Acuity Blog

Help Ensure the IRS Doesn’t Reclassify Independent Contractors as Employees

Many businesses use independent contractors to help keep their costs down. If you’re among them, make sure that these workers are properly classified for federal tax purposes. If the IRS reclassifies them as employees, it can be a costly error.

It can be complex to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee for federal income and employment tax purposes. If a worker is an employee, your company must withhold federal income and payroll taxes, pay the employer’s share of FICA taxes on the wages, plus FUTA tax. A business may also provide the worker with fringe benefits if it makes them available to other employees. In addition, there may be state tax obligations.

On the other hand, if a worker is an independent contractor, these obligations don’t apply. In that case, the business simply sends the contractor a Form 1099-NEC for the year showing the amount paid (if it’s $600 or more).

What are the Factors the IRS Considers?

Who is an “employee?” Unfortunately, there’s no uniform definition of the term.

The IRS and courts have generally ruled that individuals are employees if the organization they work for has the right to control and direct them in the jobs they’re performing. Otherwise, the individuals are generally independent contractors. But other factors are also taken into account including who provides tools and who pays expenses.

Some employers that have misclassified workers as independent contractors may get some relief from employment tax liabilities under Section 530. This protection generally applies only if an employer meets certain requirements. For example, the employer must file all federal returns consistent with its treatment of a worker as a contractor and it must treat all similarly situated workers as contractors.

Note: Section 530 doesn’t apply to certain types of workers.

Should You Ask the IRS to Decide?

Be aware that you can ask the IRS (on Form SS-8) to rule on whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee. However, be aware that the IRS has a history of classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors.

Businesses should consult with us before filing Form SS-8 because it may alert the IRS that your business has worker classification issues — and it may unintentionally trigger an employment tax audit.

It may be better to properly treat a worker as an independent contractor so that the relationship complies with the tax rules.

Workers who want an official determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.

If a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS will notify the business with a letter. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return the form to the IRS, which will render a classification decision.

These are the basic tax rules. In addition, the U.S. Labor Department has recently withdrawn a non-tax rule introduced under the Trump administration that would make it easier for businesses to classify workers as independent contractors. Contact us if you’d like to discuss how to classify workers at your business. We can help make sure that your workers are properly classified.
© 2021


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Providing Education Assistance to Employees? Follow These Rules

Many businesses provide education fringe benefits so their employees can improve their skills and gain additional knowledge. An employee can receive, on a tax-free basis, up to $5,250 each year from his or her employer for educational assistance under a “qualified educational assistance program.”

For this purpose, “education” means any form of instruction or training that improves or develops an individual’s capabilities. It doesn’t matter if it’s job-related or part of a degree program. This includes employer-provided education assistance for graduate-level courses, including those normally taken by an individual pursuing a program leading to a business, medical, law or other advanced academic or professional degree.

Additional Requirements

The educational assistance must be provided under a separate written plan that’s publicized to your employees, and must meet a number of conditions, including nondiscrimination requirements. In other words, it can’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees. In addition, not more than 5% of the amounts paid or incurred by the employer for educational assistance during the year may be provided for individuals who (including their spouses or dependents) who own 5% or more of the business.

No deduction or credit can be taken by the employee for any amount excluded from the employee’s income as an education assistance benefit.

Job-Related Education

If you pay more than $5,250 for educational benefits for an employee during the year, he or she must generally pay tax on the amount over $5,250. Your business should include the amount in income in the employee’s wages. However, in addition to, or instead of applying, the $5,250 exclusion, an employer can satisfy an employee’s educational expenses, on a nontaxable basis, if the educational assistance is job-related. To qualify as job-related, the educational assistance must:

• Maintain or improve skills required for the employee’s then-current job, or
• Comply with certain express employer-imposed conditions for continued employment.

“Job-related” employer educational assistance isn’t subject to a dollar limit. To be job-related, the education can’t qualify the employee to meet the minimum educational requirements for qualification in his or her employment or other trade or business.

Educational assistance meeting the above “job-related” rules is excludable from an employee’s income as a working condition fringe benefit.

Student Loans

In addition to education assistance, some employers offer student loan repayment assistance as a recruitment and retention tool. Recent COVID-19 relief laws may provide your employees with tax-free benefits. Contact us to learn more about setting up an education assistance or student loan repayment plan at your business.
© 2021


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Know the Ins and Outs of “Reasonable Compensation” for a Corporate Business Owner

Owners of incorporated businesses know that there’s a tax advantage to taking money out of a C corporation as compensation rather than as dividends. The reason: A corporation can deduct the salaries and bonuses that it pays executives, but not dividend payments. Thus, if funds are paid as dividends, they’re taxed twice, once to the corporation and once to the recipient. Money paid out as compensation is only taxed once — to the employee who receives it.

However, there are limits to how much money you can take out of the corporation this way. Under tax law, compensation can be deducted only to the extent that it’s reasonable. Any unreasonable portion isn’t deductible and, if paid to a shareholder, may be taxed as if it were a dividend. Keep in mind that the IRS is generally more interested in unreasonable compensation payments made to someone “related” to a corporation, such as a shareholder-employee or a member of a shareholder’s family.

Determining Reasonable Compensation

There’s no easy way to determine what’s reasonable. In an audit, the IRS examines the amount that similar companies would pay for comparable services under similar circumstances. Factors that are taken into account include the employee’s duties and the amount of time spent on those duties, as well as the employee’s skills, expertise and compensation history. Other factors that may be reviewed are the complexities of the business and its gross and net income.

There are some steps you can take to make it more likely that the compensation you earn will be considered “reasonable,” and therefore deductible by your corporation. For example, you can:

• Keep compensation in line with what similar businesses are paying their executives (and keep whatever evidence you can get of what others are paying to support what you pay).
• In the minutes of your corporation’s board of directors, contemporaneously document the reasons for compensation paid. For example, if compensation is being increased in the current year to make up for earlier years in which it was low, be sure that the minutes reflect this. (Ideally, the minutes for the earlier years should reflect that the compensation paid then was at a reduced rate.) Cite any executive compensation or industry studies that back up your compensation amounts.
• Avoid paying compensation in direct proportion to the stock owned by the corporation’s shareholders. This looks too much like a disguised dividend and will probably be treated as such by IRS.
• If the business is profitable, pay at least some dividends. This avoids giving the impression that the corporation is trying to pay out all of its profits as compensation.
You can avoid problems and challenges by planning ahead. If you have questions or concerns about your situation, contact us.
© 2021


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Simple Retirement Savings Options for Your Small Business

Are you thinking about setting up a retirement plan for yourself and your employees, but you’re worried about the financial commitment and administrative burdens involved in providing a traditional pension plan? Two options to consider are a “simplified employee pension” (SEP) or a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE).

SEPs are intended as an alternative to “qualified” retirement plans, particularly for small businesses. The relative ease of administration and the discretion that you, as the employer, are permitted in deciding whether or not to make annual contributions, are features that are appealing.

Uncomplicated Paperwork

If you don’t already have a qualified retirement plan, you can set up a SEP simply by using the IRS model SEP, Form 5305-SEP. By adopting and implementing this model SEP, which doesn’t have to be filed with the IRS, you’ll have satisfied the SEP requirements. This means that as the employer, you’ll get a current income tax deduction for contributions you make on behalf of your employees. Your employees won’t be taxed when the contributions are made but will be taxed later when distributions are made, usually at retirement. Depending on your needs, an individually-designed SEP — instead of the model SEP — may be appropriate for you.

When you set up a SEP for yourself and your employees, you’ll make deductible contributions to each employee’s IRA, called a SEP-IRA, which must be IRS-approved. The maximum amount of deductible contributions that you can make to an employee’s SEP-IRA, and that he or she can exclude from income, is the lesser of: 25% of compensation and $58,000 for 2021. The deduction for your contributions to employees’ SEP-IRAs isn’t limited by the deduction ceiling applicable to an individual’s own contribution to a regular IRA. Your employees control their individual IRAs and IRA investments, the earnings on which are tax-free.

There are other requirements you’ll have to meet to be eligible to set up a SEP. Essentially, all regular employees must elect to participate in the program, and contributions can’t discriminate in favor of the highly compensated employees. But these requirements are minor compared to the bookkeeping and other administrative burdens connected with traditional qualified pension and profit-sharing plans.

The detailed records that traditional plans must maintain to comply with the complex nondiscrimination regulations aren’t required for SEPs. And employers aren’t required to file annual reports with IRS, which, for a pension plan, could require the services of an actuary. The required recordkeeping can be done by a trustee of the SEP-IRAs — usually a bank or mutual fund.

SIMPLE Plans

Another option for a business with 100 or fewer employees is a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE). Under these plans, a “SIMPLE IRA” is established for each eligible employee, with the employer making matching contributions based on contributions elected by participating employees under a qualified salary reduction arrangement. The SIMPLE plan is also subject to much less stringent requirements than traditional qualified retirement plans. Or, an employer can adopt a “simple” 401(k) plan, with similar features to a SIMPLE plan, and automatic passage of the otherwise complex nondiscrimination test for 401(k) plans.

For 2021, SIMPLE deferrals are up to $13,500 plus an additional $3,000 catch-up contributions for employees age 50 and older.

Contact us for more information or to discuss any other aspect of your retirement planning.
© 2021


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