The Major Reasons a Virtual CFO Can Help Your Business Thrive

On a basic level, a virtual CFO (or vCFO for short) is exactly what it sounds like. This is someone who performs all of the services normally associated with a chief financial officer, only in a third-party capacity. Instead of going to the trouble (and expense) of hiring, training and bringing someone with these qualifications into your organization, you’re getting access to someone who can handle all of this remotely on a schedule that works best for all involved.

This is a job that didn’t even exist as recently as a decade ago, but technology has advanced to the point where not only is it possible, but more businesses than ever are using on demand or part time CFOs to help their organizations soar in increasingly competitive marketplaces. This is true for a huge variety of different reasons, all of which are certainly worth exploring.

The Power of a Virtual CFO
The major reason why smaller organizations in particular are finding vCFOs so helpful is that they’re a viable way to control costs almost immediately. Rather than paying the salary to hire your own CFO in a full-time capacity (which can easily balloon into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year once experience and benefits are accounted for), you get the services you need, in an on-demand way, for a fraction of the cost. To that end, a vCFO is really no different than managed services or similar options you may already be using.

This bleeds directly into the next major reason why vCFOs can be so beneficial: They can customize their own skills and services to better meet the needs of your unique organization. Rather than paying someone for a lifetime’s worth of education, you’re only paying for the skills needed to perform the tasks at hand. But even better, the services being offered can also be adjusted on a regular basis as your business continues to grow and evolve. All of this provides you with almost unprecedented access to a wealth of knowledge that used to be out of your budget.

Leveraging Someone Else’s Experience to Your Advantage
That expertise also creates a ripple effect across your enterprise in the best possible way. You’re bringing in someone who naturally has involvement in many different companies similar to your own. This means that you’re in a unique position to avoid making the same mistakes that they’ve previously made.

But maybe the biggest advantage that a virtual or gig-based CFO brings to a company has to do with the quality of the advice being offered. This is more than just an accounting setup. The focus goes beyond simply setting up a financial structure and putting a framework in place for you to effectively manage your books.

Consider the types of challenges that you’re likely to experience over the course of just five years. Your business will naturally get more complex as you add not only more employees but also suppliers, vendors and all the contracts that come with them. If you go through a period of rapid growth, it can quickly cause your financials to grow out of control … unless you’re prepared for it.

A straightforward accounting setup isn’t necessarily enough to offer that much-needed level of preparation, but a vCFO is. This is a professional who has arrived with the express purpose of putting the systems in place to not only better support the current phase of your business, but the next one as well.

Being Better Prepared for What Comes Next
In the end, a vCFO won’t just explain the finer details of your business’ financial situation. They’ll work with you to make sure you’re better informed about not only your current status, but the pros and cons of the options that are available to you in the future. That level of strategic advice — and the advanced decision-making made possible because of it — would be difficult to replicate through nearly any other means.

Armed with more actionable knowledge than ever, you’ll quickly find yourself in a better position to always make the right choice at exactly the right time moving forward. This, in turn, ensures that your business can maximize profitability as much as possible over the next few years, thus allowing you to run the type of organization you always dreamed you’d one day be a part of.

If you’re a large, national organization that can afford to bring on a full-time CFO, there really isn’t any reason NOT to do so. But for most other companies, using a vCFO isn’t just an effective way to fill the types of gaps that naturally exist in your skill set — it’s a way to help your business thrive for the next five, 10 or even 20 years in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

Reasons Why Your Small Business Needs an Employer Identification Number

Entrepreneurs often shrug off the idea of obtaining an employer identification number, or EIN, believing that their small business really doesn’t need one. Though there are some cases where a solo business can get away with merely utilizing the business owner’s Social Security Number, doing so is not necessarily the best idea, even if you don’t have plans to hire employees in the future. In almost all instances, having an EIN is a good idea. It provides many benefits that go beyond facilitating the payment of employees.

Using an EIN Instead of Your Social Security Number Protects Your Personal Information
One of the top benefits offered by an Employee Identification Number is that it can help protect your personal identity. Though you still need to protect your EIN and shouldn’t share it without being certain of how it will be applied, using it for your business means that your personal information will have less exposure. Government forms and documents require an identifier, and the EIN (which is issued by the IRS) can be used on all of these instead of the Social Security Number. Though you can still suffer significant damage if your EIN is stolen, the information that is limited to your business is less sensitive than the information that is connected with your Social Security Number. Both require vigilant protection.

If You’re Going to Incorporate, You Need an EIN
Immediately incorporating your business makes it into a separate entity, and as such, it needs its own form of identification, especially if you’re going to have employees. Even if you’re considering yourself an employee, you will need to pay yourself a salary, and that means that you will need to collect payroll tax and take other steps that keep you in step with the IRS requirements. This is true whether your entity is established as a corporation, an LLC, and especially as a partnership, as you can’t use two Social Security numbers for filing financial papers.

The EIN Has Multiple Applications
Having an Employer Identification Number has long-term benefits that go far beyond its initial issuance. In addition to facilitating payroll, it can also be used to apply for all types of credit accounts and bank accounts needed by entities including general partnerships, LLCs, S corporations and sole proprietorships. You’ll need to have that number available for filing to change your business’ entity, for filing your tax returns every year, for setting up financial instruments such as profit-sharing plans, pensions, and retirement plans, and more.

