Small Business Tax Briefs 5th Edition
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Why 2016 may be an especially good year to take bonus depreciation
Bonus depreciation allows businesses to recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The PATH Act, signed into law a little over a year ago, extended 50% bonus depreciation through 2017.
Claiming this break is generally beneficial, though in some cases a business might save more tax in the long run if they forgo it. However, 2016 may be an especially good year to take bonus depreciation. Keep this in mind when you’re filing your 2016 tax return.
New tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment) qualifies for bonus depreciation. So does off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified improvement property. And beginning in 2016, the qualified improvement property doesn’t have to be leased.
It isn’t enough, however, to have acquired the property in 2016. You must also have placed the property in service in 2016.
Now vs. later
If you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation (to the extent you’ve exhausted any Section 179 expensing available to you) is likely a good tax strategy. It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial.
But if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax for 2016, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re paying a higher tax rate.
Making a decision for 2016
The greater tax-saving power of deductions when rates are higher is why 2016 may be a particularly good year to take bonus depreciation. With both President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress wishing to reduce tax rates, there’s a good chance that such legislation could be signed into law.
This means your tax rate could be lower for 2017 (if changes go into effect for 2017) and future years. If that happens, there’s a greater likelihood that taking bonus depreciation for 2016 would save you more tax than taking all of your deduction under normal depreciation schedules over a period of years.
Also keep in mind that, under the PATH Act, bonus depreciation is scheduled to drop to 40% for 2018, drop to 30% for 2019, and expire Dec. 31, 2019. Of course, Congress could pass legislation extending 50% bonus depreciation or making it permanent — or it could eliminate it or reduce the bonus depreciation percentage sooner.
If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2016 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us.
Can you defer taxes on advance payments?
Many businesses receive payment in advance for goods and services. Examples include magazine subscriptions, long-term supply contracts, organization memberships, computer software licenses and gift cards.
Generally, advance payments are included in taxable income in the year they’re received, even if you defer a portion of the income for financial reporting purposes. But there are exceptions that might provide you some savings when you file your 2016 income tax return.
The IRS allows limited deferral of income related to advance payments for:
- Goods or services,
- Intellectual property licenses or leases,
- Computer software sales, leases or licenses,
- Warranty contracts,
- Certain organization memberships,
- Eligible gift card sales, and
- Any combination of the above.
In the year you receive an advance payment (Year 1), you may defer the same amount of income you defer in an "applicable financial statement." The remaining income must be recognized in the following year (Year 2), regardless of the amount of income you recognize in Year 2 for financial reporting purposes. Let’s look at an example.
Fred and Ginger are in the business of giving dance lessons. On November 1, 2016, they receive an advance payment from Gene for a two-year contract that provides up to 96 one-hour lessons. Gene takes eight lessons in 2016, 48 lessons in 2017 and 40 lessons in 2018.
In their applicable financial statements, Fred and Ginger recognize 1/12 of the advance payment in their 2016 revenues, 6/12 in their 2017 revenues and 5/12 in their 2018 revenues. For federal income tax purposes, they need to include only 1/12 of the advance payment in their 2016 gross income. But they must include the remaining 11/12 in their 2017 gross income.
The applicable financial statement
An applicable financial statement is one that’s audited by an independent CPA or filed with the SEC or certain other government agencies. If you don’t have this statement, it’s still possible to defer income; you simply need a reasonable method for determining the extent to which advance payments are earned in Year 1.
Suppose, for example, that a company issues gift certificates but doesn’t track their use and doesn’t have an applicable financial statement. The company may be able to defer income based on a statistical study that indicates the percentage of gift certificates expected to be redeemed in Year 1.
If your business receives advance payments, consult your tax advisor to determine whether you can reduce your 2016 tax bill by deferring some of this income to 2017. And make sure you abide by the IRS’s rules on these payments.
New HRA offers small employers an attractive, tax-advantaged health care option
In December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act. The long and complex bill covers a broad range of health care topics, but of particular interest to some businesses should be the Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) provision. Specifically, qualified small employers can now use HRAs to reimburse employees who purchase individual insurance coverage, rather than providing employees with costly group health plans.
The need for HRA relief
Employers can use HRAs to reimburse their workers’ medical expenses, including health insurance premiums, up to a certain amount each year. The reimbursements are excludable from employees’ taxable income, and untapped amounts can be rolled over to future years. HRAs generally have been considered to be group health plans for tax purposes.
But the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits group health plans from imposing annual or lifetime benefits limits and requires such plans to provide certain preventive services without any cost-sharing by employees. And according to previous IRS guidance, "standalone HRAs" — those not tied to an existing group health plan — didn’t comply with these rules, even if the HRAs were used to purchase health insurance coverage that did comply. Businesses that provided the HRAs were subject to fines of $100 per day for each affected employee.
The IRS position was troublesome for smaller businesses that struggled to pay for traditional group health plans or to administer their own self-insurance plans. The changes in the Cures Act give these employers a third option for providing one of the benefits most valued by today’s employees.
Under the Cures Act, certain small employers can maintain general purpose, standalone HRAs that aren’t "group health plans" for most purposes under the Internal Revenue Code, Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Public Health Service Act.
More specifically, the legislation allows employers that aren’t "applicable large employers" under the ACA to provide a Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA) if they don’t offer a group health plan to any of their employees. Annual benefits under a QSEHRA:
- Can’t exceed an indexed maximum of $4,950 per year ($10,000 if family members are covered),
- Must be employer-funded (no salary reductions), and
- Can be used for only IRC Section 213(d) medical care.
QSEHRA benefits must be offered on the same terms to all "eligible employees" (certain individuals can be disregarded) and may be excluded from income only if the recipient has minimum essential coverage. There is a notice requirement and employees’ permitted benefits must be reported on Form W-2.
If you’re interested in exploring the QSEHRA option for your business, contact us for further details.