Small Business Tax briefs

2024 Q2 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines that apply to businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2024. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

April 15

  • If you’re a calendar-year corporation, file a 2023 income tax return (Form 1120) or file for an automatic six-month extension (Form 7004) and pay any tax due.
  • For corporations, pay the first installment of 2024 estimated income taxes. Complete and retain Form 1120-W (worksheet) for your records.
  • For individuals, file a 2023 income tax return (Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR) or file for an automatic six-month extension (Form 4868) and pay any tax due.
  • For individuals, pay the first installment of 2024 estimated taxes, if you don’t pay income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

April 30

  • Employers report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for the first quarter of 2024 (Form 941) and pay any tax due.

May 10

  • Employers report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for the first quarter of 2024 (Form 941), if they deposited on time, and fully paid, all of the associated taxes due.

May 15

  • Employers deposit Social Security, Medicare and withheld income taxes for April if the monthly deposit rule applies.

June 17

  • Corporations pay the second installment of 2024 estimated income taxes.


Coordinating Sec. 179 tax deductions with bonus depreciation

Your business should generally maximize current year depreciation write-offs for newly acquired assets. Two federal tax breaks can be a big help in achieving this goal: first-year Section 179 depreciation deductions and first-year bonus depreciation deductions. These two deductions can potentially allow businesses to write off some or all of their qualifying asset expenses in Year 1. However, they’re moving targets due to annual inflation adjustments and tax law changes that phase out bonus depreciation. With that in mind, here’s how to coordinate these write-offs for optimal tax-saving results.

Sec. 179 deduction basics

Most tangible depreciable business assets — including equipment, computer hardware, vehicles (subject to limits), furniture, most software and fixtures — qualify for the first-year Sec. 179 deduction.

Depreciable real property generally doesn’t qualify unless it’s qualified improvement property (QIP). QIP means any improvement to an interior portion of a nonresidential building that’s placed in service after the date the building is placed in service — except for any expenditures attributable to the enlargement of the building, any elevator or escalator, or the internal structural framework. Sec. 179 deductions are also allowed for nonresidential building roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection systems and security systems.

The inflation-adjusted maximum Sec. 179 deduction for tax years beginning in 2024 is $1.22 million. It begins to be phased out if 2024 qualified asset additions exceed $3.05 million. (These are up from $1.16 million and $2.89 million, respectively, in 2023.)

Bonus depreciation basics

Most tangible depreciable business assets also qualify for first-year bonus depreciation. In addition, software and QIP generally qualify. To be eligible, a used asset must be new to the taxpayer.

For qualifying assets placed in service in 2024, the first-year bonus depreciation percentage is 60%. This is down from 80% in 2023.

Sec. 179 vs. bonus depreciation

The current Sec. 179 deduction rules are generous, but there are several limitations:

  • The phase-out rule mentioned above,
  • A business taxable income limitation that disallows deductions that would result in an overall business taxable loss,
  • A limited deduction for SUVs with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 6,000 pounds, and
  • Tricky limitation rules when assets are owned by pass-through entities such as LLCs, partnerships, and S corporations.

First-year bonus depreciation deductions aren’t subject to any complicated limitations. But, as mentioned earlier, the bonus depreciation percentages for 2024 and 2023 are only 60% and 80%, respectively.

So, the current tax-saving strategy is to write off as much of the cost of qualifying asset additions as you can with Sec. 179 deductions. Then claim as much first-year bonus depreciation as you can.

Example: In 2024, your calendar-tax-year C corporation places in service $500,000 of assets that qualify for both a Sec. 179 deduction and first-year bonus depreciation. However, due to the taxable income limitation, the company’s Sec. 179 deduction is limited to only $300,000. You can deduct the $300,000 on your corporation’s 2024 federal income tax return. You can then deduct 60% of the remaining $200,000 ($500,000 − $300,000), thanks to first-year bonus depreciation. So, your corporation can write off $420,000 in 2024 [$300,000 + (60% x $200,000) = $420,000]. That’s 84% of the cost! Note that the $200,000 bonus depreciation deduction will contribute to a corporate net operating loss that’s carried forward to your 2025 tax year.

