Small Business Tax Briefs- June Edition
Consider the tax consequences before making an employee a partner
In today’s competitive environment, offering employees an equity interest in your business can be a powerful tool for attracting, retaining and motivating quality talent. If your business is organized as a partnership, however, there are some tax traps you should watch out for. Once an employee becomes a partner, you generally can no longer treat him or her as an employee for tax and benefits purposes, which has significant tax implications.
Employment taxes. Employees pay half of the Social Security and Medicare taxes on their wages, through withholdings from their paychecks. The employer pays the other half. Partners, on the other hand, are treated as being self-employed — they pay the full amount of "self-employment" taxes through quarterly estimates.
Often, when employees receive partnership interests, the partnership continues to treat them as employees for tax purposes, withholding employment taxes from their wages and paying the employer’s share. The problem with this practice is that, because a partner is responsible for the full amount of employment taxes, the partnership’s payment of a portion of those taxes will likely be treated as a guaranteed payment to the partner.
That payment would then be included in income and trigger additional employment taxes. Any employment taxes not paid by the partnership on a partner’s behalf are the partner’s responsibility.
Treating a partner as an employee can also result in overpayment of employment taxes. Suppose your partnership pays half of a partner’s employment taxes and the partner also has other self-employment activities — for example, interests in other partnerships or sole proprietorships. If those activities generate losses, the losses will offset the partner’s earnings from your partnership, reducing or even eliminating self-employment taxes.
Employee benefits. Partners and employees are treated differently for purposes of many benefit plans. For example, employees are entitled to exclude the value of certain employer-provided health, welfare and fringe benefits from income, while partners must include the value in their income (although they may be entitled to a self-employed health insurance deduction). And partners are prohibited from participating in a cafeteria plan.
Continuing to treat a partner as an employee for benefits purposes may trigger unwanted tax consequences. And it could disqualify a cafeteria plan.
Partnership alternatives. There are techniques that allow you to continue treating newly minted partners as employees for tax and benefits purposes. For example, you might create a tiered partnership structure and offer employees of a lower-tier partnership interests in an upper-tier partnership. Because these employees aren’t partners in the partnership that employs them, many of the problems discussed above will be avoided.
If your business is contemplating offering partnership interests to key employees, contact us for more information about the potential tax consequences and how to avoid any pitfalls.
Choosing the best way to reimburse employee travel expenses
If your employees incur work-related travel expenses, you can better attract and retain the best talent by reimbursing these expenses. But to secure tax-advantaged treatment for your business and your employees, it’s critical to comply with IRS rules.
Reasons to reimburse. While unreimbursed work-related travel expenses generally are deductible on a taxpayer’s individual tax return (subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, many employees won’t be able to benefit from the deduction.
Why? It’s likely that some of your employees don’t itemize. Even those who do may not have enough miscellaneous itemized expenses to exceed the 2% of adjusted gross income floor. And only expenses in excess of the floor can actually be deducted.
On the other hand, reimbursements can provide tax benefits to both your business and the employee. Your business can deduct the reimbursements (also subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment), and they’re excluded from the employee’s taxable income — provided that the expenses are legitimate business expenses and the reimbursements comply with IRS rules. Compliance can be accomplished by using either the per diem method or an accountable plan.
Per diem method. The per diem method is simple: Instead of tracking each individual’s actual expenses, you use IRS tables to determine reimbursements for lodging, meals and incidental expenses, or just for meals and incidental expenses. (If you don’t go with the per diem method for lodging, you’ll need receipts to substantiate those expenses.)
The IRS per diem tables list localities here and abroad. They reflect seasonal cost variations as well as the varying costs of the locales themselves — so London’s rates will be higher than Little Rock’s. An even simpler option is to apply the "high-low" per diem method within the continental United States to reimburse employees up to $282 a day for high-cost localities and $189 for other localities.
You must be extremely careful to pay employees no more than the appropriate per diem amount. The IRS imposes heavy penalties on businesses that routinely fail to do so.
Accountable plan. An accountable plan is a formal arrangement to advance, reimburse or provide allowances for business expenses. To qualify as "accountable," your plan must meet the following criteria:
- It must pay expenses that would otherwise be deductible by the employee.
- Payments must be for "ordinary and necessary" business expenses.
- Employees must substantiate these expenses — including amounts, times and places — ideally at least monthly.
- Employees must return any advances or allowances they can’t substantiate within a reasonable time, typically 120 days.
If you fail to meet these conditions, the IRS will treat your plan as nonaccountable, transforming all reimbursements into wages taxable to the employee, subject to income taxes (employee) and employment taxes (employer and employee).
Whether you have questions about which reimbursement option is right for your business or the additional rules and limits that apply to each, contact us. We’d be pleased to help.
Dot the "i’s" and cross the "t’s" on loans between your business and its owners
It’s common for closely held businesses to transfer money into and out of the company, often in the form of a loan. However, the IRS looks closely at such transactions: Are they truly loans, or actually compensation, distributions or contributions to equity?
Loans to owners. When an owner withdraws funds from the company, the transaction can be characterized as compensation, a distribution or a loan. Loans aren’t taxable, but compensation is and distributions may be.
If the company is a C corporation and the transaction is considered a distribution, it can trigger double taxation. If a transaction is considered compensation, it’s deductible by the corporation, so it doesn’t result in double taxation — but it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes.
If the company is an S corporation or other pass-through entity and the transaction is considered a distribution, there’s no entity-level tax, so double taxation won’t be an issue. But distributions reduce an owner’s tax basis, which makes it harder to deduct business losses. If the transaction is considered compensation, as with a C corporation, it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes.
Loans to the business. There are also benefits to treating transfers of money from owners to the business as loans. If such advances are treated as contributions to equity, for example, any reimbursements by the company may be taxed as distributions.
Loan payments, on the other hand, aren’t taxable, apart from the interest, which is deductible by the company. A loan may also give the owner an advantage in the event of the company’s bankruptcy, because debt obligations are paid before equity is returned.
Is it a loan or not? To enjoy the tax advantages of a loan, it’s important to establish that a transaction is truly a loan. Simply calling a withdrawal or advance a "loan" doesn’t make it so.
Whether a transaction is a loan is a matter of intent. It’s a loan if the borrower has an unconditional intent to repay the amount received and the lender has an unconditional intent to obtain repayment. Because the IRS and the courts aren’t mind readers, it’s critical to document loans and treat them like other arm’s-length transactions. This includes:
- Executing a promissory note,
- Charging a commercially reasonable rate of interest — generally, no less than the applicable federal rate,
- Establishing and following a fixed repayment schedule,
- Securing the loan using appropriate collateral, which will also give the lender bankruptcy priority over unsecured creditors,
- Treating the transaction as a loan in the company’s books, and
- Ensuring that the lender makes reasonable efforts to collect in case of default.
Also, to avoid a claim that loans to owner-employees are disguised compensation, you must ensure that they receive reasonable salaries.
If you’re considering a loan to or from your business, contact us for more details on how to help ensure it will be considered a loan by the IRS.
2017 Q3 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2017 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)
- File a 2016 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
- If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.
- If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
- File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
- Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
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