• Travel & Entertainment: Maximizing Tax Benefits
• The Home-Based Business: Basics to Consider
• Cash Flow: The Pulse of your Business
• 10 Tips for Deducting Losses from a Disaster
• Tax Tips for Students with a Summer Job
• Tax Tips for Members of the Military
 

Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties. If desired, we would be pleased to perform the requisite research and provide you with a detailed written analysis. Such an engagement may be the subject of a separate engagement letter that would define the scope and limits of the desired consultation services.
 
Travel & Entertainment: Maximizing Tax Benefits

Tax law allows you to deduct two types of travel expenses related to your business, local and what the IRS calls "away from home."

  1. First, local travel expenses. You can deduct local transportation expenses incurred for business purposes such as the cost of getting from one location to another via public transportation, rental car, or your own automobile. Meals and incidentals are not deductible as travel expenses, but you can deduct meals as an entertainment expense as long as certain conditions are met (see below).

  2. Second, you can deduct away from home travel expenses, including meals and incidentals, but if your employer reimburses your travel expenses your deductions are limited.

Local Transportation Costs

The cost of local business transportation includes rail fare and bus fare, as well as costs associated with use and maintenance of an automobile used for business purposes. If your main place of business is your personal residence, then business trips from your home office and back are considered deductible transportation and not non-deductible commuting.

You generally cannot deduct lodging and meals unless you stay away from home overnight. Meals may be partially deductible as an entertainment expense.

Away From-Home Travel Expenses

You can deduct one-half of the cost of meals (50 percent) and all of the expenses of lodging incurred while traveling away from home. The IRS also allows you to deduct 100 percent of your transportation expenses--as long as business is the primary reason for your trip.

Here's a list of some deductible away-from-home travel expenses:

  • Meals (limited to 50 percent) and lodging while traveling or once you get to your away-from-home business destination.
  • The cost of having your clothes cleaned and pressed away from home.
  • Costs for telephone, fax or modem usage.
  • Costs for secretarial services away-from-home.
  • The costs of transportation between job sites or to and from hotels and terminals.
  • Airfare, bus fare, rail fare, and charges related to shipping baggage or taking it with you.
  • The cost of bringing or sending samples or displays, and of renting sample display rooms.
  • The costs of keeping and operating a car, including garaging costs.
  • The cost of keeping and operating an airplane, including hangar costs.
  • Transportation costs between "temporary" job sites and hotels and restaurants.
  • Incidentals, including computer rentals, stenographers' fees.
  • Tips related to the above.

Entertainment Expenses

There are limits and restrictions on deducting meal and entertainment expenses. Most are deductible at 50 percent, but there are a few exceptions. Meals and entertainment must be "ordinary and necessary" and not "lavish or extravagant" and directly related to or associated with your business. They must also be substantiated (see below).

Your home is considered a place conducive to business. As such, entertaining at home may be deductible providing there was business intent and business was discussed. The amount of time that business was discussed does not matter.

Reasonable costs for food and refreshments for year-end parties for employees, as well as sales seminars and presentations held at your home, are 100 percent deductible.

If you rent a skybox or other private luxury box for more than one event, say for the season, at the same sports arena, you generally cannot deduct more than the price of a non-luxury box seat ticket. Count each game or other performance as one event. Deduction for those seats is then subject to the 50 percent entertainment expense limit.

If expenses for food and beverages are separately stated, you can deduct these expenses in addition to the amounts allowable for the skybox, subject to the requirements and limits that apply. The amounts separately stated for food and beverages must be reasonable.

Deductions are disallowed for depreciation and upkeep of "entertainment facilities" such as yachts, hunting lodges, fishing camps, swimming pools, and tennis courts. Costs of entertainment provided at such facilities are deductible, subject to entertainment expense limitations.

Dues paid to country clubs or to social or golf and athletic clubs, however; are not deductible. Dues that you pay to professional and civic organizations are deductible as long as your membership has a business purpose. Such organizations include business leagues, trade associations, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, and real estate boards.

Tip: To avoid problems qualifying for a deduction for dues paid to professional or civic organizations, document the business reasons for the membership, the contacts you make and any income generated from the membership.

