Amidst a strengthening labor market, rising economic activity, and a declining unemployment rate, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decided last month to raise the federal funds rate – the interest rate at which banks and credit unions lend Federal Reserve funds to other banks and credit unions overnight – by a quarter-point, from 1.75 to 2 percent. This is the second increase in 2018, and two more increases were suggested by year’s end.
To the average small business owner, the knee-jerk reaction might be a negative one. After all, interest rates do trickle down, affecting credit card balances, adjustable-rate mortgages, and variable loan rates. But the increase could potentially be good news for small businesses. Higher interest rates amid a strong economy mean more profitable deals for banks, which creates a greater motive to offer more financing options and approve loan requests.
Another potential long-term benefit to higher interest rates is a better cash flow. Because inflation is typically a motivator for rate increases, the cost of goods and services tend to escalate, effectively allowing small businesses to raise prices, improve margins, and enjoy more breathing room.
As with any change in the economy, however, the impact on small businesses could have negative consequences as well. One potential consequence of higher interest rates is the effect on consumerism. Because consumers with credit card debt will be paying higher interest rate charges, they’ll have less disposable income to spend, which could hinder sales and growth of small businesses. Additionally, companies that need to borrow money for growth can potentially incur a higher cost of capital when interest rates go up. This can affect new loans as well as existing loans with floating rates.
Because interest rates have been hovering near zero for the past several years in order to spur the economy, a move in the needle was inevitable, and we are unlikely to see rates that low again anytime soon. With the Federal Reserve’s suggestion of additional increases to come, small businesses that are contemplating applying for loans might want to do so sooner rather than later.
For some employees, simply opening a Roth IRA or another retirement account independent of your employer may be sufficient and necessary. But many employees should consider digging into the details of why your employer does not offer a retirement savings plan. And if you think your company is one of the few who doesn’t offer one, unfortunately, nearly half of U.S. companies don’t provide their employees with a 401(k).
When it comes to smaller firms, many avoid the offering simply due to high start-up costs and time commitments, as administering the plan and ensuring it meets regulatory requirements can take serious time and attention. Retirement offerings also present significant liabilities for firms, including civil or criminal penalties for plan administrators if legal and regulatory compliance is not met. According to the Census Bureau, the combination of fees, time and risk may be why over 90% of small businesses do not offer a 401(k). Others may simply not be aware their employees desire a plan.
Like your company, but want help saving for retirement?
If you would like to see your company add a 401(k) plan, the first step is talking to other employees to determine the collective interest in a plan and how many individuals would “buy in” if offered one. Your employer may not be persuaded by one employee’s desire for a plan, but a group request will likely garner more weight. Remind your employer they would also reap benefits from a business standpoint (lowering taxes) and a personal standpoint (their own retirement savings).
Step two involves doing your homework. Is your boss concerned about the risks involved? There are plans whose providers will share legal responsibilities, so research plans and present several options to your supervisor. Is time or added work/stress the issue? Talk amongst your co-workers and determine a strategy for divvying up duties so one person isn’t burdened with added responsibilities. Supportive plan providers can also help companies create a structured strategy to manage the extra work
Overcoming hurdles to a company 401(k)
What if cost is my employer’s biggest concern? Plan start-up fees can sound daunting to small firms, but consider the company’s spending and ways those costs could be mitigated or offset, such as through tax savings or by redistributing the holiday party budget to cover expenses. Inform your employer that many employees might prefer or expect a 401(k) over a holiday party, so using those funds could attract and retain quality employees.
Being prepared and showing your boss that the added time and effort is advantageous will go a long way. Offering a 401(k) can grow their business, supplement their goals and maintain and engage new employees, which is critical in today’s job market. Taking the time to research beforehand and help whoever is in charge throughout the process may seem like the last item you want to add to your plate, but the benefits are twofold for you as well. Not only will you be able to start saving for retirement in a tax-advantaged way, but your employer may also notice your strategic drive, organization and initiative, which could benefit you as new company opportunities or initiatives arise.
Millennials and Roth IRA’s: Why the Two Make a Perfect Pair
As of December 20, 2017, the new tax laws were officially signed into law, ushering in a variety of cuts and changes for individuals and businesses alike. While there has been much talk around how the new laws will impact individual taxpayers and families of all income levels, it is also vital to consider how small businesses, startups and corporations will be affected.
Individual taxpayers will see a decrease in their income tax rate, a reduction of itemized deductions, a doubling of the standard deduction, and changes to elder care, child and business taxes. The Alternative Minimum Tax will remain for individuals and corporations alike, but the affected income bracket has been raised: $70,300 for single filers and $109,400 for joint filers.
So the question remains, will businesses stand to reap tax benefits for the new code? Undoubtedly. The real unknown is what businesses will do with the benefits they may reap.
What tax deductions can businesses expect then? A main provision of the plan is the lowering of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% in 2018, as well as lowering the income tax at almost every level for now. Corporations will be able to deduct state and local taxes, and estate tax exemptions will double, assisting the 1% who pay estate taxes while providing roughly 17 billion in taxes. For small business owners, they will be able to deduct the cost of depreciable assets in a single year rather than amortizing them over several years, which will hopefully stimulate investment and growth.
