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If your estate plan calls for making noncash gifts in trust or outright to beneficiaries, you need to know the values of those gifts and disclose them to the IRS on a gift tax return. For substantial gifts of noncash assets other than marketable securities, it’s a good idea to have a qualified appraiser value the gifts at the time of the transfer. 

Adequately disclosing a gift

A three-year statute of limitations applies during which the IRS can challenge the value you report on your gift tax return. The three-year term doesn’t begin until your gift is “adequately disclosed.” This means you need to not just file a gift tax return, but also:
 

  • Give a detailed description of the nature of the gift
  • Explain the relationship of the parties to the transaction, and
  • Detail the basis for the valuation.

The IRS also may require certain financial statements or other financial data and records.
Generally, the most effective way to ensure you’ve disclosed gifts adequately and triggered the statute of limitations is to have a qualified, independent appraiser submit a valuation report that includes information about the property, the transaction and the appraisal process. 

IRS-imposed penalties

Using a qualified appraiser is important because, if the IRS deems your valuation to be “insufficient,” it can revalue the property and assess additional taxes and interest. If the IRS finds that the property’s value was “substantially” or “grossly” misstated, it will also assess additional penalties.

A “substantial” misstatement occurs if you report a value that’s 65% or less of the actual value — the penalty is 20% of the amount by which your taxes are underpaid. A “gross” misstatement occurs if your reported value is 40% or less of the actual value — the penalty is 40% of the amount by which your taxes are underpaid.

Before taking any action, consult with us regarding the tax and legal consequences of any estate planning strategies. In addition, we can help you work with a qualified appraiser to ensure your gifts are adequately disclosed.

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Providing a strong package of benefits is a competitive imperative in today’s business world. Like many employers, you’ve probably worked hard to put together a solid menu of offerings to your staff. Unfortunately, many employees don’t perceive the full value of the benefits they receive.

Why is this important? An underwhelming perception of value could cause good employees to move on to “greener” pastures. It could also inhibit better job candidates from seeking employment at your company. Perhaps worst of all, if employees don’t fully value their benefits, they might not fully use them — which means you’re wasting dollars and effort on procuring and maintaining a strong package.

Targeting life stage

Among the most successful communication strategies for promoting benefits’ value is often the least commonly used. That is, target the life stage of your employees.

For example, an employee who’s just entering the workforce in his or her twenties will have a much different view of a 401(k) plan than someone nearing retirement. A younger employee will also likely view health care benefits differently. Employers who tailor their communications to the recipient’s generation can improve their success rate at getting workers to understand their benefits.

Covering all bases

There are many other strategies to consider as well. For starters, create a year-round benefits communication program that features clear, concise language and graphics. Many employers discuss benefits with their workforces only during open enrollment periods. 

Also, gather feedback to determine employees’ informational needs. You may learn that you have to start communicating in multiple languages, for instance. You might also be able to identify staff members who are particularly knowledgeable about benefits. These employees could serve as word-of-mouth champions of your package who can effectively explain things to others.

Identifying sound strategies

Given the cost and effort you put into choosing, developing and offering benefits to your employees, the payoff could be much better. We can help you ensure you’re getting the most bang for your benefits buck.
 

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Bartering might seem like something that happened only in ancient times, but the practice is still common today. And the general definition remains the same: the exchange of goods and services without the exchange of money. Because no cash changes hands in a typical barter transaction, it’s easy to forget about taxes. But, as one might expect, you can’t cut Uncle Sam out of the deal. 

A taxing transaction

The IRS generally treats a barter exchange similarly to a transaction involving cash, so you must report as income the fair market value of the products or services you receive. If there are business expenses associated with the transaction, those can be deducted. Any income arising from a bartering arrangement is generally taxable in the year you receive the bartered product or service. 

And income tax liability isn’t the only thing you’ll need to consider. Barter activities may also trigger self-employment taxes, employment taxes or an excise tax. 

