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.

© 2021

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

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

The new Form 1099-NEC and the revised 1099-MISC are due to recipients soon

There’s a new IRS form for business taxpayers that pay or receive certain types of nonemployee compensation and it must be furnished to most recipients by February 1, 2021. After sending the forms to recipients, taxpayers must file the forms with the IRS by March 1 (March 31 if filing electronically).

The requirement begins with forms for tax year 2020. Payers must complete Form 1099-NEC, “Nonemployee Compensation,” to report any payment of $600 or more to a recipient. February 1 is also the deadline for furnishing Form 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to report certain other payments to recipients.

If your business is using Form 1099-MISC to report amounts in box 8, “substitute payments in lieu of dividends or interest,” or box 10, “gross proceeds paid to an attorney,” there’s an exception to the regular due date. Those forms are due to recipients by February 16, 2021.

1099-MISC changes

Before the 2020 tax year, Form 1099-MISC was filed to report payments totaling at least $600 in a calendar year for services performed in a trade or business by someone who isn’t treated as an employee (in other words, an independent contractor). These payments are referred to as nonemployee compensation (NEC) and the payment amount was reported in box 7.

Form 1099-NEC was introduced to alleviate the confusion caused by separate deadlines for Form 1099-MISC that reported NEC in box 7 and all other Form 1099-MISC for paper filers and electronic filers.

Payers of nonemployee compensation now use Form 1099-NEC to report those payments.

Generally, payers must file Form 1099-NEC by January 31. But for 2020 tax returns, the due date is February 1, 2021, because January 31, 2021, is on a Sunday. There’s no automatic 30-day extension to file Form 1099-NEC. However, an extension to file may be available under certain hardship conditions. 

When to file 1099-NEC

If the following four conditions are met, you must generally report payments as nonemployee compensation:

  • You made a payment to someone who isn’t your employee,
  • You made a payment for services in the course of your trade or business,
  • You made a payment to an individual, partnership, estate, or, in some cases, a corporation, and
  • You made payments to a recipient of at least $600 during the year.

We can help

If you have questions about filing Form 1099-NEC, Form 1099-MISC or any tax forms, contact us. We can assist you in staying in compliance with all rules.

© 2021

The QBI deduction basics and a year-end tax tip that might help you qualify

If you own a business, you may wonder if you’re eligible to take the qualified business income (QBI) deduction. Sometimes this is referred to as the pass-through deduction or the Section 199A deduction.

The QBI deduction:

  • Is available to owners of sole proprietorships, single member limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships, and S corporations, as well as trusts and estates.
  • Is intended to reduce the tax rate on QBI to a rate that’s closer to the corporate tax rate.
  • Is taken “below the line.” In other words, it reduces your taxable income but not your adjusted gross income.
  • Is available regardless of whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction.

Taxpayers other than corporations may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20% of their QBI. For 2020, if taxable income exceeds $163,300 for single taxpayers, or $326,600 for a married couple filing jointly, the QBI deduction may be limited based on different scenarios. These include whether the taxpayer is engaged in a service-type of trade or business (such as law, accounting, health, or consulting), the amount of W-2 wages paid by the trade or business, and/or the unadjusted basis of qualified property (such as machinery and equipment) held by the trade or business.

The limitations are phased in. For example, the phase-in for 2020 applies to single filers with taxable income between $163,300 and $213,300 and joint filers with taxable income between $326,600 and $426,600.

For tax years beginning in 2021, the inflation-adjusted threshold amounts will be $164,900 for single taxpayers, and $329,800 for married couples filing jointly.

Year-end planning tip

Some taxpayers may be able to achieve significant savings with respect to this deduction, by deferring income or accelerating deductions at year end so that they come under the dollar thresholds (or be subject to a smaller phaseout of the deduction) for 2020. Depending on your business model, you also may be able to increase the deduction by increasing W-2 wages before year end. The rules are quite complex, so contact us with questions and consult with us before taking steps.

© 2020

Year-end SWOT analysis can uncover risks

As your company plans for the coming year, management should assess your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A SWOT analysis identifies what you’re doing right (and wrong) and what outside forces could impact performance in a positive (or negative) manner. A current assessment may be particularly insightful, because market conditions have changed significantly during the year — and some changes may be permanent.

