In order to prepare for a business audit, an IRS examiner generally does research about the specific industry and issues on the taxpayer’s return. Examiners may use IRS “Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs).” A little-known secret is that these guides are available to the public on the IRS website. In other words, your business can use the same guides to gain insight into what the IRS is looking for in terms of compliance with tax laws and regulations. 

Many ATGs target specific industries or businesses, such as construction, aerospace, art galleries, architecture and veterinary medicine. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation, passive activity losses and capitalization of tangible property.

Unique issues

IRS auditors need to examine different types of businesses, as well as individual taxpayers and tax-exempt organizations. Each type of return might have unique industry issues, business practices and terminology. Before meeting with taxpayers and their advisors, auditors do their homework to understand various industries or issues, the accounting methods commonly used, how income is received, and areas where taxpayers might not be in compliance.

By using a specific ATG, an auditor may be able to reconcile discrepancies when reported income or expenses aren’t consistent with what’s normal for the industry or to identify anomalies within the geographic area in which the business is located.

Updates and revisions

Some guides were written several years ago and others are relatively new. There is not a guide for every industry. Here are some of the guide titles that have been revised or added this year:

  • Retail Industry (March 2021),
  • Construction Industry (April 2021),
  • Nonqualified Deferred Compensation (June 2021), and
  • Real Estate Property Foreclosure and Cancellation of Debt (August 2021).

Although ATGs were created to help IRS examiners uncover common methods of hiding income and inflating deductions, they also can help businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise audit red flags. For a complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website here: https://www.checkpointmarketing.net/newsletter/linkShimRadar.cfm?key=89521181G3971J9375406&l=72457

© 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

There’s a harsh tax penalty that you could be at risk for paying personally if you own or manage a business with employees. It’s called the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty” and it applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from its employees’ wages.

Because taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over. The penalty is also sometimes called the “100% penalty” because the person liable and responsible for the taxes will be penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and IRS is aggressive in enforcing the penalty.

Wide-ranging penalty

The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty is among the more dangerous tax penalties because it applies to a broad range of actions and to a wide range of people involved in a business.

Here are some answers to questions about the penalty so you can safely avoid it.

What actions are penalized? The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty applies to any willful failure to collect, or truthfully account for, and pay over Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld from employees’ wages.

Who is at risk? The penalty can be imposed on anyone “responsible” for collection and payment of the tax. This has been broadly defined to include a corporation’s officers, directors and shareholders under a duty to collect and pay the tax as well as a partnership’s partners, or any employee of the business with such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally exempt from responsibility, can be subject to this penalty under some circumstances. In some cases, responsibility has even been extended to family members close to the business, and to attorneys and accountants.

According to the IRS, responsibility is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are (or aren’t) paid may be responsible. There’s often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. You may not be directly involved with the payroll tax withholding process in your business. But if you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and have the power to pay them but instead make payments to creditors and others, you become a responsible person.

Although a taxpayer held liable can sue other responsible people for contribution, this action must be taken entirely on his or her own after the penalty is paid. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.

What’s considered “willful?” For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bending to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes that are due the government is willful behavior. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Your failure to take care of the job yourself can be treated as the willful element.

Never borrow from taxes

Under no circumstances should you fail to withhold taxes or “borrow” from withheld amounts. All funds withheld should be paid over to the government on time. Contact us with any questions about making tax payments. 

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The IRS just released its audit statistics for the 2020 fiscal year and fewer taxpayers had their returns examined as compared with prior years. But even though a small percentage of returns are being chosen for audit these days, that will be little consolation if yours is one of them.

Latest statistics

Overall, just 0.5% of individual tax returns were audited in 2020. However, as in the past, those with higher incomes were audited at higher rates. For example, in 2020, 2.2% of taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of between $1 million and $5 million were audited. Among the richest taxpayers, those with AGIs of $10 million and more, 7% of returns were audited in 2020.

These are among the lowest percentages of audits conducted in recent years. However, the Biden administration has announced it would like to raise revenue by increasing tax compliance and enforcement. In other words, audits may be on the rise in coming years.

Prepare in advance 

Even though fewer audits were performed in 2020, the IRS will still examine thousands of returns this year. With proper planning, you may fare well even if you’re one of the unlucky ones.

The easiest way to survive an IRS examination is to prepare in advance. On a regular basis, you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts, or other proof — for all items reported on your tax returns.

It’s possible you didn’t do anything wrong. Just because a return is selected for audit doesn’t mean that an error was made. Some returns are randomly selected based on statistical formulas. For example, IRS computers compare income and deductions on returns with what other taxpayers report. If an individual deducts a charitable contribution that’s significantly higher than what others with similar incomes report, the IRS may want to know why.

Returns can also be selected if they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers who were previously selected for audit, such as business partners or investors.

The government generally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and often the exam won’t begin until a year or more after you file your return.

Complex vs. simple returns

The scope of an audit depends on the tax return’s complexity. A return reflecting business or real estate income and expenses will obviously take longer to examine than a return with only salary income.

An audit may be conducted by mail or through an in-person interview and review of records. The interview may be conducted at an IRS office or may be a “field audit” at the taxpayer’s home, business, or accountant’s office.

Important: Even if your chosen for audit, an IRS examination may be nothing to lose sleep over. In many cases, the IRS asks for proof of certain items and routinely “closes” the audit after the documentation is presented.

Don’t go it alone

It’s advisable to have a tax professional represent you at an audit. A tax pro knows the issues that the IRS is likely to scrutinize and can prepare accordingly. In addition, a professional knows that in many instances IRS auditors will take a position (for example, to disallow certain deductions) even though courts and other guidance have expressed contrary opinions on the issues. Because pros can point to the proper authority, the IRS may be forced to concede on certain issues.

If you receive an IRS audit letter or simply want to improve your recordkeeping, we’re here to help. Contact us to discuss this or any other aspect of your taxes.

© 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

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of people engaged in the “gig” or sharing economy had been growing, according to several reports. And reductions in working hours during the pandemic have caused even more people to turn to gig work to make up lost income. There are tax consequences for the people who perform these jobs, which include providing car rides, delivering food, walking dogs and providing other services.

Bottom line: If you receive income from freelancing or from one of the online platforms offering goods and services, it’s generally taxable. That’s true even if the income comes from a side job and even if you don’t receive an income statement reporting the amount of money you made.

Basics for gig workers

The IRS considers gig workers as those who are independent contractors and conduct their jobs through online platforms. Examples include Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and DoorDash.

Unlike traditional employees, independent contractors don’t receive benefits associated with employment or employer-sponsored health insurance. They also aren’t covered by the minimum wage or other protections of federal laws and they aren’t part of states’ unemployment insurance systems. In addition, they’re on their own when it comes to retirement savings and taxes.

Pay taxes throughout the year

If you’re part of the gig or sharing economy, here are some tax considerations.

  • You may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments because your income isn’t subject to withholding. These payments are generally due on April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 of the following year. (If a due date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the due date becomes the next business day.)
  • You should receive a Form 1099-NEC, Nonemployee Compensation, a Form 1099-K or other income statement from the online platform.
  • Some or all of your business expenses may be deductible on your tax return, subject to the normal tax limitations and rules. For example, if you provide rides with your own car, you may be able to deduct depreciation for wear and tear and deterioration of the vehicle. Be aware that if you rent a room in your main home or vacation home, the rules for deducting expenses can be complex.

Keeping records

It’s important to keep good records tracking income and expenses in case you are audited by the IRS or state tax authorities. Contact us if you have questions about your tax obligations as a gig worker or the deductions you can claim. You don’t want to get an unwanted surprise when you file your tax return.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The IRS announced it is opening the 2020 individual income tax return filing season on February 12. (This is later than in past years because of a new law that was enacted late in December.) Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April 15 deadline (or you file for an extension), consider filing earlier this year. Why? You can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft — and there may be other benefits, too.

How is a person’s tax identity stolen?

In a tax identity theft scheme, a thief uses another individual’s personal information to file a fraudulent tax return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund.

The real taxpayer discovers the fraud when he or she files a return and is told by the IRS that the return is being rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the tax year. While the taxpayer should ultimately be able to prove that his or her return is the legitimate one, tax identity theft can be a hassle to straighten out and significantly delay a refund.

Filing early may be your best defense: If you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.

Note: You can get your individual tax return prepared by us before February 12 if you have all the required documents. It’s just that processing of the return will begin after IRS systems open on that date.

When will you receive your W-2s and 1099s?

To file your tax return, you need all of your W-2s and 1099s. January 31 is the deadline for employers to issue 2020 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099s to recipients of any 2020 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments (including those made to independent contractors).

If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099 by February 1, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the IRS for help.

