Archive for Small Business Taxes

Tax tips when buying the assets of a business

After experiencing a downturn in 2023, merger and acquisition activity in several sectors is rebounding in 2024. If you’re buying a business, you want the best results possible after taxes. You can potentially structure the purchase in two ways:

  1. Buy the assets of the business, or
  2. Buy the seller’s entity ownership interest if the target business is operated as a corporation, partnership or LLC.

In this article, we’re going to focus on buying assets.

Asset purchase tax basics

You must allocate the total purchase price to the specific assets acquired. The amount allocated to each asset becomes the initial tax basis of that asset.

For depreciable and amortizable assets (such as furniture, fixtures, equipment, buildings, software and intangibles such as customer lists and goodwill), the initial tax basis determines the post-acquisition depreciation and amortization deductions.

When you eventually sell a purchased asset, you’ll have a taxable gain if the sale price exceeds the asset’s tax basis (initial purchase price allocation, plus any post-acquisition improvements, minus any post-acquisition depreciation or amortization).

Asset purchase results with a pass-through entity

Let’s say you operate the newly acquired business as a sole proprietorship, a single-member LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes, a partnership, a multi-member LLC treated as a partnership for tax purposes or an S corporation. In those cases, post-acquisition gains, losses and income are passed through to you and reported on your personal tax return. Various federal income tax rates can apply to income and gains, depending on the type of asset and how long it’s held before being sold.

Asset purchase results with a C corporation

If you operate the newly acquired business as a C corporation, the corporation pays the tax bills from post-acquisition operations and asset sales. All types of taxable income and gains recognized by a C corporation are taxed at the same federal income tax rate, which is currently 21%.

A tax-smart purchase price allocation

With an asset purchase deal, the most important tax opportunity revolves around how you allocate the purchase price to the assets acquired.

To the extent allowed, you want to allocate more of the price to:

  • Assets that generate higher-taxed ordinary income when converted into cash (such as inventory and receivables),
  • Assets that can be depreciated relatively quickly (such as furniture and equipment), and
  • Intangible assets (such as customer lists and goodwill) that can be amortized over 15 years.

You want to allocate less to assets that must be depreciated over long periods (such as buildings) and to land, which can’t be depreciated.

You’ll probably want to get appraised fair market values for the purchased assets to allocate the total purchase price to specific assets. As stated above, you’ll generally want to allocate more of the price to certain assets and less to others to get the best tax results. Because the appraisal process is more of an art than a science, there can potentially be several legitimate appraisals for the same group of assets. The tax results from one appraisal may be better for you than the tax results from another.

Nothing in the tax rules prevents buyers and sellers from agreeing to use legitimate appraisals that result in acceptable tax outcomes for both parties. Settling on appraised values becomes part of the purchase/sale negotiation process. That said, the appraisal that’s finally agreed to must be reasonable.

Plan ahead

Remember, when buying the assets of a business, the total purchase price must be allocated to the acquired assets. The allocation process can lead to better or worse post-acquisition tax results. We can help you get the former instead of the latter. So get your advisor involved early, preferably during the negotiation phase.

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There are several financial and legal implications when adding a new partner to a partnership. Here’s an example to illustrate: You and your partners are planning to admit a new partner. The new partner will acquire a one-third interest in the partnership by making a cash contribution to the business. Assume that your basis in your partnership interests is sufficient so that the decrease in your portions of the partnership’s liabilities because of the new partner’s entry won’t reduce your basis to zero.

More complex than it seems

Although adding a new partner may appear to be simple, it’s important to plan the new person’s entry properly to avoid various tax problems. Here are two issues to consider:

  1. If there’s a change in the partners’ interests in unrealized receivables and substantially appreciated inventory items, the change will be treated as a sale of those items, with the result that the current partners will recognize gain. For this purpose, unrealized receivables include not only accounts receivable, but also depreciation recapture and certain other ordinary income items. To avoid gain recognition on those items, it’s necessary that they be allocated to the current partners even after the entry of the new partner.
  2. The tax code requires that the “built-in gain or loss” on assets that were held by the partnership before the new partner was admitted be allocated to the current partners and not to the entering partner. In general, “built-in gain or loss” is the difference between the fair market value and basis of the partnership property at the time the new partner is admitted.

