Tax reform legislation passed in December 2017 includes changes that affect businesses. One of these changes allows businesses to write off most depreciable business assets in the year they place them in service. (more…)
Posts tagged ‘deduction’
Code Sec. 162 permits a business to deduct its ordinary and necessary expenses for carrying on the business. However, Code Sec. 274 restricts the deduction of entertainment expenses incurred for business by disallowing expenses of entertainment activities and entertainment facilities. Many expenses are totally disallowed; other amounts, if allowed under Code Sec. 274, are limited to 50 percent of the expense.
The income tax regulations define entertainment as any activity of a type generally considered to be entertainment, amusement, or recreation, such as entertaining at night clubs, lounges, theaters, country clubs, golf and athletic clubs, and sports events, as well as hunting, fishing, vacation and similar trips.
There are special rules for the costs of facilities used to entertain the customer, such as a boat or a country club membership. Dues or fees for any social, athletic or sporting club or organization are treated as items involving facilities.
Expenses are allowed if the expense was either “directly related” to the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business, or “associated with” the conduct of the trade or business. An activity is “associated with” business if the activity directly precedes or follows a substantial and bona fide business discussion.
Entertainment expenses are not directly related to the business if the activity occurred under circumstances with little or no possibility of engaging in the active conduct of the trade or business. These circumstances include an activity where the distractions are substantial, such as a meeting or discussion at a night club, theater, or sporting event. However, taking a customer to a meal at a restaurant or for drinks at a bar can be considered conducive to a business discussion, if there are no substantial distractions to a discussion.
Substantial business discussion
For expenses that are either directly related to or associated with business, the taxpayer must establish that the he or she conducted a substantial and bona fide business discussion with the customer. The IRS has said that there is no specified length for a discussion to be substantial; all facts and circumstances will be considered. The discussion is substantial if the active conduct of the business was the principal character of the combined business and entertainment activity, but it is not necessary that more time be devoted to business than to entertainment.
For an activity that is associated with, the discussion can directly precede or follow the activity. For a discussion to be directly before or after the activity, it generally must be on the same day as the activity. However, facts and circumstances may allow the entertainment and the discussion to be on consecutive days, for example if the customer is from out of town.
The special rules for facilities do not apply to season tickets. Instead, the taxpayer must allocate the cost of the season tickets to each separate entertainment event. The amount deductible is limited to the face value of the ticket. For a “skybox” or other area leased and used exclusively by the taxpayer and guests, the amount deductible is limited to the face value of non-luxury seats for the area covered by the lease.
Under these rules, it appears that the deductible costs of baseball season tickets must be determined separately for each baseball game. Attendance at a baseball game would involve a “distracting” activity that is not conducive to a business discussion, so the cost of the game would not be directly related to the conduct of the trade or business. However, attendance at a game before or after the conduct of a substantial business discussion could qualify as being associated with the business; in these circumstances, the cost of the event would be deductible.
If the taxpayer provided food to the customer at the baseball game, the cost of the food would be deductible as part of the cost of the event. Some “luxury” seats include food provided by the baseball team to the ticket user. It appears that the taxpayer would have to determine the fair market value of the ticket and the food separately, although the costs of food actually provided to the customer may still be deductible.
Taxpayers who use their automobiles for business or the production of income can deduct their actual expenses for use of an automobile (including the use of vans, pickups, and panel trucks) that the taxpayer owns or leases. Deductible expenses include parking fees, tolls, taxes, depreciation, repairs and maintenance, tires, gas, oil, insurance and registration.
Standard rate for business
Employees and self-employed individuals can use the optional business standard mileage rate, instead of tracking actual costs for depreciation, repairs and maintenance, tires, gas, insurance, oil and registration. Vehicle costs based on the standard rate are determined by multiplying the number of business miles traveled during the year by the rate. In addition to taking the standard rate, a taxpayer can deduct certain other costs as separate items, including as parking, tolls, interest on the purchase of the automobile, and state and local personal property taxes.
For 2014, the standard mileage rate for business travel is 56 cents per mile, a slight drop from the 2013 rate of 56.5 cents per mile. This allowance includes depreciation of 22 cents per mile for 2014. A taxpayer using the standard mileage rate must reduce the basis of the vehicle by the depreciation expenses included in the mileage rate.
(While the use of actual expenses may result in a greater deduction than using the standard rate, this must be balanced against the added recordkeeping and substantiation burdens.)
Substantiation and limitations
A taxpayer using the standard mileage rate does not have to substantiate the expense amounts covered by the rate. However, the taxpayer must properly substantiate other travel elements, such as time, place and purpose of the trip. Travel expenses must be substantiated either by adequate records or by sufficient evidence corroborating the taxpayer’s own statement. To meet the adequate records requirement, a taxpayer should maintain an account book, diary or similar statement and documentary evidence to establish each element of the expense.
A taxpayer cannot use the standard mileage rate if it operates five or more vehicles at the same time, if it claimed a Code Sec. 179 expensing deduction for the vehicle, or if it claimed depreciation other than straight-line depreciation.
Other standard mileage rates
The IRS also provides standard mileage rates for medical and moving expenses. For 2014, the rate is 23.5 cents per mile (down from 24 cents for 2013). The standard rate for charitable expenses is set by statute and remains at 14 cents per mile. The various standard mileage rates for 2014 apply to miles driven on or after January 1, 2014.
Taxpayers generally prefer to accelerate deductions to reduce their current year income and taxes. In some situations, the tax code’s accounting rules allow an accrual-basis employer to deduct a year-end employee bonus in the current year, even though the bonus will not be paid until the following year. A recent IRS Chief Counsel memorandum (FAA 20134301F) highlights some of the pitfalls that can affect when bonus compensation is deductible.
Under the accrual-method of accounting (in contrast to the cash-method of accounting), a liability is incurred, and can be deducted, in the year in which:
- All the events have occurred that establish the fact of the liability;
- The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy; and
- Economic performance has occurred.
The first factor, the all-events test, is met when the event fixing the liability occurs and payment is unconditionally due. Although an expense may be deductible before it is payable, liability must be firmly established. The “fact of liability” depends on whether legal rights or obligations exist as of the close of the year, not the probability that the rights will arise in the future.
An employer may establish an arrangement or plan that will pay a bonus to its employees in the succeeding year, based on an evaluation of current year performance. Performance could be determined by objective factors, such as numerical goals set for the company or the employee. These bonuses may be deductible in the earlier year even though the employee, who must figure taxes on the cash method, won’t need to recognize the income until it is paid. Or performance may be based on more subjective factors, such as an individual performance appraisal or the employer’s discretion. These bonuses may be deductible in the later year. The requirements for awarding the bonus must be scrutinized, to determine when the liability becomes certain.
Is the liability deductible?
The IRS has stated that a bonus can be deducted in the current year if, under a bonus plan, the employee is notified in the current year the employee will receive a bonus, even though the bonus is not calculated or paid until the following year. An employer’s bonus liability that is ascertainable by a fixed standard, such as a percentage of profits at the close of the year, accrues and is deductible in the current year even though the computations are not made until the following year.
A bonus is not deductible prior to payment if an employee must remain employed until the time of payment, and if a forfeited bonus reverts to the employer. However, even if an employee must be employed until paid, the IRS has ruled that a bonus is deductible under a pooled arrangement providing that any forfeited bonuses are reallocated to the employees as a group, where the minimum amount payable to the group is determinable through a fixed formula at the end of the year or by board action before the end of the year.
Employers may be denied a deduction in the current year if there are uncertainties or conditions on payment. As stated above, a condition that the employee must remain with the company until payment prevents accrual before the payment. A deduction is not available if the payment is subject to significant contingencies involving corporate affairs, such as approval by the board, or a requirement that the company attain a particular cash position. If there is no set formula, and bonuses will not be determined until after the close of the year, the bonuses do not accrue until the later year.
In the IRS memorandum, Chief Counsel determined that a bonus could not be accrued in the earlier year in the following situations:
- The employer retained the right to unilaterally modify or eliminate the bonus plan or the bonuses themselves at any time, in its discretion. The employer had no legal obligation to pay the bonus until it was actually paid.
- The plan requires a committee of the board of directors to act in the following year to approve the bonus computation and the payment of bonuses. There is no legal obligation because the committee must approve the bonuses, and that approval is not automatic.
- The bonus depends not only on objective formulas but also on the employee’s individual performance score, based on appraisals that are not performed until after the end of the year.
There is a tension between the employer’s desire to accelerate the deduction and its desire to retain maximum control over the payment of bonuses. An employer that wants to deduct the bonuses in an earlier year must be willing to relinquish some of its discretion to determine the bonus.