Monthly Archives: November 2018

8 Red Flags That Could Trigger an IRS Small Business Audit

My colleague, Brad Paladini, has granted me permission to post this article that was originally posted on his blog: 

Last year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audited just over one million returns. That’s a lot less than the 1.74 million returns they audited in 2010, but it’s still no fun for the millions of taxpayers that had to go through the process!

Overall, the IRS audits only about 1 in 200 returns. But some returns attract much more scrutiny than others. The IRS doesn’t want to waste its time getting blood out of a stone, and so they focus their investigative efforts on those returns and taxpayers that are statistically more likely to have discrepancies, such as small business owners.

Common Red Flags

Here are some of the major ‘red flags’ that can increase the likelihood of attracting IRS attention in the form of a small business audit:

1)  Higher Personal Income

While the average taxpayer has a 1-in-200 chance of getting audited in any given year, those with incomes of over $1 million are looking at odds of 1-in-20. That is, if your income is greater than $1 million, the probability of your return being selected for audit is ten times greater than it is for the average taxpayer.

At the same time, if you have an income of less than $200,000, the chances of your return being audited falls to just 1 in 154, based on 2016 numbers. But if your income was above $200,000, your chances of being audited increase to 1.70 percent, or 1 in every 59 returns.

So, if you’re showing an unusually high personal income, you are more likely to face an IRS small business audit. If you own a flow-through entity, such as an S-Corporation or LLC, the audit is likely going to extend to your New Jersey business as well, and any other business interests you own.

The same is true of partnership income. If you are showing substantial income from a limited or general partnership, and the IRS flags you for an audit, the audit very well may extend to the partnership – especially if you are the managing general partner in a limited partnership and your K-1s are showing a lot of suspicious losses.

2)  Owning an All-Cash Business

Owners of businesses like restaurants, food trucks, convenience stores and other businesses that deal a lot in cash sometimes fall to the temptation to take cash transactions “off the books” in order to conceal income. Your credit card processor submits a 1099-K to the IRS detailing the credit card payments they’ve made to your business account. The IRS has a pretty good feel for how much of a business’s receipts are going to be in cash vs. credit cards, checks and other forms of payment. If your numbers are way out of whack for similar businesses in your industry, you can expect some additional IRS scrutiny.

3)  Suspiciously Low Salary Income for Corporation Owners

This is a common red flag for New Jersey business owners. Some business owners try to report as much income as possible as dividend income and little or no salary income in order to sidestep FICA taxes. The IRS is wise to this trick, and will often look closely at business owners who report W-2 salary as suspiciously low, compared to the size and profitability of their businesses.

Some people fill out their Schedule C (Business Profit and Loss) forms to show just enough income to qualify for an earned income tax credit or other lucrative tax credit, but not much more. This also attracts IRS scrutiny.

4)  Large Cash Transactions

Merchants must report cash transactions in excess of $10,000 to the IRS. Banks also report these transactions. Failure to report these transactions, or repeated transactions just below the threshold, could trigger IRS interest.

5)  Reporting Net Losses in Multiple Years

Reporting net losses in more than two years out of any given five-year period may attract a small business audit – especially for sole proprietorships, and any time business owners are trying to flow-through those losses to their personal income tax returns.

To qualify as a bona fide business, as opposed to a hobby, your enterprise needs to show a profit in at least three out of five years. The IRS presumes that if you can show a profit at least three out of five years, you are running a bona fide business set up to make a profit. Otherwise, the IRS will look closely at your claimed deductions, and you could run afoul of hobby loss rules, and get some deductions disallowed. See IRC 183 for more information.

6)  Net Operating Loss Carrybacks or Carry-Forwards

Business losses can be carried back or carried forward to apply against income in other years. But the IRS is interested in these transactions. Be sure to document any such carrybacks or carry-forwards carefully to withstand an IRS small business audit.

7)  Excessive Deductions for Vehicle Use

The IRS looks closely at 100 percent business deductions for car expenses.

