The Home Office Deduction: Actual Expenses vs. the Simplified Method

If you run your business from your home or perform certain functions at home that are related to your business, you might be able to claim a home office deduction against your business income on your 2018 income tax return. Thanks to a tax law change back in 2013, there are now two methods for claiming this deduction: the actual expenses method and the simplified method.

Basics of the deduction

In general, you’ll qualify for a home office deduction if part of your home is used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business.

If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if 1) you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises, or 2) you use a storage area in your home (or a separate free-standing structure, such as a garage) exclusively and regularly for your business.

Actual expenses

Traditionally, taxpayers have deducted actual expenses when they claim a home office deduction. Deductible home office expenses may include:

  • Direct expenses, such as the cost of painting and carpeting a room used exclusively for business,
  • A proportionate share of indirect expenses, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities, repairs and insurance, and
  • A depreciation allowance.

But keeping track of actual expenses can be time consuming.

The simplified method

Fortunately, there’s a simplified method that’s been available since 2013: You can deduct $5 for each square foot of home office space, up to a maximum total of $1,500.

For example, if you’ve converted a 300-square-foot bedroom to an office you use exclusively and regularly for business, you can write off $1,500 under the simplified method (300 square feet x $5). However, if your business is located in a 600-square-foot finished basement, the deduction will still be only $1,500 because of the cap on the deduction under this method.

As you can see, the cap can make the simplified method less beneficial for larger home office spaces. But even for spaces of 300 square feet or less, taxpayers may qualify for a bigger deduction using the actual expense method. So, tracking your actual expenses can be worth the extra hassle.

Flexibility in filing

When claiming the home office deduction, you’re not locked into a particular method. For instance, you might choose the actual expense method on your 2018 return, use the simplified method when you file your 2019 return next year and then switch back to the actual expense method thereafter. The choice is yours.

Unsure whether you qualify for the home office deduction? Or wondering whether you should deduct actual expenses or use the simplified method? Contact us. We can help you determine what’s right for your specific situation.

© 2019

Auditing Cashless Transactions

Like most businesses, you’ve probably experienced a significant increase in the number of customers who prefer to make cashless payments. And you may be wondering: How does the acceptance of these types of transactions affect the auditing of your financial statements?

Cashless transactions require the exchange of digital information to facilitate payments. Instead of focusing on the collection and recording of physical cash, your auditors will spend significant time analyzing your company’s electronic sales records. This requires four specific procedures.

1. Identifying accepted payment methods

Auditors will ask for a list of the types of payments your company accepts and the process maps for each payment vehicle. Examples of cashless payment methods include:

  • Credit and debit cards,
  • Mobile wallets (such as Venmo),
  • Digital currencies (such as Bitcoin),
  • Automated Clearing House (ACH) payments,
  • Wire transfers, and
  • Payments via intermediaries (such as PayPal).

Be prepared to provide documents detailing how the receipt of cashless payments works and how the funds end up in your company’s bank account.

2. Evaluating roles and responsibilities

Your auditors will request a list of employees involved in the receipt, recording, reporting and analysis of cashless transactions. They will also want to see how your company manages and monitors employee access to every technology platform connected to cashless payments.

Evaluating who handles each aspect of the cashless payment cycle helps auditors confirm whether you have the appropriate level of security and segregation of duties to prevent fraud and misstatement.

3. Testing the reconciliation process

Auditors will review prior sales reconciliations to test their accuracy and ensure appropriate recognition of revenue. This may be especially challenging as companies implement the new accounting rules on revenue recognition for long-term contracts. Auditors also will test accounting entries related to such accounts as inventory, deferred revenue and accounts receivable.

4. Analyzing trends

Cashless transactions create an electronic audit trail. So, there’s ample data for auditors to analyze. To uncover anomalies, auditors may, for example, analyze sales by payment vehicle, over different time periods and according to each employee’s sales activity.

If your company has experienced payment fraud, it’s important to share that information with your audit team. Also tell them about steps you took to remediate the problem and recover losses.

Preparing for a cashless future

Before we arrive to conduct fieldwork, let’s discuss the types of cashless payments you now accept — or plan to accept in the future. Depending on the number of cashless methods, we’ll amend our audit program to review them in detail.

© 2019

When Are LLC Members Subject to Self-Employment Tax?

Limited liability company (LLC) members commonly claim that their distributive shares of LLC income — after deducting compensation for services in the form of guaranteed payments — aren’t subject to self-employment (SE) tax. But the IRS has been cracking down on LLC members it claims have underreported SE income, with some success in court.

