Know the ins and outs of “reasonable compensation” for a corporate business owner

Owners of incorporated businesses know that there’s a tax advantage to taking money out of a C corporation as compensation rather than as dividends. The reason: A corporation can deduct the salaries and bonuses that it pays executives, but not dividend payments. Thus, if funds are paid as dividends, they’re taxed twice, once to the corporation and once to the recipient. Money paid out as compensation is only taxed once — to the employee who receives it.

However, there are limits to how much money you can take out of the corporation this way. Under tax law, compensation can be deducted only to the extent that it’s reasonable. Any unreasonable portion isn’t deductible and, if paid to a shareholder, may be taxed as if it were a dividend. Keep in mind that the IRS is generally more interested in unreasonable compensation payments made to someone “related” to a corporation, such as a shareholder-employee or a member of a shareholder’s family.

Determining reasonable compensation

There’s no easy way to determine what’s reasonable. In an audit, the IRS examines the amount that similar companies would pay for comparable services under similar circumstances. Factors that are taken into account include the employee’s duties and the amount of time spent on those duties, as well as the employee’s skills, expertise and compensation history. Other factors that may be reviewed are the complexities of the business and its gross and net income.

There are some steps you can take to make it more likely that the compensation you earn will be considered “reasonable,” and therefore deductible by your corporation. For example, you can:

  • Keep compensation in line with what similar businesses are paying their executives (and keep whatever evidence you can get of what others are paying to support what you pay). 
  • In the minutes of your corporation’s board of directors, contemporaneously document the reasons for compensation paid. For example, if compensation is being increased in the current year to make up for earlier years in which it was low, be sure that the minutes reflect this. (Ideally, the minutes for the earlier years should reflect that the compensation paid then was at a reduced rate.) Cite any executive compensation or industry studies that back up your compensation amounts. 
  • Avoid paying compensation in direct proportion to the stock owned by the corporation’s shareholders. This looks too much like a disguised dividend and will probably be treated as such by IRS.
  • If the business is profitable, pay at least some dividends. This avoids giving the impression that the corporation is trying to pay out all of its profits as compensation.

You can avoid problems and challenges by planning ahead. If you have questions or concerns about your situation, contact us.

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Accounting for business combinations

If your company is planning to merge with or buy another business, your attention is probably on conducting due diligence and negotiating deal terms. But you also should address the post-closing financial reporting requirements for the transaction. If not, it may lead to disappointing financial results, restatements and potential lawsuits after the dust settles.

Here’s guidance on how to correctly account for M&A transactions under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Identify assets and liabilities

A seller’s GAAP balance sheet may exclude certain intangible assets and contingencies, such as internally developed brands, patents, customer lists, environmental claims and pending lawsuits. Overlooking identifiable assets and liabilities often results in inaccurate reporting of goodwill from the sale.

Private companies can elect to combine noncompete agreements and customer-related intangibles with goodwill. If this alternative is used, it specifically excludes customer-related intangibles that can be licensed or sold separately from the business.

It’s also important to determine whether the deal terms include arrangements to compensate the seller or existing employees for future services. These payments, along with payments for pre-existing arrangements, aren’t part of a business combination. In addition, acquisition-related costs, such as finder’s fees or professional fees, shouldn’t be capitalized as part of the business combination. Instead, they’re generally accounted for separately and expensed as incurred.

Determine the price

When the buyer pays the seller in cash, the purchase price (also called the “fair value of consideration transferred”) is obvious. But other types of consideration muddy the waters. Consideration exchanged may include stock, stock options, replacement awards and contingent payments.

For example, it can be challenging to assign fair value to contingent consideration, such as earnouts payable only if the acquired entity achieves predetermined financial benchmarks. Contingent consideration may be reported as a liability or equity (if the buyer will be required to pay more if it achieves the benchmark) or as an asset (if the buyer will be reimbursed for consideration already paid). Contingent consideration that’s reported as an asset or liability may need to be remeasured each period if new facts are obtained during the measurement period or for events that occur after the acquisition date.

Allocate fair value

Next, you’ll need to split up the purchase price among the assets acquired and liabilities assumed. This requires you to estimate the fair value of each item. Any leftover amount is assigned to goodwill. Essentially, goodwill is the premium the buyer is willing to pay above the fair value of the net assets acquired for expected synergies and growth opportunities related to the business combination.

