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If you haven’t converted to cloud-based accounting, it’s likely that COVID-19 may prompt you to make the switch. With more and more businesses and industries operating virtually, cloud access and real-time data has become more important than ever for making the best business decisions possible in uncertain times. With so much up in the air, you don’t want to be caught with a static accounting system that cannot keep up and provide the answers you need.

If you’re on the fence, we’ve put together the top 11 benefits of cloud-based accounting and the real-time data it provides.

1. Drill down on business performance – Real-time data through cloud-based accounting allows you to drill down on the key components of your business’s performance. You can get global or granular on factors such as location, project, customer, vendor, or department and see how each part is impacting your business in real-time. Additionally, you can use snapshots of your cash flow, revenue, expenses, and more to see how they compare year-over-year and how they are measuring up to your goals for this year.

2. Make better data-driven, real-time decisions – You’ve likely experience that last year’s or even last month’s data is irrelevant during these uncertain times. With real-time data, you can see clearly what’s holding you back now, or what’s working, and adjust accordingly. Without the real, hard data, these decisions can feel like a guessing game with a wait-and-see outcome, which is something most businesses cannot afford right now.

3. Make accurate predictions and forecasts – This accurate, up-to-date data allows you to feel more confident in the forecasting for the future your business. You have the facts in front of you to make more strategic predictions over the course of the year. Through the real-time data and historical facts, you can assess past performance, identify trends, and set goals and plans, making adjustments as needed along the way.

4. Automate processes – More and more, businesses are focused on automation, and there’s no better place to start than with your accounting. With cloud-based solutions, you can create automated workflows that handle much of the busy work for you like invoicing and paying vendors. This all funnels back into your real-time data so you can stay on top of your revenue and expenses.

5. Mitigate fraud and reduce errors – Mistakes and fraudulent activity can be more quickly and easily identified when you can see the transactions in real-time. The simplification of the software means less memorization of accounting practices, formulas, and Excel shortcuts – all of which can contribute to errors. And, the automatic reconciliation can help you detect fraud early. Being able to take timely action on errors and fraud can save your business big in the long run.

6. Simplify your reporting and EOY – Have you ever scrambled when a stakeholder asked for an up-to-date report on your business? Cloud-based accounting allows you to present an accurate, timely report in no time, simplifying the process for you and your stakeholders. Additionally, you avoid the end-of-year rush because you’ve been entering your information and tracking all year long, so tax bills aren’t as much of a surprise.

7. Simplify GST compliance – If you have general sales tax to track and monitor, you know it can be a challenge to assemble and file your GST returns. Cloud-based accounting tracks and applies GST automatically for you and allows you to pull a quick report when you’re ready to file.

8. Get access from anywhere – One of the best benefits of cloud-based accounting is that you can access your data from anywhere at any time. In the age of COVID-19 and working from home, this is especially beneficial for you and your team so everyone can stay on track and on task.

9. Collaborate with your accountant – Cloud-based accounting has simplified the transfer process of client information to accountant and saved both sides time and energy in equal measure. Gone are the days of having to download everything to a CD or flash drive and delivering it to your accountant. Now, you can collaborate together virtually and trust you’re both on the same page.

10. Simplify your technology – Cloud-based accounting eliminates hard downloads across multiple computers and saves your IT department (or you) the headache of making sure everyone is up-to-date across the company. Thanks to online hosting, IT doesn’t have to worry about updating the software either, so they can focus on other projects.

11. Get the tech support you need – Most cloud-based accounting platforms offer regular tech support to help you any hour of the day. You’ll also have access to forums of thousands of other users so you can discuss issues and share best practices. Keeping your program up and running and optimized contributes to better real-time data.

For assistance with choosing the right cloud-based accounting platform for your business, contact us today.

The unprecedented global pandemic and record unemployment has resulted in a dramatic drop in interest rates. Many people focus on the Fed rate and mortgage rates, and rightfully so, but for some, the focal point should be on the historically low IRS interest rates.

