These days, most businesses have some intangible assets. The tax treatment of these assets can be complex.

What Makes Intangibles so Complicated?

IRS regulations require the capitalization of costs to:

Capitalized costs can’t be deducted in the year paid or incurred. If they’re deductible at all, they must be ratably deducted over the life of the asset (or, for some assets, over periods specified by the tax code or under regulations). However, capitalization generally isn’t required for costs not exceeding $5,000 and for amounts paid to create or facilitate the creation of any right or benefit that doesn’t extend beyond the earlier of 1) 12 months after the first date on which the taxpayer realizes the right or benefit or 2) the end of the tax year following the tax year in which the payment is made.

What’s an Intangible?

The term “intangibles” covers many items. It may not always be simple to determine whether an intangible asset or benefit has been acquired or created. Intangibles include debt instruments, prepaid expenses, non-functional currencies, financial derivatives (including, but not limited to options, forward or futures contracts, and foreign currency contracts), leases, licenses, memberships, patents, copyrights, franchises, trademarks, trade names, goodwill, annuity contracts, insurance contracts, endowment contracts, customer lists, ownership interests in any business entity (for example, corporations, partnerships, LLCs, trusts, and estates) and other rights, assets, instruments and agreements.

Here are just a few examples of expenses to acquire or create intangibles that are subject to the capitalization rules:

The IRS regulations generally characterize an amount as paid to “facilitate” the acquisition or creation of an intangible if it is paid in the process of investigating or pursuing a transaction. The facilitation rules can affect any type of business, and many ordinary business transactions. Examples of costs that facilitate acquisition or creation of an intangible include payments to:

Are There Any Exceptions?

Like most tax rules, these capitalization rules have exceptions. There are also certain elections taxpayers can make to capitalize items that aren’t ordinarily required to be capitalized. The above examples aren’t all-inclusive, and given the length and complexity of the regulations, any transaction involving intangibles and related costs should be analyzed to determine the tax implications.

Need Help or Have Questions?

Contact us to discuss the capitalization rules to see if any costs you’ve paid or incurred must be capitalized or whether your business has entered into transactions that may trigger these rules. You can also contact us if you have any questions.

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These days, most businesses buy or lease computer software to use in their operations. Or perhaps your business develops computer software to use in your products or services or sells or leases software to others. In any of these situations, you should be aware of the complex rules that determine the tax treatment of the expenses of buying, leasing or developing computer software.

Software You Buy

Some software costs are deemed to be costs of “purchased” software, meaning it’s either:

The entire cost of purchased software can be deducted in the year that it’s placed into service. The cases in which the costs are ineligible for this immediate write-off are the few instances in which 100% bonus depreciation or Section 179 small business expensing isn’t allowed, or when a taxpayer has elected out of 100% bonus depreciation and hasn’t made the election to apply Sec. 179 expensing. In those cases, the costs are amortized over the three-year period beginning with the month in which the software is placed in service. Note that the bonus depreciation rate will begin to be phased down for property placed in service after calendar year 2022.

If you buy the software as part of a hardware purchase in which the price of the software isn’t separately stated, you must treat the software cost as part of the hardware cost. Therefore, you must depreciate the software under the same method and over the same period of years that you depreciate the hardware. Additionally, if you buy the software as part of your purchase of all or a substantial part of a business, the software must generally be amortized over 15 years.

Software That’s Leased

You must deduct amounts you pay to rent leased software in the tax year they’re paid, if you’re a cash-method taxpayer, or the tax year for which the rentals are accrued, if you’re an accrual-method taxpayer. However, deductions aren’t generally permitted before the years to which the rentals are allocable. Also, if a lease involves total rentals of more than $250,000, special rules may apply.

