Archive for the ‘tax’ Tag

Why I am a Tax Accountant?

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times
May 27, 2015

Sometimes people ask me why I am a tax accountant.  This question seems to have different colors to it when asked. Sometimes it is an interest in me – what things I find enjoyable about the profession or how my particular career path led me to where I am.   Sometimes it is an interest in themselves as they are “trying on” my work clothes to see if this field may be of interest to them in some capacity.  And other times it is an interest in the general human condition probing for answers to: “How in the world could anyone in their right mind, voluntarily do what you do?”

Well, I certainly hope I am in my right mind.  Contrary to the stereotypical image of a reclusive, socially awkward bean counter that maybe wears a pocket protector, I actually find most of us do not carry that stigma! Okay, I admit I wear bowties, but these days in a scene where formal business attire inevitably includes a necktie,  I submit to you that a bowtie is more the shtick of a rebel than a conformist.
Let’s see, what else can I tell you to debunk the nerdy, ill-equipped-for-life-but-good-with-numbers typecast. Well, I recently flew across the country to play in a soccer a tournament with a bunch of teammates that I played with in college.  I pretty much built a house with my own two hands (actually four when you count my wife’s) – everything from bending rebar in the foundation to nailing the shingles on the roof.  Oh, and I ride a motorcycle (albeit cautiously).  So you can add sports, construction, and motorcycling to your list of accountant hobbies.
So what part of me is driven to debits, credits and taxes?  Well, there are various skills in my life that I have seen as a recurring pattern ever since I was a child that are applicable.  I have always enjoyed: 1) organizing and classifying information, (like counting coins and bills which was a favorite activity when I first learned to count, or endlessly sorting, organizing and valuing baseball cards in elementary school), 2) solving problems (like figuring out how to turn on all the pull string lightbulbs in our basement in middle school all at once), 3) creating things (like a Christmas light display in high school that soared 35 feet above our rooftop, or writing software code – one of my first jobs out of school).
I was also entrepreneurial growing up.  I can remember when I was in third grade, I located some really neat and colorful mechanical pencils.  I found that I could buy a ten pack for $1 and resell them for 25 cents each making a $1.50 profit on each pack.  I can remember the teacher having to tell everyone to sit down one day because I had a swarm of kids around me buying pencils. I had a few other small retail ventures like that in elementary school and I had a yard and odd job business in middle and high school as well.
Throughout it all, I enjoyed people, and I liked helping people.  That is what really landed me on the tax side of CPA life.  I did financial statement audits about half-time for the first six years or so of my accounting career.  I felt it really used my full skillset as an accountant, which I enjoyed, but I felt more like a necessary evil than someone who was being voluntarily employed to help.  Not many people hire auditors because they want to!  And who likes someone who is basically looking over his shoulder to report any mistakes he is making!
I have enjoyed tax preparation because there is a high degree of interaction with individuals, and I truly feel that I am able to help people, and they are generally very grateful for the help.  Since most everything in our lives (good or bad) has some kind of tax impact at some point, conversations with clients become very personal at times, and there are deep bonds that can form.  I find it is a very honorable and rewarding feeling to be entrusted with an understanding of someone’s personal and financial matters, and to try to help them either save tax or be a general financial (or personal) sounding board.
Plus, while doing this, I get to use the various skills I have enjoyed in my life.  Tax accounting certainly employs organizing and classifying information.  Preparing a tax return or tax plan for an individual, trust, estate or business is almost always a problem solving and creative activity as you try to piece together a mountain of facts and rules to come up with the best scenario you can.
Having my own firm also fulfills my entrepreneurial craving and gives me flexibility of time and the opportunity to do a variety of things, which I also enjoy.  So why am I a tax accountant?  Because I love it!

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

Travis H. Long, CPA, Inc. is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. Travis can be reached at 831-333-1041. This article is for educational purposes.  Although believed to be accurate in most situations, it does not constitute professional advice or establish a client relationship.

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Forming a Business Entity

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

September 19, 2014

Over the years, I have had many appointments with new and existing clients that are starting a small business for the first time.  We usually spend about an hour or so going through the basics of what to expect and be aware of: we cover things like self-employment taxes, tax estimates, business property tax statements, employees, insurance, sales tax, fictitious business name registration, business bank accounts, EINs, business licenses, etc.  One of the first things we talk about, however, is entity selection.  In other words, are you going to operate as a sole proprietorship, or will you form an LLC, S-corporation, C-corporation, partnership, etc.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who pull the trigger early on entity selection based on something they hear from friends or find on the internet prior to getting tailored professional advice.  My feeling is that you really want to have a discussion about your particular situation with your accountant to provide input on the tax and accounting related issues and a business attorney to weigh in on liability, and other legal related issues before you get started.  The attorney should form the entity if you choose to operate other than as a sole proprietorship.

