Many not-for-profit organizations use fundraising methods that cross state boundaries. If your nonprofit is one of them, it may need to register in multiple jurisdictions. But keep in mind that registration requirements vary — sometimes dramatically — from state to state. So be sure to determine your obligations before you invest time and money in registering.
The critical activity
How do you know if your nonprofit needs to register in other states? The critical activity is soliciting donations, not receiving them.So if your charity receives occasional contributions from out-of-state donors, you may not need to register in those states if you never asked for the contributions.However, email and text blasts and social media appeals are likely to be considered multistate solicitations.
Even so, a handful of state don’t require certain nonprofits to register. For example, they may exempt houses of worship as well as nonprofits with total annual income under certain thresholds. Other states may require charities to register but exempt them annual filing. All of the states have varying rules, income thresholds, exceptions, registration fees and fines for violations. Even the agencies that regulate charities differ by state.
No easy way
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple way to register with every state. Most states require you to complete a general information form and submit it with:
First-time registrants can use a Unified Registration Statement in most states. However, even those states mandate that annual renewals and reports be submitted using individual state forms.
If your nonprofit fails to register in states where it raises funds, the consequences can be severe.Your organization, officers and board members could face civil and criminal penalties. Your charity might lose its ability to solicit funds in certain states or even lose its tax-exempt status with the IRS. Nonprofits must alsolist the states where they’re registered on their Form 990s.
For some nonprofits — particularly smaller organizations — cross-state registration requirements and potential penalties may lead them to limit fundraising to their own states. Contact us for help determining your registration obligations.
Do you want to withdraw cash from your closely held corporation at a low tax cost? The easiest way is to distribute cash as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax-efficient, since it’s taxable to you to the extent of your corporation’s “earnings and profits.” But it’s not deductible by the corporation.
Fortunately, there are several alternative methods that may allow you to withdraw cash from a corporation while avoiding dividend treatment. Here are five ideas:
1. Capital repayments. To the extent that you’ve capitalized the corporation with debt, including amounts that you’ve advanced to the business, the corporation can repay the debt without the repayment being treated as a dividend. Additionally, interest paid on the debt can be deducted by the corporation. This assumes that the debt has been properly documented with terms that characterize debt and that the corporation doesn’t have an excessively high debt-to-equity ratio. If not, the “debt” repayment may be taxed as a dividend. If you make cash contributions to the corporation in the future, consider structuring them as debt to facilitate later withdrawals on a tax-advantaged basis.
2. Salary. Reasonable compensation that you, or family members, receive for services rendered to the corporation is deductible by the business. However, it’s also taxable to the recipient. The same rule applies to any compensation (in the form of rent) that you receive from the corporation for the use of property. In either case, the amount of compensation must be reasonable in relation to the services rendered or the value of the property provided. If it’s excessive, the excess will be nondeductible and treated as a corporate distribution.
3. Loans. You may withdraw cash from the corporation tax-free by borrowing money from it. However, to avoid having the loan characterized as a corporate distribution, it should be properly documented in a loan agreement or a note and be made on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would lend money to you. This should include a provision for interest and principal. All interest and principal payments should be made when required under the loan terms. Also, consider the effect of the corporation’s receipt of interest income.
4. Fringe benefits. Consider obtaining the equivalent of a cash withdrawal in fringe benefits that are deductible by the corporation and not taxable to you. Examples are life insurance, certain medical benefits, disability insurance and dependent care. Most of these benefits are tax-free only if provided on a nondiscriminatory basis to other employees of the corporation. You can also establish a salary reduction plan that allows you (and other employees) to take a portion of your compensation as nontaxable benefits, rather than as taxable compensation.
5. Property sales. You can withdraw cash from the corporation by selling property to it. However, certain sales should be avoided. For example, you shouldn’t sell property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a loss, since the loss will be disallowed. And you shouldn’t sell depreciable property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a gain, since the gain will be treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain. A sale should be on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would purchase the property. You may need to obtain an independent appraisal to establish the property’s value.