Software That’s Developed

Some software is deemed to be “developed” (designed in-house or by a contractor who isn’t at risk if the software doesn’t perform). For tax years beginning before calendar year 2022, bonus depreciation applies to developed software to the extent described above. If bonus depreciation doesn’t apply, the taxpayer can either deduct the development costs in the year paid or incurred, or choose one of several alternative amortization periods over which to deduct the costs. For tax years beginning after calendar year 2021, generally the only allowable treatment is to amortize the costs over the five-year period beginning with the midpoint of the tax year in which the expenditures are paid or incurred.

If following any of the above rules requires you to change your treatment of software costs, it will usually be necessary for you to obtain IRS consent to the change.

We Can Help

Contact us with questions or for assistance in applying the tax rules for treating computer software costs in the way that is most advantageous for you.

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Many companies are eligible for tax write-offs for certain equipment purchases and building improvements. These write-offs can do wonders for a business’s cash flow, but whether to claim them isn’t always an easy decision. In some cases, there are advantages to following the regular depreciation rules. So it’s critical to look at the big picture and develop a strategy that aligns with your company’s overall tax-planning objectives.

Background

Taxpayers can elect to claim 100% bonus depreciation or Section 179 expensing to deduct the full cost of eligible property up front in the year it’s placed in service. Alternatively, they may spread depreciation deductions over several years or decades, depending on how the tax code classifies the property.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), 100% bonus depreciation is available for property placed in service through 2022. Without further legislation, bonus depreciation will be phased down to 80% for property placed in service in 2023, 60% in 2024, 40% in 2025, and 20% in 2026; then, after 2026, bonus depreciation will no longer be available. (For certain property with longer production periods, these reductions are delayed by one year. For example, 80% bonus depreciation will apply to long-production-period property placed in service in 2024.)

In March 2020, a technical correction made by the CARES Act expanded the availability of bonus depreciation. Under the correction, qualified improvement property (QIP), which includes many interior improvements to commercial buildings, is eligible for 100% bonus depreciation not only following the phaseout schedule through 2026 but also retroactively to 2018. So, taxpayers that placed QIP in service in 2018 and 2019 may have an opportunity to claim bonus depreciation by amending their returns for those years. If bonus depreciation isn’t claimed, QIP is generally depreciable on a straight-line basis over 15 years.

Sec. 179 also allows taxpayers to fully deduct the cost of eligible property, but the maximum deduction in a given year is $1 million (adjusted for inflation to $1.08 million for 2022), and the deduction is gradually phased out once a taxpayer’s qualifying expenditures exceed $2.5 million (adjusted for inflation to $2.7 million for 2022).

Examples

While 100% first-year bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 expensing can significantly lower your company’s taxable income, it’s not always a smart move. Here are three examples of situations where it may be preferable to forgo bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 expensing:

You’re planning to sell QIP. If you’ve invested heavily in building improvements that are eligible for bonus depreciation as QIP and you plan to sell the building in the near future, you may be stepping into a tax trap by claiming the QIP write-off. That’s because your gain on the sale — up to the amount of bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 deductions you’ve claimed — will be treated as “recaptured” depreciation that’s taxable at ordinary-income tax rates as high as 37%. On the other hand, if you deduct the cost of QIP under regular depreciation rules (generally, over 15 years), any long-term gain attributable to those deductions will be taxable at a top rate of 25% upon the building’s sale.

You’re eligible for the Sec. 199A “pass-through” deduction. This deduction allows eligible business owners to deduct up to 20% of their qualified business income (QBI) from certain pass-through entities, such as partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations, as well as sole proprietorships. The deduction, which is available through 2025 under the TCJA, can’t exceed 20% of an owner’s taxable income, excluding net capital gains. (Several other restrictions apply.)

Claiming bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 deductions reduces your QBI, which may deprive you of an opportunity to maximize the 199A deduction. And since the 199A deduction is scheduled to expire in 2025, it makes sense to take advantage of it while you can.

Your depreciation deductions may be more valuable in the future. The value of a deduction is based on its ability to reduce your tax bill. If you think your tax rate will go up in the coming years, either because you believe Congress will increase rates or you expect to be in a higher bracket, depreciation write-offs may be worth more in future years than they are now.

Timing is Everything

Keep in mind that forgoing bonus depreciation or Sec. 179 deductions only affects the timing of those deductions. You’ll still have an opportunity to write off the full cost of eligible assets; it will just be over a longer time period. Your tax advisor can analyze how these write-offs interact with other tax benefits and help you determine the optimal strategy for your situation.

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If you need to hire, be aware of a valuable tax credit for employers hiring individuals from one or more targeted groups. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is generally worth $2,400 for each eligible employee but can be worth more — in some cases, much more.

Targeted Groups

Generally, an employer is eligible for the credit only for qualified wages paid to members of a targeted group. These groups are:

Employer Eligibility and Requirements

Employers of all sizes are eligible to claim the WOTC. This includes both taxable and certain tax-exempt employers located in the United States and in some U.S. territories. Taxable employers can claim the WOTC against income taxes. However, eligible tax-exempt employers can claim the WOTC only against payroll taxes and only for wages paid to members of the qualified veteran targeted group.

Many additional conditions must be fulfilled before employers can qualify for the credit. Each employee must have completed a minimum of 120 hours of service for the employer. Also, the credit isn’t available for employees who are related to the employer or who previously worked for the employer.

Credit Amounts

WOTC amounts differ for specific employees. The maximum credit available for the first year’s wages generally is $2,400 for each employee, or $4,000 for a recipient of long-term family assistance. In addition, for those receiving long-term family assistance, there’s a 50% credit for up to $10,000 of second-year wages. The maximum credit available over two years for these employees is $9,000 ($4,000 for Year 1 and $5,000 for Year 2).

For some veterans, the maximum WOTC is higher: $4,800 for certain disabled veterans, $5,600 for certain unemployed veterans, and $9,600 for certain veterans who are both disabled and unemployed.

For summer youth employees, the wages must be paid for services performed during any 90-day period between May 1 and September 15. The maximum WOTC credit available for summer youth is $1,200 per employee.

Worth Pursuing

Additional rules and requirements apply. For example, you must obtain certification that an employee is a target group member from the appropriate State Workforce Agency before you can claim the credit. The certification generally must be requested within 28 days after the employee begins work. And in limited circumstances, the rules may prohibit the credit or require an allocation of it.

Nevertheless, for most employers that hire from targeted groups, the credit can be valuable. Contact your tax advisor with questions or for more information about your situation.

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The Social Security Administration recently announced that the wage base for computing Social Security tax will increase to $160,200 for 2023 (up from $147,000 for 2022). Wages and self-employment income above this threshold aren’t subject to Social Security tax.

Basics About Social Security

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) imposes two taxes on employers, employees, and self-employed workers. One is for the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program, which is commonly known as Social Security. The other is for the Hospital Insurance program, which is commonly known as Medicare.

There’s a maximum amount of compensation subject to the Social Security tax, but no maximum for Medicare tax. For 2023, the FICA tax rate for employers is 7.65% — 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare (the same as in 2022).

2023 Updates

For 2023, an employee will pay:

For 2023, the self-employment tax imposed on self-employed people is:

Employees with More Than One Employer

What happens if one of your employees works for your business and has a second job? That employee would have taxes withheld from two different employers. Can the employee ask you to stop withholding Social Security tax once he or she reaches the wage base threshold? Unfortunately, no. Each employer must withhold Social Security taxes from the individual’s wages, even if the combined withholding exceeds the maximum amount that can be imposed for the year. Fortunately, the employee will get a credit on his or her tax return for any excess withheld.

Looking Forward

Contact us if you have questions about 2023 payroll tax filing or payments. We can help ensure you stay in compliance.

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Throughout the year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will designate incidents that adversely affect residents in the affected areas as disasters. This FEMA designation puts relief efforts in motion, both short and long-term.

While immediate needs like food, water, and shelter are at the top of the list, long-term efforts, like relief options through the IRS, aim to help those affected get back on their feet.

What Does the IRS Do in the Event of a Disaster?

In the past, the Senate was required to vote every time the IRS wanted to grant disaster relief provisions to FEMA-designated disaster areas. Now, the IRS can give disaster relief by extending deadlines for “certain time-sensitive acts.” This includes filing returns and paying taxes during the disaster period. For example, affected taxpayers usually receive a tax refund more quickly by “claiming losses related to the disaster on the tax return for the previous year.”

Preparing for a Disaster

While in some areas of the country, disaster preparedness feels more like a what-if scenario, other parts of the country are all-too-familiar with preparing for floods, wildfires, and tornados. The IRS recommends:

Recovering After a Disaster

Suppose you or your business have gone through a natural disaster, and you cannot access your original tax documents. In that case, the IRS recommends the following resources for obtaining important financial information when you are ready:

Current Disaster Areas

The IRS keeps a list of current and past disaster relief offered on its website. Some of the more recent disaster-related tax relief programs include:

We recommend talking with your tax advisor and visiting the IRS Disaster Relief Website for a comprehensive list.

If you’re thinking about selling your home, it’s important to determine whether you qualify for the home sale gain exclusion. The exclusion is one of the most generous tax breaks in the tax code, so be sure to review its requirements before you sell.

Exclusion Requirements

Ordinarily, when you sell real estate or other capital assets that you’ve owned for more than one year, your profit is taxable at long-term capital gains rates of 15% or 20%, depending on your tax bracket. High-income taxpayers may also be subject to an additional 3.8% net investment income (NII) tax. If you’re selling your principal residence, however, the home sale gain exclusion may allow you to avoid tax on up to $250,000 in profit for single filers and up to $500,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Don’t assume that you’re eligible for this tax break just because you’re selling your principal residence. If you’re a single filer, to qualify for the exclusion, you must have owned and used the home as your principal residence for at least 24 months of the five-year period ending on the sale date.

If you’re married filing jointly, then both you and your spouse must have lived in the home as your principal residence for 24 months of the preceding five years and at least one of you must have owned it for 24 months of the preceding five years. Special eligibility rules apply to people who become unable to care for themselves, couples who divorce or separate, military personnel, and widowed taxpayers.

Limitations Apply

You can’t use the exclusion more than once in a two-year period, even if you otherwise meet the requirements. Also, if you convert an ineligible residence into a principal residence and live in it for 24 months or more, only a portion of your gain will qualify for the exclusion.

For example, John is single and has owned a home for five years, using it as a vacation home for the first three years and as his principal residence for the last two. If he sells the home for a $300,000 gain, only 40% of his gain ($120,000) qualifies for the exclusion, and the remaining $180,000 is taxable. (Note: Nonqualified use prior to 2009 doesn’t reduce the exclusion).

Partial Exclusion

What if you sell your home before you meet the 24-month threshold due to a work- or health-related move, or certain other unforeseen circumstances? You may qualify for a partial exclusion.

For example, Paul and Linda bought a home in California for $1 million. One year later, Paul’s employer transferred him to its New York office, so the couple sold the home for $1.2 million. Paul and Linda didn’t meet the 24-month threshold but, because they sold the home due to a work-related move, they qualified for a partial exclusion of 12 months/24 months, or 50%.

Note that the 50% reduction applied to the exclusion, not to the couple’s gain. Thus, their exclusion was reduced to 50% of $500,000, or $250,000, which shielded their entire $200,000 gain from tax.

Crunch the Numbers

Before you sell your principal residence, determine the amount of your home sale gain exclusion and your expected gain (selling price less adjusted cost basis). Keep in mind that your cost basis is increased by the cost of certain improvements and other expenses, which in turn reduces your gain. Also, be aware that capital gains attributable to depreciation deductions (for a home office, for example) will be taxable regardless of the home sale gain exclusion.

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Do you own commercial or investment real estate that has substantially increased in value? If you sell the property, you may be hit with a huge capital gain tax liability. Possible solution: Consider a Section 1031 exchange (also known as a like-kind exchange) in which you swap qualifying properties while paying zero or little current tax.

Recent legislation has narrowed the availability of Sec. 1031 exchanges, but you can still use this technique for qualified real estate transactions. However, keep in mind that a repeal or modification of the rules has been discussed. So, if you’re interested in an exchange, you may want to act soon.

What’s the Deal?

Under Sec. 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code, you can defer tax on the exchange of like-kind real estate properties if specific requirements are met. Previously, this tax break was available for various types of property, such as trade-ins of business vehicles. But as of 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act strictly limits the Sec. 1031 rules to real estate transactions.

Note that the properties — both the one you relinquish and the one you receive — must be business or investment properties. You can’t avoid current tax if you swap personal residences, but you may be able to exchange a vacation home that is treated as a rental property. (There may be other complications, so consult with your tax advisor.)

Normally, a sale of appreciated real estate would result in capital gains tax. For individual property owners, the maximum tax rate is 20% if the property has been owned for longer than one year. Otherwise, the gain for individuals is taxed at ordinary income tax rates currently topping out at 37%.

If you meet the requirements under Sec. 1031, there’s no current tax due on the exchange — except to the extent that you receive “boot” as part of the deal. Boot includes cash needed to “even things out” or other concessions of value (such as a reduction of mortgage debt). In some cases, cash may be combined with a valued benefit.

If you receive boot, you owe current tax on the amount equal to the lesser of:

On the other hand, if you’re the one paying boot, you won’t realize any taxable gain.

What Are the Requirements?

For these purposes, “like-kind” refers to the property’s nature or character. The prevailing tax regulations provide a liberal interpretation of what constitutes like-kind properties. For instance, you can exchange improved real estate for raw land, a strip mall for an apartment building or a marina for a golf course. It doesn’t have to be the exact same type of property (for example, a warehouse for a warehouse).

Timing is everything. The following two deadlines must be met for a like-kind exchange to qualify for tax-free treatment:

The 180-day period begins to run on the date of the transfer of legal ownership of the relinquished property. If that period straddles two tax years, it might be shortened by the tax return due date. So, if you give up title to the property in November or December this year, the due date for 2022 returns (April 18, 2023) would arrive before 180 days are up. Keep this in mind as the end of the year approaches.

Also, in the real world, it’s unlikely that you’ll own property that another person wants to acquire while he or she also owns property that you desire. These one-for-one exchanges are rare. The vast majority of Sec. 1031 real estate exchanges involve multiple parties. (See the sidebar, “Multiple-party exchanges.”)

Who Can Help?

Unless you’re an expert in the field, a Sec. 1031 exchange is not a do-it-yourself proposition. Enlist the services of professionals, including your CPA, who can provide the assistance you need.

Sidebar: Multiple-Party Exchanges

Depending on your situation, you might use a “qualified intermediary” to cement a Section 1031 exchange. Essentially, the qualified intermediary is a third party that helps facilitate the deal. The parties create an agreement whereby the qualified intermediary:

Note that the agreement must limit the taxpayer’s rights to receive, pledge, borrow or otherwise obtain benefits of cash or other property held by the intermediary. In addition, specific IRS reporting requirements must be met. Typically, the intermediary charges a fee based on the value of the properties.

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Businesses can provide benefits to employees that don’t cost them much or anything at all. However, in some cases, employees may have to pay tax on the value of these benefits.

Here are examples of two types of benefits which employees generally can exclude from income:

However, many fringe benefits are taxable, meaning they’re included in the employees’ wages and reported on Form W-2. Unless an exception applies, these benefits are subject to federal income tax withholding, Social Security (unless the employee has already reached the year’s wage base limit) and Medicare.

Court Case Provides Lessons

The line between taxable and nontaxable fringe benefits may not be clear. As illustrated in one recent case, some taxpayers get into trouble if they cross too far over the line.

A retired airline pilot received free stand-by airline tickets from his former employer for himself, his spouse, his daughter, and two other adult relatives. The value of the tickets provided to the adult relatives was valued $5,478. The airline reported this amount as income paid to the retired pilot on Form 1099-MISC, which it filed with the IRS. The taxpayer and his spouse filed a joint tax return for the year in question but didn’t include the value of the free tickets in gross income.

The IRS determined that the couple was required to include the value of the airline tickets provided to their adult relatives in their gross income. The retired pilot argued the value of the tickets should be excluded as a de minimis fringe.

The U.S. Tax Court agreed with the IRS that the taxpayers were required to include in gross income the value of airline tickets provided to their adult relatives. The value, the court stated, didn’t qualify for exclusion as a no-additional-cost service because the adult relatives weren’t the taxpayers’ dependent children. In addition, the value wasn’t excludable under the tax code as a de minimis fringe benefit “because the tickets had a value high enough that accounting for their provision was not unreasonable or administratively impracticable.” (TC Memo 2022-36)

You may be able to exclude from wages the value of certain fringe benefits that your business provides to employees. But the requirements are strict. If you have questions about the tax implications of fringe benefits, contact us.

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You and your small business are likely to incur a variety of local transportation costs each year. There are various tax implications for these expenses.

First, what is “local transportation?” It refers to travel in which you aren’t away from your tax home (the city or general area in which your main place of business is located) long enough to require sleep or rest. Different rules apply if you’re away from your tax home for significantly more than an ordinary workday and you need sleep or rest in order to do your work.

Costs of Traveling to Your Work Location

The most important feature of the local transportation rules is that your commuting costs aren’t deductible. In other words, the fare you pay or the miles you drive simply to get to work and home again are personal and not business miles. Therefore, no deduction is available. This is the case even if you work during the commute (for example, via a cell phone, or by performing business-related tasks while on the subway).

An exception applies for commuting to a temporary work location that’s outside of the metropolitan area in which you live and normally work. “Temporary,” for this purpose, means a location where your work is realistically expected to last (and does in fact last) for no more than a year.

Costs of Traveling From Work Location to Other Sites

On the other hand, once you get to the work location, the cost of any local trips you take for business purposes is a deductible business expense. So, for example, the cost of travel from your office to visit a customer or pick up supplies is deductible. Similarly, if you have two business locations, the costs of traveling between them is deductible.

Recordkeeping

If your deductible trip is by taxi or public transportation, save a receipt if possible or make a notation of the expense in a logbook. Record the date, amount spent, destination, and business purpose. If you use your own car, note miles driven instead of the amount spent. Note also any tolls paid or parking fees and keep receipts.

You’ll need to allocate your automobile expenses between business and personal use based on miles driven during the year. Proper recordkeeping is crucial in the event the IRS challenges you.

Your deduction can be computed using:

Employees Versus Self-Employed

From 2018 – 2025, employees, may not deduct unreimbursed local transportation costs. That’s because “miscellaneous itemized deductions” — a category that includes employee business expenses — are suspended (not allowed) for 2018 through 2025. However, self-employed taxpayers can deduct the expenses discussed in this article. But beginning with 2026, business expenses (including unreimbursed employee auto expenses) of employees are scheduled to be deductible again, as long as the employee’s total miscellaneous itemized deductions exceed 2% of adjusted gross income.

Contact us with any questions or to discuss the matter further.

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IRS audit rates are historically low, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, but that’s little consolation if your return is among those selected to be examined. Plus, the IRS recently received additional funding in the Inflation Reduction Act to improve customer service, upgrade technology and increase audits of high-income taxpayers. But with proper preparation and planning, you should fare well.

From tax years 2010 to 2019, audit rates of individual tax returns decreased for all income levels, according to the GAO. On average, the audit rate for all returns decreased from 0.9% to 0.25%. IRS officials attribute this to reduced staffing as a result of decreased funding. Businesses, large corporations, and high-income individuals are more likely to be audited, but overall, all types of audits are being conducted less frequently than they were a decade ago.

