small business owner

Home Office Deductions

“Safe harbor” option may be easier, but number crunching is still worth it for many

 

Key Takeaways:

  • The IRS simplified option for home office deductions five years ago and million or taxpayers are taking advantage. Just be careful if you do.

  • This option can significantly reduce paperwork.

  • However, the annual limit is $1,500, and those with higher home office expenses may still be better off slogging through the detailed Form 8829.



According to the IRS, more than 3.4 million taxpayers claimed deductions totaling just over $9.6 billion for business use of a home, commonly referred to as the “home office deduction.”

Introduced in tax year 2013, the optional deduction is designed to reduce the paperwork and recordkeeping burden for small businesses. The optional deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on $5 a square foot for up to 300 square feet.

Back in 2013, the IRS announced a new, simplified method for claiming home office deductions. According to the IRS, this safe harbor method is an alternative to the existing requirement of calculation, allocation and substantiation of actual expenses, including mortgage payments and depreciation that is done in Form 8829.

Moreover, there is an annual limitation of $1,500 under this new method, thus making this a viable option for those with offices in apartments or smaller homes. Still, there is merit to understanding this option now and evaluating the best course for your business deductions.

Which method is best for me?

Before we look at the new option, let’s run through the existing method. The existing method involves several steps before you can arrive at the total for a home office deduction.

Step 1: Figure the percentage of your home used for business
Divide the total square footage of your home that you use for business by the square footage of your entire house. That percentage is what you’ll need for Step 3 below.

Step 2: Sum up all the expenses
This step involves the most paperwork. You need to list the various expenses such as rent and utilities or—in the case of ownership—mortgage interest, real estate taxes, insurance, repairs, utilities and the big one—depreciation. Lines 36 to 41 on Form 8829 involve going back and forth between the instructions several times to arrive at appropriate depreciation numbers.

Step 3: Apply the percentage from Step 1 to Step 2
You will use the percentage from Step 1 to figure the business part of the expenses for operating your entire home.

Now the new safe harbor option lets you claim a flat deduction of $5 per square foot of the home office, up to 300 square feet. That means if you use this method and have a home office of more than 300 square feet, you will be able to claim a maximum deduction of $1,500.

Some of the benefits of this method are:

  • You drastically reduce paperwork and compliance burden.

  • If you itemize deductions and use the safe harbor method, those expenses related to your home, such as mortgage interest and real estate taxes, can be itemized without allocating them between personal and business expenses.

  • You can choose either method from year to year depending on which one is beneficial in a particular year. A change from using the safe harbor method in one year to actual expenses in a succeeding taxable year or vice versa is not a change in your method of accounting and does not require the consent of the IRS.

Some of the limitations of this method are:

  • You are limited to claiming $1,500 per year irrespective of actual expenses incurred on the home office.

  • If you have a loss and cannot claim the entire deduction of $1,500 in a year, you cannot carry forward the home office expense to the following year. This would be possible if you claim actual expenses. Moreover, if you choose the safe harbor method, you cannot set off office expense carried forward from an earlier year.


The definition of what qualifies as a home office has not changed. In short, the home office

  • Must be used as your principal place of business.

  • It must be used “regularly and exclusively” for business

  • It cannot double as a place that you use for business as well as for personal purposes.

If you’re a professional, you may face various scenarios. You might be working from home for the most part of your practice, or you might be working from an office location but sometimes doing work at home. Each scenario is dealt with differently from a home office deduction point of view.

  • Home as your principal place of business: If you work from home for the most part of your business or practice, that is, you perform all important activities at this place and spend relatively more time there, then your home would be your principal place of business. In such a case, you can claim a deduction for the portion of your home that you use regularly and exclusively for your business.

  • Business at office location while doing some work at home: If you have separate office premises for conducting your business, then that would be your principal place of business. You cannot claim a deduction for use of your home during weekends or after office hours.

However, there is an important exception for professionals who also use their home for client meetings.

If you meet or deal with clients or customers in your home in the normal course of your business, even though you also carry on business at another location, you can deduct your expenses for the part of your home used exclusively and regularly for business if you meet both of these tests:

  • You physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises.

  • Their use of your home is substantial and integral to the conduct of your business.

The part of your home that you use exclusively and regularly to meet clients or customers does not have to be your principal place of business. Using your home for occasional meetings and telephone calls will not qualify you to deduct expenses for the business use of your home.

You and your tax advisor can make a decision regarding which method to choose, depending on a few pointers:

  • Do a back-of-the-envelope calculation of your home office expenses under both methods. Calculate the deduction under the safe harbor method by multiplying the area of your home office by $5 (limited to $1,500). If that is significantly less than the amount you claimed as a deduction in your most recent tax return, it might make sense to go through the trouble of filling out Form 8829.

  • If you have a loss from your business and would like to carry forward the home office expense, choose the actual expense method. If you have home office expenses from an earlier year that you would like to set off, use the actual expense method.

Conclusion

Claiming home office deductions is widely believed to be a common cause for an IRS audit. At the same time, genuine use of your home for business purposes can hand you a valuable deduction. The new method can significantly reduce paperwork and compliance burden for those with small home offices. But those with bigger spaces may want to choose the actual expense method. Cumbersome as it may seem, it might well be worth the effort.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily express the views of our firm and should not be construed as professional tax advice.

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.

Don’t Sell Your Business--Downsize It

Key Takeaways:

  • You don’t have to sell your business all at once.

  • You can keep 80 percent of your income and work one day a week.

  • You will end up with a lot more money at the end of 5 to 10 years.

  • You will be working only with clients and customers that you enjoy and value.

    

Succession planning is a hot topic today. The problem is that the only solution in most cases is either to sell or close your business. But, I want you to consider another option for the business you’ve worked so hard to build: the “wind-down strategy.” With a wind-down strategy, you essentially downsize your business.

How great would it be if you could keep your finger on the pulse of your business while reducing the amount of time you actually work by 80 percent or more! Just one important caveat: The wind-down strategy works best for professional service firms, but elements of this concept can work for all types of businesses.


Focus on the best 20 percent of your customers or clients


The first step is to take is look at your book of business. Who are you best 20 percent of customers or clients? This doesn’t necessarily have to be your largest clients, but many of the larger clients tend to be your best clients, too. After you put your list together, add up how much of your firm’s revenue these top clients account for. If you’re like most firms, it will be at least 80 percent of the total revenue.

If you are servicing 100 clients that produce $750,000 per year in revenue, then your wind-down will probably account for $600,000 in annual revenue. Think about this for a second. Eighty percent or more of your revenue probably comes from a very small group of clients or customers. How great would it be to spend your day taking care of only your best and most profitable clients?

It’s not a dream.

Put together a pro forma statement of what your downsized firm would look like


Now look at your business and see which types of expenses would remain if there were only 20 clients to service instead of 100. I bet you would cut a huge chunk of the costs out.

Overhead would go way down, as would the hassle of trying to take care of 80 so-so clients. You no longer have to put in 60-hour workweeks. Now you can work 10 or 15 hours and make a greater profit with 20 clients than you used to make with 100. That means you can take weeks of vacation at a time. Having a smaller business or practice allows you to do other things while keeping the lion’s share of the income from the former business or practice.

Compare this to selling


Let’s say you find a 10 to 15 hour-workweek attractive. Who wouldn’t? If this became your reality, guess what? You might not be so anxious to unload your business.

Let’s say you could sell your business for $1 million to a buyer that agreed to put 40 percent down in cash and would finance the remaining $600,000.

Don’t you think you would enjoy having something fulfilling to do one day per week? Suppose you could take home $400,000 per year instead of hoping you might get paid the money you’re “owed” from the complete sale of your business?

Let’s think about this for a second. You can earn $400,000 in cash and then hopefully the remaining $600,000 over seven or eight years with a lot of risk involved. Or, you can get $400,000 per year for as long as you want--with almost no risk. How? The wind-down should produce about $400,000 per year in profits. That means the business would take in $800,000, have $400,000 in costs and leave $400,000 for salary and profits. Remember, there are only 15 or 20 clients left to worry about. That means you’ll have little or no administrative costs. You could even find an outsourced solution for your administrative and overhead help

Isn’t getting $400,000 per year for working 10 to 15 hours a week an attractive idea?

Find a new home for the lower 80 percent


Of course, you need to figure out what to do with your B and C list--the remaining 80 percent of customers or clients who have relied on you for advice for years? Some of them may have started with you when you first opened your business. Can you just stop servicing them?

No. You’re not going to neglect them. You are going to find a good new home for them at another well-suited firm. And, you’ll do the right thing by offering to backstop those transferred customers or clients if there’s a problem at their new firm.

