Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic turndown in some areas, you may have family members in need of financial support. If you’re interested in lending money to loved ones in need, consider establishing a “family bank.” These entities enhance the benefits of intrafamily loans, while minimizing unintended consequences.

Intrafamily loans

Lending can be an effective way to provide your family with financial assistance without triggering unwanted gift taxes. So long as a loan is structured in a manner similar to an arm’s-length loan between unrelated parties, it won’t be treated as a taxable gift. This means, among other things, documenting the loan with a promissory note, charging interest at or above the applicable federal rate, establishing a fixed repayment schedule, and ensuring that the borrower has a reasonable prospect of repaying the loan.

Even if taxes aren’t a concern, intrafamily loans offer important benefits. For example, they allow you to help your family financially without depleting your wealth or creating a sense of entitlement. Done right, these loans can encourage responsible financial behavior, promote accountability and help cultivate the younger generation’s entrepreneurial capabilities by providing financing to start a business.

Family banks

Too often, however, people lend money to family members with little planning and regard for potential unintended consequences. Rash lending decisions can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, conflicts among family members and false expectations. That’s where the family bank comes into play.

A family bank is a family-owned, family-funded entity designed for the sole purpose of making intrafamily loans. Often, family banks are able to make financing available to family members who might have difficulty obtaining a loan from a bank or other traditional funding sources or to lend at more favorable terms. By “professionalizing” family lending activities, a family bank can preserve the tax-saving power of intrafamily loans while minimizing negative consequences.

Build a strong governance structure

The key to avoiding family conflicts and resentment is to build a strong family governance structure that promotes communication, group decision-making and transparency. It’s important to establish clear guidelines regarding the types of loans the family bank is authorized to make and allow all family members to participate in the decision-making process. This ensures that family members are treated fairly and avoids false expectations.

Ease financial hardships

It’s possible that someone in your extended family has faced difficult financial circumstances recently. Contact us to learn more about intrafamily loans and family banks.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

For many small to midsize businesses, spending money on marketing calls for a leap of faith that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Much of the planning process tends to focus on the initial expenses incurred rather than how to measure return on investment.

Here are five questions to ask yourself and your leadership team to put a finer point on whether your marketing efforts are likely to pay off:

1. What do we hope to accomplish? Determine as specifically as possible what marketing success looks like. If the goal is to increase sales, what metric(s) are you using to calculate whether you’ve achieved adequate sales growth? Put differently, how will you know that your money was well spent?

2. Where and how often do we plan to spend money? Decide how much of your marketing will be based on recurring activity versus “one off” or ad-hoc initiatives.

For example, do you plan to buy six months of advertising on certain websites, social media platforms, or in a magazine or newspaper? Have you decided to set up a booth at an annual trade show?

Fine tune your efforts going forward by comparing inflows to outflows from various types of marketing spends. Will you be able to create a revenue inflow from sales that at least matches, if not exceeds, the outflow of marketing dollars?

3. Can we track sources of new business, as well as leads and customers? It’s critical to ask new customers how they heard about your company. This one simple question can provide invaluable information about which aspects of your marketing plan are generating the most leads.

Further, once you have discovered a lead or new customer, ensure that you maintain contact with the person or business. Letting leads and customers fall through the cracks will undermine your marketing efforts. If you haven’t already, explore customer relationship management software to help you track and analyze key data points.

4. Are we able to gauge brand awareness? In addition to generating leads, marketing can help improve brand awareness. Although an increase in brand awareness may not immediately translate to increased sales, it tends to do so over time. Identify ways to measure the impact of marketing efforts on brand awareness. Possibilities include customer surveys, website traffic data and social media interaction metrics.

5. Are we prepared for an increase in demand? It may sound like a nice problem to have, but sometimes a company’s marketing efforts are so successful that a sudden upswing in orders occurs. If the business is ill-prepared, cash flow can be strained and customers left disappointed and frustrated.

Make sure you have the staff, technology and inventory in place to meet an increase in demand that effective marketing often produces. We can help you assess the efficacy of your marketing efforts, including calculating informative metrics, and suggest ideas for improvement.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The “sandwich generation” is a large segment of the population. These are people who find themselves caring for both their children and their parents at the same time. As a result, estate planning — which traditionally focuses on providing for one’s children — has expanded in many cases to include one’s aging parents as well.

