Small Business Tax Briefs: September 2021.
Claiming a theft loss deduction if your business is the victim of embezzlement
A business may be able to claim a federal income tax deduction for a theft loss. But does embezzlement count as theft? In most cases it does but you’ll have to substantiate the loss. A recent U.S. Tax Court decision illustrates how that’s sometimes difficult to do.
Basic rules for theft losses
The tax code allows a deduction for losses sustained during the taxable year and not compensated by insurance or other means. The term “theft” is broadly defined to include larceny, embezzlement and robbery. In general, a loss is regarded as arising from theft only if there’s a criminal element to the appropriation of a taxpayer’s property.
In order to claim a theft loss deduction, a taxpayer must prove:
- The amount of the loss,
- The date the loss was discovered, and
- That a theft occurred under the law of the jurisdiction where the alleged loss occurred.
Facts of the recent court case
Years ago, the taxpayer cofounded an S corporation with another shareholder. At the time of the alleged embezzlement, the other original shareholder was no longer a shareholder, and she wasn’t supposed to be compensated by the business. However, according to court records, she continued to manage the S corporation’s books and records.
The taxpayer suffered an illness that prevented him from working for most of the year in question. During this time, the former shareholder paid herself $166,494. Later, the taxpayer filed a civil suit in a California court alleging that the woman had misappropriated funds from the business.
On an amended tax return, the corporation reported a $166,494 theft loss due to the embezzlement. The IRS denied the deduction. After looking at the embezzlement definition under California state law, the Tax Court agreed with the IRS.
The Tax Court stated that the taxpayer didn’t offer evidence that the former shareholder “acted with the intent to defraud,” and the taxpayer didn’t show that the corporation “experienced a theft meeting the elements of embezzlement under California law.”
The IRS and the court also denied the taxpayer’s alternate argument that the corporation should be allowed to claim a compensation deduction for the amount of money the former shareholder paid herself. The court stated that the taxpayer didn’t provide evidence that the woman was entitled to be paid compensation from the corporation and therefore, the corporation wasn’t entitled to a compensation deduction. (TC Memo 2021-66)
How to proceed if you’re victimized
If your business is victimized by theft, embezzlement or internal fraud, you may be able to claim a tax deduction for the loss. Keep in mind that a deductible loss can only be claimed for the year in which the loss is discovered, and that you must meet other tax-law requirements. Keep records to substantiate the claimed theft loss, including when you discovered the loss. If you receive an insurance payment or other reimbursement for the loss, that amount must be subtracted when computing the deductible loss for tax purposes. Contact us with any questions you may have about theft and casualty loss deductions.
Tax breaks to consider during National Small Business Week
The week of September 13-17 has been declared National Small Business Week by the Small Business Administration. To commemorate the week, here are three tax breaks to consider.
1. Claim bonus depreciation or a Section 179 deduction for asset additions
Under current law, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that’s acquired and placed in service in calendar year 2021. That means your business might be able to write off the entire cost of some or all asset additions on this year’s return. Consider making acquisitions between now and December 31.
Note: It doesn’t always make sense to claim a 100% bonus depreciation deduction in the first year that qualifying property is placed in service. For example, if you think that tax rates will increase in the future — either due to tax law changes or a change in your income — it might be better to forgo bonus depreciation and instead depreciate your 2021 asset acquisitions over time.
There’s also a Section 179 deduction for eligible asset purchases. The maximum Section 179 deduction is $1.05 million for qualifying property placed in service in 2021. Recent tax laws have enhanced Section 179 and bonus depreciation but most businesses benefit more by claiming bonus depreciation. We can explain the details of these tax breaks and which is right for your business. You don’t have to decide until you file your tax return.
2. Claim bonus depreciation for a heavy vehicle
The 100% first-year bonus depreciation provision can have a sizable, beneficial impact on first-year depreciation deductions for new and used heavy SUVs, pickups and vans used over 50% for business. For federal tax purposes, heavy vehicles are treated as transportation equipment so they qualify for 100% bonus depreciation.
This option is available only when the manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is above 6,000 pounds. You can verify a vehicle’s GVWR by looking at the manufacturer’s label, usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door.
Buying an eligible vehicle and placing it in service before the end of the year can deliver a big write-off on this year’s return. Before signing a sales contract, we can help evaluate what’s right for your business.
3. Maximize the QBI deduction for pass-through businesses
A valuable deduction is the one based on qualified business income (QBI) from pass-through entities. For tax years through 2025, the deduction can be up to 20% of a pass-through entity owner’s QBI. This deduction is subject to restrictions that can apply at higher income levels and based on the owner’s taxable income.
For QBI deduction purposes, pass-through entities are defined as sole proprietorships, single-member LLCs that are treated as sole proprietorships for tax purposes, partnerships, LLCs that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes and S corporations. For these taxpayers, the deduction can also be claimed for up to 20% of income from qualified real estate investment trust dividends and 20% of qualified income from publicly traded partnerships.
Because of various limitations on the QBI deduction, tax planning moves can unexpectedly increase or decrease it. For example, strategies that reduce this year’s taxable income can have the negative side-effect of reducing your QBI deduction.
