Background

The forgivable loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to provide financial resources to small and mid-size businesses to enable them to maintain payroll and cover certain expenses during the coronavirus pandemic. PPP loans may be forgiven upon application. Although loan forgiveness typically creates a taxable event, under the CARES Act, PPP loan proceeds are specifically excluded from taxable income. However, PPP loan recipients should be aware that forgiveness of the loan, in whole or in part, may cause 2020 qualified research expenses (QREs) to become ineligible for the research and development (R&D) tax credit. Under Internal Revenue Code Section 41(d)(1)(A), a taxpayer cannot claim an R&D tax credit on expenditures (employee wages tend to be a large component of the qualified research expenses) that are not deductible, and based on guidance issued by the IRS in March 2020 (Notice 2020-32), expenses paid using forgiven PPP loan funds will be nondeductible for tax purposes even if they would otherwise be deductible. Consequently, any wages paid to employees using forgiven PPP loan proceeds are not eligible as QREs, thus, decreasing federal and state R&D credits.

Understanding PPP Loan Forgiveness

It is important to understand how forgivable PPP loan funds must be allocated among a taxpayer’s costs so that eligible R&D expenses incurred might still qualify for the R&D tax credit. Current guidance provides that PPP forgivable loan funds must be applied to the following expenses:

PPP loan forgiveness application forms include a requirement that the borrower maintain all records relating to the borrower’s PPP loan (including documentation necessary to support the borrower’s loan forgiveness application, such as the names of individual employees and wages).[1] However, there is no requirement on how the PPP loan funds have to be allocated to individual employees, which allows the borrower to make its own determination as to which employees the PPP forgivable loan funds should be applied.

Mitigating the Effect of PPP Loan Forgiveness on the R&D Costs

By applying the PPP forgivable loan funds to nonpayroll costs (up to 40% of the PPP loan funds) and employees that do not perform qualified research activities, borrowers could preserve the wages paid to employees involved in qualified research activities as deductible, thus mitigating the impact of the forgiven PPP loan funds on their R&D credit.

Companies claiming R&D tax credits and that have filed or have yet to file for PPP loan forgiveness should consider analyzing the eligible costs and allocating the forgivable funds in the following order (up to the certain limitations):

  1. Interest on mortgage obligations
  2. Rent
  3. Utilities
  4. Interest on any other existing debt obligations
  5. Certain employee benefits relating to healthcare
  6. Payroll costs that are non-taxable
  7. Payroll costs for employees who are not performing R&D-qualified services, e.g., accounting, finance, human resources
  8. Payroll costs for employees who are performing R&D-qualified services[2]

 

Example

The following example shows how PPP forgiven loan funds used for QREs can reduce the amount of R&D tax credit available to borrowers.

Alternative Simplified Credit 2020 Credit Reduction for PPP Loan Forgiveness Adjusted 2020 Credit
Qualified Wages $3,500,000 ($1,050,000) $2,450,000
Qualified Supplies $500,000 $500,000
Rental or Lease Cost of Computers
Qualified Contract Research $225,000 $225,000
Total QREs $4,225,000 ($1,050,000) $3,175,000
Base Amount (Sum of Prior 3 Years QREs Divided by 6) $1,870,333 $1,870,333
Incremental Qualified Expenses $2,354,167 ($1,050,000) $1,304,167
Total Gross Research Credit $329,583 ($147,000) $182,583

 

Insights

PPP loan recipients should review their PPP eligible costs to determine whether they can reduce the impact on the R&D tax credit by allocating some or all of their forgivable PPP loan funds to expenses other than research-related expenses. Key items to review include whether and to what extent the loan recipient:

Future IRS guidance may create additional requirements relating to the allocation of the PPP forgivable loan funds to costs, so it is important for taxpayers with PPP loans that want to qualify for the R&D tax credit to monitor developments carefully.

[1]  Form 3508 Schedule A Worksheet requires borrowers to list the names of individual employees to whom the requested PPP forgivable loan funds were applied.  Form 3508 Schedule A Worksheet must be maintained by the borrower but is not required to be submitted with the PPP loan forgiveness application to the lender.

[2] For each individual employee, the total amount of cash compensation eligible for PPP loan forgiveness may not exceed an annual salary of $100,000, as prorated for the covered period.

Earlier in the year, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced in an updated FAQ on the program that it will be auditing all Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $2 million or more. Borrowers whose loans meet this threshold amount might receive a Loan Necessity Questionnaire from their lender soon after they apply for loan forgiveness.

Even though the official channels indicate the questionnaire is not yet final, we understand that SBA is already sending letters to lenders instructing them to send the questionnaire to specific borrowers within five business days. Borrowers have only 10 business days of receipt of the questionnaire to return a completed version to the lender, which the lender must then submit to SBA within five business days. Both borrowers and lenders may be surprised by the short turnaround time and the extent of detailed information requested, as well as signatures, certifications and supporting documentation. Since the requested information may not be readily available and could take considerable time and effort to compile, borrowers should begin gathering the information on the questionnaire even before they receive the request from their lender.

