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Figuring Corporate Estimated Tax

The next quarterly estimated tax payment deadline is June 17 for individuals and businesses, so it’s a good time to review the rules for computing corporate federal estimated payments. You want your business to pay the minimum amount of estimated tax without triggering the penalty for underpayment of estimated tax. Four possible options The required installment of estimated tax that a corporation must pay to avoid a penalty is the lowest amount determined under one of the following four methods:

1. Current year method.

Under this option, a corporation can avoid the estimated tax underpayment penalty by paying 25% of the tax shown on the current tax year’s return (or, if no return is filed, 25% of the tax for the current year) by each of four installment due dates. The corporate due dates are generally April 15, June 15, September 15 and December 15. If a due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday, the payment is due the following business day.

2. Preceding year method.

Under this option, a corporation can avoid the estimated tax underpayment penalty by paying 25% of the tax shown on the return for the preceding tax year by each of four installment due dates. (Note, however, that for 2022, certain corporations can only use the preceding year method to determine their first required installment payment. This restriction is placed on corporations with taxable income of $1 million or more in any of the last three tax years.) In addition, this method isn’t available to corporations with a tax return that was for less than 12 months or a corporation that didn’t file a preceding tax year return that showed some tax liability.

3. Annualized income method.

Under this option, a corporation can avoid the estimated tax underpayment penalty if it pays its “annualized tax” in quarterly installments. The annualized tax is computed on the basis of the corporation’s taxable income for the months in the tax year ending before the due date of the installment and assumes income will be received at the same rate over the full year.

4.  Seasonal income method. Under this option, corporations with recurring seasonal patterns of taxable income can annualize income by assuming income earned in the current year is earned in the same pattern as in preceding years. There’s a somewhat complicated mathematical test that corporations must pass in order to establish that they meet the threshold and therefore qualify to use this method. If you think your corporation might qualify for this method, don’t hesitate to ask for our assistance in determining if it does. Also, note that a corporation can switch among the four methods during a given tax year.

We can examine whether your corporation’s tax bill can be reduced. If you’d like to discuss this matter further, contact us. © 2024

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Timelines: 3 Ways Business Owners Should Look at Succession Planning

Business owners are rightly urged to develop succession plans so their companies will pass on to the next generation, or another iteration of ownership, in a manner that best ensures continued success.

Ideally, the succession plan you develop for your company will play out over a long period that allows everyone plenty of time to adjust to the changes involved. But, as many business owners learned during the pandemic, life comes at you fast. That’s why succession planning should best be viewed from three separate but parallel timelines:

1. Long Term

If you have many years to work with, use this gift of time to identify one or more talented individuals who share your values and have the aptitude to successfully run the company. This is especially important for keeping a family-owned business in the family.

As soon as you’ve identified a successor, and that person is ready, you can begin mentoring the incoming leader to competently run the company and preserve your legacy. Meanwhile, you can carefully determine how to best fund your retirement and structure your estate plan.

2. Short Term

Many business owners wake up one day and realize that they’re almost ready to retire, or move on to another professional endeavor, but they’ve spent little or no time putting together a succession plan. In such a case, you may still be able to choose and train a successor. However, you’ll likely also want to explore alternatives such as selling the company to a competitor or other buyer. Sometimes, even a planned liquidation is the optimal move financially.

In any case, the objective here is less about maintaining the strategic direction of the company and more about ensuring you receive an equitable payout for your ownership share. If you’re a co-owner, drafting a buy-sell agreement is highly advisable. It’s also critical to set a firm departure date and work with a qualified team of professional advisors.

3. In Case of Emergency

As mentioned, the pandemic brought renewed attention to emergency succession planning. True to its name, this approach emphasizes enabling businesses to maintain operations immediately after unforeseen events such as an owner’s death or disability.

If your company doesn’t yet have an emergency succession plan, you should probably create one before you move on to a longer-term plan. Name someone who can take on a credible leadership role if you become seriously ill or injured. Formulate a plan for communicating and delegating duties during a crisis. Make sure everyone knows about the emergency succession plan and how it will affect day-to-day operations, if executed.