Every business is different, and though we encourage all business owners to give serious consideration to obtaining an Employer Identification Number, we know that it may not apply to your situation. Please call us if have questions related to an Employer Identification Number and your particular circumstances.

Are You an S Corporation Stockholder? Are You Taking Reasonable Compensation in the Form of Wages?

S corporation compensation requirements are often misunderstood and abused by owner-shareholders. An S corporation is a type of business structure in which the business does not pay income tax at the corporate level and instead distributes (passes through) the income, gains, losses, and deductions to the shareholders for inclusion on their income tax returns. If there are gains, these distributions are considered return on investment and therefore are not subject to self-employment taxes.

However, if stockholders also work in the business, they are supposed to take reasonable compensation for their services in the form of wages, and of course, wages are subject to FICA (Social Security and Medicare) and other payroll taxes. This is where some owner-shareholders err by not paying themselves a reasonable compensation for the services they provide, some out of unfamiliarity with the requirements and some purposely to avoid the payroll taxes.

The Internal Revenue Code establishes that any officer of a corporation, including S corporations, is an employee of the corporation for federal employment tax purposes. S corporations should not attempt to avoid paying employment taxes by having their officers treat their compensation as cash distributions, payments of personal expenses, and/or loans rather than as wages.

If the S corporation does not pay its working stockholders a reasonable compensation for their services, then the IRS generally will treat a portion of the S corporation’s distributions as wages and impose Social Security taxes on the deemed wages.

There is no specific method for determining what constitutes reasonable compensation, and it is based upon facts and circumstances. Generally, it is an amount that unrelated employers would pay for comparable services under like circumstances and based upon the cost of living in the area where the business is located. The following are just some of the many factors that would be taken into account in making this determination:

  • Training and experience
  • Duties and responsibilities
  • Time and effort devoted to the business
  • Dividend history
  • Payments to non-shareholder employees
  • Timing and manner of paying bonuses to key people
  • What comparable businesses pay for similar servicesCompensation agreements
  • The use of a formula to determine compensation

The problem here, of course, is that it is easy for the IRS to list contributing factors used by the courts in determining reasonable compensation and leave it to the corporation to quantify these factors into a reasonable salary but still have the ability to challenge the selected amount later if an auditor, off the top of their head, decides the compensation is unreasonable.

The IRS has a long history of examining S corporation tax returns to ensure that reasonable compensation is being paid, particularly if no compensation is shown being paid to employee-stockholders.

Reasonable Compensation in the Spotlight – With the passage of tax reform, reasonable compensation will be in the spotlight because of the new deduction for 20% of pass-through income. This new Sec. 199A deduction is equal to 20% of qualified business income (QBI) and will figure intro the shareholder’s income tax return. The QBI for the stockholder of an S-corporation is the amount of net income passed through to the stockholder and designated as QBI on the K-1, but the stockholder may not include the reasonable compensation (wages) he or she was paid as QBI. Thus, wages paid to stockholders actually reduce the QBI because the S corporation deducts the wages as a business expense, therefore reducing the corporation’s net income and QBI. But that does not mean wages can be arbitrarily adjusted to maximize the Sec. 199A deduction.

IRC Sec. 199A Deduction – Here are some details about how the 199A deduction works and the impact of the reasonable compensation wages on the Sec. 199A deduction.

  • The S corporation’s employee-stockholder’s wages are NOT included in qualified business income (QBI) when computing the 199A deduction. Thus, the larger the wages, the smaller the K-1 flow-through income (QBI) and thus the smaller the 199A deduction, which is 20% of QBI. In this case, an S corporation would tend to pay the stockholder a smaller salary to maximize the flow-through income and, as a result, the 199A deduction.
  • If married taxpayers filing a joint return have taxable income that exceeds $315,000 ($157,500 for other filing statuses), the 199A deduction begins to be subject to a wage limitation, and once the taxable income for married taxpayers filing a joint return exceeds $415,000 ($207,500 for other filing statuses), the 199A deduction becomes the lesser of 20% of the QBI or the wage limitation. For these high-income taxpayers, an S corporation will tend to pay stockholders less wage income for them to benefit from the Sec. 199A deduction.
  • If an S corporation is a specified service trade or business, the Sec. 199A deduction phases out for married taxpayers filing a joint return with taxable income between $315,000 and $415,000 (between $157,500 and $207,500 for other filing statuses). And although the wage limitation is used in computing the phase out, once the taxpayer’s taxable income exceeds $415,000 ($207,500 for other filing statuses), the taxpayer will receive no benefit from the wage limitation and therefore would again want to minimize their reasonable compensation to minimize FICA taxes. Specified service trades or businesses (SSTBs) include those in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, athletics, consulting, and financial services (for more information on what constitutes an SSTB, please call us).

Of course, taxpayers cannot pick and choose a reasonable level of compensation to minimize taxes or maximize deductions. Therein lies a trap for taxpayers who do not consider the factors related to reasonable compensation. There are commercial firms that have the data necessary to determine reasonable compensation and specialize in doing so. These firms can be found by searching the Internet for “reasonable compensation.” Even the IRS has employed these firms to provide reasonable compensation data in tax court cases.

If you want additional information related to reasonable compensation, please call us to schedule an appointment.