There are too many pitfalls, and I know there are many people out there that have made the wrong choice or, even worse, are operating with a presumption of liability protection when they have none because they did not properly form or respect the formalities of the entity.  Opposing counsel could have a victory on their hands if you failed to prepare annual corporate minutes, for instance. “Piercing the corporate veil” could suddenly enter your lexicon.

Online companies attempt to make it cheap and quick to form an entity for you, but I can tell you from my experience that many of the entities formed this way are later corrected or scrapped and redone by an attorney if one is hired to review it.  One of the problems, is that you have to be an attorney to render legal advice, and since it is rare for online companies to have attorneys for you to discuss your situation with, you may not choose the best entity or get all the language in your formation documents that you need.

Online companies also have difficulty conveying in an effective manner the important things to keep up with and staying in touch regarding these issues.  Many of the people who have used online services show up in my office with a fat binder that was shipped to them in the mail of which they have very little understanding; often has blanks that were never filled out; and has been collecting dust on the shelf.

I also hear from a fair number of these people that get notices from California requesting tax returns and a bunch of money for entities the taxpayer stopped operating years ago or maybe never even started aside from setting up the entity.  Unfortunately no one was there to advise them on how to properly close the entity.  The taxpayer often thinks that if they stop operating or decide not to go ahead with the business that they are done.  It doesn’t work this way.  I have even had people that formed an entity online and were shocked that they would have an $800 minimum fee to California each year.

There is a general push from many directions for people to establish entities for their small businesses these days.  In two weeks we will discuss the merits (or not) of this presumption.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

What are Your Chances of Being Audited? Part I – Audit Statistics

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

May 16, 2014

I have a diverse base of clients, but there is one thing that many of them have in common: they all know the phrase, “…but I don’t want to raise any red flags.”  The part prior to the “but” generally explains how he or she wants to push the limits and minimize the tax liability.  Then I let them in on a little secret, “Did you know the IRS is partially color blind?”

I say this because a component of audit selection is a random statistical process whereupon everyone gets a chance to spin the audit wheel.  But the majority of returns are selected for audit because of, well, “red flags.”  In this issue I will speak about some of the juicy numbers of audit likelihood, and in two weeks, we will discuss some of the methods of selection and possible red flags.

Looking back over the past 16 years of data released by the IRS, you will probably find comfort in knowing that the overall audit selection rate for individuals has generally been close to or under one percent.  In 2013 there were 1,404,931 audits on the 145,819,388 tax returns filed, or a 0.96 percent audit rate!  When most people think of an audit, however, they think of having to meet with a beady-eyed pencil pusher whose sole mission in life is to cause them stress and shake down every last dime out of their pocket.  In reality, only about 25 percent of those audited actually meet with an auditor in a “field audit.”  So now your odds are only 1 out of every 424 people!

The majority of the audits are handled by correspondence mail, and are generally very narrowly focused just asking you to send in supporting documentation on a limited scope of items.  It is less intrusive, but sometimes can actually be more challenging to handle since the auditors do not have to look you in the eye, and are generally hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.  It is also evident from my experience that a lack of training in tax law is prevalent by those reviewing the correspondence audits.

When people are selected for audit, they generally say, “why are they wasting their time on me, shouldn’t they be going after the bigger fish.”  What they are really saying is, “I really don’t care who they audit as long as it isn’t me!”  But to honor their words, you will find that the IRS does in fact follow the money for the most part.  The more money you make, the more likely you are to be audited according to the statistics the IRS releases.

The overall audit rate for individuals making less than $200,000 in 2013 was 0.88 percent.  For those making over $200,000 per year, the rate jumped to 3.26 percent.  And for those making over $1,000,000, the rate jumped to 10.85 percent.  The other big difference is that you are two-and-a-half more times likely to have a field audit than a correspondence audit when making over $200,000 or over $1,000,000.