If you’re interested in discussing any of these ideas, contact us. We can help you get the maximum out of your corporation at the minimum tax cost.
Borrowing isn’t just for businesses. Many not-for-profits borrow money for major capital purchases, new program funding and even to manage current cash flow. But if you’re hoping to borrow, it’s important to understand that there are likely to be obstacles ahead, including finding a lender that offers reasonable rates.
Maybe you’ve already determined that your nonprofit needs a loan and can handle the risks of borrowing. Before making the case to lenders, ensure you have a realistic repayment plan, current financial statements, collateral to secure the loan, a proven history of prudent financial management and your board’s support.
The odds of qualifying for a loan are better if you’ve already established a relationship (such as having a business checking account) with the lender. Your reason for applying also plays a big part in the decision. Seeking money to make a major purchase or to stabilize cash flow with a line of credit is more likely to be successful than applying for a loan to start a new program.
Even if you succeed in getting a loan, lender covenants may prevent you from borrowing for other purposes until your existing debt is paid off. This can limit strategic flexibility.
While plenty of banks are willing to make term loans or lines of credit available to nonprofits, your organization may not want, or be able, to pay the interest rates attached to them. Fortunately, there are other options, including:
Community foundations. Short-term loans may be available from local nonprofit foundations or funds, such as the Fund for the City of New York or the Chicago Community Trust, or from national groups such as the Nonprofits Assistance Fund. Generally, these organizations charge low interest rates — and, in some cases, no interest at all.
Board members. There are no legal obstacles to borrowing from a board member, but these loans merit caution. To avoid IRS scrutiny, the board member must charge interest at or below market rate, the entire board (absent the lender) must vote to approve the loan, and you must report the loan on your Form 990.
Government bonds. Because these bonds’ income isn’t subject to federal income tax, your nonprofit may be able to borrow at a lower-than-market interest rate. However, fees associated with structuring and issuing the bond could offset interest-rate advantages.
You may think your organization has a good rationale for borrowing, but that doesn’t mean lenders — or your supporters — will agree. If a large portion of your budget is tied up in debt repayment, that can affect how the public, including prospective donors, perceives your organization. Contact us for help weighing this critical decision and finding a lender.
Operating a business as an S corporation may provide many advantages, including limited liability for owners and no double taxation (at least at the federal level). Self-employed people may also be able to lower their exposure to Social Security and Medicare taxes if they structure their businesses as S corps for federal tax purposes. But not all businesses are eligible — and with changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, S corps may not be as appealing as they once were.
Compare and contrast
The main reason why businesses elect S corp status is to obtain the limited liability of a corporation and the ability to pass corporate income, losses, deductions and credits through to shareholders. In other words, S corps generally avoid double taxation of corporate income — once at the corporate level and again when it’s distributed to shareholders. Instead, tax items pass through to the shareholders’ personal returns, and they pay tax at their individual income tax rates.
But double taxation may be less of a concern today due to the 21% flat income tax rate that now applies to C corporations. Meanwhile, the top individual income tax rate is 37%. S corp owners may be able to take advantage of the qualified business income (QBI) deduction, which can be equal to as much as 20% of QBI.
In order to assess S corp status, you have to run the numbers with your tax advisor, and factor in state taxes to determine which structure will be the most beneficial for you and your business.
S corp qualifications
If you decide to go the S corp route, make sure you qualify and will stay qualified. To be eligible to elect to be an S corp or to convert, your business must:
Base compensation on what’s reasonable
Another important consideration when electing S status is shareholder compensation. One strategy for paying less in Social Security and Medicare employment taxes is to pay modest salaries to yourself and any other S corp shareholder-employees. Then, pay out the remaining corporate cash flow (after you’ve retained enough in the company’s accounts to sustain normal business operations) as federal-employment-tax-free cash distributions.
However, the IRS is on the lookout for S corps that pay shareholder-employees unreasonably low salaries to avoid paying employment taxes and then make distributions that aren’t subject to those taxes.
