Tag Archives: business

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.

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.

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.

Don’t Make These Business Website Mistakes

Your company’s online presence leaves a lasting impression—positive or negative. When people check out your homepage, will they stick around? Will they buy? Will they return? Make your website easy to use and current, and new orders may be just a click away. Annoy visitors and they’ll flee to a competitor.

Steer clear of the following website mistakes:

Designing the website for you—not the customer. Studies have shown that online visitors form an opinion of a company’s brand in about three seconds. If your home page is well designed, they may stick around for another ten to twenty seconds. Don’t waste these precious moments spouting details about the firm’s stellar history and the owner’s credentials. Consumers are visiting your website to get answers. Provide these answers quickly or they’ll click elsewhere.

Heavy graphics, poor load time. Many consumers are surfing the web from smart phones and tablets. Don’t make them waste valuable time waiting for a fancy webpage to load. Consider projecting a professional image with text-based content that answers the most pressing questions about your products and services. Graphics can work well, but only if size and load times are fully vetted to ensure a seamless load experience.

Unfriendly navigation. If your homepage looks cluttered, potential customers will become frustrated. Make it easy for users to navigate your site from home page to supplemental pages and back again. Use a handful of clearly-labeled tabs in a top-level menu. Deliberately design each page to have the same look and feel.

Stale data. When you visit a webpage and note that it was last updated five years ago, do you sense a vibrant, cutting-edge enterprise? Keep your site up to date. Consider subscribing to content services that will keep your information fresh. Remember, developing a web presence is not an event, it is an ongoing journey. Your site must display current prices, merchandise that’s available right now, with up-to-date details about new product offerings.

Sloppy content. A website riddled with typos, grammatical mistakes and industry jargon will turn customers away. Visitors may ask themselves if your business doesn’t care about the quality of its website, how can they trust your products and services?

A carefully crafted website can draw customers in, enhance their buying experience and leave a lasting impression of professionalism and quality.

Cash Flow Concepts That Can Save Your Business

A sad and oft-repeated truth is that half of all new businesses fail within the first five years. Although many factors contribute to business failure, a common culprit is poor cash management. All businesses, large and small, must deal with the uncertainty of fluctuating sales, inventories and expenses. Follow these practices to moderate the ebb and flow of cash in your business:

Analyze cash flow. If you don’t know it’s broken, you can’t fix it. The starting point for any meaningful action to control cash is discovering where the money’s coming from and where it’s going. Get a handle on cash by monitoring your bank accounts for at least one complete business cycle; then use that information to establish a realistic forecast. This should be done throughout the year to help you understand your seasonal cash needs.

Monitor receivables. Extending credit to risky customers, failing to identify late payers, refusing to collect payment on a timely basis — these practices amplify cash flow problems. Mitigate receivable fluctuations by generating aging reports. Use the report to follow up when payments are late. You may even wish to offer discounts to customers who pay early.

Slow down payments. Prudent cash flow management dictates that you retain cash as long as possible. So pay your vendors on time — not too early. Of course, if suppliers offer discounts for early payment, take advantage of cost savings whenever possible. Also consider negotiating with suppliers to extend payment terms.

Time large expenses. If you know a property tax payment is due in May, start setting aside money in a separate fund in October. The same holds true for any large payment that comes due during the year. If your equipment is nearing the end of its useful life or your roof is showing signs of wear, start saving now. Don’t let big expenditures catch you by surprise.

By taking these steps and endeavoring to smooth out cash fluctuations, proficient managers keep their companies strong throughout the business cycle.

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.

Five Steps Managers Can Take to Improve Performance Reviews

Performance review meetings can bring stress to both sides of the table. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right planning by supervisors, the meeting can be a productive, stress-free event. Review these five steps before you review your next employee:

#1: Keep a performance log for every employee. How many times have you sat down to write a review and you can only remember what the person has done in the last few weeks or the last month? Or maybe you allow one single incident, either good or bad, to color your assessment. That’s why the best way to prepare is to take notes throughout the year. This can be as simple as notes on paper or in a Word document.

A few key points about performance logs: Include notes on both positive and negative work habits, avoid making references to protected characteristics, like race, age or gender, and don’t make assumptions about the reasons for a behavior or work habit — just stick to the facts, and assume that the notes could someday be read in court — because they could.

#2: Be aware of employees’ main concerns. Employees are understandably anxious about reviews. Does the employee know the expectations that he’ll be evaluated on? And were those expectations explained in advance? Will there be any surprises? Have you been giving the employee feedback throughout the year? Will the manager listen to what the employee has to say? And how does this review affect the employee’s pay? Be prepared for the employee’s questions and concerns, and you’ll be better prepared to handle them.

#3: On review day, create the right atmosphere. Your goal is to help the employee feel at ease. So hold the review in a private, neutral environment, such as a small conference room. You want a setting that supports discussion and cooperation, not confrontation. Sit next to the employee if possible, not across the table or across the desk. Schedule the time in advance with the employee’s input. Avoid meeting during a busy or stressful time for the person. And don’t squeeze it in between meetings or before a lunch. Finally, eliminate all interruptions and focus solely on that review.

#4: Cite specific examples of good and bad work. Stay away from broad generalizations about the employee’s work. Specifics will help you point out exactly what the employee needs to do to improve. For example, you don’t want to tell an employee, “You didn’t get your work done on time.” Instead, say something like, “Over the past six months, you’ve submitted six of your nine customer reports at least three days late.” Those specifics will really help the employee understand — and help your review stand up in court if it ever becomes an issue.

#5: Remember the ABCs of giving feedback.

A – Accurate: Offer objective, concrete examples backed by your performance log notes. You want to avoid words like “always” or “never.” Those are exaggerations that don’t usually reflect the realistic frequency of the way employees behave.

B – Business-oriented: Focus on the business reasons for the corrective comments. Stay away from any critiques about the employee’s personality or behavior.

C – Consistent: Remember to provide regular feedback throughout the year. Don’t dump it on the employee all at once during performance review time. It’s not fair to the employee and it’s not fair to you. Consistency is the key to improving performance.

Year-End Tax Planning Ideas – Part 2

As the end of the year approaches, it is a good time to think of planning moves that will help lower your tax bill for this year and possibly the next.  We have compiled a checklist of actions that may help you save tax dollars if you act before year-end. Not all actions will apply in your particular situation, but you (or a family member) will likely benefit from many of them.

Below is part two of a two-part series – this second is aimed at ideas for businesses.

Year-End Tax-Planning Moves for Businesses & Business Owners

Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the business property expensing option. For tax years beginning in 2016, the expensing limit is $500,000 and the investment ceiling limit is $2,010,000. Expensing is generally available for most depreciable property (other than buildings), off-the-shelf computer software, and qualified real property—qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvement property. The generous dollar ceilings that apply this year mean that many small and medium sized businesses that make purchases before the end of 2016 will be able to currently deduct most if not all their outlays for machinery and equipment. What’s more, the expensing deduction is not prorated for the time that the asset is in service during the year. This opens up significant year-end planning opportunities.

Businesses also should consider making expenditures that qualify for 50% bonus first year depreciation if bought and placed in service this year. The bonus depreciation deduction is permitted without any proration based on the length of time that an asset is in service during the tax year. As a result, the full 50% first-year bonus write-off is available even if qualifying assets are in service for only a few days in 2016.

  • Businesses may be able to take advantage of the “de minimis safe harbor election” (also known as the book-tax conformity election) to expense the costs of lower-cost assets and materials and supplies, assuming the costs don’t have to be capitalized under the Code Sec. 263A uniform capitalization (UNICAP) rules. To qualify for the election, the cost of a unit of property can’t exceed $2,500.
  • A corporation should consider accelerating income from 2017 to 2016 if it will be in a higher bracket next year. Conversely, it should consider deferring income until 2017 if it will be in a higher bracket this year.
  • A corporation (other than a “large” corporation) that anticipates a small net operating loss (NOL) for 2016 (and substantial net income in 2017) may find it worthwhile to accelerate just enough of its 2017 income (or to defer just enough of its 2016 deductions) to create a small amount of net income for 2016. This will permit the corporation to base its 2017 estimated tax installments on the relatively small amount of income shown on its 2016 return, rather than having to pay estimated taxes based on 100% of its much larger 2017 taxable income.
  • To reduce 2016 taxable income, consider deferring a debt-cancellation event until 2017.
  • To reduce 2016 taxable income, consider disposing of a passive activity in 2016 if doing so will allow you to deduct suspended passive activity losses.
  • If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation, consider whether you need to increase your basis in the entity so you can deduct a loss from it for this year.

Home Office Deduction Made Simple

Do you work at home or have a home-based business? If so, you should be aware that the IRS has created a simpler option for calculating the deduction for the business use of your home. The new option makes recordkeeping easier because, instead of maintaining records of specific home office expenses, you can use a standard rate per square foot. The rate is $5 per square foot (up to a maximum of 300 sq. feet or $1,500) for qualifying business use space in place of taking a pro rata percentage of items such as mortgage interest, taxes and repairs.

Keep in mind there are good and bad aspects to this “simpler” method. The new method gives you back your full interest and tax deduction on schedule A, but you will lose your depreciation and loss carryover deductions. Of course, you must still use your home office regularly and exclusively for business. This may be a welcome relief for some taxpayers, but it might not be the best choice for others.