Stop Procrastinating! Tax Day Is Coming!

If you tend to procrastinate when it comes to the tax season, it’s time to stop procrastinating and start taking action. Tax Day for the 2018 tax year is right around the corner. For most filers, Monday, April 15, 2019 is the deadline to file your tax returns with the IRS and where applicable, your state tax agency. However, for states observing a holiday, those filers will get additional time.

“For the 2018 tax return, the due date is April 15, 2019 for most filers. For residents of Maine and Massachusetts, the due date is April 17, 2019 because of the Patriot's Day and Emancipation Day holidays in those states.” – IRS Topic No. 301 When, How, and Where To File

Whether you file electronically or by paper, it’s vital that your tax returns are filed on-time. The IRS provides the following guidance:

“Your return is considered filed on time if the envelope is properly addressed, has enough postage, is postmarked, and is deposited in the mail by the due date. If you file electronically, the date and time in your time zone when your return is transmitted controls whether your return is filed timely. You will later receive an electronic acknowledgement that the IRS has accepted your electronically filed return.” – IRS Topic No. 301 When, How, and Where To File

If you have an Accountant or CPA firm handling your tax returns, be sure to return any applicable e-file authorization forms to them in a timely manner so they may electronically file your returns on your behalf. Also, make note of any filings you may be required to submit by mail and get those filings sent out on-time. If you are using a third-party tax preparer to do your taxes, be sure to schedule your appointment as soon as possible to ensure your returns are prepared and transmitted on-time. Appointments can become harder to come by as the tax deadline approaches. For paper filers, be sure to get to the Post Office ahead of the April 15th deadline or risk potentially waiting on long lines to get those returns mailed by the tax deadline.

The IRS and state tax agencies do allow qualified filers to request an extension to file their tax returns. A request for an extension must be filed by the tax deadline. However, an extension only extends the tax deadline for filing your returns. It does not extend the deadline for paying your taxes. If you owe taxes, you are still required to remit payment to the IRS and/or to your state tax agency by the tax deadline.

“If you cannot file by the due date of your return, you should request an extension of time to file. To receive an automatic 6-month extension of time to file your return, you can file Form 4868. File your extension request by the due date of your return. An extension of time to file is not an extension of time to pay so you'll owe interest if the tax you owe isn't paid by the original due date of your return. You may also be subject to a late-payment penalty on any tax not paid by the original due date of your return.” – IRS Topic No. 301 When, How, and Where To File

Filers should check with their individual state tax agency for guidance on their state’s tax filing requirements and deadlines. If you are unsure or unfamiliar with tax preparation and filings, be sure to seek professional counsel from an Accountant, CPA firm and/or certified tax professional.

 

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Getting Ready For The Tax Season

Do Your Own Taxes Or Seek A Professional

A Sub-Chapter S in New York

If you are planning to establish a legal business entity (ex: Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Corporation) or have an existing legal business entity in New York and are considering a sub-chapter S election, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

First, it’s important to understand that single-member LLCs (defaultly treated as a disregarded entity and taxed like a sole proprietorship for tax purposes), multi-member LLCs (defaultly treated as a Partnership) and Corporations making a sub-chapter S election are all considered pass-through entities for federal tax purposes. This means that the entities themselves are generally not subject to income taxes. Profit/loss from the business is passed through to the individual members (LLCs) or shareholders (S-Corps), generally reported on a Schedule K-1 for Partnerships & S Corps, and each member or shareholder reports and pays their respective share of income taxes on their respective share of profit/loss on their individual tax returns.

Eligible single-member LLCs, multi-member LLCs (Partnerships) and corporations (C-Corps) can elect to be treated as sub-chapter S for federal tax purposes in lieu of their default classification. There are various pros and cons associated with making a S election, so it is best to consult with your Accountant, CPA Firm and/or legal counsel so that you may make a well-informed decision.

At the federal level, to make a sub-chapter S election, eligible LLCs will need to file both Form 8832 – Entity Classification Election and Form 2553 – Election By A Small Business Corporation. Eligible corporations (C-Corps) will need to file Form 2553 – Election By A Small Business Corporation. When filing Form 8832, keep in mind that the election may take effect no more than 75 days prior to the date the election is filed or no later than 12 months after the election is filed. When filing Form 2553, keep in mind that the form must be filed no more than 2 months and 15 days after the beginning of the tax year for which the election shall take effect or any time during the tax year preceding the tax year for which the election shall take effect. Both forms do allow “Relief for Late Elections.” Eligibility information is available in the instructions for each form. Your Accountant or CPA Firm should be able to help prepare the necessary forms for you to sign and send to the IRS. The IRS should provide written notice as to the acceptance or rejection of the filing(s) within 60 days of receipt.

At the state level, things start to get complicated. While many states recognize the federal S election at the state level, New York State does not. By default, New York State will treat your entity as a C Corporation for tax purposes even if you have made a federal S election. In order for your entity to be recognized and taxed as a S Corporation at the state level, you must file New York State’s Form CT-6 – Election by a Federal S Corporation to be Treated As a New York S Corporation. Again, your Accountant or CPA Firm should be able to help prepare the necessary form for you to sign and send to the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance (NYS DTF). The NYS DTF should provide written notice as to the acceptance or rejection of the filing within 60 days of receipt. While filing Form CT-6 will allow your entity to be treated as a New York S Corporation for tax purposes, New York State requires most general business corporations to pay a franchise tax at the entity level under Article 9-A of New York law.

One last complication is at the city level. New York City does not recognize the federal S or New York State S elections. Therefore, S Corporations are subject to New York City’s General Corporation Tax (GCT) and will be required to pay this tax at the entity level.

If you are planning to make a S election for your business, be sure to seek and consult with professional counsel (ex: Accountant, CPA Firm) to understand the pros and cons as well as the administrative requirements and tax implications at the federal, state and local levels. As you can see in the case of New York, there are a couple of added complexities at the state and local level that you’ll want to be aware of. A good Accountant or CPA Firm should stay ahead of the game and keep you well-informed but don’t hesitate to ask your Accountant or CPA Firm directly about how the S election works within your state and local levels.

Planning For A Rainy Day

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you suddenly lost your job? Are you financially prepared to deal with a sudden loss of your income stream? Do you have a backup plan and reserve funds for a “rainy day” event?

Hopefully, you’ll never end up in this situation; however, life doesn’t always play out the way we hope it will and change is always constant. While there may be early warning signs or indications that something may be brewing, without a clear sense of urgency, there may be no desire to act without knowing for certain something is imminent. Sure, you can actively look for new job opportunities (and there’s nothing wrong with that) but when it comes down to timing, events don’t always play out the way we would like them to.

That said, if you haven’t already started to, it’s important to create a safety net or security blanket for yourself, and if applicable, for your family. Start setting aside reserve funds for a “rainy day.” You’ll want to have reserve funds that will cover no less than three (3) months of expenses to start, but ideally, you’ll want to grow it to cover anywhere between six (6) months to one (1) year worth of expenses.

You’ll always want to maintain a stable reserve of funds. In good times, you can tap into reserve funds to meet short-term cash needs (ex: major investments and capital improvements like replacing major appliances, home improvement, etc.) but keep in mind that you need to replenish those funds as additional funds become available. Don’t get into the habit of draining your reserve funds and only realizing there’s a problem when you have an “Oh No!” moment. There is a REAL inherent danger when using reserve funds irresponsibly. Don’t be irresponsible! Of course, you’re better equipped to assess your financial situation at any given time, so you need to make those responsible decisions when it comes down to whether you should tap into your reserve funds in various situations.

Also, be sure you are living within your means. Plan and budget for your expenses. Don’t get into the habit of spending what you don’t have or what you can’t afford simply because your credit card issuer or bank is extending a line of credit to you. A credit line is NOT free cash. If you are constantly paying the minimum balance on your credit cards or overdrawing your credit cards or bank account, you are NOT living within your means.

Make it a point to periodically review your spending habits; trim any non-essential expenses. It’s okay to splurge every now and then but don’t throw your hard-earned money down a big, black hole. You want to be responsible with your finances. If you run into a “rainy day” situation, you’ll be in a much better position if you’ve been responsibly managing and monitoring your finances.

Do Your Own Taxes or Seek A Professional?

As the tax season kicks off, a fundamental question comes to mind – Should you do your own taxes or seek a professional?

Well, the answer depends on a variety of factors including:

  • How comfortable you are preparing your own tax returns?

  • How familiar you are with your tax situation and history?

  • How complex your tax situation is?

Generally, if you are comfortable preparing your own tax returns, are familiar with your tax situation and you don’t have a complex tax situation (ex: you only have income from W-2 wages, interest income from interest-bearing accounts, you don’t itemize your deductions or only itemize state & local taxes & charitable contributions), you should be able to prepare your own tax returns using either an online or desktop version of tax preparation software from companies like Intuit (TurboTax), H&R Block and TaxAct, just to name a few.

These companies have been developing tax preparation software for many years and have many customers who successfully use these products to prepare and file their tax returns annually. That said, you do need to have patience, be organized and dedicate a reasonable amount of time to go through the process. While the software will walk you through the process step-by-step, you do need to understand what information the tax preparation software is asking for then input the proper and correct information for your tax returns to be accurate. Keep in mind . . . Garbage in, Garbage out!

Even though these companies work to ensure their tax preparation software is accurate and apply computations and calculations based on the applicable tax laws, having a general understanding of your tax situation and history is extremely helpful so that you can raise a red flag if you notice that the tax preparation software is showing you too high of a tax refund or too much in taxes owed. Errors can occur due to incorrect user input or a software glitch.

If you are not at all comfortable preparing your own tax returns or have a more complex tax situation, consider seeking a professional tax preparer, Accountant or CPA firm. They should have a thorough understanding of the applicable tax laws and, provided you bring them all the necessary paperwork and documentation required, they should be able to properly and correctly prepare your tax returns, as well as identify and apply all applicable and available tax deductions to get you the optimal refund or try to minimize your tax bill/taxes owed. When looking for a professional tax preparer, Accountant or CPA firm, be sure to do your research, read reviews, get recommendations and compare service fees/rates.

In the case where you run/own a business, the tax situation can get even more complicated. There are different requirements on the federal, state and local level depending on the type of legal business entity you have created (ex: LLC: Single-member LLC, Partnership, LLC taxed as a sub-chapter S, Corporation: C-Corp or S-Corp) and the state in which your entity was established.

On the business side, you’ll probably want to have a tax professional, Accountant or CPA firm that you use on an ongoing basis. Except for the single-member LLC, all other entities are required to file a business tax return (separate from the personal return) even if the entities themselves do not pay income taxes (ex: pass-through entities). You also don’t want to reinvent the wheel dealing with a different tax professional, Accountant or CPA firm every year.

On the personal side, again, it depends on your comfort level and the complexity of the situation. For an individual with a single-member LLC, MAYBE you’ll consider doing your own tax return; but generally, it’s not a bad idea to consider hiring a tax professional, Accountant or CPA firm if you run/own a business especially as a member of a LLC Partnership, LLC taxed as a sub-chapter S, or you’re a shareholder of a corporation (C-Corp or S-Corp). There are a lot of requirements (not only income tax returns) that you may or may not be aware of at the federal, state and local level (ex: estimated quarterly tax payments) so having access to a good tax professional, Accountant or CPA firm can save you major headaches down the road. Yes, a good tax professional, Accountant or CPA firm will cost a bit more, but in the end, it will be well worth it!

Getting Ready for the Tax Season

With the holidays passed and the New Year upon us, it’s time to take some proactive steps in preparing for the upcoming tax season. That’s right! Now is a good time to start gathering and organizing all your 2018 financial/tax documents in preparation for the tax season. Don’t wait until it’s time to have your tax returns prepared to start hunting for all the crucial documents. Get a head start now by putting together a checklist of all the applicable documents you’ll need and start building a file if you haven’t already begun to do so.

Everyone has their own tax situation so first and foremost, if you have an Accountant, CPA Firm or Certified Tax Professional, get in touch with them to review 2018 and go over the documents that you’ll need to have ready to provide to them to prepare your tax returns. Due to changes in the tax law last year, you hopefully have been actively communicating with your Accountant, CPA Firm or Certified Tax Professional to discuss any applicable tax changes that could potentially affect you in the upcoming tax season. It’s also a good practice to reach out to your Accountant, CPA Firm or Certified Tax Professional in the fourth quarter of the year (if your Accountant, CPA Firm or Certified Tax Professional has not already done so), to discuss any applicable year-end tax matters and/or appropriate actions that need to be taken prior to year-end.

If you are a business owner, you’ll want to get in touch with your personal Accountant, CPA Firm or Certified Tax Professional to discuss any tax matters, issues or concerns applicable to your personal tax situation while also getting in touch with the company’s Accountant or CPA Firm to make sure the company is on the right track for year-end.

On a personal level, some of the financial/tax documents you should gather include:

  • Form W-2s from all employers that you worked for in 2018. Employers are required to furnish Form W-2s to their employees by January 31, 2019. A Form W-2 is considered “furnished” if it is postmarked by January 31, 2019. Most payroll companies also provide employee access to electronic copies of Form W-2s.

  • Form 1099-MISC from all companies/businesses for which you performed work or services as a non-employee/independent contractor in 2018. Companies/businesses must issue Form 1099-MISC if you were paid $600 or more during the year for work or services performed. Form 1099-MISC must be furnished by January 31, 2019. You are still required to report all applicable income even if you do not receive a Form 1099-MISC.

  • Form 1099-INT from all banks/financial institutions for which you earned interest income in 2018. Banks/financial institutions must issue a Form 1099-INT if you earned $10 or more in interest income during the tax year. You are still required to report all applicable interest income even if you do not receive a Form 1099-INT.

  • If you maintained health coverage through a Health Insurance Marketplace, you should receive a Form 1095-A. If you maintained health coverage through a health insurance provider or non-Applicable Large Employer (non-ALE), you should receive a Form 1095-B. If you maintained health coverage through an Applicable Large Employer (ALE), you should receive a Form 1095-C. These forms provide information regarding the health insurance coverage provided, to whom coverage was provided and when coverage was provided. Except for recipients of Form 1095-A, recipients of Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C generally do not need to wait for these forms to arrive to prepare their tax returns provided you have the information readily available including, who was covered and when, for tax preparation purposes. Keep in mind that for 2018, the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate remains in full force. Individuals who fail to maintain proper health insurance coverage for all of 2018 may be subject to a penalty. You can get more information about these Health Insurance Information/Tax forms on the IRS website.

  • Form 1099-DIV from all financial institutions/brokerages for which you earned dividend income.

  • Form 1099-G if you itemized your deductions in the prior tax year and took advantage of the state/local tax deduction and received a state/local tax refund.

  • Form 1099-R if you received a distribution from a retirement plan, pension plan, profit sharing plan, etc.

  • Form 5498 if you made contributions to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

  • Schedule K-1 if you are a member of a multi-member LLC, LLC taxed as a sub-chapter S or a shareholder of a sub-chapter S.

  • Copies of donation confirmation/acknowledgment letters for tax-deductible donations made to qualified charitable organizations.

The list above is not intended to be a complete list of the financial/tax documents that you may need for the preparation of your tax returns nor does it necessarily reflect all the financial/tax documents that are applicable to your specific tax situation. Again, speak with your Accountant, CPA Firm or Certified Tax Professional to review the financial/tax documents that you should gather in preparation for the current tax season. If you prepare your own tax returns, look through the financial/tax documents you received last year while accounting for any applicable changes made in 2018 (ex: opening a new savings or brokerage account, working for more than one employer within the same tax year) as you put together your checklist and gather your financial/tax documents.

A little early preparation and staying proactive can go a long way in helping to make this tax season go smoother and be less stressful!

Making Investments in Your Business in the New Year

As we prepare to close out the year, business owners should take the time to evaluate their current business operations to determine what investments they need to make in their business heading into the New Year and begin planning & budgeting for those investments. This includes investing in staff (ex: hiring additional employees, employee training & education, health & wellness programs, incentives & retention programs), investing in technology (ex: computers, servers, software, storage, network equipment) and investing in infrastructure (ex: office/office space, furniture, fixtures) just to name a few.

While planning and budgeting for potential investments does not guarantee that business owners will be able make those investments into their business at any specific time (ex: due to financial constraints, weak business performance, unforeseen circumstances), business owners should still be proactive rather than reactive. Perhaps the investments may not occur in the first or second quarter of the year but may be possible in the third quarter.

In some situations, business owners may need to front-load the investments to achieve future business performance gains. For instance, if your business is a design firm relying heavily on up-to-date technology, but you are running outdated computers and software, you’ll need to make investments in technology to get updated computers and software NOW, so you can get the work done. If you can’t get the work done, your business will be unable to stay afloat. Likewise, business owners may need to hire an additional employee to help in critical areas to get work done and meet timetables. The successful completion of a client project can result in future projects (and additional income) but failure could mean the loss of the client (and loss of significant income). In these situations, business owners MUST make the investments immediately rather than postpone or delay them to a later date.

To help manage the business, business owners should utilize financial projections. Income projections (and if needed, cash flow projections) can be an extremely useful tool in helping to manage the business but keep in mind that projections are exactly that – A PROJECTION. The more reliable financial information that you have available, the better your projections will be; however, projections are NOT SET IN STONE!

Business owners who are unfamiliar with financial projections should work with their lead or senior Accounting/Finance person (ex: CFO, Director of Finance, Accounting Manager, Head of Accounting/Finance) to create/prepare financial projections for the business for the upcoming year. If you don’t have a lead or senior Accounting/Finance person, consult with your Accountant or CPA Firm for guidance. While preparing financial projections is not overly difficult, it does require a level of experience.

Employee Bonuses Are Taxable Income

Now that the holidays have arrived and with year-end fast approaching, as a business owner, you may be considering distributing year-end bonuses to employees as a show of appreciation for their passion and dedication to the business this past year. It’s important to remember that bonuses are treated as taxable income and should be processed and reported accordingly.

You should process your year-end bonuses through payroll and follow standard payroll practices to ensure the proper tax withholding for federal income tax, state & local income tax and FICA (Medicare & Social Security Tax). Generally, bonuses can either be run as an additional payroll outside of your normal payroll cycle or added to one of your normal year-end payrolls.

If you plan on running an additional payroll, check with your payroll company on how to submit the additional bonus payroll. Your payroll company will usually require bonus payrolls (or additional payrolls outside of your normal payroll cycle) to be submitted several days in advance of your regularly scheduled payroll. Pay close attention to the payroll submission due dates to ensure your bonus and year-end payrolls are submitted on a timely basis. Also, make sure your business bank account is adequately funded to cover your added year-end business expenditures.

If you have questions or concerns regarding the proper handling of bonus income, check with your payroll representative and/or your business tax professional (Accountant/CPA firm).

Keeping Receivables In Check

As a business owner, receivables (accounts receivable or A/R) are a vital part of your business. If you are not billing or invoicing clients and consequently, collecting those receivables in a timely fashion, your business will be unable to sustain itself. Without a steady, positive cash flow, you will be unable to make payroll, buy supplies or inventory, make investments into your business and/or pay vendors and other business operating expenses.

It is also important to understand that billings or receivables do not necessarily represent 100% income or revenue when there are applicable direct costs (ex: cost of sale, cost of goods sold). Why is this important? Well, because you don’t want to “rob Peter to pay Paul.” If you invoice a client $10,000 for a project but $5,000 of that invoice is for direct costs to a third-party vendor, only $5,000 constitutes income or revenue (your actual business income) which can go towards paying your business operating expenses, not the full $10,000. The $5,000 for direct costs should be earmarked and set aside to pay your third-party vendor.

Far too often, some business owners don’t make this distinction and may use that full $10,000 to satisfy their immediate business cash flow needs. For instance, a business owner may choose to use that $10,000 to help cover their payroll or pay a vendor that is looking for payment on a past due invoice (aka “the squeaky wheel”). In essence, the business owner has “robbed Peter to pay Paul.” The business may be experiencing a cash flow issue and has decided to use the cash that is due and payable to another vendor to pay other business expenses or other vendors. While this may not seem like a bad thing on a short-term basis to satisfy immediate business cash flow needs, there will be a domino effect which will ultimately impact the business in the long-term. It should go without saying that this is a terrible practice to follow!

So, how can you keep receivables in check?

Billings - It’s important to stay active and on top of client billing. For a small business with limited resources and staff, the business owner may need to be the one to take care of billing or perhaps you have a billing clerk or third-party that does billing for your business on a fixed schedule each month. Whatever the case may be, you must get your client billing done on a timely, regular basis. How often you bill or invoice your clients may depend on existing client contracts or agreements that are in place and/or when a project or phases of a project are completed (ex: milestones); however, the most important part is to get your billing done and invoices out to clients as soon as possible. Book those receivables!

Collections – Typically, you should have established payment terms with your clients. Your client contracts or agreements should state the specific payment terms and your invoices should re-iterate the general payment terms (ex: Due upon receipt, NET 10, NET 15, NET 30). Monitor your AR Aging on a weekly basis. Your Accounting platform should be able to generate reports like an AR Aging Summary and Open Invoices. Depending on your comfort level with your clients, you may extend the courtesy of up to NET 30 payment terms, even if your standard payment terms are due upon receipt. Regardless of the courtesy that you extend to a client, when invoices go beyond NET 30 payment terms, you need to actively follow-up with clients on the status of payment. Be sure to send past due notices which include copies of the past due invoices, send account statements and follow up directly with your clients by phone and/or e-mail. Be active and NOT passive!

Be sure to invest in a good Accounting platform that allows you to generate invoices and statements as well as offers robust reporting to provide you with the necessary financial reports that serve your business needs. Try to use platforms that are widely-used, familiar and popular. It will be a lot easier to find people who are experienced using these types of platforms should you need to bring someone in to manage or takeover your books.

When possible, send invoices to clients electronically whether through the Accounting platform (if supported/available) or by e-mail (ex: PDF attachment) in lieu of regular postal mail. In addition, consider accepting electronic payments from clients (ex: wire, ACH) instead of paper checks. This should help to minimize lost checks and may speed up payment turnaround time. When considering electronic payments, check with your financial institution to see if any fees are applicable to these types of transactions. Many financial institutions will offer ways to avoid and/or reduce bank and transaction fees.