Thursday, September 27, 2018

How to improve upon last year's tax reform

Although the White House now acknowledges that Republicans will not be able to pass a second round of tax cuts before the midterm elections, House Speaker Paul Ryan has promised a vote on so-called Tax Reform 2.0 before then. But even if the politics are unsettled, the policy shouldn’t be.
Whether Tax Reform 2.0 is the first salvo in a protracted battle over tax policy or just an election-year gambit, this is a debate that cannot be avoided. New legislation will have to be passed to make many aspects of last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanent. (The sunset provision, under which many features of the law change or expire in several years, was a gimmick designed to lower its impact on the budget deficit.)
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act contained three essential elements, two of which substantially strengthened the U.S. Tax Code and should be made permanent under any reform. The third one did not and should not.
The first two elements are the changes to the corporate and individual tax codes. America’s corporate tax rate is now commensurate with those of America’s economic peers, making the U.S. more competitive globally, and a change in the expensing of capital purchases will encourage investment. The individual code, meanwhile, has been simplified, and an increase in the standard deduction is essentially a tax cut for millions of Americans.
Together these two elements give U.S. businesses and taxpayers stronger incentives to save and invest. If made permanent, the Tax Foundation estimated last year, they could increase the total amount of capital invested in the U.S. economy by 12 percent.
The third element is the creation of a major new loophole in the form of large deductions for what are known as pass-through entities. These are essentially business structures, such as limited-liability corporations, that allow the owners to avoid paying corporate taxes and instead have their corporate profits added to their individual tax liability.

This kind of structure makes sense for sole proprietorships and other small businesses. Increasingly, however, driven in part by the U.S.’s relatively high corporate tax rate, it had been used by midsized and large businesses. Part of the rationale for lowering the corporate rate was to remove some incentive to form pass-through entities.
Unfortunately, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act also created a whole new incentive to classify a business this way. Under the law, an individual can claim a 20 percent tax deduction for any income classified as business income. That means high earners such as celebrities, financial professionals and surgeons have an incentive to form LLCs and claim this deduction, even when their services more closely resemble those of an employee rather than an entrepreneur.
It’s not as if members of Congress couldn’t have seen this coming. When Kansas included a similar loophole in its tax reform in 2012, it saw a 20 percent increase in the number of pass-through entities. This led to a $300 million decline in revenue, and Kansas officials essentially rescinded their tax reform in 2017.
Lowering marginal tax rates and encouraging investment are worthwhile goals. But the creation of a large pass-through deduction undermines those efforts, creating a tax loophole that is largely unavailable to middle-class taxpayers. It narrows the tax base, reduces long-term revenue projections and undermines the efficiency gains from the reform if the individual tax code.
As members of Congress consider tax reform — regardless of whether they actually vote on it — they should keep these larger goals in mind: reduce complexity and encourage economic growth. The pass-through deduction does neither.
Source: via Bloomberg News

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Corporate America ‘in limbo’ as IRS punts on foreign tax issue

U.S. companies anxiously awaiting guidance on how hard they’ll be hit by a new foreign levy in the tax overhaul will have to stay tuned for at least another two months.
The Internal Revenue Service proposed regulations on Thursday spanning 157 pages that provide some details on which assets are subject to the tax on GILTI, or global intangible low-tax income, and how to calculate it. But one of the most pressing questions — to what extent multinational companies can use foreign tax credits and business expenses to offset the levy — remained unanswered.
“It’s a very big deal that the FTC and expense allocation issues have been left out,” said Andrew Silverman, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst who focuses on tax policy. The regulations are “not a great answer for companies who are essentially left in limbo.”
The rules provide a starting point for how to calculate what they owe, but without the additional information companies still won’t be able to get to a level of comfort to complete tax returns and file documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Silverman said.

