Category Archives: Tips

IRS Issues 2018 Standard Mileage Rates

From today’s Journal of Accountancy:

The optional standard mileage rates for business use of a vehicle will increase slightly in 2018, after decreasing in the two previous years, the IRS announced Thursday (Notice 2018-3). For business use of a car, van, pickup truck, or panel truck, the rate for 2018 will be 54.5 cents per mile, up from 53.5 cents per mile in 2017.

Taxpayers can use the optional standard mileage rates to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile.

Driving for medical or moving purposes may be deducted at 18 cents per mile, which is one cent higher than for 2017. (The medical and moving expense deductions may be affected by the pending tax reform legislation.) The rate for service to a charitable organization is unchanged, set by statute at 14 cents per mile (Sec. 170(i)). The portion of the business standard mileage rate that is treated as depreciation will be 25 cents per mile for 2018, unchanged from 2017.

Forbes made some interesting points about how the current debate on looming tax reform may limit the use of these rates, however.

The current tax reform proposals would eliminate the mileage deduction for moving expenses and job-related business mileage deductions for employees filing a Schedule A. In addition, both proposals would disallow – on the employer’s side – favorable tax treatment for employer reimbursement of employee moving expenses. However, under Senate version of the bill, the tax treatment of these deductions would sunset, which means that the treatment of expenses would go back to the way the law is now (in 2017) beginning in 2026.

Both proposals would retain the charitable donation deduction, including for charitable miles. And in good news, under the House proposal, the mileage rate for charity would finally be indexed for inflation (it’s been 14 cents per mile since the Clinton era).

Both proposals would continue to allow you to deduct business miles related to your trade or business (for more on the difference between a Schedule A and a Schedule C, click here).

Remember: These are the rates effective at the beginning of 2018 for the 2018 tax year. Assuming that they still apply to you, that means they’ll show up on your 2018 returns (the ones you’ll file in 2019). However, you can still use the 2017 standard mileage rates for the tax return that you’ll submit in 2018. Even if the tax reform bills eliminate certain deduction as of January 1, 2018, those deductions are still applicable for the 2017 tax year.

If you’re looking for 2017 tax rates, including the standard deduction and other tax items, you’ll find them here.

Small Business Saturday

It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Everyone’s eaten and drunk more than they should, and some have been able to enjoy time with family and/or friends. Then the aftermath of shopping insanity (I saw the lines outside a major chain starting after dinner on Thursday) — “Black Friday” has its name because many retail businesses are “in the red” in terms of profit until the last six weeks of the year. This shopping frenzy begins on Black Friday, but in recent years, “Small Business Saturday” promotions have begun to win the hearts of many a shopper who doesn’t want to push and shove, or who values the sense of community and dedication that these small business owners bring to a neighborhood.

Keep an eye out for additional promotions from local Chambers of Commerce for those who Shop Small and Buy Local during Small Business Saturday, like these from my own neighborhood in Logan Square, Chicago. Email your receipt from any of the participating shops to info@loganchamber.org for your chance to win gift cards, free classes and more. A full list of participating stores can be found on the Small Business Saturday in Logan Square Facebook event page.

The Small Business Administration released a PSA recently and lots of advice for small business owners on how to prepare for the holiday season.

Find Participating Businesses near you: Small Business Saturday | Shop Small.

Six Common Client Financial Mistakes

The AICPA‘s Journal of Accountancy ran a short but excellent article today noting the six most common financial mistakes that clients make:

  1. Miscalculating startup costs or personal funds.
  2. Failing to plan and project.
  3. Buying unnecessarily.
  4. Failing to analyze all revenue streams.
  5. Ignoring the human element in mergers and acquisitions.
  6. Delaying a succession plan.

They stress the importance of having a proactive approach, involving proper management training — rather than procrastinating, overreacting, or calling their CPA in a panic when facing over-extension, employee problems, customer losses, or even bankruptcy.

With small businesses, we see these issues regularly, but especially the first two, which are intrinsically related — miscalculating or underestimating startup costs is the number one mistake we see clients make when starting a business, and going into operations under-capitalized is a harbinger of difficulties to come. However, with more planning and projection (second on the above list), one can come much closer to an accurate estimate of startup costs — we always recommend working with a professional to create fluid forecasts, “what-if” projections, and “worse-case”/”best case”/”expected” scenarios.

Source: 6 common client financial mistakes – Journal of Accountancy

October is National Women’s Small Business Month

The SBA (@SBAgov) will be hosting a Twitter chat on women-owned small businesses on Thursday, October 26, at 3:00 p.m. ET/12:00 p.m. PT. They’ll be sharing tips and resources to help women start, grow and succeed in business. Follow along with the hashtag #SBAchat.

Linda McMahon, the Administrator of the US Small Business Administration, starts this article off by saying, “Seems hard to believe today, but thirty years ago, some state laws prevented women from getting a business loan without having a male relative co-sign for it.”

I had to admit, even I was shocked by that. Accounting is a field that’s not overrun by males, thankfully, and I’ve had no problem holding my own when confronted with discrimination, harassment, and condescension — though it’s happened all-too-often, especially with male lawyers, consultants, and financial advisers. (There was one time in particular when I was taken so off-guard that I didn’t stand up for myself, and actually had to sit at a side table while a male co-presenter stood at the lectern and took credit for a lecture that I wrote. I’ll never let that happen again.)

At this point, women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing sector of the economy, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners. And October is National Women’s Small Business Month, in honor of the creation on October 25, 1988 of the National Women’s Business Council.

Today, 9.9 million businesses in the U.S. are owned by women, they employ more than 8 million workers, provide more than $264 billion in wages and salaries to employees, and contribute $1.4 trillion in sales to our national economy. The SBA’s Office of Advocacy describes them as an “economic powerhouse”.

But we’re far from done with the work it takes to right so many years of wrongs — so much inequity, as well as cultural mores that leave us all affected with subconscious sexism. Let’s take a moment each day this month to pause and check our actions and reactions; and maybe it will last us at least part-way into November.

The SBA (@SBAgov) will be hosting a Twitter chat on women-owned small businesses on Thursday, October 26, at 3:00 p.m. ET/12:00 p.m. PT. They’ll be sharing tips and resources to help women start, grow and succeed in business. Follow along with the hashtag #SBAchat.

Source: Supporting Women in Business | The U.S. Small Business Administration | SBA.gov

IRS California Wildfires Tax Relief

I feel like almost all of my posts over the past few months have been regarding IRS disaster relief. Here’s one more, from today’s IRS E-News for Tax Professionals.

Victims of wildfires ravaging parts of California now have until Jan. 31, 2018, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments, the Internal Revenue Service announced today.

This includes an additional filing extension for taxpayers with valid extensions that run out this coming Monday, Oct. 16.

Currently, the IRS is providing relief to seven California counties: Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Sonoma and Yuba. Individuals and businesses in these localities, as well as firefighters and relief workers who live elsewhere, qualify for the extension. The agency will continue to closely monitor this disaster and may provide other relief to these and other affected localities.

The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on Oct. 8, 2017. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until Jan. 31, 2018, to file returns and pay any taxes originally due during this period.

This includes the Jan. 16, 2018 deadline for making quarterly estimated tax payments. For individual tax filers, it also includes 2016 income tax returns that received a tax-filing extension until Oct. 16, 2017. The IRS noted, however, that because tax payments related to these 2016 returns were originally due on April 18, 2017, those payments are not eligible for this relief.

A variety of business tax deadlines are also affected, including the Oct. 31 deadline for quarterly payroll and excise tax returns. Calendar-year tax-exempt organizations whose 2016 extensions run out on Nov. 15, 2017 also qualify for the extra time.

In addition, the IRS is waiving late-deposit penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits normally due after Oct. 8 and before Oct. 23, if the deposits are made by Oct. 23, 2017. Details on available relief can be found on the disaster relief page on IRS.gov.

The IRS automatically provides filing and penalty relief to any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. Thus, taxpayers need not contact the IRS to get this relief. However, if an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date falling within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the number on the notice to have the penalty abated.

In addition, the IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area. Taxpayers qualifying for relief who live outside the disaster area need to contact the IRS at 866-562-5227. This also includes firefighters and workers assisting the relief activities who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization.

Individuals and businesses who suffered uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related losses can choose to claim them on either the return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2017 return normally filed next year) or the return for the prior year (2016). See Publication 547 for details.

The tax relief is part of a coordinated federal response to the damage caused by these wildfires and is based on local damage assessments by FEMA. For information on disaster recovery, visit disasterassistance.gov.

Source: IRS Gives Tax Relief to Victims of California Wildfires; Extension Filers Have Until Jan. 31 to File | Internal Revenue Service

Small Business Requirements for the Affordable Care Act

Many small businesses are confused about their requirements under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as “Obamacare”. The short answer is, if you have fewer than 50 “full-time equivalent” (FTE) employees, and you don’t offer a health insurance plan, all you have to do is make sure each employee gets a copy of this 2-page letter, written by the Department of Labor.

It’s super-easy — it’s just a template from the Department of Labor that informs employees that:

1) there’s this thing called the Marketplace online where they can buy health insurance;
2) they might be eligible for credits at the Marketplace;
3) if they receive health insurance from their employer, those credits may be reduced; and,
4) they are not currently eligible for health insurance through you as an employer.
The employer needs to fill out page 2 with their company info and double-side print it, making sure all employees get a copy, including each time they bring on someone new.

Kim Buckey, vice president of client services at DirectPath, a Birmingham, Ala.-based employee engagement and health care compliance firm, has noted the following:

“There is no fine or penalty under law for failing to provide the notice, so if an employer simply stopped providing the form, there would be little consequence.”

She explained that the notices are models provided for employers to use, but employers are free to provide the information in another format. Here is technical guidance that explains the content of the health insurance marketplace notice, in case employers want to write their own notice. “Many employers distribute their own version or a highly condensed version of the boilerplate, sometimes as part of an annual legal notices package or brochure.”

Employers, as I mentioned, are not required to offer health insurance to employees until they have 50 FTEs (good calculation worksheet here), but of course they can choose to offer it, voluntarily. There are some guidelines that are essential once an employer decides to do so, and additional information can be found at Healthcare.gov: How the Affordable Care Act affects small businesses.

IRS – Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico Relief

The IRS has announced Tax Relief for Victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, similar to the announcements previously made for Texas and Florida hurricane disasters.

From this week’s National Association of Tax Professionals e-newsletter:

The IRS is offering a recap of key tax relief provisions affecting taxpayers who suffered losses resulting from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

In general, the IRS is now providing relief to individuals and businesses anywhere in Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as parts of Texas. Because this relief postpones various tax deadlines, individuals and businesses will have until January 31, 2018, to file any returns and pay any taxes due. Those eligible for the extra time include:

  • Individual filers whose tax-filing extension runs out on October 16, 2017. Because tax payments related to these 2016 returns were originally due on April 18, 2017, those payments are not eligible for this relief.
  • Business filers, such as calendar-year partnerships, whose extensions ran out on September 15, 2017.
  • Quarterly estimated tax payments due on September 15, 2017, and Jan. 16, 2018.
  • Quarterly payroll and excise tax returns due on October 31, 2017.
  • Calendar-year tax-exempt organizations whose 2016 extensions run out on November 15, 2017.

A variety of other returns, payments and tax-related actions also qualify for additional time. See the disaster relief page on IRS.gov for details on these and other relief provisions the IRS has offered since these hurricanes began hitting in August.

Troubleshooting: Is QuickBooks Online Down?

A common thread pops up on a few of the QB ProAdvisor groups when QBO is having issues and none of us can log in. Sometimes it happens to everyone, sometimes just to some of us, sometimes it’s an isolated incident. Knowing whether or not it’s happening to others can be handy in troubleshooting, so I wanted to share some default “what to do” advice —

  1. clear your cache and cookies — do this for each browser user you have (it’s common especially in Chrome to have multiple “users”);
  2. make sure not to use a bookmarked link to sign in, but rather type qbo.intuit.com in the URL line;
  3. if it still doesn’t work, check out this link to see if others are reporting the same issues: Quickbooks Online down? Current problems and outages

Yesterday the system pretty much went down for everyone for the whole day, but clearing the cache and cookies and typing out the address got most folks back in… by 3 pm the engineers had resolved whatever was wrong and it looks like everyone’s going strong today.

Reconstructing Records After a Natural Disaster

In the wake of recent hurricanes, the IRS has issued a new Fact Sheet — FS-2017-11. It walks through the process of how to calculate Casualty and Disaster Tax Losses, as well as how to reconstruct records after a natural disaster, such as:

  • Tax records
  • Homes and other real estate
  • Vehicles
  • Personal property
  • Business records

AccountingWeb wrote up a nice summary of the fact sheet, but for the details, see the original at the IRS website: Reconstructing Records After a Natural Disaster or Casualty Loss; IRS Provides Tips to Help Taxpayers | Internal Revenue Service.

IRS Finally Offers Secure Messaging

This. Is. Amazing. In a Herculean effort to drag itself into the 21st Century, the IRS has finally implemented a “secure messaging” service. This means that instead of calling to discuss matters and playing phone tag — or snail mailing and faxing files to them — we can finally send messages and files via a new secure IRS e-mail system!

Now, lest you get too excited — from what I can tell so far, there are some serious limitations:

  • You must be INVITED to participate. Your IRS representative must invite you (the client) and you must register. As long as the accountant has a Power of Attorney on-file for that client, he/she (me!) may use it as well. Under “Tax Preparer Options” there is a “Request Access” button.
  • It will be down for maintenance every Friday from 8-11 pm EST.
  • It does not seem to be an actual portal or shared “space”, so we still have what is my biggest issue: I like to submit audit files in an organized format, whereby there is a folder that corresponds to each of the listed requests on the IRS letter — with documents in each folder that provide the various types of support being requested. (For example, a folder for “Revenue” that has copies of sales receipts, POS end-of-day scans, invoices, etc.; and a folder for “Fixed Assets” that has copies of packing slips, vendor invoices, depreciation schedules, etc.) It doesn’t look like this system will allow you to upload an entire folder structure, the way a portal or document-sharing system does. But I haven’t confirmed this yet.

Check it out for yourselves! This is real!
Welcome to Secure Messaging | Internal Revenue Service