The IRS posts various interest rates, generally on a monthly basis. The Applicable Federal Rate (“AFR”) and the Internal Revenue Code Section 7520 Rate (“7520 Rate”) are among the most important. Many tax strategies are a function of calculations driven by the AFR and 7520 rates. Some strategies work best in high rate environments while other work best in low rate environments. Accordingly, any time the IRS rates dramatically rise or fall, we should take notice and consider tax planning.

The May 2020 IRS Rates include:

Short-Term AFR: 0.25%

Mid-Term AFR: 0.58%

Long-Term AFR: 1.15%

7520 Rate: 0.80%

These rates are exceptionally low. To provide some context for comparison, the May 2019 Rates were: Short-Term AFR 2.39%, Mid-Term AFR 2.37%, and Long Term AFR 2.74%. Viewing this from a historical perspective, the May 2019 rates were low in their own right, but clearly the rates today, just one year later, are materially lower.

The remainder of this paper outlines three strategies that work particularly well in low interest rate environments. Although we have elected to highlight three strategies specifically, low interest rate tax strategies are not limited to just these three. Accordingly, we encourage you to contact our office to discuss your specific set of circumstances.

Charitable Lead Trusts

A Charitable Lead Trust (“CLT”) is a split interest trust, meaning there are two categories of beneficiaries: (1) a current beneficiary and (2) a remainder beneficiary. The current beneficiary receives distributions from the CLT for a period of time (the “Term”) and must be a charitable organization, such as a public charity, a church, most schools and universities, and even a private foundation operated by the donor. The remainder beneficiary receives all the assets remaining in the CLT after the Term expires and is generally the donor or the donor’s children. Depending on the design of the CLT, the donor may receive an income tax deduction in the tax year the CLT is established in an amount equal to the present value of all payments that will go to charity during the CLT’s term. Accordingly, it can generate a substantial income tax deduction for gifts that have not yet gone to the charity. This gives the donor the ability to continue investing and growing the CLT assets, thereby ultimately benefiting the donor who will receive the assets back upon expiration of the CLT term.

Why CLTs during low interest rates?

The donor’s income tax deduction is a present-value calculation. We take the sum of all scheduled future charitable distributions and discount that number to present value using a calculation based on the 7520 Rate. The lower the 7520 Rate, the lower the discount. The lower the discount, the greater the deduction. Accordingly, in today’s environment, all other factors being exactly the same (i.e. same growth rate, same amount to charity, etc.), a CLT today will generate a significantly higher income tax deduction, than the same CLT when interest rates are higher.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (“GRATs”) are estate planning trusts that provide a tremendous opportunity to transfer wealth from one generation (“Generation 1”) to the next (“Generation 2”), often without incurring gift or estate taxes. GRATs are established with Generation 1 assets for a period of time (the “Term”). During the Term, the GRAT makes distributions to Generation 1. At the end of the Term, if designed properly, the assets remaining in the GRAT transfer to Generation 2 free of gift, estate, or transfer taxes. Many individuals will establish a series of GRATs in order to provide necessary lifetime cash flow to Generation 1.

Why GRATs during low interest rates?

Payments made from the GRAT to Generation 1 are based on the IRS rates. The donor makes the “bet” that the assets inside the GRAT will grow at a rate higher than the IRS rates. Lower rates mean a lower hurdle, a lower hurdle means more wealth can transfer to Generation 2 tax-free.

Sales to Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts

Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts (“IDGTs”), are irrevocable estate planning trusts that are generally utilized by high net worth business owners and those with assets likely to significantly increase in value (such as stock and real estate). The IDGT will purchase the asset from the individual primarily in exchange for a promissory note (there are no income taxes due on the sale because the IDGT is disregarded for income tax purposes). The IDGT will make installment payments to the individual for the term of the promissory note. The assets in the IDGT are outside of the individual’s estate, therefore any growth in the asset from the time it is sold remains outside of the individual’s estate for estate tax purposes.

Why IDGTs during low interest rates?

Similar to any traditional lending arrangement, the IDGT promissory note must yield interest. Because this is a related-party transaction, the IRS mandates a certain minimum interest rate, which is based on the AFR. The lower the AFR, the lower the required monthly payments, and thus more taxable wealth remains outside of the Grantor’s estate.

Next Steps?

Don’t let this exceptionally low interest rate environment get away. Please contact your Heritage financial advisor, CPA, or attorney to schedule a planning session.

This article has been edited by Hamilton Tharp LLP. This article originally appeared on the HWM newsletter.

When the Tax Cut and Jobs Act went into effect in January 2018, many taxpayers stopped itemizing their returns. The reality, however, is that unique tax situations require a unique approach, and there may be some room for improvement in yours. Now that 2020 is in full focus, it is a great time to look at your giving strategy. If you are not sure you made the most of your charitable deductions in 2019, consider these incentives when setting your charitable contribution plan in 2020.

Although taxpayers that fall just below the standard threshold no longer need to itemize, those who hover around a higher tax bracket or well-exceed the standard deduction threshold should consider their situation with a professional to determine if they could benefit from a better plan. Consider the following incentives,

Deciding which charity to support in 2020?

The key to making your donations count is ensuring the organization you choose is an eligible charity. The Tax-Exempt Organization Search engine and the Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov can help you choose organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.

If you’re worried that making a large gift this year will harm your estate after 2025, you can rest assured. In November 2019, the Treasury Department and IRS issued final regulations confirming that taxpayers who make significant contributions between 2018 and 2025 can take advantage of the increased gift and estate tax exclusion amounts without concern over losing the benefit in 2026 and beyond.

The professionals in our office are well-versed in charitable contribution strategies, call us today to discuss how to make sure your donations count in 2020.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently debuted a new Form W-4 to the public. The new design aims to simplify the withholding system, replacing complicated worksheets with questions designed for the layman. The hope is that the form will help employees report more accurate amounts, allowing the IRS a better assessment of taxes paid.

One thing you might notice on the new Form is the absence of the word, allowance. The title of Form W-4 is now the Employee’s Withholding Certificate.

To help further your understanding of the redesign and its impact on employers, we have provided clarification around frequently asked questions regarding Form W-4 below.

As a reminder, the new forms go into effect in tax year 2020. Additional guidance is expected regarding payroll calculations needed based on the data fields on the new and old forms, as well as guidance surrounding employees that fail to submit a Form W-4 after 2019. If you have any questions about the new form, please give the professionals in our office a call today.

View the new Form W-4.

The United States saw some of the most sweeping changes in December 2017 with the passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).  Many of the amendments to the Internal Revenue Code are temporary in nature, set to expire at the end of 2025. For example, the basic exclusion amount (BEA), which doubled from $5 million to $10 million prior to being adjusted for inflation, will return to pre-2018 levels when the TCJA is set to expire. One major concern, raised by public comments, is what will happen to individuals taking advantage of the increased gift and estate tax exclusion amounts when the exclusion amounts drop to pre-2018 levels? Will they be adversely impacted?

For example, what would happen if a taxpayer chose to gift their entire $11.4 million (adjusted for inflation) lifetime exclusion amount during the TCJA? Rather than using up their basic exclusion amount at their time of death, a taxpayer may choose to use their basic exclusion amount during their lifetime by making large gifts.  Any unused portion would be used to offset or possibly eliminate estate taxes when a taxpayer perishes. 

Those concerns were laid to rest last month when the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service issued final regulations confirming that individuals who plan to take advantage of the TCJA-increased basic exclusion amount will not be adversely impacted after 2025 when the exclusion amount is scheduled to drop to pre-2018 levels. The final regulations also provide a special rule that allows the estate to compute its estate tax credit using the higher of the BEA applicable to gifts made during life or the BEA applicable on the date of death.

For 2019, the inflation-adjusted BEA is $11.4 million. If you are considering making a large gift within the next few years it is important to understand how these changes will impact your personal or business operations. The professionals in our office can answer your questions, call us today!

Americans share at least one dilemma when it comes to retirement planning. From the worker to the employer to the policymaker, everyone is living longer. On May 23, 2019, the House passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. This legislation, receiving almost unanimous bipartisan support, offers the most significant shift to retirement plans and opportunities since the Pension Protection Act of 2006. In the bill, there are over 25 changes and provisions that expressly aim to encourage retirement savings among all workers. This bill, along with the Senate’s Retirement Enhancement Securities Act (RESA), addresses the apparent need for a worker’s wealth to run (and finish) the race with them. These documents may face modification before being signed into law, but one thing is clear: change is coming. Below we have prepared a synopsis of the changes that present the most opportunity. 

Pooled Employer Plans

Many businesses are without affiliation and are too small to offer a savings retirement plan on their own. The new bill will reduce fiduciary responsibility and lower the overall costs associated with providing 401(k) plans by expanding the option to run multi-employer plans through a plan administrator. Sec. 106 goes a step further to incentivize smaller businesses to offer a retirement savings plan. The Act introduces a $500 tax credit for automatic enrollment into their retirement plan.

Annuities

The SECURE Act eases the liability concern over offering annuities. Most businesses have shied away from annuity providers because of their inherent risk. Section 204 updates safe harbor provisions, thus opening the door for employees to take advantage of converting their 401(k) balances to a pension-like payout plan. Another provision of the bill will allow workers to transfer a defunct annuity contract to an IRA while maintaining contributions. The only criticism on this update is the broad guidelines surrounding annuity providers. Some fear that ambiguity will lead to insurance companies offering shoddy plans.

Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Age

The current law requires that most individuals begin withdrawing a minimum distribution from their retirement savings at the age of 70.5. Six-months-past-70 has invited an unnecessary amount of confusion since its inception in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The SECURE Act seeks to simplify matters by raising the RMD age to 72. If the RESA Act passes in the Senate, the age requirement will be raised even higher to 75.

IRA Contributions

One of the most confounding retirement rules is the age limitation on IRA contributions, currently set at 70.5. The SECURE Act repeals the age limitation for traditional IRA contributions.

Benefit to Parents

Section 113 removes the 10 percent penalty tax from qualified early retirement plan withdrawals. Parents will be able to take an aggregate amount of $5,000 within one year of the adoption or birth of a child, penalty free. Section 302 expands section 529 plans by allowing withdrawals of as much as $10,000 for repayments of some student loans.

Stretch Provisions

Currently, beneficiaries of inherited retirement plans like 401(k), traditional IRAs, and Roth IRAs can spread the distributions until their dying breath. The new revenue provisions (Section 401) changes the rules, requiring most beneficiaries to distribute the account over a 10-year period and pay any taxes due. The tax-generating change will accelerate the depletion of many inherited accounts but will not affect surviving spouses and minor children.  

Disclosures

Another administrative improvement provided in the Act requires employers to provide a lifetime income disclosure once every 12 months. The disclosures are meant to show the amount of monthly payments the participant or beneficiary would receive based on the total accrued benefit. 

Kiddie Tax

Under the current law, the unearned income of children would be taxed at their parent’s marginal tax rate. Section 501 repeals the “kiddie tax” measures that were added by the 2017 Tax Act. The new provision states that unearned income of children would not be taxed at trust rates. Taxpayers can retroactively elect to not pay the taxes. The bill benefits many Americans, including families of deceased active-duty service members, survivors of first responders, children who receive certain tribal payments, and college students receiving scholarships.

Other changes proposed in bill include increased penalties for failures to file and the portability of lifetime income options. The SECURE Act is as likely to pass as it is to undergo slight modifications. We will keep an eye on the state of the bill and keep you abreast of its status. In the meantime, our professionals are standing by to answer your questions and address your concerns.

What does your tax return say about your financial situation? The fact is, the paperwork you file each year offers excellent information about how you are managing your money—and highlights areas where it might be wise to make changes in your financial habits. If you have questions about your financial situation, we can help. Our firm is made up of highly qualified and educated professionals who serve as trusted business advisors to clients all year long.

Whether you are concerned about budgeting; saving for college, retirement or another goal; understanding your investments, cutting your tax bite, starting a business, or managing your debt, you can turn to us for objective answers to all your tax and financial questions.