The overall audit rate for business returns such as C-corporations, S-corporations and Partnerships in 2013 was 0.61 percent of the 9,938,483 returns filed.  Partnerships and S-corporations had the lowest percentage at 0.42 percent, generally since the income passes through and is taxed to the individual owners instead.  C-corporation audit rates, however, vary even more drastically than individual rates – small corporations with less than $10 million in assets had a 0.95 percent audit rate.  Corporations with $10 million to $50 million in assets had a 6.98 percent audit rate, $50 million to $100 million – 15.51 percent, $100 – $250 million – 19.43 percent, and one out of every three corporations with assets over $250 million were audited!  So yes, the IRS does go after the big fish!

Clients will sometimes receive threatening letters indicating that if they do not respond by a certain date, that liens could be placed or their assets could be seized.  I have always found “seizure” to be an overly aggressive choice of words at the early juncture these letters will often arrive, and it is telling that only 547 IRS seizures occurred in the entire country in 2013.

Finally, another interesting statistic for those that find it thrilling to not report income (a.k.a. tax evasion); if you ever have a Special Agent from the Treasury Department show up at your door, I suggest you take that seriously.  They are basically your beady-eyed pencil pushers…but with guns!   There were 4,364 criminal investigation prosecutions recommended in 2013…and the conviction rate was 93.1 percent.  The average sentence for tax and tax related cases was 31 months in prison.  Remember, avoiding taxes through planning, is fine, but evading taxes is a place you never want to be!

Given all these statistics, you may also find it interesting to know that the IRS budget has been cut by close to five percent for 2014, and they have the fewest number of employees in the past 16 years.  I am not sure this is really a good thing, as it will surely reduce the number of qualified individuals trying to wield an already overburdened system, but it will likely mean your risk of audit will be even lower.

In two weeks we will talk more about red flags and audit selection.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Property Taxes on Equipment, Furniture, Tools, Etc. Due April 1

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

March 7, 2014

Many people starting up a small business for the first time are surprised to learn that there are business personal property taxes due each year on the value of everything from the chair they sit in, to their computer, to the pads of paper in the supply closet.  Most people are familiar with property taxes assessed on their home each year, but a business is also taxed on all of its personal property.  When I say personal property, I mean anything that is tangible, but is not real property (real estate).  Intangible assets like copyrights, patents, goodwill, or even software are generally not subject to tax.

This business property tax is established in the California Constitution and the Revenue and Taxation Code.  It falls under the jurisdiction of the California Board of Equalization (the same group that handles sales tax), but it is administered by and filed with the assessor’s office of each county.  For most businesses, the form to file is BOE-571-L (BOE-571-A for agricultural businesses), and it is due on April 1st of each year.  Even though the form is due on April 1st, there is a grace period, and you technically have until May 7th to postmark the form so it will not be delinquent.  (This is much appreciated by CPAs that are working to get income tax returns completed by April 15!)  It is also important to note that the reporting covers your property that existed as of January 1st, and not as of the date you fill out the form.

Maybe you have been in a business for a few years, or maybe 20 years in unusual cases and have never seen a request for this form.  Are you in trouble?  There is an interesting rule that states if the total cost of your business personal property is under $100,000, you do not have to voluntarily start filing the form.  That would cover a lot of small businesses.  However, if you receive a request from the assessor’s office to file the form, you must file every year going forward.  As information sharing has become more mainstream among various government agencies, it is fairly common to get a request in the first year or two you operate, even as a tiny sole proprietor.

The BOE-571-L asks you to break down your property into various categories and by year of purchase.   As the property gets older, it is assessed less each year.  (Tip: retain a copy of your submitted form for reference when filing for the next year.)  Each form is processed by hand.  The assessors appreciate having attached lists that identify more specifically the property you list in the various categories and years.  As you will see on the form, it is not always clear which category to put things in.  For instance, the word equipment is used in four different categories, and you might not be sure where it should be included.  Categories are assessed and depreciated at different rates, so the assessor has a better chance of assessing you the correct tax if you provide more information.  If you have questions, you can call the Monterey County Assessor’s office at 831-755-5035 and ask for the business property tax department.  They are generally available to answer any questions you may have.

It is probably fairly obvious that computers, printers, copiers, furniture, equipment, machinery, and tools are assessed.  In addition, the supplies you have on hand for your business are assessed.  If you do not have a good idea of this value, one approach, or instance, may be to take your office supplies account in your accounting records and divide by 12 if you think you keep about a month of supplies on hand.

Leased property such as a copy machine, is an area that people sometimes overlook.  Your lease agreement will indicate whether you, or the company you lease from is responsible for the property taxes.  If you are responsible, you need to report it on your BOE-571-L.  Licensed vehicles through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) do not need to be reported here whether owned or leased, as they are being taxed through the DMV.

