Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

B is for Bad Debt (Business)

In some instances bad debts may be written off.  Here we’ll look at what factors must be present in order to take a deduction.

For Accrual Method Taxpayers:

When using the accrual accounting method, management estimates an allowance for bad debts based on several factors such as prior experience, industry comparisons, the debtor’s ability to pay and/or appraisals of current economic conditions.  This is known as the allowance method.  Keep in mind; this is an estimate of an event that has not yet occurred.  When it comes to tax, the IRS does not allow you to make this estimate.  As you can imagine, it would be abused as a “tax planning” strategy.  Therefore, for tax purposes, we can only deduct actual bad debts.  The following factors must exist in order to deduct a bad debt:

  1. It must be a creditor-debtor relationship
  2. There must be a legal obligation to pay a fixed sum of money
  3. There must be an actual loss of money (loss of time spent rendering services is not a loss of money unless the uncollected fee has already been included in taxable revenues on the accrual method)
  4. Proof that the debt is and will remain uncollectible
  5. A business purpose for the debt

When using the specific charge-off method to deduct bad debt (unlike the allowance method previously discussed), management has to prove that the debt is uncollectible to expense it.

Recovery of previously written off bad debts in subsequent years is recognized as other income in the year received.  As always, see your tax preparer when determining what your business can deduct for bad debt expense.

For Cash Method Taxpayers:

Cash basis businesses cannot deduct bad debt since the related revenue was never recognized.  There would only be bad debt for actual cash lost, i.e. because it was paid in cash to a vendor, etc.

A is for AUTO EXPENSES

Business auto expenses… it’s an area of the tax law that can be confusing and lead to abuse.  Businesses have two methods available for determining the most beneficial expense.  The following will explain each approach.

For a business, a vehicle can be deducted in two ways; actual expense and mileage.  When using actual expense, the vehicle can be depreciated and maintenance, insurance, gas and other expenses can be deducted. When using the standard mileage rate to calculate the deduction, depreciation expense is  included, therefore separate depreciate expense would not be taken.  When you purchase a new vehicle we will calculate the deduction using both methods (assuming all information is provided) and the method that gives the higher deduction will be used.  You should keep a log for each company owned vehicle recording the mileage and expenses for each.  This can become tedious but it will be one of the first items requested by an IRS auditor

If your employees are allowed to use company owned vehicles on personal time, it is considered a taxable fringe benefit.  We collect certain data and use an IRS table to determine the taxable amount.  This allows the business to deduct one hundred percent of the auto expense.  The employee pays tax on the personal use of the vehicle.  The IRS table for this taxable fringe is so beneficial that this is often the best method for both employer and employee.  The most important pieces of information needed are the annual business and personal miles on the vehicle.

As always, see your tax preparer in considering your tax situation.

A-Z Series – A is for Adoption Expense

We are starting two A to Z series (one for individual taxes and one for entity taxes) which will run through tax season.  We hope to bring you some useful information about the tax world.  As always, if there is a topic you’d like us to write on, please e-mail us your requests!  We love input!

Our first one is A for Adoption Expense.  Adopting a child is a noble act and unfortunately a costly one.  However, you may be eligible for a tax credit if you meet certain criteria.

  1. The child must be under the age 18 or
  2. Physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself/herself
  3. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with a modified Adjusted Gross Income  between $185,210 and $225,210 (tax year 2011) 

 Qualifying expenses include: 

–          Adoption fees

–          Attorney’s fees

–          Court costs

–          Travel expenses

The tax credit is limited to $13,360 (tax year 2011) per child.  You cannot take the credit until the year in which the adoption is final.  You will be required to attach a copy of the adoption order or decree to your tax return.  After the adoption is final, you can take the credit in the year in which you pay the expenses.  Keep in mind, the limitation amount is cumulative for each child.  It is not an annual amount.

Some employers offer adoption assistance programs to their employees (what an incredible benefit if you have this!).   If you receive assistance payments from your employer, the IRS will allow you to exclude up to $13,360 per child from income.  Both the credit and exclusion can be claimed for the same adoption; however, both cannot be claimed for the same expense.  Thus, for example if you spent $30,000, you could exclude $13,360 and take a credit of up to $13, 360.  The limit applies separately to the credit and exclusion if both are taken (meaning you can utilize both the $13,360 credit and the $13,360 exclusion from income.

If an adoption is unsuccessful, the expenses are combined with expenses of a later successful adoption for dollar limits.

If you adopt a special needs child, you are able to claim the full credit of $13,360 even if you don’t have $13,360 in qualified adoption expenses.

NOTE:  Adopting your spouse’s child or costs related to a surrogate parenting arrangement does not qualify for the credit or exclusion.

As always, see a tax professional when dealing with unique situations such as this.  There are additional facts to consider in each case which cannot be covered in one blog.

IRS Announces Cost of Living Adjustments

The Internal Revenue Service announced cost of living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other tax benefits for Tax Year 2012.  The highlights include: 

  • 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans elective deferral increased from $16,500 to $17,000 (Catch-up contribution limit for those aged 50 and over remains unchanged at $5,500) 
  • Defined benefit plan limitation increased from $195,000 to $200,000 
  • Limitation for defined contribution plans increased from $49,000 to $50,000 
  • The definition of a highly compensated employee is increased from $110,000 to $115,000 
  • The definition of a key employee in a top-heavy employee benefit plan is increased from $160,000 to $165,000 in compensation
  • Personal and dependent exemption increased from $3,700 to $3,800 
  • Standard deduction for married filing a joint return increased from $11,600 to $11,900 
  • Standard deduction for singles and married filing separately increased from $5,800 to $5,950 
  • Standard deduction for heads of household increased from $8,500 to $8,700 
  • The foreign earned income deduction increased from $92,900 to $95,100 
  • Exclusion from estate tax amount increased from $5,000,000 to $5,120,000 (The annual exclusion for gifts remains unchanged at $13,000) 
  • Standard Continental United States  per diem rate increased to $123 ($77 lodging, $46 meals and incidental expenses) 

New business, medical and charity mileage rates have not been released as of this writing.

Time may be running out for large tax-free gifts!

Early this year, Congress passed a two-year revision of the Estate tax law.  One of the elements of this “two year wonder” is that the amount exempt from gift tax was increased to $5 million.  This meant that a married couple with proper estate planning in place could gift up to $10 million to heirs without any gift tax.  We have never seen an exemption of this magnitude.  The law as passed earlier this year expires 12-31-2012 when, if congress doesn’t act, it returns to $1 million. 

The congressional “super committee” charged with balancing our budget is seriously considering  changing this $5 million exemption back to $1 million THIS MONTH!

Rumor has it that for a variety of reasons, this is a compromise Republicans appear willing to accept.

The fear is that the change will take place in a bill which will get an immediate yea or nay vote in the senate.  If passed as expected, it will be enacted as part of a deficit reduction measure which will become law as of the vote….likely on November November 23rd (Thanksgiving is early this year).

Those who have been planning to make large gifts to take advantage of this $5 million exemption need to complete these gifts by November 23rd to be safe.  If you had planned on revising your estate plan to put a large gift into play before the end of 2012, I think you should move on those revisions quickly. 

Gifts of this magnitude should never be made without careful thought and planning.  If you have that sort of wealth and you wish to pass it to your heirs at some point, it would be extremely wise to get started on the planning.  If this pending reduction doesn’t become law this month and it is being considered as a deficit reduction measure, there is little chance that the $5 million exemption will survive into 2013 and beyond as many estate planners initially thought.

We always suggest that you seek professional assistance when considering strategies like this.  It is MOST IMPORTANT in the area of estate and gift planning!

Year-End Tax Planning, Part 2

I previously compiled a list of year-end tax planning strategies for individuals.

Here is a list of year-end strategies for businesses and business owners:

1.   Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the business property expensing option.

Code sec. 179 expense: For tax years beginning in 2010 and 2011, the expensing limit is $500,000 and the investment ceiling limit is $2,000,000, and a limited amount of expensing may be claimed for qualified real property. However, unless Congress changes the rules, for tax year beginning 2012, the dollar limit will drop to $125,000 and $500,000 (both indexed for inflation) respectively, and expensing won’t available for qualified real property. Keep in mind, Sec. 179 deductions are limited by net income, thus, they cannot be used to create a tax loss.

Bonus depreciation: Property that does not qualify for an immediate tax write off under the Sec. 179 may qualify for bonus depreciation. Unlike the Sec. 179 deduction, there are no restrictions on the amount of qualifying property and there is no taxable income limit. The deduction is 100% of the cost for qualified property purchased and placed in service during 2011. This first year write off won’t be available next year (2012) unless Congress acts to extend it.

2.   Businesses that hire qualifying workers (such as certain veterans) before the end of 2011 can claim a credit up to 40% of the first $6,000 in wages paid to each such employee.

3.   Make qualified research expenses before the end of 2011 to claim a research credit, which won’t be available for post 2011 expenditures unless Congress extends the credit.

4.   If you are self-employed and haven’t done so yet, set up a self-employed retirement plan.

5.   If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation, and the business incurs a loss in 2011, you may need to plan ahead to be sure you can take advantage of that loss. These rules can be complicated,  and you should consult with your tax adviser.

6. Depending on your particular situation, you may also want to consider deferring a debt-cancellation event until 2012, and disposing of a passive activity to allow you to deduct suspended losses.

Again, we recommend that you always, see a professional when considering tax planning strategies for your situation. There are very important details underlying each of these strategies which must be thoroughly understood before you employ them!

Year End Tax Planning Time!

As the end of 2011 approaches, it is a good time to start year-end tax planning to minimize your individual and business taxes.

Here is a list of Year – end strategies for individuals:

  1. Realize losses on stock while substantially preserving your investment position. For example, you can sell the original holding at a loss, then buy back the same securities at least 31 days later.
  2. Postpone income until 2012 and accelerate deductions into 2011 to lower your 2011 tax bill. This strategy may enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2011 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income. Postponing income also is desirable for those taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year. However, in some cases, it may pay to actually accelerate income into 2011 if a person’s marginal tax rate is much lower this year than it will be next year.  Bush tax cuts apply through 2012. If Congress does not act rates will go up in 2013.
  3. Consider using a credit card to prepay expenses that can generate deduction for this year.
  4. Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2011 keeping in mind that many tax deductions allowed for purposes of calculating regular taxes are disallowed for AMT purposes. These include the deduction of property taxes, state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions. As a result, in some cases if you pay Alternative Minimum Tax, these deductions should not be accelerated.
  5. If you believe a Roth IRA is better than a traditional IRA, and wish to remain in the market for the long term, consider converting all or part of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your taxable income for 2011. If you are expecting a business loss in 2011 that could offset the income realized on the Roth conversion, your tax consequences may be minimal.
  6. If you are a homeowner, make energy saving improvements to the residence. You may qualify for a tax credit.
  7. If you are age 70-1/2 or older, own IRAs and are thinking of making a charitable gift, consider arranging for the gift to be made directly by your IRA trustee.  This is more tax efficient than taking the IRA distribution in cash then making a cash contribution.
  8. Purchase qualified small business stock (QSBS) before end of this year. There is no tax on gain from the sale of such stock if it is purchased after September 27, 2010 and before January 1, 2012, and held for more than five years.

Although I have covered a number of topics in this blog, I did not address every issue.  We recommend that you always, see a professional when considering tax planning strategies for your personal situation.  There are very important details underlying each of these strategies which must be thoroughly understood before you employ them!

The Dry Cleaner

One morning I stopped by my dry cleaners to drop off some clothes. There was a sign on the door thanking the loyal customers of so many years, and due to an equipment breakdown, same day service was no longer available.  Also, the prices were increased by about 40%. The reason I have been using this cleaner for the past 20 years is that he offered same day service.  The convenience of only having to remember “CLEANERS” one day a week made this dry cleaner very appealing to me.  He was also the cheapest cleaner in town.

One day I asked the owner what happened.  He told me that his equipment was very old and he had never been able to save enough money to replace it.  Now, with credit markets as tight as they are, he cannot get financing to purchase new equipment. 

There are valuable lessons here for business owners: 

It is critical that you know your competitive advantages and disadvantages, in the customers’ eyes.  This business owner thought that he had to have the lowest price to compete.  So he priced his service about 16% to 30% below the competition. He was the only cleaner that offered same day service without an extra “same day” charge.  Now, he no longer has either the price advantage or the service advantage; he is just like his competitors. 

I wonder how much business he would have lost if he raised his prices to a point midway between the competition’s regular price and their “same day” price?  Certainly, he would have lost the “bottom feeders”, but by observation, most of his business was “going out” or office work clothes and uniforms…..clothes people need every day for work.  I’ll bet he wouldn’t have lost much business at all.  You are talking about 50 to 75 cents per garment. 

Here are some lessons in this unfortunate story:

  1. Know your costs…..including the wasting cost of the assets used in your business.  Nothing lasts forever.  Manufacturers have data they are more than willing to share.  Also consider the obsolescence risk.  Due to the high cost of labor, most manufacturers are automating equipment to greater degrees to limit labor inputs.  Many business owners think of depreciation as something you do for taxes.  In reality, it is “a rational method of allocating the cost of an asset to the periods it is used in the business.”
  2. Know your customers.  Ask them why they like to do business with you.  They will tell you.  If my cleaner friend had asked me I would have told him that it was worth a premium to be able to pick up my cleaning the same day I dropped it off.  If most customers were like me, he could have earned more over the life of his business and been in a position to replace the equipment.  When he is ready to retire, he would have had a saleable business.  I’m not sure he has that anymore.  He’s just another dry cleaner now.
  3. Find differentiators other than price.  Someone else can always do what you do cheaper.  Find a unique value proposition you can offer your customers and set your price based on that value proposition.  Regularly review your cost of providing the goods or services you sell and make sure you protect your margins. Frequently we help our clients in this regard by illustrating “cost, volume profit analysis” at various price points with various volume assumptions.  It is much easier for a small business to achieve and retain profitability at low volume and high margins than attempting to ramp up volume and hold down prices.
  4. Always keep an eye on technology as applied to your business.  Don’t be afraid to adopt new technology if your due diligence indicates that it will improve your value proposition. 

Michael Gerber, author of the “E Myth” and several other best selling business books, has built an empire based on a simple concept:  An owner must work “on” his business, not “in” his business.  

We must all work smarter, not harder.  Working hard at the wrong thing frequently leads to exhaustion, burnout and failure.

QuickBooks ventures into the world of Customer Relations Management

Jodi Coppens of AdvantEdge Accounting Solutions is a consultant we have worked with for years.  Jodi is an expert with the MAS 90/200 software family of products and the QuickBooks software line of business software.

Our clients really appreciate Jodi’s expertise in helping them maximize their investment in software.  Jodi was telling me about some significant features being added to QuickBooks for the 2012 releases.

I asked Jodi to write this blog for our readers:

By the way, if you are interested in contributing to our blog, email Mary for more information. mmm@politoeppich.com

QuickBooks takes baby steps into the world of CRM with the release of its 2012 product line!

Introducing the Lead Center:  moving towards a mini-CRM functionality, a new “Center” has been added to manage Leads.  You have basic support for tracking your interactions with potential customer.  You can add lead information one entry at a time, or cut and paste multiple entries from an Excel spreadsheet (after moving columns to conform to the mapping that QuickBooks requires). Once a lead becomes a customer, you can easily move the lead data to your customer database with a single click, and the best thing is, they don’t clutter up the customer list until that time.

Users who desire more-robust CRM functionality now have the option of integrating this software with Salesforce.com through the new Salesforce for QuickBooks add-on.

Also introducing the Calendar View:  You can now access an organized and automatically populated calendar view of appointments, your To Do’s list, and invoices and bills coming due or past due.

You can also use this view to see what transactions you entered on any given date. I think I’m going to find this very useful!!

For more preliminary information on new and improved features in the 2012 product line check our Blog!

Jodi M. Coppens 760-722-6839

www.AdvantEdgeOnline.com

Jodi@AdvantEdgeOnline.com 

Nonprofits: Expense Classifications

Over the summer, I found myself consumed with nonprofit work.  It’s the time of year when that is pretty much all I do.  It is occasionally broken up with other jobs, but they seem few and far between.  The following blog post is  focused on nonprofit topics:

Nonprofit entities are required to classify expenses between three categories: Program, Management & General, and Fundraising.  Determining how to classify expenses in these categories is usually a matter of judgement. 

The IRS does provide some guidance, but not much.  Hopefully the following will help answer some questions. 

The following descriptions come straight out of the Form 990 instructions

Program Services (Expenses) are mainly those activities that further the organization’s exempt purposes.  What is your exempt purpose?  How are you accomplishing that purpose?  What are the programs you run?  

Management and General are expenses that relate to the organization’s overall operations and management, rather than to fundraising activities or program services.  Overall management usually includes the salaries and expenses of the organization’s chief executive officer and his or her staff, unless a part of their time is spent directly supervising program services or fundraising activities.  In that case, salaries and expenses should be allocated among management, fundraising, and program services. 

The IRS generally considers the following expenses to be management and general:

Costs of board of directors meetings, committee meetings and staff meetings (unless they involve specific program services or fundraising activities)

  • General legal and accounting
  • General liability insurance
  • Office management
  • Human resources
  • Management of investments 

Fundraising expenses are the expenses incurred in soliciting contributions, gifts and grants.  If you have contributions revenue, you should have some fundraising expenses.  These expenses include:

  • Publicizing and conducting fundraising campaigns
  • Soliciting bequests and grants from foundations, other organizations or government entities
  • Participating in federated fundraising campaigns (such as United Way)
  • Preparing and distributing fundraising manuals, instructions and other materials 

Expenses will either be direct expenses or indirect.  The direct expenses are easy, they are identified specifically with an organization’s activity or project and can be assigned with a high degree of accuracy.  Indirect expenses are costs that are not identified specifically to one category or another and must be allocated accordingly.  If the CEO spends time in management, programs and fundraising, compensation must be allocated among the three categories.  Oftentimes using a percentage based on hours spent in each activity is the most realistic approach. 

I wish I could say it’s easy to make the determination between these expense categories in all cases.  The fact of the matter is, we run into the grey areas with most returns we prepare and discussion is needed to make the determination.  Seek advice from your tax preparer when trying to make the distinction.  Have an in depth conversation about the activities. 

One way to simplify the process is to prepare an annual budget determining in advance the types of expense activity to be included in each category.

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