Five-Point Meal Expense Test

business-dining_LI-532x266 Five-Point Meal Expense Test
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The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 generally disallowed all deductions for business entertainment, amusement, and recreation (see the May 2018 CPA Client Bulletin). However, the TCJA did not specifically turn thumbs up or down on the deductibility of business meal expenses.

Example: Jim Morgan, who owns a roof cleaning business, takes a prospect to lunch and pays the $60 bill. Under the old law, Jim could take a $30 (50%) tax deduction.

Is this still the case? In Notice 2018-76, issued in the second half of last year, the IRS clarified that such business meals generally remain 50% tax deductible. Proposed regulations will be published in the future, but business owners can rely on Notice 2018-76 in the interim.

Essentially, this notice confirms that anything that might be considered entertainment won’t be a deductible expense. The IRS’s list includes nightclubs, theaters, country clubs, sports events, and so on. Regular business meals, on the other hand, may still qualify for the 50% deduction.

Five Points

Drilling down, the IRS listed five tests that must be passed in order to support the deduction:

  1. The expense must be an ordinary and necessary expense, paid or incurred in carrying on a trade or business.
  2. The meal can’t be considered lavish or extravagant, considering the business context.
  3. The taxpayer (or an employee) must be present.
  4. The other party must be a current or potential business customer, client, consultant, or similar business contact.
  5. In the case of food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity, the food and beverages must be purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages must be stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices, or receipts and must be priced reasonably.

Example: Carol Clark takes a client to a baseball game, where Carol buys hot dogs and drinks for herself and the client. The cost of the game tickets is not deductible. Carol can deduct 50% of the cost of the food and beverages as long as she can show that these outlays were separate from the ticket cost.

Note that the IRS uses the expression “food and beverages” in this notice. This may imply that the cost of taking a business contact out for coffee or alcoholic drinks may be 50% deductible, even if no meal was served.

It’s also worth noting that activities generally perceived to be entertainment may be deductible business expenses ― if you’re in an appropriate business. The IRS gives examples of a professional theater critic attending a play and a garment manufacturer conducting a fashion show for retailers.

Business expenses can get complicated. Our staff can let you know if some type of entertainment could be considered deductible advertising or public relations for your company. Give us a call.

Double IRA Season Is Here

laptop-woman-hands_LI-532x266 Double IRA Season Is Here
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The start of each year might be considered “Double IRA” season. Until mid-April (the 15th, in 2019), you still can make contributions to an IRA for 2018, if you have funds you’d like to save for retirement. Most workers and their spouses may each contribute up to $5,500, or $6,500 for those who were 50 or older at the end of 2018.

If you have additional dollars to invest, you also can put them into an IRA for 2019, now that the year has begun. The sooner you put money into a 2019 IRA and choose investments, the sooner tax-advantaged buildup might begin.

Note that such IRA contributions are permitted even if you also participate in an employer’s retirement plan. The same is true if you participate in a SEP-IRA or SIMPLE IRA through your company or self-employment.

Three for the Money

Many workers can choose from among three types of IRAs.

Deductible IRAs. Whereas most workers and their spouses can contribute to regular (traditional) IRAs, only some people can deduct their contributions. A full deduction is available if you do not participate in an employer’s retirement plan; if you do participate, the deduction allowed depends on your income.

Example 1: Paula Adams, a single taxpayer who participates in a 401(k), must have had modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $63,000 or less in 2018 for a full deduction on her 2018 tax return. If her MAGI is greater than $63,000 but less than $73,000, a partial deduction is allowed.

Different MAGI numbers apply to married taxpayers filing joint returns, qualifying widows or widowers, and married taxpayers filing separate returns.

Contributions to traditional IRAs are not allowed after you reach age 70½.

 Roth IRAs. Contributions to Roth IRAs are never tax deductible. However, once you have had a Roth IRA account for five years and reach age 59½, all withdrawals ― including withdrawn investment earnings ― are untaxed.

There are no age limits for contributions to a Roth IRA. However, income limits apply.

Example 2: Rick Baker, a single taxpayer, must have had MAGI of $120,000 or less in 2018 for a full contribution to a Roth IRA for 2018. Rick can make a partial contribution if his MAGI is greater than $120,000 but less than $135,000, and no contribution if his MAGI is $135,000 or more.

Different MAGI numbers for Roth IRA contributions apply to married taxpayers filing joint returns, qualifying widows or widowers, and married taxpayers filing separate returns.

