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Owners of incorporated businesses know that there’s a tax advantage to taking money out of a C corporation as compensation rather than as dividends. The reason: A corporation can deduct the salaries and bonuses that it pays executives, but not dividend payments. Thus, if funds are paid as dividends, they’re taxed twice, once to the corporation and once to the recipient. Money paid out as compensation is only taxed once — to the employee who receives it. However, there are limits to how much money you can take out of the corporation this way. Under tax law, compensation can be deducted only to the extent that it’s reasonable. Any unreasonable portion isn’t deductible and, if paid to a shareholder, may be taxed as if it were a dividend. Keep in mind that the IRS is generally more interested in unreasonable compensation payments made to someone “related” to a corporation, such as a shareholder-employee or a member of a shareholder’s family. Determining reasonable compensation There’s no easy way to determine what’s reasonable. In an audit, the IRS examines the amount that similar companies would pay for comparable services under similar circumstances. Factors that are taken into account include the employee’s duties and the amount of time spent on those duties, as well as the employee’s skills, expertise and compensation history. Other factors that may be reviewed are the complexities of the business and its gross and net income. There are some steps you can take to make it more likely that the compensation you earn will be considered “reasonable,” and therefore deductible by your corporation. For example, you can: Keep compensation in line with what similar businesses are paying their executives (and keep whatever evidence you can get of what others are paying to support what you pay). In the minutes of your corporation’s board of directors, contemporaneously document the reasons for compensation paid. For example, if compensation is being increased in the current year to make up for earlier years in which it was low, be sure that the minutes reflect this. (Ideally, the minutes for the earlier years should reflect that the compensation paid then was at a reduced rate.) Cite any executive compensation or industry studies that back up your compensation amounts. Avoid paying compensation in direct proportion to the stock owned by the corporation’s shareholders. This looks too much like a disguised dividend and will probably be treated as such by IRS. If the business is profitable, pay at least some dividends. This avoids giving the impression that the corporation is trying to pay out all of its profits as compensation. You can avoid problems and challenges by planning ahead. If you have questions or concerns about your situation, contact us. © 2021
Now that the federal gift and estate tax exemption has reached an inflation-adjusted $11.7 million for 2021, fewer estates are subject to the federal tax. And even though President Biden has proposed reducing the exemption to $3.5 million, it’s uncertain whether that proposal will pass Congress. If nothing happens, the exemption is scheduled to revert to an inflation-adjusted $5 million on January 1, 2026. Nonetheless, estate planning will continue to be essential for most families. That’s because tax planning is only a small component of estate planning — and usually not even the most important one. The primary goal of estate planning is to protect your family, and saving taxes is just one of many strategies you can use to provide for your family’s financial security. Another equally important strategy is asset protection. And a spendthrift trust can be an invaluable tool for preserving wealth for your heirs. “Spendthrift” is a misnomer Despite its name, the purpose of a spendthrift trust isn’t just to protect profligate heirs from themselves. Although that’s one use for this trust type, even the most financially responsible heirs can be exposed to frivolous lawsuits, dishonest business partners or unscrupulous creditors. A properly designed spendthrift trust can protect your family’s assets against such attacks. It can also protect your loved ones in the event of relationship changes. If one of your children divorces, your child’s spouse generally can’t claim a share of the spendthrift trust property in the divorce settlement. Also, if your child predeceases his or her spouse, the spouse generally is entitled by law to a significant portion of your child’s estate. In some cases, that may be a desirable outcome. But in others, such as second marriages when there are children from a prior marriage, a spendthrift trust can prevent your child’s inheritance from ending up in the hands of his or her spouse rather than in those of your grandchildren. Safeguarding your wealth A variety of trusts can be spendthrift trusts. It’s just a matter of including a spendthrift clause, which restricts a beneficiary’s ability to assign or transfer his or her interest in the trust and restricts the rights of creditors to reach the trust assets. It’s important to recognize that the protection offered by a spendthrift trust isn’t absolute. Depending on applicable law, it may be possible for government agencies to reach the trust assets — to satisfy a tax obligation, for example. Generally, the more discretion you give the trustee over distributions from the trust, the greater the protection against creditors’ claims. If the trust requires the trustee to make distributions for a beneficiary’s support, for example, a court may rule that a creditor can reach the trust assets to satisfy support-related debts. For increased protection, it’s preferable to give the trustee full discretion over whether and when to make distributions. If you have further questions regarding spendthrift trusts, please contact us. We’d be happy to help you determine if one is right for your estate plan. © 2021
In December 2020, Richard Jones stepped up as chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). After meeting with stakeholders in early 2021, Jones identified a list of high-priority projects that he plans to tackle under his leadership. Big picture The FASB is responsible for creating and updating U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the rules that many domestic businesses use to report their financial results externally. In a recent interview, Jones said he wants the FASB to be “very transparent” when making and reviewing accounting rules. He also encouraged stakeholders — including investors, CPAs, not-for-profits and businesses — to actively engage with the FASB. “Engagement is a critical part of our mission; we need that external feedback to function and set standards,” said Jones. His goal is to understand the environment in which stakeholders are operating and consider their input when prioritizing projects and setting comment periods. In the coming year, Jones expects to face many challenges, because his tenure began amid a global pandemic that has had significant economic impacts. Moreover, he indicated that technological changes and a shift to one-party control of Congress and the White House may affect the future direction of the FASB. Hot topics Jones’ recent interview also sheds light on the FASB’s current agenda, which includes the following high-priority projects: Non-GAAP measures, such as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure rules, Presentation of the statement of cash flows, Classification of debt, Goodwill, Government assistance, and Segment reporting. When asked about the status of global convergence projects, Jones said the FASB has “great communication” with the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). He plans to continue working with the IASB on “projects of common interest.” Post-implementation reviews During the interview, Jones stressed that FASB standards are subject to “continuous improvement.” Accordingly, he plans to conduct a post-implementation review of the updated standards for revenue, leases and credit losses that have been implemented in recent years. These types of large projects typically require fine-tuning after they’re adopted by public companies to make the standards more effective and to make it easier for smaller entities to comply with the changes. The review process usually takes multiple years, and the FASB is just in the initial stages of reviewing these standards. Looking ahead Finally, Jones shared his thoughts on the impact that technology — such as artificial intelligence and software developments — will have on the way the FASB sets standards. He noted that technology has helped investors access and process large volumes of data, which has led to a demand for additional, more-disaggregated reporting. The FASB has been fairly quiet in the last few years, as companies worked to adopt the updates to the revenue, leases and credit losses standards. Now, with a new chairman at the helm, the FASB is positioned to resume rulemaking activities in key areas. Contact us to learn about the latest developments under GAAP. © 2021
Are you thinking about setting up a retirement plan for yourself and your employees, but you’re worried about the financial commitment and administrative burdens involved in providing a traditional pension plan? Two options to consider are a “simplified employee pension” (SEP) or a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE). SEPs are intended as an alternative to “qualified” retirement plans, particularly for small businesses. The relative ease of administration and the discretion that you, as the employer, are permitted in deciding whether or not to make annual contributions, are features that are appealing. Uncomplicated paperwork If you don’t already have a qualified retirement plan, you can set up a SEP simply by using the IRS model SEP, Form 5305-SEP. By adopting and implementing this model SEP, which doesn’t have to be filed with the IRS, you’ll have satisfied the SEP requirements. This means that as the employer, you’ll get a current income tax deduction for contributions you make on behalf of your employees. Your employees won’t be taxed when the contributions are made but will be taxed later when distributions are made, usually at retirement. Depending on your needs, an individually-designed SEP — instead of the model SEP — may be appropriate for you. When you set up a SEP for yourself and your employees, you’ll make deductible contributions to each employee’s IRA, called a SEP-IRA, which must be IRS-approved. The maximum amount of deductible contributions that you can make to an employee’s SEP-IRA, and that he or she can exclude from income, is the lesser of: 25% of compensation and $58,000 for 2021. The deduction for your contributions to employees’ SEP-IRAs isn’t limited by the deduction ceiling applicable to an individual’s own contribution to a regular IRA. Your employees control their individual IRAs and IRA investments, the earnings on which are tax-free. There are other requirements you’ll have to meet to be eligible to set up a SEP. Essentially, all regular employees must elect to participate in the program, and contributions can’t discriminate in favor of the highly compensated employees. But these requirements are minor compared to the bookkeeping and other administrative burdens connected with traditional