In rare instances, a buyer negotiates a “bargain” purchase. Here, the fair value of the net assets exceeds the purchase price. Rather than book negative goodwill, the buyer reports a gain on the purchase.

Make accounting a forethought, not an afterthought

M&A transactions and the accompanying financial reporting requirements are uncharted territory for many buyers. Don’t wait until after a deal closes to figure out how to report it. We can help you understand the accounting rules and the fair value of the acquired assets and liabilities before closing.

© 2021

Simple retirement savings options for your small business

Are you thinking about setting up a retirement plan for yourself and your employees, but you’re worried about the financial commitment and administrative burdens involved in providing a traditional pension plan? Two options to consider are a “simplified employee pension” (SEP) or a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE).

SEPs are intended as an alternative to “qualified” retirement plans, particularly for small businesses. The relative ease of administration and the discretion that you, as the employer, are permitted in deciding whether or not to make annual contributions, are features that are appealing.

Uncomplicated paperwork

If you don’t already have a qualified retirement plan, you can set up a SEP simply by using the IRS model SEP, Form 5305-SEP. By adopting and implementing this model SEP, which doesn’t have to be filed with the IRS, you’ll have satisfied the SEP requirements. This means that as the employer, you’ll get a current income tax deduction for contributions you make on behalf of your employees. Your employees won’t be taxed when the contributions are made but will be taxed later when distributions are made, usually at retirement. Depending on your needs, an individually-designed SEP — instead of the model SEP — may be appropriate for you.

When you set up a SEP for yourself and your employees, you’ll make deductible contributions to each employee’s IRA, called a SEP-IRA, which must be IRS-approved. The maximum amount of deductible contributions that you can make to an employee’s SEP-IRA, and that he or she can exclude from income, is the lesser of: 25% of compensation and $58,000 for 2021. The deduction for your contributions to employees’ SEP-IRAs isn’t limited by the deduction ceiling applicable to an individual’s own contribution to a regular IRA. Your employees control their individual IRAs and IRA investments, the earnings on which are tax-free.

There are other requirements you’ll have to meet to be eligible to set up a SEP. Essentially, all regular employees must elect to participate in the program, and contributions can’t discriminate in favor of the highly compensated employees. But these requirements are minor compared to the bookkeeping and other administrative burdens connected with traditional qualified pension and profit-sharing plans.

The detailed records that traditional plans must maintain to comply with the complex nondiscrimination regulations aren’t required for SEPs. And employers aren’t required to file annual reports with IRS, which, for a pension plan, could require the services of an actuary. The required recordkeeping can be done by a trustee of the SEP-IRAs — usually a bank or mutual fund. 

SIMPLE Plans

Another option for a business with 100 or fewer employees is a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE). Under these plans, a “SIMPLE IRA” is established for each eligible employee, with the employer making matching contributions based on contributions elected by participating employees under a qualified salary reduction arrangement. The SIMPLE plan is also subject to much less stringent requirements than traditional qualified retirement plans. Or, an employer can adopt a “simple” 401(k) plan, with similar features to a SIMPLE plan, and automatic passage of the otherwise complex nondiscrimination test for 401(k) plans.

For 2021, SIMPLE deferrals are up to $13,500 plus an additional $3,000 catch-up contributions for employees age 50 and older.

Contact us for more information or to discuss any other aspect of your retirement planning.

© 2021

Reporting profits interest awards

During the pandemic, cash has been tight for many small businesses, which may make it hard to attract and retain skilled workers. In lieu of providing cash bonuses or annual raises, some companies may decide to give valued employees a share of their future profits. While corporations generally issue stock options, limited liability companies (LLCs) use a relatively new form of equity compensation called “profits interests” to incentivize workers. Here’s a summary of the accounting rules that are used to account for these transactions.

Types of awards

Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), profits interest awards may be classified as:

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

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 expense on the income statement. Profits interest can also result in the recognition of a liability on the balance sheet and require footnote disclosures.

Valuation

Under GAAP, fair value is the price an entity would receive to sell an asset — or pay to transfer a liability — in a transaction that’s orderly, takes place between market participants and occurs at the acquisition date. If quoted market prices and other observable inputs aren’t available, unobservable inputs are used to estimate fair value.

One of the upsides to issuing profits interest awards is their flexibility. There’s no standard definition of a profits interest; the term “profits” can refer to whatever is agreed to by the LLC and the recipient of the award. In addition, profits interest units may be subject to various terms and conditions, such as:

  • Vesting requirements,
  • Time limitations,
  • Specific performance thresholds, and
  • Forfeiture provisions.