The upshot of these rules is that the new partner must be allocated a portion of the depreciation equal to his or her share of the depreciable property, based on current fair market value. This will reduce the amount of depreciation that can be taken by the current partners. The other outcome is that the built-in gain or loss on the partnership assets must be allocated to the current partners when the partnership assets are sold. The rules that apply in this area are complex, and the partnership may have to adopt special accounting procedures to cope with the relevant requirements.

Follow your basis

When adding a partner or making other changes, a partner’s basis in his or her interest can undergo frequent adjustment. It’s important to keep proper track of your basis because it can have an impact on these areas:

  • Gain or loss on the sale of your interest,
  • How partnership distributions to you are taxed, and
  • The maximum amount of partnership loss you can deduct.

We can help

Contact us if you’d like assistance in dealing with these issues or any other issues that may arise in connection with your partnership.

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It’s not unusual for a partner to incur expenses related to the partnership’s business. This is especially likely to occur in service partnerships such as an architecture or law firm. For example, partners in service partnerships may incur entertainment expenses in developing new client relationships. They may also incur expenses for: transportation to get to and from client meetings, professional publications, continuing education and home office. What’s the tax treatment of such expenses? Here are the answers.

Reimbursable or not

As long as the expenses are the type a partner is expected to pay without reimbursement under the partnership agreement or firm policy (written or unwritten), the partner can deduct the expenses on Schedule E of Form 1040. Conversely, a partner can’t deduct expenses if the partnership would have honored a request for reimbursement.

A partner’s unreimbursed partnership business expenses should also generally be included as deductions in arriving at the partner’s net income from self-employment on Schedule SE.

For example, let’s say you’re a partner in a local architecture firm. Under the firm’s partnership agreement, partners are expected to bear the costs of soliciting potential new business except in unusual cases where attracting a large potential new client is deemed to be a firm-wide goal. In attempting to attract new clients this year, you spend $4,500 of your own money on meal expenses. You receive no reimbursement from the firm. On your Schedule E, you should report a deductible item of $2,250 (50% of $4,500). You should also include the $2,250 as a deduction in calculating your net self-employment income on Schedule SE.

So far, so good, but here’s the issue: a partner can’t deduct expenses if they could have been reimbursed by the firm. In other words, no deduction is allowed for “voluntary” out-of-pocket expenses. The best way to eliminate any doubt about the proper tax treatment of unreimbursed partnership expenses is to install a written firm policy that clearly states what will and won’t be reimbursed. That way, the partners can deduct their unreimbursed firm-related business expenses without any problems from the IRS.

Office in a partner’s home

Subject to the normal deduction limits under the home office rules, a partner can deduct expenses allocable to the regular and exclusive use of a home office for partnership business. The partner’s deductible home office expenses should be reported on Schedule E in the same fashion as other unreimbursed partnership expenses.

If a partner has a deductible home office, the Schedule E home office deduction can deliver multiple tax-saving benefits because it’s effectively deducted for both federal income tax and self-employment tax purposes.

In addition, if the partner’s deductible home office qualifies as a principal place of business, commuting mileage from the home office to partnership business temporary work locations (such as client sites) and partnership permanent work locations (such as the partnership’s official office) count as business mileage.

The principal place of business test can be passed in two ways. First, the partner can conduct most of partnership income-earning activities in the home office. Second, the partner can pass the principal place of business test if he or she:

  • Uses the home office to conduct partnership administrative and management tasks and
  • Doesn’t make substantial use of any other fixed location (such as the partnership’s official office) for such administrative and management tasks.

To sum up

When a partner can be reimbursed for business expenses under a partnership agreement or standard operating procedures, the partner should turn them in. Otherwise, the partner can’t deduct the expenses. On the partnership side of the deal, the business should set forth a written firm policy that clearly states what will and won’t be reimbursed, including home office expenses if applicable. This applies equally to members of LLCs that are treated as partnerships for federal tax purposes because those members count as partners under tax law.

