How Series EE Savings Bonds Are Taxed
November 12, 2020 | BY admin
Many people have Series EE savings bonds that were purchased many years ago. Perhaps they were given to your children as gifts or maybe you bought them yourself and put them away in a file cabinet or safe deposit box. You may wonder: How is the interest you earn on EE bonds taxed? And if they reach final maturity, what action do you need to take to ensure there’s no loss of interest or unanticipated tax consequences?
Fixed or variable interest
Series EE Bonds dated May 2005, and after, earn a fixed rate of interest. Bonds purchased between May 1997 and April 30, 2005, earn a variable market-based rate of return.
Paper Series EE bonds were sold at half their face value. For example, if you own a $50 bond, you paid $25 for it. The bond isn’t worth its face value until it matures. (The U.S. Treasury Department no longer issues EE bonds in paper form.) Electronic Series EE Bonds are sold at face value and are worth their full value when available for redemption.
The minimum term of ownership is one year, but a penalty is imposed if the bond is redeemed in the first five years. The bonds earn interest for 30 years.
Interest generally accrues until redemption
Series EE bonds don’t pay interest currently. Instead, the accrued interest is reflected in the redemption value of the bond. The U.S. Treasury issues tables showing the redemption values.
The interest on EE bonds isn’t taxed as it accrues unless the owner elects to have it taxed annually. If an election is made, all previously accrued but untaxed interest is also reported in the election year. In most cases, this election isn’t made so bond holders receive the benefits of tax deferral.
If the election to report the interest annually is made, it will apply to all bonds and for all future years. That is, the election cannot be made on a bond-by-bond or year-by-year basis. However, there’s a procedure under which the election can be canceled.
If the election isn’t made, all of the accrued interest is finally taxed when the bond is redeemed or otherwise disposed of (unless it was exchanged for a Series HH bond). The bond continues to accrue interest even after reaching its face value, but at “final maturity” (after 30 years) interest stops accruing and must be reported.
Note: Interest on EE bonds isn’t subject to state income tax. And using the money for higher education may keep you from paying federal income tax on your interest.
Reaching final maturity
One of the main reasons for buying EE bonds is the fact that interest can build up without having to currently report or pay tax on it. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t allow for this tax-free buildup to continue indefinitely. When the bonds reach final maturity, they stop earning interest.
Series EE bonds issued in January 1990 reached final maturity after 30 years, in January 2020. That means that not only have they stopped earning interest, but all of the accrued and as yet untaxed interest is taxable in 2020.
If you own EE bonds (paper or electronic), check the issue dates on your bonds. If they’re no longer earning interest, you probably want to redeem them and put the money into something more profitable. Contact us if you have any questions about savings bond taxation, including Series HH and Series I bonds.
Do You Want to Withdraw Cash From Your Closely Held Corporation at a Low Tax Cost?
November 11, 2020 | BY admin
Owners of closely held corporations are often interested in easily withdrawing money from their businesses at the lowest possible tax cost. The simplest way is to distribute cash as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax-efficient, since it’s taxable to you to the extent of your corporation’s “earnings and profits.” And it’s not deductible by the corporation.
Fortunately, there are several alternative methods that may allow you to withdraw cash from a corporation while avoiding dividend treatment. Here are five strategies to consider:
- Capital repayments. To the extent that you’ve capitalized the corporation with debt, including amounts that you’ve advanced to the business, the corporation can repay the debt without the repayment being treated as a dividend. Additionally, interest paid on the debt can be deducted by the corporation. This assumes that the debt has been properly documented with terms that characterize debt and that the corporation doesn’t have an excessively high debt-to-equity ratio. If not, the “debt” repayment may be taxed as a dividend. If you make future cash contributions to the corporation, consider structuring them as debt to facilitate later withdrawals on a tax-advantaged basis.
- Compensation. Reasonable compensation that you, or family members, receive for services rendered to the corporation is deductible by the business. However, it’s also taxable to the recipient(s). This same rule applies to any compensation (in the form of rent) that you receive from the corporation for the use of property. In both cases, the compensation amount must be reasonable in terms of the services rendered or the value of the property provided. If it’s considered excessive, the excess will be a nondeductible corporate distribution.
- Loans. You can withdraw cash tax free from the corporation by borrowing money from it. However, to prevent having the loan characterized as a corporate distribution, it should be properly documented in a loan agreement or note. It should also be made on terms that are comparable to those in which an unrelated third party would lend money to you, including a provision for interest and principal. Also, consider what the corporation’s receipt of interest income will mean.
- Fringe benefits. You may want to obtain the equivalent of a cash withdrawal in fringe benefits, which aren’t taxable to you and are deductible by the corporation. Examples include life insurance, certain medical benefits, disability insurance and dependent care. Most of these benefits are tax-free only if provided on a nondiscriminatory basis to other corporation employees. You can also establish a salary reduction plan that allows you (and other employees) to take a portion of your compensation as nontaxable benefits, rather than as taxable compensation.
- Property sales. You can withdraw cash from the corporation by selling property to it. However, certain sales should be avoided. For example, you shouldn’t sell property to a more than 50%-owned corporation at a loss, since the loss will be disallowed. And you shouldn’t sell depreciable property to a more than 50%-owned corporation at a gain, since the gain will be treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain. A sale should be on terms that are comparable to those in which an unrelated third party would purchase the property. You may need to obtain an independent appraisal to establish the property’s value.
If you’re interested in discussing any of these ideas, contact us. We can help you get the most out of your corporation at the lowest tax cost.
Should You Go Phishing With Your Employees?
November 04, 2020 | BY admin
Every business owner is aware of the threat posed by cybercriminals. If a hacker were to gain access to the sensitive data about your business, customers or employees, the damage to your reputation and profitability could be severe.
You’re also probably aware of the specific danger of “phishing.” This is when a fraudster sends a phony communication (usually an email, but sometimes a text or instant message) that appears to be from a reputable source. The criminal’s objective is either to get recipients to reveal sensitive personal or company information or to click on a link exposing their computers to malicious software.
It’s a terrible thing to do, of course. Maybe you should give it a try.
An upfront investment
That’s right, many businesses are intentionally sending fake emails to their employees to determine how many recipients will fall for the scams and how much risk the companies face. These “phishing simulations” can be revealing and helpful, but they’re also fraught with hazards both financial and ethical.
On the financial side, a phishing simulation generally calls for an investment in software designed to create and distribute “realistic” phishing emails and then gather risk-assessment data. There are free, open-source platforms you might try. But their functionality is limited, and you’ll have to install and use them yourself without external tech support.
Commercially available phishing simulators are rich in features. Many come with educational tools so you can not only determine whether employees will fall for phishing scams, but also teach them how to avoid doing so. Developers typically offer installation assistance and ongoing support as well.
However, you’ll need to establish a budget and shop carefully. You must then regularly use the software as part of your company’s wider IT security measures to get an adequate return on investment.
As mentioned, phishing simulations present ethical risks. Some might say that the very act of sending a deceptive email to employees is a betrayal of trust. What’s worse, if the simulated phishing message exploits particularly sensitive fears, you could incur a backlash from both employees and the public at large.
A major media company recently learned this the hard way when it tried to lure employees to respond to a phishing simulation email with promises of cash bonuses to those who remained on staff following layoffs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Users who “clicked through” were met with a shaming message that they’d just failed a cybersecurity test. Angry employees took to social media, the story spread and the company’s reputation as an employer took a major hit.
Adding phishing simulations to your cybersecurity arsenal may be a good idea. Just bear in mind that these aren’t a “one and done” type of activity. Simulations must be part of a well-planned, long-term and broadly executed effort that seeks to empathetically educate users, not alienate them. Contact us to discuss ways to prudently handle IT costs.
How Effectively Does Your Business Manage Risk?
November 03, 2020 | BY admin
From natural disasters and government shutdowns to cyberattacks and fraud, risks abound in today’s volatile, uncertain marketplace. While some level of risk is inevitable when operating a business, proactive owners and executives apply an enterprise risk management (ERM) framework to manage it more effectively.
The Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) was formed in July 1985 to combat fraudulent financial reporting. The panel is a joint initiative of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Financial Executives International, Institute of Internal Auditors, American Accounting Association and Institute of Management Accountants.
COSO first published its Enterprise Risk Management — Integrated Framework in 2004. Companies aren’t generally required by law or regulations to apply an ERM framework. But they often choose to use COSO’s ERM framework to enhance their ability to manage uncertainty, consider how much risk to accept and improve understanding of opportunities as they strive to increase and preserve stakeholder value.
Through periodic updates, COSO aims to capture today’s best practices and help management attain better value from their ERM programs. The ERM framework was revamped in 2017 to address questions about how risk management should be incorporated with an organization’s management of its strategy. That update included five components: 1) governance and culture, 2) strategy and objective setting, 3) performance, 4) review and revision, and 5) information, communication and reporting.
The framework was modified again in 2018 to address sustainability issues. Specifically, COSO’s Guidance for Applying ERM to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)-related Risks highlights ESG risks, as well as opportunities to enhance resiliency as organizations confront new and developing risks, such as extreme weather events or product safety recalls.
In December 2019, COSO published Managing Cyber Risk in a Digital Age. This guidance addresses how companies can apply COSO’s framework to protect against cyberattacks. These attacks have been on the rise in 2020, in part, because people are increasingly reliant on the Internet for working, learning and interacting during the COVID-19 pandemic. And home networks tend to be more vulnerable to cyberattacks than in-office networks.
Many people are unclear what the term “ERM” means. ERM encompasses more than taking an inventory of risks — it’s an enterprise-wide process. Internal control is just one small part of ERM — it also may include, for example, strategy setting, governance, communicating with stakeholders and measuring performance. These principles apply at all business levels, across all functions and to organizations of any size.
The ERM framework is designed to help management anticipate risk so they can get ahead of it, with an understanding that change creates opportunities, not simply the potential for crises. In short, ERM helps increase positive outcomes and reduce negative surprises that come from risk-taking activities.
ERM in the new normal
Market conditions in 2020 have been unprecedented, and more uncertainty lies ahead. Our accounting professionals can help you identify and optimize risks. Contact us to discuss cost-effective ERM practices to make your business more resilient and responsive in the future.