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

Fraud is costly for all victimized companies, but it’s even worse in the construction sector. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ Report to the Nations: 2020 Global Study on Occupational Fraud and Abuse, construction companies affected by fraud lose a median $200,000 per fraud incident, compared with $125,000 per incident for all organizations.

Some types of fraud are more prevalent in the construction industry, particularly payroll and billing fraud. These can lead to legal liability and fines. For example, paying under-the-table cash wages to avoid paying payroll taxes could result in criminal charges and significant penalties. To prevent your managers and workers from acting illegally or unethically, tighten your internal controls. 

Essential controls

Certain internal controls are essential — including segregation of duties. This means that multiple employees should handle multiple financial or accounting tasks. For example, the person who processes cash transactions shouldn’t also prepare your company’s bank deposits. If you don’t have enough accounting employees to segregate duties, consider outsourcing some or all accounting functions. Also, have monthly bank statements sent directly to you or a manager independent of your accounting department.

You can reduce purchasing fraud threats by naming someone other than your purchasing agent — you or an estimator, for instance — to review vendor invoices, purchase orders and other documents. Also use prenumbered purchase orders and regularly check materials and supplies to ensure they correspond to what was ordered.

Kickbacks and bid-rigging can be kept to a minimum with scrutiny. If your company is suddenly winning bids that you haven’t in the past and that seem like a stretch, verify that your bid processes have been followed. Sometimes employees disguise illegal activities as change orders, so be sure to scrutinize each change order.

To minimize the risk of payroll fraud in your company, ask someone independent of your accounting department to verify the names and pay rates on your payroll. And if you don’t already, pay employees using direct deposit, rather than with checks or cash. You may also want to make surprise jobsite visits to compare employee headcounts to time reports and wage payments. 

Get help 

Don’t forget to enlist the help of fraud experts. We can review your accounting records and inventory and visit jobsites to help assess risk and suggest additional internal controls.

© 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

Without trust between you and your employees, your business probably wouldn’t be very successful. Delegating responsibility, sharing ideas, working as a team — all require a certain level of trust. However, too much trust can lead to occupational fraud and conflicts of interest. To maintain the proper balance, establish a policy that outlines your disclosure expectations and require employees to follow it.

Purchasing power

What constitutes conflict of interest? Let’s look at a fictional example: Veronica is the manager of a manufacturing company’s purchasing department. She’s also part owner of a business that sells supplies to the manufacturer — a fact she hasn’t disclosed to her employer. And, in fact, Veronica has personally profited from her business’s lucrative long-term contract with her employer.

What makes this scenario a conflict of interest isn’t so much that Veronica has profited from her position, but that her employer is ignorant of the relationship. When employers are informed about their employees’ outside business interests, they can act to exclude employees, vendors or customers from participation in transactions where there might be a conflict of interest. Or they can allow parties to continue participating in a transaction — even if it runs contrary to ethical best practices. But it’s the employer’s, not the employee’s, decision to make.

Prevention is the best policy 

Sometimes employees simply neglect to inform their employers about possible conflicts of interest. In other cases, they go to great lengths to hide conflicts. Perhaps they’re afraid a conflict will jeopardize their jobs or get them into legal trouble.

Prevention is the best policy here. Develop conflict-of-interest policies and communicate them to all employees. Provide specific examples of conflicts and spell out exactly why you consider the activities depicted to be deceptive, unethical and possibly illegal. Don’t forget to state the consequences of nondisclosure of conflicts, such as immediate termination.

Providing personal information

You might also require employees to complete an annual disclosure statement on which they list the names and addresses of their family members, their family’s employers and business interests, and whether the employees have an interest in those entities (or any others). To help ensure accurate statements, provide employees with a hotline to call if they have questions about your policy, aren’t sure how it relates to their circumstances or want to report someone else with an apparent conflict.

Also protect your business from conflicted vendors and customers. Before entering into a new agreement, compare the names and addresses on your employee disclosure statements with ownership information provided by prospective business partners.

Not necessarily fraud

Conflicts of interest aren’t necessarily fraud. But if you don’t know how an employee is personally profiting off your company, it could suffer serious consequences, including financial losses. Contact us for help reducing this risk. 

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) is a valuable tax break that was extended and modified by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), enacted in March of 2021. Here’s a rundown of the rules.

Background

Back in March of 2020, Congress originally enacted the ERTC in the CARES Act to encourage employers to hire and retain employees during the pandemic. At that time, the ERTC applied to wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. However, Congress later modified and extended the ERTC to apply to wages paid before July 1, 2021.

