Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Business Planning’ Category

2013 Year-End Tax Planning Guide For Small Businesses

The arrival of year-end presents special opportunities for most small businesses to take steps in lowering their tax liability. The starting point is to run projections to determine the income and tax bracket for this year and what it may be next year.  Once this is known, decisions can be made as to whether any of the following planning tools should be employed to cut taxes before the tax year closes.

It is also important to know that the recent tax act known as ATRA has extended many tax breaks for 2013.  If any of these tax breaks are available, it would be prudent to take advantage of them before they expire.

Also keep in mind that ATRA increased ordinary income tax rates for individuals from 35% to 39.6% starting in 2013 so owners of flow through entities such as partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs) and S Corporations need to recognize this and other tax changes and plan accordingly.

The following presents some year-end tax strategies that may prove helpful to small businesses and other businesses:

1. Accelerating or deferring income/deductions as part of a year-end tax strategy

A good part of year-end tax planning involves techniques to accelerate or postpone income or deductions, as your tax situation dictates. The idea is to keep income even from year to year. Having spikes in taxable income in any one tax year puts you in a higher average tax bracket than you would be in if you had evened out the amount of taxable income between the current and later year(s).  (Historical note:  For those of you old enough to remember, there was an income averaging rule built into the tax code.  That provision has long been abolished.)

So every year, businesses can take advantage of a traditional planning technique that involves alternatively deferring income and accelerating deductions. For example, business taxpayers such as pass-through entities (limited liability companies, partnerships, S corporations, sole proprietorships) should consider accelerating business income into the current year and deferring deductions until 2014 (and perhaps beyond) if they expect income to rise next year or in the future.

The strategy of accelerating or deferring income and deductions may apply to a number of transactions affecting your business including but not limited to the following:

  • Selling property
  • Leasing
  • Inventory
  • Compensation and bonus practices
  • Depreciation and expense elections.

Cash Basis Small Businesses

Generally, a cash-basis taxpayer recognizes income when received and takes deductions when paid. Here are some more rules for cash basis taxpayers:

  • Income is generally taxable in the year received, by cash or check or direct deposit. You cannot postpone tax on income by refusing payment until the following year once you have the right to that payment in the current year. (This is the so-called the “constructive receipt” rule.)  Therefore, businesses using the cash basis method of accounting recognize and report income when the business actually or constructively receives cash or something equivalent to cash.
  • However, if you make deferred payments a part of the overall transaction, you may legitimately postpone both the income and the tax into the year or years in which payment occurs. Examples include:
    • Installment sales, on which gain is prorated and taxed based upon the years over which installment payments occur
    • Like-kind exchanges through which no gain occurs except to the extent other non-like-kind property (including cash) may change hands
    • Tax-free corporate reorganizations under Section 368 of the Internal Revenue Code.
  • Deductions, however, are generally not allowed until you pay for the item or service for which you want to take the deduction. Merely accepting the liability to pay for a deductible item does not make it deductible. Therefore, a supply bill does not become deductible in the year that the bill is sent for payment. Rather, it is only considered deductible in the year in which you pay the bill.
  • Determining when you pay your bills for tax purposes also has its nuances. A bill may be paid when cash is tendered; when a credit card is charged; or when a check is put in the mail (even if delivered in due course a few days into a new calendar year).

Cash basis businesses that expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2014 should shift income into 2013 by accelerating cash collections this year, and deferring the payment of deductible expenses until next year, where possible. In this situation, small businesses should try to collect outstanding accounts receivables before the end of 2013.

Accrual Basis Small Businesses

Basically, for accrual-basis taxpayers, generally the right to receive income, rather than actual receipt, determines the year of inclusion of income.  Accrual method businesses that anticipate being in higher rate brackets next year may want to accelerate shipment of products or provision of services into 2013 so that your business’s right to the income arises this year.

Taking the opposite approach:  If you will be in a lower tax bracket next year, an accrual basis taxpayer would delay delivering services or shipping products.

2. Tax Break For Small Business Expense Election Under Section 179

ATRA extended until the end of 2013 the enhanced Code Sec. 179 small business expense. Small businesses that purchase qualifying property can immediately expense up to $500,000 this year.  This amount is reduced dollar for dollar to the extent of the cost of the qualifying property placed in service during the year exceeds $2 million. If you plan to buy property (even computer software qualifies), consider doing so before year-end to take advantage of the immediate tax write-off.

Warning:  Remember that any asset must meet the “placed in service” requirements as well as being purchased before year-end.

Also included as qualified Code Sec. 179 property (only temporarily though) is “qualified” real property, which includes qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvement property. However, businesses are limited to an immediate write-off of up to $250,000 of the total cost of these properties.