Insight:

SBA has already sent the questionnaire to some PPP lenders for delivery to borrowers, although SBA has not officially announced the finalization of the form and the process.

For-profit employers will receive Form 3509 asking about business operations, while non-profit employers will receive Form 3510.

Unlike the PPP loan application and loan forgiveness forms, SBA has not yet posted Form 3509 or 3510 on its website. However, copies of Forms 3509 and 3510 have been widely circulated on the internet.

Despite the short turn-around time and complex data required to complete the questionnaire, it seems that extensions of time to complete the questionnaire will not be available. SBA has 90 days under the CARES Act to approve PPP loan forgiveness (regardless of the size of the loan), which may make it unlikely for SBA to grant extensions on information that might be relevant to its approval process.

The following is a summary of the purpose of new Forms 3509 and 3510 (for profit-making borrowers and non-profit borrowers, respectively), which contain the questionnaire, as well as the key items included on both forms.

What is the purpose of the new forms?

It seems that SBA will use the new Forms 3509 and 3510 to evaluate borrowers’ good-faith certifications of their economic need for the PPP loan. Some critics view the forms as SBA’s attempt to change PPP rules retroactively to penalize borrowers that (in hindsight) did not actually have the requisite financial need to qualify for a PPP loan.

Remember that the PPP was intended to provide disaster relief to small employers (generally those with 500 or fewer employees) facing economic uncertainty (for example, due to COVID-19 governmental shut-down or stay-at-home orders) and for whom the loan was necessary to support the ongoing operations of the business. In the early days of the PPP, some entities received sizable PPP loans even though they were not eligible (often because they did not face the requisite economic uncertainty for the PPP loan).

Widely circulated media reports identified several well-funded publicly traded companies, universities with significant endowment funds and affiliates of such entities that had quickly received PPP loans and may have caused the program’s original funding to run out prematurely. Many of those ineligible borrowers returned their loans during an amnesty period that expired in May 2020. To further address possible abuse, the Treasury Secretary said that SBA will closely review all PPP loans of $2 million or more, seemingly using the Loan Necessity Questionnaires to do so.

Insight:

In the October 26, 2020 Federal Register, SBA estimated that 52,000 borrowers will need to complete these new forms (about 42,000 for-profit borrowers and 10,000 non-profit borrowers).

Notably, the new forms may be sent to borrowers that received a PPP loan of less than $2 million if they, together with their affiliates, received an aggregate of $2 million or more in PPP loans. Original PPP program rules generally limited the availability of PPP loans to one loan per controlled group of entities, but in reality, various members of a controlled or affiliated group may have received separate PPP loans. To address that situation, SBA included a box that borrowers must check on their PPP loan forgiveness applications (the Form 3508 series) if they, together with affiliates, received $2 million or more of PPP loans. SBA will review all loans within that controlled group.

The questions on the new forms seem to indicate that SBA will be evaluating the “economic necessity” for the borrower’s PPP loan both on the PPP loan application date and thereafter. The loan application only required borrowers to make a good faith certification of economic necessity as of the loan application date, so it is unclear why SBA is asking about what actually happened to the borrower’s operations afterwards.

What are the key items on the new forms?

Each of the forms has two sections: a “Business Activity Assessment” and a “Liquidity Assessment.”

Business Activity Assessment

This section asks for-profit borrowers for detailed information and documentation about the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses, including whether the business was subject to mandatory or voluntary closures and whether it made any changes in its operations. The borrower also must report gross revenue for Q2 2020 and Q2 2019 and indicate whether it made any capital improvements between March 13, 2020 (i.e., the date that COVID-19 was declared a national disaster) and the end of the borrower’s “covered period” (a maximum of 24 weeks from the date their PPP loan was funded). Borrowers can include additional comments on any of these questions. Non-profit borrowers must provide similar information, but the definition of gross receipts includes grants, gifts and contributions, and non-profit borrowers must submit Q2 expenses for 2019 and 2020.

Liquidity Assessment

This section asks for the following information:

As a reminder, the PPP loan eligibility and loan forgiveness process continues to evolve; hopefully, SBA or the Treasury Department will soon clarify how the answers to these questionnaires may impact borrowers’ PPP loan forgiveness.

THE 2020 TAX PLANNING PARADOX – ACCELERATE INCOME TO LOWER YOUR TOTAL TAX LIABILITY

 

As 2020 winds down, it’s time to consider year-end planning. It’s an unusual year, with taxpayers experiencing losses due to the economic downturn and the possibility of higher income tax rates next year. Consequently, we need to rethink the traditional year-end advice of deferring income and accelerating deductions to minimize one’s total tax liability over the years. Accelerating income in 2020 has several advantages. First, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the maximum individual tax rate from 39.6% to 37%. Second, many taxpayers will be in a lower tax bracket this year from losses incurred in this economic downturn. Third, accelerating income increases a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) limitation for charitable contributions. The CARES Act suspends the traditional 60% AGI limitation and permits individual taxpayers to take a charitable contribution deduction for qualifying cash contributions made in 2020 to the extent such contributions do not exceed the taxpayer’s AGI.

Here’s a rundown of some ways to accelerate income in 2020.


