abode as the taxpayer for more than half of the tax year.

Like health FSAs, dependent care FSAs are subject to a use-it-or-lose-it rule, but only the grace period relief applies, not the up-to-$550 forfeiture exception. Thus, now is a good time to review expenditures to date and to project amounts to be set aside for next year.

Note: Because of COVID-19, the IRS has temporarily allowed employees to take certain actions in 2020 related to their health care and dependent care FSAs. For example, employees may be permitted to make prospective mid-year elections and changes. Ask your HR department if your plan allows these actions if you believe they would be beneficial in your situation. Other rules and exceptions may apply.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss FSAs in greater detail.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

COVID-19 has changed our lives in many ways, and some of the changes have tax implications. Here is basic information about two common situations.

1. Working from home.

Many employees have been told not to come into their workplaces due to the pandemic. If you’re an employee who “telecommutes” — that is, you work at home, and communicate with your employer mainly by telephone, videoconferencing, email, etc. — you should know about the strict rules that govern whether you can deduct your home office expenses.

Unfortunately, employee home office expenses aren’t currently deductible, even if your employer requires you to work from home. Employee business expense deductions (including the expenses an employee incurs to maintain a home office) are miscellaneous itemized deductions and are disallowed from 2018 through 2025 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

However, if you’re self-employed and work out of an office in your home, you can be eligible to claim home office deductions for your related expenses if you satisfy the strict rules.

2. Collecting unemployment

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and are collecting unemployment benefits. Some of these people don’t know that these benefits are taxable and must be reported on their federal income tax returns for the tax year they were received. Taxable benefits include the special unemployment compensation authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

In order to avoid a surprise tax bill when filing a 2020 income tax return next year, unemployment recipients can have taxes withheld from their benefits now. Under federal law, recipients can opt to have 10% withheld from their benefits to cover part or all their tax liability. To do this, complete Form W4-V, Voluntary Withholding Request, and give it to the agency paying benefits. (Don’t send it to the IRS.)

We can help

We can assist you with advice about whether you qualify for home office deductions, and how much of these expenses you can deduct. We can also answer any questions you have about the taxation of unemployment benefits as well as any other tax issues that you encounter as a result of COVID-19.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

While the COVID-19 crisis has devastated many existing businesses, the pandemic has also created opportunities for entrepreneurs to launch new businesses. For example, some businesses are being launched online to provide products and services to people staying at home.

Entrepreneurs often don’t know that many expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be currently deducted. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your tax bill.

How expenses must be handled

If you’re starting or planning a new enterprise, keep these key points in mind:

  • Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one.
  • Under the Internal Revenue Code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins. As you know, $5,000 doesn’t get you very far today! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
  • No deductions or amortization deductions are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business begins. Generally, that means the year when the business has all the pieces in place to begin earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Did the activity actually begin?

Expenses that qualify

In general, start-up expenses include all amounts you spend to:

  • Investigate the creation or acquisition of a business,
  • Create a business, or
  • Engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business.

To be eligible for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.

To qualify as an “organization expense,” the expenditure must be related to creating a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.

Thinking ahead 

If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, you need to decide whether to take the elections described above. Recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If you operate a small business, or you’re starting a new one, you probably know you need to keep records of your income and expenses. In particular, you should carefully record your expenses in order to claim the full amount of the tax deductions to which you’re entitled. And you want to make sure you can defend the amounts reported on your tax returns if you’re ever audited by the IRS or state tax agencies.

Certain types of expenses, such as automobile, travel, meals and office-at-home expenses, require special attention because they’re subject to special recordkeeping requirements or limitations on deductibility.

It’s interesting to note that there’s not one way to keep business records. In its publication “Starting a Business and Keeping Records,” the IRS states: “Except in a few cases, the law does not require any specific kind of records. You can choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses.”

That being said, many taxpayers don’t make the grade when it comes to recordkeeping. Here are three court cases to illustrate some of the issues.

Case 1: Without records, the IRS can reconstruct your income

If a taxpayer is audited and doesn’t have good records, the IRS can perform a “bank-deposits analysis” to reconstruct income. It assumes that all money deposited in accounts during a given period is taxable income. That’s what happened in the case of the business owner of a coin shop and precious metals business. The owner didn’t agree with the amount of income the IRS attributed to him after it conducted a bank-deposits analysis.

But the U.S. Tax Court noted that if the taxpayer kept adequate records, “he could have avoided the bank-deposits analysis altogether.” Because he didn’t, the court found the bank analysis was appropriate and the owner underreported his business income for the year. (TC Memo 2020-4)

Case 2: Expenses must be business related

In another case, an independent insurance agent’s claims for a variety of business deductions were largely denied. The Tax Court found that he had documentation in the form of cancelled checks and credit card statements that showed expenses were paid. But there was no proof of a business purpose.

For example, he made utility payments for natural gas, electricity, water and sewer, but the records didn’t show whether the services were for his business or his home. (TC Memo 2020-25)

Case number 3: No records could mean no deductions

In this case, married taxpayers were partners in a travel agency and owners of a marketing company. The IRS denied their deductions involving auto expenses, gifts, meals and travel because of insufficient documentation. The couple produced no evidence about the business purpose of gifts they had given. In addition, their credit card statements and other information didn’t detail the time, place, and business relationship for meal expenses or indicate that travel was conducted for business purposes.

“The disallowed deductions in this case are directly attributable to (the taxpayer’s) failure to maintain adequate records,“ the court stated. (TC Memo 2020-7)

We can help

Contact us if you need assistance retaining adequate business records. Taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you keep records can protect your deductions and help make an audit much less painful.

© 2020 Covenant CPA