Richard A. Lindsey, CPA

Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants

  • Jun 9

    Congress recently enacted significant changes to partnership audit and adjustment rules. The changes are expected to dramatically increase the audit rates for partnerships, and will require partners to carefully review, if not revise, their partnership’s operating agreement.

    The new rules generally apply to partnership returns filed after 2018, but careful planning today will help mitigate any unfavorable consequences.

    Important new provisions that may impact you:

    • The IRS may collect any additional tax, interest, and penalty directly from the partnership rather than from the partners (the tax could be collected at the highest individual tax rate).
    • Current partners could be responsible for tax liabilities of prior partners.
    • New elections and opt-outs will be available and your agreement may need revision to specify who makes these decisions.
    • There are many new tax terms and concepts that will likely require you to adjust your partnership’s operating agreement.

    Particularly, the new term “partnership representative” replaces the prior “tax matters partner.” The partnership representative is critical; they will act as the single point of contact between the IRS and the partnership and will have full authority to bind the partnership and the partners during an audit.

    Potential opportunities and the need for planning today

    Certain partnerships with 100 or fewer partners may elect out of the provisions. To do so, the partnership may make an annual “opt-out” election with their timely filed tax return (Form 1065).

  • May 12

    I’ve written before about what a good tax planning technique hiring your children can be. (See “Hiring Your Children for the Summer: The Job of Last Resort or Just Good Tax Planning,” Taxing Times, June 2015.) It can be an effective way of shifting income from your high rate to as low as zero percent! It can also be good for the kids. However, as a recent tax court decision demonstrates, it’s important to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

    The case involved Lisa Fisher, a New York attorney, faced with a common dilemma to find summer care for her children, all under the age of nine. So, during the summer, she brought them into her office two or three days a week where they shredded waste, mailed letters, answered phones, greeted clients, and copied documents.

    Fisher took deductions for the $28,770 in wages she paid her kids over a three year period. But, she didn’t keep any payroll files or issue any W-2s. She didn’t keep any records substantiating the work they did or establishing that she paid “reasonable compensation” for the work performed. Nor could she present any documentary evidence, such as cancelled checks or bank statements, to verify that she actually paid them the wages she deducted.

    You know where this is headed. The IRS disallowed the deductions for the children’s wages and imposed an accuracy related penalty. The Tax Court affirmed that decision.

    Bottom line: Hiring your children to work for your business, or rental properties, can be perfectly legal tax planning. But, you have to follow the rules and document everything in order to protect the benefits.

  • Feb 17

    New January 31 Deadline for Employers

    Employers are now required to file their copies of Form W-2, submitted to the Social Security Administration by January 31.

    The new deadline also applies to Forms 1099-MISC reporting non-employee compensation, such as payments to independent contractors.

    In the past, employers typically had until the end of February if filing on paper, or the end of March if filing electronically, to submit copies of these forms.

    The new accelerated deadline will make it easier for the IRS to spot errors and verify the legitimacy of tax returns and properly issue refunds to eligible taxpayers. Penalties for late filing can be exorbitant! For example, if a business fails to file Form 1099-MISC or furnish a copy to the payee on time the penalty can be as high as $520 per occurrence.

    New March 15 Deadline for Partnerships and LLCs

    Partnership tax returns are now due March 15, NOT April 15 as in the past.

    S corporation tax returns due date remains unchanged at March 15.

    New April 15 Deadline for C Corporations

    C corporation tax returns are now due April 15, NOT March 15.

  • 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.

  • Aug 19

    Don’t you just love Congressional tricks?

    One of my personal “favorites” is when they cram a bunch of unrelated business into their bills.

    Which is just what happened about a year ago, and it could affect you…

    H.R. 3236, popularly known as “The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015” (yes, that’s how these things are named) brought some tax-law-related changes.

    Individual tax returns are still due on April 15th — and a six month extension period is still available. But …

    * Partnership tax returns are due March 15, NOT April 15 as in the past. If your partnership isn’t on a calendar year, the return is due on the 15th day of the third month following the close of your tax year.

    * C corporation tax returns are due April 15, NOT March 15. For non-calendar years, it is due on the 15th day of the fourth month following the close of the tax year.

    * S corporation tax returns remain unchanged–they are still due March 15, or the third month following the close of the taxable year.

    On TOP of that, another doozy: audits can get you for six years now, instead of three. Without going into all of the details, essentially if you withhold reporting of 25% or more of your income, the IRS has six years to figure it out. They’ve always had unlimited time for fraud or criminality … but there was some wiggle room for underreporting in the past. No longer.

    All this (and MORE!) in one measly highway bill.

    So, it pays even more to work with a pro, yes?

    These sort of issues are what we specialize in worrying all about — so you don’t have to. Because YOU have to keep your head in a bigger picture.

    Entrepreneurs know that hard work and a great idea don’t guarantee success. Fortunately, most of them also know that failure isn’t final — almost every successful business owner client of mine has crashed and burned at least once in his/her career.

    One of the best ways to pick yourself, or your business, back up off the ground is to take a fresh look at things that you “thought” were set in stone. Here are some strategies I compiled for you to possibly give your business a fresh lease on life, come fall, or into 2017…

    Re-target your market. In the heat of start-up passion, entrepreneurs frequently try to interest too broad a market: “Everyone will want to buy this!” The result: getting lost in the crowd. The more closely you define your market, the more success you will experience.

    Re-examine your price. Price is obviously supremely important. See how you can lower your overhead or cut production costs. Perhaps there’s a new way to package your products, so that your average transaction value can go up?

    Identify and push your best product. Focus on what works. If your hot product is coffee cups, look for ways to highlight and expand that niche instead of veering into new territory. How about different colors and holders for those cups?

    Make your marketing materials more memorable. Emphasize the benefits — SPECIFICALLY how features of your product or service will improve business or the quality of life for your customer. And scrutinize your advertising. Using big media is not always the answer, especially when you have narrowed your market. Don’t overlook narrowly-targeted marketing efforts or joint promotions.

    Keep promoting! Make sure your message sinks in. Find affordable ways to reach your target market, and use these avenues as often as you can. Try social advertising!

    These ideas are to get you started. There may be longer conversations to be had. If so, that’s what we’re here for.

  • 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.

  • Oct 15

    It didn’t take long for her business to fold.

    She was 22 years old, passionate, excited and a first time business owner.

    Why was she forced to close the doors?

    Not the reason you might expect: lack of sales.

    She went out of business because she didn’t keep good records. Records for taxes, budgeting, and cash flow.

    Depending on your personal experience, it may or may not surprise you that poor recordkeeping is one of the top reasons for business failure.

    Taking care of billing, tracking your expenses, taxes, and other financial housekeeping can seem overwhelming, stressful, or just plain boring for new business owners.

    Even for those who’ve been in business a while it is often one of their least favorite things to do. So it’s easy to coast along thinking everything is hunky dory – that’s a technical term – until WHAM! All of a sudden you discover sales are down by 20 percent and expenses are up by 15.

    Getting and keeping your financial house in order makes things not only less stressful, but can help ensure that you don’t overspend and that you have enough money for your savings, investments and retirement.

    Here are five tips for getting your financial house in order.

     

    1. Get some advice. I know, I know, it sounds self serving but, if you’ve never been in business for yourself, or if you struggle with managing your finances, get some advice. It could be the smartest investment you make in your business, and one that could prove crucial to your survival.
    2. Create a budget. Yes, I know it’s not exciting or sexy. You want to get out there and sell, do, or make whatever you started your business to do. But, IT IS NECESSARY! Be very conservative. Plan for the worst case scenario, not the best.
    3. Track everything. Keeping track of income, expenses, invoices, past due customers, estimated taxes, payroll, etc. can feel daunting at times; however, not doing it can lead to financial ruin or legal hot water. There are plenty of financial tools out there. The QuickBooks you’re already using can be used as a dashboard if you keep it up to date.
    4. Put aside money with every deposit. Put aside a portion of every deposit you make for savings, taxes, and charitable contributions. There are more reasons than I have room to address for why you should save for a rainy day. Included are some real psychological benefits for doing so.
    5. Plan for your retirement. When you are a small business owner, there is no one else to fund your retirement. Even if you’re 22 years old and passionate when you start, that’s not necessarily going to provide you retirement funds when you’re 72. Setting up a retirement plan can also shelter some of your business profits. Start with an IRA then graduate to a SIMPLE plan or Keogh.

