Tax Time, Ready or Not

It’s always a huge relief to many people who get their taxes done early. That gray cloud of stress that nags at you to get it over with can be gone in a matter of weeks instead of months. April is right around the corner, and here are a few tips to cross that task off your to-do list way before spring.

1. Catch up on your books.

If your books are behind, the first step is to get everything recorded so that your tax return will be accurate. With automated bank feeds and data entry automation, this is easier than it’s ever been before. If you have cash transactions or receipts lying around that your accountant doesn’t know about, be sure and get those pulled together so nothing is left out.

2. Make year-end changes.

Some companies may need additional year-end adjustments, and now is the time to make them. These include items such as loan balances if the interest adjustment has not been booked every month, depreciation and amortization, accounts receivable write-offs, accrual vs. cash basis adjustments, and possibly clean-up work. Have you accountant help you with these items.

3. Double-check vendor documents.

If you hire contractors and sent them 1099s, make sure you have the proper onboarding documents for these individuals which includes a W-9. You may also want to have a workers compensation certificate from them in order to avoid paying it yourself.

4. Note deadlines.

Get clear on the deadlines for your corporate, franchise tax, individual and any other tax returns that are required. Even though you might hire someone to complete and file your return, you’ll want to make sure the deadline has been met.

5. Stay organized.

As you receive your 2016 tax documents, keep them all together in a special place. Download them or scan them in and keep them all in one folder. If your tax accountant has a client portal, upload them as soon as you get them.

Your tax accountant appreciates getting your information as early as possible. The sooner you get the documents to them, the sooner the whole process can be complete. Even if you owe money and want to file at the last minute, you can still be complete with the process except for the filing which can be deferred.

Try these tips to reduce tax stress this winter and spring. And, as always, if we can help you with any of this, please reach out.

The New I-9 Form

The I-9 form is used for employment eligibility when hiring new employees. It is one of many forms that need to be completed when you onboard a new employee.

Effective Tuesday, January 17, 2017, the new I-9 form, which is dated 11/14/2016, must be used. Here is a summary of the changes.

  • Section 1 asks for “other last names used” rather than “other names used,” and streamlines certification for certain foreign nationals.
  • The addition of prompts to ensure information is entered correctly.
  • The ability to enter multiple preparers and translators.
  • A dedicated area for including additional information rather than having to add it in the margins.
  • A supplemental page for the preparer/translator.

The instructions have been separated from the form and include specific instructions for completing each field.

The revised Form I-9 is also easier to complete on a computer. To check to see if you are using the correct I-9, check the form’s date, which should be 11/14/2016. If you are using the one dated 03/08/2013, you are using the old one and must switch to the new one.

You can get the new I-9 form here:
https://www.uscis.gov/i-9

 

How to Avoid Sales Tax Surprises

tax-calcSales tax laws are constantly changing, and sales tax audits have increased since states and local agencies have become creative about finding new ways to generate revenues. If you haven’t made any changes in your sales tax procedures in a while, you are probably at risk.

Taxability

From state to state, the taxability of items varies. For example, data processing services including web hosting and graphics are taxable in Texas but not California. Because of these intricacies, it makes sense to consult an expert in this area. Some states have been taxing certain services for many years now.

Nexus

The new buzzword in sales tax is “nexus,” which simply means presence. If your business has a presence in a state, then certain items you sell could be taxable. “Presence” is a little gray, but here are a few examples of some characteristics that the courts have decided prove nexus.

  • If you have employees or contractors working in a state, you are liable to collect and remit sales tax. This can play havoc if you hire virtual or remote workers. Even if they are part-time, you have nexus in that state.      
  • If you outsource inventory fulfillment in any way (think Amazon sales), you have nexus in states where there is a physical warehouse that houses your products.
  • If you own business property in a state, you must file sales tax.
  • If you participate in trade shows or are a public speaker, you have nexus in states where the conferences are held.

The Risk

If you fail to collect taxes where you should, the risk is easy to calculate. Take the potential taxable sales times the sales tax rate, and add any penalties. The numbers get scary if you’ve been in business for several years.

Let’s say your annual revenues are $5 million. You didn’t realize that your Texas sales were taxable, and this amounts to 10% or $500K. Your tax liability is $41,250 per year. If you have been doing it wrong for five years, well, you can add it up. Add penalties on top, and it’s not a small amount. It can wipe out your entire year’s profit.

Sales tax liability becomes more important if you plan to sell your business. A traditional valuation will always include a sales tax risk analysis. Even if you don’t plan to sell, the odds of you getting audited or a disgruntled employee blowing the whistle can be too much to risk.

