Hobby or Business? It Makes a Difference for Taxes

Taxpayers are often confused by the differences in tax treatment between businesses that are entered into for profit and those that are not, commonly referred to as hobbies. The differences are:

Businesses Entered Into for Profit – For businesses entered into for profit, the profits are taxable, and losses are generally deductible against other income. The income and expenses are commonly reported on a Schedule C, and the profit or loss—after subtracting expenses from the business income—is carried over to the taxpayer’s 1040. (An exception to deducting the business loss may apply if the activity is considered a “passive” activity, but most Schedule C proprietors actively participate in their business, so the details of the passive loss rules aren’t included in this article.)

Hobbies – Hobbies, on the other hand, are not entered into for profit, and the government does not permit a taxpayer to deduct their hobby expenses, in excess of any hobby income, on their tax return. Thus, hobby income is reported directly on their 1040, and any expenses not exceeding the income are deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions on their Schedule A, assuming the taxpayer is not claiming the standard deduction, in which case they would be reporting income but not deducting the expenses.

So, what distinguishes a business from a hobby? The IRS provides nine factors to consider when making the judgment. No single factor is decisive, but all must be considered together in determining whether an activity is for profit. The nine factors are:

  1. Is the activity carried out in a businesslike manner? Maintenance of complete and accurate records for the activity is a definite plus for a taxpayer, as is a business plan that formally lays out the taxpayer’s goals and describes how the taxpayer realistically expects to meet those expectations.
  2. How much time and effort does the taxpayer spend on the activity? The IRS looks favorably at substantial amounts of time spent on the activity, especially if the activity has no great recreational aspects. Full-time work in another activity is not always a detriment if a taxpayer can show that the activity is regular; time spent by a qualified person hired by the taxpayer can also count in the taxpayer’s favor.
  3. Does the taxpayer depend on the activity as a source of income? This test is easiest to meet when a taxpayer has little income or capital from other sources (i.e., the taxpayer could not afford to have this operation fail).
  4. Are losses from the activity the result of sources beyond the taxpayer’s control? Losses from unforeseen circumstances like drought, disease, and fire are legitimate reasons for not making a profit. The extent of the losses during the start-up phase of a business also needs to be looked at in the context of the kind of activity involved.
  5. Has the taxpayer changed business methods in an attempt to improve profitability? The taxpayer’s efforts to turn the activity into a profit-making venture should be documented.
  6.  What is the taxpayer’s expertise in the field? Extensive study of this field’s accepted business, economic, and scientific practices by the taxpayer before entering into the activity is a good sign that profit intent exists.
  7. What success has the taxpayer had in similar operations? Documentation on how the taxpayer turned a similar operation into a profit-making venture in the past is helpful.
  8. What is the possibility of profit? Even though losses might be shown for several years, the taxpayer should try to show that there is realistic hope of a good profit.
  9. Will there be a possibility of profit from asset appreciation? Although profit may not be derived from an activity’s current operations, asset appreciation could mean that the activity will realize a large profit when the assets are disposed of in the future. However, the appreciation argument may mean nothing without the taxpayer’s positive action to make the activity profitable in the present.
There is a presumption that a taxpayer has a profit motive if an activity shows a profit for any three or more years within a period of five consecutive years. However, the period is two out of seven consecutive years if the activity involves breeding, training, showing, or racing horses.

All of this may seem pretty complicated, so please call this office if you have any questions or need additional details for your particular circumstances.

Tax Deductions for Owner-Operator Truckers

There are certain tax deductions for owner-operator truckers that are unique. You benefit from special allowances for meals, are allowed very large write-offs for tractors and other equipment, must pay additional taxes and permit costs, and may have special reporting requirements in addition to your tax returns. The following is an overview of the tax issues that may apply to owner-operators.

  • Meals Away from Home – As an owner-operator trucker, you may deduct the actual cost of your meals; this requires you to save your receipts. Alternatively, you can deduct the IRS’ standard meal allowance for the transportation industry, using your logbooks as substantiation. For 2016 and 2017, amount for meals and incidental expenses is $63 per day. Whether you use the actual-expense method or the standard method, only 80% of the total for the year is deductible. Even though only 80% is deductible, keep track all expenses for tax purposes, as the 80% adjustment is made during the tax-return preparation process
    Meals are deductible if you need to stop for substantial rest in order to properly perform your duties while traveling on business.
  • Lodging – Lodging expenses are deductible. Unfortunately, there is no standard allowance for lodging; thus, you must keep a receipt for each lodging expense. Generally, to deduct lodging expenses, you must be away from home overnight.
    One issue that could result in the disallowance of lodging and other travel expenses is not having a regular place of business or place of residence. In this case, you would be considered an itinerant (or transient), and your home for tax purposes would be wherever you work. As an itinerant, you would not be able to claim a deduction for lodging and meals because you would never be considered to be away from home.
  • Other On-The-Road Expenses -Generally, to be deductible, items must be both ordinary and necessary to your job. For truckers, these expenses include laundry (when away overnight), gloves, logbooks, maps, cell phones, CB radios, tools, safety gear, cargo straps, and any other incurred expenses that are ordinary and necessary in the business. Generally, receipts are required, but if the business expense is less than $75, a receipt is not necessary, provided that you record all of the information in a diary in a timely manner.
  • Vehicle (Tractor) Cost Write-Offs – The current tax code provides several options for writing off the cost of a vehicle, including immediate expensing of up to $510,000 (as of 2017) during the year the property is put into service; first-year depreciation equal to 50% of the vehicle’s cost; normal deprecation; or a combination of all three. These options allow owner-operators to pick almost any amount of write-off to best suit their particular circumstances. For normal depreciation, the IRS allows a recovery period of 3 years for over-the-road tractor units and of 5 years for trailers, trailer-mounted containers and heavy-duty trucks (13,000 pounds or more).
  • Vehicle (Tractor) Operating Expenses – Of course, vehicle operating expenses – including fuel, licenses, taxes, maintenance and insurance – are deductible. Depending on the nature and cost, some expenses may have to be depreciated.
  • General Business Expenses – Owner-operators can usually deduct the following expenses: trucking-industry and business-related subscriptions, association dues, computers and software, Internet service, cleaning supplies, business interest, office supplies, DOT physicals, drug testing, sleep apnea studies, postage and other business-related expenses.
  • Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax – The heavy highway vehicle use tax (Form 2290) applies to highway vehicles weighing 55,000 pounds or more. The due date for this form is based on when (during the annual filing period) the vehicle is first used on a public highway. For the period of July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017, Form 2290 is due by the end of August 2016 for vehicles first used on a public highway in July 2016. For vehicles first used on a public highway after July, the use tax is prorated, and the form is due by last day of the month following the month of first use. See when to file for more details. The use tax ranges from $100 to $550 per vehicle for a full year, depending on the vehicle’s weight. You will need to have an employer ID number to file the Form 2290; your Social Security number cannot be used as the ID number.
  • Subcontractor Payments – If you paid an individual for services during the year, that person was most likely a subcontractor. Payments of $600 or more to subcontractors must be reported to the government by filing Form 1099-MISC. This form requires the subcontractor’s name, address and tax ID number as well as the payment amount. There are penalties for failing to file this form, for filing it late and for filing it without the tax ID number. All these penalties can be avoided by (1) having contractors complete Form W-9 before you pay them and (2) filing the 1099-MISC forms by January 31 of the subsequent year.

Some expenses are not deductible; those with limited knowledge of trucker expenses may take these deductions, potentially triggering IRS inquiries and audits. One example is deducting the cost of street clothing. For clothing, only the cost of uniforms or protective clothing is allowed as a deduction.

Another example is deducting lost income:

  • For time you spend repairing or maintaining your own equipment,
  • As a result of a deadhead, or
  • Because of downtime.

Lost income is already accounted for, as you do not have to report the income on your tax return in the first place.

If you have any questions related to trucking and taxes, please call. This office is knowledgeable regarding the drivers’ and owner-operators’ tax issues, and are here to help you eliminate the stress of accounting and tax filing.

De Minimis Expense Election Required Before Year End

Small businesses can adopt an accounting procedure that allows them to expense, rather than to capitalize, the purchase (cost) of tangible business property. Generally, the maximum that can be expensed under this provision is whatever amount the business decides between $1 and $2,500 per item or per invoice. So if you have not adopted the accounting procedure, you have until December 31, 2016, to do so for 2017. (The rules require that the accounting procedure be in place as of the beginning of the business’s tax year.) In addition, and even if your business may have already adopted an accounting procedure, an annual election is required to be included with your 2017 tax return to apply the accounting procedure to 2017. This can be used for computers, printers, tools, etc., rather than the Sec 179 expense allowance, which recaptures as income if the item is disposed of early.

