Benchmarking: Part 1

Do you ever wonder how your business does compared to others similar to you in size and industry? Maybe knowing this information would give you a more competitive drive, or would lead you to make some improvements to better your company. Or, maybe you’re just curious.

Whatever your reason for wanting to know, benchmarking can be a powerful tool to compare you to your peers and check your performance. Benchmarking can even lead to an overall greater level of success as a company.

Here are a few (of many) reasons why we think benchmarking is pretty awesome.

It never goes out of style| Benchmarking isn’t just a one and done concept. It can, and should, be used throughout the entire lifecycle of the business. As your numbers and statistics change, the same happens for the competition. Benchmarking can provide a real-time look into how your business is stacking up against the competition and industry trends, and can help you find solutions at any stage in your business.

Knowledge is power| When you see and understand how your business is ranking relative to similar businesses, you can empower management to evaluate company performance and make informed decisions. This information can also be used to identify new and future opportunities that can lead to greater growth and success. To accomplish this, it’s best to compare on an industry or peer group level, rather than just a one-company comparison.

Data doesn’t lie| Without good data, you’re wasting your time. Make sure to look for data from benchmarking that is:

  • Relevant – Data won’t mean much to you if it isn’t relevant to your business. Make sure you consider your geography, size and industry when getting your data. Each has their own trends and characteristics that are incorporated into the data – which makes for a meaningful comparison.
  • Timely – You want to be sure the benchmarks being used are the most recent available, which helps account for seasonality, economic cycles and other fluctuating factors.
  • Accurate – If you’re making sure your data is relevant, it will likely be accurate too. However, it’s always a good idea to verify the data before applying to make important decisions.

A way to measure success| Each business and industry (even businesses in the same industry) has a different way of measuring what success means to them. While you can only decide what success looks like for your business, there are a few metrics that can provide a quick, high level view of your business’s well-being:

  • Net Profit Margin = Net profit before taxes, divided by sales
  • Liquidity Ratio – Current Ratio = Total current assets divided by total current liabilities
  • Turnover ratios, which include inventory days, accounts receivable days and accounts payable days.

As you can see above, benchmarking is a great way to get a picture of how your business is really doing compared to those around it. Using this information, you can feel comfortable making changes to better grow and improve your business.

Have Questions? We have Answers

In our line of work, we get a lot of questions on anything and everything related to owning and operating a business (and we’re happy to answer them, too)! While a lot of these questions are usually pretty easy to answer, sometimes we get a few that really make us think. Even then, we enjoy researching and finding the answers to help business owners be successful.

So, what questions do you have about your business? We would love to help you reach your dreams and goals.

In case you think your question might be too far out there, we promise it’s not. Check out some of these questions (and our answers) to get you started on finding the information you need to watch your business succeed.

“I have invoices coming out of my ears! What do I do with all of them?”

When you have a large amount of invoices to deal with, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of what needs to get done. When invoices aren’t being properly managed, your business can see some serious negative side effects, such as fraud. Following this list of tasks can help you make sure you’re keeping everything in check. Looking to an automated system, such as QuickBooks, is also a great way to keep your invoices at a manageable level.

“Where in the world did all of my cash go?”

This question is more common than you may think. While your business may be profitable, you can still be running out of cash, which might be a concern. Financial struggles can be hard, but our professionals are available to help. Check out this blog – and then, let’s talk!

“Why don’t I have enough time to do everything that needs to get done?”

We get it: owning and operating a business means you have a lot on your plate. From accounting and finance, to human resources to the day-to-day operations, you probably don’t have enough time to do it all yourself. The good news is you don’t have to! Consider your team of employees. What can you delegate to take some of the burden off your shoulders and free up some time? Another option is outsourcing. When you outsource some of your business activities, such as your accounting processes, you free up time to focus on why you got into business in the first place.

“What is this accrual accounting thing I hear so much about? Am I doing it?”

Knowing the specific ins and outs of accounting can be a confusing, daunting task. What it comes to what method of accounting you are using, the water may get even muddier. Maybe you’ve heard of cash based accounting and accrual accounting, but you really have no idea where to begin. We’ve written multiple blogs on how to tell the difference and how to select what fits your business and set up your books. Check them out!

“Taxes terrify me. Where do I even begin?”

Taxes are a complex issue, and questions regarding this topic are common. Whether you want to know more about R&D tax credits, employer vehicles and mileage, how to track your taxes or even all those pesky (yet necessary) forms, we’ve got you covered. Check out our tax archive for answers to all your most pressing questions. If you can’t find the answer, let us know.

Remember, although we numbers nerds really like our financial lingo, we promise to answer your questions in a way you will understand, not just a bunch of accountant talk. After all, we want to see your business succeed!

The Sales Tax Cap

It’s time for a facelift. Last summer, we posted a blog about the North Dakota sales tax cap, and to this date, we still get tons of views on it. What does this mean? It’s a hot topic that’s important to business owners! So, we decided to bring it front and center again so you can get all the info you need without having to dig too far (we’re nice like that).

If you’re doing business in the state of North Dakota, there’s some important tax issues you need to know about: local sales tax cap and minimum tax.

There are multiple cities and counties in North Dakota, which means there are multiple local sales tax jurisdictions that have a max amount of sales tax you are responsible to pay – or, in other words, the refund cap. However, it’s not the vendor’s responsibility to cap the sales tax on your purchase.

The good news? You can submit a claim for a refund with the State!

So, how does all this cap stuff even work? Let’s look at an example:

Gary is working on a project, and bought $10,000 worth of lumber. He had the lumber delivered right to the job site – which is located in Fargo. He received a bill from the vendor, with the total being $10,750. This included sales tax at a rate of 7.5%, which was properly imposed.

Material Cost    $10,000.00

            Sales Tax                 750.00     

            Total                 $10,750.00

Gary went ahead and paid the bill for $10,750. However, in this case, the sales tax on the purchase is in excess of the maximum tax. This means Gary should apply for a refund. But how is the sales tax more?

Well…

The Fargo sales tax rate – which is the 7.5% that was applied to the purchase – is made up of three components:

State of North Dakota   5.0%

            City of Fargo                2.0%

            Cass County                  0.5%

The maximum tax for the City of Fargo is $50, while $12.50 is the maximum tax for Cass County (the State itself doesn’t have a maximum tax). In other words, the sales tax only applies to the first $2,500 of your purchase. Let’s recalculate Gary’s bill using the tax cap:

Material Cost    $10,000.00   

            Sales Tax               562.50

            Total                 $10,562.50

Confused about where the $562.50 came from? State tax = $500 ($10,000*5.0%), City tax = $50 ($2,500*2.0%), and County tax = $12.50 ($2,500*0.5%).

This means that our good friend Gary is eligible for a refund of $187.50 from the State of North Dakota – and who doesn’t love getting money back?

So how does Gary go about getting his refund?

Easy as cake (which Gary could definitely indulge in with his refund money)!

  1. Visit https://www.nd.gov/tax/salesanduse/forms/
  2. Under “Other Forms” click on “Claim for Refund Local Sales and Use Tax Paid Beyond Maximum Tax
  3. Follow the instructions to complete and send back

A few other things to keep in mind with maximum tax include:

  • The refund claim must be postmarked no later than three years from the date of the invoice. (This means if you weren’t aware of the cap, you can look back three years and see if you have any claims to submit!)
  • You need to include with the form a copy of all invoices covered by the claim.
  • The refund claim only applies on properly imposed sales tax – which means the sales tax needs to be right in order to claim a refund from the state.
  • The refund claim applies to a single transaction, not an item on a transaction or total purchases for a month.
  • Not all cities and counties impose a maximum tax. The claim for refund form has a table which outlines the cities and counties that impose this tax.

If you still have questions, let us know. We have tax people who can help make taxes a little less… taxing.

