Richard A. Lindsey, CPA

Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants

  • Aug 3

    In the flurry of launching a new business, filing your taxes may well be one of the last things on your mind. But, you don’t want to wait until the last minute to figure things out. At best, you could leave money on the table – at worst, suffer penalties or other legal ramifications.

    Avoiding these common startup bloopers can ensure your new business is on the right track to handling its tax obligations properly.

    1. Not keeping track of all of your expenses
    From the moment you launch a business, you can deduct “all ordinary and necessary” business expenses such as office supplies, professional fees, and business mileage. Your biggest mistake is not keeping track of these expenses throughout the year, and trying to gather every receipt when it’s time to file. The bottom line is you can’t deduct what you can’t document, and failing to record as you go most likely means you’re forgetting expenses and leaving money on the table.

    Find a method for documenting expenses that works for you. An accounting program, such as QuickBooks®, will let you record and manage revenue and expenses. In addition, there are dedicated apps such as Expensify for tracking expenses, MileBug for recording mileage, or Shoeboxed for capturing paper receipts. The best method is whichever one you will consistently use.

    2. Mixing personal and business
    New startups and small business owners often invest so much of themselves, their time and their money, into their new company that it’s hard to separate them. But separate them you must! The mixing of business and personal funds makes it extremely difficult to make sure you deduct all of your business expenses and only your business expenses. At the very least, you must have separate business and personal checking accounts. Just imagine the look on an IRS auditor’s face when she finds out you can’t tell your business and personal expenses apart.

    3. Choosing the wrong legal entity
    Your business’ legal structure affects how you report your taxes and how much you pay, so it’s important to choose the right entity. For example, many start out as a sole proprietor or partnership because it’s easiest, but soon find themselves paying way too much in self-employment taxes. Creating a corporation can help lower their tax bill significantly.

    4. Mixing equipment and supplies
    Both first-time and experienced business owners get tripped up by what is considered equipment versus supplies. Equipment are often higher value items that will typically last longer than one year, while supplies are generally things that you use up during the year.

    When it comes to equipment, there are a couple of approaches: 1) You can recover a portion of the cost each year, or 2) you may qualify to write-off the full amount in the year of purchase. There are, naturally, some restrictions on the ability to deduct the full amount. Be sure you talk to us first to find out if you qualify.

    If you mistakenly deduct your equipment or other capital item as an operating expense such as supplies, the IRS could determine that you’re not entitled to any deduction.

    5. Not sending Forms 1099
    When you pay any freelancer, contractor, attorney or other non-corporate entity $600 or more for services over the course of the year, you’re required to issue Form 1099-MISC and send copies to both the entity (business, contractor, individual, etc.) and the IRS. If you fail to do so on time the penalty can be as high as $520 per occurrence.

    6. Deducting too much for gifts
    Maybe you sent some of your best clients a holiday present, or sent them a closing gift after a large purchase, or sent a colleague a thank you gift for an especially nice referral. Great! Business gifts are deductible, but there’s a big catch. You can only deduct $25 per gift. So, if you send Paula a $150 fruit basket, you only get to deduct $25 for it.

    Documentation is going to be important. If you report $2,500 in business gifts, you need to be able to have documentation that shows you gave gifts to 100 different people.

    7. Not making estimated tax payments
    If your business is any legal form other than a C corporation you are personally going to be liable for paying taxes on the profits you earn. Business owners are required to pay in sufficient taxes to cover their expected tax obligations. Those payments can be in the form of payroll withholding – if you or someone in your household qualifies – or through quarterly estimated tax payments. Even if it wasn’t required, it is generally easier to make smaller payments on a quarterly basis than to have to pay the entire bill at year end.

    The best way to stay on top of your estimated tax payments is to get into the habit of setting aside a percentage of your revenue on a regular basis. Then, on a quarterly basis, review your revenue and expenses, calculate your tax liability, and make the appropriate payments.

  • Oct 28

    In what may come as a shock to many of you, the country is broke and is looking for additional revenues. You should know, it will be looking in every nook and cranny to replenish the federal coffers. What you may not know is the Internal Revenue Service seems already to be engaged in revenue-finding-missions. Among the objects of their affection – in the tax audit – are sole proprietors filing Schedule C, and substantiation requirements for every possible deduction.