As with any important task, the more time you give yourself to create a succession plan, the fewer mistakes or oversights you’re likely to make. Our firm can help you create or refine a plan that suits your financial needs, personal wishes and vision for your company. Contact us. © 2024

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Tax Tips When Buying the Assets of A Business

After experiencing a downturn in 2023, merger and acquisition activity in several sectors is rebounding in 2024. If you’re buying a business, you want the best results possible after taxes. You can potentially structure the purchase in two ways: Buy the assets of the business, or Buy the seller’s entity ownership interest if the target business is operated as a corporation, partnership, or LLC. In this article, we’re going to focus on buying assets.

Asset purchase tax basics

You must allocate the total purchase price to the specific assets acquired. The amount allocated to each asset becomes the initial tax basis of that asset. For depreciable and amortizable assets (such as furniture, fixtures, equipment, buildings, software, and intangibles such as customer lists and goodwill), the initial tax basis determines the post-acquisition depreciation and amortization deductions. When you eventually sell a purchased asset, you’ll have a taxable gain if the sale price exceeds the asset’s tax basis (initial purchase price allocation, plus any post-acquisition improvements, minus any post-acquisition depreciation or amortization).

Asset purchase results with a pass-through entity

Let’s say you operate the newly acquired business as a sole proprietorship, a single-member LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes, a partnership, a multi-member LLC treated as a partnership for tax purposes or an S corporation. In those cases, post-acquisition gains, losses, and income are passed through to you and reported on your personal tax return. Various federal income tax rates can apply to income and gains, depending on the type of asset and how long it’s held before being sold.

Asset purchase results with a C corporation

If you operate the newly acquired business as a C corporation, the corporation pays the tax bills from post-acquisition operations and asset sales. All types of taxable income and gains recognized by a C corporation are taxed at the same federal income tax rate, which is currently 21%.

A tax-smart purchase price allocation

With an asset purchase deal, the most important tax opportunity revolves around how you allocate the purchase price to the assets acquired. To the extent allowed, you want to allocate more of the price to: Assets that generate higher-taxed ordinary income when converted into cash (such as inventory and receivables), Assets that can be depreciated relatively quickly (such as furniture and equipment), and Intangible assets (such as customer lists and goodwill) that can be amortized over 15 years. You want to allocate less to assets that must be depreciated over long periods (such as buildings) and to land, which can’t be depreciated. You’ll probably want to get appraised fair market values for the purchased assets to allocate the total purchase price to specific assets. As stated above, you’ll generally want to allocate more of the price to certain assets and less to others to get the best tax results. Because the appraisal process is more of an art than a science, there can potentially be several legitimate appraisals for the same group of assets. The tax results from one appraisal may be better for you than the tax results from another. Nothing in the tax rules prevents buyers and sellers from agreeing to use legitimate appraisals that result in acceptable tax outcomes for both parties. Settling on appraised values becomes part of the purchase/sale negotiation process. That said, the appraisal that’s finally agreed to must be reasonable.

Plan ahead

Remember, when buying the assets of a business, the total purchase price must be allocated to the acquired assets. The allocation process can lead to better or worse post-acquisition tax results. We can help you get the former instead of the latter. So get your advisor involved early, preferably during the negotiation phase. Contact us. © 2024

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7 Common Payroll Risks for Small to Midsize Businesses

If your company has been in business for a while, you may not pay much attention to your payroll system so long as it’s running smoothly. But don’t get too complacent. Major payroll errors can pop up unexpectedly — creating huge disruptions costing time and money to fix, and, perhaps worst of all, compromising the trust of your employees. For these reasons, businesses are well-advised to conduct payroll audits at least once annually to guard against the many risks inherent to payroll management. Here are seven such risks to be aware of:

1. Inaccurate recordkeeping. If you don’t keep detailed and accurate records, it will probably come back to haunt you. For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires businesses to maintain records of employees’ earnings for at least three years. Violations of the FLSA can trigger severe penalties. Be sure you and your staff know what records to keep and have sound policies and procedures in place for keeping them.