First, you can deduct the IRS standard mileage rate for business use – 54.5 cents per mile for tax year 2018 (as of this writing, the 2019 mileage deduction has not been released yet.) Alternatively, you can deduct your actual vehicle operating expenses, including fuel, maintenance, repairs, and upkeep. You cannot deduct both. If you try, you may attract IRS scrutiny.

Secondly, be sure to carefully document the miles you drive and their purpose, and make sure the mileage you claim is genuinely deductible. For example, you can deduct expenses attributable to miles you drive to meet a client at a remote location, but you cannot deduct for mileage incurred driving from home to your office. That’s a personal commuting expense, not a business expense.

8)  Suspiciously High Rental Property Expenses or Rental Loss Claims

Rental losses are unusual and attract IRS attention. The IRS may look carefully at any deductions you make for depreciation, and at attempts to deduct improvement and renovation expenses entirely in the first year, rather than spreading these deductions out over a period of years under MACRS rules.

You can deduct repair expenses that are designed to restore the property to a functional condition in the year in which you incur them, but you cannot take a first-year deduction for improvements and renovations designed to enhance the value of the property. These you must deduct over a period of years, depending on the project.

Labor expenses on capital improvement projects must also be amortized over the life of the repair. Failure to adhere to these rules can trigger IRS scrutiny.

Facing an IRS Small Business Audit?

If you’ve received a notification for a pending small business audit from the IRS, the tax attorneys at Paladini Law are ready to work for you. Attorney Brad Paladini has spent his entire career helping individuals and businesses solve complicated tax problems. Brad is highly trained to negotiate and fight with the IRS on your behalf. Schedule a consultation to have your case reviewed and explore your legal options. Contact Paladini Law through our online form, or call (201) 381-4472 today.

Be Careful When Making Online Payments to the IRS

We usually recommend that taxpayers make their tax payments online to the IRS and states. Here are the benefits, but a few caveats to watch out for:

Benefits: When making payments online, your payments are generally credited on the day that you make the payment. Additionally, you can clearly apply your payments to a prior tax year, current tax year, or for estimated tax payments. This helps to minimize errors when the IRS receives your payments, such as applying them to the wrong tax year and the date the payment was made.

Beware of these issues: Recently, we discovered that it is imperative to use the primary taxpayer’s social security number when making payments online to the IRS, otherwise your payment may sit in limbo and not be applied to your account. Other tips include:

  1. Make sure that you specify the correct year that a payment should be applied to.
  2. Double-check your banking or credit card information to ensure that your payment actually gets processed.
  3. Save the confirmation that you paid your taxes as a pdf document or print it out

Overall, we have seen a much lower number of issues when clients make their payments online. Just make sure to adhere to the tips above.

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Is It Better to Pay Off Debts or Invest?

Almost everyone has some sort of debt and economic data shows that this is the case. Between mortgages, student loans, credit cards, business debts, and auto loans and leases (yes, a car lease is debt), many people find themselves allocating large portions of their income towards debt payments. When you are in a position to start paying off debts, should you do so or invest your extra funds? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Pay off debts: Pros: Paying off debts with your extra cash will help you to decrease your liabilities, save interest, which can be significant with credit card debts and some business loans, and eventually enable you to free up cash flow. A non-conventional way to pay off debts is to start with the smallest balance debt to get the momentum going.  Cons: If you focus solely on paying off debts while ignoring investing then you will have no assets for long-term or short-term needs. If a short-term emergency arises, then you will be forced to incur debt to pay for it.

Invest your extra funds: Pros: Investing and savings will hopefully produce a much larger amount of assets over time and enable you to take care of emergencies that arise. Keep in mind that funds for emergencies should be kept very liquid, and a reasonable amount to set aside should be 3 to 6 months of expenses. Cons: Your liabilities will decrease slowly, interest expense will remain high, and you most likely will earn less on your investments especially when factoring in risk, then if you were to pay off debts.

Alternative: The decision to pay off debts or invest does not have to be an either or. Some well-known experts advocate at both ends of the spectrum. Why not do both? Assess your debts and savings to see where you will get the most bang for your buck. For example, let’s say you are able to allocate 6% of your income to savings or investments, then you can use 2% to pay off high interest debts, 2% to save for short term needs, and the remaining 2% can be used to save for retirement.

What if you don’t have extra funds?: The solution is simple, but not easy. Assess your lifestyle to see where you can cut expenses while working to increase your income. If you spend everything that you make currently and work to increase your income by 3% and decrease your expenses by 3% then you will now have extra funds. If your situation is more extreme, such as expenses that are higher than your income, then you will have to take stronger action. For smart ways to cut expenses, then type “expenses” in the search function of this blog.

The mature approach: If you have large excess funds then don’t incur more debts and pay off existing debts quicker once your savings rates are much greater than needed. You can be the only one on your block that doesn’t have debt and no one has to know. I am sure that the quality of your sleep will improve!

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How to Successfully Start a Second Business

Quite often entrepreneurs want to start a second business or even possibly a third, fourth and so on. What are the ways to make this successful, especially without selling or potentially harming your existing business(s), and what are some alternatives?

Similar or complementary business: Instead of say, an attorney, starting a restaurant, they may consider developing software to help other attorneys manage their practice better. Since they already have the experience of being a practicing attorney, they can transfer this knowledge into helping other attorneys and ideally use it in their own law practice.

Business with similar customers: Some businesses also serve your customers with a different product or service. To determine the other business that your customers use, observe which products or service providers your customers are also using and see if there is a pattern. Also, look to see who you are referring your customers to. For example, a landscaper may constantly refer their clients to a lawn sprinkler company, pest control business, or tree removal service.

Have a foundation in place: Make sure that you have a foundation in place for your existing business(s) so that they do not suffer as you develop other businesses. This usually takes years, but the main goal is to make your current business less dependent on you with everyday tasks. If your business suffers when you are not there for a few days then you are not ready.

Alternatives to starting another business:

Add a location: If you are successful in one location and have a good business model, then it is much easier to repeat this with another location. This can include second or third offices for a medical or professional practice, additional restaurants, and additional sales offices.

Purchase an existing business in the same industry: Having a strong foundation is important because you can easily absorb another business in the same industry as long as you have all of the infrastructure in place. This can include capital, space, employees, technology, and operating procedures.

Operate a business within your existing business: Instead of creating a distinctly separate business you can operate the additional business within your own business as a separate service offering or division. This can work well if the service offering is very similar to your existing business. Legal and tax implications should always be considered.

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3 Ways to Turn Around a Struggling Business

After the Great Recession there are still some businesses that may be struggling and don’t know what to do about it. Here are a few ways to turn around a struggling business:

Upgrade: The rate of change nowadays seems to be accelerating at a pace that has not existed in the past. This includes technology, competition, lifestyles, behaviors, and preferences. Although business principals never change, everything else around us does. Questions to ask are:

  1. Is my service or product still relevant and in demand? A perfect example is Blockbuster and department stores.
  2. Are delivery methods of your product or service in sync with customer preferences, lifestyles, and behaviors? Another closely related question is, “How easy is it to do business with you?”
  3. Have demographics changed?

Your business may need to upgrade/change any of the following: location, technology, including website capabilities, payment processing, scheduling, and communications with customers, turnaround times, product and service offerings, the type of customer you are servicing, and so on.

Marketing: Marketing methods have changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Are you marketing your business to keep up with these changes? If you relied heavily on newspaper or phone book advertising in the past, then I would make a bet that it is not very effective anymore. Even businesses that serve very local customers need to have a strong Internet presence. The best products and services still need to get the word out. Rationally, they shouldn’t have to, but this is just not true.

Analyze and take action: Take a fresh look at your business and seriously consider hiring a consultant to point out your blind spots. Most likely you are not recognizing what needs to change or possibly you do but do not know how to go about making changes. The next step is to actually implement changes.

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