Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for October, 2014

How Do I? Compute depreciation conventions at year-end?

Skoda car salonUnder the modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS) (which is more commonly known as depreciation), a half-year timing (i.e., averaging) convention generally applies to the depreciation deduction for most assets during anytime within the year in which they are purchased. That is, whether you purchase a business asset in January or in December, it’s treated for depreciation purposes as being purchased on July 1st. However, a taxpayer who places more than 40 percent of its depreciable property (excluding residential rental property and nonresidential real property) into service during the last three months of the tax year must use a mid-quarter convention – decidedly less advantageous. Because of the 40 percent rule, the purchase of a vehicle or other equipment in the last month of the tax year might, in itself, trigger imposition of the mid-quarter convention. Businesses should keep in mind the 40 percent rule especially for year-end tax planning purposes.

The applicable averaging convention is not elective. Rather, one of three conventions (half-year, mid-month, and mid-quarter) must apply.

Half-year convention. Under this convention, property is treated as placed in service, or disposed, on the midpoint of the tax year. Thus, one-half of the depreciation for the first year of the recovery period is allowed in the tax year in which the property is placed in service, regardless of when the property is placed in service during the tax year. The half-year convention applies to property other than residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad grading and tunnel bores unless the mid-quarter convention applies

Mid-month convention. Under this convention, property is treated as placed in service, or disposed of, on the midpoint of the month. The MACRS deduction is based on the number of months that the property was in service. Thus, one-half month of depreciation is allowed for the month that property is placed in service and for the month of disposition if there is a disposition of property before the end of the recovery period. The mid-month convention applies to residential rental property (including low-income housing), nonresidential real property, and railroad grading and tunnel bores.

Mid-quarter convention. Under this convention, all property (other than the property otherwise excluded) placed in service, or disposed, during any quarter of a tax year is treated as placed in service, or disposed, on the midpoint of the quarter. A quarter is a period of three months. The mid-quarter convention applies to all property (other than residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad grading and tunnel bores) if more than 40 percent of the aggregate bases of such property is placed in service during the last three months of the tax year.

FAQ: Are employer-provided meals deduction/income?

Every year the IRS publishes a list of projects that are currently on its agenda. For example, the IRS may indicate through this list that it is working on a new set of procedures relating to claiming business expenses. The new 2014–2015 IRS Priority Guidance Plan, just released this September, has indicated that IRS is working on guidance relating to whether employer-provided meals offered on company premises are taxable as income to the employee. In the Priority Guidance Plan’s Employee Benefits Section B.3, the IRS listed: “Guidance under §§119 and 132 regarding employer-provided meals” in its list of projects for the upcoming year.

This could be significant for many employees who could potentially have to report as taxable income what they formerly thought were free meals provided by their employer. Currently, an employer may offer meals to employees on the work premises as a tax-free perk, if the meals are provided for the employer’s convenience. The question of whether the meals are provided for the convenience of the employer is determined, however, on the basis of all the facts and circumstances. Clearer guidance from the IRS may signal that in the future, examiners will pay closer attention to meals provided by employers.

Background

Waitress Eating Fast FoodA growing trend among employers is to provide free gourmet meals to their employees. Employers argue this is for their convenience, which if true would make the meals non-taxable. But in some instances the IRS and others have posited that such meals more closely resemble income.

The Tax Code currently sets forth some basic guidelines for how to determine whether meals are being provided “for the convenience of the employer.” First of all, an employment contract or state statute are not determinative of whether the meals are intended as compensation. Secondly, the meals must be provided for a substantial noncompensatory business reason.

Factors indicating that meals are furnished for the convenience of the employer include:

  • A short time available for lunch due to legitimate business reasons and not just to shorten the work day;
  • The need for availability of employees for emergencies;
  • Insufficient other eating facilities nearby; and
  • A standard charge for meals regardless of whether they are eaten.

The IRS has also noted in its existing regulations that meals provided simply to promote morale or goodwill of employees, to attract new employees or as a means of providing additional compensation are not considered to be furnished for the convenience of the employer.