Six Common Small Business Accounting Problems That Are Killing Your Growth

If you’re a small business owner, you want your organization to do far more than survive: you want it to thrive! Unfortunately, to make sure that customers are happy and the lights stay on there are a lot of details that need attention, and some end up being overlooked. The intricacies of accounting are neither sexy nor fun, and most business owners don’t have the training or background that’s needed for this vital area of operations. To help make sure that you’re doing everything you can to maximize your profitability and fiscal responsibility, here’s a list of the six most common accounting problems small businesses encounter. By addressing each, you’ll go a long way toward assuring your business’ success and growth.

1. Not Using Accounting Software
There are a lot of benefits to using accounting software, and the most obvious of these is that if you try to do all of the necessary calculations by hand, you’re at risk for making a small mistake that can lead to a giant headache. There is a fantastic selection of software available — it may even feel overwhelming when you first begin doing the research – but if you take your time, read reviews and look for something that is designed to meet the needs of your particular type of business, you’re sure to end up satisfied. If you’re not sure what to look for, use this checklist of minimum requirements:

  • Sales tracking 
  • Financial statements, cash flow statements and balance sheet 
  • Generating Invoices 
  • Contacts management and contact history tracking 
  • Budget planning 
  • Account to accept credit card payments 
  • Inventory management 
  • Payrolls 
  • Taxation 

2. Not Knowing How to Use the Software That You Have
It may seem funny, but the second most common mistake that small business owners make in terms of accounting is also about accounting software – it’s having the software in-house but not using it, not using it the right way, or not really knowing how to use it. Like the treadmill that sits in the corner of your bedroom and slowly becomes something to throw your clothes over, having invested in accounting software and then not actually using it (or using it the right way) is a reason for regret, and so much more beyond that. When you’re not using your software the right way, you leave yourself vulnerable to making accounting mistakes. More importantly, you end up taking far too much time on bookkeeping tasks that it could do for you quickly and efficiently. Most of the packages available come with tutorials, but if you need help, contact an accounting professional and ask them to run through bookkeeping basics with you so that you can use it to its best benefit.

3. Failing to Produce Monthly Financial Reports
A lot of small businesses tend to minimize the importance of financial reports, feeling that if they produce some snapshot every few months or even twice a year, it’s good enough. The truth is that if you have financial backers or are interested in getting additional investment in your business, having a monthly report is an essential tool for them, as well as a sign that you’re taking their investment seriously. More importantly, the more closely you monitor your company’s financial activities, the faster you can pick up on issues as they develop, including slow-paying clients, oversites in your accounts payable, and more.

4. Having the Numbers, But They’re Wrong
There are a lot of things that can lead to your financials being incorrect: it can be not using accounting software (or not using it correctly); failing to update data; inputting incorrect data; and more. Whatever the cause, the result is never good and can cause problems significant enough to close your business or scare investors away. Worse, it can leave you vulnerable to bad actors who can use the inaccuracy to perpetrate fraud.

5. Mixing Your Personal Accounts with Your Business Accounts
Even if you are operating a pass-through business, it is essential that you keep separate books, separate credit cards, and separate banking for your personal needs and your business needs. Failing to do this will make it nearly impossible to determine what expenses are deductible, what capital investments generate profit and more. Small oversights are more likely to occur in accounting for out-of-pocket expenses, and this generally leads to paying more in taxes than you need to. Worse, if you face an audit, it will lead to a nightmare of having to separate and justify accounting measures that have been taken.

6. Failure to Properly Manage Your Payroll
Payroll is one of the most complex areas of running a business. Not only do you want to make sure that you’re paying your employees appropriately, but you need to be sure that essential areas like payroll taxes and withholding are being done accurately. When in doubt, it makes sense to bring in outside professionals for assistance. If you have any questions about these or any other small business accounting problems, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance. 

Ten Ways to Improve Profits in the Coming Year

In the U.S., the economy is thriving and expected to grow over the next few months. Businesses are expanding. The Federal Reserve has inched up interest rates, creating investment opportunities, and lenders are offering small business loans. All of this points to a promising outlook for the coming months. As a small business owner, this is the time to take a closer look at your profit and loss sheets to determine how you can make the most out of this current economy.

How Can You Increase Revenue and Profits in the Coming Year?
For most companies, increasing revenue and profit margins is a goal. Yet, there’s strong competition in most sectors. Here’s a look at ways you can boost your profit margins without having to invest heavily.

#1: Increase Pricing Marginally
Inflation is a key component of the current market. As the U.S. consumer increases confidence in spending, it becomes possible to increase prices. Re-evaluate your current price points. Are you getting enough from each sale to build profits?

#2: Don’t Overlook the Impact of Tariffs
The ongoing trade war with China has many business owners worried about cost. Plan now. Tariffs are impacting nearly all industries including construction, retail, restaurants, and manufacturing to name just a few. Work with your team to understand the impact on your business’s bottom line, such as the higher cost of goods, and build those costs into your prices.

#3: Get Rid of Tasks Not Adding Value to the Customer
Take a closer look at what you are spending on within your profit and loss. Is each one of these expenses directly contributing to your customers’ needs? Eliminate costs that do not contribute to customer value.

#4: Review Competitor Prices
Along with increasing your prices, take a closer look at what your competition is charging for services. There are two things to focus on here. If their prices are higher, why? Are they offering something better for their product or service that encourages a higher price point? Second, are your prices competitively aligned with theirs? If not, what can you do to offer something extra to your customer?