An LLC may offer multiple types of profits interests, allowing it to customize awards for various purposes. The varieties of terms and conditions that can be incorporated into a profits interest requires the use of customized valuation techniques.

Need for improvement

Many private companies struggle with how to report profits interests. In recent years, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has discussed ways to simplify the rules, including scaling back the disclosure requirements and providing a practical expedient to measure grant-date fair value of these awards. No changes have been made yet, however.

For more information

Accounting complexity has caused some private companies to shy away from profits interest arrangements. But they can be an effective tool for attracting and retaining workers under the right circumstances. Contact us for help reporting these transactions under existing GAAP or for an update on the latest developments from the FASB.

© 2021

Business highlights in the new American Rescue Plan Act

President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on March 11. While the new law is best known for the provisions providing relief to individuals, there are also several tax breaks and financial benefits for businesses.

Here are some of the tax highlights of the ARPA.

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC). This valuable tax credit is extended from June 30 until December 31, 2021. The ARPA continues the ERC rate of credit at 70% for this extended period of time. It also continues to allow for up to $10,000 in qualified wages for any calendar quarter. Taking into account the Consolidated Appropriations Act extension and the ARPA extension, this means an employer can potentially have up to $40,000 in qualified wages per employee through 2021.

Employer-Provided Dependent Care Assistance. In general, an eligible employee’s gross income doesn’t include amounts paid or incurred by an employer for dependent care assistance provided to the employee under a qualified dependent care assistance program (DCAP).

Previously, the amount that could be excluded from an employee’s gross income under a DCAP during a tax year wasn’t more than $5,000 ($2,500 for married individuals filing separately), subject to certain limitations. However, any contribution made by an employer to a DCAP can’t exceed the employee’s earned income or, if married, the lesser of employee’s or spouse’s earned income.

Under the ARPA, for 2021 only, the exclusion for employer-provided dependent care assistance is increased from $5,000 to $10,500 (from $2,500 to $5,250 for married individuals filing separately).

This provision is effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2020.

Paid Sick and Family Leave Credits. Changes under the ARPA apply to amounts paid with respect to calendar quarters beginning after March 31, 2021. Among other changes, the law extends the paid sick time and paid family leave credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act from March 31, 2021, through September 30, 2021. It also provides that paid sick and paid family leave credits may each be increased by the employer’s share of Social Security tax (6.2%) and employer’s share of Medicare tax (1.45%) on qualified leave wages.

Grants to restaurants. Under the ARPA, eligible restaurants, food trucks, and similar businesses that provide food and drinks may receive restaurant revitalization grants from the Small Business Administration. For tax purposes, amounts received as restaurant revitalization grants aren’t included in the gross income of the person who receives the money.

Much more

These are only some of the provisions in the ARPA. There are many others that may be beneficial to your business. Contact us for more information about your situation.

© 2021

Analytical procedures can help make your audit more efficient

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The use of audit analytics can help during the planning and review stages of the audit. But analytics can have an even bigger impact when these procedures are used to supplement substantive testing during fieldwork.

Definition of “analytics”

Auditors use analytical procedures to evaluate financial information by assessing relationships among financial and nonfinancial data. Examples of analytical tests include:

  • Trend analysis,
  • Ratio analysis,
  • Reasonableness testing, and
  • Regression analysis.

Significant fluctuations or relationships that are materially inconsistent with other relevant information or that differ from expected values require additional investigation.

4 steps

Auditors generally follow this four-step process when performing analytical procedures:

1. Form an independent expectation. The auditor develops an expectation of an account balance or financial relationship. Expectations are based on the auditor’s understanding of the company and its industry. Examples of data used to develop expectations include prior-period information (adjusted for expected changes), management’s budgets or forecasts, and ratios published in trade journals.

2. Identify differences between expected and reported amounts. The auditor must compare his or her expectation with the amount recorded in the company’s accounting system. Then, any difference is compared to the auditor’s threshold for analytical testing. If the difference is less than the threshold, the auditor generally accepts the recorded amount without further investigation and the analytical procedure is complete. If not, the auditor moves to the next step.

3. Investigate the reason. The auditor brainstorms all possible causes and then determines the most probable cause(s) for the discrepancy. Sometimes, the analytical test or the data itself is problematic, and the auditor needs to apply additional analytical procedures with more precise data. Other times, the discrepancy has a “plausible” explanation, usually related to unusual transactions or events, or accounting or business changes.

