The following is a summary of important tax developments that occurred in October, November, and December of 2018 that may affect you, your family, your investments, and your livelihood.
Business meals. One of the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) disallows a deduction for any item with respect to an activity that is of a type generally considered to constitute entertainment, amusement, or recreation. However, the TCJA did not address the circumstances in which the provision of food and beverages might constitute entertainment.
The new guidance clarifies that, as in the past, taxpayers generally may continue to deduct 50% of otherwise allowable business meal expenses if:
1. The expense is an ordinary and necessary expense paid or incurred during the tax year in carrying on any trade or business;
2. The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances;
3. The taxpayer, or an employee of the taxpayer, is present at the furnishing of the food or beverages;
4. The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant, or similar business contact; and
5. In the case of food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity, the food and beverages are purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices, or receipts.
Convenience of the employer. IRS provided new guidance under the Code provision allowing for the exclusion of the value of any meals furnished by or on behalf of an individual’s employer if the meals are furnished on the employer’s business premises for the convenience of the employer. IRS determined that the “Kowalski test” – which provides that the exclusion applies to employer-provided meals only if the meals are necessary for the employee to properly perform his or her duties – still applies. Under this test, the carrying out of the employee’s duties in compliance with employer policies for that employee’s position must require that the employer provide the employee meals in order for the employee to properly discharge such duties in order to be “for the convenience of the employer.” While IRS is precluded from substituting its judgment for the business decisions of a taxpayer as to its business needs and concerns and what specific business policies or practices are best suited to addressing such, IRS can determine whether an employer actually follows and enforces its stated business policies and practices, and whether these policies and practices, and the needs and concerns they address, necessitate the provision of meals so that there is a substantial noncompensatory business reason for furnishing meals to employees.
Depreciating and expensing. IRS provided guidance on deducting expenses under Code Sec. 179(a) and depreciation under the alternate depreciation system (ADS) of Code Sec. 168(g), as amended by the TCJA. The guidance explains how taxpayers can elect to treat qualified real property, as defined under the TCJA, as property eligible for the expense election. The TCJA amended the definition of qualified real property to mean qualified improvement property and some improvements to nonresidential real property, such as: roofs; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning property; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems. The guidance also explains how real property trades or businesses or farming businesses, electing out of the TCJA interest deduction limitations, can change to the ADS for property placed in service before 2018, and provides that such is not a change in accounting method. In addition, the guidance provides an optional depreciation table for residential rental property depreciated under the ADS with a 30-year recovery period.
Limitation on deducting business interest expense. IRS has provided a safe harbor that allows taxpayers to treat certain infrastructure trades or businesses (such as airports, ports, mass commuting facilities, and sewage and waste disposal facilities) as real property trades or businesses solely for purposes of qualifying as an electing real property trade or business. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2018, the TCJA provides that a deduction allowed for business interest for any tax year can’t exceed the sum of:
1. The taxpayer’s business interest income for the tax year;
2. 30% of the taxpayer’s adjusted taxable income for the tax year; plus
3. The taxpayer’s floor plan financing interest (certain interest paid by vehicle dealers) for the tax year.
The term “business interest” generally means any interest properly allocable to a trade or business, but for purposes of the limitation on the deduction for business interest, it doesn’t include interest properly allocable to an “electing real property trade or business.” Thus, interest expense that is properly allocable to an electing real property trade or business is not properly allocable to a trade or business, and is not business interest expense that is subject to the interest limitation.
Please call us for more information about any of these developments and what steps you should implement to take advantage of favorable developments and to minimize the impact of those that are unfavorable.