Archive for December, 2014

Could A Cyber-Attack Cripple Your Business In 2015?

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

As we embark on a new year, many of us will set personal goals for ourselves or renew commitments to objectives that may have eluded us over the last year – and if you are a business owner you probably have a whole other list of initiatives to conquer in 2015. But before you dive into a new campaign, product launch or acquisition, take a moment to reassess your business’s disaster recovery and business continuity planning. Doing so could save you from unforeseen financial hardships that could devastate your bottom line.

From eBay’s server breach early in 2014 to the recent Sony Pictures hack, this year major U.S. companies found out that even the best defenses cannot guard against attacks carried out by a determined hacker (or hackers). And if these large-scale businesses are vulnerable, how is your small to midsize business expected to recover? In addition to building up a solid defense to these types of threats by employing firewalls and antivirus software, businesses with a solid business continuity plan are more likely to recover if (and when) a disaster does strike.

Plan For The Best – Expect The Worse

Could you recover from a cyber-attack or data breach? Do you have a plan in place to not only shield yourself from threats, but to swiftly respond and recover? The ISACA, an organization that engages in the development, adoption and use of globally accepted, industry-leading knowledge and practices for information systems, encourages business owners to take a proactive stance when guarding against disasters – online and offline. If you are unsure whether your business could recover, ask yourself these questions.

  1. Do you have a thorough understanding your business’s activities, including which ones are critical to support your overall operations while satisfying your customer’s expectations?
  2. Do you know what data you need to support your business’s critical operations and do you know where this data is kept?
  3. Do you have a clear understanding of the effects of downtime within your business and, using this information, are you able to identify where you are most vulnerable?
  4. Do you have current infrastructure in place to protect your business and data against hackers and viruses?
  5. Do you consider business continuity to be a priority to your business?
  6. Do you have a documented plan in place to guide all aspects of your business through a major emergency? How about smaller disruptions like organizational, process and technology changes?
  7. If a disaster were to strike today would you be able to recover quickly while protecting the best interests of your customers and business stakeholders?

If you answered no to any of these questions your business may find itself susceptible to risk and unable to recover from a cyber-attack or data breach. Make business continuity a priority in 2015. Email Rea & Associates for more information on how you can protect your business against countless internal and external threats.

By Joe Welker, CISA (New Philadelphia office)

 

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Too Close For Comfort?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

 

Tax Provisions Extended Just In Time

They may have waited until the 23rd hour, but members of Congress finally voted to extend more than 50 expired tax provisions slated to expire at the end of the year. Tuesday evening’s 76-16 vote in favor of the extensions was enough to send a collective sigh of relief among tax professionals nationwide. The bill will now be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature. Many tax professionals were worried that Congress would postpone the vote until after the New Year, which could have postponed the start of the 2015 tax season and hurt those on the tax prep front lines, including the IRS, tax preparers and some software providers. But today is a new day and instead of planning for the worst case scenario, tax planning can commence as planned. The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, or H.B. 5771, temporarily extends several tax breaks and provisions while correcting some technical errors found in prior legislation. Including:

  • Extensions that benefit individuals:

–        A $250 above-the-line deduction for certain expenses of teachers

–        An election to deduct state and local sales tax

–        Tax-free charitable distributions from individual retirement accounts (IRAs)

–        The private mortgage insurance (PMI) itemized deduction

–        The energy efficient home improvement tax credit

  • Extensions that benefit businesses:

–        The work opportunity tax credit

–        A research and experimentation credit

–        The Section 179 expensing limit

–        50% bonus depreciation

A complete list of 2014 tax extenders can be found in this article, published by the Journal of Accountancy. Another bill within H.B. 5771 was also up for Congressional consideration – the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014. The legislation seeks to provide for tax-favored accounts that allow those who are disabled to save money to pay for disability expenses. This portion of the ABLE Act amends the definition of personal holding company income, institutes certain inflation adjustments and, for employment tax purposes, allows for certified professional employer organizations to be treated as employers for work-site employees who perform services for customers of the organization. The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 is by no means a long-term fix. There were earlier proposals that sought to permanently extend some provisions while extending others for more than a year, but those suggestions were unable to find traction throughout the legislature. So, while we may be able to relax this year, we will likely have bouts of Déjà vu over the course of 2015. By Lisa Beamer, CPA (New Philadelphia office)

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Put Your Property Easement Agreement To Work

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

The shale oil and gas play has spurred a significant amount of pipeline and infrastructure activity throughout certain areas of the United States. As a result, many landowners are now being approached by landmen armed with cash offers and easement agreements in the hopes of acquiring the right to use your property to process and transport oil and gas related products. Before you sign on that dotted line, be sure to seek advice from someone well versed in the complexities of property easements.