If you need assistance developing a de minimis expense accounting procedure and making the election to apply that procedure for 2017, please give our office a call.

9 Finance Tips All Business Owners Should Follow

Business owners are experts at their industry. You know your products and services well – better than the competition. You know how to reach those customers, too. But, managing what’s behind the scene isn’t always as easy. With the right tools and resources, including a professional by your side, you can enhance the way you do business, reduce your spend, and increase your profit margins. To get started, you need some basic information on finance.

#1: Recognize the Importance of Your Books Invoices, bank statements, and even some accounting work is commonly done through software programs today.

However, it’s more than just accounting for your revenue and losses that’s important. In other words, you need to turn this data into usable information. Your figures can help you know how to grow profits even further if you know how to read them properly.

#2: Stop Putting It Off

It is much harder to manage that stack of papers at the end of the month than it is to spend a few minutes each day entering details. Having a pro to do this for you makes it even easier. If you are procrastinating, though, you’re hurting your short-term and long-term financial goals.

#3: Know Your Risks

A Headway Capital study found that 57% of business owners planned to grow this year. Most companies set out to grow for the year, but they often lack attention spent on minimizing risks. What’s the worst-case scenario? What’s your break-even point? Addressing risks as a part of your financial strategy really can streamline your finances should the year not go as you planned.

#4: You Really Didn’t Budget, Did You?

Some small to medium businesses lack the time it takes to budget. It’s understandable, but that doesn’t make it okay. Budgeting helps address those risks, but it also helps you to make better buying decisions. And, when you have tools in place to help you monitor inventory, expenses, and other unforeseen costs, you can create better budgets that allow you to do more with your profits.

#5: Tax Mistakes Are Common

Small to medium businesses suffer from some of the most complicated taxes. Without having a professional to monitor and guide your taxes throughout the year, your business could suffer significantly. The IRS says that, in 2014, $1.2 billion in civil penalties were placed against small business income tax filers. Most small businesses need reliable support to ensure tax filing and reporting isn’t a secondary importance.

#6: Build from Your Strengths

You don’t have to build your business on new products or start from scratch each time. It’s best to simply build onto what you have. For example, you’ll want to pinpoint where your biggest profit margins come from. Once you understand who your moneymakers are, target them within your business. By identifying and focusing on these areas, you can build your revenue and profits faster, therefore giving you the room to expand in other areas later.

#7: Building a Business Is More Than Hours Worked

It’s very common for business owners to spend a lot of time and hard work building their business on their own. Are you putting in 80 hours a week? If so, you may be limiting your growth potential. Instead, empower professionals and employees to help you with delegated tasks. This can give you more time to spend on what’s really making you money and help you to sleep at night.

#8: Focus on Lean Practices Less really is more.

As a business owner, you’ll want to incorporate the lean philosophy of keeping less on hand so you reduce your overhead. You create more value for your customers with less.

#9: Access Capital When You Can, Not When You Need To

Having a steady stream of income on hand is important. Instead of waiting until you are desperate for funding, and having to show your investors that you are in that place, focus on planning ahead and minimizing the risk of a negative situation.

As a business owner, making wise financial decisions for your company is an ongoing process. But, you don’t have to do it alone. Allow professionals to help you along the way to better manage your money and you could see it grow faster than you thought possible.

Can You Deduct Employee Expenses?

If you are an employee, you may be curious about which expenses relating to your employment are deductible on your tax return. This is a complicated area of tax law, and many expenses are deductible only if the expense is a “condition of employment” or is for the “convenience of the employer,” two phrases that are effectively the same.

Deducting Employee Expenses

In addition, other factors affect an employee’s ability to deduct expenses incurred as part of employment:

  1. If an employer would have paid for or reimbursed the employee for an expense, but the employee chooses not to apply for or take advantage of that reimbursement, the employee cannot take a tax deduction for the expense.
  2. Only those employees who itemize their deductions can benefit from business expense deductions. Thus, if you are using the standard deduction, you cannot receive any tax benefit for your job-related expenses. In addition, even when itemizing, miscellaneous itemized deductions must be reduced by 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Employee business expenses fall into the miscellaneous itemized deduction category. As an example: if your AGI is $80,000, the first $1,600 (2% x AGI) of your miscellaneous deductions provide no benefit.
  3. Miscellaneous deductions are not included in the itemized deductions allowed for computing the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Thus, if you are unlucky enough to be subject to the AMT, you will not benefit from your miscellaneous deductions for the extent of the AMT.

