Archive for the "Business Consulting" Category

Work from Home? Possible Tax Deduction:

If you work from home you may be entitled to a tax deduction.  This deduction ordinarily benefits self-employed persons, but is available to employees as well.  Though it is available to employees, most will not see a tax benefit as the deduction is subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income reduction.  A future article will explain a way for certain employees (S-corp shareholders) to take advantage of the home office deduction.

In order to qualify for the home office deduction you must meet certain criteria.  The office space must be used exclusively and regularly as a principal place of business.  Let's break down these components separately.  Exclusive use means that the home office is not used for personal matters.  So an office that doubles as a spare bedroom does not qualify.  The regular use condition is satisfied if you use the space continually and in the normal course of business.  Occasionally meeting clients at home does not qualify.  Meeting the principal place of business requirement is more ambiguous but there are two main factors used to determine eligibility.  First, the importance of activities performed must be essential to the business.  The second factor, used if the first one is not clear, is the time spent in/at each place.

If you are an employee there is an additional requirement that the home office must be for the convenience of the employer.  This is a difficult test to meet, and lots of employees will not qualify.  Each situation should be evaluated specifically as there are exceptions but here is a quick reference that answers the basic question.  If you have space to conduct your business (i.e. office space) provided by your employer, you do not qualify.  The opposite is also true, if your employer does not provide office space; the home office is for the convenience of the employer.

If you meet the criteria and are eligible for a home office deduction how much is it worth?  As with most situations with the IRS there isn't just one solution.  There are two possible ways to calculate what your deduction may be.

  • Simplified Method – You receive a $5 deduction per square foot of office space; with a maximum of 300 square feet. With this method the record keeping requirements and allocations discussed below are eliminated.
  • Standard Home Office Deduction – There are three main components to the home office deduction
    1. Indirect expenses – these are taken based on the business use square footage percentage; the percentage of your home that the office occupies. These expenses impact the entire home.
      1. Utilities
      2. Insurance
      3. Repairs & maintenance
      4. Property taxes
      5. Landscaping & snow removal
    2. Direct expenses – related to the home office only.
      1. Repairs & maintenance for the office only
    3. Depreciation –this is a deduction for the decrease in value of your home over time. This deduction is allowed on the same percentage basis as indirect expenses.

As you can see, the amount of work to calculate and maintain the records for the standard home office deduction are quite substantial.  Also keep in mind that when you eventually sell the home any depreciation allowed for the period used for business must be taken into account for the purpose of determining taxable gain on the sale.  You can determine each year whether to take the simplified or the standard home office deduction.

We recommend taking advantage of every tax deduction available to you.  Not everyone qualifies for the home office deduction but if you do, it can be very advantageous.  With a little planning it is much easier to track and record everything needed.  If you have questions related to your specific situation, please contact your tax advisor.House2

2015 Tax Season Resources

Welcome to another tax season!  To make this busy time a little easier, you can download all the necessary documents right here.

We ask all of our clients to fill out and return a signed Engagement Letter, and Questionnaire. We also have an Organizer that you can fill out to help gather your tax information.

Individual Engagement Letter

Fiduciary Engagement Letter

Individual Questionnaire – This is a “fill in” PDF form, but will need to be either printed to .pdf or paper to record your answers.

Fiduciary Questionnaire  – Print and record your answers on paper.

Individual Organizer (Not available for Fiduciary)

If we did your return in 2014, you will receive an Organizer with your prior year information.  If you need a new Organizer, please contact Carrie to have one sent to you.

If you are a new client, please download and complete the blank Organizer that pertains to your situation.

  • Basic – For taxpayers without Schedule C business income or rental property.
  • Business Income – For taxpayers with self-employment income. Please make sure to fill out this Organizer AND the Basic Organizer.
  • Rental Income – For taxpayers with rental properties. Please make sure to fill out this Organizer AND the Basic Organizer.
  • Complete – This is the complete version for taxpayers with multiple activities such as business, rental, or farm income.

If you have Adobe Acrobat see our instructions for filling out your organizer in Adobe.

2015 Tax Planning

It is time to consider your end of year tax plans.  The laws for 2015 have not yet been finalized, however, most analysts expect the expiring provisions to be reinstated for 2015.  Some may be made permanent or extended for multiple years giving certainty to future years.  Following is a letter that we provide to clients detailing some of the opportunities for tax planning.  The letter specifies which provisions are up for extension and the rules in effect should they not be reinstated.