Steps to ease complex issues

Including your parents as beneficiaries of your estate may raise a number of complex issues. As you discuss these issues with your advisor, consider these five planning tips:

  1. Plan for long-term care (LTC) costsThe annual cost of LTC — which may include assisted living facilities, nursing homes or home health care — can reach well into six figures. These expenses aren’t covered by traditional health insurance policies or Social Security, and Medicare provides little, if any, assistance. To prevent LTC expenses from devouring your parents’ resources, work with them to develop a plan for funding their health care needs through LTC insurance, investments or other strategies.
  2. Make giftsOne of the simplest ways to help your parents financially is to make cash gifts to them. If gift and estate taxes are a concern, you can take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion, which currently allows you to give each parent up to $15,000 per year without triggering gift taxes.
  3. Pay medical expensesYou can pay an unlimited amount of medical expenses on your parents’ behalf, without tax consequences, so long as you make the payments directly to medical providers.
  4. Set up trustsThere are many trust-based strategies you can use to assist your parents. For example, in the event you predecease your parents, your estate plan might establish a trust for their benefit, with any remaining assets passing to your children after your parents die. Another option is to set up trusts during your lifetime that leverage your $11.7 million exemption. Properly designed, these trusts can remove assets — together with all future appreciation in their value — from your taxable estate. They can provide income to your parents during their lives, eventually passing to your children free of gift and estate taxes.
  5. Buy your parents’ homeIf your parents have built up significant equity in their home, consider buying it and leasing it back to them. This arrangement allows your parents to tap their home’s equity without moving out while providing you with valuable tax deductions for mortgage interest, depreciation, maintenance and other expenses. To avoid negative tax consequences, be sure to pay a fair price for the home (supported by a qualified appraisal) and charge your parents fair-market rent.

Find the right balance

As you review these and other options for assisting your aging parents, be cautious of pitfalls. For example, if you give your parents too much, these assets could end up back in your estate and potentially be exposed to gift or estate taxes. Contact us for help in addressing both your children and parents in your estate plan.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

There are several ways to save for your child’s or grandchild’s education, including with a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA). Although for federal tax purposes there’s no upfront deduction for contributions made to an ESA, the earnings on the contributions grow tax-free. In addition, no tax is due when the funds in the account are distributed, to the extent the amounts withdrawn don’t exceed the child’s qualified education expenses.

Qualified expenses include higher education tuition, fees, books and room, as well as elementary and secondary school expenses.

Contribution limits

The annual limit that can be contributed to a child’s ESA is $2,000 per year — from all contributors for all ESAs for the same child. The maximum dollar amount that any individual can contribute is phased out if the contributor’s adjusted gross income (with certain modifications) exceeds $95,000 ($190,000 for married joint filers).

However, this phaseout is easily avoided. A child can contribute to his or her own ESA, so a parent or other person whose contribution may be limited by the phaseout rule can give the money to an ESA as custodian for the child. Under those circumstances, the child is considered to be the contributor and, if the child’s adjusted gross income is below $95,000, the phaseout won’t apply.

Contributions that exceed $2,000 in total for a child for a year are subject to a 6% penalty tax until the excess (plus earnings) are withdrawn.

How long can you make ESA contributions? They can be made until a child reaches age 18 (but this age limit doesn’t apply to a beneficiary with special needs who requires additional time to complete his or her education). A beneficiary doesn’t have to be your own child.

Taking money out

Withdrawals from an ESA during a year that exceed the child’s qualified education expenses for that year are included in the child’s income (to the extent of the earnings portion of the distribution) and are also subject to an additional 10% tax.

Tax-free transfers or rollovers of account balances from an ESA benefiting one beneficiary to another account benefiting another person are allowed, if the new beneficiary hasn’t reached 30, and is a member of the family of the old beneficiary. (The age limit doesn’t apply to a beneficiary with special needs.)

If you’re interested in discussing a Coverdell ESA, or other education planning options, please contact us.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Bankruptcy (or liquidation) can be a valid business tool when used properly. Unfortunately, it can also enable less-than-honest business owners to profit at the expense of their creditors. Such is often the case with “phoenix” companies.

Rising from the ashes

Phoenix companies earn their name because they rise from the ashes of failed companies, trading on the goodwill of the original businesses. Here’s how a phoenix company scheme might work: A company’s owner buys goods on credit, purposely drives the business into the ground and then buys its assets back from liquidators at knockdown prices. The owner then returns to the same line of business. Some operators repeat the process multiple times — as often as they can get away with it.

These shady companies usually are undercapitalized from the start, and they almost always leave a trail of unpaid debts to mark the end of their short life spans. Unfortunately, unsuspecting creditors may sell goods to the new company (that retains the old name) under the impression they’re dealing with the original business. Meanwhile, creditors of the original company remain unpaid.

Legitimate or not

It’s perfectly legal for an insolvent company to sell its assets to another party at market value. It’s also legal to sell a business to existing management. How, then, do you know whether a company’s decision to sell assets is made in good faith or is an effort to avoid liability? And how can you prove that a bankrupt company unable to satisfy creditors has actually funneled assets into a new business?

Forensic accounting experts investigate the owner’s background and the company’s history, taking industry into consideration. (Phoenix companies are more common in such sectors as construction and hospitality.) And they look for red flags — for example, evidence that the owner of the defunct company deliberately ran up debts before declaring bankruptcy or made selective payments to creditors that later went on to supply the new entity.

Don’t become a victim

To avoid becoming a creditor of a fraudulently bankrupt company, watch whom you do business with. Before extending credit, ask for references and verify that the customer has a record of paying its bills. Contact us for advice and help at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

A business can suffer economic damages arising from a variety of illegal conduct. Common examples include breach of contract, patent infringement and commercial negligence. If your company finds itself headed to court looking to recover lost profits, diminished business value or both, its important to know how the damages might be determined.

What methods are commonly used?

The goal of any economic damages case is to make your company, the plaintiff, “whole” again. In other words, one critical question must be answered: Where would your business be today “but for” the defendants alleged wrongdoing? When financial experts calculate economic damages, they generally rely on the following methods:

Before-and-after. Here, the expert assumes that, if it hadnt been for the breach or other tortious act, the companys operating trends would have continued in pace with past performance. In other words, damages equal the difference between expected and actual performance. A similar approach quantifies damages as the difference between the companys value before and after the alleged “tort” (damaging incident) occurred.

Yardstick. Under this technique, the expert benchmarks a damaged companys performance to external sources, such as publicly traded comparables or industry guidelines. The presumption is that the companys performance would have mimicked that of its competitors if not for the tortious act.

Sales projection. Projections or forecasts of the companys expected cash flow serve as the basis for damages under this method. Damages involving niche players and start-ups often call for the sales projection method, because they have limited operating history and few meaningful comparables.

An expert considers the specific circumstances of the case to determine the appropriate valuation method (or methods) for that situation.

What’s next?

After financial experts have estimated lost profits, they discount their estimates to present value. Some jurisdictions have prescribed discount rates, but, in many instances, experts subjectively determine the discount rate based on their professional opinions about risk. Small differences in the discount rate can generate large differences in final conclusions. As a result, the subjective discount rate is often a contentious issue.

The final step is to address mitigating factors. What could the damaged party have done to minimize its loss? Most jurisdictions hold plaintiffs at least partially responsible for mitigating their own damages. Like discount rates, this subjective adjustment often triggers widely divergent opinions among the parties involved.

Are you prepared?

You probably don’t relish the thought of heading to court to fight for economic damages. But these situations can occur — often quite unexpectedly — and it’s better to be prepared than surprised. Contact us for more information at 205-345-9898.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Do you have investments outside of tax-advantaged retirement plans? If so, you might still have time to shrink your 2018 tax bill by selling some investments • you just need to carefully select whichinvestments you sell.

Try balancing gains and losses

If you’ve sold investments at a gain this year, consider selling some losing investments to absorb the gains. This is commonly referred to as “harvesting” losses.

If, however, you’ve sold investments at a loss this year, consider selling other investments in your portfolio that have appreciated, to the extent the gains will be absorbed by the losses. If you believe those appreciated investments have peaked in value, essentially you’ll lock in the peak value and avoid tax on your gains.

Review your potential tax rates 

At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains (on investments held one year or less). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains. But, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets, instead of aligning with various ordinary-income brackets.

For example, these are the thresholds for the top long-term gains rate for 2018:

  • Singles: $425,800
  • Heads of households: $452,400
  • Married couples filing jointly: $479,000

But the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. The TCJA also retains the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.

Don’t forget the netting rules

Before selling investments, consider the netting rules for gains and losses, which depend on whether gains and losses are long term or short term. To determine your net gain or loss for the year, long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. In the same way, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains.

You may use up to $3,000 of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income. Any remaining net losses are carried forward to future years.

Time is running out

By reviewing your investment activity year-to-date and selling certain investments by year end, you may be able to substantially reduce your 2018 taxes. But act soon, because time is running out.

Keep in mind that tax considerations shouldn’t drive your investment decisions. You also need to consider other factors, such as your risk tolerance and investment goals.

We can help you determine what makes sense for you. Please contact us at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA