Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for May, 2013

FAQ: What is “cost of goods sold”?

A business that manufactures products to be sold, or purchases products for resale, must value its product inventory at the beginning and the end of each tax year to determine the cost of goods sold (COGS) during the year. The business determines its gross profits by deducting COGS from its gross receipts for the year. The business then deducts its other business expenses from gross profits, to determine its net (taxable) income for the year.

Certain expenses are included in COGS. Expenses that are included in COGS cannot be deducted again as a business expense. COGS expenses include:

  • The cost of products or raw materials, including freight or shipping charges;
  • The cost of storing products the business sells;
  • Direct labor costs for workers who produce the products; and
  • Factory overhead expenses.

Purchased inventory

If the business purchases its inventory for resale, its inventory costs are the invoice price plus transportation and other necessary expenses, less discounts.  Discounts that must be deducted from the costs of purchased inventory include trade discounts, manufacturer’s rebates, and cash discounts.

Trade discounts are a reduction in the price of goods that a manufacturer or wholesaler provides to a retailer.  It includes a discount that is always allowed, regardless of the time of payment. A manufacturer’s rebate is based on the dealer’s purchases during the year. A cash discount is a reduction in the invoice price that the seller provides if the dealer pays immediately or within a specified time. The cash discount may reduce COGS, or it may be treated separately as gross income. Certain excise tax reimbursements may reduce the value of ending inventory and therefore reduce COGS.

Methods of accounting

It is usually impractical to associate items of intermingled or fungible inventory with specific invoices and costs. Instead, taxpayers use certain assumptions or methods of accounting to identify the goods on hand and their costs. The traditional assumptions include FIFO (first-in, first-out) and LIFO (last-in, first-out). In some cases, specific identification is used. The courts have approved the average cost method, although the IRS disagrees with its use. The IRS will permit taxpayers to use other inventory cost assumptions, such as the rolling-average method, if they are reasonable for the taxpayer’s trade or business and clearly reflect income.

Under the FIFO, the taxpayer is presumed to sell the oldest goods in inventory and to retain the most-recently produced or purchased items. If production (inventory) costs are rising, the use of FIFO reduces COGS and increases the taxpayer’s income. Under LIFO, the taxpayer is presumed to sell the most recently obtained goods and to retain the oldest goods in inventory. Assuming that inventory costs are rising, the LIFO method will increase COGS and decrease the taxpayer’s income. Under the average cost method, all units purchased during the year are averaged with the cost of beginning inventory, to determine an average cost.

How do I? Compute the small business health insurance credit

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), small employers can claim a credit for providing health insurance for employees and their families. Health insurance includes not only basic medical and hospital care, but dental or vision, long-term care, and coverage for specific diseases or illness. Self-funded plans do not qualify; the insurance must be provided through a third party.

For 2010-2013, for-profit employers can claim a credit of 35 percent of the employer’s nonelective contributions, increasing to 50 percent for 2014 and 2015. Nonprofit employers can claim a credit of 25 percent through 2013, and 35 percent for the two succeeding years. Beginning in 2012, the credit for nonprofit employers is limited to the payroll taxes paid by the employer.

Small employers

Employers can claim the full credit if their full-time equivalent (FTE) employees are 10 or less, and their average annual wages per employee are $25,000 or less. FTEs are determined by figuring total hours of service for all employees and dividing the total by 2,080.

The credit is phased out for employers with 11 to 25 employees or with average wages between $25,000 and $50,000. The credit percentage is reduced 6.67 percent per “excess” employee (over 10) and four percent for each $1,000 of average wages in excess of $25,000.

To determine the amount of the credit, employers must add up the total premiums they paid on behalf of their employees during the year, subject to the state average premium limit. This total is then multiplied by the applicable percentage (25 or 35 percent for 2013, minus any phase-out). The credit is then reduced for FTEs in excess of 10, and for average annual wages (in units of $1,000) over $25,000. The result is the total credit that the employer can claim.

Other requirements

Under current law, employers must pay at least 50 percent of the insurance costs and must pay a uniform percentage for all employees. The credit is reduced if the employer premiums exceed the state’s average premium for small group markets.

In its proposed fiscal year 2014 budget, the Obama administration would modify or eliminate some of these requirements. The credit phase-out would apply to employers with 21-50 employees, rather than 11-25. The phase-out rate would also be more gradual. Furthermore, the administration would eliminate the requirement that employers make a uniform contribution for each employee, and would eliminate the limit for state average premiums.

Reports indicate that the small business health insurance credit is being underutilized, with many businesses leaving this tax money on the table without claiming it or arranging their affairs to do so.

If you have any questions about how you might be able to position your business to claim this credit or claim a larger credit, do not hesitate to call this office at 908-725-4414  for an update.

New 3.8% net investment tax continues to challenge

Questions over the operation of the new 3.8 percent Medicare tax on net investment income (the NII Tax) continue to be placed on the IRS’s doorstep as it tries to better explain the operation of the new tax.  Proposed “reliance regulations” issued at the end in 2012 (NPRM REG-130507-11) “are insufficient in many respects,” tax experts complain, as the IRS struggles to turn its earlier guidance into final rules.

A public hearing on the existing regulations, held at IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C., in early April 2013, only confirmed how the application of the NII Tax to certain categories of income—particularly income arising from “passive activities”—is challenging even the experts. Nevertheless, taxpayers are not getting a reprieve from the immediate application of this new tax.  The 3.8 percent Medicare surtax on net investment income (NII) became effective January 1, 2013. Current confusion over exactly how the 3.8 percent operates can impact on tax strategies that should be put into motion in 2013. Any misinterpretation can also bear on 2013 estimated tax that may be due to cover any 3.8 percent NII Tax liability.

NII Tax Thresholds

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, the NII surtax on individuals equals 3.8 percent of the lesser of: net investment income for the tax year, or the excess, if any, of:

  • the individual’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for the tax year, over
  • the threshold amount.

The threshold amount in turn is equal to:

  • $250,000 in the case of a taxpayer making a joint return or a surviving spouse,
  • $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing a separate return, and
  • $200,000 in any other case.

Trusts and estates are also subject to the NII surtax, to the extent of the lesser of: (i) undistributed net investment income, or (ii) the excess of adjusted gross income over the dollar amount at which the highest tax bracket begins (which, for 2013, is $11,950).

Net Investment Income

The primary confusion over application of the 3.8 percent NII Tax revolves around finding a precise definition of “net investment income” as enacted by Congress. To appreciate the complexity of the task, just look at the applicable Internal Revenue Code provision. Code Sec. 1411(c)(1) defines net investment income as the sum of:

  • Category (i) income: Gross income from interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, and rents, other than such income which is derived in the ordinary course of a trade or business not described in Code Sec. 1411(c)(2);
  • Category (ii) income: Other gross income derived from a trade or business described in Code Sec. 1411(c)(2); and
  • Category (iii) income: Net gain attributable to the disposition of property, other than property held in a trade or business not described in Code Sec. 1411(c)(2); over

Deductions properly allocable to such gross income or net gain.

A Code Sec. 1411(c)(2) trade or business includes a passive activity under Code Sec. 469 with respect to the taxpayer or trading in financial instruments or commodities.

Comment.  Code Sec 1411 effectively creates a new tax and a new tax base, on top of the income tax, alternative minimum tax, self-employment tax and payroll taxes. Nevertheless the Preamble to the proposed regs states that, except as otherwise provided, the income tax rules should apply to Code Sec. 1411 unless good cause otherwise exists. Practitioners have asked the IRS that the final regulations give greater reassurance of this general rule.


The IRS has stated that the principal purpose of Code Sec. 1411 is “to impose a tax on unearned income or investments of certain individuals, estates, and trusts.” Unfortunately, Code Sec. 1411 is not so direct and simple, with its three categories of income (that is, (i), (ii) and (iii), above), complicating matters, albeit in an effort to close every door to those who try to “game the system.”

Application of the 3.8 percent NII Tax to capital gains and dividends from a personal stock portfolio is clear under this rule of thumb. But clarity breaks down when a “trade or business” is thrown into the mix and the concept of “passive activity” is added to it.

If gain or other income is the result of an active business activity, it generally escapes NII Tax. However, when the “active” business is a passive activity (for example, a rental business), it may be deemed to generate income that is subject to the NII Tax. Furthermore, when a passive activity is not merely incidental to a business however otherwise active that business should be, the NII Tax also becomes an issue.

Passive Activity

Any revised or additional rules from the IRS on the application of the NII Tax on passive activities should be made more user friendly to the broad middle range of taxpayers and their advisors, one expert at the hearing recommended.  The IRS should err on the side of explaining things clearly and simply, even at the expense of not covering every possible nuance of interpretation.

At the same time, however, other experts are asking for more detail, at least in the way of clarification. For example, the IRS has stated that passive activity for NII Tax purposes should be applied within a narrower scope than the passive activity loss rules under Code 469.  Those Code Sec. 469 rules restrict “passive losses” from reducing income that is not “passive income.”  Experts want the IRS to explain exactly what they mean by a “narrower scope.”

Self-Rental Activities/Grouping

The self-rental recharacterization rule under Code Sec. 469 affects taxpayers who rent property to a trade or business in which they materially participate. Concern has been expressed over the possibility of interpreting net investment income under Code Sec. 1411 to include rental income from a self-rental activity grouped with a trade or business activity in which the taxpayer materially participates.

The material participation and trade or business requirements should be tested on the grouped activity as a whole rather than on a component basis, one expert in particular stressed at the hearing. If that test is passed, he argued, the trade or business income and rental income from the grouped activity should be excluded from the reach of the NII Tax. For example, the owners of self-rental properties should not have that rent considered as separate from their overall business activity and subject to the net investment tax simply because properties are held in a separate LLC to avoid tort liability.

Regrouping deadline

The proposed regulations permit businesses subject to the NII Tax to elect to regroup their activities for passive-loss purposes in 2013 or 2014. This regrouping election allows taxpayers with a fresh start to accommodate the new NII surtax. Without permitting regroupings, taxpayers would be bound by their original grouping decisions, some of which may have been made as many as 20 years ago, only for purpose of Code Sec. 469 passive loss rules and not the NII Tax. Some small business representatives are also concerned that, because of the complexity of the rules, the final regulations should extend the deadline for a regrouping election through 2015.

Application of the net investment income tax is particularly difficult to get a handle on in a variety of situations.  Unfortunately, however, at 3.8 percent, it is costly enough not to be ignored.

If you have any questions about how the NII Tax may apply to your business, rental operations, or overall investment strategy, please do not hesitate to call our office at 908-725-4414.

Using your 2012 tax-year return to plan for the future

Did you owe tax on your 2012 tax return? Did you receive a sizeable refund? Or, conversely, did you receive a smaller refund than you expected? If so, take another look at your tax return from this past year. It is quite possible that by making a few changes, you could put more money in your pocket in the short term. And by examining your investments as they are reported on your tax return, you may be able to strategize for the long-term future. Trying to implement this type of plan may seem difficult at first. However, just by looking at your tax return, you can start the critical planning that can lead you to broader goals of financial independence and a comfortable retirement.

Federal withholding

If you received a large tax refund, it might be time for you to adjust the amount of tax the federal government withholds from your paycheck. Although next year your refund check may not be as large, you will have the advantage of seeing a larger sum deposited directly into your pocket every month. To adjust your withholding, fill out and sign a Form W-4, and submit it to your employer. You would want to do this in cases where your adjustments to income, exemptions, and deductions remain relatively steady from year-to-year, and where the government consistently is required to give you a large refund.

If you do not change your withholding allowances, the government essentially is holding your money for a year without paying any interest on it. You may lose some potential investment opportunity or, at the very least, the ability to increase your monthly discretionary income. On the other hand, many taxpayers prefer to receive the large refund check after tax filing season because it is a no-hassle way to ensure large savings at the end of the year.

Conversely, many taxpayers may want to change their withholding allowances because they owe the government a significant amount of money at the end of the year. Taxpayers who expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax for the 2013 tax year, after subtracting withholding and any refundable credits, and who also expect their 2013 withholding and credits to be significantly less than the projected tax owed for 2013, may need to file estimated taxes. Failure to do so could result in penalties. Alternatively, taxpayers should consider making quarterly estimated tax payments, especially if they anticipate a significant amount of investment gains for the year or other income unrelated to wage compensation.

State withholding

Some people are entirely exempt from state tax, but it is withheld from their paychecks nevertheless. At the end of each year, they may include the amount of their state taxes in their itemized deductions, but then receive a refund which they have to declare as income in the next year. This problem particularly applies to active duty military families, many of whom are posted in states other than their state of residency. Military families can check with their state income tax authority to see if there is an appropriate form that can be completed and filed, which would exempt them from withholding. A higher adjusted gross income (AGI), even if it is subsequently reduced by itemized deductions, can erode other adjustments to income, such as a deduction for student loans, IRA contributions, higher education expenses, and more because of certain AGI caps on these benefits.