    The IRS now views the Schedule C as the repository of all manner of evil taxpayer intentions to reduce their tax liabilities (and, from the perspective of the IRS, federal revenues). IRS agents are reportedly beating the bushes of sole proprietors primarily to reduce, or eliminate, claimed deductions as unsubstantiated to increase both income and self-employment tax liabilities.

    All deductions are a matter of legislative grace, and that grace comes with a price: at a minimum to maintain books and records to support the expenditure, and, in many cases, to meet more exacting substantiation standards than the Code imposes as a condition to deductibility in various circumstances. One might not think of charitable contributions as a source of major contention with the IRS, but in the case of non-cash contributions, the taxpayer is technically required to establish, both the fair market value of the property and the property’s adjusted basis. In some cases, the Code requires an appraisal of property (where the value exceeds $5,000) contributed to a charity.

    However, the property’s adjusted basis comes into question in two cases: first in most cases where the property is inventory in the hands of the donor, and secondly, if tangible personal property that is unrelated to the charity’s exempt function, the amount of the contribution is limited to the donor’s adjusted basis in the property. For example, if a taxpayer donates used clothing to a charity that does not distribute them to poor or indigent individuals, the deduction is limited to the lesser of your basis or fair market value. Now, it may seem like common sense that the current value of almost all used clothing is less than what was paid for it but technically, a claim for a deduction of such items requires some proof of both the fair market value and the cost basis of the property.

    And such was the case I recently read about in Surgent’s Tax Issues Newsletter where a taxpayer was denied a claimed $850 deduction for clothing donated to charity. Yes $850! The return was under audit and the taxpayer submitted photographs of all the clothing donated and matched them up to the current list of retail prices published by The Salvation Army and recognized by the IRS– but that wasn’t enough. The auditor wanted purchase receipts of each item to establish the cost basis. Even if the taxpayer was in the 35 percent tax bracket, the amount of tax at issue was only $298. The IRS correctly assumed the taxpayer would throw in the towel rather than incur additional time, effort and costs to substantiate the deduction. So, the IRS pressed the issue hard enough to deny any deduction. Hooray, the deficit was reduced $300!

    From a practical standpoint, trying to establish the cost of most any item of personal property even shortly after its purchase, much less a couple of years down the road, is extremely difficult. So, nothing prevents the IRS from using similar audit strategies where larger sums of money are involved.

    Echoing the motivation Willie Sutton once famously gave for robbing banks, the Internal Revenue Service knows where the money is.

  • Feb 19

    Like Bama’s win over Clemson – you expected it to happen, but they waited until the last minute to make it happen – Congress has once again extended the “extenders”- a varied assortment of more than 50 individual and business tax deductions, tax credits, and other tax saving laws which have been on the books for years, but which technically are temporary because they have a specific end date. This package of tax breaks has repeatedly been temporarily extended for short periods of time (e.g., one or two years), which is why they are referred to as “extenders.”

    Most of the tax breaks expired at the end of 2014. Now, in legislation passed just before the Congressional Christmas break, the extenders have been revived and extended once again, but this time Congress has taken a new tack. Instead of just rolling the package of provisions over for a year or two, it actually made some of the provisions permanent and extended the remaining provisions for either two or five years, while making significant modifications to several of the provisions.

    Key tax breaks for individuals that were made permanent by the new law include:

    • Tax credits for low to middle income earners that were originally enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and were slated to expire at the end of 2017: (1) the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides up to $2,500 in partially refundable tax credits for post secondary education, (2) eased rules for qualifying for the refundable child credit, and (3) various earned income tax credit (EITC) changes;
    • the $250 above-the-line deduction for teachers and other school professionals for expenses paid or incurred for books, certain supplies, equipment, and supplementary material used by the educator in the classroom; also modified, beginning in 2016, to index the $250 to inflation and include professional development expenses;
    • parity for the exclusions for employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits;
    • the option to take an itemized deduction for state and local general sales taxes instead of the itemized deduction permitted for state and local income taxes;
    • increased contribution limits and carry forward period for contributions of appreciated real property (including partial interests in real property) for conservation purposes; the new law also extends the enhanced deduction for certain farmers and ranchers; and,
    • the provision that permits tax-free distributions to charity from an individual retirement account (IRA) of up to $100,000 per taxpayer per tax year, by taxpayers age 70 ½ or older.

    Key tax breaks for individuals that were extended by the new law include:

    • the exclusion of up to $2 million ($1 million if married filing separately) of discharged principal residence indebtedness from gross income; extended through 2016; the new law also modifies the exclusion to apply to qualified principal residence indebtedness that is discharged in 2017, if the discharge is pursuant to a binding written agreement entered into in 2016;
    • the credit for energy-efficient improvements to principal residence extended through 2016;
    • the deduction for mortgage insurance premiums deductible as qualified residence interest; extended through 2016; and
    • the $4,000 above the line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses; extended through 2016.

    Key tax breaks affecting businesses that were extended by the new law include:

    • The Work Opportunity Tax Credit was extended through 2019; the new law also modifies the credit beginning in 2016 to apply to employers who hire qualified long-term unemployed individuals (i.e., those who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more) and increases the credit with respect to such long-term unemployed individuals to 50% of the first $6,000 of wages;
    • 15 year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements, and qualified retail improvements were made permanent;
    • 50% bonus depreciation was extended for property placed in service during 2015 through 2019; the 50% rate is phased down to 40% for property placed in service during 2018 and 30% for property placed in service during 2019;
    • previously increased first-year depreciation cap on trucks and vans not weighing over 6,000 lbs. has been extended through 2017; the increased first year depreciation is lowered for 2018 and 2019 and disappears in 2020; and
    • increase in Section 179 elective business expensing (up to $500,000 annual write-off of eligible business property costs that is phased out as those cost exceed $2 million for the year) is made permanent; also made permanent is the allowance of expensing for computer software and qualified real property.

    Caution: This article contains a general overview of selected tax provisions contained in the PATH Act and does not address all tax provisions contained in the Act. Tax law is constantly changing due to new legislation, cases, regulations, and IRS rulings. Please contact us if you’re interested in a tax topic that is not discussed in this article.

  • Jun 5

    Bryan Martin had always dreamed of owning his own business, but, according to a Time.com article, it wasn’t until insurance giant Zurich shuttered their regional Indianapolis office where he worked that he decided to strike out on his own.

    “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” the article quoted Martin, who had just turned 51 and has a wife and 13-year old twins. “Right now, I’m just worried about financially making all this work.”

    Are you out there with Martin? Has the rising unemployment rate sent you into the entrepreneur minefield? Are you crawling along like a soldier, poking the ground with a stick, trying to find, identify, and avoid the tax mines just to pay your mortgage and put food on the table? A growing number of the nation’s jobless are doing just that.

    But as the ranks of brand new entrepreneurs swells so is the likelihood of errors and even, dare I say it—IRS audits! The IRS audits individual returns with Schedule C income at twice the rate of those without. Since the IRS’ Tax Gap analysis identifies underreporting of business income as a $109 billion problem, accounting for more than half of the total underreporting by individuals, the chances of those audits increasing are pretty good.

    Many new entrepreneurs, strapped for cash, try to cut corners and make the rookie mistake of forgoing the use of accountants and attorneys and picking up TurboTax® to handle their taxes on their own.

    The Internal Revenue Code is fraught with obstacles and the wide-eyed rookie is unlikely to recognize the danger signs. “My neighbor told me I could do this,” won’t stand up against the glare of an IRS examiner. Many budding business owners hear about the generous tax benefits for business expenses from travel and entertainment to the holy grail of tax deductions, the home office. But most have no clue what is allowed and what will send up a red flag. There are many misconceptions about the tax laws and the wrong decision can turn dreams into nightmares.

    The sheer magnitude of available tax breaks causes problems for many rookies. When you’re a self-employed small business owner, nearly everything looks like it should be deductible. After all, many feel they don’t do anything that isn’t business related.

    But the pearly-gate vision of deducting everything leads many an entrepreneur to forget the rules of mine clearing and wander off course into profit-bleeding blunders. Some of the most common mistakes include poor record-keeping, questionable tax deductions, putting expenses on the wrong tax form or line and failing to pay quarterly estimates to Uncle Sam.

