- Are you a hobby or a business? This may seem basic to some people, but the first thing you’ll have to consider when starting out is whether you really are operating a business, or pursuing a hobby. A hobby can look like a business, but essentially it’s something you do for its own sake that may or may not turn a profit. A true business is generally run for the purpose of making money and has a reasonable expectation of turning a profit. The benefit of operating as a business is that you have more tax tools available to you, such as being able to deduct your losses.
- Pick your business structure. If you operate as a business, you’ll have to choose whether it will be taxed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation or C corporation. All entities except C corporations “pass through” their business income onto your personal tax return. The decision gets more complicated if you legally organize your business as a limited liability corporation (LLC). In this case you will need to choose your tax status as either a partnership or an S corporation. Each tax structure has its benefits and downsides – it’s best to discuss what is best for you.
- Apply for tax identification numbers. In most cases, your business will have to apply for an employer identification number (EIN) from both the federal and state governments.
- Select an accounting method. You’ll have to choose whether to use an accrual or cash accounting method. Generally speaking, the accrual method means your business revenue and expenses are recorded when they are billed. In the cash method, revenue and expenses are instead recorded when you are paid. There are federal rules regarding which option you may use. You will also have to choose whether to operate on a calendar year or fiscal year.
- Create a plan to track financials. Operating a business successfully requires continuous monitoring of your financial condition. This includes forecasting your financials and tracking actual performance against your projections. Too many businesses fail in the first couple of years because they fail to understand the importance of cash flow for startup operations. Don’t let this be you.
- Prepare for your tax requirements. Business owners generally will have to make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS. If you have employees, you’ll have to pay your share of their Social Security and Medicare taxes. You also have the obligation to withhold your employees’ share of taxes, Social Security and Medicare from their wages. Your personal income tax return can also get more complicated if you operate as one of the “pass-through” business structures.
Starting your own business can be equal parts thrilling and intimidating. Complying with regulations and tax requirements definitely falls into the latter category. But, with some professional help, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can get started with this checklist of things you’ll need to consider.
Have you ever thought about bartering as a way to get the goods and services you need for your business? A growing number of businesses are finding ways to use the bartering system as a means to avoid using up their company’s cash.
A simple bartering arrangement involves two parties trading items of similar value. For example, let’s say your business owns a building located next to a telephone company. An internet service provider might be interested in storing its services in an unused portion of your basement. Instead of paying rent, they offer to provide you with a high-speed internet connection and website.
Complicated bartering may now take place through bartering clubs that give members credits for items or services they contribute. Members can then use the credits to pay for goods or services offered by other club members. This service offers a convenience to businesses, as it can be difficult to find the businesses that offer what you are looking for when searching on your own.
It’s important to note that there are income tax consequences to bartering. To be safe, view your trades as if cash changed hands, since the goods and services are valued for tax purposes at their fair market values and taxed accordingly. Also, a bartering arrangement does not always result in a deduction immediately equal to the income you recognized. You might provide a service and recognize income immediately in exchange for some equipment you will end up depreciating over several years.
Please call us if you need more information about implementing bartering as a strategy to help your business.
For almost the entire past decade, interest rates held steady at near-zero levels. Then, in mid-December 2015, the Federal Reserve raised rates by one-quarter percentage point. Market watchers and economists expect further rate increases in the coming months. How will you be affected?
Technically speaking, only the federal funds rate was adjusted in December. That’s the short-term rate that credit-worthy banks and credit unions use to lend each other money. But any interest rate revisions can cause a ripple effect throughout the economy. Accordingly, the Federal Reserve’s actions probably will exert at least a moderate influence over financial choices you make at home and in your business in 2016 and beyond.
For example, as a consumer, you stand to gain from rising interest rates because you’ll likely earn a better return on your deposits. Over the last ten years, placing your money in a certificate of deposit or passbook savings account has been hardly more profitable than stuffing it under a mattress. On the other hand, the cost of borrowing money will likely increase. As a result, mortgages, car loans, and credit cards will demand higher interest rates. That’s not a big deal if you’re already locked into low-interest fixed-rate loans. But if you have a variable rate loan or carry balances on your credit cards, you may find your monthly payments climbing upward.
On the investment front, market volatility may increase because rate increases are not completely predictable. Market sectors will likely exhibit varied responses to changes in interest rates. Those sectors that are less dependent on discretionary income may be less affected. After all, you need to buy gas, clothes, and groceries regardless of changes in interest rates.
As you adjust your financial plan, you might only need to make minor changes. Staying the course with a well-diversified portfolio is still a prudent strategy. However, you may want to review your investment allocations.
Rising interest rates can also affect your business. If your company’s balance sheet is loaded with variable-rate debt, rising interest rates can affect your bottom line and your plans for growth. As the cost of borrowing increases, taking out loans for new equipment or financing expansion with credit may become less desirable.
Got questions? Contact us. We’ll help you decide the most beneficial response to current and potential future changes in interest rates.
The “time value of money” is a critical concept in handling personal finances. The same basic premise can be applied in making decisions for your business.
Here’s how it works: Typically, the money you currently have in your hands is worth more than it would be years from now. That’s because you’re able to spend or invest the funds now instead of waiting to receive them. In other words, there’s an “opportunity cost” attached to any delay.
For example, let’s say you’re entitled to a $100 payment. If you receive the $100 now and you’re able to invest it at a 5% annual interest rate, you’ll have $105 after one year. Assuming you don’t need the money for expenses, it will be worth $110.25 after two years, and so on. This amount is known as the “future value” of the money.
Similarly, you can compute the “present value” of money. Suppose you won’t receive the $100 payment until one year from now. The value of the money must be discounted due to the opportunity cost. Using the same 5% interest rate, the present value of the $100 you’ll receive a year from now is $95.24 ($100 value divided by 1.05).
It’s easy to see how this concept can affect your business. Accelerating payments from customers will enable you to better meet your current obligations and provide reserves for investment. On the other hand, delays hamper cash flow and reduce the opportunity for investment. Computing the time value of money may also encourage you to lease, rather than buy, assets.
The time value of money is an important factor in business decisions. For help running the numbers and analyzing the results, give us a call.
Breakeven analysis is an important and useful tool in business. Whether you're starting a new business, expanding current operations, contemplating an acquisition, downsizing, or approaching banks and other potential lenders, you'll want to know your breakeven.
Breakeven is defined as the point at which costs equal income – no profit, no loss. It's an excellent starting point for finding out where your business is and where it can go. Breakeven is the first step in planning future growth. It shows how much sales volume you need to cover fixed and variable expenses. Once your company has reached breakeven, all gross profit beyond that point goes directly to improving the bottom line.
Of course, breakeven analysis has limitations. For example, it ignores the importance of cash flow and makes the assumption that fixed and variable expenses will stay within the parameters used to calculate the breakeven point. Despite these shortcomings, breakeven can help with business planning.
Here's how to calculate your business's breakeven.
First, review your annual financial statement to learn your fixed and variable expenses. Fixed expenses are those that don't generally vary in relation to sales volume. Rent, for example, usually stays constant no matter the amount of your sales. The same is typically true for depreciation, utilities, and insurance.
Variable expenses are the cost of goods sold and other costs of sales, such as direct labor and sales commissions.
What about costs that are part fixed and part variable? Split these into separate categories based on your knowledge of your business.
Next, compute your gross profit percentage by dividing your net sales less your cost of goods sold by your net sales. Then divide your fixed costs by your gross profit percentage to arrive at breakeven.
Example. Say your fixed costs are $10,000 and your gross profit percentage is 25%. Your breakeven point is sales of $40,000 ($10,000 ÷ 25% = $40,000).
Too much math? Call us. We're happy to help you calculate your business's breakeven point and evaluate your profit structure.
For many companies, inventory is a significant dollar amount on the company's financial statements. So it's crucial that recorded inventory balances reflect actual values. When such accounts aren't properly stated, the cost of goods sold and current ratios – numbers that often matter to decision makers – may be skewed. If banks discover that your company's inventory accounts are overstated, they may not extend credit. If, when necessary, inventories aren't "written down" (their values lowered in the accounting records), fraud may go undetected or the company's net profits may appear unrealistically rosy.
Inventories decline in value for a variety of reasons. You might be in the business of selling electronic equipment to retail customers. Over time, yesterday's "latest and greatest" gadgets become today's ho-hum commodities. Such goods still have value, but they can't be sold at last year's prices. Your inventory is experiencing "obsolescence."
Inventory "shrinkage" is another term that's often used to describe declining inventory values. Let's say you run a construction materials company. Unbeknownst to you, a dishonest supervisor is skimming goods from your shelves. A periodic inventory count that's compared to your company's general ledger might show that inventory is declining faster than it's being sold. As a result, you may decide to investigate and to reduce inventory values in your accounting records.
Other examples of shrinkage might include a clothing store that loses inventory due to shoplifting or a warehouse facility that's hit by a storm. In both cases, inventories may need to be written down in the company books to more accurately reflect actual values. Under another scenario, a shady supplier might bill your company for goods that aren't actually shipped or received. If invoices are recorded in your accounting records at full cost, your inventory may end up being overstated.
For some companies, several sources feed into inventory values. A manufacturing concern, for example, might add all the expenses needed to prepare goods for sale – including factory overhead, shipping fees, and raw material costs – into inventory accounts. When those supporting costs fluctuate, inventory accounts are often affected.
To ensure that your inventory numbers remain accurate, it's a good idea to conduct regular physical counts and routinely analyze the accounts for shrinkage, obsolescence, and other evidence of diminishing value.
In a survey of small businesses conducted by the National Small Business Association, 59% of respondents said taxes were more of an administrative burden than a financial one. Most businesses put payroll taxes at the top of the list of taxes with the greatest administrative burden. Payroll taxes also outranked other taxes, such as income, property, and sales taxes, as the top financial burden to businesses.
If you own or manage your own business, you're probably busy monitoring operations and dealing with everyday problems. But there are a few things that you should make time to do every year. These are important for your long-term business and personal success.
1. Review your business insurance coverage.
Don't just automatically write a check to renew your insurance policies when they come due. Instead, you should sit down with your insurance agent every year. Review your business operations, focusing on any changes. Discuss types of risk that could arise. Ask about new developments in business insurance. Use your agent's expertise to identify risk areas and suggest suitable coverage.
2. Review your business tax strategy.
A month or so after you've filed your tax return, make an appointment with your tax advisor. Go over your return together and identify opportunities for tax savings. Question everything, starting with whether you're using the right form of business entity. Ask about recent changes in the tax code and how they might benefit your business. Make your advisor a "partner" in your business strategy.
3. Update succession planning for your business.
Review your succession planning annually. You should have a specific plan for each key manager position, including yourself. Be prepared for a short-term absence or a permanent vacancy. Your plan might mean promoting from within or recruiting externally. But an up-to-date plan can be invaluable if you have an unexpected vacancy.
4. Review your business banking relationships.
Annually, you should go over your cash balances and banking relationships with your controller or CFO. Then both of you should meet with your banker. Ask about new products or services that could help your company. Address any service concerns or problems you might have had. Look for ways to reduce idle cash, boost interest earned, and improve cash flows.
5. Review and update your personal estate planning.
If you're a business owner, your company is likely to be a significant part of your estate. A good estate plan is essential if you hope to pass a business on to your heirs. But your company, your personal circumstances, and the tax laws are continually changing. You should meet with your estate planner annually to make sure your plans are current.
Let us and your attorney assist you with the reviews and planning necessary to your business's long-term success. Give our office a call.
To grow or not to grow is a decision most successful small businesses face at some point. There can be opportunity and profit in growth, but there can be perils and risks as well. What should you as a business owner consider when you are faced with this important decision?
► BENEFITS. First, analyze the potential benefits of expanding your business.
► RISKS. Next, take a look at the risks your business faces if you expand operations.
If your business is owned by two or more persons, a buy-sell agreement is one of the most important legal documents your business can have. This document provides for the "buyout" of an owner's interest when that owner leaves. Here are the areas that a buy-sell agreement should typically address.
Describe the events that will trigger the agreement, such as a divorce, disability, death, or notice that an owner simply wants to leave.
Set a value for each owner's interest, or provide a formula to value each interest at a later date. Your agreement might require an independent business appraisal.
Without a method to set the value, there could be some serious problems. Let's say you and your partner reach a point where you can no longer work together. You believe the company is worth $2 million. Your partner refuses to sell, but he makes you a $100,000, take-it or leave-it offer for your 50% interest. You could face a drawn-out legal battle to settle things.
Outline a funding plan. Different purchase and financing plans can be used to cover different situations. For example, cross-purchase agreements allow the remaining owners to buy an exiting owner's share. A redemption agreement allows the company to buy back an exiting owner's share. Financing options might include owner financing (an installment contract) or life insurance, in the case of an owner's death.
Prevent unwanted transfers. Generally owners don't want a business associate they didn't choose. Yet this could happen if one owner divorces, dies, or sells his shares to an outsider.
A buy-sell agreement is designed to provide fair compensation to an exiting owner, while making it possible for the remaining partners to continue in business. We can work with you and your attorney to develop a buy-sell agreement or to review your existing agreement. Call us.
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