Note, the Section 179 expense limit goes down to $25,000 and the phaseout threshold kicks in at $200,000 starting in 2014.  Also the qualified leasehold-improvement breaks end at the end of 2013.  If you are planning major asset purchases or property improvements over time, you may want to take advantage of this break before year-end.

Final note:  In addition to new property, Section 179 can be applied to used property.

3. Bonus deprecation

ATRA extended this additional first year depreciation allowance into 2013.  This bonus depreciation allows taxpayers to immediately deduct fifty percent (50%) of the cost of qualifying property purchased and placed in service in 2013. Qualifying property must be purchased and placed into service on or before December 31, 2013.

Qualifying property must be new tangible property (refurbished assets do not qualify) with a recovery period of 20 years or less, such as office furniture, equipment and company vehicles, off the shelf computer software and qualified leasehold improvements.

Note that bonus depreciation is not subject to any asset purchase limit like Section 179 property.

4. Accelerated Depreciation

ATRA has retained through 2013 the tax break that allows a shortened 15 year recovery period for qualified leasehold improvements, restaurant and retail improvement property.  Normally the recovery period for this type of property is 39 years so this is a huge tax break.

5. Increased start-up expense deduction

New businesses can take advantage of the increased deduction for start-up expenditures. This start-up expense deduction limit is $10,000. The phaseout threshold is $60,000. Thus, if you have incurred during 2013 start-up costs to create an active trade or business, or the investigation of the creation or acquisition of an active trade or business, you may benefit from this increased deduction. Entrepreneurs can recover more small business start-up expenses up-front, thereby increasing cash flow and providing other benefits.

6. Repair Regulations

The so-called “repair” regulations include a valuable de minimis rule, which could enable taxpayers to expense otherwise capitalized tangible property. Qualified taxpayers may claim a current deduction for the cost of acquiring items of relatively low-cost property, including materials and supplies, if specific requirements are met.

The IRS with their issuance of final regulations relaxed many of the requirements contained in the earlier temporary regulations.  For example, the final regulations removed the ceiling requirements on deductions and now allows the de minimis rule for businesses that do not generate financial statement (applicable financial statements (AFS)).  This allows many small businesses to take advantage of these tax breaks.

The modified safe harbor allows businesses without an AFS to immediately deduct up to $500 or less (or $5,000 or less for taxpayers with an AFS) for qualified property purchases. For example, a business could deduct hundreds of lap-top computers or scanners costing $500 or less each year.

Bottom Line:  The modified safe harbor may be easier for certain small businesses than the Section 179 deduction and 100% bonus depreciation. Most importantly, the regulations now allow taxpayers that do not prepare financial statements to use de minimis safe harbor.  This provides a great benefit for many small businesses that do not normally generate these statements as part of their regular business operations.

7. Compensation arrangements

Timing of Compensation:

In a regular C corporation, compensation paid to employees reduces the taxable income of such corporation.  Ideally, compensation should be used to eliminate taxable income at the corporate level or at least minimize such income.  It is imperative that the total compensation paid is “reasonable” in light of the services performed and industry norms. For more insights into the reasonable compensation issue please read Reasonable Compensation:A Favorite Issue For IRS Auditors.

Use of Retirement Plans:

Corporate retirement plans such as profit sharing, money purchase pension, and defined benefit plans can generate large tax deductions for the entity.  These plans are quite useful when compensation has already reached the highest level of reasonableness.

Important Points:

  • These corporate retirement plans must be drafted and signed before year-end to get tax deductions for that year.
  • These plans can generate a deduction even though the plan is not funded until after year-end, so long as funded by the due date (or the extended due date) of the corporate or entity return.  This gives the small business owner some after the taxable year-end planning flexibility.
  • For profit sharing, money purchase pension and other defined contribution plans, an employer can contribute up to $51,000 per participant.  For participants age 50 and older this amount can be $56,500 because of the catch-up contribution rules.
  • For defined benefit plans, the plan retirement amount and funding are determined by various actuarial computations.  The maximum future benefit can be $205,000 per year upon retirement.  Depending on the age of a participant this can result in a very large contribution each year and one far in excess of the amounts available under the defined contribution plans discussed immediately above.
  • There are various limits and rules specific to each of these plans and the particular make-up of the employees and their ages bear heavily in the proper choice of plan and the design of any plan chosen.

Additionally, and maybe more importantly, when compensation paid to owners is approaching their own:

additional taxes can be saved by making contributions to such plans instead of paying more compensation to the owner.  This can produce a double benefit:  huge income tax savings  and having money being put into a retirement plan to grow tax-free for the benefit of the small business owner.