Examples

The IRS’s current regulations contain examples of meals that the IRS has considered to be legitimately provided to employees, tax-free, because they are provided for the employer’s conveniences. These include:

  • Meals provided by a bank to its bank tellers to retain them on the premises during the lunch hour because the bank’s peak workload occurs during the normal lunch period; and
  • Meals provided to casino workers, who are required to eat their meals on the premises in order to minimize the security searches they undergo as they come and go, and to ensure that staff does not succumb to the temptations of nearby casinos rather than promptly returning to work.

Conversely, meals provided by a restaurant to a waitress on her days off are not tax-free because they are perks and not for the employer’s convenience.

Employers prepare for employer mandate and Code Sec. 6056 reporting

As January 1, 2015 draws closer, many employers are gearing up for the “employer mandate” under the Affordable Care Act. For 2015, there is special transition relief for mid-size employers. Small employers (employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees) are always exempt from the employer mandate and related employer reporting.

Employer mandate

Under Code Sec. 4980H, an applicable large employer must make a shared responsibility payment if either:

  • The employer does not offer or offers coverage to less than 95 percent (70 percent in 2015) of its full-time employees and their dependents the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage and one or more full-time employee is certified to the employer as having received a Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit or cost-sharing reduction (“Section 4980H(a) liability”); or
  • The employer offers to all or at least 95 percent of its full-time employees and their dependents the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan and one or more full-time employees is certified to the employer as having received a Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit or cost-sharing reduction (“Section 4980H(b) liability”).

female doctor or nurse with tablet pc computerFor purposes of the employer mandate shared responsibility provisions, an employee is a full-time employee for a calendar month if he or she averages at least 30 hours of service per week. Under final regulations issued by the IRS earlier this year, for purposes of determining full-time employee status, 130 hours of service in a calendar month is treated as the monthly equivalent of at least 30 hours of service per week.

The IRS has provided two methods for determining whether a worker is a full-time employee: the monthly measurement method and the look-back measurement method. The monthly measurement method allows an employer to determine each employee’s status by counting the employee’s hours of service for each month. The look-back measurement method allows employers to determine the status of an employee as a full-time employee during a future period, based upon the hours of service of the employee in a prior period.

In September 2014, the IRS clarified the look-back method in certain circumstances. The IRS described application of the look-back method where an employee moves from one measurement period to another (for example, an employee moves from an hourly position to which a 12-month measurement period applies to a salaried position to which a 6-month measurement period applies). The IRS also described situations where an employer changes the measurement method applicable to employees within a permissible category (for example, an employer changes the measurement period for all hourly employees for the next calendar year from a 6-month to a 12-month measurement period).

Transition relief for mid-size employers

Mid-size employers are exempt from the Code Sec. 4980H employer mandate for 2015 under special transition relief. Employers qualify as mid-size if they employ on average at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalents, but fewer than 100 full-time employees, including full-time equivalents.

The IRS has placed some restrictions on this transition relief for mid-size employers. During the period beginning on February 9, 2014, and ending on December 31, 2014, the employer that reduces the size of its workforce or the overall hours of service of its employees in order to satisfy the workforce size condition is ineligible for the transition relief. A reduction in workforce size or overall hours of service for bona fide business reasons will not be considered to have been made in order to satisfy the workforce size condition, the IRS explained.

Information reporting

Code Sec. 6056 requires certain employers to report to the IRS information about the health insurance, if any, they offer to employees. The IRS has posted draft forms and instructions about Code Sec. 6056 reporting on its website: Form 1094-C, Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns, and Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage.

Information reporting encompasses (among other things):

  • The employer’s name, address, and employer identification number;
  • The calendar year for which information is being reported;
  • A certification as to whether the employer offered to its full-time employees and their dependents the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage under an employer-sponsored plan;
  • The number, address and Social Security/taxpayer identification number of all full-time employees;
  • The number of full-time employees eligible for coverage under the employer’s plan; and
  • The employee’s share of the lowest cost monthly premium for self-only coverage providing minimum value offered to that full-time employee.

Code Sec. 6056 reporting for 2015 is mandatory. Although mid-size employers may be exempt from the employer mandate, they are not exempt from Code Sec. 6056 reporting for 2015. The IRS is requiring all Code Sec. 6056 information returns to be filed no later than February 28 (March 31 if filed electronically) of the year immediately following the calendar year to which the return relates.

Please contact our office if you have any questions about preparing for the employer mandate and Code Sec. 6056 reporting.

New challenges for 2014 year-end tax planning

Before the fast-approaching new year, it’s important to take some time and reflect on year-end tax planning. The weeks pass quickly and the arrival of January 1, 2015 will close the doors to some tax planning strategies and opportunities. Fortunately, there is still time for a careful review of your year-end tax planning strategy.

Traditional year-end planning techniques

For many individuals, a look at traditional year-end tax planning techniques is a good starting point. Spreading the recognition of certain income between 2014 and 2015 is one technique. Individuals need to take into account any possible changes in their income tax bracket. The individual income tax rates for 2014 are unchanged from 2013: 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35 and 39.6 percent. Each taxable income bracket is indexed for inflation. The starting points for the 39.6 percent bracket for 2014 are $406,750 for unmarried individuals; $457,600 for married couples filing a joint return and surviving spouses; $432,200 for heads of households; and $228,800 for married couples filing separate returns. For 2014, the top tax rate for qualified capital gains and qualified dividends is 20 percent.

For the second year, individuals also need to plan for potential net investment income (NII) tax liability. The NII tax applies to taxpayers with certain types of income and who fall within the thresholds for liability. Again, spreading income out over a number of years or offsetting the income with both above-the-line and itemized deductions are strategies to consider.

Tax extenders

Many individuals are surprised to learn that some very popular and widely-used tax incentives are temporary. If you claimed the higher education tuition deduction on your 2013 return, you cannot claim it in your 2014 return because the deduction expired after 2013. The same is true for the state and local sales tax deduction, the teachers’ classroom expense deduction, the Code Sec. 25C residential energy credit, transit benefits parity, and more. All of these tax breaks expired after 2013 and unless they are extended by Congress, you will not be able to claim them on your 2014 returns.

Businesses are also affected. A lengthy list of business-oriented tax breaks expired after 2013. They include the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), research tax credit, Indian employment credit, employer wage credit for military reservists, special incentives for biodiesel and renewable fuels, tax credits for energy-efficient homes and appliances, and more.

The good news is that Congress is likely to extend these tax breaks, probably for two years, and make the extension retroactive to January 1, 2014. That means taxpayers can claim these incentives on their 2014 returns. One hurdle is when Congress will act. In past years, lawmakers waited until very late in the year, or even until the start of the new year, to vote on an extension of these incentives. Late extension puts extra pressure on the IRS to quickly reprogram its return processing systems. Most likely, the IRS will have to delay the start of the filing season. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Retirement savings

In 2014, the Tax Court surprised many with its decision that a taxpayer could make only one nontaxable rollover contribution within each one-year period regardless of how many IRAs the taxpayer maintained (Bobrow, TC Memo. 2014-21). The one-year limitation is not specific to any single IRA maintained by a taxpayer, but instead applies to all IRAs maintained by the taxpayer. The IRS, in turn, announced that it would change its rules to reflect the court’s decision.

The key point to keep in mind is that the Bobrow decision affects only IRA-to-IRA rollovers. The decision does not limit trustee-to-trustee transfers.

Affordable Care Act

Individuals who obtain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace (and the federal government estimates they number seven million) have special tax planning considerations, especially if they are eligible for the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit. The credit is payable in advance to insurers and it appears that most taxpayers have elected this option. These individuals must reconcile the amount paid in advance with the amount of the actual credit computed when they file their tax returns. Changes in circumstances, such as an increase or decrease in income, marriage, birth or adoption of a child, and so on, may affect the amount of the actual credit.

Remember that the Affordable Care Act requires individuals to have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return. Many individuals will qualify for an exemption if they are covered under employer-sponsored coverage. Individuals covered by Medicare also are exempt.

If you have any questions about year-end planning, please contact our office.