The tax implications if your business engages in environmental cleanup

If your company faces the need to “remediate” or clean up environmental contamination, the money you spend can be deductible on your tax return as ordinary and necessary business expenses. Of course, you want to claim the maximum immediate income tax benefits possible for the expenses you incur.

These expenses may include the actual cleanup costs, as well as expenses for environmental studies, surveys and investigations, fees for consulting and environmental engineering, legal and professional fees, environmental “audit” and monitoring costs, and other expenses.

Current deductions vs. capitalized costs

Unfortunately, every type of environmental cleanup expense cannot be currently deducted. Some cleanup costs must be capitalized. But, generally, cleanup costs are currently deductible to the extent they cover:

  • “Incidental repairs” (for example, encapsulating exposed asbestos insulation); or
  • Cleaning up contamination that your business caused on your own property (for example, removing soil contaminated by dumping wastes from your own manufacturing processes, and replacing it with clean soil) — if you acquired that property in an uncontaminated state.

On the other hand, remediation costs generally have to be capitalized if the remediation:

  • Adds significantly to the value of the cleaned-up property,
  • Prolongs the useful life of the property,
  • Adapts the property to a new or different use,
  • Makes up for depreciation, amortization or depletion that’s been claimed for tax purposes, or
  • Creates a separate capital asset that’s useful beyond the current tax year.

However, parts of these types of remediation costs may qualify for a current deduction. It depends on the facts and circumstances of your situation. For example, in one case, the IRS required a taxpayer to capitalize the costs of surveying for contamination various sites that proved to be contaminated, but allowed a current deduction for the costs of surveying the sites that proved to be uncontaminated.

Maximize the tax breaks

In addition to federal tax deductions, there may be state or local tax incentives involved in cleaning up contaminated property. The tax treatment for the expenses can be complex. If you have environmental cleanup expenses, we can help plan your efforts to maximize the deductions available.

© 2019

Holiday parties and gifts can help show your appreciation and provide tax breaks

With Thanksgiving behind us, the holiday season is in full swing. At this time of year, your business may want to show its gratitude to employees and customers by giving them gifts or hosting holiday parties. It’s a good idea to understand the tax rules associated with these expenses. Are they tax deductible by your business and is the value taxable to the recipients?

Customer and client gifts

If you make gifts to customers and clients, the gifts are deductible up to $25 per recipient per year. For purposes of the $25 limit, you don’t need to include “incidental” costs that don’t substantially add to the gift’s value, such as engraving, gift wrapping, packaging or shipping. Also excluded from the $25 limit is branded marketing collateral — such as small items imprinted with your company’s name and logo — provided they’re widely distributed and cost less than $4.

The $25 limit is for gifts to individuals. There’s no set limit on gifts to a company (for example, a gift basket for all team members of a customer to share) as long as they’re “reasonable.”

Employee gifts

In general, anything of value that you transfer to an employee is included in his or her taxable income (and, therefore, subject to income and payroll taxes) and deductible by your business. But there’s an exception for noncash gifts that constitute a “de minimis” fringe benefit.

These are items small in value and given infrequently that are administratively impracticable to account for. Common examples include holiday turkeys or hams, gift baskets, occasional sports or theater tickets (but not season tickets), and other low-cost merchandise.

De minimis fringe benefits aren’t included in your employee’s taxable income yet they’re still deductible by your business. Unlike gifts to customers, there’s no specific dollar threshold for de minimis gifts. However, many businesses use an informal cutoff of $75.

Important: Cash gifts — as well as cash equivalents, such as gift cards — are included in an employee’s income and subject to payroll tax withholding regardless of how small and infrequent.

Throwing a holiday party

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, certain deductions for business-related meals were reduced and the deduction for business entertainment was eliminated. However, there’s an exception for certain recreational activities, including holiday parties.

Holiday parties are fully deductible (and excludible from recipients’ income) so long as they’re primarily for the benefit of non-highly-compensated employees and their families. If customers, and others also attend, holiday parties may be partially deductible.

Spread good cheer

Contact us if you have questions about giving holiday gifts to employees or customers or throwing a holiday party. We can explain the tax rules.

