If you operate a small business, or you’re starting a new one, you probably know you need to keep records of your income and expenses. In particular, you should carefully record your expenses in order to claim the full amount of the tax deductions to which you’re entitled. And you want to make sure you can defend the amounts reported on your tax returns if you’re ever audited by the IRS or state tax agencies.

Certain types of expenses, such as automobile, travel, meals and office-at-home expenses, require special attention because they’re subject to special recordkeeping requirements or limitations on deductibility.

It’s interesting to note that there’s not one way to keep business records. In its publication “Starting a Business and Keeping Records,” the IRS states: “Except in a few cases, the law does not require any specific kind of records. You can choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses.”

That being said, many taxpayers don’t make the grade when it comes to recordkeeping. Here are three court cases to illustrate some of the issues.

Case 1: Without records, the IRS can reconstruct your income

If a taxpayer is audited and doesn’t have good records, the IRS can perform a “bank-deposits analysis” to reconstruct income. It assumes that all money deposited in accounts during a given period is taxable income. That’s what happened in the case of the business owner of a coin shop and precious metals business. The owner didn’t agree with the amount of income the IRS attributed to him after it conducted a bank-deposits analysis.

But the U.S. Tax Court noted that if the taxpayer kept adequate records, “he could have avoided the bank-deposits analysis altogether.” Because he didn’t, the court found the bank analysis was appropriate and the owner underreported his business income for the year. (TC Memo 2020-4)

Case 2: Expenses must be business related

In another case, an independent insurance agent’s claims for a variety of business deductions were largely denied. The Tax Court found that he had documentation in the form of cancelled checks and credit card statements that showed expenses were paid. But there was no proof of a business purpose.

For example, he made utility payments for natural gas, electricity, water and sewer, but the records didn’t show whether the services were for his business or his home. (TC Memo 2020-25)

Case number 3: No records could mean no deductions

In this case, married taxpayers were partners in a travel agency and owners of a marketing company. The IRS denied their deductions involving auto expenses, gifts, meals and travel because of insufficient documentation. The couple produced no evidence about the business purpose of gifts they had given. In addition, their credit card statements and other information didn’t detail the time, place, and business relationship for meal expenses or indicate that travel was conducted for business purposes.

“The disallowed deductions in this case are directly attributable to (the taxpayer’s) failure to maintain adequate records,“ the court stated. (TC Memo 2020-7)

We can help

Contact us if you need assistance retaining adequate business records. Taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you keep records can protect your deductions and help make an audit much less painful.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If you’re age 65 and older, and you have basic Medicare insurance, you may need to pay additional premiums to get the level of coverage you want. The premiums can be costly, especially if you’re married and both you and your spouse are paying them. But there may be a silver lining: You may qualify for a tax break for paying the premiums.

Tax deductions for Medicare premiums

You can combine premiums for Medicare health insurance with other qualifying health care expenses for purposes of claiming an itemized deduction for medical expenses on your tax return. This includes amounts for “Medigap” insurance and Medicare Advantage plans. Some people buy Medigap policies because Medicare Parts A and B don’t cover all their health care expenses. Coverage gaps include co-payments, co-insurance, deductibles and other costs. Medigap is private supplemental insurance that’s intended to cover some or all gaps.

Many people no longer itemize

Qualifying for a medical expense deduction may be difficult for a couple of reasons. For 2020 (and 2019), you can deduct medical expenses only if you itemize deductions and only to the extent that total qualifying expenses exceeded 7.5% of AGI.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction amounts for 2018 through 2025. As a result, fewer individuals are claiming itemized deductions. For 2020, the standard deduction amounts are $12,400 for single filers, $24,800 for married couples filing jointly and $18,650 for heads of household. (For 2019, these amounts were $12,200, $24,400 and $18,350, respectively.)

However, if you have significant medical expenses, including Medicare health insurance premiums, you may itemize and collect some tax savings.

Note: Self-employed people and shareholder-employees of S corporations can generally claim an above-the-line deduction for their health insurance premiums, including Medicare premiums. So, they don’t need to itemize to get the tax savings from their premiums.

Medical expense deduction basics

In addition to Medicare premiums, you can deduct various medical expenses, including those for dental treatment, ambulance services, dentures, eyeglasses and contacts, hospital services, lab tests, qualified long-term care services, prescription medicines and others.

There are also many items that Medicare doesn’t cover that can be written off for tax purposes, if you qualify. In addition, you can deduct transportation expenses to get to medical appointments. If you go by car, you can deduct a flat 17-cents-per-mile rate for 2020 (down from 20 cents for 2019), or you can keep track of your actual out-of-pocket expenses for gas, oil and repairs.

We can help

Contact us if you have additional questions about Medicare coverage options or claiming medical expense deductions on your personal tax return. We can help determine the optimal overall tax-planning strategy based on your situation.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Restaurants and entertainment venues have been hard hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. One of the tax breaks that President Trump has proposed to help them is an increase in the amount that can be deducted for business meals and entertainment.

It’s unclear whether Congress would go along with enhanced business meal and entertainment deductions. But in the meantime, let’s review the current rules.

Before the pandemic hit, many businesses spent money “wining and dining” current or potential customers, vendors and employees. The rules for deducting these expenses changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but you can still claim some valuable write-offs. And keep in mind that deductions are available for business meal takeout and delivery.

One of the biggest changes is that you can no longer deduct most business-related entertainment expenses. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA disallows deductions for entertainment expenses, including those for sports events, theater productions, golf outings and fishing trips.

50% meal deductions

Currently, you can deduct 50% of the cost of food and beverages for meals conducted with business associates. However, you need to follow three basic rules in order to prove that your expenses are business related:

  1. The expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” in carrying on your business. This means your food and beverage costs are customary and appropriate. They shouldn’t be lavish or extravagant.
  2. The expenses must be directly related or associated with your business. This means that you expect to receive a concrete business benefit from them. The principal purpose for the meal must be business. You can’t go out with a group of friends for the evening, discuss business with one of them for a few minutes, and then write off the check.
  3. You must be able to substantiate the expenses. There are requirements for proving that meal and beverage expenses qualify for a deduction. You must be able to establish the amount spent, the date and place where the meals took place, the business purpose and the business relationship of the people involved.

It’s a good idea to set up detailed recordkeeping procedures to keep track of business meal costs. That way, you can prove them and the business connection in the event of an IRS audit.

Other considerations

What if you spend money on food and beverages at an entertainment event? The IRS has clarified that taxpayers can still deduct 50% of food and drink expenses incurred at entertainment events, but only if business was conducted during the event or shortly before or after. The food-and-drink expenses should also be “stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices or receipts,” according to the guidance.

Another related tax law change involves meals provided to employees on the business premises. Before the TCJA, these meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer were 100% deductible by the employer. Beginning in 2018, meals provided for the convenience of an employer in an on-premises cafeteria or elsewhere on the business property are only 50% deductible. After 2025, these meals won’t be deductible at all.

Plan ahead

As you can see, the treatment of meal and entertainment expenses became more complicated after the TCJA. It’s possible the deductions could increase substantially under a new stimulus law, if Congress passes one. We’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, we can answer any questions you may have concerning business meal and entertainment deductions.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the resulting economic fallout is dealing a crushing blow to charitable organizations. Indeed, during a time when food banks, disaster relief and other nonprofit services are needed most by the public, their funding is suffering due to cancelled fundraising events and other factors.

If philanthropy is an important part of your legacy, now is a good time to make as many donations as possible. Your gifts reduce your taxable estate, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has expanded charitable contribution deductions.

CARES Act incentives

Individual taxpayers can take advantage of a new above-the-line $300 deduction for cash contributions to qualified charities in 2020. “Above-the-line” means the deduction reduces adjusted gross income (AGI) and is available to taxpayers regardless of whether they itemize deductions.

The CARES Act also loosens the limitation on charitable deductions for cash contributions made to public charities in 2020, boosting it from 60% to 100% of AGI. No connection between the contributions and COVID-19 is required.

Place restrictions on contributions

Before making donations, it’s wise to take steps to ensure that they’re used to fulfill your intended charitable purposes. Outright gifts may be risky, especially large donations that will benefit a charity over a long period of time.

Even if a charity is financially sound when you make a gift, there are no guarantees it won’t suffer financial distress, file for bankruptcy protection or even cease operations down the road. The last thing you likely want is for a charity to use your gifts to pay off its creditors or for some other purpose unrelated to the mission that inspired you to give in the first place.

One way to help preserve your charitable legacy is to place restrictions on the use of your gifts. For example, you might limit the use of your funds to assisting a specific constituency or funding medical research. These restrictions can be documented in your will or charitable trust or in a written gift or endowment fund agreement.

In addition to restricting your gifts, it’s a good idea to research the charities you’re considering, to ensure that they use their funds efficiently and effectively. One powerful online research tool is the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search. The tool provides access to information about charitable organizations, including Form 990 information returns, IRS determination letters and eligibility to receive tax-deductible contributions.

Doing your part

During this time of national emergency, charitable organizations need your donations more than ever as demand on them is on the rise. Making gifts benefits your overall estate plan by reducing your estate’s size, and the CARES Act provides additional charitable giving incentives. Contact us for help in making charitable gifts through your estate plan.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If you’re self-employed and work out of an office in your home, you may be entitled to home office deductions. However, you must satisfy strict rules.

If you qualify, you can deduct the “direct expenses” of the home office. This includes the costs of painting or repairing the home office and depreciation deductions for furniture and fixtures used there. You can also deduct the “indirect” expenses of maintaining the office. This includes the allocable share of utility costs, depreciation and insurance for your home, as well as the allocable share of mortgage interest, real estate taxes and casualty losses.

In addition, if your home office is your “principal place of business,” the costs of traveling between your home office and other work locations are deductible transportation expenses, rather than nondeductible commuting costs. And, generally, you can deduct the cost (reduced by the percentage of non-business use) of computers and related equipment that you use in your home office, in the year that they’re placed into service.

Deduction tests

You can deduct your expenses if you meet any of these three tests:

Principal place of business. You’re entitled to deductions if you use your home office, exclusively and regularly, as your principal place of business. Your home office is your principal place of business if it satisfies one of two tests. You satisfy the “management or administrative activities test” if you use your home office for administrative or management activities of your business, and you meet certain other requirements. You meet the “relative importance test” if your home office is the most important place where you conduct business, compared with all the other locations where you conduct that business.

Meeting place. You’re entitled to home office deductions if you use your home office, exclusively and regularly, to meet or deal with patients, clients, or customers. The patients, clients or customers must physically come to the office.

Separate structure. You’re entitled to home office deductions for a home office, used exclusively and regularly for business, that’s located in a separate unattached structure on the same property as your home. For example, this could be in an unattached garage, artist’s studio or workshop.

You may also be able to deduct the expenses of certain storage space for storing inventory or product samples. If you’re in the business of selling products at retail or wholesale, and if your home is your sole fixed business location, you can deduct home expenses allocable to space that you use to store inventory or product samples.

Deduction limitations

The amount of your home office deductions is subject to limitations based on the income attributable to your use of the office, your residence-based deductions that aren’t dependent on use of your home for business (such as mortgage interest and real estate taxes), and your business deductions that aren’t attributable to your use of the home office. But any home office expenses that can’t be deducted because of these limitations can be carried over and deducted in later years.

Selling the home

Be aware that if you sell — at a profit — a home that contains (or contained) a home office, there may be tax implications. We can explain them to you.

Pin down the best tax treatment

Proper planning can be the key to claiming the maximum deduction for your home office expenses. Contact us if you’d like to discuss your situation.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Don’t let the holiday rush keep you from taking some important steps to reduce your 2019 tax liability. You still have time to execute a few strategies, including:

1. Buying assets.Thinking about purchasing new or used heavy vehicles, heavy equipment, machinery or office equipment in the new year? Buy it and place it in service by December 31, and you can deduct 100% of the cost as bonus depreciation.

Although “qualified improvement property” (QIP) — generally, interior improvements to nonresidential real property — doesn’t qualify for bonus depreciation, it’s eligible for Sec. 179 immediate expensing. And QIP now includes roofs, HVAC, fire protection systems, alarm systems and security systems placed in service after the building was placed in service.

You can deduct as much as $1.02 million for QIP and other qualified assets placed in service before January 1, not to exceed your amount of taxable income from business activity. Once you place in service more than $2.55 million in qualifying property, the Sec. 179 deduction begins phasing out on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Additional limitations may apply.

2. Making the most of retirement plans. If you don’t already have a retirement plan, you still have time to establish a new plan, such as a SEP IRA, 401(k) or profit-sharing plans (the deadline for setting up a SIMPLE IRA to make contributions for 2019 tax purposes was October 1, unless your business started after that date). If your circumstances, such as your number of employees, have changed significantly, you also should consider starting a new plan before January 1.

Although retirement plans generally must be started before year-end, you usually can deduct any contributions you make for yourself and your employees until the due date of your tax return. You also might qualify for a tax credit to offset the costs of starting a plan.

