It’s been a year like no other. The sudden impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in March forced every business owner — ready or not — to execute his or her disaster response plan.
So, how did yours do? Although it may still be a little early to do a complete assessment of what went right and wrong during the crisis, you can take a quick look back right now while the experience is still fresh in your mind.
When devising a disaster response plan, brainstorm as many scenarios as possible that could affect your company. What weather-related, environmental and socio-political threats do you face? Obviously, you can now add “pandemic” to the list.
The operative word, however, is “your.” Every company faces distinctive threats related to its industry, size, location(s), and products or services. Identify these as specifically as possible, based on what you’ve learned.
There are some constants for nearly every plan. Seek out alternative suppliers who could fill in for your current ones if necessary. Fortify your IT assets and functionality with enhanced recovery and security capabilities.
Another critical factor during and after a crisis is communication, both internal and external. Review whether and how your business was able to communicate in the initial months of the pandemic.
You and most of your management team probably needed to concentrate on maintaining or restoring operations. Who communicated with employees and other stakeholders to keep them abreast of your response and recovery progress? Typically, these parties include:
- Staff members and their families,
- Banks and other financial stakeholders, and
- Local authorities, first responders and community leaders (as appropriate).
Look into the communication channels that were used — such as voicemail, text messaging, email, website postings and social media. Which were most and least effective? Would some type of new technology enable your business to communicate better?
Revisit and update
If the events of this past spring illustrate anything, it’s that companies can’t create a disaster response plan and toss it on a shelf. Revisit the plan at least annually, looking for adjustments and new risk factors.
You’ll also want to keep the plan clear in the minds of your employees. Be sure that everyone — including new hires — knows exactly what to do by spelling out the communication channels, contacts and procedures you’ll use in the event of a disaster. Everyone should sign a written confirmation that they’ve read the plan’s details, either when hired or when the plan is substantially updated.
In addition, go over disaster response measures during company meetings once or twice a year. You might even want to hold live drills to give staff members a chance to practice their roles and responsibilities.
Heed the lessons
For years, advisors urged business owners to prepare for disasters or else. This year we got the “or else.” Despite the hardships and continuing challenges, however, the lessons being learned are invaluable. Please contact us to discuss ways to manage costs and maintain profitability during these difficult times.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
Whether it’s a smart phone, tablet or laptop, mobile devices have become the constant companions of today’s employees. And this relationship has only been further cemented by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has thousands working from home or other remote locations.
From a productivity standpoint, this is a good thing. So many tasks that once kept employees tied to their desks are now doable from anywhere on flexible schedules. All this convenience, however, brings considerable risk.
Perhaps the most obvious threat to any company-owned mobile device is theft. That could end a workday early, hamper productivity for days, and lead to considerable replacement hassles and expense. Indeed, given the current economy, thieves may be increasing their efforts to snatch easy-to-grab and easy-to-sell technological items.
Worse yet, a stolen or hacked mobile device means thieves and hackers could gain possession of sensitive, confidential data about your company, as well as its customers and employees.
Amateur criminals might look for credit card numbers to fraudulently buy goods and services. More sophisticated ones, however, may look for Social Security numbers or Employer Identification Numbers to commit identity theft.
5 protective measures
There are a variety of ways that businesses can reinforce protections of their mobile devices. Here are five to consider:
1. Standardize, standardize, standardize. Having a wide variety of makes and models increases risk. Moving toward a standard product and operating system will allow you to address security issues across the board rather than dealing with multiple makes and their varying security challenges.
2. Password protect. Make sure that employees use “power-on” passwords — those that appear whenever a unit is turned on or comes out of sleep mode. In addition, configure devices to require a power-on password after 15 minutes of inactivity and to block access after a specified number of unsuccessful log-in attempts. Require regular password changes, too.
3. Set rules for data. Don’t allow employees to store certain information, such as Social Security numbers, on their devices. If sensitive data must be transported, encrypt it. (That is, make the data unreadable using special coding.)
4. Keep it strictly business. Employees are often tempted to mix personal information with business data on their portable devices. Issue a company policy forbidding or severely limiting this practice. Moreover, establish access limits on networks and social media.
5. Fortify your defenses. Be sure your mobile devices have regularly and automatically updated security software to prevent unauthorized access, block spyware/adware and stop viruses. Consider retaining the right to execute a remote wipe of an asset’s memory if you believe it’s been stolen or hopelessly lost.
More than an object
When assessing the costs associated with a mobile device, remember that it’s not only the value of the physical item that matters, but also the importance and sensitivity of the data stored on it. We can help your business implement a cost-effective process for procuring and protecting all its technology.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
The business use of websites is widespread. But surprisingly, the IRS hasn’t yet issued formal guidance on when Internet website costs can be deducted.
Fortunately, established rules that generally apply to the deductibility of business costs, and IRS guidance that applies to software costs, provide business taxpayers launching a website with some guidance as to the proper treatment of the costs.
Hardware or software?
Let’s start with the hardware you may need to operate a website. The costs involved fall under the standard rules for depreciable equipment. Specifically, once these assets are up and running, you can deduct 100% of the cost in the first year they’re placed in service (before 2023). This favorable treatment is allowed under the 100% first-year bonus depreciation break.
In later years, you can probably deduct 100% of these costs in the year the assets are placed in service under the Section 179 first-year depreciation deduction privilege. However, Sec. 179 deductions are subject to several limitations.
For tax years beginning in 2020, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $1.04 million, subject to a phaseout rule. Under the rule, the deduction is phased out if more than a specified amount of qualified property is placed in service during the year. The threshold amount for 2020 is $2.59 million.
There’s also a taxable income limit. Under it, your Sec. 179 deduction can’t exceed your business taxable income. In other words, Sec. 179 deductions can’t create or increase an overall tax loss. However, any Sec. 179 deduction amount that you can’t immediately deduct is carried forward and can be deducted in later years (to the extent permitted by the applicable limits).
Similar rules apply to purchased off-the-shelf software. However, software license fees are treated differently from purchased software costs for tax purposes. Payments for leased or licensed software used for your website are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.
Was the software developed internally?
An alternative position is that your software development costs represent currently deductible research and development costs under the tax code. To qualify for this treatment, the costs must be paid or incurred by December 31, 2022.
A more conservative approach would be to capitalize the costs of internally developed software. Then you would depreciate them over 36 months.
If your website is primarily for advertising, you can also currently deduct internal website software development costs as ordinary and necessary business expenses.
Are you paying a third party?
Some companies hire third parties to set up and run their websites. In general, payments to third parties are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.
What about before business begins?
Start-up expenses can include website development costs. Up to $5,000 of otherwise deductible expenses that are incurred before your business commences can generally be deducted in the year business commences. However, if your start-up expenses exceed $50,000, the $5,000 current deduction limit starts to be chipped away. Above this amount, you must capitalize some, or all, of your start-up expenses and amortize them over 60 months, starting with the month that business commences.
We can determine the appropriate treatment of website costs for federal income tax purposes. Contact us if you have questions or want more information.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
To say that most small to midsize businesses have at least considered taking out a loan this year would probably be an understatement. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has lowered many companies’ revenue but may have also opened opportunities for others to expand or pivot into more profitable areas.
If your company needs working capital to grow, rather than simply survive, you might want to consider a mezzanine loan. These arrangements offer relatively quick access to substantial funding but with risks that you should fully understand before signing on the dotted line.
Equity on the table
Mezzanine financing works by layering a junior loan on top of a senior (or primary) loan. It combines aspects of senior secured debt from a bank and equity-based financing obtained from direct investors. Sources of mezzanine financing can include private equity groups, mutual funds, insurance companies and buyout firms.
Unlike bank loans, mezzanine debt typically is unsecured by the borrower’s assets or has liens subordinate to other lenders. So, the cost of obtaining financing is higher than that of a senior loan.
However, the cost generally is lower than what’s required to acquire funding purely from equity investment. Yet most mezzanine instruments do enable the lender to participate in the borrowing company’s success — or failure. Generally, the lower your interest rate, the more equity you must offer.
Flexibility at a price
The primary advantage of mezzanine financing is that it can provide capital when you can’t obtain it elsewhere or can’t qualify for the amount you’re looking for. That’s why it’s often referred to as a “bridge” to undertaking ambitious objectives such as a business acquisition or desirable piece of commercial property. But mezzanine loans aren’t necessarily an option of last resort; many companies prefer their flexibility when it comes to negotiating terms.
Naturally, there are drawbacks to consider. In addition to having higher interest rates, mezzanine financing carries with it several other potential disadvantages. Loan covenants can be restrictive. And though some lenders are relatively hands-off, they may retain the right to a significant say in company operations — particularly if you don’t repay the loan in a timely manner.
If you default on the loan, the lender may either sell its stake in your company or transfer that equity to another entity. This means you could suddenly find yourself with a co-owner who you’ve never met or intended to work with.
Mezzanine financing can also make an M&A deal more complicated. It introduces an extra interested party to the negotiation table and can make an already tricky deal that much harder.
Explore all options
Generally, mezzanine loans are best suited for businesses with clear and even aggressive growth plans. Our firm can help you fully explore the tax, financial and strategic implications of any lending arrangement, so you can make the right decision.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2020. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
Thursday, October 15
- If a calendar-year C corporation that filed an automatic six-month extension:
- File a 2019 income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
- Make contributions for 2019 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
Monday, November 2
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2020 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See exception below under “November 10.”)
