Thankful

Bootstrapping

I made a really stupid comment to my husband the week of Thanksgiving.

I miss the days of being an employee. I could just take the entire week off, not think about work, and still get paid.

Owning my own business I don’t have such a luxury. I’m still in the bootstrapping phase of my business. While I do have an awesome employee working for me, I can’t really take the entire week off from my business.

It took less than 24 hours for me to change my attitude. My husband and I were having lunch the following day – yes, a flexible schedule is one of the perks of having your own business. My change in attitude had this response,

If I’m not happy with anything about my business, it’s my own dang fault

This is my business. I can do anything I want. I can make it anything that I want it to be. If I don’t like working the week of Thanksgiving then I need to get after it, change it, and make it a reality.

My pity party was not truly deserved. I am hard on myself and always want to be further along than I am. It’s just a part of my nature. I would guess it’s the same for most entrepreneurs. Honestly, my business is going well. I have clients I like, work I enjoy, a flexible schedule, and the endless possibilities for growth. I’m closing in on only pursuing clients in my niche which was a main goal when I started my firm. My glass really is half full.

How about you you? What do you want your business to be? Where is it falling short? Have you been deluded into the idea that you can’t actually change it? Bull crap! Snap out of it! Figure out what you want and make it happen. Isn’t that what having a lifestyle business is all about? Isn’t that why we jumped into business ownership in the first place?

I am thankful to be living in the greatest county in the world. Most days I absolutely love owning my own business. Sure, some days it can be overwhelming having ultimate responsibility for everything. But, it’s what I signed up for – it is exactly what signed up for! I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I especially wouldn’t trade if for just a guarantee of a couple weeks of vacation around the holidays. Why? What’s a little time off when I get to live my dream every day?

Oh, and I have been busy planning out the end of December so I’m working much less between Christmas and New Year’s!

Tell me, how do you overcome negative “woe is me” thoughts when it comes to business ownership?

Sales Tax Basics for Online Owners

Midyear 2014 Sales Tax Rates - Tax Foundation

Sales tax and their related calculations are very high on my list of dislikes. Right up there with school bullies and daydreamers not paying attention when the traffic light turns green. The internet has made it possible to sell all over the United States and beyond. Instead of only being responsible for sales made in one sales tax jurisdiction, you could be subject to hundreds or even thousands of jurisdictions.

As a business owner, sales tax compliance is going to cost you a combination of time, money and effort.

Every business owner must know where they stand on sales tax. Know and understand. If you established a business entity in your state, sales tax was likely one of the issues covered in the new business packet or registration information that you may or may not have read. Perhaps you gave it a cursory glance, decided how it didn’t apply to you, and continued on your merry way. Now, months later, every time you see the phrase “sales tax” there is a tiny voice in your head causing you to wonder if you are doing the right thing.

Nexus. What is nexus? Nexus is your physical presence in a state. If you have a physical presence, the folks in charge of sales tax say you need to be collecting and remitting tax in that state.

According to the Sales Tax Institute, “Nexus is created if your company maintains a temporary or permanent presence of people (employees, service people or independent sales/service agents) or property (inventory, offices, warehouses).”

You obviously have nexus in your home state where you operate, but it is clear these other factors may give you nexus is other states, too.

Taxable sales. Those of use who have been dealing with sales tax for years remember the fond days when only physical goods were taxed. As times changed and states needed more revenues, they started pulling in various services to be taxed. If you mow lawns in Ohio, you should be charging sales tax. Texas has a three-page bulletin to spell out the rules for Photographers and Texas Sales Tax. Make sure you know and understand the taxability for your products and services in each state where you have nexus. Once you have the facts and rules straight for your products by state, make sure you check at least annually to make sure they haven’t changed

Pass through. As the business owner, it is important for you realize you are merely collecting and remitting the tax. The tax itself is not income or expense to your business. You charge it because you are required to charge it and remit it to the proper taxing agency to be in compliance. The real cost to you is what you must pay to make sure it is calculated correctly and remitted. This is where the combination of time, money and effort come into play.