The following includes a discussion of the various expenses that an employee might feel they are entitled to deduct and the IRS’s requirements for those deductions.

  • Home Office – An employee can deduct a home office only if his or her use of the home office is for the convenience of the employer. According to the U.S. Tax Court, an employee’s use of a home office is for the convenience of his employer only if the employee must maintain the home office as a condition of employment. In an audit, the auditor will require a letter from the employer to verify that fact. Most employers are reluctant to make a home office a condition of employment due to labor laws and liability. In addition, an employee would also have to comply with the IRS’s strict usage requirements for home offices.
  • Computer – An individual’s property, such as computers, TVs, recorders, and so on, that is used in connection with his or her employment is eligible for expense or depreciation deductions only if that property is required for the convenience of the employer and as a condition of employment. Even if the condition of employment requirement is satisfied, a computer’s usage must be prorated for personal and business use.
  • Uniforms and Special Work Clothes – The cost and maintenance of clothing is allowed if:(1) The employee’s occupation is one that specifically requires special apparel or equipment as a condition of employment and(2) The special apparel or equipment isn’t adaptable to general or continued usage (so as to take the place of ordinary clothing).Generally, items such as safety shoes, helmets, fishermen’s boots, work gloves, oil clothes, and so on are deductible if required for a job. However, other work clothing and standard work shoes aren’t deductible—even if the worker’s union requires them.
  • Education – To qualify as job-related, courses must maintain or improve the skills required by the employee’s trade or business (such as by helping the employee to meet professional continuing education requirements) or be required as a condition of employment. However, these courses must not be necessary to meet the minimum requirements of the job and must not qualify the employee for a new trade or promotion. If a course meets this definition, its cost is considered deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense, and as such, it may be excluded from an employee’s income if the employer reimburses the employee for its cost. Note: Some education expenses may qualify for more beneficial education credits or an above-the-line-deduction.
  • Impairment-Related Work Expenses – Taxpayers who have a physical or mental disability that limits their activities can deduct impairment-related work expenses. For example, an allowable expense would be the cost of attendant care at the place of the taxpayer’s work.
  • Job-Search Expenses – Expenses related to looking for a new job in the taxpayer’s current occupation are deductible even if a new job is not obtained. To be deductible, the expenses cannot be related to seeking a first job or a job in a new occupation. If there is a substantial time gap between the taxpayer’s last job and the time when he or she looks for a new job, the expenses are not deductible.

Of course, all sorts of employee situations exist, including those in which the employee works at his or her local employer’s office and those in which the employee lives and works in a remote location. The deductions available to each employee vary significantly based upon that individual’s unique situation.

For more information related to employee expenses and what might be deductible in your situation, please give this office a call.

Deducting Startup Costs for Your New Business at Tax Time

Before you earn your first dollar, before you are even open for business, your startup can incur considerable expenses. The money you spend opening your business can often be deducted; the IRS allows you to deduct many of these one-time startup costs. Speaking with an accountant in the early stages can help you decide which of these deductions to take – and may also help you discover additional ways to save money as you operate your new startup. There are several types of startup costs that may be deductible for your new business.

Preparing your business

The costs associated with training employees, hiring consultants, early advertising and marketing to generate interest, and even the costs associated with sourcing suppliers and locations can all be deducted. If you have to hire and train employees to work in your business, but are not yet open to customers, then you can usually deduct these costs at tax time. If you are researching the feasibility of a business, testing the market, creating prototypes or analyzing production costs, these expenditures are generally deductible as well for your startup. These costs count only if you actually begin a business.

If you research or dabble and then change your mind, you usually cannot deduct these costs.

Organizational costs

If you are incorporating, setting up a partnership or incurring expenses as you legally set up your new business, you can likely deduct these costs as well. Incorporation fees, legal fees, accounting fees and filing fees can often be deducted from your first year costs but may also be amortized over the lifetime of your business. An accounting professional can help you learn more about your options and discover which method is best for your particular circumstances.

What about equipment costs?

From kitchen appliances to office equipment and even machinery, you’ll likely have to spend some cash to get up and running, but your equipment purchases are not deductible as part of your startup and cannot be deducted until actually placed in business service (use). Thus the equipment you buy to use when your business becomes operational is not included in the startup costs by the IRS; these items are generally considered assets, and must be capitalized and depreciated or written off in the first year using the Sec 179 expense deduction.