Tuesday, November 10
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2020 (Form 941), if you deposited on time (and in full) all of the associated taxes due.
Tuesday, December 15
- If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the fourth installment of 2020 estimated income taxes.
Thursday, December 31
- Establish a retirement plan for 2020 (generally other than a SIMPLE, a Safe-Harbor 401(k) or a SEP).
© 2020 Covenant CPA
Do you own a business with one or more individuals? Undoubtedly, your interest in the business represents a substantial part of your net worth and is likely your “pride and joy.” So it’s normal if your fondest wish is for the business to continue long after you’re gone or for you to keep it running if a co-owner or partner dies.
However, if adequate provisions aren’t made, the business may flounder if a leadership void isn’t filled. Or bitter family disputes may tear the organization apart. In the end, a “distress sale” may leave your heirs with substantially less than the company’s current value.
Fortunately, disastrous results may be avoided if you have a buy-sell agreement drafted during your lifetime. The agreement can dictate how the business is sold, to whom and for how much. Life insurance policies are often used to fund the transaction.
Buy-sell agreements in a nutshell
A buy-sell agreement may be used for virtually every type of business entity, including C corporations, S corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies. Typically, it applies to the shares of stock and any business real estate held by respective owners.
Although variations exist, the agreement essentially provides for the sale of a business interest to other owners or partners, the business entity itself, or a hybrid. Alternatively, the agreement may cover a sale to one or more long-time employees.
The agreement, which is typically signed by all affected parties, imposes restrictions on the future sale of the business or property. For instance, if you intend to leave a business interest to your children, you may provide for each child to sell or transfer his or her interest to another party or parties named in the agreement, such as grandchildren or other relatives.
Significantly, a buy-sell agreement often establishes a formula for determining the sale price of the business and its components. The formula may be based on financial statement figures, such as book value, adjusted book value, or the weighted average of historical earnings, or a combination of variables.
Understanding the benefits
Having a valid buy-sell agreement in writing removes much of the uncertainty that can happen when a business owner passes away. It provides a “ready, willing and able” buyer who’s arranged to purchase shares under the formula or at a fixed price. There’s no argument about what the business is worth among co-owners, partners or family members.
The buy-sell agreement addresses a host of problems about co-ownership of assets. For instance, if you have one partner who dies first, the partnership shares might pass to a family member who has a different vision for the future than you do.
Work with us to design a buy-sell agreement that helps preserve the value of your business for your family.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
You’d be hard-pressed to find a business that doesn’t value its customers, but tough times put many things into perspective. As companies have adjusted to operating during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout, prioritizing customer service has become more important than ever.
Without a strong base of loyal buyers, and a concerted effort to win over more market share, your business could very well see diminished profit margins and an escalated risk of being surpassed by competitors. Here are some foundational ways to strengthen customer service during these difficult and uncertain times.
Get management involved
As is the case for many things in business, success starts at the top. Encourage your management team and fellow owners (if any) to regularly interact with customers. Doing so cements customer relationships and communicates to employees that cultivating these contacts is part of your company culture and a foundation of its profitability.
Moving down the organizational chart, cultivate customer-service heroes. Post articles about the latest customer service achievements on your internal website or distribute companywide emails celebrating successes. Champion these heroes in meetings. Public praise turns ordinary employees into stars and encourages future service excellence.
Just be sure to empower employees to make timely decisions. Don’t just talk about catering to customers unless your staff can really take the initiative to act accordingly.
Systemize your responsiveness
Like everyone in today’s data-driven world, customers want immediate information. So, strive to provide instant or at least timely feedback to customers with a highly visible, technologically advanced response system. This will let customers know that their input matters and you’ll reward them for speaking up.
The specifics of this system will depend on the size, shape and specialty of the business itself. It should encompass the right combination of instant, electronic responses to customer inquiries along with phone calls and, where appropriate, face-to-face (or direct virtual) interactions that reinforce how much you value their business.
Continue to adjust
By now, you’ve likely implemented a few adjustments to serving your customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have done so, with common measures including:
- Explaining what you’re doing to cope with the crisis,
- Being more flexible with payment plans and deadlines, and
- Exercising greater patience and empathy.
As the months go on, don’t rest on your laurels. Continually reassess your approach to customer service and make adjustments that suit the changing circumstances of not only the pandemic, but also your industry and local economy. Seize opportunities to help customers and watch out for mistakes that could hurt your company’s reputation and revenue.
Don’t give up
This year has put everyone under unforeseen amounts of stress and, in turn, providing world-class customer services has become even more difficult. Keep at it — your extra efforts now could lay the groundwork for a much stronger customer base in the future. Our firm can help you assess your customer service and calculate its impact on revenue and profitability.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
Wouldn’t it be great if your employees worked as if they owned the company? An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) could make this a reality.