Nondeductible traditional IRAs. Some workers and workers’ spouses will not be able to deduct contributions to traditional IRAs or contribute to Roth IRAs because of their income.

Example 3: Carol Davis, a single taxpayer who participates in a 401(k), had MAGI of $220,000 in 2018. That puts her over the upper MAGI limits for traditional IRA deductions ($73,000) and Roth IRA contributions ($135,000), mentioned previously. However, as long as Carol was under age 70½ by the end of 2018, she can make a full nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. Any earnings within this IRA will not be taxed until money is withdrawn.

Once money is in a traditional IRA, it can be converted to a Roth IRA, in which future distributions may be untaxed. Roth IRA conversions have no income or age limits.

Tax Trap

Roth IRA conversions generate tax bills if pretax dollars are moving into an after-tax account. That may not be the case if only after-tax dollars are being converted.

Example 4: Suppose that Carol Davis from example 3 is 55 years old. She contributes $6,500 to a nondeductible traditional IRA for 2018. Carol has no pretax money in any other traditional, SEP, or SIMPLE IRA. If she converts that $6,500 to a Roth IRA, Carol will owe no tax. She will have made what’s known as a back-door Roth IRA contribution and will get around the income limits.

Behind the Back Door

  • Suppose a taxpayer with $26,000 of pretax money in a traditional IRA makes a $6,500 nondeductible contribution to a new traditional IRA.
  • That brings the IRA total to $32,500, of which $6,500 (20 percent) is after-tax money.
  • Then, a Roth IRA conversion of any amount will be 20 percent tax-free and 80 percent taxable, regardless of which IRA is used for the Roth conversion.
  • Such back-door Roth conversions may be most appealing to high-income taxpayers with little or no pretax money in traditional, SEP, or SIMPLE IRAs.

Additional Resources

If you need help with your financial plan, we can assist. In addition, below are some of our other financial planning tips you might like.

7 Ways to Prevent Financial Scams Directed At Elders

elderly_LI-532x266 7 Ways to Prevent Financial Scams Directed At Elders
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As tax season ramps up, so do the efforts of scam artists looking to steal people’s financial data and money. Such fraudulent activities often target older adults.

Whether you’re in this age bracket or worry about senior parents and other relatives, here are seven ways to prevent elder financial abuse:

  1. Keep both paper and online financial documents in a secure place. Monitor accounts and retain statements.
  2. Exercise caution when making financial decisions. If someone exerts pressure or promises unreasonably high or guaranteed returns, walk away.
  3. Write checks only to legitimate financial institutions, rather than to a person.
  4. Be alert for phony phone calls. The IRS doesn’t collect money this way. Another scam involves someone pretending to be a grandchild who’s in trouble and needs money. Don’t provide confidential information or send money until you can verify the caller’s identity.
  5. Beware of emails requesting personal data — even if they appear to be from a real financial institution. After all, shouldn’t your banker or financial professional already know these things? Ignore contact information provided in the email. Instead, contact the financial institution through a known telephone number.
  6. As much as possible, maintain a social network. Criminals target isolated people because often they’re less aware of scams and lack trusted confidants.
  7. Work only with qualified professionals, including accountants, bankers and attorneys.

Year-End Bonuses Shouldn’t Break the Bank

qtq80-GQ7bIA-1024x683 Year-End Bonuses Shouldn’t Break the Bank

Rewarding employees at the end of the year can brighten up their holidays and set the stage for your company to enjoy a good start to 2019. Some forethought and careful communications can avoid problems.

A key first step is to check your company’s financial condition. Year-end bonuses can boost morale, but you shouldn’t pay out more than your company can afford. On the other hand, if your business is doing well, some holiday generosity might help it do even better.

Spread the Word

Once you have a budget for bonuses in mind, tell your employees what to expect. Let them know as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly.

Long-time employees probably will expect the type and size of bonus they have received in the past. If that’s not going to be the case, explain the reason for the shortfall. Consider replacing any lack of cash with extra time off, if that’s practical.

Among possible methods of calculating bonuses, giving a flat amount to all full-time workers might be the simplest approach. Another tactic is to give everyone a percentage of their salary; the percentage might escalate for people with management responsibility or special tasks. Performance-based bonuses, which can be sizable, may motivate key employees and could help to retain valued workers.

Tax Treatment 

Cash bonuses are compensation for employees, so employment taxes apply. For income tax withholding, employers have some options about how to handle supplemental pay such as bonuses. Our office can help you choose the right method and properly comply with all the rules. If you use an outside payroll provider, that company should be notified in advance of your plans.