Under our current tax system, multinational taxpayers are taxed on any income earned overseas when those profits are brought back to the United States. But, the new system will not tax foreign profit. The intent here is to motivate those business owners to bring that money back overseas, reinvesting it in the US economy rather than allowing it sit overseas and aid another nation’s economy.
The new code is operating under a supply-side economics theory, which strives to invigorate economic growth across the nation for both consumers and businesses. The objective is to provide various tax deductions, placing more money in consumer’s wallets and ideally stimulate spending. The combination of lower taxes and a swell in spending on products and services is designed to allow employers to strengthen their workforce and create more jobs.
If business owners do reap benefits from the changes, any increased income or an improvement in sales should be viewed as an opportunity to develop, diversify and enhance their businesses, which would support the greater American economy and our nation.
In the midst of identity scams and credit card hacking, the IRS has warned against another scam, this time targeted at businesses and employers. There is a growing W-2 email scam threatening sensitive tax information and the IRS wants to alert payroll and human resources officials so they can be on their guard.
A simple email beginning with a casual greeting has quickly become one of the most dangerous phishing attacks. Hundreds of employers fell victim to the scheme last year, which left thousands of employees vulnerable to tax-related identity theft.
Since there have been significant improvements made in curbing stolen identity refund fraud, criminals are now seeking more advanced personal information in order to fraudulently file a return. W-2’s contain a wealth of detailed taxpayer income and withholding information, which is exactly what frauds are searching for and why they are targeting employers to acquire such information.
The scam has only grown larger in recent years, attacking a variety of businesses, from public universities and hospitals to charities and small businesses. The IRS wants to educate employees and employers, particularly payroll and HR associates who are often targeted first, to hopefully limit the number of successful attacks.
The scammer will likely spoof the email of someone high up in the organization or business, sending an email to someone with W-2 access using a subject line similar to “review” or “request.” The “request” will likely be a list of all the employees and their W-2 forms, potentially even specifying the file format. Since the employee believes they are corresponding with an executive of some sort, they may send the information without question, meaning weeks could go by before it is even evident they have been scammed. This gives frauds plenty of time to file numerous fake returns.
Because this scam poses such a major tax threat at both the local and state level, the IRS has set up a specific reporting process to alert the proper individuals, which is outlined briefly below:
- Email email@example.com to notify the IRS of a W-2 data loss and provide contact information. Type “W2 Data Loss” into the subject line so that the email can be routed properly and do not attach any employee personally identifiable information.
- Email the Federation of Tax Administrators at StateAlert@taxadmin.org to get state specific information on reporting victim information.
- Businesses or payroll service providers should file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov). They may be asked to file a report with local law enforcement as well.
- Notify employees so they are able to take protective steps against identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission website, www.identitytheft.gov, provides guidance on steps employees should take.
- Forward the scam email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beyond just educating employees, payroll officials and HR associates about the scam, employers are encouraged to set up policies or practices to avoid being hacked. Suggested policies include requiring verbal communication before sending sensitive information digitally, or requiring two or more individuals to receive and review any sensitive W-2 information before it can be sent out. The IRS is fighting diligently to protect taxpayers and lower the number of tax-related scams, so employers are encouraged to be on the defense as well and safeguard their own tax paying employees.
The latter part of 2017 has been filled with discussions and votes regarding new tax legislation. But, with nothing official in the books yet, taxpayers would be wise to focus their year-end tax planning around the current laws, since the proposed legislation may not become law or may undergo significant changes before being passed. Below are seven key tax strategies that could improve your finances and reduce your tax bill regardless of what Congress decides.
- Max out contributions to tax-sheltered savings
Whether it’s a 401(k), health savings account (HSA), IRA or Roth IRA, make sure you are contributing the max amount. In 2017, HSA contributions for a single person are limited to $3,400, and $6,750 for families; IRA’s cap out at $5,500 in annual contributions ($6,500 for those 50 or older).You can contribute up to $18,000 in 401(k)’s annually, but only 10% reached that max in 2016 according to data. For all of these accounts, if you’re contributing pre-tax funds, it may feel like less money in your wallet now, but it will mean a lower tax bill come April.
- Review your withholding
Examining the amounts that are withheld from your paycheck could help you avoid a larger tax bill in the spring. There are several categories of individuals who often find they are not withholding enough: those with a second job, those who owe estimated taxes (and potentially missed a payment), those who started Social Security or pension payments, and those who sold large assets with gains.
The IRS website includes a withholding calculator to assist taxpayers in determining if their withholding amount is correct. If it is incorrect, you still have time to adjust by updating your form W-4 with your employer.
- Meet your medical deduction threshold
Only around 6% of filers claim the deduction for medical expenses, which may be why it is under threat of repeal if the new tax legislation is passed. Current law allows medical expenses in excess of 10% of your adjusted gross income to be deducted.
Because this saving can be a vital tax benefit, if you’re close to meeting the threshold, find ways to accelerate your medical spending before the year ends. This could include purchasing vital medical equipment or scheduling procedures and appointments before December 31.
- Take advantage of taxable losses and gains
If your investments took a hit this year, you are able to deduct the losses up to the amount of capital gains, plus $3,000. You are even able to roll over an excess of losses to claims for future years if your losses exceeded the annual limit.
For those currently in the two lowest income tax brackets (10% and 15%), you might be eligible for a zero tax rate on investments with long-term capital gains. One way to achieve this zero-tax capital gain is by selling a low-cost-basis long-term investment. You could then purchase it back at a higher cost basis and potentially lower your future taxes as long as that acquisition does not push you into a higher tax bracket.
- Give to charity
Increasing your charitable contributions is always a smart, and generous, way to lower your spring tax bill. Rather than simply donating money though, you can also donate highly appreciated stock by simply transferring ownership of your stock to the charity. If you’re eligible for a deduction, it will be based on the market price of the donated stock and you will not owe capital taxes on its appreciation.
Another viable option is placing money or investments in a donor-advised fund, which allows you to spread out donations to charities in future years and allows you to take an itemized deduction for the amount transferred into the account this year. If you’re 70 ½ or older, you may also donate to a charity through your IRA, which would reduce the taxes on your required withdrawals.
- Take any required distributions
As mentioned, once you reach 70 ½, most qualified accounts (401(k)’s, IRA’s, etc.) have required minimum withdrawals (RMD) and that money is taxed as ordinary income. Although there is a grace period until April 1st of the following year for those taking their first RMD, every other year’s RMD must be taken by December 31st of that year.
If you don’t take the RMD in time, you will still owe the required taxes you would have paid plus a cost penalty, which is half of the amount you were supposed to withdraw. Many financial institutions have RMD calculators to help you determine the amount you should be withdrawing.
- Take tax planning deductions
One highly beneficial tax deduction is for investment advice and tax planning. This deduction may be modified under the new proposals, but the current law still allows taxpayers to make deductions for items such as the cost of tax software like TurboTax or fees paid to financial planners or accountants, so make sure to take advantage whether you do your own taxes or generally seek help.
Although the 2018 tax code is still uncertain at this point, there are changes you can make in the next few weeks to alter your spring tax bill. This time of year is undoubtedly busy with the holidays and gatherings, but you will be thankful come April of next year that you took the time now and made some beneficial tax moves for your future.
With their first plan shot down in Congress, the GOP has released another, broader tax framework as the Trump Administration attempts to shift the tax code. This new plan has many elements that Congress will need to hash out before anything is signed into law, but taxpayers of all income levels are wondering how this plan may affect them personally. Below are five major developments in the new plan that could affect you come tax season:
- Rate Shift
Our current code has seven different income tax brackets, but the new plan would drop that number down to three: 12, 25 and 35 percent. Although the plan does not specify which income levels would be taxed at each new rate, the wealthy would likely see the greatest benefit since the current top bracket at 39.6% would drop to 35%. The current lowest bracket (at 10%) would see an increase to join the 12% bracket, but the plan claims to aid families in that bracket through an increase in the standard deduction and a greater child tax credit.
- Deduction Increase (for most)
For many taxpayers, the new plan would almost double the current standard deduction. Filers who claim multiple children would not see as high of a increase, but could potentially see that offset by a steeper child tax credit. Presently, about 70% of taxpayers take the standard deduction as it is higher than itemizing. However, experts believe that number would increase significantly if the standard deduction is doubled. The GOP’s plan would remove other deductions to offset the increased standard deduction, but the charitable contribution and mortgage interest deductions would be kept.
- Some Taxes and Deductions Eliminated Entirely
The largest deduction that would meet its end with the new GOP plan is the local and state tax deduction. This deduction is often taken in states where taxes, and average income, is higher, states that are often Democratic. Other taxes that would be eliminated include the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax for those who inherit funds in excess of $5.49 million.
- New Tax Rate for “Pass-Through” Businesses
S corporations, sole proprietorships and partnerships could see a new tax rate at 25% under the new plan. Currently, those “pass-through” businesses pay at the individual rate of their owners, and those businesses make up about 95% of the nation’s business demographic. Although many business owners currently pay a rate lower than 25%, just under 2% of those business owners pay the top rate of 39.6%, which means they could see a significant drop in rate if they are permitted to incorporate as a “pass-through.”
- Change in the Corporate Tax Code
The current plan taxes corporations at 35%, but the new plan would drop that rate to 20%. To offset this steep drop in rate, the proposal submits to eliminate certain business deductions and credits. The plan suggests that the deduction for domestic production could be eliminated, while maintaining exceptions for low income housing and research and development, but leaves many of those choices up to Congress.
Congress must still comb through the GOP’s newest plan and make adjustments before a finalized plan is voted upon, so taxpayers should prepare for more adjustments to be made before anything is signed into law. As developments arise, MKR will continue to keep our clients up to date in future newsletters.