Tax Season Secrets Revealed: CTM Accountants Spill the Beans
Written by CTM Marketing Leader Debra O'Malley
Although we have plenty of work to do year-round, there’s nothing that quite compares to “tax season” at CTM – where our full time accounting staff spends several months preparing hundreds of tax returns for our clients. For more than four decades, CTM has prepared its staff for the January to mid-April marathon by ensuring they are adequately trained and up-to-date on the latest IRS provisions. But it’s our creative initiatives and mid-season antics that help boost morale and maintain a high level of productivity throughout this race. For example, on multiple occasions, we’ve hired a professional massage therapist to give employees 15-minute back massages to help alleviate the pressures. We’ve also rolled out our “Shamrock Shake Break” or “Dairy Queen Dream” for a tasty after dinner treat. Most recently, we started hosting a “dinner-and-a-movie” night, where we all meet for dinner at a local restaurant and then see a select movie at the theater afterwards.
While these “perks” can’t erase the grueling 55-hour plus work week schedules, they do offer a nice diversion to help take the edge off. To gain a better understanding of what it’s like to work at CTM during this hectic time, we asked several of our employees to tell us what they like about tax season, what they don’t like about tax season and what, if anything, would they change. Below are a few comments from employees who have worked at the firm anywhere from two to more than 20 tax seasons.
“I like that we get the chance to reconnect with people we may only talk to once a year. It gives me an opportunity to catch up on what is happening in their lives.”
“I like the camaraderie among staff and partners during our dinner breaks in the kitchen.”
“By the time I leave the office, there isn’t much traffic on the road, so I can get home faster.”
“I really like the work!”
“We are so busy, that the days go by much faster.”
“I like the flexibility with my work schedule so I can decide how I want to spread out my hours during the week.”
“I like the Happy Half Hours on late Friday afternoons.”
“I like the variety of dinner options offered this year.”
“I don’t like the lack of time available to spend with family, friends or interests outside of the office.”
“I don’t like the stress it brings nor do I like dealing with the stress of others.”
“I don’t like the recently imposed March 15th deadline for filing partnership returns.”
“The first week is kind of rough, but after a while, you get used to the new norm.”
“I don’t know what I would change. It kind of comes with the territory of being an accountant.”
“I would give people the opportunity to become more specialized, so if you like doing one area of tax work, you can focus on doing that.”
“Hire more interns to help with certain projects.”
CTM Movie Review: "The Founder"
Written by CTM Partner Scott Weingart
CTM recently had another "dinner and a movie" night. We try to make our movie viewing selections inspirational. You may recall that we previously went out as a firm to see the Ben Affleck thriller, "The Accountant." What a way to motivate accountants to do their best during tax season! This time, the movie of choice was the pseudo biography about McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, starring Michael Keaton. How good was Michael Keaton in his role? Let's just say that he was so convincing, you probably would forget that he was Michael Keaton and just see him as Ray Kroc. Now, if this movie doesn't cause all of us to visit a McDonald's drive-thru for a quick burger and fries, I don't know what would!
The movie picks up at the beginning of Ray Kroc's career as a milkshake mixer salesman. He travels across the country visiting quick service drive-in restaurants, unsuccessfully delivering his sales pitch to reluctant business owners. Eventually, he receives a telephone call from a super busy burger joint in San Bernardino, California, operated by the McDonald brothers – Richard James “Dick” McDonald and Maurice James “Mac” McDonald. He decides to pay them a quick visit and comes away thoroughly impressed by their restaurant operation. Instead of making people wait in their cars for a roller-skating waitress to deliver the goods, the McDonald brothers operate their restaurant with a walk up window. Perhaps this does not seem like a radical idea, but it certainly was a departure from the standard service concepts of that time.
Also unique was the focus on four simple products: burgers, fries, soft drinks and milkshakes. Contrast this menu with the typical laundry list of items sold by a quick service restaurant today and it makes you long to go back to a simpler time where the focus was on what one really does well. And that is how McDonald's got started. Their product was unique and they were good at selling it. Imagine people lined up outside the restaurant for an opportunity to buy a hamburger.
Of course, Ray Kroc took this idea and "supersized" it. Expansion through franchising was his brainchild. The McDonald's brothers were reluctant to move forward with this idea and per historical accounts (and in the movie) were constantly at odds with Mr. Kroc. Achieving product uniformity and precision in the kitchen were critical. In one movie scene, Mr. Kroc is amazed by the McDonald brothers’ development of the Speedee Service System. The McDonald brothers bring their employees to a park and recreate a kitchen setting using chalk on the pavement. They tirelessly direct their employees thru a mock kitchen scenario where they move like ballet dancers to accomplish their tasks. All of the equipment has to be precisely laid out in order to get the most efficient production out of the kitchen and employees.