Barter in action 

Let’s look at an example. Mike, a painting contractor, requires legal representation for a lawsuit. He engages Maria as legal counsel to represent him during the litigation. Maria charges Mike $6,000 for her work on the case. 

Being short of cash, Mike agrees to paint Maria’s office in exchange for her $6,000 fee. Both Mike and Maria must report $6,000 of taxable gross income during the year the exchange takes place. Because Mike and Maria each operate a viable business, they’re entitled to deduct any business expenses resulting from the barter transaction.

Using an exchange company

You may wish to arrange a bartering deal though an exchange company. For a fee, one of these companies can allow you to network with other businesses looking to trade goods and services. For tax purposes, a barter exchange company typically must issue a Form 1099-B, “Proceeds From Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions,” annually to its clients or members.

Although bartering may appear cut and dried, the tax implications can complicate the deal. We can help you assess a bartering arrangement and manage the tax impact.

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A life insurance policy can be an important part of an estate plan. The tax benefits are twofold: The policy can provide a source of wealth for your family income-tax-free, and it can supply funds to pay estate taxes and other expenses. 

However, if you own your policy, rather than having, for example, an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) own it, you’ll have to take extra steps to keep the policy’s proceeds out of your taxable estate. 

3-year rule explained

If you already own an insurance policy on your life, you can remove it from your taxable estate by transferring it to a family member or to an ILIT. However, there’s a caveat.

If you transfer a life insurance policy and don’t survive for at least three years, the tax code requires the proceeds to be pulled back into your estate. Thus, they may be subject to estate taxes. 

Fortunately, there’s an exception to the three-year rule for life insurance (or other property) you transfer as part of a “bona fide sale for adequate consideration.” For example, let’s say you wanted to transfer your policy to your daughter. You could do so without triggering the three-year rule as long as your daughter paid adequate consideration for the policy. 

Determining adequate consideration isn’t an exact science. One definition is fair market value, which is essentially the price on which a willing seller and a willing buyer would agree.

Triggering the transfer-for-value rule

The problem with the bona fide sale exception is that, when life insurance is involved, it may trigger another, equally devastating, rule: the transfer-for-value rule. Under this rule, a transferee who gives valuable consideration for a life insurance policy will be subject to ordinary income taxes on the amount by which the proceeds exceed the consideration and premiums the transferee paid.

So, in the previous example, even if your daughter purchased the policy for the appropriate amount to avoid the three-year rule, she could be subject to some income tax when she receives the proceeds.

Recipe for success: Selling to a trust

It may be possible to avoid the three-year rule — without running afoul of the transfer-for-value rule — by selling an existing life insurance policy for adequate consideration to an irrevocable grantor trust. A grantor trust is a trust structured so that you, the grantor, are the owner for income tax purposes but not for estate tax purposes. 

While there’s been talk of an estate tax repeal, it’s still uncertain if and when that will happen. So if your estate is large enough that estate taxes could be an issue, it’s best to continue to factor that into your planning. Please contact us if you have questions about how you should address your life insurance policy in your estate plan. 

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Many not-for-profits are adopting a marketing tactic that has been used successfully by for-profit companies. Social listening costs relatively little and can give you valuable insight into issues that resonate with your supporters. This allows you to tailor communications to better reach them.

Identify and engage

Social listening starts with monitoring social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram for mentions of your organization and related keywords. But to take full advantage of this strategy, you also must identify and engage with topics that interest your supporters and interact with “influencers,” who can extend your message by sharing it with their audiences. 

Influencers don’t have to be celebrities with millions of followers. Connecting with a group of influencers who each have only several hundred followers can expand your reach exponentially. For example, a conservation organization might follow and interact with a popular rock climber or other outdoor enthusiast to reach that person’s followers.

Listen in

To use social listening, develop a list of key terms related to your organization and its mission, programs and campaigns. You’ll want to treat this as a “living document,” updating it as you launch new initiatives. Then “listen” for these terms on social media. Several free online tools are available to perform this monitoring, including Google Alerts, Twazzup and Social Mention.

