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Documentation is the key to business expense deductions

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If you have incomplete or missing records and get audited by the IRS, your business will likely lose out on valuable deductions. Here are two recent U.S. Tax Court cases that help illustrate the rules for documenting deductions.

Case 1: Insufficient records

In the first case, the court found that a taxpayer with a consulting business provided no proof to substantiate more than $52,000 in advertising expenses and $12,000 in travel expenses for the two years in question.

The business owner said the travel expenses were incurred “caring for his business.” That isn’t enough. “The taxpayer bears the burden of proving that claimed business expenses were actually incurred and were ordinary and necessary,” the court stated. In addition, businesses must keep and produce “records sufficient to enable the IRS to determine the correct tax liability.” (TC Memo 2016-158)

Case 2: Documents destroyed

In another case, a taxpayer was denied many of the deductions claimed for his company. He traveled frequently for the business, which developed machine parts. In addition to travel, meals and entertainment, he also claimed printing and consulting deductions.

The taxpayer recorded expenses in a spiral notebook and day planner and kept his records in a leased storage unit. While on a business trip to China, his documents were destroyed after the city where the storage unit was located acquired it by eminent domain.

There’s a way for taxpayers to claim expenses if substantiating documents are lost through circumstances beyond their control (for example, in a fire or flood). However, the court noted that a taxpayer still has to “undertake a ‘reasonable reconstruction,’ which includes substantiation through secondary evidence.”

The court allowed 40% of the taxpayer’s travel, meals and entertainment expenses, but denied the remainder as well as the consulting and printing expenses. The reason? The taxpayer didn’t reconstruct those expenses through third-party sources or testimony from individuals whom he’d paid. (TC Memo 2016-135)

Be prepared

Keep detailed, accurate records to protect your business deductions. Record details about expenses as soon as possible after they’re incurred (for example, the date, place, business purpose, etc.). Keep more than just proof of payment. Also keep other documents, such as receipts, credit card slips and invoices. If you’re unsure of what you need, check with us.

© 2016

 


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Sorting through the “levels of assurance” in financial reporting

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How confident (or assured) are you that your financial reports are reliable, timely and relevant? In order of increasing level of rigor, accountants generally offer three types of assurance services: compilations, reviews and audits. What’s appropriate for your company depends on the needs of creditors or investors, as well as the size, complexity and risk level of your organization.

Compilations

Compilations rely on data provided by management. They provide no assurance that financial statements are free from material misstatement and conform with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Instead, the CPA puts financial information that management creates in-house into a GAAP financial statement format. Footnote disclosures and cash flow information are optional and often omitted.

Reviews

Next are reviewed financial statements, which provide limited assurance that the statements are free from material misstatement and conform with GAAP. Here, the CPA 1) applies analytical procedures to identify unusual items or trends in the financial statements, and 2) inquires about these anomalies, as well as the company’s accounting policies and procedures.

Reviewed statements always include footnote disclosures and a statement of cash flows. But the accountant isn’t required to evaluate internal controls, verify information with a third party or physically inspect assets.”

Audits

An audit provides a reasonable level of assurance that your financial statements are free from material misstatement and conform with GAAP. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires public companies to have an annual audit. Larger private companies also may opt for this service to satisfy outside lenders and investors. Audited financial statements are the only type of report to include an express opinion about whether the financial statements are fairly presented and conform with GAAP.

Beyond the analytical and inquiry steps taken in a review, auditors perform “search and verification” procedures. They also review internal control systems, tailor audit programs for potential risks of material misstatement and report on control weaknesses when they deliver the audit report.

Time for a change?

Should you change your level of assurance? Not every business needs audited financial statements, and audits don’t guarantee against fraud or financial misstatement. But the higher the level of assurance you choose, the more confidence you’ll have that the financial statements fairly present your company’s performance.

© 2016

 


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Looking for a retirement plan for your business? Here’s one SIMPLE option

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Has your small business procrastinated in setting up a retirement plan? You might want to take a look at a SIMPLE IRA. SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” If you decide you’re interested in a SIMPLE IRA, you must establish it by no later than October 1 of the year for which you want to make your initial deductible contribution. (If you’re a new employer and come into existence after October 1, you can establish the SIMPLE IRA as soon as administratively feasible.)