qualified pension and profit-sharing plans. The detailed records that traditional plans must maintain to comply with the complex nondiscrimination regulations aren’t required for SEPs. And employers aren’t required to file annual reports with IRS, which, for a pension plan, could require the services of an actuary. The required recordkeeping can be done by a trustee of the SEP-IRAs — usually a bank or mutual fund. SIMPLE Plans Another option for a business with 100 or fewer employees is a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE). Under these plans, a “SIMPLE IRA” is established for each eligible employee, with the employer making matching contributions based on contributions elected by participating employees under a qualified salary reduction arrangement. The SIMPLE plan is also subject to much less stringent requirements than traditional qualified retirement plans. Or, an employer can adopt a “simple” 401(k) plan, with similar features to a SIMPLE plan, and automatic passage of the otherwise complex nondiscrimination test for 401(k) plans. For 2021, SIMPLE deferrals are up to $13,500 plus an additional $3,000 catch-up contributions for employees age 50 and older. Contact us for more information or to discuss any other aspect of your retirement planning. © 2021
On March 30, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) published an updated accounting standard on events that trigger an impairment test under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). This simplified alternative may provide relief to private companies and not-for-profit entities that have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what you should know. Simplified options for certain entities Under GAAP, goodwill appears on a company’s balance sheet only when it’s been acquired in an M&A transaction. It represents what’s left over after the purchase price has been allocated to the fair value of identifiable tangible and intangible assets acquired and liabilities assumed. When goodwill declines in value, it’s considered “impaired.” Impairment charges can lower a company’s earnings. Private companies and not-for-profits that report goodwill on their balance sheets have been given various simplified financial reporting alternatives over the years. One such alternative allows these entities to amortize goodwill generally over a 10-year period, rather than capitalize it and test annually for impairment. However, entities that elect this alternative still must test goodwill for impairment when a triggering event happens. Triggering events Examples of triggering events include the loss of a key customer, unanticipated competition and negative cash flows from operations. Impairment also may occur if, after an acquisition has been completed, there’s a stock market or economic downturn — such as the market and economic downturn caused by COVID-19 — that causes the parent company or the acquired business to lose value. Accounting Standards Update No. 2021-03, Intangibles — Goodwill and Other (Topic 350): Accounting Alternative for Evaluating Triggering Events, provides an accounting alternative that allows private companies and not-for-profit organizations to perform a goodwill triggering event assessment as of the end of the reporting period only, whether the reporting period is an interim or annual period. It eliminates the requirement for entities that elect this alternative to perform this assessment during the reporting period. The changes go into effect on a prospective basis for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019. Private companies and not-for-profits can adopt the changes early for interim and annual financial statements that haven’t yet been issued or made available for issuance as of March 30, 2021. But they aren’t allowed to adopt the changes retroactively for interim financial statements already issued in the year of adoption. Welcome relief The updated guidance on evaluating triggering events will help reduce financial reporting complexity for private companies and not-for-profits in the midst of the pandemic — and for other triggering events that happen in the future. Contact us for more information. © 2021
One advantage of inheriting an IRA from your spouse is that you’re entitled to transfer the funds to a spousal rollover IRA. The rollover IRA is treated as your own IRA for tax purposes, which means you need not begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) until you reach age 72. This differs from an IRA inherited from someone other than a spouse, when the entire IRA balance must be withdraw n within 10 years of the original owner’s death. (Note that different rules apply to IRAs inherited before January 1, 2020.) But what happens if your spouse mistakenly named a trust as beneficiary of his or her IRA, or failed to name a beneficiary at all? Correcting the mistake According to IRS guidance, there may be strategies you can use to ensure that you receive the benefits of a spousal rollover. Typically, this guidance comes in the form of private letter rulings (PLRs), which cannot be cited as precedent but indicate how the IRS is likely to rule in similar cases. In one example, as described in a 2019 PLR, a deceased person named a trust as beneficiary of his IRA and failed to name a contingent beneficiary. The trustee executed a qualified disclaimer of the trust’s interest in the IRA, as did the deceased’s son and two grandchildren. The IRS ruled that the deceased’s wife was entitled to complete a spousal rollover. Other rulings have permitted similar strategies when deceased individuals have failed to designate a beneficiary, causing an IRA or qualified retirement plan account to be included in their estates. Consulting a professional Be aware that PLRs depend on the specific facts presented in each case, so consult with us before taking any action. However, these rulings indicate that, when loved ones make beneficiary designation mistakes, there may be strategies you can use to correct them. © 2021
