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.

The power of the tax credit for buying an electric vehicle

electric vehicle tax credit

Although electric vehicles (or EVs) are a small percentage of the cars on the road today, they’re increasing in popularity all the time. And if you buy one, you may be eligible for a federal tax break.

The tax code provides a credit to purchasers of qualifying plug-in electric drive motor vehicles including passenger vehicles and light trucks. The credit is equal to $2,500 plus an additional amount, based on battery capacity, that can’t exceed $5,000. Therefore, the maximum credit allowed for a qualifying EV is $7,500.

The EV definition

For purposes of the tax credit, a qualifying vehicle is defined as one with four wheels that’s propelled to a significant extent by an electric motor, which draws electricity from a battery. The battery must have a capacity of not less than four kilowatt hours and be capable of being recharged from an external source of electricity.

The credit may not be available because of a per-manufacturer cumulative sales limitation. Specifically, it phases out over six quarters beginning when a manufacturer has sold at least 200,000 qualifying vehicles for use in the United States (determined on a cumulative basis for sales after December 31, 2009). For example, Tesla and General Motors vehicles are no longer eligible for the tax credit.

The IRS provides a list of qualifying vehicles on its website and it recently added a number of models that are eligible. You can access the list here: https://bit.ly/2Yrhg5Z.

Here are some additional points about the plug-in electric vehicle tax credit:

  • It’s allowed in the year you place the vehicle in service.
  • The vehicle must be new.
  • An eligible vehicle must be used predominantly in the U.S. and have a gross weight of less than 14,000 pounds.

Electric motorcycles

There’s a separate 10% federal income tax credit for the purchase of qualifying electric two-wheeled vehicles manufactured primarily for use on public thoroughfares and capable of at least 45 miles per hour (in other words, electric-powered motorcycles). It can be worth up to $2,500. This electric motorcycle credit was recently extended to cover qualifying 2021 purchases.

These are only the basic rules. There may be additional incentives provided by your state. Contact us if you’d like to receive more information about the federal plug-in electric vehicle tax break.

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.

2021 individual taxes: Answers to your questions about limits

2021 tax q&as

Many people are more concerned about their 2020 tax bills right now than they are about their 2021 tax situations. That’s understandable because your 2020 individual tax return is due to be filed in less than a month (unless you file an extension).

However, it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with tax amounts that may have changed for 2021. Below are some Q&As about tax amounts for this year.

Be aware that not all tax figures are adjusted annually for inflation and even if they are, they may be unchanged or change only slightly due to low inflation. In addition, some amounts only change with new legislation.

Tax Q&As

How much can I contribute to an IRA for 2021?

If you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,000 a year to a traditional or Roth IRA, up to 100% of your earned income. If you’re 50 or older, you can make another $1,000 “catch up” contribution. (These amounts were the same for 2020.)

I have a 401(k) plan through my job. How much can I contribute to it?

For 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 (unchanged from 2020) to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. You can make an additional $6,500 catch-up contribution if you’re age 50 or older.

I sometimes hire a babysitter and a cleaning person. Do I have to withhold and pay FICA tax on the amounts I pay them?

In 2021, the threshold for a domestic employer withholding and paying FICA for babysitters, house cleaners, etc., is $2,300 (up from $2,200 in 2020).

How much do I have to earn in 2021 before I can stop paying Social Security on my salary?

The Social Security tax wage base is $142,800 for this year (up from $137,700 last year). That means that you don’t owe Social Security tax on amounts earned above that. (You must pay Medicare tax on all amounts that you earn.)

I didn’t qualify to itemize deductions on my last tax return. Will I qualify for 2021?

A 2017 tax law eliminated the tax benefit of itemizing deductions for many people by increasing the standard deduction and reducing or eliminating various deductions. For 2021, the standard deduction amount is $25,100 for married couples filing jointly (up from $24,800). For single filers, the amount is $12,550 (up from $12,400) and for heads of households, it’s $18,800 (up from $18,650). If the amount of your itemized deductions (such as mortgage interest) is less than the applicable standard deduction amount, you won’t itemize for 2021.

If I don’t itemize, can I claim charitable deductions on my 2021 return?

Generally, taxpayers who claim the standard deduction on their federal tax returns can’t deduct charitable donations. But thanks to the CARES Act that was enacted last year, single and married joint filing taxpayers can deduct up to $300 in donations to qualified charities on their 2020 federal returns, even if they claim the standard deduction. The Consolidated Appropriations Act extended this tax break into 2021 and increased the amount that married couples filing jointly can claim to $600.

How much can I give to one person without triggering a gift tax return in 2021?

The annual gift exclusion for 2021 is $15,000 (unchanged from 2020). This amount is only adjusted in $1,000 increments, so it typically only increases every few years.

