Be Sure to Take Advantage of Deductions for the Self Employed

Tax breaks can be a boon to the self-employed. If you own your own business — or are thinking about it — here are some tax deductions you may be eligible to claim.

Self-employment (SE) tax. When you’re self-employed, you have to pay SE taxes on your earnings instead of the Social Security and Medicare taxes that employees and employers pay. You’ll be able to deduct a portion of your SE taxes.

Health insurance. If you’re not eligible for coverage under a plan offered by your spouse’s employer, you can deduct the costs of health, dental, and long-term care insurance premiums paid for yourself, your spouse, and your dependent children. (Requirements apply.)



Office at home. You can deduct a percentage (usually based on square footage) of your mortgage or rent, utilities, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and home maintenance costs. Alternatively, you may use the “safe harbor” method, which allows a deduction of $5 per square foot (up to 300 square feet). But be careful — you must use the space regularly and exclusively for business to claim the deduction.

Thinking about retirement. Deductions for contributions to a tax-deferred retirement plan, such as a SEP-IRA, SIMPLE IRA, Keogh plan, or solo 401(k) plan, will reduce your current tax bill.

Talk and surf. You can deduct phone, fax, and Internet expenses directly related to your business.

Vehicle use. The cost of driving a car for business is deductible. You can use either the IRS standard mileage rate or your actual expenses to compute your deduction.

Interest. Interest on business loans and business purchases charged to a credit card is deductible.

Food, fun, and travel. You can generally deduct 50% of the cost of business meals and entertainment if you meet certain tax law requirements. Other business travel expenses, such as lodging, are 100% deductible.

Make sure you keep good records, and give us a call today if you have any questions.

Tax Time: Plan Ahead for 2018 to Avoid Refund Delays

Take steps now to ensure smooth processing of your 2017 tax return and avoid a delay in getting your refund next year.

Gather Documents
Making sure you have all your documents before your file your return, including your 2016 tax return. This includes Forms W-2 from employers, Forms 1099 from banks and other payers, and Forms 1095-A from the Marketplace for those claiming the Premium Tax Credit. Doing so will help avoid refund delays and the need to file an amended return later. Confirm that each employer, bank or other payer has a current mailing address.

Typically, these forms start arriving by mail in January. Check them over carefully, and if any of the information shown is inaccurate, contact the payer right away for a correction.
Taxpayers should keep a copy of their 2016 tax return and all supporting documents for a minimum of three years. Doing so will make it easier to fill out a 2017 return next year. In addition, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their 2016 return to properly e-file their 2017 return.



Renew Expiring ITINs
Some people with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) may need to renew it before the end of the year. Doing so promptly will avoid a refund delay and possible loss of key tax benefits.

Any ITIN not used on a tax return in the past three years will expire on Dec. 31, 2017. Similarly, any ITIN with middle digits 70, 71, 72 or 80 will also expire at the end of the year. Anyone with an expiring ITIN who plans to file a return in 2018 will need to renew it using Form W-7.

Taxpayers who fail to renew an ITIN before filing a tax return next year could face a delayed refund and may be ineligible for certain tax credits. For more information, visit the ITIN information page on IRS.gov.

Expect Some Refunds to Be Held
As always, the IRS cautions taxpayers not to rely on getting a refund by a certain date, especially when making major purchases or paying bills. Though the IRS issues more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days, some returns require further review.

For a Faster Refund, Choose e-file
Electronically filing a tax return is the most accurate way to prepare and file. Errors delay refunds and the easiest way to avoid them is to e-file. Nearly 90 percent of all returns are electronically filed. There are several e-file options:
• IRS Free File,
• Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs,
• Commercial tax preparation software, or
• Tax professional.

Use Direct Deposit.
Combining direct deposit with electronic filing is the fastest way for a taxpayer to get their refund. With direct deposit, a refund goes directly into a taxpayer’s bank account. There’s no reason to worry about a lost, stolen or undeliverable refund check. Direct deposit saves taxpayer dollars.