Be An Informed Property Owner

You probably want to keep as much money in your bank account as possible. So when it comes to paying your taxes, you probably have no intention of giving the government more than its fair share, right? Did you know that when you enter into certain agreements, such as land easements, you may be able to dictate the type of tax treatment your income receives? The trick is to fully understand the tax consequences of language in the agreement.

The tax treatment of a land easement typically is determined (at least in part) by the easement agreement itself. The easement language will either determine if the agreement is for a permanent (or perpetual) easement period, which is exclusive in nature; or if it’s a temporary easement, which will be effective for a finite period of time.

Understand Your Options

If you enter into a permanent easement agreement, the taxable part of the transaction could qualify for capital gains, which may result in an opportunity to save some money during tax season. If you are able to apply the capital gains tax treatment to the income generated from the land easement contract, as opposed to the ordinary income tax rate, you could stand to see your tax rate that is applied to this income drop by almost half.

  • Capital Gains tax rate = 20 percent
  • Regular Income tax rate = 39.6 percent

On the other hand, if you are looking for another option, which could eliminate current payment of tax all together (defer the tax consequence into the future), you might consider the like-kind exchange tax planning strategy. Like-kind exchange rules require the property that is exchanged and the property that is acquired to be held for productive use or investment purposes.

Agreements that receive like-kind treatment under U.S. Code 1031 may result in the deferral of your taxes being due until well into the future or until you dispose of the property acquired in the like-kind exchange. For this to work, the easement agreement must be considered perpetual or permanent and must also involve real estate that is used as part of your trade or business or that is being held for investment purposes.

Don’t Disqualify Yourself

While the thought of exchanging your land easement for other real estate while deferring your taxes may seem attractive, the process of entering into, and maintaining, a like-kind exchange is very complex and must be strictly adhered to. In other words, you will need to seek out help to navigate the waters. If you would like to see if you qualify for a like-kind exchange, email Rea & Associatesfor more information. And remember to always consult your current financial advisor or another professional well versed in like-kind exchange taxation, before signing any land easement contract. Failure to do so may disqualify you from favorable like-kind exchange treatment.

By Jim Fracker, CPA (Zanesville office)

 

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Should I Make a Big Purchase to Cut Taxes?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

This is a hectic time for business owners who are working to close their books on the previous year while strategically planning for the year ahead. For me, this is the time of year I find myself frequently fielding questions from clients who want to know if buying equipment will help them keep their taxes down.

Unfortunately, without the proper information, any answer I could provide would be about as useless as seeking business advice from a Magic 8-Ball. Fortunately, the answer really isn’t difficult to find, especially if you have a well-maintained balance sheet.

To determine whether purchasing equipment would be beneficial to your business from a tax perspective, I have to know what your profit looks like. And while it may be easy to pull out your profit and loss statement to find the answer, I would encourage you to take a look at your balance sheet as well. It’s capable of painting a detailed picture of your business and is a great tool that can help you make sound financial decisions for your business.

Before you make any decisions that could impact your business’s financial stability, make sure these six items on your balance sheet are accurate.

  • Cash Reconciliation
    • Check to make sure that all cash has been reconciled and make special note of checks that have remained uncashed for an extended period of time.
    • Verify that all checks – incoming and outgoing – have been recorded, and their status tracked.
  • Collectability of accounts receivable
    • Does your business currently have any bad debts? If so, have you taken the necessary actions to determine that the account in question is uncollectable?
    • Once an account is uncollectable, take the steps needed to prove that determination and receive the benefit from it.
  • Accurate Inventory
    • The end of the year is an ideal time to take a physical inventory.
    • An inaccurate inventory can greatly impact your profit – not to mention your ability to properly manage your resources.
  • New/Disposed Fixed Assets
    • Be sure to add all new assets (equipment, fixtures, etc.) to the correct accounts. Don’t let them become buried in your purchases.
    • If you are planning to sell your company in the next 5-10 years, it is extremely important to keep an accurate record of your assets because they can help determine your asking/selling price.
  •  Liabilities
    • Keep a current record of all your liabilities and update it regularly to maintain accuracy.
    • Make sure that all debts are tracked and recorded.
  • Member Draws
    • Check to make sure that your member withdrawal account is accurate. If there are any expenses you expected to see but didn’t, investigate and find out why.
    • If after year end you happen to find personal expenses that were in regular expenses, your profit increases and so do your taxes.