Your next steps. Find out the rules for your home state by going to your state government website. Of all of the products and services you sell, are any taxable in your state? How is the sales tax rate determined? Is it at the origination or destination address? Filing deadline? Now consider the other components of your business that could cause you to have a physical presence in another state. Sales agents? Out of state employees? Warehouses? You may not own a warehouse in another state, but are you paying storage costs to hold your product there? If you are a FBA seller, you could have nexus for each state that has an Amazon warehouse facility. 

Knights in Shining Armor. In my book, anyone who can relieve the sales tax burden is a knight in shining armor. If you are doing substantial taxable sales, you should be thinking about how you can outsource your sales tax filing. Two of the players in this space are Avalara and TaxJar.

avalara logoAvalara has been around for a decade. Their tagline is “Making sales tax less taxing.” They do just that. I like them because they can do it all for you, including the filing of your returns.

 

taxjar logoTaxJar is newer in the space, just starting in 2013, and does not have the capability to file returns in all states…yet. However, their pricing is competitive, and they can pull sales data from across multiple platforms and give you a consolidated report.

Stay tuned to learn about sales tax’s lesser known, but equally ugly cousin: Use Tax

Self-Employment and Tax Estimates

Paying the right amount in estimated taxes when you are self-employed is almost like trying to catch snipe in junior high. You try really hard to follow the “rules” and just end up feeling exhausted and misled. Let’s change that going forward, shall we?

True Story. This spring I was doing some limited consulting with an author assisting him in converting his excel-based accounting maze to Xero accounting software. Although I do offer tax preparation services, he had prepared his own return for 2013 as well as his first quarter tax estimate for 2014. He asked me to give his estimate a quick glance to see if he was in the ballpark. He sent me the IRS 1040-ES Worksheet he had filled in with his information so I could see his calculation. I knew two things: his 2013 income and tax liability from his return and what he expected in self-employment income for 2014. He suspected something had been missed, too, though he wasn’t sure of where the error was in his calculation.

His initial quarterly tax estimate was way off.

Honesty. Here is where the honesty comes into play. It took me a little time to understand the worksheet. In all my years of practicing as a CPA, I HAD NEVER USED THAT FORM TO CALCULATE ESTIMATES. Wait, don’t start gasping is unbelief just yet! I have been calculating estimates for well over a decade. I’ve just never tried to do the calculation on that form! Since I am a CPA who prepares tax returns and tax projections for multiple small business owners, I calculate my estimates in my tax software. It is easy for me to make changes based on the prior year and to use different scenarios to project out the current year tax liability.

The Oversight. What was missed in his calculation? You are dying to know so you don’t make the same mistake, right? Page 7, line 11, Self-employment tax. He had failed to properly calculate his self-employment taxes on Page 6 and carry that amount to Page 7. His tax estimate included his income taxes only. Take a look below at Page 2 of a 2012 Form 1040 to see the highlighted income tax and self-employment tax.

Screen-Shot-2014-06-12-at-9.49

While the IRS worksheet is a fillable PDF form, it is a non-calculating form. There are no warning bells or flashing lights to tell you if you missed something or didn’t complete it correctly. There are various other calculators online provided by DIY tax preparation sites. These can be helpful but you still need to know how to click the right boxes and where to put your numbers to come up with an accurate estimate. And again, they are most likely not going to tell you that you missed something. I know this is true from experience. When testing one of the sites with my personal information for 2013, I had failed to check the boxes that my kids lived with me. This resulted in a huge difference in what it said my liability would be and what it actually was. Tread carefully, friends. 

Smart Tips When it Come to Tax Estimates

The Basics. If you are going to owe $1,000 or more in taxes you need to be making estimated tax payments. To avoid penalty and interest by the IRS, you need to pay in 100% of your prior year tax liability or 90% of your current year liability. Under most circumstances, you should be paying your estimates each quarter. The quarterly deadlines for your payment to be considered timely are April 15th, June 15th, September 15th and January 15th. If you are subject to state income taxes, don’t forget they want their share, too.

