Accounting for Health Insurance Premiums

At this point in the year, many of you are now familiar with the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit.  If you qualified for the credit for 2010, you likely witnessed first hand all the extra information that is required for the credit calculation.  Below is an except from our recent newsletter on the tax credit.

Health Insurance Premium Bookkeeping
Much of the tax credit calculation revolves around eligible employee hours and wages; however, once an employer is determined to be eligible for the credit, much more information is needed with regards to the employer’s health insurance premiums.  Fortunately, a few simple procedural bookkeeping changes can greatly simplify this portion of the calculation:

  • Classification of owner and family member insurance – when posting health and dental insurance premium payments, make sure premiums for owners and their family members are posted to a separate sub-account of employee benefits.  These premiums are not included in the calculation, so it is important that they be separated.
  • Premiums for seasonal workers – even though it is important to classify seasonal worker wages and hours separately from eligible employees, their premiums are actually included in the calculation, so make sure their premiums are included with those for eligible employees.
  • Record coverage information in books – in order to finish the calculation, you have to report the type of coverage (single or family) and the number of employees with each coverage type.  To simplify this final step, be sure to note this information in the “memo” field in your books when recording the premium payment.  Typically, this information is provided on the bill from the insurance company, and it is much easier to record this each month than pull all the bills at year end.

For general information on the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, refer to our post from last year.

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

With all the new incentives out there for employers and recent tax law changes, most small business owners are likely feeling a little overwhelmed.  Between the COBRA subsidy, the HIRE act, and the new incentives & changes from the Health Care Reform Act – being an employer has become much more complicated.  In fact, if you are not keeping up on the changes and planning ahead – you could be missing out some credits and incentives that are available to your business.

One of the specific credits from the Health Care Reform Act that requires some current planning in 2010 is the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, which is a 35% tax credit based on premiums paid to cover employees.  As the name suggests, you have to be a small business – one with fewer than 25 full-time employee equivalents (FTEs).  In addition, you have to pay average annual wages below $50,000 per FTE.  Lastly, as the employer, you have to pay health insurance premiums under a “qualifying arrangement”, which in simple terms means you pay a uniform percentage of not less than 50% of the premium cost of coverage for each enrolled employee.

I probably lost many business owners right there; however, after reading the fine print in the law you may find that you qualify after all.  The most important fine print: wages paid to business owners or their family members are not included in calculating the average wages or the number of employees.  This is very good news for corporations as the shareholder wages would have likely made most ineligible for the credit right off the bat.  This could work out well for small, family-owned businesses that provides health insurance and employs a number of non-family employees.

Then we hit the final hurdle – as an employer, do you pay at least 50% of the premium cost of coverage for all your employees?  Even if you do not pay a full 50% or even provide this employee benefit at all, you should at least run the calculation to see what your potential benefit would be.  It may be worth looking into.  Not only do you get a tax credit, but in this economy, such an employee benefit could be given in lieu of pay increases.

To calculate you potential tax credit, check out the calculator at

More detailed information on the tax credit:
IRS Q&A Page on the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit
White House Summary & Fact Sheet

2009 Year-End Tax Planning – Part 2

Year-End Tax Planning for Small Business Owners

For 2009, there are plenty of year-end tax planning opportunities available to the small business owner.  Some new provisions help businesses that have been dramatically affected by the recession while others help businesses that have had very a profitable year.  Below is a general overview of several of the more important planning opportunities.

Bonus Depreciation:

Many companies used the bonus depreciation provision in 2008; however, due to the current economic conditions, business owners are much more restrained with regard to capital expenditures than in prior years.  Nick Parsons, one of the partners at our firm, recommends concentrating on capital purchases that are needed and will help generate more profit for the business rather than just purchasing for the sake of tax savings.  He also recommends looking at purchases that will need to be made in the next five to six months and accelerating those purchases if possible before year-end.  Even if the business had a poor year, bonus depreciation could produce a tax loss and actual tax refunds with the new net operating loss carryback rules (see below).

Bonus Depreciation details:

  • Only available for NEW property, 20 year class life or less
  • Provision is scheduled to expire after 2009
  • Must be placed in service before year-end

Code Section 179 Depreciation:

Businesses with net taxable income are taking advantage of the new limits on 179 depreciation ($250k), which allow you to write-off the entire cost of the fixed asset within the year of purchase.  However, many businesses are looking at losses this year, so the bonus depreciation can be a better option.  Regardless, using the right mix of bonus and 179 depreciation can create a net operating loss that can be carried back five years under the new rules (see below).

One minor detail to keep in mind – unlike bonus depreciation, the property does not have to be new to qualify for 179 depreciation.

Vehicle Depreciation:

If a business is looking to buy a new vehicle in the next six months, accelerating the purchase before year-end could be very beneficial.  The luxury auto depreciation limits have been increased from $2,960 to $10,960 through 2009 thanks to bonus depreciation rules.  There are different rules for trucks, vans, and SUVs, but for a typical passenger car used more than 50% in business – this provides great tax savings.

Five Year Carryback of Net Operating Losses:

Many businesses affected by the recession have been able to make use of the expanded net operating loss carryback rules for the 2008 tax year, and many received substantial cash refunds that helped them with current cash flow problems.  Now the carryback rules have been extended for 2009 tax losses, which should bring some more immediate help.  However, the rules are a little more complicated this time around:

  • For 2008, the expanded carryback was only applicable to businesses with gross receipts under $15 million.  The net operating loss could be carried back up to five years and there were no further complications.
  • For 2009, the rule is expanded for all businesses, however, there are complications:
    • For businesses under the $15 million gross receipts limit, the 2009 NOL can be carried back up to 5 years even if the 2008 NOL was carried back under the prior rule.  The only difference is that for 2009, you can only use ½ of the taxable income in the fifth year.
    • For businesses over $15 million in gross receipts, they can use the extended NOL carryback for 2008 OR 2009, but not both years.  Also, like with small businesses, they can only use ½ of the taxable income in the fifth year.

Solo 401k Contributions / Profit – Sharing:

For small business owners that had a good year and are looking for tax deductions while putting away for retirement, the solo 401k is an excellent vehicle that many ignore because of the extra reporting requirements.  Small, family-owned businesses often use the SIMPLE IRA plan to put away up to $11,500 ($14,000 age 50 & older) under the 2009 limits.  However, given sufficient self-employment income, the same small business owner can put away up to $49,000 ($54,500 age 50 & older) using a solo 401k plan and also make the same contribution for the business owner’s spouse if they are involved in the business.  The are special requirements for the solo 401k, so it is definitely something you need to speak with a professional about before opening an account.  However, even if the solo 401k is not an option for you, there are other 401k plans that would still save you much more than with a SIMPLE IRA plan.

Travel Expenses and Business Planning Trips

It is the that time of year again, when most people are on vacation – or at least they wish they were.  With the current heat wave in Portland, many would probably go for an Alaskan cruise right about now.  Whether it is colder weather you are looking for or a tropical paradise, if you are business owner, you should talk to your CPA or accountant about business planning trips and travel expense rules to make sure you are maximizing your deductions without getting too aggressive or raising your audit risk.

Whether you have an LLC, S-Corporation, Corporation, or a Single-Member LLC – you should consider an annual business planning meeting where you can get away from the everyday distractions that steal your focus and layout out your short and long term goals and strategies, look into new products or technologies, and brainstorm solutions for overcoming obstacles and bottlenecks in your business.  Without even getting into taxes, this makes sense from a marketing standpoint and would seem vital for a business to continue to thrive and grow.  Unfortunately, IRS agents are anything but marketers, so you have to make sure your deduction is well supported.

How do you maximize travel deductions that are also well supported before the IRS?  Here are my recommendations:

  • To write off the actual travel expenses to and from the destination, the trip must be related primarily to the taxpayers business.  If the trip is primarily personal in nature, then these costs are not deductible and only the expenses incurred while at the destination allocable to the business are deductible.
  • Document in detail all the business planning you completed on the trip, write-out the goals you came up with, and take care of any annual minutes and formal documents that should be completed for your entity.  Scribbling on a bar napkin will not cut it; in fact, the more documentation the better in this case as you need to prove substantial business reasons for the trip.
  • If your spouse joins you on the trip, his or her expenses are generally only deductible if they are an officer, shareholder, member, director, or employee of the business – or if there is a bona fide business purpose for them to be on the trip.
  • If it is a foreign trip, more detailed rules apply.  If the trip is seven days or less in length and primarily for business, then the travel is fully deductible.  However, if the trip is over seven days, the travel expense deduction is restricted if 25% or more of the days are not business days.  It becomes complicated as you can take advantage of “intervening days”, so you should definitely talk to your CPA or accountant first.

There are other considerations and the facts and circumstances of each trip need to be considered.  There is no clear rule on the number of personal days allowable before it becomes primarily a personal trip.  Also, bringing children on the trip can further complicate the issue as it can make it look much more like a personal vacation.  If anything – just make sure you document, document, and document some more, and again – I strongly suggest talking to your CPA or accountant before setting up a business planning trip that you intend to claim a business travel expense.

There is only a little over a month left of summer – get out there and do some business planning! 🙂

Oregon Income Tax Increases – Sales Tax in Disguise?

Recent articles in The Oregonian laid accolades on the Oregon legislature for all they have done for us during this last session–really important things like banning puppy mills, making it illegal to “top off gas tanks when filling,” requiring calorie counts on chain restaurant menus, and raising the cost of higher education, which, by the way, has increased tenfold in the last 15 years.  Don’t get me wrong, I have always been against the way pet stores have bred the poor puppies in rotten conditions, but I take exception to giving accolades to our government officials during a time of economic stress for spending so much time on trivial pursuits and for not delving into the real reasons behind our budget problems.

I won’t elaborate on the fact that raising taxes historically has produced less income to the government than when tax rates were lowered.  The fact is when more income is generated, more tax is paid.  When the incentive and ability to make money are lowered by raising taxes, less revenue is generated.  Instead I will explain with an actual example how the changes this legislature made during this economy will, in fact, make many businesses think harder about closing their doors and relocating across the river. I will also point out that many businesses this year with between two and twenty  million dollars in sales will possibly have losses, not income.  I will of course acknowledge that my view is somewhat skewed to an observation of only the 120 corporate clients I have firsthand experience with, but this is most likely a reasonable sample of small business in Oregon.

Currently in Oregon, all business entities established as C-corporations filing federal Form 1120, or set up as pass-thru entities such as multi-member LLCs filing federal Form 1065, and S-Corporations filing federal Form 1120S pay a minimum tax of $10 per year.  If the entity was a C-corporation, it would pay tax on its net taxable income at 6.6% but not less than $10, whereas the pass-thru entities only pay the $10, as their net taxable income is “passed through to the individual owners,” and the owners ADD it to their personal income tax returns and pay personal taxes on the combined amount.

Effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2009, the minimum tax on  pass-thru entities goes to $150; however, for taxable C-corporation entities, the minimum tax will be based on the gross Oregon sales, regardless if the corporation has a net taxable income or not. I have long felt the $10 minimum was way too low. It takes much more than $10 to administrate the filing of these returns. I even feel that $150 is low. California, which has one of the nation’s highest minimums, is $800. However, to base the minimum on gross sales for a taxable C-corporation entity is nothing more than a disguised attempt to charge the entities a sales tax.

What the legislature and our governor do not understand is that small businesses provide much more in terms of long-term revenue to our State, regardless of whether they end up with a net taxable income. Let me give you the following example from an actual business that has operated in this state since 1971, employing between 50 and 100 people per year.

This company has an average of $19 million in sales per year and averages 60 employees, so the payroll is an average of $3.2 million per year. The company is a wholesale operation and purchases $12 million worth of products per year. The company provides health insurance and retirement benefits to its employees. It also pays rent to another Oregonian for $350,000. Sometimes we believe that the owner is taking a majority of the $3.2 million in wages.  However, in this example, the owner averages $200,000 or less. Now here is the kicker:  Because this company is generous to its work force, hiring, paying health insurance, retirement, and other expenses, its average annual net income is less than $200,000. And due to economic conditions, last year and this coming year, it will actually have zero net income.

Here is the problem with the current change to the C-corporation minimum tax:  This corporation, and many others like it, will provide jobs to Oregonians, will provide health insurance to Oregonians, will provide revenue to other entities from purchasing products, both in Oregon and across the country, will provide revenue to another entity for rent, will provide retirement to people who might not otherwise save, and for its efforts will pay Oregon $7,500 in minimum tax. In addition, Oregon will pick up revenue from the $3.2 million in wages, both in employment-related taxes and income taxes from those individuals, and from the $350,000 in rent. If you do the math, here is how it looks:  When the corporation makes a net of $113,636, it would pay 6.6%, or $7,500. But if it has a loss of, say, $100,000 and makes nothing, it would still pay $7,500.

Now, let’s examine this same company if it were a pass-thru entity meaning, again, that the net income or loss would be added to the individual’s return and taxed with the personal income. Let us further assume the owner received a salary of $200,000, owned a home with a mortgage and property taxes and, being generous, gave to various charities so that the owner had itemized deductions of $35,000, including a state income tax of $10,000. His state tax under these conditions would be approximately $15,000. Now, if the company had a loss of $100,000, which will be likely during these economic times, his Oregon tax, which would include the company, would go down to $6,000, plus the company’s minimum Oregon tax on a pass-thru entity of $150.

Here is the comparison:  Nothing else in the company is different other than whether it is a pass-thru entity or a C-corp. The owner’s salary is the same, the company expenses and operations are the same. But in one case, the loss saves the taxpayer $9,000 in Oregon taxes, and in the other case, because it is a C-Corporation, not only does the individual still pay $15,000 but the corporation is out another $7,350, for a total difference of $16,350. Even if there isn’t a loss and the company just breaks even, the difference is the minimum tax of $7,350. All this is only because of the type of entity the business chose years ago.

I do not believe the Oregon legislature understands the tax system, or they are more concerned with just showing they did something rather than developing a well thought out change that does not penalize the only source of revenue that they need to correct their budget problems. That source is the working America.

The IRS Does Not Value Your Time

This is a simple tax issue but surprisingly one that I get a lot of questions on.  Here is the common scenario…

I get a call from a small business owner who recently provided their services to a school at no cost as a “charitable contribution” (or at least in their mind).  The question is always “what do I get as a deduction?” as most people seem to think they are entitled to an extra deduction here.  Before I can get a word in, they proceed to give me information on the price they normally would have charged for the work and ask if they can deduct that amount.

The answer is unfortunately not what they want to hear – that the IRS does not value their time.  While they are not surprised that the  IRS has skewed valuation methods, they are usually rather confused and you may be as well.  Let me clear it all up for you:

  • The costs involved with a business owner personally providing services would be payroll costs (if any), materials, auto expenses, and any other costs normally incurred in providing the service.  These are deductible whether the business owner charges for a job or not.
  • If you are not paid a wage by your business, you cannot simply add an expense based on what would have been charged or paid to you for the work.  Labor costs can only be deducted when paid as reported wages or subcontractor costs.
  • If we are honest, the sales price that would have been charged had the services not been donated could be exaggerated and if the IRS allowed a deduction for the sales price, there would no doubt be abuse.  It should naturally follow that the IRS would not allow such a deduction.

If you are able to deduct the expenses related to the services you provided and not any other “extra” amounts, then the real issue here is classification.  Do you leave the costs in the expense accounts, or do you reclass the costs to charitable contributions or advertising.  I could make an arguement for each, but usually I suggest leaving the costs in the expense accounts or moving them to advertising if the client really wants to see the costs separately stated.  Some taxpayers have limitations on charitable contributions and most business charitable contributions are really advertising when it comes down to it.

This issue is acutally much bigger than charitable contributions and donated services.  Many business owners involved with real estate and construction often misunderstand this concept and have incorrect calculations of basis or cost on a project.  I have had to be the bearer of bad news several times when clients have come in with a list of costs on a house that they either built and sold or improved and flipped, and usually one of the largest costs is labor.  When I ask about W-2s or 1099s for the costs, they tell me that the labor costs are for their time on the project – usually based on a hourly pay rate they have estimated.  Needless to say, they are not happy to hear that they do not have a deduction and are looking at a much higher capital gain or income figure.

Whether you are donating your services or calculating basis on a house flip, just remember one thing: the IRS does not value your time.