Have you recently started a new business? Or are you contemplating starting one? Launching a new venture is a hectic, exciting time. And as you know, before you even open the doors, you generally have to spend a lot of money. You may have to train workers and pay for rent, utilities, marketing and more.
Entrepreneurs are often unaware that many expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be deducted right away. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your tax bill.
Key points on how expenses are handled
When starting or planning a new enterprise, keep these factors in mind:
- Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one.
- Under the federal tax code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins. We don’t need to tell you that $5,000 doesn’t go far these days! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
- No deductions or amortization write-offs are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business commences. That usually means the year when the enterprise has all the pieces in place to begin earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Has the activity actually begun?
Examples of expenses
Start-up expenses generally include all expenses that are incurred to:
- Investigate the creation or acquisition of a business,
- Create a business, or
- Engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business.
To be eligible for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example would be the money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.
To qualify as an “organization expense,” the outlay must be related to the creation of a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing the new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.
An important decision
Time may be of the essence if you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year. You need to decide whether to take the elections described above. Recordkeeping is important. Contact us about your business start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new venture. 205-345-9898 and email@example.com.
© 2019 CovenantCPA
In the course of operating your business, you probably spend time and money “wining and dining” current or potential customers, vendors and employees. What can you deduct on your tax return for these expenses? The rules changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but you can still claim some valuable write-offs.
No more entertainment deductions
One of the biggest changes is that you can no longer deduct most business-related entertainment expenses. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA disallows deductions for entertainment expenses, including those for sports events, theater productions, golf outings and fishing trips.
Meal deductions still allowed
You can still deduct 50% of the cost of food and beverages for meals conducted with business associates. However, you need to follow three basic rules in order to prove that your expenses are business related:
- The expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” in carrying on your business. This means your food and beverage costs are customary and appropriate. They shouldn’t be lavish or extravagant.
- The expenses must be directly related or associated with your business. This means that you expect to receive a concrete business benefit from them. The principal purpose for the meal must be business. You can’t go out with a group of friends for the evening, discuss business with one of them for a few minutes, and then write off the check.
- You must be able to substantiate the expenses. There are requirements for proving that meal and beverage expenses qualify for a deduction. You must be able to establish the amount spent, the date and place where the meals took place, the business purpose and the business relationship of the people involved.
Set up detailed recordkeeping procedures to keep track of business meal costs. That way, you can prove them and the business connection in the event of an IRS audit.
What if you spend money on food and beverages at an entertainment event? The IRS clarified in guidance (Notice 2018-76) that taxpayers can still deduct 50% of food and drink expenses incurred at entertainment events, but only if business was conducted during the event or shortly before or after. The food-and-drink expenses should also be “stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices or receipts,” according to the guidance.
Another related tax law change involves meals provided to employees on the business premises. Before the TCJA, these meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer were 100% deductible by the employer. Beginning in 2018, meals provided for the convenience of an employer in an on-premises cafeteria or elsewhere on the business property are only 50% deductible. After 2025, these meals won’t be deductible at all.
As you can see, the treatment of meal and entertainment expenses became more complicated after the TCJA. Your tax advisor can keep you up to speed on the issues and suggest strategies to get the biggest tax-saving bang for your business meal bucks. Contact us at 205-345-9898 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2019 CovenantCPA
It’s every business owner’s nightmare. Should hackers gain access to your customers’ or employees’ sensitive data, the very reputation of your company could be compromised. And lawsuits might soon follow.
No business owner wants to think about such a crisis, yet it’s imperative that you do. Suffering a data breach without an emergency response plan leaves you vulnerable to not only the damage of the attack itself, but also the potential fallout from your own panicked decisions.
5 steps to take
A comprehensive plan generally follows five steps once a data breach occurs:
1. Call your attorney. He or she should be able to advise you on the potential legal ramifications of the incident and what you should do or not do (or say) in response. Involve your attorney in the creation of your response plan, so all this won’t come out of the blue.
2. Engage a digital forensics investigator. Contact us for help identifying a forensic investigator that you can turn to in the event of a data breach. The preliminary goal will be to answer two fundamental questions: How were the systems breached? What data did the hackers access? Once these questions have been answered, experts can evaluate the extent of the damage.