Corporations don’t want to underestimate their GILTI liability because they could be hit with a penalty if they pay too little in their quarterly tax installments to the IRS. The deadline for two portions has already passed and the next payment is due Sept. 15. Treasury officials said during a call with reporters Thursday that the additional guidance will be coming in about 60 days.
The Republican tax overhaul slashed the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, and shifted the U.S. to a system of taxing its companies on their domestic profits only. Those changes required guardrails — like the tax on GILTI — to ensure multinationals pay at least something on their future overseas profits.
The piecemeal guidance process, and the lack of understanding about the ultimate amount of tax that will be paid until all the parts are finalized, underscore the complexity of the tax law’s international provisions.
Tax advisers have been modeling the effects of the new law for their multinational clients, but because many of the new provisions are interconnected, and implementation may be governed by old tax regulations still on the books, they’re only able to estimate the amount of tax due.
That’s been a frustration for many publicly traded companies and their investors, who are anxious to understand how the new tax law affects them.
Companies are hesitant to record a tax hit for GILTI that they don’t think they should pay, so they’re waiting for the clarification in the regulations, said Brent Felten, managing director of international tax at accounting firm Crowe.
‘Taxpayer Friendly’
Still, Thursday’s regulations signal some good news could be ahead for multinationals. The rules indicate that companies can “gross up” their foreign income by the amount of foreign tax paid, a move that would result in a lower GILTI bill, said Mitch Thompson, a tax partner at Squire Patton Boggs.
“It’s taxpayer friendly,” Thompson said.
The GILTI levy effectively sets a 10.5 percent rate to apply to a company’s “excess” profits earned overseas through some of its foreign subsidiaries.
GILTI was intended to prod American technology and pharmaceutical companies into holding their valuable intellectual properties in the U.S. Currently, many hold their patents in subsidiaries in Ireland or other low-tax countries. The tax is intended to apply only in cases where a company’s cumulative overseas tax bill is below 13.125 percent, or 16.4 percent after 2025.
However, tax lawyers and accountants say quirks in the way the tax is calculated mean it will likely hit other companies, such as big banks with offshore operations, even when they already pay effective foreign tax rates above the threshold.
Bank lobbyists have urged the Treasury to come up with a fix that would lessen the pain from GILTI, saying an adjustment is needed to make the tax consistent with the intent of Republican lawmakers who wrote the legislation.
Repatriation Refunds
Pass-through entities such as partnerships and limited liability companies could fare even worse than corporations under the GILTI tax, but they won’t want to restructure their business without knowing how the foreign tax credit guidance will work, said David Shapiro, a partner at the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.
That could create a rush of companies looking to reform as corporations after the regulations come out and before the end of 2018, Shapiro said.
Even after all of the GILTI questions are answered, companies will still be trying to figure out how they fare under the new international tax regime.
Treasury officials have said they plan to issue proposed regulations later this year on the other two major international provisions in the tax overhaul — a tax break encouraging companies to export U.S.-made goods, known as the foreign derived intangible income deduction, and the base-erosion and anti-abuse tax on payments corporations make to foreign subsidiaries.
The need to pay estimated taxes before receiving guidance has already caused headaches for some corporations that overpaid their repatriation taxes on profits accrued offshore since 1986. Some companies had overpaid to avoid penalties and were hoping for a refund. Instead, the IRS said in August it wouldn’t send the excess funds back and would apply them to a future installment of the repatriation tax bill.
“The more guidance you get from IRS and Treasury, the better, and the sooner you get it the better,” said Joe Calianno, a tax partner and international technical tax practice leader in BDO’s Washington office.
— With assistance from Isabel Gottlieb
Source: Bloomberg News 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Small businesses need major tax help

Despite the widespread belief that small businesses are a target for IRS audits, nearly a third of small-business owners think they overpay their taxes, according to a survey by B2B research firm Clutch of over 300 small-business owners and managers.
“If they think they’re paying too much, they’re questioning the accuracy of their tax return,” said Roger Harris, president of Padgett Business Services. “They’re somehow missing a deduction, or there are parts of the code they just don’t know about. If a business owner did their own accounting and bought a piece of equipment in October 2017, what’s the chance they knew the rules for the new 100 percent bonus depreciation?”
The small businesses in the survey listed unforeseen expenses (35 percent) as their top financial challenge, followed by the mixing of business and personal finances (23 percent) and the inability to receive payments on time (21 percent). Clerical errors in financial records, and outdated financial records, were both listed by 11 percent of respondents.

The majority of small businesses in the survey said they use the accrual method for tracking finances, although the smallest businesses, with fewer than 10 employees, were more likely to use the cash basis method.
“Actually, use of the cash method versus the accrual method has nothing to do with number of employees but with revenue,” said Harris. “In fact, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increased the ability to use the cash method for businesses with up to $25 million in annual revenue. Cash accounting is available to many businesses, and many small businesses prefer it because it’s simpler. They like taxable income to track as closely as possible to their checkbooks. In fact, most of our clients would be happy with a simple profit and loss financial statement: Money in minus money out equals money left, or what some of them call ‘my money.’”
“But the accrual method creates expenses that sometimes aren’t yet paid and sometimes defers costs that are already paid, and defers them into the future,” he continued. “In that case, taxable income can vary dramatically from using the cash method.”
“The cash method is easier for everyone to understand,” he said. “Money in is income, money out is expense, and what’s left is your money, which is what you pay taxes on.”
Most use a hybrid method — accrual for income because they have inventories, and cash for expenses, according to Harris.
“If I asked what method of accounting they use, most small-business owners would just stare at me,” Harris said. “But if I explained it to them and they made a pick, most would choose cash. I would be stunned if I asked a small-business owner without giving a choice, and anyone said ‘accrual.’ Most of them wouldn’t even know the term. If you go to the coffee shop in your building and ask the owner what method they use, they won’t know what you’re talking about.”
“In a classroom or to an accountant, the accrual method is favored,” said Harris. “But in the eyes of most owners, if they don’t have the money it’s not income, and if they haven’t paid money, it’s not an expense.”
Surprisingly, the survey found that more than a quarter — 27 percent — of small-business owners and managers said they do not have a separate bank account for their business. Naturally, established businesses are more likely to have separate bank accounts than start-ups. Nearly 80 percent of small-business owners of five years or more said they have separate accounts, compared to 68 percent of small-business owners of two years or less.
Source: Written by: R. Russell

Thursday, September 6, 2018

IRS will allow contributions to state and local tax credit programs as deductible business expenses

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department said Wednesday that payments under state or local tax credit programs may be deductible as business expenses, permitting a workaround for businesses to the $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
However, the IRS and Treasury are still not giving individual taxpayers the ability to make charitable contributions to state-run funds as a way to circumvent the limits on the SALT deduction in the new tax law. Last month, they issued proposed regulations aimed at stopping blue states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that have authorized such funds, and other high-tax states that have been considering them (see IRS moves to block New York, New Jersey plans to bypass SALT deduction cap). But they left open the possibility of allowing business taxpayers to use them (see IRS short-circuits SALT deduction charitable workarounds to new tax law, but leaves others open for now). Connecticut started such a program earlier this year, and New York is considering one (see Some high-tax states aim to provide businesses workaround for SALT limits).
The IRS said Wednesday that business taxpayers who make business-related payments to charities or government entities for which the taxpayers receive state or local tax credits can generally deduct the payments as business expenses, but it has to qualify as an ordinary and necessary business expense. In response to inquiries from taxpayers, the IRS clarified that the general deductibility rule is unaffected by the recent notice of proposed rulemaking concerning the availability of a charitable contribution deduction for contributions pursuant to such programs.
“The business expense deduction is available to any business taxpayer, regardless of whether it is doing business as a sole proprietor, partnership or corporation, as long as the payment qualifies as an ordinary and necessary business expense,” said the IRS. “Therefore, businesses generally can still deduct business-related payments in full as a business expense on their federal income tax return.”
The Treasury issued similar reassurance on Wednesday.
“The IRS clarification makes clear that the longstanding rule allowing businesses to deduct payments to charities as business expenses remains unchanged under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin in a statement. “The recent proposed rule concerning the cap on state and local tax deductions has no impact on federal tax benefits for business-related donations to school choice programs.”
The clarification won't affect corporations, which aren't subject to the $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions in the new tax law, but it would apply to pass-through entities such as partnerships.
Source: Written by: M. Cohn