Inventorying strengths and weaknesses

Start your analysis by identifying internal strengths and weaknesses keeping in mind the customer’s perspective. Strengths represent potential areas for boosting revenues and building value, including core competencies and competitive advantages. Examples might include a strong brand or an exceptional sales team.

It’s important to unearth the source of each strength. When strengths are largely tied to people, rather than the business itself, consider what might happen if a key person suddenly left the business. To offset key person risks, consider purchasing life insurance policies on key people, initiating noncompete agreements and implementing a formal succession plan.

Alternatively, weaknesses represent potential risks and should be minimized or eliminated. They might include low employee morale, weak internal controls, unreliable quality or a location with poor accessibility. Often weaknesses are evaluated relative to the company’s competitors.

Anticipating opportunities and threats

The next part of a SWOT analysis looks externally at what’s happening in the industry, economy and regulatory environment. Opportunities are favorable external conditions that could increase revenues and value if the company acts on them before its competitors do.

Threats are unfavorable conditions that might prevent your company from achieving its goals. They might come from the economy, technological changes, competition and government regulations, including COVID-19-related operating restrictions. The idea is to watch for and minimize existing and potential threats.

Think like an auditor

During a financial statement audit, your accountant conducts a risk assessment. That assessment can provide a meaningful starting point for your SWOT analysis. Contact us for more information.

© 2020

Small businesses: Cash in on depreciation tax savers

As we approach the end of the year, it’s a good time to think about whether your business needs to buy business equipment and other depreciable property. If so, you may benefit from the Section 179 depreciation tax deduction for business property. The election provides a tax windfall to businesses, enabling them to claim immediate deductions for qualified assets, instead of taking depreciation deductions over time.

Even better, the Sec. 179 deduction isn’t the only avenue for immediate tax write-offs for qualified assets. Under the 100% bonus depreciation tax break, the entire cost of eligible assets placed in service in 2020 can be written off this year.

But to benefit for this tax year, you need to buy and place qualifying assets in service by December 31.

What qualifies?

The Sec. 179 deduction applies to tangible personal property such as machinery and equipment purchased for use in a trade or business, and, if the taxpayer elects, qualified real property. It’s generally available on a tax year basis and is subject to a dollar limit.

The annual deduction limit is $1.04 million for tax years beginning in 2020, subject to a phaseout rule. Under the rule, the deduction is phased out (reduced) if more than a specified amount of qualifying property is placed in service during the tax year. The amount is $2.59 million for tax years beginning in 2020. (Note: Different rules apply to heavy SUVs.)

There’s also a taxable income limit. If your taxable business income is less than the dollar limit for that year, the amount for which you can make the election is limited to that taxable income. However, any amount you can’t immediately deduct is carried forward and can be deducted in later years (to the extent permitted by the applicable dollar limit, the phaseout rule, and the taxable income limit).

In addition to significantly increasing the Sec. 179 deduction, the TCJA also expanded the definition of qualifying assets to include depreciable tangible personal property used mainly in the furnishing of lodging, such as furniture and appliances.

The TCJA also expanded the definition of qualified real property to include qualified improvement property and some improvements to nonresidential real property, such as roofs; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems.

What about bonus depreciation?

With bonus depreciation, businesses are allowed to deduct 100% of the cost of certain assets in the first year, rather than capitalize them on their balance sheets and gradually depreciate them. (Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, you could deduct only 50% of the cost of qualified new property.)

This tax break applies to qualifying assets placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (by December 31, 2023, for certain assets with longer production periods and for aircraft). After that, the bonus depreciation percentage is reduced by 20% per year, until it’s fully phased out after 2026 (or after 2027 for certain assets described above).

Bonus depreciation is allowed for both new and used qualifying assets, which include most categories of tangible depreciable assets other than real estate.

Important: When both 100% first-year bonus depreciation and the Sec. 179 deduction are available for the same asset, it’s generally more advantageous to claim 100% bonus depreciation, because there are no limitations on it.

Need assistance?

These favorable depreciation deductions may deliver tax-saving benefits to your business on your 2020 return. Contact us if you have questions, or you want more information about how your business can maximize the deductions.

© 2020