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.
Is your not-for-profit making the most of its email list? If you send every item to individual donors, corporate supporters, volunteers and the media — regardless of their interests or investment in your organization — you probably aren’t. Email segmentation can help you communicate with everyone more efficiently and effectively.
Keep them tuned in
There are many reasons to think about sending particular emails to only specific slices of your email list. For starters, too many irrelevant emails from your nonprofit will cause some recipients to tune out or unsubscribe.
Segmentation can also increase your response rates and strengthen engagement. Recipients will get more information they value and less that doesn’t interest them, fostering greater trust in your organization and its communications. And segmentation lets you experiment with different tones, writing styles, subject lines and visual presentations to determine which work best. You may learn that different groups respond differently based on the message.
Review historical activity
If you already have the data, you may want to begin tailoring emails according to such demographic factors as age, gender, location and income. If you don’t already possess this information, though, gathering it can prove delicate. You need to be careful not to turn off potential supporters with your inquiries.
Try segmenting your list on the basis of past activity. For example, track event attendance, volunteer work, donations or membership renewal. Further narrow the segment by setting a date parameter (for example, activity within the past quarter or year).
Or create subgroups based on donation amounts or specific campaigns. “Super donors” whose giving exceeds a certain threshold, “super attendees” who attend a specified number of events in a year and “super volunteers” who donate a certain number of hours in a year might receive every email, while others receive fewer.
Maximize value of assets
Supporter data, including email addresses, is probably one of your organization’s most valuable resources. For more information on maximizing the potential of your assets, contact us.
Working from home has its perks. Not only can you skip the commute, but you also might be eligible to deduct home office expenses on your tax return. Deductions for these expenses can save you a bundle, if you meet the tax law qualifications.
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer claim the home office deduction. If, however, you run a business from your home or are otherwise self-employed and use part of your home for business purposes, the home office deduction may still be available to you.
If you’re a homeowner and use part of your home for business purposes, you may be entitled to deduct a portion of actual expenses such as mortgage, property taxes, utilities, repairs and insurance, as well as depreciation. Or you might be able to claim the simplified home office deduction of $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).
Requirements to qualify
To qualify for home office deductions, part of your home must be used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business. This is defined as follows:
1. Regular use. You use a specific area of your home for business on a regular basis. Incidental or occasional business use isn’t considered regular use.
2. Exclusive use. You use a specific area of your home only for business. It’s not required that the space be physically partitioned off. But you don’t meet the requirements if the area is used for both business and personal purposes, such as a home office that you also use as a guest bedroom.
Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you 1) use the space exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities of your business, and 2) don’t have another fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities.
Examples of activities that meet this requirement include:
Other ways to qualify
If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on the premises. The use of your home must be substantial and integral to the business conducted.
Alternatively, you may be able to claim the home office deduction if you have a storage area in your home — or in a separate free-standing structure (such as a studio, workshop, garage or barn) — that’s used exclusively and regularly for your business.
An audit target
Be aware that claiming expenses on your tax return for a home office has long been a red flag for an IRS audit, since many people don’t qualify. But don’t be afraid to take a home office deduction if you’re entitled to it. You just need to pay close attention to the rules to ensure that you’re eligible — and make sure that your recordkeeping is complete.
The home office deduction can provide a valuable tax-saving opportunity for business owners and other self-employed taxpayers who work from home. Keep in mind that, when you sell your house, there can be tax implications if you’ve claimed a home office. Contact us if you have questions or aren’t sure how to proceed in your situation.
As in the for-profit world, sometimes not-for-profits need to spend money to make money. This is particularly true when it comes to fundraisers. At the same time, you need to resist the temptation to overspend or your special event may not raise the amount you were hoping for. Here’s how to stay on budget.
Focus on your goal
Start with your total fundraising goal, which should include funds received from event attendees, sponsors and any pre-event appeals. Your financial objective should be realistic, based on your nonprofit’s experience with previous fundraising events. But consider a stretch goal, say from 5% to 20% higher than last year, to energize staff and motivate supporters.
Then, estimate expenses for such items as facility rental, food and beverages, prizes, invitations and decorations, and speaker and entertainment fees. You may also need to pay for permits — for example, to charge sales tax or host a raffle — and might want to buy special event insurance coverage.
Look closely at your list for expenses that can either be eliminated or cut. Say that you held last year’s event at a luxury hotel. This year you might consider a new venue that’s willing to discount the space for the opportunity to host your community’s movers and shakers. Even if you receive sponsorships and discounts, be sure to include the original expenses in your budget should you need to pay the full amount for a future event.
And don’t be afraid to try something different. If you usually host a black-tie affair with a multicourse meal, consider holding a more casual event this year, such as a cocktail party with a silent auction. As long as the event is well planned and publicized, attendees will probably be just as generous.
Importance of sponsors
Good sponsors are critical. Not only can they help defray expenses with donations of goods and services, but they can also raise your nonprofit’s profile by introducing your name and mission to a new audience. But be careful not to promise too much in sponsor benefits, such as free advertising or endorsements of the sponsor’s products — it could lead to unrelated business income tax problems.
