Five Things to Know Before Starting a Business

Starting a new business is an exciting, but busy time with so much to be done and so little time to do it. Also, if you expect to have employees, there are a variety of federal and state forms and applications that will need to be completed to get your business up and running. That’s where a tax professional can help.

1. Business Structure

The first decision you will need to make is determining which business structure you will use. The most common types are a sole proprietor, partnership and corporation. The type of business you choose will determine which tax forms you file.

2. Employer Identification Number (EIN) 

Securing an Employer Identification Number (also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number) is the first thing that needs to be done since many other forms require it. The IRS issues EINS to employers, sole proprietors, corporations, partnerships, nonprofit associations, trusts, estates, government agencies, certain individuals, and other business entities for tax filing and reporting purposes.

Note: Even if you already have an EIN as a sole proprietor, for example, if you start a new business with a different business entity you will need to apply for a new EIN.

The fastest way to apply for an EIN is online through the IRS website or by telephone. Applying by fax and mail generally takes one to two weeks, and you can apply for one EIN per day. There is no cost to apply.

3. State Withholding, Unemployment, Sales, and other Business Taxes

Once you have your EIN, you need to fill out forms to establish an account with the State for payroll tax withholding, Unemployment Insurance Registration, and sales tax collections (if applicable). Business taxes include income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax, and excise tax. Generally, the types of tax your business pays depends on the type of business structure. Keep in mind that you may also need to make estimated tax payments.

4. Payroll Record Keeping

Payroll reporting and record keeping can be very time-consuming and costly, especially if it isn’t handled correctly. Also, keep in mind, that almost all employers are required to transmit federal payroll tax deposits electronically. Personnel files should be kept for each employee and include an employee’s employment application as well as the following:

  • Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Completed by the employee and used to calculate their federal income tax withholding. This form also includes necessary information such as address and Social Security number.
  • Form I-9 Employment. Eligibility Verification. Completed by the employer, to verify that employees are legally permitted to work in the U.S.

5. Employee Healthcare

As an employer with employees, you may have certain healthcare requirements you need to comply with as well. If so, you should know about the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, which helps small businesses (fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time) pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. 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.

If you need help setting up or completing any tax-related paperwork needed for your business, don’t hesitate to call.

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Avoiding An Unexpected Tax Bill

Tax withholding can be complicated, and with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) legislation, it’s even more so since a number of tax provisions have changed. As such, it’s important to make sure the right amount of tax is withheld for your particular tax situation.

Many taxpayers have already adjusted their withholding, but for those with more complicated tax situations who have been putting it off, it’s not too late. You should be aware, however, that the longer you wait, the fewer pay periods there are to withhold the necessary federal tax. In other words, more tax will have to be withheld from each remaining paycheck.

Let’s take a look at which taxpayers would benefit from a “paycheck checkup” right now to avoid an unexpected tax bill next year.

TAXPAYERS RECEIVING LARGE REFUNDS

Taxpayers who typically adjust their tax withholding so that they receive a large refund at tax time could be affected by tax law changes in the TCJA including reduced tax rates and significantly different tax brackets, as well as the removal of personal exemptions and doubling of the standard deduction. Adjusting tax withholding now will help taxpayers make sure the amount withheld is best for their particular tax situation–and avoid an unpleasant tax surprise next year.

HIGH INCOME TAXPAYERS WITH COMPLEX RETURNS

High-income taxpayers often find that itemizing instead of taking the standard deduction is more beneficial, but with the passage of tax reform legislation, that might no longer be the case. Taxpayers affected by any of the following tax changes should check and adjust their withholding as soon as possible:

  • Changes to tax rates and brackets.
  • Expansion of the child tax credit.
  • The standard deduction nearly doubled to $24,000 for joint filers and $12,000 for singles.
  • A $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local property, sales and income taxes.
  • New limits on deductions for some mortgage interest and home equity debt.
  • Higher limits on the percent of income a taxpayer can deduct as charitable contributions.
  • No deductions for miscellaneous expenses including investment expenses and unreimbursed employee expenses such as travel, meals, entertainment and uniforms.

It is especially important for those with high incomes and complex returns to review withholding because these taxpayers are often affected by more of these changes than people with simpler returns. This is also true if they also make quarterly estimated tax payments to cover other sources of income or are subject to the self-employment tax or alternative minimum tax.