The ARPA again extended and modified the ERTC to apply to wages paid after June 30, 2021, and before January 1, 2022. Thus, an eligible employer can claim the refundable ERTC against “applicable employment taxes” equal to 70% of the qualified wages it pays to employees in the third and fourth quarters of 2021. Except as discussed below, qualified wages are generally limited to $10,000 per employee per 2021 calendar quarter. Thus, the maximum ERTC amount available is generally $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter or $28,000 per employee in 2021.

For purposes of the ERTC, a qualified employer is eligible if it experiences a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of business due to a government order. Employers with up to 500 full-time employees can claim the credit without regard to whether the employees for whom the credit is claimed actually perform services. But, except as explained below, employers with more than 500 full-time employees can only claim the ERTC with respect to employees that don’t perform services.

Employers who got a Payroll Protection Program loan in 2020 can still claim the ERTC. But the same wages can’t be used both for seeking loan forgiveness or satisfying conditions of other COVID relief programs (such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program) in calculating the ERTC. 

Modifications

Beginning in the third quarter of 2021, the following modifications apply to the ERTC:

  • Applicable employment taxes are the Medicare hospital taxes (1.45% of the wages) and the Railroad Retirement payroll tax that’s attributable to the Medicare hospital tax rate. For the first and second quarters of 2021, “applicable employment taxes” were defined as the employer’s share of Social Security or FICA tax (6.2% of the wages) and the Railroad Retirement Tax Act payroll tax that was attributable to the Social Security tax rate.
  • Recovery startup businesses are qualified employers. These are generally defined as businesses that began operating after February 15, 2020, and that meet certain gross receipts requirements. These recovery startup businesses will be eligible for an increased maximum credit of $50,000 per quarter, even if they haven’t experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or been subject to a full or partial suspension under a government order.
  • A “severely financially distressed” employer that has suffered a decline in quarterly gross receipts of 90% or more compared to the same quarter in 2019 can treat wages (up to $10,000) paid during those quarters as qualified wages. This allows an employer with over 500 employees under severe financial distress to treat those wages as qualified wages whether or not employees actually provide services.
  • The statute of limitations for assessments relating to the ERTC won’t expire until five years after the date the original return claiming the credit is filed (or treated as filed). 

Contact us if you have any questions related to your business claiming the ERTC.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As we continue to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be traveling again for business. Under tax law, there are a number of rules for deducting the cost of your out-of-town business travel within the United States. These rules apply if the business conducted out of town reasonably requires an overnight stay.

Note that under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can’t deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses through 2025 on their own tax returns. That’s because unreimbursed employee business expenses are “miscellaneous itemized deductions” that aren’t deductible through 2025.

However, self-employed individuals can continue to deduct business expenses, including away-from-home travel expenses.

Here are some of the rules that come into play. 

Transportation and meals

The actual costs of travel (for example, plane fare and cabs to the airport) are deductible for out-of-town business trips. You’re also allowed to deduct the cost of meals and lodging. Your meals are deductible even if they’re not connected to a business conversation or other business function. The Consolidated Appropriations Act includes a provision that removes the 50% limit on deducting eligible business meals for 2021 and 2022. The law allows a 100% deduction for food and beverages provided by a restaurant. Takeout and delivery meals provided by a restaurant are also fully deductible.

Keep in mind that no deduction is allowed for meal or lodging expenses that are “lavish or extravagant,” a term that’s been interpreted to mean “unreasonable.”

Personal entertainment costs on the trip aren’t deductible, but business-related costs such as those for dry cleaning, phone calls and computer rentals can be written off. 

Combining business and pleasure

Some allocations may be required if the trip is a combined business/pleasure trip, for example, if you fly to a location for five days of business meetings and stay on for an additional period of vacation. Only the cost of meals, lodging, etc., incurred for the business days are deductible — not those incurred for the personal vacation days.

On the other hand, with respect to the cost of the travel itself (plane fare, etc.), if the trip is “primarily” business, the travel cost can be deducted in its entirety and no allocation is required. Conversely, if the trip is primarily personal, none of the travel costs are deductible. An important factor in determining if the trip is primarily business or personal is the amount of time spent on each (although this isn’’t the sole factor).

If the trip doesn’t involve the actual conduct of business but is for the purpose of attending a convention, seminar, etc., the IRS may check the nature of the meetings carefully to make sure they aren’t vacations in disguise. Retain all material helpful in establishing the business or professional nature of this travel.

Other expenses

The rules for deducting the costs of a spouse who accompanies you on a business trip are very restrictive. No deduction is allowed unless the spouse is an employee of you or your company, and the spouse’s travel is also for a business purpose.

