Thursday, June 22, 2017

Seasonal business? Optimize your operating cycle


Every business has some degree of ups and downs during the year. But cash flow fluctuations are much more intense for seasonal businesses. So, if your company defines itself as such, it’s important to optimize your operating cycle to anticipate and minimize shortfalls.

A high-growth example

To illustrate: Consider a manufacturer and distributor of lawn-and-garden products such as topsoil, potting soil and ground cover. Its customers are lawn-and-garden retailers, hardware stores and mass merchants.

The company’s operating cycle starts when customers place orders in the fall — nine months ahead of its peak selling season. So the business begins amassing product in the fall, but curtails operations in the winter. In late February, product accumulation continues, with most shipments going out in April.

At this point, a lot of cash has flowed out of the company to pay operating expenses, such as utilities, salaries, raw materials costs and shipping expenses. But cash doesn’t start flowing into the company until customers pay their bills around June. Then, the company counts inventory, pays remaining expenses and starts preparing for the next year. Its strategic selling window — which will determine whether the business succeeds or fails — lasts a mere eight weeks.

The power of projections

Sound familiar? Ideally, a seasonal business such as this should stockpile cash received at the end of its operating cycle, and then use those cash reserves to finance the next operating cycle. But cash reserves may not be enough — especially for high-growth companies.

So, like many seasonal businesses, you might want to apply for a line of credit to avert potential shortfalls. To increase the chances of loan approval, compile a comprehensive loan package, including historical financial statements and tax returns, as well as marketing materials and supplier affidavits (if available).

More important, draft a formal business plan that includes financial projections for next year. Some companies even project financial results for three to five years into the future. Seasonal business owners can’t rely on gut instinct. You need to develop budgets, systems, processes and procedures ahead of the peak season to effectively manage your operating cycle.

Distinctive challenges

Seasonal businesses face many distinctive challenges. Please contact our firm for assistance overcoming these obstacles and strengthening your bottom line.

© 2017

Are income taxes taking a bite out of your trusts?


If your estate plan includes one or more trusts, review them in light of income taxes. For trusts, the income threshold is very low for triggering the:

  • Top income tax rate of 39.6%,
  • Top long-term capital gains rate of 20%, and
  • Net investment income tax (NIIT) of 3.8%.

The threshold is only $12,500 for 2017.

3 ways to soften the blow

Three strategies can help you soften the blow of higher taxes on trust income:

1. Use grantor trusts. An intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) is designed so that you, the grantor, are treated as the trust’s owner for income tax purposes — even though your contributions to the trust are considered “completed gifts” for estate- and gift-tax purposes.

IDGTs offer significant advantages. The trust’s income is taxed to you, so the trust itself avoids taxation. This allows trust assets to grow tax-free, leaving more for your beneficiaries. And it reduces the size of your estate. Further, as the owner, you can sell assets to the trust or engage in other transactions without tax consequences.

Keep in mind that, if your personal income exceeds the applicable thresholds for your filing status, using an IDGT won’t avoid the tax rates described above. Still, the other benefits of these trusts make them attractive.

2. Change your investment strategy. Despite the advantages of grantor trusts, nongrantor trusts are sometimes desirable or necessary. At some point, for example, you may decide to convert a grantor trust to a nongrantor trust to relieve yourself of the burden of paying the trust’s taxes. Also, grantor trusts become nongrantor trusts after the grantor’s death.

One strategy for easing the tax burden on nongrantor trusts is for the trustee to shift investments into tax-exempt or tax-deferred investments.

3. Distribute income. Generally, nongrantor trusts are subject to tax only to the extent they accumulate taxable income. When a trust makes distributions to a beneficiary, it passes along ordinary income (and, in some cases, capital gains), which are taxed at the beneficiary’s marginal rate.

Thus, one strategy for minimizing taxes on trust income is to distribute the income to beneficiaries in lower tax brackets. The trustee might also consider distributing appreciated assets, rather than cash, to take advantage of a beneficiary’s lower capital gains rate.

Of course, this strategy may conflict with a trust’s purposes, such as providing incentives to beneficiaries, preserving assets for future generations and shielding assets from beneficiaries’ creditors.

If you’re concerned about income taxes on your trusts, contact us. We can review your estate plan to uncover opportunities to reduce your family’s tax burden.

© 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

2017 Q3 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers


Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

July 31

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2017 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)
  • File a 2016 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.

August 10

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.

September 15

  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.
  • If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
    • File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
    • Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.

© 2017

Thursday, June 15, 2017

You don’t have to take business insurance costs sitting down


Adequate insurance coverage is, in many cases, a legal requirement for a business. Even if it’s not for your company, proper coverage remains a risk management imperative. But that doesn’t mean you have to take high insurance costs sitting down.

There are a wide variety of ways you can decrease insurance costs. Just two examples are staying on top of facilities maintenance and improving the safety of those who work there.

Facilities maintenance

For starters, have an electrician check your facility. Can the building’s electrical system handle the load at peak times? Are there circuits at risk of being overloaded?

Also look at installing a sprinkler system (or upgrading your existing system if needed). Some insurance carriers provide premium discounts for installing fire prevention equipment such as sprinklers. And check your fire extinguishers. Are they well maintained and the right type? The type of extinguisher you need for an electrical fire isn’t the one you need for a kitchen grease fire.

Many municipalities offer free or low-cost fire safety inspection services. Your local fire department may be able to recommend steps that not only reduce hazards, but also reduce insurance premiums.

And don’t forget to consider how much maintenance you’re actually obligated to perform. Renting or leasing real estate, rather than owning it directly, is often less costly because the property owner may be responsible for much of the upkeep. Ownership has its advantages, of course, but it also brings potential liability with it that has to be insured against.

