Important Tax Changes for Small Businesses

Tax legislation passed late in December 2015 (the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act) extended a number of favorable business provisions and made some others permanent. The provisions can have a significant impact on a business’s taxes for 2016. Here is a rundown of important tax changes for small businesses that need to be considered when preparing your 2016 and 2017 returns.

Section 179 Expensing – The Internal Revenue Code, Sec. 179, allows businesses to expense, rather than depreciate, personal tangible property other than buildings or their structural components used in a trade or business in the year the property is placed into business service. The annual limit is inflation-adjusted, and for 2017, that limit is $510,000, up from $500,000 in 2016. The limit is reduced by one dollar for each dollar when the total cost of the qualifying property placed in service in any given year exceeds the investment limit, which is $2,030,000 for 2017, a $20,000 increase from the 2016 amount.

In addition to personal tangible property, the following are included in the definition of qualifying property for the purposes of Sec. 179 expensing:

  • Off-the-Shelf Computer Software
  • Qualified Real Property – The term “qualified real property” means property acquired by purchase for use in the active conduct of a trade or business, which is normally depreciated and is generally not property used for lodging except for hotels or motels. Qualified retail property includes:
    • qualified leasehold improvement property,
    • qualified restaurant property, and
    • qualified retail improvement property.

Bonus Depreciation – Bonus depreciation is extended through 2019 and allows first-year depreciation of 50% of the cost of qualifying business assets placed in service through 2017. After 2017, the bonus depreciation will be phased out, with the bonus rate 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019. After 2019, the bonus depreciation will no longer apply. Qualifying business assets generally include personal tangible property other than real property with a depreciable life of 20 years or fewer, although there are some special exceptions that include qualified leasehold property. Generally, qualified leasehold improvements include interior improvements to non-residential property made after the building was originally placed in service, but expenditures attributable to the enlargement of the building, any elevator or escalator, and the internal structural framework of the building do not qualify.

In addition, the bonus depreciation will apply to certain trees, vines and plants bearing fruits and nuts that are planted or grafted before January 1, 2020.

Vehicle Depreciation – The first-year depreciation for cars and light trucks used in business is limited by the so-called luxury-auto rules that apply to highway vehicles with an unloaded gross weight of 6,000 pounds or less. The first-year depreciation amounts for cars and small trucks change slightly from time to time; they are currently set at $3,160 for cars and $3,560 for light trucks. However, a taxpayer can elect to apply the bonus depreciation amounts to these amounts. The bonus-depreciation addition to the luxury-auto limits is $8,000 through 2017, after which it will be phased out by dropping it to $6,400 in 2018 and $4,800 in 2019. After 2019, the bonus depreciation will no longer apply.

New Filing Due Dates – There are some big changes with regard to filing due dates for a variety of returns. Many of these changes have been made to combat tax-filing fraud. The new due dates are effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2015. That means the returns coming due in 2017.

Partnerships

  • Calendar Year: The due date for 1065 returns for the 2016 calendar year will be March 15, 2017 (the previous due date was April 15).
    Fiscal Year: Due the 15th day of the 3rd month after the close of the year.
  • Extension: 6 months (September 15 for calendar-year partnerships).

S Corporations

  • Calendar Year: 2016 calendar year 1120-S returns will be due March 15, 2017 (unchanged).
  • Fiscal Year: Due the 15th day of the 3rd month after the close of the year.
  • Extension: 6 months (September 15 for calendar-year S Corps).

C Corporations

  • Calendar Year: The due date for Form 1120 returns for the 2016 calendar year will be April 18, 2017 (the previous due date was March 15). Normally, calendar-year returns will be due on April 15, but because of the Emancipation Day holiday that is observed in Washington, D.C., the 2017 due date is the 18th.
  • Fiscal Year: Due the 15th day of the 4th month after the close of the year, a month later than in the past (exception: if fiscal year-end is June 30, the change in due date does not apply until returns for tax years beginning after December 31, 2025).
  • Extension: 6 months. (Exceptions: [1] 5 months for any calendar-year C corporation beginning before January 1, 2026, and [2] 7 months for June 30 year-end C corps through 2025.) Thus, the extended due date for a 2016 Form 1120 for a calendar-year C Corp will be September 15, 2017.

W-2s, W-3s and 1099-MISC reporting non-employee compensation  

  • Due Date: For 2016 W-2s, W-3s, and Forms 1099-MISC reporting non-employee compensation, the due date for filing the government’s copy is January 31, 2017 (the previous due date was February 28 or March 31 if filed electronically). The due date for providing a copy to the employee or independent contractor remains January 31.
  • Extension: The 30-day automatic extension to file W-2s is no longer automatic. The IRS anticipates that it will grant the non-automatic extension of time to file only in limited cases in which the filer or transmitter’s explanation demonstrates that an extension of time to file is needed as a result of extraordinary circumstances

Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) – Employers may elect to claim a WOTC for a percentage of first-year wages, generally up to $6,000 of wages per employee, for hiring workers from a targeted group. First-year wages are wages paid during the tax year for work performed during the one-year period beginning on the date the target-group member begins work for the employer.

This credit originally sunset in 2014, but the PATH Act retroactively extended the credit for five years through 2019.

  • Generally, the credit is 40% of first-year wages (not exceeding $6,000), for a maximum credit of $2,400 (0.4 x $6,000).
  • The credit is reduced to 25% for employees who have completed at least 120 hours but fewer than 400 hours of service for the employer. No credit is allowed for an employee who has worked fewer than 120 hours.
  • The legislation also added qualified long-term unemployment recipients to the list of targeted groups, effective for employees beginning work after December 31, 2015.

Research Credit – After 21 consecutive years of extending the research credit year by year, the PATH Act made it permanent and made the following modifications to the research credit:

  • For years after December 31, 2015, small businesses (average of $50 million or less in gross receipts in the prior three years) can claim the credit against the alternative minimum tax.
  • For years after December 31, 2015, small businesses (less than $5 million in gross receipts for the year the credit is being claimed and no gross receipts in the prior five years) can claim up to $250,000 per year of the credit against their employer FICA tax liability. Effectively, this provision is for start-ups.

What is in the future?
With the election of a Republican president and with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, we can expect to see significant tax changes in the near future. President-elect Trump has indicated that he would like to see the Sec. 179 limit significantly increased and the top corporate rate dropped to 15%. Watch for future legislation once President-elect Trump takes office.

If you have questions related to the business write-offs or filing due dates, please give this office a call.

Do I Have to File a Tax Return?

Do I have to file a tax return? This is a question many taxpayers ask during this time of year, and the question is far more complicated than people believe. To fully understand, we need to consider that there are times when individuals are REQUIRED to file a tax return, and then there are times when it is to individuals’ BENEFIT to file a return even if they are not required to file.

When individuals are required to file:

  • Generally, individuals are required to file a return if their income exceeds their filing threshold, as shown in the table below. The filing thresholds are the sum of the standard deduction for individual(s) and the personal exemption for the taxpayer and spouse (if any).
  • Taxpayers are required to file if they have net self-employment income in excess of $400, since they are required to file self-employment taxes (the equivalent to payroll taxes for an employee) when their net self-employment income exceeds $400.
  • Taxpayers are also required to file when they are required to repay a credit or benefit. For example, taxpayers who underestimated their income when signing up for health insurance through a government Marketplace and received a higher advance premium tax credit than they were entitled to, are required to repay part of it. Therefore, they must file a return even if their income is less than the filing threshold amount.
  • Filing is also required when a taxpayer owes a penalty, even though the taxpayer’s income is below the filing threshold. This can occur, for example, when a taxpayer has an IRA 6% early withdrawal penalty or the 50% penalty for not taking a required IRA distribution.
2016 – Filing Thresholds
Filing Status Age Threshold
Single Under Age 65
Age 65 or Older
$10,350
11,900
Married Filing Jointly Both Spouses Under 65
One Spouse 65 or Older
Both Spouses 65 or Older
$20,700
21,950
22,200
Married Filing Separately Any Age 4,050
Head of Household Under 65
65 or Older
$13,350
14,900
Qualifying Widow(er)
with Dependent Child
Under 65
65 or Older
$16,650
17,900

When it is beneficial for individuals to file: There are a number of benefits available when filing a tax return that can produce refunds even for a taxpayer who is not required to file:

  • Withholding refund – A substantial number of taxpayers fail to file their return even when the tax they owe is less than their prepayments, such as payroll withholding, estimates, or a prior overpayment. The only way to recover the excess is to file a return.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – If you worked and did not make a lot of money, you may qualify for the EITC. The EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means you could qualify for a tax refund. The refund could be as high as several thousand dollars even when you are not required to file.
  • Additional Child Tax Credit – This refundable credit may be available to you if you have at least one qualifying child.
  • American Opportunity Credit – The maximum for this credit for college tuition paid per student is $2,500, and the first four years of postsecondary education qualify. Up to 40% of the credit is refundable when you have no tax liability, even if you are not required to file.
  • Premium Tax Credit – Lower-income families are entitled to a refundable tax credit to supplement the cost of health insurance purchased through a government Marketplace. To the extent the credit is greater than the supplement provided by the Marketplace, it is refundable even if there is no other reason to file.

DON’T PROCRASTINATE! There is a three-year statute of limitations on refunds, and after it runs out, any refund due is forfeited. The statute is three years from the due date of the tax return. So the refund period expires for 2016 returns, which were due in April of 2017, on April 15, 2020.

For more information about filing requirements and your eligibility to receive tax credits, please contact this office.

Using Custom Fields and Classes in QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks Online’s tools are generic enough that myriad businesses can use it. But custom fields and classes help you shape it to meet your specific needs.

Small business accounting is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Your company is unique in that sense; you have your own customers and products, vendors and services. Your requirements for your accounting application—what it must do and how it does that—is unlike anyone else’s.

QuickBooks Online contains a standard set of features that can accommodate a broad cross-section of the millions of small businesses in the U.S. It also offers customization options that you can use to make it your own. Two of these are custom fields and classes.

Start from the Beginning
with Custom Fields You can start working with custom fields and classes at any time. They’re most effective, though, when you build them in as you’re just starting to use QuickBooks Online.

Let’s look at custom fields first. When we refer to “fields,” we simply mean the rectangular boxes in records and forms that either already contain data or that can be filled in by you, either by entering the correct word or phrase, or by selecting from drop-down lists. Most of these are already named. On an invoice, for example, there are fields for information like Invoice date and Due date.

But you can add up to three additional fields to sales forms. To do so, click the gear icon in the upper right corner of the screen and select Account and Settings, then click Sales in the vertical navigation bar on the left. The second block here contains Sales form content. Click Custom fields, and you’ll see something like this:

Custom fields

You can define up to three custom fields on sales forms and make them visible internally and/or to your customers.

Click the word Off if it appears, and it will change to On and display three blank fields. Think carefully about what you would like to appear here, as this isn’t something you’ll want to change. If you haven’t yet met with us about how to set up QuickBooks Online, let’s schedule some sessions to go over all your setup procedures, including custom fields.
Enter the words or phrases you want displayed on sales forms in the three fields. Then decide whether you want them to be visible only to you and your accounting staff or to your customers, too. Click within the Internal and Public to create checkmarks. When you’re done, click Save.

Additional Categorization with Classes
QuickBooks Online’s classes provide another way to categorize transactions. You can use them to differentiate between, for example, departments or divisions. If you’re a construction company, you might have different classes for New Construction and Remodel. Unlike custom fields, you’re not limited to three classes.

You can filter many reports by class. QuickBooks Online contains report templates designed specifically for reporting by class, like Sales by Class Detail, Purchases by Class Detail, and Profit and Loss by Class.

Here’s how you create your own list. Click the gear icon in the upper right of the screen and select Account and Settings. Then click Advanced in the left vertical navigation toolbar. Under the fourth heading, Categories, you’ll see Track classes. If the word “Off” appears to the right, click in the box to turn this feature on. A box like this will appear:

Class tracking

Class-tracking in QuickBooks Online helps you create more targeted reports.

Even if you’ve defined a number of classes, they’re not required on transactions. If you want to be reminded should you forget to classify one, click in the box in front of Warn me when a transaction isn’t assigned a class. You can also choose to assign one class to an entire transaction or to each individual row. Click the arrow to the right of One to entire transaction to drop the option box down and make your choice. When you’re done, click Save.

You can create classes as you’re entering transactions by clicking the arrow next to Class over to the right of the screen and selecting +Add new. We recommend, though, that you think this through ahead of time and make at least an initial list by clicking the gear icon in the upper right and choosing All Lists, then Classes, then New.

Great Flexibility
These are two of the customization tools that are built into QuickBooks Online. Whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been using the site for a while, we can introduce you to all the ways that you can make QuickBooks Online your own.

Standard Mileage Rates for 2017 Announced

As it does every year, the Internal Revenue Service recently announced the inflation- adjusted 2017 standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2017, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (or a van, pickup or panel truck) are:

  • 53.5 cents per mile for business miles driven (including a 25-cent-per-mile allocation for depreciation). This is down from 54.0 cents in 2016;
  • 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes. This is down from 19 cents in 2016; and
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

The standard mileage rate for a business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs as determined by the same study. The rate for using an automobile while performing services for a charitable organization is statutorily set (it can only be changed by congressional action) and has been 14 cents for over 15 years.

Important Consideration: The 2017 rates are based on 2016 fuel costs, which were at a historic low. On top of that, OPEC has decided to cut production in an effort to drive up fuel costs. The Automobile Club has predicted an increase in fuel prices in the near future. Based on the potential for substantially higher gas prices in 2017, it may be appropriate to consider switching to the actual expense method for 2017, or at least keeping track of the actual expenses, including fuel costs, repairs, maintenance, etc., so that option is available for 2017.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle for business rather than using the standard mileage rates. In addition to the potential for higher fuel prices, the extension of the bonus depreciation though 2019 may make using the actual expense method a worthwhile consideration in the first year the vehicle is placed in service. The bonus depreciation allowance adds an additional $8,000 to the maximum first-year depreciation deduction of passenger vehicles and light trucks that have an unloaded gross vehicle weight of 6,000 pounds or less.

However, the standard mileage rates cannot be used if the actual method (using Sec. 179, bonus depreciation and/or MACRS depreciation) has been used in previous years. This rule is applied on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for any vehicle used for hire or for more than four vehicles simultaneously.

Employer reimbursement – Where employers reimburse employees for business-related car expenses using the standard mileage allowance method for each substantiated employment-connected business mile, the reimbursement is tax-free if the employee substantiates to the employer the time, place, mileage and purpose of employment-connected business travel.

Employees whose actual employment-related business mileage expenses exceed the employer’s reimbursement can deduct the difference on their income tax return as a miscellaneous itemized deduction subject to the 2%-of-AGI floor. However, an employee who leases an auto and is reimbursed using the mileage allowance method can’t claim a deduction based on actual expenses unless he does so consistently beginning with the first business use of the auto.

Faster Write-Offs for Heavy Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) – Many of today’s SUVs weigh more than 6,000 pounds and are therefore not subject to the luxury auto depreciation limit rules; taxpayers with these vehicles can utilize both the Section 179 expense deduction (up to a maximum of $25,000) and the bonus depreciation (the Section 179 deduction must be applied first and then the bonus depreciation) to produce a sizable first-year tax deduction. However, the vehicle cannot exceed a gross unloaded vehicle weight of 14,000 pounds. Caution: Business autos are 5-year class life property. If the taxpayer subsequently disposes of the vehicle early, before the end of the 5-year period, as many do, a portion of the Section 179 expense deduction will be recaptured and must be added back to income (SE income for self-employed individuals). The future ramifications of deducting all or a significant portion of the vehicle’s cost using Section 179 should be considered.

If you have questions related to the best methods of deducting the business use of your vehicle or the documentation required, please give this office a call.