3. Timing deductions and income. If your business operates on a cash basis, you can significantly affect your amount of taxable income by accelerating your deductions into 2019 and deferring income into 2020 (assuming you expect to be taxed at the same or a lower rate next year).

For example, you could put recurring expenses normally paid early in the year on your credit card before January 1 — that way, you can claim the deduction for 2019 even though you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2020. In certain circumstances, you also can prepay some expenses, such as rent or insurance and claim them in 2019.

As for income, wait until close to year-end to send out invoices to customers with reliable payment histories. Accrual-basis businesses can take a similar approach, holding off on the delivery of goods and services until next year.

Proceed with caution

Bear in mind that some of these tactics could adversely impact other factors affecting your tax liability, such as the qualified business income deduction. Contact us to make the most of your tax planning opportunities.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

If you’re starting to fret about your 2019 tax bill, there’s good news — you may still have time to reduce your liability. Three strategies are available that may help you cut your taxes before year-end, including:

1. Accelerate deductions/defer income. Certain tax deductions are claimed for the year of payment, such as the mortgage interest deduction. So, if you make your January 2020 payment this month, you can deduct the interest portion on your 2019 tax return (assuming you itemize).

Pushing income into the new year also will reduce your taxable income. If you’re expecting a bonus at work, for example, and you don’t want the income this year, ask if your employer can hold off on paying it until January. If you’re self-employed, you can delay your invoices until late in December to divert the revenue to 2020.

You shouldn’t pursue this approach if you expect to land in a higher tax bracket next year. Also, if you’re eligible for the qualified business income deduction for pass-through entities, you might reduce the amount of that deduction if you reduce your income.

2. Maximize your retirement contributions. What could be better than paying yourself instead of Uncle Sam? Federal tax law encourages individual taxpayers to make the maximum allowable contributions for the year to their retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs and SEP plans, 401(k)s and deferred annuities.

For 2019, you generally can contribute as much as $19,000 to 401(k)s and $6,000 for traditional IRAs. Self-employed individuals can contribute up to 25% of your net income (but no more than $56,000) to a SEP IRA.

3. Harvest your investment losses. Losing money on your investments has a bit of an upside — it gives you the opportunity to offset taxable gains. If you sell underperforming investments before the end of the year, you can offset gains realized this year on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

If you have more losses than gains, you generally can apply up to $3,000 of the excess to reduce your ordinary income. Any remaining losses are carried forward to future tax years.

We can help

The strategies described above are only a sampling of strategies that may be available. Contact us if you have questions about these or other methods for minimizing your tax liability for 2019.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

At this time of year, many business owners ask if there’s anything they can do to save tax for the year. Under current tax law, there are two valuable depreciation-related tax breaks that may help your business reduce its 2019 tax liability. To benefit from these deductions, you must buy eligible machinery, equipment, furniture or other assets and place them into service by the end of the tax year. In other words, you can claim a full deduction for 2019 even if you acquire assets and place them in service during the last days of the year.

The Section 179 deduction

Under Section 179, you can deduct (or expense) up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in Year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. For tax years beginning in 2019, the expensing limit is $1,020,000. The deduction begins to phase out on a dollar-for-dollar basis for 2019 when total asset acquisitions for the year exceed $2,550,000.

Sec. 179 expensing is generally available for most depreciable property (other than buildings) and off-the-shelf computer software. It’s also available for:

  • Qualified improvement property (generally, any interior improvement to a building’s interior, but not for the internal structural framework, for enlarging a building, or for elevators or escalators),
  • Roofs, and
  • HVAC, fire protection, alarm, and security systems.

The Sec. 179 deduction amount and the ceiling limit are significantly higher than they were a few years ago. In 2017, for example, the deduction limit was $510,000, and it began to phase out when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceeded $2.03 million.

The generous dollar ceiling that applies this year means that many small and medium sized businesses that make purchases will be able to currently deduct most, if not all, of their outlays for machinery, equipment and other assets. What’s more, the fact that the deduction isn’t prorated for the time that the asset is in service during the year makes it a valuable tool for year-end tax planning.

Bonus depreciation

Businesses can claim a 100% bonus first year depreciation deduction for machinery and equipment bought new or used (with some exceptions) if purchased and placed in service this year. The 100% deduction is also permitted without any proration based on the length of time that an asset is in service during the tax year.