When your supporters or influencers use the terms, you can send them a targeted email with a call to action, such as a petition, donation solicitation or event announcement. Your call to action could be as simple as asking them to share your content.

You can also use trending hashtags (a keyword or phrase that’s currently popular on social media, such as #BostonMarathon or #PrinceHarry) to keep your communications relevant and leverage current events on a real-time basis. You might be able to find creative ways to join the conversation while promoting your organization or campaign. 

Be savvy

Savvy nonprofits know they need to embrace and make the most of social media. By pursuing social listening, you can cost-effectively improve your engagement efforts. Contact us for more information on growing your supporter base.

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Upcoming tax deadlines for individuals While April 15 (April 18 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that are important to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2017 deadlines, here’s a look at when some key tax-related forms, payments and other actions are due. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. 

Please review the calendar and let us know if you have any questions about the deadlines or would like assistance in meeting them.  

June 15

  • File a 2016 individual income tax return (Form 1040) or file for a four-month extension (Form 4868), and pay any tax and interest due, if you live outside the United States.
  • Pay the second installment of 2017 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

September 15   

  • Pay the third installment of 2017 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

October 2    

  • If you’re the trustee of a trust or the executor of an estate, file an income tax return for the 2016 calendar year (Form 1041) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic five-and-a-half month extension was filed.

October 16    

  • File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed (or if an automatic four-month extension was filed by a taxpayer living outside the United States).
  • Make contributions for 2016 to certain retirement plans or establish a SEP for 2016, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.
  • File a 2016 gift tax return (Form 709) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.

December 31  

  • Make 2017 contributions to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
  • Make 2017 annual exclusion gifts (up to $14,000 per recipient).
  • Incur various expenses that potentially can be claimed as itemized deductions on your 2017 tax return. Examples include charitable donations, medical expenses, property tax payments and expenses eligible for the miscellaneous itemized deduction.
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The balance sheet usually reflects the historic cost of assets and liabilities. But certain items must be reported at “fair value” under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Here’s a closer look at what fair value is and which balance sheet accounts it affects. 

Fair value vs. fair market value

Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 820 defines fair value as “the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.” This definition is similar in many respects to “fair market value,” which is defined in IRS Revenue Ruling 59-60. 

The main difference is that fair market value focuses on the universe of hypothetical buyers and sellers. Conversely, FASB uses the term “market participants,” which refers to buyers and sellers in the asset’s or liability’s principal market. The principal market is entity specific and may vary among companies.

Hierarchy of value

Under ASC Topic 820, fair value is most often associated with business combinations and subsequent accounting for goodwill and other intangibles after the deal closes. Other examples of items that are reported at fair value include

  • Impairment or disposals of long-lived assets,
  • Asset retirement or environmental obligations,
  • Stock compensation, and
  • Certain financial assets and liabilities.

When measuring fair value, the FASB provides a hierarchy of methods that may not necessarily apply to valuations performed for other purposes. GAAP gives top priority to market-based methods, such as quoted prices in active markets for identical assets or liabilities. 

When market data isn’t readily available for a specific company, GAAP looks to quoted prices in active markets for similar assets or liabilities — in other words, comparable public stock prices or sales of controlling interests in comparable companies. The least desirable level of inputs under GAAP is unobservable data, such as cash flow or cost estimates prepared by management (which may be used to estimate value under the income or cost approach).

Changes in value

Decreases in the fair value of an asset (or increases in the fair value of a liability) may result from, say, poor company performance, changes in economic conditions and inaccurate estimates made in the past. Companies aren’t allowed to overstate the value of assets (or understate the value of a liability) under GAAP, so changes in fair value may lead to write-offs or restatements.

Outside expertise 

Auditors are specifically prohibited from providing valuation services for their public audit clients. Private companies may follow suit to prevent independence issues during audits. So, companies often turn to valuation experts who are independent from their auditors to make fair value estimates — and then their auditors can evaluate whether those estimates appear reasonable. Contact us if you have any questions about fair value, including how it’s estimated or when it applies.