How else can you benefit by filing early? 

In addition to protecting yourself from tax identity theft, another benefit of early filing is that, if you’re getting a refund, you’ll get it faster. The IRS expects most refunds to be issued within 21 days. The time is typically shorter if you file electronically and receive a refund by direct deposit into a bank account.

Direct deposit also avoids the possibility that a refund check could be lost, stolen, returned to the IRS as undeliverable or caught in mail delays.

If you haven’t received an Economic Impact Payment (EIP), or you didn’t receive the full amount due, filing early will help you to receive the amount sooner. EIPs have been paid by the federal government to eligible individuals to help mitigate the financial effects of COVID-19. Amounts due that weren’t sent to eligible taxpayers can be claimed on your 2020 return.

Do you need help?

If you have questions or would like an appointment to prepare your return, please contact us. We can help you ensure you file an accurate return that takes advantage of all of the breaks available to you.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Portability allows a surviving spouse to apply a deceased spouse’s unused federal gift and estate tax exemption amount toward his or her own transfers during life or at death. For 2020, the exemption amount is $11.58 million, and the IRS just announced that that amount will increase to $11.7 million for 2021.

To secure these benefits, however, the deceased spouse’s executor must have made a portability election on a timely filed estate tax return. The return is due nine months after death, with a six-month extension option. Unfortunately, estates that aren’t otherwise required to file a return (because they don’t meet the filing threshold) often miss the deadline.

Qualifying for an automatic extension

In 2017, the IRS made it easier for estates to obtain an extension of time to file a portability election. For all deaths after 2010, the IRS grants an automatic extension, provided:

  • The deceased was a U.S. citizen or resident,
  • The executor wasn’t otherwise required to file an estate tax return and didn’t file one by the deadline,
  • The executor files a complete and properly prepared estate tax return on Form 706 within two years of the date of death, and
  • The following language appears at the top of the return: “FILED PURSUANT TO REV. PROC. 2017-34 TO ELECT PORTABILITY UNDER §2010(c)(5)(A).”

Other considerations

Bear in mind that portability isn’t always the best option. All relevant factors should be considered, including nontax reasons that might affect the distribution of assets under a will or living trust. For instance, a person may want to divide assets in other ways if matters are complicated by a divorce, a second marriage or unusual circumstances.

Also, absent further legislation, the federal gift and estate tax exemption is slated to revert to pre-2018 levels after 2025. Portability continues, though, for those whose estates will no longer be fully sheltered, so additional planning should be considered.

Don’t miss the deadline

If your spouse predeceases you and you’d benefit from portability, be sure that your spouse’s estate files a portability election by the applicable deadline. Contact us with any questions you have regarding portability.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

IRS audit rates are historically low, according to the latest data, but that’s little consolation if your return is among those selected to be examined. But with proper preparation and planning, you should fare well.

In fiscal year 2019, the IRS audited approximately 0.4% of individuals. Businesses, large corporations and high-income individuals are more likely to be audited but, overall, all types of audits are being conducted less frequently than they were a decade ago.

There’s no 100% guarantee that you won’t be picked for an audit, because some tax returns are chosen randomly. However, the best way to survive an IRS audit is to prepare for one in advance. On an ongoing basis you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, cancelled checks, receipts, or other proof — for all items to be reported on your tax returns. Keep all your records in one place. And it helps to know what might catch the attention of the IRS. 

Audit hot spots

Certain types of tax-return entries are known to the IRS to involve inaccuracies so they may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:

  • Significant inconsistencies between tax returns filed in the past and your most current tax return,
  • Gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of other businesses in your industry, and
  • Miscalculated or unusually high deductions. 

Certain types of deductions may be questioned by the IRS because there are strict recordkeeping requirements for them — for example, auto and travel expense deductions. In addition, an owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.

Responding to a letter

If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS doesn’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.

Many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the harshest version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors. (Note: Ignore unsolicited email messages about an audit. The IRS doesn’t contact people in this manner. These are scams.)

Keep in mind that the tax agency won’t demand an immediate response to a mailed notice. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. You’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.

If the IRS chooses you for an audit, our firm can help you:

  • Understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always clear),
  • Gather the specific documents and information needed, and
  • Respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.

The IRS normally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and often an audit doesn’t begin until a year or more after you file a return. Don’t panic if you’re contacted by the IRS. Many audits are routine. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one will happen in the first place.

© 2020 Covenant CPA