Business vehicles

It’s important to note that Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation may also be used for business vehicles. So buying one or more vehicles before December 31 may reduce your 2019 tax liability. But, depending on the type of vehicle, additional limits may apply.

Businesses should consider buying assets now that qualify for the liberalized depreciation deductions. Please contact us if you have questions about depreciation or other tax breaks.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Are you charitably minded and have a significant amount of money in an IRA? If you’re age 70½ or older, and don’t need the money from required minimum distributions, you may benefit by giving these amounts to charity.

IRA distribution basics

A popular way to transfer IRA assets to charity is through a tax provision that allows IRA owners who are 70½ or older to give up to $100,000 per year of their IRA distributions to charity. These distributions are called qualified charitable distributions, or QCDs. The money given to charity counts toward the donor’s required minimum distributions (RMDs), but doesn’t increase the donor’s adjusted gross income or generate a tax bill.

So while QCDs are exempt from federal income taxes, other traditional IRA distributions are taxable (either wholly or partially depending on whether you’ve made any nondeductible contributions over the years).

Unlike regular charitable donations, QCDs can’t be claimed as itemized deductions.

Keeping the donation out of your AGI may be important because doing so can:

  1. Help the donor qualify for other tax breaks (for example, a lower AGI can reduce the threshold for deducting medical expenses, which are only deductible to the extent they exceed 10% of AGI);
  2. Reduce taxes on your Social Security benefits; and
  3. Help you avoid a high-income surcharge for Medicare Part B and Part D premiums, (which kicks in if AGI hits certain levels).

In addition, keep in mind that charitable contributions don’t yield a tax benefit for those individuals who no longer itemize their deductions (because of the larger standard deduction under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). So those who are age 70½ or older and are receiving RMDs from IRAs may gain a tax advantage by making annual charitable contributions via a QCD from an IRA. This charitable contribution will reduce RMDs by a commensurate amount, and the amount of the reduction will be tax-free.

Annual limit

There’s a $100,000 limit on total QCDs for any one year. But if you and your spouse both have IRAs set up in your respective names, each of you is entitled to a separate $100,000 annual QCD limit, for a combined total of $200,000.

Plan ahead

The QCD strategy can be a smart tax move for high-net-worth individuals over 70½ years old. If you’re interested in this opportunity, don’t wait until year end to act. Contact us for more information.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Working from home has its perks. Not only can you skip the commute, but you also might be eligible to deduct home office expenses on your tax return. Deductions for these expenses can save you a bundle, if you meet the tax law qualifications.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer claim the home office deduction. If, however, you run a business from your home or are otherwise self-employed and use part of your home for business purposes, the home office deduction may still be available to you.

If you’re a homeowner and use part of your home for business purposes, you may be entitled to deduct a portion of actual expenses such as mortgage, property taxes, utilities, repairs and insurance, as well as depreciation. Or you might be able to claim the simplified home office deduction of $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).

Requirements to qualify

To qualify for home office deductions, part of your home must be used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business. This is defined as follows:

1. Regular use. You use a specific area of your home for business on a regular basis. Incidental or occasional business use isn’t considered regular use.

2. Exclusive use. You use a specific area of your home only for business. It’s not required that the space be physically partitioned off. But you don’t meet the requirements if the area is used for both business and personal purposes, such as a home office that you also use as a guest bedroom.

Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you 1) use the space exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities of your business, and 2) don’t have another fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities.

Examples of activities that meet this requirement include:

  • Billing customers, clients or patients,
  • Keeping books and records,
  • Ordering supplies,
  • Setting up appointments, and
  • Forwarding orders or writing reports.

Other ways to qualify

If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on the premises. The use of your home must be substantial and integral to the business conducted.

Alternatively, you may be able to claim the home office deduction if you have a storage area in your home — or in a separate free-standing structure (such as a studio, workshop, garage or barn) — that’s used exclusively and regularly for your business.

An audit target

Be aware that claiming expenses on your tax return for a home office has long been a red flag for an IRS audit, since many people don’t qualify. But don’t be afraid to take a home office deduction if you’re entitled to it. You just need to pay close attention to the rules to ensure that you’re eligible — and make sure that your recordkeeping is complete.

The home office deduction can provide a valuable tax-saving opportunity for business owners and other self-employed taxpayers who work from home. Keep in mind that, when you sell your house, there can be tax implications if you’ve claimed a home office. Contact us if you have questions or aren’t sure how to proceed in your situation.

© 2019 Covenant CPA