     

    Integrate these tips into your business and you’ll find it easier to get and keep your financial house in order; therefore making your business less stressful.

  • Sep 18

    For some reason, Congress just loves to cram things into highway spending bills.

    That’s exactly what happened with this update. H.R. 3236, popularly known as “The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015” (yes, that’s how these things are named) brought some tax-law-related changes.

    Regular individual tax returns are still due on April 15th — and a six month extension period is still available. But …

    * Partnership tax returns are due March 15, NOT April 15 as in the past. If your partnership isn’t on a calendar year, the return is due on the 15th day of the third month following the close of your tax year.

    * C corporation tax returns are due April 15, NOT March 15. For non-calendar years, it is due on the 15th day of the fourth month following the close of the tax year.

    * S corporation tax returns remain unchanged–they are still due March 15, or the third month following the close of the taxable year.

    The changes came about because, under the current due dates, information needed from a flow-through business, such as a partnership, is not available before the taxpayer’s income tax return is due; thus resulting in insufficient time for taxpayers and practitioners to prepare returns in a timely fashion.

  • Jul 10

    Many business taxpayers overlook legitimate business deductions, resulting in an overstatement of their tax liability. Some of the more commonly missed deductions include business expenses paid out of personal funds, expenses related to a home office, and the use of personal telecommunication devices for business purposes.

    General Business Expenses
    Generally, a deduction is allowed for all ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the tax year in carrying on any trade or business. Business owners who use their personal funds for business expenses, such as office supplies, often fail to deduct this as a qualifying expense.

    A trade or business expense is deductible as such only if it is “ordinary and necessary.” An “ordinary” expense is generally one that is normal, customary, or usual for a business under the facts and circumstances of the situation. A “necessary” expense is one that is appropriate and helpful for the trade or business. A final requirement is that this expense must be reasonable.

    One of the more commonly overlooked general business expenses is the business use of personal telephones, cellular telephones, and Internet connections. If you carefully document how much these devices are used for personal and business use, the business portion may be deductible.

    Home Office Deductions
    If you use part of your home as a home office, you may be entitled to deduct expenses related to your home office based on the square footage the home-office occupies. Related expenses include mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities, insurance, and repairs.

    To qualify for the deduction, the portion of the home that is used for the home office must be used regularly and exclusively as your principal place of business. To be your principal place of business your home office should be the place where, in the normal course of business, you meet with patients, clients, or customers.

    Meals and Entertainment Expenses
    Business owners will frequently use their personal funds to pay for meals and entertainment expenses. These expenses qualify as a business deduction, subject to certain limitations. To be deductible as business expenses, entertainment expenses must have a proximate relation to your trade or business and be reasonably expected to benefit the trade or business.

    Deductions for business meal expenses are subject to the same business connection requirements as entertainment expenses. However, the deduction will be denied if the meals are lavish or extravagant or if you or an employee are not present when the food or beverage is served. The deduction is allowable when the customer’s spouse, your spouse or both are present at the meals, provided the general conditions for deductibility are otherwise present. The cost of entertaining business associates and customers at home is also deductible. However, in the case of business meal entertaining at home, you must be able to clearly show that the expenditure was commercially rather than socially motivated.

    Substantiation
    Regardless of the type of cost you are trying to deduct as a business expense, you must be able to substantiate each expense and how it relates to your trade or business. The importance of keeping accurate and appropriate records cannot be over emphasized.

  • 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.