Tax rates and adjusted gross income

As you may have heard, Congress allowed the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for higher-income earners. That means joint filers with more than $450,000 of adjusted gross income ($400,000 for single individuals) are now in the 39.6-percent tax bracket. Taxpayers at this level of income or above are also subject to a higher long-term capital gains tax rate: 20 percent, up from 15 percent paid by other taxpayers.

In addition, for tax years beginning in 2013, the 33-percent tax bracket for individual taxpayers ends at $398,350 for married individuals filing joint returns, heads of households, and single individuals. If you were hovering near the bottom of the 35-percent bracket for the 2012 tax year, then you might want to see if you can readjust your income so that you fall within the 33-percent category.

Higher-income taxpayers also have two new taxes to worry about for 2013 and beyond. Joint-filing taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $250,000 ($200,000 for single filers) are also subject to the 3.8-percent surtax on net investment income and a .9-percent Additional Medicare Tax. Look at your adjusted gross income for last year. Does it approach these figures? Is it on the edge of the income brackets? Will stock market increases this year put you over the top of those income thresholds? If so, it may be time to find ways to reduce your income for 2013.


At some point in your efforts over the years to accumulate a savings nest egg, you will need to consider diversification, the process of putting your money in the right kind of investment vehicles to satisfy your personal risk strategy and achieve your goals. Looking at your tax return will help you decide whether the investments you now have are the right ones for you. For example, if you are in a high tax bracket and need to diversify away from common stocks, investing in tax-exempt bonds might help, especially if you have state income taxes to worry about, too.

Reviewing the Schedule D and Form 8949, which cover Capital Gains and Losses from last year’s return and from the past three or four years, can be an eye-opener for many. Did you hold stocks long enough to be entitled to the long-term capital gains rate? Did you try to balance short-term gains with short-term losses? Are you bouncing from one investment trend to another without a long-term investment plan that achieves long-term needs? Are your mutual funds “tax smart”? Become familiar with different types of banking institutions and their products. Find out about CDs, money-market funds, government securities, mutual funds, index funds, and sector funds and how they interrelate with the determination of your tax liability each year. You may want to put that knowledge to work in your investment strategy.

Medical costs

Should you be taking advantage of the medical expense deduction? Many people assume that with the 10 percent adjusted gross income floor on medical expenses now imposed for tax years starting in 2013 (7.5 percent for seniors) that it doesn’t pay for them to keep track of expenses to test whether they are entitled to itemize. But with the premiums for certain long-term care insurance contracts now counted as a medical expense, some individuals are discovering that along with other health insurance premiums, deductibles and timing of elective treatments, the medical tax deduction may be theirs for the taking.

Retirement planning

Don’t forget to protect for eventualities. Are you maximizing the amount that Uncle Sam allows you to save tax-free for retirement? A look at your W-2 for the year, and at the retirement contribution deductions allowed in determining adjusted gross income should tell you a lot. Should your spouse set up his or her own retirement fund, too? Are you over-invested in tax-deferred retirement plans? If so, you may lose a significant amount of your nest egg to tax after retirement.

When you are reviewing last year’s tax return, it may help to review some of what you’ve learned from it. This could foster an important conversation with your tax advisor about how to establish or modify your plan for your financial future. If you would like to review last year’s completed tax return with future planning in mind, please feel free to give us a call at 908-725-4414 and set up a time when we can meet and discuss this matter.

Heated debate ahead on tax reform proposals

President Obama recently said that he wants a tax reform/deficit reduction package by August and lawmakers have many proposals to consider. The President has introduced a $3.77 trillion budget for fiscal year (FY) 2014 with a host of tax reform proposals, the House and Senate Budget Committees have approved competing deficit reduction and tax reform blueprints, other committees are exploring ideas for tax reform, and private groups, most notably authors of the Simpson-Bowles Plan, are also making proposals. Whatever proposals are adopted, the outcome is sure to impact your tax strategy and planning.

All of the proposals have one common goal: reduce the federal government’s approximate $16 trillion federal budget deficit. To reduce the budget deficit, many of the plans propose to cut spending and raise revenues. Lawmakers and the White House also want to replace sequestration (across-the-board spending cuts for many federal agencies) for FY 2014 and beyond. Replacing sequestration will require spending cuts, new revenue or a combination of both. Let’s take a look at how some of the tax proposals would affect individuals, businesses and others.


The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), signed into law on January 2, 2013, set the individual tax rates at 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35 and 39.6 percent for 2013 and beyond. The House GOP budget blueprint would consolidate the current seven individual income tax rate brackets into two rates. The lower rate would be 10 percent with the goal of a top rate of 25 percent. The Simpson-Bowles plan also calls for lower rates but does not specify the amounts; however, lower rates would be contingent on eliminating certain tax credits and deductions, possibly some popular ones such as the home mortgage interest deduction. President Obama has not proposed any changes to the current individual income tax rates.

President Obama has, however, proposed a minimum 30 percent tax on individuals with incomes over $1 million (full phase in at $2 million).  This was known as the “Buffett Rule” (now called the Fair Share Tax).  President Obama would also limit the tax rate at which higher income individuals can reduce their tax liability to a maximum of 28 percent. This limit would apply to all itemized deductions; foreign excluded income; tax-exempt interest; employer sponsored health insurance; retirement contributions; and selected above-the-line deductions. Another proposal would limit contributions and accruals on tax-favored retirement accounts, including IRAs, qualified plans, tax-sheltered annuities, and deferred compensation plans.

The budget blueprint put forward by Senate Democrats makes similar proposals. The Senate plan would impose across-the-board limits on itemized deductions claimed by the top two percent of income earners, by capping the rate at which itemized deductions and other tax preferences reduce tax liability, a percentage of income cap, or a specific dollar cap.  The Senate plan also proposes to change, without giving details, unspecified itemized deductions into tax credits.

Not surprisingly, the House plan, written by the GOP, does not include these proposals.  Along with consolidating the individual tax rates, the House blueprint would repeal the 3.8 percent net investment income (NII) surtax and the 0.9 percent Additional Medicare Tax, both of which took effect in 2013. The House plan also calls for repealing the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The House plan also calls for tax simplification but does not give details.

Another proposal endorsed by the President but which will be a difficult sale in Congress is to increase the federal estate tax. ATRA “permanently” extended the estate tax at a maximum rate of 35 percent with a $5 million exclusion (indexed for inflation).  President Obama wants to raise the maximum rate to 45 percent with a $3.5 million exclusion (not indexed for inflation) after 2017.


Reducing the U.S. corporate tax rate is a common goal of many of the tax reform proposals but they take different approaches. President Obama has said he would support lowering the corporate tax rate in exchange for businesses giving up unspecified tax preferences. These could include tax incentives for fossil fuels, the Code Sec. 199 deduction and more. The House blueprint would reduce the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent, paid for by tax savings elsewhere. The Simpson-Bowles plan also calls for a reduction in the corporate tax rate, contingent on businesses relinquishing unspecific tax preferences.

President Obama and the House and Senate budgets also propose a number of incentives to encourage business spending and job creation. These include:

  • Enhanced small business expensing (Obama and House but at different amounts);
  • Permanent research tax credit (Obama, House and Senate);
  • Temporary tax credit for increasing payrolls (Obama); and
  • Special incentives for manufacturing in the U.S. (Obama).

Another key difference among the competing proposals: the House budget plan would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including all of its business tax-related provisions, such as employer-shared responsibility provisions, the medical device excise tax, and more.  The Senate approved a non-binding resolution to repeal the medical device tax but is not expected to go along with repeal of the entire Affordable Care Act.

Internet sales tax

In May, the Senate is expected to approve the Marketplace Fairness Act (H.R. 743). The bill gives states the authority to compel online merchants, no matter where they are located, to collect sales tax at the time of a transaction.  However, states would be able to compel collection of sales tax only after they have simplified their sales tax laws, such as by adopting the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement.  The bill has the support of President Obama. However, the bill may not pass in the House, where many lawmakers view it as a tax increase.

Discussion drafts

The two Congressional tax writing committees – House Ways and Means and Senate Finance – are engaged in discussions among their members over tax reform.  Ways and Means has produced three detailed discussion drafts exploring possible approaches to reforming the taxation of financial products, the taxation of small businesses and moving the U.S. to a territorial system of taxation. Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp, R-Mich., has promised to introduce tax reform legislation this year. Senate Finance has also produced four discussion drafts, less detailed than the House drafts, on simplifying the Tax Code, business taxation and education, and infrastructure, energy and natural resources. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., has pledged his commitment to seeing tax reform through before his retirement, which he announced would start at the end of 2014.

Looking ahead

Tax reform coupled with deficit reduction is starting to gain momentum. Whether this will lead to legislation this summer or before year-end is unclear. As long as the key players continue their discussions, there is the chance of tax reform.

Our office will keep you posted of developments. Please contact our office at 908-725-4414  if you have any questions about the tax reform proposals we have reviewed.