Accelerate your retirement savings with a cash balance plan

Business owners may not be able to set aside as much as they’d like in tax-advantaged retirement plans. Typically, they’re older and more highly compensated than their employees, but restrictions on contributions to 401(k) and profit-sharing plans can hamper retirement-planning efforts. One solution may be a cash balance plan. Defined benefit plan with a twist The two most popular qualified retirement plans — 401(k) and profit-sharing plans — are defined contribution plans. These plans specify the amount that goes into an employee’s retirement account today, typically a percentage of compensation or a specific dollar amount. In contrast, a cash balance plan is a defined benefit plan, which specifies the amount a participant will receive in retirement. But unlike traditional defined benefit plans, such as pensions, cash balance plans express those benefits in the form of a 401(k)-style account balance, rather than a formula tied to years of service and salary history. The plan allocates annual “pay credits” and “interest credits” to hypothetical employee accounts. This allows participants to earn benefits more uniformly over their careers, and provides a clearer picture of benefits than a traditional pension plan. Greater savings for owners A cash balance plan offers significant advantages for business owners — particularly those who are behind on their retirement saving and whose employees are younger and lower-paid. In 2017, the IRS limits employer contributions and employee deferrals to defined contribution plans to $54,000 ($60,000 for employees age 50 or older). And nondiscrimination rules, which prevent a plan from unfairly favoring highly compensated employees (HCEs), can reduce an owner’s contributions even further. But cash balance plans aren’t bound by these limits. Instead, as defined benefit plans, they’re subject to a cap on annual benefit payouts in retirement (currently, $216,000), and the nondiscrimination rules require that only benefits for HCEs and non-HCEs be comparable. Contributions may be as high as necessary to fund those benefits. Therefore, a company may make sizable contributions on behalf of owner/employees approaching retirement (often as much as three or four times defined contribution limits), and relatively smaller contributions on behalf of younger, lower-paid employees. There are some potential risks. The most notable one is that, unlike with profit-sharing plans, you can’t reduce or suspend contributions during difficult years. So, before implementing a cash balance plan, it’s critical to ensure that your company’s cash flow will be steady enough to meet its funding obligations. Right for you? Although cash balance plans can be more expensive than defined contribution plans, they’re a great way to turbocharge your retirement savings. We can help you decide whether one might be right for you. © 2017

2017 might be your last chance to hire veterans and claim a tax credit

With Veterans Day on November 11, it’s an especially good time to think about the sacrifices veterans have made for us and how we can support them. One way businesses can support veterans is to hire them. The Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC) can help businesses do just that, but it may not be available for hires made after this year.

As released by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 2, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would eliminate the WOTC for hires after December 31, 2017. So you may want to consider hiring qualifying veterans before year end.

The WOTC up close

You can claim the WOTC for a portion of wages paid to a new hire from a qualifying target group. Among the target groups are eligible veterans who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as “food stamps”), who have a service-related disability or who have been unemployed for at least four weeks. The maximum credit depends in part on which of these factors apply:

  • Food stamp recipient or short-term unemployed (at least 4 weeks but less than 6 months): $2,400
  •  Disabled: $4,800
  • Long-term unemployed (at least 6 months): $5,600
  • Disabled and long-term unemployed: $9,600

The amount of the credit also depends on the wages paid to the veteran and the number of hours the veteran worked during the first year of employment.

You aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible veterans you can hire. For example, if you hire 10 disabled long-term-unemployed veterans, the credit can be as much as $96,000.

Other considerations

Before claiming the WOTC, you generally must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you.

Also be aware that veterans aren’t the only target groups from which you can hire and claim the WOTC. But in many cases hiring a veteran will provided the biggest credit. Plus, research assembled by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University suggests that the skills and traits of people with a successful military employment track record make for particularly good civilian employees.

Looking ahead

It’s still uncertain whether the WOTC will be repealed. The House bill likely will be revised as lawmakers negotiate on tax reform, and it’s also possible Congress will be unable to pass tax legislation this year. Under current law, the WOTC is scheduled to be available through 2019.