We Can Help You Address the Issues that Keep You Up at Night

Where will your business be in five years? Would strategic budget cuts improve your company’s health? Are there ways you can boost revenue? If you are nearing retirement, do you have a buyer or successor in the wings? These are the kinds of questions that keep many business owners up at night. Fortunately, we can help you find financial peace.

Be Confident that You’re Making Tax-Advantageous Decisions

It’s tough to be proactive when tax laws are constantly changing. But it can be done! Our experienced team of CPAs can help you navigate the tax complexities affecting your business.

We review financial situations and develop creative strategies to minimize tax liabilities so you can meet your financial goals. Contact one of our professionals today.

Catch Kim Spinardi, CPA, Michael Frost, and Ralph Nelson, JD, CPA discussing the new tax laws and how working with one firm that can handle your tax, financial planning and investing needs may be your greatest asset.

To watch, click here!

Hamilton Tharp, LLP is proud to have been asked to be a part of this discussion on Real Talk San Diego’s “Your Wealth Hour” segment! 

The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service recently issued final regulations and guidance addressing implementation of the new qualified business income (QBI) deduction (section 199A deduction). The guidance is an attempt to simplify this complicated deduction.Although one of the more complex changes in TCJA, this deduction has the potential to cut tax bills by up to one-fourth for eligible businesses. Below we have highlighted the major takeaways from the 247-page document released by the IRS last month.

If you are unfamiliar with this new deduction, which was created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), it allows entrepreneurs, self-employed individuals, and certain investors to deduct 20 percent of their business income from their taxable income. This is considered a “below-the-line” deduction, meaning it will not reduce your adjusted gross income.

Determining eligibility for this deduction depends on whether your business is considered a specified trade or business and is above or below the required threshold. The structure of your business also determines eligibility. Eligible structures include trust and estates, individuals, partnerships, s corporations and sole proprietors. The QBI deduction is not available for wage income or business income earned by a C corporation.

Calculating the QBI deduction also depends on whether a business is considered a “specified service.” A Specified Service Trade or Business (SSTB) includes services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, or businesses in which the principal asset is the reputation of one or more employee (endorsements or appearance fees). It is important to note that the rules change if your business is not considered a specified service.

Understanding the Final Ruling Around 199A

Below we have listed the most pertinent details issued last month by the IRS:

Safe Harbor for Rental Real Estate Enterprises

Also included in the final regulations, the IRS issued a proposed revenue procedure that provides a safe harbor for rental real estate enterprises to be considered a trade or business and qualify for the deduction. A rental real estate enterprise is defined as an interest in real property held for the production of rents and may consist of an interest in multiple properties.

According to Notice 2019-7, a rental real estate enterprise will be treated as a trade or business if the following requirements are satisfied during the tax year:

There are exceptions and exclusions to consider, including:

While this deduction will make the rules more manageable for some businesses, these rules will require more planning and additional complexities for others, including larger pass-through entities.

There are still many questions left unanswered, such as:

The deduction is available for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026. There is speculation whether a future Congress will uphold individual provisions. To discuss your future options regarding the QBI deduction and your eligibility to take advantage of the real estate safe harbor, contact our office.

Tax audit. These two simple words are enough to strike fear and loathing into the hearts of many business owners. But, in reality, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) won’t arbitrarily make your company the subject of an audit investigation. In fact, according to IRS.gov, out of the 196 million returns filed in 2016, only 1.1 million (0.5%) came under examination in 2017.  You are more likely to be summoned for jury duty (1 in 10) this year.

Unless you’re operating below the board or completely ignoring best practices, you have little to fear. However, even the most prudent sometimes miss a step. From managing the filing cabinet to the people who hold the keys, ensuring your business doesn’t catch unnecessary attention from the government comes down to good habits. Here are a few ways you can minimize the likelihood that you’ll be audited or ensure a more positive experience should you be audited.

If the IRS contacts you about an audit, CPAs advise that you don’t panic. Remember, you are not going on trial, you’re simply being asked to verify some of the claims you made on your tax return. It’s best to remain calm and cooperative when dealing with the IRS.

It’s also a good idea to contact your local CPA for advice and assistance in case you are audited. He or she can help you understand the process and work with you to try to achieve the best resolution.