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Organized Business Records Save Time and Money

Here are some suggestions to help you master the art of documenting and organizing your business now and in the future.

  • Document policies and procedures. Write down daily responsibilities, skills needed to complete tasks related to these responsibilities, and the location of all paper and electronic files. Appoint and cross-train backup staff to ensure these daily tasks are done.
  • Document your succession plan. It may not be for another 10 or 20 years, but documenting your succession plan is critical for both you as the owner and for your employees. Consider how much longer you plan on owning the business and who you have in mind to take over after you leave. If you currently don’t have a successor in mind, document your plan to either train or find this person(s).
  • Document your tax planning strategy. Be aware of possible tax incentives, such as credits for hiring certain workers and accelerated depreciation available for acquiring business assets. For example, for asset purchases, retain receipts and record the purchase details. These details include the type of equipment, the acquisition date, the amount of the purchase, the date you began using the equipment, and a schedule of related set-up costs.
  • Organize your daily documents. Organize your desk by shredding documents with sensitive information and scanning older papers into computer files. The most efficient method is to scan, file, and shred as soon as you are finished with a document. If you don’t have time, consider assigning document organization to specific employees and making it a task to be completed on a daily basis.

You’re busy, and you may feel that organizing your records will take more time than you have available. But spend a minute and consider how using these organizational tips may save you not only time, but money as well.

Be Prepared For These Pandemic-Related Tax Surprises

Don’t get shocked by a high tax bill! Be prepared for these pandemic-related tax surprises when you file your 2020 tax return. Please note: This information may change with ongoing legislation.

  • Taxes on unemployment income. If you received unemployment benefits in 2020, you need to report these benefits on your tax return as taxable income. Check to see if either federal or state taxes were withheld from unemployment payments you received. If taxes were not withheld, you may need to write a check to the IRS when you file your tax return.
  • Taxes from side jobs. Did you pick up a part-time gig to make ends meet? Payments received for performing these jobs may not have had your taxes withheld. If this is the case, you’ll need to pay your taxes directly to the IRS on April 15.
  • Unusual profit-and-loss. If you run a business that was hit by the pandemic, you may find your estimated tax payments were either overpaid or underpaid compared to normal. Now that 2020 is in the books, run a quick projection to ensure you are not surprised with an unexpected tax bill when you file your tax return.
  • Underpayment penalty. If you did not have proper tax withholdings from your paycheck or your estimated tax payments weren’t enough, you could be subject to an underpayment penalty. While it’s too late to avoid a penalty on your 2020 tax return, the solution in the future is to make high enough estimated tax payments each quarter in 2021 or have the appropriate amount withheld from your 2021 paychecks.
  • A chance to claim missing stimulus payments. (A good surprise!) If any of your stimulus payments were for less than what you should have received, you can get money for the difference as a tax credit when you file your 2020 tax return.

Please use these examples to prepare yourself for a potential tax surprise during the uncertainty caused by the ongoing pandemic.

4 Ways to Make Sure Your Tax Return Doesn’t Get Stuck

Here are four ways to make sure the preparation of your tax return keeps humming along until it gets filed.

  1. Keep tax documents in one place. Missing items are one of the biggest reasons filing a tax return gets delayed! Find a place in your home and put all tax documents in this one place as you receive them. Common missing items this year will include the new 1099-NEC for any taxpayers that are contractors, consultants or part of the gig economy.
  2. Organize documents by type. Every tax professional has a story of someone bringing their documents to them in a shoebox or storage container. All this does is increase the amount of time it takes to prepare your return, so it’s best to sort your documents in tax return order. Pull out last year’s tax return and create folders for each section including income, business/rental information, adjustments to income, itemized deductions, tax credit information and a not-sure bucket.
  3. Create list of special events. You receive a Form W-2 from your employer every year. You may get a 1099-INT from your bank if you earn interest income on your deposit accounts. But selling a home usually doesn’t happen every year. Retiring from a 40-year job doesn’t happen every year. Sending a child to college also doesn’t happen every year (although it might seem like it does!). If you don’t write down these unusual events as they happen, you might forget them when your tax return is being prepared. And you may not remember until the moment your return is about to be filed. This is sure to cause delays.
  4. Don’t forget your signature! You may be surprised to learn that even if you electronically file your tax return, you still must sign Form 8879, which authorizes the e-filing of your return. So, whether it’s a traditionally-filed paper tax return or one filed electronically, a signature is required.

These are four of the more common reasons why the preparation of your tax return may get delayed. Be prepared and file your return without a hitch!

2021 Retirement Limits

As part of your 2021 tax planning, now is the time to review funding your retirement accounts. By establishing your contribution goals at the beginning of each year, the financial impact of saving for your future should be more manageable. Here are annual contribution limits for 2021:

Take action

If you have not already done so, please consider:

  • Reviewing and adjusting your periodic contributions to your retirement savings accounts to take full advantage of the tax advantaged limits
  • Setting up new accounts for a spouse or dependent(s)
  • Using this time to review the status of your retirement plan
  • Reviewing contributions to other tax-advantaged plans including flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts

PPP Loan Expenses Are Now Tax Deductible

If you or your business received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the recently passed Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 will help to dramatically cut your tax bill. Here’s what you need to know.

Background

The PPP program was created by the CARES Act in March 2020 to help businesses which were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualified businesses could apply for and receive loans of up to $10 million. Loan proceeds could be used to pay for certain expenses incurred by a business, including salaries and wages, other employee benefits, rent and utilities.

If the business used at least 60% of loan proceeds towards payroll expenses, the entire amount of the loan would be forgiven.

The Dilemma

While the CARES Act spelled out that a business’s forgiven PPP loan would not be considered taxable income, the legislation was silent about how to treat expenses paid for using PPP loan proceeds if the loan was ultimately forgiven.

Congress intended for these expenses to be deductible for federal tax purposes. But since the legislation was silent on this issue, the IRS swooped in and deemed these expenses to be nondeductible.

There was considerable debate over the latter half of 2020, with Congressional politicians explaining that their intent was that the expenses be deductible and the IRS responding “Too bad, they’re nondeductible.”

The Solution

Congress overruled the IRS’s position in the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020. The legislation officially makes deductible for federal tax purposes all expenses paid for using proceeds from a forgiven PPP loan.

Stay tuned for updates as to how this new legislation affects your business.

Ideas to Help the Virtual Learning Challenge

Virtual learning is a way of life again for many kids as we head towards winter.

Mayo Clinic psychologist Dr. Craig Sawchuk says that families will need to adapt to changing circumstances this school year.

“We’ve all been dealing with uncertainty,” Sawchuk said in a recent Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast. “We need to be flexible with the format of how our kids learn. It’s all going to look different, regardless of whether your kids are doing in-person, virtual or a hybrid learning model. And it’s subject to change.”

Here are some ideas shared by creative parents and experts to help maintain your family’s sanity, while trying to navigate virtual learning through the extended stay-at-home winter days.

  • Keep your kids moving. An absence of in-person learning means no recess and no gym class. Keep your kids exercising by scheduling 30 to 60-minute blocks of time for them to do their favorite activity. These activities can include, but not be limited to, walking, jogging, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading or riding on a scooter.

    Do it differently: Consider tracking student activity information on a spreadsheet, then teach them how to make charts and graphs. They can then see progress toward fun goals while learning how to work with spreadsheets.

  • Get crafty. Kids love anything that involves glue, scissors and building stuff. Set aside a dedicated area for your kids to build whatever they can imagine. Give them some latitude to get messy (as long as they clean up!).

    Do it differently: One of the more interesting phenomena of this year’s pandemic is our national coin shortage. If you have some spare change that you’re willing to part with, have your kids search online for DIY coin crafts.

  • Put on the chef hat. Turn your kitchen over to your kids. Yes, it might get messy, and your meatloaf may end up a little dry, but getting your kids to cook can spark their creativity and get them into the habit of helping prepare food for the entire family.

    Do it differently: Have your kids create their own cooking show. Set up a video recorder on a sturdy tripod and have them narrate what they’re preparing. If extra time allows, they can jump on a video editing software program and edit their TV show.

  • Thumb through an actual book. Textbooks have been replaced by tablets. Newspapers have been supplanted by websites. Physical books have given way to e-books. While your kids are at home, consider reading through an actual book, while sitting on an actual chair or sofa.

    Do it differently: After reading a book, have your children or grandchildren create their own story. Or have them create a different ending. You can record the story on your phone or be their scribe. They can then make their own book to share.

A Happy Banker Makes for a Happy Business

With the onset of COVID-19, small business banks are more nervous about potential loan losses than ever. Here are several tips for your business to maintain a great working relationship with your lender. These same tips can also be used if you want to plant seeds with your banker for potential future loans.

  • Produce timely financial statements. Your lender may require you to produce financial statements over the duration of your loans to ensure that you have enough cash to make consistent, on-time payments. Strive to produce up-to-date financial statements and send them to your bank before they ask for them. Not only will timely financial statements make your lenders happy, the pro-active nature of your financials will show a level of transparency to them. Be prepared to include a note explaining major changes and schedule regular phone calls to go over the business.
  • Implement solid internal controls. How does a lender have faith that the dollar amounts on your financial statements are accurate? By properly implementing internal controls. You’ll have a happy banker if your company can provide evidence that your internal controls are operating properly.
  • Communicate. If your business encounters turbulent financial waters, the best thing to do is immediately let your lender know about it. Better yet, by keeping in constant communication, your lender will most likely be able to spot if your business starts experiencing a downturn and will try devising a plan before you begin missing payment deadlines.

Remember, your banker probably has their hands full right now. These tips allow them to spend more time on their problem loans, and one of them will not be yours.

Common IRS Surprises

No one likes surprises from the IRS, but they do occasionally happen. Here are some examples of unpleasant tax situations you could find yourself in and what to do about them.

  • An expected refund turns into a tax payment. Nothing may be more deflating than expecting to get a nice tax refund and instead being met with the reality that you actually owe the IRS more money.

    What you can do: Run an estimated tax return and see if you may be in for a surprise. If so, adjust how much federal income tax is withheld from your paycheck for the balance of the year. Consult with your company’s human resources department to figure out how to make the necessary adjustments for the future. If you’re self-employed, examine if you need to increase your estimated tax payments due in January, April, June and September.

  • Getting a letter from the IRS. Official tax forms such as W-2s and 1099s are mailed to both you and the IRS. If the figures on your income tax return do not match those in the hands of the IRS, you will get a letter from the IRS saying that you’re being audited. These audits are now done by mail and are commonly known as correspondence audits. The IRS assumes their figures are correct and will demand payment for the taxes you owe on the amount of income you omitted on your tax return.

    What you can do: Assuming you already know you received all your 1099s and W-2s and confirmed their accuracy, verify the information in the IRS letter with your records. Believe it or not, the IRS sometimes makes mistakes! It is always best to ask for help in how to correspond and make your payments in a timely fashion, if they are justified.

  • Getting a tax bill for an emergency retirement distribution. Due to the pandemic, you can withdraw money from retirement accounts in 2020 without getting a 10% early withdrawal penalty, but you’ll still have to pay income taxes on the amount withdrawn. If you don’t plan for this extra tax you will be surprised with an additional tax bill. And you may still get an underpayment penalty bill from the IRS because you did not withhold enough during the year. You may also still receive an early withdrawal penalty in error because the IRS is still scrambling to update their systems with all of this year’s tax relief changes.

    What you can do: Set aside a percentage of your distribution for taxes. Your account administrator may withhold funds automatically for you when you request the withdrawal, so check your statements. Your review should be for both federal and any state tax obligations. If the withholding is not sufficient, consider sending in an estimated tax payment. And if you are charged a withdrawal penalty, ask for help to correspond with the IRS to get this charge reversed.

No one likes surprises when filing their taxes. With a little planning now, you can reduce the chance of having a surprise hit your tax return later.

Turn Your Home Office Into a Tax Deduction

If you are working from home for the first time in 2020, you may be wondering if your home office is tax deductible. The bad news? If you’re working from home for an employer, you normally can’t deduct your home office expenses.

Here’s a quick look at the basic requirements to be able to deduct your home office expenses, along with some suggestions for how to qualify for the deduction if you’re currently working for your company as an employee.

The basics

There are two requirements for having a tax-deductible home office:

  • Your home office is only used for business purposes. Your home office must be used exclusively for operating your business. It can’t double as the family media center or living room. To meet this requirement, set up your office in a separate area of your house. Then if you get audited by the IRS, there is no doubt that your office is used exclusively for business purposes.
  • Your home office is your primary place of business. You need to demonstrate that your home office is the primary place you conduct your business. The IRS has clarified that you can meet clients and conduct meetings at separate office locations, but your home office must be the only location where your administrative work is completed. So, if you meet with clients or work on any part of your business away from your home office, keep a journal of each specific activity undertaken and describe how it doesn’t violate the primary place-of-business rule.

Looking at these two criteria, everyone that is now required to work from home probably meets both qualifications. If you’re a W-2 employee, however, you can’t deduct your home office expenses on your tax return.

Solving the problem

Here are three options for solving your problem of being a W-2 employee and qualifying to deduct your home office expenses on your tax return.

  • Become an independent contractor. The easiest way to deduct your home office expenses is by switching from being an employee to an independent contractor. With a number of firms cutting pay and hours due to the pandemic, it may be worth exploring. There’s a big warning label if you go this route, however. You will need to account for lost benefits, such as health insurance, and the additional cost of self-employment taxes. If you can meet the IRS requirements for becoming an independent contractor, it may be worth doing the math and considering all the deductions your home office may make available to you.
  • Start a side business. If becoming an independent contractor for your current employer isn’t an option, consider starting a side business. You can deduct all business-related expenses on your tax return, including your home office expenses. If you go this route, ensure your home office is in a different location in your home than your other work space.
  • Consider your entire household. Even if you don’t qualify for the home office deduction, maybe someone else living in your home does qualify. So, look into your options to see if a family member can take advantage of the home office deduction.

What if none of these options for deducting home office expenses are feasible for you? While you won’t be able to deduct your home office expenses on your tax return, you may still be able to end up financially ahead with the help of your employer.

Get reimbursed by your company

There’s no question you are picking up some of the expense of your home office with added electrical, heating, telephone, internet, and other expenses. One way companies are solving this is by allowing employees to submit valid expense reports to cover some of these extra costs. They do this by setting up an accountable plan. With financial pressures on businesses, this might be a tough subject to broach, but if the system is already in place you may be able to find a way to get some of your home office expense reimbursed.

So if you’re stuck working as a W-2 employee, look into whether your employer offers reimbursement for home office expenses.

Figuring out how to properly deduct your home office or get reimbursed by your employer can be a lot more complicated than it appears. If you need help, contact your financial advisor.