Consult your tax advisor for any tax planning considerations and check back here for any updates.

2015 Tax Planning Letter


Repair Expense Safe Harbor Increased

Companies that do not submit financials to the SEC or have their financial statements audited each year could only deduct repair expenses up to $500 under the IRS's de minimis safe harbor.  This safe harbor applies to a large number of small businesses.  The IRS has increased the de minimis safe harbor amount to $2,500 for tax years beginning after 2015.  They also stated that they will not challenge this for earlier years if other conditions are met.  You must have a policy in place at the beginning of the year to take advantage of this safe harbor.  Consider adopting this policy soon to prepare for the 2016 tax year.  Do not hesitate to contact your tax advisor to ask about this new policy change.

Sample Capitalization Policy


Understanding Taxable Fringe Benefits

Have you ever wondered if your company is handling fringe benefits correctly?  Click on the link below for an introduction on understanding taxable fringe benefits as published in the Minnesota Society of CPA's November issue of the Footnote.

Understanding Taxable Fringe Benefits

Common QuickBooks Mistakes

Throughout my years working with QuickBooks and doing bookkeeping I have observed that problems with year end and interim financial statements can be boiled down to simple input error. Many business owners do not have the ability to hire a bookkeeper with extensive knowledge of the software and find themselves (as usual…) doing everything.  So here are a few common mistakes to avoid while doing your books…

  1. Make end-of-the-year journal entries.  Most CPA's after reviewing the books for official consolidated financial statements and tax returns will come up with a few adjustments to the books and give the adjustments to the owner for entry. A common pitfall is to fail to make these adjustments.  Failure to make these adjustments will mean that your year end will not match what is filed for taxes and the next year your CPA will have to spend additional time to reconcile the balance sheet. This can get expensive.


  1. Do not change entries from a prior year.  Similarly to the first common mistake that owners will make is to change an entry in a prior year.  This will again throw off the balance sheet, which will need to be reconciled before new data can be interpreted.  If you feel a change from a prior year is necessary, talk to your accountant first! They will be able to tell you if the corresponding change will effect what was reported to the IRS or if you may do a simple journal entry as of January 1st of the current year.  It can be easy to make a mistake at the beginning of a new year when entering a date. Luckily, QuickBooks has user preferences that can be used to prevent these mistakes. First you can set a closing date that will prompt you to enter a password before you can make any changes to a prior year. Or you can set a range warning that will prompt you if the date you entered is a certain number of days in the past or future of the current date.  Both of these options can be found under the EDIT > PREFERENCES tab.


  1. Pay attention to dates. Do we see a theme starting? Timing is a very important aspect of accounting/bookkeeping. It is important to record transactions when they occur.  If you wait to enter data into QuickBooks at the end of every month or every other month, that is fine but make sure not to use the current date for every transaction.  Using the current date will make it very difficult to reconcile your bank account. For example, if you have two transactions with the same amount you may not actually know which has cleared. Using the current date for all transactions will also prevent you from having good data to analyze business performance.  For example you will not be able to tell which months perform well vs. poor, which expenses have risen, and the cause and effect of external factors on your financials.


  1. Be consistent. Bookkeeping is about processes. Therefore if you use the QuickBooks accounts payable function make sure you always enter the invoice before paying the bill.  Writing a check against the accounts payable account without entering a bill will give you negative accounts payable.  If you use the accounts receivable function, make sure to enter an invoice before receiving payment or you will throw off undeposited funds.  If you use the class function, make sure to always enter a class before saving a transaction or you may not have accurate reports by class.  QuickBooks has many defaults that create warnings when you start doing things out of order or forget something; don't turn these off, they will help you.


  1. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Your accountant/CPA is there for you, if you have a weird scenario or just a question, call them.  They see weird transactions everyday and a quick call could save you a lot of money in the long run.

Hopefully spelling out a few of the common mistakes will help you save time and money. For any general questions, questions about outsourcing your bookkeeping, or questions about getting some QuickBooks training give us a call. We have many years of experience with QuickBooks and would be happy to help.

Foreign Business Travel

For those of you who need to travel to another country for business, please see our client letter on the deductibility of foreign business travel.

