Don’t Rely Upon SALY

IMG_1129

In the income tax world, tax professionals often cringe when a client tells them that their information is the “same as last year.”  The acronym for this is SALY.

SALY information is dangerous and should always be avoided; this is true for income tax and for many other situations as well.  A Best Practice is for Business Owners to review their operations, on at least an annual basis, to ensure that which was true last year, still remains true for the current year. Don’t rely upon SALY.

Owners and/or Managers may be accustomed to an annual review for select items. Let’s use insurance as an example. Each year, before you renew your business insurance policies, you need to provide current exposures, to be used as underwriting criteria, to price your renewal policies correctly:

  • Building and Personal Property values
  • Payroll, by classification, for Worker’s Compensation
  • Vehicle and Driver information for your Auto policy

Smaller items, if not watched, could “fall through the crack” and roll over, year after year, with the SALY data.  While this may be the easy way to do it, it can also lead to the expensive way to do it. Financial penalties and/or legal costs can be costly.

Checklists are recommended tools for process improvement. Regular and thorough use can reduce errors, improve safety, and potentially save money, which can improve or protect the bottom line on our financial statements.

I encourage you to consider creating a checklist with items to be reviewed each year, on/about the same date, and to briefly document and date your answers. A process like this is good risk management and may provide a little audit insurance, if you are audited, because it shows you know, you reviewed, and you documented. At least you tried.

If you want to create a year-end checklist, here are 3 ideas to help get you started :

  1. Do the people you pay as an Independent Contractor, work in that capacity, by IRS standards or should they now be Employees? Use the IRS 20 factor control test as a guide.
  2. Do you pay your Employment Tax Return obligations on time? The Required Deposit can change from Monthly to Semi-Weekly. IRS PUB 15 shows: “Before the beginning of each calendar year, you must determine which of the two deposit schedules you’re required to use.” This is important because a deposit penalty may be accessed for every time you do not pay on time.
  3. Do you know who is a Responsible Party at your company for “Trust Fund Taxes”? Do they know too?

The 3rd suggestion is a bit of a curveball (Baseball Sidebar: I am excited because the World Series starts tonight), and is included to build awareness for something most business people, generally, do not know, but should, if it applies to them. This isn’t important if payroll taxes are always fully paid, on time. However, if they are not, IRS PUB 15 Employers Tax Guide shows:

Trust Fund Recovery Penalty :

If federal income, social security, or Medicare taxes that must be withheld (that is, trust fund taxes) aren’t withheld or aren’t deposited or paid to the U.S. Treasury, the trust fund recovery penalty may apply. The penalty is 100% of the unpaid trust fund tax. If these unpaid taxes can’t be immediately collected from the employer or business, the trust fund recovery penalty may be imposed on all persons who are determined by the IRS to be responsible for collecting, accounting for, or paying over these taxes, and who acted willfully in not doing so.

Responsible Person as :

A responsible person can be an officer or employee of a corporation, a partner or employee of a partnership, an accountant, a volunteer director/trustee, or an employee of a sole proprietorship, or any other person or entity that is responsible for collecting, accounting for, or paying over trust fund taxes. A responsible person also may include one who signs checks for the business or otherwise has authority to cause the spending of business funds.

Closing Thoughts :

Education can prevent problems; hopefully, you learned something today by taking the time to read my blog. I wrote it to help you avoid financial risk and also avoid, potentially, learning the hard way by experience.

Fall is the perfect time to work on your business to prepare for year-end close and a new year. When winter arrives on 12/21, most of us are out of time and are busy with family, holidays, and work.

If I can answer questions or help you, please let me know. Thanks for Reading,

Deb

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth though education, strategy, and proactive tax planning. 

She offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. 

Website: https://www.DeborahFoxCPA.com

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

The blog is provided as general information only and should not be considered a substitute for specific advice and services of a Certified Public Accountant, Enrolled Agent, or an Attorney

Creating Freedom – in honor of the 4th of July

In honor of our 4th of July holiday, I searched for the word freedom and then discovered a new word. Ataraxic and, playfully, I decided it is a “condition” that I want to “suffer” from. What does it mean? One simple definition is “freedom from worry”.  Can you imagine?

Worry, is something nobody likes to do and most people want to avoid. We know that worrying is a waste of time & energy. We also know that it does not get it us anywhere, kind of like expecting to move forward when we rock in a rocking chair.

Ok, so maybe, we try not to worry, but at best, we are at least sometimes pre-occupied with thoughts that concern us. We think about our financial situation, our health, our families, friends, and of our longevity.

In case you are wondering how this might fit with my goal of providing “financial wellness” please read on and let me explain.

Living longer gives us more of an opportunity to enjoy life. It also creates more of a financial risk. Will our money last as long as we do?

Regardless of our age, thinking about this is important. Planning and preparing is imperative. In fact, those that are younger, have the greatest opportunity to plan and prepare. Those that are a bit older are more limited, and yet would still benefit from reviewing the following:

Benchmark how much money you need when you “retire”:

  • How much do you need to live each year?
  • Generally, it is not safe to assume you will just spend less; i.e. health care costs can increase as we age and you may travel more

How are you going to pay for it?

  • Social Security?
  • Pension or Retirement Funds?
  • Savings or Investments?
  • Working Part-Time?

How many years does your money need to last?

  • The Social Security website has a calculator that you can use to estimate your longevity

Note that woman, in particular, might want to save more money than their typical male counterparts. Why?

  •  Statistics show, that woman, on average, are paid less than a man
  • Women might leave the job market to have children and thus can earn less, over their lifetime
  •  Earning less could result in a lower Social Security benefit

Let’s suppose that you decide that you want to continue working part-time until you reach your “Full Retirement Age” or even post-pone retirement until the maximum age of 70 when you must start drawing upon your Social Security Benefit. Doing this can pay big dividends, in the form of increased monthly payments.

There is one big caveat to this plan and this, too, we can try and plan for. Generally, we must have our health to build wealth.

One of the greatest assets we have is the ability to produce an income. It has been said that our health is the new wealth. The ability to produce an income is part of our wealth.

We were all born with free will. As Americans, we have the liberty to pursuit our happiness and our freedom of choice. Planning today and saving for tomorrow creates more freedom of choice, in the long-term.

John Wayne said, “ Tomorrow hopes that we learned something from yesterday”.

I like to say, “Hope is not a good financial strategy. Plan, act, achieve and may you always have a reason to smile”.

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets. Although she earned her CPA in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointments.

 

What you don’t know can hurt you

RiskIgnorance may be bliss, but what you don’t know, can also hurt you.

You work hard for your money. You want to enjoy it, stretch it, and protect it.  Personal Risk Management is a way to protect your money. It is a systematic process of evaluating the chance of loss and then taking steps to combat the potential risk by practicing risk avoidance, using contractual indemnification, or by purchasing insurance.

One example of risk avoidance is if a sole-proprietor choses to incorporate and thus limits their personal liability exposure.

Contractual indemnification is a common clause in many contracts. Black’s Law Dictionary defines indemnity as a ““a duty to make good any loss, damage, or liability incurred by another.” Indemnity has a general meaning of holding one harmless; that is to say, that one party holds the other harmless for some loss or damage. Indemnification protects you against personal liability.

Insurance helps to stop an insured “loss” from being a financially life-changing event.

Most people probably find insurance boring and reading insurance contracts even more so. As a CPA, with the Associate in Risk Management (ARM) designation, I enjoy looking for the “devil in the details”. It is one way I provide value to others.

The goal of this blog is to plant some seeds of thought, initiate action, and provide you some “sleep insurance” because you took the time to evaluate, know, and feel comfortable with your financial position.  Factors to consider include:

Limits and Exposure:

  • Know what you have to protect:  What is your net worth; i.e. how much could you lose?
  • What type of losses are you covered for?
  • What percentage of your net-worth is protected by insurance and what amount is left “self-insured” in the event of a loss?

Property:

  • Do you know that if you do not buy the correct property insurance limit that you could be held financially responsible, for a portion of the loss? This is called the co-insurance requirement; read your policy
  • What does your insurance cover you for?
  • Do you have a property “named peril” or an “all-risk” policy? A Named Peril policy only provides coverage for the peril specifically named. An All Risk policy provides coverage for all losses not specifically excluded from coverage
  • If you do not have an All Risk policy, your fire policy might include “extended coverage”. Rev Shaw is an easy acronym to see what might be covered other than loss caused by a fire. R=Riot, E=explosion, V=Vehicle; S=smoke; H=hail; A=aircraft; W=Wind

Liability:

  • How do you determine the policy limit that you buy on your auto, homeowners, or Business Owners Policy? Do you buy the minimum limit or do you also have an Umbrella policy that responds in the event that a loss exceeds your primary limit?
  • In a Money magazine 2/5/14 article, Ed Charlebois of Travelers Insurance said “More than 80% of umbrella losses are auto-related,” If you remodel, does your general contractor make sure that the subcontractors are covered for worker’s compensation and general liability? Do you own a swimming pool, hot tub, or boat that increases your risk/exposure for a loss?
  • If you are a business owner, do your contracts require you to name others as an Additional Insured on your policy? Do you know that this means you are sharing your policy limit (s) with others? Is your defense coverage included in your policy limit?

Your insurance agent can help you review the type of coverage you buy. From a risk management perspective, insurance agents/brokers generally will not tell you how much insurance to buy; this increases their liability.  Likewise, I would not suggest limits either. I could, however, help you determine your exposed net worth and help you review how well you are covered from a property/casualty (liability) perspective.

Warren Buffet said, “Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing”.  Take the time to know and sleep well tonight.

Deb Fox is working to “make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets”. Although she earned her CPA designation in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others protect their financial health and is available for side –by- side, remote, or mobile appointments.

Website: www.debfoxfinancial.com

E-mail: debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Where is “The Help?”

We have a need. We have a want. Where is The Help?

Where is the help if we want to talk to an affordable professional about our money?

The Need:

Many of us worry about our money situation because of consumer debt, student debt, limited savings, or the ability to retire.

We might worry, but talking about our money is not something we like to do. A recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) showed that we would rather tell people how much we weigh than the amount of our credit card debit or our FICO score. Many of us are embarrassed.

We might not want to talk about our money situation, but we also know that we could benefit if we did. We know what we don’t know or understand.  We might be comfortable not thinking about it, but this only allows anxiety to grow and does not change anything. A comfort zone can be a beautiful place to be, but nothing ever grows there.

The Want:

We all need and want financial stability.

We might know what to do with our money and just not do it. We know that we need to spend less than we make, but doing that is hard. It can also be hard to save and not spend. We have heard, pay your self first, but do we? We leave money on the table by not getting the full company match for our 401k plans at work.

Most of us were not taught how to manage our finances when we were in school.  We learned the hard way: through trial and error and through the “school of hard knocks”.

Increasingly, we want financial literacy taught in our schools. Students need to learn how to balance their bank account, manage debt, credit, and avoid financial traps.  In short, we want our children or the youth of our community to be better prepared than we were.

The Help:

Clearly, we have a need and a want. Where can we go for affordable help?

Historically, formal financial planning services were designed for and enjoyed by those who had large sums of money to protect. Comprehensive Financial Plans are expensive and time consuming to prepare. Financial Planning service firms may have provided this service at a nominal cost and made their money by selling insurance or investment products or by providing investment management services.  This works well for people who have plenty of money and the need for a comprehensive plan.

Where is the help for those that have less money?

Where is the help for those that do not yet need comprehensive financial plans, but have questions about their money?

Where is The Help for the:

  • Young Adult?
  • Young Career?
  • Young Family?
  • Families living paycheck to paycheck?
  • Working Poor?
  • Shrinking Middle Class?

Over the last few years, service providers have started to pop up. The marketplace had a void and some are stating to fill it, including me. I want to make financial planning, understanding, and capability more accessible for this underserved market for both individuals and small business owners.

For personal finance, maybe you would like to:

  • Talk about your money situation, evaluate, prioritize, act, and build confidence about your economic future?
  • Learn to use a systematic approach to evaluate a financial decision?
  • Have a mentor/friend to help empower you to become more accountable?

For the entrepreneur or small business owner, would you benefit by learning new business skills about:

  • Pro-Forma financials for your business plan?
  • Budgets and cash flow?
  • Tax planning?

For those that like to read and learn on your own, there are a lot of good resources out there to help you.  I have resources listed on my website at www.debfoxfinancial.com. I also blog, post frequently on my Facebook page and share information on Twitter.

Perhaps, you learn best by working “one on one” and would benefit by having the opportunity to ask financial questions and then work together, as a team, to learn, grow, and achieve your financial goals.

I believe that the scope of financial services should be broader than is currently available and want to use my expertise and experience to help others.  We could work together on one project, many projects, or perhaps, I can just be a resource for financial information?

Execution matters. I can help. It is important that you know that I would not tell you what to do.  I can be a financial compass and help you sort through choices and evaluate the potential costs and the benefits of the available options. You decide what is best for you.

I am a financial literacy advocate and want to provide affordable financial solutions by providing meaningful, actionable, advice. If you can afford a personal fitness trainer; you could afford “one on one” help from me.

Takeaways:

  • Decisions made today affect the options available to you in the future
  • What you do today with “Your Present Self” has a direct impact on “Your Future Self”
  • An investment in you today can result in a financially stronger you tomorrow
  • Financial strength brings more freedom of choice

“Tell me and I’ll forget. Teach me & I may remember. Involve me & I learn” – Benjamin Franklin

Deb Fox is working to “make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets”. Although she earned her CPA designation in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others. She does not give investment advice; this is outside her areas of expertise. She can help with financial planning, tax, accounting, and commercial property and casualty insurance questions.

Website: www.debfoxfinancial.com

E-mail: debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

 

Have you reviewed your legal business structure for tax savings and/or liability?

Tax Time is a great time to review your business financial life and determine if there are changes you can make to help you keep more of the money your earn in your pocket. One way to do this is to see if your legal business structure provides you the best opportunity for tax savings and/ or more limited liability.

In the U.S., there are four major legal choices to chose from when deciding how to operate your business: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and the limited liability company. There are also variations within these categories, such as the S-corporation.

Making this decision is complicated and both an attorney and an accountant should be consulted to provide information to help you decide which form may be best for your business. Factors to consider include:

  • Legal Liability
  • Tax implications
  • Cost of formation and record keeping
  • Flexibility
  • Future needs

As someone with both an accounting and risk management background, I look at choices from both perspectives. The number side of me wants to find out if there is a way to save money. The risk management part of me wants to make sure we are protecting the money we have. The following business entity review focuses upon these two aspects.

Liability can arise from negligence, statutory law, and assumption by contract. The risk of potential liability varies by business entity form.

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 or Schedule F, Profit or Loss from the business
  • Sole Proprietors must pay both the employer and the employee side of Social Security and Medicare taxes; this is called Self-Employment tax
  • Self-Employment tax is required if your annual net-earnings is more than $400
  • The self-employment tax rate for 2014 is 15.3% of the first $117,000 of income and 2.9% of everything above that amount
  • 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 

Partnership: Two or More

  • General Partnerships: Partners are exposed to unlimited liability for business expenses
  • Limited Partnerships: General Partner is personally liable; Limited Partners have limited liability unless they are participating in management
  • Depending on the form, Partners may lose their investment and/or personal assets as well
  • Partners are not employees and should not be issued a W-2
  • Partnerships file an annual information return on Federal Form 1065; Schedule K1 form is used for the individual member’s profit and loss allocations
  • Individual Partners file their personal tax information on Federal Form 1040 and Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss
  • Taxable at the personal income level and at the graduated rates
  • File Self-Employment tax on Schedule SE; see Sole Proprietor for additional information

C-Corporation: Double-Taxation applies

  • Separate legal entity that exists, separately and is distinct from its owners
  • Owners’ personal assets are protected from claims against the corporation
  • Generally, the owners of a corporation cannot lose any more than they have invested in the corporation
  • The corporation is taxed and can be held legally liable for its actions
  • Double-Taxation applies: the profit of a corporation is taxed to the corporation when earned, and then is taxed to the shareholders when distributed as dividends
  • Owners do not pay tax on corporate earnings unless they receive money as compensation for services or as dividends
  • The corporation pays taxes on the annual net earnings and files Federal Form 1120
  • Corporate owners, who want to leave some profit in the business, may benefit from lower corporate rates
  • For example, 2013 corporate tax rates are 15% for taxable income below $50K, plus 25% for taxable income between $50K-$75K; perhaps, lower than individual rates
  • Corporate taxation is more complicated than the pass-through taxation
  • Self-Employment tax does not apply; FICA payroll taxes are shared 50/50 between the corporation and the employee

Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Single Member

  • An LLC is an entity created by state statute
  • LLCs are state entities, so the level of legal protection given to a company’s owners depends upon the rules of the state in which the LLC was formed
  • Tax reporting depends on the status of the LLC
  • Depending on elections made by the LLC and the number of members, the IRS will treat an LLC either as a corporation, partnership, or as part of the owner’s tax return; i.e. a disregarded entity
  • An LLC with only one member is treated as an entity disregarded as separate from its owner for income tax purposes unless it files Form 8832 and elects to be treated as a corporation
  • If a single-member LLC does not elect to be treated as a corporation, the LLC is a “disregarded entity,” and the LLC’s activities should be reflected on its owner’s federal tax return on Federal Form 1040 and Schedule C, Schedule E, or Schedule F
  • An individual owner of a single-member LLC that operates a trade or business is subject to the tax on net earnings from self employment in the same manner as a sole proprietorship
  • A domestic LLC with at least two members is classified as a partnership for federal income tax purposes unless it files Federal Form 8832 and elects to be treated as a corporation
  • All income, gain, loss, and deduction flow through to members unless the LLC is taxed as C-Corp
  • No double taxation unless the LLC choses to file as a corporation
  • Taxable at the personal income level and at the graduated rates
  • Self-Employment Tax applies except if the LLC operates as C-Corp
  • File Self-Employment tax on Schedule SE; see Sole Proprietor for additional information

Subchapter S-Corporation (S-Corp): Double Taxation does not apply

  • Separate legal entity
  • Limited liability for shareholders, officers, and directors
  • Generally, a corporation’s shareholders are not personally liable for the corporations debts just because they have ownership in the business; the same is true for the members of an LLC
  • S corporations are corporations that elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes
  • Generally, the S-Corp does not pay Income Tax at the Corporate level; they can be responsible for tax on certain built-in gains and passive income at the entity level
  • Self-Employment tax does not apply
  • Many small business owners use S-Corps because they can save a business owner Social Security and Medicare taxes
  • Owners receive a salary and normal payroll taxes apply
  • As an owner-employee, the corporation pays ½ of the payroll tax which can be a substantial tax savings to the owner-employee
  • An S corporation must pay reasonable employee compensation to a shareholder-employee in return for the services the employee provides before a distribution
  • File S-Corp informational return on Federal Form 1120-S
  • Income, gain, loss, and deduction is passed through to share holders
  • Shareholder-employees will receive two tax documents from the S-Corporation: a W-2 wage statement and a Schedule K-1 statement
  • Shareholders report the flow-through of income and losses on their personal tax returns; taxed are based upon the individual income tax rates
  • Double-Taxation does not apply
  • Shareholder-employees are taxed on their salary income and on any profits distributed by the S-Corporation
  • Profit distribution is not subject to FICA payroll taxes; salaries paid must be reasonable for services provided
  • Shareholder-Employees file Federal Form 1040 and Schedule E – Supplemental Income and Loss
  • Under California law, the S corporation is subject to a 1.5 percent tax on its net income
  • See if special tax rules apply in your state

Understandably, reading about tax implications and legal liability might seem a bit boring. Most would agree. Think about it this way:

  • Money saved is money you do not need to earn
  • Knowing you are protected is a good form of “sleep insurance”

Chinese Proverb: To open a shop is easy; to keep it open is an art.

Deb Fox can be reached via twitter @ debfoxfinancial or via e-mail @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com/