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The Busy Business Owner: Get Back 15 Minutes a Day

Meetings, phone calls, emails, text messages, and water cooler conversations with your employees constantly bombard you as a business owner. Freeing up even just another 15 minutes a day could dramatically improve both your workflow and peace of mind.

Here are some suggestions for getting back 15 minutes every day:

  • Use your phone. Whenever possible, use your phone instead of an email. Oftentimes talking with someone directly is more efficient than spending the time to compose an email. Plus, email chains can fill your inbox and require precious minutes to read and decipher. Using the phone can also help avoid potential misunderstandings, as a person’s tone of voice conveys information that may be lost or misinterpreted when shared via a written message.
  • Be brief with emails. Tech entrepreneurs Mark Cuban and Jeff Bezos are known for their brief emails that consist of only a couple words. In situations where you do use email, consider crafting a response that is only several words in length. And remember the golden rule of emails: send fewer emails to receive fewer emails.
  • Plan your meetings. Face-to-face time with colleagues, vendors, and customers is often productive and essential for growing a business. On the other hand, meetings can be a huge waste of time if not properly planned. Establish clear goals for a meeting in advance so your team can focus on priorities and get back to work.
  • Minimize distractions. Business owners enjoy developing a rapport with their employees. These personal conversations, however, need to have boundaries so that both you and your employee can stay on task. Tell your team if there’s a day you don’t have time for small talk. Consider putting an old-fashioned Do Not Disturb sign on your door when you need to get things done.
  • Delegate when possible. If you’re a small business owner who built a company from scratch, you may be reluctant to relinquish control over day-to-day operations. But failure to delegate can sap time from more important tasks like planning, building relationships with key vendors, and growing your customer base. So, develop a plan to train your employees to assume more responsibility over time.

Fifteen minutes may not seem like much, but a busy business owner can work wonders with just a little more time every day.

Give Your Business an End-of-Summer Check-up

As summer winds down, your business’s financial statements may be due for a quick check-up. Here are several review suggestions to help determine the health of your business prior to year-end.

  • Balance sheet reconciliations. Reconcile each asset and liability account every quarter. A well-supported balance sheet can guide decisions about cash reserves, debt financing, inventory management, receivables, payables, and property. Regular monitoring can highlight vulnerabilities, providing time for corrective action.
  • Debt service coverage. Do you have enough cash to adequately handle principal and interest payments? Calculate your cash flow to ensure you can handle both current and future monthly loan payments.
  • Projected revenue. Take a look at your income statements and see how your revenue has performed so far this year versus what you thought your revenue was going to be. If revenue varies from what you expect, get with your sales and marketing team to pinpoint what has gone better, or worse, than expected.
  • Projected expenses. Put a stop to disappearing cash by conducting a variance analysis of your expenses. What did you expect to spend so far in 2021 on salaries and wages compared to what you actually paid your employees? What about other big expenses like rent or insurance? Take the amount of money actually spent so far in 2021 in each of your major expense accounts and compare it to your spending forecast. Then create an updated forecast for the balance of the year.

A review of your financial statements now will help you be prepared if you need to navigate an obstacle or capitalize on potential opportunities to expand your business.

Even Non-Income Tax States Have Taxes

With the increased popularity of working-at-home, you may consider moving to one of the nine states that don’t impose an individual income tax. Before doing so, you should understand how each of these states raises its revenue. And then consider how you can reduce your tax obligation in your current home state.

Here’s some help.

According to Kiplinger and the Tax Foundation, here is how the nine states that collect no individual income taxes collect money from their residents.

Alaska

  • Alaska is one of five states with no sales tax, but local jurisdictions may impose sales taxes, with rates reaching 7.5%. The average is 1.76%.
  • The median property tax rate is $1,182 per $100,000 of assessed home value, slightly above the national average.

Florida

  • The statewide sales tax is 6%, but local jurisdictions can add up to 2.5%, with an average combined rate of 7.08%.
  • The median property tax rate is $830 per $100,000 of assessed home value, a middle-of-the-road figure nationally.

