Get Started on the “Right Foot” Financial Planning for 2017

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When it comes to your finances, accounting, or tax rules, do you ever feel like a “Duck out of Water?”

If so, this post is designed to help you get started on the right foot, make your 2017 easier, and ideally, more profitable.

Here are 6 tips to help you get started:

1. Employ your money by considering how you can make it work for you:

One way to do this is to work with a tax accountant who can help you learn to use the tax rules to help you improve your financial results by decreasing your income tax expense. A tax software program may help you prepare and file your tax return, but it does not help you plan or make informed financial decisions.

A tax return is based upon the past. The best opportunity to make a difference is in the present.

Tax planning (and acting) may also help you save some money on your 2016 tax return – before you file. You can read the rules, read some of my others blogs, or ask someone for guidance.

 

2.  Self-employment comes with both a lot of perks and responsibilities; this is particularly true for income tax rules and obligations.

The IRS defines Earned Income as all taxable income and wages from working either as an employee or from running or owning a business (net earnings from self-employment).

Last year at tax time, a lot of people were caught by surprise because they had not considered how their UBER or other self-employment income would be taxed. It is important to know the rules to avoid penalties for either not reporting on time and/or for not paying income tax on time.

Use the following information to avoid penalties, price your products/services and to plan your budget:

IRS Business Basics – Compliance – “Must Do”:

  • The U.S. tax system is “Pay as You Go, generally, not at the end of the year
  • If you owe the IRS more than $1K during a year, it is not ok to wait to pay
  • Quarterly Reporting & estimated tax payments are required to avoid late payments, interest & penalties
  • Accounting records must be current to determine – if you need to pay quarterly tax
  • Generally, Calendar Year Due Dates are 4/15, 6/15, 9/15, and 1/15 for the previous year
  • If you don’t pay enough tax by the due date of each of the payment periods, you may be charged a penalty
  • Individuals (Sole Proprietors, Partners, S-Corp Shareholders) need to pay estimated tax if they owe $1,000+
  • Corporations need to pay estimated tax if they owe $500+
  • 2 Possible Penalties: Failure to Fail and Fail to Pay on time – If you can’t pay, at least file; prevents 1 penalty
  • Estimated tax is used for: Income Tax; Self-Employment Tax and Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Reconcile payments on your annual tax return

 

 3. Self-Employment Tax of 15.30% is required on Annual Net Earnings of $400+ – “Must Do”

  • You, need to know “Up front” to budget for cash expense and to consider for product/service profitability
  • Sole Proprietors & Independent Contractors must pay both the employer and the employee side of Social Security and Medicare taxes
  • The 2016 SE tax rate on Net Earnings is 15.3% (12.4% social security tax plus 2.9% Medicare tax)
  • The Self-Employment tax rate is 15.3% of the first $118,500 of income and 2.9% of everything above that amount
  • If you also work as an employee, be careful that you do not overpay your Social Security tax. The $118,500 applies to your combined wages, tips, and net earnings
  • Sole Proprietors can deduct ½ of this cost on Form 1040-Line 27, the deductible part of self-employment tax

 

  1. QuickBooks Self-Employed can help you with your business recordkeeping and to determine your estimated tax:

This product is a little less than 2 years old and was designed to simplify the basics for those who are self-employed, own a small business, and who do not have employees (payroll) or inventory. Good examples include realtors and independent contractors.

The program allows you to track business income and expenses and to make tax time simple by capturing all expense deductions, including tracking business mileage. The program also estimates your required IRS quarterly tax payments, lets you separate personal and business expense and create and send invoices on the go.

The cost of $10 or less per month makes it affordable. If you work with a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor Accountant, they may be able to provide you a 50% discount on the program cost for your 1st year of use. Reach out to them and ask. If so, they can send you a link to help you get started at the discounted rate.

 

  1. MileIQ is an easy way to track your mileage for expense purposes.

The app is an automatic mileage tracker, which can improve accuracy and add convenience.

2017 rates are:

  • $0.535 for business
  • $0.170 for medical or moving
  • $0.140 for charity

Alternatively, you can use actual expenses incurred.

Either way, the IRS requires documentation, which includes both the beginning and ending mileage, where you went, and why. If you have not been doing this, step outside and record your odometer reading today. That number can provide a good estimate to end your 2016 tax year and to begin 2017.

