How Entrepreneurs Must Treat Expenses on Their Tax Returns

Have you recently started a new business? Or are you contemplating starting one? Launching a new venture is a hectic, exciting time. And as you know, before you even open the doors, you generally have to spend a lot of money. You may have to train workers and pay for rent, utilities, marketing and more.

Entrepreneurs are often unaware that many expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be deducted right away. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your tax bill.

Key points on how expenses are handled

When starting or planning a new enterprise, keep these factors 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 federal 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. We don’t need to tell you that $5,000 doesn’t go 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 write-offs are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business commences. That usually means the year when the enterprise has all the pieces in place to begin 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? Has the activity actually begun?

Examples of expenses

Start-up expenses generally include all expenses that are incurred 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 be eligible for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example would be the money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.

To qualify as an “organization expense,” the outlay must be related to the creation of a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing the new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.

An important decision

Time may be of the essence if you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year. You need to decide whether to take the elections described above. Recordkeeping is important. Contact us about your business start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new venture.

© 2019

Put a QOE Report to Work for You

An independent quality of earnings (QOE) report can be a valuable tool in mergers and acquisitions. It’s important for both buyers and sellers to look beyond the quantitative information provided by the selling company’s financial statements.

Quality matters

There’s a lack of guidance from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) regarding scope and format of a QOE report. As a result, these engagements may be customized to meet the needs of the party requesting the report.

Typically, QOE reports analyze the individual components of earnings (that is, revenue and expenses) on a month-to-month basis. The goals are twofold: 1) to determine whether earnings are sustainable, and 2) to identify potential risks and opportunities, both internal and external, that could affect the company’s ability to operate as a going concern.

Examples of issues that a QOE report might uncover include:

  • Deficient accounting policies and procedures,
  • Excessive concentration of revenue with one customer,
  • Transactions with undisclosed related parties,
  • Inaccurate period-end adjustments,
  • Unusual revenue or expense items,
  • Insufficient loss reserves, and
  • Overly optimistic prospective financial statements.

QOE analyses can be performed on financial statements that have been prepared in-house, as well as those that have been compiled, reviewed or audited by a CPA firm. Rather than focus on historical results and compliance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), QOE reports focus on how much cash flow the company is likely to generate for investors in the future.

Beyond EBITDA

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for the trailing 12 months is often the starting point for assessing earnings quality. To reflect a more accurate picture of a company’s operations, EBITDA may need to be adjusted for such items as:

  • Nonrecurring items, such as a loss from a natural disaster or a gain from an asset sale,
  • Above- or below-market owners’ compensation,
  • Discretionary expenses, and
  • Differences in accounting methods used by the company compared to industry peers.

In addition, QOE reports usually entail detailed ratio and trend analysis to identify unusual activity. Additional procedures can help determine whether changes are positive or negative.

For example, an increase in accounts receivable could result from revenue growth (a positive indicator) or a buildup of uncollectible accounts (a negative indicator). If it’s the former, the gross margin on incremental revenue should be analyzed to determine if the new business is profitable — or if the revenue growth results from aggressive price cuts.   

We can help

Using an objective accounting professional to provide a QOE report can help the parties stay focused on financial matters during M&A discussions and add credibility to management’s historical and prospective financial statements. Contact us if you’re in the market to buy or sell a business.

© 2019

Deducting Business Meal Expenses Under Today’s Tax Rule

In the course of operating your business, you probably spend time and money “wining and dining” current or potential customers, vendors and employees. What can you deduct on your tax return for these expenses? The rules changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but you can still claim some valuable write-offs.

No more entertainment deductions

One of the biggest changes is that you can no longer deduct most business-related entertainment expenses. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA disallows deductions for entertainment expenses, including those for sports events, theater productions, golf outings and fishing trips.

Meal deductions still allowed

You can still deduct 50% of the cost of food and beverages for meals conducted with business associates. However, you need to follow three basic rules in order to prove that your expenses are business related:

  1. The expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” in carrying on your business. This means your food and beverage costs are customary and appropriate. They shouldn’t be lavish or extravagant.
  2. The expenses must be directly related or associated with your business. This means that you expect to receive a concrete business benefit from them. The principal purpose for the meal must be business. You can’t go out with a group of friends for the evening, discuss business with one of them for a few minutes, and then write off the check.
  3. You must be able to substantiate the expenses. There are requirements for proving that meal and beverage expenses qualify for a deduction. You must be able to establish the amount spent, the date and place where the meals took place, the business purpose and the business relationship of the people involved.

Set up detailed recordkeeping procedures to keep track of business meal costs. That way, you can prove them and the business connection in the event of an IRS audit.

Other considerations

What if you spend money on food and beverages at an entertainment event? The IRS clarified in guidance (Notice 2018-76) that taxpayers can still deduct 50% of food and drink expenses incurred at entertainment events, but only if business was conducted during the event or shortly before or after. The food-and-drink expenses should also be “stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices or receipts,” according to the guidance.

Another related tax law change involves meals provided to employees on the business premises. Before the TCJA, these meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer were 100% deductible by the employer. Beginning in 2018, meals provided for the convenience of an employer in an on-premises cafeteria or elsewhere on the business property are only 50% deductible. After 2025, these meals won’t be deductible at all.

Plan ahead

As you can see, the treatment of meal and entertainment expenses became more complicated after the TCJA. Your tax advisor can keep you up to speed on the issues and suggest strategies to get the biggest tax-saving bang for your business meal bucks.

© 2019

Now or Later? When to Report Subsequent Events

Financial statements present a company’s financial position as of a specific date, typically the end of the year or quarter. But sometimes events happen shortly after the end of the period that have financial implications for the prior period or for the future. Here’s a look at what’s reportable and what’s not.

Classifying subsequent events

So-called “subsequent events” happen between the date of the financial statements and the date the financial statements are available to be issued. This lag usually lasts two or three months, because it takes time to record end-of-period journal entries, make estimates, draft footnotes and, if applicable, complete external compilation, review or audit procedures. The two types of subsequent events include:

Recognized. These events provide further evidence of conditions that existed on the financial statement date. For example, a major customer might file for bankruptcy. There was probably evidence of the customer’s financial distress in the prior period, such as a decrease in revenue or a buildup of receivables. The customer’s bankruptcy filing may trigger a write-off for bad debts to be recorded on the balance sheet in the prior period.

Nonrecognized. These subsequent events reflect unforeseeable conditions that didn’t exist at the end of the accounting period. Examples might include a change in foreign exchange rates, a fire or an unexpected natural disaster that severely damages the business.

Generally, the former must be recorded in the financial statements. The latter type of subsequent event isn’t required to be recorded but may have to be disclosed in the footnotes.

Disclosing subsequent events

Nonrecognized subsequent events must be disclosed in the footnotes only if failure to disclose the details would cause the financial statements to be misleading to investors and lenders. Subsequent event disclosures should include 1) a description of the nature of the event, and 2) an estimate of the financial effect (or, if not practical, a statement that an estimate can’t be made).

In some extreme cases, the effect of a subsequent event may be so pervasive that a company’s viability is questionable. This may cause the CPA to re-evaluate the going concern assumption that underlies its financial statements.

Footnotes add value

Subsequent events may not be reflected on a company’s balance sheet or income statement. But, when in doubt, companies typically disclose subsequent events to promote transparency in financial reporting. Contact us for more information about reporting and disclosing subsequent events.

© 2019

Divorcing Business Owners Need to Pay Attention to Tax Implications

If you’re getting a divorce, you know it’s a highly stressful time. But if you’re a business owner, tax issues can complicate matters even more. Your business ownership interest is one of your biggest personal assets and your marital property will include all or part of it.

Transferring property tax-free

You can generally divide most assets, including cash and business ownership interests, between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse without any federal income or gift tax consequences. When an asset falls under this tax-free transfer rule, the spouse who receives the asset takes over its existing tax basis (for tax gain or loss purposes) and its existing holding period (for short-term or long-term holding period purposes).

For example, let’s say that, under the terms of your divorce agreement, you give your house to your spouse in exchange for keeping 100% of the stock in your business. That asset swap would be tax-free. And the existing basis and holding periods for the home and the stock would carry over to the person who receives them.

Tax-free transfers can occur before the divorce or at the time it becomes final. Tax-free treatment also applies to postdivorce transfers so long as they’re made “incident to divorce.” This means transfers that occur within:

  • A year after the date the marriage ends, or
  • Six years after the date the marriage ends if the transfers are made pursuant to your divorce agreement.

Future tax implications

Eventually, there will be tax implications for assets received tax-free in a divorce settlement. The ex-spouse who winds up owning an appreciated asset — when the fair market value exceeds the tax basis — generally must recognize taxable gain when it’s sold (unless an exception applies).

What if your ex-spouse receives 49% of your highly appreciated small business stock? Thanks to the tax-free transfer rule, there’s no tax impact when the shares are transferred. Your ex will continue to apply the same tax rules as if you had continued to own the shares, including carryover basis and carryover holding period. When your ex-spouse ultimately sells the shares, he or she will owe any capital gains taxes. You will owe nothing.

Note that the person who winds up owning appreciated assets must pay the built-in tax liability that comes with them. From a net-of-tax perspective, appreciated assets are worth less than an equal amount of cash or other assets that haven’t appreciated. That’s why you should always take taxes into account when negotiating your divorce agreement.

In addition, the IRS now extends the beneficial tax-free transfer rule to ordinary-income assets, not just to capital-gains assets. For example, if you transfer business receivables or inventory to your ex-spouse in divorce, these types of ordinary-income assets can also be transferred tax-free. When the asset is later sold, converted to cash or exercised (in the case of nonqualified stock options), the person who owns the asset at that time must recognize the income and pay the tax liability.

Avoid adverse tax consequences

Like many major life events, divorce can have major tax implications. For example, you may receive an unexpected tax bill if you don’t carefully handle the splitting up of qualified retirement plan accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) and IRAs. And if you own a business, the stakes are higher. Your tax advisor can help you minimize the adverse tax consequences of settling your divorce under today’s laws.

© 2019

Auditing Accounting Estimates and the Use of Specialists

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) recently voted to finalize two related standards aimed at improving audits of accounting estimates and the work of specialists. Though the new, more consistent guidance would apply specifically to public companies, the effects would likely filter down to audits of private entities that use accounting estimates or rely on the work of specialists.

Estimates

Financial statements often report assets at fair value or use other types of accounting estimates, such as allowances for doubtful accounts, credit losses and impairments of long-lived assets. These estimates may involve some level of measurement uncertainty. So, they may be susceptible to misstatement and require more auditor focus.

PCAOB Release No. 2018-005, Auditing Accounting Estimates, Including Fair Value Measurements , aims to improve audits of estimates. The new risk-based standard would promote greater consistency in application. It would emphasize the importance of professional skepticism when auditors evaluate management’s estimates and the need to devote greater attention to potential management bias. Under the updated standard, auditors would consider both corroborating and contradictory evidence that’s obtained during the audit.

Use of specialists

Some accounting estimates may be easily determinable. But many are inherently subjective or complex, requiring the use of specialists. Examples include:

  • Actuaries to determine employee benefit obligations,
  • Engineers to determine obligations regarding environmental remediation, and
  • Appraisers to determine the value of intangible assets or real estate.

The audit guidance on using the work of specialists hasn’t changed much since it was originally published in the 1970s. It deals with auditors’ oversight of third-party specialists, as well as the auditor’s use of the work of a professional hired by management. Existing guidance requires auditors to evaluate the relationship of a specialist to the client, including situations that might impair the specialist’s objectivity. But it doesn’t provide specific requirements.

PCAOB Release No. 2018-006, Amendments to Auditing Standards for Auditor’s Use of the Work of Specialists , would provide more direction for carrying out that evaluation. The updated standard would extend the auditor’s responsibility for evaluating specialists beyond simply obtaining an understanding of their work. It would require auditors to perform additional procedures to evaluate the appropriateness of the company’s data, as well as significant assumptions and methods used. However, auditors wouldn’t be required to reperform the work of the company’s specialist.

Stay tuned

The PCAOB issued these related standards simultaneously at the end of 2018, and wants both to become effective for audits of financial statements for fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2020. However, the updated guidance is pending approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Contact us to discuss how these updated standards are likely to affect your company’s audit procedures in the coming years.

© 2019

Understanding How Taxes Factor Into an M&A Transaction

Merger and acquisition activity has been brisk in recent years. If your business is considering merging with or acquiring another business, it’s important to understand how the transaction will be taxed under current law.

Stocks vs. assets

From a tax standpoint, a transaction can basically be structured in two ways:

1. Stock (or ownership interest). A buyer can directly purchase a seller’s ownership interest if the target business is operated as a C or S corporation, a partnership, or a limited liability company (LLC) that’s treated as a partnership for tax purposes.

The now-permanent 21% corporate federal income tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes buying the stock of a C corporation somewhat more attractive. Reasons: The corporation will pay less tax and generate more after-tax income. Plus, any built-in gains from appreciated corporate assets will be taxed at a lower rate when they’re eventually sold.

The TCJA’s reduced individual federal tax rates may also make ownership interests in S corporations, partnerships and LLCs more attractive. Reason: The passed-through income from these entities also will be taxed at lower rates on a buyer’s personal tax return. However, the TCJA’s individual rate cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2025, and, depending on future changes in Washington, they could be eliminated earlier or extended.

2. Assets. A buyer can also purchase the assets of a business. This may happen if a buyer only wants specific assets or product lines. And it’s the only option if the target business is a sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC that’s treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes.

Note: In some circumstances, a corporate stock purchase can be treated as an asset purchase by making a “Section 338 election.” Ask your tax advisor for details.

Buyer vs. seller preferences

For several reasons, buyers usually prefer to purchase assets rather than ownership interests. Generally, a buyer’s main objective is to generate enough cash flow from an acquired business to pay any acquisition debt and provide an acceptable return on the investment. Therefore, buyers are concerned about limiting exposure to undisclosed and unknown liabilities and minimizing taxes after the deal closes.

A buyer can step up (increase) the tax basis of purchased assets to reflect the purchase price. Stepped-up basis lowers taxable gains when certain assets, such as receivables and inventory, are sold or converted into cash. It also increases depreciation and amortization deductions for qualifying assets.

Meanwhile, sellers generally prefer stock sales for tax and nontax reasons. One of their main objectives is to minimize the tax bill from a sale. That can usually be achieved by selling their ownership interests in a business (corporate stock or partnership or LLC interests) as opposed to selling business assets.

With a sale of stock or other ownership interest, liabilities generally transfer to the buyer and any gain on sale is generally treated as lower-taxed long-term capital gain (assuming the ownership interest has been held for more than one year).

Keep in mind that other issues, such as employee benefits, can also cause unexpected tax issues when merging with, or acquiring, a business.

Professional advice is critical

Buying or selling a business may be the most important transaction you make during your lifetime, so it’s important to seek professional tax advice as you negotiate. After a deal is done, it may be too late to get the best tax results. Contact us for the best way to proceed in your situation.

Simplifying the Accounting Rules for Convertible Debt and Equity

Distinguishing between liabilities and equity on a company’s balance sheet may seem straightforward. But difficulties arise when it comes to the terms of complex securities and financial contracts like redeemable equity instruments, equity-linked or indexed instruments, and convertible instruments.

The good news is that the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is currently working on a project to improve how to determine the difference between liabilities and equity.

Need for change

Work on this project dates as far back as 1986, when distinguishing liabilities from equity was added to the FASB’s technical agenda. Since then, the board has issued various pieces of guidance to help resolve issues that have been raised. But the outcry for revisions to the liabilities vs. equity topic hasn’t waned.

In 2017, accounting professionals told the FASB that current guidance is “overly complex, internally inconsistent, path dependent, form based and is a cause for frequent financial statement restatements.”

Once again, the project is a top priority for the FASB. In 2019, deliberations will initially focus on two areas:

  1. Accounting for convertible instruments with embedded conversion features, and
  2. Determining whether instruments are indexed to an entity’s own stock.

A convertible instrument, typically a bond or a preferred stock, is an instrument that can be converted into a different security — often shares of the company’s common stock. For example, emerging and growing companies often use convertible debt as an alternative financing solution. It’s basically a loan obtained by a company from venture capital or angel investors whereby both parties agree to convert the debt into equity at a specific date.

Tentative plans

Convertible instruments create complex accounting issues and have become a major source of confusion and restatements. In February 2019, the FASB tentatively voted to:

  • Revise certain disclosures for convertible instruments, including adding disclosure objectives for convertible debt and for convertible preferred shares,
  • Centralize the guidance on convertible preferred shares in Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 505, Equity, and convertible debt in ASC Subtopic 470-20, Debt — Debt with Conversion and other Options, and
  • Improve the diluted earnings-per-share calculation and derivative scope exception.

Under the existing rules, there are currently five models to account for convertible debt, which the board plans to narrow down to one or two models. As a result, convertible debt would be recognized in the balance sheet as a single liability, measured at amortized cost. There would no longer be bifurcation, or separation, of the conversion feature and the debt host. Similarly, convertible preferred shares would be recognized in the balance sheet as a single equity element.

Stay tuned

Many start-ups and midsize businesses use convertible instruments to raise cash. But it’s easy for management to miss an aspect of an arrangement and then follow the wrong accounting model under today’s complex, inconsistent principles. And the complex accounting rules even may cause some businesses to avoid tapping into these financing alternatives.

Fortunately, the FASB is taking steps to simplify the financial reporting requirements — and we’re atop the latest developments. Contact us for more information.   

© 2019