If you’re the owner of an incorporated business, you probably know that there’s a tax advantage to taking money out of a C corporation as compensation rather than as dividends. The reason is simple. A corporation can deduct the salaries and bonuses that it pays executives, but not its dividend payments. Therefore, if funds are withdrawn as dividends, they’re taxed twice, once to the corporation and once to the recipient. Money paid out as compensation is taxed only once, to the employee who receives it.
However, there’s a limit on how much money you can take out of the corporation this way. Under tax law, compensation can be deducted only to the extent that it’s reasonable. Any unreasonable portion isn’t deductible and, if paid to a shareholder, may be taxed as if it were a dividend. The IRS is generally more interested in unreasonable compensation payments made to someone “related” to a corporation, such as a shareholder or a member of a shareholder’s family.
How much compensation is reasonable?
There’s no simple formula. The IRS tries to determine the amount that similar companies would pay for comparable services under similar circumstances. Factors that are taken into account include:
- The duties of the employee and the amount of time it takes to perform those duties;
- The employee’s skills and achievements;
- The complexities of the business;
- The gross and net income of the business;
- The employee’s compensation history; and
- The corporation’s salary policy for all its employees.
There are some concrete steps you can take to make it more likely that the compensation you earn will be considered “reasonable,” and therefore deductible by your corporation. For example, you can:
- Use the minutes of the corporation’s board of directors to contemporaneously document the reasons for compensation paid. For example, if compensation is being increased in the current year to make up for earlier years in which it was low, be sure that the minutes reflect this. (Ideally, the minutes for the earlier years should reflect that the compensation paid then was at a reduced rate.)
- Avoid paying compensation in direct proportion to the stock owned by the corporation’s shareholders. This looks too much like a disguised dividend and will probably be treated as such by IRS.
- Keep compensation in line with what similar businesses are paying their executives (and keep whatever evidence you can get of what others are paying to support what you pay).
- If the business is profitable, be sure to pay at least some dividends. This avoids giving the impression that the corporation is trying to pay out all of its profits as compensation.
Planning ahead can help avoid problems. Contact us if you’d like to discuss this further.
If you’re a business owner, be aware that a recent tax law extended a credit for hiring individuals from one or more targeted groups. Employers can qualify for a valuable tax credit known as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).
The WOTC was set to expire on December 31, 2019. But a new law passed late last year extends it through December 31, 2020.
Generally, an employer is eligible for the credit for qualified wages paid to qualified members of these targeted groups: 1) members of families receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, 2) veterans, 3) ex-felons, 4) designated community residents, 5) vocational rehabilitation referrals, 6) summer youth employees, 7) members of families in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, 8) qualified Supplemental Security Income recipients, 9) long-term family assistance recipients and 10) long-term unemployed individuals.
For each employee, there’s a minimum requirement that the employee has completed at least 120 hours of service for the employer. The credit isn’t available for certain employees who are related to the employer or work more than 50% of the time outside of a trade or business of the employer (for example, a maid working in the employer’s home). Additionally, the credit generally isn’t available for employees who’ve previously worked for the employer.
There are different rules and credit amounts for certain employees. The maximum credit available for the first-year wages is $2,400 for each employee, $4,000 for long-term family assistance recipients, and $4,800, $5,600 or $9,600 for certain veterans. Additionally, for long-term family assistance recipients, there’s a 50% credit for up to $10,000 of second-year wages, resulting in a total maximum credit, over two years, of $9,000.
For summer youth employees, the wages must be paid for services performed during any 90-day period between May 1 and September 15. The maximum WOTC credit available for summer youth employees is $1,200 per employee.
Here are a few other rules:
- No deduction is allowed for the portion of wages equal to the amount of the WOTC determined for the tax year;
- Other employment-related credits are generally reduced with respect to an employee for whom a WOTC is allowed; and
- The credit is subject to the overall limits on the amount of business credits that can be taken in any tax year, but a 1-year carryback and 20-year carryforward of unused business credits is allowed.
Make sure you qualify
Because of these rules, there may be circumstances when the employer might elect not to have the WOTC apply. There are some additional rules that, in limited circumstances, prohibit the credit or require an allocation of it. Contact us with questions or for more information about your situation.
In many industries, offering a 401(k) plan is a competitive necessity. If you don’t offer one and a competitor does, it could mean the difference in a job candidate’s decision to accept their offer over yours. It could even send employees heading for the door.
