Category Archives: Business Owners

Organizing Your Financial Records for Best Results

With tax time long over and midyear officially here, it’s a great time to organize your financial records. And the key word here is indeed “organize.” Throwing all your important documents into a drawer won’t help much when an emergency occurs and you (or a family member) need to find a certain piece of paper.
TBAjun16_3Make a list
Of course, emergencies aren’t the only reason to organize your records. For example, you may need to be able to access relevant personal records if you’re ever audited or a victim of theft. Or your home could be damaged in a storm or fire. Or you may need proof to cash in investments or claim insurance benefits.

To get started, make a list of important records. These include items related to:

  • Bank and investment accounts,
  • Real estate and homeownership,
  • Insurance policies,
  • Credit card accounts,
  • Health care benefits and medical history, and
  • Marriage and your estate.

Grouping the items into broad categories such as these will make them easier to file and find later.

Establish your approach

With your list in hand, it’s time to start organizing and storing your records. Here are some tips for streamlining the process:

Create a central filing system. The ideal storage medium for personal documents is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. Create a master list of the cabinet contents and provide a copy of the key to your executor or a trusted family member.

Designate a second storage location. Maintain a duplicate set of the records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box, and provide access to a trusted individual (preferably not the same individual with access to the original documents). Consider keeping originals of your important legal documents, such as your will, with your attorney.

Back up records electronically. It also makes sense to store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to a trustworthy external storage device. If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.

Follow the ritual

Make organizing your records an annual ritual and not just a one-time event. Need assistance? We can help you identify the specific documents pertinent to your situation and organize them appropriately.

Sidebar: Create an emergency checklist to cope with calamity

Having an emergency checklist of important personal records handy is essential in the event you must evacuate your home. In a crisis, you’ll likely be able to take only what you can easily carry with you. That means storing the bare essentials in a portable container. Include these items:

  • Driver’s license, passport and Social Security card,
  • Credit cards,
  • Vital medical condition and medication information,
  • Health insurance cards, and
  • Emergency family and physician contacts.

Also set up an “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) directory in your cell phone. In your phone directory, simply type in “ICE” before each contact (ICE-1 Jane Smith, ICE-2 Dr. John Smith, etc.). Also consider storing and carrying electronic copies of key personal records on a USB flash drive.

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Good eats, tax breaks: Deducting employee meal costs

One thing about human resources — they need to eat. Just about every employer encounters situations in which it needs to provide meals to its employees. No matter how often you do so, be sure you’re aware of the tax rules for deducting these costs.

Claim half or all1

Generally, a business may deduct only 50% of the cost of business meals for federal tax purposes. But food provided to employees may be fully deductible in circumstances such as when meals:

  • Are provided as additional compensation (and thus included in employee taxable income), or
  • Qualify as tax-free de minimis fringe benefits.

You may also write off food, and exclude it from employees’ income, if it’s furnished for your convenience and on your premises.

Furnish with a purpose

Under IRS regulations, the “convenience of the employer test” is met only if meals are furnished for a “substantial noncompensatory business purpose.” Although whether meals pass this test depends on the facts and circumstances of each case, the IRS has given examples of a number of acceptable circumstances.

For instance, food provided to keep employees available for emergency calls during the meal period generally qualifies for the full deduction. But such calls must actually occur or be reasonably expected to occur.

Another example is when the nature of the employer’s business tends to shorten a meal to, say, 30 to 45 minutes. The furnishing of meals, however, isn’t considered to be for a substantial noncompensatory business purpose if a meal period is shortened in order to allow employees to leave early.

A third instance is when employees cannot otherwise secure proper meals within a reasonable period. The regulations state that meals are fully deductible under this test if there aren’t enough eateries near the workplace.

Important note: Under the current tax rules, if more than 50% of the employees fed on premises are furnished meals for the employer’s convenience, then all meals furnished on premises are treated as furnished for the employer’s convenience. Therefore, these meals are excludable from employees’ income, regardless of whether every employee meets the convenience test.

Enjoy your meals

From a tax perspective, providing meals to employees can be deceptively simple. On their face, the rules seem straightforward, but many exceptions and caveats apply. Stay apprised of the latest IRS guidance and double-check your company’s meal deductions every year.

Sidebar: Considering a cafeteria?

Years ago, only the largest companies had on-site cafeterias. But some midsize businesses are now establishing them, too. There are a number of potential advantages to doing so. Keeping employees on your premises can cut down on excessively long lunch breaks and foster collaboration among team members. A good cafeteria could also attract better job candidates.

From a tax perspective, an employer-operated eating facility is usually considered a de minimis fringe benefit. So the costs of providing meals there are generally 100% deductible as long as the cafeteria is located on or near your premises.

But there are a number of complex rules involved. For instance, the eating facility’s revenue must normally equal or exceed its direct operating costs. We would be glad to work with you to ensure that the facility qualifies for tax-advantaged treatment when established and on an annual basis.

Road rules: Deducting business travel expenses

This article was originally published in Hershey Advisors’ monthly Tax and Business Alert.

If you travel for business, you’ll want to ensure that the expenses you incur while doing so are tax deductible. IRS rules are strict, and improperly substantiated deductions can cost you.

Away from home rule

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Generally, ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for work are deductible. For the expenses to qualify, you must be away from your tax home — your regular place of business — substantially longer than an ordinary day’s work and need to sleep or rest to meet the work demands while away.

You don’t necessarily have to stay away from home overnight to satisfy the rest requirement. If you travel for business purposes throughout the day but return home that night to sleep, you may still be considered “away from home” for tax purposes. In this case, expenses you incur for such trips are still deductible.

Also, the trip must be primarily for business purposes. If your trip involves both business and personal activities, a portion of the travel expenses may be nondeductible personal expenses.

Deductible travel expenses

Most airfare, taxis, rental cars, lodging, meals (with exceptions), tips and business phone calls are tax deductible. But you can’t write off “lavish or extravagant” travel expenses, so be prepared to prove that your patronage of a high-end restaurant or five-star hotel was reasonable under the circumstances.

Generally, only 50% of business-related meal and entertainment expenses are deductible. If your employer reimburses you under an accountable plan (see below), the 50% limit applies to your employer rather than you.

You must substantiate deductions for lodging — and for other travel expenses greater than $75 — with adequate records. These include credit card receipts, canceled checks or bills. Records should indicate the amount, date, place, essential character of the expense and business purpose.

Be accountable

If your employer reimburses your travel expenses, an accountable plan enables the company to deduct the reimbursements, but the reimbursements aren’t included in your income as salary and aren’t subject to FICA and other payroll tax obligations. Although you may still be able to deduct some or all business travel expenses without an accountable plan, such deductions are available only if you itemize and your expenses and other miscellaneous deductions exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.

For reimbursed expenses to qualify under an accountable plan, you must have paid or incurred them while on company business and reported the expenses to your employer within a reasonable time (usually within 60 days). You also must return any excess reimbursements — usually within 120 days after they were paid or incurred.

Generally, to be reimbursable on a tax-free basis, your travel must meet the “away from home” rule discussed earlier. However, your employer can reimburse local lodging expenses if the lodging is temporary and necessary for you to participate in or be available for a bona fide business meeting or function. The expenses involved must be otherwise deductible by you as a business expense (or be expenses that would otherwise be deductible if you paid them).

Exceptions happen

As with most IRS rules, there are exceptions to which travel expenses you can deduct. If you’re unsure about some expenses, give us a call.

Hoping to grow your business?

This article was originally published in Hershey Advisors’ monthly Tax and Business Alert.

Start with the financing

Let’s say you’ve drafted a strategic growth plan that discusses in detail the new products and markets that you hope will power your company’s future growth. You’ve performed extensive market research and are confident that your offerings will appeal to customers and that you know how to reach them. Unfortunately, if your plan covers only such topics as product development, manufacturing, distribution, sales and marketing, it probably won’t succeed.

To avoid potential cash-flow issues and other financial crises, your strategic plan should specify precisely how you’ll fund your growth initiatives. If your company is sitting on a pile of cash just waiting to be invested, you’re lucky. Most businesses must finance growth with equity or debt.

Equity isn’t necessarily easy

Using your own equity in the business to raise capital can be a good solution. However, selling ownership to outside investors, such as private equity firms and venture capitalists, isn’t always as easy as it sounds. For starters, you’ll need a professional appraisal of your company and you’ll have to find investors who believe in your growth strategy — and ability to execute it.

Equity financing doesn’t need to be repaid. But, depending on how much equity you sell and how successful your company is in reaching its goals, equity can end up being expensive in the long run. For example, you may need to give up some control to investors, which can lead to disputes over major decisions.

Price of debt

Debt financing, on the other hand, does have to be repaid, and will cost you interest. Depending on the size and financial health of your company and the nature of your growth plans, you may be able to qualify for:

  • Term loans,
  • Commercial mortgages,
  • Construction loans,
  • Equipment leases, and
  • Small Business Administration loans.

Banks require borrowers to provide detailed financial information and pledge collateral, possibly including your home and other personal assets. They may also hold you to covenants that, for example, prevent you from borrowing additional money until their loan is repaid.

Reasonable expectations

We stand ready to help you weigh the advantages and drawbacks of the financing options available to your business. We can also help you evaluate your growth assumptions to ensure that your profit expectations are reasonable.

Maximizing FDIC Insurance Coverage of Bank Deposits

This article was originally published in Hershey Advisors’ monthly Tax and Business Alert.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has provided deposit insurance coverage to depositors of insured banks since 1933. This protection is important to all investors, especially those who tend to be invested heavily in cash and who are dependent on these accounts to cover living expenses.4

Note: The covered institutions must display an official sign at each teller window or teller station. All FDIC institutions should have a brochure available to answer other questions regarding coverage. Additional information can be obtained at www.fdic.gov.

Types of Deposits Protected. All types of deposits received by a financial institution in its usual course of business are insured. For example, savings deposits, checking deposits, Certificates of Deposit (CDs), cashier’s checks, and money orders are all covered. Certified checks, letters of credit, and traveler’s checks, for which an insured depository institution is primarily liable, are also insured when issued in exchange for money or its equivalent, or for a charge against a deposit account.

Any person (U.S. citizen or not) or entity can have FDIC insurance coverage in an insured bank. However, only deposits that are payable in the U.S. are covered. Deposits only payable overseas are not insured.

Securities, mutual funds, and similar types of investments, even if purchased through a bank, are not covered, nor are safe deposit boxes or their contents. Similarly, treasury securities purchased by an insured institution on the customer’s behalf are not insured, but these investments are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

Amount of Coverage Available. A depositor is normally insured up to $250,000 in each insured financial institution. Accrued interest is included when calculating insurance coverage. Deposits maintained in different categories of legal ownership are separately insured. Accordingly, an individual can have more than $250,000 of insurance coverage in a single institution, provided the funds are owned and deposited in different ownership categories.

Deposits held in one insured bank are insured separately from any deposits held in another separately insured bank. For instance, if a person has a checking account at Bank A and has a checking account at Bank B, both accounts would be insured separately up to $250,000. Funds deposited in separate branches of the same insured bank are not separately insured.

Up to $250,000 in deposit insurance is provided for the money a consumer has deposited at the same insured institution in a variety of retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE Plans.

Maximizing FDIC Insurance Coverage. FDIC insurance coverage is not determined on a per-account basis, but on an ownership basis. Thus, the type of account has no bearing on the amount of insurance coverage, and the social security numbers or tax identification numbers do not determine coverage. Instead, separate insurance coverage is provided for funds held in different ownership categories. This means that a bank customer who has multiple deposits may qualify for more than $250,000 in insurance coverage if the customer’s accounts are deposited in different ownership categories and the requirements for each ownership category are met. Thus, increasing your available FDIC coverage may be as simple as retitling accounts so they fall into different ownership categories.

For example, an individual with three individual accounts each worth $100,000 for a total of $300,000 would have only $250,000 of coverage. However, a joint account worth $500,000 would be fully covered ($250,000 per person).

Selecting the Appropriate Entity for Your Business

This article was originally published in Hershey Advisors’ monthly Tax and Busipage2ness Alert.

A principal consideration for any business, whether new or existing, is choosing an appropriate legal entity. Available options in most states include C corporations, S corporations, general and limited partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), limited liability partnerships (LLPs), and sole proprietorships.

Each type of entity has various advantages and disadvantages. One issue to consider is tax savings. The proper entity can minimize self-employment and income taxes. Understanding the total tax situation, including income tax, payroll tax, and estate tax exposure is essential in determining the choice of entity.

Personal liability protection is often an owner’s main objective in choosing the appropriate entity. Operating as a proprietorship or general partnership offers no owner liability limitation. Limited partnerships, LLCs, LLPs, S corporations, and C corporations provide varying degrees of liability protection for the owners depending on state law. For sole owners, the single-member LLC is a popular liability-limiting alternative to a proprietorship.

If a business is owned by more than one individual, it cannot be run as a proprietorship. If all owners provide management services, a limited partnership is not a viable option because that would jeopardize their status as limited partners. Limited partnerships, LLPs, LLCs, C corporations, and S corporations allow for management by multiple individuals without limitations.

In many cases, a change in entity status is sought to accomplish a transition in ownership. Whether the objective involves moving ownership to a successor via gifts, an installment sale, a stock redemption, a bequest, or a combination of methods, it is often necessary to use a different form of entity to meet these objectives.

Each entity selection situation is unique. The business owner’s objectives must be systematically matched with the various entities’ attributes. All major tax and nontax issues must be considered and alternatives explored before choosing the appropriate structure for your business.

As with most business decisions, meaningful, up-front planning will have a positive and lasting effect on your business venture. Please call us with questions about the appropriate entity structure for an existing business, a business you intend to purchase, or a contemplated new start-up business.

IRS Tax Tips for Starting a Business

The following is IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2015-15:

When you start a business, a key to your success is to know your tax obligations. You may not only need to know about income tax rules, but also about payroll tax rules. Here are five IRS tax tips that can help you get your business off to a good start.

  1. Business Structure. An early choice you need to make is to decide on the type of structure for your business. The most common types are sole proprietor, partnership and corporation. The type of business you choose will determine which tax forms you will file.
  2. Business Taxes.  There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax. In most cases, the types of tax your business pays depends on the type of business structure you set up. You may need to make estimated tax payments. If you do, use IRS Direct Pay to pay them. It’s the fast, easy and secure way to pay from your checking or savings account.
  3. Employer Identification Number. You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. Search “do you need an EIN” on IRS.gov to find out if you need this number. If you do need one, you can apply for it online.
  4. Accounting Method. An accounting method is a set of rules that you use to determine when to report income and expenses. You must use a consistent method. The two that are most common are the cash and accrual methods. Under the cash method, you normally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you receive or pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you earn or incur them. This is true even if you get the income or pay the expense in a later year.
  5. Employee Health Care. The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. A small employer is eligible for the credit if it has fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. The maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.

    The employer shared responsibility provisions of the Affordable Care Act affect employers employing at least a certain number of employees (generally 50 full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees). These employers’ are called applicable large employers. ALEs must either offer minimum essential coverage that is “affordable” and that provides “minimum value” to their full-time employees (and their dependents), or potentially make an employer shared responsibility payment to the IRS. The vast majority of employers will fall below the ALE threshold number of employees and, therefore, will not be subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions.

    Employers also have information reporting responsibilities regarding minimum essential coverage they offer or provide to their full-time employees.  Employers must send reports to employees and to the IRS on new forms the IRS created for this purpose.

Get all the tax basics of starting a business on IRS.gov at the Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center.

Additional IRS Resources: