Solomon & Hoover CPAs, PLLC Blog - Financial Guidance to Help Your Business Succeed

Solomon & Hoover CPAs, PLLC Blog

Financial Guidance to Help Your Business Succeed

Timing is everything: Your income and expenses

Posted by admin On November 28th

Timing is everything: Your income and expenses

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They say timing is everything. And, when it comes to year-end tax planning, this expression certainly holds true for income and expenses.

 

Know the basics

When you don’t expect to be subject to the alternative minimum tax this year or next, deferring income to next year and accelerating deductible expenses into the current year typically is wise. Why? Because it will defer tax, which is usually beneficial.

But when you expect to be in a higher tax bracket next year — or you expect tax rates to go up — the opposite approach may be beneficial: Accelerating income will allow more income to be taxed at your current year’s lower rate. And deferring expenses will make the deductions more valuable, because deductions save more tax when you’re subject to a higher tax rate.

Also, don’t forget to take into account the income-based itemized deduction reduction when considering timing strategies.

Identify the items

As you undertake effective timing, identify items that you may be able to control. Controllable income itemstypically include bonuses and consulting or other self-employment income. For, example, if you own a cash-basis business, you might send out December invoices early (to receive income in 2016) or late (to receive it in 2017).

Potentially controllable expenses usually include:

  • Business expenditures and certain retirement plan contributions, if self-employed,
  • State and local income taxes,
  • Property taxes, and
  • Charitable contributions.

Bear in mind that, generally, prepaid expenses can be deducted only in the year to which they apply.

Pick your partner

Timing is easier with a good dance partner. We can help you identify your controllable items and decide whether to defer or accelerate.

Take the worry out of business valuations

Posted by admin On November 28th

Take the worry out of business valuations

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Appraisals can inspire anxiety for many business owners. And it’s understandable why. You’re obviously not short on things to do, and valuations cost time and money. Nonetheless, there are some legitimate reasons to obtain an appraisal regularly or, at the very least, to familiarize yourself with the process so you’re ready when the time comes.

Strategic perspectives

Perhaps the most common purpose of a valuation is a prospective ownership transfer. Yet strategic investments (such as a new product or service line) can also greatly benefit from an accurate appraisal. As growth opportunities arise, business owners have only limited resources to pursue chosen strategies. A valuation can help plot the most likely route to success.

But hold on — you might say, why not simply rely on our tried-and-true projected financial statements for strategic planning? One reason is that projections ignore the time value of money because, by definition, they describe what’s going to happen given a set of circumstances. Thus, it can be difficult to compare detailed projections against other investments under consideration.

Valuators, however, can convert your financial statement projections into cash flow projections and then incorporate the time value of money into your decision making. For instance, in a net present value (NPV) analysis, an appraiser projects each alternative investment’s expected cash flows. Then he or she discounts each period’s projected cash flow to its present value, using a discount rate proportionate to its risk.

If the sum of these present values — the NPV — is greater than zero, the investment is likely worthwhile. When comparing alternatives, a higher NPV is generally better.

3 pillars of the process

Many business owners just don’t know what to expect from a valuation. To simplify matters, let’s look at three basic “pillars” of the appraisal process:

1. Purpose. There’s no such thing as a recreational valuation. Each one needs to have a specific purpose. This could be as clear-cut as an impending sale. Or perhaps an owner is divorcing his spouse and needs to determine the value of the business interest that’s includable in the marital estate.

In other cases, an appraisal may be driven by strategic planning. Have I grown the business enough to cash out now? Or how much further could we grow based on our current estimated value? The valuation’s purpose strongly affects how an appraiser will proceed.

2. Standard of value. Generally, business valuations are based on “fair market value” — the price at which property would change hands in a hypothetical transaction involving informed buyers and sellers not under duress to buy or sell. But some assignments call for a different standard of value.

