financial advice

How Traveling by Cruise Ship Can Increase Your Business Deductions

Understanding the subtle intricacies of business travel deduction rules can help you save thousands of dollars. Tax the quiz.


Key Takeaways:

  • The money you spend on business travel is deductible as long as it’s used to carry out a business activity.

  • Money spent during business travel on personal activities, by contrast, is not deductible.

  • However, the normal allocation of business travel costs between business and personal expenses is not required for business travel on a cruise ship, that’s outside the 50 states for seven days or less.

  • Result: Turning a jet business trip into a cruise may not only be more relaxing, but may also make your entire trip deductible.

 

NOTE: All rules and deductions discussed in this article are accurate as spring 2019. However, always consult your tax advisor when planning to take deductions for business travel.

Situation

All the effort that your client, Ty Tannick, has spent chasing prospective billionaire client Lou Sitania is about to pay off. But before signing on the dotted line, Lou wants Ty to pay him a visit at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s a long way from home. But doggone it, if landing a big client means leaving chilly Boston to travel to the Caribbean in mid-February, it’s a price Ty is willing to pay. So Ty books a five-day cruise to St. Thomas and brings his wife. Upon arriving in St. Thomas, Ty stays in a hotel for two days while holding meetings with Lou.

In preparing his tax return, Ty allocates the time he spent on the trip as 30 percent business, 70 percent personal.

Question

What, if anything, can Ty deduct for business travel costs?

  1. 100 percent of his total costs.

  2. 30 percent of his transportation costs and 30 percent of his costs for food and lodging.

  3. 100 percent of his transportation costs and 30 percent of his costs for food and lodging.

  4. Zero percent since the trip isn’t deductible business travel.

Answer

  1. Ty can claim deductions for 100 percent of his total costs (subject to the daily deduction limits for cruises).

Explanation

There are two kinds of deductible costs you incur when you travel on business:

  1. Business-day costs: the costs of sustaining life during a business day, including meals, snacks, drinks, cab rides and lodging; and

  2. Transportation costs: the costs of traveling to and from a business destination.

You normally have to allocate expenses between business and personal activity and can deduct only the former. But this scenario illustrates an important exception: Deductions for business travel expenses are not subject to the normal allocation between business and personal activity when you:

  • Travel to a destination outside the 50 states and the District of Columbia;

  • Travel for seven days or less (not counting the day of departure); and

  • Goes via a cruise ship.

Ty’s trip meets all three of these conditions. He could (and should) have deducted 100 percent of his total travel costs; therefore, A is the right answer.

Why the Wrong Answers (above) Are Wrong

If you answered B above—30 percent of his transportation costs and 30 percent of his costs for food and lodging—then you are wrong. That’s because deductibility of business transportation costs varies depending on two factors:

Factor 1. U.S. vs. Foreign Travel. IRS regulations distinguish between two kinds of business travel for purposes of deductible transportation costs:

  • Travel inside the 50 United States; and

  • Travel outside the 50 United States.

Ty’s trip to St. Thomas clearly qualifies as travel outside the U.S.

Factor 2. Length of Trip. For business travel outside the U.S., you must look at how long the trip lasted to determine deductibility. The key question: Did you work at least one day and travel for seven days or less, not counting the day of departure?

  • Seven days or less foreign travel: If the answer is YES, you can deduct 100 percent of the cost of your direct route transportation costs of getting to and from the business destination.

  • Seven days or more foreign travel: If the answer is NO, then you only qualify for a 100 percent deduction if you pass the 76/24 test; that is, if you spent more than 75 percent of the days on business, not excluding the day of departure.

Ty did, in fact, work at least one day and travel for seven days or less. So his direct route transportation costs are 100 percent deductible.

If you answered C to the question at the beginning of this article—100 percent of his transportation costs and 30 percent for food and lodging—then you are wrong as well. That’s because Ty’s food and lodging costs are also 100 percent deductible. As we explained earlier, Ty’s transportation costs (i.e., the costs of the cruise) are 100 percent deductible. But we also said earlier that food, lodging and the other costs of sustaining life during a business day must be allocated between personal and business purposes. So what gives?

If Ty had traveled to St. Thomas by airplane, he’d have to allocate his food, lodging and other life-sustaining expenses 70/30 and deduct only 30 percent. The reason he can deduct these costs at 100 percent is because he traveled by cruise ship.

Think about it. When you pay for a cruise, your costs include not only the transport, but meals, lodging and other costs of sustaining life (assuming, of course, these items aren’t broken out as part of the cruise’s cost). In essence, these costs become part of the costs of transportation. So if transportation is 100 percent deductible, then so are the meals, lodging and other life-sustaining costs associated with it!

The moral: In addition to being more pleasurable than flying—at least for many people—traveling to a business destination by cruise ship can significantly increase your business travel deductions.

If you answered D to the question at the beginning of this articleZero percent since the trip isn’t deductible business travelthen you are wrong again. That’s because the mode of transportation doesn’t determine deductibility. In other words, you can claim business travel deductions regardless of whether you travel to and from your business destination by car, plane, train or boat.

However, deductions for business travel by cruise ship are subject to luxury water-travel daily deductions limits.