6 Best Practices Using QuickBooks

Even if you’ve been using QuickBooks Online for a long time, it’s good to step back and evaluate your actions.

“Best practices” aren’t enforceable rules. They’re simply guidelines businesses commonly follow in one area or another. If you’re in retail, for example, one best practice might be to always ask customers checking out if they found everything they were looking for. This serves two purposes: It conveys a feeling of concern for the customer’s shopping experience, and it may also lead to increased sales.



QuickBooks Online has many best practices, some of which may serve multiple purposes, including these:

    • They keep your company data safe and clean.
    • They provide insight on your financial status.
    • They save time.
    • They can lead you to better relationships with customers and vendors.

Are any or all the following common practices for your business?

Reconcile accounts regularly.

One of QuickBooks Online’s most useful features is its ability to connect to your financial institution’s websites and download cleared transactions. QuickBooks Online also offers tools to help you keep your accounts reconciled online, like you used to do every month when your paper statement came. Reconciling accounts can help you uncover errors. It gives you a truer picture of your cash flow, and it improves the accuracy and timeliness of some reports.

It’s not a particularly pleasant process, but you should be reconciling your accounts regularly in QuickBooks Online. We can help.

Clean up your lists.

Some lists in QuickBooks Online aren’t overly long. You don’t have to worry about, for example, Payment Methods, Terms, or Classes. Your lists of customers and vendors, products, and services, on the other hand, can grow unwieldy over the years. This means it can take more time than it should to scroll through lists when you’re using those entities in transactions. It also puts unnecessary stress on your company file. If you can’t delete any, at least make them inactive.

Never leave QuickBooks Online open when you leave your work area.

This goes for everyone, even people who work alone and don’t access their company files away from their work areas. The obvious reason is to keep someone else from getting in and authorizing payments, for example, or otherwise compromising your financial information. It also protects the integrity of your data file in case your internet connection suffers some kind of outage.

Keep track of 1099 vendors.

Whether your company uses 10 vendors or a hundred or more, you may have to supply at least some of them with an IRS Form 1099 at about the same time you’re preparing W-2s for employees. Your 1099-related tasks will be much easier if those individuals and/or companies are earmarked. If you think vendors might need 1099s when you create their records in QuickBooks Online, click in the box to the left of Track payments for 1099 in the lower right corner. Not sure? Ask us.

Classify everything with care.

Every time you have to create a record or transaction where categories are involved (i.e., Classes, Customers and Vendors, Territories), check and double-check that you’ve assigned them the correct classification. Errors here can result not only in problems with daily workflow, but your reports will not be accurate. A related best practice: Create a meaningful group of Classes, and use them faithfully. They’ll help you make better business decisions.

To create your list of Classes, click the gear icon in the upper right and select All Lists | Classes | New.

View reports on a regular basis.

There are some advanced financial reports in QuickBooks Online that we should be creating for you on a regular basis, either monthly or quarterly. These include Profit and Loss, Balance Sheet, and Statement of Cash Flows. The mechanics of creating them aren’t difficult, but analyzing them is. You should be running reports on your own at frequencies that you think would be helpful, like A/R Aging Detail, Unpaid Bills, and Sales by Class Detail.

If you’ve been using QuickBooks Online for a while, you could probably come up with your own list of best practices. If you’re new to the site, consider scheduling some time with us to go over more of them. Develop good habits from the start, and there won’t be nearly as much need for troubleshooting down the road.

Hired Your First Employee? Your Tax Obligations

It’s a major milestone for you, but it comes with a lot of paperwork that must be done correctly.

Bringing a new employee into your business is a reason to celebrate. You’ve done well enough as a sole proprietor that you can’t handle the workload by yourself anymore.

Onboarding your first worker, though, comes with a great deal of extra effort for you at first. You have to show him or her the ropes so you can offload some of the extra weight you’ve been carrying.