    It’s critical that businesses maintain books, records, separate bank accounts and credit cards from their owners. In the event of an audit, people often lose, not because they were trying to get by with something, but because of poor records. When a taxpayer can’t produce records to match the tax return, the auditor smells blood. They have spotted a weakened wildebeest separated from the herd and they are going in for the kill.

    Make no mistake, it will be painful.

    But it doesn’t have to happen. With the proper records and the right advisor you can successfully chart a course across the tax minefield and come out unscathed.

    If you’ve entered the minefield, or are thinking of entering it, remember, our experience can help you identify the obstacles, spot the dangers and chart a successful crossing.

  • Nov 27

    Whenever you fix or replace something in your business or rental property you have to decide, for tax purposes, whether you have made a repair or an improvement. What difference does it make? Because you can deduct the cost of a repair, but you must capitalize the cost of an improvement and recover that cost through depreciation. On your commercial building or rental property that could be as many as 39 years.

    For example, if you classify a $1,000 expenditure as a repair, you get to deduct the entire $1,000 in the year you spend it. If you classify the expenditure as an improvement, you’ll likely have to depreciate it over 39 years and the most you’ll get to deduct in depreciation this year is $25.

    HUGE Difference!

    The difference between a repair and an improvement has, historically, been difficult to determine. Often we relied on various subjective interpretations and court cases for guidance. In an effort to clarify matters, the IRS has issued over 200 pages of complex regulations explaining how to tell the difference. The IRS estimates the new regulations will affect about 4 million businesses.

    The new regulations make significant changes that can benefit most taxpayers if applied correctly. The changes include new and revised safe harbors, as well as new relief provisions for small business. The regulations will provide simplification and reduce controversy by allowing taxpayers to follow their financial accounting “book” policies in some areas.

    Significant provisions of the new regulations include:

    Materials and supplies. The threshold for deducting materials and supplies was increased from $100 to $200 and generally applies to items expected to be consumed in 12 months or less, or that have an economically useful life of 12 months or less.

    de minimis safe harbor.  The new regulations allow a taxpayer with an “applicable financial statement” to deduct up to $5,000 of the cost of an item of property per invoice (or per item substantiated by an invoice). Taxpayers must have a written policy in place at the beginning of the tax year that specifies a per-item dollar amount (up to the ceiling) that will be expensed for financial accounting purposes. Taxpayers without an “applicable financial statement” may expense up to $500 per invoice/item.

    Routine maintenance and improvements.  The new regulations contain controversial “unit of property” rules that apply the rules for real property to eight separate building systems. However, the rules do extend the routine maintenance safe harbor to real property and provide a new safe harbor for small taxpayers. The real property safe harbor for small taxpayers allows expensing of amounts paid for repairs, maintenance and improvements when the total costs during the year do not exceed $10,000 or two percent of the unadjusted basis of the building.

  • Nov 18

    The IRS has made changes in the capitalization vs. repairs accounting method, which means closer scrutiny.

    Cost will be considered repairs if they are incidental in nature and don’t add to the value of property or prolong the life of the property. Costs that permanently improve the value of the property, restore its value or restore it to adapt it to a new or different use must be capitalized.

    Example:  If an automobile engine is capitalized as an asset, then repairs on this engine would be likely capitalized.  However if the automobile is the asset, then repairs on the engine wouldn’t be capitalized but be classified as repair costs. 

            The IRS has issued a new Audit Technique Guide to assist in the audit of a change of an accounting-method involving capitalization vs. repairs. It will also be helpful in correctly classifying expenses as repair costs or capital improvements.

    IRS auditors are instructed to investigate the following for any costs that are reclassified as repairs:

    1. Determine through management reports, engineering assessments and invoices the reason the work was done.
    2. Decide if the costs were a unit of property (UOP) separate for the primary UOP.
    3. Determine the age of the asset, acquisition date and any prior work completed to that asset.
    4. What was the purpose of the repair, why was it done, the dates the repairs began and ended, when will the repairs have to be done again?
    5. Consider long term repairs and determine if the expenditures:
      • Result in new assets
      • Improve the property, making it operate better
      • Add new components
      • Add upgrades or modification, to improve the value of the property
      • Extend the useful life of the property
      • Improve the efficiency, quality, strength or capacity of the property
      • Give the property a new use.

    These factors tend to indicate that the expense must be capitalized and not be deducted as a repair.