Tax Alert: Employment Expenses

The CRA has made it clear that it has undertaken a new project in 2017 to carefully review employment expenses.  Many of my colleagues in the accounting profession have confirmed that they have also noticed that CRA has been more frequently asking taxpayers to support their employment expenses.

Where the employee is also an owner, we are finding that CRA is taking a tough line and denying even well-supported expenses.

CRA is basing the denial of these expenses based on the Tax Court of Canada Case, Morton Adler vs. the Queen (2010 DTC 1020), in which the burden is on the employee taxpayer to prove that there would be adverse consequences with respect to their employment if they did not use their car or home office.

In that case, the taxpayer was the spouse of the shareholder, and the court therefore took the position that there was little or no risk of the company suing the taxpayer for breach of contract if she failed to perform her duties with her car and home office. They also concluded that she would likely not suffer negative consequences of a poor performance review, and that these expenses were therefore not a requirement of employment. The expense deductions were denied.

Planning Alternatives

Wherever possible employment expenses should be paid by the employer.  For example, car expense could be accommodated by paying the employee a per kilometer amount for each supportable business kilometer driven.

Regardless of how you report the expenses, it will still be important to maintain good records.

H.R.1 The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Potential effects on US citizens and investors living abroad

Individual Tax Reform

Tax rates

Tax rates for individuals and corporations are lowered across the board for individuals, but these lowered rates expire in 2025 unless there is further legislation to renew them. In conjunction with the other changes in the bill, this will result in lower taxes for some, but not all, taxpayers.

There are also new maximum tax rates for business income earned through a flow-through entity. This should replicate the lowered tax rates on corporations for individuals who conduct business through partnerships rather than corporations.

Personal exemption and standard deduction

For the years 2018 to 2025, the personal exemption is being eliminated and the standard deduction is being increased.  For non-resident individuals, this may mean a tax increase because they are not eligible to take the standard deduction.  A non-resident individual will only have specific allowable deductions to reduce their taxable income.

US 1040 filers who previously made use of the personal exemptions of their dependants, or who filed as Head of Household in order to use the larger personal exemption, may see an increase in their taxable income.

Students

The House bill contained a lot of changes relating to the treatment of student income, but most of these changes did not end up in the final bill. There is a change relating to the treatment of student loans discharged on account of death or disability. In the case of a loan being discharged due to the death or permanent disability of a student, this discharge will not be included in the gross income of the individual.

Deductions capped or removed

Foreign real property taxes may not be deducted. US citizens who own homes in a foreign country may have previously been deducting their property taxes on their non-US homes and will no longer be able to do so. Property taxes paid to the US will be capped at $10,000 for the year, or $5,000 for a married individual filing separately from their spouse.

The mortgage interest deduction is now limited to the interest paid on $750,000 worth of indebtedness secured by a qualified residence. Loans which were already in place before December 15, 2017 will not be affected by the new limitation.

The medical expense deduction floor is reduced from 10% to 7.5%.

Miscellaneous itemized deductions are suspended, as is the overall limitation on itemized deductions. This includes unreimbursed employee expenses, tax preparation fees, and certain other expenses paid to produce income, to manage or maintain income producing property, or to determine or claim a refund of tax.

These changes apply for the tax years 2018 to 2025.

Deduction for Alimony

The Bill repeals the deduction for alimony payments made, as well as the provisions requiring inclusion of alimony payments in gross income.

Elimination of shared responsibility payment

HR1 eliminates the shared responsibility payment for individuals failing to maintain essential minimum coverage. This would reduce the tax bill for people who do not have minimum essential insurance coverage or meet one of the qualifying exemptions. Most foreign nationals meet an exemption due to being out of the country, so the potential removal of this tax should not affect most US persons living outside the country.

Repatriation of earnings for Controlled Foreign Corporations

A controlled foreign corporation (CFC) is a foreign corporation in which 50% of the total combined voting power or value of all classes of stock is owned by a US person on any day of the year. Previously, there has been the opportunity for deferral of taxes on income which was not effectively connected to the US, and the income would be taxed when paid out to the US shareholder as dividends.

There were provisions in place to tax Subpart F income on the shareholder’s return, which is defined in §952 as including insurance income and foreign base company income. HR1 expands the definition of Subpart F income to include all accumulated post-1986 deferred foreign income.

This could have the effect of causing any retained earnings held in a US person’s non-US company to be taxable in the current year on the owner’s personal tax return. For many US expatriates, this is an area of significant concern since they may be running their non-US businesses out of corporations in the country in which they live.

There are some provisions included in the Bill to ease the transition to the new system, and an election which may allow the taxpayer to utilize their foreign tax credits more efficiently.

Estate and gift tax

The estate and gift tax exemption will be doubled to $10 million USD (adjusted for inflation).

Corporate Tax Reform

Lowered corporate tax rates

Despite the lowered tax rates for US C-corporations, there is still no integration between the US and Canadian tax systems, and tax rates for Canadian companies operating in the US through a US C-Corporation is still not likely to be tax efficient.

Repeal AMT

The Alternative Minimum Tax system is a taxing system applied at a lower flat rate and removes many deductions which may allow certain taxpayers to pay an “unfairly” low tax rate. HR1 repealed the AMT for corporations, and increased the limitation above which AMT would be calculated.

For those who have already paid AMT and accumulated AMT tax credits, there will be a system in place to allow those credits to be used.

Moving from deferral system to territorial system

US multinationals will have a full exemption for dividends paid from foreign subsidiaries if the US parent owns at least 10% of the subsidiary. This change works in conjunction with the above-noted requirement to include accumulated earnings and profits in Subpart F income to create what is being reported as a “territorial” tax system, rather than the “deferral” system which was in place.

Pass-through tax rate instead of being taxed at individual rates

Previous US tax law treated income earned through flow-through entities, such as partnerships, LLCs, or S Corporations, as income earned by the taxpayer who owns said entity. This means that income is included on the individual’s return and taxed at the individual’s marginal tax rate.

There are new complex rules in place to calculate the taxes for flow through entities, which includes deductions for certain business income, taking salaries into account, and different marginal rates.

Conclusion

The new US tax bill has far reaching effects, even to those not living in the United States of America. If have concerns over how the bill will affect US citizens or those investing in the US, please do not hesitate to contact us.