These are only a few of the tax breaks your small business may be able to claim. Contact us to help evaluate your planning options and optimize your tax results.
Tax depreciation rules for business automobiles
If you use an automobile in your trade or business, you may wonder how depreciation tax deductions are determined. The rules are complicated, and special limitations that apply to vehicles classified as passenger autos (which include many pickups and SUVs) can result in it taking longer than expected to fully depreciate a vehicle.
Cents-per-mile vs. actual expenses
First, note that separate depreciation calculations for a passenger auto only come into play if you choose to use the actual expense method to calculate deductions. If, instead, you use the standard mileage rate (56 cents per business mile driven for 2021), a depreciation allowance is built into the rate.
If you use the actual expense method to determine your allowable deductions for a passenger auto, you must make a separate depreciation calculation for each year until the vehicle is fully depreciated. According to the general rule, you calculate depreciation over a six-year span as follows: Year 1, 20% of the cost; Year 2, 32%; Year 3, 19.2%; Years 4 and 5, 11.52%; and Year 6, 5.76%. If a vehicle is used 50% or less for business purposes, you must use the straight-line method to calculate depreciation deductions instead of the percentages listed above.
For a passenger auto that costs more than the applicable amount for the year the vehicle is placed in service, you’re limited to specified annual depreciation ceilings. These are indexed for inflation and may change annually.
- For a passenger auto placed in service in 2021 that cost more than $59,000, the Year 1 depreciation ceiling is $18,200 if you choose to deduct $8,000 of first-year bonus depreciation. The annual ceilings for later years are: Year 2, $16,400; Year 3, $9,800; and for all later years, $5,860 until the vehicle is fully depreciated.
- For a passenger auto placed in service in 2021 that cost more than $51,000, the Year 1 depreciation ceiling is $10,200 if you don’t choose to deduct $8,000 of first-year bonus depreciation. The annual ceilings for later years are: Year 2, $16,400; Year 3, $9,800; and for all later years, $5,860 until the vehicle is fully depreciated.
- These ceilings are proportionately reduced for any nonbusiness use. And if a vehicle is used 50% or less for business purposes, you must use the straight-line method to calculate depreciation deductions.
Heavy SUVs, pickups, and vans
Much more favorable depreciation rules apply to heavy SUVs, pickups, and vans used over 50% for business, because they’re treated as transportation equipment for depreciation purposes. This means a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) above 6,000 pounds. Quite a few SUVs and pickups pass this test. You can usually find the GVWR on a label on the inside edge of the driver-side door.
After-tax cost is what counts
What’s the impact of these depreciation limits on your business vehicle decisions? They change the after-tax cost of passenger autos used for business. That is, the true cost of a business asset is reduced by the tax savings from related depreciation deductions. To the extent depreciation deductions are reduced, and thereby deferred to future years, the value of the related tax savings is also reduced due to time-value-of-money considerations, and the true cost of the asset is therefore that much higher.
The rules are different if you lease an expensive passenger auto used for business. Contact us if you have questions or want more information.
M&A transactions: Be careful when reporting to the IRS
Low interest rates and other factors have caused global merger and acquisition (M&A) activity to reach new highs in 2021, according to Refinitiv, a provider of financial data. It reports that 2021 is set to be the biggest in M&A history, with the United States accounting for $2.14 trillion worth of transactions already this year. If you’re considering buying or selling a business — or you’re in the process of an M&A transaction — it’s important that both parties report it to the IRS and state agencies in the same way. Otherwise, you may increase your chances of being audited.
If a sale involves business assets (as opposed to stock or ownership interests), the buyer and the seller must generally report to the IRS the purchase price allocations that both use. This is done by attaching IRS Form 8594, “Asset Acquisition Statement,” to each of their respective federal income tax returns for the tax year that includes the transaction.
Here’s what must be reported
If you buy business assets in an M&A transaction, you must allocate the total purchase price to the specific assets that are acquired. The amount allocated to each asset then becomes its initial tax basis. For depreciable and amortizable assets, the initial tax basis of each asset determines the depreciation and amortization deductions for that asset after the acquisition. Depreciable and amortizable assets include:
- Buildings and improvements,
- Furniture, fixtures and
- Intangibles (including customer lists, licenses, patents, copyrights and goodwill).
In addition to reporting the items above, you must also disclose on Form 8594 whether the parties entered into a noncompete agreement, management contract or similar agreement, as well as the monetary consideration paid under it.
What the IRS might examine
The IRS may inspect the forms that are filed to see if the buyer and the seller use different allocations. If the tax agency finds that different allocations are used, auditors may dig deeper and the examination could expand beyond the transaction. So, it’s best to ensure that both parties use the same allocations. Consider including this requirement in your asset purchase agreement at the time of the sale.
The tax implications of buying or selling a business are complex. Price allocations are important because they affect future tax benefits. Both the buyer and the seller need to report them to the IRS in an identical way to avoid unwanted attention. To lock in the best results after an acquisition, consult with us before finalizing any transaction.