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.