Foreign Travel Letter


When Business Trips and Vacation Collide

There is a lot of confusion about how business trips and vacations coincide.  Is everything deductible? Is anything? Here's the truth in typical tax-speak…. It depends.

For self-employed business owners, travel expenses are deductible on either a Schedule C or a business tax return.  Meals as part of travel expenses are only 50% deductible per tax law.

For employees, travel expenses for business purposes and paid personally can be reimbursed tax-free by their employer and are not subject to FICA or income tax withholding.

Part of a vacation may be deductible if it piggybacks on a business trip. Rule 1 is that the trip must be taken primarily for business.  How do you determine if the trip is primarily for business? Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on how you look at it) there is no concrete rule on determining if a trip is primarily for business.  We must review the facts and circumstances around the trip to make that determination.  However one important indicator is the split of time between business and personal pursuits.

Example: If Gus, a pharmaceutical sales person, flies from San Francisco to New York for a five day conference and spends an additional two days in New York to go to a play and see the sights, the portion of his trip spent at the conference may be reimbursed from his employer tax-free and the expenses are deductible by his employer.

If Gus used a company card to pay for this entire trip, then the expenses he incurred for the personal portion of the trip must be treated as compensation income.

If Gus is a sole proprietor then his travel expenses while at the conference would be deductible on his Schedule C or other business tax return.

A simple way to determine what is deductible is to determine what the trip would have cost if it had only been taken for business.  In our example, 100% of Gus's airfare as well as the lodging, transportation, and meals while at the conference would be deductible as business expenses.  Only the cost of lodging, transportation, and meals during the two personal days would be nondeductible.  The tax savings here is that because Gus was required to fly round trip for the conference, part of his vacation was tax free.

Another consideration of going on vacation in conjunction with a business trip is that the vacation part of the trip is not required to occur at the business destination but may occur en route or on the way home.  To compute the deductible part of the trip you calculate the cost of the trip without the personal portion.  For example, Juliet drives from San Francisco to Santa Barbara for a business meeting and stops at Disneyland on the way home.  The total cost of the trip was $700.  If she had not stopped at Disneyland, the trip would have cost $500 therefore the deductible portion of the trip is $500.  If Juliet brings her boyfriend Shawn on the trip with her she may still deduct the cost of the hotel (business portion only), and rental car because she would have incurred those expenses even if she had been traveling alone. Only her meals during the business portion would be deductible.

Are personal days deductible under any circumstances?

There are certain instances where personal days are considered deductible.  If a weekend is sandwiched between business meetings, such as when you are required to attend meetings on a Friday and again on a Monday, then the expenses you incur on the days off such as meals and lodging will still be considered deductible even though you could be spending Saturday and Sunday on the beach.  Another time a personal day could still be deductible is when a business purpose ends on a Friday morning but it's cheaper to fly out on a Saturday.  If the expenses incurred to stay an extra day are less than the savings on the flight then the extra day's expenses can still be deductible.  In both of these circumstances you must use a good measure of common sense to take the deduction.


It's a good idea to consult your tax advisor if you have any questions when considering taking a vacation in conjunction with your business trip.  It is also very important to keep good records and to save your receipts to corroborate your deduction.

Note: this guidance is for domestic travel & excludes specialized rules for those in the transportation industry.


Self – Employment & Taxes

A question on a lot of minds is "What does it mean to be self-employed for tax purposes?"

There are several factors that you must be aware of when you decide to open that business or strike out on your own.

  1. For income tax purposes, you will report your income and expenses on Schedule C of your Form 1040. The net income will be taxable to you regardless of whether you withdraw cash from the business. Your business expenses will be deductible against gross income (i.e., "above the line," and not as itemized deductions subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor). If you have any losses, the losses will generally be deductible against your other income, subject to special rules relating to hobby losses, passive activity losses and losses in activities in which you weren't "at risk."


  1. If you will be working from an office in your home, performing management or administrative tasks from a home office, or storing product samples or inventory at home, you may be entitled to deduct an allocable portion of certain of the costs of maintaining your home. And if you have a home office, you may be able to convert nondeductible commuting expenses (of going from your residence to another work location) into deductible transportation expenses. See an additional blog on deductible miles.