Manage tax breaks

As you can see, coordinating Sec. 179 deductions with bonus depreciation deductions is a tax-wise idea. We can provide details on how the rules work or answer any questions you have.



Bartering is a taxable transaction even if no cash is exchanged

If your small business is strapped for cash (or likes to save money), you may find it beneficial to barter or trade for goods and services. Bartering isn’t new — it’s the oldest form of trade — but the internet has made it easier to engage in with other businesses.

However, if your business begins bartering, be aware that the fair market value of goods that you receive in these types of transactions is taxable income. And if you exchange services with another business, the transaction results in taxable income for both parties.

Fair market value

Here are some examples of an exchange of services:

  • A computer consultant agrees to offer tech support to an advertising agency in exchange for free advertising.
  • An electrical contractor does repair work for a dentist in exchange for dental services.

In these cases, both parties are taxed on the fair market value of the services received. This is the amount they would normally charge for the same services. If the parties agree to the value of the services in advance, that will be considered the fair market value unless there’s contrary evidence.

In addition, if services are exchanged for property, income is realized. For example:

  • If a construction firm does work for a retail business in exchange for unsold inventory, it will have income equal to the fair market value of the inventory.
  • If an architectural firm does work for a corporation in exchange for shares of the corporation’s stock, it will have income equal to the fair market value of the stock.

Joining a club

Many businesses join barter clubs that facilitate barter exchanges. These clubs generally use a system of “credit units,” which are awarded to members who provide goods and services. The credits can be redeemed for goods and services from other members.

In general, bartering is taxable in the year it occurs. But if you participate in a barter club, you may be taxed on the value of credit units at the time they’re added to your account, even if you don’t redeem them for actual goods and services until a later year. For example, let’s say that you earn 2,500 credit units one year, and that each unit is redeemable for $2 in goods and services. In that year, you’ll have $5,000 of income. You won’t pay additional tax if you redeem the units the next year, since you’ve already been taxed on that income.

If you join a barter club, you’ll be asked to provide your Social Security number or Employer Identification Number. You’ll also be asked to certify that you aren’t subject to backup withholding. Unless you make this certification, the club is required to withhold tax from your bartering income at a 24% rate.

Tax reporting

By January 31 of each year, a barter club will send participants a Form 1099-B, “Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions,” which shows the value of cash, property, services and credits that you received from exchanges during the previous year. This information will also be reported to the IRS.

Exchanging without exchanging money

By bartering, you can trade away excess inventory or provide services during slow times, all while hanging on to your cash. You may also find yourself bartering when a customer doesn’t have the money on hand to complete a transaction. As long as you’re aware of the federal and state tax consequences, these transactions can benefit all parties involved. Contact us if you need assistance or would like more information.



Maximize the QBI deduction before it’s gone

The qualified business income (QBI) deduction is available to eligible businesses through 2025. After that, it’s scheduled to disappear. So if you’re eligible, you want to make the most of the deduction while it’s still on the books because it can potentially be a big tax saver.

Deduction basics

The QBI deduction is written off at the owner level. It can be up to 20% of:

  • QBI earned from a sole proprietorship or single-member LLC that’s treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes, plus
  • QBI from a pass-through entity, meaning a partnership, LLC that’s treated as a partnership for tax purposes or S corporation.

How is QBI defined? It’s qualified income and gains from an eligible business, reduced by related deductions. QBI is reduced by: 1) deductible contributions to a self-employed retirement plan, 2) the deduction for 50% of self-employment tax, and 3) the deduction for self-employed health insurance premiums.

Unfortunately, the QBI deduction doesn’t reduce net earnings for purposes of the self-employment tax, nor does it reduce investment income for purposes of the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) imposed on higher-income individuals.

Limitations

At higher income levels, QBI deduction limitations come into play. For 2024, these begin to phase in when taxable income before any QBI deduction exceeds $191,950 ($383,900 for married joint filers). The limitations are fully phased in once taxable income exceeds $241,950 or $483,900, respectively.

If your income exceeds the applicable fully-phased-in number, your QBI deduction is limited to the greater of: 1) your share of 50% of W-2 wages paid to employees during the year and properly allocable to QBI, or 2) the sum of your share of 25% of such W-2 wages plus your share of 2.5% of the unadjusted basis immediately upon acquisition (UBIA) of qualified property.

The limitation based on qualified property is intended to benefit capital-intensive businesses such as hotels and manufacturing operations. Qualified property means depreciable tangible property, including real estate, that’s owned and used to produce QBI. The UBIA of qualified property generally equals its original cost when first put to use in the business.

Finally, your QBI deduction can’t exceed 20% of your taxable income calculated before any QBI deduction and before any net capital gain (net long-term capital gains in excess of net short-term capital losses plus qualified dividends).

Unfavorable rules for certain businesses 

For a specified service trade or business (SSTB), the QBI deduction begins to be phased out when your taxable income before any QBI deduction exceeds $191,950 ($383,900 for married joint filers). Phaseout is complete if taxable income exceeds $241,950 or $483,900, respectively. If your taxable income exceeds the applicable phaseout amount, you’re not allowed to claim any QBI deduction based on income from a SSTB.

Other factors

Other rules apply to this tax break. For example, you can elect to aggregate several businesses for purposes of the deduction. It may allow someone with taxable income high enough to be affected by the limitations described above to claim a bigger QBI deduction than if the businesses were considered separately.

There also may be an impact for claiming or forgoing certain deductions. For example, in 2024, you can potentially claim first-year Section 179 depreciation deductions of up to $1.22 million for eligible asset additions (subject to various limitations). For 2024, 60% first-year bonus depreciation is also available. However, first-year depreciation deductions reduce QBI and taxable income, which can reduce your QBI deduction. So, you may have to thread the needle with depreciation write-offs to get the best overall tax result.

Use it or potentially lose it

The QBI deduction is scheduled to disappear after 2025. Congress could extend it, but don’t count on it. So, maximizing the deduction for 2024 and 2025 is a worthy goal. We can help.



Better tax break when applying the research credit against payroll taxes

The credit for increasing research activities, often referred to as the research and development (R&D) credit, is a valuable tax break available to certain eligible small businesses. Claiming the credit involves complex calculations, which we’ll take care of for you.

But in addition to the credit itself, be aware that there are two additional features that are especially favorable to small businesses:

  • Eligible small businesses ($50 million or less in gross receipts for the three prior tax years) may claim the credit against alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability.
  • The credit can be used by certain smaller startup businesses against their Social Security payroll and Medicare tax liability.

Let’s take a look at the second feature. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has doubled the amount of the payroll tax credit election for qualified businesses and made a change to the eligible types of payroll taxes it can be applied to, making it better than it was before the law changes kicked in.

Election basics

Subject to limits, your business can elect to apply all or some of any research tax credit that you earn against your payroll taxes instead of your income tax. This payroll tax election may influence you to undertake or increase your research activities. On the other hand, if you’re engaged in — or are planning to undertake — research activities without regard to tax consequences, you could receive some tax relief.

Many new businesses, even if they have some cash flow, or even net positive cash flow and/or a book profit, pay no income taxes and won’t for some time. Thus, there’s no amount against which business credits, including the research credit, can be applied. On the other hand, any wage-paying business, even a new one, has payroll tax liabilities. Therefore, the payroll tax election is an opportunity to get immediate use out of the research credits that you earn. Because every dollar of credit-eligible expenditure can result in as much as a 10-cent tax credit, that’s a big help in the start-up phase of a business — the time when help is most needed.

Eligible businesses

To qualify for the election a taxpayer must:

  • Have gross receipts for the election year of less than $5 million, and
  • Be no more than five years past the period for which it had no receipts (the start-up period).

In making these determinations, the only gross receipts that an individual taxpayer considers are from the individual’s businesses. An individual’s salary, investment income or other income aren’t taken into account. Also, note that an entity or individual can’t make the election for more than six years in a row.

Limits on the election

The research credit for which the taxpayer makes the payroll tax election can be applied against the employer portion of Social Security and Medicare. It can’t be used to lower the FICA taxes that an employer withholds and remits to the government on behalf of employees. Before a provision in the IRA became effective for 2023 and later years, taxpayers were only allowed to use the payroll tax offset against Social Security, not Medicare.

The amount of research credit for which the election can be made can’t annually exceed $500,000. Prior to the IRA, the maximum credit amount allowed to offset payroll tax before 2023 was only $250,000. Note, too, that an individual or C corporation can make the election only for those research credits which, in the absence of an election, would have to be carried forward. In other words, a C corporation can’t make the election for the research credit to reduce current or past income tax liabilities.

These are just the basics of the payroll tax election. Keep in mind that identifying and substantiating expenses eligible for the research credit itself is a complex task. Contact us about whether you can benefit from the payroll tax election and the research tax credit.



Tax-wise ways to take cash from your corporation while avoiding dividend treatment

If you want to withdraw cash from your closely held corporation at a low tax cost, the easiest way is to distribute cash as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax efficient since it’s taxable to you to the extent of your corporation’s “earnings and profits,” but it’s not deductible by the corporation.

5 different approaches

Thankfully, there are some alternative methods that may allow you to withdraw cash from a corporation while avoiding dividend treatment. Here are five possible options:

1. Salary. Reasonable compensation that you, or family members, receive for services rendered to the corporation is deductible by the business. However, it’s also taxable to the recipient(s). The same rule applies to any compensation (in the form of rent) that you receive from the corporation for the use of property. In either case, the amount of compensation must be reasonable in relation to the services rendered or the value of the property provided. If it’s excessive, the excess will be nondeductible and treated as a corporate distribution.

2. Fringe benefits. Consider obtaining the equivalent of a cash withdrawal in fringe benefits that are deductible by the corporation and not taxable to you. Examples are life insurance, certain medical benefits, disability insurance and dependent care. Most of these benefits are tax-free only if provided on a nondiscriminatory basis to other employees of the corporation. You can also establish a salary reduction plan that allows you (and other employees) to take a portion of your compensation as nontaxable benefits, rather than as taxable compensation.

3. Capital repayments. To the extent that you’ve capitalized the corporation with debt, including amounts that you’ve advanced to the business, the corporation can repay the debt without the repayment being treated as a dividend. Additionally, interest paid on the debt can be deducted by the corporation. This assumes that the debt has been properly documented with terms that characterize debt and that the corporation doesn’t have an excessively high debt-to-equity ratio. If not, the “debt” repayment may be taxed as a dividend. If you make cash contributions to the corporation in the future, consider structuring them as debt to facilitate later withdrawals on a tax-advantaged basis.

4. Loans. You may withdraw cash from the corporation tax-free by borrowing money from it. However, to avoid having the loan characterized as a corporate distribution, it should be properly documented in a loan agreement or a note and be made on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would lend money to you. This should include a provision for interest and principal. All interest and principal payments should be made when required under the loan terms. Also, consider the effect of the corporation’s receipt of interest income.

5. Property sales. You can withdraw cash from the corporation by selling property to it. However, certain sales should be avoided. For example, you shouldn’t sell property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a loss, since the loss will be disallowed. And you shouldn’t sell depreciable property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a gain, since the gain will be treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain. A sale should be on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would purchase the property. You may need to obtain an independent appraisal to establish the property’s value.

Minimize taxes

If you’re interested in discussing any of these ideas, contact us. We can help you get the maximum out of your corporation at the minimum tax cost.



9 tax considerations if you’re starting a business as a sole proprietor

When launching a small business, many entrepreneurs start out as sole proprietors. If you’re launching a venture as a sole proprietorship, you need to understand the tax issues involved. Here are nine considerations:

1. You may qualify for the pass-through deduction. To the extent your business generates qualified business income, you’re currently eligible to claim the 20% pass-through deduction, subject to limitations. The deduction is taken “below the line,” meaning it reduces taxable income, rather than being taken “above the line” against your gross income. However, you can take the deduction even if you don’t itemize deductions and instead claim the standard deduction. Be aware that this deduction is only available through 2025, unless Congress acts to extend it.

2. You report income and expenses on Schedule C of Form 1040. The net income will be taxable to you regardless of whether you withdraw cash from the business. Your business expenses are deductible against gross income and not as itemized deductions. If you have losses, they’ll generally be deductible against your other income, subject to special rules related to hobby losses, passive activity losses and losses from activities in which you weren’t “at risk.”

3. You must pay self-employment taxes. For 2024, you pay self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare) at a 15.3% rate on your net earnings from self-employment up to $168,600, and Medicare tax only at a 2.9% rate on the excess. An additional 0.9% Medicare tax (for a total of 3.8%) is imposed on self-employment income in excess of $250,000 for joint returns, $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns and $200,000 in all other cases. Self-employment tax is imposed in addition to income tax, but you can deduct half of your self-employment tax as an adjustment to income.

4. You generally must make quarterly estimated tax payments. For 2024, these are due April 15, June 17, September 16 and January 15, 2025.

5. You can deduct 100% of your health insurance costs as a business expense. This means your deduction for medical care insurance won’t be subject to the rule that limits medical expense deductions.

6. You may be able to deduct home office expenses. If you work from a home office, perform management or administrative tasks there, or store product samples or inventory at home, you may be entitled to deduct an allocable part of certain expenses, including mortgage interest or rent, insurance, utilities, repairs, maintenance and depreciation. You may also be able to deduct travel expenses from a home office to another work location.

7. You should keep complete records of your income and expenses. Specifically, you should carefully record your expenses in order to claim all the tax breaks to which you’re entitled. Certain expenses, such as automobile, travel, meals, and home office expenses, require extra attention because they’re subject to special recordkeeping rules or deductibility limits.

8. You have more responsibilities if you hire employees. For example, you need to get a taxpayer identification number and withhold and pay over payroll taxes.

9. You should consider establishing a qualified retirement plan. The advantages are that amounts contributed to it are deductible at the time of the contributions and aren’t taken into income until they’re withdrawn. You might consider a SEP plan, which requires minimal paperwork. A SIMPLE plan is also available to sole proprietors and offers tax advantages with fewer restrictions and administrative requirements. If you don’t establish a retirement plan, you may still be able to contribute to an IRA.

Turn to us

Contact us if you want additional information regarding the tax aspects of your business, or if you have questions about reporting or recordkeeping requirements.



Update on IRS efforts to combat questionable Employee Retention Tax Credit claims

The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) was introduced back when COVID-19 temporarily closed many businesses. The credit provided cash that helped enable struggling businesses to retain employees. Even though the ERTC expired for most employers at the end of the third quarter of 2021, it could still be claimed on amended returns after that.

According to the IRS, it began receiving a deluge of “questionable” ERTC claims as some unscrupulous promotors asserted that large tax refunds could easily be obtained — even though there are stringent eligibility requirements. “We saw aggressive marketing around this credit, and well-intentioned businesses were misled into filing claims,” explained IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.

Last year, in a series of actions, the IRS began cracking down on potentially fraudulent claims. They began with a moratorium on processing new ERTC claims submitted after September 14, 2023. Despite this, the IRS reports that it still has more than $1 billion in ETRC claims in process and they are receiving additional scrutiny.

Here’s an update of the other compliance efforts that may help your business if it submitted a problematic claim:

1. Voluntary Disclosure Program. Under this program, businesses can “pay back the money they received after filing ERTC claims in error,” the IRS explained. The deadline for applying is March 22, 2024. If the IRS accepts a business into the program, the employer will need to repay only 80% of the credit money it received. If the IRS paid interest on the employer’s ERTC, the employer doesn’t need to repay that interest and the IRS won’t charge penalties or interest on the repaid amounts.

The IRS chose the 80% repayment amount because many of the ERTC promoters charged a percentage fee that they collected at the time (or in advance) of the payment, so the recipients never received the full credit amount.

Employers that are unable to repay the required 80% may be considered for an installment agreement on a case-by-case basis, pending submission and review of an IRS form that requires disclosing a significant amount of financial information.

To be eligible for this program, the employer must provide the IRS with the name, address and phone number of anyone who advised or assisted them with their claims, and details about the services provided.

2. Special withdrawal program. If a business has a pending claim for which it has eligibility concerns, it can withdraw the claim. This program is also available to businesses that were paid money from the IRS for claims but haven’t cashed or deposited the refund checks. The tax agency reported that more than $167 million from pending applications had been withdrawn through mid-January.

Much-needed relief

Commissioner Werfel said the disclosure program “provides a much-needed option for employers who were pulled into these claims and now realize they shouldn’t have applied.”

In addition to the programs described above, the IRS has been sending letters to thousands of taxpayers notifying them their claims have been disallowed. These cases involve entities that didn’t exist or didn’t have employees on the payroll during the eligibility period, “meaning the businesses failed to meet the basic criteria” for the credit, the IRS stated. Another set of letters will soon be mailed to credit recipients who claimed an erroneous or excessive credit. They’ll be informed that the IRS will recapture the payments through normal collection procedures.

There’s an application form that employers must file to participate in the Voluntary Disclosure Program and procedures that must be followed for the withdrawal program. Other rules apply. Contact us for assistance or with questions.



Tax-favored Qualified Small Business Corporation status could help you thrive

Operating your small business as a Qualified Small Business Corporation (QSBC) could be a tax-wise idea.

Tax-free treatment for eligible stock gains

QSBCs are the same as garden-variety C corporations for tax and legal purposes — except QSBC shareholders are potentially eligible to exclude from federal income tax 100% of their stock sale gains. That translates into a 0% federal income tax rate on QSBC stock sale profits! However, you must meet several requirements set forth in Section 1202 of the Internal Revenue Code, and not all shares meet the tax-law description of QSBC stock. Finally, there are limitations on the amount of QSBC stock sale gain that you can exclude in any one tax year (but they’re unlikely to apply).

Stock acquisition date is key

The 100% federal income tax gain exclusion is only available for sales of QSBC shares that were acquired on or after September 28, 2010.

If you currently operate as a sole proprietorship, single-member LLC treated as a sole proprietorship, partnership or multi-member LLC treated as a partnership, you’ll have to incorporate the business and issue yourself shares to attain QSBC status.

Important: The act of incorporating a business shouldn’t be taken lightly. We can help you evaluate the pros and cons of taking this step.

Here are some more rules and requirements:

  • Eligibility. The gain exclusion break isn’t available for QSBC shares owned by another C corporation. However, QSBC shares held by individuals, LLCs, partnerships, and S corporations are potentially eligible.
  • Holding period. To be eligible for the 100% stock sale gain exclusion deal, you must hold your QSBC shares for over five years. For shares that haven’t yet been issued, the 100% gain exclusion break will only be available for sales that occur sometime in 2029 or beyond.
  • Acquisition of shares. You must acquire the shares after August 10, 1993, and they generally must be acquired upon original issuance by the corporation or by gift or inheritance.
  • Businesses that aren’t eligible. The corporation must actively conduct a qualified business. Qualified businesses don’t include those rendering services in the fields of health; law; engineering; architecture; accounting; actuarial science; performing arts; consulting; athletics; financial services; brokerage services; businesses where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of employees; banking; insurance; leasing; financing; investing; farming; production or extraction of oil, natural gas, or other minerals for which percentage depletion deductions are allowed; or the operation of a hotel, motel, restaurant, or similar business.
  • Asset limits. The corporation’s gross assets can’t exceed $50 million immediately after your shares are issued. If after the stock is issued, the corporation grows and exceeds the $50 million threshold, it won’t lose its QSBC status for that reason.

2017 law sweetened the deal

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made a flat 21% corporate federal income tax rate permanent, assuming no backtracking by Congress. So, if you own shares in a profitable QSBC and you eventually sell them when you’re eligible for the 100% gain exclusion break, the 21% corporate rate could be all the income tax that’s ever owed to Uncle Sam.

Tax incentives drive the decision

Before concluding that you can operate your business as a QSBC, consult with us. We’ve summarized the most important eligibility rules here, but there are more. The 100% federal income tax stock sale gain exclusion break and the flat 21% corporate federal income tax rate are two strong incentives for eligible small businesses to operate as QSBCs.



Giving gifts and throwing parties can help show gratitude and provide tax breaks

The holiday season is here. During this festive season, your business may want to show its gratitude to employees and customers by giving them gifts or hosting holiday parties. It’s a good time to review the tax rules associated with these expenses. Are they tax deductible by your business and is the value taxable to the recipients?

Employee gifts

Many businesses want to show their employees appreciation during the holiday time. In general, anything of value that you transfer to an employee is included in his or her taxable income (and, therefore, subject to income and payroll taxes) and deductible by your business.

But there’s an exception for noncash gifts that constitute a “de minimis” fringe benefit. These are items small in value and given so infrequently that they are administratively impracticable to account for. Common examples include holiday turkeys or hams, gift baskets, occasional sports or theater tickets (but not season tickets), and other low-cost merchandise.

De minimis fringe benefits aren’t included in your employees’ taxable income yet they’re still deductible by your business. Unlike gifts to customers, there’s no specific dollar threshold for de minimis gifts. However, many businesses use an informal cutoff of $75.

Key point: Cash gifts — as well as cash equivalents, such as gift cards — are included in an employee’s income and subject to payroll tax withholding regardless of how small they are and infrequently they’re given.

Customer gifts

If you make gifts to customers or clients, they’re only deductible up to $25 per recipient, per year. For purposes of the $25 limit, you don’t need to include “incidental” costs that don’t substantially add to the gift’s value, such as engraving, gift wrapping, packaging or shipping. Also excluded from the $25 limit is branded marketing collateral — such as small items imprinted with your company’s name and logo — provided they’re widely distributed and cost less than $4 each.

The $25 limit is for gifts to individuals. There’s no set limit on gifts to a company (for example, a gift basket for all of a customer’s team members to share) as long as the cost is “reasonable.”

A holiday party

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, certain deductions for business-related meals were reduced and the deduction for business entertainment was eliminated. However, there’s an exception for certain recreational activities, including holiday parties.

Holiday parties are fully deductible (and excludible from recipients’ income) so long as they’re primarily for the benefit of employees who aren’t highly compensated and their families. If customers, and others also attend, a holiday party may be partially deductible.

Holiday cards

Sending holiday cards is a nice way to show customers and clients your appreciation. If you use the cards to promote your business, you can probably deduct the cost. Incorporate your company name and logo, and you might even want to include a discount coupon for your products or services.

Boost morale with festive gestures

If you have questions about giving holiday gifts to employees or customers or throwing a holiday party, contact us. We can explain the tax implications.