4. Evaluate differences. The auditor evaluates the likelihood of material misstatement and then determines the nature and extent of any additional auditing procedures. Plausible explanations require corroborating audit evidence.

For differences that are due to misstatement (rather than a plausible explanation), the auditor must decide whether the misstatement is material (individually or in the aggregate). Material misstatements typically require adjustments to the amounts reported and may also necessitate additional audit procedures to determine the scope of a misstatement.

A win-win for everyone

Done right, analytical procedures can help make your audit less time-consuming, less expensive and more effective at detecting errors and omissions. Analytics also may be easier to perform remotely than traditional, manual audit testing procedures — a major upside during the COVID-19 pandemic. To avoid surprises in the coming audit season, notify us about any major changes to your operations, accounting methods or market conditions that occurred during the reporting period.

© 2021

Work Opportunity Tax Credit extended through 2025

Are you a business owner thinking about hiring? Be aware that a recent law extended a credit for hiring individuals from one or more targeted groups. Employers can qualify for a tax credit known as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) that’s worth as much as $2,400 for each eligible employee ($4,800, $5,600 and $9,600 for certain veterans and $9,000 for “long-term family assistance recipients”). The credit is generally limited to eligible employees who began work for the employer before January 1, 2026.

Generally, an employer is eligible for the credit only for qualified wages paid to members of a targeted group. These groups are:

  1. Qualified members of families receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program,
  2. Qualified veterans,
  3. Qualified ex-felons,
  4. Designated community residents,
  5. Vocational rehabilitation referrals,
  6. Qualified summer youth employees,
  7. Qualified members of families in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP),
  8. Qualified Supplemental Security Income recipients,
  9. Long-term family assistance recipients, and
  10. Long-term unemployed individuals.

You must meet certain requirements

There are a number of requirements to qualify for the credit. For example, for each employee, there’s also a minimum requirement that the employee must have completed at least 120 hours of service for the employer. Also, the credit isn’t available for certain employees who are related to or who previously worked for the employer.

There are different rules and credit amounts for certain employees. The maximum credit available for the first-year wages is $2,400 for each employee, $4,000 for long-term family assistance recipients, and $4,800, $5,600 or $9,600 for certain veterans. Additionally, for long-term family assistance recipients, there’s a 50% credit for up to $10,000 of second-year wages, resulting in a total maximum credit, over two years, of $9,000.

For summer youth employees, the wages must be paid for services performed during any 90-day period between May 1 and September 15. The maximum WOTC credit available for summer youth employees is $1,200 per employee.

A valuable credit

There are additional rules and requirements. In some cases, employers may elect not to claim the WOTC. And in limited circumstances, the rules may prohibit the credit or require an allocation of it. However, for most employers hiring from targeted groups, the credit can be valuable. Contact us with questions or for more information about your situation.

© 2021

How to compute your company’s breakeven point

Break-even point word with green checkmark, 3D rendering

Breakeven analysis can be useful when investing in new equipment, launching a new product or analyzing the effects of a cost reduction plan. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many struggling companies are using it to evaluate how much longer they can afford to keep their doors open.

Fixed vs. variable costs

Breakeven can be explained in a few different ways using information from your company’s income statement. It’s the point at which total sales are equal to total expenses. More specifically, it’s where net income is equal to zero and sales are equal to variable costs plus fixed costs.

To calculate your breakeven point, you need to understand a few terms:

Fixed expenses. These are the expenses that remain relatively unchanged with changes in your business volume. Examples include rent, property taxes, salaries and insurance.

Variable/semi-fixed expenses. Your sales volume determines the ebb and flow of these expenses. If you had no sales revenue, you’d have no variable expenses and your semifixed expenses would be lower. Examples are shipping costs, materials, supplies and independent contractor fees.

Breakeven formula

The basic formula for calculating the breakeven point is:

Breakeven = fixed expenses / [1 – (variable expenses / sales)]

Breakeven can be computed on various levels. For example, you can estimate it for your company overall or by product line or division, as long as you have requisite sales and cost data broken down.

