Tax Tips for Businesses

Tax aspects of self-employment

Tax aspects of self-employment

When considering the decision to go into business for yourself (as a sole proprietor), there are several important rules and tax aspects to consider:

(1) For income tax purposes, you will report your income and expenses on Schedule C of your Form 1040. The net income will be taxable to you regardless of whether you withdraw cash from the business. Your business expenses will be deductible against gross income (i.e., “above the line”) and not as itemized deductions. If you have any losses, the losses will generally be deductible against your other income, subject to special rules relating to hobby losses, passive activity losses, and losses in activities in which you weren’t “at risk.”

(2) You may be able to deduct office-at-home expenses. If you will be working from an office in your home, performing management or administrative tasks from an office-at-home, or storing product samples or inventory at home, you may be entitled to deduct an allocable portion of certain of the costs of maintaining your home. And if you have a office-at-home, you may be able to deduct commuting expenses of going from your home to another work location.

(3) You will be required to pay self-employment taxes. For 2014, you will pay self-employment tax (social security and Medicare) at a 15.3% rate on your net earnings from self employment of up to $117,000, and Medicare tax only at a 2.9% rate on the excess. An additional 0.9% Medicare tax (for a total of 3.8%) will be imposed on self-employment income in excess of $250,000 for joint returns; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns; and $200,000 in all other cases. Self-employment tax is imposed in addition to income tax, but you can deduct half of your self-employment tax as an adjustment to income.

(4) You will be allowed to deduct 100% of your health insurance costs as a trade or business expense. This means your deduction for medical care insurance won’t be subject to the limitation on your medical expense deduction that is based on a percentage of your adjusted gross income.

(5) You will be required to make quarterly estimated tax payments. We can work with you to minimize the amount of your estimated tax payments while avoiding any underpayment penalty.

(6) You will have to keep complete records of your income and expenses. In particular, you should carefully record your expenses in order to claim the full amount of the deductions to which you are entitled. Certain types of expenses, such as automobile, travel, entertainment, meals, and office-at-home expenses, require special attention because they are subject to special recordkeeping requirements or limitations on deductibility.

(7) If you hire any employees, you will have to get a taxpayer identification number and will have to withhold and pay various payroll taxes.

(8) You should consider establishing a qualified retirement plan. The advantage of a qualified retirement plan is that amounts contributed to the plan are deductible at the time of the contribution, and aren’t taken into income until the amounts are withdrawn. Because of the complexities of ordinary qualified retirement plans, you might consider a simplified employee pension (SEP) plan, which requires less paperwork. Another type of plan available to sole proprietors that offers tax advantages with fewer restrictions and administrative requirements than a qualified plan is a “savings incentive match plan for employees,” i.e., a SIMPLE plan. If you don’t establish a retirement plan, you may still be able to make a contribution to an IRA.

If you would like any additional information regarding the tax aspects of your going into business, or if you need assistance in satisfying any of the reporting or recordkeeping requirements, please contact one of the professionals at Fox Peterson.

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Home Office Deduction for Self-Employed Taxpayer

Home office expense deduction for self-employed taxpayer

If you’re self-employed and work out of an office in your home, and if you satisfy the strict rules that govern those deductions (discussed below), you will be entitled to favorable “home office” deductions—that is, above-the-line business expense deductions for the following:

  • the “direct expenses” of the home office—e.g., the costs of painting or repairing the home office, depreciation deductions for furniture and fixtures used in the home office, etc.; and
  • the “indirect” expenses of maintaining the home office—e.g., the properly allocable share of utility costs, depreciation, insurance, etc., for your home, as well as an allocable share of mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and casualty losses.

In addition, if your home office is your “principal place of business” under the rules discussed below, the costs of travelling between your home office and other work locations in that business are deductible transportation expenses, rather than nondeductible commuting costs. And you may also deduct the cost of computers and related equipment that you use in the home office, without being subject to the “listed property” restrictions that would otherwise apply.

Tests for home office deductions. You may deduct your home office expenses on tax Form 8829 if you meet any of the three tests described below: the principal place of business test, the place for meeting patients, clients or customers test, or the separate structure test. You may also deduct the expenses of certain storage space if you qualify under the rules described further below.

1. Principal place of business. You’re entitled to home office deductions if you use your home office, exclusively and on a regular basis, as your principal place of business. (What “exclusively and on a regular basis” means is not entirely self-evident. We can help you figure out whether your home office satisfies this make-or-break requirement.) Your home office is your principal place of business if it satisfies either a “management or administrative activities” test, or a “relative importance” test. You satisfy the management or administrative activities test if you use your home office for administrative or management activities of your business, and if you meet certain other requirements. You meet the relative importance test if your home office is the most important place where you conduct your business, in comparison with all the other locations where you conduct that business.

2. Home office used for meeting patients, clients, or customers. You’re entitled to home office deductions if you use your home office, exclusively and on a regular basis, to meet or deal with patients, clients, or customers. The patients, clients or customers must be physically present in the home office.

3. Separate structures. You’re entitled to home office deductions for a home office, used exclusively and on a regular basis for business, that’s located in a separate unattached structure on the same property as your home—for example, an unattached garage, artist’s studio, workshop, or office building.

4. Space for storing inventory or product samples. If you’re in the business of selling products at retail or wholesale, and if your home is your sole fixed business location, you can deduct home expenses allocable to space that you use regularly (but not necessarily exclusively) to store inventory or product samples.

Amount limitations on home office deductions. The amount of your home office deductions is subject to limitations based on the income attributable to your use of the home office, your residence-based deductions that aren’t dependent on use of your home for business (e.g., mortgage interest and real estate taxes), and your business deductions that aren’t attributable to your use of the home office. But any home office expenses that can’t be deducted because of these limitations may be carried over and deducted in later years. We can help you figure out how these limitations affect your home office deductions.

Sales of homes with home offices. If you sell—at a profit—a home that contains, or contained, a home office, the otherwise available $250,000/$500,000 exclusion for gain on the sale of a principal residence won’t apply to the portion of your profit equal to the amount of depreciation you claimed on the home office. In addition, the exclusion won’t apply to the portion of your profit allocable to a home office that’s separate from the dwelling unit or to any gain allocable to a period of nonqualified use (i.e., a period that the residence is not used as the principal residence of the taxpayer or his spouse or former spouse) after Dec. 31, 2008. Otherwise, the home office won’t affect your eligibility for the exclusion.

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The Internal Revenue Service issued the 2014 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, 2014, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be: 56 cents per mile for business miles driven 23.5 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

2014 Standard Mileage Rates

The Internal Revenue Service issued the 2014 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, 2014, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

  • 56 cents per mile for business miles driven
  • 23.5 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

The business, medical, and moving expense rates decrease one-half cent from the 2013 rates.  The charitable rate is based on statute.

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.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.

A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle.  In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.

These and other requirements for a taxpayer to use a standard mileage rate to calculate the amount of a deductible business, moving, medical, or charitable expense are in Rev. Proc. 2010-51.  Notice 2013-80 contains the standard mileage rates, the amount a taxpayer must use in calculating reductions to basis for depreciation taken under the business standard mileage rate, and the maximum standard automobile cost that a taxpayer may use in computing the allowance under a fixed and variable rate plan.

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As a business owner, you should be aware that you can save family income and payroll taxes by putting junior family members on the payroll.

As a business owner, you should be aware that you can save family income and payroll taxes by putting junior family members on the payroll. You may be able to turn high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income, achieve social security tax savings (depending on how your business is organized), and even make retirement plan contributions for your child.

In addition, employing a child age 18 (or if a full-time student, age 19–23) may be a way to save taxes on the child’s unearned income, as explained below.

Here are the key considerations.

Turning high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income. You can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income by shifting some of your business earnings to a child as wages for services performed by him or her. In order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.

For example, suppose a business owner operating as a sole proprietor is in the 36.9% tax bracket. He hires his 17-year-old daughter to help with office work full-time during the summer and part-time into the fall. She earns $6,100 during the year (and doesn’t have any other earnings).

The business owner saves $2,250.90 (36.9% of $6,100) in income taxes at no tax cost to his daughter, who can use her $6,100 standard deduction (for 2013) to completely shelter her earnings. The business owner could save an additional $2,029.50 in taxes if he could keep his daughter on the payroll longer and pay her an additional $5,500. She could shelter the additional income from tax by making a tax-deductible contribution to her own IRA.

Family taxes are cut even if the child’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction and IRA deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the child beginning at a rate of 10%, instead of being taxed at the parent’s higher rate.

Keep in mind that bracket-shifting works even for a child who is subject to the kiddie tax, which causes the child’s investment income in excess of $2,000 for 2013 to be taxed at the parent’s marginal rate. The kiddie tax has no impact on the child’s wages and other earned income.

The kiddie tax doesn’t apply to a child who is age 18 or a full-time student age 19 through 23, if the child’s earned income for the year exceeds one-half of his or her support. Thus, employing a child age 18 or a full-time student age 19–23 could also help to avoid the kiddie tax on his or her unearned income.

For children under age 18, there is no earned income escape hatch from the kiddie tax. But in all cases, earned income can be sheltered by the child’s standard and other deductions, as noted above, and earnings in excess of allowable deductions will be taxed at the child’s low rates.

What about income tax withholding? Your business probably will have to withhold federal income taxes on your child’s wages. Usually, an employee can claim exempt status if he or she had no federal income tax liability for last year, and expects to have none for this year. However, exemption from withholding can’t be claimed if (1) the employee’s income exceeds $1,000 for 2013, and includes more than $350 of unearned income (such as dividends) for 2013, and (2) the employee can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return. Keep in mind that your child probably will get a refund for part or all of the withheld tax when he or she files a return for the year.

Social security tax savings, too. If your business isn’t incorporated, you can also save some self-employment (i.e., social security) tax dollars by shifting some of your earnings to a child. That’s because services performed by a child under the age of 18 while employed by a parent isn’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes.

For example, let’s say a sole proprietor who usually takes $120,000 of earnings from the business pays $5,700 to her 17-year-old child. The sole proprietor’s self-employment income would be reduced by $5,700, saving her $165.30 (the 2.9% HI portion of the self employment tax she would have paid on the $5,700 shifted to her daughter). This doesn’t take into account a sole proprietor’s income tax deduction for one-half of his or her own social security taxes.

A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA (unemployment) tax, which exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 while employed by his or her parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting solely of his parents.

Note that there is no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or a partnership that includes non-parent partners. However, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work you’d pay someone else to do, anyway.

Retirement benefits. Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement benefits, depending on the type of plan it has and how it defines qualifying employees. For example, if it has a simplified employee pension (SEP), a contribution can be made for the child up to 25% of his or her earnings but the contribution cannot exceed $51,000 for 2013. The child’s participation in the SEP won’t prevent the child from making tax-deductible IRA contributions as long as adjusted gross income (computed in a special way) is below the level at which deductions for IRA contributions begin to be disallowed. For 2013, that figure is $59,000 for a single individual.

If you have any questions about how these rules apply to your particular situation, please don’t hesitate to call. Also keep in mind that some of the rules about employing children (such as the maximum amount they can earn tax-free) change from year to year, and may require your income-shifting strategy to change, too.

Fox Peterson Team

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Beginning on Jan. 1, 2013, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be: 56.5 cents per mile for business miles driven. 24 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes. 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

The Internal Revenue Service issued the 2013 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, 2013, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

  • 56.5 cents per mile for business miles driven.
  • 24 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes.
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

The rate for business miles driven during 2013 increases 1 cent from the 2012 rate. The medical and moving rate is also up 1 cent per mile from the 2012 rate.

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.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.

A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.

These and other requirements for a taxpayer to use a standard mileage rate to calculate the amount of a deductible business, moving, medical, or charitable expense are in Rev. Proc. 2010-51. Notice 2012-72 contains the standard mileage rates, the amount a taxpayer must use in calculating reductions to basis for depreciation taken under the business standard mileage rate, and the maximum standard automobile cost that a taxpayer may use in computing the allowance under a fixed and variable rate plan.

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