Convert a traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) to a Roth IRA

Assets held in traditional IRAs have several disadvantages compared to assets held in Roth IRAs: Distributions in excess of basis are taxable as ordinary income, required minimum distributions must begin once a taxpayer reaches age 70½ (72 for taxpayers who attain age 70½ after December 31, 2019), and early withdrawals before age 59½ are subject to a 10% penalty unless one of several exceptions apply.

One way to mitigate these disadvantages while accelerating income in 2020 is to convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. In doing so, the taxpayer will accelerate the ordinary income tax liability that would otherwise be due upon distribution had the assets remained in the traditional IRA.  Conversion in 2020, while the asset values are likely to be temporarily lower than normal, reduces the tax liability while allowing the future recovery in value plus all appreciation to avoid taxation. The earning power of the account is maximized because there will be no required minimum distributions during the taxpayer’s lifetime (heirs will be subject to the required minimum distribution rules). While the income taxes have been paid on the converted amount, distributions from the converted amounts only remain subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty for five years unless the taxpayer has attained age 59½.

The earnings and appreciation on the account can be distributed tax and penalty-free, provided the account is at least five years old and the IRA owner is at least 59½. Other distributions qualifying for tax-free treatment include those (i) made to a beneficiary (or estate) after the death of the Roth IRA owner, (ii) made due to the Roth IRA owner’s disability, or (iii) made under first-time homebuyer exception.


Elect out of installment sales

The installment sale rules require taxpayers who sell property where at least one of the payments will be received in a subsequent taxable year to recognize a portion of the gain as each payment is received. By electing out of the installment method, a taxpayer may recognize the entire gain in the year of sale. The election must be made on a timely filed return (including extensions) and is irrevocable once made.


Trigger an inclusion event for opportunity zone investments

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permitted taxpayers to defer tax on capital gains invested in a qualified opportunity fund (QOF) until the earlier of an inclusion event or December 31, 2026. Presidential candidate Joe Biden has proposed subjecting capital gains to a 39.6% ordinary income tax rate for those taxpayers with over $1 million in income. Thus, there exists the possibility that a deferral until December 31, 2026, will result in a capital gains tax on the deferred gain at a rate of 39.6% instead of the current 23.8%. Inclusion events include a gift, disposition or sale of the QOF. In addition, for those QOFs held in a grantor trust, the termination of the grantor trust status for reasons other than the death of the grantor is also an inclusion event.

Harvest capital gains

Harvesting capital gains is an ideal strategy to hedge against a future increase in the capital gains tax rate. Here, a taxpayer can increase their cost basis by selling an appreciating investment and then use the sales proceeds to repurchase the same or a similar investment. While the sale will realize a taxable gain, the repurchase of the investment will provide a stepped-up cost basis and later yield a lower gain when the investment is sold in the future – when the capital gains tax rate is higher. The wash sale rules, which dissuade harvesting tax losses, do not apply to harvesting capital gains.

Forgo like-kind exchanges 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limited the nonrecognition of gain from like-kind exchanges to exchanges of real property not primarily held for sale. When a transaction qualifies as a like-kind exchange, nonrecognition treatment is mandatory. To avoid the imposition of the like-kind rules, a taxpayer merely needs to actually or constructively receive cash or other boot in the transaction. For deferred gains on prior like-kind exchanges, taxpayers can trigger the gain recognition by selling the replacement property.


Exercise stock options

Nonqualified stock options (NQSO) are a useful tool for taxpayers who are looking to accelerate income because they generate taxable compensation equal to the fair market value of the shares less the exercise price when exercised. Employees may be offered the ability to defer their income tax liability on the exercise by making a Section 83(i) election. The Section 83(i) election is a useful cash conservation strategy that allows an employee to exercise more options before additional appreciation drives up the amount taxed as ordinary compensation without an immediate cash outlay for income taxes. However, the election to defer will not be useful to those looking to accelerate income to the current year for tax planning purposes.

Incentive stock options (ISO) are taxed upon disposition of the ISO shares rather than upon exercise of the option. The sale proceeds minus the exercise price of ISO stock are taxed at capital gain rates, provided the sale occurs not sooner than 1 year after exercise and 2 years after grant of the option.  Earlier dispositions of the ISO shares generate taxable compensation equal to taxation as a NQSO, with any excess gain taxed as capital gains.

Restricted stock awards are generally taxed to the employee when the shares vest unless the employee elects to be taxed upon receipt of the unvested shares by making a Section 83(b) election.

Declare and pay C corporation dividends

C corporations are well-known for their “double taxation” concept. That is, a C corporation is taxed on its earnings, and any dividend paid from the C corporation’s earnings are also taxable to the shareholder while not being deductible to the corporation. To avoid the second layer of tax, shareholders often cause the C corporation to retain earnings rather than distribute dividends. However, shareholders may find the low tax rates and losses in 2020 an ideal time to pull cash out of their C corporations by taking dividends.

The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 (H.R. 7010) (PPP Flexibility Act), enacted on June 5, 2020, makes welcome changes to the forgiveness rules for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans made to small businesses in response to the novel coronavirus global pandemic (COVID-19). The PPP Flexibility Act greatly increases the likelihood that a large percentage of a borrower’s PPP loan will be forgiven. PPP loans (and related forgiveness) were created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (Public Law 116-136), which was enacted on March 27, 2020. The PPP Flexibility Act also eliminates a provision that made recipients of PPP loan forgiveness ineligible to defer certain payroll tax deposits.

Insight:

The PPP Flexibility Act does not address whether employers can deduct the expenses underlying their PPP loan forgiveness. In Notice 2020-32, the IRS announced that employers could not deduct such expenses, but congressional leaders vowed to reverse the IRS’s position in future legislation. On June 3, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal (D-MA), said that in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill he intends to clarify that the loan forgiveness expenses are tax deductible. But negotiations on that bill are still in the early stages.

PPP Loan Forgiveness Expanded

The PPP Flexibility Act makes the following changes:

1. Extends the “covered period” for PPP loan forgiveness from eight weeks after loan origination to the earlier of (i) 24 weeks after loan origination or (ii) December 31, 2020. Borrowers who received their loans before this change can elect to use their original or alternative payroll eight-week covered period.

Insight:

In connection with passing the PPP Flexibility Act, a Statement for the Record was issued by several Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, clarifying that the Small Business Administration (SBA) will not accept applications for PPP loans after June 30, 2020. The statement says: “Our intent and understanding of the law is that, consistent with the CARES Act as amended by H.R. 7010, when the authorization of funds to guarantee new PPP loans expires on June 30, 2020, the SBA and participating lenders will stop accepting and approving applications for PPP loans, regardless of whether the commitment level enacted by the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act has been reached.” Given this affirmation, very few loans will have fewer than 24 weeks as a covered period.

2. Replaces the June 30, 2020, date for the rehire safe harbor with December 31, 2020. 

Insight:

Additional guidance is needed to determine if a borrower who elects their original or alternative payroll eight-week covered period would also retain the June 30, 2020, date for the rehire safe harbor.

3. Expands the rehire exception based on the non-availability of former employees and applies that exception when the need for workers is reduced to comply with COVID-19 standards. Specifically, PPP loan forgiveness would not be reduced due to a lower number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees if:

4. Allows up to 40% of the loan proceeds to be used on mortgage interest, rent or utilities (previously such expenses were capped at 25% of the loan proceeds), while at least 60% of the PPP funds must be used for payroll costs (down from the 75% that was noted in SBA guidance). This applies even if the borrower elects to use the eight-week covered or alternative payroll covered period. If the borrower does not use at least 60% of the loan on payroll costs, then it appears that no forgiveness would be available (i.e., the 60% would be a “cliff,” even though it was previously unclear whether the 75% limit would allow for partial loan forgiveness for payroll costs of less than 75% of loan proceeds).

Insight:

Some members of Congress are considering a “technical correction” that would provide that the new 60% limit is not a “cliff” (thereby allowing partial loan forgiveness if less than 60% of PPP loan proceeds are used for payroll costs).

5. Provides a five-year term for all new PPP loans disbursed after June 5, 2020. Loans disbursed before that date would retain their original two-year term unless the lender and borrower renegotiate the loan into a five-year term.

6. Changes the six-month deferral period for loan repayments and interest accrual so that payments on any unforgiven amounts will begin on either (i) the date on which loan forgiveness is determined or (ii) 10 months after the end of the borrower’s covered period if forgiveness is not requested.

Insight:

Although the PPP Flexibility Act doesn’t clearly say as much, it appears that the $100,000 maximum on cash compensation paid to any one employee that is eligible for PPP loan forgiveness would continue to apply, such that the $15,385 cap (for eight weeks) would now be $46,153 (for 24 weeks).

The PPP Flexibility Act does not address whether the loan forgiveness cap for “owner-employees” (i.e., 8/52 of their 2019 compensation) would change to 24/52 of their 2019 compensation.

Notwithstanding some commentary that has been released, the statute does not appear to allow borrowers to request PPP loan forgiveness as soon as they spend all of their PPP funds in the ninth to 24th weeks following receipt of their PPP funds. That is because the CARES Act has been amended to substitute “24 weeks” for “eight weeks,” so absent additional guidance, it seems that borrowers must wait until the end of the 24-week period to request PPP loan forgiveness, unless they elect to use the original eight-week period (regular or alternative payroll covered period).

These changes garnered nearly unanimous, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate because the CARES Act assumed that most businesses would be up and running in a matter of weeks. But more time is needed to incur forgivable costs, because many businesses are at or near the end of their initial eight-week loan forgiveness period, yet they remain partially or fully suspended by governmental orders.
 

Payroll Tax Deferral Expanded

In addition to PPP loan changes, the bill allows all employers, even those with forgiven PPP loans, to defer the payment of 2020 employer’s Social Security taxes, with 50% of the deferred amount being payable by December 31, 2021, and the balance due by December 31, 2022. Previously, the CARES Act prohibited such payroll tax deferral after a borrower’s PPP loan was forgiven. 

Owners of certain rental real estate interests have final guidance on what qualifies for the qualified business income (QBI) deduction.

QBI in a nutshell

QBI equals the net amount of income, gains, deductions and losses — excluding reasonable compensation, certain investment items and payments to partners for services rendered. The deduction is subject to several significant limitations; however, QBI generally allows partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), S corporations and sole proprietorships to deduct as much as 20% of QBI received.

Many taxpayers involved in rental real estate activities were uncertain whether they would qualify for the deduction. The final guidance leaves no doubt that individuals and entities that own rental real estate directly or through disregarded entities (entities that are not considered separate from their owners for income tax purposes, such as single-member LLCs) may be eligible.

Covered interests

The safe harbor applies to qualified “rental real estate enterprises.” For purposes of the safe harbor only, the term refers to a directly held interest in real property held to produce rents. It may consist of an interest in a single property or multiple properties.

You can treat each interest in a similar property type as a separate rental real estate enterprise or treat interests in all similar properties as a single enterprise. Properties are “similar” if they are part of the same rental real estate category (that is, residential or commercial). In other words, you can only hold commercial real estate in the same enterprise with other commercial real estate. The same applies for residential properties.

Bear in mind, if you opt to treat interests in similar properties as a single enterprise, you must continue to treat interests in all properties of that category — including newly acquired properties — as a single enterprise. If, however, you choose to treat your interests in each property as a separate enterprise, you can later decide to treat your interests in all similar commercial or all similar residential properties as a single enterprise.

Notably, the guidance provides that an interest in mixed-use property may be treated as a single rental real estate enterprise or bifurcated into separate residential and commercial interests.

Safe harbor requirements

The final guidance clarifies the requirements you must fulfill during the tax year in which you wish to claim the safe harbor. Requirements include:

Keeping separate books and records. You must maintain separate books and records reflecting income and expenses for each rental real estate enterprise. If the enterprise includes multiple properties, you can meet this requirement by keeping separate income and expense information statements for each property and consolidating them.

Performing rental services. For enterprises in existence less than four years, at least 250 hours of rental services must be performed each year. For those in existence at least four years, the safe harbor requires at least 250 hours of rental services per year in any three of the five consecutive tax years that end with the tax year of the safe harbor.

The rental services may be performed by owners or by employees, agents or contractors of the owners. Rental services include:

Financial or investment management activities, studying or reviewing financial statements or reports, improving property, and traveling to and from the property do not qualify as rental services.

Maintaining contemporaneous records. For all rental services performed, you must keep contemporaneous records that describe the service, associated hours, dates and the individuals who performed the service. If services are performed by employees or contractors, you can provide a description of them, the amount of time employees or contractors generally spent performing those services, and time, wage or payment records for the individuals.

This requirement does not apply to tax years beginning before January 1, 2020. The IRS cautions, though, that taxpayers still must establish their right to any claimed deductions in all tax years, so be prepared to document your QBI deduction.

Providing a tax return statement. You must attach a statement to your original tax return (or, for the 2018 tax year only, on an amended return) for each year you rely on the safe harbor. If you have multiple rental real estate enterprises, you can submit a single statement listing the requisite information separately for each.

Excluded real estate arrangements

The safe harbor is not available for all rental real estate arrangements. The guidance excludes:

The guidance states that taxpayers that do not qualify for the safe harbor may still be able to establish that an interest in rental real estate is a business for purposes of the deduction.

Next steps

The final safe harbor rules apply to tax years ending after December 31, 2017, and you have the option of instead relying on the earlier proposed safe harbor for the 2018 tax year. Plus, you must determine annually whether to use the safe harbor.

Contact your trusted advisor to determine whether you are eligible for this and other valuable tax breaks.

Bitcoin and other forms of virtual currency are gaining popularity worldwide. Yet many businesses, consumers, employees and investors are still confused about how they work and how to report transactions on their federal tax returns. The IRS recently announced that it is reaching out to taxpayers who potentially failed to report income and pay tax on virtual currency transactions or did not report them properly.

The nuts and bolts

Unlike cash or credit cards, small businesses generally don’t accept bitcoin payments for routine transactions. However, a growing number of larger retailers and online businesses now accept payments. Businesses can also pay employees or independent contractors with virtual currency. The trend is expected to continue, so more small businesses may soon get on board.

Virtual currency has an equivalent value in real currency and can be digitally traded between users. It can also be purchased and exchanged with real currencies (such as U.S. dollars). The most common ways to obtain virtual currency like bitcoin are through virtual currency ATMs or online exchanges, which typically charge nominal transaction fees.

Tax reporting

Virtual currency has triggered many tax-related questions. The IRS has issued limited guidance to address them. In 2014, the IRS established that virtual currency should be treated as property, not currency, for federal tax purposes.

As a result, businesses that accept bitcoin payments for goods and services must report gross income based on the fair market value of the virtual currency when it was received. This is measured in equivalent U.S. dollars.

From the buyer’s perspective, purchases made using bitcoin result in a taxable gain if the fair market value of the property received exceeds the buyer’s adjusted basis in the currency exchanged. Conversely, a tax loss is incurred if the fair market value of the property received is less than its adjusted tax basis.

Wages paid using virtual currency are taxable to employees and must be reported by employers on W-2 forms. They are subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date of receipt.

Virtual currency payments made to independent contractors and other service providers are also taxable. In general, the rules for self-employment tax apply and payers must issue 1099-MISC forms.

IRS campaign

The IRS announced it is sending letters to taxpayers who potentially failed to report income and pay tax on virtual currency transactions or did nott report them properly. The letters urge taxpayers to review their tax filings and, if appropriate, amend past returns to pay back taxes, interest and penalties.

By the end of August, more than 10,000 taxpayers will receive these letters. The names of the taxpayers were obtained through compliance efforts undertaken by the IRS. The IRS Commissioner warned, “The IRS is expanding our efforts involving virtual currency, including increased use of data analytics.”

Last year, the tax agency also began an audit initiative to address virtual currency noncompliance and has stated that it is an ongoing focus area for criminal cases.

Implications of going virtual

Contact your trusted advisor if you have questions about the tax considerations of accepting virtual currency or using it to make payments for your business. If you receive a letter from the IRS about possible noncompliance, consult with your trusted business advisor before responding.

When President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in December 2017, much was made of the dramatic cut in corporate tax rates. But the TCJA also includes a generous 20% qualified business income (QBI) deduction for smaller businesses that operate as pass-through entities, with income that is “passed through” to owners and taxed as individual income.

The IRS issued proposed regulations for the qualified business income (QBI), or Section 199A, deduction in August 2018. Now, it has released final regulations and additional guidance, just in time for the first tax season in which taxpayers can claim the deduction. Among other things, the guidance provides clarity on who qualifies for the QBI deduction and how to calculate the deduction amount.

Rental real estate owners – proposed safe harbor

One of the lingering questions related to the QBI deduction was whether it was available for owners of rental real estate. The latest guidance (found in IRS Notice 2019-07) includes a proposed safe harbor that allows certain real estate enterprises to qualify as a business for purposes of the deduction. Taxpayers can rely on the safe harbor until a final rule is issued.

Generally, individuals and entities that own rental real estate directly or through disregarded entities (entities that are not considered separate from their owners for income tax purposes, such as single-member LLCs) can claim the deduction if:

The 250 hours of services may be performed by owners, employees or contractors. Time spent on maintenance, repairs, rent collection, expense payment, provision of services to tenants and rental efforts counts toward the 250 hours.

Investment-related activities, such as arranging financing, procuring property and reviewing financial statements, do not.

Be aware that rental real estate used by a taxpayer as a residence for any part of the year is not eligible for the safe harbor.

This safe harbor also is not available for property leased under a triple net lease that requires the tenant to pay all or some of the real estate taxes, maintenance and building insurance and fees, or for property used by the taxpayer as a residence for any part of the year.

Aggregation of multiple businesses

It is not unusual for small business owners to operate more than one business. The proposed regs include rules allowing an individual to aggregate multiple businesses that are owned and operated as part of a larger, integrated business for purposes of the W-2 wages and unadjusted basis immediately after acquisition (UBIA) of qualified business property (QBP) limitation, thereby maximizing the deduction. The final regs retain these rules with some modifications.

For example, the proposed rules allow a taxpayer to aggregate trades or businesses based on a 50% ownership test, which must be maintained for a majority of the taxable year. The final regulations clarify that the majority of the taxable year must include the last day of the taxable year.

The final regs also allow a “relevant pass-through entity” — such as a partnership or S corporation — to aggregate businesses it operates directly or through lower-tier pass-through entities to calculate its QBI deduction, assuming it meets the ownership test and other tests. (The proposed regs allow these entities to aggregate only at the individual-owner level.) Where aggregation is chosen, the entity and its owners must report the combined QBI, wages and UBIA of qualified property figures.

A taxpayer who doesn’t aggregate in one year can still choose to do so in a future year. Once aggregation is chosen, though, the taxpayer must continue to aggregate in future years unless there’s a significant change in circumstances.

The final regs generally don’t allow an initial aggregation of businesses to be done on an amended return, but the IRS recognizes that many taxpayers may be unaware of the aggregation rules when filing their 2018 tax returns. Therefore, it will permit taxpayers to make initial aggregations on amended returns for 2018.

UBIA in qualified property

The final regs also make some changes regarding the determination of UBIA in qualified property. The proposed regs adjust UBIA for nonrecognition transactions (where the entity doesn’t recognize a gain or loss on a contribution in exchange for an interest or share), like-kind exchanges and involuntary conversions.

Under the final regs, UBIA of qualified property generally remains unadjusted as a result of these transactions. Property contributed to a partnership or S corporation in a nonrecognition transaction usually will retain its UBIA on the date it was first placed in service by the contributing partner or shareholder. The UBIA of property received in a like-kind exchange is generally the same as the UBIA of the relinquished property. The same rule applies for property acquired as part of an involuntary conversion.

Specified Service Trade or Business (SSTB) limitations 

Many of the comments the IRS received after publishing the proposed regs sought further guidance on whether specific types of businesses are SSTBs. The IRS, however, found such analysis beyond the scope of the new guidance. It pointed out that the determination of whether a particular business is an SSTB often depends on its individual facts and circumstances.

Nonetheless, the IRS did establish rules regarding certain kinds of businesses. For example, it states that veterinarians provide health services (which means that they’re subject to the SSTB limits), but real estate and insurance agents and brokers do not provide brokerage services (so they aren’t subject to the limits).

The final regs retain the proposed rule limiting the meaning of the “reputation or skill” clause, also known as the “catch-all.” The clause applies only to cases where an individual or a relevant pass-through entity is engaged in the business of receiving income from endorsements, the licensing of an individual’s likeness or features, or appearance fees.

The IRS also uses the final regs to put a lid on the so-called “crack and pack” strategy, which has been floated as a way to minimize the negative impact of the SSTB limit. The strategy would have allowed entities to split their non-SSTB components into separate entities that charged the SSTBs fees.

The proposed regs generally treat a business that provides more than 80% of its property or services to an SSTB as an SSTB if the businesses share more than 50% common ownership. The final regs eliminate the 80% rule. As a result, when a business provides property or services to an SSTB with 50% or more common ownership, the portion of that business providing property or services to the SSTB will be treated as a separate SSTB.

The final regs also remove the “incidental to an SSTB” rule. The proposed rule requires businesses with at least 50% common ownership and shared expenses with an SSTB to be considered part of the same business for purposes of the deduction if the business’s gross receipts represent 5% or less of the total combined receipts of the business and the SSTB.

Note, though, that businesses with some income that qualifies for the deduction and some that does not can still separate the different activities by keeping separate books to claim the deduction on the eligible income. For example, banking activities (taking deposits, making loans) qualify for the deduction, but wealth management and similar advisory services do not, so a financial services business could separate the bookkeeping for these functions and claim the deduction on the qualifying income.

REIT investments

The TCJA allows individuals a deduction of up to 20% of their combined qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership (PTP) income, including dividends and income earned through pass-through entities. The new guidance clarifies that shareholders of mutual funds with REIT investments can apply the deduction. The IRS is still considering whether PTP investments held via mutual funds qualify.

QBI deduction in action

The QBI deduction generally allows partnerships, limited liability companies, S corporations and sole proprietorships to deduct up to 20% of QBI received. QBI is the net amount of income, gains, deductions and losses (excluding reasonable compensation, certain investment items and payments to partners) for services rendered. The calculation is performed for each qualified business and aggregated. (If the net amount is below zero, it’s treated as a loss for the following year, reducing that year’s QBI deduction.)

If a taxpayer’s taxable income exceeds $157,500 for single filers or $315,000 for joint filers, a wage limit begins phasing in. Under the limit, the deduction can’t exceed the greater of 1) 50% of the business’s W-2 wages or 2) 25% of the W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis immediately after acquisition (UBIA) of qualified business property (QBP).

For a partnership or S corporation, each partner or shareholder is treated as having paid W-2 wages for the tax year in an amount equal to his or her allocable share of the W-2 wages paid by the entity for the tax year. The UBIA of qualified property generally is the purchase price of tangible depreciable property held at the end of the tax year.

The application of the limit is phased in for individuals with taxable income exceeding the threshold amount, over the next $100,000 of taxable income for married individuals filing jointly or the next $50,000 for single filers. The limit phases in completely when taxable income exceeds $415,000 for joint filers and $207,500 for single filers.

The amount of the deduction generally can’t exceed 20% of the taxable income less any net capital gains. So, for example, let’s say a married couple owns a business. If their QBI with no net capital gains is $400,000 and their taxable income is $300,000, the deduction is limited to 20% of $300,000, or $60,000.

The QBI deduction is further limited for SSTBs. SSTBs include, among others, businesses involving law, financial, health, brokerage and consulting services, as well as any business (other than engineering and architecture) where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of an employee or owner. The QBI deduction for SSTBs begins to phase in at $315,000 in taxable income for married taxpayers filing jointly and $157,500 for single filers, and phasing in completely at $415,000 and $207,500, respectively (the same thresholds at which the wage limit phases in).

The QBI deduction applies to taxable income and doesn’t come into play when computing adjusted gross income (AGI). It’s available to taxpayers who itemize deductions, as well as those who don’t itemize, and to those paying the alternative minimum tax.

Proceed with caution

The tax code imposes a penalty for underpayments of income tax that exceed the greater of 10% of the correct amount of tax or $5,000. But the TCJA leaves less room for error by taxpayers claiming the QBI deduction: It lowers the threshold for the underpayment penalty for such taxpayers to 5%.

Please contact your tax advisor to avoid such penalties and review your specific facts and circumstances regarding the QBI deduction.

Review our QBI Flow Chart using your facts and circumstances to answer the question, “Am I eligible for the new 20% Qualified Business Income (QBI) Deduction?”

Because donations to charity of cash or property generally are tax deductible (if you itemize), it only seems logical that the donation of something even more valuable to you — your time — would also be deductible. Unfortunately, that is not the case; however, you can potentially deduct out-of-pocket costs associated with your volunteer work.

The basic rules

As with any charitable donation, for you to be able to deduct your volunteer expenses, the first requirement is that the organization be a qualified charity. You can use the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search tool to find out.

Assuming the charity is qualified, you may be able to deduct out-of-pocket costs that are:

Supplies, uniforms and transportation

A wide variety of expenses can qualify for the deduction. For example, supplies you use in the activity may be deductible. As well as, the cost of a uniform you must wear during the activity may also be deductible (if it is required and not something you wear when not volunteering).

Transportation costs to and from the volunteer activity generally are deductible, either the actual cost or 14 cents per charitable mile driven, but you have to be the volunteer. If, say, you drive your elderly mother to the nature center where she is volunteering, you cannot deduct the cost.

You also cannot deduct transportation costs you would incur even if you were not volunteering. For example, if you take a commuter train downtown to work, then walk to a nearby volunteer event after work and take the train back home afterwards, you will not be able to deduct your train fares. But, if you take a cab from work to the volunteer event, then you potentially can deduct the cab fare for that leg of your transportation.

Volunteer travel

Transportation costs may also be deductible for out-of-town travel associated with volunteering. This can include:

Lodging and meal costs also might be deductible.

The key to deductibility is that there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation in the travel. That said, according to the IRS, the deduction for travel expenses will not be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. But you must be volunteering in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip. If only a small portion of your trip involves volunteer work, your travel expenses generally will not be deductible.

Volunteer Time

Donations of time or services are not deductible. It does not matter if it is simple administrative work, such as checking in attendees at a fundraising event, or if it is work requiring significant experience. Regardless of the service being costlier to the charity if it had to pay for it, such as skilled carpentry or legal counsel, this volunteered time is still not deductible.

Keep careful records

The IRS may challenge charitable deductions for out-of-pocket costs, so it is important to keep careful records. If you have questions about what volunteer expenses are and are not deductible, please contact your tax adviser.

Do you own a vacation home? If you both rent it out and use it personally, you might save tax by taking steps to ensure it qualifies as a rental property this year. Vacation home expenses that qualify as rental property expenses are not subject to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s (TCJA’s) new limit on the itemized deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) or the lower debt limit for the itemized mortgage interest deduction.

Rental or personal property?

If you rent out your vacation home for 15 days or more, what expenses you can deduct depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on the amount of personal vs. rental use:

Rental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for 14 days or less, or under 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a rental property. You can deduct rental expenses, including losses, subject to the real estate activity rules.

Your deduction for property tax attributable to the rental use of the home is not subject to the TCJA’s new SALT deduction limit and your deduction for mortgage interest on the home is not subject to the debt limit that applies to the itemized deduction for mortgage interest. You cannot deduct any interest that is attributable to your personal use of the home, but you can take the personal portion of property tax as an itemized deduction (subject to the new SALT limit).

Nonrental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for more than 14 days or 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a personal residence. You can deduct rental expenses only to the extent of your rental income. Any excess can be carried forward to offset rental income in future years.

If you itemize deductions, you also can deduct the personal portion of both property tax and mortgage interest, subject to the TCJA’s new limits on those deductions. The SALT deduction limit is $10,000 for the combined total of state and local property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes ($5,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). For mortgage interest debt incurred after December 15, 2017, the debt limit (with some limited exceptions) has been reduced to $750,000.

Be aware that many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing because of the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction. Itemizing saves tax only if total itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction for the taxpayer’s filing status.

Year-to-date review

Keep in mind that, if you rent out your vacation home for less than 15 days, you do not have to report the income; but expenses associated with the rental (such as advertising and cleaning) are not to be deductible.

Now is a good time to review your vacation home use year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. By increasing the number of days you rent it out and/or reducing the number of days you use it personally between now and year end, you might be able to ensure it is classified as a rental property and save some tax. Also, there could be circumstances where personal property treatment would be beneficial. Please contact your tax adviser to discuss your particular situation.

Starting early on your 2018 tax planning is especially critical this year, as tax reform has substantially changed the tax environment. Tax planning helps determine the total impact new laws may have on your particular scenario and identifies proactive tax strategies that make sense for you this year, such as the best way to time income and expenses. From this analysis, you may decide to deviate from tax approaches that worked for you in previous years and implement a new game plan.

Many variables

A tremendous number of variables affect your overall tax liability for the year. For example, the timing of income and deductible expenses can affect both the rate you pay and when you pay. By reviewing your year-to-date income, expenses and potential tax, you may be able to time income and expenses in a way that reduces, or at least defers, your tax liability.

Act now

Under the TCJA tax reform legislation, most of the provisions affecting individuals are in effect for 2018–2025 and additional major tax law changes are not expected in 2018.

Starting sooner will help prevent you from making costly assumptions under the new tax regime. It will also allow you to take full advantage of new tax-saving opportunities.

A large number of variables affect your overall tax liability for the year. It is especially critical this year because tax reform has substantially changed the tax environment. Planning early in the year can give you more opportunities to reduce your 2018 tax bill.

If you own a business, this is particularly important for the new qualified business income (QBI). New strategies are available to help you time income and expenses to minimize tax liability.

Now and throughout the year, seek your business adviser to help you determine how tax reform affects you and what strategies you should implement to minimize your tax liability.