© 2019

Close-Up on Pushdown Accounting for M&As

Change-in-control events — like merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions — don’t happen every day. If you’re currently in the market to merge with or buy a business, you might not be aware of updated financial reporting guidance that took effect in November 2014. The changes provide greater flexibility to post-M&A accounting.

Pushdown accounting is optional

Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-17, Business Combinations (Topic 805): Pushdown Accounting (a consensus of the FASB Emerging Issues Task Force), made pushdown accounting optional when there’s a change-in-control event. The update applies to all companies, both public and private.

Pushdown accounting refers to the practice of adjusting an acquired company’s standalone financial statements to reflect the acquirer’s accounting basis rather than the target’s historical costs. Typically, this means stepping up the target’s net assets to fair value and, to the extent the purchase price exceeds fair value, recognizing the excess as goodwill. Previously, U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) provided little guidance on when pushdown accounting might be appropriate.

For public companies, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) guidance generally prohibited pushdown accounting unless the acquirer obtained at least an 80% interest in the target and required it when the acquirer’s interest reached 95%. The SEC has rescinded portions of its pushdown accounting guidance, bringing it in line with the FASB’s updated standard.

To push down or not?

Under the updated guidance, all acquired companies may decide if they should apply pushdown accounting. Whether it’s appropriate depends on a company’s circumstances. For some companies, there may be advantages to reporting assets and liabilities at fair value and adopting consistent accounting policies for both parent and subsidiary. Other companies may prefer not to apply pushdown accounting to avoid the negative impact on earnings, often associated with a step-up to fair value.

After pushdown accounting is applied to a change-in-control event, the election is irrevocable. Acquired companies that apply pushdown accounting in their standalone financial statements should include disclosures in the current reporting period to help users evaluate its effects.

We can help

If you’re contemplating an M&A deal, we can help you decide whether pushdown accounting is a smart choice for reporting your transaction. Whichever option you choose, our accounting pros also can help you comply with financial reporting requirements under GAAP.

© 2019

GAAP vs. tax-basis: Which is right for your business?

Young woman comparing two things.

Most businesses report financial performance using U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). But the income-tax-basis format can save time and money for some private companies. Here’s information to help you choose the financial reporting framework that will work for your situation.

The basics

GAAP is the most common financial reporting standard in the United States. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires public companies to follow it — they don’t have a choice. Many lenders expect large private borrowers to follow suit, because GAAP is familiar and consistent.

However, compliance with GAAP can be time-consuming and costly, depending on the level of assurance provided in the financial statements. So, some private companies opt to report financial statements using an “other comprehensive basis of accounting” (OCBOA) method. The most common OCBOA method is the tax-basis format.

Key differences

Departing from GAAP can result in significant differences in financial results. Why? GAAP is based on the principle of conservatism, which prevents companies from overstating profits and asset values. This runs contrary to what the IRS expects from for-profit businesses. Tax laws generally tend to favor accelerated gross income recognition and won’t allow taxpayers to deduct expenses until the amounts are known and other deductibility requirements have been met. So, reported profits tend to be higher under tax-basis methods than under GAAP.

There are also differences in terminology. Under GAAP, companies report revenues, expenses and net income. Conversely, tax-basis entities report gross income, deductions and taxable income. Their nontaxable items typically appear as separate line items or are disclosed in a footnote.

Capitalization and depreciation of fixed assets is another noteworthy difference. Under GAAP, the cost of a fixed asset (less its salvage value) is capitalized and systematically depreciated over its useful life. For tax purposes, fixed assets are depreciated under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), which generally results in shorter lives than under GAAP. Salvage value isn’t subtracted for tax purposes, but Section 179 and bonus depreciation are subtracted before computing MACRS deductions.

Other reporting differences exist for inventory, pensions, leases, start-up costs and accounting for changes and errors. In addition, companies record allowances for bad debts, sales returns, inventory obsolescence and asset impairment under GAAP. But these allowances generally aren’t permitted under tax law.

Departing from GAAP

GAAP has become increasingly complex in recent years. So some companies would prefer tax-basis reporting, if it’s appropriate for financial statement users.

For example, tax-basis financials might work for a business that’s owned, operated and financed by individuals closely involved in day-to-day operations who understand its financial position. But GAAP statements typically work better if the company has unsecured debt or numerous shareholders who own minority interests. Likewise, prospective buyers may prefer to perform due diligence on GAAP financial statements — or they may be public companies that are required to follow GAAP.

Contact us

Tax-basis reporting makes sense for certain types of businesses. But for other businesses, tax-basis financial statements may result in missing or even misleading information. We can help you evaluate the pros and cons and choose the appropriate reporting framework for your situation.

© 2019

Small businesses: Stay clear of a severe payroll tax penalty


One of the most laborious tasks for small businesses is managing payroll. But it’s critical that you not only withhold the right amount of taxes from employees’ paychecks but also that you pay them over to the federal government on time.

If you willfully fail to do so, you could personally be hit with the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty, also known as the 100% penalty. The penalty applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from its employees’ wages. Since the taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over.

The reason the penalty is sometimes called the “100% penalty” is because the person liable for the taxes (called the “responsible person”) can be personally penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts the IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and the IRS is aggressive in enforcing it.

Responsible persons

The penalty can be imposed on any person “responsible” for the collection and payment of the taxes. 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 under such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally exempt from responsibility, can be subject to this penalty under certain circumstances. Responsibility has even been extended in some cases to professional advisors.

According to the IRS, being a responsible person is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are paid may be responsible. There is often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. Although taxpayers held liable may sue other responsible persons for their contributions, this is an action they must take entirely on their own after they pay the penalty. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.

The net can be broadly cast. You may not be directly involved with the withholding process in your business. But let’s say you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and you have the power to have them paid. Instead, you make payments to creditors and others. You have now become a responsible person.

How the IRS defines “willfulness”

For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bowing to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes due to the government is willful behavior for these purposes. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook.

In addition, the corporate veil won’t shield corporate owners from the 100% penalty. The liability protections that owners of corporations — and limited liability companies — typically have don’t apply to payroll tax debts.

If the IRS assesses the penalty, it can file a lien or take levy or seizure action against the personal assets of a responsible person.

Avoiding the penalty

You should never allow any failure to withhold taxes from employees, and no “borrowing” from withheld amounts should ever be allowed in your business — regardless of the circumstances. All funds withheld must be paid over on time.

If you aren’t already using a payroll service, consider hiring one. This can relieve you of the burden of withholding and paying the proper amounts, as well as handling the recordkeeping. Contact us for more information.

© 2019

How to keep track of small tools and equipment

Barcode with red light ray and binary code in background

Whether it’s hard hats and drills on a jobsite, iPads in an office or RFID readers in a warehouse, small tools and equipment have a tendency to disappear at many companies. The cost of lost, damaged and stolen items can quickly add up, consuming profits and cash flow. What can you do to manage these items more effectively and create accountability among workers?

Technology to the rescue

Electronic bar-code technology that’s used to track inventory can also be used to label, coordinate, trace and catalog fixed assets in real time. These systems usually involve bar codes displayed on polyurethane labels on each tool or machine. The labels are designed to hold up under repeated on-the-job wear and tear.

These systems come with handheld devices that you can use to scan the bar codes when assigning tools and accepting returns. Tracking software sends the pertinent information to a database that can also be used for browsing, billing and running reports. In addition, the program records repair histories and maintenance schedules.

The cost of bar-code technology varies, depending on the number of features included in the system configuration. How complex a system you’ll need will depend on the number of items you’re looking to track. But if you’re already using this technology to manage inventory, there may be economies of scale by choosing a system that can handle both types of assets.

Improving efficiency

Bar-code technology also has the power to improve management efficiency. How? You can let employees know that, if the system shows that the tools they’ve checked out haven’t been returned, the employee or the job they’re working on could be charged for the missing item. Thus, employees will more closely monitor and protect these items to avoid paying for lost items or having a project go over budget.

The right system may also reduce your legal liability. In some industries, federal regulations or union rules may require workers to wear safety gear, such as goggles, hard hats and respirators. A formal tracking system allows you to show that you issued employees the proper equipment, which could in turn limit your accident liability.