Structural improvements, fixtures, land improvements, construction in progress, and land development are required on the form as well.  Generally, however, structural improvements, land improvements, and land development information is not assessed by the business property tax division and is passed along to the real property division for them to decide whether or not to assess it, or wait for the next time the property as a whole is assessed. Construction in progress would be assessed by the business property tax department: i.e. – you have spent $200,000 in construction on a building that is not complete at the end of the year.  Once the building was completed, the business property tax department would stop assessing it, and the real property department would start assessing it.

Fixtures such as counters, sinks, lights, bolted down equipment, etc. would generally be assessed by the business property tax department.  If you are a tenant and pay for any leasehold improvements, you should report and will be assessed on those as well.  Most leases are written that the property becomes the landlord’s after the tenant moves out of the space.

One final issue that often comes up in an audit is whether or not the business has property that was purchased and immediately expensed on its books and tax returns, and therefore do not show up on depreciation schedules, which is often the main source for reportable property.  In the code, there is no immateriality exclusion for something as small as a stapler, but in practice the auditor is not going to assess you on those items.  You should look for more significant items, however, such as the $400 in books you bought for your business library.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

New Tax Impacts for Trusts with Capital Gains – Part II

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

November 15, 2013

Two weeks ago I laid the groundwork of some of the basics on revocable and irrevocable trusts in order to start discussing new implications due to law changes in 2013.  Revocable trusts such as the common revocable living trust most people use for estate planning is disregarded for tax purposes as separate from the owner – in other words all of the income generated by its assets gets reported on your personal 1040 tax return.  Irrevocable trusts, such as a bypass trust commonly used in estate planning, or a gifting trust, are treated as separate tax paying entities, get their own taxpayer identification number, and file their own tax returns.

In early 2013 new laws were passed that increased the personal income tax rates from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on people in the highest tax bracket ($400,000 filing single or $450,000 married filing joint).  It also raised the capital gains rate to 20 percent for these same people (up from 15 percent).  In addition, a new 3.8 percent Medicare surtax is assessed on net investment income (think interest, dividends, capital gains, among others) for people making over $200,000 single or $250,000 filing joint.  Most people do not make $450,000 or even $250,000 a year, so this seems innocuous to many.

However, many people making less than these thresholds do have irrevocable trusts – most commonly after a spouse has passed away.  The problem with irrevocable trusts is that the thresholds to be impacted are so much lower.  Once your trust has just $11,950 (2013) of income, you have hit the top bracket and will be subject to the 39.6 percent income tax rate, 20 percent capital gains rate, and the 3.8 percent Medicare surcharge!  One stock sale could easily put you in the top bracket!  This effectively means an 8.8 percent tax increase on capital gains and 4.6 percent to 8.4 percent increase on other types of income.  That is a big hit every year, and will be something new to battle.

If you can avoid having the income taxed to the trust, and instead have it distributed out and taxed to the beneficiaries, you can probably save a chunk of taxes since it will be taxed at the lower rates on the beneficiary tax returns – assuming your individual beneficiaries are not in the top tax bracket!

Whether or not you have discretion or are required to distribute income to beneficiaries is defined in your trust document.  Even the very definition of “income” itself, for trust accounting purposes, is governed by your trust document primarily and the state’s principal and income act, secondarily.  The proper allocation of income and expenses to trust accounting income or principal is very important to beneficiaries (whether they realize it or not), since trust accounting income generally goes to one beneficiary, and the principal often goes to a different beneficiary down the road…so it determines the amount the beneficiaries receive.  Many common irrevocable trusts are written to require the distribution of trust accounting income each year to the current beneficiaries with rights to dip into principal as needed to maintain an ascertainable standard of living.  Upon death, the remaining principal goes to the remainder beneficiaries.

The California Uniform Principal and Income Act does not define capital gains as income, but as a principal transaction – basically an asset changing form – for instance from real estate to cash.  I hardly ever see trusts that even mention capital gains, much less defining it as a part of income.  In the absence of trust language, the principal and income act governs, therefore many trusts in California are not permitted to distribute capital gains to the beneficiaries.

It is amazing to me how many trust tax returns I have seen over the years that violate this – often because the preparer does not really understand trust taxation rules.  I have even run into cases where the prior preparer has never even asked for the trust document, and thus relies on the default settings in their tax software in conjunction with “the way we’ve always done it” to govern!  This would be analogous to creating a detailed shopping list and asking your neighbors to go shopping for you; in lieu of taking your list, they go on the internet and print out a list of common things people buy, and then supplement it with things they have bought for other neighbors in the past! Chances are pretty good; you will not get what you need!  Enforcement of correct trust income tax preparation comes much more often by threats of lawsuit against the trustee than by IRS audit. Keep in mind the remainder beneficiary’s attorney would be happy to sue the trustee for shorting his client’s share by not following the terms of the trust.

