Leaving a Business: Which Exit Plan is Best?

Selecting your business successor is a fundamental objective of planning an exit strategy and requires a careful assessment of what you want from the sale of your business and who can best give it to you.

There are four ways to leave your business: transfer ownership to family members, Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP), sale to a third party, and liquidation. The more you understand about each one, the better the chance is that you will leave your business on your terms and under the conditions you want. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about each one.

1. Transfer Ownership to your Children

Transferring a business within the family fulfills many people’s personal goals of keeping their business and family together, but while most business owners want to transfer their business to their children, few end up doing so for various reasons. As such, it’s necessary to develop a contingency plan to convey your business to another type of buyer.

Transferring your business to your children can provide financial well-being for younger family members unable to earn comparable income from outside employment, as well as allow you to stay actively involved in the business with your children until you choose your departure date.

It also affords you the luxury of selling the business for whatever amount of money you need to live on, even if the value of the business does not justify that sum of money.

On the other hand, this option also holds the potential to increase family friction, discord, and feelings of unequal treatment among siblings. Parents often feel the need to treat all of their children equally. In reality, this is difficult to achieve. In most cases, one child will probably run or own the business at the perceived expense of the others.

At the same time, financial security also may be diminished, rather than enhanced, and the very existence of the business is at risk if it’s transferred to a family member who can’t or won’t run it properly. In addition, family dynamics, in general, may also significantly diminish your control over the business and its operations.

2. Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOP)

If your children have no interest or are unable to take over your business, there is another option to ensure the continued success of your business: the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

ESOPs are qualified retirement plans subject to the regulatory requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). There’s one important difference, however; the majority (more than half) of their investment must be derived from their own company stock.

Whether it’s due to lack of interest from your children, an economic downturn or a high asking price that no one is willing to pay, what an ESOP does is create a third-party buyer (your employees) where none previously existed. After all, who more than your employees has a vested interest in your company?

ESOPs are set up as a trust (complete with trustees) into which either cash to buy company stock or newly issued stock is placed. Contributions the company makes to the trust are generally tax deductible, subject to certain limitations and because transactions are considered stock sales, the owner who is selling (you) can avoid paying capital gains. Shares are then distributed to employees (typically based on compensation levels) and grow tax-free until distribution.

If your company is a stable, well-established one with steady, consistent earnings, then an ESOP might be just the ticket to creating a winning exit plan from your business.

If you have any questions about setting up an ESOP for your business, give the office a call today.

3. Sale to a Third Party

In a retirement situation, a sale to a third party too often becomes a bargain sale–and the only alternative to liquidation. But if the business is well prepared for sale this option just might be your best way to cash out. In fact, you may find that this so-called “last resort” strategy just happens to land you at the resort of your choice.

Although many owners don’t realize it, most or all of your money should come from the business at closing. Therefore, the fundamental advantage of a third party sale is immediate cash or at least a substantial upfront portion of the selling price. This ensures that you obtain your fundamental objectives of financial security and, perhaps, avoid risk as well.

If you do not receive the bulk of the purchase price in cash, at closing, however, your risk will suddenly become immense. You will place a substantial amount of the money you counted on receiving in the unpredictable hands of fate. The best way to avoid this risk is to get all of the money you are going to need at closing. This way any outstanding balance payable to you is “icing on the cake.”

4. Liquidation

If there is no one to buy your business, you shut it down. In liquidation, the owners sell off their assets, collect outstanding accounts receivable, pay off their bills, and keep what’s left, if anything, for themselves.

The primary reason liquidation is considered as an exit plan is that a business lacks sufficient income-producing capacity apart from the owner’s direct efforts and apart from the value of the assets themselves. For example, if the business can produce only $75,000 per year and the assets themselves are worth $1 million, no one would pay more for the business than the value of the assets.

Service businesses, in particular, are thought to have little value when the owner leaves the business. Since most service businesses have little “hard value” other than accounts receivable, liquidation produces the smallest return for the owner’s lifelong commitment to the business. Smart owners guard against this. They plan ahead to ensure that they do not have to rely on this last ditch method to fund their retirement.