For example, say you’re contemplating selling to a competitor. In this case, you might be best off getting an appraisal for the “strategic value” of your company — that is, the value to a particular investor, including buyer-specific synergies.

3. Basis of value. Private business interests typically are designated as either “controlling” or “minority” (nonmarketable). In other words, do you truly control your company or are you a noncontrolling owner?

Defining the appropriate basis of value isn’t always straightforward. Suppose a business is split equally between two partners. Because each owner has some control, stalemates could impair decision-making. An appraiser will need to definitively establish basis of value when selecting a valuation methodology and applying valuation discounts.

Unbiased perspective

Often, we all find it difficult to be objective about the things we hold close. There are few better examples of this than business owners and their companies. But a valuation can provide you with an unbiased, up-to-date perspective on your business that can help you make better decisions about its future.

 

 

Owner-employees face distinctive tax planning challenges

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Many business owners launch their companies from the front lines — as an employee. And it’s not uncommon for owners to stay in that role, working with their staff members to grow the business and guide its strategic direction. Come tax time, however, owner-employees face a variety of distinctive tax planning challenges.

Partnerships and LLCs

If you’re a partner in a partnership or a member of a limited liability company (LLC) that has elected to be disregarded or treated as a partnership, the entity’s income (and deductions) flow through to you. Trade or business income that flows through to you for income tax purposes likely will be subject to self-employment taxes — even if the income isn’t actually distributed to you.

You’ll also need to assess whether the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on earned income or the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) will apply. Doing so will involve complex determinations.

Corporations

For S corporations, even though the entity’s income flows through to you for income tax purposes, only income you receive as salary is subject to employment taxes and, if applicable, the 0.9% Medicare tax. To reduce these taxes, you may want to keep your salary relatively — but not unreasonably — low and increase your distributions of company income (which generally isn’t taxed at the corporate level or subject to employment taxes). The 3.8% NIIT may also apply.

In the case of C corporations, the entity’s income is taxed at the corporate level and only income you receive as salary is subject to employment taxes, and, if applicable, the 0.9% Medicare tax. Nevertheless, if the overall tax paid by both the corporation and you would be less, you may prefer to take more income as salary (which is deductible at the corporate level) as opposed to dividends (which aren’t deductible at the corporate level, are taxed at the shareholder level and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT).

Tread carefully, however. The IRS remains always on the lookout for misclassification of corporate payments to shareholder-employees. The penalties and additional tax liability can be costly.

The self-employed

If you’re self-employed (such as a sole proprietor, partner or LLC member treated as either of them), your business earnings are subject to self-employment taxes. This means your employment tax liability typically doubles, because you must pay both the employee and employer portions of these taxes. The employer portion of self-employment taxes paid (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) is deductible above the line.

As a self-employed taxpayer, you may benefit from other above-the-line deductions as well. You can deduct 100% of health insurance costs for yourself, your spouse and your dependents, up to your net income from the business. You also can deduct contributions to a retirement plan.

Above-the-line deductions are particularly valuable because they reduce your adjusted gross income and modified adjusted gross income, which are the triggers for certain additional taxes and phaseouts of many tax breaks.

Ideal strategies

Owning and working for your own company can be incredibly fulfilling. But tax planning is extra important when you take on this role. Please call us for help identifying the ideal strategies for your situation.

Tax calendar

Posted by admin On November 28th

Tax calendar

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October 17 Personal returns that received an automatic six-month extension must be filed today and any tax, interest, and penalties due must be paid.

  • Electing large partnerships that received an additional six-month extension must file their Forms 1065-B today.
  • If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in September for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.

October 31 — The third quarter Form 941 (“Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return”) is due today and any undeposited tax must be deposited. (If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return.) If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until November 10 to file the return.

  • If you have employees, a Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) deposit is due if the FUTA liability through September exceeds $500.

November 15 — If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in October for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.

December 15 — Calendar-year corporations must deposit the fourth installment of estimated income tax for 2015.

  • If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in November for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.

Have a pension? Be sure to plan carefully

Posted by admin On November 28th

Have a pension? Be sure to plan carefully

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The traditional pension may seem like a thing of the past. But many workers are still counting on payouts from one of these “defined benefit” plans in retirement. If you’re among this group, it’s important to start thinking now about how you’ll receive the money from your pension.

Making a choice

Some defined benefit plans give retirees a choice between receiving payouts in the form of a lump sum or an annuity. Taking a lump sum distribution allows you to invest the money as you please. Plus, if you manage and invest the funds wisely, you may be able to achieve better returns than those provided by an annuity.

On the other hand, if you’re concerned about the risks associated with investing your pension benefits (you could lose principal) — or don’t want the responsibility — an annuity offers guaranteed income for life. (Bear in mind that guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing company.)

Choosing yet again

If you choose to receive your pension benefits in the form of an annuity — or if your plan doesn’t offer a lump sum option — your plan likely will require you to choose between a single-life or joint-life annuity. A single-life annuity provides you with monthly benefits for life. The joint-life option (also referred to as “joint and survivor”) provides a smaller monthly benefit, but the payments continue over the joint lifetimes of both you and your spouse.

Deciding between the two annuity options requires some educated guesswork. To determine the option that will provide the greatest overall financial benefit, you’ll need to consider several factors — including your and your spouse’s actuarial life expectancies as well as factors that may affect your actual life expectancies, such as current health conditions and family medical histories.

You might choose the single-life option, for example, if you and your spouse have comparable life expectancies or if you expect to live longer. Under those circumstances, the higher monthly payment will maximize your overall benefits.

But there’s a risk, too: Because the payments will stop at your death, if you die prematurely and your spouse outlives you, the overall financial benefit may be smaller than if you’d chosen the joint-life option. The difference could be substantial if your spouse outlives you by many years.

Your overall financial situation — that is, your expenses and your other assets and income sources — also play a major role. Even if you expect a joint-life annuity to yield the greatest total benefit over time, you may want to consider a single-life annuity if you need additional liquidity in the short term.

Managing this asset

Although increasingly uncommon, these defined benefit plans can be a highly valuable asset. Please contact us for help managing yours appropriately.

Tax calendar

Posted by admin On May 9th

Tax calendar

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April 18 — Besides being the last day to file (or extend) your 2015 personal return and pay any tax that is due, 2016 first quarter estimated tax payments for individuals, trusts, and calendar-year corporations are due today. So are 2015 returns for trusts and calendar-year estates, partnerships, and LLCs, plus any final contribution you plan to make to an IRA or Education Savings Account for 2015. SEP and Keogh contributions are also due today if your return is not being extended.

June 15 — Second quarter estimated tax payments for individuals, trusts, and calendar-year corporations are due today.

Could your debt relief turn into a tax defeat?

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Restructuring debt has become a common approach to personal financial management. But many people fail to realize that there’s often a tax impact to debt relief. And if you don’t anticipate it, a winning tax return may turn into a losing one.

 

Less debt, more income

Income tax applies to all forms of income — including what’s referred to as “cancellation-of-debt” (COD) income. Think of it this way: If a creditor forgives a debt, you avoid the expense of making the payments, which increases your net income.

Debt forgiveness isn’t the only way to generate a tax liability, though. You can have COD income if a creditor reduces the interest rate or gives you more time to pay. Calculating the amount of income can be complex but, essentially, by making it easier for you to repay the debt, the creditor confers a taxable economic benefit.

Mortgage matters

You can also have COD income in connection with a mortgage foreclosure, including a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure. Here, the tax consequences depend on which of the following two categories the mortgage falls into:

1. Nonrecourse. Here the lender’s sole remedy in the event of default is to take possession of the home. In other words, you’re not personally liable if the foreclosure proceeds are less than your outstanding loan balance. Foreclosure on a nonrecourse mortgage doesn’t produce COD income.

2. Recourse. This type of foreclosure can trigger COD tax liability if the lender forgives the portion of the loan that’s not satisfied. In a short sale, the lender permits you to sell the property for less than the amount you owe and accepts the sale proceeds in satisfaction of your mortgage. A deed in lieu of foreclosure means you convey the property to the lender in satisfaction of your debt. In either case, if the lender agrees to cancel the excess debt, the transaction is treated like a foreclosure for tax purposes — that is, a recourse mortgage may generate COD income.

Keep in mind that COD income is taxable as ordinary income, even if the debt is related to long-term capital gains property. And, in some cases, foreclosure can trigger both COD income and a capital gain or loss (depending on your tax basis in the property and the property’s market value).

Exceptions vs. exclusions

Several types of canceled debt are considered nontaxable “exceptions” — for example, debt cancellation that’s considered a gift (such as forgiveness of a family loan). Certain student loans are also considered exceptions — as long as they’re canceled in exchange for the recipient’s commitment to public service.

Other types of canceled debt qualify as “exclusions.” For instance, homeowners can exclude up to $2 million in COD income in connection with qualified principal residence indebtedness. A recent tax law change extended this exclusion through 2016, modifying it to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. Other exclusions include certain canceled debts relating to bankruptcy and insolvency.

Complex rules

The rules applying to COD income are complex. So if you’re planning to restructure your debt this year, let us help you manage the tax impact.

Go, save green with sustainable tax breaks

Posted by admin On May 9th

Go, save green with sustainable tax breaks

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Many people want to do something, however small, to contribute to a healthier environment. There are many ways to do so and, for some of them, you can even save a few tax dollars for your efforts.

Indeed, with the passage of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) late last year, a couple of specific ways to go green and claim a tax break have been made permanent or extended. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Not driving for dollars

Air pollution is a problem in many areas of the country. Among the biggest contributors are vehicle emissions. So it follows that cutting down on the number of vehicles on the road can, in turn, diminish air pollution.

To help accomplish this, many people choose to commute to work via van pools or using public transportation. And, helpfully, the PATH Act is doing its part as well. The law made permanent the requirement that limits on the amounts that can be excluded from an employee’s wages for income and payroll tax purposes be the same for both parking benefits and van pooling / mass transit benefits.

Before the PATH Act’s parity provision, the monthly limit for 2015 was only $130 for van pooling / mass transit benefits. But, because of the new law, the 2015 monthly limit for these benefits was boosted to the $250 parking benefit limit and the 2016 limit is $255.

Sprucing up the homestead

Energy consumption can also have a negative impact on the environment and use up limited natural resources. Many homeowners want to reduce their energy consumption for environmental reasons or simply to cut their utility bills.

The PATH Act lends a helping hand here, too, by extending through 2016 the credit for purchases of residential energy property. This includes items such as:

  • New high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems,
  • Qualifying forms of insulation,
  • Energy-efficient exterior windows and doors, and
  • High-efficiency water heaters and stoves that burn biomass fuel.

The provision allows a credit of 10% of eligible costs for energy-efficient insulation, windows and doors. A credit is also available for 100% of eligible costs for energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment and water heaters, up to a lifetime limit of $500 (with no more than $200 from windows and skylights).

Doing it all

Going green and saving some green on your tax bill? Yes, you can do both. Van pooling or taking public transportation and improving your home’s energy efficiency are two prime examples. Please contact us for more information about how to claim these tax breaks or identify other ways to save this year.

A product/services remix could get your sales moving

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If your company’s sales results were a dance floor, how would it look? Are the numbers jumping off the page, dazzling you with their lively performances? Or are they slow, sluggish — perhaps even disappearing entirely? To keep the party moving, every business needs to regularly remix its line of products or services.

There are many potential causes of a sales slowdown. But these troubles aren’t all bad — they can help you shape the sound of your revised offerings. Start with the obvious: Are your customers drifting away? Conduct market research to find out whether they still like what you’re selling or if their needs have changed. Evolution is normal, so be ready to adjust your menu to keep pace.

Also look into how long you’ve been offering the same products or services, and whether you’ve saturated the market. Some things have enduring value, but demand for others can wane as new products take the spotlight. Regular evaluations can help you decide whether you should:

  • Test a product or service in a different market or geographic area,
  • “Reinvent” a product or service (for instance, by repackaging or renaming it), or
  • Discontinue it.

Finally, don’t ignore the economy — both national and local. Market conditions can influence the sales of even the strongest products or services. Try to bolster the strongest ones, but also consider discontinuing weak ones or adding new ones that reflect the strength of the local economy.

An effective remix of your products or services can turn a sad song into a happy tune. For help making the right tweaks, please give us a call.

Training day: Reimbursing employees’ education expenses

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Naturally, most employee training occurs in-house. But area colleges and trade schools may also provide a great source of education in professional development. And if you reimburse employees for their education expenses at these institutions, you and your employees may be able to save valuable tax dollars.

 

Offer a fringe benefit

Payment of an employee’s expenses usually results in taxable wages subject to income and payroll taxes. However, reimbursements and direct payments of job-related education costs are excludable from workers’ wages as working condition fringe benefits. Furthermore, you can deduct these costs as employee education costs (as opposed to wages), so you don’t have to withhold income tax or pay payroll taxes on them.

To qualify as a working condition fringe benefit, the education expenses must be ones that employees would be allowed to deduct as a business expense if they’d paid them directly and weren’t reimbursed. Basically, this means the education must relate to the workers’ occupations and not qualify them for new jobs. There’s no ceiling on the amount your workers can receive tax-free, and you can classify education costs as not subject to payroll taxes if the IRS considers the expenses to be working condition fringe benefits.

Establish a program

Another approach to reimbursing education costs in a tax-efficient manner is to establish a formal written educational assistance program. These programs can cover both job-related and non-job-related education. Assuming it meets eligibility requirements, such a program can allow employees to exclude from income up to $5,250 (or an unlimited amount if the education is job related) annually in education reimbursements for costs such as:

  • Undergraduate or graduate-level tuition,
  • Fees,
  • Books, and
  • Equipment and supplies.

The IRS, however, won’t allow reimbursement of materials that employees can keep after the courses end (except for textbooks). You can deduct up to $5,250 (or an unlimited amount if the education is job related) of education reimbursements as an employee benefit expense. And you don’t have to withhold income tax or pay payroll taxes on these reimbursements.

To pass muster with the IRS, such a program must avoid discrimination in favor of highly compensated workers, their spouses and their dependents, and it can’t provide more than 5% of its total annual benefits to shareholders, owners and their dependents. In addition, you must provide reasonable notice about the program to all eligible employees that outlines the type and amount of assistance available to workers.

Discover the hidden advantage

Another “hidden” advantage to reimbursing education costs is attracting new hires and retaining them. The labor markets in many industries are competitive right now, so it’s important not to overlook ways to differentiate yourself from other companies looking to hire from the same pool. Moreover, keeping an engaged, well-trained staff in place enables you to avoid constantly enduring the high costs of hiring.

Also bear in mind the “Millennial” perspective. Prospective employees between the ages of 18 and 35, so-called “Millennials,” make up a significant portion of the labor market now. This generation has its own distinctive traits and preferences toward working — one of which is a need for ongoing challenges and education, particularly when it comes to technology.

Keep them on board

If your company has employees who want to take their professional skill sets to the next level, don’t let them go to a competitor to get there. By reimbursing education costs as a fringe benefit or setting up an educational assistance program, you can keep your staff well trained and evolving toward the future and save taxes, too. Feel free to contact us about how to ensure you’ll enjoy the tax advantages of doing so.