Nevada

  • The state sales tax rate is 6.85% while local jurisdictions can add up to 1.53%. The average combined rate is a lofty 8.23%.
  • The median property tax rate is $533 per $100,000 of assessed home value, one of the lowest in the country.

New Hampshire

  • Besides no state income tax, this tax haven has no state or local sales taxes.
  • Property tax is the main revenue source. The median property tax rate is $2,050 per $100,000 of assessed home value, the third-highest rate in the U.S.

South Dakota

  • The 4.5% state tax may increase to an average combined rate of 6.4%, below the national average.
  • The median property tax rate is $1,219 per $100,000 of assessed home value, above the national average.

Tennessee

  • Tennessee previously had an income tax on dividends and interest, but it disappeared after 2020. The current 7% state sales tax rate may be combined with a 2.75% on sales of single items for an overall maximum rate of 9.55%, the highest in the U.S.
  • The median property tax rate is $636 per $100,000 of assessed home value, below the national average.

Texas

  • The sales tax in the Lone Star state is 6.25%, plus local jurisdictions can add up to 2%, with an average combined rate of 8.19%, which is well above the national average.
  • The median property tax rate is $1,692 per $100,000 of assessed home value, which is a tie for the seventh-highest rate in the country.

Washington

  • Municipalities can increase the 6.5% state levy by 4% for an average combined rate of 9.23%, the fourth-highest in the nation.
  • The median property tax rate is $929 per $100,000 of assessed home value. This is middle of the pack.
  • Unlike the other eight states, Washington has an estate tax, with a $2.193 million exemption (indexed for inflation). Tax rates range from 10% to 20%.

Wyoming

  • The 4% sales tax may be increased by municipalities for a combined rate of 5.33%. This is the eighth-lowest in the U.S.
  • The median property tax rate is $575 per $100,000 of assessed home value, tied for the tenth-lowest in the nation.

Here are some ideas to lower your property and sales tax bills:

Appeal your property’s valuation assessment. You may be able to lower your property tax bill by providing evidence that your home’s assessed value should be lower. Start your appeals process by contacting your county assessor’s office. Some appeals can be done online, while others may require a visit to your assessor’s local office.

Shop during tax-free weekends. Many states feature one or two weekends each year where sales taxes are suspended. These sales tax holidays sometimes correspond to high volume shopping periods, such as back-to-school sales in late summer.

Deduct sales taxes on your Form 1040 tax return. You’re allowed to deduct up to $10,000 of combined property taxes and sales taxes on your tax return, so be sure to look into this deduction if you itemize your Schedule A deductions. The only potential headache if you deduct sales taxes is needing to track and record all sales taxes you’ve paid throughout the year.

Protect Your Valuables BEFORE Thieves Arrive

If you are concerned about protecting your valuables, here are several suggestions to consider for protecting them from would-be thieves:

  • Rent a safe deposit box. It may make sense to keep seldom worn jewelry, coins and other important documents in a traditional safe deposit box at your local bank. But beware if you go this route, as it is often inconvenient to retrieve your valuables, it is easy to forget what is in the box and who has the key. Plus, it’s important to fully understand your rights under the contract terms.
  • Install a home safe. There are several types of in-home safes you can choose from, including wall, floor, free standing, fire and gun safes. There are also diversion safes for small items that are designed to look like everyday household objects that can blend in with its surroundings.
  • Secure your house. In addition to installing a state-of-the-art home security system, there are several other ways to physically secure your home. Consider updating your locks every several years, and remember to actually use them! Many burglars are looking for easy targets, and unlocked doors and windows provide easy access. Also consider reinforcing your doors and windows, and installing motion-sensing lights both inside and outside.

Be prepared if a theft does occur

Unfortunately, thieves can still sometimes steal your valuables despite multiple layers of protection. Here are some suggestions to prepare you if any of your valuables go missing:

  • Be familiar with your insurance policy. Read your insurance policy to know what items are covered. Review your policy once a year or whenever you acquire another valuable asset.
  • Get an appraisal. It may be difficult to know how much insurance you need without a proper valuation of your assets. Some assets may be worth much more than you think, while other assets may be difficult to pinpoint a value without professional assistance.
  • Keep a home inventory. Create a list of all your valuables that includes photographs and purchase receipts. If an asset is stolen, having this inventory always up-to-date can help quickly jump-start filing an insurance claim.

It’s BACK! Inflation is Among Us

How to Shield Your Money From Inflation

Recent high inflation rates are driving up the price for almost everything and eroding the value of your money. With varying opinions on the potential duration of the current inflation surge, it’s important to understand the causes and how you can protect your money.

Possible causes of this inflation

While the root causes of inflation are not always easy to identify, the premise is simple – prices are going up for goods and services. This is often because demand is higher than supply. Here are some of the basic drivers of today’s inflation.

  • The demand-pull situation. Demand for a product increases but the supply remains the same. Think of a vendor selling ponchos at a state fair. If it rains, demand is going to spike and fair-goers are willing to pay up to keep dry. This situation is rampant during the pandemic, as we all see runs on things like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. And now we are seeing pent-up demand being released, as some of the pandemic restrictions are eased. An example of this is popular vacation locations being all booked in advance.
  • The cost-push situation. Demand stays constant but supply is reduced. An example of this is a lower-yield crop season when a major drought hits a region. Consumers still want their dinner salads, but lettuce is sparse. So, retailers charge more to cover their increased costs. Or when paper mills switched production to handle higher toilet paper demand, pulp used for paper and packaging had supply reductions creating a shortage which increased their prices.
  • Factoring in the money supply. The more money there is available to spend (high money supply), the more the demand on all goods and services goes up. This is being manifested in wage increases as employers are having a hard time filling jobs and is also the result of many of the government spending programs during the pandemic.

Ideas to protect yourself during high inflation

  • Alternative savings that is NOT cash. The value of your money sitting in your wallet or in low interest bank accounts is shrinking before your eyes. The past year has seen the highest inflation rates in the last decade at 5.4%, according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). That means if your savings account is earning 0.6%, you’ve lost 4.8% in purchasing power over the last 12 months. Get your money to work for you by considering:
  • Low risk, dividend-paying stocks
  • CDs, bonds and other investments with various maturities to prepare for higher rates
  • Direct lending vehicles through vetted, respected facilitators
  • Investing directly in property, small businesses or other tangible assets
  • Invest in yourself to learn a new trade or skill
  • Lock in fixed rates on debt. Inflation can be your friend if you have a low interest, fixed-rate loan. For example, inflation will tend to increase the value of your house over time, yet your monthly payment will remain the same. So borrowing money at a low fixed interest rate, while the underlying property value increases with inflation, can be a strategy to consider.
  • Delay large expenditures. Do your part to reduce demand by postponing large purchases. Consider delaying the purchase of a new car, adding to your home or taking an overseas trip until demand flattens and prices come back to a normal rate.

It’s impossible to avoid the effects of high inflation altogether, but with some smart investing and the will-power to temporarily curb spending, you can reduce inflation’s impact on your personal bottom line.

Unique Employee Benefits to Differentiate Your Business

A recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) found that many companies are struggling to attract and retain qualified workers. While some businesses have countered this shortage of workers by raising hourly rates to record levels according to the NFIB, other businesses don’t have the financial flexibility to do this.

If you’re a business that doesn’t have the financial resources to raise pay, consider differentiating yourself by adding unique employee benefits. After all, the cost of losing a potential or existing employee to a competitor may outstrip the expense of an easy-to-implement employee perk.

Here are several unique benefits to consider offering current and prospective employees:

  • Flexible schedules. By creatively managing time, you can maintain workflow and keep employees productive. For example, some firms have offered a 9/80 work schedule. Over the course of two weeks, an employee works eight 9-hour days, one 8-hour day, and gets one day off. Another common option is the 4/10 schedule where each employee works four 10-hour days and takes every Friday off.
  • On-site health and wellness perks. Some examples include allowing workers to visit a mobile dental clinic or registered nurse during work hours, negotiating a group discount at the local gym and providing employee gym memberships, or making weekly massages and lunch-break yoga classes available.
  • Family support. On-site childcare for busy parents, rooms for nursing mothers and generous parental leave policies are family benefit options to consider. Some companies have implemented a program of chore help where the business covers the cost of laundry or cleaning services for workers who work long hours. For some businesses, permitting employees to work from home several days a week is another great perk for workers who have families and may need the location flexibility.
  • Pet-friendly office. Let dog owners bring their furry companion to work on a periodic basis. Besides decreasing stress for the pet owner, dogs often facilitate group bonding. Other pet-friendly options include free training classes or discounted veterinary services. For employees who don’t own pets, pet-friendly funds can be applied toward other perks such as gym memberships or free lunches.
  • Referral bonuses. If your firm is struggling to attract qualified workers, consider paying existing employees for every person who attends an interview via an employee referral. The existing worker might be offered a lump sum payment or even an allowance for each month the new hire remains on the job.

By being flexible and listening to your employees, you can generate many ideas for unique employee benefits. And the retention that results will benefit both you and your employees.

Help! I Just Got a Letter From the IRS

Summertime means the 2020 tax filing season is firmly in the rearview mirror for millions of Americans. But summertime is also the season when the IRS sends letters to unlucky taxpayers demanding more money!

If you receive a notice from the IRS, do not automatically assume it is correct and submit payment to make it go away. Because of all the recent tax law changes and so little time to implement the changes, the IRS can be wrong more often than you think. These IRS letters, called correspondent audits, need to be taken seriously, but not without undergoing a solid review. Here’s what you need to do if you receive one.

  • Stay calm. Don’t overreact to getting a letter from the IRS. This is easier said than done, but remember that the IRS sends out millions of these correspondence audits each year. The vast majority of them correct simple oversights or common filing errors.
  • Open the envelope! You would be surprised how often taxpayers are so stressed by receiving a letter from the IRS that they cannot bear to open the envelope. If you fall into this category, try to remember that the first step in making the problem go away is to open the correspondence.
  • Conduct a careful review. Review the letter. Understand exactly what the IRS is explaining that needs to be changed and determine whether or not you agree with their findings. The IRS rarely sends correspondence to correct an oversight in your favor, but sometimes it happens.
  • Respond timely. The IRS will tell you what it believes you should do and within what time frame. Ignore this information at your own risk. Delays in responses could generate penalties and additional interest payments.
  • Get help. You are not alone. Getting assistance from someone who deals with this all the time makes the process go much smoother. And remember, some of these letters could be scams from someone impersonating the IRS!
  • Correct the IRS error. Once you understand what the IRS is asking for, a clearly written response with copies of documentation will cure most IRS correspondence audits received in error. Often the error is due to the inability of the IRS computers to match documents it receives (for example 1099s or W-2s) to your tax return. Pointing out the information on your tax return might be all it takes to solve the problem.
  • Certified mail is your friend. Any responses to the IRS should be sent via certified mail or other means that clearly show you replied to their inquiry before the IRS’s deadline. This will provide proof of your timely correspondence. Lost mail can lead to delays, penalties, and additional interest tacked on to your tax bill.
  • Don’t assume it will go away. Until receiving definitive confirmation that the problem has been resolved, you need to assume the IRS still thinks you owe them money. If no correspondence confirming the correction is received, you should follow-up with another written confirmation request to the IRS.

Big Tech Knows Who You Are!

Tips for enhancing your digital privacy

Companies are following your every move. When you have a cell phone, they are tracking what apps you use, where you go, who you talk to and more! Other smart devices listen to your conversations in your home, keep track of what you view on your TV, and report where you visit and what routes you take to get there. Even worse, the more you share the greater the chance a hacker gets this information.

Consider these tips to more actively protect yourself and your information.

The power of the opt out

Apple recently introduced an opt out feature on their iPhones. Historically, when you download a new app onto an iPhone, you have to manually opt out of sharing your device’s data. Now when you download a new app on your iPhone, you’ll be asked whether you want to opt in and allow the app to have access to your information.

So, if you are an iPhone user, start with the opt out and then deliberately select who you wish to give access to your information. And opt out does not have to be global. For instance, a direction function needs your location when you use it. But it does not need to be turned on all the time.

Actions:

  • Leave opt-out as default on iPhones and set default to opt-out on other mobile phone brands.
  • Review all apps and turn off tracking and data sharing.
  • Actively turn off your phone if you do not wish to be tracked.
  • Review all smart devices and select your opt out options. Include TVs and personal assistants in your review.

Protect your web browsing

Companies love to keep tabs on your browsing habits. And it is not just limited to their own sites. They might spy on ALL your activity. They see every website you visit, monitor all your clicks, and track all social media likes and videos you view. They then use this information to determine what you see and read. In short, they control your world view, both in content and in what ads you see.

Actions:

  • Actively use ad blockers such as AdBlock and uBlock.
  • Turn off cookies and periodically empty your cache.
  • Avoid downloading any and all extensions unless absolutely required.

Use best data protection practices

As the internet and smart devices evolve, so do the thieves that wish to steal your identity and your financial resources. So, keep up-to-date on best data protection practices.

Actions:

  • Vary passwords and user IDs. Keep track of them outside of your computer.
  • Keep operating systems and software up-to-date.
  • Encrypt your emails and computer hard drive.
  • Keep banking information off your cell phone.
  • Back up all your devices remotely.
  • Use current antivirus software.
  • Monitor your credit reports for any suspicious activity.
  • Confirm before opening suspicious emails or attachments.

Most importantly, stay informed. In the end, the burden of protecting your data always falls on you.

Make the Most of Your Vehicle Expense Deduction

Tracking your miles whenever you drive somewhere for your business can get pretty tedious, but remember that properly tracking your vehicle expenses and miles driven can lead to a significant reduction in your taxes.

Here are some tips to make the most of your vehicle expense deduction.

  • Keep track of both mileage and actual expenses. The IRS generally lets you use one of two different methods to track vehicle expenses – the standard mileage rate method or the actual expense method. One year the mileage method may result in a higher deduction, while the actual expense method may be higher in a subsequent year. But you won’t know which method results in a higher deduction unless you track both your mileage and actual expenses.
  • Consider using standard mileage the first year a vehicle is in service. If you use standard mileage the first year your car is placed in service, you can then choose which expense tracking method to use in subsequent years. If you initially use the actual expense method the first year your car is placed in service, you’re locked in to using actual expenses for the duration of using that car in your business. For a car you lease, you must use the standard mileage rate method for the entire lease period (including renewals) if you choose the standard mileage rate the first year.
  • Don’t forget about depreciation! Depreciation can significantly increase your deduction if you use the actual expense method. For heavy SUVs, trucks, and vans with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating above 6,000 pounds, 100% bonus depreciation is available through the end of the 2022 tax year if the vehicle is used more than 50% for business purposes. Regular depreciation is available for vehicles under 6,000 pounds with annual limits applied.
  • Don’t slack on recordkeeping. The IRS mandates that you track your vehicle expenses as they happen (this is called contemporaneous recordkeeping). You’re not allowed to wait until right before filing your tax return to compile all the necessary information needed to claim a vehicle deduction. Whether it’s a physical notebook you stick in your glove compartment or a mobile phone app, pick a method to track your mileage and actual expenses that’s most convenient for you.

Please call if you have any questions about maximizing your business’s vehicle expense deduction.