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Come January 3, a new Congress will convene in Washington, DC, setting the stage for potential tax changes that could impact small and medium-sized businesses. With that in mind, it’s important for businesses to engage in certain tax planning strategies and to take advantage of tax credits that will soon expire or be phased out.
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is one such credit. Created in 2020 to provide economic relief during the Covid-19 pandemic, the ERC lets businesses claim thousands of dollars in refundable tax credits to compensate for losses experienced in 2020 and 2021 while they continued to pay employees. Businesses subject to a full or partial shutdown or significant decline in gross receipts can qualify.
Many small and midsize businesses I know are eligible for two quarters or more of credits, which can range as high as $7,000 per quarter per employee in 2020, with higher per-employee limits in 2021. But the time frame for claiming this credit is shrinking. Start planning now.
Businesses have just three years from the time they filed their 2020 and 2021 quarterly tax returns to claim the credit. Even if you received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) previously you can qualify for the ERC credit, but you’ll need time to gather all the necessary documentation before filing the required amended return.
Beware of companies advertising huge ERC payouts that are “too good to be true,” as the IRS noted in a special warning. The agency further cautioned that “improperly claiming the ERC could result in taxpayers being required to repay the credit along with penalties and interest.”
Know how to find someone who can help you if a problem arises. I had a client who signed a contract with a firm that promised an ERC credit twice as large as what we projected along with lifetime audit protection, but the firm was cagey about how to handle a prospective audit and did not list addresses and phone numbers. A red flag for sure, and a reminder that taxpayers should never get too greedy.
The importance of tax planning
How many business owners can honestly say their accountants are advising them on tax planning, like the ERC benefit, rather than merely doing their taxes? Is yours building a tax-strategy foundation that generates recurring savings year after year?
Take the initiative and ask your accountant what plans they have in place to generate savings year in and year out, plus what strategies they’re using to accomplish that.
Don’t make the mistake of merely asking your accountant how you can save on taxes just before the year’s end. If you do, you may be advised to buy a vehicle for your business because the cost can be fully written off using a bonus depreciation. This is not an example of a great, forward-thinking tax strategy. And that particular deduction, by the way, will lose 20% of its value in each of the next four years, starting in 2023. It’ll be completely phased out by 2027.
Related article: How to Give Yourself a Tax Cut
Accountants should have a plethora of strategies to help small and midsize businesses and their owners save on taxes. For example, ask yours about research and development credits, or credits for hiring veterans and disabled individuals and members of other groups that the government has identified as facing employment barriers.
How to avoid an audit
It’s more important than ever to use only legal ways to limit your tax liability. Here’s a list of some dos and don’ts:
- Don’t put your family vacation on your company’s books. If there is a business purpose for a partial business/family trip and that purpose constitutes more than 50% of the trip, document it and proportionally deduct your costs. Include notes about the purpose of the travel, your itinerary, the agendas of meetings and conferences, whom you met with, etc. The IRS has heightened record-keeping requirements for travel deductions.
- Keep original receipts, not just credit card statements. Taxpayers often assume a credit card statement constitutes a receipt. It does not. Your expense items on a credit card receipt only will likely be denied.
- Get in a habit of documenting all relevant expenses while you’re incurring them; and consider assigning an employee for that purpose or use technology. You’ve got to document the business reasons for the deductions claimed because there are heightened documentation requirements for business travel and for meals. You probably won’t remember all these necessary details if the IRS audits you two or three years after an event has taken place. If you fail to document actual expenses, you should deduct IRS-published travel per diems by city.
- Don’t pay personal expenses through your company. Write a check to yourself from the company for a legitimate reason like a salary, wages or distribution. Then pay personal bills for your mortgage and electric bill out of your checkbook, not the company’s.
Related article: The IRS Hates Telling Entrepreneurs Anything About Taxes.
The messages are slowly sinking in. Four clients so far have told me they’ve completely revamped their internal processes to take better records. They’re spending the time to do this now because they understand it could be riskier in the future.
Nobody knows what tax changes, if any, are in store, but there are changes already on the books that business owners should be aware of, including benefits that are slated to disappear. Act now before it’s too late.