Worker safety

Employee injuries can drive up insurance and workers’ compensation expenses. Inspect your floors and other high-traffic areas for slippery spots, lack of nonslip surfacing, ice buildup or other hazards. Also eliminate clutter, poor carpet installation, loose steps and handrails, and anything else that could potentially generate a slip and fall claim.

Additionally, consider asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a courtesy inspection. Doing so may help you avoid potential penalties as well as prevent injuries and other incidents that would raise your premiums.

Opportunities for savings

Yes, buying the right array of insurance policies is a cost of doing business. But you may have more control over these expenses than you think. We can help you assess your insurance costs and identify opportunities for savings.

© 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pay attention to the details when selling investments


The tax consequences of the sale of an investment, as well as your net return, can be affected by a variety of factors. You’re probably focused on factors such as how much you paid for the investment vs. how much you’re selling it for, whether you held the investment long-term (more than one year) and the tax rate that will apply.

But there are additional details you should pay attention to. If you don’t, the tax consequences of a sale may be different from what you expect. Here are a few details to consider when selling an investment:

Which shares you’re selling. If you bought the same security at different times and prices and want to sell high-tax-basis shares to reduce gain or increase a loss to offset other gains, be sure to specifically identify which block of shares is being sold.

Trade date vs. settlement date. When it gets close to year end, keep in mind that the trade date, not the settlement date, of publicly traded securities determines the year in which you recognize the gain or loss.

Transaction costs. While transaction costs, such as broker fees, aren’t taxes, like taxes they can have a significant impact on your net returns, especially over time, because they also reduce the amount of money you have available to invest.

If you have questions about the potential tax impact of an investment sale you’re considering — or all of the details you should keep in mind to minimize it — please contact us.

© 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” on loans between your business and its owners


It’s common for closely held businesses to transfer money into and out of the company, often in the form of a loan. However, the IRS looks closely at such transactions: Are they truly loans, or actually compensation, distributions or contributions to equity?

Loans to owners

When an owner withdraws funds from the company, the transaction can be characterized as compensation, a distribution or a loan. Loans aren’t taxable, but compensation is and distributions may be.

If the company is a C corporation and the transaction is considered a distribution, it can trigger double taxation. If a transaction is considered compensation, it’s deductible by the corporation, so it doesn’t result in double taxation — but it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes.

If the company is an S corporation or other pass-through entity and the transaction is considered a distribution, there’s no entity-level tax, so double taxation won’t be an issue. But distributions reduce an owner’s tax basis, which makes it harder to deduct business losses. If the transaction is considered compensation, as with a C corporation, it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes.

Loans to the business

There are also benefits to treating transfers of money from owners to the business as loans. If such advances are treated as contributions to equity, for example, any reimbursements by the company may be taxed as distributions.

Loan payments, on the other hand, aren’t taxable, apart from the interest, which is deductible by the company. A loan may also give the owner an advantage in the event of the company’s bankruptcy, because debt obligations are paid before equity is returned.

Is it a loan or not?

To enjoy the tax advantages of a loan, it’s important to establish that a transaction is truly a loan. Simply calling a withdrawal or advance a “loan” doesn’t make it so.

Whether a transaction is a loan is a matter of intent. It’s a loan if the borrower has an unconditional intent to repay the amount received and the lender has an unconditional intent to obtain repayment. Because the IRS and the courts aren’t mind readers, it’s critical to document loans and treat them like other arm’s-length transactions. This includes:

  • Executing a promissory note,
  • Charging a commercially reasonable rate of interest — generally, no less than the applicable federal rate,
  • Establishing and following a fixed repayment schedule,
  • Securing the loan using appropriate collateral, which will also give the lender bankruptcy priority over unsecured creditors,
  • Treating the transaction as a loan in the company’s books, and
  • Ensuring that the lender makes reasonable efforts to collect in case of default.

Also, to avoid a claim that loans to owner-employees are disguised compensation, you must ensure that they receive reasonable salaries.

If you’re considering a loan to or from your business, contact us for more details on how to help ensure it will be considered a loan by the IRS.

© 2017

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Business owners: Put your successor in a position to succeed


When it comes time to transition your role as business owner to someone else, you’ll face many changes. One of them is becoming a mentor. As such, you’ll have to communicate clearly, show some patience and have a clear conception of what you want to accomplish before stepping down. Here are some tips on putting your successor in a position to succeed.

Key information

Find ways to continuously pass on your knowledge. Too often, vital business knowledge is lost when leadership or ownership changes — causing a difficult and chaotic transition for the successor. Although you can impart a great deal of expertise by mentoring your replacement, you need to do more. For instance, create procedures for you and other executives to share your wisdom.

Begin by documenting your business systems, processes and methods through a secure online employee information portal, which provides links to company databases. You also could set up a training program around core business methods and practices — workers could attend classes or complete computer-based courses. Then, you can create an annual benchmarking report of key activities and results for internal use.

New challenges

Prepare your company to adapt and grow. With customer needs and market factors continually changing, your successor will likely face challenges that are different from what you encountered.

To enable your company to adapt to an ever-changing business world, ensure your successor understands how each department works and knows the fundamentals of key areas, including customer service, marketing and accounting. One way is to have your successor work in each business area.

Outside help

Also have your successor join industry trade associations and community organizations to meet other executives and successors in diverse industries. In addition, require him or her to review and, if necessary, help update your company’s business plan.

To encourage your successor to develop relationships with key players inside and outside your company, include him or her in meetings with managers and trusted advisors, such as your accountant, lawyer, banker and insurance agent.

Fruitful future

Ideally, when you walk away from your company, your successor will feel completely comfortable and ready to guide the business into a fruitful future. Please contact our firm for more help maximizing the effectiveness of your succession plan.

© 2017