Flex Plan Tax Break for Child Care Costs

You can still claim the dependent care credit to the extent your expenses are more than the amount you pay through your flexible spending account.

The maximum amount of dependent care costs you can fund through a flexible spending account (FSA) is $5,000.  But the credit applies to as much as $6,000 of expenses for filers with two or more kids under age 13.

In that case, you’d run the first $5,000 of dependent care costs through the FSA, and the next $1,000 would be eligible for the credit on Form 2441.  For most filers in this situation, taking the credit will save an extra $200 in taxes.

 

First Year Tax Break for College Grads

College graduates lucky enough to be starting a full-time position, take note:  Use part-year withholding to hike take-home pay by having less tax withheld.

The standard federal withholding tables assume you are working for the full year when figuring how much income tax to take out.  The part-year method sets withholding according to what you’ll actually earn during the portion of the year that you work.  Employees working less than 245 days in a year can ask firms to use this method.

Sole Proprietors: Hire Your Spouse and Deduct Your Healthcare Expenses on Schedule C

Reduce Income Tax and Self-Employment Tax with a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)

A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) is solely funded by an employer for the benefit of its employees.  Employees are reimbursed by the employer tax free  for qualified medical expenses up to a maximum dollar amount for a coverage period.

Qualified medical expenses are those specified in the plan that would generally qualify for the medical and dental expense deduction on Form 1040, Schedule A.  Qualified medical expenses include amounts paid for health insurance premiums, amounts paid for long-term care coverage, and deductible/copays that are not otherwise covered by a health insurance plan.

Sole Proprietor with Employee Spouse Strategy

Example:  John is a sole proprietor with this wife, Marsha, as his only employee.  John provides his one employee an HRA that will reimburse up to $9,000 of medical expenses per year.  Marsha uses the $9,000 to pay for health insurance premiums for a policy that she purchases, plus deductibles and copays not covered by her insurance policy.  Marsha purchases a family policy that also covers John as her spouse.  Thus, the $9,000 is 100% deductible by John as a business expense on Schedule C and 100% excludable by Marsha as an employee benefit.

Market Reform Rules

All employee group health plans are subject to the Market Reform rules under the Health Care Reform Act of 2010.  HRAs are generally considered to be group health plans and thus subject to the Market Reform rules.  However, the Market Reform rules do not apply to a plan that has only one participant who is a current employee on the first day of the plan year.  Also, the Market Reform rules do not apply to plans in relation to a provision of reimbursing only excepted benefits, such as accident-only coverage, disability income, certain limited-scope dental and vision benefits, certain long-term care benefits, and certain health FSAs [IRS Notice 2013-54].

Caution

Since Marsha is John’s only employee, the Market Reform rules do not apply to John’s HRA plan.  If John were to hire more employees, John would need to purchase health insurance for each employee and integrate his HRA with other coverage in order for his HRA to meet the Market Reform rules.

Excise Tax

Under the Health Plan Reform Act of 2010, there is established a new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund (PCORTF) designed to carry out provisions relating to comparative effectiveness research.  This trust fund is funded by a fee imposed on specified health insurance providers.  The fee for plan years ending on or after October 1, 2014 and before October 1, 2015, is $2.08 multiplied by the average number of lives covered under the health plan.  The fee is paid as an excise tax by filing Form 720, Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return, for the quarter covering April, May, and June with a due date of July 31.

In my example above, with John and Marsha, John must pay the excise tax of $2.08 for his one employee (Marsha) covered under his HRA by filing the second quarter Form 720 by July 31 each year.

Recommendation

Retain a competent adviser in benefits administration to assist you in properly setting up your plan and to monitor its compliance.  Also, discuss this strategy with your professional tax consultant before you implement it.

 

 

Shareholder-Employee “Reasonable Compensation” in a S-Corporation

Some writers, publishers, illustrators and many other small business owners have been advised (or otherwise selected on their own) to operate as a Subchapter S corporation under the Internal Revenue Code.  The S-corporation provides the same limited liability of a “C” corporation; however,  the S pays no tax at the corporate level.  The income or losses are “passed through” directly to the shareholders (via a 1120S K-1 form) who place these numbers on their personal Form 1040.

In selecting S returns for IRS audit, one of the major issues in being selected is the lack of “reasonable compensation” paid to the shareholder-employee (in the case of a one-owner S corporation) or to all shareholder-employees in relationship to the personal services they provided to the corporation during the corporate year.  To further compound this problem, shareholder-employees may be advised (or just think it’s a “cool idea”) to just take cash withdrawals in lieu of a salary (to avoid payroll taxes and payroll recordkeeping).

There are several tricky and sticky areas in handling S corporation transactions; for example, how to handle fringe benefits paid to shareholder-employees or shareholders taking “distributions of cash or other property” in excess of their basis of ownership in the business.  I hope to deal with those issues in future pieces.  This piece will focus on the requirement that reasonable compensation be paid to shareholder-employees.

Reasonable Compensation

Payment for services.  S corporations must pay reasonable compensation to a shareholder-employee (issue a W-2) in return for services that the employee provides to the corporation before non-wage distributions may be made to him or her.

Source of gross receipts.  Three major sources of an S corporation’s gross receipts are:

  • Services of the shareholder;
  • Services of non-shareholder employees; or
  • Capital and equipment.

If most of the gross receipts and profits are associated with the shareholder’s personal services, then most of the profit distribution should be allocated as compensation.  Additionally, the shareholder-employee should be compensated for administrative work performed for the other income producing employees or assets.

Reasonable Compensation in the Courts

Several court cases support the authority of the IRS to reclassify other forms of payments to shareholder-employees as wages subject to employment taxes:

IRS Position:  Authority to reclassify

  • Glass Block Unlimited, T.C. Memo 2013-180
  • Joly, 6th Cir., March 20, 2000

IRS Position:  Reinforce employment status of shareholders

  • Joseph M. Gray Public Accountant, P.C., 119 T.C. No. 121
  • Veterinary Surgical Consultants, P.C., 117 T.C. No. 141

IRS Position:  Reasonable reimbursement for services performed

  • David E. Watson, P.C., 8th Cir., February 21, 2012
  • Sean McAlary Ltd. Inc., T.C. Summary 2013-62

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Many S corporations are set up for the primary purpose of avoiding payroll taxes on wages to shareholders.  This approach does not comply with tax law.  A recent study identified the highest noncompliance issue in S corporations as being incorrect wages paid to shareholders.  The growing number of S corporations and the fact that most of them are held by three or fewer shareholders makes this area a prime target for IRS audits. (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Ref. No. 2012-30-062).

Factors Considered in Finding Reasonable Wages

The following factors are often cited in court cases in relation to determining reasonable wages for a S corporation shareholder:

  • Training and experience,
  • Duties and responsibilities.
  • Time and effort devoted to the business,
  • Dividend history,
  • Payments to non-shareholder employees,
  • Timing and manner of paying bonuses to key people,
  • What comparable businesses pay to key people,
  • Compensation agreements, and
  • Usage of a formula to determine compensation.

Salary Comparison Research Tools

One research tool to help determine a reasonable salary is http://www.salary.com.  Use the Salary Wizard to determine what others make in a particular line of work in a particular area.  Comparable wage information specifically for S corporations can also be obtained here.

One Final Note:  You Cannot “Assign” Outside Income to your S-corp

An S corporation does not preclude taxation of income to the service provider (the individual shareholder) instead of the corporation.  Income is taxable to the one who earns it.

Court case:

The taxpayer and his wife each owned separate S corporations under which they ran a tax preparation business and realtor business, respectively.  Each taxpayer assigned payments received for their services to their respective corporations.  Neither corporation paid either taxpayer wages for their services.  Since there was not an employer-employee relationship, nor any contract between the corporation and the taxpayer giving the corporation the right to instruct or control the taxpayer’s actions, the court upheld the IRS’ position that the S corporations themselves did not earn the income.  Rather, the taxpayers personally earned the income outside the corporation and, thus, were subject to self-employment tax (treating each taxpayer as a sole proprietor). [Arnold, T.C. Memo 2007-168]

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I hope this piece will prove to be helpful to you and your tax and financial consultants.  To receive an automatic email alert when future pieces post, sign up for email at the bottom right of my home page at http://www.taxsolutionsforwriters.com.

 

Who Pays Taxes (and who doesn’t)?

The top 1% of individual filers paid 37.8% of all federal income taxes in 2013, the most recent year IRS has analyzed.  That’s down from 38.1% the previous year.  This group reported 19% of total adjusted gross income.  Filers need adjusted gross income of at least $428,713 to earn their way into the top 1% category.

The highest 5% paid 58.6% of total income tax and accounted for 34.4% of all adjusted gross income.  They each had adjusted gross income of at least $179,760.

The top 10% of filers, those with adjusted gross incomes of $127,695 or more, bore 69.8% of the income tax burden while bringing in slightly less than 46% of individuals’ total adjusted gross income.

The bottom 50% of filers paid 2.8% of the total federal income tax take.

No Deduction Allowed for Substantial Use of RV

Jackson, Tax Court Memo. 2014-160

The taxpayer was an insurance agent who specialized in selling insurance policies specific to recreational vehicles (RVs).  To gain access to RV owners, the taxpayer was a member of several RV clubs.  The clubs held RV rallies which were primarily social events.  Only RV owners could attend these rallies.  Ownership was also required by certain RV parks, which often prohibited RV’s older than a certain age.

The taxpayer gathered sales leads at every rally.  He attached to his RV advertisement promoting his insurance business.  He invited potential customers to come to his RV and discuss the prospective client’s insurance needs.  It would often take months, if not years, for a relationship with a potential customer to develop into an actual sale.

The court stated there was no question the taxpayer used his RV for some personal purposes.  The taxpayer claimed, however, that he was entitled to deductions related to the business use of his RV.

The court acknowledged that the taxpayer actively sold insurance polocies during his time at the rallies, and that business activities conducted in using his RV generated a significant amount of revenue.  After reviewing the evidence in the record and considering the taxpayer’s testimony, the court concluded that the taxpayer spent two-thirds of his time during these rallies on business and one-third of his time for personal pleasure.  Thus, the primary use of the RV was for business, not pleasure.  However, none of the deductions for the business use was allowed because of IRC section 280A.

The Tax Court has previously ruled that an RV qualifies as a dwelling unit for purposes of the office-in-home rules under IRC section 280A.  Under the general rule, any personal use, including watching TV in the RV, makes the entire day a personal day.  IRC section 280A(c) has an exception to this general rule which allows a taxpayer to allocate costs to business use if a portion of the dwelling unit is “exclusively used” on a regular basis “as a place of business which is used by patients, clients, or customers in meeting or dealing with the taxpayer in the normal course of his trade or business.”  The court said exclusivity is the key to this case.  The taxpayer did not use any portion of his RV exclusively for business.  Therefore, no deduction for the expenses allocated to the business use is allowed.

 

No Office-in-Home for Motor Home

Dunford, Tax Court Memo, 2013-189

A married couple lived in Illinois.  For 2005 and 2006, the tax years at issue, they filed a joint tax return with a Schedule C consulting business.  Most of the work was performed away from the taxpayer’s home in Illinois, sometimes working at or near client’s business locations.

For 2005, the taxpayers were away from home for half the year (the colder months), and for 2006, they were away the entire year.  During these periods, they traveled and stayed in their motor home.  The motor home had a sleeping area, a bathroom, and a kitchenette with a countertop.  Across the vehicle from the kitchen counter was a second countertop that was used as a desk, and on which the taxpayer had a computer and office supplies.

Throughout 2005 and 2006, the taxpayers traveled all across the U.S., but most of their travel time they were in Florida, California, and Nevada. The taxpayer’s three children also lived in Florida, Nevada and Quincy, Illinois, locations where the taxpayers spent significant time.  They kept no contemporaneous log that showed the business character of their travel. A reconstructed log of their travel that was entered into evidence in court often contradicted the documentary evidence of their whereabouts.  They had blended purposes, personal and business, for their travel, but their dominant motive for their travel plans was personal (the pleasure of being in the locations they chose and of being near their children).  Their clients reimbursed most of their travel expenses for airline, auto rental, standard mileage rate, per diem, meals, and office-related expenses.

The reimbursements included nearly all of the mileage they recorded in their activity log.  All of these reimbursements were deducted as travel expenses or meal expenses on Schedule C.  During the audit, the IRS did not dispute the deductibility of reimbursed expenses that the taxpayer’s had billed to their clients.  The disallowed deductions were for non-billed expenses.

Included in the expenses disallowed by the IRS were vehicle expenses including repairs and maintenance, depreciation, insurance, tax and licenses, and utilities.  These travel-related expenses were disallowed for at least one of the following reasons:

  •  The taxpayers used the motor home as a residence during 2005 and 2006, so IRC section 280A disallows the deductions.
  • The taxpayers had already claimed and been allowed deductions for their business use of their motor home and other vehicles based on the standard mileage rate, so that deductions for actual costs would be duplicative, and
  • The taxpayers failed to adequately substantiate their entitlement to many of their vehicle-related deductions.

IRC section 280A states that no deduction is allowed with respect to the use of a dwelling unit which is used by the taxpayer during the tax year as a residence, unless the business use of home exception is met.  IRC section 280A(c)(1) allows a deduction “to the extent such item is allocable to a portion of the dwelling unit which is exclusively used on a regular basis” for business.  The taxpayers did not prove that there was an identifiable portion of their motor home that was used exclusively for business purposes. The area they seemed to put forward as the home office was the countertop that was used as a desk.  But they did not make any showing of the percentage of the vehicle that constituted this area (it would be a very small percentage), and it is implausbile to suggest that, in the cramped quarters of a motor home, an unclosed area like the countertop would somehow be exclusively reserved to business activity.  Accordingly, the court ruled all deductions (other than deductions for interest expenses on Schedule A) claimed with respect to the use of their motor home were disallowed.

Actual expenses for the use of their motor home were also disallowed on the grounds that many would be duplicative to the standard mileage rate deduction that the IRS had already allowed based on the taxpayers billing their clients for reimbursement of travel expenses.  Actual expenses for the use of their motor home were also disallowed on the grounds that they failed to provide adequate substantiation for these travel costs.  A motor home is considered listed property, and deductions for business use of listed property require a higher level of substantiation than the taxpayrs provided.