If you recently filed your 2016 income tax return (rather than filing for an extension) you may now be wondering whether it’s likely that your business could be audited by the IRS based on your filing. Here’s what every business owner should know about the process.
Catching the IRS’s eye
Many business audits occur randomly, but a variety of tax-return-related items are likely to raise red flags with the IRS and may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:
An owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can also catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.
If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS won’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.
The good news is that many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the most severe version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors.
More good news: In no instance will the agency demand an immediate response. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. To do so, you’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.
If the IRS selects you for an audit, our firm can help you:
Don’t let an IRS audit ruin your year — be it this year, next year or whenever that letter shows up in the mail. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one happens in the first place.
It can be difficult in the current job market for students and recent graduates to find summer or full-time jobs. If you’re a business owner with children in this situation, you may be able to provide them with valuable experience and income while generating tax savings for both your business and your family overall.
By shifting some of your business earnings to a child as wages for services performed by him or her, you can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income. For your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s wages must be reasonable.
Here’s an example of how this works: A business owner operating as a sole proprietor is in the 39.6% tax bracket. He hires his 17-year-old son to help with office work full-time during the summer and part-time into the fall. The son earns $6,100 during the year and doesn’t have any other earnings.
The business owner saves $2,415.60 (39.6% of $6,100) in income taxes at no tax cost to his son, who can use his $6,350 standard deduction (for 2017) to completely shelter his earnings. The business owner can save an additional $2,178 in taxes if he keeps his son on the payroll longer and pays him an additional $5,500. The son can shelter the additional income from tax by making a tax-deductible contribution to his own IRA.
Family taxes will be cut even if the employee-child’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction and IRA deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the child beginning at a rate of 10% instead of being taxed at the parent’s higher rate.
Saving employment taxes
If your business isn’t incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners, you might also save some employment tax dollars. Services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent aren’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes. And a similar exemption applies for federal unemployment tax (FUTA) purposes. It exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 while employed by his or her parent.
If you have questions about how these rules apply in your particular situation or would like to learn about other family-related tax-saving strategies, contact us.
Commercial buildings and improvements generally are depreciated over 39 years, which essentially means you can deduct a portion of the cost every year over the depreciation period. (Land isn’t depreciable.) But enhanced tax breaks that allow deductions to be taken more quickly are available for certain real estate investments:
1. 50% bonus depreciation. This additional first-year depreciation allowance is available for qualified improvement property. The break expired December 31, 2014, but has been extended through 2019. However, it will drop to 40% for 2018 and 30% for 2019. On the plus side, beginning in 2016, the qualified improvement property doesn’t have to be leased.
2. Section 179 expensing. This election to deduct under Sec. 179 (rather than depreciate over a number of years) qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property expired December 31, 2014, but has been made permanent.
Beginning in 2016, the full Sec. 179 expensing limit of $500,000 can be applied to these investments. (Before 2016, only $250,000 of the expensing election limit, which also is available for tangible personal property and certain other assets, could be applied to leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property.)
The expensing limit is subject to a dollar-for-dollar phaseout if your qualified asset purchases for 2016 exceed $2,010,000. In other words, if, say, your qualified asset purchases for the year are $2,110,000, your expensing limit would be reduced by $100,000 (to $400,000).
Both the expensing limit and the purchase limit are now adjusted annually for inflation.
3. Accelerated depreciation. This break allows a shortened recovery period of 15 years for qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property. It expired December 31, 2014, but has been made permanent.
Although these enhanced depreciation-related breaks may offer substantial savings on your 2016 tax bill, it’s possible they won’t prove beneficial over the long term. Taking these deductions now means forgoing deductions that could otherwise be taken later, over a period of years under normal depreciation schedules. In some situations — such as if in the future your business could be in a higher tax bracket or tax rates go up — the normal depreciation deductions could be more valuable.
For more information on these breaks or advice on whether you should take advantage of them, please contact us.
Many tax breaks are reduced or eliminated for higher-income taxpayers. Two of particular note are the itemized deduction reduction and the personal exemption phaseout.
If your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the applicable threshold, most of your itemized deductions will be reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately). The limitation doesn’t apply to deductions for medical expenses, investment interest, or casualty, theft or wagering losses.
