Avoid hiring mistakes in your start-up

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Staffing errors can spell disaster for your start-up. Here are three to watch out for.

 
1. Staffing the firm with friends and family. While this strategy may work in some circumstances, hiring pals and relatives often spells trouble. For one thing, friends and family members often expect – even subconsciously – to be treated differently from other employees. A double standard, whether real or perceived, can hurt morale and productivity. As a general rule, focus hiring decisions solely on the needs of your firm and applicant qualifications.

 
2. Trusting in a handshake. Spell out employee arrangements in writing. This can be as simple as drafting employee offer letters that cover compensation, rights to intellectual property, and bonus arrangements. Employee handbooks are also a good way to spell out the responsibilities of your firm and staff.

 
3. Bringing in a partner for the wrong reasons. Downside risks of bringing in a partner include surrendering a portion of your company and control over important management decisions to someone else. Before selling part of your company, ask yourself what the partner will contribute besides money. Can you find other ways to fill gaps in your team? Choosing wisely can help you avoid ending up in the business equivalent of divorce court.

 
For assistance with issues facing your start-up business, give us a call.

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#TaxTipTuesday-Why making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still be a good idea

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A tried-and-true estate planning strategy is to make tax-free gifts to loved ones during life, because it reduces potential estate tax at death. There are many ways to make tax-free gifts, but one of the simplest is to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion with direct gifts. Even in a potentially changing estate tax environment, making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still be a good idea.

 
What is the annual exclusion?
The 2016 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your $5.45 million lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $28,000 per recipient. The gifts are also generally excluded from the generation-skipping transfer tax, which typically applies to transfers to grandchildren and others more than one generation below you.

 
The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can also avoid gift and estate taxes.

 
Making gifts in 2016
The exclusion is scheduled to remain at $14,000 ($28,000 for split gifts) in 2017. But that’s not a reason to skip making annual exclusion gifts this year. You need to use your 2016 exclusion by Dec. 31 or you’ll lose it.

 
The exclusion doesn’t carry from one year to the next. For example, if you don’t make an annual exclusion gift to your daughter this year, you can’t add $14,000 to your 2017 exclusion to make a $28,000 tax-free gift to her next year.

 
While the President-elect and Republicans in Congress have indicated that they want to repeal the estate tax, it’s uncertain exactly what tax law changes will be passed, since the Republicans don’t have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Plus, in some states there’s a state-level estate tax. So if you have a large estate, making 2016 annual exclusion gifts is generally still well worth considering.

 
We can help you determine how to make the most of your 2016 gift tax annual exclusion.

Having problems keeping employees?

 

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Is retention of good employees a priority for your business? Consider conducting “stay” interviews. These meetings between managers and valued employees can provide insight into why your employees like their jobs, which in turn lets you know how to retain the employees. Conducted on a regular basis, generally more than once a year, stay interviews tell employees you’re serious about accepting feedback and keeping them on the job.

Want to save for education? Make 2016 ESA contributions by December 31

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There are many ways to save for a child’s or grandchild’s education. But one has annual contribution limits, and if you don’t make a 2016 contribution by December 31, the opportunity will be lost forever. We’re talking about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

How ESAs work

With an ESA, you contribute money now that the beneficiary can use later to pay qualified education expenses:

  • Although contributions aren’t deductible, plan assets can grow tax-deferred, and distributions used for qualified education expenses are tax-free.
  • You can contribute until the child reaches age 18 (except beneficiaries with special needs).
  • You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
  • You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Not just for college

One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.

Another advantage is that you have more investment options. So ESAs are beneficial if you’d like to have direct control over how and where your contributions are invested.

Annual contribution limits

The annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income.

The limit begins to phase out at a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000 for married filing jointly and $95,000 for other filers. No contribution can be made when MAGI hits $220,000 and $110,000, respectively.

Maximizing ESA savings

Because the annual contribution limit is low, if you want to maximize your ESA savings, it’s important to contribute every year in which you’re eligible. The contribution limit doesn’t carry over from year to year. In other words, if you don’t make a $2,000 contribution in 2016, you can’t add that $2,000 to the 2017 limit and make a $4,000 contribution next year.

However, because the contribution limit applies on a per beneficiary basis, before contributing make sure no one else has contributed to an ESA on behalf of the same beneficiary. If someone else has, you’ll need to reduce your contribution accordingly.

Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!

Clean your financial house for the new year

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Out with the old, in with the new. No matter whether you apply the expression to changes in attitude or to life adjustments, the end of the year is a great time to assess your household finances and prepare for new opportunities. Here are suggestions.

 
Review your credit report. Request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. If the reports contain errors, get them corrected.

 
Make or update your home inventory. Go through your house and make a video describing what you see, along with information such as purchase dates, prices, and estimated values. Your home inventory can be vital for getting insurance claims approved in case of disaster.

 
Calculate your net worth. Your net worth is the value of your assets, including your house, personal property, bank accounts, car, and investments, minus liabilities such as your mortgage, credit card balances, and loans. This is a great yardstick for measuring your household’s financial growth (or shrinkage) from year to year.
Increase your savings. If you get a year-end raise, consider contributing a portion of the extra money to your 401(k) plan or other savings account.

 
Purge financial records. If you’re a financial packrat with stacks of old cancelled checks and bank statements that are no longer needed for an IRS audit or your own use, shred them.

 
Need help? Contact our office.

#TaxTipTuesday-Your business might be able to take a 2016 deduction for bonuses paid in 2017.

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You may be aware of the rule that allows businesses to deduct bonuses employees have earned during a tax year if the bonuses are paid within 2½ months after the end of that year (by March 15 for a calendar-year company). But this favorable tax treatment isn’t always available.

 
For one thing, only accrual-basis taxpayers can take advantage of the 2½ month rule — cash-basis taxpayers must deduct bonuses in the year they’re paid, regardless of when they’re earned. Even for accrual-basis taxpayers, however, the 2½ month rule isn’t automatic. The bonuses can be deducted in the year they’re earned only if the employer’s bonus liability is fixed by the end of the year.

 
The all-events test
For accrual-basis taxpayers, the IRS determines when a liability (such as a bonus) has been incurred — and, therefore, is deductible — by applying the “all-events test.” Under this test, a liability is deductible when:

 
1. All events have occurred that establish the taxpayer’s liability,
2. The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy, and
3. Economic performance has occurred.

 
Generally, the third requirement isn’t an issue; it’s satisfied when an employee performs the services required to earn a bonus. But the first two requirements can delay your tax deduction until the year of payment, depending on how your bonus plan is designed.

 
For example, many bonus plans require an employee to remain in the company’s employ on the payment date as a condition of receiving the bonus. Even if the amount of the bonus is fixed at the end of the tax year, and employees who leave the company before the payment date forfeit their bonuses, the all-events test isn’t satisfied until the payment date. Fortunately, it’s possible to accelerate deductions with a carefully designed bonus pool arrangement.

 
How a bonus pool works
In a 2011 ruling, the IRS said that employers may deduct bonuses in the year they’re earned — even if there’s a risk of forfeiture — as long as any forfeited bonuses are reallocated among the remaining employees in the bonus pool rather than retained by the employer. Under such a plan, an employer satisfies the all-events test because the aggregate bonus amount is fixed at the end of the year, even though amounts allocated to specific employees aren’t determined until the payment date.

 
Additional rules and limits apply to this strategy. To learn whether your current bonus plan allows you to take 2016 deductions for bonuses paid in early 2017, contact us. If you don’t qualify this year, we can also help you design a bonus plan for 2017 that will allow you to accelerate deductions next year.

Don’t include the IRS on your gift list

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Suppose a relative gives you an expensive painting. Several years later, your relative dies and you decide to sell the painting. Your accountant says you’ll owe capital gain tax on the sale, and asks for your basis in order to reduce the amount on which you’ll pay tax. What’s your answer?

 
When you sell property received as a gift, the general rule is that your basis is the donor’s cost basis. If you sell at a loss, your basis is the lower of the donor’s basis or the fair market value on the date you received the gift. These numbers are adjusted in some cases. But without cost records, you have no way of proving the donor’s basis and no way of saving yourself tax dollars.

 
If asking for records of the cost when you receive a gift seems inappropriate, explain why you want to know to help make the conversation less awkward. No one likes to pay unnecessary taxes. Having the same conversation about the cost of valuable gifts you received in prior-years is also worthwhile.

 
If you’re the gift-giver, offer the additional gift of presenting the cost records to the recipient at the same time. Otherwise, you may end up giving an unintended gift to the IRS in the form of unnecessary taxes.

 

#TaxTipTuesday-Ensure your year-end donations will be deductible on your 2016 return

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Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. To ensure your donations will be deductible on your 2016 return, you must make them by year end to qualified charities.

When’s the delivery date?

To be deductible on your 2016 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2016. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?

The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Check. The date you mail it.

Credit card. The date you make the charge.

Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

Is the organization “qualified”?

To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making. But act soon — you don’t have much time left to make donations that will reduce your 2016 tax bill.

#TaxTipTuesday- There’s Still Time to Benefit on Your 2016 Tax Bill by Buying Business Assets

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In order to take advantage of two important depreciation tax breaks for business assets, you must place the assets in service by the end of the tax year. So you still have time to act for 2016.

 
Section 179 deduction
The Sec. 179 deduction is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct as depreciation up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 can be used for fixed assets, such as equipment, software and leasehold improvements. Beginning in 2016, air conditioning and heating units were added to the list.

 
The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2016 is $500,000. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2016 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $200,010,000.

 
Real property improvements used to be ineligible. However, an exception that began in 2010 was made permanent for tax years beginning in 2016. Under the exception, you can claim a Sec. 179 deduction of up to $500,000 for certain qualified real property improvement costs.

 
Note: You can use Sec. 179 to buy an eligible heavy SUV for business use, but the rules are different from buying other assets. Heavy SUVs are subject to a $25,000 deduction limitation.

 
First-year bonus depreciation
For qualified new assets (including software) that your business places in service in 2016, you can claim 50% first-year bonus depreciation. (Used assets don’t qualify.) This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment, and office furniture.

 
Additionally, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any eligible improvement to the interior of a nonresidential building if the improvement is made after the date the building was first placed in service. However, certain improvements aren’t eligible, such as enlarging a building and installing an elevator or escalator.

 
Contemplate what your business needs now
If you’ve been thinking about buying business assets, consider doing it before year end. This article explains only some of the rules involved with the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax breaks. Contact us for ideas on how you can maximize your depreciation deductions.