SE tax background

Self-employment income is subject to a 12.4% Social Security tax (up to the wage base) and a 2.9% Medicare tax. Generally, if you’re a member of a partnership — including an LLC taxed as a partnership — that conducts a trade or business, you’re considered self-employed.

General partners pay SE tax on all their business income from the partnership, whether it’s distributed or not. Limited partners, however, are subject to SE tax only on any guaranteed payments for services they provide to the partnership. The rationale is that limited partners, who have no management authority, are more akin to passive investors.

(Note, however, that “service partners” in service partnerships, such as law firms, medical practices, and architecture and engineering firms, generally may not claim limited partner status regardless of their level of participation.)

LLC uncertainty

Over the years, many LLC members have taken the position that they’re equivalent to limited partners and, therefore, exempt from SE tax (except on guaranteed payments for services). But there’s a big difference between limited partners and LLC members. Both enjoy limited personal liability, but, unlike limited partners, LLC members can actively participate in management without jeopardizing their liability protection.

Arguably, LLC members who are active in management or perform substantial services related to the LLC’s business are subject to SE tax, while those who more closely resemble passive investors should be treated like limited partners. The IRS issued proposed regulations to that effect in 1997, but hasn’t finalized them — although it follows them as a matter of internal policy.

Some LLC members have argued that the IRS’s failure to finalize the regulations supports the claim that their distributive shares aren’t subject to SE tax. But the IRS routinely rejects this argument and has successfully litigated its position. The courts generally have imposed SE tax on LLC members unless, like traditional limited partners, they lack management authority and don’t provide significant services to the business.

Review your situation

The law in this area remains uncertain, particularly with regard to capital-intensive businesses. But given the IRS’s aggressiveness in collecting SE taxes from LLCs, LLC members should assess whether the IRS might claim that they’ve underpaid SE taxes.

Those who wish to avoid or reduce these taxes in the future may have some options, including converting to an S corporation or limited partnership, or restructuring their ownership interests. When evaluating these strategies, there are issues to consider beyond taxes. Contact us to discuss your specific situation.

© 2019

Public Companies to Disclose Stock Hedging Policies and Practices

Does your company have policies in place regarding the use of hedging transactions by company insiders? Final Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) guidance will soon require public companies to disclose whether their officers, employees and directors are allowed to offset a decrease in the market value of the company’s stock. Here’s what you should know to provide up-to-date disclosures.

Hedging concerns

Starting in the 1980s and 1990s, many companies adopted stock-compensation programs to help align the financial interests of executives and other company insiders with those of public shareholders. However, in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, the growing prevalence of hedging instruments made many investors suspect those common interests had eroded.

Critics said a short-sale hedge could protect an executive, employee or director who receives stock incentives against a subsequent drop in the stock price. Similarly, selling a stock future increases the value of the insider’s position as the stock price drops.

Disclosure requirements

SEC Release No. 33-10593, Disclosure of Hedging by Employees, Officers, and Directors, was issued on December 20, 2018. Mandated by Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the rule amends Item 402 of Regulation S-K under the Securities Act of 1933.

The new rule doesn’t direct companies to establish policies regarding hedging. Rather, it requires a company to describe any policies it has adopted regarding the ability of its employees (including officers) or directors to purchase financial instruments that hedge or offset any decrease in the market value of equity securities granted as compensation, or held directly or indirectly by the employee or director. The new disclosure is required in a proxy statement or information statement relating to an election of directors.

The rule requires companies to disclose fully their hedging policies and practices for securities of:

  • The company,
  • Any parent company,
  • Any subsidiary of the company, or
  • Any subsidiary of the company parent.

Alternatively, companies can choose to provide a summary of hedging practices that includes a description of any categories of hedging transactions that are specifically permitted or disallowed. If a company doesn’t have any such policies, it needs to disclose that fact or state that hedging is generally permitted.

Effective date

The new disclosure rule goes into effect for fiscal years beginning on or after July 1, 2019. However, companies that qualify as smaller reporting companies (SRCs) or emerging growth companies (EGCs) will get an extra year to comply.

An SRC has a public float of less than $250 million. EGC is a class of company established in 2012 that’s eligible for lighter disclosure and reporting requirements for the first five years after going public. Listed closed-end funds and foreign private issuers (FPIs) won’t be subject to the new disclosure requirements.

