Wages Paid to Children

Recent Tax Court Summary Opinion; Fisher 2016-10

Business deductions are allowed under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 162(a) when they are ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred in carrying on a trade or business.  The determination of whether expenditures satisfy the requirements for deductibility depends on the facts and circumstances.  Wages paid to compensate employees for personal services rendered are generally deductible. The IRC does not define an age an individual must be in order to qualify as an employee.  Courts generally look to three factors when determining whether or not wages are deductible:

  1. The wage paid is a reasonable amount,
  2. The wage is based on services actually rendered, and
  3. The wage is paid or incurred.

A recent court case illustrates the factors used by the courts when determining the deductibility of wages paid to minor children.

The taxpayer was a sole proprietor who worked as an attorney.  She had three children, all of whom were under nine years old as of the close of the tax years in question.  During summer school recesses, the taxpayer often brought her children into her office, usually for two hours a day, two or three days a week.

While at the taxpayer’s office, the children provided various services to her in connection with her law practice.  For example, the children shredded waste, mailed things, answered telephones, photocopied documents, greeted clients, and escorted clients to the office library or other waiting areas in the office complex.  The children also helped the taxpayer move files from a flooded basement, they helped remove files damaged in a bathroom flood, and they helped to move the taxpayer’s office to a different location.

The taxpayer did not issue a Form W-2 to any of her children for the years at issue.  No payroll records regarding their employment were kept, and no federal tax withholding payments were made from any amounts that might have been paid to any of the children.

In court, the taxpayer claimed that wages paid to her minor children should be deductible because they provided various services to her in connection with her law practice.  The IRS claimed the taxpayer did not establish that the wages were actually paid or that any payment that was made was a payment for an ordinary and necessary business expense.

The taxpayer did not present any evidence to show how much was paid to each child, how many hours each worked, or what the hourly rate of pay was.  Without payroll records detailing this information, the court cannot tell whether the amounts deducted were reasonable, especially when the ages of the children are taken into account. The taxpayer did not present any documentary evidence, such as bank statements, canceled checks, records, or the filing of W-2’s, to support the deductions.

The court said all things considered, the taxpayer had failed to establish entitlement to the deductions for wages to minor children claimed on Schedule C.    However, the court said it was satisfied that each child performed services in connection with the taxpayer’s law practice during each year at issue and each was compensated for doing so. Taking into account their ages, generalized descriptions of their duties, generalized statements as to the time each spent in the office, and the lack of records, the court ruled the taxpayer was entitled to a limited $250 deduction for wages paid to each child for each year.

Author’s comment and bulletproof recommendation:

This is a valuable sole proprietor deduction for hiring the taxpayer’s children and allowed when proper documentation is contemporaneously compiled.  To nail this down, do the following:

  • Set a reasonable wage based on the age of the child and actual duties performed (one example; our young people have tremendous computer and social networking skills these days)..
  • Make checks out to the child for the work performed.
  • Keep date and time sheets of all work performed and describe the work performed on that date and time.
  • Prepare a W-2 for each child (and file the Form 941 payroll return).

A Win-Win Tax Strategy:

By paying your child (children), you get a wage deduction on your Schedule C to lower your taxable income and your self-employment taxes.  You retain the dependency exemption for your child (children) on your personal tax return ($6,300 in 2015) as long as you still provide over 50% of the child’s support (highly likely even with the wages they earn from you).  The optimal strategy would be to pay your child up to the standard deduction ($6,300 in 2015).  Your child will file his\her own tax return to report the W-2 wages and  he/she will not claim a personal exemption on his/her return (since you are claiming them as a dependent) but they are allowed to subtract their standard deduction ($6,300 in 2015) meaning they will pay no income tax on their wages.  For dependents, the standard deduction is the greater of $1,050 or earned income (W-2 wages) plus $350, up to the regular standard deduction ($6,300 in 2015).

Let’s say you pay your child $6,300 and he/she puts $3,000 of that in a Roth retirement account. The earnings will compound annually tax-free over the next 50+ years!  This still leaves your child a good wage to buy things he/she wants and needs.

Consult your tax professional (preferably a CPA or enrolled agent) for complete details and proper recordkeeping.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Appearance at 42nd Midwest Writers Workshop

Looking forward to my repeat visit to the 42nd Midwest Writers Workshop at Ball State University in Muncie, IN to talk about the “business side of writing.”  I will be giving classroom lectures on Friday, July 24th and Saturday, July 25th.  I will also be part of a round-table discussion on Saturday morning and have several one-on-one consultation appointments.

The conference is sold out this year.  Lecture topics include “Basic Taxation for Writers” and “Are You a Professional Writer?  Don’t Wait for an IRS Audit to Find Out!”

More about the Midwest Writers Workshop at Twitter @MidwestWriters. or on the web at http://www.midwestwriters.org.

The energy and creativity at this event is awesome!

Tax-Saving Strategy: Sole Proprietors Should Consider Hiring Their Children

By Gary A. Hensley, MBA, EA

If you are operating your business as a sole proprietor (filing Schedule C) then you have a great opportunity to reduce your federal income tax and self-employment tax.  In most states you will also reduce your state income tax.

As a sole proprietor you include Schedule C with your federal Form 1040.  The Schedule C reports the income and expenses of your business.  The net profits from the Schedule C are included in your gross income (on page 1 of your Form 1040) and in your self-employment income on Schedule SE which is also part of your Form 1040.  The income tax is assessed based on your marginal tax rate and your self-employment tax is assessed at a rate of 15.3% on the first $118,500 in 2015 and at 2.9% on the amount above $118,500.

The law allows sole proprietors to hire their children as employees

For those children who have not reached age 18, the law does not require the 7.65% withholding and the employer-matching 7.65% of Social Security and Medicare Tax.  As a result, this is a direct 15.3% family tax savings.  The child must provide a legitimate function necessary to operate the business.  In my opinion, it’s a good idea to write out a list of the child’s duties (responsibilities) and record the days and hours he or she works.  The child must be issued a W-2 form which will report his or her federal wages for the year.  Nowadays, these children are skilled in using computers and analyzing the use of software programs and time-saving skills through the use of data entry, filing, etc.

Tax-saving strategy

In 2015, each taxpayer (including your child) has a standard deduction amount of $6,300.  Don’t confuse their standard deduction with their dependent exemption which you will still get on your return for providing over 50% of their support.

If your child is under age 18 and you pay your child $6,300 for the year, your business income will drop by this amount.  If you, as the parent, are in the 25% federal income tax bracket, this will save you $1,575 (25% X $6,300) in federal income tax and further saves you $963.90 (15.3% X $6,300) in self-employment tax.  This is a total tax savings of $2,538.90 per child.  [Note:  When your child files his or own return (and does not claim a personal exemption since they are your dependent), their wages of $6,300 will be totally offset by their $6,300 standard deduction, leaving them with no federal tax liability on their wages.]

If your child is 18 or older, you will still be allowed to deduct his or her wages of $6,300 on your Schedule C plus your half of the Social Security and Medicare Tax employer match (7.65% = $481.95).  You will need to withhold the employee 7.65% portion from your child’s paychecks.

Contact your tax professional for specific advice related to your personal situation and IRS payroll filing requirement rules.

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Gary A. Hensley is a member of the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) and can be followed on Twitter @GaryAHensley.

Five Key Tax Tips about Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax

If you are an employee, you usually will have taxes withheld from your pay. If you don’t have taxes withheld, or you don’t have enough tax withheld, then you may need to make estimated tax payments. If you are self-employed you normally have to pay your taxes this way. Here are five tips about making estimated taxes:
1. When the tax applies. You should pay estimated taxes in 2015 if you expect to owe $1,000 or more when you file your federal tax return next year. Special rules apply to farmers and fishermen.
2. How to figure the tax. Estimate the amount of income you expect to receive for the year. Also make sure that you take into account any tax deductions and credits that you will be eligible to claim. Use Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure and pay your estimated tax.
3. When to make payments. You normally make estimated tax payments four times a year. The dates that apply to most people are April 15, June 15 and Sept. 15 in 2015, and Jan. 15, 2016.
4. When to change tax payments or withholding. Life changes, such as a change in marital status or the birth of a child can affect your taxes. When these changes happen, you may need to revise your estimated tax payments during the year. If you are an employee, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. If so, give your employer a new Form W–4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. You can use the IRS Withholding Calculator tool help you fill out the form.
5. How to pay estimated tax. Pay online using IRS Direct Pay. Direct Pay is a secure service to pay your individual tax bill or to pay your estimated tax directly from your checking or savings account at no cost to you. You have other ways that you can pay online, by phone or by mail. Visit IRS.gov/payments for easy and secure ways to pay your tax. If you pay by mail, use the payment vouchers that come with Form 1040-ES.

Additional IRS Resources:
Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax
Estimated Tax – frequently asked Q & As
Tax Topic 306 – Penalty for Underpayment of Estimated Tax