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Make Setting Salaries Easier With These 5 Steps

 

Whether you are hiring for the first time, filling an open position, or conducting annual performance reviews, finding a salary range that attracts and retains valued employees can be a difficult task. Here are some suggestions to help make the process a bit easier for you and your company:

  1. Know what your business can afford. Like any business expense, you need to know how it will affect your budget and cash flow. Make a twelve-month profitability and cash forecast and then plug in the high end of the annual salary range you are considering to see if it’s something your business can absorb. After all, the greatest employee in the world can’t help you if you don’t have the money to pay them. Don’t forget to account for increases in benefit costs, especially the escalating cost to provide healthcare. Once you establish a budget, you can allocate your spending plan to your payroll.
  2. Understand the laws. In general, the federal government sets the minimum requirements (minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, overtime rules and record keeping requirements). States and localities often add their own set of rules. For example, the state of Illinois, Cook County and the city of Chicago all have different minimum wage requirements. If you are located in Chicago you need to adhere to the highest rate. So research all payroll rules that apply to your location at the beginning of the process. When reviewing the rules, don’t forget that different rules often apply depending on the number of employees in your business.
  3. Review and update job descriptions. Take some time to review key jobs and update them as appropriate. With new positions, note the exact tasks and responsibilities you envision for the role. Then, think about the type of person that will succeed performing these responsibilities. Once you have a clear picture of who you are looking for, you can begin to build a detailed job description and narrow in on a specific salary range.
  4. Establish value ranges and apply them. Value is key when determining the perfect salary amount. Define the range of value for the position and then apply that valuation to the current person’s performance within the defined pay range. Use websites and recruiters to establish the correct range of pay, then apply experience and employee performance to obtain a potential new salary amount. Remember, size of company, location and competitiveness of the job market are all factors to consider.
  5. Factor in company benefits. A strong suite of employee benefits is a powerful tool to couple with a competitive salary. Don’t be afraid to communicate their value to prospective and current employees (they help with retention, too!). According to Glassdoor, health and dental insurance are the most important, but flexibility is close behind – over 80 percent of job seekers take flexible hours, vacation time and work-from-home options into consideration before accepting a position.

Finding the right salary can be tricky, but with some preparation and research, you can find the balance that satisfies the needs of your business and your employees.

What You Need To Know About IRS Audits

The IRS recently released its 2018 Data Book, including information on its audit activities for the last fiscal year. This infographic details what you need to know regarding your audit risk, how to prepare for and what to expect in an IRS audit.

 

Can’t Miss Stops for Your Summer Road Trip

School is out, the weather is warm, and it’s time to head out on a summer road trip! Tired of the same old locations? Every state has a number of unique destinations for the everyday explorer. Here are some free ideas for the creative vacation seeker in all of us:

  • The World’s Largest Yard Sale. Stretching 690 miles through six states, the World’s Largest Yard sale includes over 2,000 vendors. Every year at the beginning of August, you can drive for four days (from Addison, Michigan to Gadsden, Alabama) in search of second-hand treasures. Along the route are more than 35 major vendor stops. These stops include groups of at least 25 sellers clustered together. But you can also find sales in individual yards, garages, parking lots or even right on the side of the road.
  • The Wave Organ. Located in San Francisco, California, the Wave Organ is a sprawling sculpture that incorporates multiple pipes that enter the ocean at different levels to create musical tones when they’re struck by the waves. The sculpture itself is made of granite and marble from an old cemetery. When planning a visit, shoot to be there during high tide when the organ is at its best.
  • Miss Crustacean Hermit Crab Beauty Pageant. Do you have a hermit crab that really likes to flaunt its shell? Then Ocean City, New Jersey is the place for you! Every August, contestants vie for the Coveted Cucumber Rind Cup by showcasing their elaborately decorated hermit crabs. Registering your charming hermit crab is free — just make sure you get there early.
  • Carhenge. If you don’t have time to travel across the ocean to see Stonehenge, you’re in luck! Head to Alliance, Nebraska to visit Carhenge instead. Built in 1987 as a replica of the iconic stone circle in England, Carhenge uses vintage cars as building blocks instead of the 25-ton stones used in the original. It’s located in the middle of farmland and includes a walking path with some other, let’s just say, interesting sculptures.
  • The Austin bats. Hidden under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas from late March until early fall lives the largest urban colony of Mexican free-tailed bats in the world. At its peak, (sometime in August) the colony has as many as 1.5 million bats! Every night around sunset, onlookers pack the bridge, sidewalks and river below to experience the colony taking flight in search of insects. If you decide to watch from the water, you might want to bring an umbrella — unprepared spectators are known to be hit with guano (AKA bat poop)!