Setting up for Success: Part 1

You’ve decided to start a new business – how exciting! There are many important things to consider when getting everything set up, such as your human resources policies (your employees matter!) and software and solutions (you want everything organized and running smoothly). Another important component you need to consider is your accounting – after all, these numbers lay the foundation for your business and essentially tell your story.

Accounting is an important part of your business, and getting it right the first time is crucial. So where do you even begin?

First, it’s important to understand your business and industry. This understanding can help you answer some important questions for designing your accounting system. Some of the questions that may come up include:

  • “What basis of accounting should I be using?”
  • “What information should I be tracking in order to make informed decisions?”
  • “I know what I want to track, but how do I track it?”

Let’s start with the first question: selecting your basis of accounting. Your basis of accounting is essentially a framework used to record your transactions. There are a few different types to choose from, with the following being the most common.

  • U.S. GAAP (United States Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) – Try saying that one ten times fast. This is an accrual based framework in which revenues and expenses are recorded when they are earned and incurred, respectively. This is the most commonly recommended type.
  • Cash Basis – In this framework, revenues and expenses are recorded when cash is received or paid, respectively. Cash basis presents two different methods of accounting: pure and modified. The difference comes in that under modified cash bases, some transactions follow U.S. GAAP. Check out this blog to learn more about cash versus accrual methods.
  • Income Tax Basis – This is a framework in which revenue and expense recording depends on tax regulations. This helps eliminate the need for converting from one basis of accounting to another for tax return purposes.
  • Regulatory – In this framework, a regulatory agency prescribes the best method.

Now that we’ve looked at the different basis types available, it’s time to determine what information you should be tracking. The key here is to capture all of your business transactions in the simplest, and most efficient, way possible. This includes both cash and noncash transactions.

Depending on your specific business or industry, you might need to consider tracking your transactions in greater detail. Here are some areas to consider tracking:

  • Should you be tracking direct and indirect costs related to construction or manufacturing contracts so you can see the profitability?
  • What sales tax jurisdictions do you need to track for sales tax reporting?
  • Do you need to track certain items for tax return purposes?
  • If you do business in multiple states, should you be tracking transactions by state for tax purposes?
  • Do you have different departments or divisions that you need to track in order to view profitability?

Once you decide what information you should be tracking, you can select an accounting solution, and start designing your accounting system.

Stay tuned for the second part of this blog, where we go in depth about how you track your information. Although we’ve shared similar posts about these topics in the past, we think a refresh and reminder is important. If you need help in the meantime, just ask!

Small Business Loans 101

Guest Blog By: Matt Gruchalla and Shelly Kegley of Bell Bank

In today’s banking environment, securing a small business loan takes more organization than one may anticipate. There also seems to be a correlation between how organized a borrower is, and success in getting approved for a small business loan.

Financing for a New Business

It is important to plan well in advance for starting a business so the business owners are financially well positioned for success. This gives the bank an idea of the owner’s capacity to support the business if additional cash injections are needed at any point. Some items to consider prior to starting a business include:

  • Personal credit – The owner’s credit report should be free of anything derogatory, and reflect that all accounts have been paid as agreed. Revolving debt and credit card balances should be minimal. Assuming the owner’s personal accounts have been handled as agreed, personal credit scores should be acceptable.
  • Personal income tax returns – Typically, lenders require three years of personal income tax returns, as well as income tax returns for any business ventures the owners have been involved with.
  • Personal financial statement – This is a detail of the owner’s assets and liabilities. Potential lenders will look closely at owner’s cash, liquid investment balances and equity in homes or other real estate, as these can be sources for initial or ongoing business capitalization.
  • Outside investors or loan guarantors – If a business owner feels they may not be financially positioned to start a business, a good option may be to consider outside investors or loan guarantors.
  • Business plan – A great business plan includes a market analysis that’s backed by real data. The business plan should explain why there’s a need for the product or service that the potential business will sell, as well as what differentiates them from their competitors. The business plan should include a summary of the background and experience of the owners and key employees. Obstacles and success barriers should be discussed and mitigated.
    • A business plan shouldn’t be lengthy or redundant. Keep it clear and concise! SCORE and the Small Business Development Center are two outstanding resources available in the FM area to contact if you need assistance with completing your business plan.
    • Projections are a key component of a business plan, and shouldn’t be overly optimistic. The assumptions used to formulate the projections need to be explained so the lender understands how they were determined. The projections should include a “day one” balance sheet, along with year-end balance sheets for the first three years. Income statement projections should include monthly projections for the first year and annual projections for the next two years.
  • Sources and uses summary – This gives the lender an idea of what the loan funds will be used for, and will detail the equity that will be contributed by the owners. There isn’t a hard and fast rule for the amount of equity needed but typically 20% to 25% is normal.

Financing for an Existing Business

Securing financing for an existing business is normally an easier process because a lender can rely on a proven history rather than on projections. A projection may be needed if the financing request materially changes the business operations; however, these projections may be easier to complete since the business owner will have a better understanding of their business and industry.

From the business a lender will require:

  • Three years of business financial statements
  • Most current year to date financial statements
  • Three years of business income tax returns

From the business owners a lender will require:

  • Three years of personal income tax returns
  • A current personal financial statement

Obtaining a small business loan may seem daunting, but an organized, financially healthy borrower will have a much easier time securing a small business loan. Taking the time to prepare a well thought out business plan, and becoming financially healthy, will make the financing process go more smoothly.

Tips for Year-End and a Smooth Audit Prep

By: Stephanie Berggren, Eide Bailly LLP

Year-end is always a hectic time. Your company is making sure that all required state and federal filings are done and internal documents are completed. Plus, to make things even crazier, you’re also starting to think about and prepare for your annual audit. Can you say overwhelming?

One question that is fairly common: How early is too early to start on year-end procedures? The answer? There’s no such thing as too early. We are in a world where activity happens every day that will affect your year-end and your audit, so paying attention and staying up to date is important.

So what does year-end preparation look like?

To get started, at a minimum, you should have a review process that documents when purchase orders are created, when bills are paid and when cash/checks are reviewed and deposited. This will help lay a solid foundation you can use to make sure you’re on the right track.

Monthly, you should be doing reconciliations for the following common accounts:

  • Bank accounts – this helps verify that all revenue and expenditure activity is captured in your records on a monthly basis.
  • Accounts receivable – this will help you make sure your customers are paying in a timely manner, and will also help with your collection procedures.
  • Accounts payable – this will help verify that amounts showing due are true payables and to make sure your vendors are getting paid timely. This may also help you take advantage of discounts given by your vendors for early payment.
  • Capital asset inventory – this will help establish that any capital outlays are added to your software and/or external schedule. This list is an audit necessity.
  • Payroll accounts (accruals and expenses) – this will help verify that payroll is being accounted for properly in the correct accounts.

Doing these tasks on a monthly basis establishes good review and control habits. It also gives you, or your accounting and finance team the ability to find and fix errors during the year – and before your auditors find them.

Now that we’ve reviewed what to do on a monthly basis, let’s discuss year-end. Annually, you should:

  • Review checks paid after year-end to make sure they are properly included in or excluded from your accounts payable ledger. This not only helps make sure your auditor isn’t finding any adjusting entries during their audit, but also helps ensure you have included all your expenses in the proper year.
  • Review old outstanding payables/credits to see if either payment was missed or if payments were misapplied.
  • Review your deposits received after year-end to make sure you applied payments to the correct customer and year.
  • Review old outstanding accounts receivable to see if an allowance is necessary for accounts that may not be collectible.
  • Update your capital asset listing for any disposals/deletions that have happened. This can be done by having each program/department/etc. do physical counts of their assets and submitting that to the finance department or selecting a lucky individual to verify the entire list.
  • Review year-end adjustments, usually prepaid, accruals, and current versus long term debt, which are required for the audit. This is the last part that has an impact on your findings if the auditor is the one posting these journal entries. Below are a list of accounts that are usually adjusted:
    • Prepaid rents, real estate taxes and insurance
    • Accrued payroll and taxes
    • Compensated absences
    • Long term debt (car and equipment loans)

