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NEWS

NEWS


Using the Research & Development Credit to Offset Payroll Taxes

New businesses or start-up companies may be eligible to apply the research and development (R&D)tax credit against their payroll tax for up to five years. The R&D credit was permanently extended as part of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. It includes some enhancements starting in 2016, including offsets to alternative minimum tax and payroll tax for eligible businesses.

The credit is still based on credit-eligible R&D expenses, but offsets apply to only those costs incurred beginning in 2016. The new payroll tax offset allows companies to receive a benefit for their research activities regardless of whether they are profitable. The new payroll tax offset is available only to companies that have:

  • Less than $5 million in gross receipts in 2016 and for each subsequent year the credit is elected.  A company isn’t eligible if it generated gross receipts prior to 2012.
  • Qualifying research activities and expenditures.

The maximum benefit an eligible company is allowed to claim against payroll taxes each year under the new law is $250,000.

Qualifying Activities

Regardless of industry, if a company’s activities meet the following requirements, known as the four-part test, then they could potentially be eligible for this credit:

  • Technical uncertainty. The activity is performed to eliminate technical uncertainty about the development or improvement of a product or process, which includes computer software, techniques, formulas, and inventions. 
  • Process of experimentation. The activities include some process of experimentation undertaken to eliminate or resolve a technical uncertainty. This process involves an evaluation of alternative solutions or approaches and is performed through modeling, simulation, systematic trial and error, or other methods. 
  • Technological in nature. The process of experimentation relies on the hard sciences, such as engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, or computer science. 
  • Qualified purpose. The purpose of the activity must be to create a new or improved product or process (computer software included) that results in increased performance, function, reliability, or quality.

Additional thresholds may apply if a company develops software for internal use. Also, activities must be performed in the United States and can’t be funded by another party.

Eligible Research and Development Costs

Eligible R&D costs include these categories:

  • Wages. W-2 taxable wages for employees offering direct support and first-level supervision of research.
  • Supplies. Supplies used in research, including so-called extraordinary utilities but not capital items or general administrative supplies.
  • Contract research. Certain subcontractor expenses (provided the subcontractor’s tasks would qualify if they were instead being performed by an employee). These can include labor, services, or research, but payment can’t be contingent on results. In addition, the taxpayer must retain substantial rights in the results, whether exclusive or shared.
  • Rental or lease costs of computers. This could include payments made to cloud service providers (CSPs) for the cost of renting server space, as longs as payments are related to hosting software under development versus payments for hosting a stable software release.

Social Security Tax

Companies are required to pay Social Security tax of 6.2 percent on up to $118,500 of each employee’s salary in 2016. A company that employs 50 employees with an average salary of $75,000 per person would pay approximately $232,500 in Social Security payroll taxes in 2016. The credit can only be applied to the employer’s Social Security portion of payroll taxes. As such, a company would need to have more than $4 million in annual payroll subject to social security tax and $2.5 million in eligible R&D costs to offset the maximum $250,000 in payroll taxes each year under the new law.

Most employers are required to deposit their payroll taxes to the federal government on a monthly or semiweekly basis and also file a quarterly payroll tax return (Form 941). The credit will be applied against the Social Security tax on the quarterly return, not when it’s deposited monthly or semiweekly. It’s important to note, however, that the IRS is still formulating a plan for how the process will be formally implemented.

The payroll tax offset may be available to new businesses and start-up companies for up to five years. Any unused R&D credits that aren’t elected to offset payroll taxes may be carried forward for up to 20 years and used when the business becomes profitable.

IRS Risks to Claiming the R&D Credit

Once a company starts to use these credits, they see a much higher level of scrutiny from the IRS. In fact, R&D credits are often a high priority for the agency every year and it’s assembled project teams by industry with technical specialists that assist in reviewing R&D credit claims. Even at the small business level, it’s common for IRS technical specialists to be involved in R&D credit examinations.  In general, larger credits may receive more scrutiny from the IRS and, therefore, require a higher degree of review and documentation.

Although many companies in the technology industry are likely engaged in activities that would otherwise be eligible for R&D credits, the rules surrounding the credit are complex and ever-changing. New legislation, regulations, court cases, and IRS guidelines have drastically shifted the landscape of R&D tax law over the past few years and will continue to do so in the future.