Under an ESOP, employee participants take part ownership of the business through a retirement savings arrangement. Meanwhile, the business and its existing owner(s) can benefit from some tax breaks, an extra-motivated workforce and a clearer path to a smooth succession.
How they work
To implement an ESOP, you establish a trust fund and either:
- Contribute shares of stock or money to buy the stock (an “unleveraged” ESOP), or
- Borrow funds to initially buy the stock, and then contribute cash to the plan to enable it to repay the loan (a “leveraged” ESOP).
The shares in the trust are allocated to individual employees’ accounts, often using a formula based on their respective compensation. The business must formally adopt the plan and submit plan documents to the IRS, along with certain forms.
Among the biggest benefits of an ESOP is that contributions to qualified retirement plans (including ESOPs) are typically tax-deductible for employers. However, employer contributions to all defined contribution plans, including ESOPs, are generally limited to 25% of covered payroll. But C corporations with leveraged ESOPs can deduct contributions used to pay interest on the loans. That is, the interest isn’t counted toward the 25% limit.
Dividends paid on ESOP stock passed through to employees or used to repay an ESOP loan may be tax-deductible for C corporations, so long as they’re reasonable. Dividends voluntarily reinvested by employees in company stock in the ESOP also are usually deductible by the business. (Employees, however, should review the tax implications of dividends.)
In another potential benefit, shareholders in some closely held C corporations can sell stock to the ESOP and defer federal income taxes on any gains from the sales, with several stipulations. One is that the ESOP must own at least 30% of the company’s stock immediately after the sale. In addition, the sellers must reinvest the proceeds (or an equivalent amount) in qualified replacement property securities of domestic operation corporations within a set period.
Finally, when a business owner is ready to retire or otherwise depart the company, the business can make tax-deductible contributions to the ESOP to buy out the departing owner’s shares or have the ESOP borrow money to buy the shares.
Risks to consider
An ESOP’s tax impact for entity types other than C corporations varies somewhat from what we’ve discussed here. And while these plans do offer many potential benefits, they also present risks such as complexity of setup and administration and a strain on cash flow in some situations. Please contact us to discuss further. We can help you determine whether an ESOP would make sense for your business.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
You’re probably aware of the 100% bonus depreciation tax break that’s available for a wide range of qualifying property. Here are five important points to be aware of when it comes to this powerful tax-saving tool.
1. Bonus depreciation is scheduled to phase out
Under current law, 100% bonus depreciation will be phased out in steps for property placed in service in calendar years 2023 through 2027. Thus, an 80% rate will apply to property placed in service in 2023, 60% in 2024, 40% in 2025, and 20% in 2026, and a 0% rate will apply in 2027 and later years.
For certain aircraft (generally, company planes) and for the pre-January 1, 2027 costs of certain property with a long production period, the phaseout is scheduled to take place a year later, from 2024 to 2028.
Of course, Congress could pass legislation to extend or revise the above rules.
2. Bonus depreciation is available for new and most used property
In the past, used property didn’t qualify. It currently qualifies unless:
- The taxpayer previously used the property and
- The property was acquired in certain forbidden transactions (generally acquisitions that are tax free or from a related person or entity).
3. Taxpayers should sometimes make the election to turn down bonus depreciation
Taxpayers can elect to reject bonus depreciation for one or more classes of property. The election out may be useful for sole proprietorships, and business entities taxed under the rules for partnerships and S corporations, that want to prevent “wasting” depreciation deductions by applying them against lower-bracket income in the year property was placed in service — instead of against anticipated higher bracket income in later years.
Note that business entities taxed as “regular” corporations (in other words, non-S corporations) are taxed at a flat rate.
4. Bonus depreciation is available for certain building improvements
Before the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), bonus depreciation was available for two types of real property:
- Land improvements other than buildings, for example fencing and parking lots, and
- “Qualified improvement property,” a broad category of internal improvements made to non-residential buildings after the buildings are placed in service.
The TCJA inadvertently eliminated bonus depreciation for qualified improvement property.
However, the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) made a retroactive technical correction to the TCJA. The correction makes qualified improvement property placed in service after December 31, 2017, eligible for bonus depreciation.
5. 100% bonus depreciation has reduced the importance of “Section 179 expensing”
If you own a smaller business, you&rsqu;ve likely benefited from Sec. 179 expensing. This is an elective benefit that — subject to dollar limits — allows an immediate deduction of the cost of equipment, machinery, off-the-shelf computer software and some building improvements. Sec. 179 has been enhanced by the TCJA, but the availability of 100% bonus depreciation is economically equivalent and has greatly reduced the cases in which Sec. 179 expensing is useful.
We can help
The above discussion touches only on some major aspects of bonus depreciation. This is a complex area with tax implications for transactions other than simple asset acquisitions. Contact us if you have any questions about how to proceed in your situation.
© 2020 Covenant CPA