Exceeding the applicable AGI threshold also could cause your personal exemptions to be reduced or even eliminated. The personal exemption phaseout reduces exemptions by 2% for each $2,500 (or portion thereof) by which a taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the applicable threshold (2% for each $1,250 for married taxpayers filing separately).
The limits in action
These AGI-based limits can be very costly to high-income taxpayers. Consider this example:
Steve and Mary are married and have four dependent children. In 2016, they expect to have an AGI of $1 million and will be in the top tax bracket (39.6%). Without the AGI-based exemption phaseout, their $24,300 of personal exemptions ($4,050 × 6) would save them $9,623 in taxes ($24,300 × 39.6%). But because their personal exemptions are completely phased out, they’ll lose that tax benefit.
The AGI-based itemized deduction reduction can also be expensive. Steve and Mary could lose the benefit of as much as $20,661 [3% × ($1 million − $311,300)] of their itemized deductions that are subject to the reduction — at a tax cost as high as $8,182 ($20,661 × 39.6%).
These two AGI-based provisions combined could increase the couple’s tax by $17,805!
If your AGI is close to the applicable threshold, AGI-reduction strategies — such as contributing to a retirement plan or Health Savings Account — may allow you to stay under it. If that’s not possible, consider the reduced tax benefit of the affected deductions before implementing strategies to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016. If you expect to be under the threshold in 2017, you may be better off deferring certain deductible expenses to next year.
For more details on these and other income-based limits, help assessing whether you’re likely to be affected by them or more tips for reducing their impact, please contact us.
Whether you’re selling your business or acquiring another company, the tax consequences can have a major impact on the transaction’s success or failure.
Consider installment sales, for example. The sale of a business might be structured as an installment sale if the buyer lacks sufficient cash or pays a contingent amount based on the business’s performance. And it sometimes — but not always — can offer the seller tax advantages.
An installment sale may make sense if the seller wishes to spread the gain over a number of years. This could be especially beneficial if it would allow the seller to stay under the thresholds for triggering the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) or the 20% long-term capital gains rate.
For 2016, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 per year ($250,000 for married filing jointly and $125,000 for married filing separately) will owe NIIT on some or all of their investment income. And the 20% long-term capital gains rate kicks in when 2016 taxable income exceeds $415,050 for singles, $441,000 for heads of households and $466,950 for joint filers (half that for separate filers).
But an installment sale can backfire on the seller. For example:
Please let us know if you’d like more information on installment sales — or other aspects of tax planning in mergers and acquisitions. Of course, tax consequences are only one of many important considerations.
Until recently, estate planning strategies typically focused on minimizing federal gift and estate taxes, such as by giving away assets during life to reduce the taxable estate. Today, however, the focus has moved toward income taxes, making the coordination of income tax planning and estate planning more important.
Why the change?
Since 2001, the federal exemption has grown from $675,000 to $5.45 million, meaning that fewer people have to worry about gift and estate tax liability. In addition, the top gift and estate tax rate has decreased from 55% to 40%, while the top individual income tax rate has increased to 39.6% — nearly as high as the top gift and estate tax rate.
The heightened importance of income taxes means that holding assets until death may be advantageous. If you give away an appreciated asset, the recipient takes over your tax basis in the asset, triggering capital gains tax should he or she turn around and sell it.
When an appreciated asset is inherited, on the other hand, the recipient’s basis is “stepped up” to the asset’s fair market value on the date of death, erasing the built-in capital gain. So retaining appreciating assets until death can save significant income tax.
Year end strategy
It is, however, possible to transfer appreciated assets now without your family taking a capital gains tax hit. Such a strategy can be beneficial if you have appreciated assets you’ve held more than one year that you’d like to sell, but you’re concerned about the impact on your 2016 tax bill.
You just need to have family members who are in the 10% or 15% regular income tax bracket and thus eligible for the 0% long-term capital gains rate. Then you can transfer the appreciated assets to them and they can sell the assets tax-free (to the extent the gains don’t push them into a higher bracket).
The transfer won’t create gift tax liability, either, as long as you can apply your $14,000 per year per recipient gift tax annual exclusion or a portion of your lifetime exemption. But before transferring the assets, make sure the recipient won’t be subject to the “kiddie” tax.
Of course, depending on the outcome of the November elections, gift and estate taxes could again surpass income taxes in estate planning importance for some families. If you have questions about coordinating your income tax planning with your estate plan, please contact us.