Small Business Tax Briefs: February 2021
The cents-per-mile rate for business miles decreases again for 2021
This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business decreased by one-and-one-half cents, to 56 cents per mile. As a result, you might claim a lower deduction for vehicle-related expenses for 2021 than you could for 2020 or 2019. This is the second year in a row that the cents-per-mile rate has decreased.
Deducting actual expenses vs. cents-per-mile
In general, businesses can deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases, certain limits apply to depreciation write-offs on vehicles that don’t apply to other types of business assets.
The cents-per-mile rate is useful if you don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this method, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses. However, you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.
Using the cents-per-mile rate is also popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal vehicles. These reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who drive their personal vehicles extensively for business purposes. Why? Under current law, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their own income tax returns.
If you do use the cents-per-mile rate, be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t comply, the reimbursements could be considered taxable wages to the employees.
The 2021 rate
Beginning on January 1, 2021, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 56 cents per mile. It was 57.5 cents for 2020 and 58 cents for 2019.
The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It’s based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. The rate partly reflects the current price of gas, which is down from a year ago. According to AAA Gas Prices, the average nationwide price of a gallon of unleaded regular gas was $2.42 recently, compared with $2.49 a year ago. Occasionally, if there’s a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the cents-per-mile rate midyear.
When this method can’t be used
There are some situations when you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. In some cases, it partly depends on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past. In other cases, it depends on if the vehicle is new to your business this year or whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation tax breaks on it.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider in deciding whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. We can help if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2021 — or claiming them on your 2020 income tax return.
Many tax amounts affecting businesses have increased for 2021
A number of tax-related limits that affect businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have increased for 2021. Some stayed the same due to low inflation. And the deduction for business meals has doubled for this year after a new law was enacted at the end of 2020. Here’s a rundown of those that may be important to you and your business.
Social Security tax
The amount of employees’ earnings that are subject to Social Security tax is capped for 2021 at $142,800 (up from $137,700 for 2020).
- Section 179 expensing:
- Limit: $1.05 million (up from $1.04 million for 2020)
- Phaseout: $2.62 million (up from $2.59 million)
- Income-based phase-out for certain limits on the Sec. 199A qualified business income deduction begins at:
- Married filing jointly: $329,800 (up from $326,600)
- Married filing separately: $164,925 (up from $163,300)
- Other filers: $164,900 (up from $163,300)
Deduction for eligible business-related food and beverage expenses provided by a restaurant: 100% (up from 50%)
- Employee contributions to 401(k) plans: $19,500 (unchanged from 2020)
- Catch-up contributions to 401(k) plans: $6,500 (unchanged)
- Employee contributions to SIMPLEs: $13,500 (unchanged)
- Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs: $3,000 (unchanged)
- Combined employer/employee contributions to defined contribution plans: $58,000 (up from $57,000)
- Maximum compensation used to determine contributions: $290,000 (up from $285,000)
- Annual benefit for defined benefit plans: $230,000 (up from $225,000)
- Compensation defining a highly compensated employee: $130,000 (unchanged)
- Compensation defining a “key” employee: $185,000 (unchanged)
Other employee benefits
- Qualified transportation fringe-benefits employee income exclusion: $270 per month (unchanged)
- Health Savings Account contributions:
- Individual coverage: $3,600 (up from $3,550)
- Family coverage: $7,200 (up from $7,100)
- Catch-up contribution: $1,000 (unchanged)
- Flexible Spending Account contributions:
- Health care: $2,750 (unchanged)
- Dependent care: $5,000 (unchanged)
These are only some of the tax limits that may affect your business and additional rules may apply. If you have questions, please contact us.
What are the tax implications of buying or selling a business?
Merger and acquisition activity in many industries slowed during 2020 due to COVID-19. But analysts expect it to improve in 2021 as the country comes out of the pandemic. If you are considering buying or selling another business, it’s important to understand the tax implications.
Two ways to arrange a deal
Under current tax law, a transaction can basically be structured in two ways:
1. Stock (or ownership interest). A buyer can directly purchase a seller’s ownership interest if the target business is operated as a C or S corporation, a partnership, or a limited liability company (LLC) that’s treated as a partnership for tax purposes.
The current 21% corporate federal income tax rate makes buying the stock of a C corporation somewhat more attractive. Reasons: The corporation will pay less tax and generate more after-tax income. Plus, any built-in gains from appreciated corporate assets will be taxed at a lower rate when they’re eventually sold.
The current law’s reduced individual federal tax rates have also made ownership interests in S corporations, partnerships and LLCs more attractive. Reason: The passed-through income from these entities also is taxed at lower rates on a buyer’s personal tax return. However, current individual rate cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2025, and, depending on actions taken in Washington, they could be eliminated earlier.
Keep in mind that President Biden has proposed increasing the tax rate on corporations to 28%. He has also proposed increasing the top individual income tax rate from 37% to 39.6%. With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, business and individual tax changes are likely in the next year or two.
2. Assets. A buyer can also purchase the assets of a business. This may happen if a buyer only wants specific assets or product lines. And it’s the only option if the target business is a sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC that’s treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes.
Preferences of buyers
For several reasons, buyers usually prefer to buy assets rather than ownership interests. In general, a buyer’s primary goal is to generate enough cash flow from an acquired business to pay any acquisition debt and provide an acceptable return on the investment. Therefore, buyers are concerned about limiting exposure to undisclosed and unknown liabilities and minimizing taxes after a transaction closes.
A buyer can step up (increase) the tax basis of purchased assets to reflect the purchase price. Stepped-up basis lowers taxable gains when certain assets, such as receivables and inventory, are sold or converted into cash. It also increases depreciation and amortization deductions for qualifying assets.
Preferences of sellers
In general, sellers prefer stock sales for tax and nontax reasons. One of their objectives is to minimize the tax bill from a sale. That can usually be achieved by selling their ownership interests in a business (corporate stock or partnership or LLC interests) as opposed to selling assets.
With a sale of stock or other ownership interest, liabilities generally transfer to the buyer and any gain on sale is generally treated as lower-taxed long-term capital gain (assuming the ownership interest has been held for more than one year).
Obtain professional advice
Be aware that other issues, such as employee benefits, can also cause tax issues in M&A transactions. Buying or selling a business may be the largest transaction you’ll ever make, so it’s important to seek professional assistance. After a transaction is complete, it may be too late to get the best tax results. Contact us about how to proceed.
If you run a business from home, you could qualify for home office deductions
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are working from home. If you’re self-employed and run your business from your home or perform certain functions there, you might be able to claim deductions for home office expenses against your business income. There are two methods for claiming this tax break: the actual expenses method and the simplified method.
In general, you qualify for home office deductions if part of your home is used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business.
If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if 1) you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises, or 2) you use a storage area in your home (or a separate free-standing structure, such as a garage) exclusively and regularly for business.
What can you deduct?
Many eligible taxpayers deduct actual expenses when they claim home office deductions. Deductible home office expenses may include:
- Direct expenses, such as the cost of painting and carpeting a room used exclusively for business,
- A proportionate share of indirect expenses, including mortgage interest, rent, property taxes, utilities, repairs and insurance, and
But keeping track of actual expenses can take time and require organization.
How does the simpler method work?
Fortunately, there’s a simplified method: You can deduct $5 for each square foot of home office space, up to a maximum total of $1,500.
The cap can make the simplified method less valuable for larger home office spaces. But even for small spaces, taxpayers may qualify for bigger deductions using the actual expense method. So, tracking your actual expenses can be worth it.
Can I switch?
When claiming home office deductions, you’re not stuck with a particular method. For instance, you might choose the actual expense method on your 2020 return, use the simplified method when you file your 2021 return next year and then switch back to the actual expense method for 2022. The choice is yours.
What if I sell the home?
If you sell — at a profit — a home that contains (or contained) a home office, there may be tax implications. We can explain them to you.
Also be aware that the amount of your home office deductions is subject to limitations based on the income attributable to your use of the office. Other rules and limitations may apply. But any home office expenses that can’t be deducted because of these limitations can be carried over and deducted in later years.
Do employees qualify?
Unfortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended the business use of home office deductions from 2018 through 2025 for employees. Those who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from their employers aren’t eligible for deductions, even if they’re currently working from home.
We can help you determine if you’re eligible for home office deductions and how to proceed in your situation.