Conclusion

The costs of business travel are deductible. But the rules are complicated and significant limitations apply—like the requirement that you allocate certain costs between business and personal use. So it’s essential that you and your financial advisors know the rules about business travel deductions.

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

Is a Cash Balance Plan Right for You? Part 1

Key questions to consider before pulling the trigger

By Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA


You’ve worked incredibly hard to build your business, medical practice or law practice. But, despite enjoying a robust income and the material trappings of success, many business owners and professional are surprised to learn that their retirement savings are way behind where they need to be if they want to continue living the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.

In response, many self-employed high earners are increasingly turning to Cash Balance Plans (CBPs) in the latter stages of their careers to dramatically supplement their 401(k)s—and their staffs’ 401(k)s as well. Think of a CBP as a supercharged (and tax advantaged) retirement catchup program. For a 55-year-old, the CBP contribution limit is around $265,000, while for a 65-year-old, the CBP limit is $333,000—more than five times the ($62,000) limit they could contribute to a 401(k) this year.

Boomers who are sole proprietors or partners in medical, legal and other professional groups account for much of the growth in CBPs. For many older business owners, the tax advantages that come with plowing six-figure annual contributions into the CBPs far outweigh the costs.


As I wrote in my earlier article: CBPs: Offering a Break to Successful Doctors, Dentists and Small Business Owners, CBPs can offer tremendous benefits for business owners and professionals who own their own practices….especially if they’re in the latter stages of their careers. There are just some important caveats to consider before taking this aggressive retirement catchup plunge.


CBPs benefit your employees as well


Business owners should expect to make profit sharing contributions for rank-and-file employees amounting to roughly 5 percent to 8 percent of pay in a CBP. Compare that to the 3 percent contribution that's typical in a 401(k) plan. Participant accounts also receive an annual "interest credit," which may be a fixed rate, such as 3-5 percent, or a variable rate, such as the 30-year Treasury rate. At retirement, participants can take an annuity based on their account balance. Many plans also offer a lump sum that can be rolled into an IRA or another employer's plan.

Common retirement planning mistakes among successful doctors


Three things are pretty common:

1) They’re not saving enough for retirement.

2) They’re overconfident. Because of their wealth and intellect, doctors get invited to participate in many “special investment opportunities.” They tend to investment in private placements, real estate and other complex, high-risk opportunities without doing their homework.
3) They feel pressure to live the successful doctor’s lifestyle. After years of schooling and residency, they often feel pressure to spend lavishly on high-end cars, homes, private schools, country clubs and vacations to keep up with other doctors. There’s also pressure to keep a spouse happy who has patiently waited and sometimes supported them, for years and years of medical school, residency and further training before the high income years began.

Common retirement planning mistakes among successful dentists


Dentists are similar to doctors when it comes to their money (see above), although dentists tend to be a bit more conservative in their investments. They’re not as likely to invest in private placements and real estate ventures for instance. Like doctors, dentists are often unaware of how nicely CBPs can set them up in their post-practicing years. They’re often not aware that they have retirement savings options beyond their 401(k)…$19,000 ($25,000 if age 50 and over). For instance, many dentists don’t realize that with a CBP they could potentially contribute $200,000 or more. It’s very important for high earning business owners and medical professionals to coordinate with their CPA who really understands how CBPs work and can sign off on them.

Common objections to setting up a CBP

First, the high earning professional or business owner must commit to saving a large chunk of their earnings for three to five years—that means having the discipline not to spend all of their disposable income on other things such as expensive toys, memberships, vacations and other luxuries.

Another barrier they face is a reluctance to switch from the old way of doing things to the new way. Just like many struggle to adapt to a new billing system or new technology for their businesses or practices, the same goes for their retirement savings. Because they’re essentially playing retirement catchup, they’re committing to stashing away a significant portion of their salary for their golden years. It can “pinch” a little at first. By contrast, a 401(k) or Simple IRA  contribution is a paycheck “deduction” that they barely notice.

A CBP certainly has huge benefits, but it requires a different mindset about savings and it requires more administration and discipline, etc. However, if you have a good, trustworthy office administrator or if you have a 401(k) plan that’s integrated with your payroll, then that can make things much easier. It’s very important to have a system that integrates payroll, 401(k) and CBP. That can simplify things tremendously. For example, 401(k) contributions can be taken directly out of payroll and CBP contributions can be taken directly out of the owner/employer’s bank account.

Before jumping headfirst into the world of CBPs, I recommend that high earning business owners and professional rolling it out in stages over time.

1. Start with a SIMPLE IRA.
2. Then move to 401(k) plan that you can max out--and make employee contributions.

3. Add a profit sharing component for employees which typically is in the 2% range and this will usually allow you to max out at $56,000 (under 50) or $62,000 (age 50 and over)
4.  Once comfortable with the mechanics of a 401(k) and profit sharing, then introduce a CBP.


Conclusion

If you’re behind in your retirement savings, CBPs are an excellent tool for supercharging the value of your nest egg and can possibly allow you to retire even sooner than you thought. CBPs take a little more set-up and discipline to execute, but once those supercharged retirement account statements start rolling in, I rarely find a successful owner or professional who doesn’t think the extra effort was worth it.

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.