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Businesses usually want to delay recognition of taxable income into future years and accelerate deductions into the current year. But when is it wise to do the opposite? And why would you want to?

One reason might be tax law changes that raise tax rates. The Biden administration has proposed raising the corporate federal income tax rate from its current flat 21% to 28%. Another reason may be because you expect your noncorporate pass-through entity business to pay taxes at higher rates in the future and the pass-through income will be taxed on your personal return. There have also been discussions in Washington about raising individual federal income tax rates.

If you believe your business income could be subject to tax rate increases, you might want to accelerate income recognition into the current tax year to benefit from the current lower tax rates. At the same time, you may want to postpone deductions into a later tax year, when rates are higher and the deductions will be more beneficial.

To fast-track income

Consider these options if you want to accelerate revenue recognition into the current tax year:

  • Sell appreciated assets that have capital gains in the current year, rather than waiting until a later year.
  • Review the company’s list of depreciable assets to determine if any fully depreciated assets are in need of replacement. If fully depreciated assets are sold, taxable gains will be triggered in the year of sale.
  • For installment sales of appreciated assets, elect out of installment sale treatment to recognize gain in the year of sale.
  • Instead of using a tax-deferred like-kind Section 1031 exchange, sell real property in a taxable transaction.
  • Consider converting your S corporation into a partnership or LLC treated as a partnership for tax purposes. That will trigger gains from the company’s appreciated assets because the conversion is treated as a taxable liquidation of the S corp. The partnership will have an increased tax basis in the assets.
  • For construction companies with long-term construction contracts previously exempt from the percentage-of-completion method of accounting for long-term contracts: Consider using the percentage-of-completion method to recognize income sooner as compared to the completed contract method, which defers recognition of income until the long-term construction is completed.

To postpone deductions

Consider the following actions to postpone deductions into a higher-rate tax year, which will maximize their value:

  • Delay purchasing capital equipment and fixed assets, which would give rise to depreciation deductions.
  • Forego claiming big first-year Section 179 deductions or bonus depreciation deductions on new depreciable assets and instead depreciate the assets over a number of years.
  • Determine whether professional fees and employee salaries associated with a long-term project could be capitalized, which would spread out the costs over time.
  • Buy bonds at a discount this year to increase interest income in future years.
  • If allowed, put off inventory shrinkage or other write-downs until a year with a higher tax rate.
  • Delay charitable contributions into a year with a higher tax rate.
  • If allowed, delay accounts receivable charge-offs to a year with a higher tax rate.
  • Delay payment of liabilities where the related deduction is based on when the amount is paid.

Contact us to discuss the best tax planning actions in the light of your business’s unique tax situation.

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If your business doesn’t already have a retirement plan, it might be a good time to take the plunge. Current retirement plan rules allow for significant tax-deductible contributions.

For example, if you’re self-employed and set up a SEP-IRA, you can contribute up to 20% of your self-employment earnings, with a maximum contribution of $69,000 for 2024 (up from $66,000 for 2023). If you’re employed by your own corporation, up to 25% of your salary can be contributed to your account, with a maximum contribution of $69,000. If you’re in the 32% federal income tax bracket, making a maximum contribution could cut what you owe Uncle Sam for 2024 by a whopping $22,080 (32% × $69,000).

Other possibilities

There are more small business retirement plan options, including:

  • 401(k) plans, which can even be set up for just one person (also called solo 401(k)s),
  • Defined benefit pension plans, and
  • SIMPLE-IRAs.

Depending on your situation, these plans may allow bigger or smaller deductible contributions than a SEP-IRA. For example, for 2024, a participant can contribute $23,000 to a 401(k) plan, plus a $7,500 “catch-up” contribution for those age 50 or older.

Watch the calendar

Thanks to a change made by the 2019 SECURE Act, tax-favored qualified employee retirement plans, except for SIMPLE-IRA plans, can now be adopted by the due date (including any extension) of the employer’s federal income tax return for the adoption year. The plan can then receive deductible employer contributions that are made by the due date (including any extension), and the employer can deduct those contributions on the return for the adoption year.