In two weeks we will conclude our discussion.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

New Tax Impacts for Trusts with Capital Gains – Part I

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

November 1, 2013

In order to discuss the new challenge trustees have regarding capital gains, let us first review some basics regarding revocable and irrevocable trusts.

A revocable living trust is a trust created during your lifetime that spells out what you want to happen with, and who you want to control, your assets if you become incapacitated or pass away.  This is the most common type of trust, and many people set these up because it has many advantages over just having a will upon death: the chief reasons are that it provides more control, has more tax advantages, it is more private, it is faster, and it is less expensive than the default court process called probate.

I would say the one major drawback of a trust administration process compared to probate is that you do not have the standardized court oversight and genuine closure that you have with the probate process.  If there are difficult problems with trust administration, it often stems from that fact that most people appoint one of the recipients of their assets (beneficiaries) as the person responsible for carrying out the trust terms (the trustee).

Money does strange things to people, and I have witnessed it lead to families ripped apart when the non-trustee siblings start questioning the integrity of the sibling appointed as trustee.  Generally, beneficiaries want their money yesterday!  And they do not understand that it still takes a good bit of time, effort, and expense to handle everything.  That said, I would still choose to have a trust 98 percent of the time, instead of just a will.  If there are concerns about the solidarity of the beneficiaries, a corporate trustee could always be a solution.

Another characteristic of a revocable living trust is that it can be changed or even scrapped at anytime while you are alive – hence the name “revocable.”  As a result of this control feature, of being able to terminate the trust and retain the assets, the trust is disregarded as a separate taxpaying entity, and you just report all the eligible income and expenses of the trust on your personal 1040.  Everything gets reported under your Social Security Number instead of having a separate taxpayer identification number.

Now let us turn the tables and speak about irrevocable trusts.  These are trusts that generally cannot be changed once they are created.  (Of course, nothing is set in stone, and well drafted trusts with trust protector language can assist in making changes, or if all the beneficiaries agree and the court approves a petition, changes or even revocation of an irrevocable trust are possible!)

An example of  an irrevocable trust would be your revocable living trust after you pass away.  At that point, your wishes regarding the disposition of your assets are irrevocable – locked-in as you specified – and the trustee must carry out your wishes.  Often a revocable living trust will contain provisions to set up other trusts.  For married couples, it has been very common to create an irrevocable trust called a bypass trust, (aka credit shelter trust, ‘B’ Trust, etc.).

Prior to some new “permanent” laws passed in January ($5 million indexed-for-inflation estate tax exemption with portability), it was important for estate inheritance tax reasons for many people to create bypass trusts. For most people estate inheritance tax will not be a concern now, but bypass trusts, or similar types of trusts, can still be important for controlling where the deceased spouse’s assets end-up, especially in blended family situations with children from prior marriages.  In other words, dad doesn’t want mom to disinherit the children he had from a prior marriage once he dies!

Another type of common irrevocable trust is a gifting trust.  These are commonly created by a parent or a grandparent to permanently move assets out of their estate and into a trust for the benefit (or future benefit) of a child or grandchild with certain stipulations and protections governing the assets in the trust.  We saw a lot of these set up in 2012 due to the uncertainty of the estate tax laws and the possibility of missing an opportunity to save estate inheritance tax down the road.

Due to the fact that you have relinquished a lot of control with an irrevocable trust, and it will no longer be included in your estate, the taxing authorities view this trust as a separate tax paying entity.  This means it has its own tax return each year and gets its own taxpayer identification number.

In two weeks we will begin discussing the new tax rate changes and their impacts on trusts.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Rental Property Outside of CA: LLC Options and Issues – Part II

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

July 12, 2013

Two weeks ago, I discussed that LLCs are a popular choice for holding rental property, but that it certainly comes at a cost in California when you consider a minimum $800 annual franchise tax, the cost of filing another tax return each year, having to maintain better accounting records, as well as the initial costs to set it all up.  I also advised that if you do setup an LLC, you want to utilize an attorney to set things up instead of a do-it-yourself online approach.  I have seen plenty of problems from people using the latter method.  It is pretty easy to jeopardize the liability protections of the LLC if you do not have competent legal advice.  Since liability protection is one of the main reasons you go to all this continued expense and trouble, you might want to consider the old adage: penny-wise, pound-foolish.