But if you’re looking to hire this year, hiring veterans is worth considering for both tax and nontax reasons. Contact us for more information on the WOTC or on other year-end tax planning strategies in light of possible tax law changes.

© 2017

3 mid year tax planning strategies for individuals

In the quest to reduce your tax bill, year end planning can only go so far. Tax-saving strategies take time to implement, so review your options now. Here are three strategies that can be more effective if you begin executing them midyear:

1. Consider your bracket

The top income tax rate is 39.6% for taxpayers with taxable income over $418,400 (singles), $444,550 (heads of households) and $470,700 (married filing jointly; half that amount for married filing separately). If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold , consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the top bracket. For example, you could take steps to defer income and accelerate deductible expenses. (This strategy can save tax even if you’re not at risk for the 39.6% bracket or you can’t avoid the bracket.)

You could also shift income to family members in lower tax brackets by giving them income-producing assets. This strategy won’t work, however, if the recipient is subject to the “kiddie tax.” Generally, this tax applies the parents’ marginal rate to unearned income (including investment income) received by a dependent child under the age of 19 (24 for full-time students) in excess of a specified threshold ($2,100 for 2017).

2. Look at investment income

This year, the capital gains rate for taxpayers in the top bracket is 20%. If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.

Depending on what happens with health care and tax reform legislation, you also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Under the Affordable Care Act, this tax can affect taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). The NIIT applies to net investment income for the year or the excess of MAGI over the threshold, whichever is less. So, if the NIIT remains in effect (check back with us for the latest information), you may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.

3. Plan for medical expenses

The threshold for deducting medical expenses is 10% of AGI. You can deduct only expenses that exceed that floor. (The threshold could be affected by health care legislation. Again, check back with us for the latest information.)

Deductible expenses may include health insurance premiums (if not deducted from your wages pretax); long-term care insurance premiums (age-based limits apply); medical and dental services and prescription drugs (if not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account); and mileage driven for health care purposes (17 cents per mile driven in 2017). You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into every other year and exceed the applicable floor.

These are just a few ideas for slashing your 2017 tax bill. To benefit from midyear tax planning, consult us now. If you wait until the end of the year, it may be too late to execute the strategies that would save you the most tax.

© 2017

Keep real estate separate from your business’s corporate assets to save tax

It’s common for a business to own not only typical business assets, such as equipment, inventory and furnishings, but also the building where the business operates — and possibly other real estate as well. There can, however, be negative consequences when a business’s real estate is included in its general corporate assets. By holding real estate in a separate entity, owners can save tax and enjoy other benefits, too.

Capturing tax savings

Many businesses operate as C corporations so they can buy and hold real estate just as they do equipment, inventory and other assets. The expenses of owning the property are treated as ordinary expenses on the company’s income statement. However, if the real estate is sold, any profit is subject to double taxation: first at the corporate level and then at the owner’s individual level when a distribution is made. As a result, putting real estate in a C corporation can be a costly mistake.

If the real estate is held instead by the business owner(s) or in a pass-through entity, such as a limited liability company (LLC) or limited partnership, and then leased to the corporation, the profit on a sale of the property is taxed only once — at the individual level.

LLC: The entity of choice

The most straightforward and seemingly least expensive way for an owner to maximize the tax benefits is to buy the real estate outright. However, this could transfer liabilities related to the property (such as for injuries suffered on the property ) directly to the owner, putting other assets — including the business — at risk. In essence, it would negate part of the rationale for organizing the business as a corporation in the first place.

So, it’s generally best to put real estate in its own limited liability entity. The LLC is most often the vehicle of choice for this. Limited partnerships can accomplish the same ends if there are multiple owners, but the disadvantage is that you’ll incur more expense by having to set up two entities: the partnership itself and typically a corporation to serve as the general partner.

We can help you create a plan of ownership for real estate that best suits your situation.

© 2017

“Bunching” medical expenses will be a tax-smart strategy for many in 2017

Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only if they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example is the medical expense deduction.

Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible medical expenses into a particular year where possible. If tax reform legislation is signed into law, it might be especially beneficial to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017.

The deduction

Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible — but only to the extent that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. The 10% floor applies for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.

Beginning in 2017, even taxpayers age 65 and older are subject to the 10% floor. Previously, they generally enjoyed a 7.5% floor, except for AMT purposes, where they were also subject to the 10% floor.

Benefits of bunching

By bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years, you may increase your ability to exceed the applicable floor. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.

Normally, if it’s looking like you’re close to exceeding the floor in the current year, it’s tax-smart to consider accelerating controllable expenses into the current year. But if you’re
far from exceeding the floor, the traditional strategy is, to the extent possible (without harming your or your family’s health), to put off medical expenses until the next year, in case you have enough expenses in that year to exceed the floor.

However, in 2017, sticking to these traditional strategies might not make sense.

Possible elimination?

The nine-page “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” that President Trump and congressional Republicans released on September 27 proposes a variety of tax law changes. Among other things, the framework calls for increasing the standard deduction and eliminating “most” itemized deductions. While the framework doesn’t specifically mention the medical expense deduction, the only itemized deductions that it specifically states would be retained are those for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

If an elimination of the medical expense deduction were to go into effect in 2018, there could be a significant incentive for individuals to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017. Even if you’re not close to exceeding the floor now, it could be beneficial to see if you can accelerate enough qualifying expense into 2017 to do so.

Keep in mind that tax reform legislation must be drafted, passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President. It’s still uncertain exactly what will be included in any legislation, whether it will be passed and signed into law this year, and, if it is, when its provisions would go into effect. For more information on how to bunch deductions, exactly what expenses are deductible, or other ways tax reform legislation could affect your 2017 year-end tax planning, please contact us.

© 2017

Are income taxes taking a bite out of your trusts?

If your estate plan includes one or more trusts, review them in light of income taxes. For trusts, the income threshold is very low for triggering the:

  • Top income tax rate of 39.6%,
  • Top long-term capital gains rate of 20%, and
  •  Net investment income tax (NIIT) of 3.8%.

The threshold is only $12,500 for 2017.

3 ways to soften the blow

Three strategies can help you soften the blow of higher taxes on trust income:

1. Use grantor trusts. An intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) is designed so that you, the grantor, are treated as the trust’s owner for income tax purposes — even though your contributions to the trust are considered “completed gifts” for estate- and gift-tax purposes.

IDGTs offer significant advantages. The trust’s income is taxed to you, so the trust itself avoids taxation. This allows trust assets to grow tax-free, leaving more for your beneficiaries. And it reduces the size of your estate. Further, as the owner, you can sell assets to the trust or engage in other transactions without tax consequences.

Keep in mind that, if your personal income exceeds the applicable thresholds for your filing status, using an IDGT won’t avoid the tax rates described above. Still, the other benefits of these trusts make them attractive.

2. Change your investment strategy. Despite the advantages of grantor trusts, nongrantor trusts are sometimes desirable or necessary. At some point, for example, you may decide to convert a grantor trust to a nongrantor trust to relieve yourself of the burden of paying the trust’s taxes. Also, grantor trusts become nongrantor trusts after the grantor’s death.

One strategy for easing the tax burden on nongrantor trusts is for the trustee to shift investments into tax-exempt or tax-deferred investments.

3. Distribute income. Generally, nongrantor trusts are subject to tax only to the extent they accumulate taxable income. When a trust makes distributions to a beneficiary, it passes along ordinary income (and, in some cases, capital gains), which are taxed at the beneficiary’s marginal rate.

Thus, one strategy for minimizing taxes on trust income is to distribute the income to beneficiaries in lower tax brackets. The trustee might also consider distributing appreciated assets, rather than cash, to take advantage of a beneficiary’s lower capital gains rate.