Important: This provision didn’t change the deadline to establish a SIMPLE-IRA plan. It remains October 1 of the year for which the plan is to take effect. Also, the SECURE Act change doesn’t override rules that require certain plan provisions to be in effect during the plan year, such as the provisions that cover employee elective deferral contributions (salary-reduction contributions) under a 401(k) plan. The plan must be in existence before such employee elective deferral contributions can be made.

For example, the deadline for the 2023 tax year for setting up a SEP-IRA for a sole proprietorship business that uses the calendar year for tax purposes is October 15, 2024, if you extend your 2023 tax return. The deadline for making a contribution for the 2023 tax year is also October 15, 2024. For the 2024 tax year, the deadline for setting up a SEP and making a contribution is October 15, 2025, if you extend your 2024 tax return. However, to make a SIMPLE-IRA contribution for the 2023 tax year, you must have set up the plan by October 1, 2023. So, it’s too late to set up a plan for last year.

While you can delay until next year establishing a tax-favored retirement plan for this year (except for a SIMPLE-IRA plan), why wait? Get it done this year as part of your tax planning and start saving for retirement. We can provide more information on small business retirement plan options. Be aware that, if your business has employees, you may have to make contributions for them, too.

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If you operate a business, or you’re starting a new one, you know records of income and expenses need to be kept. Specifically, you should carefully record expenses to claim all the tax deductions to which you’re entitled. And you want to make sure you can defend the amounts reported on your tax returns in case you’re ever audited by the IRS.

Be aware that there’s no one way to keep business records. On its website, the IRS states: “You can choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses.” But there are strict rules when it comes to deducting legitimate expenses for tax purposes. And certain types of expenses, such as automobile, travel, meal and home office costs, require extra attention because they’re subject to special recordkeeping requirements or limitations on deductibility.

Ordinary and necessary

A business expense can be deducted if a taxpayer establishes that the primary objective of the activity is making a profit. To be deductible, a business expense must be “ordinary and necessary.” In one recent case, a married couple claimed business deductions that the IRS and the U.S. Tax Court mostly disallowed. The reasons: The expenses were found to be personal in nature and the taxpayers didn’t have adequate records for them.

In the case, the husband was a salaried executive. With his wife, he started a separate business as an S corporation. His sideline business identified new markets for chemical producers and connected them with potential customers. The couple’s two sons began working for the business when they were in high school.

The couple then formed a separate C corporation that engaged in marketing. For some of the years in question, the taxpayers reported the income and expenses of the businesses on their joint tax returns. The businesses conducted meetings at properties the family owned (and resided in) and paid the couple rent for the meetings.

The IRS selected the couple’s returns for audit. Among the deductions the IRS and the Tax Court disallowed:

  • Travel expenses. The couple submitted reconstructed travel logs to the court, rather than records kept contemporaneously. The court noted that the couple didn’t provide “any documentary evidence or other direct or circumstantial evidence of the time, location, and business purpose of each reported travel expense.”
  • Marketing fees paid by the S corporation to the C corporation. The court found that no marketing or promotion was done. Instead, the funds were used to pay several personal family expenses.
  • Rent paid to the couple for the business use of their homes. The court stated the amounts “were unreasonable and something other than rent.”

Retirement plan deductions allowed

The couple did prevail on deductions for contributions to 401(k) accounts for their sons. The IRS contended that the sons weren’t employees during one year in which contributions were made for them. However, the court found that 401(k) plan documents did mention the sons working in the business and the father “credibly recounted assigning them research tasks and overseeing their work while they were in school.” Thus, the court ruled the taxpayers were entitled to the retirement plan deductions. (TC Memo 2023-140)

Lessons learned

As this case illustrates, a business can’t deduct personal expenses, and scrupulous records are critical. Make sure to use your business bank account for business purposes only. In addition, maintain meticulous records to help prepare your tax returns and prove deductible business expenses in the event of an IRS audit.

Contact us if you have questions about retaining adequate business records.

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