Paying yourself a modest salary will work if you can prove that your salary is reasonable based on market levels for similar jobs. Otherwise, you run the risk of the IRS auditing your business and imposing back employment taxes, interest and penalties. We can help you decide on a salary and gather proof that it’s reasonable.
Consider all angles
Contact us if you think being an S corporation might help reduce your tax bill while still providing liability protection. We can help with the mechanics of making an election or making a conversion, under applicable state law, and then handling the post-conversion tax issues.
When you receive a personal gift from a friend or family member — even if it’s not something you particularly want — you accept the gift and thank the person. The same isn’t always true of gifts given to your not-for-profit. Gifts should be examined, and, possibly, refused.
Why? There are many reasons, from space limitations to unsuitability to your mission. It’s never easy to say “no” to a generous donor. But a gift acceptance policy can make the decision and process easier.
A gift acceptance policy provides an objective way to decline a gift but still maintain a good relationship with the contributor. Your nonprofit’s staffers can explain to donors that a previously set policy prohibits you from accepting certain gifts — in other words, “it’s nothing personal.”
For example, if a donor offers tangible personal property such as an art collection, it may need insurance, special display cases or offsite storage. This could require your organization to incur substantial out-of-pocket costs. You can simply explain to the donor that your policy doesn’t allow you to accept gifts that cost money to maintain.
Getting it down
Before drafting your policy, think about the types of gifts you want to accept and which ones you should refuse. In general, gifts that conflict with your organization’s mission fall in the latter category. And gifts with certain donor restrictions (such as how they can be used) may simply be unmanageable given your mission’s scope or staffing resources.
Most organizations welcome publicly traded securities because they’re easy to convert to cash. But closely held stock can be hard to value and sell. Split interest gifts, where the donor transfers an asset to your organization but draws income from the asset or receives a remainder interest at some point in the future, can also be difficult to manage. These gifts usually require financial expertise and involve obligations to the donor or the donor’s family.
Your policy should not only describe the kinds of gifts that are acceptable, but also how they’ll be valued, managed and, if necessary, disposed of. Be sure to indicate which types of gifts need to be reviewed by your attorney — for example, real estate, because it could have property liens and other encumbrances.
Ask your attorney and financial advisor to review your policy before giving it to your board for approval. Then review it annually. Over time, your capacity to accept certain gifts may change and require revisions to your policy.
One of the best-known retirement plan options is the 401(k) plan. It provides for employer contributions made at the direction of employees. Specifically, the employee elects to have a certain amount of pay deferred and contributed by the employer on his or her behalf to an individual account. Employee contributions can be made on a pretax basis, saving employees current income tax on the amount contributed.
Employers may, or may not, provide matching contributions on behalf of employees who make elective deferrals to 401(k) plans. Establishing and operating a 401(k) plan means some up-front paperwork and ongoing administrative effort. Matching contributions may be subject to a vesting schedule. 401(k) plans are subject to testing requirements, so that highly compensated employees don’t contribute too much more than non-highly compensated employees. However, these tests can be avoided if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan.
Within limits, participants can borrow from a 401(k) account (assuming the plan document permits it).
For 2019, the maximum amount you can contribute to a 401(k) is $19,000, plus a $6,000 “catch-up” amount for those age 50 or older as of December 31, 2019.
Other tax-favored plans
Of course, a 401(k) isn’t your only option. Here’s a quick rundown of two other alternatives that are simpler to set up and administer:
1. A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA. For 2019, the maximum amount of deductible contributions that you can make to an employee’s SEP plan, and that he or she can exclude from income, is the lesser of 25% of compensation or $56,000. Your employees control their individual IRAs and IRA investments.
2. A SIMPLE IRA. SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” A business with 100 or fewer employees can establish a SIMPLE. Under one, an IRA is established for each employee, and the employer makes matching contributions based on contributions elected by participating employees under a qualified salary reduction arrangement. The maximum amount you can contribute to a SIMPLE in 2019 is $13,000, plus a $3,000 “catch-up” amount if you’re age 50 or older as of December 31, 2019.
