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

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