Creating accountability

To take bar-code tracking to the next level, integrate it into your accounting system. For example, you might assign tools by employee name, job code, project number, date, time, location or other criteria. Then you can generate a report of employees or projects where specific tools are being used.

In turn, you’ll foster an atmosphere of accountability by making managers and employees more responsible for these assets. There’s no better way to drive home a point about wasted assets or money than to sit down with employees and show them, in dollars and cents, how a tool is being misused.

Bottom line

Bar-code technology isn’t new, but it’s become more cost effective and robust. Even if you’ve been working with this technology for several years, it’s time to consider upgrades that you might have missed — or new vendors with tighter security measures or innovative features.

For help evaluating your current system or investing in a new one, contact your CPA. He or she has helped other companies implement this technology and knows industry best practices and potential pitfalls to avoid.

© 2019

Thinking About Converting from a C Corporation to an S Corporation?

The right entity choice can make a difference in the tax bill you owe for your business. Although S corporations can provide substantial tax advantages over C corporations in some circumstances, there are plenty of potentially expensive tax problems that you should assess before making the decision to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation.

Here’s a quick rundown of four issues to consider:

LIFO inventories. C corporations that use last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventories must pay tax on the benefits they derived by using LIFO if they convert to S corporations. The tax can be spread over four years. This cost must be weighed against the potential tax gains from converting to S status.

Built-in gains tax. Although S corporations generally aren’t subject to tax, those that were formerly C corporations are taxed on built-in gains (such as appreciated property) that the C corporation has when the S election becomes effective, if those gains are recognized within five years after the conversion. This is generally unfavorable, although there are situations where the S election still can produce a better tax result despite the built-in gains tax.

Passive income. S corporations that were formerly C corporations are subject to a special tax. That tax kicks in if their passive investment income (including dividends, interest, rents, royalties, and stock sale gains) exceeds 25% of their gross receipts, and the S corporation has accumulated earnings and profits carried over from its C corporation years. If that tax is owed for three consecutive years, the corporation’s election to be an S corporation terminates. You can avoid the tax by distributing the accumulated earnings and profits, which would be taxable to shareholders. Or you might want to avoid the tax by limiting the amount of passive income.

Unused losses. If your C corporation has unused net operating losses, they can’t be used to offset its income as an S corporation and can’t be passed through to shareholders. If the losses can’t be carried back to an earlier C corporation year, it will be necessary to weigh the cost of giving up the losses against the tax savings expected to be generated by the switch to S status.

Additional factors

These are only some of the factors to consider when a business switches from C to S status. For example, shareholder-employees of S corporations can’t get all of the tax-free fringe benefits that are available with a C corporation. And there may be issues for shareholders who have outstanding loans from their qualified plans. These factors have to be taken into account in order to understand the implications of converting from C to S status.

Contact us. We can explain how these factors will affect your company’s situation and come up with strategies to minimize taxes.

© 2019

Valuing Profits Interests in LLCs

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The use of so-called “profits interest” awards as a tool to attract and retain skilled workers has increased, as more companies are being structured as limited liability companies (LLCs), rather than as corporations. But accounting complexity has caused some private companies to shy away from these arrangements. Fortunately, relief from the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) may be coming soon.

New twist on equity compensation

Corporations tend to award traditional stock options. But profits interests are used exclusively by LLCs. As the name suggests, these arrangements provide recipients with a share of the company’s future profits. Under existing U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), these transactions may be classified as:

  • Share-based payments,
  • Profit-sharing,
  • Bonus arrangements, or
  • Deferred compensation.

The classification is determined by the specific terms and features of the profits interest. In most cases, the fair value of the award must be recorded as an income statement expense. Profits interest can also result in the recognition of a liability on the balance sheet and require footnote disclosures.

Need for simplification

Profits interest arrangements can accomplish a variety of business objectives. Though they’re most often awarded to employees, profits interests can also be given to investors, third-party service providers and other individuals.

These awards are usually issued in exchange for future services, without direct payment or financial investment. Various terms and features can be incorporated into a profits interest. For example, these awards often have contingency features, such as vesting requirements, participation thresholds, the occurrence of certain events, limited time periods, expiration dates and forfeiture provisions. In turn, this variability can cause additional complexity compared to other forms of equity compensation and require special valuation techniques.