As a business owner, you should be aware that you can save family income and payroll taxes by putting your child on the payroll. Here are some considerations. Shifting business earnings You can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income by shifting some business earnings to a child as wages for services performed. In order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable. For example, suppose you’re a sole proprietor in the 37% tax bracket. You hire your 16-year-old son to help with office work full-time in the summer and part-time in the fall. He earns $10,000 during the year (and doesn’t have other earnings). You can save $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to your son, who can use his $12,550 standard deduction for 2021 to shelter his earnings. Family taxes are cut even if your son’s earnings exceed his standard deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to him beginning at a 10% rate, instead of being taxed at your higher rate. Income tax withholding Your business likely will have to withhold federal income taxes on your child’s wages. Usually, an employee can claim exempt status if he or she had no federal income tax liability for last year and expects to have none this year. However, exemption from withholding can’t be claimed if: 1) the employee’s income exceeds $1,100 for 2021 (and includes more than $350 of unearned income), and 2) the employee can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return. Keep in mind that your child probably will get a refund for part or all of the withheld tax when filing a return for the year. Social Security tax savings If your business isn’t incorporated, you can also save some Social Security tax by shifting some of your earnings to your child. That’s because services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent isn’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes. A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA (unemployment) tax, which exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 employed by a parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting only of his or her parents. Note: There’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or is a partnership that includes non-parent partners. However, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work you’d pay someone else to do. Retirement benefits Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement savings, depending on your plan and how it defines qualifying employees. For example, if you have a SEP plan, a contribution can be made for the child up to 25% of his or her earnings (not to exceed $58,000 for 2021). Contact us if you have any questions about these rules in your situation. Keep in mind that some of the rules about employing children may change from year to year and may require your income-shifting strategies to change too. © 2021
Audit committees face many challenges in 2021. As the economy rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are new dimensions to the oversight roles and responsibilities of the audit committees. Consider taking these following four steps to fortify your committee’s effectiveness. 1. Focus on fundamentals Once you’ve wrapped up the financial reporting process for fiscal year 2020, take the time t o revisit goals and expectations to develop an agenda for 2021 that directs the audit committee’s attention back to the basics. The committee is responsible for oversight of the following key areas: Financial reporting, Disclosures, Internal controls, and The company’s audit process. Each agenda item before the audit committee should ideally relate to one of these areas. 2. Assess the composition of the audit committee Periodically, it’s appropriate to assess the level of financial expertise that each member of the committee possesses, especially if the composition of the group has recently changed. If the company anticipates significant changes in the regulatory environment under the Biden administration, now may be the time to add suitably qualified members to the audit committee. At least one member of the audit committee should possess in-depth financial expertise. (Publicly traded companies have specific “financial literacy” requirements.) Today, companies are increasingly recognizing the value of adding gender and racial diversity to decision-making bodies, including audit committees. These companies believe diversity is a strength that leads to better-informed decisions and fresh perspectives. 3. Get a handle on operational risk Your company’s risk profile may have changed during the pandemic. For example, you may have temporarily cut staff or deferred capital investments to preserve cash flow during uncertain times. However, these crisis-driven decisions may adversely affect the company’s long-term financial performance. The audit committee should consider asking management to review significant operational decisions made in the last year to determine if excess risk was created and whether it’s time to change course. In addition, operational changes and increased financial pressures on accounting staff may expose the company to increased risk of internal and external fraud. And remote working arrangements could lead to cyberattacks and theft of intellectual property. It’s a good time to request that internal auditors commission a fraud and cyber-risk assessment. Proactively assessing these issues can dramatically reduce the probability of losses occurring. 