Entertainment costs, taxes, tips, cover charges, room rentals, maids, and waiters are all subject to the 50 percent limit on entertainment deductions.

How Do You Prove Expenses Are Directly Related?

Expenses are directly related if you can show:

  • There was more than a general expectation of gaining some business benefit other than goodwill.
  • You conducted business during the entertainment.
  • Active conduct of business was your main purpose.

Record-keeping and Substantiation Requirements

Tax law requires you to keep records that will prove the business purpose and amounts of your business travel, entertainment, and local transportation costs. For example, each expense for lodging away from home that is $75 or more must be supported by receipts. The receipt must show the amount, date, place, and type of the expense.

The most frequent reason that the IRS disallows travel and entertainment expenses is failure to show the place and business purpose of an item. Therefore, pay special attention to these aspects of your record-keeping.

Keeping a diary or log book--and recording your business-related activities at or close to the time the expense is incurred--is one of the best ways to document your business expenses.

If you need help documenting business travel and entertainment expenses, don't hesitate to call.

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The Home-Based Business: Basics to Consider

More than 52 percent of businesses today are home-based. Every day, people are striking out and achieving economic and creative independence by turning their skills into dollars. Garages, basements, and attics are being transformed into the corporate headquarters of the newest entrepreneurs--home-based businesspeople.

And, with technological advances in smartphones, tablets, and iPads as well as a rising demand for "service-oriented" businesses, the opportunities seem to be endless.

Is a Home-Based Business Right for You?

Choosing a home business is like choosing a spouse or partner: Think carefully before starting the business. Instead of plunging right in, take the time to learn as much about the market for any product or service as you can. Before you invest any time, effort, or money take a few moments to answer the following questions:

  • Can you describe in detail the business you plan on establishing?
  • What will be your product or service?
  • Is there a demand for your product or service?
  • Can you identify the target market for your product or service?
  • Do you have the talent and expertise needed to compete successfully?

Before you dive head first into a home-based business, it's essential that you know why you are doing it and how you will do it. To succeed, your business must be based on something greater than a desire to be your own boss, and involves an honest assessment of your own personality, an understanding of what's involved, and a lot of hard work. You have to be willing to plan ahead and make improvements and adjustments along the way.

While there are no "best" or "right" reasons for starting a home-based business, it is vital to have a very clear idea of what you are getting into and why. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a self-starter?
  • Can you stick to business if you're working at home?
  • Do you have the necessary self-discipline to maintain schedules?
  • Can you deal with the isolation of working from home?

Working under the same roof that your family lives under may not prove to be as easy as it seems. It is important that you work in a professional environment. If at all possible, you should set up a separate office in your home. You must consider whether your home has space for a business and whether you can successfully run the business from your home.

Compliance with Laws and Regulations

A home-based business is subject to many of the same laws and regulations affecting other businesses and you will be responsible for complying with them. There are some general areas to watch out for, but be sure to consult an attorney and your state department of labor to find out which laws and regulations will affect your business.

Zoning

Be aware of your city's zoning regulations. If your business operates in violation of them, you could be fined or closed down.

Restrictions on Certain Goods

Certain products may not be produced in the home. Most states outlaw home production of fireworks, drugs, poisons, sanitary or medical products, and toys. Some states also prohibit home-based businesses from making food, drink, or clothing.

Registration and Accounting Requirements

You may need the following:

  • Work certificate or a license from the state (your business's name may also need to be registered with the state)
  • Sales tax number
  • Separate business telephone
  • Separate business bank account

If your business has employees, you are responsible for withholding income, social security, and Medicare taxes, as well as complying with minimum wage and employee health and safety laws.

Planning Techniques

Money fuels all businesses. With a little planning, you'll find that you can avoid most financial difficulties. When drawing up a financial plan, don't worry about using estimates. The process of thinking through these questions helps develop your business skills and leads to solid financial planning.

Estimating Start-Up Costs

To estimate your start-up costs include all initial expenses such as fees, licenses, permits, telephone deposit, tools, office equipment and promotional expenses.

In addition, business experts say you should not expect a profit for the first eight to ten months, so be sure to give yourself enough of a cushion if you need it.

