Claiming a theft loss deduction if your business is the victim of embezzlement

A business may be able to claim a federal income tax deduction for a theft loss. But does embezzlement count as theft? In most cases it does but you’ll have to substantiate the loss. A recent U.S. Tax Court decision illustrates how that’s sometimes difficult to do.

Basic rules for theft losses 

The tax code allows a deduction for losses sustained during the taxable year and not compensated by insurance or other means. The term “theft” is broadly defined to include larceny, embezzlement and robbery. In general, a loss is regarded as arising from theft only if there’s a criminal element to the appropriation of a taxpayer’s property.

In order to claim a theft loss deduction, a taxpayer must prove:

  • The amount of the loss,
  • The date the loss was discovered, and
  • That a theft occurred under the law of the jurisdiction where the alleged loss occurred.

Facts of the recent court case

Years ago, the taxpayer cofounded an S corporation with another shareholder. At the time of the alleged embezzlement, the other original shareholder was no longer a shareholder, and she wasn’t supposed to be compensated by the business. However, according to court records, she continued to manage the S corporation’s books and records.

The taxpayer suffered an illness that prevented him from working for most of the year in question. During this time, the former shareholder paid herself $166,494. Later, the taxpayer filed a civil suit in a California court alleging that the woman had misappropriated funds from the business.

On an amended tax return, the corporation reported a $166,494 theft loss due to the embezzlement. The IRS denied the deduction. After looking at the embezzlement definition under California state law, the Tax Court agreed with the IRS.

The Tax Court stated that the taxpayer didn’t offer evidence that the former shareholder “acted with the intent to defraud,” and the taxpayer didn’t show that the corporation “experienced a theft meeting the elements of embezzlement under California law.”

The IRS and the court also denied the taxpayer’s alternate argument that the corporation should be allowed to claim a compensation deduction for the amount of money the former shareholder paid herself. The court stated that the taxpayer didn’t provide evidence that the woman was entitled to be paid compensation from the corporation and therefore, the corporation wasn’t entitled to a compensation deduction. (TC Memo 2021-66) 

How to proceed if you’re victimized

If your business is victimized by theft, embezzlement or internal fraud, you may be able to claim a tax deduction for the loss. Keep in mind that a deductible loss can only be claimed for the year in which the loss is discovered, and that you must meet other tax-law requirements. Keep records to substantiate the claimed theft loss, including when you discovered the loss. If you receive an insurance payment or other reimbursement for the loss, that amount must be subtracted when computing the deductible loss for tax purposes. Contact us with any questions you may have about theft and casualty loss deductions.

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Getting a divorce? Be aware of tax implications if you own a business

If you’re a business owner and you’re getting a divorce, tax issues can complicate matters. Your business ownership interest is one of your biggest personal assets and in many cases, your marital property will include all or part of it.

Tax-free property transfers

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).

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

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

More tax issues

Later on, 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 beneficial tax-free transfer rule is now extended to ordinary-income assets, not just to capital-gains assets. For example, if you transfer business receivables or inventory to your ex-spouse in a 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.

Plan ahead to avoid surprises

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. We can help you minimize the adverse tax consequences of settling your divorce. 

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Large cash transactions with your business must be reported to the IRS

If your business receives large amounts of cash or cash equivalents, you may be required to report these transactions to the IRS.

What are the requirements?

Each person who, in the course of operating a trade or business, receives more than $10,000 in cash in one transaction (or two or more related transactions), must file Form 8300. What is considered a “related transaction?” Any transactions conducted in a 24-hour period. Transactions can also be considered related even if they occur over a period of more than 24 hours if the recipient knows, or has reason to know, that each transaction is one of a series of connected transactions.

To complete a Form 8300, you’ll need personal information about the person making the cash payment, including a Social Security or taxpayer identification number. 

Why does the government require reporting?

Although many cash transactions are legitimate, the IRS explains that “information reported on (Form 8300) can help stop those who evade taxes, profit from the drug trade, engage in terrorist financing and conduct other criminal activities. The government can often trace money from these illegal activities through the payments reported on Form 8300 and other cash reporting forms.”

You should keep a copy of each Form 8300 for five years from the date you file it, according to the IRS.

What’s considered “cash” and “cash equivalents?”

For Form 8300 reporting purposes, cash includes U.S. currency and coins, as well as foreign money. It also includes cash equivalents such as cashier’s checks (sometimes called bank checks), bank drafts, traveler’s checks and money orders.

Money orders and cashier’s checks under $10,000, when used in combination with other forms of cash for a single transaction that exceeds $10,000, are defined as cash for Form 8300 reporting purposes.