Also note that if you used accelerated depreciation for your vehicle and used the Section 179 deduction, you cannot revert and use the standard mileage rates.

 

6. Don’t Believe, “Don’t Worry, it’s a Write-Off:

There are a lot of rules for what is an acceptable deductible business expense that apply for who, for what amount, and when.

Following are some general terms that will help you get started in learning IRS terminology and rules.

Note that what is an acceptable taxable deduction in your business may not be acceptable for my business. The “tool belt” is different for a carpenter than for an accountant.

  • Use IRS rules to decrease income tax expense
  • Business Income can be reduced by “ordinary and necessary” expense:
  1. Ordinary expense = Common or Accepted in your trade or business
  2. Necessary expense= Helpful or Appropriate for your trade or business
  • Operating Expense = expense incurred under normal business operations (rent, utilities, insurance, payroll)
  • Capital Expense= benefits more than 1 year (property, plant & equipment)
  • Capital Assets are generally expensed over a period of time by using depreciation and amortization rules
  • Depreciation and Amortization are both a Non-Cash expense
  • They reduce Net Income on an Income Statement, but do not reduce the Cash account on the Balance Sheet
  • The expense can either be based on standard or accelerated rules.
  • Section 179 is an example of an accelerated expense i.e. take a larger deduction in earlier years. Be careful here because you can also be subject to “recapture rules”.
  • This list is not exhaustive nor does it include all the rules. The information is shared to provide general concepts and to plant seeds for future learning.

 

I hope these tips to help you get started on the “right foot” and help you feel less “like a duck out of water”.

We all have gifts we can use to make a difference for each other.

I hope this blog post might have made a small difference for you.

 

Thanks for reading.

To your success,

Deb

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth. She can help by being your financial compass while you captain your ship.

Deb offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com

http://www.DeborahFoxCPA.com

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

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Perspective: A Number Story

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Our observations can be limited by our experience.

For example, recently an architect gave me suggestions for elements to include in a new website that I will launch soon for DeborahFoxCPA.com. His design-eye expertise is invaluable to me. I told him, “You can see things that my eyes do not. I look, but do not see the same detail as you do.” His reply was priceless, “Of course honey this is why we help each other – you see numbers I can’t see LOL.”

Perspective matters.

Numbers tell a story – in our financial statements and on our tax returns. I look for opportunities to make a difference in the story and so can you.

As we approach the end of the year, now is a great time to review the “Big Picture”.

You are the Chief Financial Officer of your home or for your business. You are in the driver’s seat.

Step away from thinking about “working in your business” and focus upon “working on your business”. Think about what you could do to make improvements. Focus upon strategy. Not compliance.

Compliance is filing a tax return. It is what we have to do to comply.

Strategy is about making a difference before you file the return or issue the next financial statements.

Here are 3 ways you can make a difference in your financial story:

  1. Review your financial performance:
  • Are you allocating your budget resources (time and money) for the best use?
  • Compare budget to actual results
  • Compare year-to- year results; identify what changed. Why?
  1. Use financial ratio’s to uncover patterns:
  • Are there areas or activities that are underperforming?
  • Do certain activities provide little value or return on your investment?
  • Can you change your mix to provide more value for you?
  1. Generate new insights:
  • Can you find new opportunities?
  • Can you make changes that would reduce your risk?
  • Could some help from a different perspective find value for you?

 

Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not what you look at that matter’s, it’s what you see.”

What I could see, changed, after I reviewed the architect’s suggestions for my website. Likewise, his perspective changed, too, after I helped him.

We all have gifts we can use to make a difference for each other.

I hope this blog post might have made a small difference for you.

 

Thanks for reading.

To your success,

Deb

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth. She can help by being your financial compass while you captain your ship.

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com 

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

Does the IRS think you have a Business?

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Many taxpayers started a business and thought, or were told, “Don’t worry about the expense, it’s a write off on your tax return”.

The truth is that this may or may not be true.

Tax is not a cookie-cutter industry and as you can probably guess, the IRS did not make a “One Size Fits All” tax rule for write-offs.

If your intent is to enjoy your hobby and perhaps make some incidental income, this blog may not be of interest to you.