But first things first. Before your employee even shows up for the first day of work, you should have assembled all the paperwork required to keep you compliant with the IRS and other federal and state agencies.



A New Number

As a one-person company, you’ve been using your Social Security number as your tax ID. You’re an employer now, so you’ll need an Employer Identification Number (EIN). You can apply for one here.

The IRS’s EIN Assistant walks you through the process of applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Once you’ve completed the steps in the IRS’s EIN Assistant, you’ll receive your EIN right away, and can start using it to open a business bank account, apply for a business license, etc.

You’ll also need an EIN before you start paying your employee. It’s required on the Form W-4. If you’ve ever worked for a business yourself, you’ve probably filled out this form. As an employer now, you should provide one to your new hire on the first day. When it’s completed, it will help you determine how much federal income tax to withhold every payday. If you’re not bringing in a full-time employee but, rather, an independent contractor, you won’t be responsible for withholding and paying income taxes for that individual. You’ll need to supply him or her with a Form W-9.

Note: Payroll processing is probably the most complex element of small business accounting. If you don’t have any experience with it, you’ll probably want to use an online payroll application. After you’re set up on one of these websites, you enter the hours worked every pay period. The site calculates tax withholding and payroll taxes due, then prints or direct deposits paychecks. Let us know if you want some guidance on this.

Don’t forget about state taxes if your state requires them, and any local obligations. The IRS maintains a page with links to each state’s website. You can get information about doing business in your geographical area, which includes taxation requirements.

More Forms

You also have to be in contact with your state to report a new hire (same goes if you ever re-hire someone). The Small Business Administration (SBA) can be helpful here, as it is in many other aspects of managing a small business. The organization maintains a list of links to state entities here.

All employees are required to fill out a Form I-9 on the first day of a new job. New employees must also prove that they’re legally eligible to work in the United States. To do this, they complete a Form I-9 from the Department of Homeland Security. As their employer, you’re charged with verifying that the information provided is accurate by looking at one or a combination of documents (U.S. Passport, driver’s license and birth certificate, etc.). By signing this form, you’re stating that you’ve done that.

You can also use the U.S. government’s E-Verify online tool to confirm eligibility.

A Helping Hand

The Department of Labor has a great website for new employers. The FirstStep Employment Law Advisor helps employers understand what DOL federal employment laws apply to them and what recordkeeping they they’re required to do.

Please consider T. Williams & Associates a resource, too, as you take on a new employee. Preparing for a complex new set of tax obligations will be a challenge. We’d like to see you get everything right from the start.

QuickBooks Online Simple Setup

Whether you’re just launching a business or you’re going online with an existing company, take some time to get acquainted with QuickBooks Online.

Your first hour with any web-based application is probably spent exploring and clicking buttons, links, and other navigation tools to get the lay of the land.

QuickBooks Online should be no different. In fact, it’s even more important to take it slow when you’re using an accounting solution. If you start entering data without understanding how everything works together, you may make mistakes early on that will be difficult to undo down the road.

Simple Setup

If you’re not absolutely certain you’re going to stick with QuickBooks Online, you can sign up for a 30-day free trial (no credit card required). You’ll first create an account by entering a username, password, etc., then be asked a few simple questions about your business and the features you plan to use (invoicing, inventory, bills, etc.).



If you have data in a desktop QuickBooks file, you can start the import process here, but we strongly recommend that you let us help with setup if you’re planning to do this.

Once you start entering data, your QuickBooks Online Dashboard will give you an overview of your finances.

When you’ve completed your account setup, the main QuickBooks Online screen opens. You’ll see your Dashboard, a collection of data and charts that provides critical information like your bank balances, your outstanding invoices, and your current profit and loss.

You’ll eventually be using the vertical pane on the left for navigation. But you don’t need to click the links there yet – you have other setup tasks to do first.

Specifying Options

If you’ve used a desktop version of QuickBooks, you know about its many menus and its Preferences window. QuickBooks Online uses a different convention for choosing options and entering the information that will serve as the backbone for your company file. To get there, click the small gear icon in the upper right corner.

Tip: There are two other links next to the gear icon. You’ll be able to search for transactions by clicking the magnifying glass link. The plus (+) sign opens a window with links to screens where you can create transactions and initiate other activities.

You’ll spend a lot of time working with the links in the Your Company window when you’re setting up QuickBooks Online. You can always refer back to it later on.

As you can see, you have access to a lot of data and activity in the Your Company window. You don’t have to go through absolutely every link before you start using QuickBooks Online, but two you should look at early are Account and Settings and Manage Users.

The Account and Settings page is divided into multiple areas that you can access from a navigation bar on the left. They include:

  • Company. Fill in contact details and upload your company logo for use on sales forms.
  • Sales. Customize sales form content (preferred terms, custom fields, discount field, etc.). Would you like to turn on inventory tracking?
  • Expenses. Do you use purchase orders? Track expenses and items by customer? Make expenses and items billable?
  • Payments. Do you want to subscribe to QuickBooks Payments so you can accept credit cards and/or bank payments through QuickBooks Online?
  • Advanced. You’ll have numerous decisions to make here. For example, what tax form will you use? Will you want to automate some activities, like applying bill payments? Do you need to support multiple currencies?

The Advanced page of QuickBooks Online’s Account and Settings presents you with numerous options. You may want our help with this.

Multi-User Access

Will more than one person at your company be using QuickBooks Online? If so, you’ll most likely want to specify what areas they’re allowed to visit and what activities they can do. Click the gear icon in the upper right and then select Manage Users. QuickBooks Online displays a mini-interview in a window here that walks you through the process of assigning access rights to individuals (Custom User, Time Tracking Only, etc.).

We’ve probably taken up more than your first hour by now, but we wanted to stress the importance of thoroughly setting up QuickBooks Online before you start entering contact records and creating transactions. If this is your first experience with an accounting application, we highly recommend that you engage us in your first hours of using QuickBooks Online. We can come in at any time and troubleshoot problems, but it’ll be more economical and less time-consuming if we work with you from the start.

4 Steps to Improve Your Business Bottom Line

What can you do to get profits growing again?  Increasing your profits requires selling more and or spending less.  While building up your sales may require an extended effort business costs are often very ripe for a quick trimming.  Start with these 4 things to improve your bottom line.

1  Supplies and Other Purchases

Usually in any business, relatively few items represent a very large share of all outlays. The first step in cutting expenses is, therefore, to identify your highest costs. You may be able to trim many of these costs by making sure you always bid out significant purchases or by more actively seeking less expensive alternatives.

For many companies, inventory carrying costs are a very significant expense. Focusing on matching your inventory quantities more closely to your short-term needs could result in significant savings.

2.  Telecommunications and Other Services

The ongoing services you buy may also offer the potential for cost savings. Revisit your choice of telecommunications vendor and your usage.

Look carefully at your costs for financial services. If you borrow or maintain a line of credit, always compare the rates from more than one financing source before you commit. Make sure you are not paying higher-than-necessary fees for your company’s checking and deposit services.



3.  Cash Management

To control cash outlays, take advantage of discounts for early payment whenever possible. And look to delay payments for as long as you can without giving up discounts.

On the receiving side, deposit all receipts daily. And always actively pursue collection of any invoices that are past due. To help control your working capital needs and, therefore, your credit costs, try to match any new liabilities to your anticipated cash flow.

4.  Fixed Expenses

One other category worth examining is fixed expenses that are long-term commitments. While you usually can’t change these quickly, be aware of when a window for change will open and prepare well in advance by considering lower cost alternatives.

To learn more ways to control your small business costs give us a call today. Our trained staff of professionals are always available to answer any questions you may have.