Use of 2 ½ Month Bonus Rule:

Particularly relevant to employers at year-end is an annual bonus rule. Bonuses paid within a brief period after the end of the employer’s tax year are deductible in that tax year. Compensation is generally considered paid within a brief period of time if it is paid within two and one-half months of the end of the employer’s tax year.

Compensation and K-1 Distributions

Compensation and shareholder or partner distributions from a business, and drawing the often fine line between the two, can make a significant difference to a business owner’s overall tax liability for the year.  For example, for an S corporation, payment of salaries are subject to social security taxes while K-1 income is not subject to this tax.  The strategy here would be to pay less in salary and have more income reported on the Form K-1.  However, taxpayers can be in trouble here if they get greedy.  The IRS is policing this area to make sure that the salary paid is reasonable.  Therefore,   a reasonable salary must be carefully determined and supportable in a tax audit.

Deferring payments of accrued bonuses

In certain situations, it may be preferable to simply ask that your employer pay your bonus in the following year where you expect that your tax bracket will be lower.

8. Other Tax Planning Strategies and Ideas

Here are a number of other year-end tax planning strategies you may want to consider, depending on your particular tax and business situation:

  • Accelerating installment sale proceeds or electing out of the installment method;
  • Elect slower depreciation methods;
  • Determine if you can write-off any bad debts;
  • Consider changing your accounting method to advance income or defer expenses.  This one needs careful consideration, however, as accounting method changes can have a binding effect on taxpayers for many future years;
  • Determining the difference between ordinary business activities and passive activities before implementing a year-end strategy also makes good sense. Rental income or losses, and other passive activity gains and losses, must be netted separately from business gains and losses. Year-end timing for one does not necessarily help control your bottom-line tax cost on the other;
  • Cost Segregation Study:  For those who have purchased, constructed or rehabilitated a building this year, a cost segregation workup may save taxes.  It identifies property components and related costs that can be depreciated faster than the building itself, generating larger deductions.  For example, breaking out costs for fixtures, security equipment, landscaping and parking lots may generate larger tax deductions.  Be careful to take into account the impact of the alternative minimum tax and to consider states that do not follow the federal tax rules.

Final Thoughts:

The above are not intended as a comprehensive list of year-end tax planning tools for small businesses.  The point here is that each business has its own unique tax and business situation.  A case by case analysis to determine which tax planning tools will minimize taxes is the best course of action for small businesses.

If I have missed something or if there is a strategy you want me to explore or explain more fully, please leave a comment below.  I would be glad to help.

For an analysis of what deferral or acceleration planning at year-end may work best for you and your business, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Disclosure and Disclaimer: As required by United States Treasury Regulations, you should be aware that this communication is not intended by the sender to be used, and it cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding penalties under United States federal tax laws. This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm’s full disclaimer.

 

Read Full Post »

Family Business Transfers

Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Break For Family Businesses

Pennsylvania has just created a new tax break for transfers of businesses to certain family members.  This new inheritance tax law applies to estates of some one who dies on or after July 1, 2013.

Qualification For Inheritance Tax Exemption:

To qualify for this Qualified Family Owned Business exemption under new Section 9111(t), the following criteria must be met:

  • Type of Organization that qualifies can be either:
    • A proprietorship or
    • Entity

    engaged in a trade or business;

  • The entity or proprietorship had a Net Book Value of Less Than $5,000,000 at the date of death;
  • The entity or proprietorship had been in existence for 5 years at the date of death;
  • The entity or proprietorship had less than 50 employees at the date of death;
  • The entity or proprietorship must be wholly owned by the decedent and other qualified family members (defined as qualified transferees as defined below).
  • The transfer of ownership must be to qualified transferee in most cases individual family members under Section 9111(t)(5).  A “qualified transferee” is the decedent’s spouse, lineal descendent, sibling (and the sibling’s lineal descendants) and ancestors (and the ancestor’s siblings). The exemption is lost if the business does not continue to be owned by a “qualified transferee” for seven years after the death of the decedent;
  • Where the transfer of an interest into an entity took place within one year prior to death, such transfer must have been the result of a legitimate business purpose;
  • Family Ownership after death must continue for 7 years.  If this period of ownership is not met then inheritance taxes will have to be paid when ownership ceases. This is the so-called recapture tax and must be reported if this ownership period is not met.  Important Compliance Point: This requires annual certification to the Department of Revenue that the family-owned business interest qualifies for the exemption, as well as notification to the Department of Revenue within 30 days of any failure to qualify;
  • Any expenses or debts related to or incurred in connection with this exemption are not allowed under new Section 9130 (5).

Entities Engaged In Investment Activities Do Not Qualify For This New Exemption:

This tax break is not available to entities with a principal purpose of “management of investments or income producing assets” held by such entity.  Section 9111(t)(5). The principal purpose of an entity cannot be simply managing its own investments.

Estate Planning Implications:

A cursory look at the new law appears to show that transfers to trusts would not be eligible for exemption.  Those attempting to do estate planning where they own an active business in Pennsylvania may have a very difficult choice to make.  They can either give the business outright to children to save inheritance taxes or they must give up this exemption if  family issues, financial reasons or federal estate tax considerations dictate the use of trusts.  For more insights into these estate planning implications please read Estate Planning 2013: Now What? A Must Read For Everyone.

Final Thoughts:

Since this law is so new and some of its terms may not be fully understood or defined, more guidance will probably be forthcoming from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.  Stay tuned.

Read Full Post »

IRS Wants to Know: Are You Playing Games with Your Employees?

IRS Wants to Know: Are You Playing Games with Your Employees?

The Treasury Inspector General of For Tax Administration recently issued a report entitled Employers Do Not Always Follow Internal Revenue Service Determination Rulings that indicated the employers just do not get it when it comes to treating workers correctly for tax purposes.  This report sheds more light on non-compliance and will result in more audits of small businesses who have miss-classified workers as independent contractors.  So employers beware!

Employers illegally treating employees as independent contractors can come clean through a program called the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP).  To explore in more detail the merits of this VCSP program and how it works, readers should look at Risky Business: Playing Fast and Loose with Worker Classification.  Basically, this program allows employers to voluntarily correct erroneously classified workers from independent contractors to employees in exchange for paying less taxes and penalties than if audited by the IRS.  Recently, the IRS provided some needed clarifications of this standard VCSP program under IRS Announcement 2012-46:

  • An employer can now be eligible for this program even if being audited by the IRS, except for a payroll tax audit.
  • An employer that is part of an affiliated group can not use the VCSP program where an employment tax audit involves one of its group members.
  • An employer that is in court contesting classification of workers from a previous audit by the IRS or Department of Labor is not eligible for the VCSP program.
  • An employer no longer has to agree to extend the limitation period on employment tax assessments as part of the closing agreement.  Under the original VCSP program, employers had to extend the statute of limitation for three years for the three taxable years after the date of the closing agreement.  This is no longer required under the standard VCSP program.

Additional Information and Insights:

For those interested in gaining greater insight into this problem and a lot more, please give a listen to my guest appearance on Money For Lunch.  We discuss not only the VCSP program but also explore the allowable “piercing of the corporate veil” by the IRS to impose individual personal tax liability on shareholders and officers for corporate tax obligations under Section 6672 of the Internal Revenue Code.  We also discuss related criminal tax implications.  So please click on the triangle to hear our discussion:

Money for Lunch

Bottom Line:

Employers should objectively and carefully review their employment policies.  If they are playing fast and loose with their classification of employees it could blow up in their face down the road.  The voluntary payments under this special program could be far less than the cost of an IRS employment tax audit for all open years resulting in the required payment of back taxes, interest and penalties.  With the IRS audit presence in this area, this may end up being a costly and in some cases a fatal gamble for a business and its shareholders or owners.  The sure thing is to use the current or the temporary VCSP to clean up a looming and expensive tax problem.

Read Full Post »

Hurricane_Sandy_Marine_hoists_in_Staten_Island,_N.Y.My last post talked about when we can trash tax and other important records. Well, Hurricane Sandy brought a whole new meaning to the concept of trashing records and a whole lot more.

Experts estimate that Hurricane Sandy has caused $50 billion of damage.  Eqecat Inc., a financial advisory firm out of Oakland, California predicts that insurance will cover $10 to $20 billion of such losses.  Storm victims will be on the hook for the other $30 billion of losses.

A couple of points to keep in mind before talking about the casualty loss tax implications:

  • If your house is damaged from this disaster, contact local building authorities to see if the home is inhabitable,
  • Establish an insurance claim, but don’t settle immediately,
  • Make temporary repairs and take other remedial action to prevent further damage to homes and belongings, and
  • Take photos of the damages.

With so many lives in complete turmoil, many of us on the East coast  crushed by Sandy’s wrath are not thinking of  claiming a casualty loss for tax purposes. However, knowing about how taxpayers can claim tax deductions under casualty loss provisions of the Internal Revenue Code is essential in dealing with insurance companies.  While memories are fresh and evidence is still available, now is the time to develop, document and support such casualty losses.

To aid those affected by this devastation readers should look at my article entitled Casualty Losses For Hurricane Sandy.  This article details  the tax qualification rules for being eligible for casualty losses.  It is a must read for anyone devastated by Sandy.

Read Full Post »

Papers, papers and still more papers.  When can I destroy these documents?

There are no hard and fast rules in this area.  The following offers some general guidance to carefully consider when determining any destruction of documents.

