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.
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.
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.
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.
Are you wondering whether alternative energy technologies can help you manage energy costs in your business? If so, there’s a valuable federal income tax benefit (the business energy credit) that applies to the acquisition of many types of alternative energy property.
The credit is intended primarily for business users of alternative energy (other energy tax breaks apply if you use alternative energy in your home or produce energy for sale).
The business energy credit equals 30% of the basis of the following:
- Equipment, the construction of which begins before 2024, that uses solar energy to generate electricity for heating and cooling structures, for hot water, or heat used in industrial or commercial processes (except for swimming pools). If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in calendar year 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 10%.
- Equipment, the construction of which begins before 2024, using solar energy to illuminate a structure’s inside using fiber-optic distributed sunlight. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
- Certain fuel-cell property the construction of which begins before 2024. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
- Certain small wind energy property the construction of which begins before 2024. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
- Certain waste energy property, the construction of which begins before January 1, 2024. If construction began in 2020, the credit rate is 26%, reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023; and, unless the property is placed in service before 2026, the credit rate is 0%.
- Certain offshore wind facilities with construction beginning before 2026. There’s no phase-out of this property.
The credit equals 10% of the basis of the following:
- Certain equipment used to produce, distribute, or use energy derived from a geothermal deposit.
- Certain cogeneration property with construction beginning before 2024.
- Certain microturbine property with construction beginning before 2024.
- Certain equipment, with construction beginning before 2024, that uses the ground or ground water to heat or cool a structure.
Pluses and minuses
However, there are several restrictions. For example, the credit isn’t available for property acquired with certain non-recourse financing. Additionally, if the credit is allowable for property, the “basis” is reduced by 50% of the allowable credit.
On the other hand, a favorable aspect is that, for the same property, the credit can sometimes be used in combination with other benefits — for example, federal income tax expensing, state tax credits or utility rebates.
There are business considerations unrelated to the tax and non-tax benefits that may influence your decision to use alternative energy. And even if you choose to use it, you might do so without owning the equipment, which would mean forgoing the business energy credit.
As you can see, there are many issues to consider. We can help you address these alternative energy considerations.
The IRS and Treasury Department provided new information regarding the tax credits available through the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The ARP was created to help small businesses through the pandemic. This new guidance provides information on how eligible businesses can claim the credit for providing paid time off to employees receiving or recovering from the vaccine. Below, we’ve outlined which employers are eligible for the credits and when and how the credits can be taken.
Who is eligible?
Any business with fewer than 500 employees is eligible to take the tax credit. This includes tax-exempt organizations and governmental employers who are not the federal government or not outlined in section 501(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code. Self-employed individuals are eligible for similar credits.
What are the paid leave qualifications?
In order to qualify for the tax credit, employers/employees must meet the following guidelines:
- The leave must be paid between April 1, 2021 to Sep. 30, 2021.
- Employers must pay the wages for the sick or family leave.
- Employees must qualify as not being able to work or telework due to reasons related to COVID-19, including the time taken to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or to recover from side effects from the vaccine.
For more information on the credits, including how they’re calculated, view the IRS Fact Sheet or reach out to our team of professionals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a business owner, you should be aware that you can save family income and payroll taxes by putting your child on the payroll.
Here are some considerations.
Shifting business earnings
You can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income by shifting some business earnings to a child as wages for services performed. In order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.
For example, suppose you’re a sole proprietor in the 37% tax bracket. You hire your 16-year-old son to help with office work full-time in the summer and part-time in the fall. He earns $10,000 during the year (and doesn’t have other earnings). You can save $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to your son, who can use his $12,550 standard deduction for 2021 to shelter his earnings.
Family taxes are cut even if your son’s earnings exceed his standard deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to him beginning at a 10% rate, instead of being taxed at your higher rate.
Income tax withholding
Your business likely will have to withhold federal income taxes on your child’s wages. Usually, an employee can claim exempt status if he or she had no federal income tax liability for last year and expects to have none this year.
However, exemption from withholding can’t be claimed if: 1) the employee’s income exceeds $1,100 for 2021 (and includes more than $350 of unearned income), and 2) the employee can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return.
Keep in mind that your child probably will get a refund for part or all of the withheld tax when filing a return for the year.
Social Security tax savings
If your business isn’t incorporated, you can also save some Social Security tax by shifting some of your earnings to your child. That’s because services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent isn’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes.
A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA (unemployment) tax, which exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 employed by a parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting only of his or her parents.
Note: There’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or is a partnership that includes non-parent partners. However, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work you’d pay someone else to do.
Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement savings, depending on your plan and how it defines qualifying employees. For example, if you have a SEP plan, a contribution can be made for the child up to 25% of his or her earnings (not to exceed $58,000 for 2021).
Contact us if you have any questions about these rules in your situation. Keep in mind that some of the rules about employing children may change from year to year and may require your income-shifting strategies to change too.
A measure to extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application deadline from March 31, 2021, to May 31, 2021, has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. It now heads to President Biden’s desk for signature which he is expected to do promptly.
Small businesses will have until May 31, 2021, to continue submitting first and second-draw PPP loan applications to the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA was also granted an additional 30 days past May 31 to finish processing applications. The measure does not include any funding increases for the program.
Contact us for assistance with your PPP loan or forgiveness applications.
Are you thinking about launching a business with some partners and wondering what type of entity to form? An S corporation may be the most suitable form of business for your new venture. Here’s an explanation of the reasons why.
The biggest advantage of an S corporation over a partnership is that as S corporation shareholders, you won’t be personally liable for corporate debts. In order to receive this protection, it’s important that the corporation be adequately financed, that the existence of the corporation as a separate entity be maintained and that various formalities required by your state be observed (for example, filing articles of incorporation, adopting by-laws, electing a board of directors and holding organizational meetings).
If you expect that the business will incur losses in its early years, an S corporation is preferable to a C corporation from a tax standpoint. Shareholders in a C corporation generally get no tax benefit from such losses. In contrast, as S corporation shareholders, each of you can deduct your percentage share of these losses on your personal tax returns to the extent of your basis in the stock and in any loans you make to the entity. Losses that can’t be deducted because they exceed your basis are carried forward and can be deducted by you when there’s sufficient basis.
Once the S corporation begins to earn profits, the income will be taxed directly to you whether or not it’s distributed. It will be reported on your individual tax return and be aggregated with income from other sources. To the extent the income is passed through to you as qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the 20% pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations. Your share of the S corporation’s income won’t be subject to self-employment tax, but your wages will be subject to Social Security taxes.
Are you planning to provide fringe benefits such as health and life insurance? If so, you should be aware that the costs of providing such benefits to a more than 2% shareholder are deductible by the entity but are taxable to the recipient.
Be careful with S status
Also be aware that the S corporation could inadvertently lose its S status if you or your partners transfers stock to an ineligible shareholder such as another corporation, a partnership or a nonresident alien. If the S election were terminated, the corporation would become a taxable entity. You would not be able to deduct any losses and earnings could be subject to double taxation — once at the corporate level and again when distributed to you. In order to protect you against this risk, it’s a good idea for each of you to sign an agreement promising not to make any transfers that would jeopardize the S election.
Consult with us before finalizing your choice of entity. We can answer any questions you have and assist in launching your new venture.
President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on March 11. While the new law is best known for the provisions providing relief to individuals, there are also several tax breaks and financial benefits for businesses.
Here are some of the tax highlights of the ARPA.
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC). This valuable tax credit is extended from June 30 until December 31, 2021. The ARPA continues the ERC rate of credit at 70% for this extended period of time. It also continues to allow for up to $10,000 in qualified wages for any calendar quarter. Taking into account the Consolidated Appropriations Act extension and the ARPA extension, this means an employer can potentially have up to $40,000 in qualified wages per employee through 2021.
Employer-Provided Dependent Care Assistance. In general, an eligible employee’s gross income doesn’t include amounts paid or incurred by an employer for dependent care assistance provided to the employee under a qualified dependent care assistance program (DCAP).
Previously, the amount that could be excluded from an employee’s gross income under a DCAP during a tax year wasn’t more than $5,000 ($2,500 for married individuals filing separately), subject to certain limitations. However, any contribution made by an employer to a DCAP can’t exceed the employee’s earned income or, if married, the lesser of employee’s or spouse’s earned income.
Under the ARPA, for 2021 only, the exclusion for employer-provided dependent care assistance is increased from $5,000 to $10,500 (from $2,500 to $5,250 for married individuals filing separately).
This provision is effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2020.
Paid Sick and Family Leave Credits. Changes under the ARPA apply to amounts paid with respect to calendar quarters beginning after March 31, 2021. Among other changes, the law extends the paid sick time and paid family leave credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act from March 31, 2021, through September 30, 2021. It also provides that paid sick and paid family leave credits may each be increased by the employer’s share of Social Security tax (6.2%) and employer’s share of Medicare tax (1.45%) on qualified leave wages.