2. Employee misclassification. Given the widespread use of “gig workers” in today’s economy, companies are at high risk for employee misclassification. This occurs when a business engages independent contractors but, in the view of federal authorities, the company treats them like employees. Violating the applicable rules can leave you owing back taxes and penalties, plus you may have to restore expensive fringe benefits.

3. Manual processes. More than likely, if your business prepares its own payroll, it uses some form of payroll software. That’s good. Today’s products are widely available, relatively inexpensive, and generally easy to use. However, some companies — particularly small ones — may still rely on manual processes to record or input critical data. Be careful about this, as it’s a major source of errors. To the extent feasible, automate as much as you can.

4. Privacy violations. You generally can’t manage payroll without data such as Social Security numbers, home addresses, birth dates, and bank account numbers. Unfortunately, possessing such information puts you squarely in the sights of hackers and those pernicious purveyors of ransomware. Invest thoroughly in proper cybersecurity measures and regularly update these safeguards.

5. Internal fraud. Occupational (or internal) fraud remains a major threat to businesses. Schemes can range from “cheating” on timesheets by rank-and-file workers to embezzlement by those higher on the organizational chart. Among the most fundamental ways to protect your payroll function from fraud is to require segregation of duties. In other words, one employee, no matter how trusted, should never completely control the process. If you don’t have enough employees to segregate duties, consider outsourcing.

6. Legal compliance. As a business owner, you’re probably not an expert on the latest regulatory payroll developments affecting your industry. That’s OK; laws and regulations are constantly evolving. However, failing to comply with the current rules could cost you money and hurt your company’s reputation. So, be sure to have a trustworthy attorney on speed dial that you can turn to for assistance when necessary.

7. Tax compliance. Employers are responsible for calculating tax withholding on employee wages. In addition to deducting federal payroll tax from paychecks, your organization must contribute its own share of payroll tax. If you get it wrong, the IRS could investigate and potentially assess additional tax liability and penalties. That’s where we come in. For help conducting a payroll audit, reviewing your payroll costs, and, of course, managing your tax obligations, contact us.

© 2024

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Employee or Independent Contractor? A Guide to the New Rule

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule on January 10, 2024, significantly revising its guidance on the classification of workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as either employees or independent contractors, which took effect on March 11, 2024. This rule aims to provide clearer analysis for determining a worker’s classification and is designed to be more aligned with long-standing judicial precedents. The objective is to mitigate the risk of misclassifying employees as independent contractors, which can deprive workers of minimum wage, overtime pay, and other FLSA protections, while also offering a consistent framework for businesses engaging individuals who operate independently​​.

The final rule applies the following six factors to analyze employee or independent contractor status under the FLSA:

(1) opportunity for profit or loss depending on managerial skill;

(2) investments by the worker and the potential employer;

(3) degree of permanence of the work relationship;

(4) nature and degree of control;

(5) extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the potential employer’s business; and

(6) skill and initiative.

Per the DOL, the final rule provides detailed guidance regarding the application of each of these six factors. No factor or set of factors among this list of six has a predetermined weight, and additional factors may be relevant if such factors in some way indicate whether the worker is in business for themself (i.e., an independent contractor), as opposed to being economically dependent on the employer for work (i.e., an employee under the FLSA).

The background and motivation for this update stem from the original intentions of the FLSA, which was enacted in 1938 to establish critical worker protections. The misclassification of employees as independent contractors has been a persistent challenge, leading to situations where workers might not receive rightful employment benefits, including overtime pay, workers’ compensation insurance, employment taxes, and benefits costs. This misclassification also affects organizational obligations and flexibility in workforce management. The DOL emphasizes that the classification of independent contractors should be narrow under FLSA interpretation to prevent circumvention of employment laws​​.

The introduction of this rule reflects the DOL’s commitment to ensuring that labor laws are appropriately applied to protect workers while also providing clear guidance for employers. By revising the classification guidance, the DOL intends to address and reduce the incidences of misclassification, ensuring that workers are correctly categorized and thereby receive the protections and benefits to which they are entitled under the law​​.