If you need assistance figuring out which exit strategy is best for you and your business, please don’t hesitate to call. The sooner you start planning, the easier it will be.

Defer Capital Gains using Like-Kind Exchanges

If you’re a savvy investor, you probably know that you must generally report as income any mutual fund distributions whether you reinvest them or exchange shares in one fund for shares of another. In other words, you must report and pay any capital gains tax owed.

But if real estate’s your game, did you know that it’s possible to defer capital gains by taking advantage of a tax break that allows you to swap investment property on a tax-deferred basis?

Named after Section 1031 of the tax code, a like-kind exchange generally applies to real estate and were designed for people who wanted to exchange properties of equal value. If you own land in Oregon and trade it for a shopping center in Rhode Island, as long as the values of the two properties are equal, nobody pays capital gains tax even if both properties may have appreciated since they were originally purchased.

Section 1031 transactions don’t have to involve identical types of investment properties. You can swap an apartment building for a shopping center, or a piece of undeveloped, raw land for an office or building. You can even swap a second home that you rent out for a parking lot.

There’s also no limit as to how many times you can use a Section 1031 exchange. It’s entirely possible to roll over the gain from your investment swaps for many years and avoid paying capital gains tax until a property is finally sold. Keep in mind, however, that gain is deferred, but not forgiven, in a like-kind exchange and you must calculate and keep track of your basis in the new property you acquired in the exchange.

Section 1031 is not for personal use. For example, you can’t use it for stocks, bonds and other securities, or personal property (with limited exceptions such as artwork).

Properties of unequal value

Let’s say you have a small piece of property, and you want to trade up for a bigger one by exchanging it with another party. You can make the transaction without having to pay capital gains tax on the difference between the smaller property’s current market value and your lower original cost.

That’s good for you, but the other property owner doesn’t make out so well. Presumably, you will have to pay cash or assume a mortgage on the bigger property to make up the difference in value. This is referred to as “boot” in the tax trade, and your partner must pay capital gains tax on that part of the transaction.

To avoid that you could work through an intermediary who is often known as an escrow agent. Instead of a two-way deal involving a one-for-one swap, your transaction becomes a three-way deal.

Your replacement property may come from a third party through the escrow agent. Juggling numerous properties in various combinations, the escrow agent may arrange evenly valued swaps.

Under the right circumstances, you don’t even need to do an equal exchange. You can sell a property at a profit, buy a more expensive one, and defer the tax indefinitely.

You sell a property and have the cash put into an escrow account. Then the escrow agent buys another property that you want. He or she gets the title to the deed and transfers the property to you.

Mortgage and other debt

When considering a Section 1031 exchange, it’s important to take into account mortgage loans and other debt on the property you are planning to swap. Let’s say you hold a $200,000 mortgage on your existing property but your “new” property only holds a mortgage of $150,000. Even if you’re not receiving cash from the trade, your mortgage liability has decreased by $50,000. In the eyes of the IRS, this is classified as “boot” and you will still be liable for capital gains tax because it is still treated as “gain.”

Advance planning required

A Section 1031 transaction takes advance planning. You must identify your replacement property within 45 days of selling your estate. Then you must close on that within 180 days. There is no grace period. If your closing gets delayed by a storm or by other unforeseen circumstances, and you cannot close in time, you’re back to a taxable sale.

Find an escrow agent that specializes in these types of transactions and contact your accountant to set up the IRS form ahead of time. Some people just sell their property, take cash and put it in their bank account. They figure that all they have to do is find a new property within 45 days and close within 180 days. But that’s not the case. As soon as “sellers” have cash in their hands, or the paperwork isn’t done right, they’ve lost their opportunity to use this provision of the code.

Personal residences and vacation homes

Section 1031 doesn’t apply to personal residences, but the IRS lets you sell your principal residence tax-free as long as the gain is under $250,000 for individuals ($500,000 if you’re married).

