Archive for the ‘tax’ category

5 Ways to Avoid Tax Audits

March 19th, 2015

Tax Audit 1When you’re self-employed filing a Schedule C with your tax return, your chances of being audited are greater than if you were a wage earner.

This is because the IRS catches many such individuals that attempt to either hide income or write off personal expenses as business deductions. When all you are reporting on your tax return is income from a W2, what’s there to audit? Even if you enter the numbers wrong, the IRS will match it up with the copy it got from your employer and send you a correction letter along with the adjustment. So, with scrutiny of the self-employed on the rise, here are 5 things you can do to reduce the chances of an audit:

1. Use professional software such as QuickBooks

Track the income and expenses of your business with accounting software. Your credibility increases in the eyes of an IRS agent if your tax return is based on professionally-prepared financial statements, especially if maintained by an outside firm.

2. Document sources of all income

If you are audited, the first thing the IRS agent will do is add up all of the deposits from your personal and business bank accounts. If more money went into the bank than was declared on your tax return, the agent will want to know where the money came from and whether or not the income is taxable. If you use QuickBooks for your personal and business books, you will automatically tie out this income, but you still need proof. If the income you record is not taxable (e.g. gifts, inheritances, loans, transfers from personal funds) keep a copy of the check or document that accompanies the income to prove the source is not taxable.

3. Let a professional prepare your income tax return

Self-prepared returns are more likely to be audited because the IRS thinks a nonprofessional has limited knowledge. Tax law is complex. And if you are self-employed, no matter how small your business, your tax return is now a complex creature.

4. Rethink your legal form

Corporations, LLCs, and partnerships are less likely to be audited, but that should not be the sole reason to incorporate. Discuss this option with a tax professional and your attorney before making any changes.

5. Document the Red Flags

You are allowed to deduct all ordinary and necessary business expenses which means thinking in terms of “Would I make this purchase if I didn’t have this business?” If the answer is no, than you more than likely have a deductible business expense. But it’s important to know the rules and to have proper documentation to substantiate the deduction.

Some expenses receive considerably more scrutiny than others:

Automobile expenses

Taxpayers are required to keep a mileage log if they want to take these kinds of deductions, which can be a lot of work. The IRS loves to investigate these because very few business owners will bother with this. Fortunately there are other ways to substantiate the deduction to the satisfaction of the auditor.

  • If you use an appointment book or calendar, save it along with your copy of the tax return. A mileage log can be reconstructed from those pages.
  • Save vehicle repair receipts as the odometer reading is recorded on them and total mileage for the year can be extrapolated if there is more than one receipt.
  • Record your beginning and ending odometer reading in your appointment book on Jan. 1 and again on Dec. 31.
Travel, meals and entertainment expenses

These are also very common when it comes to tax audit scrutiny. Go to www.irs.gov and read Publication 463 to determine what you can and can’t deduct.

  • Travel, especially to vacation destinations like Las Vegas or Hawaii should be documented with more than purchase receipts to prove the business intent. Save anything that can substantiate your claim that you were traveling primarily for business; such as flyers advertising the trade show, or the continuing education seminar, or letters from prospective clients at that location in your tax file.
  • Write the name of the person entertained and a brief note describing the business purpose on receipts for meals and entertainment.
Home office expenses

These are another red flag for the IRS to take a closer look at your expenses.

  • Take photographs of the house and the office area. The photos will serve two purposes: they will show the proportion of the business area compared to the personal living area to substantiate the amount of space claimed as well prove that there is in fact a business area.
  • Know the rules: The home office must be your principle place of business and must be used exclusively and on a regular basis for business purposes.

 

8 Reasons Small Businesses Can’t Make a Profit

November 11th, 2013

8 Reasons Small Businesses Can’t Make a ProfitI know from running an accounting and bookkeeping practice that many small business owners are making the same mistakes, and those mistakes prevent them from accomplishing the goal of being profitable. After all, a business isn’t there just to make money, it should be profitable.

This list of eight common mistakes that reduce or eliminate profitability is one all small business owners should check themselves against:

1.  Underestimating all the costs involved in producing, packaging and shipping a product
2.  Overestimating the size of the market for a product or service
3.  Undercharging for their services
4.  Not classifying expenses properly to take advantage of tax codes
5.  Purchasing too much, not enough or the wrong kind of insurance
6.  Overpaying on bank fees and credit card fees
7.  No collection process in place for customers that have not paid
8.  Not having accurate, up-to-date reports to provide the above information so corrections can be made

Many business owners try to keep their own records, (or have a spouse or friend help) and because they lack the knowledge and/or time to do it properly, they don’t have the information needed to evaluate and correct potential problems.

Sometimes there is enough money coming into the business to continue despite making many of these errors but correcting them could mean a much better payback for the owner. More often what happens is that the owner gets frustrated and overwhelmed. In such an environment of confusion time is not leveraged properly, decisions can be made in desperation, and more and greater mistakes are made, further distancing the company from its profit objective.

Once a proper bookkeeping system is set up and brought current, the owner can see the whole picture and assess where changes need to be made. Sometimes minor changes like switching to a different bank or credit card company, increasing prices, or outsourcing a specific task can have a big impact on profitability. Other times something more involved is necessary such as implementing a system of pricing levels, changing advertising tactics, or even changing the direction of the company to be able to offer a more competitive and profitable product line.

Having accurate bookkeeping, and its associated reports, provides the business owner with the necessary information to get a clear picture of the economics of the company. Evaluating business operations and making the day-to-day decisions becomes a process based on the facts of the business not the “feel”. Even if your company makes pants, you shouldn’t be running it by the “seat of your pants”.

6 Tips for Cost Improvement

June 12th, 2013

6 Tips for Cost ImprovementMost small business owners can agree that saving more money is a continually reoccurring topic. Cutting costs, boosting cash flow and paying less in taxes, will allow you to keep more of what you make, and is a good entrepreneurial frame of mind to be in.

To take this from prudent thinking to actual practice, and put more money in your own pocket, utilize these six tips to put your business on the path to fiscal improvement.

1. Talk to your employees
Employees who are on the front lines of your business, dealing with customers, processes and systems, often have ideas for ways you can cut costs. Have you listened to them? Sit down with your employees and brainstorm ways that costs could be cut without sacrificing quality. Make it more interesting for them by offering a bonus to the people who come up with ideas that have a positive impact on the bottom line.

2. Pay attention to detail
Often, substantial sums of money slip between the cracks a few dollars at a time. One good crack to seal up could be done by reevaluating your businesses recurring expenses. This could be a subscription you signed up for a year ago, insurance that you no longer really need, or a monthly membership fee to an organization you’re no longer involved with. Auto billing is a great way to reduce the cost of paying reoccurring expenses. But it is common that these fees can get rolled into your monthly credit card bill to the point that you no longer notice them. And little sums do add up. Go over all invoices and bills in detail and cut out anything you don’t really need. And don’t stop after looking at auto payments, review everything that isn’t providing a return on investment (ROI).

3. Negotiate with vendors
What you’ve been paying your vendors does not have to be the final word on what you continue paying. Ultimately, vendors want to stay in business too, and they’re dealing with a tough economy just as you are. Many are often willing to negotiate lower prices rather than lose a regular customer. The potential to save money, without even having to change vendors, can result in better prices on everything from office supplies to the phone bill. You certainly won’t lose anything by trying, and you may find yourself able to shave several hundred dollars off your monthly operating costs.

4. Stay on top of your invoices
One of the biggest cash flow problems for small businesses are the slow-paying customers. To speed up the process, make sure your invoicing system is working smoothly. Your invoices should be clear, easy to read, and simply state what is due and when. Make sure you’re meeting any special requirements of each customer, such as including purchase order numbers, and that your invoices are going to the right person at the right address. This may sound basic, but simple errors like putting the wrong suite number on an invoice can cause delays.

5. Enable customers to pay invoices faster
Once your invoicing system is cleaned up, look for other ways to encourage customers to pay you even faster. Depending on your industry and financial situation, this could mean offering a discount for cash payments or early payments. Encourage your customers to use e-payments. This will not only enable faster payment, but also saves processing time on your end.

6. Partner with your accountant
Sure, you have an accountant, but do you only get together at tax time? A good accountant can help shape up your business’s finances all year long. Enlist your accountant to give your company a checkup. What could be improved? Where could you cut costs, free up cash, or make more by putting profits back into the business? Check in with your accountant once a month to follow up on results, fine-tune systems, and make sure your company is on track. There is a wealth of information in your books for improved business decisions. Have your accountant help you access it and be rewarded with higher profits, better cash flow, lower expenses, reduced taxes, and more money going into your pocket.

10 Not-So-Simple Tax Deductions & More

December 28th, 2011

The more tax deductions your business can legitimately take, the lower its taxable profit will be. Also, in addition to putting more money into your pocket at the end of the year, the tax code provisions that govern deductions can also yield a personal benefit: a nice car to drive at a small cost, or a combination business trip and vacation. It all depends on paying careful attention to IRS rules on just what is, and isn’t, deductible. And sometimes that’s more complex than you think. Still, don’t overlook these important business tax deductions.

1. Auto Expenses
If you use your car for business, or your business owns one or more vehicles, you can deduct some of the costs of keeping it on the road. Mastering the rules of car expense deductions can be tricky, but well worth your while.

There are two methods of claiming expenses:

• Actual expense method. You keep track of and deduct all of your actual business-related expenses.
• Standard mileage rate method. You deduct a certain amount (the standard mileage rate) for each mile driven, plus all business-related tolls and parking fees. In 2011 the standard mileage rate is 51 cents per business mile driven from January through June, and 55.5 cents per business mile driven from July through December.

As a rule, if you use a newer car primarily for business, the actual expense method usually provides a larger deduction at tax time. If you use the actual expense method, you can also deduct depreciation on the vehicle. To qualify for the standard mileage rate, you must use it the first year you use a car for your business activity. Moreover, you can’t use the standard mileage rate if you have claimed accelerated depreciation deductions in prior years, or have taken a Section 179 deduction for the vehicle. (For more on Section 179, see “New Equipment,” below.)

If your auto is used for both business and pleasure, only the business portion produces a tax deduction. That means you must keep track of how often you use the vehicle for business and add it all up at the end of the year. Certainly, if you own just one car or truck, no IRS auditor will let you get away with claiming that 100% of its use is related to your business.

2. Expenses of Going into Business
Once you’re running a business, expenses such as advertising, utilities, office supplies, and repairs can be deducted as current business expenses, but not before you open your doors for business. The costs of getting a business started are capital expenses, and you can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs for a business started in 2011; any remainder must be deducted in equal amounts over the next 15 years.

If you expect your business to make a profit immediately, you may be able to work around this rule by delaying paying some bills until after you’re in business, or by doing a small amount of business just to officially start. However, if, like many businesses, you will suffer losses during the first few years of operation, you might be better off taking the deduction over five years, so you’ll have some profits to offset.

3. Bad Debts
If your business has uncollectable invoices from customers or clients, then bad debt may or may not be deductible. It depends on the kind of product your business sells.

• If your business sells goods, you can deduct the cost of goods that you sold but were not paid for.
• If your business provides services, no deduction is allowed for time you devoted to a client or customer who doesn’t pay.

4. Business Entertaining
If you pick up the tab for entertaining present or prospective customers, you may deduct 50% of the cost if it is either:

• directly related to the business and business is discussed at the event,  for example, a catered meeting at your office; or
• associated with the business, and the entertainment takes place immediately before or after a business discussion.

On the receipt or bill, always make a note of the specific business purpose, for example, “Lunch with Doug Boswell  of Solid Growth Accounting Services to discuss the monthly financial reports.”

5. Travel
When you travel for business, you can deduct many expenses, including the cost of plane fare, costs of operating your car, taxis, lodging, meals, shipping business materials, cleaning clothes, telephone calls, faxes, and tips.

It’s OK to combine business and pleasure, as long as business is the primary purpose of the trip. However, if you take your family along, you can deduct only your own expenses.

6. Interest
If you use credit to finance business purchases, the interest and carrying charges are fully tax-deductible. The same is true if you take out a personal loan and use the proceeds for your business. Be sure to keep good records demonstrating that the money was used for your business.

7. New Equipment
Some small businesses can write off the full cost of some assets in the year they buy them, rather than capitalizing them and then deducting their cost over a number of years.

Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code allows you to deduct up to $500,000 of the cost of new equipment or other assets in 2011. This is subject to a phase-out if you place more than $2 million of equipment in service. Some assets don’t qualify for this Section 179 deduction, including real estate, inventory bought for resale, and property bought from a close relative. The annual deduction amount goes down to $125,000 in 2012.

There is also a first-year bonus depreciation deduction in effect for 2010 through 2012. This special deduction allows taxpayers to depreciate an additional 50% or 100% of the adjusted basis of qualified property during the first year the property is placed in service. This deduction can be taken in addition to the Section 179 deduction and offers tremendous tax savings. For the calendar year 2011, the first-year bonus depreciation is 100%. For calendar year 2012, the first-year bonus depreciation amount is 50%.

8. Taxes
Taxes incurred in operating your business are generally deductible. How and when they are deducted depends on the type of tax:

• Sales tax on items you buy for your business’s day-to-day operations is deductible as part of the cost of the items; it’s not deducted separately. However, tax on a big business asset, such as a car, must be added to the car’s cost basis; it isn’t deductible entirely in the year the car was bought.
• Excise and fuel taxes are separately deductible expenses.
• If your business pays employment taxes, the employer’s share is deductible as a business expense. Self-employment tax is paid by individuals, not their businesses, and so isn’t a business expense.
• Federal income tax paid on business income is never deductible. State income tax can be deducted on your federal return as an itemized deduction, not as a business expense.
• Real estate tax on property used for business is deductible, along with any special local assessments for repairs or maintenance. If the assessment is for an improvement — for example, to build a sidewalk — it isn’t immediately deductible; instead, it is deducted over a period of years.

9. Education Expenses
You can deduct education expenses if they are related to your current business, trade, or occupation. The expense must be to maintain or improve skills required in your present employment. The cost of education that qualifies you for a new job isn’t deductible.

10. Advertising and Promotion
The cost of ordinary advertising of your goods or services, such as business cards, yellow page ads, and so on, is deductible as a current expense. Promotional costs that create business goodwill, for example, sponsoring a peewee football team, are also deductible as long as there is a clear connection between the sponsorship and your business. For example, naming the team the “Solid Growth Accounting Dodgers” or listing the business name in the program is evidence of the promotion effort.

Here are some additional routine deductions that many business owners miss. Keep your eye out for them.

• DVDs, CDs, audiotapes and videotapes related to business skills
• bank service charges
• business association dues
• business gifts
• business-related magazines and books
• casual labor and tips
• casualty and theft losses
• coffee and beverage service
• commissions
• consultant fees
• credit bureau fees
• moving expenses
• office supplies
• online computer services related to business
• parking and parking meters
• petty cash funds
• postage
• promotion and publicity
• seminars and trade shows
• taxi and bus fare
• telephone calls away from the business

Note: Just because you didn’t get a receipt doesn’t mean you can’t deduct the expense, so keep track of those small items.

6 Common Bookkeeping Errors

July 11th, 2011

 

Since keeping a complete, accurate and up to date set of books on a company’s financial activity is the core of every business, it is important to recognize the most common mistakes made by small businesses. From cash flow problems to tax compliance issues, small errors can have big consequences. Below is a list of six of the most common problems I see which can and should be avoided.

1. Thinking that no Accounting System is Necessary
One big mistake made early on is especially common with start-ups. The neophyte business owner sometimes thinks they can make do without a real system. Instead of using software, like QuickBooks, the business owner just collects receipts in a box and/or keeps a check register by hand. Or maybe the owner creates the illusion of an system by using Excel to make lists of expenses and payments that add up the numbers. Unfortunately, before having your taxes done, the tax preparer needs to cobble together some sort of makeshift system that will allow your tax return to be prepared, but it almost surely won’t capture all your deductions. And the information that this crude system provides will be too late to help you make the “smart” decisions to run your business in the best possible manner.

2. Doing Your Own Books
The DIY approach is one of the biggest pitfalls I see from business owners and managers. QuickBooks and other software programs essentially promise proficiency with just a few simple clicks. However, unless you are familiar with general principles, any software can be confusing and frustrating. You often end up spending a lot of time trying to figure out where you went wrong. Having a professional bookkeeper with the knowledge and skills necessary to complete your books quickly and accurately, and then analyze your financials, is crucial to small business success.

3. Slow Entry of Accounting Data
Most business owners intend to keep their system up to date, but often they don’t. Taking too long to enter the data into your system creates a problem such that any useful insights that come from your financial numbers will come too late to be really useful. Whoever is doing your books should keep up to date on the data entry. Within a few days of transactions occurring, the system should reflect the activity

4. Inconsistent Reconciliation of the Books with the Bank Statements
One of the key elements of good bookkeeping is to consistently reconcile the books with the bank statements (and your business credit card and other statements too). Many businesses either fail to or improperly reconcile on a regular basis. A major benefit of reconciling the bank statement is ensuring that the cash on a company’s books equals the amount of cash shown by the bank.

Errors will be made in using any system. But the nature of a double-entry bookkeeping system means that it’s usually pretty easy to catch errors as long as you reconcile the bank accounts at the end of each month when the statements arrive. Furthermore, if you hold other valuable assets like inventory or investments, you should periodically compare what the system shows to an actual physical inventory count, or to the statements you receive from external sources. Reconciling your books to your various statements is a kind of reality check that cleans up all sorts of easy-to-miss errors. This is important for all decisions made by the company and it is one of the best reasons for outsourcing your bookkeeping.

5. Incorrectly Tracking Expenses
In order to get the most accurate picture of your business, you need to properly track every business expense. A major issue with small businesses is forgetting to record reimbursable expenses. Often small business owners or managers make business purchases with a personal credit card. These purchases can get lost in the shuffle and consequentially not be submitted for reimbursement. Additionally, the owner may mislabel personal expenses as business deductions. Co-mingling personal and business assets and liabilities makes financial records and books pretty much useless for tax preparation and for use in managing the business.

6. Not Being in Close Contact with Your Bookkeeper
Bookkeepers are only as valuable as the information you give them. Unless you keep them current on all of your financial decisions and transactions, the accuracy of your books will suffer. It is the job of a professional bookkeeper to be able adapt to a surprise or an unexpected inflow of information.