In addition to income tax, you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on earned income, such as salary and self-employment income. The 12.4% Social Security tax applies only up to the Social Security wage base of $118,500 for 2016. All earned income is subject to the 2.9% Medicare tax.
The taxes are split equally between the employee and the employer. But if you’re self-employed, you pay both the employee and employer portions of these taxes on your self-employment income.
Additional 0.9% Medicare tax
Another employment tax that higher-income taxpayers must be aware of is the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. It applies to FICA wages and net self-employment income exceeding $200,000 per year ($250,000 for married filing jointly and $125,000 for married filing separately).
If your wages or self-employment income varies significantly from year to year or you’re close to the threshold for triggering the additional Medicare tax, income timing strategies may help you avoid or minimize it. For example, as a self-employed taxpayer, you may have flexibility on when you purchase new equipment or invoice customers. If your self-employment income is from a part-time activity and you’re also an employee elsewhere, perhaps you can time with your employer when you receive a bonus.
Something else to consider in this situation is the withholding rules. Employers must withhold the additional Medicare tax beginning in the pay period when wages exceed $200,000 for the calendar year — without regard to an employee’s filing status or income from other sources. So your employer might not withhold the tax even though you are liable for it due to your self-employment income.
If you do owe the tax but your employer isn’t withholding it, consider filing a W-4 form to request additional income tax withholding, which can be used to cover the shortfall and avoid interest and penalties. Or you can make estimated tax payments.
Deductions for the self-employed
For the self-employed, the employer portion of employment taxes (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) is deductible above the line. (No portion of the additional Medicare tax is deductible, because there’s no employer portion of that tax.)
As a self-employed taxpayer, you may benefit from other above-the-line deductions as well. You can deduct 100% of health insurance costs for yourself, your spouse and your dependents, up to your net self-employment income. You also can deduct contributions to a retirement plan and, if you’re eligible, an HSA for yourself. Above-the-line deductions are particularly valuable because they reduce your adjusted gross income (AGI) and modified AGI (MAGI), which are the triggers for certain additional taxes and the phaseouts of many tax breaks.
For more information on the ins and outs of employment taxes and tax breaks for the self-employed, please contact us.
As the year winds down, business owners have a lot to think about. One item that you should keep top of mind is next year’s budget. A well-conceived budget can go a long way toward keeping expenses in line and cash flow strong. The question is: Where to begin? Well, to answer this question, we don’t have just one suggestion — we have three:
1. Investigate your income statement. A good place to start on next year’s budget is with the numbers you put on paper for last year, as well as your year-to-date results. In your income statement, you’ll see information on sales, margins, operating expenses, and profits or losses.
One specific factor to consider is volume. If sales have slipped noticeably in the preceding year, your profits may be markedly down and regaining that volume should likely play a starring role in your 2017 budget.
2. Check your cash flow statement. Look at where cash is coming from in terms of daily operations, as well as external financing and investment sources. The statement will also tell you where cash is going, as you finance business activities and investments.
Even profitable companies can struggle if their cash flow is weak. Where do they go wrong? Under- or unbudgeted asset purchases can have a major negative budget impact. Another culprit is one or two departments regularly going over budget.
3. Peruse your balance sheet. Here you’ll find your company’s assets, liabilities and owner’s equity within the given period. Your balance sheet should give you a good general impression of where your company stands financially.
Take a close look at how your liabilities compare with assets. If your debts are mounting, a good objective for 2017 might be cutting discretionary expenses (such as bonuses or travel costs) or developing a sound refinancing plan.
That’s right — to get started on next year’s budget, simply pull out your most recent set of financial statements, roll up your sleeves and get to work. But you don’t have to do it alone. Our firm can help you. Call Mark Patten at (214) 696-1922 to understand where your business stands as of today and what next year’s budget should look like.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States and Republicans have retained control of both chambers of Congress, an overhaul of the U.S. tax code next year is likely. President-elect Trump’s tax reform plan, released earlier this year, includes the following changes that would affect individuals:
The House Republicans’ plan is somewhat different. And because Republicans didn’t reach the 60 Senate members necessary to become filibuster-proof, they may need to compromise on some issues in order to get their legislation through the Senate. The bottom line is that exactly which proposals will make it into legislation and signed into law is uncertain, but major changes are just about a sure thing.
If it looks like you could be eligible for lower income tax rates next year, it may make sense to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016 (when they may be more valuable) and defer income to 2017 (when it might be subject to a lower tax rate). But if it looks like your rates could be higher next year, the opposite approach may be beneficial.
In either situation, there is some risk to these strategies, given the uncertainty as to exactly what tax law changes will be enacted. We can help you create the best year-end tax strategy based on how potential changes may affect your specific situation.
Last year a break valued by many charitably inclined retirees was made permanent: the charitable IRA rollover. If you’re age 70½ or older, you can make direct contributions — up to $100,000 annually — from your IRA to qualified charitable organizations without owing any income tax on the distributions.
Satisfy your RMD
A charitable IRA rollover can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions (RMDs). You must begin to take annual RMDs from your traditional IRAs in the year in which you reach age 70½. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. (An RMD deferral is allowed for the initial year, but you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year.)
So if you don’t need the RMD for your living expenses, a charitable IRA rollover can be a great way to comply with the RMD requirement without triggering the tax liability that would occur if the RMD were paid out to you.
You might be able to achieve a similar tax result from taking the RMD payout and then contributing that amount to charity. But it’s more complex because you must report the RMD as income and then take an itemized deduction for the donation. This has two more possible downsides:
A charitable IRA rollover avoids these potential negative tax consequences.
Have questions about charitable IRA rollovers or other giving strategies? Please contact Mark Patten at 214-696-1922. We can help you create a giving plan that will meet your charitable goals and maximize your tax savings.
If you run your business as an S corporation, you’re probably both a shareholder and an employee. As such, the corporation pays you a salary that reflects the work you do for the business — and you (and your company) must remit payroll tax on some or all of your wages.
By distributing profits in the form of dividends rather than salary, an S corporation and its owners can avoid payroll taxes on these amounts. Because of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately), the potential tax savings from classifying payments as dividends rather than salary may be even greater than it once would have been.
IRS audit target
But paying little or no salary is risky. The IRS targets S corporations with owners’ salaries that it considers unreasonably low and assesses unpaid payroll taxes, penalties and interest.
To avoid such a result, S corporations should establish and document reasonable salaries for each position using compensation surveys, comparable industry studies, company financial data and other evidence. Spell out the reasons for compensation amounts in your corporate minutes. Have the minutes reviewed by a tax professional before being finalized.
Prove a salary is reasonable
There are no specific guidelines for reasonable compensation in the tax code or regulations. Various courts, which have ruled on this issue, have based their determinations on the facts and circumstances of each case. Factors considered in determining reasonable compensation include:
• Training and experience,
• Duties and responsibilities,
• Time and effort devoted to the business,
• Dividend history,
• Payments to non-owner employees,
• Timing and manner of paying bonuses to key people, and
• Compensation agreements.
Ascertain the right mix
Do you have questions about compensation? Contact us. We can help you determine the mix of salary and dividends that can keep your tax liability as low as possible while standing up to IRS scrutiny.
This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business went down. The reason? Compared with last year, the cost of driving is less because gas prices are lower.
If you use a vehicle for business, you can generally deduct the actual expenses attributable to your business use. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle, based on the percentage of business use. However, depreciation write-offs are subject to “luxury car” limits.
But some taxpayers don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. Another option: You may be able to use the IRS’s standard mileage rate. With this approach, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses, although you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.
This year’s rate
Beginning on January 1, 2016, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 54 cents per mile. For 2015, the rate was 57.5 cents per mile.
The cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually by the IRS. It is based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the costs of operating a vehicle.
Current gas costs
On June 15, 2016, the national average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $2.36 and it fell below $2 a gallon earlier this year. This is down from the average price of $2.80 per gallon a year earlier. (There are variations in fuel prices from one state to another so the per-gallon price in your state could be higher or lower.)
Not all taxpayers can use the cents-per-mile rate. It depends on how they’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past.
If you have questions about deducting mileage expenses in your situation, contact us.
Irrevocable trusts can provide a variety of benefits, including gift and estate tax savings, creditor protection, and the ability to control how assets are distributed. To preserve these benefits, however, it’s critical to respect all trust formalities.
Case in point
Here’s an example of just how critical this can be: In U.S. v. Tingey, a taxpayer set up an irrevocable trust for the benefit of his wife and children, naming someone else as trustee. Around the same time, the taxpayer and his wife purchased a ski cabin, the title to which was transferred to the trust. Later, the couple got into financial trouble and ended up owing more than $2 million in federal taxes. The government successfully foreclosed several tax liens on the ski cabin.
The couple argued that the government couldn’t enforce the liens against the ski cabin, because title was held by the trust. But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The court explained that a tax lien may be satisfied by property if it’s held by the taxpayer’s “nominee” — in other words, “the taxpayer has engaged in a legal fiction by placing legal title . . . in the hands of a third party while actually retaining some or all of the benefits of true ownership.”
Several factors indicated that the couple had done just that. Among other things, they maintained the ski cabin, paid the utility bills and insurance premiums (on a policy issued in the taxpayer’s name), used the cabin without the trustee’s permission or supervision, and rented the cabin to friends without the trustee’s knowledge.
Tread carefully when transferring assets
As this case illustrates, if you continue to treat assets as your own after transferring them to an irrevocable trust, they may be at risk. If you have questions regarding asset transfers, contact us.