Two weeks ago, I also raised the question and left readers pondering about whether you could save the minimum $800 a year tax by setting up your LLC in another state, which of course would be a natural inclination anyway, if the property is located in another state.

Many Californians are already in this boat, and I would say quite a number of them are unaware that even if they have a non-California LLC holding non-California rental property, they are generally required to register in California and pay California the minimum $800 franchise tax.  The franchise tax is levied on you if you are considered doing business in California.  So how is your rental property in Arizona, for example, that is held in an Arizona LLC (that maybe even loses money every year) considered doing business in California and subject to a minimum $800 California tax?

California’s position is that the mere fact that a managing member of the LLC lives in California, is enough to constitute that the LLC is doing business in California.  More specifically, they say that if you have more than one member, LLCs are taxed under partnership law unless you elect to be treated as a corporation.  Partnership law says that the activities of the partnership flow through and are attributed to the partners, and that the partners are therefore, by statute, doing business.  If they reside in California, then they are doing business while in California, thus requiring registration of the LLC in California and payment of the $800 minimum franchise tax (and filing of a tax return).  Limited partners also have statutory rights to participate so California is not letting them off the hook either.

Single member LLCs (a husband and wife are treated as one member in California) are disregarded entities for tax purposes and are not taxed as partnerships or corporations, but are reported directly on your personal tax returns.  For single member LLCs and corporations California will look to facts and circumstances.  If you could somehow build a case that your LLC had absolutely no connections with California (such as tax preparation, bank accounts, etc.) and that every time any decision needed to be made with regard to managing your property or LLC, you were out of the state of California (and not on your living room telephone), you might have a shot at not “doing business” in California! It is an extremely difficult threshold, and taxpayers have been losing case after case in court over this issue.

California has also put into place a steep new penalty for anyone failing to register.  In addition to the minimum $800 franchise tax, they are now assessing a $2,000 penalty plus interest for every year you have failed to register.  At about, $3,000 a year, that adds up quickly. Generally, California does not go back to assess past delinquencies if you start reporting before they discover you.  The internet and increased sharing of information between state taxing authorities is making this much easier to detect.  So make haste and get compliant if you are not already.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Where is My Refund?

Originally Published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

April 20, 2011

 

So you filed your returns on time and you are now waiting for your refund to arrive – but when?  Hopefully you have taken advantage of modern technology by e-filing your tax returns and requesting direct deposit – not only does this ensure your information is communicated faster and more accurately to the taxing authorities, but it also puts money in your pocket in less time.

Federal

The IRS has an e-file refund cycle chart available online that will tell you the day your check will be deposited or mailed depending on when the return is electronically transmitted and accepted.  Generally, it will take one to two weeks for direct deposit or two to three weeks for a paper check.  If you mailed your returns, it could take up to six weeks before you hear the jingle in your pocket.  If you go to www.irs.gov and click on “Where’s My Refund,”( on the right-hand side of the page) you can enter in your social security number, filing status, and refund amount to determine the exact status of your refund.

California

California refunds are typically paid out within seven to 10 days if you e-filed, or eight weeks if filed by paper!  Like the IRS, the FTB has a similar online tool to check the status of your refund.  This tool is available at www.ftb.ca.gov/online/refund/index.asp.

What about same-day or next-day refunds?

You have probably heard radio or television ads advertising tax preparation services that can get you a refund almost immediately.  This is not what is really happening.  No tax preparer or discount chain has a special connection with the IRS or the FTB.  The preparer typically teams up with a bank to loan you the money in anticipation of your refund.  These are almost always high-interest and high-fee short-term loans and are rarely in your best interest.  The tax preparers and the banks funding your “refund” are the ones who usually benefit.

There has been a lot of scrutiny and lawsuits regarding these loans over the past several years.  One major chain in California settled a lawsuit in 2009 for nearly $5 million due to the deceptive and pricey structure of these products it was offering to taxpayers.    These refund anticipation loans are often likened to pay-day loans and generally should only be used as a last resort in an emergency.

The best way to avoid the need for one of these loans is to ensure you are e-filing with direct deposit and to do better planning during the year by adjusting your withholdings or estimates if there are changes to your tax situation.  If you are unsure how to handle this on your own, you may wish to consult with a tax professional.  The other option is to just be patient and wait for the refund to come for free!

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA.  Travis can be reached at 831-333-1041