Introducing the 2017-18 Tax Planning Guide

Tax planning guideTaxes are important, especially as you’re running your business. Paying attention to tax laws, and planning in a timely fashion for taxes, can seriously help you in the long run. For instance, you can estimate your tax liability and even look for ways to reduce it. That’s why we created our annual tax planning guide.

The guide highlights all sorts of information related to tax planning and tax law. Topics include:

  • Executive compensation
  • Investing
  • Real Estate
  • Business Ownership
  • Charitable Giving
  • Family & Education
  • Retirement
  • Estate Planning
  • Tax Rates

To learn more, or download the guide, click here.

Change could be coming …

There’s a large possibility that tax laws could be seriously changing, thanks to a change in White House administration and Republicans maintaining a majority of Congress. But for now, following current tax laws is the way to go.

However, it’s important to know that change could come quickly and you need to be ready to respond. We encourage you to have a tax adviser who can help you navigate these changes if they happen.

A Millennial’s View

Guest blog by: Isaac Bumgarden, audit intern, Eide Bailly LLP

Accountant: the career that seems like it’s filled with numbers nerds, gloomy days reading over spreadsheets and days spent typing away on a calculator. If we’re talking about a public accountant, everyone thinks you’re an evil number cruncher who’s up to no good (and maybe even works for the IRS).

So how does someone, let alone a millennial, decide accounting is the right career path?

As you know, everyone is different (yes, even us millennials have different tastes and interests). While I don’t speak for everyone, it seems a majority of millennials have a similar experience when it comes to choosing a career, especially if they landed on accounting. When looking at the accounting profession (at least before having much exposure to it), we tend to think of someone sitting behind a desk, quickly punching numbers into a calculator all day, or even someone working for the IRS – and often times, these views don’t seem to sit well with us millennials. After all, we are said to be a social generation which thrives off of each other.

However, college and schooling comes around, and a whole new world presents itself. Rather than hearing about the IRS auditors, you start learning about different options in the accounting world.

“A CFO? What’s that?”

            “There are other auditors besides the IRS? Well what’s the difference?”

           “I can open up my own tax accounting firm in my small home town if I                           understand this stuff?”

You begin to realize that maybe accounting isn’t a one-size-fits-all career path, and there might even be something about it that catches your eye. In fact, I see accounting as a door that leads to a lot of potential in the business world, which is something I never would have even thought of on my own.

Many of the potential scenarios in accounting appeal to us millennials if we are exposed to these options. If you enjoy being alone, maybe the traditional accounting job is for you. If you like interacting with people, take a look at the business side of accounting, such as being a CFO, where you get to go in and work alongside different companies. If travel is your idea of an ideal career, maybe an auditor is the right choice for you. There are many different opportunities and possibilities for each personality and skill set.

For myself (and other millennials, too) and even the general public, accounting is often seen as a boring profession, as explained before. However, accounting is so much more than just the numbers. Public accounting is not only a way to help individuals, but businesses as well.

Being an auditor allows you to help businesses be sure they are on the right track both legally and financially. If you’re the tax man (or woman), you can make sure individuals, families and businesses are being taxed properly, which can lead to saved money and greater revenue and income. Many people don’t realize accounting truly allows you to help people do what they love.

It seems the reason millennials aren’t choosing accounting as readily as other generations simply stems from the lack of information about what accounting really entails. When it comes to accounting, you’re never really stuck in one area. We millennials enjoy variety and a change in scenery, and accounting allows us to have just that.

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!

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!

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.

Employer Provided Vehicles: What You Need to Know

Welcome to tax season. When it comes to taxes, there are many factors and considerations to keep in mind (go figure!). One you might not be thinking of is properly accounting for business versus personal use of vehicles. Trust us, it’s important.

Why do I need to know about this?

First and foremost, the IRS and state taxing authorities will almost ALWAYS ask about this during an exam. If the IRS wants to know about it, you should know about it too. Personal use of a company owned vehicle is considered a taxable benefit and should be included as taxable wages/salary to the employee, unless he or she reimburses the business for personal use. Also, the amount of business versus personal mileage will determine the amount of deductions (i.e.-depreciation) that can be taken in regard to the vehicle.

What do I need to do in order to be in compliance?

Each employee who drives a company owned vehicle should keep records, such as a mileage log, to track business and personal miles. These records should be submitted regularly to the business accounting department so they can properly account for the personal usage. Undocumented mileage may be considered personal miles upon exam. Commuting miles, driving from home to the office, are also considered personal miles.

Do I really need to go through the hassle?

Yes – but there is help! There are apps available to help log business and personal miles. You can also adopt a company policy restricting personal use of company vehicles.

An example of this would be disallowing personal use. When no personal use is allowed, this usually means the vehicle is stored on the employer’s premises. The only exception would be de minimus personal use, such as a stop for lunch between two business locations (food is important, people).

However, frequency is a factor of consideration to the de minimus exception. Another policy would be to allow personal use only for commuting from home to the office. The commuting miles would still be a taxable benefit to the employee, but the mileage log would no longer be required.

The moral of the story…

Keeping records on employer vehicles is good. Keeping accurate records so the IRS can’t bug you (too much) is great! If you need help down the road (see what we did there?), let us know. From figuring out what counts as business or personal use, to drafting an appropriate personal use policy or even teaching the basics of this, we’ve got you covered. We’re happy to jump in the driver’s seat (okay we’re done with the awful puns now) to help.

Important Items When Hiring

Have you ever thought about hiring staff? You know, bringing in employees to work beside you in your business to keep it awesome and running smoothly? As a business owner, it’s likely the thought has at least crossed your mind. What you might not have thought about is the legalities that come along with hiring staff.

Before you hire staff, the Small Business Administration says you need to take care of some very important to-do items.

  1. Employer Identification Number (EIN) — To hire employees, you will need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS by filing an application. This can be done on the IRS website. An EIN is the unique code the IRS uses to identify your company – similar to how your social security number identifies you.
  2. Forms W-2 and W-4 — Having employees means you will have to file taxes on their wages. You will need your employees to fill out W-4 forms when they are hired. You will also need to submit W-2 forms for employees to Social Security. Getting these records set up right away will make for smooth(er) sailing during tax season.
  3. Form I-9 — You also need to make sure the employees you’re hiring are legal to work in the United States. To do this, you as the employer will need to complete Form I-9 within three days of hiring someone. You may need to do an online verification during this step as well. This will depend on what state you are in and whether you are a Federal contractor or sub-contractor.
  4. Two Words: Worker’s Compensation — In the somewhat unlikely – but still very serious – event someone gets injured on the job, you typically need to pay worker’s compensation. Your business will need to have specific insurance to cover this, and this insurance needs to be in place as soon as you have employees. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  5. Form 941 — More on taxes. Employers who pay wages are usually subject to other taxes, such as social security. Because of this, employers have to file Form 941, or the Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return.
  6. New Hire Reporting — You will need to register with your state’s New Hire Reporting Program, which is essentially just a large directory of all employees. Employers must report newly hired or rehired workers within 20 days. What must be reported? Federal and state laws in North Dakota, for example, require you report the employee’s name, address, social security number, date of hire and whether or not health insurance is offered. These criteria can vary from state to state.
  7. Workplace Posters — Employers are required by law to display certain posters in the workplace. Such posters usually inform employees of their rights under labor laws. Some examples include the Equal Employment Opportunity poster, the Fair Labor Standards Act poster and the Family and Medical Leave Act poster. Most of these posters can be found online through the US Department of Labor’s website.

Hiring employees can be an exciting step for your business. Not only can they help your business succeed, but they may be a sign that business is good and you need more help to serve your customers.

If you have any questions about the hiring process, our HR consultants are here to help you take this step!

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