Finally, note that personal expenses you incur at home as a result of taking the trip aren’t deductible. For example, the cost of boarding a pet while you’re away isn’t deductible. Contact us if you have questions about your small business deductions. 

© 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

If you’re a business owner and you hire your children this summer, you can obtain tax breaks and other nontax benefits. The kids can gain on-the-job experience, spend time with you, save for college and learn how to manage money. And you may be able to:

  • Shift your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income,
  • Realize payroll tax savings (depending on the child’s age and how your business is organized), and
  • Enable retirement plan contributions for the children.

A legitimate job

If you hire your child, you get a business tax deduction for employee wage expenses. In turn, the deduction reduces your federal income tax bill, your self-employment tax bill (if applicable), and your state income tax bill (if applicable). However, in order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work performed by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.

For example, let’s say you operate as a sole proprietor and you’re in the 37% tax bracket. You hire your 16-year-old daughter to help with office work on a full-time basis during the summer and part-time into the fall. Your daughter earns $10,000 during 2021 and doesn’t have any other earnings.

You save $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to your daughter, who can use her 2021 $12,550 standard deduction to completely shelter her earnings.

Your family’s taxes are cut even if your daughter’s earnings exceed her standard deduction. Why? The unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the daughter beginning at a rate of 10%, instead of being taxed at your higher rate. 

How payroll taxes might be saved

If your business isn’t incorporated, your child’s wages are exempt from Social Security, Medicare and FUTA taxes if certain conditions are met. Your child must be under age 18 for this to apply (or under age 21 in the case of the FUTA tax exemption). Contact us for how this works.

Be aware that there’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners. And payments for the services of your child are subject to income tax withholding, regardless of age, no matter what type of entity you operate.

Begin saving for retirement

Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement benefits, depending on the type of plan you have and how it defines qualifying employees. And because your child has earnings from his or her job, he can contribute to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA and begin to build a nest egg. For the 2021 tax year, a working child can contribute the lesser of his or her earned income, or $6,000, to an IRA or a Roth.

Keep accurate records 

As you can see, hiring your child can be a tax-smart idea. Be sure to keep the same records as you would for other employees to substantiate the hours worked and duties performed (such as timesheets and job descriptions). Issue your child a Form W-2. Contact us if you have questions about how these rules apply to your situation.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Many businesses use independent contractors to help keep their costs down. If you’re among them, make sure that these workers are properly classified for federal tax purposes. If the IRS reclassifies them as employees, it can be a costly error.

It can be complex to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee for federal income and employment tax purposes. If a worker is an employee, your company must withhold federal income and payroll taxes, pay the employer’s share of FICA taxes on the wages, plus FUTA tax. A business may also provide the worker with fringe benefits if it makes them available to other employees. In addition, there may be state tax obligations.

On the other hand, if a worker is an independent contractor, these obligations don’t apply. In that case, the business simply sends the contractor a Form 1099-NEC for the year showing the amount paid (if it’s $600 or more).

What are the factors the IRS considers?

Who is an “employee?” Unfortunately, there’s no uniform definition of the term.

The IRS and courts have generally ruled that individuals are employees if the organization they work for has the right to control and direct them in the jobs they’re performing. Otherwise, the individuals are generally independent contractors. But other factors are also taken into account including who provides tools and who pays expenses.

Some employers that have misclassified workers as independent contractors may get some relief from employment tax liabilities under Section 530. This protection generally applies only if an employer meets certain requirements. For example, the employer must file all federal returns consistent with its treatment of a worker as a contractor and it must treat all similarly situated workers as contractors.

Note: Section 530 doesn’t apply to certain types of workers.

Should you ask the IRS to decide?

Be aware that you can ask the IRS (on Form SS-8) to rule on whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee. However, be aware that the IRS has a history of classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors.

Businesses should consult with us before filing Form SS-8 because it may alert the IRS that your business has worker classification issues — and it may unintentionally trigger an employment tax audit.

It may be better to properly treat a worker as an independent contractor so that the relationship complies with the tax rules.

Workers who want an official determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.

If a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS will notify the business with a letter. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return the form to the IRS, which will render a classification decision.

These are the basic tax rules. In addition, the U.S. Labor Department has recently withdrawn a non-tax rule introduced under the Trump administration that would make it easier for businesses to classify workers as independent contractors. Contact us if you’d like to discuss how to classify workers at your business. We can help make sure that your workers are properly classified.

© 2021 Covenant CPA