Gift Giving & Taxes

The holiday season is nearly here, and you might be starting to think about gift giving this year. If you’re planning on thanking your employees for their great work throughout the year with gifts, or maybe even a holiday party, there are a few tax rules you should keep in mind.

In general, all types of compensation are subject to income tax – unless excluded by the tax code.

De Minimis fringe benefits may allow employers to provide holiday gifts of property – not cash or cash equivalents – with a low fair market value, without the employee having to pay additional taxes on the gift. De Minimis (reminder found here) in simple terms refers to something too minor or small to be considered. In other words, it is something small enough it is not practical to track or administer the value and has little to no impact on the employees’ income.

The frequency and availability of these gifts can determine whether or not they are considered de minimis.  As a general rule, as long as all employees are receiving the same gifts, the frequency isn’t an issue.

Some items that do qualify as de minimis fringe benefits and gifts – and are therefore excludable from income tax – include:

  • Traditional holiday gifts with a low fair market value. This includes your turkeys, hams or any other small non-cash
  • Occasional cocktail parties – this means your company holiday party, employee picnics, etc.
  • Occasional sporting event or theater tickets.
  • Occasional coffee, donuts and snacks in the office.
  • Special occasion gifts, such as sympathy flowers.

Each of the above items include a time frame… occasionally. These small gifts are considered excludable as long as they are not being given on a regular or excessive basis.

Now that we know what is excludable, let’s take a look at what is considered taxable.

The larger the gift, the better the chance it is taxable compensation. For example, if you’re considering giving your employees season tickets to see their favorite football team, those tickets are considered taxable and must be reported as income.

Other examples of taxable gifts include:

  • Gifting your employee a weekend away at an employee-owned facility, such as a hunting cabin or timeshare.
  • Providing your employee a membership in a country club or a gym.
  • Allowing your employee to use a company vehicle for commuting or other personal use more than one day a month.

Some employers provide some of these benefits throughout the year, while others may give them for the holidays. If you’re planning on giving any of these gifts, make sure you include them as income!

You might have noticed we haven’t touched on a very common gift employers give for the holidays – gift cards, gift certificates and even cash.

When it comes to gift cards, certificates and cash, the rule is pretty straightforward: no matter how large or small the amount, it will always be taxable (with a few small exceptions of course). If you’re thinking of giving your employee a $5 Target gift card or even a $500 general use gift card, you guessed it – it must be reported!

The moral of the story? Pay attention to the value of your gifts to make sure you’re in compliance. If you want to give your employees great gifts but aren’t quite sure what you should be reporting, let us know. We are here to help you and your employees have a great holiday season!

Taxable v. Nontaxable Income

Tax season will be here soon, which means your friendly numbers nerds are getting ready! From balance sheets to calculators and everything in between, this is a busy time of year with a lot of moving parts. Tax day, Tuesday, April 17th, will be here in just 162 days. It’s a good idea to think ahead.

When it comes to income, it’s a fairly safe bet to assume it will be taxed. For example, salaries, bonuses, interest and business income are almost always taxable. However, there are some exceptions when it comes to what is and isn’t taxable. This stuff is important to know – different types of income can greatly impact your tax strategies for the upcoming year.

Everyone earns income in some shape or form, and knowing when you should and shouldn’t be paying tax is a must. As a business owner, it’s also important to realize what your employees may need to report on their tax filings, and how this might impact your business’ tax strategy.

To help you with your tax planning, we’re here to help break down which forms of income may be taxable.

The following types of income are taxable, and need to be reported properly:

  • Benefits from unemployment
  • Punitive damages
  • Income from bartering, which is based on the fair market value of the product or service you receive
  • Disability insurance income – if your employer paid the premiums
  • Fringe benefits you receive for performance of your services – think wellness benefits, company car use, etc.
  • Rent payments you receive for personal property – if you are operating your rental activity as a business
  • Gambling winnings and cash prizes

However, not everything is taxable. Here are some of the nontaxable types of income:

  • Workers’ compensation benefits – unless they are part of your retirement package
  • Disability insurance income – if you paid the premiums
  • Compensatory damages for getting sick or being injured
  • Cash rebates from the dealer or manufacturer of a service or product
  • Excluded fringe benefits, such as health insurance, parking and employee discounts
  • Child support payments
  • Rent money if you rent out your primary or vacation home fewer than 15 days a year. This is important to note if you use popular vacation rental sites, such as Airbnb and HomeAway. Also, note that if you rent it out more than 14 days, the activity is taxable.
  • Gifts and inheritances – if your great-great uncle passes away and leaves you his massive stamp collection, lucky you – no income tax!

