S corporations can provide tax advantages over C corporations in the right circumstances. This is true if you expect that the business will incur losses in its early years because shareholders in a C corporation generally get no tax benefit from such losses. Conversely, as an S corporation shareholder, you can deduct your percentage share of these losses on your personal tax return to the extent of your basis in the stock and any loans you personally make to the entity.

Losses that can’t be deducted because they exceed your basis are carried forward and can be deducted by you when there’s sufficient basis.

Therefore, your ability to use losses that pass through from an S corporation depends on your basis in the corporation’s stock and debt. And, basis is important for other purposes such as determining the amount of gain or loss you recognize if you sell the stock. Your basis in the corporation is adjusted to reflect various events such as distributions from the corporation, contributions you make to the corporation and the corporation’s income or loss.

Adjustments to basis

However, you may not be aware that several elections are available to an S corporation or its shareholders that can affect the basis adjustments caused by distributions and other events. Here is some information about four elections:

  1. An S corporation shareholder may elect to reverse the normal order of basis reductions and have the corporation’s deductible losses reduce basis before basis is reduced by nondeductible, noncapital expenses. Making this election may permit the shareholder to deduct more pass-through losses.
  2. An election that can help eliminate the corporation’s accumulated earnings and profits from C corporation years is the “deemed dividend election.” This election can be useful if the corporation isn’t able to, or doesn’t want to, make an actual dividend distribution.
  3. If a shareholder’s interest in the corporation terminates during the year, the corporation and all affected shareholders can agree to elect to treat the corporation’s tax year as having closed on the date the shareholder’s interest terminated. This election affords flexibility in the allocation of the corporation’s income or loss to the shareholders and it may affect the category of accumulated income out of which a distribution is made.
  4. An election to terminate the S corporation’s tax year may also be available if there has been a disposition by a shareholder of 20% or more of the corporation’s stock within a 30-day period. 

Contact us if you would like to go over how these elections, as well as other S corporation planning strategies, can help maximize the tax benefits of operating as an S corporation.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Online retail sales have been booming during the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend has been driven not only by the buying public’s increased inclination to minimize visits to brick-and-mortar stores, but also by the effectiveness of many retailers’ virtual marketing efforts.

One such effort that can benefit most any type of business is email marketing. Although social media marketing tends to get the lion’s share of attention these days, email remains a viable medium for getting out your message — particularly to existing customers.

As your company endeavors to continue marketing its products or services in an uncertain economy, be sure your emails hit the target by relying on some tried-and-true fundamentals.

Draw their attention

Every email starts with a subject line; be sure yours are catchy. They should be no longer than eight words and shouldn’t be in all caps. Put yourself in the customer’s place by paying close attention to demographics. Ask yourself whether you would open the email if you fit the profile. Also, clearly indicate the message’s content.

If your subject line is compelling enough, your recipients will open the email. And the first thing readers should see upon doing so is an equally memorable headline. Make sure it’s different from the subject line, short (four or five words) and in a larger font size than the body of the message.

Make your case

When it comes to the body of the email, make it a quick and easy read. Most people won’t read a lot of text. Think of each marketing email as an “elevator speech,” a quick and concise pitch for specific products or services.

Above all, be persuasive. Customers want to fulfill their needs at a reasonable price, but they may not always have a clear idea of what those needs are. Don’t expect them to search for answers about whether you can meet these expectations. Show them what you’ve got to offer and tell them why they should buy.

Add finishing touches

Consider including visual and interactive content in your marketing emails — such as images, GIFs and videos. Bear in mind, however, that not all email providers support every type of interactivity. Use it judiciously and gather feedback from customers on whether the content is a nice touch or an annoyance.

Last, but not least, close with a “call to action.” Instill a sense of urgency in readers by setting a deadline and telling them precisely what to do. Otherwise, they may interpret the email as merely informational and file it away for reference or simply delete it. Be sure to include clear, “clickable” contact info.

Measure and improve

These are just a few of the basics to keep in mind. We can help your business measure the results of its marketing activity, email and otherwise, and come up with cost-effective ideas for improving the profit-potential of how you interact with your customers and prospects.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Owners of closely held corporations are often interested in easily withdrawing money from their businesses at the lowest possible tax cost. The simplest way is to distribute cash as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax-efficient, since it’s taxable to you to the extent of your corporation’s “earnings and profits.” And it’s not deductible by the corporation.

Other strategies

Fortunately, there are several alternative methods that may allow you to withdraw cash from a corporation while avoiding dividend treatment. Here are five strategies to consider:

  • Capital repayments. To the extent that you’ve capitalized the corporation with debt, including amounts that you’ve advanced to the business, the corporation can repay the debt without the repayment being treated as a dividend. Additionally, interest paid on the debt can be deducted by the corporation. This assumes that the debt has been properly documented with terms that characterize debt and that the corporation doesn’t have an excessively high debt-to-equity ratio. If not, the “debt” repayment may be taxed as a dividend. If you make future cash contributions to the corporation, consider structuring them as debt to facilitate later withdrawals on a tax-advantaged basis.
  • Compensation. Reasonable compensation that you, or family members, receive for services rendered to the corporation is deductible by the business. However, it’s also taxable to the recipient(s). This same rule applies to any compensation (in the form of rent) that you receive from the corporation for the use of property. In both cases, the compensation amount must be reasonable in terms of the services rendered or the value of the property provided. If it’s considered excessive, the excess will be a nondeductible corporate distribution.
  • Loans. You can withdraw cash tax free from the corporation by borrowing money from it. However, to prevent having the loan characterized as a corporate distribution, it should be properly documented in a loan agreement or note. It should also be made on terms that are comparable to those in which an unrelated third party would lend money to you, including a provision for interest and principal. Also, consider what the corporation’s receipt of interest income will mean.
  • Fringe benefits. You may want to obtain the equivalent of a cash withdrawal in fringe benefits, which aren’t taxable to you and are deductible by the corporation. Examples include life insurance, certain medical benefits, disability insurance and dependent care. Most of these benefits are tax-free only if provided on a nondiscriminatory basis to other corporation employees. You can also establish a salary reduction plan that allows you (and other employees) to take a portion of your compensation as nontaxable benefits, rather than as taxable compensation.
  • Property sales. You can withdraw cash from the corporation by selling property to it. However, certain sales should be avoided. For example, you shouldn’t sell property to a more than 50%-owned corporation at a loss, since the loss will be disallowed. And you shouldn’t sell depreciable property to a more than 50%-owned corporation at a gain, since the gain will be treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain. A sale should be on terms that are comparable to those in which an unrelated third party would purchase the property. You may need to obtain an independent appraisal to establish the property’s value.

Minimize taxes

If you’re interested in discussing any of these ideas, contact us. We can help you get the most out of your corporation at the lowest tax cost.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to shut down. If this is your situation, we’re here to assist you in any way we can, including taking care of the various tax obligations that must be met.

Of course, a business must file a final income tax return and some other related forms for the year it closes. The type of return to be filed depends on the type of business you have. Here’s a rundown of the basic requirements.

Sole Proprietorships. You’ll need to file the usual Schedule C, “Profit or Loss from Business,” with your individual return for the year you close the business. You may also need to report self-employment tax. 

Partnerships. A partnership must file Form 1065, “U.S. Return of Partnership Income,” for the year it closes. You also must report capital gains and losses on Schedule D. Indicate that this is the final return and do the same on Schedules K-1, “Partner’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, Etc.”

All Corporations. Form 966, “Corporate Dissolution or Liquidation,” must be filed if you adopt a resolution or plan to dissolve a corporation or liquidate any of its stock.

C Corporations. File Form 1120, “U.S. Corporate Income Tax Return,” for the year you close. Report capital gains and losses on Schedule D. Indicate this is the final return.

S Corporations. File Form 1120-S, “U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation” for the year of closing. Report capital gains and losses on Schedule D. The “final return” box must be checked on Schedule K-1.