Considering these complexities and potential financial penalties, companies should have their activities analyzed by a CPA, attorney, or enrolled agent familiar with the intricacies of tax law and accounting rules that govern the R&D credits as well as the IRS examination and appeals process. To deter companies from claiming credits without the proper level of review and documentation, the IRS has the ability to impose penalties in excess of 20 percent of the credit amounts claimed. For example, if a taxpayer claims a $250,000 R&D credit and the credit is then audited by the IRS, it’s possible that the agency could deny the entire credit and fine the company with accuracy-related penalties in excess of $50,000.

IRS to Target Specific S Corporation Areas as Part of New Compliance Campaign

The Internal Revenue Service’s Large Business and International Division has approved five new compliance campaigns in several areas including specific areas related to S corporations. The LB&I Division has been moving toward issue-based examinations and a compliance campaign process in which it decides which compliance issues present enough of a risk to require a response in the form of one or multiple treatment streams to achieve tax compliance objectives. The five new campaigns were identified through data analysis and suggestions from IRS employees. The goal is to improve return selection, identify issues representing a risk of non-compliance, and make the best use of the division’s limited resources.

As part of the S corporation campaign, the IRS noted that S corporations and their shareholders are supposed to properly report the tax consequences of distributions. The service has targeted three issues as part of this campaign:

  • When an S corporation fails to report gain upon the distribution of appreciated property to a shareholder.
  • When an S corporation fails to determine that a distribution, whether in cash or property, is properly taxable as a dividend; and,
  • When a shareholder fails to report non-dividend distributions in excess of their stock basis that are subject to taxation.

For this campaign, the IRS plans to conduct issue-based examinations, suggest changes to tax forms, and conduct stakeholder outreach.

As part of the campaign, any examinations that result from this campaign will probably touch upon other S corporation related issues including the methods S corporations use to determine reasonable compensation and its impact on potential under-reported FICA taxes.

Taxation of Cryptocurrency Mining Activities

There are new rules which the US Congress passed in December 2017 that change the way the IRS treats cryptocurrency. Before the US Congress put forth a clearer ruling in 2017, the classification category of cryptocurrency assets was up for interpretation according to many tax experts. That’s because many cryptocurrency miners and traders treated cryptocurrency similar to real-estate for tax purposes by citing the like-kind exchange rules of IRS Code Section 1031.

Following this ruling a miner could theoretically trade a mined cryptocurrency for another cryptocurrency without having to pay taxes. With 1031 exchanges limited to real estate transactions under the recent tax act this treatment is now out the window. Now anyone with cryptocurrency mining operations in 2018 will have to pay taxes beginning in 2019.

There are a couple of things to consider when paying taxes for cryptocurrency mining. You have two different income streams to consider. The first taxable event occurs whenever a miner mines a new coin. The IRS considers this to be income even if the miner decides to only hold the coins as “inventory”. When you mine the coins, you have income on the day the coin is "created" in your account at that day's exchange value. If you are reporting activity as an individual taxpayer, you can report the income as a hobby or as self-employment. If you report as a hobby, you include the value of the coins as "other income" on line 21 of form 1040. Your ability to deduct any expenses is limited -- expenses are itemized deductions subject to the 2% rule.

If you report as self-employment income (you are doing work with the intent of earning a profit) then you report the income on schedule C. You can fully deduct your expenses. The net profit is subject to income tax and self-employment tax. Similar treatment occurs if you operate as a multi-member LLC except that the transactions are reported on the LLC’s tax return with the individual members having their shares of the net profits or losses reported on individual K-1s.

Your second income stream comes when you actually sell the coins to someone else for dollars or other currency. Then you have a capital gain or a capital loss.

Finally, if you immediately sell the coins for cash, then you only have income from the creation and you don't also have a capital gain or loss.

Now, as far as expenses are concerned, if you are doing this as a business, you can take an expense deduction for computer equipment you buy (as depreciation) and your other expenses (for example electricity and other business expenses). But if you are doing this as a home-based business you need to be able to prove those expenses, such as with a separate electric meter or at least having your computer equipment plugged into a portable electric meter so you can tell how much of your electric bill was used in your business. Unless your expenses are very high, they won't offset the extra self-employment tax, so you will probably pay less tax if you report the income as hobby income and forget about the expenses.

Supreme Court Rules States Have Authority To Require Online Retailers To Collect Sales Taxes

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, has held that states can assert nexus for sales and use tax purposes without requiring a seller’s physical presence in the state, thereby granting states greater power to require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax on sales to in-state residents. The decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., et al overturns prior Supreme Court precedent in the 1992 decision Quill Corp. v. North Dakota which had required retailers to have a physical presence in a state beyond merely shipping goods into a state after an order from an in-state resident before a state could require the seller to collect sales taxes from in-state customers. That was before the surge of online sales, and states have been trying since then to find constitutional ways to collect tax revenue from remote sellers into their state.

The Court noted: “When the day-to-day functions of marketing and distribution in the modern economy are considered, it is all the more evident that the physical presence rule is artificial in its entirety”. The Court also rejected arguments that the physical presence test aids interstate commerce by preventing states from imposing burdensome taxes or tax collection obligations on small or startup businesses. The Court concluded that South Dakota’s tax collection plan was designed to avoid burdening small businesses and that there would be other means of protecting these businesses than upholding Quill.

In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that, although he agreed that the enormous growth in internet commerce in the interim years has changed the economy greatly, Congress was the correct branch of government to establish tax rules for this new economy. He also took issue with the majority’s conclusion that the burden on small businesses would be minimal.

Prior to the decision, many states had already begun planning for the possible overturn of Quill.

Congress may now decide to move ahead with legislation on this issue to provide a national standard for online sales and use tax collection, such as the Remote Transactions Parity Act or Marketplace Fairness Act, or a proposal by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would make the sales tax a business obligation rather than a consumer obligation. Under that proposal, sales tax would be collected based on the tax rate where the company is located but would be remitted to the jurisdiction where the customer is located.

 

C Corp vs S Corp or LLC:
How The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Impacts This Decision

The Qualified Business Income Deduction section of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act included a new deduction meant for S corps, LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietorships (commonly referred to as pass-through entities). The deduction is calculated at 20% of the trade/business income of these entities. There are limitations based on owner’s taxable income, W-2 salaries of the business, assets in the business and whether or not the business is a service or non-service entity.

Accordingly, not all pass-through entities will qualify for the 20% deduction.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has also dropped the C corporation tax rate to 21% and a lot of questions have arisen from closely held business owners about converting their limited liability company (LLC) or S corporation (S corp) to a C corporation (C corp) including questions from the owners of entities that don't qualify for the 20% deduction. Does it make sense to switch to or start a C corp? The answer is not that simple. Much depends on your business and the business model you operate under.

While the federal tax rate for C corps has dropped favorably to a flat 21%, there are still limitations to a C corp’s tax structure. C corps are subject to double tax. When a C corp issues dividends on their profits, the shareholders receiving the dividends are then taxed on their personal tax return, while the C corp receives no deductions for these payments. Whereas, if you are structured as an LLC or an S corp, you are taxed on the net taxable income that flows through to the owner’s individual tax return and you can distribute the funds out of your company, without double tax. If the goal of the business is to reinvest the earnings back into the company, C corps are a favorable option to take advantage of the lower tax rates.

As a practical matter, for current operations, closely held C corporations do not normally pay dividends. Owners in these entities are often active in the business and draw a salary. The corporation gets a deduction for the salaries, but owners receiving the salary pay federal tax on that salary at a rate as high as 37%.

Upon exiting a closely held business, the sale of the assets of the business are, normally, the only viable option. Very few buyers will want to buy the ownership interest in a closely held business. If you decide to sell your business as a C corp, income generated from the sale of assets is taxed at the corporate level first and then taxed again when the net cash is distributed out to the shareholders.

Also, consider the timing issues when switching to and from a C corporation. Let’s say your business is currently structured as an S corp. You and your shareholders deem your business is better suited as a C corp and you want to convert your organization. It is fairly easy to switch to a C corp. But there is a “buyer beware” with that enterprise. You must wait five years after the switch to a C corp to switch back to an S corp. Once you switch back to an S corp, you could be subject to double taxation on built-in gains (unrealized appreciation on assets held while the entity is a C corporation) for an additional five years after the switch. At a minimum, you will need to live with the possibility of some degree of double taxation for up to ten years.

So what is the bottom line on all of this?

If you have a business that you plan on keeping fairly small, with fewer than 100 shareholders and located in the U. S, you probably want to be an S corp or an LLC. But if your goal is to reinvest profits back into your business to finance future organic growth then the C corporation is probably a good fit. If you have big plans for growing your company to position it for future sale or to go public, you might want the flexibility to take on investors, raise capital, issue different kinds of stock, and invite foreign investors into your business as a C corp.

As always, it is best to consult your advisors before commencing any changes in business structure.