Tax planning tips for businesses

Tax planning tips for businesses


The end of the tax year, December 31, is nigh. Are you in good shape tax-wise?
The end of the tax year, December 31, is nigh. Are you in good shape tax-wise? Here are a few examples of the many things that businesses may want to review with their advisers in Israel and any other country where they have a connection.

Beat the proposed tax rises

In 2013, individuals with annual income over NIS 800,000 approximately (we await an inflationary update) will pay a 2 percent surtax. This will increase their maximum tax rate from 48% to 50% on salary, business profits, dividends, interest and capital gains.

Therefore, consider accelerating bonuses, dividends, interest payments and capital gains into 2012, where possible, if you don�t mind paying the resulting reduced tax sooner.

Freelance businesses may also want to consider whether expenses or losses can be postponed until 2012 if they may be used to save tax at the higher proposed rates then. But if that means showing higher profits this year, the resulting tax this year needs paying shortly.

Other tax rates: Regular companies

In 2012 and 2013 other tax rates are largely constant. Companies generally pay 25% company tax on their profits. Dividends paid to a 10%-or-more shareholder are taxed at 30%, rising to 32% in 2013 for surtax payers. The resulting combined Israeli tax on distributed company profits is therefore 47.5%, rising to 49% in 2013 for surtax payers.

Regular companies: Dividend versus bonus

In 2012, National Insurance Institute (NII) payments are not imposed on annual personal income exceeding NIS 502,200. This is nearly the same as the threshold for the top rate of income tax of 48%: NIS 501,960. Therefore, it hardly matters whether company owners take a dividend or a bonus; the combined maximum tax and NII burden will typically be 47.5% to 49.4%. But always check your situation by preparing detailed calculations based on your level of projected income for 2012

Self-employed versus company

At this stage of the year, it is too late to change the form of a business. But with hindsight, it appears there is little tax difference on distributed profits: up to 48% if you operate as a freelancer (self-employed); 47.5% if you operate via a company in 2012. But if you earn more than you need, you can  park  profits in a company that will only pay 25% company tax until you need the profit for private purposes.

Tax breaks for industrial and tech companies

Industrial and tech companies in with over 25% of their revenues from exports may qualify for tax breaks as preferred enterprises under the Law for the Encouragement of Capital Investments. There is no export condition for mainly nanotech or biotech.

Preferred enterprises generally pay company tax of 10% in development area A and 15% elsewhere in Israel. But in 2013, preferred enterprises will pay company tax of only 7% in development area A and 12.5% elsewhere in Israel. In each year, dividends are taxed at 15%. The resulting combined Israeli tax on distributed preferred enterprise profits is therefore 23.5%- 27.75% in 2012 and 20.95%-25.625% in 2013.

Note that these tax breaks continue indefinitely and no special approval is needed to be a preferred enterprise; you just claim the tax breaks on the annual corporate tax return.

If you are in industry or tech, it is worth checking if you meet the preferred-enterprises conditions and whether profits can be legitimately recognized in 2013 rather than 2012. Also check if you can meet the 25% export condition.

Companies with trapped profits under the tax-break rules should consider electing a compromise tax rate in 2013 rather than 2012.

Even better tax breaks (“special preferred enterprise”) are available for large groups with revenues of at least NIS 20 billion.

Transfer pricing

Check your international transactions with related parties (50% ownership link among other things) are on arms-length market terms before you close your books and theirs for the year. The tax regulations require taxpayers to sign an express declaration to this effect on Tax Form 1385 and attach it to their annual tax returns. They must also be able to produce a transfer pricing study in this regard within 60 days after any demand from the Israel Tax Authority (ITA).

In practice, this can be a great opportunity, not only an obligation. If in doubt, consider requesting an advance pricing agreement from the ITA.

Intercompany loans

Consider charging interest. Under special rules, the lender is taxed on the interest he is deemed to have undercharged, but the borrower can’t deduct interest he didn’t pay.

The prescribed minimum rate of interest for Israeli tax purposes is generally 6.24% for loans to employees, 5%-or-more shareholders and service suppliers, or 4.68% for intercompany loans.

There are a number of exceptions for back-to-back loans, foreign-currency loans and back-to-back foreign-currency loans.

Alternatively, 5%-or-more shareholders who gave interest-free loans to their company can receive after the year-end inflation compensation on their loan free of Israeli tax, but the company can still deduct that compensation as an expense, if certain conditions are met.

Inventory (stock) count

If your business has inventory (stock), year-end value impacts on the profit you report this year. The tax regulations require all tangible inventory to be counted if it is held for sale in the ordinary course of business, or is in production ahead of such a sale, or will be needed to supply goods or services for sale.

You have to count not only goods you own but also other goods you hold for others; e.g., on consignment (becomes yours when you sell it), or already sold to the customer.

Obviously, if the goods are not yours on December 31, you count them but don’t include them in your year-end inventory.

When do you count the inventory? On December 31 (a Monday this year), or any date between December 21 and January 10 if you make appropriate adjustments to arrive at the year-end inventory, or some other date if you notify the ITA before the year-end and have a detailed inventory recording system.

At the time of the count, quantities matter and the shekel values can be added later.

At the inventory count, the sheets on which you record the quantities must be consecutively numbered and dated, state the location and describe the goods in a way that identifies them. State the quantities you are counting: units, kilograms, etc.

Note separately obsolescent, slow-moving and defective inventory. Each count sheet must be signed by the counters and their name(s) must be stated. When you come to value the inventory, apply the lower of cost or market value on a specific basis or FIFO (first in first out), never LIFO (last in first out).

Long-term projects: Go slow?

Detailed rules apply to those that carry out long-term work projects lasting over a year; i.e., mainly builders. If the builder is a contractor who does not own the building, income must be reported this year if the work is 25% complete this year. If the builder is a developer who owns the building, reporting is needed when the building is fit for use.

Detailed rules govern the above as well as expenses, finance expenses and losses. A detailed review is obviously necessary ahead of the year-end.

Major shareholders: Provident fund contributions and expense deductions

If you are a 10%-or-more shareholder in a company controlled by five or fewer individuals, provident-fund expense limits for your company were loosened this year, pursuant to Income Tax Ordinance Amendment 190. Consequently, the company may deduct the following expenses in 2012: (1) severance-pay fund: 8.33% of salary, but up to NIS 11,950; (2) study fund (hishtalmut): 4.5% of salary up to NIS 188,544 (beyond that the individual is taxed); (3) retirement pension and disability cover: 7.5% of salary up to NIS 34,476 per month; (4) pension to the individual: average salary times 1.5% per year.

Therefore, contributions by a company to such funds of up to 20.33% for its major shareholders may qualify for attractive tax breaks up to the various monetary limits.

The company may save 25% company tax and the shareholder may save up to 48% income tax, resulting in a maximum possible tax saving of 73%.

For example, if a company contributes NIS 10,000 to such funds, the company and the shareholder may save up to NIS 7,300! But such contributions must be paid by the end of the year. Contributions to such fund relating to December may be paid by the end of January next year.

Get your timing right

We already mentioned the 2% personal surtax in 2013. Timing can be important for many other things in Israel as well. These include: paying NII contributions on nonsalary income, as 52% is deductible as an expense, when paid, for income-tax purposes; charitable contributions to get a tax credit (35% for individuals, 25% for companies on donations totaling NIS 180 to NIS 9 million in 2012, but not more than 30% of taxable income); prepaid rental income is taxed upon receipt; replacement of depreciable fixed assets to get a tax deferral or loss deduction; offsetting loan interest expense against dividends (e.g., Paz Gaz and Pi Glilot cases); taxpayers with lowtaxed controlled foreign companies; taxpayers intending to claim foreign tax credits; businesses allowed to report income on a cash basis; companies required to withhold tax from payments in Israel or abroad to deduct the payment as an expense; payments to 10% shareholders; payments to provident/pension funds; payment of tax installments, including those for nondeductible expenses; bonus payments; filing lawsuits for bad debts where appropriate; increasing foreign investment this year in companies owning an approved tourism enterprise or an approved property to help achieve a bigger tax break next year..

Closing remark: Take advice

The above is extremely brief and general.

It is vital to take detailed specific advice relating to your case right away  the yearend is approaching.

In a separate article, we will discuss yearend tax planning for individuals because there is a myriad of additional things to consider.

As always, consult experienced tax advisers in each country at an early stage in specific cases.
[email protected]

Leon Harris is a certified public accountant and tax specialist at Harris Consulting & Tax Ltd.

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