Of course, this strategy may conflict with a trust’s purposes, such as providing incentives to beneficiaries, preserving assets for future generations and shielding assets from beneficiaries’ creditors.

If you’re concerned about income taxes on your trusts, contact us. We can review your estate plan to uncover opportunities to reduce your family’s tax burden.

© 2017

Tax planning critical when buying a business

If you acquire a company, your to-do list will be long, which means you can’t devote all of your time to the deal’s potential tax implications. However, if you neglect tax issues during the negotiation process, the negative consequences can be serious. To improve the odds of a successful acquisition, it’s important to devote resources to tax planning before your deal closes.

Complacency can be costly

During deal negotiations, you and the seller should discuss such issues as whether and how much each party can deduct their transaction costs and how much in local, state and federal tax obligations the parties will owe upon signing the deal. Often, deal structures (such as asset sales) that typically benefit buyers have negative tax consequences for sellers and vice versa. So it’s common for the parties to wrangle over taxes at this stage.

Just because you seem to have successfully resolved tax issues at the negotiation stage doesn’t mean you can become complacent. With adequate planning, you can spare your company from costly tax-related surprises after the transaction closes and you begin to integrate the acquired business. Tax management during integration can also help your company capture synergies more quickly and efficiently.

You may, for example, have based your purchase price on the assumption that you’ll achieve a certain percentage of cost reductions via postmerger synergies. However, if your taxation projections are flawed or you fail to follow through on earlier tax assumptions, you may not realize such synergies.

Merging accounting functions

One of the most important tax-related tasks is the integration of your seller’s and your own company’s accounting departments. There’s no time to waste: You generally must file federal and state income tax returns — either as a combined entity or as two separate sets — after the first full quarter following your transaction’s close. You also must account for any short-term tax obligations arising from your acquisition.

To ensure the two departments integrate quickly and are ready to prepare the required tax documents, decide well in advance of closing which accounting personnel you’ll retain. If you and your seller use different tax processing software or follow different accounting methods, choose between them as soon as feasible. Understand that, if your acquisition has been using a different accounting method, you’ll need to revise the company’s previous tax filings to align them with your own accounting system.

The tax consequences of M&A decisions may be costly and could haunt your company for years. We can help you ensure you plan properly and minimize any potentially negative tax consequences.

© 2017

Looking for a retirement plan for your business? Here’s one SIMPLE option

retirement plan documents and pen

Has your small business procrastinated in setting up a retirement plan? You might want to take a look at a SIMPLE IRA. SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” If you decide you’re interested in a SIMPLE IRA, you must establish it by no later than October 1 of the year for which you want to make your initial deductible contribution. (If you’re a new employer and come into existence after October 1, you can establish the SIMPLE IRA as soon as administratively feasible.)

Pros and cons

Here are some of the basics of SIMPLEs:

  • They’re available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees.
  • They offer greater income deferral opportunities than individual retirement accounts (IRAs). However, other plans, such as SEPs and 401(k)s, may permit larger annual deductible contributions.
  • Participant loans aren’t allowed (unlike 401(k) and other plans that can offer loans).
  • As the name implies, it’s simple to set up and administer these plans. You aren’t required to file annual financial returns.
  • If your business has other employees, you may have to make SIMPLE IRA employer “matching” contributions.

Contribution amounts

Any employee who has compensation of at least $5,000 in any prior two years, and is reasonably expected to earn $5,000 in the current year, can elect to have a percentage of compensation put into a SIMPLE. An employee may defer up to $12,500 in 2016. This amount is indexed for inflation each year. Employees age 50 or older can make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000 in 2016.

If your business has other employees, you may have to make SIMPLE IRA employer “matching” contributions.

Consider your choices

A SIMPLE IRA might be a good choice for your small business but it isn’t the only choice. You might also be interested in setting up a simplified employee pension plan, a 401(k) or other plan. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement alternatives for your business.