If you want help calculating your risk or assessing nexus or taxability for your business, reach out and we can help.

Five Cash Leaks to Avoid

leakyfaucetCash flow improvement is a hot issue for small businesses; in many businesses, it seems like there is never enough cash when you need it. The last thing a business owner wants is to reduce their cash balance unnecessarily. To help you preserve or increase your cash, here are five cash management leaks to avoid.

1. Bloated Bank Fees

Some banks are more business-friendly than others. We recommend you assess the fees you are currently being charged to see if you can discontinue any unnecessary services.

  • Could you maintain a cash balance to avoid monthly fees?
  • Are you being charged online banking fees and bill pay fees, and are these still necessary?
  • Are you being charged for a high volume of transactions or cash drawer services, and are these competitive with other banks?

Banks, including national brands, that have not kept up with technology and have not automated a significant amount of their transactions are inefficient and must charge higher fees to cover their processing costs. If your accounts are located at one of these costlier banks, you do have a choice.

2. Overtaxed

Are you sure that you are paying the lowest amount of taxes you legally owe? There are several places to look to make sure you have not overpaid taxes anywhere in your business or personally:

  • Payroll taxes
  • Sales and use tax
  • Franchise taxes
  • State and local income taxes
  • Property taxes
  • Federal income taxes
  • Taxes that are specific to your industry

In preparing income taxes, a few of the easiest items to overlook include carryovers from prior years and new deductions you become eligible for. If you received a large refund this year, congratulations, but that means you gave Uncle Sam an interest-free loan on your money. You can do better next year by estimating your tax payments and paying only what’s due.

3. The Check Is in the Mail

Customers who take too long to pay you are big cash drains in your business. Consider changing your terms, asking for deposits, or becoming more aggressive with collections to bring your DSO (days sales outstanding) down. When you do, you’ll get an instant, permanent cash flow improvement.

4. Sweat the Small Stuff

You may have an eagle eye on your largest bank account, but what about your other cash stashes? PayPal, petty cash, and business savings accounts are among the places that may not get daily scrutiny. Make sure those accounts are properly reconciled and have the proper controls in place so funds don’t go missing.

5. It’s in Your Interest

A nice problem to have is when your bank balances get too large and you don’t need the money immediately. Make sure that money is still working hard for you by putting the excess in an interest-bearing account. It’s not much these days, but every little bit helps.

Make a Dash to the Cash

If we can help you plug any of these cash leaks in your business, please don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know.

Five Hidden Talents of Your Accountant

When you think of an accountant’s duties, you might think about traditional tasks, such as tax preparation, bookkeeping, and financial statement preparation. Here are five additional tasks that accountants can help with that you might not think of.

1. Evaluating Current Accounting Employees

How can you know if your accounting employee is a star that does everything right, is organized, and is fast or if you’ve accidentally hired someone who talks a good game but is doing everything wrong, takes way too long based on your size company, or is making unnecessary and costly mistakes? Your external accountant can often help you objectively evaluate your current staff and point out their strengths and weaknesses so you can create the right training programs for them, communicate the right message at review time, or take the proper HR steps you need to. Your accountant can also help to train your bookkeepers so that they are more efficient.

If your bookkeeper is not performing at the level of pay you are providing, it can be an inefficiency in your business. Your accountant can help you make sure you are not over- or underpaying your current staff.

2. Hiring a Bookkeeper

For businesses that have full or part-time accounting staff, your accountant can help you test candidates for technical skills so that you can make a wise hire.

3. Selecting Better Tools

Most bookkeepers that do books for one company do not have the experience that lets them see there may be “a better way” to do what they are doing. Your external accountant can help you find or develop systems, reports, and software to supplement your current accounting system that may save you time and money.

Since your accountant can be working on as many as ten different companies in one day, they have far more experience and expertise than bookkeepers who work at one company at a time. Take advantage of that experience to streamline your workflow and learn lots of great money-saving shortcuts.

4. Identifying Process Inefficiencies and Irregularities

The fresh eyes that your external accountant can bring to your business can often uncover inefficiencies in accounting processes that can reduce your expenses and increase your profits. One opportunity area is listening for the “we’ve always done it that way” answer. When that explanation comes up, usually it means that the person saying it has lost or never knew the reason behind the process, which could now be obsolete.

External accountants have the benefit of seeing dozens if not hundreds of financial statements among their many clients. We’ve often developed the eagle eye of scoping out expenses that are out of line based on other clients in your industry and company size. If you are paying too much for telephone, utilities, and other common expenses, we can bring it to your attention that there may be an opportunity to re-negotiate a contract or look for some kind of error.

5. Strengthening Internal Control and Taking Measures to Reduce Risk of Fraud

Developing checks and balances in your accounting system is essential in businesses where employees handle money and have access to credit card numbers and bank account information. Your external accountant can help you develop internal controls within your accounting system that will work for the level of risk you wish to take in your business. They can also point out reports in QuickBooks or your accounting system that facilitate controls and that can help you review irregularities on a periodic basis.

Tapping into Talent

Next time you find yourself in one of the above situations, think of your external accountant first, and give us a call. 

Seven Year-End Adjustments to Make to Your Books

accountingspreadsheetYear-end is coming up for many businesses, and it’d be nice to know what your final revenue and profit numbers will be for the year. Before we can calculate these key numbers, there are year-end adjustments that may need to be made to your books that will change the numbers. Here are seven common ones.

Bonuses

It’s great to give bonuses to employees at year-end, but it’s not so great to forget about the tax part of it. Bonus checks should always be run through payroll, but often are not, which requires an adjustment after the fact.

Retirement Plan Contributions

If cash is available at year-end, it’s a great idea to maximize the allowable deductions for the retirement plan you qualify for. One example is a SEP IRA. You can deduct up to 25% of your or your employee’s salary (up to $50,000 deduction maximum per employee for 2012, but please check with us for numerous exceptions and rules.

Withholding

If you are both the owner and an employee of your company and have not made enough tax payments throughout the year to account for all that money you’ve earned in 2012, you can adjust your last few paychecks to withhold the amount you need. Sometimes, this also reduces or eliminates the penalty for underpayment of estimated taxes. To find out more, please check with us.

Depreciation

If you have assets that will last longer than one year, such as factory equipment or a fleet of automobiles, an adjustment may need to be made to reduce the value of those assets. This adjustment will reduce your profit and will also reduce your tax bill.

Amortization

If you have a loan of any type, the payment consists of both principal and interest. Each time you make a payment, the principal and interest amounts can vary. At the beginning of the loan, you pay more interest and less principal. At the end of a loan, it’s reversed. Each payment is different, and if they haven’t been recorded correctly each month, it’s time to make the adjustment so that the loan balance is correct.

New Acquisitions or Obligations

If you’ve made a significant acquisition, such as real estate, buildings, large equipment, or another company, and somehow the transaction did not get properly recorded on your books, then now is the time. Similarly, if you’ve taken on new debt, the new liability needs to be put on the books.

Noncash Transactions

It’s easy to overlook transactions that do not require a cash outlay, but these need to be recorded as well. For example, if you performed consulting services in exchange for a spa gift certificate, this transaction should be reflected in the proper revenue and expense accounts.

Year-End Profit

Once your books are adjusted for all of these changes, you’ll have all the information you need to find out how your business performed for 2012. You can then use your 2012 revenue and profit numbers to set new goals for 2013. 

Five Things You Can Do to Make Tax Season Smoother

We know we’ll never make tax season your favorite time of year, but perhaps we can make it easier.  Here are five things you can do now to smooth out the time required to pull your records together for your tax preparer.

1. Contractor Clean-up 

In preparation for 1099s, take a look at your vendor list now and identify who should receive a 1099.  Perform a mini-audit and ask for any W-9s that are missing so you can plug in your tax IDs without scrambling at the last minute.

2. Check or PSE

Also in preparation for 1099s, you’ll need to break out payments made to vendors by check versus by credit card, third party or what the IRS calls PSE, payment settlement entity.  You’ll only need to issue 1099s to vendors you wrote checks to.  

3. Calculated Moves

Is there anything you can calculate in advance of crunch-time?  If you had loans, you can secure the appropriate amortization schedules.  If you have depreciable assets, some of these schedules can be prepared ahead of time.  Did you sell any major assets?  A summary of the transaction can be prepared and ready to go.

4. Playing Catch-Up

If you are behind in your bookkeeping, filing, bank reconciliations, or other accounting chores, it’s a good time to get caught up so all the routine stuff is out of the way. 

5. Getting Organized

When the year ends and the tax documents start arriving, place them in a special folder or stack so that all the papers are together.  Scan them in and place them in a specially labeled folder on your PC.  You’ll be more organized than ever. 

When all of the mundane items are completed early, it leaves time for the more important conversations, such as discussing new ideas for tax reduction, ways to operate your business more efficiently, and planning for your future.

If we can help make your tax and accounting tasks easier during any time of the year, please reach out and give us a call.