Does the beginnings of the McDonald's restaurant translate into the McDonald's of today? Well sort of. One thing is clear, the idea of having the restaurants owned by wealthy, non-working investors does not work. In the beginning, Mr. Kroc allowed some of his country club buddies to own and operate a few of the restaurants. He quickly found that without an "in-the-restaurant partner," things could quickly get out of hand as the operating standards and food product started to vary dramatically from the original concept. That is why today, McDonald's franchisees are fully invested in the restaurant concept, giving up whatever they did in their prior careers.
Ray Kroc was an unrelenting, tireless businessman who would stop at nothing to get his way. He may have taken advantage of many people along the way (including the McDonald brothers, whom he coaxed into selling their ownership interests in their restaurants for a small, perhaps unfair, price), but without his drive and determination, the McDonald's brand would not be what it is today, one of the largest, most successful restaurant franchises in the world.
Recently, one of our employees shared an email from a relative whose dad used to do business with Ray Kroc back in the day:
“Yes, my dad was his meat supplier when he started. My dad was already working 6 days a week, and then Ray would call our house every Sunday, needing more meat immediately. I remember one Sunday, we were in the car leaving to go to (grandma’s), when my dad heard the phone ringing inside the house. My mom kept saying "don't answer it!" He did, and we all had to pile out of the car so he could go to work. As a favor, Dad also supplied their hamburger buns (because he could buy them cheaper than Ray could), and sold them to McDonald's at his cost. Ray made so many demands and broke so many promises, that eventually, my dad concluded that if he continued to sell [to] McDonald's Ray Kroc would end up owning him, so when Ray made one more costly demand, Dad told him to call his bun guy. Possibly the best decision he ever made, as McDonald's subsequently bankrupt several meat companies. Ray would demand a contract to buy for a specific cost, in order to keep prices consistent. But then if costs dropped, he'd break the contract. Of course if costs went up he'd take you to court to enforce the contract.”
So, draw your own conclusions from this story. The movie was definitely worth seeing, especially if you are in the restaurant business, or just plain like quick service food. One thing is certain - CTM employees are definitely charged up after seeing this movie, and ready to work another tax season!
Review Your Tax Returns
At CTM, we strive to prepare your tax return correctly. Sometimes, however, there are items on your tax return that we cannot possibly know. By spending a few minutes taking a quick look at a draft of your tax return before it is filed, you can save a lot of work to correct an inadvertent error or omission.
Last year, the extended tax deadline for filing personal returns was October 17, 2016, and many returns went down to the wire. Unfortunately, by the next day, we were already correcting some tax returns.
- In one case, a tax return was rejected from Efile because a client's 22-year-old daughter had filed her own tax return earlier in the year, claiming an exemption for herself. As a result, her parents could not claim her as a dependent, so their tax return had to be amended.
- In another case, a client contacted us after their return was Efiled and advised us that their son, born in October 2015, was not listed as a dependent on their tax return. Of course, we did not know they had welcomed a new child, so we had to amend their return to claim an additional dependency exemption for their son.
In both cases, amended returns could have been avoided if the client had reviewed the draft of the tax return. It is not good tax planning to wait until the last minute to file a return, if avoidable. But if that is the case, it is always prudent to take a look at your return to make sure it is accurate before we release it for Efile.
Key Due Dates for Federal Tax Returns
In 2015, President Barack Obama signed several pieces of legislation that included revenue provisions impacting the 2017 filing due dates for 2016 Federal Tax Returns. Click here to see the revised deadlines.
Trump Tax Plan – What’s In Store?
Written by CTM Partner Scott Weingart
Now that Donald J. Trump has been elected the 45th president of the United States, we are likely to see some changes to our current tax code next year. Many of our clients have been asking us what is in store, so we decided to write a brief summary highlighting some of the potential changes on the horizon. We emphasize the words “potential changes,” because President-elect Trump by himself does not have the authority to unilaterally change our tax code. These changes have to be approved by Congress, so the end results are likely to be very different from the proposed changes outlined in Trump’s tax reform plan.
Trump’s first tax plan came out in early September 2015. This tax plan was revised almost a year later in 2016. On its face, Trump’s tax plan would substantially lower individual income taxes and the corporate income tax, though the largest benefits in dollar and percentage terms would go to the highest-income households. Overall, these lower tax rates would result in almost a $6.2 TRILLION reduction in government revenues over the next decade. On the flip side, it is projected that federal debt would rise by at least $7.0 TRILLION over the first decade.
