Can You Deduct Spousal Costs on a Business Trip?

Can-You-Deduct-Spousal-Costs-on-a-Business-Trip?

If you own your own company and travel for business, you may wonder whether you can deduct spousal costs if he or she accompanies you on trips.

The rules for deducting a spouse’s travel costs are very restrictive. First off, to qualify, your spouse must be your employee. This means you can’t deduct the travel costs of a spouse, even if his or her presence has a bona fide business purpose, unless the spouse is a bona fide employee of your business. This requirement prevents tax deductibility in most cases.

A Spouse-Employee

If your spouse is your employee, then you can deduct his or her travel costs if his or her presence on the trip serves a bona fide business purpose. Merely having your spouse perform some incidental business service, such as typing up notes from a meeting, isn’t enough to establish a business purpose. In general, it isn’t sufficient for his or her presence to be “helpful” to your business pursuits — it must be necessary.

In most cases, a spouse’s participation in social functions, for example as a host or hostess, isn’t enough to establish a business purpose. That is, if his or her purpose is to establish general goodwill for customers or associates, this is usually insufficient.

Further, if there’s a vacation element to the trip (for example, if your spouse spends time sightseeing), it will be more difficult to establish a business purpose for his or her presence on the trip. On the other hand, a bona fide business purpose exists if your spouse’s presence is necessary to care for a serious medical condition that you have.

If your spouse’s travel satisfies these tests, the normal deductions for business travel away from home can be claimed. These include the costs of transportation, meals, lodging, and incidental costs such as dry cleaning, phone calls, etc.

A Non-Employee Spouse

Even if your spouse’s travel doesn’t satisfy the requirements, you may still be able to deduct a substantial portion of the trip’s costs. This is because the rules don’t require you to allocate 50% of your travel costs to your spouse. You need only allocate any additional costs you incur for him or her.

For example, in many hotels the cost of a single room isn’t that much lower than the cost of a double. If a single would cost you $150 a night and a double would cost you and your spouse $200, the disallowed portion of the cost allocable to your spouse would only be $50. In other words, you can write off the cost of what you would have paid traveling alone. To prove your deduction, ask the hotel for a room rate schedule showing single rates for the days you’re staying.

And if you drive your own car or rent one, the whole cost will be fully deductible even if your spouse is along. Of course, if public transportation is used, and for meals, any separate costs incurred by your spouse wouldn’t be deductible.

Contact the Professionals

Whether or not you can deduct spousal costs on a business trip depends on specific factors. The accounting, tax, and advisory services professionals at Ramsay & Associates are here to provide answers. Contact us if you have questions about this or other tax-related topics.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

Many Factors Are Involved When Choosing a Business Entity

business entity

Are you planning to launch a business or thinking about changing your business entity? If so, you need to determine which entity will work best for you — a C corporation or a pass-through entity such as a sole-proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or an S corporation. There are many factors to consider and proposed federal tax law changes being considered by Congress may affect your decision.


The corporate federal income tax is currently imposed at a flat 21% rate, while the current individual federal income tax rates begin at 10% and go up to 37%. The difference in rates can be mitigated by the qualified business income (QBI) deduction that’s available to eligible pass-through entity owners that are individuals, estates and trusts.

Note that noncorporate taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income above certain levels are subject to an additional 3.8% tax on net investment income.

Organizing a business as a C corporation instead of as a pass-through entity can reduce the current federal income tax on the business’s income. The corporation can still pay reasonable compensation to the shareholders and pay interest on loans from the shareholders. That income will be taxed at higher individual rates, but the overall rate on the corporation’s income can be lower than if the business was operated as a pass-through entity.