Over time, reduce the 20 percent


If you adopt this 20/80 wind-down strategy, you are likely to continue working way past normal retirement age. When you reach 70, you might want to work even less than the 10 to 15 hours per week that you’re working now.

Not a problem. Just follow the same winnowing down process. From your Top 20 percent list, be willing to let go of a few more clients—perhaps they’re on you’re A-List, but not the A+ List.  Find a good new home for them. Eventually you’ll get to the point where you have just five very, very good customers or clients. You love them and they love you.

The key here is to understand how your overhead works. Instead of having full-time staff, your business will be moving to part-time staff. You might even be able to find another similar business that’s willing to let you operate under their roof if you help them pay for their overhead.

If you do this, not only have you reduced the amount of time you must spend working,  but you’ve eliminated staffing and other fixed overhead.

Conclusion

Let’s say you only use this wind-down strategy for 10 years, starting in your late 50s or age 60. Instead of selling your business and hopefully getting $1 million over seven years, you’re going to earn $4 million over 10 years while working part-time.

What’s not to like? If you have any questions, please feel free to email us or give us a call at 303-440-2906.

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 2

Real world examples and risk factors to consider
Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA

As we discussed in Part 1, if you’re a high-earning business owner or professional Cash Balance Plans (CBPs) are an excellent tool for supercharging the value of your nest egg in the last stretch of your career. They can possibly enable you to retire even sooner than you thought you could. Here are some examples of how CBPs can work for you:


Real world examples

I just completed a proposal for a dentist who earned a $224,000 salary. At that income level, he could have maxed out his annual SEP contribution at $56,000…..or he could sock away $143,000 a year via a CBP. Even better, the CBP enabled him to make an additional retirement contributions for her staff.  When times are flush, most high-earning entrepreneurs and professionals don’t have to think twice about making their CBP contributions. But, what about when the financial markets and economy are in the tank?

Back in 2008, at the start of the global financial crisis, a couple came to me because they wanted to save the maximum before they planned to stop working. The wife was a corporate executive and the husband was a self-employed entrepreneur.  Both were in their early 60s and wanted to retire in half a dozen years. The corporate executive was already saving the maximum in her 401(k) and continued to do so from 2008 ($20,500) through 2014 ($23,500). The self-employed entrepreneur, age 61 at the time, was making about $200,000 a year and wanted to set up a plan to shelter his self-employed income.

We explored a defined benefit plan (DB) because that allowed the couple to save significantly more than they could have saved via a 401(k) alone. In fact, the single 401(k) could be paired with the defined benefit plan for extra deferral, if desired. The couple was a good fit for a defined benefit plan since they were in their early 60s, and the entrepreneur was self-employed and had no employees. We completed the paperwork and set a target contribution rate of $100,000 per year for the defined benefit plan and they were off and saving. 

Despite the terrible stock market at the start of their savings initiative, they managed to contribute $700,000 to the DB by the time they retired in 2014--all of which was tax deductible. This strategy ended up saving them about $140,000 in taxes. They also contributed to a Roth 401(k) in the early years of their savings commitment, when the market was low and that money grew tax-free.

With a DBP, you typically want to have a conservative portfolio with a target rate of return pegged at roughly 3 percent to 5 percent. You want stable returns so you will have predictable contribution amounts each year. The portfolio we constructed was roughly 75 percent bond funds and 25 percent stock funds. That allocation helped the couple preserve capital during the market slump of 2008-2009 because we dollar cost averaged the funding for the plan over its duration.

With this strategy, you don’t want to exceed a 5-percent return by too much because your contribution decreases and thus, your tax deduction decreases. On the other hand, if the portfolio generates a really poor return, then you, the employer have to make up a larger contribution. If you have a substandard return, it typically corresponds to a weak economy and you have to make up a larger contribution when your income is off. So, you want to set the return target at a reasonable, conservative level.

Solution

We rolled over the DBP into an IRA and the Roth 401(k) to a Roth IRA. For the corporate executive, we rolled over her 401(k) to an IRA.  They were now set for retirement and can continue to enjoy life without the worry as to how to create their retirement paycheck. 

Are there any income and age limits for contributing to a CBP?

Income limits are $280,000 a year in W-2 income. Depending on your age, you could potentially contribute over 90 percent of that income into a CBP.