Individual Income Tax Changes
Right now, the tax code contains seven tax brackets, with a top tax rate of 39.6%. Trump’s plan would consolidate these tax brackets into three (12%, 25% and 33%), with the top marginal income tax rate of 33% being reached when taxable income hits $112,500 for single filers and $225,000 for married filers. The tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends would remain the same as they are now – 0%, 15% and 20% - depending on your income level. What is also interesting is that while Trump’s original tax plan included a zero tax bracket for certain taxpayers, this feature no longer exists in his recently modified plan. Trump’s lowest bracket now requires single taxpayers with taxable income under $37,500 and married taxpayers with taxable income under $75,000 to pay 12% (which is actually greater than compared to current tax law).
In addition to changing the income tax rates and tax brackets, Trumps plan would also make other changes that would impact taxes. Right now for 2016, personal exemptions are worth $4,050 and the standard deduction is worth $6,300 for single taxpayers and $12,600 for married filers. The exemptions and itemized deductions are subject to phase-out depending on your income level. The Trump plan would completely eliminate personal exemptions, but would increase the standard deduction for single filers to $15,000 and married filers to $30,000. Itemized deductions would be capped at $100,000 for single filers and $200,000 for married filers. Perhaps most importantly, the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) that affects so many middle income taxpayers would be completely eliminated. And, to further reduce taxes, the Net Investment Income Tax of 3.8% on investment income such as interest, dividends and capital gains (which was passed as part of the Affordable Care Act) would also be eliminated.
The Trump plan would include major changes in the area of childcare. There would be an above-the-line deduction for children under the age of 13 as well as for the eldercare of a dependent (though there would be caps for taxpayers with total income over $250,000 single or $500,000 married). The childcare exclusion would be available for families who use stay-at-home parents or grandparents as well as those who use paid caregivers, and would be limited to a max of four children per taxpayer. The eldercare exclusion would be capped at $5,000 per year, but would be increased each year for inflation.
The Trump plan would offer spending rebates for childcare expenses to certain low-income taxpayers through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). All taxpayers would be able to establish Dependent Care Savings Accounts (DCSAs) and make an annual contribution up to $2,000 for the benefit of specific individuals, including unborn children. To encourage lower-income families to establish DCSAs for their children, the government would provide a 50% match on parental contributions of up to $1,000 per year.
Business Tax Changes
The corporate income tax rate would be cut from a top rate of 35% to a top rate of 15% and eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax. In addition, pass-through entities would be taxed at a 15% rate commensurate with traditional corporations (compared to having the pass-through income taxed at the highest individual income tax rates of 39.6% under current law or 33% under the proposed Trump plan). In the area of controlled foreign subsidiaries, there would no longer be the opportunity to defer income. However, the foreign tax credit would be preserved. Trump’s tax plan would provide the opportunity for a one-time deemed repatriation of all foreign profits currently deferred at a rate of 10%. Finally, the deductibility of interest expense would be capped at a certain level. Firms engaged in manufacturing in the U.S. may elect to expense capital investment and lose the deductibility of corporate interest expense. This would require an election and once made, can only be revoked within the first three years of the election.
The estate tax would be completely eliminated. However, appreciated property held until death and valued over $10 million would be subject to a capital gains tax (so no step up to fair market value). To prevent potential abuse in the area, the contribution of appreciated assets into a private charity established by the decedent or the decedent’s relatives would be disallowed.
Overall, the Trump plan is projected to cut the average tax bill in 2017 by $2,940 and increase after-tax income by 4.1%. However, the highest-income taxpayers (0.1 percent of the population, or those with incomes over $3.7 million in 2016 dollars) would experience an average tax cut of nearly $1.1 million, over 14% of after-tax income. Households in the middle fifth of the income distribution would receive an average tax cut of $1,010, or 1.8% of after-tax income, while the poorest fifth of households would see their taxes go down an average of $110, or 0.8% of their after-tax income.
The center for Federal Tax Policy at the Tax Foundation projected that the original Trump tax plan would have grown long-run GDP by 11.5%. The Tax Foundation’s new estimates for the revised Trump tax plan is that the U.S. economy would experience an increase in long-run GDP by 6.9%. Will any of the changes discussed in this article come to fruition? Maybe – but it is almost certain that Trump’s tax plan will go through many revisions by Congress next year. So, don’t go spending those extra tax dollars just yet!
Valuation Discounts May Be a Thing of the Past
Written by CTM Accounting Manager Julie Babetch
Family Limited Partnerships (FLP’s) have been used as part of family wealth transfer planning for quite some time. They can be used to manage and control family assets, particularly as part of a succession plan for family businesses. The majority owners of these partnerships have the ability to gift smaller partnership interests to family members at a reduced value by using valuation discounts.
The type of valuation discounts that are typically applied are the “minority interest, “lack of marketability” and “lack of control.” These discounts can sometimes in total reach 35% or higher. When applied to the value of a gift, these discounts provide significant estate and gift tax savings by reducing the value of the transferred interests.