Annual contributions to a SEP plan and a SIMPLE are controlled by special rules and aren’t tied to the normal IRA contribution limits. Neither type of plan requires annual filings or discrimination testing. You can’t borrow from a SEP plan or a SIMPLE.
These are only some of the retirement savings options that may be available to your business. Contact us to discuss the alternatives and help find the best option for your situation.
How well do you listen to your not-for-profit’s supporters? If you don’t engage in “social listening,” your efforts may not be good enough. This marketing communications strategy is popular with for-profit companies, but can just as easily help nonprofits attract and retain donors, volunteers and members.
Social media monitoring
Social listening starts with monitoring social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram for mentions of your organization and related keywords. But to take full advantage of this strategy, you also must engage with topics that interest your supporters and interact with “influencers,” who can extend your message by sharing it with their audiences.
Influencers don’t have to be celebrities with millions of followers. Connecting with a group of influencers who each have only several hundred followers can expand your reach exponentially. For example, a conservation organization might follow and interact with a popular rock climber or other outdoor enthusiast to reach that person’s followers.
Targeting your messages
To use social listening, develop a list of key terms related to your organization and its mission, programs and campaigns. You’ll want to treat this as a “living document,” updating it as you launch new initiatives. Then “listen” for these terms on social media. Several free online tools are available to perform this monitoring, including Google Alerts, Twazzup and Social Mention.
When your supporters or influencers use the terms, you can send them a targeted message with a call to action, such as a petition, donation solicitation or event announcement. Your call to action could be as simple as asking them to share your content.
You can also use trending hashtags (a keyword or phrase that’s currently popular on social media) to keep your communications relevant and leverage current events on a real-time basis. Always be on the lookout for creative ways to join conversations while promoting your organization or campaign.
Actively seeking opportunity
Most nonprofits have a presence on social media. But if your organization isn’t actively listening to and communicating with people on social media sites, you’re only a partial participant. Fortunately, social listening is an easy and inexpensive way to engage and become engaged. Contact us if you have any questions.
In the past few months, many businesses and employers nationwide have received “no-match” letters from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The purpose of these letters is to alert employers if there’s a discrepancy between the agency’s files and data reported on W-2 forms, which are given to employees and filed with the IRS. Specifically, they point out that an employee’s name and Social Security number (SSN) don’t match the government’s records.
According to the SSA, the purpose of the letters is to “advise employers that corrections are needed in order for us to properly post” employees’ earnings to the correct records. If a person’s earnings are missing, the worker may not qualify for all of the Social Security benefits he or she is entitled to, or the benefit received may be incorrect. The no-match letters began going out in the spring of 2019.
Why discrepancies occur
There are a number of reasons why names and SSNs don’t match. They include typographical errors when inputting numbers and name changes due to marriage or divorce. And, of course, employees could intentionally give the wrong information to employers, as is sometimes the case with undocumented workers.
Some lawmakers, including Democrats on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, have expressed opposition to no-match letters. In a letter to the SSA Commissioner, they wrote that, under “the current immigration enforcement climate,” employers might “mistakenly believe that the no-match letter indicates that workers lack immigration status and will fire these workers — even those who can legally work in the United States.”
How to proceed
If you receive a no-match letter telling you that an employee’s name and SSN don’t match IRS records, the SSA gives the following advice:
Have staffers complained because their expense reimbursements are taxed? An accountable plan can address the issue. Here’s how accountable plans work and how they benefit employers and employees.
Under an accountable plan, reimbursement payments to employees will be free from federal income and employment taxes and aren’t subject to withholding from workers’ paychecks. Additionally, your organization benefits because the reimbursements aren’t subject to the employer’s portion of federal employment taxes.
The IRS stipulates that all expenses covered in an accountable plan have a business connection and be “reasonable.” Additionally, employers can’t reimburse employees more than what they paid for any business expense. And employees must account to you for their expenses and, if an expense allowance was provided, return any excess allowance within a reasonable time period.
An expense generally qualifies as a tax-free reimbursement if it could otherwise qualify as a business deduction for the employee. For meals and entertainment, a plan may reimburse expenses at 100% that would be deductible by the employee at only 50%.
Keep good records
An accountable plan isn’t required to be in writing. But formally establishing one makes it easier for your nonprofit to prove its validity to the IRS if it is challenged.
When administering your plan, your nonprofit is responsible for identifying the reimbursement or expense payment and keeping these amounts separate from other amounts, such as wages. The accountable plan must reimburse expenses in addition to an employee’s regular compensation. No matter how informal your nonprofit, you can’t substitute tax-free reimbursements for compensation that employees otherwise would have received.
The IRS also requires employers with accountable plans to keep good records for expenses that are reimbursed. This includes documentation of the amount of the expense and the date; place of the travel, meal or transportation; business purpose of the expense; and business relationship of the people fed. You also should require employees to submit receipts for any expenses of $75 or more and for all lodging, unless your nonprofit uses a per diem plan.
Inexpensive retention tool
Accountable plans are relatively easy and inexpensive to set up and can help retain staffers who frequently submit reimbursement requests. Contact us for more information.
Bitcoin and other forms of virtual currency are gaining popularity. But many businesses, consumers, employees and investors are still confused about how they work and how to report transactions on their federal tax returns. And the IRS just announced that it is targeting virtual currency users in a new “educational letter” campaign.
The nuts and bolts
Unlike cash or credit cards, small businesses generally don’t accept bitcoin payments for routine transactions. However, a growing number of larger retailers — and online businesses — now accept payments. Businesses can also pay employees or independent contractors with virtual currency. The trend is expected to continue, so more small businesses may soon get on board.
Bitcoin has an equivalent value in real currency. It can be digitally traded between users. You can also purchase and exchange bitcoin with real currencies (such as U.S. dollars). The most common ways to obtain bitcoin are through virtual currency ATMs or online exchanges, which typically charge nominal transaction fees.
Once you (or your customers) obtain bitcoin, it can be used to pay for goods or services using “bitcoin wallet” software installed on your computer or mobile device. Some merchants accept bitcoin to avoid transaction fees charged by credit card companies and online payment providers (such as PayPal).
Virtual currency has triggered many tax-related questions. The IRS has issued limited guidance to address them. In a 2014 guidance, the IRS established that virtual currency should be treated as property, not currency, for federal tax purposes.
As a result, businesses that accept bitcoin payments for goods and services must report gross income based on the fair market value of the virtual currency when it was received. This is measured in equivalent U.S. dollars.
From the buyer’s perspective, purchases made using bitcoin result in a taxable gain if the fair market value of the property received exceeds the buyer’s adjusted basis in the currency exchanged. Conversely, a tax loss is incurred if the fair market value of the property received is less than its adjusted tax basis.
Wages paid using virtual currency are taxable to employees and must be reported by employers on W-2 forms. They’re subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date of receipt.
Virtual currency payments made to independent contractors and other service providers are also taxable. In general, the rules for self-employment tax apply and payers must issue 1099-MISC forms.
The IRS announced it is sending letters to taxpayers who potentially failed to report income and pay tax on virtual currency transactions or didn’t report them properly. The letters urge taxpayers to review their tax filings and, if appropriate, amend past returns to pay back taxes, interest and penalties.
By the end of August, more than 10,000 taxpayers will receive these letters. The names of the taxpayers were obtained through compliance efforts undertaken by the IRS. The IRS Commissioner warned, “The IRS is expanding our efforts involving virtual currency, including increased use of data analytics.”
Last year, the tax agency also began an audit initiative to address virtual currency noncompliance and has stated that it’s an ongoing focus area for criminal cases.
Implications of going virtual
Contact us if you have questions about the tax considerations of accepting virtual currency or using it to make payments for your business. And if you receive a letter from the IRS about possible noncompliance, consult with us before responding.