Contact us to help your public company comply with the new SEC rule. We can draft comprehensive disclosures and, if necessary, help you implement effective hedging policies.

© 2019

Fundamental Tax Truths for C-Corporations

The flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has been great news for these entities and their owners. But some fundamental tax truths for C corporations largely remain the same:

C corporations are subject to double taxation.

Double taxation occurs when corporate income is taxed once at the corporate level and again at the shareholder level as dividends are paid out. The cost of double taxation, however, is now generally less because of the 21% corporate rate.

And double taxation isn’t a problem when a C corporation needs to retain all its earnings to finance growth and capital investments. Because all the earnings stay “inside” the corporation, no dividends are paid to shareholders, and, therefore, there’s no double taxation.

Double taxation also isn’t an issue when a C corporation’s taxable income levels are low. This can often be achieved by paying reasonable salaries and bonuses to shareholder-employees and providing them with tax-favored fringe benefits (deductible by the corporation and tax-free to the recipient shareholder-employees).

C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures with appreciating assets or certain depreciable assets.

If assets such as real estate are eventually sold for substantial gains, it may be impossible to extract the profits from the corporation without being subject to double taxation. In contrast, if appreciating assets are held by a pass-through entity (such as an S corporation, partnership or limited liability company treated as a partnership for tax purposes), gains on such sales will be taxed only once, at the owner level.

But assets held by a C corporation don’t necessarily have to appreciate in value for double taxation to occur. Depreciation lowers the tax basis of the property, so a taxable gain results whenever the sale price exceeds the depreciated basis. In effect, appreciation can be caused by depreciation when depreciable assets hold their value.

To avoid this double-taxation issue, you might consider using a pass-through entity to lease to your C corporation appreciating assets or depreciable assets that will hold their value.

C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures that will incur ongoing tax losses.

When a venture is set up as a C corporation, losses aren’t passed through to the owners (the shareholders) like they would be in a pass-through entity. Instead, they create corporate net operating losses (NOLs) that can be carried over to future tax years and then used to offset any corporate taxable income.

This was already a potential downside of C corporations, because it can take many years for a start-up to be profitable. Now, under the TCJA, NOLs that arise in tax years beginning after 2017 can’t offset more than 80% of taxable income in the NOL carryover year. So it may take even longer to fully absorb tax losses.

Do you have questions about C corporation tax issues post-TCJA? Contact us.

© 2019

Private Companies: Have You Implemented the New Revenue Recognition Standard?

Private companies that follow U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) must comply with the landmark new revenue recognition standard in 2019. Many private company CFOs and controllers report that they still have significant work to do to meet the demands of the sweeping rules. If you haven’t started the implementation process, it’s time to get the ball rolling.

Lessons from public company peers

Affected private companies must start following Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Accounting Standards Codification Topic 606), the first time they issue financial statements in 2019. For private companies with a fiscal year end or issuing quarterly statements under U.S. GAAP, that could be within the next few months. Other private companies have until the end of the year or even early 2020. No matter what, it’s crunch time.

Public companies, which had to begin following the standard in 2018, reported that, even if the new accounting didn’t radically change the number they reported in the top line of their income statements, it changed the method by which they had to calculate it. They had to comb through contracts and offer paper trails to back up their estimates to auditors. Public companies largely reported that the standard was more work than they anticipated. Private companies can expect the same challenges.

An overview

The revenue recognition standard erases reams of industry-specific revenue guidance in U.S. GAAP and attempts to come up with the following five-step revenue recognition model for most businesses worldwide:

1. Identify the contracts with a customer.2. Identify the performance obligations in the contract.3. Determine the transaction price.4. Allocate the transaction price to the performance obligations.5. Recognize revenue as the entity satisfies a performance obligation.
In many cases, the revenue a company reports under the new guidance won’t differ much from what it reported under old rules. But the timing of when a company can record revenues may be affected, particularly for long-term, multi-part arrangements. Companies also must assess:

  • The extent by which payments could vary due to such terms as bonuses, discounts, rebates and refunds,
  • The extent that collected payments from customers is “probable” and won’t result in a significant reversal in the future, and
  • The time value of money to determine the transaction price.

The result is a process that offers fewer bright-line rules and more judgment calls compared to old U.S. GAAP.

We can help

Our accounting experts can help you avoid a “fire drill” right before your implementation deadline and employ best practices learned from public companies that made the switch in 2018. Contact us for help getting your revenue reporting systems, processes and policies up to speed.