Hitting the road is a great way to spend some time with loved ones this summer. Adding quirky stops that will be remembered for a lifetime make it even better!

Effective Tax Planning Starts Now!

With summertime activities in full swing, tax planning is probably not on the top of your to-do list. But putting it off creates a problem at the end of the year when there’s little time for changes to take effect. If you take the time to plan now, you’ll have six months for your actions to make a difference on your 2019 tax return. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Know your upcoming tax breaks. Pull out your 2018 tax return and take a look at your income, deductions and credits. Ask yourself whether all these breaks will be available again this year. For example:

  • Are you expecting more income that will bump you to a higher tax rate?
  • Will increased income cause a benefit to phase out?
  • Will any of your children outgrow a tax credit?

Any changes to your tax situation will make planning now much more important.

Make tax-wise investment decisions. Have some loser stocks you were hoping would rebound? If the prospects for revival aren’t great, and you’ve owned them for less than one year (short-term), selling them now before they change to long-term stocks can offset up to $3,000 in ordinary income this year. Conversely, appreciated stocks held longer than one year may be candidates for potential charitable contributions or possible choices to optimize your taxes with proper planning.

Adjust your retirement plan contributions. Are you still making contributions based on last year’s limits? Maximum savings amounts increase for retirement plans in 2019. You can contribute up to $13,000 to a SIMPLE IRA, up to $19,000 to a 401(k) and up to $6,000 to a traditional or Roth IRA. Remember to add catch-up contributions if you’ll be 50 by the end of December!

Plan for upcoming college expenses. With the school year around the corner, understanding the various tax breaks for college expenses before you start doling out your cash for post-secondary education will ensure the maximum tax savings. There are two tax credits available, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit. Plus there are tax benefits for student loan interest and Coverdell Savings accounts. Add 529 college savings plans, and you quickly realize an educational tax strategy is best established early in the year.

Add some business to your summer vacation. If you own a business, you might be able to deduct some of your travel expenses as a business expense. To qualify, the primary reason for your trip must be business-related. Keep detailed records of where and when you work, plus get receipts for all ordinary and necessary expenses!

Great tax planning is a year-round process, but it’s especially effective at midyear. Making time now not only helps reduce your taxes, it puts you in control of your entire financial situation.

Never Take on the IRS Alone

Sleuthing your way through a tax audit by yourself is not the same as fixing a leaky faucet or changing your oil. Here are reasons you should seek professional help as soon as you receive a letter from the IRS:

  • IRS auditors do this for a living — you don’t. Seasoned IRS agents have seen your situation many times and know the rules better than you. Even worse, they are under no obligation to teach you the rules. Just like a defendant needs the help of a lawyer in court, you need someone in your corner that knows your rights and understands the correct tax code to apply in correspondence with the IRS.
  • Insufficient records will cost you. When selected for an audit, the IRS will typically make a written request for specific documents they want to see. The list may include receipts, bills, legal documents, loan agreements and other records. If you are missing something from the list, things get dicey. It may be possible to reconstruct some of your records, but you might have to rely on a good explanation to avoid additional taxes plus a possible 20 percent negligence penalty.
  • Too much information can add audit risk. While most audits are limited in scope, the IRS agent has the authority to increase that scope based on what they find in their original analysis. That means that if they find a document or hear something you say that sounds suspicious, they can extend the audit to additional areas. Being prepared with the proper support and concise, smart answers to their questions is the best approach to limiting further audit risk.
  • Missing an audit deadline can lead to trouble. When you receive the original audit request, it will include a response deadline (typically 30 days). If you miss the deadline, the IRS will change your tax return using their interpretation of findings, not yours. This typically means assessing new taxes, interest and penalties. If you wish your point of view to be heard — get help right away to prepare a plan and manage the IRS deadlines.
  • Relying on an expert gives you peace of mind. Tax audits are never fun, but they don’t have to be pull-your-hair-out stressful. Together, you and your expert can map out a plan and take it step-by-step to ensure the best possible outcome. You’ll rest easy knowing your audit situation is being handled by someone with the proper expertise that also has your best interests in mind.

Payroll Fraud Schemes Every Business Should Know

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, nearly 30 percent of businesses are victims of payroll malfeasance, with small businesses twice as likely to be affected as large businesses. Here are four scary payroll fraud schemes you need to know:

  • Ghost employees. A ghost employee does not exist anywhere except in your payroll system. Typically, someone with access to your payroll creates a fake employee and assigns direct deposit information to a dummy account so they can secretly transfer the money into their own bank account.
  • Time thieves. Time stealing happens when employees add more time to their timecard than they actually worked. Sometimes multiple employees will team up to clock each other in earlier than when they arrive or later than when they depart for the day.
  • Shape-shifting commissions. In an attempt to bump up a commission payment or attain a quota, sneaky sales employees may alter a sales contract to their benefit. A typical tactic used by a dishonest salesperson is to make a booked sale appear larger than it is and then slide a credit memo through the system in a later period. Companies with complicated commission calculations or weak controls in this area are the most vulnerable.
  • External swindlers. A popular scam, known as phishing, starts with a fraudster impersonating a company executive through email or over the phone asking an employee with access to payroll data to wire money or provide sensitive information. These imposters can make the correspondence look very real by using company logos, signatures and email addresses.

Tips to combat payroll fraud

Being aware of the threats is a start, but you also need to know how to stop them. Here are some tips to reduce your company’s payroll fraud risk:

  • Better internal controls. While most employees are trustworthy, giving too much control over your payroll to one person is not a good idea. Separating payroll duties and formalizing an approval process protects both your business and your employees.
  • Review payroll records. Designate someone outside of the payroll-processing department to periodically review the payroll records. Have them review names, pay rates and verify that the total payroll matches what was withdrawn from the business bank account.
  • Perform random internal audits. During an internal audit is when you can really get into the details to look for potential payroll fraud. You can do an in-depth review of the whole payroll system or select a random sample of dates and employees. Keep the timing of the audit under wraps to prevent giving someone the chance to cover up their misdeeds.

Managing your business payroll is a daunting task by itself, and actively protecting against fraud adds additional complexity.

Get Your Life Back! Ideas to Unplug

With endless movies, TV shows and video games available to us 24/7, it’s become too easy to spend all our free time on electronic devices. If you and your family are looking for ways to unplug this summer, consider these ideas:

  • Turn off notifications. Hey! Guess what? Bill just posted a photo of his dinner! And look at this! Minneapolis just set the world record for the largest pillow fight! Let’s be honest, most alerts you get on your phone are meaningless, yet we allow them to steal our attention several times a day. Review your phone settings and turn off all non-essential notifications to keep you focused on the things that are important to you.
  • Ration your screen time. Limiting time in front of a screen is important for both you and your kids. Setting daily screen limits is a good way to keep your media consumption under control and allow for guilt-free time when you just want to scroll through social media or watch a movie.
  • Make a summer reading goal. Set a goal (with prizes at the end!) for yourself and your children to read a certain number of books before Labor Day. According to the Chicago Tribune, because reading is an active activity (not passive, like watching TV), “it reduces stress, promotes comprehension and imagination, alleviates depression, helps you sleep, and may contribute to preventing Alzheimer’s.”
  • Schedule phone-free activities. Plan a get-together like a picnic or BBQ, but with a catch — phones need to be checked at the door. That way you and your guests can focus on each other without the constant distraction of a phone. If some of the guests don’t know each other, even better! They might leave the party with a few new friends.
  • Start a new outdoor hobby. Getting outside is a great way to separate yourself from your electronics. By finding an outdoor hobby that interests you, like hiking, gardening or camping, you’ll have an activity that takes your attention away from your phone and provides added benefits, like exercise and vitamin D.

By getting your electronic habits to a manageable level, you’ll free up more time and energy to live this summer to the fullest.

5 Summer Tax Savings Opportunities

Ah, summer. The weather is warm, kids are out of school, and it’s time to think about tax saving opportunities! Here are five ways you can enjoy your normal summertime activities and save on taxes:

  1. Rent out your property tax-free. If you have a cabin, condo, or similar property, consider renting it out for two weeks. The rental income you receive on property rented for less than 15 days per year is not considered taxable income. In addition, you can still deduct your mortgage interest expense and property taxes in full as itemized deductions! Track the rental days closely — going over 14 days means all rent is taxable and rental income rules apply.
  2. Take a tax credit for summer childcare. For many working parents, the summer comes with the added challenge of finding care for their children. Thankfully, the Child and Dependent Care Credit can cover 20-35 percent of qualified childcare expenses for your children under the age of 13. Eligible types of care include day care, nanny fees and day camps (overnight camps and summer school do not qualify).
  3. Hire your kids. If you own a business, hire your kids. If you are a sole proprietor and your child is under age 18, you can pay them to work without withholding or paying Social Security and Medicare tax.
  4. Have a garage sale. In general, the money you make from a yard or garage sale is tax-free because you sell your goods for less than you originally paid for them. Once the sale is over, donate the remaining items to a qualified charity to get a potential charitable donation deduction. Just remember to keep a log of the items you donate and ask for a receipt.
  5. Start a Roth IRA for your children. Roth IRA contributions are limited to the amount of income your child earns, so earned income is key. This can include income from mowing lawns or selling lemonade. Start making contributions as soon as your child makes some money to take advantage of the tax-free earnings available in a Roth IRA.

Taking the time this summer to execute these tips can put extra money in your pocket right away and provide you tax-saving happiness in the future.

4 Key Elements of Great Business Books

Your bookkeeping system is the financial heart and lifeblood of your business. When set up and operating properly, your books help you make smart decisions and seamlessly turn your financial data into useful information. Here are four key characteristics to build and maintain a healthy bookkeeping system:

  1. Select the proper accounting method

    There are two different methods for recording transactions: cash-basis and accrual-basis. In general, cash-basis records a transaction when payment is made where accrual-basis books the transaction upon delivery of the good or service. Cash-basis is easier to track and a useful option for smaller businesses and sole-proprietors. Where as larger businesses who buy from vendors on account (accounts payable) generally use accrual-basis accounting.

    Selecting the proper method affects any related financial transactions and how your financial statements are displayed. A correct approach will also include consideration of outside factors, including: IRS rules (businesses with more than $25 million in gross receipts must use accrual-basis), bank covenants, and industry standards. Once a choice is made, it can be changed but it must be properly reported to the IRS.

    Magnifying glass over monthly numbers

  2. Create an account structure that fits the company

    Every business has a chart of accounts included in their bookkeeping system. These accounts sort the business’s transaction data into six meaningful groups. They are assets, liabilities, equity, income, cost of goods sold and other expenses. Each group will often have numerous accounts and sub-accounts associated with them.

    Having the right mix of accounts created and grouped in an organized fashion will help you properly classify transactions and prepare usable financial statements. The proper account structure for your company will mesh with your specific information needs.

  3. Enter accurate and timely transactions

    The value your data provides is dependent on each transaction being recorded correctly and on time. Entering transactions in the wrong account can cause major issues down the road. Financial reporting that is delayed can hide problems that need immediate attention. Some transactions are relatively straightforward, and some are more complex (like payroll, accruals and deferrals).

    It’s important to have someone who understands both your business and the accounting rules enter your transactions in a timely fashion. In addition, a good month-end close process that involves reviewing each account, will find mistakes from the initial entries.

  4. Establish financial statements for decision-making

    The main financial statements are the income statement (income – expenses = gross profit), the balance sheet (assets = liabilities + equity) and statement of cash flow. Each statement has a specific purpose:

    • Income statement. The income statement shows company performance for a select period of time; typically monthly with a full year summary. At the end of each year the income statement restarts.
    • Balance sheet. The balance sheet displays a company’s overall health as of a certain date. It is perpetual. This means it doesn’t end until the business is closed or sold. It includes one line that summarizes the current year and prior year results from the income statement.
    • Statement of cash flow. This statement summarizes the inflow and outflow of cash. It ensures you know whether you have enough cash and the pattern of your cash position over time.

If properly executed, your bookkeeping system will turn out accurate financial statements that can be used for several tasks – financial reporting, budgeting, forecasting, raising capital, applying for a loan, tax reporting and decision making. Feel free to call with any questions or to discuss bookkeeping solutions for your business.

Watch Out! 7 Vacation Costs That Sneak Up on You

Going on vacation is a time to get away, relax and enjoy new experiences. But if you don’t pay close attention, extra costs can sneak up on you like tiny money-stealing ninjas. Here are seven sneaky vacation costs to watch out for:

Piggy bank in chaise lounge at beach

  1. Covert airfare increases. Airline pricing algorithms are programmed to store your browsing history to see if you’ve been looking at flights. If you have, they will bump up the price. Before searching, clear your internet history and switch to private (or incognito) mode on your web browser. When you are finally ready to book the flight, do so using a different computer from a new location to be sure that you’re avoiding this artificial price increase.
  2. Stealthy resort fees. The nightly base rate for a fancy resort will often compare favorably to a standard hotel in the same location. This is an intentional pricing tactic used by resorts to get their rooms on the initial search results page. Don’t be fooled! These same resorts will add a daily resort fee on the back end of your bill to cover the extra amenities they offer. The extra fee might be worth it to you, but it’s better to understand the full cost of the stay before making your reservation.
  3. Useless rental car insurance. Rental car companies will try to sell you insurance to cover damages you may cause during the rental period. Often, the auto insurance you already have will extend to the rental car. In these cases, the extra insurance isn’t necessary. Before renting a car, check with your insurance company to see if a rental will be covered.
  4. Bloated baggage fees. You probably already know that airlines may charge for checking a bag, but do you know they will charge extra if a bag is too heavy? Exact weight can vary by airline or location, so check the weight limits before you go and weigh any heavy bags using a bathroom scale.
  5. Crafty parking costs. Downtown hotels in big cities charge as high as $75 per night for parking! Research alternative parking options near your hotel or compare the cost of using rideshare options before committing to the hotel rate.
  6. Sly extra driver charges. Rental car companies will charge an extra daily fee to have a second driver listed on the rental. If possible, commit to one person to handle all the driving on your vacation.
  7. Tricky foreign transaction fees. Traveling abroad and paying an extra fee for every purchase will add up in a hurry. Before you go, check your credit cards and bank accounts to see if they charge foreign transaction fees. If they do, shopping for another card or account that doesn’t charge fees might make sense.

Some vacation fees can’t be avoided, but many of them can if you know where to look. Implement a plan to navigate the fees in the planning stages of your trip to avoid dealing with them during your vacation.