#5: Reduce Overstock
Carrying a significant amount of stock does not improve business operations and increases costs. It can drive up waste when product is lost or forgotten. It also hampers your company’s ability to keep inventory costs in line with your goals. Pair down stock.

#6: Find a Way to Increase the Value of Every Sale
Provide some last-minute addition your customer could buy to enhance their product or service. Ensure your sales team is speaking to each customer about this offer, right as they close the deal. If you sell cars, offer an add-on feature for a certain additional amount. If you sell professional services, determine if your customers could benefit from a monthly check-in or other add-on services.

#7: Expand Product or Services Lines With Care
Look for complimentary services and products that do not require a lot of investment to offer them to your customers. What additional products or revenue streams could enhance what you already provide? This may not require additional equipment or a large amount of inventory.

#8: Build Your Team’s Skillset
Beyond a doubt, in a sales-oriented business, your company cannot build revenue if your sales team misses their market. Invest in sales training for the modern audience. Focus on moving away from traditional methods toward more efficient and brand-building methods for sales.

#9: Get Your Numbers in Line Now
Hiring a team to help you explore your current profit margins is critical. However, bringing on a professional organization to help with managing your books is only effective if you apply the information and insights they provide to you. In other words, find a team you can sit down with and discuss opportunities you can apply right now.

#10: Build Your Customer Base
Use a variety of tools to help build your customer base. Complete a market analyses to better understand who your target customer is. Then, work to modernize your marketing efforts to attract that specific audience. When you do, you turn heads and capitalize on a new set of customers.

Building revenue and profits starts with knowing where you are specifically. Review your prices, financial accounts, and books with care. Then, look for small ways to reduce costs that don’t contribute to your profits and build up services, products, and prices for those that help your company to grow. Always have a focus on the bottom-line benefit of any investment you make.

If you have any questions about improving profitability in the coming year, please contact us for assistance.

Mitigating the Effects of Employee Burnout: What You Need to Know

Make absolutely no mistake about it: Not only is employee burnout very real, it’s probably costing your business a lot more money than you realize. It’s also not a problem that you’re necessarily going to be able to buy your way out of, either.

According to one recent study, a massive 70 percent of the workforce in the United States is not engaged with their current jobs in any type of meaningful way ― and employee burnout is a major contributing factor to this. As stated, if you think that this is because people don’t feel like they’re making enough money, the chances are very high that you’re wrong. The same study revealed that 89 percent of employers THINK that people leave jobs to get more money elsewhere, but in reality, that’s only actually true about 12 percent of the time. But perhaps the most damning statistic of all is the following: Collectively, disengaged employees cost organizations in the United States between $450 and $550 billion every year in terms of lost productivity alone.

So, once you’ve come to the realization that this is, in fact, a problem, you must then turn your attention toward taking advantage of any possible solution in front of you. The good news is that it is possible to mitigate the effects of employee burnout ― you just need to keep a few key things in mind.

Understand What Employee Burnout Looks Like
Not every employee is necessarily burned out ― even if they’re pulling long hours or giving everything to help you achieve your goals. But in an effort to avoid the major downsides of burnout on your business, you need to know more about how to spot it in its nascent stages. If an employee is burned out, they’re probably exhibiting one or even all of the following signs:

  • They’re exhausted, either physically or emotionally. The resources needed to cope with their work environment in these two areas are totally spent, and they tend to act accordingly. We’ve all been here, so you should know what it looks like.
  • They’re increasingly cynical. They know what they’re supposed to do and why it matters, but they’re less convinced that it really matters to THEM in the long run.
  • They’re growing more inefficient as time goes on. Burned-out employees tend to give up “trying” pretty quickly as a result of the cynical attitude outlined above, and the quality of the work they offer suffers as a result.

Put a Premium on the Mental Health of Your Employees
If you truly want to mitigate the effects of employee burnout, you need to focus on trying to prevent it from happening in the first place, instead of correcting the problem after it occurs.

This means placing a high priority on the mental health and wellness of all of your workers, something you can do in a few different ways.

Some experts recommend that you should hold walking meetings, for example. Instead of holding yet another meeting with your team in a stuffy boardroom with absolutely no natural lighting, get outside and take a walk around the block. You can still discuss all the same things (and thanks to cloud technology, you can likely refer to all of the same files on devices like smartphones and tablets), but the change of scenery will really make a big difference.

Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to encourage people to take mental health days ― especially during busy periods or the holiday season. Remember that a burned-out employee ultimately isn’t doing you any good anyway, so if they need to leave early one day or not come in at all, they’ll be at far more of an advantage than you are at a disadvantage in terms of lost productivity. Just knowing that you support their health and wellness like this will really go a long way toward mitigating this type of risk.

Likewise, you should always maintain an open door policy with your employees. If they feel like they need to come in and talk to you for any reason, good or bad, they should feel comfortable with their ability to do so. If they need something to thrive in their job every day, they shouldn’t be afraid to come ask for it because they should know you’ll work hard to get it. If they have a problem, they should feel willing to come talk to you to look for a solution. Again, the importance of this level of managerial support is something that you absolutely cannot overstate.

Everyone feels burned out every now and again ― this is not something you can avoid. But if you truly want to avoid letting employee burnout have a long-term negative effect on everything that you’ve already worked so hard to build, you need to recognize the problem and take steps now to do something about it. Oftentimes, success to that end is less the product of one big move and more about a series of smaller ones. Provided you follow tips like these every day, you’ll soon realize that a large portion of the hard work has already been done for you.

Rejoice — Business Meals Are Still Deductible

f you are a business owner who is accustomed to treating clients to sporting events, golf getaways, concerts and the like, you were no doubt saddened by part of the tax reform that passed last December. A part of the tax reform did away with the business-related deductions for entertainment, amusement or recreation expenses, beginning in 2018. You can still entertain your clients; you just can’t deduct the costs of doing so as a business expense.

While the ban on deducting business entertainment was quite clear in the revised law, a lingering question among tax experts has been whether the tax reform’s definition of entertainment also applied to business meals, such as when you take a customer or business contact to lunch. Some were saying yes, and others no. Either way, both sides recommended keeping the required receipts and documentation until the issue was clarified.

The IRS recently issued some very business-friendly guidance, pending the release of more detailed regulations. In a notice, the IRS has announced that taxpayers generally may continue to deduct 50 percent of the food and beverage expenses associated with operating their trade or business, including business meals, provided:

  1. The expense is an ordinary and necessary expense paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying out any trade or business;
  2. The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances;
  3. The taxpayer, or an employee of the taxpayer, is present at the furnishing of the food or beverages;
  4. The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant or similar business contact; and
  5. Food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity are purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices or receipts.

The IRS notice also included the following interesting examples related to #5: The taxpayer invites a business contact to a baseball game. The tickets to the game are entertainment and not deductible. However, the taxpayer also purchased hot dogs and a beverage for himself and the business contact. Because the food and drinks were purchased separately, they are not disallowed as entertainment and are deductible if they otherwise qualify as an ordinary and necessary business expense. Had the ticket price included the hot dogs and beverages, they would be treated as non-deductible entertainment. If the ticket price separately stated the ticket price and the food and beverage price, then the food and beverage portion would not be disallowed as entertainment.

Of course, the substantiation requirements still apply. You must be able to establish the amount spent, the time and place, the business purpose and the business relationship and names of the individuals involved. You should keep a diary, an account book, digital files or similar records with this information and record the details within a short time of incurring the expenses. If the meal expense is $75 or more, documentary proof (receipts, etc.) is also required.

If you are an employee, starting in tax year 2018, you will not be able to deduct your unreimbursed employee business expenses, including the cost of client meals. These expenses have been deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions when you itemized deductions and when your total deductions in that category exceeded 2% of your adjusted gross income. Under the tax reform, this category of deductions is not deductible for years 2018 through 2025. So, unfortunately, the IRS’s expansive definition of meal expenses will not benefit you.

If you have questions related to business meals, substantiation, or the ban on entertainment expenses, please give us a call.

Reasonable Compensation and S Corporations

Unlike a C corporation, which itself pays the tax on its taxable income, an S corporation does not directly pay taxes on its income; instead, its income, losses, deductions, and credits are distributed across its shareholders’ individual tax returns on a pro rata basis. These distributions are not subject to self-employment (Social Security and Medicare) taxes. As a result, many S corporations ignore the requirement that each shareholder-employee must take reasonable compensation in the form of W-2 wages in exchange for services performed for the corporation. These wages are subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes (which the corporation and the employee generally split equally); the corporation is also responsible for paying the Federal Unemployment Tax (as well as any state unemployment taxes).

The Internal Revenue Code establishes that an officer of an S corporation is an employee of that corporation for Federal Unemployment Tax purposes. S corporations should not attempt to avoid paying this tax by treating their officers’ compensation as distributions rather than as wages.

This has been an issue for decades; in 1974, the IRS issued a ruling stating that, when a shareholder-employee fails to take a salary, or if that salary is unreasonable, an auditor should assert that the salary is unreasonable. The officer’s distributions will then be shifted to account for reasonable compensation, and he or she will be assessed the related employment taxes and penalties. At stake here are the employee’s 6.2% Social Security and 1.45% Medicare payroll taxes, the S corporation’s matching amounts, the Federal Unemployment Tax, and whatever state taxes happen to apply.

Who Is an Employee of the Corporation? – Generally, an officer of a corporation is considered an employee of that corporation. The fact that an officer is also a shareholder does not change the requirement that any payments made to that officer must be treated as wages. Courts have consistently held that S corporation shareholders who provide more than minor services to their corporation (and receive payment in return) are employees whose compensation is subject to federal taxes.

Tax regulations do provide an exception for officers who do not perform services or who perform only minor services. These officers are not considered employees.

What’s a Reasonable Salary? – The instructions for Form 1120S (“U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation”) state: “Distributions and other payments by an S corporation to a corporate officer must be treated as wages to the extent the amounts are reasonable compensation for services rendered to the corporation.” There are no specific guidelines in the tax code regarding the definition of reasonable compensation. The various courts that have ruled on this issue have based their determinations on the facts and circumstances of the individual cases. These are some factors that courts have considered when determining reasonable compensation:

  • The officer’s training and experience
  • The officer’s duties and responsibilities
  • The time and effort that the officer devotes to the business
  • The corporation’s dividend history
  • The corporation’s payments to non-shareholder employees
  • The timing and manner of the bonuses paid to key people at the corporation
  • The payments that comparable businesses have made for similar services
  • The corporation’s compensation agreements
  • The formulas that similar corporations have used to determine compensation

The problem here, of course, is that it is easy for the IRS to simply list contributing factors that courts have used when determining reasonable compensation and leave it to each corporation to quantify these factors and determine a reasonable salary—all while retaining the ability to challenge the selected amount later if an auditor decides that the compensation is not reasonable. The IRS has a long history of examining S corporations’ tax returns to ensure that reasonable compensation is being paid, particularly when a corporation pays no compensation to employee-stockholders.

New Issue For 2018 – The late-2017 tax reform added a new flow-through deduction (also referred to as the “199A deduction” after the section of the tax code that describes it). This deduction applies to S corporations (among many other business entities) and adds another level of complexity to the determination of reasonable compensation.

    • The wages of an S corporation’s employee-stockholder are NOT treated as qualified business income (QBI) that is eligible for the individual’s 199A deduction. However, the corporation deducts these wages as a business expense when it calculates the profit that passes through to the shareholder as QBI on Schedule K-1. Thus, larger wages mean less K-1 flow-through income (QBI) and thus a smaller 199A deduction (as that is equal to 20% of QBI). In this case, S corporations tend to minimize stockholders’ salaries in order to maximize flow-through income; this strategy increases the employee-stockholder’s 199A deduction and lowers the payroll taxes for both the corporation and the employee-stockholder.
    • If married taxpayers who are filing a joint return have 1040 taxable income that exceeds $315,000 (or $157,500 for those with other filing statuses), the 199A deduction begins to be subject to a wage limitation. Once the 1040 taxable income for married taxpayers filing jointly exceeds $415,000 (or $207,500 for those with other filing statuses), the wage limitation is fully phased in. In that event, the 199A deduction becomes the lesser of the wage limitation or 20% of the QBI; if the wage limitation is zero, there is no 199A deduction.The wage limitation comprises the wages that the corporation paid, including those paid to stockholders, plus the unadjusted cost of the qualified property that the corporation owned and used during the year. To be more specific, the wage limitation is the larger of
      • 50% of the wages that the corporation paid or
      • 25% of the corporation’s paid wages plus 2.5% of the unadjusted cost of its qualified property.
Thus, for those high-income shareholders for whom the wage limitation applies, if the corporation pays no wages and has no qualified property, the shareholder will not have a 199A deduction.If an S corporation is a specified service trade or business, the 199A deduction phases out; for married taxpayers who are filing a joint return, it phases out at taxable incomes between $315,000 and $415,000 (for those with other filing statuses, it phases out between $157,500 and $207,500). The IRS describes specified service trades or businesses are those in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, athletics, consulting, financial services, and brokerage services, as well as those for which reputation and/or skill are contributing factors (for more details on what constitutes an specified service trade or business, please give us a call).

Thus, if married taxpayers who are filing jointly have taxable income in excess of $415,000 (or $207,500 for those with other filing statuses), they receive no benefit from the wage limitation; therefore, they also tend to minimize their reasonable compensation in order to minimize their FICA taxes.

Of course, taxpayers cannot pick and choose a particular level of reasonable compensation to minimize their taxes or maximize their deductions; therein lies a trap. Taxpayers instead should consider all the factors related to reasonable compensation. However, pulling all the data together to support such a determination can be difficult and time-consuming. Some commercial firms have the necessary data and resources to properly apply the various factors mentioned in this article so as to determine the proper level of reasonable compensation; this can provide backup in the case of an IRS challenge.

Please give us a call if you have questions related to reasonable compensation for S corporation shareholders or how it impacts your specific tax situation.

The Key Steps to Take BEFORE You Start a New Business

Very few people think that starting a new business is easy. But at the same time, there are few first-time entrepreneurs who realize just how involved things are from the moment you start trying to bring that idea that previously only existed in your head into the real world.

There’s a massive amount of commitment required, even before your business technically exists at all. This is okay, because as the old saying goes, “anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

In fact, there are a number of key steps that you need to take BEFORE you’ve even started the business of your dreams that you’ll absolutely want to pay close attention to moving forward.

Identify the “Why” of It All
First thing’s first: Before you do anything else, you need to determine why you feel so compelled to start this particular business at this particular time.

Is it just because you think you have a great, sure-fire idea that is going to generate a lot of money? If so, you may want to take a step back… you’ll likely be disappointed. But if it’s because this will allow you to genuinely do something you love, and something that you think will make an impact on the lives of a lot of people, then, by all means, push ahead.

Identify the NEED
Next, you need to verify that this idea of yours is actually a viable one in the first place; essentially, you have to confirm that there is a genuine need in the marketplace for a product or service like the one you want to create.

DO NOT allow yourself to become “a solution in search of a problem.” Make sure that people are asking for a business like yours and that need is currently going unfulfilled.

DON’T Quit Your Day Job
Building a successful business is not something that happens overnight. This often takes years of planning and hard work, not to mention many mistakes along the way.

All of this is to say that if your ability to quit your day job and focus on your new business full time depends on an instant success… don’t quit your day job just yet.

DON’T Neglect Your Family
Yes, starting a business is something that requires a huge amount of your time. Yes, you need to devote every ounce of space in your brain and every free moment to this goal. But do not, under any circumstances, let that come at the expense of your loved ones and those around you.

You’re going to need quite a bit of support to get your new business up and running. If you neglect your family now, you’re not going to have that support later.

The Art of Writing a Business Plan
At this point, you can start working on making your vision a reality. This part of the journey always begins in the same basic way: writing a realistic, actionable business plan that will guide your every move in the future.

With a business plan, you really do need to be as specific as humanly possible. You know where you’re starting, and you know where you want to end up. The job of a business plan is to connect those dots by way of a series of smaller, logical and achievable steps. It’s essentially the roadmap you’ll use to shine a light through the darkness, guaranteeing that you’re always moving in the right direction (and that this direction is forward).

The Entrepreneur’s Bet
As you write your business plan, you’ll also have to make what is often referred to as “The Entrepreneur’s Bet.” Essentially, you need to figure out how much money a business like yours needs to make in order to become profitable.

You also need to acknowledge that, once again, your business is very unlikely to be successful enough right away to have this bet pay off in the short term. A lot of new businesses are operating at a loss at first — that’s okay. But this is yet another step that confirms the path you’re on is actually viable and it’s one that you absolutely do not want to skip.

The Myth of the “One Size Fits All” Approach
At this point, it’s also important to acknowledge that there really is no one “right way” to start a business. The choices you have to make will be influenced by a wide range of different factors, many of which are unique to your industry, your business plan and even the vision that you’re starting with.

Case in point: You need to review all local, state and federal regulations pertaining to what you’re trying to accomplish. Different places have different laws, and ignorance is not an excuse for breaking them. Factors like how to become compliant, what standards a product has to meet and more will all be influenced by these regulations, and they will impact a lot of the steps on your business plan as well.

It’s Time to Start Thinking About Technology
Once this foundation is all in place, it’s time to start thinking about the tools you’ll need to bring your new business into the world. These days, that involves a lot more technology than people often realize.

This is another one of those steps that will obviously be impacted by the type of business you’re starting. A local brick-and-mortar retail store will obviously have different technological needs (point of sale systems, inventory management equipment, etc.) than an online marketing agency (graphic design software, collaboration tools, etc.).

But when built properly, your technology strategy and your business strategy are essentially one and the same. They feed into one another, and your IT helps generate the momentum you need to continue to grow and expand while remaining agile as well. It’s far too important to neglect.

Choosing the Right Business Entity
This is another important step you don’t want to skip because it dictates things like taxes, paperwork, liability and other legal elements of your business.

One of the most common types of business entities is the limited liability structure, or LLC. This is because it provides you with the level of flexibility you need right now, coupled with the protection you’ll need from a personal liability standpoint.

But that isn’t a guarantee that this is right for you. Other structures like sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and C corporations all have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. You need to pick the right one today or you’ll open yourself up to a world of problems tomorrow.

Finding the Help You Need (and You WILL Need It)
Finally, as your journey toward true entrepreneurship is about to begin in earnest, you need to understand two of the core pillars of successful business ownership:

  1. You do not know everything, even if you think you do.
  2. You cannot do it all alone, even if you think you can.

The difference between failed and successful business owners often comes down to the acknowledgment of these two points.

Rather than do a poor job at a business task for which you don’t have the skills, don’t be afraid to hire someone who does have those skills. Rather than guess at answers to questions, find the right advisors and mentors to guide you. Reach out and find the people who are willing to assist you and don’t be afraid to share your vision with them.

You WILL need help and there are people who are absolutely willing to stand by your side. You just have to want to look for them.

In the End
It’s fair to say that starting a new business is harder than you probably thought it was going to be, especially when you consider the sheer amount of time you’ll need to devote to the steps outlined above. But provided that you have a realistic vision and a passion that cannot be extinguished, success is no longer a question of “if” but “when.”

The stakes are high and the risk is higher, but the rewards are even greater if you persevere. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

This year’s wildfires, record rains, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and potential for earthquakes should all act as reminders that you should be prepared for a disaster. Sure, it will take some effort on your part and you may never be affected by a disaster, but if you are, you will sure wish you had been prepared. It can become a nightmare, whether it impacts you personally or your business.

Business Owners – If you are a business owner, unexpected events can have a devastating effect on your business. You need to be protected from any number of natural and unnatural events, such as fire, computer failure and illness or the loss of key staff, all of which can make it difficult or even impossible to continue day-to-day operations.

Good planning can help you take steps to minimize the impact of a disaster and protect your business. The following recommendations can help your business cope with an unforeseen calamity.

By identifying possible disasters that may affect you and your business, you may be able to minimize the risks and losses that might occur. A well-thought-out business continuity plan will identify an action plan, safety concerns, applicable computer back-ups and alternative operational headquarters. It will also provide a road map back to normal activities by highlighting the points of contact for insurance and emergency relief way ahead of time.

How will you escape? Where will you meet up? How will you communicate? Map out and practice escape routes from your building. Familiarize yourself with the local authorities and emergency radio signals announced at the time of a disaster. What happens if you survive the disaster but your biggest supplier does not? Develop backup vendors and relationships ahead of time. Don’t forget that many employees will have families to care for and that their homes may be damaged or destroyed by the disaster. Have you stockpiled water, batteries, first aid kits and food in case emergency services are delayed?

As many realize after the fact, they are not insured for many natural disasters under their existing business policy. You may need to add or increase coverage, if it is available. Check with your carrier for details on your coverage.

Different types of businesses have different computer system needs, and those systems need to be backed up in case an event damages or causes the loss of the business’s computer capabilities. Backups are easy with the current online technology. Many businesses now have outside vendors that host and back up their computer systems for them. Inquire about whether they have redundant backup systems and request information on their emergency plans. In fact, in many cases, businesses now have their entire computer systems and data online, and these backups function from anywhere, from any computer.

If the disaster is only temporary and shuts down the electrical grid to your business, a generator may be a sound investment. The generator can power your computer system, equipment, refrigerators and other crucial items.

Family and Home – Just like a business, your family needs to have an emergency plan. They may be in different locations, such as school, work and home, when a disaster strikes. You need to have plans in place for where to meet if separated and a pre-planned evacuation route or action plan for unexpected disasters. The pre-planned evacuation route should avoid areas that can flood or are dangerous. It is good practice to never let the fuel level in your car(s) get below half-full, or let your electric car be less than half-charged, because the area may lose power, and gas stations may also be damaged by the disaster or run out of fuel.

While many people these days use credit or debit cards or other electronic payment methods in lieu of cash for their purchases, it’s a good idea to have some cash on hand for times when a disaster causes the electricity to be out for an extended period of time. Without power, vendors won’t be able to process non-cash payments.

Is your insurance coverage appropriate? Do you have supplies of batteries, flashlights, water, food, medications and first aid supplies in case of an emergency? And don’t forget to consider the needs of your pets during and after an emergency.

Records – We now live in a digital world, and if you are computer savvy, an easy way to keep your records out of harm’s way is to store digital copies of the documents on a remote server (i.e., in the cloud). It may cost a few bucks a month, but the digital files will be there when you need them, regardless of what happens to your home or business location. If you aren’t a fan of cloud storage, you should maintain an up-to-date backup of your computer files on an external hard drive or thumb drive(s), preferably with a copy stored in a secure location away from your home or office that is not likely to be affected by the same disaster.

Most financial institutions these days provide all of their documents digitally, and you can store those documents on your remote server or even retrieve them from the financial institutions’ websites. However, before relying on the financial institutions, make sure they retain your records for long enough to meet your needs.

For example, you generally need to keep individual tax records for at least 3 years after the tax return’s due date for that tax year or the date when you filed the return, if it was filed after the due date. For example, your 2017 return was due April 17, 2018. If you filed it on or before April 17, the statute of limitations for the 2017 return would not run out until April 15, 2021. So, you would have to keep the records for the 2017 tax return until then. (The statute of limitations runs for 4 years for some states, and some records need to be kept longer for both federal and state purposes.) If some of your files are not already available digitally, you can always scan the originals to create digital copies.

Another very important thing to everyone is family photos. Modern-day pictures are digital, so you can save them on a remote server, or many photo services will save them online for you. For the older important ones, you can scan them or take digital pictures of them with your camera.

Another important document to have is a list of your home’s and business facility’s contents for insurance purposes. The quick and easy way is to take a video or pictures throughout the house or business showing the furnishings and equipment. A better method is to take the pictures or video and back them up with a detailed list of the items in each room.

Disaster Scams – Whenever there is a disaster, lowlifes show up and try to scam generous individuals out of money intended to go to victims of the disaster. Don’t you be another victim of the disaster – watch out for scammers claiming to represent charitable organizations, who will pocket the donations for themselves instead. Besides fraudsters soliciting on behalf of bogus charities, some so-called charities aren’t entirely honest about how they use contributions.

You may receive phone calls, emails, snail mail or appeals on social networking sites for donations to help the victims of the most recent disaster. Some of these appeals may come from fraudsters and not legitimate charities. Unfortunately, this happens often after natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.

So before writing a check or giving your credit card number to a charity that you aren’t familiar with, check them out so you can be assured that your donation will end up in the right hands. Follow these tips to make sure that your charitable contributions will actually go to the cause you are supporting:

  • Donate to charities that you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.
  • Ask if a caller is a paid fundraiser, who he/she works for, and what percentages of your donation will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get clear answers – or if you don’t like the answers you get – then consider donating to a different organization.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information – such as your credit card or bank account number – unless you know for sure that the charity is reputable.
  • Never send cash. You can’t be sure that the organization will receive your donation, and you won’t have a record for tax purposes.
  • Never wire money to someone who claims to be from a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • If a donation request comes from a charity that claims to be helping a local community group (for example, police or firefighters), ask members of that group if they have heard of the charity and if it is actually providing financial support.
  • Check out the charity’s reputation online using Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or other online watchdogs.

Self-Help Publications:

Recovering and Government Assistance
The following government agencies may provide assistance:

  • Small Business Administration (SBA) – The SBA provides low-interest loans to businesses, homeowners and renters who are victims of a disaster. It even provides loans to replace or repair damaged or destroyed clothing, appliances, furnishings and automobiles. For more information, visit its website at: www.sba.gov.
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – Disaster assistance is provided in the form of money or direct assistance to individuals, families and businesses in an area whose property has been damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance. It is meant to help with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways. For more information, visit its website at: www.fema.gov.

Since many disasters strike without warning, being prepared can help your business and family to recover more quickly from a catastrophic emergency. Take the necessary steps to ensure that both you and your business are well protected.

Please give us a call if you have questions or if we can provide any other assistance.