Pros and cons

Here are some of the basics of SIMPLEs:

  • They’re available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees.
  • They offer greater income deferral opportunities than individual retirement accounts (IRAs). However, other plans, such as SEPs and 401(k)s, may permit larger annual deductible contributions.
  • Participant loans aren’t allowed (unlike 401(k) and other plans that can offer loans).
  • As the name implies, it’s simple to set up and administer these plans. You aren’t required to file annual financial returns.
  • If your business has other employees, you may have to make SIMPLE IRA employer “matching” contributions.

Contribution amounts

Any employee who has compensation of at least $5,000 in any prior two years, and is reasonably expected to earn $5,000 in the current year, can elect to have a percentage of compensation put into a SIMPLE. An employee may defer up to $12,500 in 2016. This amount is indexed for inflation each year. Employees age 50 or older can make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000 in 2016.

If your business has other employees, you may have to make SIMPLE IRA employer “matching” contributions.

Consider your choices

A SIMPLE IRA might be a good choice for your small business but it isn’t the only choice. You might also be interested in setting up a simplified employee pension plan, a 401(k) or other plan. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement alternatives for your business.

© 2016


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Management letters can reveal problems and help find solutions

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Auditors want to help their clients succeed. Throughout the audit process, they typically compile a list of internal control weaknesses and operating inefficiencies that may warrant management’s attention. These may be formally communicated through a “management letter.” This letter can provide innovative ideas, based on industry best practices, about ways to beef up internal control systems, streamline operations and cut back on expenses.

Beyond compliance

Think of management letters as an extra bonus to issuing audited financial statements. AICPA standards specifically require auditors to communicate two types of deficiencies to management in writing:

Material weaknesses. These are defined as “a deficiency, or combination of deficiencies, in internal control, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the organization’s financial statements will not be prevented or detected and corrected on a timely basis.”

Significant deficiencies. These are “less severe than a material weakness, yet important enough to merit attention by those charged with governance.”

Operating inefficiencies and other deficiencies in internal control systems aren’t necessarily required to be communicated in writing. However, most auditors include these less significant items in their management letters to inform their clients about risks and opportunities to improve operations.

Key elements

A management letter may cover a broad range of topics, including segregation of duties, account reconciliations, physical asset security, credit policies, employee performance, safety, Internet use and expense reduction. In general, the write-up for each deficiency includes three elements:

  1. Observation. The auditor describes the condition, identifies the cause (if possible) and explains why it needs improvement.
  2. Impact. This section quantifies the problem’s potential monetary effects and identifies any qualitative effects, such as decreased employee morale or delayed financial reporting.
  3. Recommendation. Here, the auditor suggests a solution or lists alternative approaches if the appropriate course of action is unclear.

Some letters present deficiencies in order of significance or potential for cost reduction. Others organize comments based on functional area or location.

Continuous improvement

When your CPA delivers your audited financial statements, pay close attention to the management letter — and compare it to the previous year’s letter. Too often, the same items recur year after year. Commit to making some targeted improvements this year and use the write-ups in the management letter to help track the results.

© 2016


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The IRS can reclassify S corporation distributions as wages

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If you run your business as an S corporation, you’re probably both a shareholder and an employee. As such, the corporation pays you a salary that reflects the work you do for the business — and you (and your company) must remit payroll tax on some or all of your wages.

By distributing profits in the form of dividends rather than salary, an S corporation and its owners can avoid payroll taxes on these amounts. Because of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately), the potential tax savings from classifying payments as dividends rather than salary may be even greater than it once would have been.

IRS audit target

But paying little or no salary is risky. The IRS targets S corporations with owners’ salaries that it considers unreasonably low and assesses unpaid payroll taxes, penalties and interest.

To avoid such a result, S corporations should establish and document reasonable salaries for each position using compensation surveys, comparable industry studies, company financial data and other evidence. Spell out the reasons for compensation amounts in your corporate minutes. Have the minutes reviewed by a tax professional before being finalized.

Prove a salary is reasonable

There are no specific guidelines for reasonable compensation in the tax code or regulations. Various courts, which have ruled on this issue, have based their determinations on the facts and circumstances of each case. Factors considered in determining reasonable compensation include:

  • Training and experience,
  • Duties and responsibilities,
  • Time and effort devoted to the business,
  • Dividend history,
  • Payments to non-owner employees,
  • Timing and manner of paying bonuses to key people, and
  • Compensation agreements.

Ascertain the right mix

Do you have questions about compensation? Contact us. We can help you determine the mix of salary and dividends that can keep your tax liability as low as possible while standing up to IRS scrutiny.

© 2016


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