TAXPAYERS WITH DEPENDENTS

In addition to expanding the Child Tax Credit, the TCJA added a new tax credit for parents or other qualifying relatives supporting a dependent age 17 or older at the end of 2018. This new tax credit – Credit for Other Dependents – is a non-refundable credit of up to $500 per qualifying person. This change, along with others, can affect a family’s tax situation in 2018 and it’s important to check and adjusted withholding amounts if necessary to prevent an unexpected tax bill and even penalties next year at tax time.

Tip: Families with qualifying children under the age of 17 should first review their eligibility for the expanded Child Tax Credit, which is larger. Taxpayers should also note that both credits begin to phase out at $400,000 of modified adjusted gross income for joint filers and $200,000 for other taxpayers.

TAXPAYERS WORKING IN THE SHARING ECONOMY

Because the U.S. tax system operates on a pay-as-you-go basis, taxes must be paid on income as it is received rather than at the end of the year. Generally, people who are part of the sharing economy and who do not have an employer need to make sure they pay their taxes either through withholding from other jobs they may have or by making quarterly estimated tax payments to cover their tax obligations.

TAXPAYERS OWING ESTIMATED TAXES

Underpayment of taxes is a common scenario with more than 10 million taxpayers facing a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax last year alone. Tax is typically withheld for most people who receive salaries, wages, pensions, unemployment compensation and the taxable part of Social Security benefits. However, with numerous changes to the tax system due to tax reform many taxpayers may need to adjust withholding on their paychecks or the amount of their estimated tax payments to help prevent penalties.

While most income is subject to tax withholding, some income from self-employment or rental activities is not. Furthermore, individuals, including sole proprietors, partners, and S corporation shareholders, may need to make estimated tax payments unless they owe less than $1,000 when they file their tax return or they had no tax liability in the prior year (subject to certain conditions). As a reminder, in the U.S. taxes are required to be paid as income is earned or received during the year.

RETIREES WITH PENSION AND ANNUITY INCOME

The TCJA also changed the way tax is calculated for retirees, many of whom have income from pensions and annuities. As such, retirees who receive a monthly pension or annuity check may need to raise or lower the amount of tax they pay during the year. Retirees should treat their pension similar to income from a job. Pension recipients that need to change their withholding can do so by filling out Form W-4P and submitting it to their payor. Retirees should submit Forms W-4P to their payors as soon as they can to give payors enough time to apply any changes to withholding to as many payments as possible this year.

Note: Because it is already November, some retirees may be unable to cover their expected tax liability through withholding, and could instead make estimated or additional tax payments directly to the IRS. Please call if you need more information about this option.

QUESTIONS ABOUT WITHHOLDING?

If you have any questions about Form W-4 or need to make adjustments to your withholding, don’t hesitate to contact the office and speak to a tax professional you can trust.

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Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangmentments

Small employer HRAs or QSEHRAs (Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements) allow small businesses without group health plans to set aside money, tax-free, for employees to use toward medical expenses–including the cost of buying health insurance. Here’s what you need to know about QSEHRAs.

BACKGROUND

Included in the 21st Century Cures Act enacted by Congress on December 13, 2016, was a provision for QSEHRAs, which permit an eligible employer to provide a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA), which is not a group health plan and thus is not subject to the requirements that apply to group health plans. QSEHRAs must meet several criteria such as:

  • the arrangement is funded solely by an eligible employer, and no salary reduction contributions may be made under the arrangement;
  • the arrangement generally is provided on the same terms to all eligible employees of the employer;
  • the arrangement provides, after the employee provides proof of coverage, for the payment or reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by the employee or the employee’s family members; and
  • the amount of the payments and reimbursements for any year do not exceed $4,950 for employee-only arrangements or $10,000 for arrangements that provide for payments and reimbursements of expenses of family members. These amounts are adjusted for inflation annually for tax years after 2016. For 2018, the maximum dollar amount for employee-only arrangements is $5,050 ($4,950 in 2017). The maximum dollar amount for arrangements that provide for payments and reimbursements for expenses of family members is $10,250 ($10,050 in 2017).

WHICH EMPLOYERS QUALIFY?

Any small employer from a startup to a nonprofit that doesn’t offer a group health plan is able to set up a QSEHRA as long as they meet certain rules (see below). Small employers are defined as an employer that is not an applicable large employer (ALE). An applicable large employer is defined as one that employs fewer than 50 full-time workers, including full-time equivalent employees, on average.

Tip: If a small employer currently offers a group health plan but wants to set up a QSEHRA, the group health plan must be canceled before the QSEHRA will start.

ARE THERE ANY OTHER RULES?

Yes. One of the most important rules is that in order for employees to participate in a QSEHRA, they must have health insurance that meets minimum essential coverage. That is, indemnity, short-term health insurance, and faith-based insurance plans (e.g., Liberty HealthShare) do not qualify. Health insurance plans purchased through the Marketplace meet this qualification. Employers may choose whether to reimburse employees for both medical expenses and health insurance premiums or just premiums.

Furthermore, while there are no minimum monthly contribution limits, there is an annual maximum contribution limit. For 2018, the limit is $420 per month for individuals and $854 per month for families.

Note: QSEHRAs are funded entirely by the employer. As such, employees are prohibited from making contributions.

WRITTEN NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES

Eligible employers are required to provide written notice to eligible employees at least 90 days before the beginning of a year for which the QSEHRA is provided. In the case of an employee who is not eligible to participate in the arrangement as of the beginning of the year, the written notice must be furnished on the date on which the employee is first eligible. The written notice must include:

  1. a statement of the amount that would be the eligible employee’s permitted benefit under the arrangement for the year;
  2. a statement that the eligible employee should provide that permitted benefit amount to any health insurance exchange to which the employee applies for advance payments of the premium tax credit; and
  3. a statement that if the eligible employee is not covered under minimum essential coverage for any month, the employee may be liable for an individual shared responsibility payment (eliminated for tax years starting in 2019) for that month and reimbursements under the arrangement may be includible in gross income.

QUESTIONS ABOUT QSEHRAS?

If you have any questions about QSEHRAs or are wondering whether your small business would benefit from a QSEHRA, don’t hesitate to call.

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Extension Deadline Looming for 2017 Tax Returns

Time is running short for taxpayers who requested an extra six months to file their 2017 tax return. As a reminder, Monday, October 15, 2018, is the extension deadline for most taxpayers. For taxpayers who have not yet filed, here are a few tips to keep in mind about the extension deadline and taxes:

1. Taxpayers can still e-file returns. Filing electronically is the easiest, safest and most accurate way to file taxes.

2. For taxpayers owed a refund, the fastest way to get it is to combine direct deposit and e-file.

3. Taxpayers who owe taxes should consider using IRS Direct Pay, a simple, quick and free way to pay from a checking or savings account using a computer or mobile device. There are also other online payment options. Please call the office if you need details about other payment options.

4. Members of the military and those serving in a combat zone generally get more time to file. Military members typically have until at least 180 days after leaving a combat zone to both file returns and pay any tax due.

5. Taxpayers should always keep a copy of tax returns for their records. Keeping copies of tax returns can help taxpayers prepare future tax returns or assist with amending a prior year’s return.

 

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Managing Cash Flow is Key to Business Succes

Cash flow is the lifeblood of every small business but many business owners underestimate just how vital managing cash flow is to their business’s success. In fact, a healthy cash flow is more important than your business’s ability to deliver its goods and services.

While that might seem counterintuitive, consider this: if you fail to satisfy a customer and lose that customer’s business, you can always work harder to please the next customer. If you fail to have enough cash to pay your suppliers, creditors, or employees, you are out of business.

WHAT IS CASH FLOW?

Cash flow, simply defined, is the movement of money in and out of your business; these movements are called inflow and outflow. Inflows for your business primarily come from the sale of goods or services to your customers but keep in mind that inflow only occurs when you make a cash sale or collect on receivables. It is the cash that counts! Other examples of cash inflows are borrowed funds, income derived from sales of assets, and investment income from interest.

Outflows for your business are generally the result of paying expenses. Examples of cash outflows include paying employee wages, purchasing inventory or raw materials, purchasing fixed assets, operating costs, paying back loans, and paying taxes.

Note: A tax and accounting professional is the best person to help you learn how your cash flow statement works. He or she can prepare your cash flow statement and explain where the numbers come from. If you need help, don’t hesitate to call.

CASH FLOW VERSUS PROFIT

While they might seem similar, profit and cash flow are two entirely different concepts, each with entirely different results. The concept of profit is somewhat broad and only looks at income and expenses over a certain period, say a fiscal quarter. Profit is a useful figure for calculating your taxes and reporting to the IRS.

Cash flow, on the other hand, is a more dynamic tool focusing on the day-to-day operations of a business owner. It is concerned with the movement of money in and out of a business. But more important, it is concerned with the times at which the movement of the money takes place.

In theory, even profitable companies can go bankrupt. It would take a lot of negligence and total disregard for cash flow, but it is possible. Consider how the difference between profit and cash flow relate to your business.

Example: If your retail business bought a $1,000 item and turned around to sell it for $2,000, then you have made a $1,000 profit. But what if the buyer of the item is slow to pay his or her bill, and six months pass before you collect on the account? Your retail business may still show a profit, but what about the bills it has to pay during that six-month period? You may not have the cash to pay the bills despite the profits you earned on the sale. Furthermore, this cash flow gap may cause you to miss other profit opportunities, damage your credit rating, and force you to take out loans and create debt. If this mistake is repeated enough times, you may go bankrupt.

ANALYZING YOUR CASH FLOW

The sooner you learn how to manage your cash flow, the better your chances of survival. Furthermore, you will be able to protect your company’s short-term reputation as well as position it for long-term success.

The first step toward taking control of your company’s cash flow is to analyze the components that affect the timing of your cash inflows and outflows. A thorough analysis of these components will reveal problem areas that lead to cash flow gaps in your business. Narrowing, or even closing, these gaps is the key to cash flow management.

Some of the most important components to examine are:

  • Accounts receivable. Accounts receivable represent sales that have not yet been collected in the form of cash. An accounts receivable balance sheet is created when you sell something to a customer in return for his or her promise to pay at a later date. The longer it takes for your customers to pay on their accounts, the more negative the effect on your cash flow.
  • Credit terms. Credit terms are the time limits you set for your customers’ promise to pay for their purchases. Credit terms affect the timing of your cash inflows. A simple way to improve cash flow is to get customers to pay their bills more quickly.
  • Credit policy. A credit policy is the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy – neither too strict nor too generous – is crucial for a healthy cash flow.
  • Inventory. Inventory describes the extra merchandise or supplies your business keeps on hand to meet the demands of customers. An excessive amount of inventory hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows. Too many business owners buy inventory based on hopes and dreams instead of what they can realistically sell. Keep your inventory as low as possible.
  • Accounts payable and cash flow. Accounts payable are amounts you owe to your suppliers that are payable at some point in the near future – “near” meaning 30 to 90 days. Without payables and trade credit, you’d have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, examine your payables schedule.

Some cash flow gaps are created intentionally. For example, a business may purchase extra inventory to take advantage of quantity discounts, accelerate cash outflows to take advantage of significant trade discounts or spend extra cash to expand its line of business.

For other businesses, cash flow gaps are unavoidable. Take, for example, a company that experiences seasonal fluctuations in its line of business. This business may normally have cash flow gaps during its slow season and then later fill the gaps with cash surpluses from the peak part of its season. Cash flow gaps are often filled by external financing sources. Revolving lines of credit, bank loans, and trade credit are just a few of the external financing options available that you may want to discuss with us.

Monitoring and managing your cash flow is important for the vitality of your business. The first signs of financial woe appear in your cash flow statement, giving you time to recognize a forthcoming problem and plan a strategy to deal with it. Furthermore, with periodic cash flow analysis, you can head off those unpleasant financial glitches by recognizing which aspects of your business have the potential to cause cash flow gaps.

Make sure your business has adequate funds to cover day-to-day expenses.

If you need help analyzing and managing your cash flow more effectively, please call.

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The Facts About Penalty Relief For Taxpayers

Taxpayers who make an effort to comply with the law but are unable to meet their tax obligations due to circumstances beyond their control may qualify for relief from penalties.

If you’ve received a notice stating that the IRS assessed a penalty, the first step taxpayers should take is to check that the information in the notice is correct. Those who can resolve an issue in their notice may get relief from certain penalties, which include failing to:

  • File a tax return
  • Pay on time
  • Deposit certain taxes as required

There are several types of penalty relief:

1. Reasonable cause

This relief is based on all the facts and circumstances in a taxpayer’s situation. The IRS will consider this relief when the taxpayer can show they tried to meet their obligations but were unable to do so. Situations, when this could happen, include a house fire, natural disaster and a death in the immediate family.

2. Administrative Waiver and First Time Penalty Abatement

A taxpayer may qualify for relief from certain penalties if he or she:

  • Didn’t previously have to file a return or had no penalties for the three tax years prior to the tax year in which the IRS assessed a penalty.
  • Filed all currently required returns or filed an extension of time to file.
  • Paid, or arranged to pay, any tax due.

3. Statutory Exception

In certain situations, legislation may provide an exception to a penalty. Taxpayers who received incorrect written advice from the IRS may qualify for a statutory exception.

Taxpayers who received a notice or letter saying the IRS didn’t grant the request for penalty relief may appeal. If you have any questions about IRS penalties, please call.

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Tax Benefits of S-Corporations

As a small business owner, figuring out which form of business structure to use when you started was one of the most important decisions you had to make; however, it’s always a good idea to periodically revisit that decision as your business grows. For example, as a sole proprietor, you must pay a self-employment tax rate of 15% in addition to your individual tax rate; however, if you were to revise your business structure to become a corporation and elect S-Corporation status you could take advantage of a lower tax rate.

WHAT IS AN S-CORPORATION?

An S-Corporation (or S-Corp) is a regular corporation whose owners elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax (and sometimes state) purposes. That is, an S-corporation is a corporation or a limited liability company that’s made a Subchapter S election (so named after a chapter of the tax code). Rather than a business entity per se, it is a type of tax classification. Shareholders then report the flow-through of income and losses on their personal tax returns and are assessed tax at their individual income tax rates, which allows S-corporations to avoid double taxation on corporate income. S-corporations are, however, responsible for tax on certain built-in gains and passive income at the entity level.

To qualify for S-corporation status, the corporation must submit a Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation to the IRS, signed by all the shareholders, and meet the following requirements:

  • Be a domestic corporation
  • Have only allowable shareholders. Shareholders may be individuals, certain trusts, and estates but may not be partnerships, corporations or non-resident alien shareholders.
  • Have no more than 100 shareholders
  • Have only one class of stock
  • Not be an ineligible corporation (i.e. certain financial institutions, insurance companies, and domestic international sales corporations).

WHAT ARE THE TAX ADVANTAGES OF AN S-CORP?

Personal Income and Employment Tax Savings

S-corporation owners can choose to receive both a salary and dividend payments from the corporation (i.e., distributions from earnings and profits that pass through the corporation to you as an owner, not as an employee in compensation for your services). Dividends are taxed at a lower rate than self-employment income, which lowers taxable income. S-corp owners also save on Social Security and Medicare taxes because their salary is less than it would be if they were operating a sole proprietorship, for instance.

The split between salary and dividends must be “reasonable” in the eyes of the IRS, however, e.g., paying self-employment tax on 50% or less of profits or a salary that is in line with similar businesses. Furthermore, some S-corp owners may be able to take advantage of the 20% deductions for pass-through entities as well, thanks to tax reform.

Losses are Deductible

As a corporation, profits and losses are allocated between the owners based on the percentage of ownership or number of shares held. If the S-corporation loses money, these losses are deductible on the shareholder’s individual tax return. For example, if you and another person are the owners and the corporation’s losses amount to $20,000, each shareholder is able to take $10,000 as a deduction on their tax return.

No Corporate Income Tax

Although S-corps are corporations, there is no corporate income tax because business income is passed through to the owners instead of being taxed at the corporate rate, thereby avoiding the double taxation issue, which occurs when dividend income is taxed at both the corporate level and at the shareholder level.

Less Risk of Audit

In 2014, S-corps faced an audit risk of just 0.42% compared to Schedule C filers with gross receipts of $100,000 who faced an audit rate of 2.3%. While still low, individuals filing Schedule C (Profit or Loss from Business) are at higher risk of being audited due to IRS concerns about small business owners underreporting income or taking deductions they shouldn’t be.

HELP IS JUST A PHONE CALL AWAY.

Whether you keep your existing structure or decide to change it to a different one, keep in mind that your decision should always be based on the specific needs and practices of the business. If you have any questions about electing S-Corporation status or are wondering whether it’s time to choose a different business entity altogether, don’t hesitate to call.

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