Let’s look at an example. Under current law, a married couple with $10,000,000 worth of assets held in an FLP may decide to gift 30% of the partnership to their kids. If no discount were applied to value the 30% ownership interest, the interest might be worth $3,000,000. If an appraiser was hired and he or she decided to apply, say a 25% combined discount for lack of marketability and lack of control, the 30% interest might only be worth $2,250,000. These combined discounts could result in decreasing the 30% ownership interest by $750,000 and potentially saving up to $300,000 in gift tax.
Unfortunately, on August 2, 2016, the Treasury department decided to crackdown on the aggressive use of valuation discounts. The newly proposed Treasury Regulations under IRC Section 2704 are expansive, and they would severely limit the use of valuation discounts for any type of FLP or other family business transfer, where the family would retain control before or after the gift occurs (or bequest in the case of transfer after death).
What does this mean? Under the new regulations, the gift of the limited partnership interest in our example may have to be valued at or very close to $3,000,000, and the remaining 70% interest may have to be valued at or very close to $7,000,000.
The Proposed Regulations must go thru a 90-day public comment period, which will last thru November. After that, a public hearing will take place in December. Finally, Treasury would need to re-evaluate these provisions before final issuance (which in turn would not take effect until 30 days thereafter). Time is of the essence if you are planning to gift business interests to family members. It is a good idea to get this done before the end of 2016 and before the regulation becomes final!
Judge Grants Injunction Against New Overtime Rule
Written by CTM Accounting Manager John Gillham
On May 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor issued the final Overtime Rule, which included a provision providing overtime pay to employees with annual salaries under $47,476. This rule was set to go into effect on December 1, 2016. However, last week, a U.S. District Court Judge granted an Emergency Motion for Preliminary Injunction, which effectively prevents this rule from being implemented and and enforced. The U.S. Department of Labor is currently considering legal options to reverse this decision.
At this point, it is unclear how this situation will play out. The courts still have to review the merits of the case objecting to the Final Overtime Rule. Congress may step in and pass legislation, possibly with a lower salary threshold. At the very least, it appears the Overtime Rule will be delayed past December 1st. And it is likely the case won’t be resolved until after the new President takes office. This creates additional uncertainty.
Many employers have already taken steps to comply with this Final Overtime Rule. It may be advantageous to keep any changes you made in place for now. Because everyone’s situation is different, we suggest you contact us at (847) 444-1040, to discuss all your options or answer any questions you may have.
Ransomware: The Newest Threat to Your Business
Written by CTM IT Manager Ken Root
According to recent statistics (including a report released by Kaspersky Lab, an international software security group), 2016 could be the year that cyber-criminals wreak the most havoc on businesses worldwide. Attacks on businesses were 5 ½ times higher in the 1Q 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. Cyber-criminals are targeting more and more businesses regardless of their size or the type of computer systems they are using.
It is estimated that cyber-criminals collected $209 million in the first quarter, and by the end of the year, they will collect approximately $1 billion. The actual amount will probably be larger because many organizations choose not to report these crimes.
So, what is this latest threat that will cause all this turmoil and financial loss? It is called Crypto-ransomware or ransomware for short.
This malicious software locks the files on your computer and then demands payment, reportedly as high as $17,000, to receive the key to unlock your files. Typically, payment must be made in a virtual currency, like Bitcoin, which is often times not traceable. The locked files include those on your network drives that your computer has access to, so it can affect multiple computers. Newer variants of ransomware will delete these files if you do not pay within the time specified.
How Ransomware Works
Ransomware attacks come in the form of ads on websites, as well as emails containing attachments and links. Website Ads will attempt to trick a person into thinking they have no anti-virus protection, they have visited an illegal website, the copy of their operating system is illegal or local law enforcement has detected illegal activity, etc. Fraudulent Emails use topics such as “you haven’t paid a bill,” “your friend sent you a request/file,” any current event (e.g., Zika virus, Brexit, Politics, etc.), free goods or services or emergency broadcasts, etc. Attackers will use anything they can think of to trick the recipient into opening the email and clicking on a link or attachment. In both delivery methods, they typically use company and government logos to make them look legitimate.
Protecting Your Assets
There are a number of things you should do to protect yourself against this threat:
- Be sure you are running the most recent version of your computer’s operating system.
- Add a firewall to the equipment your Internet Service Provider provides you. This firewall should not be older than two years old and be what is referred to as a “Next Generation Firewall” by many security appliance manufacturers. The firewall includes virus and intrusion protection and other security measures to stop threats before they get into your business.
- Backup your files every night. Backing up to disk and/or the Internet is the preferred method.
- Each computer should have a security software package, including a firewall running on it. Be sure that this software is continually being updated.
None of the above solutions can protect you or your business from every attack. An important element of defense is a human firewall. Everyone in your organization must be alert and consider whether they should click on a link or attachment before doing so. There are several training solutions available from various sources that will help your employees detect what to open. The most effective companies send frequent tests so employees can see what the latest attacks look like without doing damage to your Information Technology system.
If ransomware users are successful in an attack against you, there are typically two options to resolve this threat, either 1) pay the ransom fee, or 2) restore your system from backup. A recent poll of Spiceworks members, an IT community website, revealed almost all IT professionals choose not to pay the ransom.
If you have further questions about ransomware, contact CTM’s Information Technology Manager Ken Root at email@example.com.
School’s Out, Now What? Your Child's Summer Camp Expenses May Be Eligible for Tax Credit!
Did you know that bringing little Johnny to that pricey summer sports camp may turn out to be more advantageous than you think? Of course, it’s beneficial for keeping him active during the lazy, hazy days of summer, and it is a safe place for him to play while you’re at work, but this annual summer ritual may also be good for your bottom line…on your tax return.
According to IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses, some of the costs (up to 35% of $3,000 in qualifying expenses) associated with sending your child to camp may be claimed as a credit on your taxes so long as the following criteria is met:
- You (and your spouse if you are married filing jointly) are working, or are looking for work.
- Your dependent child is under the age of 13 (with some exceptions).
- The camp you send your child to is a DAY camp - not an overnight camp.
Other expenses, such as physicals and immunizations, may be included if they are associated with camp preparation requirements
The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit varies depending on your earned income for the tax year. To claim the credit for camp expenses, you will need to complete and attach Form 2441 to your federal tax Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040NR. You will be asked to include your child’s social security number as well as identify the name, address and tax ID number of the camp provider on Form 2441.
For further information about the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, please contact Chunowitz, Teitelbaum & Mandel, Ltd. at (847) 444-1040.
Transportation Fringe Benefits – A Win-Win for Employers and Employees
Written by CTM Accountant Ewelina Klaczynska
Qualified transportation fringe benefits or “Commuter Tax Benefits” are employer provided programs that allow employees to set aside pre-tax dollars for their monthly qualified mass transit, van- or carpooling and work-related parking expenses. These monthly benefits are excluded from the employees’ wages and are a source of twofold savings: (1) The employer can lower its payroll taxes paid on employees’ wages, and (2) Employees can lower their gross income, pay less in both payroll and income taxes, and take home some extra money each month.
Transportation fringe benefits were originally enacted into law in1993 under the federal tax code § 132(f), yet not until 2015, have these benefits been made permanent. Over the last 22 years, Congress has been extending commuter benefits on a year-to-year basis, making them uncertain and less appealing to employers. By passing The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act in December 2015, Congress made the monthly tax-free commuter benefits permanent and increased the exclusion amounts from $130 to $255 per month for the 2016 tax year and beyond. This strengthened incentive will hopefully encourage more employers to establish or expand their transportation programs offered to their employees.
Who is eligible?
An employee can take advantage of transportation fringe benefits only through an employer offered program. Transportation benefits are not available to sole proprietors, partners, independent contractors, and two-percent shareholders of S corporations.
What transit and parking expenses qualify?
Eligible transportation expenses include:
- Payments for mass transportation service such as train, subway and bus fares that is provided either by public or private transit operators;
- The cost of transportation in a commuter highway vehicle, such as vanpooling, with the seating capacity for six passengers and at least 80% of the mileage use for transporting employees; and
- Parking expenses, if (1) a vehicle is parked in a facility that is near the employee’s workplace, or (2) at a location from where the employee commutes to work by train, carpool, etc.
In addition, bicyclists may qualify for $20 per month in bicycle commuting reimbursement for expenses incurred for the purchase of a bicycle, bicycle improvements, repair and storage. However, the bicycle commuting benefit may not be combined with transit, commuter highway vehicle or parking benefits.
What are the current monthly exclusion amounts?
For 2016, the maximum monthly pre-tax contribution for transit, commuter highway vehicles and/or qualified parking expenses is $255.00. Bicycle commuters may not take out money in advance for pre-tax benefits. However, they may be reimbursed up to $20 per month for each month a bicycle is used for transportation, and the reimbursed amount is not taxable.
What are the types of programs the employer can offer?
Participating employers may either offer tax-free transportation benefits as a subsidy where the employer funds directly the cost of employees’ commuting or parking, or allow the employees to pay for transit passes and parking with pretax dollars through a salary deferral up to the limit allowed by law. Alternatively, the commuter benefits program can be a combination of these two options as long as the combined monthly exclusion does not exceed statutory limits. Employers usually offer the benefits in the form of prepaid transit cards, parking vouchers or debit-cards. Or, they can simply reimburse their employees for qualified expenses.
What are the savings?
Transportation fringe benefits are a win-win for employers and employees as both can realize significant savings by utilizing the monthly exclusion amounts.
For example, assuming that the employee is in the 28% tax bracket, pays 3.75% state income tax and 7.65% in FICA withholding, the monthly savings would be $101 and annual extra dollars would total to $1,212!
How do I get started?
If you are a commuter paying for either monthly transportation or parking, check with your employer to see if it offers transit and parking tax-free benefits. If so, sign up to take advantage of these great savings. Otherwise, you can encourage your employer to establish a transit benefit program.
If you are an employer, your ultimate choice whether to participate and how to roll out the program may largely depend on the area in which you are located. While most of the transit operators in the metropolitan areas offer attractive sale programs for employers, some local communities may not have such well-established services. In addition, the benefits you may offer for parking expenses may vary. If you operate in a large urban area, your employees will certainly appreciated these extra dollars for the parking in the city, but if you are located in the suburbs there might be more free parking available for your employees. You should talk to your employees to find out their communing habits and needs as well as contact your local transit agency for available fare programs and research the parking options close to your office.
“Enhanced” Food Inventory Donation
Written by CTM Partner Scott Weingart
Did you know you may be able to deduct more than $1 with a proper donation of food inventory? In December 2015, congress passed and President Obama permanently signed into law the enhanced deduction for charitable contributions of food inventory to tax-exempt charitable organizations. Previously, this enhanced deduction was only available to C-corporations. Now, S-corporations and limited liability companies are eligible to claim the “enhanced” deduction.
What is the “enhanced deduction”? A business may deduct the smaller of (a) twice the basis of the donated food or (b) the basis of the donated food plus one-half of the foods’ expected profit margin, if it were sold at fair market value. Let’s look at an example in terms of numbers. Suppose you have food product that cost you $500 that you would sell on your shelf or off your menu for $1,000. Assuming this food product was appropriately donated, your deduction would be the lesser of:
- Twice the basis of the inventory ($500 x 2) = $1,000…...or
- The basis plus ½ the profit margin ($500 + (1/2 x $500) = $750
So in the above example, the tax deduction could be $750, much better than a $500 deduction under normal circumstances. Keep in mind that the inventory contribution must be of “apparently wholesome food” (defined by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act). In its simplest terms, “apparently wholesome food” means food intended for human consumption that meets all quality and labeling standards imposed by federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Here are some commonly asked questions about these donations:
Are there any forms that a donor needs to fill out?
Yes, Form 8283 for noncash donations must be filed with the tax return. You will also need to obtain a written receipt from the charity.
What are the record keeping requirements with respect to the items donated?
Like any contributions, you should keep documents that support both the cost of the items donated and their fair market value, or selling price.
Are there any limitations on the deduction?
Yes, the annual cap on the deduction is limited to 15% of taxable income.
Can food inventory be donated to any charity?
Any charity is possible as long as the food is used to feed the hungry. The food cannot be sold in the charity’s thrift shop and then the proceeds used for a different charitable purpose. Many charities are not set up to take food inventory donations, so for that reason, it makes sense to deal work with a specific charity that is set up to accept food inventory donations.
The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has long been an active voice in supporting this charitable giving measure. According to the NRA, 83 percent of restaurants made a charitable contribution by donating food to individuals or charitable organizations. This favorable tax policy is a critical tool in alleviating hunger because it helps offset costs associated with preserving, storing and transporting food inventory donations.
In summary, if you are in the food business, the next time you are faced with expiring product or waste, consider donating your food inventory to a charity. You will help feed those in need instead of sending food to a landfill. Your tax incentive is now a permanent part of the law!
Expiring Tax Provisions
Once again, we near the end of the year with lots of uncertainty in the area of tax incentives. It’s about this time that we prepare income tax projections for our clients and many of these tax projections are going to have multiple scenarios. Why? Because congress has not yet voted to extend many tax incentives that expired at the end of 2014. Here is just a brief sampling of some of the more popular expiring incentives:
- $250 deduction for teachers when buying books, supplies, computer equipment and other materials used in their classrooms.
- Exclusion from gross income discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness income.
- Deduction for state and local general sales taxes in lieu of a deduction for state and local income taxes.
- Above the line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses.
- Ability to distribute up to $100,000 in qualified charitable distributions from an IRA without including the distribution in income.
- Research and development credit, which provides a 20% tax credit for qualified research expenses over a base amount.
- Allowing a 15 year life instead of a 39 year life for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements and qualified retail improvements.
- Bonus depreciation which provides a depreciation deduction equal to 50% of the adjusted basis of qualifying property in the first year it is placed in service.
- Increasing the Section 179 expense limit to $500,000 and expanding the definition of Section 179 property to include qualified real property.
- Various energy tax provisions that include credits for different types of qualified energy property.
When looking back at past history, Congress has acted at the last minute. For the 2014 tax year, Congress passed the extenders at the end of December, which were made retroactive to the beginning of the year – but not past the end of the year. For the 2013 tax year, Congress waited until January 2014 to extend these incentives retroactively to the beginning of 2013. What will happen this year is anyone’s guess. Right now, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have differing bills circulating that would extend all or some of these tax incentives retroactively to the beginning of 2015. It’s another year of wait and see.
Tax-Related Identity Theft
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 12 million people a year are victims of some form of identity fraud or identity theft. While there are differences in these terms, they refer to types of crimes in which someone illegally obtains another person's personal information, such as a Social Security or driver’s license number, and uses that information in order to commit fraud, usually for economic gain.
Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country. The financial loss attributed to identity theft totaled more than $26 billion in 2014, twice the amount reported in 2010.
Why is Identity Theft becoming so prevalent?
Today, many criminals are able to hack into public and private organizations databases to obtain large amounts of personal data. Organizations, both big and small are suffering significant data breaches through security failures. Furthermore, individuals are sharing more and more bits of personal information on-line, such as a pet’s name, birth dates, the name of your high school, an email address, etc., giving identity thieves enough pieces of information to recreate their profile, which can later be used for fraud.
What are the most common types of identity theft?
There are many ways a criminal may obtain and use someone’s personal information without their authorization. It may be as simple as someone stealing your wallet or going through your garbage, or as sophisticated as a hacker accessing information through a company’s unencrypted database. But what does a thief do with this information once they’ve stolen it?
Below are some of the most common types of identity theft:
- Opening a new credit card account or using an existing credit card to the fullest credit limit.
- Opening new service accounts, such as cell phone providers or other utility.
- Opening a new checking account or writing checks from an existing account.
- Obtaining loans using the victim’s information.
A growing epidemic of identity-related tax fraud.
More recently, however, there is a growing concern of identity related tax fraud. Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen social security number and other types of personal information to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. In May 2015, the Internal Revenue Service announced that tax information had been wrongfully obtained on more than 100,000 taxpayers, with an attempt made on an additional 100,000 taxpayer accounts, after thieves illegally accessed taxpayer records using the “Get Transcript” application. These criminals were able to use the stolen information from the IRS, as well as detailed information obtained before the IRS breach, to file more than 15,000 false tax returns that closely resembled real tax returns, costing the IRS more than $50 million.
What to do if you are a victim of tax-related identity fraud.
There are several things a person can do to prevent, detect or resolve issues related to tax-related identity theft. Many government organizations and other sources provide information for individuals who have been victims of tax-related identity theft. According to the IRS’s Tips for Taxpayers, Victims about Identity Theft and Tax Returns, if you receive a notice from the IRS, indicating that you may have been the victim of tax-related identity theft, contact the number on the official letter immediately. If you suspect you may have been the victim of identity theft, but have not received an IRS notice, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490. In addition, you should also take some further steps to mitigate potential damages, including the following:
- Report incidents of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov or the FTC Identity Theft hotline at (877) 438-4338 or TTY (866) 653-4261.
- File a report with the local police.
- Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus:
- Equifax – www.equifax.com, (800) 525-6285
- Experian – www.experian.com, (888) 397-3742
- TransUnion – www.transunion.com, (800) 680-7289
- Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
Becoming the victim of identity theft can wreak havoc on a person’s life. Guarded with helpful information and taking proactive steps can help a person minimize their risk of becoming a victim of this crime. If you would like more information on how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, or on solutions to remedy this fraud, please contact Chunowitz, Teitelbaum & Mandel at (847) 444-1040.
Succession Planning: Sustaining Your Company’s Viability
Businesses go through many changes throughout their life cycles, and savvy business owners spend a lot of time developing a growth strategy for each stage. Whether in the development stage, the startup stage, the growth/survival stage, expansion/rapid growth stage or maturity stage, businesses will not survive unless programs are designed to address the challenges presented in each stage. When there are strategic solutions in place, businesses may thrive for many, many years. So long, in fact, they exist well beyond the time of an average person’s lifespan. To assure their companies’ longevity and continued success, astute business owners, especially owners of family-run businesses, need to think about succession planning.
Succession planning is a process for identifying and developing individuals within your organization to eventually step into key leadership roles. Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in your talent pool enables you to identify which candidates are best suited for various positions in your company. Selecting those individuals to train and develop as potential successors assures leadership continuity. It also eliminates confusion about who will carry on your legacy, and makes the transition from successor to owner much smoother.
When you consider transferring ownership, it is necessary to know what your business is worth before it is too late because your business is at a greater value when it is a continuing business as opposed to when it needs to be sold. For family businesses, a detailed succession plan will addresses key issues, such as generational transitions, alignment of family interests, business valuations and buyout agreements, interfamily disputes, and estate and inheritance issues. Without a detailed plan, your business may expire when you retire or are no longer here.
If you would like assistance with developing a succession plan for your business, please contact our office at (847) 444-1040. We have accountants with significant experience helping business owners take that next step to securing their organization’s future.
