Small Business Tax Briefs- February Edition
Take small-business tax credits where credits are due
Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, making them particularly valuable. Two available credits are especially for small businesses that provide certain employee benefits. And one of them might not be available after 2017.
1. Small-business health care credit
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, provided it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium.
For 2016, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $25,000 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,000.
To qualify for the credit, online enrollment in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) generally is required. In addition, the credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.)
If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2016 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away for 2018 because lawmakers in Washington are starting to take steps to repeal or replace the ACA.
Most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2018 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2016, you may also be able to claim it on your 2017 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the credit while it’s available.
2. Retirement plan credit
Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs.
Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.
If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2016, it might not be too late. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions.
Maximize tax savings
Be aware that additional rules apply beyond what we’ve discussed here. We can help you determine whether you’re eligible for these credits. We can also advise you on what other credits you might be eligible for when you file your 2016 return so that you can maximize your tax savings.
SEPs: A powerful retroactive tax planning tool
Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) are sometimes regarded as the "no-brainer" first choice for high-income small-business owners who don’t currently have tax-advantaged retirement plans set up for themselves. Why? Unlike other types of retirement plans, a SEP is easy to establish and a powerful retroactive tax planning tool: The deadline for setting up a SEP is favorable and contribution limits are generous.
SEPs do have a couple of downsides if the business has employees other than the owner: 1) Contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for the owner, and 2) employee accounts are immediately 100% vested.
Deadline for set-up and contributions
A SEP can be established as late as the due date (including extensions) of the business’s income tax return for the tax year for which the SEP is to first apply. For example:
- A calendar-year partnership or S corporation has until March 15, 2017, to establish a SEP for 2016 (September 15, 2017, if the return is extended).
- A calendar-year sole proprietor or C corporation has until April 18, 2017 (October 16, 2017, if the return is extended), because of their later filing deadlines.
The deadlines for limited liability companies (LLCs) depend on the tax treatment the LLC has elected. Furthermore, the business has until these same deadlines to make 2016 contributions and still claim a potentially hefty deduction on its 2016 return.
Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2016, in order for 2016 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2016 contributions to be made in 2017).
Contributions to SEPs are discretionary. The business can decide what amount of contribution it will make each year. The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee.
For 2016, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction) of up to $265,000, subject to a contribution cap of $53,000. The 2017 limits are $270,000 and $54,000, respectively.
Setting up a SEP is easy
A SEP is established by completing and signing the very simple Form 5305-SEP ("Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement"). Form 5305-SEP is not filed with the IRS, but it should be maintained as part of the business’s permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement.
Of course, additional rules and limits do apply to SEPs, but they’re generally much less onerous than those for other retirement plans. If you think a SEP might be good for your business, please contact us.
Can the WOTC save tax for your business?
Employers that hire individuals who are members of a "target group" may be eligible for the Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC). If you made qualifying hires in 2016 and obtained proper certification, you can claim the WOTC on your 2016 tax return. Whether or not you’re eligible for 2016, keep the WOTC in mind in your 2017 hiring, because the credit is also available for 2017.
In fact, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) extended the WOTC through 2019. The PATH Act also expanded the credit beginning in 2016 to apply to employers that hire qualified individuals who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more.
What are the "target groups’?
Besides the long-term unemployed, target groups include:
Designated community residents who live in Empowerment Zones or rural renewal counties,
Long-term family assistance recipients,
Qualified recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),
Summer youth employees,
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients,
Supplemental Security Income benefits recipients, and
Vocational rehabilitation referrals for individuals who suffer from an employment handicap resulting from a physical or mental handicap.
How much is the credit worth?
Qualifying employers can claim the WOTC as a general business credit against their income tax. The amount of the credit depends on the:
Target group of the individual hired,
Wages paid to that individual, and
Number of hours that individual worked during the first year of employment.
The maximum credit that can be earned for each member of a target group is generally $2,400 per employee. The credit can be as high as $9,600 for certain veterans. Employers aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible individuals they can hire. In other words, if there are 10 individuals that qualify, the credit can be 10 times the amount listed.
Before you can claim the WOTC, you must obtain certification from a "designated local agency" (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, "Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit," to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you.
But if you hired long-term unemployment recipients between January 1, 2016, and May 31, 2016, the IRS extended the deadline to June 29, 2016, as long as the individuals started work for you on or after January 1, 2016, and before June 1, 2016.
The WOTC can lower your company’s tax liability when you hire qualified new employees. We can help you determine whether an employee qualifies, calculate the applicable credit and answer other questions you might have.
Tangible property safe harbors help maximize deductions
If last year your business made repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, you may be eligible for a valuable deduction on your 2016 income tax return. But you must make sure they were truly "repairs," and not actually "improvements."
Why? Costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years. But costs incurred on incidental repairs and maintenance can be expensed and immediately deducted.
What’s an "improvement"?
In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be capitalized. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.
Under the "betterment test," you generally must capitalize amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.
Under the "restoration test," you generally must capitalize amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.
Under the "adaptation test," you generally must capitalize amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.
Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:
1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s "class life," as defined by the IRS.
Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be capitalized, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.
2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.
There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. Contact us for details on these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions.