Operating across state lines presents tax risks — or possibly rewards

It’s a smaller business world after all. With the ease and popularity of e-commerce, as well as the incredible efficiency of many supply chains, companies of all sorts are finding it easier than ever to widen their markets. Doing so has become so much more feasible that many businesses quickly find themselves crossing state lines.

But therein lies a risk: Operating in another state means possibly being subject to taxation in that state. The resulting liability can, in some cases, inhibit profitability. But sometimes it can produce tax savings.

Do you have “nexus”?

Essentially, “nexus” means a business presence in a given state that’s substantial enough to trigger that state’s tax rules and obligations.

Precisely what activates nexus in a given state depends on that state’s chosen criteria. Triggers can vary but common criteria include:

  • Employing workers in the state,
  • Owning (or, in some cases even leasing) property there,
  • Marketing your products or services in the state,
  • Maintaining a substantial amount of inventory there, and
  • Using a local telephone number.

Then again, one generally can’t say that nexus has a “hair trigger.” A minimal amount of business activity in a given state probably won’t create tax liability there. For example, an HVAC company that makes a few tech calls a year across state lines probably wouldn’t be taxed in that state. Or let’s say you ask a salesperson to travel to another state to establish relationships or gauge interest. As long as he or she doesn’t close any sales, and you have no other activity in the state, you likely won’t have nexus.

Strategic moves

If your company already operates in another state and you’re unsure of your tax liabilities there — or if you’re thinking about starting up operations in another state — consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematic approach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activities may expose you.

Keep in mind that the results of a nexus study may not be negative. You might find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboring state. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state (if you don’t already have it) by, say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocate some income to that state and lower your tax bill.

The complexity of state tax laws offers both risk and opportunity. Contact us for help ensuring your business comes out on the winning end of a move across state lines.

© 2017

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Tax planning critical when buying a business

If you acquire a company, your to-do list will be long, which means you can’t devote all of your time to the deal’s potential tax implications. However, if you neglect tax issues during the negotiation process, the negative consequences can be serious. To improve the odds of a successful acquisition, it’s important to devote resources to tax planning before your deal closes.

Complacency can be costly

During deal negotiations, you and the seller should discuss such issues as whether and how much each party can deduct their transaction costs and how much in local, state and federal tax obligations the parties will owe upon signing the deal. Often, deal structures (such as asset sales) that typically benefit buyers have negative tax consequences for sellers and vice versa. So it’s common for the parties to wrangle over taxes at this stage.

Just because you seem to have successfully resolved tax issues at the negotiation stage doesn’t mean you can become complacent. With adequate planning, you can spare your company from costly tax-related surprises after the transaction closes and you begin to integrate the acquired business. Tax management during integration can also help your company capture synergies more quickly and efficiently.

You may, for example, have based your purchase price on the assumption that you’ll achieve a certain percentage of cost reductions via postmerger synergies. However, if your taxation projections are flawed or you fail to follow through on earlier tax assumptions, you may not realize such synergies.

Merging accounting functions

One of the most important tax-related tasks is the integration of your seller’s and your own company’s accounting departments. There’s no time to waste: You generally must file federal and state income tax returns — either as a combined entity or as two separate sets — after the first full quarter following your transaction’s close. You also must account for any short-term tax obligations arising from your acquisition.

To ensure the two departments integrate quickly and are ready to prepare the required tax documents, decide well in advance of closing which accounting personnel you’ll retain. If you and your seller use different tax processing software or follow different accounting methods, choose between them as soon as feasible. Understand that, if your acquisition has been using a different accounting method, you’ll need to revise the company’s previous tax filings to align them with your own accounting system.

The tax consequences of M&A decisions may be costly and could haunt your company for years. We can help you ensure you plan properly and minimize any potentially negative tax consequences.

© 2017

How to determine if you need to worry about estate taxes

Among the taxes that are being considered for repeal as part of tax reform legislation is the estate tax. This tax applies to transfers of wealth at death, hence why it’s commonly referred to as the “death tax.” Its sibling, the gift tax — also being considered for repeal — applies to transfers during life. Yet most taxpayers won’t face these taxes even if the taxes remain in place.

Exclusions and exemptions

For 2017, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.49 million per taxpayer. (The exemption is annually indexed for inflation.) If your estate doesn’t exceed your available exemption at your death, then no federal estate tax will be due.

Any gift tax exemption you use during life does reduce the amount of estate tax exemption available at your death. But every gift you make won’t use up part of your lifetime exemption. For example:

  • Gifts to your U.S. citizen spouse are tax-free under the marital deduction. (So are transfers at death — that is, bequests.)
  • Gifts and bequests to qualified charities aren’t subject to gift and estate taxes.
  • Payments of another person’s health care or tuition expenses aren’t subject to gift tax if paid directly to the provider.
  •  Each year you can make gifts up to the annual exclusion amount ($14,000 per recipient for 2017) tax-free without using up any of your lifetime exemption.

What’s your estate tax exposure?

Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.

Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. (But keep in mind that there could be estate tax exposure on your surviving spouse’s death, depending on the size of his or her estate.) The net number represents your taxable estate.

You can then apply the exemption amount you expect to have available at death. Remember, any gift tax exemption amount you use during your life must be subtracted. But if your spouse predeceases you, then his or her unused estate tax exemption, if any, may be added to yours (provided the applicable requirements are met).

If your taxable estate is equal to or less than your available estate tax exemption, no federal estate tax will be due at your death. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, the excess will be subject to federal estate tax.

Be aware that many states impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does. So you could have state estate tax exposure even if you don’t need to worry about federal estate tax.

If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us. We also can keep you up to date on any estate tax law changes.

© 2017

Put your audit in reverse to save sales and use tax

It’s a safe bet that state tax authorities will let you know if you haven’t paid enough sales and use taxes, but what are the odds that you’ll be notified if you’ve paid too much? The chances are slim — so slim that many businesses use reverse audits to find overpayments so they can seek reimbursements.

Take all of your exemptions 

In most states, businesses are exempt from sales tax on equipment used in manufacturing or recycling, and many states don’t require them to pay taxes on the utilities and chemicals used in these processes, either. In some states, custom software, computers and peripherals are exempt if they’re used for research and development projects.

This is just a sampling of sales and use tax exemptions that might be available. Unless you’re diligent about claiming exemptions, you may be missing out on some to which you’re entitled.

Many businesses have sales and use tax compliance systems to guard against paying too much, but if you haven’t reviewed yours recently, it may not be functioning properly. Employee turnover, business expansion or downsizing, and simple mistakes all can take their toll.

Look back and broadly

The audit should extend across your business, going back as far as the statute of limitations on state tax reviews. If your state auditors can review all records for the four years preceding the audit, for example, your reverse audit should encompass the same timeframe.

What types of payments should be reviewed? You may have made overpayments on components of manufactured products as well as on the equipment you use to make the products. Other areas where overpayments may occur, depending on state laws, include:

  • Pollution control equipment and supplies,
  • Safety equipment,
  • Warehouse equipment,
  • Software licenses,
  • Maintenance fees,
  • Protective clothing, and
  • Service transactions.

When considering whether you may have overpaid taxes in these and other areas, a clear understanding of your operations is key. If, for example, you want to ensure you’re receiving maximum benefit from industrial processing exemptions, you must know where your manufacturing process begins and ends.

Save now and later

Reverse audits can be time consuming and complicated, but a little pain can bring significant gain. Use your reverse audit not only to reap tax refund rewards now but also to update your compliance systems to help ensure you don’t overpay taxes in the future.

Rules and regulations surrounding state sales and use tax refunds are complicated. We can help you understand them and ensure your refund claims are properly prepared before you submit them.

© 2017

Material participation key to deducting LLC and LLP losses

If your business is a limited liability company (LLC) or a limited liability partnership (LLP), you know that these structures offer liability protection and flexibility as well as tax advantages. But they once also had a significant tax disadvantage: The IRS used to treat all LLC and LLP owners as limited partners for purposes of the passive activity loss (PAL) rules, which can result in negative tax consequences. Fortunately, these days LLC and LLP owners can be treated as general partners, which means they can meet any one of seven “material participation” tests to avoid passive treatment.

The PAL rules

The PAL rules prohibit taxpayers from offsetting losses from passive business activities (such as limited partnerships or rental properties) against nonpassive income (such as wages, interest, dividends and capital gains). Disallowed losses may be carried forward to future years and deducted from passive income or recovered when the passive business interest is sold.

There are two types of passive activities: 1) trade or business activities in which you don’t materially participate during the year, and 2) rental activities, even if you do materially participate (unless you qualify as a “real estate professional” for federal tax purposes).

The 7 tests

Material participation in this context means participation on a “regular, continuous and substantial” basis. Unless you’re a limited partner, you’re deemed to materially participate in a business activity if you meet just one of seven tests:

1. You participate in the activity at least 500 hours during the year.
2. Your participation constitutes substantially all of the participation for the year by anyone, including nonowners.
3. You participate more than 100 hours and as much or more than any other person.
4. The activity is a “significant participation activity” — that is, you participate more than 100 hours — but you participate less than one or more other people yet your participation in all of your significant participation activities for the year totals more than 500 hours.
5. You materially participated in the activity for any five of the preceding 10 tax years.
6. The activity is a personal service activity in which you materially participated in any three previous tax years.
7. Regardless of the number of hours, based on all the facts and circumstances, you participate in the activity on a regular, continuous and substantial basis.

The rules are more restrictive for limited partners, who can establish material participation only by satisfying tests 1, 5 or 6.

In many cases, meeting one of the material participation tests will require diligently tracking every hour spent on your activities associated with that business. Questions about the material participation tests? Contact us.

© 2017

6 ways to control your unemployment tax costs

Unemployment tax rates for employers vary from state to state. Your unemployment tax bill may be influenced by the number of former employees who’ve filed unemployment claims with the state, your current number of employees and your business’s age. Typically, the more claims made against a business, the higher the unemployment tax bill.

Here are six ways to control your unemployment tax costs:

1. Buy down your unemployment tax rate if your state permits it. Some states allow employers to annually buy down their rate. If you’re eligible, this could save you substantial dollars in unemployment taxes.

2. Hire new staff conservatively. Remember, your unemployment payments are based partly on the number of employees who file unemployment claims. You don’t want to hire employees to fill a need now, only to have to lay them off if business slows. A temporary staffing agency can help you meet short-term needs without permanently adding staff, so you can avoid layoffs. This is also a good way to try out a candidate.

3. Assess candidates before hiring them. Often it’s worth a small financial investment to have job candidates undergo prehiring assessments to see if they’re the right match for your business and the position available. Hiring carefully will increase the likelihood that new employees will work out.

4. Train for success. Many unemployment insurance claimants are awarded benefits despite employer assertions that the employee failed to perform adequately. Often this is because the hearing officer concluded the employer hadn’t provided the employee with enough training to succeed in the position.

5. Handle terminations thoughtfully. If you must terminate an employee, consider giving him or her severance as well as offering outplacement benefits. Severance pay may reduce or delay the start of unemployment insurance benefits. Effective outplacement services may hasten the end of unemployment insurance benefits, because the claimant has found a new job.

6. Leverage an acquisition. If you’ve recently acquired another company, it may have a lower established tax rate that you can use instead of the tax rate that’s been set for your existing business. You also may be able to request the transfer of the previous company’s unemployment reserve fund balance.

If you have questions about unemployment taxes and how you can reduce them, contact our firm. We’d be pleased to help.

© 2017

All fringe benefits aren’t created equal for tax purposes

According to IRS Publication 5137, Fringe Benefit Guide, a fringe benefit is “a form of pay (including property, services, cash or cash equivalent), in addition to stated pay, for the performance of services.” But the tax treatment of a fringe benefit can vary dramatically based on the type of benefit.

Generally, the IRS takes one of four tax approaches to fringe benefits:

1. Taxable/includable. The value of benefits in this category are taxable because they must be included in employees’ gross income as wages and reported on Form W-2. They’re usually also subject to federal income tax withholding, Social Security tax (unless the employee has already reached the current year Social Security wage base limit) and Medicare tax. Typical examples include cash bonuses and the personal use of a company vehicle.

2. Nontaxable/excludable. Benefits in this category are considered nontaxable because you may exclude them from employees’ wages under a specific section of the Internal Revenue Code. Examples include:

Working-condition fringe benefits, which are expenses that, if employees had paid for the item themselves, could have been deducted on their personal tax returns (such as subscriptions to business periodicals or websites and some types of on-the-job training),

  • De minimis fringe benefits, which include any employer-provided property or service that has a value so small that accounting for it is “unreasonable or administratively impracticable” (such as occasional coffee, doughnuts or soft drinks and permission to make occasional local telephone calls),
  • Properly documented work-related travel expenses (such as transportation and lodging),
  • Up to $50,000 in group term-life insurance, as long as the policy meets certain IRS requirements, and
  • Employer-paid health care premiums under a qualifying plan.

3. Partially taxable. In some cases, the value of a fringe benefit will be excluded under an IRC section up to a certain dollar limit with the remainder taxable. A public transportation subsidy under Section 132 is one example.

4. Tax-deferred. This designation applies to fringe benefits that aren’t taxable when received but that will be subject to tax later. A common example is employer contributions to a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) plan.

Are you applying the proper tax treatment to each fringe benefit you provide? If not, you could face unexpected tax liabilities or other undesirable consequences. Please contact us with any questions you have about the proper tax treatment of a particular benefit you currently offer or are considering offering.

© 2017