Projecting Operating Expenses

Include salaries, utilities, office supplies, loan payments, taxes, legal services and insurance premiums, and don't forget to include your normal living expenses. Your business must not only meet its own needs, but make sure it meets yours as well.

Projecting Income

It is essential that you know how to estimate your sales on a daily and monthly basis. From the sales estimates, you can develop projected income statements, break-even points, and cash-flow statements. Use your marketing research to estimate initial sales volume.

Determining Cash Flow

Working capital--not profits--pays your bills. Even though your assets may look great on the balance sheet, if your cash is tied up in receivables or equipment, your business is technically insolvent. In other words, you're broke.

Make a list of all anticipated expenses and projected income for each week and month. If you see a cash-flow crisis developing, cut back on everything but the necessities.

If a home-based business is in your future, then a tax professional can help. Don't hesitate to call the office if you need assistance setting up your business or making sure you have the proper documentation in place to satisfy the IRS.

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Cash Flow: The Pulse of your Business

Cash flow is the lifeblood of any small business. Some business experts even say that a healthy cash flow is more important than your business's ability to deliver its goods and services! While that might seem counterintuitive, consider this: if you fail to satisfy a customer and lose that customer's business, you can always work harder to please the next customer. If you fail to have enough cash to pay your suppliers, creditors, or employees, then you're out of business!

What is Cash Flow?

Cash flow, simply defined, is the movement of money in and out of your business; these movements are called inflow and outflow. Inflows for your business primarily come from the sale of goods or services to your customers but keep in mind that inflow only occurs when you make a cash sale or collect on receivables. It is the cash that counts! Other examples of cash inflows are borrowed funds, income derived from sales of assets, and investment income from interest.

Outflows for your business are generally the result of paying expenses. Examples of cash outflows include paying employee wages, purchasing inventory or raw materials, purchasing fixed assets, operating costs, paying back loans, and paying taxes.

Note: An accountant is the best person to help you learn how your cash flow statement works. A tax professional can prepare your cash flow statement and explain where the numbers come from. If you need help please contact the office.

Cash Flow versus Profit

While they might seem similar, profit, and cash flow are two entirely different concepts, each with entirely different results. The concept of profit is somewhat broad and only looks at income and expenses over a certain period, say a fiscal quarter. Profit is a useful figure for calculating your taxes and reporting to the IRS.

Cash flow, on the other hand, is a more dynamic tool focusing on the day-to-day operations of a business owner. It is concerned with the movement of money in and out of a business. But more important, it is concerned with the times at which the movement of the money takes place.

In theory, even profitable companies can go bankrupt. It would take a lot of negligence and total disregard for cash flow, but it is possible. Consider how the difference between profit and cash flow relate to your business.

Example: If your retail business bought a $1,000 item and turned around to sell it for $2,000, then you have made a $1,000 profit. But what if the buyer of the item is slow to pay his or her bill, and six months pass before you collect on the account? Your retail business may still show a profit, but what about the bills it has to pay during that six-month period? You may not have the cash to pay the bills despite the profits you earned on the sale. Furthermore, this cash flow gap may cause you to miss other profit opportunities, damage your credit rating, and force you to take out loans and create debt. If this mistake is repeated enough times, you may go bankrupt.

Analyzing your Cash Flow

The sooner you learn how to manage your cash flow, the better your chances for survival. Furthermore, you will be able to protect your company's short-term reputation as well as position it for long-term success.

The first step toward taking control of your company's cash flow is to analyze the components that affect the timing of your cash inflows and outflows. A thorough analysis of these components will reveal problem areas that lead to cash flow gaps in your business. Narrowing, or even closing, these gaps is the key to cash flow management.

Some of the more important components to examine are:

  • Accounts receivable. Accounts receivable represent sales that have not yet been collected in the form of cash. An accounts receivable is created when you sell something to a customer in return for his or her promise to pay at a later date. The longer it takes for your customers to pay on their accounts, the more negative the effect on your cash flow.

  • Credit terms. Credit terms are the time limits you set for your customers' promise to pay for their purchases. Credit terms affect the timing of your cash inflows. A simple way to improve cash flow is to get customers to pay their bills more quickly.