Note: Under a separate reporting requirement, banks and other financial institutions report cash purchases of cashier’s checks, treasurer’s checks and/or bank checks, bank drafts, traveler’s checks and money orders with a face value of more than $10,000 by filing currency transaction reports.

Can the forms be filed electronically?

Businesses required to file reports of large cash transactions on Form 8300 should know that in addition to filing on paper, e-filing is an option. The form is due 15 days after a transaction and there’s no charge for the e-file option. Businesses that file electronically get an automatic acknowledgment of receipt when they file.

The IRS also reminds businesses that they can “batch file” their reports, which is especially helpful to those required to file many forms.

How can we set up an electronic account? 

To file Form 8300 electronically, a business must set up an account with FinCEN’s Bank Secrecy Act E-Filing System. For more information, visit: https://bit.ly/3fMMLAu  Interested businesses can also call the BSA E-Filing Help Desk at 866-346-9478 (Monday through Friday from 8 am to 6 pm EST). Contact us with any questions or for assistance.

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Internal control questionnaires: How to see the complete picture

Businesses rely on internal controls to help ensure the accuracy and integrity of their financial statements, as well as prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Given their importance, internal controls are a key area of focus for internal and external auditors.

Many auditors use detailed internal control questionnaires to help evaluate the internal control environment — and ensure a comprehensive assessment. Although some audit teams still use paper-based questionnaires, many now prefer an electronic format. Here’s an overview of the types of questions that may be included and how the questionnaire may be used during an audit.

The basics

The contents of internal control questionnaires vary from one audit firm to the next. They also may be customized for a particular industry or business. Most include general questions pertaining to the company’s mission, control environment and compliance situation. There also may be sections dedicated to mission-critical or fraud-prone elements of the company’s operations, such as:

  • Accounts receivable,
  • Inventory,
  • Property, plant and equipment,
  • Intellectual property (such as patents, copyrights and customer lists),
  • Trade payables,
  • Related party transactions, and
  • Payroll.

Questionnaires usually don’t take long to complete, because most questions are closed-ended, requiring only yes-or-no answers. For example, a question might ask: Is a physical inventory count conducted annually? However, there also may be space for open-ended responses. For instance, a question might ask for a list of controls that limit physical access to the company’s inventory.

3 approaches

Internal control questionnaires are generally administered using one the following three approaches:

1. Completion by company personnel. Here, management completes the questionnaire independently. The audit team might request the company’s organization chart to ensure that the appropriate individuals are selected to participate. Auditors also might conduct preliminary interviews to confirm their selections before assigning the questionnaire.

2. Completion by the auditor based on inquiry. Under this approach, the auditor meets with company personnel to discuss a particular element of the internal control environment. Then the auditor completes the relevant section of the questionnaire and asks the people who were interviewed to review and validate the responses.

3. Completion by the auditor after testing. Here, the auditor completes the questionnaire after observing and testing the internal control environment. Once auditors complete the questionnaire, they typically ask management to review and validate the responses.

Enhanced understanding

The purpose of the internal control questionnaire is to help the audit team assess your company’s internal control system. Coupled with the audit team’s training, expertise and analysis, the questionnaire can help produce accurate, insightful audit reports. The insight gained from the questionnaire also can add value to your business by revealing holes in the control system that may need to be patched to prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Contact us for more information.

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Is an LLC the right choice for your small business?

Perhaps you operate your small business as a sole proprietorship and want to form a limited liability company (LLC) to protect your assets. Or maybe you are launching a new business and want to know your options for setting it up. Here are the basics of operating as an LLC and why it might be appropriate for your business.

An LLC is somewhat of a hybrid entity because it can be structured to resemble a corporation for owner liability purposes and a partnership for federal tax purposes. This duality may provide the owners with the best of both worlds. 

Personal asset protection

Like the shareholders of a corporation, the owners of an LLC (called “members” rather than shareholders or partners) generally aren’t liable for the debts of the business except to the extent of their investment. Thus, the owners can operate the business with the security of knowing that their personal assets are protected from the entity’s creditors. This protection is far greater than that afforded by partnerships. In a partnership, the general partners are personally liable for the debts of the business. Even limited partners, if they actively participate in managing the business, can have personal liability.

Tax implications

The owners of an LLC can elect under the “check-the-box” rules to have the entity treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes. This can provide a number of important benefits to the owners. For example, partnership earnings aren’t subject to an entity-level tax. Instead, they “flow through” to the owners, in proportion to the owners’ respective interests in profits, and are reported on the owners’ individual returns and are taxed only once.

To the extent the income passed through to you is qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the Code Section 199A pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations. In addition, since you’re actively managing the business, you can deduct on your individual tax return your ratable shares of any losses the business generates. This, in effect, allows you to shelter other income that you and your spouse may have.