Against the urge to purge, remember that maintaining documents and records is often essential if a tax audit by the IRS, state or local taxing authority occurs.  Be aware that it is the burden of the taxpayer to provide sufficient proof and support for any tax position taken on a tax return.  Prematurely disposing of relevant documentation and proof supporting a tax deduction or tax position could have a disastrous tax impact.

Tax rules offer some guidance as to minimum document retention periods. It is imperative to keep records such as receipts, canceled checks, and other documents that support an item of income or a deduction, or a credit appearing on a return until the statute of limitations expires for that return. Here are some of the key statute of limitation rules for federal tax returns:

  • For most returns the statute of limitations is 3 years from the date you filed the return. However, the following are some very important exceptions to this 3 year statute of limitation.
  • There is no period of limitations to assess tax when a return is fraudulent or when no return is filed.
  • If income that you should have reported is not reported, and it is more than 25% of the gross income shown on the return, the time to assess is 6 years from when the return is filed.
  • For filing a claim for credit or refund, the period to make the claim generally is 3 years from the date the original return was filed, or 2 years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later.
  • For filing a claim for a loss from worthless securities the time to make the claim is 7 years from the date the return was due.
  • If you are an employer, you must keep all of your employment tax records for at least 4 years after the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.

Additionally, it is often imperative to check state and local statute of limitation rules before destroying files and records.

Keep in mind that documents may need to be retained and preserved for legal reasons other than taxation, such as, insurance claims or facilitating the transfer of  assets in the case of deceased family member.  Documents like death certificates, estate tax closing letters should be kept indefinitely.

For more detailed guidance on how long to keep specific documents and other document retention considerations and safeguards, please read my article Record Retention For Individuals .

For more detailed guidelines for record retention rules and other protective housekeeping measures for businesses see Record Retention Guidance For Business: A Conservative and Basic Approach.

A discussion with your tax attorney and tax accountant may be a prudent and conservative course of action before destroying any documents or files.

Read Full Post »

Philadelphia Tax Breaks Involving Veterans

Philadelphia Tax Breaks Involving Veterans

Philadelphia has recently amended its Business Privilege Tax (business income and receipts tax)  to allow a credit for employment of veterans of the Armed Forces.  This new Philadelphia tax law defines a “veteran” as a person who has received an honorable discharge, served a minimum of six months in active full-time duty within the past 10 years and has met the qualifications under the federal Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. The period of eligibility for hired veterans is between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2014.

The law requires that the veteran’s compensation is to other employees in the same position or, if a similar position does not exist, at an average hourly rate of at least 150% of the federal minimum wage.

The business will receive a credit of $2,000 for a full-time position, multiplied by the percentage of the tax year that the veteran worked for the business or $1,000 for a part-time position, multiplied by the percentage of the tax year that the veteran worked for the business.

The credit is available for a total of 24 months of employment, and the total amount of credit a business may receive for a full-time employee over all tax years is $4,000. For a part-time employee for the 24 months of employment, the total credit allowable for the business is $2,000.

This new law is the result of Bill No. 120491, City of Philadelphia, effective June 27, 2012

Read Full Post »

Risky Business 1920 Silent Film With Gladys Walton

Risky Business 1920 Silent Film With Gladys Walton

In light of the IRS’s fairly recent Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) issued in 2012, employers need to consider the benefits and risks of their current classification of employees as independent contractors. This window of opportunity is only available before the IRS or Department of Labor initiates an examination.

Small companies and businesses of many sizes have classified their workers as independent contractors and not employees to gain the following illegal advantages and savings:

  • Avoid paying payroll taxes including Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment, and Federal tax withholding.
  • Avoid having to pay for medical insurance.
  • Avoid making payments of contributions into employer retirement plans.
  • Obtaining services at a fixed rate, no matter what the time required to complete the assignment.
  • Reducing employee record keeping, clerical and other administrative cost savings.

These tempting advantages have created a tremendous incentive for employers to classify workers as independent contractors when they are truly employees.  The IRS has warned that it is stepping up its policing of this area.  Here are some of the costs and penalties employers face if caught by the IRS:

  • Payroll tax liability, plus significant penalties and interest.
  • Various civil and criminal sanctions brought by the IRS, including fines and imprisonment.
  • Retirement plan disqualification or remediation and penalties.  If these workers were wrongly excluded from coverage under any and all retirement plans, such plans would not meet certain plan qualification tests and could be disqualified.  In the alternative,  the employer would have to go through an IRS plan remediation application and pay various penalties and costs to salvage the plan. For more details on plan remediation see Failing To Update Retirement Plans: Avoid Plan Disqualification & Penalties By Using the VCP Program
  • Personal liability for corporate officers of up to 100% of the amount the employer should have withheld from the employee’s compensation in payroll taxes.  Section 6672 imposes personal liability on officers, shareholders and board of directors as “responsible persons.”  For more details read Personal Liability For Corporate Employment Taxes.
  • Legal fees, the lost time spent litigating this matter and the related out-of-pocket costs of litigation.  In these cases, payments to accountants and other experts are necessary for the attorney to prepare for the case and for such experts to appear in court. Even if the case avoids full-blown litigation, legal fees and out-of-court settlement fees will result.

A battle with the IRS is only part of the employer’s problem.  Additionally, a disgruntled or vengeful worker can make real trouble for the employer by making the following claims against the employer:

  • Medical coverage:  If the employer had medical plans for its other employees, these excluded workers may make claims for lack of coverage.
  • Retirement Benefits:  For all the years in which they were erroneously treated as independent contractors, such workers may demand to have contributions made to the employer’s profit-sharing, 401(k), pension or other retirement plan.  This could be a very large liability if the claim involves multiple employees over multiple years.
  • Other Fringe Benefits: In addition to retirement plans, workers may demand stock options, disability payments, workers’ compensation and any other fringe benefits being offered by the employer to its other employees.
  • Overtime Pay:  These workers would be entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act if the hours he or she provided to the employer in the past exceeded the standard workweek.
  • Unemployment claims.  For those workers erroneously treated as independent, they may assert a claim to collect unemployment for past employment.
  • Lawsuits:  Lawsuits brought against the worker may trigger legal action against the employer to hold the employer legally responsible.

Where the worker seeks reclassification and complains to the authorities, the IRS or the Department of Labor may then get involved by auditing the employer  on how it classifies all of its independent contractors. A full-blown audit could result in economic disaster or ruin for an employer.

Bottom Line:  Any employer playing fast and loose in this area needs to look at their employment practices very carefully.  For determining whether a worker is truly independent please read my article Employee or Independent Contractor?  Finally, see Employers Playing Tax Games with Workers: IRS Offers Way to Come Clean for the details and qualification requirements for coming within the IRS’s Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program (VCSP).

The key here is to get with your tax attorney to review your situation and take advantage of the VCSP before the IRS comes knocking on your door.

Read Full Post »

Our previous post discussed the IRS new Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) offering past payroll tax relief when the employer agrees to reclassify workers as employees.  For the details and discussion of this VCSP program please see our just published article at my website at the following link:  http://www.sjfpc.com/IRS_Payroll_Taxes_VCSP.html.  Many have inquired as to what distinguishes an employee from an independent contractor.  For a discussion of this issue and the IRS and case law criteria involved please see our article entitled Employee or Independent Contractor? at http://sjfpc.com/IRS_tax_rules_employee_versus_independent-contractor.html.  Both of these articles can be seen at our website  (www.sjfpc.com).

Read Full Post »

The IRS has just introduced a new Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program offering past payroll tax relief when the employer agrees to reclassify workers as employees.  For the details and discussion of this VCSP program please see my just published article at my website at the following link: http://www.sjfpc.com/IRS_Payroll_Taxes_VCSP.html at my website (www.sjfpc.com).

Read Full Post »

The Internal Revenue Service announced on February 8, 2011 a special voluntary disclosure initiative designed to bring offshore money back into the U.S. tax system and help people with undisclosed income from hidden offshore accounts get current with their taxes.  Here are some of the basic provisions of this program.

 
1. Deadline To Come Forward: August 31, 2011

This second new voluntary disclosure initiative will be available to taxpayers through Aug. 31, 2011.

2. 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Makes Raises Penalty Charges and Makes Other Changes to the 2009 OVDP

The new IRS program is called the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI). It includes several changes from the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). The overall penalty structure for 2011 is higher, meaning that people who did not come in through the 2009 voluntary disclosure program will not be rewarded for waiting.

3. New Penalty Framework

For the 2011 initiative, there is a new penalty framework that requires individuals to pay a penalty of 25 percent of the amount in the foreign bank accounts in the year with the highest aggregate account balance covering the 2003 to 2010 time period. Some taxpayers will be eligible for 12.5 or 5 percent penalties instead of the 25% penalty. Please see the discussion below for such exceptions.

4. Back Taxes Must Be Paid

Participants also must pay back-taxes and interest for up to eight years.

5. Additional and Usual Penalties Imposed

Taxpayers must pay accuracy-related penalties. No reasonable cause arguments can be made to avoid the such penalties. The IRS will also assert failure to file and failure to pay penalties.

6. Returns To Be Filed By August 31 Deadline

Taxpayers participating in the new initiative must file all original and amended tax returns and include payment for taxes, interest and accuracy-related penalties by the Aug. 31 deadline.