Because you have accounted for your monthly procedures, your year-end procedures should become less burdensome since those issues were addressed throughout the year (and who doesn’t want an easier year-end?). With the confidence that your company gains from knowing you have reviewed and reconciled your financial information, you are able to concentrate on accurately and confidently preparing your financial statements.

Year-end work can be time consuming and sometimes tricky. If you need to save time or need help figuring out where to begin, let us know. Ours numbers nerds are no stranger to this type of work – and they even enjoy doing it!

 

Exemption Certificate Errors

We figure with it being tax season, we can never talk too much about taxes and all the rules and regulations that go along with them. So, without further ado, we bring you another tax blog. Today’s topic: exemption certificates.

What is an exemption certificate and why do I need to know this?
Sales tax applies to most items of tangible property – something you can usually touch or see –unless there is an exemption under the law, or an exemption certificate. Exemption certificates usually are presented by a customer to a seller. If the exemption certificate is properly completed, the seller will not be required to collect sales tax.

Can all types of sales be exempt?
Generally speaking, there are three different reasons a sale can be exempt from sales tax. These are considered the type of exemption.

  1. Use Based – These exemptions come from the idea of where and how the product will be used after the sale. Items that are intended for resale are a common example of a use based exemption.
  2. Product Based – This exemption has to deal with – you guessed it – what type of product is being sold. Exemption laws vary from state to state. For example, shoes are taxable in ND and exempt in MN.
  3. Buyer Based – Exemptions that are buyer based focus on the type of buyer who is making the purchase. Examples could include government, hospitals or some not for profit entities.

What’s on an exemption certificate?
As mentioned before (and like anything tax related), the rules and specifications of exemption certificates vary based on state. However, there are some general points that are almost always included on an exemption certificate, no matter which state you are in.

They include:

  • Type of exemption
  • Name and address of both the buyer and the seller
  • Explanation of what is being purchased
  • Tax registration number or other unique identifiers such as a SSN or FEIN.
  • Signature

Sounds good. Anything else I should know?
We’re glad you asked. When state sales tax auditors do their work, they review invoices, types of payment and the information on the certificate for exempt sales. Lately, we are seeing issues where the exemption certificates are not valid because pieces don’t match up.  We will give you some examples.

Example one: A tractor was sold exempt from sales tax with a completed exemption certificate on file. The invoice lists Johnson Farms as the as the buyer. However, the financial paperwork indicates Johnson Auto Parts, and the exemption certificate is from Johnson Farms, claiming a farm exemption. Rather than this transaction looking like a farm use sale, it now looks like it was a non-farm use sale at the auto parts store.

Example two: A riding lawnmower was sold exempt from sales tax with a completed exemption certificate on file. The invoice and exemption certificates list Wee-Town Schools as the buyer. The payment for the sale comes in the form of a check from Mike Johnson. Because the schools name is not on the exemption certificate, it appears the lawnmower is not paid for by the school, and is instead an employee trying to buy an item for his own personal use exempt from sales tax.

Example three: An engine is being sold. The invoice lists Ace Anderson Auto Sales, and is paid for in cash. The exemption certificate, however, comes from Alex Anderson for resale. Alex has gone by Ace his entire life, but only uses the name Alex for official business. Although this is the same person, the auditors do not see it that way. Because the names do not match up, there is a problem with this sale.

The moral of the story…
For an exemption certificate to work properly, the name on it must match up with the invoice/payment. We get it, all this sales and use tax stuff can be pretty tricky (although this blog is pretty helpful). Luckily, our trained professionals are here to give you guidance when you need it.