For more detailed information on the new rule and its implications, you can visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s website and other legal analyses provided by labor and employment law experts.

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Small Businesses Can Help Employees Save for Retirement, too.

Many small business owners run their companies as leanly as possible. This often means not offering what are considered standard fringe benefits for midsize or larger companies, such as a retirement plan. If this is the case for your small business, don’t give up on the idea of helping your employees save for retirement in a tax-advantaged manner. When you’re ready, there are a couple account-based options that are relatively simple and inexpensive to launch and administrate. SEP IRAs Simplified Employee Pension IRAs (SEP IRAs) are individual accounts that small businesses establish on behalf of each participant. (Self-employed individuals can also establish SEP IRAs.) Participants own their accounts, so they’re immediately 100% vested. If a participant decides to leave your company, the account balance goes with them — most people roll it over into a new employer’s qualified plan or traditional IRA.

What are the advantages for you?

SEP IRAs don’t require annual employer contributions. That means you can choose to contribute only when cash flow allows. In addition, there are typically no setup fees for SEP IRAs, though participants generally must pay trading commissions and fund expense ratios (a fee typically set as a percentage of the fund’s average net assets). In 2024, the contribution limit is $69,000 (up from $66,000 in 2023) or up to 25% of a participant’s compensation. That amount is much higher than the 2024 limit for 401(k)s, which is $23,000 (up from $22,500 in 2023). What’s more, employer contributions are tax-deductible. Meanwhile, participants won’t pay taxes on their SEP IRA funds until they’re withdrawn.

There are some disadvantages to consider.

Although participants own their accounts, only employers can make SEP IRA contributions. And if you contribute sparsely or sporadically, participants may see little value in the accounts. Also, unlike many other qualified plans, SEP IRAs don’t permit participants age 50 or over to make additional “catch-up” contributions.

SIMPLE IRAs

Another strategy is to offer employees SIMPLE IRAs. (“SIMPLE” stands for “Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees.”) As is the case with SEP IRAs, your business creates a SIMPLE IRA for each participant, who’s immediately 100% vested in the account. Unlike SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs allow participants to contribute to their accounts if they so choose. SIMPLE IRAs are indeed relatively simple to set up and administer. They don’t require the sponsoring business to file IRS Form 5500, “Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan.” Nor must you submit the plan to nondiscrimination testing, which is generally required for 401(k)s. Meanwhile, participants face no setup fees and enjoy tax-deferred growth on their account funds. Best of all, they can contribute more to a SIMPLE IRA than they can to a self-owned traditional or Roth IRA. The 2024 contribution limit for SIMPLE IRAs is $16,000 (up from $15,500 in 2023), and participants age 50 or over can make catch-up contributions to the tune of $3,500 this year (unchanged from last year). On the downside, that contribution limit is lower than the limit for 401(k)s. Also, because contributions are made pretax, participants can’t deduct them, nor can they take out plan loans. Then again, making pretax contributions does lower their taxable income. Perhaps most important is that employer contributions to SIMPLE IRAs are mandatory — you can’t skip them if cash flow gets tight. However, generally, you may deduct contributions as a business expense.

Is now the time?

Overall, the job market remains somewhat tight and, in some industries, the competition for skilled labor is fierce. Offering one of these IRA types may enable you to attract and retain quality employees more readily. Some small businesses may even qualify for a tax credit if they start a SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA or other eligible plan. We can help you decide whether now is the right time to do so. © 2024

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New Option for Unused Funds in a 529 College Savings Plan

With the high cost of college, many parents begin saving with 529 plans when their children are babies. Contributions to these plans aren’t tax deductible, but they grow tax deferred. Earnings used to pay qualified education expenses can be withdrawn tax-free. However, earnings used for other purposes may be subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty.

What if you have a substantial balance in a 529 plan but your child doesn’t need all the money for college? Perhaps your child decided not to attend college or received a scholarship. Or maybe you saved for private college, but your child attended a lower-priced state university. What should you do with unused funds? One option is to pay the tax and penalties and spend the money on whatever you wish. But there are more tax-efficient options, including a new 529-to-Roth IRA transfer.

Nuts and bolts Beginning in 2024, you can transfer unused funds in a 529 plan to a Roth IRA for the same beneficiary, without tax or penalties. These rollovers are subject to several rules and limits: Transfers have a lifetime maximum of $35,000 per beneficiary. The 529 plan must have existed for at least 15 years. The rollover must be through a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer. Transferred funds can’t include contributions made within the preceding five years or earnings on those contributions. Transfers are subject to the annual limits on contributions to Roth IRAs (without regard to income limits). For example, let’s say you opened a 529 plan for your son after he was born in 2001.

When your son graduated from college in 2023, there was $30,000 left in the account. In 2024, under the new option, you can begin transferring funds into your son’s Roth IRA. Since the 529 plan was opened at least 15 years ago (and no contributions were made in the last five years), the only restriction on rollover is the annual Roth IRA contribution limit. Assuming your son hasn’t made any other IRA contributions for 2024, you can roll over up to $7,000 (if your son has at least that much earned income for the year). If your son’s earned income for 2024 is less than $7,000, the amount eligible for a rollover will be reduced.

For example, if he takes an unpaid internship and earns $4,000 during the year from a part-time job, the most you can roll over for the year is $4,000. A 529-to-Roth IRA rollover is an appealing option to avoid tax and penalties on unused funds, while helping the beneficiaries start saving for retirement. Roth IRAs are a great savings vehicle for young people because they’ll enjoy tax-free withdrawals decades later. Other options Roth IRA rollovers aren’t the only option for avoiding tax and penalties on unused 529 plan funds.

You can also change a plan’s beneficiary to another family member. Or you can use 529 plans for continuing education, certain trade schools, or even up to $10,000 per year of elementary through high school tuition. In addition, you can withdraw funds tax-free to pay down student loan debt, up to $10,000 per beneficiary. It’s not unusual for parents to end up with unused 529 funds.

Contact us if you have questions about the most tax-wise way to handle them. © 2024

 

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Medical Expense “Bunching”: Maximize Your 2024 Savings

As you file your 2023 tax return, start thinking about how you can boost itemized deductions for 2024. You may be able to “bunch” medical expenses so you exceed the 7.5% of adjusted gross income necessary to deduct some costs.

Say, for example, you’ve already scheduled surgery that will involve out-of-pocket expenses but still fall short of the deductible threshold. Think about scheduling elective procedures, such as dental work or Lasik surgery, and making qualified purchases (https://bit.ly/4brS5Vc ) that will push you over the threshold. Note that only the expenses over that amount and that aren’t covered by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account will be deductible.

Contact one of our experts for more tax planning help!

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A Reminder for Businesses:

A reminder for businesses: Use IRS Form 8300 to report cash transactions of $10,000 or more within 15 days of a transaction. If you file electronically, forms are delivered to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Paper forms are submitted to the IRS.

You also generally should provide written statements to parties whose names you’ve reported by January 31 of the year following the transactions. However, if a transaction you report is suspicious, don’t provide a statement to the individual involved.

Although you aren’t required to file Form 8300 for cash transactions of less than $10,000, the IRS encourages you to report suspicious transactions of any amount.

Contact us if you have any questions.

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IRS Simplifies Notices: Enhanced Clarity for Taxpayers

Have you ever been perplexed when reading an IRS letter you received in the mail? You’re not alone. The IRS is attempting to simplify and clarify its letters by launching the Simple Notice Initiative. The new program will review and redesign hundreds of documents with an immediate focus on the most common notices that individual taxpayers receive. The redesign work will accelerate during the 2025 and 2026 filing seasons, expanding into notices going to businesses. During the last year, the IRS reviewed and redesigned 31 notices in time for this year’s tax season.

If you receive a letter from the IRS and don’t understand it, we’d be pleased to help. Contact ATA.