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Our regularly updated newsletter provides timely articles to help you achieve your financial goals.

March 2012

Feature Articles

Tax Tips

QuickBooks Tips

Financial Tips

This newsletter is intended to provide generalized information that is appropriate in certain situations. It is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The contents of this newsletter should not be acted upon without specific professional guidance. Please call us if you have questions.

7 Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions

One of the biggest hurdles you'll face in running your own business is staying on top of your numerous obligations to federal, state, and local tax agencies. Tax codes seem to be in a constant state of flux making the Internal Revenue Code barely understandable to most people.

The old legal saying that "ignorance of the law is no excuse" is perhaps most often applied in tax settings and it is safe to assume that a tax auditor presenting an assessment of additional taxes, penalties, and interest will not look kindly on an "I didn't know I was required to do that" claim. On the flip side, it is surprising how many small businesses actually overpay their taxes, neglecting to take deductions they're legally entitled to that can help them lower their tax bill.

Preparing your taxes and strategizing as to how to keep more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year. Your best course of action to save time, frustration, money, and an auditor knocking on your door, is to have a professional accountant handle your taxes.

Tax professionals have years of experience with tax preparation, religiously attend tax seminars, read scores of journals, magazines, and monthly tax tips, among other things, to correctly interpret the changing tax code.

When it comes to tax planning for small businesses, the complexity of tax law generates a lot of folklore and misinformation that also leads to costly mistakes. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the more common small business tax misperceptions.

1. All Start-Up Costs Are Immediately Deductible

Business start-up costs refer to expenses incurred before you actually begin operating your business. Business start-up costs include both start up and organizational costs and vary depending on the type of business. Examples of these types of costs include advertising, travel, surveys, and training. These start up and organizational costs are generally called capital expenditures.

Costs for a particular asset (such as machinery or office equipment) are recovered through depreciation or Section 179 expensing. When you start a business, you can elect to deduct or amortize certain business start-up costs.

For tax years beginning in 2010, you can elect to deduct up to $10,000 of business start-up costs paid or incurred after 2009. The $10,000 deduction is reduced (but not below zero) by the amount such start-up costs exceed $60,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized.

2. Overpaying The IRS Makes You "Audit Proof"

The IRS doesn't care if you pay the right amount of taxes or overpay your taxes. They do care if you pay less than you owe and you can't substantiate your deductions. Even if you overpay in one area, the IRS will still hit you with interest and penalties if you underpay in another. It is never a good idea to knowingly or unknowingly overpay the IRS. The best way to "Audit Proof" yourself is to properly document your expenses and make sure you are getting good advice from your tax accountant.

3. Being incorporated enables you to take more deductions.

Self-employed individuals (sole proprietors and S Corps) qualify for many of the same deductions that incorporated businesses do, and for many small businesses, being incorporated is an unnecessary expense and burden. Start-ups can spend thousands of dollars in legal and accounting fees to set up a corporation, only to discover soon thereafter that they need to change their name or move the company in a different direction. In addition, plenty of small business owners who incorporate don't make money for the first few years and find themselves saddled with minimum corporate tax payments and no income.

4. The home office deduction is a red flag for an audit.

While it used to be a red flag, this is no longer true--as long as you keep excellent records that satisfy IRS requirements. Because of the proliferation of home offices, tax officials cannot possibly audit all tax returns containing the home office deduction. In other words, there is no need to fear an audit just because you take the home office deduction. A high deduction-to-income ratio however, may raise a red flag and lead to an audit.

5. If you don't take the home office deduction, business expenses are not deductible.

You are still eligible to take deductions for business supplies, business-related phone bills, travel expenses, printing, wages paid to employees or contract workers, depreciation of equipment used for your business, and other expenses related to running a home-based business, whether or not you take the home office deduction.

6. Requesting an extension on your taxes is an extension to pay taxes.

Extensions enable you to extend your filing date only. Penalties and interest begin accruing from the date your taxes are due.

7. Part-time business owners cannot set up self-employed pensions.

If you start up a company while you have a salaried position complete with a 401K plan, you can still set up a SEP-IRA for your business and take the deduction.