Grants to restaurants. Under the ARPA, eligible restaurants, food trucks, and similar businesses that provide food and drinks may receive restaurant revitalization grants from the Small Business Administration. For tax purposes, amounts received as restaurant revitalization grants aren’t included in the gross income of the person who receives the money.
These are only some of the provisions in the ARPA. There are many others that may be beneficial to your business. Contact us for more information about your situation.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) has been signed into law by President Biden and makes significant updates to several tax provisions to alleviate some of the pandemic’s financial burdens for individual taxpayers and businesses. Updates include expansions and extensions of various tax credits such as the employee retention credit (ERC), COBRA continuation coverage, Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies, and more. The bill also includes $1.46 billion for the IRS to manage the additional responsibilities on top of the annual tax filing season. Here are the critical tax updates.
Individual tax provisions in ARPA
Significant updates were made for individual taxpayers to deal with the financial ramifications of the pandemic.
COBRA continuation coverage credit expanded – Health care premiums will be subsidized at 100% for those who are eligible for COBRA from the date of enactment to Sep. 21, 2021.
- Employers can receive a refundable credit for COBRA continuation coverage premium assistance and is taken against Medicare tax. Advance payments are available and apply to wages paid after Apr. 1, 2021.
- Taxpayers who receive this credit are not eligible for the health coverage tax credit (Sec. 35). This coverage premium assistance is not includable in gross income.
ACA marketplace subsidies expanded – Health insurance premium cost savings for all marketplace exchange users are included in the bill.
- The income cap for premium subsidies in the health insurance marketplace is eliminated for 2021 and 2022 coverage for individuals at 150% of the federal poverty line (FPL) or less.
- Premium costs for households at 400% of FPL would be capped at 8.5% of their household income for benchmark plans (second-lowest-cost Silver plans), which may mean significant health insurance premium savings for many households. Currently, households in this category can spend as much as 50% of their income on health insurance, according to healthinsurance.org.
- Subsidies will phase out as income increases, and subsidies are not available for benchmark plans that cost less than 8.5% of household income.
- Subsidies will increase for those who already qualify for subsidies as the plan reduces the percentage of income expected for benchmark plans.
- Taxpayers receiving unemployment compensation in 2021 whose income is between 100% and 400% of the FPL qualify for reduced cost-sharing on silver plans.
Applicable extra subsidies can be claimed immediately or on the 2021 tax return. A special enrollment period is available until May 15, 2021, for most states.
Child tax credit increased – The child tax credit can now be claimed in advance of filing your return and increases to $3,000 per child (now including 17-year-olds) and $3,600 for children under six years of age. It phases out for married-filing-joint taxpayers with incomes over $150,000, $112,500 for heads of household, and $75,000 for all others. The credit will be paid monthly in cash up to $300 per month by the IRS from July through December.
Earned income credit expanded – The bill introduces rules for individual taxpayers with no children for 2021:
- The maximum credit is now $1,502, up from $543.
- The minimum age is now 19, except for students (24) and former foster youth (18). The maximum age is eliminated.
- The phase-out amount is increased to 15.3%.
- Certain separated spouses are now eligible.
- The threshold for disqualifying income rises to $10,000 from $2,200.
- Taxpayers may temporarily use 2019 income instead of 2021 for calculation.
Student loan forgiveness – Any student loan forgiveness passed between Dec. 31, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2026, would be tax-free rather than the forgiven debt treated as taxable income.
Business tax provisions in ARPA
Business tax provisions were also extended and expanded to help businesses with the financial challenges of the pandemic.
ERC extended – The ERC is extended through Dec. 31, 2021, and expands the eligibility to new startups established after Feb. 15, 2020 (capped at $50,000 per calendar quarter), and companies with a 90% revenue decline compared to the same calendar quarter of the previous year.
Child and dependent care credit expanded – The credit is refundable for 2021. It increases the employer-provided dependent care assistance exclusion to $10,500. The maximum allowable expenses increase to $8,000 (from $3,000) for one dependent and $16,000 (from $6,000) for two or more and allow the credit to cover 50% of expenses.
Family and sick leave credit extended – The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) credits are extended to Sept. 30, 2021, and include:
- Limit increase to $12,000.
- The number of days for calculation increase from 50 to 60 and resets after Mar. 31, 2021.
- Eligibility extended for leave due to COVID-19 vaccination.
- Eligibility extended to 501(c)(1) government organizations.
Executive compensation deduction expanded – The executive compensation deduction for publicly traded employers expands to include the 8 highest compensated employees other than the CEO and CFO by 2027. Currently, a deduction is available on the first $1 million paid to the CEO, CFO, and next three highest compensated officers.
For questions and assistance with any of the programs related to ARPA, contact us.