The Impact of Obamacare on Your 2014 Tax Return
Since the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was passed into law in 2010, there has been a lot of uncertainty about its impact on individuals and businesses. Five years later, we know one thing for sure, every American filing a 2014 income tax return will be required, at a minimum, to indicate whether they do, in fact, have health insurance coverage. If you do not, you may face a penalty. If you received financial assistance to help pay for your insurance premiums, you will have to do more than just check a box on your tax return.
Below is a summary of the impact of Obamacare on your 2014 tax returns, depending on how you obtained insurance coverage and whether you received any subsidies.
If health coverage was obtained through an employer or Medicare or Medicaid:
- Simply check the box on line 61 of your 1040 tax return to indicate that you and everyone in your household has had health coverage for the full year.
If health care coverage was obtained through an Obamacare Exchange AND you received Tax Credits:
- You are no longer eligible to file a 1040-EZ form. You must file a 1040 tax return.
- Because the subsidies you received were based on an estimate of your 2014 income, you will need to determine if you received the appropriate amount of financial assistance for health insurance premiums. Depending upon how much you really earned, your tax credits may have to be adjusted.
- You will receive a form 1095-A (Health Insurance Marketplace Statement). The form 1095-A shows how much your total insurance premium was and the amount of the tax credit you received each month you were covered. You will use this form to complete form 8962 (Premium Tax Credit), which will show whether you actually owe money, or have a refund coming.
If health care coverage was obtained through an Obamacare exchange and you did NOT receive any subsidies or it was purchased directly from an insurance company:
- If your coverage was purchased on an exchange, use the information found on form 1095-A (which shows how much your total insurance premium was) to complete form 8962, and check line 61 of your 1040.
- If you didn’t use an exchange to buy your health insurance, just check line 61 of your 1040 return.
If you do not have health care coverage:
- You may be subject to a penalty to be paid with your tax return, which could range from $95 to $11,000.
- If you didn’t earn enough money to pay taxes (for example, if you are a single individual under age 65 making less than $10,150), there is no health insurance mandate for you and you don’t need to file a tax return.
- There are some exemptions to the Obamacare mandate, but these exemptions must be applied for.
As you can see from the above summary, the Affordable Care Act will affect all of us in some way on our 2014 tax returns. For some, all we have to do is simply check a box on our tax return that we have health insurance coverage. For others, there may be a little bit more work to do. If you are confused or need help in this area, please do not hesitate to contact our office at (847) 444-1040. We have accountants who are well versed on the Affordable Care Act and can easily sort things out for you.
What's Going Up in the Tax World for 2015
Although many expired business tax provisions have been waiting in limbo since the beginning of 2014, most individual tax items carry an automatic increase each year. The areas which affect most of us include the following:
- The top tax rate of 39.6% will apply to single taxpayers with income over $413,200 and married taxpayers with income over $464,850. All other brackets have inched up as well.
- For those who don’t itemize deductions, the standard deduction will be $6,300 for single, $12,600 for joint returns and $9,250 for “head of household” status.
- Those who do itemize will see those deductions phased out at income levels over $258,250 (single) or $309,900 (joint returns).
- The personal exemption will be $4,000 per dependent. However, this too will be phased out beginning at income levels of $258,250 (single) and $309.900 (joint returns). Your personal exemptions will completely disappear if your income exceeds $380,750 (single) or $432,400 (joint returns).
- The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption moves to an all-time high of $53,600 (single) and $82,100 (joint returns).
- The federal estate tax exemption will rise to $5,430,000 – an increase of $90,000 over 2014.
- The limit on flexible spending accounts (cafeteria plan) contributions will rise by $50 to $2,550.
- The annual gift tax exclusion remains the same at $14,000 per year, for each donee.
Defending your computer network against cyber attacks
Written by CTM IT Manager Ken Root
In today’s computerized world, information and identify theft are a very real concern. The days of targeted cyber attacks are over. All businesses, large or small, are subject to attacks. There are many types of threats to computer networks, ranging from viruses that damage your computer to programs that slow your system down to software that steals your information. The best defense to securing your network is to use Internet Security software (antivirus software is no longer enough) and to back up the entire contents of your computer each day.
To address these issues, Chunowitz, Teitelbaum & Mandel has incorporated numerous improvements to its Information Technology infrastructure at its new headquarters in Lincolnshire. These improvements include:
- Updated firewalls that scan ALL traffic for multiple types of threats using the latest threat detection technologies;
- Updated network equipment to transfer information faster;
- State-of-the-art wireless equipment that directly connects to the firewalls to ensure it is secure; and
- Core software updates to provide a better user experience.
These improvements will help ensure that the information CTM retains is secure. If you would like us to assist you in securing your network, send an email to Ken Root.