At many companies, cash bonuses might be a few hundred dollars per employee. Some firms, though, pay much larger bonuses as part of some workers’ compensation package. For ample bonuses, it may be advantageous to deduct them for 2018, but defer payment as late as March 15, 2019.

To qualify for this deduct-now-pay-later opportunity, your company must be on the accrual, rather than the cash, basis of accounting. You must spell out the recipients and the amounts involved, perhaps in corporate minutes, by year-end 2018. S corporation shareholders and over-50% C corporation shareholders don’t qualify for this tax benefit.

Reach Out For Assistance

At some companies, a pool of money for bonuses can be deducted at year-end without an employee-by-employee allocation, yet payments can be delayed until mid-March. Several rules apply, such as maintaining the amount declared at year-end. We can guide you through the complexities. Give us a call today.

Additional Resources

Throwing SALT Into The Property-Tax Wound

qtq80-bsL1Ld-1024x577 Throwing SALT Into The Property-Tax Wound

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 sharply raised the standard deduction and placed limits on itemized deductions. In particular, no more than $10,000 can be deducted in state and local tax (SALT) payments on a single or joint tax return.

As a result, most people will take the standard deduction now and get no tax benefit from their property tax payments. Even those who itemize may get little or no tax benefit from their property tax payments if they also have ample outlays for state and possibly local income tax. The bottom line is that property tax payments will be fully or mainly out-of-pocket expenses for most homeowners — and for many home buyers — with reduced federal tax savings as an offset.

When the TCJA was passed, some observers predicted that this effective cost increase would significantly bring down home prices.

Example: John and Mary Smithe pay $20,000 a year in property tax. They had been in a 28% tax bracket, giving them a $5,600 (28% of $20,000) federal tax saving, resulting in a net cost of $14,400. If this couple sells their home, the buyer could owe the full $20,000 a year in property tax. This might reduce the home’s appeal to buyers, who would offer lower bids than would have been offered in the past.

Broadly, such price declines have not happened. The U.S. House Price Index Report from the Federal House Finance Agency shows a 6.5% growth in prices from the second quarter of 2017 to the second quarter of 2018. Nevertheless, residential housing markets are very local, and it is likely that the new tax rules are affecting numerous transactions, especially in areas where property taxes are steep.

For Sellers

If you are planning to sell a primary residence or second home, be aware that buyers probably will raise questions about the ongoing property tax they will incur. You should know the amount you’re paying now and the amounts you have paid in the past. If the growth rate has been modest, or if your home is taxed less than those in your neighborhood, tell your real estate agent. Then, your agent can use this fact as a selling point.

All homeowners, particularly those who plan a sale, should investigate the possibility of reducing their property tax bill. You should find out the procedure for obtaining a lower assessment in your community and see if you might qualify. Any reduction in annual tax obligation may be worth the effort, from increased cash flow today and a potentially higher selling price tomorrow.

For Buyers

If you are planning to buy a house, know your tax situation. Will you be taking the standard deduction? Will your itemized SALT deductions be capped? You’ll know whether you’ll get any tax savings from deducting property tax, so you will know what to expect in after-tax costs from a home purchase. If those costs, which are likely to rise in the future, might strain your budget, you can drop your bid price or look for another place with lower property taxes.

The IRS 15% Solution

Taxpayers in high tax states may hope that state “workarounds” will effectively preserve SALT tax benefits and their housing prices. One tactic has been to create state-run charities to which taxpayers can contribute in return for a credit against state income tax. These contributions would get federal tax deductions, which generally have much higher caps, instead of deductions for state and local tax payments, with lower caps.

In response, the IRS issued proposed regulations on this subject on August 23, 2018. Here, the IRS said that a taxpayer’s charitable deduction will be reduced if the anticipated state tax credit exceeds 15% of the contribution. The message from the IRS is that the new SALT deduction rules will be enforced.

Explaining the Proposed Regulations

  • For example, suppose Ann Clark contributes $20,000 to a state-sponsored health or education charity.
  • Ann expects to receive a $14,000 state income tax credit (70% of $20,000).
  • Ann’s state tax credit is greater than 15% of her contribution.
  • These IRS proposed regulations say that Ann’s charitable deduction will be reduced by $14,000, regardless of when she claims the tax credit.

Questions About Tax Deductions?

Give us a call. We specialize in personal and business taxes for companies, large and small.

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