3. Fortify your IT systems. While investigative and response procedures are underway, you need to proactively prevent another breach and strengthen controls. Doing so will obviously involve changing passwords, but you may also need to add firewalls, create deeper layers of user authentication or restrict some employees from certain systems.
4. Communicate strategically. No matter the size of the company, the communications goal following a data breach is essentially the same: Provide accurate information about the incident in a reasonably timely manner that preserves the trust of customers, employees, investors, creditors and other stakeholders.
Note that “in a reasonably timely manner” doesn’t mean “immediately.” Often, it’s best to acknowledge an incident occurred but hold off on a detailed statement until you know precisely what happened and can reassure those affected that you’re taking specific measures to control the damage.
5. Activate or adjust credit and IT monitoring services. You may want to initiate an early warning system against future breaches by setting up a credit monitoring service and engaging an IT consultant to periodically check your systems for unauthorized or suspicious activity. Of course, you don’t have to wait for a breach to do these things, but you could increase their intensity or frequency following an incident.
Data breaches are an inevitable risk of running a business in today’s networked, technology-driven world. Should this nightmare become a reality, a well-conceived emergency response plan can preserve your company’s goodwill and minimize the negative impact on profitability. We can help you budget for such a plan and establish internal controls to prevent and detect fraud related to (and not related to) data breaches. Call or email us today at 205-345-9898 or email@example.com.
© 2019 CovenantCPA
Absenteeism has typically been a thorn in the side of many companies. But there’s a flip side to employees failing to show up to work: “presenteeism.” This is when employees come in to work unwell or put in excessive overtime.
Now you probably appreciate and respect workers who are team players and go the extra mile. But employees who come to work when they aren’t operating at full physical or mental capacity may make mistakes, cause accidents, create confusion and ultimately hurt productivity. In other words, presenteeism can slowly and silently erode your bottom line unless you recognize and deal with it.
Address mental health
A common response to presenteeism is, “But we offer paid sick days.” Although paid sick days do generally help resolve incidences of a physical ailment or injury, they may not adequately address struggles with mental illness or extreme personal stress (such as a divorce or financial crisis). Some managers may raise an eyebrow at those taking a “mental health day,” so sufferers end up coming in to work when they really may need the day off.
How can you help? If you sponsor a health care plan, it likely offers coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment. Be sure employees are aware of this. Also, reinforce with employees that you’ll honor the sick-day provisions spelled out in your employee manual for all types of ailments (physical, mental and psychological). Train supervisors to support employees’ well-being and encourage those who need to take time off to do so if they need it.
Discourage excessive overtime
Another common cause of presenteeism is the perceived notion among many workers that they must work excessive overtime to prove themselves. Many companies still operate under an “old school” culture that says putting in extra overtime will make the boss happy and lead to quicker raises and promotions.
Generally, many managers assume that, if an employee is absent, his or her productivity must be suffering. Conversely, if that same employee is putting in extra time and skipping vacations, he or she must be highly productive. But these assumptions aren’t always true — they must be supported by a thorough, objective and analytical performance evaluation process.
You can prevent this type of presenteeism by strongly encouraging, if not strictly enforcing, vacation time. Communicate to employees your concerns about overworking and remind them to take advantage of the time off that they’ve earned. (Doing so can also deter fraud.)
Find the balance
Having a workforce full of dedicated, hard-working employees is still a goal that every business should strive for. But, at the same time, work-life balance is a concept that benefits both employers and employees. Our firm can help you analyze the numbers related to productivity that can help you make optimal decisions regarding staffing and workflow. Call us or email us today at 205-345-9898/ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Merger and acquisition activity has been brisk in recent years. If your business is considering merging with or acquiring another business, it’s important to understand how the transaction will be taxed under current law.
Stocks vs. assets
From a tax standpoint, a transaction can basically be structured in two ways:
1. Stock (or ownership interest). A buyer can directly purchase a seller’s ownership interest if the target business is operated as a C or S corporation, a partnership, or a limited liability company (LLC) that’s treated as a partnership for tax purposes.
The now-permanent 21% corporate federal income tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes buying the stock of a C corporation somewhat more attractive. Reasons: The corporation will pay less tax and generate more after-tax income. Plus, any built-in gains from appreciated corporate assets will be taxed at a lower rate when they’re eventually sold.
The TCJA’s reduced individual federal tax rates may also make ownership interests in S corporations, partnerships and LLCs more attractive. Reason: The passed-through income from these entities also will be taxed at lower rates on a buyer’s personal tax return. However, the TCJA’s individual rate cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2025, and, depending on future changes in Washington, they could be eliminated earlier or extended.
2. Assets. A buyer can also purchase the assets of a business. This may happen if a buyer only wants specific assets or product lines. And it’s the only option if the target business is a sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC that’s treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes.
Note: In some circumstances, a corporate stock purchase can be treated as an asset purchase by making a “Section 338 election.” Ask your tax advisor for details.
Buyer vs. seller preferences
For several reasons, buyers usually prefer to purchase assets rather than ownership interests. Generally, a buyer’s main objective is to generate enough cash flow from an acquired business to pay any acquisition debt and provide an acceptable return on the investment. Therefore, buyers are concerned about limiting exposure to undisclosed and unknown liabilities and minimizing taxes after the deal closes.
A buyer can step up (increase) the tax basis of purchased assets to reflect the purchase price. Stepped-up basis lowers taxable gains when certain assets, such as receivables and inventory, are sold or converted into cash. It also increases depreciation and amortization deductions for qualifying assets.
Meanwhile, sellers generally prefer stock sales for tax and nontax reasons. One of their main objectives is to minimize the tax bill from a sale. That can usually be achieved by selling their ownership interests in a business (corporate stock or partnership or LLC interests) as opposed to selling business assets.
With a sale of stock or other ownership interest, liabilities generally transfer to the buyer and any gain on sale is generally treated as lower-taxed long-term capital gain (assuming the ownership interest has been held for more than one year).
Keep in mind that other issues, such as employee benefits, can also cause unexpected tax issues when merging with, or acquiring, a business.
Professional advice is critical
Buying or selling a business may be the most important transaction you make during your lifetime, so it’s important to seek professional tax advice as you negotiate. After a deal is done, it may be too late to get the best tax results. Contact us for the best way to proceed in your situation. 205-345-9898 or email@example.com.
© 2019 CovenantCPA
As an individual, you’ve no doubt been urged to regularly check your credit score. Most people nowadays know that, with a subpar personal credit score, they’ll have trouble buying a home or car, or just getting a reasonable-rate credit card.
But how about your business credit score? It’s important for much the same reason — you’ll have difficulty obtaining financing or procuring the assets you need to operate competitively without a solid score. So, you’ve got to be vigilant about it.
Algorithms and data
Business credit scores come from various reporting agencies, such as Experian, Equifax and Dun & Bradstreet. Each agency has its own algorithm for calculating credit scores. Like personal credit scores, higher business credit scores equate with lower risk (and vice versa).
Credit agencies track your business by its employer identification number (EIN). They compile data from your EIN, including the company’s address, phone number, owners’ names and industry classification code. Agencies may also search the Internet and public records for bankruptcies, judgments and tax liens. Suppliers, landlords, leasing companies and other creditors may also report payment experiences with the company to credit agencies.
Timely bill payment is the biggest factor affecting your business credit score. But other important ones include:
Level of success. Higher net worth or annual revenues generally increase your credit score.
Structure. Corporations and limited liability companies tend to receive higher scores than sole proprietorships and partnerships because these entities’ financial identities are separate from those of their owners.
Industry. Some agencies keep track of the percentage of companies under the company’s industry classification code that have filed for bankruptcy. Participation in high-risk industries tends to lower a business credit score.
Track record. Credit agencies also look at the length and frequency of your company’s credit history. Once you establish credit, your business should periodically borrow additional money and then repay it on time to avoid the risk of being downgraded.
Business credit scores help lenders decide whether to approve your loan request, as well as the loan’s interest rate, duration and other terms. Unfortunately, some small businesses and start-ups may have little to no credit history.
Build your company’s credit history by applying for a company credit card and paying the balance off each month. Also put utilities and leases in your company’s name, so the business is on the radar of the credit reporting agencies.
Sometimes, credit agencies base their ratings on incomplete, false or outdated information. Monitor your credit score regularly and note any downgrades. In some cases, the agency may be willing to change your score if you contact them and successfully prove that a rating is inaccurate.
Maintaining a healthy business credit score should play a central role in how you manage your company’s finances. Contact us for help in using credit to help maintain your cash flow and build the bottom line. 205-345-9898 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2019 CovenantCPA
Because they foster a collegial, trusting environment, law firms can be more vulnerable to fraud than many other types of businesses. Enforcing internal controls may simply seem unnecessary in an office of professionals dedicated to the law. Unfortunately, occupational thieves can take advantage of such complacency.
A law firm’s accounting department — payroll and accounts payable and receivable — may be particularly vulnerable. To protect against financial losses and possible public embarrassment, implement and enforce five basic controls:
1. Screen employees. Require all prospective employees, regardless of level, to complete an employment application with written authorization permitting your firm to verify information provided. Then, call references and conduct background checks (or hire a service to do it). These checks search criminal and court records, pull applicants’ credit reports and driving records, and verify their Social Security numbers.
2. Use fraud-resistant documents. The design of financial documents can help ensure proper authorization of transactions, completeness of transaction histories and adherence to other control elements. For example, use prenumbered payment vouchers that a designated partner must approve.
3. Require authorization. Authorization procedures can help prevent transactions from occurring without proper approval. In the example above, the designated partner is the authorizing party. This control is effective because the partner is in a position to know what the transactions are and how they pertain to your firm’s clients. Similarly, restrict access by maintaining current signature cards at your bank and by protecting accounting and billing systems with difficult passwords.
4. Segregate duties. Some smaller firms assign the same person to open mail, make bank deposits, record book entries and reconcile monthly bank statements. In this environment, fraud’s not only possible — it’s likely. It’s critical that your firm distribute these tasks to two or more people.
5. Provide independent oversight. A designated partner should open all bank statements. Even if the partner doesn’t review every item individually, employees will get the message that transactions will be verified. Someone outside the accounting department, such as your firm’s CPA, might also review transactions as they’re processed and financial statements at the close of accounting cycle reconciliations.
Even if your firm is like family — especially if your firm is like family — you need to reduce fraud opportunities by strengthening internal controls. If you aren’t sure if your policies are adequate, or if you’ve experienced a fraud incident, contact us at 205-345-9898 or email@example.com.
© 2019 CovenantCPA
In the broadest sense, strategic planning comprises two primary tasks: establishing goals and achieving them. Many business owners would probably say the first part, coming up with objectives, is relatively easy. It’s that second part — accomplishing those goals — that can really challenge a company. The key to turning your strategic objectives into a reality is a solid implementation plan.
Start with people
After clearly identifying short- and long-range goals under a viable strategic planning process, you need to establish a formal plan for carrying it out. The most important aspect of this plan is getting the right people involved.
First, appoint an implementation leader and give him or her the authority, responsibility and accountability to communicate and champion your stated objectives. (If yours is a smaller business, you could oversee implementation yourself.)
Next, establish teams of carefully selected employees with specific duties and timelines under which to complete goal-related projects. Choose employees with the experience, will and energy to implement the plan. These teams should deliver regular progress reports to you and the implementation leader.
Watch out for roadblocks
On the surface, these steps may seem logical and foolproof. But let’s delve into what could go wrong with such a clearly defined process.
One typical problem arises when an implementation team is composed of employees wholly or largely from one department. Often, they’ll (inadvertently or intentionally) execute an objective in such a way that mostly benefits their department but ultimately hinders the company from meeting the intended goal.
To avoid this, create teams with a diversity of employees from across various departments. For example, an objective related to expanding your company’s customer base will naturally need to include members of the sales and marketing departments. But also invite administrative, production and IT staff to ensure the team’s actions are operationally practical and sustainable.
Another common roadblock is running into money problems. Ensure your implementation plan is feasible based on your company’s budget, revenue projections, and local and national economic forecasts. Ask teams to include expense reports and financial projections in their regular reports. If you determine that you can’t (or shouldn’t) implement the plan as written, don’t hesitate to revise or eliminate some goals.
Succeed at the important part
Strategic planning may seem to be “all about the ideas,” but implementing the specific goals related to your strategic plan is really the most important part of the process. Of course, it’s also the most difficult and most affected by outside forces. We can help you assess the financial feasibility of your objectives and design an implementation plan with the highest odds of success. Call or email us today 205-345-9898, firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2019 CovenantCPA
“I could sell water to a whale.”
Indeed, most salespeople possess an abundance of confidence. One could say it’s a prerequisite for the job. Because of their remarkable self-assurance, sales staffers might appear to be largely autonomous. Hand them something to sell, tell them a bit about it and let them do their thing — right?
Not necessarily. The sales department needs support just like any other part of a company. And we’re not just talking about office supplies and working phone lines. Here are five ways that your business can give its sales staff the support they really need:
1. Show them the data. Virtually every aspect of business is driven by analytics these days, but sales has been all about the data for decades. To keep up with the competition, provide your sales team with the most cutting-edge metrics. The right ones vary depending on your industry and customer base, but consider analytics such as lead conversion rate and quote-to-close.
2. Invest in sales training and upskilling. If you don’t train salespeople properly, they’ll face an uphill climb to success and may not stick around to get there with you. (This is often partly why sales staffs tend to have high turnover.) Once a salesperson is trained, offer continuing education — now commonly referred to as “upskilling” — to continue to enhance his or her talents.
3. Effectively evaluate employee performance. For sales staff, annual job reviews can boil down to a numbers game whereby it was either a good year or a bad one. Make sure your performance evaluations for salespeople are as comprehensive and productive as they are for any other type of employee. Sales goals should obviously play a role, but look for other professional development objectives as well.
4. Promote positivity, ethics and high morale. Sales is often a frustrating grind. It’s not uncommon for sales staff members to fall prey to negativity. This can manifest itself in various ways: bad interactions with customers, plummeting morale and, in worst cases, even unethical or fraudulent activities. Urge your supervisors to interact regularly with salespeople to combat pessimism and find ways to keep spirits high.
5. Regularly re-evaluate your compensation model. Finding the right way to compensate sales staff has challenged, if not perplexed, companies for years. Some businesses opt for commission only, others provide a salary plus commission. There are additional options as well, such as profit margin plans that compensate salespeople based on how well the company is doing.
If your compensation model is working well, you may not want to rock the boat. But re-evaluate its efficacy at least annually and don’t hesitate to explore other approaches. Our firm can help you analyze the numbers related to compensation as well as the metrics you’re using to track and assess sales. Call or email us! 205-345-9898 or email@example.com.
© 2019 CovenantCPA
For brick-and-mortar retailers, return fraud can be a serious financial threat. There are several types of schemes. But when they’re successful, they all end the same way: Stores issue refunds that they shouldn’t have. Here’s what to look for and how to limit losses.
Return fraud perpetrators could be customers, employees or even a criminal gang working with employee accomplices. In perhaps the most common scheme, an individual steals merchandise, and then returns it and insists on a cash refund, despite the lack of a receipt. Or a criminal steals merchandise from one retailer and then returns it to another for a cash refund.
Some thieves do supply receipts — but they’re fake. The “customer” hands over an altered or completely counterfeit receipt that the original payment was made in cash. The retailer then issues a full cash refund.
Other return fraud schemes might involve:
Stolen cards. The thief makes a purchase using a stolen credit card. He or she then returns the merchandise, usually on the same day (before the actual cardholder disputes the charge). The goal is a full cash refund.
Damaged goods. Instead of returning merchandise in new, as-sold condition, customers return items that are worn, damaged or broken. They distract the employee processing the refund from closely scrutinizing the merchandise with conversation or other diversions.
Crooked workers. An employee discounts merchandise and sells it to an accomplice who subsequently returns it to the same employee for a refund at full price. Workers might also steal merchandise and then instruct their accomplices to return it without a receipt for a cash refund.
You can reduce the incidence of return fraud by making it hard for thieves to get their hands on cash. Issue refunds only when they’re accompanied by an original receipt and only to credit cards. Scan receipts into your point of sale system to ensure they were produced by your store’s registers. If a purchase wasn’t made with a credit card — or if the customer doesn’t have the card on hand — refund it with a store credit. You may also want to ask the customer to produce identification.
To help limit employee-perpetrated return fraud, install security cameras, ensure strong management oversight and provide a confidential fraud reporting hotline. In addition, monitor the frequency and value of returns processed by individual cashiers and investigate employees with higher-than-average return numbers.
Walking a thin line
Although you don’t want to encourage crooks, you may think a generous return policy is essential to providing superior customer service. So that you don’t alienate legitimate customers, state your return policies clearly at every cash register and on every receipt. And contact us for help writing a policy that balances all your priorities. 205-345-9898 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2019 CovenantCPA