7. Special 12.5% Category Instead of 25% Penalty

The IRS also created a new penalty category of 12.5 percent for treating smaller offshore accounts. People whose offshore accounts or assets did not surpass $75,000 in any calendar year covered by the 2011 initiative will qualify for this lower rate.

8. Special 5% Category Instead of the 25% Penalty

If a taxpayer meets all four of the following conditions, then the offshore penalty is reduced to 5%:

 (A) did not open or cause the account to be opened (unless the bank required that a new account be opened, rather than allowing a change in ownership of an existing account, upon the death of the owner of the account);

(B) has exercised minimal, infrequent contact with the account, for example, to request the account balance, or update accountholder information such as a change in address, contact person, or email address;

(C) has, except for a withdrawal closing the account and transferring the funds to an account in the United States, not withdrawn more than $1,000 from the account in any year covered by the voluntary disclosure; and

(D) can establish that all applicable U.S. taxes have been paid on funds deposited to the account (only account earnings have escaped U.S. taxation).

9. Special 5% Category for Foreign Resident

If a taxpayer is a foreign resident who was unaware that he or she was a U.S. citizen, then the offshore penalty is reduced to 5%.

10. Benefits of 2011 Initiative: Avoid Higher Penalties and Possible Criminal Prosecution

The 2011 initiative offers clear benefits to encourage taxpayers to come in now rather than risk IRS detection. Taxpayers hiding assets offshore who do not come forward will face far higher penalty scenarios as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Copyright © 2011, Steven J. Fromm.  All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or used in any form or fashion without the written permission of Steven J. Fromm.

Read Full Post »

In our fast paced world, many retirement plans are drafted and then often neglected.  In extreme cases, plans are put aside without ever being updated.  Some plan sponsors have failed to restate their plans for years or even decades.  For many individuals, retirement plan accounts represent the largest portion of their wealth.  As the following discussion will illustrate, the failure to protect this most valuable and important asset by keeping the retirement plan in full compliance with applicable retirement plan laws could result in some very nasty, costly and unforeseen financial repercussions.

The retirement plan laws have always required that plans be updated for tax law changes.  Before 2003, the IRS allowed plans to be periodically restated for tax law changes that occurred over many years.  This resulted in large, periodic major plan restatements.  However, since 2003 the IRS has required amendments to retirement plans for each new tax law resulting in more frequent “interim amendments.”  [For those of you interested in a more detailed discussion of these required interim amendments since 2003, please go to my questions answered at my Linked-In profile.]  For many plans, the deadlines for many of these plan restatements or interim amendments have now expired.  Current rules provide that plans that have not been redrafted to comply with required prior restatements or interim amendments cease to be qualified as of their applicable deadlines.

In the worst case scenario, the IRS may demand that the plan be retroactively disqualified.  If the IRS is successful in disqualifying the plan, the plan sponsor’s tax deductions for contributions taken in the year of disqualification and in later years would be disallowed.  The taxes owed by the plan sponsor due to the disallowance of previously claimed retirement plan deductions plus applicable interest and penalties could be enormous.  In addition, participants of the plan would have to treat as taxable income the value of their plan account as of the date of such disqualification.  The taxes, interest and penalties to the participants from the date of plan disqualification could be equally exorbitant. This would be a truly disastrous and harsh result for both the employer plan sponsor and participants in the disqualified plan.

However, in most cases, the current policy of the IRS is to impose monetary penalties instead of the more severe penalty of plan disqualification.  Even so, when the IRS raises these failures as the result of an audit the penalties can be quite severe.   Penalties can range from $2,500 to $80,000 depending on the failures involved and the size of the plan.  It is worth noting that in recent years, the IRS has increased its auditing of retirement plans.

 Here is Good News: How to Solve This Looming Problem 

The IRS has a voluntary remedial program called the VCP (voluntary compliance program) to correct these plan document deficiencies.  The IRS position is that retirement plans may be re-qualified only by having the plan sponsor voluntarily come forward before an IRS audit by submitting the newly drafted delinquent restatements and/or interim amendments to the IRS in accordance with some very detailed procedures and documentation pursuant to Revenue Procedure 2008-50.  Once the IRS reviews and hopefully approves the application and the newly drafted required documentation, the plan is deemed to be in full compliance with applicable law and such plan is retroactively tax qualified.

Instead of paying a steep monetary penalty, the VCP submission results in the paying of a filing fee to the IRS.  Sometimes, if the violation is quite limited the filing fee can be as low as $375.  (Remember, you will still need to pay for documentation services associated with plan restatements and interim amendments.  However, these costs would have been incurred in any event to keep your plan in full compliance with the law.)  The important point here is that the use of the VCP program avoids the risk of plan disqualification or the imposition of a large monetary penalty.