Other considerations

Other tax-related factors should also be considered. For example:

  • If substantially all the business profits will be distributed to the owners, it may be preferable that the business be operated as a pass-through entity rather than as a C corporation, since the shareholders will be taxed on dividend distributions from the corporation (double taxation). In contrast, owners of a pass-through entity will only be taxed once, at the personal level, on business income. However, the impact of double taxation must be evaluated based on projected income levels for both the business and its owners.
  • If the value of the business’s assets is likely to appreciate, it’s generally preferable to conduct it as a pass-through entity to avoid a corporate tax if the assets are sold or the business is liquidated. Although corporate level tax will be avoided if the corporation’s shares, rather than its assets, are sold, the buyer may insist on a lower price because the tax basis of appreciated business assets cannot be stepped up to reflect the purchase price. That can result in much lower post-purchase depreciation and amortization deductions for the buyer.
  • If the entity is a pass-through entity, the owners’ bases in their interests in the entity are stepped-up by the entity income that’s allocated to them. That can result in less taxable gain for the owners when their interests in the entity are sold.
  • If the business is expected to incur tax losses for a while, consideration should be given to structuring it as a pass-through entity so the owners can deduct the losses against their other income. Conversely, if the owners of the business have insufficient other income or the losses aren’t usable (for example, because they’re limited by the passive loss rules), it may be preferable for the business to be a C corporation, since it’ll be able to offset future income with the losses.
  • If the owners of the business are subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), it may be preferable to organize as a C corporation, since corporations aren’t subject to the AMT. Affected individuals are subject to the AMT at 26% or 28% rates.

These are only some of the many factors involved in operating a business as a certain type of legal entity. For details about how to proceed in your situation, consult with us.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

Who in a small business can be hit with the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty?”

Trust Fund Recovery Penalty

There’s a harsh tax penalty that you could be at risk for paying personally if you own or manage a business with employees. It’s called the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty” and it applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from its employees’ wages.

Because taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over. The penalty is also sometimes called the “100% penalty” because the person liable and responsible for the taxes will be penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and IRS is aggressive in enforcing the penalty.

Wide-ranging penalty

The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty is among the more dangerous tax penalties because it applies to a broad range of actions and to a wide range of people involved in a business.

Here are some answers to questions about the penalty so you can safely avoid it.

What actions are penalized?

The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty applies to any willful failure to collect, or truthfully account for, and pay over Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld from employees’ wages.

Who is at risk?

The penalty can be imposed on anyone “responsible” for collection and payment of the tax. This has been broadly defined to include a corporation’s officers, directors, and shareholders under a duty to collect and pay the tax as well as a partnership’s partners, or any employee of the business with such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally exempt from responsibility, can be subject to this penalty under some circumstances. In some cases, responsibility has even been extended to family members close to the business, and to attorneys and accountants.

According to the IRS, responsibility is a matter of status, duty, and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are (or aren’t) paid may be responsible. There’s often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. You may not be directly involved with the payroll tax withholding process in your business. But if you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and have the power to pay them but instead make payments to creditors and others, you become a responsible person.

Although a taxpayer held liable can sue other responsible people for contribution, this action must be taken entirely on his or her own after the penalty is paid. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.

What’s considered “willful?”

For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bending to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes that are due the government is willful behavior. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Your failure to take care of the job yourself can be treated as the willful element.

Never borrow from taxes

Under no circumstances should you fail to withhold taxes or “borrow” from withheld amounts. All funds withheld should be paid over to the government on time. Contact us with any questions about making tax payments.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

An S corporation could cut your self-employment tax

self-employment tax

If your business is organized as a sole proprietorship or as a wholly owned limited liability company (LLC), you’re subject to both income tax and self-employment tax. There may be a way to cut your tax bill by conducting business as an S corporation.

Fundamentals of self-employment tax

The self-employment tax is imposed on 92.35% of self-employment income at a 12.4% rate for Social Security up to a certain maximum ($142,800 for 2021) and at a 2.9% rate for Medicare. No maximum tax limit applies to the Medicare tax. An additional 0.9% Medicare tax is imposed on income exceeding $250,000 for married couples ($125,000 for married persons filing separately) and $200,000 in all other cases.

What if you conduct your business as a partnership in which you’re a general partner? In that case, in addition to income tax, you’re subject to the self-employment tax on your distributive share of the partnership’s income. On the other hand, if you conduct your business as an S corporation, you’ll be subject to income tax, but not self-employment tax, on your share of the S corporation’s income.

An S corporation isn’t subject to tax at the corporate level. Instead, the corporation’s items of income, gain, loss and deduction are passed through to the shareholders. However, the income passed through to the shareholder isn’t treated as self-employment income. Thus, by using an S corporation, you may be able to avoid self-employment income tax.

Keep your salary “reasonable”

Be aware that the IRS requires that the S corporation pays you reasonable compensation for your services to the business. The compensation is treated as wages subject to employment tax (split evenly between the corporation and the employee), which is equivalent to the self-employment tax. If the S corporation doesn’t pay you reasonable compensation for your services, the IRS may treat a portion of the S corporation’s distributions to you as wages and impose Social Security taxes on the amount it considers wages.

There’s no simple formula regarding what’s considered reasonable compensation. Presumably, reasonable compensation is the amount that unrelated employers would pay for comparable services under similar circumstances. There are many factors that should be taken into account in making this determination.

Converting from a C corporation

There may be complications if you convert a C corporation to an S corporation. A “built-in gains tax” may apply when you dispose of appreciated assets held by the C corporation at the time of the conversion. However, there may be ways to minimize its impact.

Many factors to consider

Contact us if you’d like to discuss the factors involved in conducting your business as an S corporation, and how much the business should pay you as compensation.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

Launching a small business? Here are some tax considerations

tax aspects of your new business

While many businesses have been forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some entrepreneurs have started new small businesses. Many of these people start out operating as sole proprietors. Here is some information about the tax aspects of your new business and considerations involved in operating with that entity.

Tax aspect of your new business

The pass-through deduction

To the extent your business generates qualified business income (QBI), you’re eligible to claim the pass-through or QBI deduction, subject to limitations. For tax years through 2025, the deduction can be up to 20% of a pass-through entity owner’s QBI. You can take the deduction even if you don’t itemize deductions on your tax return and instead claim the standard deduction.

Reporting responsibilities

As a sole proprietor, you’ll file Schedule C with your Form 1040. Your business expenses are deductible against gross income. If you have losses, they’ll generally be deductible against your other income, subject to special rules related to hobby losses, passive activity losses, and losses in activities in which you weren’t “at risk.”

If you hire employees, you need to get a taxpayer identification number and withhold and pay employment taxes.

Self-employment taxes

For 2021, you pay Social Security on your net self-employment earnings up to $142,800, and Medicare tax on all earnings. An additional 0.9% Medicare tax is imposed on self-employment income in excess of $250,000 on joint returns; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns; and $200,000 in all other cases. Self-employment tax is imposed in addition to income tax, but you can deduct half of your self-employment tax as an adjustment to income.

Quarterly estimated payments

As a sole proprietor, you generally have to make estimated tax payments. For 2021, these are due on April 15, June 15, and September 15, and January 17, 2022.

Home office deductions

If you work from a home office, perform management or administrative tasks there, or store product samples or inventory at home, you may be entitled to deduct an allocable portion of some costs of maintaining your home.

Health insurance expenses

You can deduct 100% of your health insurance costs as a business expense. This means your deduction for medical care insurance won’t be subject to the rule that limits medical expense deductions.

Keeping records

Retain complete records of your income and expenses so you can claim all the tax breaks to which you’re entitled. Certain expenses, such as automobile, travel, meals, and office-at-home expenses, require special attention because they’re subject to particular recordkeeping rules or deductibility limits.

Saving for retirement

Consider establishing a qualified retirement plan. The advantage is that amounts contributed to the plan are deductible at the time of the contribution and aren’t taken into income until they’re withdrawn. An SEP plan requires less paperwork than many qualified plans. A SIMPLE plan is also available to sole proprietors and offers tax advantages with fewer restrictions and administrative requirements. If you don’t establish a retirement plan, you may still be able to contribute to an IRA.

We can help

Contact us if you want additional information about the tax aspects of your new business, or if you have questions about reporting or recordkeeping requirements.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.