Your tax situation

These are only some of the tax amounts that may apply to you. Contact us for more information about your tax situation, or if you have questions.

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.

Can your business benefit from the enhanced Employee Retention Tax Credit?

Can your business benefit from the enhanced Employee Retention Tax Credit

COVID-19 has shut down many businesses, causing widespread furloughs and layoffs. Fortunately, employers that keep workers on their payrolls are eligible for a refundable Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), which was extended and enhanced in the latest law.

Background on the credit

The CARES Act, enacted in March of 2020, created the ERTC. The credit:

  • Equaled 50 percent of qualified employee wages paid by an eligible employer in an applicable 2020 calendar quarter,
  • Was subject to an overall wage cap of $10,000 per eligible employee, and
  • Was available to eligible large and small employers.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, enacted December 27, 2020, extends and greatly enhances the ERTC. Under the CARES Act rules, the credit only covered wages paid between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2020. The new law now extends the covered wage period to include the first two calendar quarters of 2021, ending on June 30, 2021.

In addition, for the first two quarters of 2021 ending on June 30, the new law increases the overall covered wage ceiling to 70 percent of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter (versus 50 percent under the CARES Act). And it increases the per-employee covered wage ceiling to $10,000 of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter (versus a $10,000 annual ceiling under the original rules).

Interaction with the PPP

In a change retroactive to March 12, 2020, the new law also stipulates that the employee retention credit can be claimed for qualified wages paid with proceeds from Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that aren’t forgiven.

What’s more, the new law liberalizes an eligibility rule. Specifically, it expands eligibility for the credit by reducing the required year-over-year gross receipts decline from 50 percent to 20 percent and provides a safe harbor, allowing employers to use prior quarter gross receipts to determine eligibility.

We can help

These are just some of the changes made to the ERTC, which rewards employers that can afford to keep workers on the payroll during the COVID-19 crisis. Contact us for more information about this tax saving opportunity

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.

New law doubles business meal deductions and makes favorable PPP loan changes

favorable PPP loan changes

The COVID-19 relief bill, signed into law on December 27, 2020, provides a further response from the federal government to the pandemic. It also contains numerous tax breaks for businesses. Here are some highlights of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA), which also includes other laws within it.

Business meal deduction increased

The new law includes a provision that removes the 50 percent limit on deducting business meals provided by restaurants and makes those meals fully deductible.

As background, ordinary and necessary food and beverage expenses that are incurred while operating your business are generally deductible. However, for 2020 and earlier years, the deduction is limited to 50 percent of the allowable expenses.

The new legislation adds an exception to the 50 percent limit for expenses of food or beverages provided by a restaurant. This rule applies to expenses paid or incurred in calendar years 2021 and 2022.

The use of the word “by” (rather than “in”) a restaurant clarifies that the new tax break isn’t limited to meals eaten on a restaurant’s premises. Takeout and delivery meals from a restaurant are also 100 percent deductible.

Note: Other than lifting the 50 percent limit for restaurant meals, the legislation doesn’t change the rules for business meal deductions. All the other existing requirements continue to apply when you dine with current or prospective customers, clients, suppliers, employees, partners, and professional advisors with whom you deal (or could engage with) in your business.

Therefore, to be deductible:

  • The food and beverages can’t be lavish or extravagant under the circumstances, and
  • You or one of your employees must be present when the food or beverages are served.

If food or beverages are provided at an entertainment activity (such as a sporting event or theater performance), either they must be purchased separately from the entertainment or their cost must be stated on a separate bill, invoice, or receipt. This is required because the entertainment, unlike the food and beverages, is nondeductible.

PPP loans

The new law authorizes more money toward the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and extends it to March 31, 2021. There are a couple of tax implications for employers that received PPP loans:

  1. Clarifications of tax consequences of PPP loan forgiveness. The law clarifies that the non-taxable treatment of PPP loan forgiveness that was provided by the 2020 CARES Act also applies to certain other forgiven obligations. Also, the law makes clear that taxpayers, whose PPP loans or other obligations are forgiven, are allowed deductions for otherwise deductible expenses paid with the proceeds. In addition, the tax basis and other attributes of the borrower’s assets won’t be reduced as a result of the forgiveness.
  2. Waiver of information reporting for PPP loan forgiveness. Under the CAA, the IRS is allowed to waive information reporting requirements for any amount excluded from income under the exclusion-from-income rule for forgiveness of PPP loans or other specified obligations. (The IRS had already waived information returns and payee statements for loans that were guaranteed by the Small Business Administration).

Much more

These are just a couple of the provisions in the new law that are favorable to businesses. The CAA also provides extensions and modifications to earlier payroll tax relief, allows changes to employee benefit plans, includes disaster relief, and much more. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.

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.