This year’s company holiday party is probably tax deductible, but next year’s may not be


Many businesses are hosting holiday parties for employees this time of year. It’s a great way to reward your staff for their hard work and have a little fun. And you can probably deduct 100% of your 2017 party’s cost as a meal and entertainment (M&E) expense. Next year may be a different story.

The 100% deduction

For 2017, businesses generally are limited to deducting 50% of allowable meal and entertainment expenses. But certain expenses are 100% deductible, including expenses:

  • For recreational or social activities for employees, such as holiday parties and summer picnics,
  • For food and beverages furnished at the workplace primarily for employees, and
  • That are excludable from employees’ income as de minimis fringe benefits.

There is one caveat for a 100% deduction: The entire staff must be invited. Otherwise, expenses are deductible under the regular business entertainment rules.

Additional requirements

Whether you deduct 50% or 100% of allowable expenses, there are a number of requirements, including certain records you must keep to prove your expenses.

If your company has substantial meal and entertainment expenses, you can reduce your 2017 tax bill by separately accounting for and documenting expenses that are 100% deductible. If doing so would create an administrative burden, you may be able to use statistical sampling methods to estimate the portion of meal and entertainment expenses that are fully deductible.

Possible changes for 2018

It appears the M&E deduction for employee parties — along with deductions for many other M&E expenses — will be eliminated beginning in 2018 under the reconciled version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. For more information about deducting business meals and entertainment, including how to take advantage of the 100% deduction when you file your 2017 return, please contact us.

© 2017

Make New Year’s resolutions to improve profitability


Many people scoff at New Year’s resolutions. It’s no mystery why — these self-directed promises to visit the gym regularly or read a book a month tend to quickly fade once the unavoidable busyness of life sets in.

But, for business owners, the phrase “New Year’s resolutions” is just a different way of saying “strategic plans.” And these are nothing to scoff at. In fact, now is the perfect time to take a critical look at your company and make some earnest promises about improving profitability in 2018.

Ask tough questions

Begin by asking some tough questions. For example: How satisfied are you with the status quo of your business? Are you happy with your profitability or had you anticipated a much stronger bottom line at this point in your company’s existence? If you were to sell tomorrow, would you get a fair return based on what you’ve invested in effort and money?

If your answers to these questions leave you more dissatisfied than pleased, your New Year’s resolutions may have to be bold. This doesn’t mean you should do something rash. But there’s no harm in envisioning next year as the greatest 12 months in the history of your business and then trying to figure out how you might get there.

Rate your profitability

To assess your company’s financial status, begin by honestly gauging your current performance. Rate your profitability on a scale of 1 to 10, where adequate working capital, long-term employees and customers, consistent growth in revenues and profit, and smooth operations equal a 10.

Many business owners will apply numbers somewhere between a 5 and a 7 to these categories. If you rate your business a 6, for example, this means your company isn’t tapping into 40% of its profit-generating capacity. Consider the level of improvement you would realize by moving up just one notch — to a 7.

Identify areas for improvement

One way to discover your company’s unrealized profit enhancement opportunities is to ask your customers and employees. They know firsthand what you are good at, as well as what needs improvement.

For instance, years ago, when the American auto industry was taking its biggest hits from foreign imports, one of the Big Three manufacturers was experiencing significant customer complaints about poor paint jobs. An upper-level executive visited the paint shop in one of its factories and asked an employee about the source of the problem. The worker replied, “I thought you’d never ask,” and proceeded to explain in detail what was wrong and how to solve it.

Get ready for change

If you have a few New Year’s resolutions in mind but aren’t sure how to implement these ideas or how financially feasible they might be, please contact our firm. We can work with you to identify areas of your business ready for change and help you attain a higher level of success next year.

© 2017

Should you buy a business vehicle before year end?

One way to reduce your 2017 tax bill is to buy a business vehicle before year end. But don’t make a purchase without first looking at what your 2017 deduction would be and whether tax reform legislation could affect the tax benefit of a 2017 vs. 2018 purchase.

Your 2017 deduction

Business-related purchases of new or used vehicles may be eligible for Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate over a period of years, some or all of the vehicle’s cost. But the size of your 2017 deduction will depend on several factors. One is the gross vehicle weight rating.

The normal Sec. 179 expensing limit generally applies to vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 14,000 pounds. The limit for 2017 is $510,000, and the break begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.03 million.

But a $25,000 limit applies to SUVs rated at more than 6,000 pounds but no more than 14,000 pounds. Vehicles rated at 6,000 pounds or less are subject to the passenger automobile limits. For 2017, under current law, the depreciation limit is $3,160. And the amount that may be deducted under the combination of Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) depreciation and Sec. 179 for the first year is limited under the luxury auto rules to $11,160.

In addition, if a vehicle is used for business and personal purposes, the associated expenses, including depreciation, must be allocated between deductible business use and nondeductible personal use. The depreciation limit is reduced if the business use is less than 100%. If the business use is 50% or less, you can’t use Sec. 179 expensing or the accelerated regular MACRS; you must use the straight-line method.

Factoring in tax reform

If tax reform legislation is signed into law and it will cause your marginal rate to go down in 2018, then purchasing a vehicle by December 31, 2017, could save you more tax than waiting until 2018. Why? Tax deductions are more powerful when rates are higher. But if your 2017 Sec. 179 expense deduction would be reduced or eliminated because of the asset acquisition phaseout, then you might be better off waiting until 2018 to buy.

Also be aware that tax reform legislation could affect the depreciation limits for passenger vehicles, even if purchased in 2017.

These are just a few factors to look at. Many additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So if you’re considering a business vehicle purchase, contact us to discuss whether it would make more tax sense to buy this year or next.

© 2017

2018 Q1 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

January 31

  • File 2017 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • Provide copies of 2017 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
  • File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS.
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2017. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2017. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2017 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.

February 28

  • File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is April 2.)
  • March 15
  • If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2017 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2017 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

© 2017

Get smart: How AI can help your business


The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution isn’t coming — it’s here. While AI’s potential for your company might not seem immediately obvious, this technology is capable of helping businesses of all shapes and sizes “get smart.”

AI generally refers to the use of computer systems to perform tasks commonly thought to require human intelligence. Examples include image perception, voice recognition, problem solving and decision making. AI includes machine learning, an iterative process where machines improve their performance over time based on examples and structured feedback rather than explicit programming.

3 applications to consider

Businesses can use AI to improve a variety of functions. Three specific applications to consider are:

1. Sales and marketing. You might already use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, but introducing AI to it can really put the pedal to the metal. AI can go much further — and much faster — than traditional CRM.

For example, AI is able to analyze buyer behavior and consumer sentiments across a range of media, including recorded phone conversations, email, social media and reviews. AI also can, in a relative blink of the eye, process consumer and market data from a far wider range of sources than previously thought possible. And it can automate the repetitive tasks that eat up your sales or marketing team’s time.

All of this results in quicker generation of qualified leads. With AI, you can deploy your sales force and marketing resources more efficiently and effectively, reducing your cost of customer acquisition along the way.

2. Customer service. Keeping customers satisfied is the key to retaining them. But customers don’t always tell you when they’re unhappy. AI can pick up on negative signals and find correlations to behavior in customer data, empowering you to save important relationships.

You can integrate AI into your customer support function, too. By leaving tasks such as classifying tickets and routing calls to AI, you’ll reduce wait times and free up representatives to focus on customers who need the human touch.

3. Competitive intelligence. Imagine knowing your competitors’ strategies and moves almost as well as your own. AI-based competitive analysis tools will track other companies’ activities across different channels, noting pricing and product changes and subtle shifts in messaging. They can highlight competitors’ strengths and weaknesses that will help you plot your own course.
The future is now

AI isn’t a fad; it’s becoming more and more entrenched in our business and personal lives. Companies that recognize this sea change and jump on board now can save time, cut costs and develop a clear competitive edge. We can assist you in determining how technology investments like AI should fit into your overall plans for investing in your business.

© 2017

Accrual-basis taxpayers: These year-end tips could save you tax

With the possibility that tax law changes could go into effect next year that would significantly reduce income tax rates for many businesses, 2017 may be an especially good year to accelerate deductible expenses. Why? Deductions save more tax when rates are higher.

Timing income and expenses can be a little more challenging for accrual-basis taxpayers than for cash-basis ones. But being an accrual-basis taxpayer also offers valuable year-end tax planning opportunities when it comes to deductions.

Tracking incurred expenses

The key to saving tax as an accrual-basis taxpayer is to properly record and recognize expenses that were incurred this year but won’t be paid until 2018. This will enable you to deduct those expenses on your 2017 federal tax return. Common examples of such expenses include:

  • Commissions, salaries and wages,
  • Payroll taxes,
  • Advertising,
  • Interest,
  • Utilities,
  • Insurance, and
  • Property taxes.

You can also accelerate deductions into 2017 without actually paying for the expenses in 2017 by charging them on a credit card. (This works for cash-basis taxpayers, too.)

As noted, accelerating deductible expenses into 2017 may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2018.

Prepaid expenses

Also review all prepaid expense accounts. Then write off any items that have been used up before the end of the year.

If you prepay insurance for a period of time beginning in 2017, you can expense the entire amount this year rather than spreading it between 2017 and 2018, as long as a proper method election is made. This is treated as a tax expense and thus won’t affect your internal financials.

And there’s more . . .

Here are a few more year-end tax tips to consider:

  • Review your outstanding receivables and write off any receivables you can establish as uncollectible.
  • Pay interest on all shareholder loans to or from the company.
  • Update your corporate record book to record decisions and be better prepared for an audit.

To learn more about how these and other year-end tax strategies may help your business reduce its 2017 tax bill, contact us.

© 2017

Could an FSA offer the benefits flexibility you need?

Business owners have to make tough choices when it comes to providing benefits to their employees. Many companies, especially newer or smaller ones, may understandably prioritize flexibility. No one wants to get locked into a benefits offering that’s cumbersome to administer and expensive to maintain.

Well, there’s one possibility that has the word “flexible” built right into its name: the health care Flexible Spending Account (FSA). And these arrangements certainly offer that.

No HDHP required, employee contributions allowed

You’ve probably heard about Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). These increasingly popular benefits options allow employees to pay for qualifying health care costs with pretax dollars. But each one comes with a critical catch: You must offer HSAs in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and your business can be the only contributor to an HRA.

These limitations don’t apply to FSAs. An HDHP isn’t required, and both employees and the business itself can contribute to the account. Employee contributions are made pretax directly from their compensation, and any contributions you make as an employer aren’t included in your company’s taxable income. (Note: For employees who have an HSA, their FSA would be limited to funding certain “permitted” expenses.)

Deadline drawback

So there’s that flexibility we mentioned. You can establish an FSA relatively quickly without having to commit to an HDHP, and both you and your employees can contribute. Now the drawback: FSAs are “use it or lose it” accounts. In other words, a participant generally must forfeit any unused balance remaining in his or her account after year end.

There is, however, a way to soften this downside. Employers can include in their FSAs either a grace period of up to 2½ months or a $500 carryover amount. Doing so can add even more flexibility to the FSA concept.

If you decide to establish a health care FSA, be prepared to regularly communicate with employees about it throughout the year. When funding their accounts, participants will need to carefully estimate how much money they’re likely to spend over the course of the year. And around the end of the year you’ll need to remind them that, if funds remain in their FSAs, employees will need to incur reimbursable expenses by Dec. 31 to use up those dollars (again, assuming you don’t have a grace period or carryover amount).

No easy answers

There are no easy answers when it comes to employee benefits these days. But FSAs can be a relatively simple to administer benefit that’s appealing to employees. Let us help you assess your options and make the best choice for your business.

© 2017

2017 might be your last chance to hire veterans and claim a tax credit


With Veterans Day on November 11, it’s an especially good time to think about the sacrifices veterans have made for us and how we can support them. One way businesses can support veterans is to hire them. The Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC) can help businesses do just that, but it may not be available for hires made after this year.

As released by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 2, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would eliminate the WOTC for hires after December 31, 2017. So you may want to consider hiring qualifying veterans before year end.

The WOTC up close

You can claim the WOTC for a portion of wages paid to a new hire from a qualifying target group. Among the target groups are eligible veterans who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as “food stamps”), who have a service-related disability or who have been unemployed for at least four weeks. The maximum credit depends in part on which of these factors apply:

  • Food stamp recipient or short-term unemployed (at least 4 weeks but less than 6 months): $2,400
  •  Disabled: $4,800
  • Long-term unemployed (at least 6 months): $5,600
  • Disabled and long-term unemployed: $9,600

The amount of the credit also depends on the wages paid to the veteran and the number of hours the veteran worked during the first year of employment.

You aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible veterans you can hire. For example, if you hire 10 disabled long-term-unemployed veterans, the credit can be as much as $96,000.

Other considerations

Before claiming the WOTC, you generally must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you.

Also be aware that veterans aren’t the only target groups from which you can hire and claim the WOTC. But in many cases hiring a veteran will provided the biggest credit. Plus, research assembled by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University suggests that the skills and traits of people with a successful military employment track record make for particularly good civilian employees.  

Looking ahead

It’s still uncertain whether the WOTC will be repealed. The House bill likely will be revised as lawmakers negotiate on tax reform, and it’s also possible Congress will be unable to pass tax legislation this year. Under current law, the WOTC is scheduled to be available through 2019.

But if you’re looking to hire this year, hiring veterans is worth considering for both tax and nontax reasons. Contact us for more information on the WOTC or on other year-end tax planning strategies in light of possible tax law changes.

© 2017

4 tips on making your marketing emails a blast


No business owner wants to send out spam. Even the term “email blast,” the practice of launching a flurry of targeted messages at customers and prospects, has mixed connotations these days.

Yet email remains a viable and even necessary communications channel. Here are four tips on making your marketing emails a blast (in the fun and informative sense) and keeping them out of recipients’ spam folders:

1. Craft a catchy subject line. It should be no longer than eight words and shouldn’t be in all caps. Put yourself in the customer’s place, particularly considering his or her demographic, and ask yourself whether you would open the email. Also, clearly indicate the message’s content.

Example: Office Supplies Blowout! 30% Year-End Discount

2. Write a compelling headline. The first thing readers see upon opening an email is the headline, so make it:

  • Different from the subject line,
  • Short (four or five words),
  • A larger font size than the body of the message, and
  • Persuasive.

Example: Rock Your Stockroom Now

3. Make it quick, keep it simple. Most people will read very little text and may not wait for slow-loading images. So think of each marketing email as an “elevator speech,” a quick and concise pitch for specific products or services. And keep images relatively small and easy to download.

Customers want to fulfill their needs at a reasonable price. Don’t expect them to search for answers about whether you can meet these expectations. Tell them why they should buy.

Example: Buying office supplies in bulk now will save you time and money throughout next year.

4. Close with a “call to action.” Instill a sense of urgency in readers by setting a deadline and telling them precisely what to do. Otherwise, they may interpret the email as merely informational and file it away for reference or simply delete it. Be sure to include clear, “clickable” contact info.

Example: Offer expires November 30. Call or visit our website now!

Speaking of calls to action, please contact our firm for help ensuring your marketing initiatives are cost effective.

© 2017

Research credit can offset a small business’s payroll taxes

Does your small business engage in qualified research activities? If so, you may be eligible for a research tax credit that you can use to offset your federal payroll tax bill.

This relatively new privilege allows the research credit to benefit small businesses that may not generate enough taxable income to use the credit to offset their federal income tax bills, such as those that are still in the unprofitable start-up phase where they owe little or no federal income tax.

QSB status

Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, a qualified small business (QSB) can elect to use up to $250,000 of its research credits to reduce the Social Security tax portion of its federal payroll tax bills. Under the old rules, QSBs could use the credit to offset only their federal income tax bills. However, many small businesses owe little or no federal income tax, especially small start-ups that tend to incur significant research expenses.

For the purposes of the research credit, a QSB is generally defined as a business with:

  • Gross receipts of less than $5 million for the current tax year, and
  • No gross receipts for any taxable year preceding the five-taxable-year period ending with the current tax year.

The allowable payroll tax reduction credit can’t exceed the employer portion of the Social Security tax liability imposed for any calendar quarter. Any excess credit can be carried forward to the next calendar quarter, subject to the Social Security tax limitation for that quarter.

Research activities that qualify

To be eligible for the research credit, a business must have engaged in “qualified” research activities. To be considered “qualified,” activities must meet the following four-factor test:

1. The purpose must be to create new (or improve existing) functionality, performance, reliability or quality of a product, process, technique, invention, formula or computer software that will be sold or used in your trade or business.
2. There must be an intention to eliminate uncertainty.
3. There must be a process of experimentation. In other words, there must be a trial-and-error process.
4. The process of experimentation must fundamentally rely on principles of physical or biological science, engineering or computer science.

Expenses that qualify for the credit include wages for time spent engaging in supporting, supervising or performing qualified research, supplies consumed in the process of experimentation, and 65% of any contracted outside research expenses.

Complex rules

The ability to use the research credit to reduce payroll tax is a welcome change for eligible small businesses, but the rules are complex and we’ve only touched on the basics here. We can help you determine whether you qualify and, if you do, assist you with making the election for your business and filing payroll tax returns to take advantage of the new privilege.

© 2017