All Businesses. Other forms may need to be filed to report sales of business property and asset acquisitions if you sell your business.

Employees and contract workers

If you have employees, you must pay them final wages and compensation owed, make final federal tax deposits and report employment taxes. Failure to withhold or deposit employee income, Social Security and Medicare taxes can result in full personal liability for what’s known as the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty.

If you’ve paid any contractors at least $600 during the calendar year in which you close your business, you must report those payments on Form 1099-NEC, “Nonemployee Compensation.”

Other tax issues

If your business has a retirement plan for employees, you’ll want to terminate the plan and distribute benefits to participants. There are detailed notice, funding, timing and filing requirements that must be met by a terminating plan. There are also complex requirements related to flexible spending accounts, Health Savings Accounts, and other programs for your employees.

We can assist you with many other complicated tax issues related to closing your business, including Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loans, the COVID-19 employee retention tax credit, employment tax deferral, debt cancellation, use of net operating losses, freeing up any remaining passive activity losses, depreciation recapture, and possible bankruptcy issues.

We can advise you on the length of time you need to keep business records. You also must cancel your Employer Identification Number (EIN) and close your IRS business account.

If your business is unable to pay all the taxes it owes, we can explain the available payment options to you. Contact us to discuss these issues and get answers to any questions.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The subject of payroll has been top-of-mind for business owners this year. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered economic changes that caused considerable fluctuations in the size of many companies’ workforces. Employees have been laid off, furloughed and, in some cases, rehired. There has also been crisis relief for eligible businesses in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program and the payroll tax credit.

Payroll recordkeeping was important in the “old normal,” but it’s even more important now as businesses continue to navigate their way through a slowly recovering economy and ongoing public health crisis.

Four years

Most employers must withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes from their employees’ paychecks. As such, you must keep records relating to these taxes for at least four years after the due date of an employee’s personal income tax return (generally, April 15) for the year in which the payment was made. This is often referred to as the “records-in-general rule.”

These records include your Employer Identification Number, as well as your employees’ names, addresses, occupations and Social Security numbers. You should also keep for four years the total amounts and dates of payments of compensation and amounts withheld for taxes or otherwise — including reported tips and the fair market value of noncash payments.

In addition, track and retain the compensation amounts subject to withholding for federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes, as well as the corresponding amounts withheld for each tax (and the date withheld if withholding occurred on a day different from the payment date). Where applicable, note the reason(s) why total compensation and taxable amount for each tax rate are different.

So much more

A variety of other data and documents fall under the records-in-general rule. Examples include:

  • The pay period covered by each payment of compensation,
  • Forms W-4, “Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate,” and
  • Each employee’s beginning and ending dates of employment.

If your business involves customer tipping, you should retain statements provided by employees reporting tips received. Also carefully track fringe benefits provided to employees, including any required substantiation. Retain evidence of adjustments or settlements of taxes and amounts and dates of tax deposits.

Follow the records-in-general rule, too, for records relating to wage continuation payments made to employees by the employer or third party under an accident or health plan. Documentation should include the beginning and ending dates of the period of absence, and the amount and weekly rate of each payment (including payments made by third parties).

Last, keep copies of each employee’s Form W-4S, “Request for Federal Income Tax Withholding From Sick Pay,” and, where applicable, copies of Form 8922, “Third-Party Sick Pay Recap.”

Valuable information

Proper and comprehensive payroll recordkeeping has become even more critical — and potentially more complex — this year. Our firm can help review your processes in this area and identify improvements that will enable you to avoid compliance problems and make better use of this valuable information.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If you recently launched a business, you may want to set up a tax-favored retirement plan for yourself and your employees. There are several types of qualified plans that are eligible for these tax advantages:

  • A current deduction from income to the employer for contributions to the plan,
  • Tax-free buildup of the value of plan investments, and
  • The deferral of income (augmented by investment earnings) to employees until funds are distributed.

There are two basic types of plans.

Defined benefit pension plans

A defined benefit plan provides for a fixed benefit in retirement, based generally upon years of service and compensation. While defined benefit plans generally pay benefits in the form of an annuity (for example, over the life of the participant, or joint lives of the participant and his or her spouse), some defined benefit plans provide for a lump sum payment of benefits. In certain “cash balance plans,” the benefit is typically paid and expressed as a cash lump sum.

Adoption of a defined benefit plan requires a commitment to fund it. These plans often provide the greatest current deduction from income and the greatest retirement benefit, if the business owners are nearing retirement. However, the administrative expenses associated with defined benefit plans (for example, actuarial costs) can make them less attractive than the second type of plan.

Defined contribution plans

A defined contribution plan provides for an individual account for each participant. Benefits are based solely on the amount contributed to the participant’s account and any investment income, expenses, gains, losses and forfeitures (usually from departing employees) that may be allocated to a participant’s account. Profit-sharing plans and 401(k)s are defined contribution plans.

A 401(k) plan provides for employer contributions made at the direction of an employee under a salary reduction agreement. Specifically, the employee elects to have a certain amount of pay deferred and contributed by the employer on his or her behalf to the plan. Employee contributions can be made either:

  1. On a pre-tax basis, saving employees current income tax on the amount contributed, or
  2. On an after-tax basis. This includes Roth 401(k) contributions (if permitted), which will allow distributions (including earnings) to be made to the employee tax-free in retirement, if conditions are satisfied.

Automatic-deferral provisions, if adopted, require employees to opt out of participation.

An employer may, or may not, provide matching contributions on behalf of employees who make elective deferrals to the plan. Matching contributions may be subject to a vesting schedule. While 401(k) plans are subject to testing requirements, so that “highly compensated” employees don’t contribute too much more than non-highly-compensated employees, these tests can be avoided if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan. A highly compensated employee in 2020 is defined as one who earned more than $130,000 in the preceding year.

There are other types of tax-favored retirement plans within these general categories, including employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

Other plans

Small businesses can also adopt a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP), and receive similar tax advantages to “qualified” plans by making contributions on behalf of employees. And a business with 100 or fewer employees can establish a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE). Under a SIMPLE, generally an IRA is established for each employee and the employer makes matching contributions based on contributions elected by employees.

There may be other options. Contact us to discuss the types of retirement plans available to you.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

As year-end draws near, many businesses will be not only be generating their fourth quarter financial statements, but also looking back on the entire year’s financials. And what a year it’s been. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout have likely affected your sales and expenses, and you’ve probably noticed the impact on both. However, don’t overlook the importance of inventory management and its impact on your financial statements.

Cut back as necessary

Carrying too much inventory can reflect poorly on a business as the value of surplus items drops throughout the year. In turn, your financial statements won’t look as good as they could if they report a substantial amount of unsold goods.

Taking stock and perhaps cutting back on excess inventory reduces interest and storage costs. Doing so also improves your ability to detect fraud and theft. Yet another benefit is that, if you conduct inventory checks regularly, your processes should evolve over time — increasing your capacity to track what’s in stock, what’s selling and what’s not.

One improvement to perhaps budget for here: upgraded inventory tracking and ordering software. Newer applications can help you better forecast demand, minimize overstocking, and share data with suppliers to improve accuracy and efficiency.

Make tough decisions

If yours is a more service-oriented business, you can apply a similar approach. Check into whether you’re “overstocking” on services that just aren’t adding enough revenue to the bottom line anymore. Keeping infrastructure and, yes, even employees in place that aren’t contributing to profitability is much like leaving items on the shelves that aren’t selling.

Making improvements may require some tough calls. Sadly, this probably wouldn’t be the first time you’ve had to make difficult decisions in recent months. Many business owners have had to lay off or furlough employees and substantively alter how they deliver their products or services during the COVID-19 crisis.

You might have long-time customers to whom you provide certain services that just aren’t profitable anymore. If your company might start losing money on these customers, you may have to discontinue the services and sacrifice their business.

You can ease difficult transitions like this by referring customers to another, reputable service provider. Meanwhile, your business should be looking to either find new service areas to generate revenue or expand existing services to more robust market segments.