An LLC that’s taxable as a partnership can provide special allocations of tax benefits to specific partners. This can be an important reason for using an LLC over an S corporation (a form of business that provides tax treatment that’s similar to a partnership). Another reason for using an LLC over an S corporation is that LLCs aren’t subject to the restrictions the federal tax code imposes on S corporations regarding the number of owners and the types of ownership interests that may be issued. 

Review your situation

In summary, an LLC can give you corporate-like protection from creditors while providing the benefits of taxation as a partnership. For these reasons, you should consider operating your business as an LLC. Contact us to discuss in more detail how an LLC might benefit you and the other owners.

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Possible tax consequences of guaranteeing a loan to your corporation

What if you decide to, or are asked to, guarantee a loan to your corporation? Before agreeing to act as a guarantor, endorser or indemnitor of a debt obligation of your closely held corporation, be aware of the possible tax consequences. If your corporation defaults on the loan and you’re required to pay principal or interest under the guarantee agreement, you don’t want to be blindsided.

Business vs. nonbusiness

If you’re compelled to make good on the obligation, the payment of principal or interest in discharge of the obligation generally results in a bad debt deduction. This may be either a business or a nonbusiness bad debt deduction. If it’s a business bad debt, it’s deductible against ordinary income. A business bad debt can be either totally or partly worthless. If it’s a nonbusiness bad debt, it’s deductible as a short-term capital loss, which is subject to certain limitations on deductions of capital losses. A nonbusiness bad debt is deductible only if it’s totally worthless.

In order to be treated as a business bad debt, the guarantee must be closely related to your trade or business. If the reason for guaranteeing the corporation loan is to protect your job, the guarantee is considered closely related to your trade or business as an employee. But employment must be the dominant motive. If your annual salary exceeds your investment in the corporation, this tends to show that the dominant motive for the guarantee was to protect your job. On the other hand, if your investment in the corporation substantially exceeds your annual salary, that’s evidence that the guarantee was primarily to protect your investment rather than your job.

Except in the case of job guarantees, it may be difficult to show the guarantee was closely related to your trade or business. You’d have to show that the guarantee was related to your business as a promoter, or that the guarantee was related to some other trade or business separately carried on by you.

If the reason for guaranteeing your corporation’s loan isn’t closely related to your trade or business and you’re required to pay off the loan, you can take a nonbusiness bad debt deduction if you show that your reason for the guarantee was to protect your investment, or you entered the guarantee transaction with a profit motive.

In addition to satisfying the above requirements, a business or nonbusiness bad debt is deductible only if:

  • You have a legal duty to make the guaranty payment, although there’s no requirement that a legal action be brought against you;
  • The guaranty agreement was entered into before the debt becomes worthless; and
  • You received reasonable consideration (not necessarily cash or property) for entering into the guaranty agreement.

Any payment you make on a loan you guaranteed is deductible as a bad debt in the year you make it, unless the agreement (or local law) provides for a right of subrogation against the corporation. If you have this right, or some other right to demand payment from the corporation, you can’t take a bad debt deduction until the rights become partly or totally worthless.

These are only a few of the possible tax consequences of guaranteeing a loan to your closely held corporation. Contact us to learn all the implications in your situation.

© 2021

Is an LLC the right choice for your small business?

Perhaps you operate your small business as a sole proprietorship and want to form a limited liability company (LLC) to protect your assets. Or maybe you are launching a new business and want to know your options for setting it up. Here are the basics of operating as an LLC and why it might be appropriate for your business.

An LLC is somewhat of a hybrid entity because it can be structured to resemble a corporation for owner liability purposes and a partnership for federal tax purposes. This duality may provide the owners with the best of both worlds. 

Personal asset protection

Like the shareholders of a corporation, the owners of an LLC (called “members” rather than shareholders or partners) generally aren’t liable for the debts of the business except to the extent of their investment. Thus, the owners can operate the business with the security of knowing that their personal assets are protected from the entity’s creditors. This protection is far greater than that afforded by partnerships. In a partnership, the general partners are personally liable for the debts of the business. Even limited partners, if they actively participate in managing the business, can have personal liability.

Tax implications

The owners of an LLC can elect under the “check-the-box” rules to have the entity treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes. This can provide a number of important benefits to the owners. For example, partnership earnings aren’t subject to an entity-level tax. Instead, they “flow through” to the owners, in proportion to the owners’ respective interests in profits, and are reported on the owners’ individual returns and are taxed only once.

To the extent the income passed through to you is qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the Code Section 199A pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations. In addition, since you’re actively managing the business, you can deduct on your individual tax return your ratable shares of any losses the business generates. This, in effect, allows you to shelter other income that you and your spouse may have.

An LLC that’s taxable as a partnership can provide special allocations of tax benefits to specific partners. This can be an important reason for using an LLC over an S corporation (a form of business that provides tax treatment that’s similar to a partnership). Another reason for using an LLC over an S corporation is that LLCs aren’t subject to the restrictions the federal tax code imposes on S corporations regarding the number of owners and the types of ownership interests that may be issued. 

Review your situation

In summary, an LLC can give you corporate-like protection from creditors while providing the benefits of taxation as a partnership. For these reasons, you should consider operating your business as an LLC. Contact us to discuss in more detail how an LLC might benefit you and the other owners.

© 2021

Private companies: Are you on track to meet the 2022 deadline for the updated lease standard?

Updated accounting rules for long-term leases took effect in 2019 for public companies. Now, after several deferrals by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), private companies and private not-for-profit entities must follow suit, starting in fiscal year 2022. The updated guidance requires these organizations to report — for the first time — the full magnitude of their long-term lease obligations on the balance sheet. Here are the details.

Temporary reprieves

In 2019, the FASB deferred Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842), to 2021 for private entities. Then, in 2020, the FASB granted another extension to the effective date of the updated leases standard for private firms, because of disruptions to normal business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, the changes for private entities will apply to annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2021, and to interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2022. Early adoption is also permitted.

Most private organizations have welcomed these deferrals. Implementing the requisite changes to your organization’s accounting practices and systems can be time-consuming and costly, depending on its size, as well as the nature and volume of its leasing arrangements.

Changing rules

The accounting rules that currently apply to private entities require them to record lease obligations on their balance sheets only if the arrangements are considered financing transactions. Few arrangements are recorded, because accounting rules give lessees leeway to arrange the agreements in a way that they can be treated as simple rentals for financial reporting purposes. If an obligation isn’t recorded on a balance sheet, it makes a business look like it is less leveraged than it really is.

The updated guidance calls for major changes to current accounting practices for leases with terms of a year or longer. In a nutshell, ASU 2016-02 requires lessees to recognize on their balance sheets the assets and liabilities associated with all long-term rentals of machines, equipment, vehicles and real estate. The updated guidance also requires additional disclosures about the amount, timing and uncertainty of cash flows related to leases.

Most existing arrangements that currently are reported as leases will continue to be reported as leases under the updated guidance. In addition, the new definition is expected to encompass many more types of arrangements that aren’t reported as leases under current practice. Some of these arrangements may not be readily apparent, for example, if they’re embedded in service contracts or contracts with third-party manufacturers.

Act now

You can’t afford to wait until year end to adopt the updated guidance for long-term leases. Many public companies found that the implementation process took significantly more time and effort than they initially expected. Contact us to help evaluate which of your contracts must be reported as lease obligations under the new rules.

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Paying Yourself as a Business Owner

Owning a business is challenging and hard work, so you’ll want to compensate yourself appropriately. How you do that depends on the structure of your business.

SOLE PROPRIETORS (SOLE PROP)

As self-employed taxpayers, sole props aren’t employees and aren’t paid a salary. Therefore, when sole props need to take money from the business to pay themselves, they take draws.

Draws aren’t taxed when they are taken. Instead, because a sole prop is a pass-through entity, all of the business’s income is taxed on the owner’s tax return using Schedule C. And self-employment tatx will be calculated on Schedule SE.

PARTNERSHIPS

Like sole-props, partners in a partnership aren’t employees. Profits from the business are distributed per the partnership agreement. These are called distributions or guaranteed payments.

Partnerships are another type of pass-through entity. Partners receive a Schedule K-1 that reports their share of the partnership’s income. And partners pay income and self-employment tax on their individual tax returns similarly to sole props.

LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANIES (LLC)

If an LLC has only one owner, called a member, it’s treated the same as a sole prop for tax purposes. If there are two or more members, it’s treated as a partnership for tax purposes by default. Regardless of the number of members, any LLC can elect to be taxed as an S-corporation by filing Form 8832.

S-CORPORATIONS

As an S-corp owner, you are also an employee and will need to be paid a reasonable salary. What’s considered reasonable depends on many factors including your industry, responsibilities and experience. This means the owner and the S-corp must submit payroll taxes. The owner reports these W-2 wages on their tax return, and the remaining business profit flows through to the owner’s tax return via a Schedule K-1. However, since the IRS doesn’t consider the owner of an S-corp to be self-employed, these earnings aren’t subject to self-employment tax.

STATE TAXES

State income taxes vary so consult with your tax professional about how your company’s profits will be taxed locally.

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.

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