© 2019

Depreciation-Related Breaks on Business Real Estate: What You Need to Know When You File Your 2018 Return

Commercial buildings and improvements generally are depreciated over 39 years, which essentially means you can deduct a portion of the cost every year over the depreciation period. (Land isn’t depreciable.) But special tax breaks that allow deductions to be taken more quickly are available for certain real estate investments.

Some of these were enhanced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and may provide a bigger benefit when you file your 2018 tax return. But there’s one break you might not be able to enjoy due to a drafting error in the TCJA.

Section 179 expensing

This allows you to deduct (rather than depreciate over a number of years) qualified improvement property — a definition expanded by the TCJA from qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property. The TCJA also allows Sec. 179 expensing for certain depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging and for the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.

Under the TCJA, for qualifying property placed in service in tax years starting in 2018, the expensing limit increases to $1 million (from $510,000 for 2017), subject to a phaseout if your qualified asset purchases for the year exceed $2.5 million (compared to $2.03 million for 2017). These amounts will be adjusted annually for inflation, and for 2019 they’re $1.02 million and $2.55 million, respectively.

Accelerated depreciation

This break allows a shortened recovery period of 15 years for qualified improvement property. Before the TCJA, the break was available only for qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property.

Bonus depreciation

This additional first-year depreciation allowance is available for qualified assets, which before the TCJA included qualified improvement property. But due to a drafting error in the new law, qualified improvement property will be eligible for bonus depreciation only if a technical correction is issued.

When available, bonus depreciation is increased to 100% (up from 50%) for qualified property placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, but before Jan. 1, 2023. For 2023 through 2026, bonus depreciation is scheduled to be gradually reduced. Warning: Under the TCJA, real estate businesses that elect to deduct 100% of their business interest will be ineligible for bonus depreciation starting in 2018.

Can you benefit?

Although the enhanced depreciation-related breaks may offer substantial savings on your 2018 tax bill, it’s possible they won’t prove beneficial over the long term. Taking these deductions now means forgoing deductions that could otherwise be taken later, over a period of years under normal depreciation schedules. In some situations — such as if in the future your business could be in a higher tax bracket or tax rates go up — the normal depreciation deductions could be more valuable long-term.

For more information on these breaks or advice on whether you should take advantage of them, please contact us.

© 2019

Evaluating Your Audit Committee

Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the audit committee — not management or the full board of directors — is directly responsible for appointing, compensating and overseeing external auditors. Periodically, it’s a good idea to assess the effectiveness of your audit committee by performing a self-evaluation. Here are reasons to conduct a self-evaluation, along with some common techniques.

Why?

If your company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, an annual self-evaluation is required. However, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) recommends that all other companies, including not-for-profit entities and private firms, complete voluntary self-evaluations. The benefits include:

• Improving audit committee performance,
• Promoting candid discussions, and
• Identifying practices and procedures to conduct more effective meetings.

In general, a self-evaluation strives to make your audit committee more effective at assessing fraud risks and evaluating internal and independent auditors.

How?

There’s no universal right way to conduct a self-evaluation. Some companies do it strictly in-house, while others use outside evaluators. Some rely on written questionnaires, while others use personal interviews. According to the AICPA’s Audit Committee Effectiveness Center, common approaches to self-evaluation include:

Introspection. The committee members — and, possibly, the board chair — evaluate the committee’s performance by answering specific questions about the committee’s impact on the financial reporting process and its relationships with management and internal and independent auditors.

Performance improvement. The chief audit executive, CFO, CEO and independent auditor are asked to comment on the committee’s performance.

360-degree. Each committee member (including the chair) evaluates all the other members. To minimize the risk of alienating committee members, consider beginning the process by assessing the committee’s overall performance and then move on to individual performance reviews.

Competence. The committee, others within the company or an outside evaluator assesses the financial literacy of committee members. They look at, among other things, recent training on enterprise risk management, accounting, auditing, financial reporting developments, and current business and industry practices.

Leadership. The committee members discuss the committee chair’s performance, communicating any concerns to the board chair or the chair of the corporate governance committee.

Whichever approach or combination of approaches your company uses, it’s important to phrase questions in terms designed to elicit ideas for improvement rather than to highlight weaknesses.

Need help?

Whether your company is required to perform audit committee self-evaluations or you conduct them voluntarily, careful planning is critical to maximize the benefits. Contact us to help design an effective self-evaluation process based on your company’s specific needs.

© 2019

Many Tax-Related Limits Affecting Businesses Increase for 2019

A variety of tax-related limits affecting businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have gone up for 2019. Here’s a look at some that may affect you and your business.

Deductions

  • Section 179 expensing:
    • Limit: $1.02 million (up from $1 million)
    • Phaseout: $2.55 million (up from $2.5 million)
  • Income-based phase-ins for certain limits on the Sec. 199A qualified business income deduction:
    • Married filing jointly: $321,400-$421,400 (up from $315,000-$415,000)
    • Married filing separately: $160,725-$210,725 (up from $157,500-$207,500)
    • Other filers: $160,700-$210,700 (up from $157,500-$207,500)

Retirement plans

  • Employee contributions to 401(k) plans: $19,000 (up from $18,500)
  • Catch-up contributions to 401(k) plans: $6,000 (no change)
  • Employee contributions to SIMPLEs: $13,000 (up from $12,500)
  • Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs: $3,000 (no change)
  • Combined employer/employee contributions to defined contribution plans (not including catch-ups): $56,000 (up from $55,000)
  • Maximum compensation used to determine contributions: $280,000 (up from $275,000)
  • Annual benefit for defined benefit plans: $225,000 (up from $220,000)
  • Compensation defining “highly compensated employee”: $125,000 (up from $120,000)
  • Compensation defining “key employee”: $180,000 (up from $175,000)

Other employee benefits

  • Qualified transportation fringe-benefits employee income exclusion: $265 per month (up from $260)
  • Health Savings Account contributions:
    • Individual coverage: $3,500 (up from $3,450)
    • Family coverage: $7,000 (up from $6,900)
    • Catch-up contribution: $1,000 (no change)
  • Flexible Spending Account contributions:
    • Health care: $2,700 (up from $2,650)
    • Dependent care: $5,000 (no change) 

Additional rules apply to these limits, and they are only some of the limits that may affect your business. Please contact us for more information.

© 2019

M&A Due Diligence: Don’t Accept Financial Statements at Face Value

The M&A market was hot last year, and that momentum is expected to continue in 2019. Before acquiring another business, however, it’s important to do your homework. Conducting comprehensive due diligence can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve never negotiated a deal before. So, consider seeking input from an experienced accounting professional.

Reviewing historical performance

For starters, the target company’s historical financial statements must be reviewed. This will help you understand the nature of the company’s operations and the types of assets it owns — and the liabilities it owes.

When reviewing historical results, it’s important to evaluate a full business cycle, including any cyclical peaks and troughs. If a seller provides statements during only peak years, there’s a risk that you could overpay.

Historical financial statements also may be used to determine how much to offer the seller. An offer should be based on how much return the business interest is expected to generate. An accounting expert can project expected returns, as well as provide pricing multiples based on real-world comparable transactions.

Evaluating the target’s historical balance sheet also may help you decide whether to structure the deal as a stock purchase (where all assets and liabilities transfer from the seller to the buyer) or as an asset purchase (where the buyer cherry-picks specific assets and liabilities).

Looking to the Future

Prospective financial statements are typically based on management’s expectations for the future. When reviewing these reports, the underlying assumptions must be critically evaluated, especially for start-ups and other businesses where prospective financials serve as the primary basis for your offer price.

It’s also important to consider who prepared the prospective financials. If forecasts or projections are prepared by an outside accountant, do the reports follow the AICPA standards? You may have more confidence when reports provided by the seller conform to these standards. However, it’s a good idea to hire your own expert to perform an independent analysis, because management may have an incentive to paint a rosy picture of financial performance.

Digging deeper

A target company’s historical balance sheet tells you about the company’s tangible assets, acquired intangibles and debts. But some liabilities may not appear on the financial statements. An accounting expert can help you identify unrecorded liabilities, such as:

•Pending lawsuits and regulatory audits, •Warranty and insurance claims, •Uncollectible accounts receivable, and •Underfunded pensions.
You also need to be skeptical of representations the seller makes to seal a deal. Misrepresentations that are found after closing can lead to expensive legal battles. An earnout provision or escrow account can be used to reduce the risk that the deal won’t pan out as the seller claimed it would.

Avoiding M&A mishaps

Do-it-yourself acquisitions can lead to costly mistakes. In addition to evaluating historical and prospective financial statements, we can help identify potential hidden liabilities and misrepresentations, as well as prepare independent forecasts and projections. We also can help you determine the optimal offer price and deal terms based on an objective review of the target’s historical, prospective and unreported financial information.

© 2019