Section 1031 exchanges may be used for swapping vacation homes, but present a trickier situation. Here’s an example of how this might work. Let’s say you stop going to your condo at the ski resort and instead rent it out to a bona fide tenant for 12 months. In doing so, you’ve effectively converted the condo to an investment property, which you can then swap for another property under the Section 1031 exchange.

However, if you want to use your new property as a vacation home, there’s a catch. You’ll need to comply with a 2008 IRS safe harbor rule that states in each of the 12-month periods following the 1031 exchange you must rent the dwelling to someone for 14 days (or more) consecutively. In addition, you cannot use the dwelling more than the greater of 14 days or 10 percent of the number of days during the 12-month period that the dwelling unit is rented out for at fair rental price.

You must report a section 1031 exchange to the IRS on Form 8824, Like-Kind Exchanges and file it with your tax return for the year in which the exchange occurred. If you do not specifically follow the rules for like-kind exchanges, you may be held liable for taxes, penalties, and interest on your transactions.

While they may seem straightforward, like-kind exchanges can be complicated. There are all kinds of restrictions and pitfalls that you need to be careful of. If you’re considering a Section 1031 exchange or have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.

Tax Planning for Small Business Owners

Tax planning is the process of looking at various tax options to determine when, whether, and how to conduct business and personal transactions to reduce or eliminate tax liability.

Many small business owners ignore tax planning. They don’t even think about their taxes until it’s time to meet with their accountants, but tax planning is an ongoing process and good tax advice is a valuable commodity. It is to your benefit to review your income and expenses monthly and meet with your CPA or tax advisor quarterly to analyze how you can take full advantage of the provisions, credits and deductions that are legally available to you.

Although tax avoidance planning is legal, tax evasion – the reduction of tax through deceit, subterfuge, or concealment – is not. Frequently what sets tax evasion apart from tax avoidance is the IRS’s finding that there was fraudulent intent on the part of the business owner. The following are four of the areas the IRS examiners commonly focus on as pointing to possible fraud:

  1. Failure to report substantial amounts of income such as a shareholder’s failure to report dividends or a store owner’s failure to report a portion of the daily business receipts.
  2. Claims for fictitious or improper deductions on a return such as a sales representative’s substantial overstatement of travel expenses or a taxpayer’s claim of a large deduction for charitable contributions when no verification exists.
  3. Accounting irregularities such as a business’s failure to keep adequate records or a discrepancy between amounts reported on a corporation’s return and amounts reported on its financial statements.
  4. Improper allocation of income to a related taxpayer who is in a lower tax bracket such as where a corporation makes distributions to the controlling shareholder’s children.

Tax Planning Strategies

Countless tax planning strategies are available to small business owners. Some are aimed at the owner’s individual tax situation and some at the business itself, but regardless of how simple or how complex a tax strategy is, it will be based on structuring the strategy to accomplish one or more of these often overlapping goals:

  • Reducing the amount of taxable income
  • Lowering your tax rate
  • Controlling the time when the tax must be paid
  • Claiming any available tax credits
  • Controlling the effects of the Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Avoiding the most common tax planning mistakes

In order to plan effectively, you’ll need to estimate your personal and business income for the next few years. This is necessary because many tax planning strategies will save tax dollars at one income level, but will create a larger tax bill at other income levels. You will want to avoid having the “right” tax plan made “wrong” by erroneous income projections. Once you know what your approximate income will be, you can take the next step: estimating your tax bracket.

The effort to come up with crystal-ball estimates may be difficult and by its very nature will be inexact. On the other hand, you should already be projecting your sales revenues, income, and cash flow for general business planning purposes. The better your estimates are, the better the odds that your tax planning efforts will succeed.

Maximizing Business Entertainment Expenses

Entertainment expenses are legitimate deductions that can lower your tax bill and save you money, provided you follow certain guidelines.

In order to qualify as a deduction, business must be discussed before, during, or after the meal and the surroundings must be conducive to a business discussion. For instance, a small, quiet restaurant would be an ideal location for a business dinner. A nightclub would not. Be careful of locations that include ongoing floor shows or other distracting events that inhibit business discussions. Prime distractions are theater locations, ski trips, golf courses, sports events, and hunting trips.

The IRS allows up to a 50 percent deduction on entertainment expenses, but you must keep good records and the business meal must be arranged with the purpose of conducting specific business. Bon appetite!

Important Business Automobile Deductions

If you use your car for business such as visiting clients or going to business meetings away from your regular workplace you may be able to take certain deductions for the cost of operating and maintaining your vehicle. You can deduct car expenses by taking either the standard mileage rate or using actual expenses.

The mileage reimbursement rates for 2015 are 57.5 cents per business mile (56 cents per mile in 2014), 14 cents per charitable mile (unchanged from 2014) and 23 cents for moving and medical miles (down from 23.5 cents per mile in 2014).

If you own two cars, another way to increase deductions is to include both cars in your deductions. This works because business miles driven is determined by business use. To figure business use, divide the business miles driven by the total miles driven. This strategy can result in significant deductions.

Whichever method you decide to use to take the deduction, always be sure to keep accurate records such as a mileage log and receipts. If you need assistance figuring out which method is best for your business, don’t hesitate to contact the office.

Increase Your Bottom Line When You Work At Home

The home office deduction is quite possibly one of the most difficult deductions ever to come around the block. Yet, there are so many tax advantages it becomes worth the navigational trouble. Here are a few common tips for home office deductions that can make tax season significantly less traumatic for those of you with a home office.

Try prominently displaying your home business phone number and address on business cards, have business guests sign a guest log book when they visit your office, deduct long-distance phone charges, keep a time and work activity log, retain receipts and paid invoices. Keeping these receipts makes it so much easier to determine percentages of deductions later on in the year.

Section 179 expensing for tax year 2015 allows you to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate over time, up to $25,000, with a cap of $200,000 (down from $500,000 and $2,000,000, respectively, in 2014) worth of qualified business property that you purchase during the year. The key word is “purchase”. Equipment can be new or used and includes certain software. All home office depreciable equipment meets the qualification.

Some deductions can be taken whether or not you qualify for the home office deduction itself. It’s never too early to meet with a tax professional to learn more about home office deductions. Call today to schedule a consultation.

Changing Jobs? Don’t Forget your 401(k)

One of the most important questions you face when changing job is what to do with the money in your 401(k). Making the wrong move could cost you thousands of dollars or more in taxes and lower returns.

Let’s say you put in five years at your current job. For most of those years, you’ve had the company take a set percentage of your pre-tax salary and put it into your 401(k) plan.

Now that you’re leaving, what should you do? The first rule of thumb is to leave it alone because you have 60 days to decide whether to roll it over or leave it in the account.

Resist the temptation to cash out. The worst thing an employee can do when leaving a job is to withdraw the money from their 401(k) plans and put it in his or her bank account. Here’s why:

If you decide to have your distribution paid to you, the plan administrator will withhold 20 percent of your total for federal income taxes, so if you had $100,000 in your account and you wanted to cash it out, you’re already down to $80,000.

Furthermore, if you’re younger than 59 1/2, you’ll face a 10 percent penalty for early withdrawal come tax time. Now you’re down another 10 percent from the original amount of $100,000 to $70,000.

Also, because distributions are taxed as ordinary income, at the end of the year, you’ll have to pay the difference between your tax bracket and the 20 percent already taken out. For example, if you’re in the 33 percent tax bracket, you’ll still owe 13 percent, or $13,000. This lowers the amount of your cash distribution to $57,000.

But that’s not all. You might also have to pay state and local taxes. Between taxes and penalties, you could end up with little over half of what you had saved up, short-changing your retirement savings significantly.

What are the Alternatives?

If your new job offers a retirement plan, then the easiest course of action is to roll your account into the new plan before the 60-day period ends. Referred to as a “rollover” it is relatively painless to do. The 401(k) plan administrator at your previous job should have all of the forms you need.

A word of caution: Many employers require that you work a minimum period of time (e.g. three months) before you can participate in a 401(k). If that is the case, one solution is to keep your money in your former employer’s 401(k) plan until the new one is available. Then you can roll it over into the new plan. Most plans let former employees leave their assets in the old plan for several months.

The best way to roll funds over from an old 401(k) plan to a new one is to use a direct transfer. With the direct transfer, you never receive a check, and you avoid all of the taxes and penalties mentioned above, and your savings will continue to grow tax-deferred until you retire.

60-Day Rollover Period

If you have your former employer make the distribution check out to you, the Internal Revenue Service considers this a cash distribution. The check you get will have 20 percent taken out automatically from your vested amount for federal income tax.

But don’t panic. You have 60 days to roll over the lump sum (including the 20 percent) to your new employer’s plan or into a rollover individual retirement account (IRA). Then you won’t owe the additional taxes or the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.

Note: If you’re not happy with the fund choices your new employer offers, you might opt for a rollover IRA instead of your company’s plan. You can then choose from hundreds of funds and have more control over your money. But again, to avoid the withholding hassle, use direct rollovers.

Note: Prior to 2015, the IRS allowed a one-per-year limit on rollovers on an IRA-by-IRA basis; however, starting in 2015, the limit will apply to aggregating all of an individual’s IRAs, effectively treating them as if they were a single IRA for the purposes of applying the limit.

Leave It Alone

If your vested account balance in your 401(k) is more than $5,000, you can usually leave it with your former employer’s retirement plan. Your lump sum will keep growing tax-deferred until you retire.

However, if you can’t leave the money in your former employer’s 401(k) and your new job doesn’t have a 401(k), your best bet is a direct rollover into an IRA. The same applies if you’ve decided to go into business for yourself.

Once you turn 59 1/2, you can begin withdrawals from your 401(k) plan or IRA without penalty and your withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income.

You don’t have to start taking withdrawals from your 401(k) unless you retire after age 70 1/2. With an IRA you must begin a schedule of taxable withdrawals based on your life expectancy when you reach 70 1/2, whether you’re working or not.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about IRA rollovers.

Hillary and Bill Clinton Release 8 Years of Tax Returns

Hillary and Bill Clinton paid $43.9 million in federal taxes from 2007 through 2014 on adjusted gross income totaling $139,097,232, according to tax returns released by the former secretary of state’s presidential campaign on Friday.

That put the Clintons near the very, very top of the American economic scale. Their 2012 adjusted gross income of $19.7 million put them in the top 0.01 percent, a level reached by fewer than 14,000 households, and represents a meteoric rise for a couple that once depended on Hillary Clinton’s law firm salary.  She was the prime family breadwinner when Bill Clinton was making $35,000 a year as governor of Arkansas.

The Clintons average federal tax rate during that eight-year period works out to 31.6 percent. In 2014, with both Clintons on the paid-speech circuit and Hillary Clinton on tour to promote her most recent memoir, the couple brought in more income than in any previous year: $27,946,490. They reported paying a federal tax rate of 35.7 percent in 2014 and donating 10.8 percent of their income to charity. Clinton’s campaign chose to release the tax returns along with a letter from her doctor giving her a clean bill of health on an unusually busy summer Friday when the State Department released some of her e-mails from her time as secretary of state and the Federal Election Commission released super PAC donation records.

Taken together, the voluntary and involuntary disclosures amounted to “the most expansive, transparent release of documents ever,” Clinton senior strategist Joel Benenson said on Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect, about the same hour as the super PAC supporting Clinton, Priorities USA, made its filing with the FEC. With the latest release of tax documents, Benenson said, the Clintons will have made public 38 years of tax returns.

That puts Hillary Clinton ahead of one of her chief Republican rivals, Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor last month made 33 years of his taxes public. Another one of the 2016 presidential field’s wealthier candidates, Carly Fiorina, was the first to release details on her taxes, providing two years of reports.

The Clinton campaign moved quickly to exploit the advantage. “If @JebBush wants to call himself the most transparent candidate in the race about his finances, he is going to have some catching up to do,” Brian Fallon, the campaign press secretary, said on Twitter.

“Looking forward to seeing the itemized income sources for Jeb Bush and Associates. On any day of the week,” Fallon added. This came after Bush communications director Tim Miller accused the Clinton team of engaging in a Friday news dump timed to overshadow the court-ordered release of Clinton’s State Department e-mails.

On With All Due Respect, Benenson argued that Bush has failed to detail the source of some $19 million in business fees and dismissed the theory that the campaign was engaging in obfuscation by information. ”The campaign releases documents when they have them ready,” he said. “Why not do it all at once?”

Among the nuggets in the Clintons’ tax forms: The couple has his-and-her LLCs, a corporate entity created by independent earners for tax advantages. Hillary Clinton’s post-State Department income from speeches and her book, Hard Choices, was paid to ZFS Holdings LLC, established in Delaware a week after she left the job. Her husband uses a similar entity, WJC LLC, to take in speech and consulting income. The Clintons listed WJC but not ZFS in financial disclosures released earlier this year, and the Clinton campaign did not respond to questions about why the candidate’s LLC was not disclosed.

Since 2010, Bill Clinton brought in just short of $16.5 million for his role as honorary chancellor of Laureate Education, a for-profit college company. He left the position earlier this year weeks after his wife launched her campaign.

In 2014, Bill Clinton made $9 million off of paid speeches and $6.4 million in consulting fees. Of that, $4.3 million came from Laureate and another $2.1 million from GEMS Education, a Dubai-based company that runs preschool and K-12 programs. He made less from those two gigs in previous years—$5.6 million in 2013 and $4.7 million in 2012. In 2011, the former president was paid $2.5 million by Laureate, $500,000 by GEMS and $100,000 by Teneo Holdings, a firm co-founded by former Clinton aide Doug Band.

The Clintons disclosed $3,022,700 in charitable contributions last year, including $3 million to the Clinton Family Foundation and $200 to Hot Springs High School’s class of 1964, for which the former president attended his 50th reunion last fall. In all, the Clintons gave $14,959,450 in charitable contributions between 2007 and 2014, though nearly all—$14,769,000—went to the Clinton Family Foundation, which disburses donations to other charities, including the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton used the release of her tax returns as an opportunity to call for higher tax rates on high-income Americans. “Families like mine that reap rewards from our economy have a responsibility to pay our fair share,” she said in a statement.

In her statement, Clinton emphasized that her family has not always been so wealthy. She and her husband “have come a long way from my days going door-to-door for the Children’s Defense Fund and earning $16,450 as a young law professor in Arkansas—and we owe it to the opportunities America provides,” she said.

Friday’s release covers the years during which Clinton first ran for president, served as secretary of state and then made millions of dollars giving speeches. During the same time, Bill Clinton was making money through speeches and consulting. The Clintons have previously released tax returns going back to 1977 during earlier campaigns and while in the White House.

710,000 Affordable Care Act Tax Credit Recipients Didn’t File Tax Returns

Approximately 710,000 taxpayers who received the Advanced Premium Tax Credit for buying health insurance last year have not filed their tax returns or filed for an extension.

In a letter to Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, IRS commissioner John Koskinen said the IRS is contacting the taxpayers to remind them of their obligation.

“Approximately 710,000 of the taxpayers with APTC have not yet filed a tax return and have not filed an extension, as required,” he wrote last Friday. “As one part of our post-compliance strategy, we are sending letters to taxpayers who had APTC paid on their behalf who have not yet reconciled and who did not file an extension to remind them of their obligation to file a tax return. Under regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, taxpayers must meet this obligation in order to maintain their eligibility for APTC to help pay for Marketplace coverage in 2016. We are urging these taxpayers to file an electronic tax return to reconcile their APTC within 30 days. We will follow up with these taxpayers as appropriate.”

In response to the letter, Hatch called on the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, J. Russell George, to examine the use of the tax credits, noting that the 710,000 people had probably received more than $2.4 billion in Advanced Premium Tax Credit payments.

In a letter to Inspector General George, Hatch reiterated his ongoing concern regarding the integrity of APTC payments and outlined his request for an examination of a large sample of individuals who received a government subsidy and failed to submit a tax return.

“A critical element in safeguarding the integrity of insurance subsidies is the reconciliation process that occurs when taxpayers file their tax returns and reconcile subsidies received versus the amount they were in fact due,” Hatch wrote Monday in a letter to George. “While it is likely that not all of these are fraudulent, because of the Marketplace’s lax integrity controls there is reason to believe that a significant portion could be.”

Hatch’s letter comes on the heels of a Senate Finance Committee hearing that included testimony from an official with the Government Accountability Office who found as part of an undercover investigation that the federal exchange approved 11 out of 12 telephone and online applications for fictitious applicants (see Fake Applicants Received Tax Credits for Health Insurance). As a result, the federal government paid $2,500 per month, or $30,000 per year, in credits for insurance policies for these fictitious individuals.

IRS Phone Scam Ringleader Gets 14-Year Sentence

A scammer who organized a scheme in which taxpayers were threatened with calls purporting to come from the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI demanding payment has been sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Sahil Patel was sentenced to 175 months in prison and $1 million in forfeiture for his role in organizing the U.S. side of a massive fraud and extortion ring run through various “call centers” located in India, through which Patel and his co-conspirators impersonated American law enforcement officials and threatened victims with arrest and financial penalties unless those victims made payments to avoid purported charges.

In addition to the prison sentence, Patel, 36, of Tatamy, Pa., was sentenced to three years of supervised release.

Patel pleaded guilty in January 2015 before U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who imposed the sentence Wednesday. “The nature of this crime robbed people of their identities and their money in a way that causes people to feel they have been almost destroyed,” said Hellerstein.

According to prosecutors, from Dec. 2011 through the day of his arrest on Dec. 18, 2013, Patel participated as a leader in a sophisticated scheme to intimidate and defraud hundreds of innocent victims of hundreds of dollars apiece. Throughout the course of the fraud, telephone call centers located in India hired English-speaking employees to place telephone calls to individuals living in the U.S.

Armed with long lists of potential victims, referred to by Patel and his co-conspirators as “lead sheets,” those India-based callers systematically placed thousands of calls to individuals in the U.S. in the hopes of intimidating the call recipients into providing a payment to the co-conspirators. To extort these victims, the India-based callers impersonated law enforcement officials of the FBI and IRS and threatened their victims with financial penalties and arrest in connection with fabricated financial crimes.

“Sahil Patel’s elaborate scheme involved impersonating law enforcement officers and using intimidation and fear to bilk over a million dollars from hundreds of unsuspecting victims,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement.

In order to receive funds in a manner that would mask the identity of Patel and his co-conspirators, the ring undertook several measures to anonymize itself, including by using anonymized voice-over-internet technology, which was subscribed under fraudulent names in order to give the appearance of being related to U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Patel and his co-conspirators also used several layers of wire transactions in order to conceal the destination and nature of the extorted payments, which totaled at least $1.2 million.

The scam has been continuing and on the rise this year despite Patel’s arrest. Taxpayers who have been targeted by the scam can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at www.tigta.gov and clicking on the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting tab in the upper right corner, or call the TIGTA hotline at 1-800-366-4484 FREE.

The Facts: Medical and Dental Expenses

If you, your spouse or dependents had significant medical or dental costs in 2015, you may be able to deduct those expenses when you file your tax return. Here are eight things you should know about medical and dental expenses and other benefits.

1. You must itemize. You can only claim medical expenses that you paid for in 2015, and only if you itemize on Schedule A on Form 1040. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t claim these expenses.

2. Deduction is limited. You can deduct all the qualified medical costs that you paid for during the year. However, you can only deduct the amount that is more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. The AGI threshold is still 7.5 percent of your AGI if you or your spouse is age 65 or older. This exception will apply through December 31, 2016.

3. Expenses must have been paid in 2015. You can include medical and dental expenses you paid during the year, regardless of when the services were provided. Be sure to save your receipts and keep good records to substantiate your expenses.

4. You can’t deduct reimbursed expenses. Your total medical expenses for the year must be reduced by any reimbursement. Costs reimbursed by insurance or other sources do not qualify for a deduction. Normally, it makes no difference if you receive the reimbursement or if it is paid directly to the doctor or hospital.

5. Whose expenses qualify. You may include qualified medical expenses you pay for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply to divorced or separated parents, taxpayers with a multiple support agreement, or those with a qualifying relative who is not your child.

6. Types of expenses that qualify. You can deduct expenses primarily paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or treatment affecting any structure or function of the body. For drugs, you can only deduct prescription medication and insulin. You can also include premiums for medical, dental and certain long-term care insurance in your expenses. And, you can also include lactation supplies.

7. Transportation costs may qualify. You may deduct transportation costs primarily for and essential to medical care that qualifies as a medical expense, including fares for a taxi, bus, train, plane or ambulance as well as tolls and parking fees. If you use your car for medical transportation, you can deduct actual out-of-pocket expenses such as gas and oil, or you can deduct the standard mileage rate for medical expenses, which is 23 cents per mile for 2015.

8. No double benefit. You can’t claim a tax deduction for medical and dental expenses you paid for with funds from your Health Savings Accounts (HAS) or Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSA). Amounts paid with funds from those plans are usually tax-free. This rule prevents two tax benefits for the same expense.

Please call if you need help figuring out what qualifies as a medical or dental expense.

Changes Affecting your 2015 Premium Tax Credit

If you have enrolled for health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace and receive advance payments of the premium tax credit in 2015, it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Marketplace.

Advance payments of the premium tax credit provide financial assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Marketplace. Having at least some of your credit paid in advance directly to your insurance company will reduce the out-of-pocket cost of the health insurance premiums you’ll pay each month.

However, it is important to notify the Marketplace about changes in circumstances to allow the Marketplace to adjust your advance payment amount. This adjustment will decrease the likelihood of a significant difference between your advance credit payments and your actual premium tax credit. Changes in circumstances that you should report to the Marketplace include, but are not limited to:

  • An increase or decrease in your income
  • Marriage or divorce
  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • Starting a job with health insurance
  • Gaining or losing your eligibility for other health care coverage
  • Changing your residence

For the full list of changes you should report, visit HealthCare.gov or call the office. If you report changes in your income or family size to the Marketplace when they happen in 2015, the advance payments will more closely match the credit amount on your 2015 federal tax return. This will help you avoid getting a smaller refund than you expected or even owing money that you did not expect to owe.

Please contact the office if you have any questions about how the healthcare premium affects you and your taxes.

Starting a Business? Five Things You Must Know

Starting a new business is an exciting, but busy time with so much to be done and so little time to do it in. And, if you expect to have employees, there are a variety of federal and state forms and applications that will need to be completed to get your business up and running. That’s where a tax professional can help.

Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Securing an Employer Identification Number (also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number) is the first thing that needs to be done, since many other forms require it. EINs are issued by the IRS to employers, sole proprietors, corporations, partnerships, nonprofit associations, trusts, estates, government agencies, certain individuals, and other business entities for tax filing and reporting purposes.

The fastest way to apply for an EIN is online through the IRS website or by telephone. Applying by fax and mail generally takes one to two weeks. Please note that as of May 21, 2012 you can only apply for one EIN per day. The previous limit was 5.

State Withholding, Unemployment, and Sales Tax
Once you have your EIN, you need to fill out forms to establish an account with the State for payroll tax withholding, Unemployment Insurance Registration, and sales tax collections (if applicable).

Payroll Record Keeping
Payroll reporting and record keeping can be very time-consuming and costly, especially if it isn’t handled correctly. Also, keep in mind, that almost all employers are required to transmit federal payroll tax deposits electronically. Personnel files should be kept for each employee and include an employee’s employment application as well as the following:

Form W-4 is completed by the employee and used to calculate their federal income tax withholding. This form also includes necessary information such as address and social security number.

Form I-9 must be completed by you, the employer, to verify that employees are legally permitted to work in the U.S.

If you need help setting up or completing any tax-related paperwork needed for your business, don’t hesitate to call.