Target well-known names with a connection to your nonprofit. For example, a pet food company makes an ideal sponsor for an animal welfare charity. A successful self-empowerment author might be a great fit for an association meeting of salespeople.
As you plan your special event, the most important thing is to keep a laser focus on costs. Although you want your fundraiser to be fun and memorable, the real purpose of the event is to raise money. And you probably won’t do that if you lose track of expenses.
The IRS uses Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs) to help IRS examiners get ready for audits. Your business can use the same guides to gain insight into what the IRS is looking for in terms of compliance with tax laws and regulations.
Many ATGs target specific industries or businesses, such as construction, aerospace, art galleries, child care providers and veterinary medicine. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation, passive activity losses and capitalization of tangible property.
How they’re used
IRS auditors need to examine all types of businesses, as well as individual taxpayers and tax-exempt organizations. Each type of return might have unique industry issues, business practices and terminology. Before meeting with taxpayers and their advisors, auditors do their homework to understand various industries or issues, the accounting methods commonly used, how income is received, and areas where taxpayers may not be in compliance.
By using a specific ATG, an auditor may be able to reconcile discrepancies when reported income or expenses aren’t consistent with what’s normal for the industry or to identify anomalies within the geographic area in which the business is located.
For example, one ATG focuses specifically on businesses that deal in cash, such as auto repair shops, car washes, check-cashing operations, gas stations, laundromats, liquor stores, restaurants., bars, and salons. The “Cash Intensive Businesses” ATG tells auditors “a financial status analysis including both business and personal financial activities should be done.” It explains techniques such as:
Auditors are obviously looking for cash-intensive businesses that underreport their cash receipts but how this is uncovered varies. For example, when examining a restaurants or bar, auditors are told to ask about net profits compared to the industry average, spillage, pouring averages and tipping.
Learn the red flags
Although ATGs were created to help IRS examiners ferret out common methods of hiding income and inflating deductions, they also can help businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise audit red flags. Contact us if you have questions about your business. For a complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website here: https://bit.ly/2rh7umD
Your not-for-profit has likely grown and evolved since it was founded. Have your bylaws kept pace? Bylaws are the rules and principles that define your organization — and, if you haven’t revisited them recently, they may not be as effective as they could be.
Rules and procedures
Typically, bylaws cover such topics as the broad charitable purpose of an organization. They also include rules about the size and function of the board; election terms and duties of directors and officers; and basic guidelines for voting, holding meetings, electing directors and appointing officers.
Without being too specific, your bylaws should provide procedures for resolving internal disputes, such as the removal and replacement of a board member. If you’re not familiar with the bylaws, you should get up to speed fast.
What if you need to change your organization’s bylaws? First, make sure you have the authority to do so. Most bylaws contain an amendment paragraph that defines the procedures for changing them. Consider creating a bylaw committee made up of a cross-section of your membership or constituency. This committee will be responsible for reviewing existing bylaws and recommending revisions to your board or members for a full vote.
The bylaw committee needs to focus on your nonprofit’s mission, not its organizational politics. A bylaw change is appropriate only if you want to change your nonprofit’s governing structure, not its operating procedures.
If your nonprofit is incorporated, ensure that any proposed bylaw changes conform to your articles of incorporation. For example, the “purposes” clause in your bylaws must match that in your articles of incorporation. Any new provision or language changes in your bylaws contrary to the objectives and ideals included in your incorporation documents may invalidate the revisions.
Bylaw provisions that suggest you’ve strayed from your original mission also can jeopardize your federal tax-exempt status. So make sure your bylaw amendments are consistent with that tax-exempt purpose. If changes are “structural or operational,” report the amendments on your Form 990.
Know what they contain
Your board and staff need to be familiar with exactly what your nonprofit’s bylaws contain — and what they don’t. If they’re incomplete or don’t reflect your organization’s current mission, it’s time to revise them. Questions? Contact us.
There’s good news about the Section 179 depreciation deduction for business property. The election has long provided a tax windfall to businesses, enabling them to claim immediate deductions for qualified assets, instead of taking depreciation deductions over time. And it was increased and expanded by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Even better, the Sec. 179 deduction isn’t the only avenue for immediate tax write-offs for qualified assets. Under the 100% bonus depreciation tax break provided by the TCJA, the entire cost of eligible assets placed in service in 2019 can be written off this year.
Sec. 179 basics
The Sec. 179 deduction applies to tangible personal property such as machinery and equipment purchased for use in a trade or business, and, if the taxpayer elects, qualified real property. It’s generally available on a tax year basis and is subject to a dollar limit.
The annual deduction limit is $1.02 million for tax years beginning in 2019, subject to a phaseout rule. Under the rule, the deduction is phased out (reduced) if more than a specified amount of qualifying property is placed in service during the tax year. The amount is $2.55 million for tax years beginning in 2019. (Note: Different rules apply to heavy SUVs.)
There’s also a taxable income limit. If your taxable business income is less than the dollar limit for that year, the amount for which you can make the election is limited to that taxable income. However, any amount you can’t immediately deduct is carried forward and can be deducted in later years (to the extent permitted by the applicable dollar limit, the phaseout rule, and the taxable income limit).
In addition to significantly increasing the Sec. 179 deduction, the TCJA also expanded the definition of qualifying assets to include depreciable tangible personal property used mainly in the furnishing of lodging, such as furniture and appliances.
The TCJA also expanded the definition of qualified real property to include qualified improvement property and some improvements to nonresidential real property, such as roofs; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems.
Bonus depreciation basics
With bonus depreciation, businesses are allowed to deduct 100% of the cost of certain assets in the first year, rather than capitalize them on their balance sheets and gradually depreciate them. (Before the TCJA, you could deduct only 50% of the cost of qualified new property.)
This break applies to qualifying assets placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (by December 31, 2023, for certain assets with longer production periods and for aircraft). After that, the bonus depreciation percentage is reduced by 20% per year, until it’s fully phased out after 2026 (or after 2027 for certain assets described above).
Bonus depreciation is now allowed for both new and used qualifying assets, which include most categories of tangible depreciable assets other than real estate.
Important: When both 100% first-year bonus depreciation and the Sec. 179 deduction are available for the same asset, it’s generally more advantageous to claim 100% bonus depreciation, because there are no limitations on it.
Maximize eligible purchases
These favorable depreciation deductions will deliver tax-saving benefits to many businesses on their 2019 returns. You need to place qualifying assets in service by December 31. Contact us if you have questions, or you want more information about how your business can get the most out of the deductions.
If you’re considering buying or selling a business — or you’re in the process of a merger or acquisition — it’s important that both parties report the transaction to the IRS in the same way. Otherwise, you may increase your chances of being audited.
If a sale involves business assets (as opposed to stock or ownership interests), the buyer and the seller must generally report to the IRS the purchase price allocations that both use. This is done by attaching IRS Form 8594, “Asset Acquisition Statement,” to each of their respective federal income tax returns for the tax year that includes the transaction.
When buying business assets in an M&A transaction, you must allocate the total purchase price to the specific assets that are acquired. The amount allocated to each asset then becomes its initial tax basis. For depreciable and amortizable assets, the initial tax basis of each asset determines the depreciation and amortization deductions for that asset after the acquisition. Depreciable and amortizable assets include:
The IRS may inspect the forms that are filed to see if the buyer and the seller use different allocations. If the IRS finds that different allocations are used, auditors may dig deeper and the investigation could expand beyond just the transaction. So, it’s in your best interest to ensure that both parties use the same allocations. Consider including this requirement in your asset purchase agreement at the time of the sale.
The tax implications of buying or selling a business are complicated. Price allocations are important because they affect future tax benefits. Both the buyer and the seller need to report them to the IRS in an identical way to avoid unwanted attention. To lock in the best postacquisition results, consult with us before finalizing any transaction.
Not-for-profit organizations don’t lose as much to occupational fraud as for-profit businesses do. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ (ACFE’s) 2018 Report to the Nations, nonprofits lost a median amount of $75,000 during the 21-month study period, compared with $164,000 for private for-profit companies. Yet few nonprofit budgets can afford a $75,000 shortfall or the bad publicity associated with fraud. Here’s how nonprofits open the door to fraud — and how your organization can shut it.
How thieves slip through
The core of any organization’s fraud-prevention program is strong internal controls — policies that govern everything from accepting cash to signing checks to training staff to performing regular audits. Most nonprofits have at least a rudimentary set of internal controls, but employees bent on fraud can usually find gaps.
Nonprofits typically devote the largest chunk of their budgets to programming, and can be stingy about allocating dollars to enforcing internal controls. This can be especially problematic if executives or board members indicate that fraud prevention is low on their priority list. Nonprofit boards may also inadvertently enable fraud when they place too much trust in the executive director and fail to challenge that person’s financial representations. Unlike their for-profit counterparts, these members may lack financial oversight experience and the knowledge to spot irregularities.
Trust is another Achilles’ heel for many nonprofits. Organizations often regard their staff and dedicated volunteers as family. They may allow managers to override internal controls and let volunteers accept cash donations without oversight — both very risky activities.
Fortify your defenses
Check tampering, expense reimbursement fraud and billing schemes are the three most common types of employee theft found in nonprofit organizations. But proper segregation of duties — for example, assigning account reconciliation and fund depositing to two different staff members — is a relatively easy and effective method of preventing such fraud. Strong management oversight and confidential fraud hotlines are also associated with lower losses due to employee theft.
Indeed, when it comes to employees, you should trust but verify. Conduct background checks on all prospective staff members, as well as volunteers who will be handling money or financial records. Also, provide an orientation to new board members to ensure they have a clear understanding of their fiduciary role.
Finally, handle fraud incidents seriously. Many nonprofits choose to quietly fire thieves and sweep their actions under the rug. However, this tends to encourage fraud by telling potential thieves that the consequences of getting caught are relatively minor. If an incident is hushed up, rumors could do more reputational damage than publicly addressing the issue head-on. It’s better to file a police report, consult an attorney and inform major stakeholders about the incident.
If you suspect fraud in your organization, contact us for help investigating it.