  • Credit policy. A credit policy is the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy - neither too strict nor too generous - is crucial for a healthy cash flow.

  • Inventory. Inventory describes the extra merchandise or supplies your business keeps on hand to meet the demands of customers. An excessive amount of inventory hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows. Too many business owners buy inventory based on hopes and dreams instead of what they can realistically sell. Keep your inventory as low as possible.

  • Accounts payable and cash flow. Accounts payable are amounts you owe to your suppliers that are payable at some point in the near future - "near" meaning 30 to 90 days. Without payables and trade credit, you'd have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, examine your payables schedule.

Some cash flow gaps are created intentionally. For example, a business may purchase extra inventory to take advantage of quantity discounts, accelerate cash outflows to take advantage of significant trade discounts, or spend extra cash to expand its line of business.

For other businesses, cash flow gaps are unavoidable. Take, for example, a company that experiences seasonal fluctuations in its line of business. This business may normally have cash flow gaps during its slow season and then later fill the gaps with cash surpluses from the peak part of its season. Cash flow gaps are often filled by external financing sources. Revolving lines of credit, bank loans, and trade credit are just a few of the external financing options available that you may want to discuss with us.

Monitoring and managing your cash flow is important for the vitality of your business. The first signs of financial woe appear in your cash flow statement, giving you time to recognize a forthcoming problem and plan a strategy to deal with it. Furthermore, with periodic cash flow analysis, you can head off those unpleasant financial glitches by recognizing which aspects of your business have the potential to cause cash flow gaps.

Make sure your business has adequate funds to cover day-to-day expenses.

If you need help analyzing and managing your cash flow more effectively help is just a phone call away.

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10 Tips for Deducting Losses from a Disaster

National Hurricane Season is officially in progress. If you suffer damage to your home or personal property, you may be able to deduct the losses you incur on your federal income tax return. Here are ten tips you should know about deducting casualty losses:

1. Casualty loss. You may be able to deduct losses based on the damage done to your property during a disaster. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event. This may include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. It can also include losses from fires, accidents, thefts or vandalism.

2. Normal wear and tear. A casualty loss does not include losses from normal wear and tear. It does not include progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

3. Covered by insurance. If you insured your property, you must file a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss. If you don't, you cannot deduct the loss as a casualty or theft. You must reduce your loss by the amount of the reimbursement you received or expect to receive.

4. When to deduct. As a general rule, you must deduct a casualty loss in the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have a choice of when to deduct the loss. You can choose to deduct the loss on your return for the year the loss occurred or on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year. Claiming a disaster loss on the prior year's return may result in a lower tax for that year, often producing a refund.

5. Amount of loss. You figure the amount of your loss using the following steps:

  • Determine your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty. For property that you buy, your basis is usually its cost to you. For property you acquire in some other way, such as inheriting it or getting it as a gift, you must figure your basis in another way.
  • Determine the decrease in fair market value, or FMV, of the property as a result of the casualty. FMV is the price for which you could sell your property to a willing buyer. The decrease in FMV is the difference between the property's FMV immediately before and immediately after the casualty.
  • Subtract any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive from the smaller of those two amounts.

6. The $100 rule. After you have figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It does not matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

7. The 10 percent rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.

8. Future income. Do not consider the loss of future profits or income due to the casualty as you figure your loss.

9. Form 4684. Complete Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts, to report your casualty loss on your federal tax return. You claim the deductible amount on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

10. Business or income property. Some of the casualty loss rules for business or income property are different than the rules for property held for personal use.

If you have any questions or need assistance, don't hesitate to call.

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Tax Tips for Students with a Summer Job

Is your child a student with a summer job? Here's what you should know about the income your child earns over the summer.

  1. All taxpayers fill out a W-4 when starting a new job. This form is used by employers to determine the amount of tax that will be withheld from your paycheck. Taxpayers with multiple summer jobs will want to make sure all their employers are withholding an adequate amount of taxes to cover their total income tax liability. If you have any questions about whether your child's withholding is correct, please call our office.
  2. Whether your child is working as a waiter or a camp counselor, he or she may receive tips as part of their summer income. All tip income is taxable and is therefore, subject to federal income tax.
  3. Many students do odd jobs over the summer to make extra cash. If this is your child's situation, keep in mind that earnings received from self-employment are also subject to income tax. This includes income from odd jobs such as babysitting and lawn mowing.
  4. If your child has net earnings of $400 or more from self-employment, he or she also has to pay self-employment tax. (Church employee income of $108.28 or more must also pay.) This tax pays for benefits under the Social Security system. Social Security and Medicare benefits are available to individuals who are self-employed just as they are to wage earners who have Social Security tax and Medicare tax withheld from their wages. The self-employment tax is figured on Form 1040, Schedule SE.
  5. Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay--such as pay received during summer advanced camp--is taxable.
  6. Special rules apply to services performed as a newspaper carrier or distributor. As direct seller, your child is treated as being self-employed for federal tax purposes if the following conditions are met:
    • Your child is in the business of delivering newspapers.
    • All pay for these services directly relates to sales rather than to the number of hours worked.
    • Delivery services are performed under a written contract which states that your child will not be treated as an employee for federal tax purposes.

  7. Generally however, newspaper carriers or distributors under age 18 are not subject to self-employment tax.

A summer work schedule is sometimes a patchwork of odd jobs, which makes for confusion come tax time. Contact the office if you have any questions at all about income your child earned this summer season.

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Tax Tips for Members of the Military

Special tax benefits apply to members of the U. S. Armed Forces. For example, some types of pay are not taxable. And special rules may apply to some tax deductions, credits and deadlines. Here are ten of those benefits:

1. Deadline Extensions. Some members of the military, such as those who serve in a combat zone, can postpone some tax deadlines. If this applies to you, you can get automatic extensions of time to file your tax return and to pay your taxes.

2. Combat Pay Exclusion. If you serve in a combat zone, certain combat pay you get is not taxable. You won't need to show the pay on your tax return because combat pay isn't included in the wages reported on your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Service in support of a combat zone may qualify for this exclusion.

3. Earned Income Tax Credit. If you get nontaxable combat pay, you may choose to include it to figure your EITC. You would make this choice if it increases your credit. Even if you do, the combat pay stays nontaxable.

4. Moving Expense Deduction. You may be able to deduct some of your unreimbursed moving costs. This applies if the move is due to a permanent change of station.

5. Uniform Deduction. You can deduct the costs of certain uniforms that regulations prohibit you from wearing while off duty. This includes the costs of purchase and upkeep. You must reduce your deduction by any allowance you get for these costs.

6. Signing Joint Returns. Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return. If your spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, you may be able to sign for your spouse. In other cases when your spouse is absent, you may need a power of attorney to file a joint return.

7. Reservists' Travel Deduction. If you're a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Reserves, you may deduct certain costs of travel on your tax return. This applies to the unreimbursed costs of travel to perform your reserve duties that are more than 100 miles away from home.

8. Nontaxable ROTC Allowances. Active duty ROTC pay, such as pay for summer advanced camp, is taxable. But some amounts paid to ROTC students in advanced training are not taxable. This applies to educational and subsistence allowances.

9. Civilian Life. If you leave the military and look for work, you may be able to deduct some job hunting expenses. You may be able to include the costs of travel, preparing a resume and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses may also qualify for a tax deduction.

10. Tax Help. Although most military bases offer free tax preparation and filing assistance during the tax filing season, you may need to contact an accounting professional during other times of the year. Don't hesitate to contact the office with any questions you have about your taxes--no matter what time of the year it is.

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Tax Due Dates for July 2015

July 10

Employees Who Work for Tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during June, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

July 15

Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in June.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in June.

July 31

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the second quarter of 2015. Deposit any undeposited tax. (If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return.) If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until August 10 to file the return.

Employers - Federal unemployment tax. Deposit the tax owed through June if more than $500.

Employers - If you maintain an employee benefit plan, such as a pension, profit-sharing, or stock bonus plan, file Form 5500 or 5500-EZ for calendar-year 2014. If you use a fiscal year as your plan year, file the form by the last day of the seventh month after the plan year ends.

Certain Small Employers - Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2015 but less than $2,500 for the second quarter.

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