 How We Can Help:

Numerous VCP program applications under the applicable Revenue Procedure 2008-50 have been submitted by this office.  This application along with the needed plan restatements and interim amendments must be carefully drafted to ensure efficient negotiations and a successful outcome with the IRS.

The Bottom Line:

Plan sponsors should immediately and voluntarily move to correct plan deficiencies pursuant to the more taxpayer friendly and cheaper VCP program before the IRS audits your plan.  Once the IRS commences an audit, the VCP submission strategy is no longer an option and your plan is exposed to disqualification and/or severe monetary penalties.

Looking forward, you must establish a program with your plan adviser to ensure that your plan is kept in compliance with the laws concerning plan restatements, interim amendments and the changing IRS submission requirements and deadlines.  This will avoid having to deal with all of these problems again in the future.  In fact, the Revenue Procedure requires a disclosure in the VCP application as to what new procedures the plan sponsors will use to avoid this problem in the future.

 Do Not Wait

Do not wait for the IRS to audit your retirement plan as it then will be too late to get the cheaper and less painful VCP deal.  For a free initial consult to assess your retirement plan situation, please do not hesitate to call me, Steven J. Fromm, Esquire at 215-735-2336.  All consultations are confidential and covered by attorney-client privilege.

Copyright © 2009, Steven J. Fromm

Read Full Post »

As with most things in life, when things are bad, there usually is something good that can come out of it.  Our current economic troubles have resulted in many closely held or small businesses being worth far less then they used to be.  This is not a good situation for businesses that are hanging on to survive or have to be sold for various reasons.  However, for people wanting to minimize estate and gift taxes and have been putting off taking a cold hard look at their estate plan, now may be the perfect time to explore the gifting of shares in their businesses.

For example, some businesses have senior family members who own all or most of the shares of the outstanding stock of their corporation.  With the value of the business being down right now, more shares could be gifted to younger family members involved in the business.

Example:  Mr. Senior owns 80% of Deflated, Inc., while his two sons who work in the business own 10% each.  Deflated was worth $3,000,000 in 2007.  By the end of 2008, it was worth $2,500,000.  Mr. Senior talks to tax counsel and after exploring the tax strategies and planning tools discussed below decides to gift 20% of his shares worth $500,000 to each of his sons, leaving him with a 40% stock interest.

The tax advantages are as follows:

1.  The stock gifted to each son was previously worth $600,000. The current market value of such stock to each son is now only $500,000.  If Deflated, Inc. goes back to its value once the economy recovers, then Mr. Senior has just transferred $200,000 ($100,000 to each son) to his sons estate and gift tax free.  At a current marginal estate tax rate of 45%, Mr. Senior’s family can save $90,000 (45%*$200,000).

2.  The gifts to each son are gifts of a minority interest in Deflated, Inc. and such gifts lack marketability due to the limited market for such shares.  Estate and gift tax rules allow discounts for these factors that reduce the value of assets transferred.  (Caveat: There are some legislative proposals being floated in Washington seeking to limit this tax strategy. Stay tuned.) These discounts for minority interests and lack of marketability conservatively can be 25%, sometimes more.   With such discounts the gift of each $500,000 is reduced by $125,000. At a current marginal estate tax rate of 45%, Mr. Senior’s family can save another $112,500 (45%*$250,000).

3.  Outright gifts of stock are eligible for the annual donee exclusion of $13,000.  In addition, Mr. Senior has a spouse who will join in this gift, which will allow for a second $13,000 exclusion.  So the taxable gift to each son is now reduced by $26,000 (Mr. Senior’s annual exclusion of  $13,000 and his spousal joinder of another $13,000).  Additional savings to the family is $23,400 (45%*26,000*2 sons).

4.  If Mr. Senior makes no further gifts and dies with his reduced ownership interest of 40%,  his estate can claim the minority interest and lack of marketability discounts against his remaining shares.  If Mr. Senior dies in 2014, when deflated is worth $4,000,000, his family can take a 25% lack of marketability/minority interest discount, saving his family another $180,000 (45%*$400,000 marketability/minority interest discount[$1,600,000 forty-percent interest*25%]).

Bottom Line:  Mr. Senior can take advantage of the lousy economy, the lack of marketability and minority interest discounts and the annual donee exclusions with a spousal joinder to save his family a tremendous amount of future estate and inheritance taxes.

Caveat:  Remember that this type of planning depends on the particular factual setting of each client.  One difference in the facts can change the outcome.  Also, be aware that state inheritance taxes have not been considered in the above example.  Finally, the above should not be considered as legal advice.  Please consult with tax counsel to discuss your particular factual situation.

Copyright © 2009, Steven J. Fromm.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: