Tag Archives: pandemic

Building a Fortress Balance Sheet

The best way to weather a storm is often by being prepared before the storm hits. In the case of small businesses, this means building a fortress balance sheet.

What is a fortress balance sheet?

This long-standing idea means taking steps to make your balance sheet shockproof by building liquidity. Like a frontier outpost or an ancient walled city, businesses that prepare for a siege—in the form of a recession, natural disaster, pandemic, or adverse regulatory change—can often hold out until the crisis passes or the cavalry arrives.

Consider these suggestions for building your own fortress balance sheet.

  • Control inventory and receivables. These two asset accounts often directly impact cash reserves. For example, carrying excess inventories can deplete cash because the company must continue to insure, store, and manage items that aren’t generating a profit. Also take a hard look at customer payment trends. Clients who are behind on payments can squeeze a firm’s cash flow quickly, especially if they purchase significant levels of goods and services—and then fail to pay.
  • Keep a tight rein on debt. In general, a company should use debt financing for capital items such as plant and equipment, computers, and fixtures that will be used for several years. By incurring debt for such items, especially when interest rates are low, a firm can direct more cash towards day-to-day operations and new opportunities. Two rules of thumb for taking on debt are don’t borrow more than 75 percent of what an asset is worth, and aim for loan terms that don’t exceed the useful life of the underlying asset. A fortress balance sheet also means that debt as a percent of equity should be as low as possible. So, total up your debt, equity and retained earnings. If debt is less than 50% of the total, you are on your way to building a stronger foundation for your balance sheet.
  • Monitor credit. A strong relationship with your banker can help keep the business afloat if the economy takes a nosedive. Monitor your business credit rating regularly and investigate all questionable transactions that appear on your credit report. As with personal credit, your business credit score will climb as the firm makes good on its obligations.
  • Reconcile balance sheet accounts quarterly. It’s crucial to reconcile asset and liability accounts at least 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 in your fortress, providing time for corrective action.
  • Get rid of non-performing assets. Maybe you own a store across town that’s losing money or have a warehouse with a lot of obsolete inventory. Consider getting rid of these and other useless assets in exchange for cash.
  • Calculate ratios. Know how your bank calculates the lending strength of businesses. Then calculate them for your own business. For example, banks want to know your debt service coverage. Do you have enough cash to adequately handle principal and interest payments? Now work your cash flow to provide plenty of room to service this debt AND any future debt! But don’t forget other ratios like liquidity and working capital ratios. The key? Improve these ratios over time.

Remember, the best time to get money from a bank is when it looks like you don’t need it. You do this by creating a fortress balance sheet!

Helping Your Fellow Business Owner

Your firm survived 2020. Now you may be asking yourself when will the economy return to pre-pandemic levels? Will it be this fall? A year from now? Longer?

Until the economy fully emerges from the pandemic, small businesses can help one another stay afloat. By collaborating with other like-minded firms, your business can find creative ways to strengthen local markets and encourage consumer loyalty.

Consider the following ideas of how you can help each other:

  • Partner with industry peers. One Vietnamese restauranteur in New York City was eager to open his business for in-person dining. Then the pandemic hit. According to a Time Magazine article, two years of careful planning, hard work and sacrifice seemed fruitless. But sympathetic restaurant owners in nearby Chinatown reached out with an innovative idea: offer a punch card to encourage customers to support local businesses. By partnering with this newly-minted entrepreneur and introducing him to like-minded people, established firms kept the restaurant business alive in their locale and helped a fledgling owner pursue his dream.
  • Donate staff resources. During government-mandated quarantines, some industries enjoyed burgeoning revenues while others were trying to keep staff employed. Why not offer to help if you have excess labor? For example, businesses selling camping gear and recreational vehicles saw an uptick in consumer demand. A company supporting that industry might offer some of its staff on a temporary basis to help another firm meet customer needs. Such a partnership could provide the added benefit of boosting morale and avoiding layoffs.
  • Leverage locations. Say you’re a company that raises chickens. You might partner with a firm offering other meat products to share a tent at a farmer’s market. Or two dance studios might join forces to enable patrons to attend similar classes at across-town venues. You could team up with others to organize a business fair. Or you might donate space to help another business sell goods at a common location for centralized pickup and delivery.
  • Share your expertise. Perhaps you’ve experienced great success with your business website, but other firms are struggling to make inroads in the digital marketplace. You could teach these companies how to connect with customers via social media. Train them to build and market a website. If you have remote workers, share your experience about helping home-based employees stay productive.
  • Cross promotions. Look for businesses that you can help and that can help you. Then cross-promote each other’s services. Customers of dog groomers need veterinarians and vice versa. Accountants need their hair cut and customers of hair salons need accountants. Vacation rental property owners can offer restaurant deals for their renters and restaurants can offer the rental owners coupons for meals. The ideas are endless, you just need to think creatively.

Before making a commitment to help another business, be sure to weigh the pros and cons. Any potential relationship should benefit both parties. Don’t be afraid to consider companies outside your industry or local market, but look first to businesses with services and products complementing your own.

ALERT! Late Tax Legislation Creating Havoc

Individual tax return deadline moved to May 17

Congress’ recent move to retroactively make a portion of 2020 unemployment income tax-free is creating havoc during this year’s tax filing season. Here is what you need to know.

Background

Unemployment compensation was received by millions of Americans during 2020 because of the pandemic. While unemployment income was necessary for many who lost a job, it’s also normally classified as taxable income to be reported on your tax return. Recently-passed legislation now makes the first $10,200 of 2020 unemployment compensation tax-free on your tax return.

The problem

The new legislation which contains this tax break didn’t become law until March of 2021, a full three months after the end of the tax year and after millions of Americans had already filed their 2020 tax return!

Understanding your situation

  • If you’ve already filed your 2020 tax return: Wait for further instructions. The IRS is trying to figure out a way to automatically apply this tax break for taxpayers who have already filed their 2020 tax return. This will avoid the need to file an amended tax return. There is no need to call at this time as the IRS has not provided further guidance.
  • If you HAVE NOT filed your 2020 tax return: The IRS has issued guidance on how to report this tax break on your 2020 tax return if you have not already filed. You will be notified once your tax return has been prepared.
  • Tax deadline moved to May 17. Because of all this havoc, the April 15 deadline for individual tax returns is now May 17. This extension applies only to Form 1040s. First quarter estimated tax payments for the 2021 tax year are still due by April 15.

Be assured you will be informed once the IRS issues further instruction on how to claim your tax break. In the meantime, enjoy the extra tax savings you’ll get sometime in the near future!

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.

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.

Building a Fortress Defense for PPP Loan Forgiveness

More than 70% of small businesses in America now have loan proceeds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help retain employees during the current pandemic. The entire amount of a PPP loan is eligible to be forgiven if the funds are used for qualified expenses. Recent legislation liberalizes the terms of loan forgiveness for funds used for payroll, utilities and rent. It is now based on a 24-week period, not just eight weeks.

But how can you best position your company to fully benefit from PPP loan forgiveness? Here are five tips to help meet the challenge.

  • Restore your staff. If possible, restore the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to previous levels by the safe-harbor due date of December 31 (extended from June 30). Bring back furloughed FTEs as soon as you can. Of course, this should fit into your overall business plan. If an employee does not return, document the refusal. All these actions will help when the forgiveness formula is applied to your loan.
  • Pile on payroll costs. Run payroll and other remaining qualified expenses—including mortgage interest, rent and utilities—on the last day of the 24-week period. This will enable your business to maximize the amount of loan forgiveness allowed under the calculation.
  • Reward employees. Consider paying out reasonable incentive amounts to maximize the forgiveness of payroll costs. The bonuses can even go to family members like your spouse or children. But remember that you can only count up to $100,000 of wages per person, pro-rated for the covered year, and you must be able to defend these payments as reasonable.
  • Use the simplified application form. There are two loan forgiveness forms – the regular form (Form 3508) and a simplified version called Form 3508EZ. Review both forms before deciding which one is right for your situation. For instance, there are fewer calculations on the simplified form with less documentation required. To qualify for the simplified form, you must meet at least one of these requirements:
    • You’re self-employed and have no other employees.
    • You didn’t reduce employee hours or reduce their wages and salaries by more than 25%.
    • You lost business due to health directives relating to COVID-19 and didn’t reduce employee wages and salaries by more than 25%.
  • Document everything. Once you receive PPP loan funds, keep supporting documentation on everything related to the loan. Document when you receive the loan, each time you spend part of the loan and accrued interest expense on the loan. Also keep copies of receipts and invoices to document all loan expenditures, including bank account statements and journal entries.

Be Prepared for Pandemic Tax Surprises

Numerous new laws provide economic relief to individuals and businesses hardest hit by this year’s pandemic. This much-needed financial assistance, however, comes with a few strings attached.

Here are three potential surprises if you use the available economic relief packages:

  • Getting a tax bill for unemployment benefits. While the $1,200 economic impact payments most Americans received does not have to be reported as taxable income on your 2020 tax return, there is currently no such luck with unemployment benefits. In addition to paying federal taxes on your unemployment compensation, more than half of states also impose a tax on unemployment benefits.
    • What you need to do: See if your unemployment compensation check withholds a portion of your pay for taxes. Even if your check does have withholding for income tax purposes, the withholding amount may not be enough. If possible, talk to your state unemployment office and try to get withholding amounts revised.
  • Paying estimated tax payments. If you normally receive a paycheck from your employer, you may have never needed to write a check to the IRS to pay estimated future taxes. Your employer withholds your taxes from your paychecks and sends it to the IRS for you. If you’re collecting unemployment benefits, however, you may be required to pay tax on the unemployment benefits received during the first six months of 2020 by July 15, 2020.
    • What you need to do: Estimate the amount of tax you owe for all sources of income, then compare that number with the amount of money withheld from your income to pay these taxes. If necessary, send in quarterly estimated tax payments to the U.S. Treasury and, in some cases, state revenue departments. This must be done each quarter with the next payment due July 15. You may need to send money in on September 15, 2020 and January 15, 2021 as well.
  • Reporting emergency distributions from retirement accounts: You may withdraw up to $100,000 in 2020 from various retirement accounts to help cover pandemic-related emergency expenses without incurring penalties. While you will not be required to pay an early withdrawal penalty, you will still be subject to income tax when filing your 2020 tax return.
    • What you need to do: If you plan to withdraw funds from your retirement account, reserve enough of the money to pay the tax! The amount you reserve depends on your potential tax situation so call for a tax review before taking money out of the account.