© 2016

Yes, you can undo a Roth IRA conversion

Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can provide tax-free growth and the ability to withdraw funds tax-free in retirement. But what if you convert a traditional IRA — subject to income taxes on all earnings and deductible contributions — and then discover that you would have been better off if you hadn’t converted it? Fortunately, it’s possible to undo a Roth IRA conversion, using a “recharacterization.”

Reasons to recharacterize

There are several possible reasons to undo a Roth IRA conversion. For example:

  • You lack sufficient liquid funds to pay the tax liability.
  • The conversion combined with your other income has pushed you into a higher tax bracket.
  • You expect your tax rate to go down either in the near future or in retirement.
  • The value of your account has declined since the conversion, which means you would owe taxes partially on money you no longer have.

Generally, when you convert to a Roth IRA, if you extend your tax return, you have until October 15 of the following year to undo it. (For 2016 returns, the extended deadline is October 16 because the 15th falls on a weekend in 2017.)

In some cases it can make sense to undo a Roth IRA conversion and then redo it. If you want to redo the conversion, you must wait until the later of 1) the first day of the year following the year of the original conversion, or 2) the 31st day after the recharacterization.

Keep in mind that, if you reversed a conversion because your IRA’s value declined, there’s a risk that your investments will bounce back during the waiting period. This could cause you to reconvert at a higher tax cost.

Recharacterization in action

Nick had a traditional IRA with a balance of $100,000. In 2016, he converted it to a Roth IRA, which, combined with his other income for the year, put him in the 33% tax bracket. So normally he’d have owed $33,000 in federal income taxes on the conversion in April 2017. However, Nick extended his return and, by September 2017, the value of his account drops to $80,000.

On October 1, Nick recharacterizes the account as a traditional IRA and files his return to
exclude the $100,000 in income. On November 1, he reconverts the traditional IRA, whose value remains at $80,000, to a Roth IRA. He’ll report that amount on his 2017 tax return. This time, he’ll owe $26,400 — deferred for a year and resulting in a tax savings of $6,600. If the $20,000 difference in income keeps him in the 28% tax bracket or tax reform legislation is signed into law that retroactively reduces rates for 2017, he could save even more.

If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, monitor your financial situation. If the advantages of the conversion diminish, we can help you assess your options.

© 2017

The ABCs of the tax deduction for educator expenses

Stack of books, red apple, globe and pencils isolated on white background

At back-to-school time, much of the focus is on the students returning to the classroom — and on their parents buying them school supplies, backpacks, clothes, etc., for the new school year. But let’s not forget about the teachers. It’s common for teachers to pay for some classroom supplies out of pocket, and the tax code provides a special break that makes it a little easier for these educators to deduct some of their expenses.

The miscellaneous itemized deduction

Generally, your employee expenses are deductible if they’re unreimbursed by your employer and ordinary and necessary to your business of being an employee. An expense is ordinary if it is common and accepted in your business. An expense is necessary if it is appropriate and helpful to your business.

These expenses must be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and are subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if all your deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceed 2% of your AGI. For many taxpayers, including teachers, this can be a difficult threshold to meet.

The educator expense deduction

Congress created the educator expense deduction to allow more teachers and other educators to receive a tax benefit from some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom expenses. The break was made permanent under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. Since 2016, the deduction has been annually indexed for inflation (though because of low inflation it hasn’t increased yet) and has included professional development expenses.

Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct up to $250 of qualified expenses. (If you’re married filing jointly and both you and your spouse are educators, you can deduct up to $500 of unreimbursed expenses — but not more than $250 each.)

Qualified expenses include amounts paid or incurred during the tax year for books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health and physical education, the costs for supplies are qualified expenses only if related to athletics.

An added benefit

The educator expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means you don’t have to itemize and it reduces your AGI, which has an added benefit: Because AGI-based limits affect a variety of tax breaks (such as the previously mentioned miscellaneous itemized deductions), lowering your AGI might help you maximize your tax breaks overall.

Contact us for more details about the educator expense deduction or tax breaks available for other work-related expenses.

© 2017