Transportation Industry: Tax Tips & Common Deductions

Transportation Industry: Tax Tips & Common Deductions

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) tax reform has left many taxpayers confused about what is and what is not deductible for the upcoming 2018 tax year. Smith Schafer has a team of transportation experts ready to answer your questions. Below are some common deductions the transportation industry may see this year:

1. MEALS & ENTERTAINMENT

Under the TCJA, transportation company owners may deduct 50 percent of food and beverage related to operating a trade or business, with a couple conditions:

  • The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances.
  • The taxpayer is present when the food or beverages are furnished. 

Note: Expenses related to entertainment, amusement, or recreation no longer fall under the 50 percent deduction. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will not allow the entertainment disallowance rule to be circumvented through inflation of food and beverage costs.

Example: If a trucking company owner treats a current or potential business client, consultant, or other business contact to a suite at a sporting event, such as a Vikings game, the food and beverage provided during this entertainment activity is deductible. The cost of the food and beverage is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices, or receipts.

Exception to the Rule: Expenses related to business meetings for employees, stockholders, agents or directors are fully deductible. Therefore, entertainment expenses related to meetings, activities, or events for the benefit of employees are fully deductible. This may include events such as shareholder meetings, holiday parties, and summer outings. As long as these events remain as COMPANY ONLY functions, these rules should apply.

2. PER DIEM METHODS FOR SUBSTANTIATING MEALS & LODGING EXPENSES

A transportation company owner must substantiate the amount, time, place, and business purpose of expenses paid or incurred while travelling away from home. The IRS has provided per diem allowances under which the amount of meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) may be deemed to be substantiated. The per diem allowances eliminate the need to substantiate actual costs. However, the owner, using the per diem allowances, still needs to have adequate records for documenting time, place, and business purpose.

Three per diem allowance methods:

  1. Lodging plus M&IE, which provides a per diem allowance to cover lodging as well as meals and incidental expenses.
  2. M&IE only, which provides a per diem allowance for meals and incidental expenses only.
  3. Incidental expenses only, which is used when no meal or lodging expenses are incurred.

Any reimbursement exceeding the relevant federal per diem rates for the type of allowance, must be included in the employee’s (or independent contractor’s) gross income and be reported on the employee’s form W-2, subject to withholding.

A per diem allowance for M&IE may only be used to substantiate an employee’s or other payee’s M&IEs for purposes of the employer’s return. The amount deemed to be substantiated is equal to the lesser of the per diem allowance or the amount computed at the federal M&IE rate for the locality of travel for the period that the employee is away from home. If M&IEs are substantiated using a per diem allowance, the entire amount is treated as a food and beverage expense, which is subject to the 50 percent limitation on meals and entertainment.

3. ACCELERATED DEPRECIATION

Under TCJA, the purchase on or after September 27, 2017 of qualifying assets, both new and used, with an asset life of 20 years or less, will qualify for 100 percent bonus depreciation.  Transportation company owners may also elect to expense these purchases under Code Section 179. Owners may expense up to $1 million of new or used business assets. This limit is phased-out once more than $2.5 million worth of assets are placed in service during the year. Code Section 179 expenses cannot exceed taxable income of the business. Bonus depreciation does not have this stipulation.

4. REPAIRS & MAINTENANCE

Expenses to keep tangible property in good working order that do not prolong the useful life of the asset are generally deductible as repair and maintenance costs. However, transportation company owners may elect to capitalize certain repair expenses. If repair expenses qualify as an improvement expense, the expense must be capitalized.

Example: If a direct repair cost results in the betterment, restoration, or adaptation to a new or different use of the property, the expense should be capitalized.

5. DE MINIMIS EXPENSING SAFE HARBOR

A transportation company owner may make an election for a de minimis safe harbor expense to not capitalize amounts paid or incurred of no more than $2,500 during the tax year to acquire or produce a unit of tangible property. Amounts qualifying for the de minimis safe harbor may be currently deducted, if they are otherwise deductible business expenses.

6. HEALTH INSURANCE EXPENSES

For S-Corporations, owner-employee taxpayers, who own more than 2 percent of the S-Corporation stock, may deduct 100 percent of the amount paid for medical insurance for himself or herself, a spouse, and dependents under the health plan established by the S-Corporation.