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Just about every business intends to provide world-class customer service. And though many claim their customer service is exceptional, very few can back up that assertion. After all, once a company has established a baseline level of success in interacting with customers, it’s not easy to get to that next level of truly great service. But, fear not, there are ways to elevate your game and, ultimately, strengthen your bottom line in the process.

Start at the top

As is the case for many things in business, success starts at the top. Encourage your fellow owners (if any) and management team to regularly serve customers. Doing so cements customer relationships and communicates to employees that serving others is important and rewarding. Your involvement shows that customer service is the source of your company’s ultimate triumph.

Moving down the organizational chart, cultivate customer-service heroes. Publish articles about your customer service achievements in your company’s newsletter or post them on your website. Champion these heroes in meetings. Public praise turns ordinary employees into stars and encourages future service excellence.

Just make sure to empower all employees to make customer-service decisions. Don’t talk of catering to customers unless your staff can really take the initiative to meet your customers’ needs.

Create a system

Like everyone in today’s data-driven world, customers want information. So strive to provide immediate feedback to customers with a highly visible response system. This will let customers know that their input matters and you’ll reward them for speaking up. 

The size and shape of this system will depend on the size, shape and specialty of the company itself. But it should likely encompass the right combination of instant, electronic responses to customer inquires along with phone calls and, where appropriate, face-to-face interactions that reinforce how much you value their business.

Give them a thrill

Consistently great customer service can be an elusive goal. You may succeed for months at a time only to suffer setbacks. Don’t get discouraged. Our firm can help you build a profitable company that excels at thrilling your customers.

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You're probably familiar with 529 college savings plans. Named for Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, they're also known as qualified tuition programs, and they offer tax benefits when you save for college expenses.

But are you aware of a lesser-known cousin, established under Section 530 of the code? It's called a Coverdell Education Savings Account and it's been available since 1998.

The general idea of Coverdell accounts is similar to 529 plans – to provide tax incentives to encourage you to set money aside for education. However, one big difference between the two is this: Amounts you contribute to a Coverdell can be used to pay for educational costs from kindergarten through college.

Generally, you can establish a Coverdell for a child under the age of 18 – yours or someone else's. Once the Coverdell is set up, you can make contributions of as much as $2,000 each year. That contribution limit begins to phase out when your income reaches $190,000 for joint filers and $95,000 for single filers.

Anyone, including trusts and corporations, can contribute to the account until the child turns 18. There are no age restrictions when the Coverdell is established for someone with special needs.

While your contribution is not tax-deductible, earnings within the account are tax-free as long as you use them for educational expenses or qualify for an exception. In addition, you can make a tax-free transfer of the account balance to another eligible beneficiary.

Qualified distributions from a Coverdell are tax-free when you use the money to pay for costs such as tuition, room and board, books, and computers.

Please call for information about other rules that apply to Coverdell accounts. We'll be happy to help you decide whether establishing one makes sense for you.

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After you file your tax return, the last thing you want to see is a notice from the IRS questioning your return. Some IRS notices involve very minor changes, like a correction to a Social Security number. Some are for serious changes that could involve a lot of money, such as a billing for more taxes, interest, or penalties due for an adjustment to your total tax liability.

So, what should you do if you get a letter from the IRS?

Here is a list of do's and don'ts concerning contact from the IRS.

  • Don't ignore the notice; the problem will not go away.
  • Act promptly. A quick response to the IRS may eliminate further, more complicated correspondence.
  • If you agree with the IRS adjustment, you do not need to do anything unless a payment is due.
  • If the IRS is requesting more money or a significant amount of new information, be sure to contact your tax preparer immediately.
  • Always provide your tax preparer with a copy of any IRS notice, regardless of how minor it appears to be.
  • Keep a copy of all the IRS correspondence with your tax return copy for the year in question.

Often taxpayers experience anxiety when they receive correspondence from the IRS. Don't worry. The most important thing to remember is not to ignore the IRS. Bring any notice you receive to our office and let us assist you in resolving the problem quickly.

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