It’s important to keep in mind these lists don’t include every taxable and nontaxable type of income under the sun, and there are often rules and exceptions that may apply. If you get confused, or aren’t sure if you should really be reporting something, check in with us. We’re here to help.

A version of this post first appeared in Eide Bailly’s Year End Tax Planning Guide.

Introducing the 2017-18 Tax Planning Guide

Tax planning guideTaxes are important, especially as you’re running your business. Paying attention to tax laws, and planning in a timely fashion for taxes, can seriously help you in the long run. For instance, you can estimate your tax liability and even look for ways to reduce it. That’s why we created our annual tax planning guide.

The guide highlights all sorts of information related to tax planning and tax law. Topics include:

  • Executive compensation
  • Investing
  • Real Estate
  • Business Ownership
  • Charitable Giving
  • Family & Education
  • Retirement
  • Estate Planning
  • Tax Rates

To learn more, or download the guide, click here.

Change could be coming …

There’s a large possibility that tax laws could be seriously changing, thanks to a change in White House administration and Republicans maintaining a majority of Congress. But for now, following current tax laws is the way to go.

However, it’s important to know that change could come quickly and you need to be ready to respond. We encourage you to have a tax adviser who can help you navigate these changes if they happen.

Tax Changes: What’s New?

Surprise – we’re back! We disappeared for a while, but we’re back to share some important updates on, you guessed it, taxes!

It should come as no surprise there are constant changes in the tax world, and staying up to date on all these changes and regulations can be taxing (don’t worry, we haven’t lost our sense of humor).

So, what’s been changing? We’re glad you asked.

Physical Nexus

A while back we brought you info on nexus (you can check it out here if you need a refresher). States are now looking to overturn the physical nexus requirement for sales tax and replace the current presence test with a new test which would be based on sales or transaction volumes. These changes are important to pay attention to, as they just might have an effect on your nexus and filing duties.

Sales Tax Reporting

Changes are happening to sales tax reporting in Colorado, which is important if you do business in the state. Back in July, reporting requirements began for sellers who don’t currently collect Colorado sales tax and have annual sales greater than $100,000. If the seller doesn’t let the buyer know on the invoice they need to pay use tax, the seller will be penalized.

Penalties are also being imposed on those who fail to provide their buyers with a year-end transaction summary – if the customer makes more than $500 in purchases. Customer information also must be provided to the state.

Other states such as Kentucky, Louisiana, Vermont and Washington have put similar requirements in place, and it’s likely others will follow. It’s important to pay attention to these changes – your state could be next!

Economic Standard

As if changing the sales tax reporting requirements wasn’t enough, states are also imposing an economic standard for any business conducted in a state that leads to an income tax requirement. The standard for “doing business” generally looks like:

  • $50,000 in property or payroll in a state
  • $500,000 of sales into a state
  • An amount of activity in the above categories that is more than 25% of the company’s total

Of course, these minimum amounts of sales, payroll and property can vary by state. The following states currently have similar definitions for doing business:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Michigan
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington

The Market-Based Method

Businesses who don’t sell tangible property have been using the “cost of performance” method of revenue sourcing for quite some time. However, states are now starting to source this kind of revenue using a market-based method.

Unsure of what a market-based method is? This method means the sale is attributed to the actual location of the customer, rather than where the work was performed. This change has been adopted by many states, with a lot more likely to play copycat. Stay aware of these changes – filing requirements and taxes may be due in states where taxpayers haven’t previously filed.

This is great info, but why should I care?

Understanding these issues and changes can help you prevent costly surprises. Simply filing in a state where a company has a physical location is no longer valid, and is even considered an invalid excuse for failing to handle sales and income taxes.

Taxes are important. To learn more, or ask some questions, reach out. We’re here to help you!

A version of this blog first appeared on eidebailly.com

The Sales Tax Cap

It’s time for a facelift. Last summer, we posted a blog about the North Dakota sales tax cap, and to this date, we still get tons of views on it. What does this mean? It’s a hot topic that’s important to business owners! So, we decided to bring it front and center again so you can get all the info you need without having to dig too far (we’re nice like that).

If you’re doing business in the state of North Dakota, there’s some important tax issues you need to know about: local sales tax cap and minimum tax.

There are multiple cities and counties in North Dakota, which means there are multiple local sales tax jurisdictions that have a max amount of sales tax you are responsible to pay – or, in other words, the refund cap. However, it’s not the vendor’s responsibility to cap the sales tax on your purchase.

The good news? You can submit a claim for a refund with the State!

So, how does all this cap stuff even work? Let’s look at an example:

Gary is working on a project, and bought $10,000 worth of lumber. He had the lumber delivered right to the job site – which is located in Fargo. He received a bill from the vendor, with the total being $10,750. This included sales tax at a rate of 7.5%, which was properly imposed.

Material Cost    $10,000.00

            Sales Tax                 750.00     

            Total                 $10,750.00

Gary went ahead and paid the bill for $10,750. However, in this case, the sales tax on the purchase is in excess of the maximum tax. This means Gary should apply for a refund. But how is the sales tax more?

Well…

The Fargo sales tax rate – which is the 7.5% that was applied to the purchase – is made up of three components:

State of North Dakota   5.0%

            City of Fargo                2.0%

            Cass County                  0.5%

The maximum tax for the City of Fargo is $50, while $12.50 is the maximum tax for Cass County (the State itself doesn’t have a maximum tax). In other words, the sales tax only applies to the first $2,500 of your purchase. Let’s recalculate Gary’s bill using the tax cap:

Material Cost    $10,000.00   

            Sales Tax               562.50

            Total                 $10,562.50

Confused about where the $562.50 came from? State tax = $500 ($10,000*5.0%), City tax = $50 ($2,500*2.0%), and County tax = $12.50 ($2,500*0.5%).

This means that our good friend Gary is eligible for a refund of $187.50 from the State of North Dakota – and who doesn’t love getting money back?

So how does Gary go about getting his refund?

Easy as cake (which Gary could definitely indulge in with his refund money)!

  1. Visit https://www.nd.gov/tax/salesanduse/forms/
  2. Under “Other Forms” click on “Claim for Refund Local Sales and Use Tax Paid Beyond Maximum Tax
  3. Follow the instructions to complete and send back

A few other things to keep in mind with maximum tax include:

  • The refund claim must be postmarked no later than three years from the date of the invoice. (This means if you weren’t aware of the cap, you can look back three years and see if you have any claims to submit!)
  • You need to include with the form a copy of all invoices covered by the claim.
  • The refund claim only applies on properly imposed sales tax – which means the sales tax needs to be right in order to claim a refund from the state.
  • The refund claim applies to a single transaction, not an item on a transaction or total purchases for a month.
  • Not all cities and counties impose a maximum tax. The claim for refund form has a table which outlines the cities and counties that impose this tax.

If you still have questions, let us know. We have tax people who can help make taxes a little less… taxing.

Is it a Hobby or a Business?

Every business idea, no matter how big or small, starts somewhere. Whether it came from a random daydream or a well thought out business plan, your idea was fueled by something you thought the world needed.

Perhaps you had another job or responsibility you were attending to at the time, and you weren’t able to devote all your time and resources to your new idea. Instead, you kept it as a side project which turned in to a fun little hobby.

While keeping your main job and running a hobby business can be fun and energizing (after all, you’re running your own business now!), there are certain tax implications that must be taken into consideration when your business idea is just a hobby.

Your tax liability will be affected depending upon whether your work is classified as an actual business or as a hobby. Here are nine factors from the IRS regulations used to determine if an activity is a business or a hobby:

  • Do you conduct the activity in a businesslike manner? This includes keeping accurate books and records and pursuing operating methods and business techniques with the motive of turning a profit.
  • Do you have expertise in the business?
  • Do you devote much time and effort in carrying on the activity?
  • Are the assets of the activity expected to appreciate in value?
  • Have you had success in starting a new business or converting an unprofitable business into a profitable one?
  • Is the history of income or losses from the activity indicative to a profit motive? If you have continued losses, this may suggest that the activity is a hobby. There is a safe-harbor rule that states if you generate a profit in three out of five years, your activity is deemed a trade or business. For horse racing, breeding, training or showing the test is two out of the last seven years. The IRS can still disagree, but the burden of proof to show the activity is a hobby versus a trade or business has now shifted from you to them.
  • What is the amount of profits in relations to losses? An occasional small profit in an activity which generates large losses or from an activity in which a large investment has been made would not necessarily translate into a profit motive.
  • Do you have substantial income or capital from other sources? If so, losses from the activity may generate tax benefits by offsetting income from other sources, which is generally not looked kindly upon by the IRS.
  • Does the activity present personal pleasure or recreation? The IRS is more likely to attack an activity that has recreational elements such as racing, horse or dog training or showing, or even weekend farming, rather than tax preparation services (although we think this is kind of fun!).

So what does this mean for you? Any form and amount of income, no matter where it is coming from, is taxable and should be reported. However, hobby activities are reported differently than trade or business activities and have certain limitations. On a positive note, hobby activities are not subject to self-employment tax. However, expenses related to hobby activities are only deductible as itemized deductions subject to 2% of adjusted gross income. Taxpayers who utilize the standard deduction do not receive any benefit from these expenses and those with higher income will also be limited. Additionally, retirement plan contributions, self-employed health insurance and an array of other deductions cannot be used to offset hobby income.

The moral of the story…

The IRS needs to know about any money you’re bringing in, whether it’s from your daily job, or the hobby app building company you run from your garage. If your business is just a hobby, remember you still need to report it and planning can go a long way in terms of tax benefits and pitfalls.

Exemption Certificate Errors

We figure with it being tax season, we can never talk too much about taxes and all the rules and regulations that go along with them. So, without further ado, we bring you another tax blog. Today’s topic: exemption certificates.

What is an exemption certificate and why do I need to know this?
Sales tax applies to most items of tangible property – something you can usually touch or see –unless there is an exemption under the law, or an exemption certificate. Exemption certificates usually are presented by a customer to a seller. If the exemption certificate is properly completed, the seller will not be required to collect sales tax.

Can all types of sales be exempt?
Generally speaking, there are three different reasons a sale can be exempt from sales tax. These are considered the type of exemption.

  1. Use Based – These exemptions come from the idea of where and how the product will be used after the sale. Items that are intended for resale are a common example of a use based exemption.
  2. Product Based – This exemption has to deal with – you guessed it – what type of product is being sold. Exemption laws vary from state to state. For example, shoes are taxable in ND and exempt in MN.
  3. Buyer Based – Exemptions that are buyer based focus on the type of buyer who is making the purchase. Examples could include government, hospitals or some not for profit entities.

What’s on an exemption certificate?
As mentioned before (and like anything tax related), the rules and specifications of exemption certificates vary based on state. However, there are some general points that are almost always included on an exemption certificate, no matter which state you are in.

They include:

  • Type of exemption
  • Name and address of both the buyer and the seller
  • Explanation of what is being purchased
  • Tax registration number or other unique identifiers such as a SSN or FEIN.
  • Signature

Sounds good. Anything else I should know?
We’re glad you asked. When state sales tax auditors do their work, they review invoices, types of payment and the information on the certificate for exempt sales. Lately, we are seeing issues where the exemption certificates are not valid because pieces don’t match up.  We will give you some examples.

Example one: A tractor was sold exempt from sales tax with a completed exemption certificate on file. The invoice lists Johnson Farms as the as the buyer. However, the financial paperwork indicates Johnson Auto Parts, and the exemption certificate is from Johnson Farms, claiming a farm exemption. Rather than this transaction looking like a farm use sale, it now looks like it was a non-farm use sale at the auto parts store.

Example two: A riding lawnmower was sold exempt from sales tax with a completed exemption certificate on file. The invoice and exemption certificates list Wee-Town Schools as the buyer. The payment for the sale comes in the form of a check from Mike Johnson. Because the schools name is not on the exemption certificate, it appears the lawnmower is not paid for by the school, and is instead an employee trying to buy an item for his own personal use exempt from sales tax.

Example three: An engine is being sold. The invoice lists Ace Anderson Auto Sales, and is paid for in cash. The exemption certificate, however, comes from Alex Anderson for resale. Alex has gone by Ace his entire life, but only uses the name Alex for official business. Although this is the same person, the auditors do not see it that way. Because the names do not match up, there is a problem with this sale.

The moral of the story…
For an exemption certificate to work properly, the name on it must match up with the invoice/payment. We get it, all this sales and use tax stuff can be pretty tricky (although this blog is pretty helpful). Luckily, our trained professionals are here to give you guidance when you need it.