A more than 2 percent shareholder’s wages from an S-Corporation are treated as the shareholder’s earned income. A deduction for health insurance premiums may not exceed an individual’s earned income from the trade or business. Certain exceptions apply to group health plans.

Questions?

State tax laws may differ from the related Federal tax laws described above. Since there have been significant changes over the past year, it is important to work with a qualified advisor to help you leverage these tax opportunities. Smith Schafer is a recognized leader in providing tax, accounting, auditing and consulting services to the transportation industry since 1971. Our Transportation Group is committed to serving over 110 Minnesota transportation entities and stays on top of industry issues, trends, tools and technologies to ensure we give you the best possible advice. For additional information, click here to contact us. We look forward to speaking with you soon. 

Q & A: Helping Transportation Companies Navigate an Employee Retirement Plan Audit

Q & A: Helping Transportation Companies Navigate an Employee Retirement Plan Audit

Does your transportation company’s retirement plan require an audit? An audit is required under federal law to ensure the plan functions, operations and processes are in compliance with established regulations. To help transportation companies streamline their employee retirement plan audit process, we have provided a Q&A summary below to help companies prepare for their employee retirement plan audit.

Q: WHO NEEDS AN EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT PLAN AUDIT?

A: According to the Department of Labor, if the number of qualified employees has changed in the last year, the rules governing the employee Retirement plan may require changes, too. An employee Retirement plan audit is generally required if your transportation company has more than 100 eligible participants on the first day of the plan year. 

The plans that may require an audit include:

  • Profit sharing plans
  • Defined contribution plans
  • Defined Retirement plans
     

Q: WHY DO YOU NEED AN AUDIT?

A: Large plans must complete Schedule H with the Form 5500 Annual Report and are required to have an audit. Small plans must complete Schedule I with the Form 5500 and are not required to have an audit.

There is an exception to this called the 80-120 Rule. This rule allows a plan with between 80 and 120 participants to be classified the same way it was classified in the prior year. For example, if a plan had 95 participants at the beginning of 2017, it would have been considered a small plan for 2017. If at the beginning of 2018, the same plan had 110 participants, the plan could elect to still be considered a small plan.

The participant count used to make these determinations includes all employees who are eligible to participate in the plan, regardless of participation. It also includes all participants who have separated employment, but still have a balance within the plan.

Your plan’s third party administrator (TPA) should inform you when an audit is required.  However, if you believe you are close to being considered a large plan, you should review your plan activity and contact your TPA sooner rather than later.

Q: HOW DO YOU SELECT AN EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT PLAN AUDITOR?

A: Once it has been determined that your transportation company needs an audit, the first step is to select an independent CPA firm to perform the audit. It is important to select a firm with the necessary skills and retirement plan experience to provide the services your plan needs.

It may seem like an easy solution to use the CPA firm you use for your corporate accounting needs. However, that firm may not have the required skill or expertise to audit your retirement plan effectively and efficiently.  It is worth the extra effort to find a firm that will provide the results your plan needs.

Q: HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR AN EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT PLAN AUDIT?

A: The purpose of a retirement plan audit is to test financial information and compliance with plan documents and regulations. During the audit, your auditors will review your plan’s records and transactions, and may ask for additional documentation to support any of the transactions. Some of the areas tested during the audit include:

  • Contributions – employee and employer, if applicable
  • Participant data and accounts
  • Distributions
  • Loans, if applicable

One of the focal areas of any retirement plan audit is the review of personnel files. Before your audit, you should ensure these files are complete and accurate, including hire and termination dates, pay rates, loan and withdrawal support, and any other important Retirement elections. Files should also be clean, organized and consistent in order to ensure documentation is maintained to be in compliance with the plan document and that all participants are treated consistently.

Before your first audit, be sure to gather and read your plan documents and determine if your plan is following all the various provisions. If something is unclear, inquire of your TPA or other plan service provider.

Q: WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT AFTER THE AUDIT?