Your company’s profit is not just a number. Your profit is determined by a wide range of factors – and these are just a few. If you are really want to lower your taxes, make sure your bookkeeping is accurate before developing a plan.

Email Rea & Associates to discover more ways to increase your business’s profitability.

By Joel Yoder, CPA (Millersburg office)

 

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The Tax Professional’s Christmas List

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Move Over Santa, This One’s For Congress

While the holidays typically bring about feelings of joy and comfort, they can also be a time of stress. And as the year comes to a close, many individuals are left to frantically resolve a number of tasks that they had hoped would be completed before the end of 2014 – yet they are still lingering on their to-do lists.

If tax professionals across the country were to compose a letter this holiday season, it wouldn’t be sent to Santa. Instead, it would pass over the North Pole en route to Washington D.C. – and it would be addressed to the members of the United States Congress.

This year, all we want for Christmas is for our congressional leaders to extend the more than 50 tax provisions that were left to expire at the end of 2013 – before the end of the year. Failure to do so could have a negative impact on the 2015 tax season.

While it is possible for Congress to wait until the New Year to enact these provisions next month, a retroactive approach would ultimately hurt the IRS, tax professionals and software providers. This is why it is so important for the provisions to be extended before Dec. 31.

Furthermore, postponing this legislative action could postpone the start of the 2015 tax season, which would delay refunds to millions of American taxpayers.

What tax provisions are at risk?

Individual tax payers are at risk of losing:

  • A $250 above-the-line tuition deduction
  • An election to deduct state and local sales tax
  • Tax-free charitable distributions from individual retirement accounts (IRAs)
  • The private mortgage insurance (PMI) itemized deduction
  • The energy efficient home improvement tax credit

Popular business tax benefits at risk of disappearing include:

  • The work opportunity tax credit
  • A research credit
  • The Section 179 expensing limit
  • Bonus depreciation

This holiday season, it is our hope that Congress will move quickly to resolve this issue in a way that is favorable for American tax payers. Doing so would not only provide the IRS and tax professionals with the time they need to prepare for the 2015 tax season; such legislative action would help promote the financial wellbeing of the American taxpayers.

Would you like to discuss tax planning options for yourself or your business? Email Rea & Associates to speak with a tax professional today. Will you want help filing your 2014 business taxes and/or personal taxes? Would you like a little extra help preparing for the 2015 tax season, our tax experts will work with you to make your experience as worry-free and seamless as possible.

By Lisa Beamer, CPA (New Philadelphia office)

 

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New Year, New Mileage Rates

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Every mile you drive for business will be worth a little more next year, according to a recent IRS announcement. Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, the optional standard mileage rate for those calculating the deductible costs of driving for business will be 57.5 cents, which is up from 56 cents.

Based on a study of the fixed and variable costs associated with operating an automobile, the standard mileage rates take into consideration vehicle depreciation, insurance, repairs, maintenance, gas, etc. However, if you don’t intend on tracking your mileage, you also have the option of claiming deductions based on the actual costs of using your own vehicle rather than the standard mileage rates. Just be aware that you will not be allowed to claim both.

For example, if you have plans of claiming an accelerated depreciation on your vehicle, then you will not be able to claim the business standard mileage rate as well. If you are a business owner, you should also note that the standard rate is not available to fleet owners, or those who use more than four vehicles simultaneously. Additional details and rules can be found in Revenue Procedure 2010-51.

While the standard mileage rate for the business miles you drive will increase in 2015, those who use their vehicles for medical or moving purposes will see a reduction of half a cent in their mileage rates. Starting Jan. 1, the miles you drive for medical or moving purposes will be calculated at 23 cents per mile driven. And those driving their vehicles as a service to charitable organizations may calculate their deductions at 14 cents per mile driven.

Also in its announcement, the IRS noted an adjustment to the standard automobile cost allowable under the fixed and variable rate (FAVR) plan, which considers the costs taxpayers incur by driving their own vehicles for work-related purposes. In 2015, standard automobile costs may not exceed $28,200 or $30,800 for trucks and vans.