Assuming you do offer a 401(k), the challenge then becomes plan maintenance and compliance. Just as you presumably visit your doctor annually for a checkup, you should review the administrative processes and fiduciary procedures associated with your plan at least once a year. Let’s look at some important areas of consideration:
Investments. Study your plan’s investment choices to determine whether the selections available to participants are appropriate. Does the lineup offer options along the risk-and-return spectrum for all ages of participants? Are any pre-mixed funds, which are based on age or expected retirement date, appropriate for your employee population?
If the plan includes a default investment for participants who have failed to direct investment contributions, check the option to ensure that it continues to be appropriate. If your company plan doesn’t have a written investment policy in place or doesn’t use an independent outside consultant to assist in selecting and monitoring investments, consider incorporating these into your investment procedures.
Fees. 401(k) plan fees often come under criticism in the media and can aggravate employees who follow their accounts closely. Calculate the amount of current participant fees associated with your plan’s investments and benchmark them against industry standards.
Investment managers. Have you documented in writing the processes your plan has in place for the selection and monitoring of investment managers? If not, doing so in consultation with an attorney is highly advisable. If you have, reread the documents to ensure they’re still accurate and comprehensive.
Administrator. Solicit and monitor participant feedback on the administrator so that you know about grumblings before they grow into heated complaints. Further, put criteria in place to assess the plan administrator’s performance on an ongoing basis and to benchmark performance against industry standards.
Compliance. Are your plan’s administrative procedures in compliance with current regulations? If you intend your plan to be a participant-directed individual account plan, are all the provisions of ERISA Section 404(c) being followed? Have there been any major changes to 401(k) regulations over the last year? These are just a few critical questions to ask and answer.
A 401(k) is usually among the most valued benefits a business can offer its employees, but you’ve got to keep a close and constant eye on its details. We’d be happy to help you assess the costs and other financial details of your company’s plan.
Accounts receivables are classified under current assets on the balance sheet if you expect to collect them within a year or within the operating cycle, whichever is longer. However, unless your company sells goods or services exclusively for cash, some of its receivables inevitably will be uncollectible. That’s why it’s important to record an allowance for doubtful accounts (also known as “bad debts”). These allowances are subjective, especially in uncertain economic times.
Estimating the allowance
When it comes to writing off bad debts for financial reporting purposes, companies generally use one of these two methods:
1. The direct write-off method. Some companies record write-offs only when a specific account has been deemed uncollectible, which is called the direct write-off method. Although it’s easy and convenient, this method fails to match bad debt expense to the period’s sales. It may also overstate the value of accounts receivable on the balance sheet.
2. The allowance method. Many companies turn to the allowance method to properly match revenues and expenses. Here the company estimates uncollectible accounts as a percentage of sales or total outstanding receivables. The allowance shows up as a contra-asset to offset receivables on the balance sheet and as bad debt expense to offset sales on the income statement.
The allowance is based on factors such as the amount of bad debts in prior periods, general economic conditions and receivables aging. Some companies also include allowances for returns, unearned discounts and finance charges.
Comparing estimates to collections
How do you assess whether your allowance seems reasonable? An obvious place to begin is the company’s aging schedule. The older a receivable is, the harder it is to collect. If you have a significant percentage of receivables that are older than three months, you might need to consider increasing your allowance.
In addition, auditing standards recommend comparing prior estimates for doubtful accounts with actual write-offs. Each accounting period, the ratio of bad debts expense to actual write-offs should be close to 1. If a business has several periods in which the ratio is lower than 1, the company may be low-balling its estimate and overvaluing receivables.
Exhaustion rate is another metric to consider. This is how long the beginning-of-year allowance will cover actual write-offs. Assume that a company reported an allowance for doubtful accounts of $50,000 as of January 1, 2019, and subsequently writes off $30,000 in 2019 and $40,000 in 2020. The exhaustion rate would be 1.5 years ($50,000 – $30,000 = $20,000 left for 2020; $20,000/$40,000 = 0.5 years).
If your allowance takes several years to deplete, it’s probably too high. But if you burn through your allowance in just a couple of months, you might consider increasing the allowance — or taking proactive measures to improve collections.
Contact your CPA if your company’s bad debts are on the rise or if your allowance for doubtful accounts seems out of whack. Armed with years of experience and knowledge of industry best practices, he or she can help assess the situation.