A: After the audit has been completed, your auditor will issue three documents related to the audit:

  • A report expressing an opinion as to whether the financial statements fairly present the net assets of the plan.
  • A letter commonly referred to as a “management letter.” This letter is an overall summary of the audit and discusses your plan’s accounting policies, any difficulties encountered in performing the audit, any disagreements with management, and any other audit findings or issues that need to be brought to management’s attention.
  • A letter commonly referred to as an “internal control letter.” This letter is meant to identify and communicate areas of operations or procedures where your plan can strengthen or redesign internal controls.

If you would like more information or if you are seeking an experienced team that specializes in employee Retirement plan audits, Smith Schafer wants to help! Our firm has committed a substantial component of our staff to retirement plan audit services. Smith Schafer has provided audit, consulting, third party administrative and internal audit services for transportation company retirement plans since 1971. We can take a second look at your current plan and fees at any time.

Succession Planning Insights for Transportation Company Owners

Succession Planning Insights for Transportation Company Owners

As a transportation company owner, the decision about how and when to sell your business will be one of the hardest you will ever make. It will also be one of the most important. Maybe you have children or other family members who will continue the business. Maybe you have already been approached by an interested outside party.  Whatever your succession plan, there is potential for significant income, gift and estate taxes related to the sale of your business. This could mean business assets being sold to pay these taxes, leaving little for your beneficiaries. Business succession planning must include ways to continue your business and to do so with the smallest possible tax liability.
 

DETERMINING VALUE

The first step in selling your business is to determine its value. It is critical that any transportation business owner knows and understands the objective value of their business. There are several key factors that may help determine the value of a business: cash flow, earnings before taxes and fixed assets. However, to get the best and most accurate measure of your company’s value, you will need to consult a business valuation specialist. Smith Schafer works with transportation business owners to uncover the true value of their companies’ tangible and intangible assets. The resulting valuation report provides an accurate baseline measurement that informs your strategic plan.
 

Sale of the Business

If and when you sell your transportation business, you will receive assets that can be converted to cash. If the sale occurs before your death, it will likely be subject to capital gains tax in the year of the sale.
One option for selling your business while minimizing your tax burden is to have a buy-sell agreement. A buy-sell agreement is a legal contract planning the sale of your business to a willing buyer at a predetermined price. The buyer may be a family member, a key employee, an outside party, or the business itself. The agreement should specify what events will trigger the sale – events such as your retirement, disability or death.  When any of these events occur, the buyer is legally bound to buy your business from you or your estate at the predetermined value. As long as the sale is for the full fair market value of the business, it is not subject to estate or gift taxes.
 

Transfer of the Business

Perhaps your succession plan includes transferring some or all of your transportation business interest to a family member or key employee.  This may be done through a systematic gifting program. In 2017, you are able to gift up to $14,000 per individual without incurring a gift tax liability. If you and your spouse own the business, each of you may gift $14,000. Likewise, if you are transferring the business to an individual and a spouse, you may gift each of them $14,000. Transferring your business this way allows you to transfer a significant portion of your business without any gift or estate tax liabilities. However, depending on the value of your business, you may not have the time required to transfer your entire business interest in this way.
 
The transportation industry is known for high employee turnover so proper succession planning will help ensure your company’s success. To help you through the succession planning process, Smith Schafer offers services designed to help Minnesota businesses create and execute a successful transition strategy. Whether you need help creating a succession plan or assistance with implementing various stages of the plan, our professionals can guide you. Contact us today to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation.

Sales Tax Implications for the Transportation Industry

Sales Tax Implications for the Transportation Industry

The transport of people and products often have varying considerations when it comes to state sales tax implications. Sales tax is assessed on some items, but not others. The summary outlined below covers some of the more typical items in general commerce involving the transportation industry.

Passenger Transportation Services

Companies performing services within the transportation industry are afforded a number of tax-favorable benefits. One of which is a specific exemption related to passenger transportation. Passenger transportation services transport people to places. Under Minnesota Statutes 297B.03 and 297A.90, fees charged to transport passengers are not taxable for Minnesota sales tax purposes.

A person who is engaged in for-hire transportation of passengers by motor vehicle may register as a retailer, however, an exemption is available that limits their potential sales tax exposure.

Examples of exemptions for passenger transportation include the following:

  • Aircraft
  • Bus
  • Ferry
  • Light rail
  • Limousine
  • Taxicab and ride share services
  • Train

Parking and Transportation Services

When parking and transportation services are sold together for one combined fee, the entire sale is subject to sales tax even though the transportation by itself is a nontaxable service. When sold together, the transportation service is taxable because it is necessary to complete the sale of the parking service.

Common Carrier Services

Common carriers are hired to transport goods from point A to point B. The fees charged to provide these services are generally not taxable. Common carriers often transport goods by air, ship, tractor-trailer, train and/or truck. However, the transport of aggregate materials (i.e. gravel, concrete, asphalt, etc.) may still have sales tax consequences.

Delivery Charges

Delivery charges are charges by the seller for preparation and delivery of personal property or services to a location designated by the purchaser, including, but not limited to, transportation, shipping, postage, handling, crating and packing.

If the item being sold is taxable, charges by the seller to deliver it would also be taxable. Delivery charges are part of the sale price of the item, even if separately stated. Delivery services furnished and billed by a third party are not taxable except when delivering aggregate materials or concrete block.
 

Transportation has been a key practice area of Smith Schafer’s for more than 45 years. For more information on tax strategies that may benefit your transportation business, contact the Smith Schafer Transportation Team. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

Transportation Industry: Navigating Nexus

Transportation Industry: Navigating Nexus

Transportation companies should carefully consider sales and use tax nexus issues. Crossing state lines for a job may be a way to boost the bottom line, but doing so may also mean dealing with complex tax laws. States are adopting far-reaching rules and interpretations on the issue of nexus and it is important to understand your responsibilities.

WHAT IS NEXUS?

Nexus is known as, “the level of contact that must exist between a taxpayer and a state before the state has the authority under the U.S. Constitution to assess a tax.”
 
Many states are increasing the number of audits, thereby allowing states to collect more revenue without enacting new taxes or increasing tax rates. These state audits are unexpected and taxpayers are shocked to learn they are not in compliance and may face substantial tax and penalties as a result.

 
State income tax nexus may be attained through one of three primary actions:

  1. A physical presence
  2. An economic presence
  3. Through the ownership of a pass-through entity satisfying either the physical or economic presence standards

 
Physical nexus is created if a company maintains a temporary or permanent presence of people (employees, agents or representatives) or property (inventory, offices or warehouses) within a state. A permanent presence is deemed to be that which is substantial and long-term. Whereas, temporary presence may be created through visiting customers or prospects, or even minor attendance at trade show events.
 
Economic Nexus, also known as a “factor presence test,” may establish nexus with a taxing state, even though the business entity has no physical presence, but only makes sales to customers in the state. Under this test, there is no need to have any physical connection with the state. Under the factor presence standard, states will be deemed to establish nexus if the level of activity exceeds a certain threshold. Not all states have adopted the economic nexus approach, however, the number of states participating is growing. California, Ohio and Washington are the more active states applying the economic nexus standard.
 
For the states requiring a physical presence, many business entities may be protected from potential state income tax assessments under a long-standing Federal law. Public Law 86-272 prevents states from taxing out-of-state corporations on income derived from business activities within the state if their activities are limited to “mere solicitation of orders” and the orders are approved and filled from outside the state.  

 
Does this apply to my transportation company?

Generally, having employees or owning or leasing property in a state creates nexus. Other activities qualifying you for nexus include:

  • Maintaining a local bank account
  • Accepting orders for your transportation services
  • Using a local phone number  

A nexus study was done by Sabrix, Inc. and the results showed that 95 percent of the companies surveyed underestimated their nexus issues. The most common items companies overlooked were:

  • Independent contractors – agents acting on behalf of the company may create nexus
  • Services – performing services in other states may create nexus
  • Trade shows – spending a single day at a trade show in another state may create nexus

There are many complexities with today’s cross-border business climate requiring careful consideration because of unforeseen nexus issues. Smith Schafer can help you navigate the laws to ensure your state income tax obligations are correctly calculated and reported. Transportation has been a key practice area of ours since 1971. Our Transportation Group, comprised of numerous professionals, is committed to serving over 110 Minnesota transportation entities.