Do you use your vehicle for business? Make sure you track of your mileage. Every mile you travel is an opportunity to realize real tax savings. Our expert financial advisors can help professionals like you find opportunities you never even knew existed. Email Rea & Associates today and start the New Year out right.

By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)

 

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Save More For Retirement in 2015

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

As you work to secure your retirement, you may be pleased to find out about changes to several retirement-related items that may allow you to put a little more cash away in 2015. In October, the IRS announced several adjustments to the limitations previously set on retirement planning tools as a result of an increased cost-of-living. So what does that mean to you and your retirement plan(s) of choice? Take a look:

  • If you contribute to a 401(k), 403(b), 457 plan or a Thrift Savings Plan, the following changes could impact how you contribute:

–        You can now invest up to $18,000 annually – this is an increase up from $17,500.

–        If you’re 50 years old or older and are trying to catch-up on your retirement savings, you may now invest $6,000 annually. The previous catch-up contribution limit was $5,500.

  • If you contribute to an individual retirement account (IRA), you will see the following changes in 2015:

–        The annual limit and additional catch-up contribution limit for an IRA for individuals 50 years old and older will not change in 2015. The annual contribution is $5,500 and the catch-up contribution is $1,000.

–        Single filers and heads of household who are covered by a workplace retirement plan and have adjusted gross incomes (AGI) between $61,000 and $71,000 will no longer be eligible to receive a deduction for contributing to their traditional IRA. This has increased from $60,000 and $70,000 in 2014.

–        Married couples who file jointly, where one spouse makes an IRA contribution that is covered by a workplace retirement plan, will see an increased income phase-out range for taking the deduction as well. The new range is $98,000-$118,000 – up from $96,000-$116,000.

–        If you’re an IRA contributor, not covered by a workplace retirement plan, but are married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if you and your spouse’s income falls between $183,000 and $193,000 – up from $181,000 and $191,000.

–        The phase-out range for a married taxpayer who files a separate return and who is covered by a workplace retirement plan will not change in 2015. The range remains $0 to $10,000.

  • If you make contributions to a Roth IRA, you will see the following changes:

–        The phase-out range for married couples filing jointly is $183,000 to $193,000 – an increase from $181,000 to $191,000.

–        The phase-out range for single filers and heads of household is $116,000 to $131,000 – an increase from $114,000 to $129,000.

–        The phase-out range for a married individual who files a separate return is unchanged.

As we approach the end of the year, there’s not a better time to evaluate your current retirement plan situation and determine if you need to make any changes for 2015. To learn more about how these retirement plan changes could impact your financial situation, email Rea & Associates.

By Paul McEwan, CPA, MT, AIFA (New Philadelphia office)

 

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Employers Must File Taxes, Make Payments Electronically

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Starting this January, employers filing in the state of Ohio will be required to use the Ohio Business Gateway (OBG) to file and remit payment for state and school district income tax withholding returns, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation. The new rule was finalized earlier this month and will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. The OBG Electronic Filing system was established to save Ohio time and money by simplifying business’ relationships with government agencies while providing them with an easier means to comply with regulatory requirements.  However, it is understood that some employers may not be able to use the electronic filing system at this time, which prompted the department to allow some preparers to opt out of the requirement if they can establish a valid reason for why they are unable to comply. To opt out of the department’s new rule, employers must provide the department with the following information on form WT OOR, including their:

  • Business name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Employer withholding number and Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN)
  • Withholding type
  • Detailed reason for the request to be excluded from electronic filing and payment provisions.

“Preparers seeking to opt out of electronic filing must present strongly compelling reasons to justify the waiver of the requirement,” the department states in the Frequently Asked Questions page of its website. “Preparers filing tax returns with the state of Ohio should plan to comply with the electronic filing mandate and not assume that their request to opt out will be granted.” Anyone may apply to be excused from the electronic filing requirement and permitted to file their return by non-electronic means. However, if approval is given, it is only valid for one year. Preparers are required to resubmit their requests annually. The opt out request form can be found on the “Forms” portal of the department’s website or by calling 888.405.4039 – option 1. Otherwise, you can register or log in to use the Ohio Business Gateway, click here. Additional assistance with navigation, filing a return and/or remitting payment, can be found by visiting the Self Help eLibrary. Email Rea & Associates to learn how you can stay in compliance with these new filing requirements and lessen the stress of filing and paying your state and school district withholding returns.

By Lisa Beamer, CPA (New Philadelphia office)

 

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