A tax headache is only one mistake away, be it a missed payment or filing deadline, an improperly claimed deduction, or incomplete records and understanding how the tax system works is beneficial to any business owner, whether you run a small to medium sized business or are a sole proprietor.

And, even if you delegate the tax preparation to someone else, you are still liable for the accuracy of your tax returns. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to give us a call today. We're here to assist you.

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Using a Car for Business? Grab These Deductions

Whether you're self-employed or an employee, if you use a car for business, you get the benefit of tax deductions.

There are two choices for claiming deductions:

  1. Deduct the actual business-related costs of gas, oil, lubrication, repairs, tires, supplies, parking, tolls, drivers' salaries, and depreciation.
  2. Use the standard mileage deduction in 2012 and simply multiply 55.5 cents by the number of business miles traveled during the year. Your actual parking fees and tolls are deducted separately under this method.

Which Method Is Better?

For some taxpayers, using the standard mileage rate produces a larger deduction. Others fare better tax-wise by deducting actual expenses.

Tip: The actual cost method allows you to claim accelerated depreciation on your car, subject to limits and restrictions not discussed here.

The standard mileage amount includes an allowance for depreciation. Opting for the standard mileage method allows you to bypass certain limits and restrictions and is simpler-- but it's often less advantageous in dollar terms.

Caution: The standard rate may understate your costs, especially if you use the car 100% for business, or close to that percentage.

Generally, the standard mileage method benefits taxpayers who have less expensive cars or who travel a large number of business miles.

How to Make Tax Time Easier

Keep careful records of your travel expenses and record your mileage in a logbook. If you don't know the number of miles driven and the total amount you spent on the car, we won't be able to determine which of the two options is more advantageous for you.

Furthermore, the tax law requires that you keep travel expense records and that you give information on your return showing business versus personal use. If you use the actual cost method for your auto deductions, you must keep receipts.

Tip: Consider using a separate credit card for business, to simplify your recordkeeping.

Tip: You can also deduct the interest you pay to finance a business-use car if you're self-employed.

Note: Self-employed individuals and employees who use their cars for business can deduct auto expenses if they either (1) don't get reimbursed, or (2) are reimbursed under an employer's "non-accountable" reimbursement plan. In the case of employees, expenses are deductible to the extent that auto expenses (together with other "miscellaneous itemized deductions") exceed 2% of adjusted gross income.

We will help you determine the best deduction method for your business-use car. Let us know if you have any questions about which records you need to keep.

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8 Ways Children Lower Your Taxes

Got kids? They may have an impact on your tax situation. Here are the top 8 things to consider if you have children.

  1. Dependents: In most cases, a child can be claimed as a dependent in the year they were born. Be sure to let us know if your family increased this year and we'll take a look at whether you can claim the child as a dependent this year.

  2. Child Tax Credit: You may be able to take this credit on your tax return for each of your children under age 17. If you do not benefit from the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. The Additional Child Tax Credit is a refundable credit and may give you a refund even if you do not owe any tax.

  3. Child and Dependent Care Credit: You may be able to claim this credit if you pay someone to care for your child under age 13 so that you can work or look for work. Be sure to keep track of your child care expenses so we can claim this credit accurately.

  4. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): The EITC is a benefit for certain people who work and have earned income from wages, self-employment, or farming. EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe and may also give you a refund.

  5. Adoption Credit: You may be able to take a tax credit for qualifying expenses paid to adopt a child.

  6. Coverdell Education Savings Account: This savings account is used to pay qualified expenses at an eligible educational institution. Contributions are not deductible; however, qualified distributions generally are tax-free.

  7. Higher Education Credits: Education tax credits can help offset the costs of education. The American Opportunity and the Lifetime Learning Credit are education credits that reduce your federal income tax dollar for dollar, unlike a deduction, which reduces your taxable income.

  8. Student Loan Interest: You may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. The deduction is claimed as an adjustment to income so you do not need to itemize your deductions.

As you can see, children can have an impact on your tax profile. If you're a parent, we'll go over your situation with you to make sure you're getting the credits and deductions you're entitled to.

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It's Not Too Late to Make a 2011 IRA Contribution

If you haven't contributed funds to an Individual Retirement Arrangement for tax year 2011, or if you've put in less than the maximum allowed, you still have time to do so. You can contribute to either a traditional or Roth IRA until the April due date for filing your tax return for 2011, not including extensions.

Be sure to tell the IRA trustee that the contribution is for 2011. Otherwise, the trustee may report the contribution as being for 2012 when they get your funds.

Generally, you can contribute up to $5,000 of your earnings for 2011 or up to $6,000 if you are age 50 or older in 2011. You can fund a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA (if you qualify), or both, but your total contributions cannot be more than these amounts.

Note: IRA contribution limits remain the same in 2012 - $5,000, or $6,000 if age 50 or older.

Traditional IRA: You may be able to take a tax deduction for the contributions to a traditional IRA, depending on your income and whether you or your spouse, if filing jointly, are covered by an employer's pension plan.

Roth IRA: You cannot deduct Roth IRA contributions, but the earnings on a Roth IRA may be tax-free if you meet the conditions for a qualified distribution.

Each year, the IRS announces the cost of living adjustments and limitation for retirement savings plans. In 2011 and 2012, however, the contribution limits for defined benefit and defined contribution plans did not change as the Consumer Price Index did not meet the regulatory thresholds.

Saving for retirement should be part of everyone's financial plan and it's important to review your retirement goals every year in order to maximize savings. If you need help with your retirement plans, give us a call. We're happy to help.

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Itemizers Can Deduct Certain Taxes

Did you know that you may be able to deduct certain taxes on your federal income tax return? You can receive these deductions if you file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A. Deductions decrease the amount of income subject to taxation.

There are four types of deductible non-business taxes:

  1. State and Local Income or Sales Taxes
    You can choose to claim a state and local tax deduction for either income or sales taxes on your return. You can deduct any estimated taxes paid to state or local governments and any prior year's state or local income tax as long as they were paid during the tax year.

    If deducting sales taxes instead, you may deduct actual expenses or use the optional tables provided by the IRS to determine your deduction amount, relieving you of the need to save receipts.

    Sales taxes paid on motor vehicles and boats may be added to the table amount, but only up to the amount paid at the general sales tax rate.

  2. Real Estate Taxes
    Deductible real estate taxes are usually any state, local, or foreign taxes on real property. If a portion of your monthly mortgage payment goes into an escrow account and your lender periodically pays your real estate taxes to local governments out of this account, you can deduct only the amount actually paid during the year to the taxing authorities.

    Your lender will normally send you a Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, at the end of the tax year with this information.

  3. Personal Property Taxes
    Personal property taxes are deductible when they are based on the value of personal property, such as a boat or car. To be deductible, the tax must be charged to you on a yearly basis, even if it is collected more than once a year or less than once a year.

  4. Foreign Income Taxes
    Generally, you can take either a deduction or a tax credit for foreign income taxes, but not for taxes paid on income that is excluded from U.S. tax.

For more information on non-business deductions for taxes, just give us a call.

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Can You Take the Child Tax Credit?

If you have a qualifying child under the age of 17, you may be able to take the Child Tax Credit. Here's what you need to know.

1. Amount. With the Child Tax Credit, you may be able to reduce your federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under age 17.

2. Qualification. A qualifying child for this credit is someone who meets the qualifying criteria of seven tests: age, relationship, support, dependent, joint return, citizenship and residence.

3. Age test. To qualify, a child must have been under age 17 -- age 16 or younger -- at the end of 2011.

4. Relationship test. To claim a child for purposes of the Child Tax Credit, the child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister or a descendant of any of these individuals, which includes your grandchild, niece or nephew. An adopted child is always treated as your own child. An adopted child includes a child lawfully placed with you for legal adoption.

5. Support test. In order to claim a child for this credit, the child must not have provided more than half of his/her own support.

6. Dependent test. You must claim the child as a dependent on your federal tax return.

7. Joint return test. The qualifying child can not file a joint return for the year (or files it only as a claim for refund).

8. Citizenship test. To meet the citizenship test, the child must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or U.S. resident alien.

9. Residence test. The child must have lived with you for more than half of 2011. There are some exceptions to the residence test, found in IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.

10. Limitations. The credit is limited if your modified adjusted gross income is above a certain amount. The amount at which this phase-out begins varies by filing status. For married taxpayers filing a joint return, the phase-out begins at $110,000. For married taxpayers filing a separate return, it begins at $55,000. For all other taxpayers, the phase-out begins at $75,000. In addition, the Child Tax Credit is generally limited by the amount of the income tax and any alternative minimum tax you owe.

11. Additional Child Tax Credit. If the amount of your Child Tax Credit is greater than the amount of income tax you owe, you may be able to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit.

Questions about the child tax credit? Give us a call today.

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The Facts: Medical & Dental Expenses and Your Taxes

If you, your spouse or dependents had significant medical or dental costs in 2011, you may be able to deduct those expenses when you file your tax return. Here are eight things you should know about medical and dental expenses and other benefits.

1. You must itemize. You deduct qualifying medical and dental expenses if you itemize on Schedule A on form 1040.

2. Deduction is limited. You can deduct total medical care expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income for the year.

3. Expenses must have been paid in 2011. You can include medical and dental expenses you paid during the year, regardless of when the services were provided. Be sure to save your receipts and keep good records to substantiate your expenses.

4. You can't deduct reimbursed expenses. Your total medical expenses for the year must be reduced by any reimbursement. Normally, it makes no difference if you receive the reimbursement or if it is paid directly to the doctor or hospital.

5. Whose expenses qualify. You may include qualified medical expenses you pay for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply to divorced or separated parents, taxpayers with a multiple support agreement, or those with a qualifying relative who is not your child.

6. Types of expenses that qualify. You can deduct expenses primarily paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or treatment affecting any structure or function of the body. For drugs, you can only deduct prescription medication and insulin. You can also include premiums for medical, dental and some long-term care insurance in your expenses. Starting in 2011, you can also include lactation supplies.

7. Transportation costs may qualify. You may deduct transportation costs primarily for and essential to medical care that qualifies as a medical expense, including fares for a taxi, bus, train, plane or ambulance as well as tolls and parking fees. If you use your car for medical transportation, you can deduct actual out-of-pocket expenses such as gas and oil, or you can deduct the standard mileage rate for medical expenses, which is 19 cents per mile for 2011.

8. Tax-favored saving for medical expenses. Distributions from Health Savings Accounts and withdrawals from Flexible Spending Arrangements may be tax free if used to pay qualified medical expenses including prescription medication and insulin.

Please give us a call if you need help figuring out what qualifies as a medical expense.

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QuickBooks Income Tax Reports And Filtering Options

April 15 is getting uncomfortably close.

QuickBooks, of course, can't do your taxes for you. But it helps you lay some of the groundwork. Following up on last month's column on customizing reports, we'll look at the program's tax-related reports and its powerful report-filtering options.

But first, you'll need to make sure that this output will be accurate.

Describe your company accurately

Your tax entity setting should have been established when you first set up QuickBooks, but verify that you've specified the correct one. Go to Company | Company Information. Your Report Information is in the lower left corner. Click the arrow next to Income Tax Form Used to see what's active.

Figure 1: Make sure that QuickBooks is set up for the correct tax entity.
Figure 1: Make sure that QuickBooks is set up for the correct tax entity.

QuickBooks automatically assigns some of your accounts to their matching lines on Form 1040 and assorted forms and schedules; this is called tax line mapping. So when you create tax reports, related transactions will be grouped by these designations.

This can be a real time-saver -- as long as you've specified the correct entity. If:

  • <Other/None> was selected
  • This setting is incorrect
  • You're starting a business and don't know which to choose...

...please contact us. If you switch entities, your existing tax line mapping will disappear and will have to be reassigned.

Dedicated tax reports

Many of QuickBooks' general financial reports provide tax-related information. But there are some that specifically relate to the numbers that will go on your return. Go to Reports | Accounting & Taxes | Income Tax Preparation. Here's an excerpt of what you'll see:

Figure 2: QuickBooks automatically assigns many accounts to the appropriate tax form lines, based on your specified tax entity.
Figure 2: QuickBooks automatically assigns many accounts to the appropriate tax form lines, based on your specified tax entity.

Here, QuickBooks shows you which tax lines have been pre-assigned to your accounts. You can specify a tax form line for unassigned accounts, but this is something you should not attempt on your own. This report, though, will give you an idea of how useful your report output will be and where you'll need our assistance.

Other reports provide tax-related data. You can access them by going again to Reports | Accountant & Taxes and clicking:

  • Income Tax Summary. This displays totals for each tax line that's relevant to your particular tax entity. Double-click on any number, and the Tax Line By Account report appears, detailing every transaction related to every tax-related account (you could add a column for Tax Line in Display options and make this quite a useful report).
  • Income Tax Detail. This lists all individual transactions by tax form/schedule line assignment.

Paring it down

Some tax reports can be very lengthy; you may want to filter them to look at various "slices." Click Customize Report | Filters:

Figure 3: This window displays a powerful set of filtering options.
Figure 3: This window displays a powerful set of filtering options.

The options listed under Choose Filter are available on other reports; they help you set up incredibly complex searches using multiple filters.

Let's say you want a report that displays your installation labor costs on new residential construction from the last year (you could also throw other variables in). You'd simply choose the filters from the left pane and then select related options in the next pane (usually a list). You'd want to also click on the Display tab to make sure that the appropriate columns appear.

Figure 4: You can apply multiple filters to your reports.
Figure 4: You can apply multiple filters to your reports.

QuickBooks reports can shave time off of tax preparation, and filtered views help you scrutinize your data in quite creative -- and very useful -- ways. The program's boilerplate reports have their place in simple examinations of your financial status, but filters are potent tools. They can facilitate the kind of deep analysis that helps you make critical business decisions.

If you have questions on this or any other QuickBooks feature, call or email us. We're your partner and we're here to make your business better.

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Financial Tips for March 2012

College Planning If you have young children, set up or review your college savings plan. Determine the amount you will need to accumulate by the time they enter college. Based on this estimate, establish or review your savings plan. Consider one or more of the tax-favored higher education programs.

Mortgage Review Review your home mortgage. Are you paying too much interest? Consider the savings you could obtain by refinancing. Also look into the possibility of making mortgage payments twice a month or adding some principal to each payment to save on the interest cost. If you have other debt at higher interest rates, and the interest is non-deductible, consider paying off these debts with a home equity loan.

Required Minimum Distribution If you were age 70-1/2 last year and did not take the required minimum distribution from your retirement plans, prepare to take a withdrawal before April 1. Professional guidance will be helpful here.

Review Budget vs. Actuals Compare February income and expenditures with your budget. Make adjustments as appropriate to your March expenditures. Make sure you have invested your planned savings amount for February.

Estimated Tax Payments Total up your taxable income, capital gains, and deductions for the first quarter. This information can be used to plan your estimated tax payments and perhaps avoid or minimize any underpayment penalties. Let us know if you have questions about how to do this.

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Tax Due Dates for March 2012

March 12

Employees who work for tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during February, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

March 15

Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.

Corporations - File a 2011 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120 or 1120-A) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004 and deposit what you estimate you owe.

S Corporations - File a 2011 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120S) and pay any tax due. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S), Shareholder's Share of Income, Credits, Deductions, etc., or a substitute Schedule K-1. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004 and deposit what you estimate you owe.

Electing large partnerships - Provide each partner with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065-B), Partner's Share of Income (Loss) From an Electing Large Partnership. This due date is effective for the first March 15 following the close of the partnership's tax year. The due date of March 15 applies even if the partnership requests an extension of time to file the Form 1065-B by filing Form 8736 or Form 8800.

S Corporation Election - File Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation, to choose to be treated as an S corporation beginning with calendar year 2012. If Form 2553 is filed late, S treatment will begin with calendar year 2013.

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