“Profits interest continues to come up as an area private companies are struggling with,” said Candace Wright, Chair of the Private Company Council (PCC) during a meeting with the FASB earlier this year. Private companies have been clamoring for practical expedients and additional guidance from the FASB on such issues as acceptable valuation methods, audit techniques and disclosure requirements.

Work in progress

Simplification of the financial reporting guidance would be welcome news for employers, employees and other stakeholders. Contact us for help reporting these transactions under existing U.S. GAAP or for an update on the latest developments from the FASB.

© 2019

Accelerate Depreciation Deductions with a Cost Segregation Study

Is your business depreciating over a 30-year period the entire cost of constructing the building that houses your operation? If so, you should consider a cost segregation study. It may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And under current law, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.

Depreciation basics

Business buildings generally have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Most times, you depreciate a building’s structural components, including walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring, along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.

Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for example — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But the line between the two is frequently less clear. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.

Identifying and substantiating costs

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

Speedier depreciation tax breaks

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold-improvement, retail-improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).

Making favorable depreciation changes

Fortunately, it isn’t too late to get the benefit of speedier depreciation for items that were incorrectly assumed to be part of your building for depreciation purposes. You don’t have to amend your past returns (or meet a deadline for claiming tax refunds) to claim the depreciation that you could have already claimed. Instead, you can claim that depreciation by following procedures, in connection with the next tax return that you file, that will result in “automatic” IRS consent to a change in your accounting for depreciation.

Cost segregation studies can yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. We must judge whether a study will result in overall tax savings greater than the costs of the study itself. To find out whether this would be worthwhile for you, contact us.

© 2019

Reasons Why Cash is King

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In financial reporting, investors and business owners tend to focus on four key metrics: 1) revenue, 2) net income, 3) total assets and 4) net worth. But, when it comes to gauging short-term financial performance and creditworthiness, the trump card is cash flow.

If a business doesn’t have enough cash on hand to pay payroll, rent and other bills, it can spell disaster — no matter how profitable the company is or how fast it’s growing. That’s why you can’t afford to cast aside the statement of cash flows and the important insight it can provide.

Monitoring cash

The statement of cash flows reveals clues about a company’s ability to manage cash. It shows changes in balance sheet items from one accounting period to the next. Special attention should be given to significant balance changes.

For example, if accounts receivable were $1 million in 2018 and $2 million in 2019, the change would be reported as a cash outflow of $1 million. That’s because more money was tied up in receivables in 2019 than in 2018. An increase in receivables is common for growing businesses, because receivables generally grow in proportion to revenue. But a mounting receivables balance also might signal cash management inefficiencies. Additional financial information — such as an aging schedule — might reveal significant write-offs.

Continually reporting negative cash flows from operations can also signal danger. There’s a limit to how much money a company can get from selling off its assets, issuing new stock or taking on more debt. A red flag should go up when operating cash outflows consistently outpace operating inflows. It can signal weaknesses, such as out-of-control growth, poor inventory management, mounting costs and weak customer demand.

Categorizing cash flows

The statement of cash flows typically consists of three sections:

1. Cash flows from operations. This section converts accrual net income to cash provided or used by operations. All income-related items flow through this part of the cash flow statement, such as net income; gains (or losses) on asset sales; depreciation and amortization; and net changes in accounts receivable, inventory, prepaid assets, accrued expenses and payables.

2. Cash flows from investing activities. If a company buys or sells property, equipment or marketable securities, the transaction shows up here. This section could reveal whether a company is divesting assets for emergency funds or whether it’s reinvesting in future operations.

3. Cash flows from financing activities. This shows transactions with investors and lenders. Examples include Treasury stock purchases, additional capital contributions, debt issuances and payoffs, and dividend payments.

Below these three categories is the schedule of noncash investing and financing transactions. This portion of the cash flow statement summarizes significant transactions in which cash did not directly change hands: for example, like-kind exchanges or assets purchased directly with loan proceeds.

Keep a watchful eye

Effective cash management can be the difference between staying afloat and filing for bankruptcy — especially in an unpredictable economy. Contact us to help identify potential problems and find solutions to shore up inefficiencies and shortfalls.

© 2019