There’s no 100% guarantee that you won’t be picked for an audit because some tax returns are chosen randomly. However, the best way to survive an IRS audit is to prepare in advance. On an ongoing basis, you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts, or other proof — for all items to be reported on your tax returns. Keep all records in one place.

Audit Targets

It also helps to know what might catch the attention of the IRS. Certain types of tax-return entries are known to involve inaccuracies, so they may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:

Certain types of deductions may be questioned by the IRS because there are strict recordkeeping requirements for them — for example, auto and travel expense deductions. In addition, an owner-employee’s salary that’s much higher or lower than those at similar companies in his or her location may catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.

If You Receive a Letter

If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS doesn’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.

Many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve claimed. Only the strictest version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors. (Note: Ignore unsolicited emails or text messages about an audit. The IRS doesn’t contact people in this manner. These are scams.)

The tax agency doesn’t demand an immediate response to a mailed notice. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. Collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If anything is missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.

If you’re audited, our firm can help you:

The IRS normally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and an audit probably won’t begin until a year or more after you file a return. Don’t panic if the IRS contacts you. Many audits are routine. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to tracking, documenting and filing your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit less painful and even decrease the chances you’ll be chosen in the first place.

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Does your business need real estate to conduct operations? Or does it otherwise hold property and put the title in the name of the business? You may want to rethink this approach. Any short-term benefits may be outweighed by the tax, liability, and estate planning advantages of separating real estate ownership from the business.

Tax Implications

Businesses that are formed as C corporations treat real estate assets as they do equipment, inventory and other business assets. Any expenses related to owning the assets appear as ordinary expenses on their income statements and are generally tax deductible in the year they’re incurred.

However, when the business sells the real estate, the profits are taxed twice — at the corporate level and at the owner’s individual level when a distribution is made. Double taxation is avoidable, though. If ownership of the real estate were transferred to a pass-through entity instead, the profit upon sale would be taxed only at the individual level.

Protectin Assets

Separating your business ownership from its real estate also provides an effective way to protect it from creditors and other claimants. For example, if your business is sued and found liable, a plaintiff may go after all of its assets, including real estate held in its name. But plaintiffs can’t touch property owned by another entity.

The strategy also can pay off if your business is forced to file for bankruptcy. Creditors generally can’t recover real estate owned separately unless it’s been pledged as collateral for credit taken out by the business.

Estate Planning Options

Separating real estate from a business may give you some estate planning options, too. For example, if the company is a family business but some members of the next generation aren’t interested in actively participating, separating property gives you an extra asset to distribute. You could bequest the business to one heir and the real estate to another family member who doesn’t work in the business.

Handling the Transaction

The business simply transfers ownership of the real estate and the transferee leases it back to the company. Who should own the real estate? One option: The business owner could purchase the real estate from the business and hold title in his or her name. One concern is that it’s not only the property that’ll transfer to the owner, but also any liabilities related to it.

Moreover, any liability related to the property itself could inadvertently put the business at risk. If, for example, a client suffers an injury on the property and a lawsuit ensues, the property owner’s other assets (including the interest in the business) could be in jeopardy.

An alternative is to transfer the property to a separate legal entity formed to hold the title, typically a limited liability company (LLC) or limited liability partnership (LLP). With a pass-through structure, any expenses related to the real estate will flow through to your individual tax return and offset the rental income.

An LLC is more commonly used to transfer real estate. It’s simple to set up and requires only one member. LLPs require at least two partners and aren’t permitted in every state. Some states restrict them to certain types of businesses and impose other restrictions.

Proceed Cautiously

Separating the ownership of a business’s real estate isn’t always advisable. If it’s worthwhile, the right approach will depend on your individual circumstances. Contact us to help determine the best approach to minimize your transfer costs and capital gains taxes while maximizing other potential benefits.

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