  1. You will also be required to pay self-employment taxes: a social security tax at a 12.4% rate on your net earnings from self-employment of up to $118,500 (reduced by any wages that you earn from employment), and a Medicare tax at a 2.9% rate on the excess. A portion of your self-employment taxes will be deductible as a trade or business expense (that is, as a deduction against gross income, not subject to the limits that apply to itemized deductions). Note: no SE taxes will be assessed on self-employment income under $400.


  1. You may be allowed to deduct your health insurance costs as a trade or business expense. This means your deduction for medical care insurance won't be limited by the normal 10%-of-AGI floor on itemized medical expenses. Your health care insurance can include your spouse and your children and still qualify for a deduction.


  1. Your income won't be subject to withholding tax. However, you will be required to pay estimated taxes quarterly. You should work with your tax advisors to minimize the amount of your estimated tax payments while avoiding any underpayment penalty.


  1. You will have to maintain complete records of your income and expenses. In particular, you should pay attention to recording your expenses in order to be able to take the full amount of the deductions to which you are entitled. Certain types of expenses, such as automobile, travel, entertainment, meals, and home office expenses, are subject to special recordkeeping requirements or limitations on their deductibility and require special attention. See our blog on record keeping for more information.


  1. If you hire any employees, you will have to get a taxpayer identification number and will have to withhold and pay various payroll taxes. Hiring employees and other independent contractors can lead to additional accounting obligations. The first of which is to decide whether the person should be hired as an employee or an independent contractor.  To determine if a person should be an employee or contractor please see the following client letter:  Employee – contractor letter.  If you hire someone as an independent contractor and pay them $600 or more, you may be required to send them and the IRS Form 1099 in the following year reporting the amount you paid them.  When you consider hiring, it is important to contact your tax advisor to discuss the matter in detail.


  1. You should consider establishing a qualified retirement plan. The advantage of a qualified retirement plan is that amounts contributed to the plan are deductible at the time of the contribution, and aren't taken into income until the amounts are withdrawn. Because of the complexities of ordinary qualified retirement plans, you might consider a simplified employee pension (SEP) plan, which requires less paperwork. Another type of plan available to sole proprietors that offers tax advantages with fewer restrictions and administrative requirements than a qualified plan is a "savings incentive match plan for employees," i.e., a SIMPLE plan. If you don't establish a retirement plan, you may still be able to make a contribution to an IRA.


This list is simplified and far from exhaustive, if you have additional questions or you are considering starting your own business.  Please consult your advisors and see our blog “Starting a biz”

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Starting a Business

Starting a business is a big decision; whether you are leaving a steady income stream or just beginning your career, venturing out on your own can seem like a daunting task.  Having an idea of what lies ahead can help.  What follows is a basic road map for the formation of a business.  Not every venture requires each step; having a trusted advisor to help along the way is invaluable.

First is the choice of entity: sole proprietorship, LLC, S corporation, and C corporation are the most common but there are others.  It is best to analyze this from both a legal perspective and a tax perspective to determine which one is the best fit.  This means meeting with an attorney and a CPA to discuss the options.  Make sure that you and your professional advisors are on the same page about the direction of the business; including the ultimate goal whether that is the sale of what you have built or a succession plan.

After the type of entity is chosen, the capital structure of the business should be developed.  This can be as simple as $100 from the owner to get things started or as complex as multiple equity offerings with different profit and loss allocations for each tier.  Deciding whether to pursue debt (loans) financing or equity (ownership) financing should be made in this step.  Your advisors will guide you through this and make recommendations along the way.

Next are some government filings.  In Minnesota you must establish the business with the Secretary of State's office.  Then you can obtain a federal employer identification number and other state identification numbers, sales tax, withholding tax, if necessary.

The next step to your business formation is to develop an accounting system.  It is best to determine and lay out some processes in the beginning of your formation.  These processes will make it easier to track income and expenses and give you an accurate and timely picture of the business' financial situation.  What you need will vary depending on the type and size of the business as well as the personal preferences of the owner(s) therefore it may be useful to contact your accounting advisor during this step.

Now it is time to solicit business… wait… that was most likely happening before and during all of these activities already.  This business is your and possibly some other partners/investors project.  Make sure that throughout the formation process the development of the business corresponds with your initial vision.  Your advisors should be able to answer any questions you have and help you to be comfortable with each step, all while remaining a valuable asset you can take with you to the next new step your venture brings.