4. Consider exposure to financial difficulties across the supply chain The pandemic also may have affected certain suppliers and customers, especially those located overseas or in states with COVID-19-restrictions on business operations. The audit committee should evaluate whether management has identified the company’s material relationships and the potential financial and operational impact if any of those businesses close or file for bankruptcy. Full speed ahead By taking proactive measures, your audit committee can help improve your company’s performance as the economy returns to full capacity. Contact us to help position your company to minimize risks and maximize value-added opportunities in 2021 and beyond. © 2021
Are you considering buying or replacing a vehicle that you’ll use in your business? If you choose a heavy sport utility vehicle (SUV), you may be able to benefit from lucrative tax rules for those vehicles. Bonus depreciation Under current law, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that’s acquired and placed in service in a calendar year. New and p re-owned heavy SUVs, pickups and vans acquired and put to business use in 2021 are eligible for 100% first-year bonus depreciation. The only requirement is that you must use the vehicle more than 50% for business. If your business usage is between 51% and 99%, you can deduct that percentage of the cost in the first year the vehicle is placed in service. This generous tax break is available for qualifying vehicles that are acquired and placed in service through December 31, 2022. The 100% first-year bonus depreciation write-off will reduce your federal income tax bill and self-employment tax bill, if applicable. You might get a state tax income deduction, too. Weight requirement This option is available only if the manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is above 6,000 pounds. You can verify a vehicle’s GVWR by looking at the manufacturer’s label, usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door where the door hinges meet the frame. Note: These tax benefits are subject to adjustment for non-business use. And if business use of an SUV doesn’t exceed 50% of total use, the SUV won’t be eligible for the expensing election, and would have to be depreciated on a straight-line method over a six-tax-year period. Detailed, contemporaneous expense records are essential — in case the IRS questions your heavy vehicle’s claimed business-use percentage. That means you’ll need to keep track of the miles you’re driving for business purposes, compared to the vehicle’s total mileage for the year. Recordkeeping is much simpler today, now that there are apps and mobile technology you can use. Or simply keep a small calendar or mileage log in your car and record details as business trips occur. If you’re considering buying an eligible vehicle, doing so and placing it in service before the end of this tax year could deliver a big write-off on your 2021 tax return. Before signing a sales contract, consult with us to help evaluate the right tax moves for your business. © 2021
A revocable living trust is often used to complement a will. For instance, you might transfer specific securities to the trust. Notably, these assets generally don’t have to go through the probate process, which can be time-consuming and expensive. They’re also generally protected from creditors and may be managed by professionals. Thus, a living trust enables your beneficiaries to receive some o f your wealth on your death, with no complications. However, it won’t do anybody any good if the trust isn’t properly funded. Legal ownership of assets Funding the trust is simply the process of transferring assets to it. Essentially, you change legal ownership of your assets from your name to the trust’s name. If you don’t properly transfer assets to the trust, you run the risk that you won’t accomplish your objectives, particularly with respect to avoiding probate. In that case, the disposition of the assets is governed by your will. For that reason, you should add a “pour-over” provision to your will, directing any leftovers to the trust. Assets to transfer What should you transfer? Some typical examples include bank accounts, securities, real estate and business interests. Generally, you can transfer these assets with little difficulty, although real estate may require some additional footwork. Make sure to change the beneficiary designations for assets that are to be transferred to the trust. Typically, you’ll want to avoid transferring IRA and 401(k) plan or other retirement plan benefits to a revocable trust. Without careful consideration and proper planning, naming the trust as beneficiary can trigger unwanted tax consequences. It’s often recommended that you transfer ownership of life insurance policies and annuities to a trust. But note that, absent certain exceptions, there are rules that will cause insurance policies and annuities transferred within three years of your death to be included in your taxable estate. Rather than transfer the ownership, you might simply change the beneficiary designations. The decision may hinge on whether estate tax is likely to be a factor. Turn to us for guidance Revocable trusts provide significant benefits, including the ability to avoid probate of the assets they hold and facilitating management of a person’s assets in the event he or she becomes incapacitated. If you have questions regarding your revocable trust and what assets you should fund it with, contact us. We’d be happy to help. © 2021