How much of your startup costs can be deducted?

While the IRS does allow you to deduct some startup costs, there are limits to what you can deduct in your first year. For most entrepreneurs with startup costs of $50,000 or less, up to $5,000 in startup costs and $5,000 of organizational expenses can be deducted in the first year. Each of the $5,000 amounts is reduced by the amount by which the total start-up expense or organizational expense exceeds $50,000. Startups with more than $55,000 in costs won’t be able to claim either $5,000 deduction in the first year. Start-up and organizational expenses not deductible in the first year of the business must be amortized over 15 years.

A professional familiar with startups can help you determine which of your costs can be deducted and help you find the right path for your new business. The decisions you make as you start your business will have a long-term impact on your operating costs and bottom line for years to come; choose wisely at the outset for the best possible start for your new company.

Household Help – Employee or Contractor?

Frequently taxpayers will hire an individual or firm to provide services at the taxpayer’s home. Because the IRS requires employers to withhold taxes for employees and issue them W-2s at the end of the year, the big question is whether or not that individual is a household employee.

Whether a household worker is considered an employee depends a great deal on circumstances and the amount of control the person hiring has over the job and the hired person. Ordinarily, when someone has the last word about telling a worker what needs to be done and how the job should be done, then that worker is an employee. Having a right to discharge the worker and supplying tools and the place to perform a job are primary factors that show control.

Not all those hired to work in a taxpayer’s home are considered household employees. For example, an individual may hire a self-employed gardener who handles the yard work for a taxpayer and others in the taxpayer’s neighborhood. The gardener supplies all tools and brings in other helpers needed to do the job. Under these circumstances, the gardener isn’t an employee and the person hiring him/her isn’t responsible for paying employment taxes. The same would apply to the pool guy or to contractors making repairs or improvements on the home.

Contrast the following example to the self-employed gardener described above: The Smith family hired Lynn to clean their home and care for their 3-year old daughter, Lori, while they are at work. Mrs. Smith gave Lynn instructions about the job to be done, explained how the various tasks should be done, and provided the tools and supplies; Mrs. Smith, rather than Lynn, had control over the job. Under these circumstances, Lynn is a household employee, and the Smiths are responsible for withholding and paying certain employment taxes for her and issuing her a W-2 for the year.

If an individual you hire is considered an employee, then you must withhold both Social Security and Medicare taxes from the household employee’s cash wages if they equal or exceed the $2,000 threshold for 2016.

The employer must match from his/her own funds the FICA amounts withheld from the employee’s wages. Wages paid to a household employee who is under age 18 at any time during the year are exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes unless household work is the employee’s principal occupation.

Although the value of food, lodging, clothing or other noncash items given to household employees is generally treated as wages, it is not subject to FICA taxes. However, cash given in place of these items is subject to such taxes.

A household employer doesn’t have to withhold income taxes on wages paid to a household employee, but if the employee requests such withholding, the employer can agree to it. If income taxes are to be withheld, the employer can have the employee complete Form W-4 and base the withholding amount upon the federal income tax and FICA withholding tables.

The wage amount subject to income tax withholding includes salary, vacation and holiday pay, bonuses, clothing and other noncash items, meals and lodging. However, meals are not taxable, and therefore they are not subject to income tax withholding if they are furnished for the employer’s convenience and on the employer’s premises. The same goes for lodging if one additional requirement applies—that the employee lives on the employer’s premises. In lieu of withholding the employee’s share of FICA taxes from the employee’s wages, some employers prefer to pay the employee’s share themselves. In that case, the FICA taxes paid on behalf of the employee are treated as additional wages for income tax purposes.

A household employer who pays more than $1,000 in cash wages to household employees in any calendar quarter of either the current or the prior year is also liable for unemployment tax under the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA).”

Although this may seem quite complicated, the IRS provides a single form (Schedule H) that generally allows a household employer to report and pay employment taxes on household employees’ wages as part of the employer’s Form 1040 filing. This includes Social Security, Medicare, and income tax withholdings and FUTA taxes.

If the employer runs a sole proprietorship with employees, the household employees’ Social Security and Medicare taxes and income tax withholding may be included as part of the individual’s business employee payroll reporting but are not deductible as a business expense.

Although the federal requirements can generally be handled on an individual’s 1040 tax return, there may also be state reporting requirements for your state that entail separate filings.

If the individual providing household services is determined to be an independent contractor, there is currently no requirement that the person who hired the contractor file an information return such as Form 1099-MISC. This is so even if the services performed are eligible for a tax deduction or credit (such as for medical services or child care). The 1099-MISC is used only by businesses to report their payments of $600 or more to independent contractors. Most individuals who hire other individuals to provide services in or around their homes are not doing so as a business owner.

Please call this office if you need assistance with your household employee reporting requirements or need information related to the reporting requirements for your state

Better to Sell or Trade a Business Vehicle?

From time to time business owners will replace vehicles used in their business. When replacing a business vehicle, the tax ramifications are different when selling the old vehicle and when trading it in for a new vehicle. If the vehicle is sold, the result is reported on the taxpayer’s return as an above-the-line gain or loss. Since a trade-in is treated as an exchange, any gain or loss is absorbed into the replacement vehicle’s depreciable basis, thereby avoiding any current taxable gain or reportable loss.

Thus, it is generally better to trade in a vehicle that would result in a gain if it were sold and to sell a vehicle if doing so would result in a loss.

Let’s say a taxpayer sells a 100%-business-use vehicle for $12,000. The original purchase price was $32,000, and $17,000 is taken in depreciation. As illustrated below, the sale results in a loss, so it generally would be better to sell the vehicle and deduct the loss rather than trade in the vehicle.


On the other hand, had the business owner sold the vehicle for $16,000, the sale would result in a $1,000 taxable gain, and trading it in would be a better option.  Caution: Sales to the same dealer are treated as trade-ins.

If a vehicle is used for both business and personal purposes, the loss or gain must be prorated for the proportion of business use, as the personal portion of any loss is not deductible.
Since trade-in values are generally less than the sales value of the vehicle, the trade-in decision must also consider whether the tax benefits will exceed the additional money received from selling the old business vehicle. Of course, there is always the hassle of selling a car to be considered as well.

If you are considering trading a vehicle in, determine whether the tax benefits exceed the additional money received from selling the old business vehicle, as trade-in values are generally less than actual sales values. You should also consider the time and energy it will take to sell the vehicle on your own.

This concept can also be used when selling or disposing of other business assets. If you have questions about how this tax strategy might apply to your specific tax situation, please give this office a call.

IRS Announces 2016 Standard Mileage Rates

As it does every year, the Internal Revenue Service recently announced the inflation-adjusted 2016 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2016, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (or a van, pickup or panel truck) will be:

  • 54.0 cents per mile for business miles driven (including a 24-cent-per-mile allocation for depreciation). This is down from 57.5 cents in 2015;
  • 19 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes. This is down from 23 cents in 2015; and
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

The standard mileage rate for 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 and has been 14 cents for over 15 years.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle for business rather than using the standard mileage rates. With the extension of the bonus depreciation though 2019, using the actual expense method may be 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 used 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 SUV vehicles weigh more than 6,000 pounds and are therefore not subject to the luxury auto depreciation limit rules; so taxpayers with these vehicles can utilize both the §179 expense deduction (up to a maximum of $25,000) and the bonus depreciation (the §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 §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 §179 should be considered.

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

Action May Be Needed Before Year-End

Prior to the release of the new regulations dealing with capitalization and repairs, the Internal Revenue Code and regulations provided no specific de minimis amount that could be expensed for business purchases of items with a useful life of greater than one year, although the IRS generally didn’t quibble over the expensing of items costing $100 to $200 or less. This is without regard to the Section 179 expensing provision.

The new regulations now define a de minimis amount, but it is not a specific amount nor is it automatic. To utilize the de minimis safe harbor, business taxpayers must have an accounting procedure in place before the beginning of the tax year that specifies the de minimis safe harbor amount adopted by the business.

If your business has not previously adopted an accounting policy, it may be appropriate to do so before the beginning of your business’s next tax year, which would be January 1, 2016, for calendar year businesses.

In general, a small business, one without an Applicable Financial Statement, can adopt a de minimis safe harbor up to $500.

Without an accounting procedure adopting a de minimis safe harbor, a small business can only expense the cost of items with a life of one year or less and would be required to capitalize (depreciate) all other items regardless of cost (however, these items may be eligible for Section 179 expensing).

If you have questions related to adopting a policy for 2016, please contact this office before year’s end.