Take a hard look

As of this writing, the economy appears to be slowly recovering for most (though not all) industries. An environment like this means every dollar is precious and any type of waste or redundancy is even more dangerous.

Take a hard look at your approach to inventory management, or how you’re managing the services you provide, to ensure you’re in step with the times. We can help your business implement cost-effective inventory tracking processes, as well as assist you in gaining key insights from your financial statements.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If your small business is planning for payroll next year, be aware that the “Social Security wage base” is increasing.

The Social Security Administration recently announced that the maximum earnings subject to Social Security tax will increase from $137,700 in 2020 to $142,800 in 2021.

For 2021, the FICA tax rate for both employers and employees is 7.65% (6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare).  

For 2021, the Social Security tax rate is 6.2% each for the employer and employee (12.4% total) on the first $142,800 of employee wages. The tax rate for Medicare is 1.45% each for the employee and employer (2.9% total). There’s no wage base limit for Medicare tax so all covered wages are subject to Medicare tax.

In addition to withholding Medicare tax at 1.45%, an employer must withhold a 0.9% additional Medicare tax from wages paid to an employee in excess of $200,000 in a calendar year.

Employees working more than one job

You may have employees who work for your business and who also have a second job. They may ask if you can stop withholding Social Security taxes at a certain point in the year because they’ve already reached the Social Security wage base amount. Unfortunately, you generally can’t stop the withholding, but the employees will get a credit on their tax returns for any excess withheld.

Older employees 

If your business has older employees, they may have to deal with the “retirement earnings test.” It remains in effect for individuals below normal retirement age (age 65 to 67 depending on the year of birth) who continue to work while collecting Social Security benefits. For affected individuals, $1 in benefits will be withheld for every $2 in earnings above $18,960 in 2021 (up from $18,240 in 2020).

For working individuals collecting benefits who reach normal retirement age in 2021, $1 in benefits will be withheld for every $3 in earnings above $46,920 (up from $48,600 in 2020), until the month that the individual reaches normal retirement age. After that month, there’s no limit on earnings.

Contact us if you have questions. We can assist you with the details of payroll taxes and keep you in compliance with payroll laws and regulations.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

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.

Get specific

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.

Communicate optimally

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,
  • Customers,
  • Suppliers,
  • 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

IRS audit rates are historically low, according to the latest data, but that’s little consolation if your return is among those selected to be examined. But with proper preparation and planning, you should fare well.

In fiscal year 2019, the IRS audited approximately 0.4% of individuals. Businesses, large corporations and high-income individuals are more likely to be audited but, overall, all types of audits are being conducted less frequently than they were a decade ago.

There’s no 100% guarantee that you won’t be picked for an audit, because some tax returns are chosen randomly. However, the best way to survive an IRS audit is to prepare for one in advance. On an ongoing basis you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, cancelled checks, receipts, or other proof — for all items to be reported on your tax returns. Keep all your records in one place. And it helps to know what might catch the attention of the IRS. 

Audit hot spots

Certain types of tax-return entries are known to the IRS to involve inaccuracies so they may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:

  • Significant inconsistencies between tax returns filed in the past and your most current tax return,
  • Gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of other businesses in your industry, and
  • Miscalculated or unusually high deductions. 

Certain types of deductions may be questioned by the IRS because there are strict recordkeeping requirements for them — for example, auto and travel expense deductions. In addition, an owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.

Responding to a letter

If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS doesn’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.

Many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the harshest version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors. (Note: Ignore unsolicited email messages about an audit. The IRS doesn’t contact people in this manner. These are scams.)

Keep in mind that the tax agency won’t demand an immediate response to a mailed notice. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. You’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.

If the IRS chooses you for an audit, our firm can help you:

  • Understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always clear),
  • Gather the specific documents and information needed, and
  • Respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.

The IRS normally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and often an audit doesn’t begin until a year or more after you file a return. Don’t panic if you’re contacted by the IRS. Many audits are routine. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one will happen in the first place.

© 2020 Covenant CPA