Small Business Tax briefs

How to treat business website costs for tax purposes

These days, most businesses have websites. But surprisingly, the IRS hasn’t issued formal guidance on when website costs can be deducted.

Fortunately, established rules that generally apply to the deductibility of business costs provide business taxpayers launching a website with some guidance as to the proper treatment of the costs. Plus, businesses can turn to IRS guidance that applies to software costs.

Hardware versus software

Let’s start with the hardware you may need to operate a website. The costs fall under the standard rules for depreciable equipment. Specifically, once these assets are operating, you can deduct 100% of the cost in the first year they’re placed in service (before 2023). This favorable treatment is allowed under the 100% first-year bonus depreciation break. Note: The bonus depreciation rate will begin to be phased down for property placed in service after calendar year 2022.

In later years, you can probably deduct 100% of these costs in the year the assets are placed in service under the Section 179 first-year depreciation deduction privilege. However, Sec. 179 deductions are subject to several limitations.

For tax years beginning in 2022, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $1.08 million, subject to a phaseout rule. Under the rule, the deduction is phased out if more than a specified amount ($2.7 million for 2022) of qualified property is placed in service during the year.

There’s also a taxable income limit. Under it, your Sec. 179 deduction can’t exceed your business taxable income. In other words, Sec. 179 deductions can’t create or increase an overall tax loss. However, any Sec. 179 deduction amount that you can’t immediately deduct is carried forward and can be deducted in later years (to the extent permitted by the applicable limits).

Similar rules apply to purchased off-the-shelf software. However, software license fees are treated differently from purchased software costs for tax purposes. Payments for leased or licensed software used for your website are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

Software developed internally

If, instead of being purchased, the website is designed in-house by the taxpayer launching the website (or designed by a contractor who isn’t at risk if the software doesn’t perform), for tax years beginning before calendar year 2022, bonus depreciation applies to the extent described above. If bonus depreciation doesn’t apply, the taxpayer can either:

  1. Deduct the development costs in the year paid or incurred, or
  2. Choose one of several alternative amortization periods over which to deduct the costs.

For tax years beginning after calendar year 2021, generally the only allowable treatment will be to amortize the costs over the five-year period beginning with the midpoint of the tax year in which the expenditures are paid or incurred.

If your website is primarily for advertising, you can currently deduct internal website software development costs as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

Paying a third party

Some companies hire third parties to set up and run their websites. In general, payments to third parties are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

Before business begins

Start-up expenses can include website development costs. Up to $5,000 of otherwise deductible expenses that are incurred before your business commences can generally be deducted in the year business commences. However, if your start-up expenses exceed $50,000, the $5,000 current deduction limit starts to be chipped away. Above this amount, you must capitalize some, or all, of your start-up expenses and amortize them over 60 months, starting with the month that business commences.

We can help

We can determine the appropriate treatment of website costs. Contact us if you want more information.



Important considerations when engaging in a like-kind exchange

A business or individual might be able to dispose of appreciated real property without being taxed on the gain by exchanging it rather than selling it. You can defer tax on your gain through a “like-kind” or Section 1031 exchange.

A like-kind exchange is a swap of real property held for investment or for productive use in your trade or business for like-kind investment real property or business real property. For these purposes, “like-kind” is very broadly defined, and most real property is considered to be like-kind with other real property. However, neither the relinquished property nor the replacement property can be real property held primarily for sale. If you’re unsure whether the property involved in your exchange is eligible for a like-kind exchange, contact us to discuss the matter.

Here’s how the tax rules work

If it’s a straight asset-for-asset exchange, you won’t have to recognize any gain from the exchange. You’ll take the same “basis” (your cost for tax purposes) in the replacement property that you had in the relinquished property. Even if you don’t have to recognize any gain on the exchange, you still have to report the exchange on a form that is attached to your tax return.

However, the properties often aren’t equal in value, so some cash or other (non-like-kind) property is thrown into the deal. This cash or other property is known as “boot.” If boot is involved, you’ll have to recognize your gain, but only up to the amount of boot you receive in the exchange. In these situations, the basis you get in the like-kind replacement property you receive is equal to the basis you had in the relinquished property you gave up reduced by the amount of boot you received but increased by the amount of any gain recognized.

Here’s an example 

Let’s say you exchange land (investment property) with a basis of $100,000 for a building (investment property) valued at $120,000 plus $15,000 in cash. Your realized gain on the exchange is $35,000: You received $135,000 in value for an asset with a basis of $100,000. However, since it’s a like-kind exchange, you only have to recognize $15,000 of your gain: the amount of cash (boot) you received. Your basis in the new building (the replacement property) will be $100,000, which is your original basis in the relinquished property you gave up ($100,000) plus the $15,000 gain recognized, minus the $15,000 boot received.

Note: No matter how much boot is received, you’ll never recognize more than your actual (“realized”) gain on the exchange.

If the property you’re exchanging is subject to debt from which you’re being relieved, the amount of the debt is treated as boot. The theory is that if someone takes over your debt, it’s equivalent to him or her giving you cash. Of course, if the replacement property is also subject to debt, then you’re only treated as receiving boot to the extent of your “net debt relief” (the amount by which the debt you become free of exceeds the debt you pick up).

Like-kind exchanges can be complex but they’re a good tax-deferred way to dispose of investment or trade or business assets. We can answer any additional questions you have or assist with the transaction.



Calculating corporate estimated tax

The next quarterly estimated tax payment deadline is June 15 for individuals and businesses so it’s a good time to review the rules for computing corporate federal estimated payments. You want your business to pay the minimum amount of estimated taxes without triggering the penalty for underpayment of estimated tax.

Four methods

The required installment of estimated tax that a corporation must pay to avoid a penalty is the lowest amount determined under each of the following four methods:

  1. Under the current year method, a corporation can avoid the estimated tax underpayment penalty by paying 25% of the tax shown on the current tax year’s return (or, if no return is filed, 25% of the tax for the current year) by each of four installment due dates. The due dates are generally April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 of the following year.
  2. Under the preceding year method, a corporation can avoid the estimated tax underpayment penalty by paying 25% of the tax shown on the return for the preceding tax year by each of four installment due dates. (Note, however, that for 2022, certain corporations can only use the preceding year method to determine their first required installment payment. This restriction is placed on a corporation with taxable income of $1 million or more in any of the last three tax years.) In addition, this method isn’t available to corporations with a tax return that was for less than 12 months or a corporation that didn’t file a preceding tax year return that showed some tax liability.
  3. Under the annualized income method, a corporation can avoid the estimated tax underpayment penalty if it pays its “annualized tax” in quarterly installments. The annualized tax is computed on the basis of the corporation’s taxable income for the months in the tax year ending before the due date of the installment and assuming income will be received at the same rate over the full year.
  4. Under the seasonal income method, corporations with recurring seasonal patterns of taxable income can annualize income by assuming income earned in the current year is earned in the same pattern as in preceding years. There’s a somewhat complicated mathematical test that corporations must pass in order to establish that their income is earned seasonally and that they therefore qualify to use this method. If you think your corporation might qualify for this method, don’t hesitate to ask for our assistance in determining if it does.

Also, note that a corporation can switch among the four methods during a given tax year.

We can examine whether your corporation’s estimated tax bill can be reduced. Contact us if you’d like to discuss this matter further.



The tax mechanics involved in the sale of trade or business property

What are the tax consequences of selling property used in your trade or business?

There are many rules that can potentially apply to the sale of business property. Thus, to simplify discussion, let’s assume that the property you want to sell is land or depreciable property used in your business, and has been held by you for more than a year. (There are different rules for property held primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of business; intellectual property; low-income housing; property that involves farming or livestock; and other types of property.)

General rules

Under the Internal Revenue Code, your gains and losses from sales of business property are netted against each other. The net gain or loss qualifies for tax treatment as follows:

1) If the netting of gains and losses results in a net gain, then long-term capital gain treatment results, subject to “recapture” rules discussed below. Long-term capital gain treatment is generally more favorable than ordinary income treatment.

2) If the netting of gains and losses results in a net loss, that loss is fully deductible against ordinary income (in other words, none of the rules that limit the deductibility of capital losses apply).

Recapture rules 

The availability of long-term capital gain treatment for business property net gain is limited by “recapture” rules — that is, rules under which amounts are treated as ordinary income rather than capital gain because of previous ordinary loss or deduction treatment for these amounts.

There’s a special recapture rule that applies only to business property. Under this rule, to the extent you’ve had a business property net loss within the previous five years, any business property net gain is treated as ordinary income instead of as long-term capital gain.

Section 1245 Property 

“Section 1245 Property” consists of all depreciable personal property, whether tangible or intangible, and certain depreciable real property (usually, real property that performs specific functions). If you sell Section 1245 Property, you must recapture your gain as ordinary income to the extent of your earlier depreciation deductions on the asset.

Section 1250 Property

“Section 1250 Property” consists, generally, of buildings and their structural components. If you sell Section 1250 Property that was placed in service after 1986, none of the long-term capital gain attributable to depreciation deductions will be subject to depreciation recapture. However, for most noncorporate taxpayers, the gain attributable to depreciation deductions, to the extent it doesn’t exceed business property net gain, will (as reduced by the business property recapture rule above) be taxed at a rate of no more than 28.8% (25% as adjusted for the 3.8% net investment income tax) rather than the maximum 23.8% rate (20% as adjusted for the 3.8% net investment income tax) that generally applies to long-term capital gains of noncorporate taxpayers.

Other rules may apply to Section 1250 Property, depending on when it was placed in service.

As you can see, even with the simplifying assumptions in this article, the tax treatment of the sale of business assets can be complex. Contact us if you’d like to determine the tax consequences of specific transactions or if you have any additional questions.



Tax considerations when adding a new partner at your business

Adding a new partner in a partnership has several financial and legal implications. Let’s say you and your partners are planning to admit a new partner. The new partner will acquire a one-third interest in the partnership by making a cash contribution to it. Let’s further assume that your bases in your partnership interests are sufficient so that the decrease in your portions of the partnership’s liabilities because of the new partner’s entry won’t reduce your bases to zero.

Not as simple as it seems

Although the entry of a new partner appears to be a simple matter, it’s necessary to plan the new person’s entry properly in order to avoid various tax problems. Here are two issues to consider:

First, if there’s a change in the partners’ interests in unrealized receivables and substantially appreciated inventory items, the change is treated as a sale of those items, with the result that the current partners will recognize gain. For this purpose, unrealized receivables include not only accounts receivable, but also depreciation recapture and certain other ordinary income items. In order to avoid gain recognition on those items, it’s necessary that they be allocated to the current partners even after the entry of the new partner.

Second, the tax code requires that the “built-in gain or loss” on assets that were held by the partnership before the new partner was admitted be allocated to the current partners and not to the entering partner. Generally speaking, “built-in gain or loss” is the difference between the fair market value and basis of the partnership property at the time the new partner is admitted.

The most important effect of these rules is that the new partner must be allocated a portion of the depreciation equal to his share of the depreciable property based on current fair market value. This will reduce the amount of depreciation that can be taken by the current partners. The other effect is that the built-in gain or loss on the partnership assets must be allocated to the current partners when partnership assets are sold. The rules that apply here are complex and the partnership may have to adopt special accounting procedures to cope with the relevant requirements. 

Keep track of your basis 

When adding a partner or making other changes, a partner’s basis in his or her interest can undergo frequent adjustment. It’s imperative to keep proper track of your basis because it can have an impact in several areas: gain or loss on the sale of your interest, how partnership distributions to you are taxed and the maximum amount of partnership loss you can deduct.

Contact us if you’d like help in dealing with these issues or any other issues that may arise in connection with your partnership.