To illustrate how this formula works, let’s suppose ABC Company generates $24 million in revenue, has fixed costs of $2 million and variable costs of $21.6 million. Here’s how those numbers fit into the breakeven formula:

Annual breakeven = $2 million / [1 – ($21.6 million / $24 million)] = $20 million

Monthly breakeven = $20 million / 12 = $1,666,667

As long as expenses stay within budget, the breakeven point will be reliable. In the example, variable expenses must remain at 90% of revenue and fixed expenses must stay at $2 million. If either of these variables changes, the breakeven point will change.

Lowering your breakeven

During the COVID-19 pandemic, distressed companies may have taken measures to reduce their breakeven points. One solution is to convert as many fixed costs into variable costs as possible. Another solution involves cost cutting measures, such as carrying less inventory and furloughing workers. You also might consider refinancing debt to take advantage of today’s low interest rates and renegotiating key contracts with lessors, insurance providers and suppliers. Contact us to help you work through the calculations and find a balance between variable and fixed costs that suits your company’s current needs.

© 2021

Footnote disclosures: The story behind the numbers

The footnotes to your company’s financial statements give investors and lenders insight into account balances, accounting practices and potential risk factors — knowledge that’s vital to making well-informed business and investment decisions. Here are four important issues that you should cover in your footnote disclosures.

1. Unreported or contingent liabilities

A company’s balance sheet might not reflect all future obligations. Detailed footnotes may reveal, for example, a potentially damaging lawsuit, an IRS inquiry or an environmental claim.

Footnotes also spell out the details of loan terms, warranties, contingent liabilities and leases. Unscrupulous managers may attempt to downplay liabilities to avoid violating loan agreements or admitting financial problems to stakeholders.

2. Related-party transactions

Companies may employ friends and relatives — or give preferential treatment to, or receive it from, related parties. It’s important that footnotes disclose all related parties with whom the company and its management team conduct business.

For example, say, a dress boutique rents retail space from the owner’s uncle at below-market rents, saving roughly $120,000 each year. If the retailer doesn’t disclose that this favorable related-party deal exists, its lenders may mistakenly believe that the business is more profitable than it really is. When the owner’s uncle unexpectedly dies — and the owner’s cousin, who inherits the real estate, raises the rent — the retailer could fall on hard times and the stakeholders could be blindsided by the undisclosed related-party risk.

3. Accounting changes

Footnotes disclose the nature and justification for a change in accounting principle, as well as how that change affects the financial statements. Valid reasons exist to change an accounting method, such as a regulatory mandate. But dishonest managers also can use accounting changes in, say, depreciation or inventory reporting methods to manipulate financial results.

4. Significant events

Disclosures may forewarn stakeholders that a company recently lost a major customer or will be subject to stricter regulatory oversight in the coming year. Footnotes disclose significant events that could materially impact future earnings or impair business value. But dishonest managers may overlook or downplay significant events to preserve the company’s credit standing.

Too much, too little or just right?

In recent years, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has been eliminating and simplifying footnote disclosures. While disclosure “overload” can be burdensome, it’s important that companies don’t cut back too much. Transparency is key to effective corporate governance.

© 2021

The cents-per-mile rate for business miles decreases again for 2021

This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business decreased by one-and-one-half cents, to 56 cents per mile. As a result, you might claim a lower deduction for vehicle-related expenses for 2021 than you could for 2020 or 2019. This is the second year in a row that the cents-per-mile rate has decreased.

Deducting actual expenses vs. cents-per-mile 

In general, businesses can deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases, certain limits apply to depreciation write-offs on vehicles that don’t apply to other types of business assets.

The cents-per-mile rate is useful if you don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this method, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses. However, you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.

Using the cents-per-mile rate is also popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal vehicles. These reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who drive their personal vehicles extensively for business purposes. Why? Under current law, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their own income tax returns.

If you do use the cents-per-mile rate, be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t comply, the reimbursements could be considered taxable wages to the employees.

The 2021 rate

Beginning on January 1, 2021, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 56 cents per mile. It was 57.5 cents for 2020 and 58 cents for 2019.

The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It’s based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. The rate partly reflects the current price of gas, which is down from a year ago. According to AAA Gas Prices, the average nationwide price of a gallon of unleaded regular gas was $2.42 recently, compared with $2.49 a year ago. Occasionally, if there’s a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the cents-per-mile rate midyear.

When this method can’t be used

There are some situations when you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. In some cases, it partly depends on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past. In other cases, it depends on if the vehicle is new to your business this year or whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation tax breaks on it.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider in deciding whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. We can help if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2021 — or claiming them on your 2020 income tax return.

© 2021