Source, The Retirement Advantage  2019 | Click here for complete table


For successful professionals, a good time to set up a CBP is during your prime earning years, typically between age 50 and 60. You certainly don’t want to wait until age 70 to start a CBP because you want to be able to make large tax-advantage contribution for at least three to five years. You can’t start a CBP and then shut it down after only one year.

We did a proposal for an orthodontist recently who liked the idea of a CBP for himself, but he also wanted to reward several long time employees. Unfortunately, the ratios weren’t as good as we would have liked since many of the employees were even older than the owner, so they would have required a much larger contribution. The ratio in this case was 80 percent of the contribution to the owner and 20 percent to the employees. We like to see the ratio in the 85- to 90-percent range, however.

Age gap matters

It’s also helpful to have a significant age gap between you and your employees. Many folks don’t realize this. CBPs are “age weighted,” so it helps to have younger employees. Because those employees are older, they’re much closer to retirement, and would need to receive a larger contribution from the plan.

How profitable does your business/practice need to be for a CBP to make sense?

You have to pay yourself a reasonable W-2 salary and you have to have money on top of that for the CBP. A good rule of thumb is to be making at least $150,000 a year consistently from your business or practice. So, if you designed a plan to save $150,000 in the CBP, you’ll need $300,000 in salary plus distributions. What typically happens is the doctor/dentist pays themselves $150,000 a year in salary and then takes $150,000 in distributions from their corporation. Well, that $150,000 now has to go into the CBP, so you have to have a decent amount of disposable income.

Can employees adjust their contributions?
 
A CBP is usually paired with a 401(k) plan, so employees will have their normal 401(k) limits. In a CBP, the employer has to do a CBP “pay credit” as well as a profit-sharing contribution. The pay credit is usually about 3 percent and the profit-sharing contribution is typically in the range of 5-percent to 10- percent of an employee’s pay.


Setting up and administrating a CBP

You want a plan administrator who can navigate all the paperwork and coordinate with your CPA. There are many financial advisors out there who have expertise in setting up CBPs. You don’t have to work with someone locally; just make sure they are highly experienced and reputable.

CBPs can be more costly to employers than 401(k) plans because an actuary must certify each year that the plan is properly funded. Typical costs include $2,000 to $5,000 in setup fees, although setup costs can sometimes be waived. You’re also looking at $2,000 to $10,000 in annual administration fees, and investment-management fees ranging from 0.25 percent to 1 percent of assets.


Risks

CBPs can be tremendously beneficial for retirement saving. Just make sure you and your advisors are aware of the risk of such plans. Remember that you (the owner/employer) bear the actuarial risk for the CBP. Another risk is if the experts of your plan--the actuaries, record-keepers or investment managers—fail to live up to the plan’s expectations. You, the employer ultimately bear responsibility for providing the promised benefit to employees if a key piece of the plan doesn't work. Like a DBP, an underfunded CBP plan requires steady and consistent payments by you, the employer, regardless of economic times or your financial health. The required contributions of a DBP and CBP can strain the weakened financial health of the sponsoring organization. This is a key item to consider when establishing a CBP and what level of funding can be sustained on a go-forward basis. 

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. They 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.

 


Defined Benefit Plans

The defined benefit plan is a powerful tax strategy for high income individuals with self-employment income. It's great for small business owners who want to catch-up on their retirement saving and save a tremendous amount on taxes. 

Click here to view our latest webinar on Defined Benefit Plans.

Click here to read a case study.
 
Why is a defined benefit plan a powerful tax strategy for high income individuals with self-employment income and small business owners?

The small business defined benefit (DB) plan is an IRS-approved qualified retirement plan that allows independent professionals and consultants, individuals with self-employment income and small business owners to make large contributions and accumulate as much as $1-2 Million in just 5-10 years. The contributions are deductible and can potentially reduce income tax liability by $40,000 or more annually. To read more about examples where a defined benefit plan would be beneficial click here The Defined Benefit Plan.pdf
 
New Flexibility in Defined Benefit Plans
 
Independent professionals and consultants, small business owners, and individuals with self-employment income often are so busy with their day-to-day responsibilities that they don't take the time to think about preparing for the day they finally retire. Since they aren't thinking about the future - at least not one that includes life beyond their daily work - they may not accumulate retirement savings sufficient to maintain their pre-retirement lifestyle. Business owners are also more likely to put the needs of their business ahead of their well-being... to read more click here New Flexibility in Defined Benefit Plans.pdf


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.