If your intent is to make money through a legitimate business, as defined by the IRS – this is for you

  • My purpose is to provide you “heads up” and “eyes open” to help ensure your business and financial success
  • This blog is provided to help educate you on how to organize, manage and conduct your business to improve your chances with the IRS in the event that your “activity” is audited ***

 

IRS Hobby VS Business Rules:

  • An “Activity” is either a hobby or a business
  • The IRS uses facts to decide if an activity is a (hobby) or a business
  • Neither the Code nor the Regulations provide an absolute definition
  • It is difficult for a taxpayer to win a hobby-loss case at the Tax Court level
  • If your tax return pays tax as a business and the IRS finds that it is a hobby, your tax return can be corrected and your tax liability could go up; i.e. you might owe the IRS money ***
  • The financial adjustment may be significant. In addition to the loss of the deductions, you, may face a §6662 understatement penalty for the tax years in question ***

 

Hobby Rules:

  • An activity is presumed to be a Hobby if a profit is not earned in at least 3 taxable years of a consecutive 5-year period
  • A taxpayer can overcome the presumption if he/she can show the activity was operated with a For-Profit motive
  • Under IRC §183, a taxpayer’s deduction for Hobby losses is limited to the income produced
  • You must itemize deductions to claim hobby expenses on your tax return
  • Hobby expenses, along with other miscellaneous expenses you itemize on Schedule A, must come to more than 2% of your adjusted gross income before you can deduct them
  • Hobby Expenses can bring your Hobby Gross Income, to zero
  • Income is reported on your IRS Form 1040, Line 21, Other Income
  • I understand that this can be confusing, so I will rephrase differently, to help bring clarity:
  • Hobby Income needs to be reported
  • Hobby Expense deductions have 3 limitations:
  1. Total Itemized Deductions have to be greater than your Standard Deduction
  2. Hobby expense deductions are limited to the hobby income produced, and then
  3. Then those expenses must be reduced by 2% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

 

Business Rules:

  • A Business has a For-Profit motive
  • A simple, general rule is that if the business makes a profit in 3 of 5 years there will be a presumption of profit
  • IRC § 183(d) is a safe harbor for the taxpayer
  • If the business is For-Profit, no limit on deductions is imposed and the taxpayer may be able to use losses to offset (reduce) other taxable income
  • If an activity has not produced profits in three of the past five years, the taxpayer may still argue that the business has a profit motive by relying on Reg. §1.183-2, which provides for a nine-factor test
  • More weight is given by the courts to the objective facts (rather than to the taxpayer’s statement intent) Dreicer v. Comr., 78 T.C. 642 (1982)
  • Judicial decisions suggest that no one factor is controlling
  • Court decisions often seem to consistently rely on the first factor as the most important

 

The prevailing regulations list nine critical factors for determining whether an activity constitutes a Hobby or a Business. They are:

  1. The manner in which the taxpayer carries on the activity
  2. The expertise of the taxpayer or his or her advisers
  3. The time and effort expended by the taxpayer in carrying on the activity
  4. The expectation that assets used in the activity may appreciate in value
  5. The success of the taxpayer in carrying on other similar or dissimilar activities
  6. The taxpayer’s history of income or losses with respect to the activity
  7. The amount of occasional profits, if any, which are earned by the taxpayer
  8. The financial status of the taxpayer
  9. Any elements of personal pleasure or recreation

 

Business Tax Reporting:

  • A Sole Proprietor or Qualified Joint Venture will file a federal return on Form 1040 and Schedule C- Profit or Loss from Business
  • If you have another Schedule C business activity; a separate Schedule C is required for each business; the same is true for your business records
  • Check to see what tax reporting is required by your state tax board and local municipality
  • The IRS expects you to pay tax as the money is earned
  • If you operate on a calendar year, due dates are 4/15, 6/15, 9/15, and 1/15 for the previous year
  • Quarterly estimated tax payments should be paid if you expect to owe more than $1,000 in federal taxes on an annual basis
  • Use 1040ES for Individual Estimated Payments
  • Reconcile payments on your annual Year End tax return
  • Self-Employment tax of 15.30% is required on all Annual Net Earnings of more than $400

 

Building the Foundation for a For-Profit Business Intent

Tips for Success:

  • Conduct your business, like a business, consistently
  • Consistency includes Quarterly tax reporting and payments – as required
  • Quarterly reporting requires that your accounting records be current – so you know if you have a profit or a loss
  • Taxpayers bear the burden of proving that they engaged in the activity with an actual and honest objective of realizing a profit
  • Keep detailed financial records
  • Credit Card and Bank statements and cancelled checks are not enough- the IRS needs to see the detail of what you bought
  • Receipts are your Audit Protection – the IRS has Strict Substantiation Requirements
  • The Cohen Rule,” states that you can use “other credible evidence,” or rely on IRS Publication 463 which states that you don’t need to keep receipts for expenses under $75 – it is safer to save all receipts and to follow a consistent business practice
  • Don’t use Cash: it is hard to track, easy to spend and nearly impossible to reconcile with receipts
  • Establish separate checking and credit accounts for your business – don’t co-mingle business & personal funds
  • Keep a Time/Activity Log- Outlook or Google calendar may be requested during an audit
  • If you have had business losses and made changes in the attempt to improve profitability, keep a list of changes made and the date the change was made
  • Establish a level of expertise by attending seminars, networking, and joining professional organizations related to the activity
  • Anticipate that you could be audited ***
  • Pursue your passion, enjoy the journey, and ask questions as you learn along the way

 

If you want to learn more about IRS tax rules, contact for me for a $75.00 Special: includes a 45 minute Q&A phone session plus a free “cheat sheet” for your personal use. The “cheat sheet” includes accounting/tax tips about what is a deductible expense, etc. Offer is valid until 9/5/16.

 

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced every day” – Jim Rohn

“To open a shop is easy; to keep it open is an art” –Chinese Proverb

 

Thanks for reading,

Deb

 

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth. She can help by being your financial compass while you captain your ship.

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

Tax Tips for Independent Contactors & Sole Proprietors

 

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Tax Planning & What Money is Really Yours to Spend?

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

Death will only come once, while taxes linger with us year after year.

Many of us spend 2,000+ hours a year working to earn money. Doesn’t it make sense to spend a few hours to learn how to manage it, particularly, when it comes to tax, which is our most expensive lifetime expense?

This blog is offered as a tool to help Independent Contractors & Sole Proprietors avoid tax “surprises” and pro-actively plan their cash flow.

Why Read? Cash Flow – You need to know: What money is really yours to spend?

Many taxpayers were surprised earlier this year when they filed their 2015 tax returns. Why? They were not prepared for the tax affect of having earned what the IRS calls “non-employee compensation”.   For example, the 15.3% Self-Employment Tax was an unexpected hit to their cash flow.

Who should read? : (Independent Contractors including Direct Sellers, Freelancers, Airbnb Hosts, Uber & Lyft Drivers, Internet Sellers)

Sole Proprietor: Flying Solo

  • Taxpayer is the owner; the business is not separate
  • Unlimited exposure to liability
  • All debts or claims against the business can be filed against the owners’ personal property
  • If the owner is sued, insurance is the only form of protection
  • The business itself is not taxed separately; The IRS calls this “pass-through” taxation, because the business Profit and Loss passes through the business to be taxed on your personal tax return
  • Tax is based on your personal income level and is taxed at graduated rates
  • File your personal income tax on Federal Form 1040 and all business information on Schedule C, Profit or Loss from the business
  • Self-Employment tax is required if your annual net-earnings is more than $400
  • Net Earnings is determined by tracking both the revenue earned and the corresponding acceptable business expense

What to Do:

Self-Employment requires both basic accounting and additional tax reporting

Accounting:

Maintain a Basic Profit & Loss Statement to determine Net Earnings per Quarter

  • A Profit & Loss statement is needed to determine if you owe income tax and self employment tax
  • If expenses are less than income, the difference is Net Profit
  • If expenses are more than income, the difference is Net Loss
  • Losses may be limited on your tax return
  • Expense definition may differ for “books” and “tax”
  • Tax requires that certain expenses “be capitalized” and expensed over a period of time

Income includes:

IRS Form 1099-Miscellaneous (1099-M)- Income

The Gig Economy is also known as the 1099 Economy because Independent Contractors should receive this form from anyone that has paid them $600 or more during a tax year. The form is sent to both to you and to the IRS. This means, that yes, you need to report the income – even if you did not receive your 1099-M form or if you were paid less than $600 from a single source.

IRS Form 1099-K- shows Income you received through payment processing platforms

  • PayPal and other merchants that process payments for your business will issue this form to you & yes, the IRS
  • The form is issued in settlement of third-party payment network transactions above the minimum reporting thresholds of $20K in transactions and 200 transactions
  • The income reported is the Gross amount of all reportable transactions
  • The Gross amount does not include any adjustments for credits, cash equivalents, discount amounts, fees, refunded amounts
  • The dollar amount of each transaction is determined on the date of the transaction
  • The 1099K only shows income paid to you; it does not include charge backs to your account or fees you paid
  • You are responsible for tracking your “income” – you certainly don’t want to pay tax on more than you actually received

Be aware that possible “double reporting” could occur – Reconcile to avoid  “overlap”:

  • Your clients could issue you a 1099-M and send a copy to the IRS
  • PayPal or another vendor could, theoretically, include this same income when they send you a 1099-K
  • Although it is not required, it is a good idea to at least review, if not reconcile, what is being reported as “income to you”
  • Consider creating a spreadsheet to Cross –Reference payments, for a 1099-M and 1099-K comparison

Business Expense:

1099 Income can be reduced by the related “ordinary and necessary” expense

  • Receipts and mileage logs must be maintained to support the deduction expense you claim on your tax forms
  • Mileage logs should include beginning and ending mileage, where you went, who you saw, and why you went (business purpose)
  • Receipts fade. Add notes in ink and then scan to preserve
  • Ordinary expense = Common or accepted in your trade or business
  • Necessary expense= Helpful or appropriate for your trade or business
  • The IRS code provides for allowable deductible expenses and the IRS can take the deductions away if records are not maintained

When: Tax Tips for Filing Requirements:

Federal, State, & Local Tax may need to be paid each Quarter

  • The IRS expects you to pay tax as the money is earned. If you operate on a calendar year, due dates are 4/15, 6/15, 9/15, and 1/15 for the previous year
  • Quarterly estimated tax payments should be paid if you expect to owe more than $1,000 in federal taxes
  • Use 1040ES- Individual Estimated Payments
  • Reconcile payments on your annual Year End tax return
  • File your federal return on Form 1040 and Schedule C- Profit or Loss from Business (Sole Proprietor)
  • Check to see what tax reporting is required by your state tax board and local municipality

Schedule C:

  • If you drive for Uber and also sell items on ETSY, a separate Schedule C is required for each source of business income.

Self-Employment tax of 15.30% is required on all Annual Net Earnings of more than $400

  • Sole Proprietors & Independent Contractors must pay both the employer and the employee side of Social Security and Medicare taxes; this is called Self-Employment tax
  • The 2015 SE tax rate on Net Earnings is 15.3% (12.4% social security tax plus 2.9% Medicare tax).
  • The Self-Employment tax rate is 15.3% of the first $118,500 of income and 2.9% of everything above that amount
  • If you also work as an employee, be careful that you do not overpay your Social Security tax. The $118,500 applies to your combined wages, tips, and net earnings
  • Self-Employment taxes are reported on Federal Form Schedule SE
  • Sole Proprietors can deduct ½ of this cost on 1040-Line 27, the deductible part of self-employment tax

Tips for Financial Success:

  • Don’t Co-Mingle Personal & Business Money – keep separate accounts
  • Maintaining separate accounts helps to show your business intent of making a profit
  • Use tax planning for better cash flow management
  • Profitability is the goal for most small business and one great tool to get there is to use the tax laws that are designed to help your success

Action Steps:

  • Fine tune your DIY process and use the above information as a guide – schedule time to review financials and calendar dates for payments
  • If you want some help or prefer a “Do it for Me” process, contact me for an introductory special

Your Success matters to me.

My intent is to use my blog to educate and empower others by teaching tax rules to save you money.        Thanks for reading!

You either master money, or on some level, money Masters you” – Scot Alan Turner

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA is working to make a difference in peoples lives and wallets, by helping them build and protect their financial health. Her mission is to be an affordable & accessible resource to help answer money questions for individuals and small business. She can help by being your compass while you captain your ship. 

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations and is available for appointments – including remote. More information is available at http://www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com