Numerous tax limits affecting businesses have increased for 2020

An array of tax-related limits that affect businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have increased for 2020. Here are some that may be important to you and your business.

Social Security tax

The amount of employees’ earnings that are subject to Social Security tax is capped for 2020 at $137,700 (up from $132,900 for 2019).

Deductions

  • Section 179 expensing:
    • Limit: $1.04 million (up from $1.02 million for 2019)
    • Phaseout: $2.59 million (up from $2.55 million)
  • Income-based phase-out for certain limits on the Sec. 199A qualified business income deduction begins at:
    • Married filing jointly: $326,600 (up from $321,400)
    • Married filing separately: $163,300 (up from $160,725)
    • Other filers: $163,300 (up from $160,700)

Retirement plans

  • Employee contributions to 401(k) plans: $19,500 (up from $19,000)
  • Catch-up contributions to 401(k) plans: $6,500 (up from $6,000)
  • Employee contributions to SIMPLEs: $13,500 (up from $13,000)
  • Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs: $3,000 (no change)
  • Combined employer/employee contributions to defined contribution plans (not including catch-ups): $57,000 (up from $56,000)
  • Maximum compensation used to determine contributions: $285,000 (up from $280,000)
  • Annual benefit for defined benefit plans: $230,000 (up from $225,000)
  • Compensation defining a highly compensated employee: $130,000 (up from $125,000)
  • Compensation defining a “key” employee: $185,000 (up from $180,000)

Other employee benefits

  • Qualified transportation fringe-benefits employee income exclusion: $270 per month (up from $265)
  • Health Savings Account contributions:
    • Individual coverage: $3,550 (up from $3,500)
    • Family coverage: $7,100 (up from $7,000)
    • Catch-up contribution: $1,000 (no change)
  • Flexible Spending Account contributions:
    • Health care: $2,750 (no change)
    • Dependent care: $5,000 (no change)

These are only some of the tax limits that may affect your business and additional rules may apply. If you have questions, please contact us.

© 2019

Accounting for indirect job costs the right way

Construction contractors, professional service firms, specialty manufacturers and other companies that work on large projects often struggle with job costing. Full cost allocations are essential to gauging whether you’re making money on each job. But some companies simply lump indirect job costs into overhead or fail to use meaningful cost drivers, thereby skewing their profit reports. Here’s what you should know to avoid this pitfall and get a clearer picture of your company’s profitability.

Indirect job costs vs. overhead costs

The Financial Accounting Standards Board defines job costs as “the sum of the applicable expenditures and charges directly or indirectly incurred in bringing [a job] to its existing condition and location.” These may include direct costs, such as labor and materials, and indirect costs. The latter can be divided into two groups:

Costs identified with more than one job. These typically consist of benefits for frontline workers, workers’ compensation insurance and insurance to minimize the company’s liability risks. This category also may include company vehicle costs, such as gasoline, maintenance and repair expenses, and equipment depreciation.

Costs that are only indirectly related to jobs. Common examples of these indirect costs include project manager salaries and benefits, cell phone bills, payroll service fees, and vehicle tracking and monitoring systems.

Indirect costs and overhead are often confused. The term “overhead” refers to costs related to running your company that you can’t attribute directly or indirectly to a project. They tend to be consistent over time. It’s important to not include overhead costs, such as office rent, when identifying indirect costs.

Using a cost driver

You can systematically allocate indirect job costs using a “cost driver.” Two common cost drivers are labor hours and dollars.

For example, suppose liability insurance for an engineering firm costs $100,000 annually. That amount divided by 12 months is $8,333 a month. To follow the allocation process through to completion, you would tabulate the billable hours for each job on a monthly schedule. Then, perhaps with your accountant’s help, you could divvy up that $8,333 each month to put those dollars onto that month’s active jobs pro rata. Now that $100,000 is no longer overhead — those dollars are indirect job costs.

Once indirect costs are allocated and included in the reports given to managers tracking the progress of cash outflows to their jobs, your company’s management team can discuss how to avert upcoming cash flow problems. This can buy you some time to make corrections.

Monitoring the bottom line

We can find meaningful methods of allocating job costs to help evaluate your company’s profitability. Contact us for more information.

© 2020

Cents-per-mile rate for business miles decreases slightly for 2020

This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business decreased by one-half cent, to 57.5 cents per mile. As a result, you might claim a lower deduction for vehicle-related expense for 2020 than you can for 2019.

Calculating your deduction

Businesses can generally 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 depreciation write-offs on vehicles are subject to certain limits that don’t apply to other types of business assets.

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

Using the mileage rate is also popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal vehicles. Such reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who drive their personal vehicles extensively for business purposes. Why? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 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, the reimbursements could be considered taxable wages to the employees.

The rate for 2020

Beginning on January 1, 2020, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 57.5 cents per mile. It was 58 cents for 2019 and 54.5 cents for 2018.

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. Occasionally, if there’s a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the mileage rate midyear.

Factors to consider

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 2020 — or claiming them on your 2019 income tax return.

© 2019

What are the responsibilities of an audit committee?

Before you jump headfirst into the year-end financial reporting process, review the role independent audit committees play in providing investors and markets with high-quality, reliable financial information.

Recent SEC statement

Under Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations, all public companies must have an independent audit committee or have the full board of directors act as the audit committee. Likewise, many not-for-profit entities and large private companies have assembled audit committees to oversee the financial reporting process and help reduce the risk of financial misstatement.

SEC leadership recently issued a joint statement. It highlights the following key areas of focus for audit committees:

Tone at the top. Audit committees set the tone for the company’s financial reporting and the relationship with the independent auditor. The SEC statement encourages audit committees to proactively communicate with auditors and understand how they resolve issues.

Auditor independence. This is a shared responsibility of the audit firm, the issuer and its audit committee. The SEC statement suggests that audit committees consider corporate changes or other events that could affect independence.

U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). The audit committee is charged with helping management comply with existing GAAP. The SEC statement reminds audit committees to consider major new accounting standards that have been adopted in recent years, including the new revenue recognition, lease and credit loss rules.

Internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR). Audit committees are responsible for overseeing ICFR. The SEC statement stresses the importance of following up on the remediation of any material weaknesses.

Communications with independent auditors. Audit committees must openly communicate with external auditors throughout the audit reporting process. The SEC statement recommends discussing such issues as accounting policies and practices, estimates and significant unusual transactions.

Non-GAAP measures. These metrics, when used appropriately in combination with GAAP measures, can provide decision-useful information to investors. The SEC statement suggests that audit committees learn how management uses these metrics to evaluate performance — and whether they’re consistently prepared and presented from period to period.

Reference rate reform. Discontinuation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) may present a material risk for companies with contracts that reference LIBOR. The SEC statement encourages audit committees to understand management’s plan to address the risks associated with reference rate reform.

Critical audit matters (CAMs). These are material accounts or disclosures communicated to the audit committee that require the auditor to make a subjective decision or use complex judgment. Beginning in 2019, auditors are required to include CAMs for certain public companies in the auditor’s report. The SEC statement reminds audit committees to understand the nature of each CAM, including the auditor’s basis for determining it and how it will be described in the auditor’s report.

Let’s work together

Collaboration between the audit committee and external auditors is critical, regardless of whether a company is publicly traded or privately held. Contact us with any questions you have regarding the financial reporting process.

© 2020

New rules will soon require employers to annually disclose retirement income to employees

As you’ve probably heard, a new law was recently passed with a wide range of retirement plan changes for employers and individuals. One of the provisions of the SECURE Act involves a new requirement for employers that sponsor tax-favored defined contribution retirement plans that are subject to ERISA.

Specifically, the law will require that the benefit statements sent to plan participants include a lifetime income disclosure at least once during any 12-month period. The disclosure will need to illustrate the monthly payments that an employee would receive if the total account balance were used to provide lifetime income streams, including a single life annuity and a qualified joint and survivor annuity for the participant and the participant’s surviving spouse.

Background information

Under ERISA, a defined contribution plan administrator is required to provide benefit statements to participants. Depending on the situation, these statements must be provided quarterly, annually or upon written request. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking providing rules that would have required benefit statements provided to defined contribution plan participants to include an estimated lifetime income stream of payments based on the participant’s account balance.

Some employers began providing this information in these statements — even though it wasn’t required.

But in the near future, employers will have to begin providing information to their employees about lifetime income streams.

Effective date

Fortunately, the effective date of the requirement has been delayed until after the DOL issues guidance. It won’t go into effect until 12 months after the DOL issues a final rule. The law also directs the DOL to develop a model disclosure.

Plan fiduciaries, plan sponsors, or others won’t have liability under ERISA solely because they provided the lifetime income stream equivalents, so long as the equivalents are derived in accordance with the assumptions and guidance and that they include the explanations contained in the model disclosure.

Stay tuned

Critics of the new rules argue the required disclosures will lead to confusion among participants and they question how employers will arrive at the income projections. For now, employers have to wait for the DOL to act. We’ll update you when that happens. Contact us if you have questions about this requirement or other provisions in the SECURE Act.

© 2019

Benchmarking financial performance

You already may have reviewed a preliminary draft of your company’s year-end financial statements. But without a frame of reference, they don’t mean much. That’s why it’s important to compare your company’s performance over time and against competitors.

Conduct a well-rounded evaluation

A comprehensive benchmarking study requires calculating ratios that gauge the following five elements:

1. Growth. Business size is usually stated in terms of annual revenue, total assets or market share. Is your company expanding or contracting? An example of a ratio that targets changes in your company’s size would be its year-over-year increase in market share. Companies generally want to grow, but there may be strategic reasons to downsize and refocus on core operations.

2. Liquidity. Working capital ratios help assess how easily assets can be converted into cash and whether current assets are sufficient to cover current liabilities. For example, the acid-test ratio compares the most liquid current assets (cash and receivables) to current obligations (such as payables, accrued expenses, short-term loans and current portions of long-term debt).

3. Profitability. This evaluates whether the business is making money from operations — before considering changes in working capital accounts, investments in capital expenditures and financing activities. Public companies tend to focus on earnings per share. But smaller ones tend to be more interested in ratios that evaluate earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. EBITDA ratios allow for comparisons between companies with different capital structures, tax strategies and business types.

4. Turnover. Such ratios as total asset turnover (revenue divided by total assets) or inventory turnover (cost of sales divided by inventory) show how well the company manages its assets. These ratios also can be stated in terms of average days outstanding.

5. Leverage. Identify how the company finances its operations — through debt or equity. There are pros and cons of both. For example, within limits, debt financing is generally less expensive and interest on debt may be tax deductible. Equity financing, however, can help preserve cash flow for growing the business because equity investors often don’t require an annual return on investment.

Seek input from the pros

Most companies use an outside accounting firm to compile, review or audit their preliminary year-end financial results. This is a prime opportunity to conduct a comprehensive benchmarking study. We can help take your historical financial statements to the next level by identifying comparable companies, providing access to industry benchmarking data and recommending ways to improve performance in 2020 and beyond.

© 2020

New law helps businesses make their employees’ retirement secure

A significant law was recently passed that adds tax breaks and makes changes to employer-provided retirement plans. If your small business has a current plan for employees or if you’re thinking about adding one, you should familiarize yourself with the new rules.

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) was signed into law on December 20, 2019 as part of a larger spending bill. Here are three provisions of interest to small businesses.

  1. Employers that are unrelated will be able to join together to create one retirement plan. Beginning in 2021, new rules will make it easier to create and maintain a multiple employer plan (MEP). A MEP is a single plan operated by two or more unrelated employers. But there were barriers that made it difficult to setting up and running these plans. Soon, there will be increased opportunities for small employers to join together to receive better investment results, while allowing for less expensive and more efficient management services.
  2. There’s an increased tax credit for small employer retirement plan startup costs. If you want to set up a retirement plan, but haven’t gotten around to it yet, new rules increase the tax credit for retirement plan start-up costs to make it more affordable for small businesses to set them up. Starting in 2020, the credit is increased by changing the calculation of the flat dollar amount limit to: The greater of $500, or the lesser of: a) $250 multiplied by the number of non-highly compensated employees of the eligible employer who are eligible to participate in the plan, or b) $5,000.
  3. There’s a new small employer automatic plan enrollment tax credit. Not surprisingly, when employers automatically enroll employees in retirement plans, there is more participation and higher retirement savings. Beginning in 2020, there’s a new tax credit of up to $500 per year to employers to defray start-up costs for new 401(k) plans and SIMPLE IRA plans that include automatic enrollment. This credit is on top of an existing plan start-up credit described above and is available for three years. It is also available to employers who convert an existing plan to a plan with automatic enrollment.

These are only some of the retirement plan provisions in the SECURE Act. There have also been changes to the auto enrollment safe harbor cap, nondiscrimination rules, new rules that allow certain part-timers to participate in 401(k) plans, increased penalties for failing to file retirement plan returns and more. Contact us to learn more about your situation.

© 2019

Wayfair revisited — It’s time to review your sales tax obligations

In its 2018 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld South Dakota’s “economic nexus” statute, expanding the power of states to collect sales tax from remote sellers. Today, nearly every state with a sales tax has enacted a similar law, so if your company does business across state lines, it’s a good idea to reexamine your sales tax obligations.

What’s nexus?

A state is constitutionally prohibited from taxing business activities unless those activities have a substantial “nexus,” or connection, with the state. Before Wayfair, simply selling to customers in a state wasn’t enough to establish nexus. The business also had to have a physical presence in the state, such as offices, retail stores, manufacturing or distribution facilities, or sales reps.

In Wayfair, the Supreme Court ruled that a business could establish nexus through economic or virtual contacts with a state, even if it didn’t have a physical presence. The Court didn’t create a bright-line test for determining whether contacts are “substantial,” but found that the thresholds established by South Dakota’s law are sufficient: Out-of-state businesses must collect and remit South Dakota sales taxes if, in the current or previous calendar year, they have 1) more than $100,000 in gross sales of products or services delivered into the state, or 2) 200 or more separate transactions for the delivery of goods or services into the state.

Nexus steps

The vast majority of states now have economic nexus laws, although the specifics vary:Many states adopted the same sales and transaction thresholds accepted in Wayfair, but a number of states apply different thresholds. And some chose not to impose transaction thresholds, which many view as unfair to smaller sellers (an example of a threshold might be 200 sales of $5 each would create nexus).

If your business makes online, telephone or mail-order sales in states where it lacks a physical presence, it’s critical to find out whether those states have economic nexus laws and determine whether your activities are sufficient to trigger them. If you have nexus with a state, you’ll need to register with the state and collect state and applicable local taxes on your taxable sales there. Even if some or all of your sales are tax-exempt, you’ll need to secure exemption certifications for each jurisdiction where you do business. Alternatively, you might decide to reduce or eliminate your activities in a state if the benefits don’t justify the compliance costs.

Need help?

Note: If you make sales through a “marketplace facilitator,” such as Amazon or Ebay, be aware that an increasing number of states have passed laws that require such providers to collect taxes on sales they facilitate for vendors using their platforms.

If you need assistance in setting up processes to collect sales tax or you have questions about your responsibilities, contact us.

© 2019

Nonprofits: Are you ready for the new contribution guidance?

When the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) updated its rules for recognizing revenue from contracts in 2014, it only added to the confusion that nonprofits already had about accounting for grants and similar contracts.

Fortunately, last year, the FASB provided some much-needed clarification with Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2018-08, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Clarifying the Scope and the Accounting Guidance for Contributions Received and Contributions Made. Calendar-year nonprofits must follow this guidance when preparing their 2019 year-end financial statements.

Complicated rules

Nonprofits traditionally have taken varying approaches when they:

  • Characterize grants and similar contracts as exchange transactions (also known as reciprocal transactions) or contributions (nonreciprocal transactions), and
  • Distinguish between conditional and unconditional contributions.

The FASB’s updated revenue recognition guidance — ASU 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers — eliminated some of the previous guidance for nonprofits and imposed extensive disclosure requirements that didn’t seem relevant to contributions. ASU 2018-08 clarifies matters by laying out rules that will help nonprofits determine whether a grant or similar contract is indeed a contribution — and, if so, when they should recognize the revenue associated with it.

Exchange vs. contribution

To determine how to treat a grant or similar contract, you must assess whether the “provider” receives commensurate value for the assets it’s transferring. If it does, you should treat the grant or contract as an exchange transaction. ASU 2018-08 stresses that the provider (the grantor or other party) in a transaction isn’t synonymous with the general public. So, indirect benefit to the public doesn’t represent commensurate value received. Execution of the provider’s mission or positive sentiment received from donating also doesn’t constitute commensurate value received.

What if the provider doesn’t receive commensurate value? You then must determine if the asset transfer is a payment from a third-party payer for an existing transaction between you and an identified customer (for example, payments made under Medicare or a Pell Grant). If it is such a payment, the transaction won’t be considered a contribution under the ASU, and other accounting guidance would apply. If it isn’t such a payment, the transaction is accounted for as a contribution.

Conditional terms

According to ASU 2018-08, a conditional contribution includes:

  • A barrier the nonprofit must overcome to receive the contribution, and
  • Either a right of return of assets transferred or a right of release of the promisor’s obligation to transfer assets.

Unconditional contributions are recognized when received. However, conditional contributions aren’t recognized until you overcome the barriers to entitlement.

Is there a barrier to overcome before your organization can receive a contribution? Consider the inclusion of a measurable performance-related barrier, limits on your nonprofit’s discretion over how to conduct an activity or a stipulation that relates to the purpose of the agreement (not including administrative tasks and trivial stipulations such as production of an annual report). Some indicators might prove more important than others, depending on circumstances. And no single indicator is determinative.

Net effect

As a result of the updated guidance, nonprofits will likely account for more grants and similar contracts as contributions than they did under the previous rules. Check with your CPA to determine what that means for your financial statements, loan covenants and other matters.

© 2019

Small Businesses: It may not be too late to cut your 2019 taxes

Don’t let the holiday rush keep you from taking some important steps to reduce your 2019 tax liability. You still have time to execute a few strategies, including:

1. Buying assets.Thinking about purchasing new or used heavy vehicles, heavy equipment, machinery or office equipment in the new year? Buy it and place it in service by December 31, and you can deduct 100% of the cost as bonus depreciation.

Although “qualified improvement property” (QIP) — generally, interior improvements to nonresidential real property — doesn’t qualify for bonus depreciation, it’s eligible for Sec. 179 immediate expensing. And QIP now includes roofs, HVAC, fire protection systems, alarm systems and security systems placed in service after the building was placed in service.

You can deduct as much as $1.02 million for QIP and other qualified assets placed in service before January 1, not to exceed your amount of taxable income from business activity. Once you place in service more than $2.55 million in qualifying property, the Sec. 179 deduction begins phasing out on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Additional limitations may apply.

2. Making the most of retirement plans. If you don’t already have a retirement plan, you still have time to establish a new plan, such as a SEP IRA, 401(k) or profit-sharing plans (the deadline for setting up a SIMPLE IRA to make contributions for 2019 tax purposes was October 1, unless your business started after that date). If your circumstances, such as your number of employees, have changed significantly, you also should consider starting a new plan before January 1.

Although retirement plans generally must be started before year-end, you usually can deduct any contributions you make for yourself and your employees until the due date of your tax return. You also might qualify for a tax credit to offset the costs of starting a plan.

3. Timing deductions and income. If your business operates on a cash basis, you can significantly affect your amount of taxable income by accelerating your deductions into 2019 and deferring income into 2020 (assuming you expect to be taxed at the same or a lower rate next year).

For example, you could put recurring expenses normally paid early in the year on your credit card before January 1 — that way, you can claim the deduction for 2019 even though you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2020. In certain circumstances, you also can prepay some expenses, such as rent or insurance and claim them in 2019.

As for income, wait until close to year-end to send out invoices to customers with reliable payment histories. Accrual-basis businesses can take a similar approach, holding off on the delivery of goods and services until next year.

Proceed with caution

Bear in mind that some of these tactics could adversely impact other factors affecting your tax liability, such as the qualified business income deduction. Contact us to make the most of your tax planning opportunities.

© 2019