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Fully deduct business meals this year

The federal government is helping to pick up the tab for certain business meals. Under a provision that’s part of one of the COVID-19 relief laws, the usual deduction for 50% of the cost of business meals is doubled to 100% for food and beverages provided by restaurants in 2022 (and 2021).

So, you can take a customer out for a business meal or order take-out for your team and temporarily write off the entire cost — including the tip, sales tax and any delivery charges.

Basic rules

Despite eliminating deductions for business entertainment expenses in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), a business taxpayer could still deduct 50% of the cost of qualified business meals, including meals incurred while traveling away from home on business. (The TCJA generally eliminated the 50% deduction for business entertainment expenses incurred after 2017 on a permanent basis.)

To help struggling restaurants during the pandemic, the Consolidated Appropriations Act doubled the business meal deduction temporarily for 2021 and 2022. Unless Congress acts to extend this tax break, it will expire on December 31, 2022.

Currently, the deduction for business meals is allowed if the following requirements are met:

  • The expense is an ordinary and necessary business expense paid or incurred during the tax year in carrying on any trade or business.
  • The expense isn’t lavish or extravagant under the circumstances.
  • The taxpayer (or an employee of the taxpayer) is present when the food or beverages are furnished.
  • The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant or similar business contact.

In the event that food and beverages are provided during an entertainment activity, the food and beverages must be purchased separately from the entertainment. Alternatively, the cost can be stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills.

So, if you treat a client to a meal and the expense is properly substantiated, you may qualify for a business meal deduction as long as there’s a business purpose to the meal or a reasonable expectation that a benefit to the business will result.

Provided by a restaurant

IRS Notice 2021-25 explains the main rules for qualifying for the 100% deduction for food and beverages provided by a restaurant. Under this guidance, the deduction is available if the restaurant prepares and sells food or beverages to retail customers for immediate consumption on or off the premises. As a result, it applies to both on-site dining and take-out and delivery meals.

However, a “restaurant” doesn’t include a business that mainly sells pre-packaged goods not intended for immediate consumption. So, food and beverage sales are excluded from businesses including:

  • Grocery stores,
  • Convenience stores,
  • Beer, wine or liquor stores, and
  • Vending machines or kiosks.

The restriction also applies to an eating facility located on the employer’s business premises that provides meals excluded from an employee’s taxable income. Business meals purchased from such facilities are limited to a 50% deduction. It doesn’t matter if a third party is operating the facility under a contract with the business.

Keep good records

It’s important to keep track of expenses to maximize tax benefits for business meal expenses.

You should record the:

  • Date,
  • Cost of each expense,
  • Name and location of the establishment,
  • Business purpose, and
  • Business relationship of the person(s) fed.

In addition, ask establishments to divvy up the tab between any entertainment costs and food/ beverages. For additional information, please contact us.

Keeping meticulous records is the key to tax deductions and painless IRS audits

If you operate a business, or you’re starting a new one, you know you need to keep records of your income and expenses. Specifically, you should carefully record your expenses in order to claim all of the tax deductions to which you’re entitled. And you want to make sure you can defend the amounts reported on your tax returns in case you’re ever audited by the IRS.

Be aware that there’s no one way to keep business records. But there are strict rules when it comes to keeping records and proving expenses are legitimate for tax purposes. Certain types of expenses, such as automobile, travel, meals and home office costs, require special attention because they’re subject to special recordkeeping requirements or limitations.

Here are two recent court cases to illustrate some of the issues.

Case 1: To claim deductions, an activity must be engaged in for profit 

A business expense can be deducted if a taxpayer can establish that the primary objective of the activity is making a profit. The expense must also be substantiated and be an ordinary and necessary business expense. In one case, a taxpayer claimed deductions that created a loss, which she used to shelter other income from tax.

She engaged in various activities including acting in the entertainment industry and selling jewelry. The IRS found her activities weren’t engaged in for profit and it disallowed her deductions.

The taxpayer took her case to the U.S. Tax Court, where she found some success. The court found that she was engaged in the business of acting during the years in issue. However, she didn’t prove that all claimed expenses were ordinary and necessary business expenses. The court did allow deductions for expenses including headshots, casting agency fees, lessons to enhance the taxpayer’s acting skills and part of the compensation for a personal assistant. But the court disallowed other deductions because it found insufficient evidence “to firmly establish a connection” between the expenses and the business.

In addition, the court found that the taxpayer didn’t prove that she engaged in her jewelry sales activity for profit. She didn’t operate it in a businesslike manner, spend sufficient time on it or seek out expertise in the jewelry industry. Therefore, all deductions related to that activity were disallowed. (TC Memo 2021-107)

Case 2: A business must substantiate claimed deductions with records

A taxpayer worked as a contract emergency room doctor at a medical center. He also started a business to provide emergency room physicians overseas. On Schedule C of his tax return, he deducted expenses related to his home office, travel, driving, continuing education, cost of goods sold and interest. The IRS disallowed most of the deductions.

As evidence in Tax Court, the doctor showed charts listing his expenses but didn’t provide receipts or other substantiation showing the expenses were actually paid. He also failed to account for the portion of expenses attributable to personal activity.

The court disallowed the deductions stating that his charts weren’t enough and didn’t substantiate that the expenses were ordinary and necessary in his business. It noted that “even an otherwise deductible expense may be denied without sufficient substantiation.” The doctor also didn’t qualify to take home office deductions because he didn’t prove it was his principal place of business. (TC Memo 2022-1)

We can help

Contact us if you need assistance retaining adequate business records. Taking a meticulous, proactive approach can protect your deductions and help make an audit much less difficult.

Entrepreneurs and taxes: How expenses are claimed on tax returns

While some businesses have closed since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, many new ventures have launched. Entrepreneurs have cited a number of reasons why they decided to start a business in the midst of a pandemic. For example, they had more time, wanted to take advantage of new opportunities or they needed money due to being laid off. Whatever the reason, if you’ve recently started a new business, or you’re contemplating starting one, be aware of the tax implications.

As you know, before you even open the doors in a start-up business, you generally have to spend a lot of money. You may have to train workers and pay for rent, utilities, marketing and more.

Entrepreneurs are often unaware that many expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be deducted right away. Keep in mind that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your tax bill.

Essential tax points 

When starting or planning a new enterprise, keep these factors in mind:

  • Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one.
  • Under the federal tax code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the venture begins. Of course, $5,000 doesn’t go far these days! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
  • No deductions or amortization write-offs are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business commences. That usually means the year when the enterprise has all the pieces in place to begin earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Has the activity actually begun?

Types of expenses

Start-up expenses generally include all expenses that are incurred to:

  • Investigate the creation or acquisition of a business,
  • Create a business, or
  • Engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business.

To be eligible for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example would be the money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.

To qualify as an “organization expense,” the outlay must be related to the creation of a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing the new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.

An important decision 

Time may be of the essence if you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct for this year. You need to decide whether to take the election described above. Recordkeeping is important. Contact us about your business start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new venture.

Businesses can show appreciation — and gain tax breaks — with holiday gifts and parties

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the holiday season will soon be here. At this time of year, your business may want to show its gratitude to employees and customers by giving them gifts or hosting holiday parties again after a year of forgoing them due to the pandemic. It’s a good time to brush up on the tax rules associated with these expenses. Are they tax deductible by your business and is the value taxable to the recipients?

Gifts to customers

If you give gifts to customers and clients, they’re deductible up to $25 per recipient per year. For purposes of the $25 limit, you don’t need to include “incidental” costs that don’t substantially add to the gift’s value. These costs include engraving, gift wrapping, packaging and shipping. Also excluded from the $25 limit is branded marketing items — such as those imprinted with your company’s name and logo — provided they’re widely distributed and cost less than $4.

The $25 limit is for gifts to individuals. There’s no set limit on gifts to a company (for example, a gift basket for all team members of a customer to share) as long as the costs are “reasonable.”

Gifts to employees

In general, anything of value that you transfer to an employee is included in his or her taxable income (and, therefore, subject to income and payroll taxes) and deductible by your business. But there’s an exception for noncash gifts that constitute a “de minimis” fringe benefit.

These are items that are small in value and given infrequently that are administratively impracticable to account for. Common examples include holiday turkeys, hams, gift baskets, occasional sports or theater tickets (but not season tickets) and other low-cost merchandise.

De minimis fringe benefits aren’t included in an employee’s taxable income yet they’re still deductible by your business. Unlike gifts to customers, there’s no specific dollar threshold for de minimis gifts. However, many businesses use an informal cutoff of $75.

Cash gifts — as well as cash equivalents, such as gift cards — are included in an employee’s income and subject to payroll tax withholding regardless of how small and infrequent.

Throw a holiday party

In general, holiday parties are fully deductible (and excludible from recipients’ income). And for calendar years 2021 and 2022, a COVID-19 relief law provides a temporary 100% deduction for expenses of food or beverages “provided by” a restaurant to your workplace. Previously, these expenses were only 50% deductible. Entertainment expenses are still not deductible.

The use of the words “provided by” a restaurant clarifies that the tax break for 2021 and 2022 isn’t limited to meals eaten on a restaurant’s premises. Takeout and delivery meals from a restaurant are also generally 100% deductible. So you can treat your on-premises staff to some holiday meals this year and get a full deduction.

Show your holiday spirit

Contact us if you have questions about the tax implications of giving holiday gifts or throwing a holiday party.

New per diem business travel rates became effective on October 1

Are employees at your business traveling again after months of virtual meetings? In Notice 2021-52, the IRS announced the fiscal 2022 “per diem” rates that became effective October 1, 2021. Taxpayers can use these rates to substantiate the amount of expenses for lodging, meals and incidental expenses when traveling away from home. (Taxpayers in the transportation industry can use a special transportation industry rate.)

Background information

A simplified alternative to tracking actual business travel expenses is to use the high-low per diem method. This method provides fixed travel per diems. The amounts are based on rates set by the IRS that vary from locality to locality.

Under the high-low method, the IRS establishes an annual flat rate for certain areas with higher costs of living. All locations within the continental United States that aren’t listed as “high-cost” are automatically considered “low-cost.” The high-low method may be used in lieu of the specific per diem rates for business destinations. Examples of high-cost areas include Boston, San Francisco and Seattle.

Under some circumstances — for example, if an employer provides lodging or pays the hotel directly — employees may receive a per diem reimbursement only for their meals and incidental expenses. There’s also a $5 incidental-expenses-only rate for employees who don’t pay or incur meal expenses for a calendar day (or partial day) of travel.

Less recordkeeping

If your company uses per diem rates, employees don’t have to meet the usual recordkeeping rules required by the IRS. Receipts of expenses generally aren’t required under the per diem method. But employees still must substantiate the time, place and business purpose of the travel. Per diem reimbursements generally aren’t subject to income or payroll tax withholding or reported on an employee’s Form W-2.

The FY2022 rates

For travel after September 30, 2021, the per diem rate for all high-cost areas within the continental United States is $296. This consists of $222 for lodging and $74 for meals and incidental expenses. For all other areas within the continental United States, the per diem rate is $202 for travel after September 30, 2021 ($138 for lodging and $64 for meals and incidental expenses). Compared to the FY2021 per diems, both the high and low-cost area per diems increased $4.

Important: This method is subject to various rules and restrictions. For example, companies that use the high-low method for an employee must continue using it for all reimbursement of business travel expenses within the continental United States during the calendar year. However, the company may use any permissible method to reimburse that employee for any travel outside the continental United States.

For travel during the last three months of a calendar year, employers must continue to use the same method (per diem or high-low method) for an employee as they used during the first nine months of the calendar year. Also, note that per diem rates can’t be paid to individuals who own 10% or more of the business.

If your employees are traveling, it may be a good time to review the rates and consider switching to the high-low method. It can reduce the time and frustration associated with traditional travel reimbursement. Contact us for more information.

Can taxpayers who manage their own investment portfolios deduct related expenses?

Do you have significant investment-related expenses, including the cost of subscriptions to financial services, home office expenses and clerical costs? Under current tax law, these expenses aren’t deductible through 2025 if they’re considered investment expenses for the production of income. But they’re deductible if they’re considered trade or business expenses.

For years before 2018, production-of-income expenses were deductible, but they were included in miscellaneous itemized deductions, which were subject to a 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor. (These rules are scheduled to return after 2025.) If you do a significant amount of trading, you should know which category your investment expenses fall into, because qualifying for trade or business expense treatment is more advantageous now.

In order to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses, you must be engaged in a trade or business. The U.S. Supreme Court held many years ago that an individual taxpayer isn’t engaged in a trade or business merely because the individual manages his or her own securities investments — regardless of the amount or the extent of the work required.

A trader vs. an investor

However, if you can show that your investment activities rise to the level of carrying on a trade or business, you may be considered a trader, who is engaged in a trade or business, rather than an investor, who isn’t. As a trader, you’re entitled to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses. A trader is also entitled to deduct home office expenses if the home office is used exclusively on a regular basis as the trader’s principal place of business. An investor, on the other hand, isn’t entitled to home office deductions since the investment activities aren’t a trade or business.

Since the Supreme Court decision, there has been extensive litigation on the issue of whether a taxpayer is a trader or investor. The U.S. Tax Court has developed a two-part test that must be satisfied in order for a taxpayer to be a trader. Under this test, a taxpayer’s investment activities are considered a trade or business only where both of the following are true:

  1. The taxpayer’s trading is substantial (in other words, sporadic trading isn’t considered a trade or business), and
  2. The taxpayer seeks to profit from short-term market swings, rather than from long-term holding of investments.

Profit in the short term

So, the fact that a taxpayer’s investment activities are regular, extensive and continuous isn’t in itself sufficient for determining that a taxpayer is a trader. In order to be considered a trader, you must show that you buy and sell securities with reasonable frequency in an effort to profit on a short-term basis. In one case, a taxpayer who made more than 1,000 trades a year with trading activities averaging about $16 million annually was held to be an investor rather than a trader because the holding periods for stocks sold averaged about one year.

Contact us if you have questions or would like to figure out whether you’re an investor or a trader for tax purposes.