#Windfall

pound sign

Psychologists agree that the ability to concentrate is key to achieving our goals. But today’s high-tech world is full of distractions, from thousands of cable TV channels to millions of internet sites, with smart phones constantly within reach. Some experts say our attention span is actually shrinking. So should it be any surprise that Americans have fallen in love with Twitter, the online social networking and “micro blogging” site that lets users send and read “tweets” limited to no more than 140 characters?

Twitter attracted confusion (and no small amount of scorn) when it debuted in 2006 — co-founder Jack Dorsey admitted that the service is “a short burst of inconsequential information.” But there are now more than 200 million “monthly active users” posting more than 500 million tweets per day. Singer Katy Perry currently has the most followers, at 46.8 million. She’s trailed by Justin Bieber (46.7 million), Lady Gaga (40.4 million), and Barack Obama (39.5 million). Twitter’s ubiquitous “hashtag,” the pound sign (#) that denotes keywords, appears everywhere, including at the Oscars, the Super Bowl, and the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Twitter still doesn’t make any money. But that didn’t stop them from going public . On Thursday, Twitter issued 70 million shares at $26 each. The price nearly doubled in early trading before closing at $41.6. And it made a lot of people rich. Co-founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey are billionaires. CEO Dick Costello, whose 2012 cash salary was just $200,000, is worth $300 million. All told, about 1,600 investors and employees became millionaires. (If you planned on buying a house or a Porsche in Silicon Valley, plan on standing in line and paying more!)

What does that all mean for our friends at the IRS? It means a #windfall, that’s what!

• Twitter has granted non-executive employees over 92 million “restricted stock units” which will essentially convert to stock over the next several years. Employees will owe regular income tax of up to 39.6% plus Medicare tax of up to 3.8% on the value of those shares. They’ll owe an average of $420,000 each in federal tax!
• Uncle Sam won’t be the only taxman with his hand out. The state of California can conservatively expect to collect another $300 million or more. (California is no stranger to big IPOs — Golden State officials calculated they would collect $2.5 billion over four years from Facebook’s debut.)
• Not everyone is quite so happy. Two years ago, the city of San Francisco waived part of its payroll tax to keep Twitter headquartered downtown. City officials predicted the waiver would cost them $22 million over six years. Last week’s windfall could mean leaving another $34 million on the table. Of course, the City by the Bay still collects millions more than if Twitter had bugged out for the suburbs.
• Who’s not paying a dime in tax? That would be Twitter itself. Of course, that’s because they haven’t made a dime in profit. In fact, Twitter has over $100 million in “net operating loss carryforwards” it can use to offset tax on future profits.

Twitter’s investors and employees have some big tax planning challenges ahead. They’re going to need more than just 140 characters to take advantage of all the legal strategies available to pay less. It works the same for you, even if you’re not America’s newest billionaire. If you want to #keepwhatyoumake, you need the right planning and we Chicago accountants are here to help you plan ahead.