How Much? If you are self-employed, you should be putting aside 30 to 35% of your net income for taxes and paying it in quarterly according to the dates above. This magical percentage (30-35%) should cover the masses but some of you will still fall above or below that amount. However, if you do this faithfully all year, chances are you will be shedding few tears, if any, on April 15th. I’ve rarely encountered someone who was disappointed that they estimated high on their taxes and were overpaid.

Comparison. Always use your prior year income and tax liability as a guide for the current year. Yes, you need to take into a account the changes between the years, but this will help you avoid glaring mistakes like forgetting a kid or not calculating self-employment taxes. Your first year of self-employment can be especially tough since the comparison to the prior year will most likely be drastically different. Check it and recheck it.

When you jump on the self-employment ship, most people assume they will have an increase in their taxes. More often than not, if they are making money in their business, they underestimate just how much the increase will be. Owing a bunch of unexpected taxes can quickly make your profitable year seem like a loss rather than a win. If the DIY options start making you crazy, get some help! An investment in a good CPA or tax preparer is money well spent for the peace of mind you will gain.

What’s working for you when it comes to your estimates?

Self-Employed Health Insurance – Can You Risk It?

I wonder how many people keep their “good” day jobs longer than they would like because they fear replacing their health insurance benefits? It’s a valid fear. Much has changed over the past year with the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Market Place finally up and running. Join me as we walk through our journey of being covered by our employer’s health insurance to self-employed health insurance for our family of four.

$875 a month. At the end of 2012, my family left Ohio to return to the great state of Oklahoma where I was born and raised. I knew I would be started my own CPA firm and assumed my husband would find a fabulous job. I had considered what we would do about health insurance but really didn’t research anything until we had turned in our resignations letters and booked a moving truck.

Foolishly I had thought I would have COBRA coverage through my employer because I remembered our firm paying insurance premiums for a former employee.

With a little research I quickly learned that if your employer has less than 20 employees,  they are most likely exempt from COBRA. Guess whose employer was exempt? Yep. We had to look for an individual policy. We filled out the online application through Einsurance and were approved and ready to pay our Blue Cross Blue Shield $500 monthly premium for a family of four. Crisis averted. Well, it was short lived because within a week we received a letter that I was denied. There are all kinds of things in this world that can make you feel inadequate. For some reason, personally being denied health insurance made me feel like a real loser. I’m not obese. I don’t do drugs or smoke. I did have some tests run and minor eye surgery earlier in the year (hopefully it’s not a HIPAA violation to talk about myself, right?). We went from paying about $300 a month for health insurance through our employers to $500 a month under our self-employed health insurance plan. And, I wasn’t even covered.

Going without. I wouldn’t advise going without health insurance. Let that sink in one more time: I wouldn’t advise going without health insurance. But, that’s exactly what I did for about five months until I had built up my business enough to afford insurance. Well, that’s not quite how it happened. I think being denied coverage on the first try made me feel like I would be denied. Well, I was basically told as much by another insurance company when I was first denied coverage. I let that keep me from even trying to get coverage. I also assumed (and feared) the policy would be out of my price range. When I did think I could afford it, I reached out to the company that partners with my state society of CPAs to provide coverage (note: check any trade associations/group organizations you belong to and see if a plan is offered). I was immediately approved and my new Aetna monthly premium was going to be less than $200 a month. Relief! It went up about almost $70 when they corrected their records so it reflected that I was actually a female rather than a male. Nice.

Bottom line: once we added dental insurance we ended up paying $875 a month for medical and dental for our family of four.

Increase from ACA. How did our premiums changed because of the Affordable Care Act going into effect? First, I was notified my specific self-employed health insurance plan was being discontinued by Aetna which meant I would have to switch to another plan. The lowest plan offered was priced around $400 a month so it was going to be a $130 increase just for my coverage. The policy for the rest of the family had a $40 monthly increase at the one year renewal in November and was set to have another $50 monthly  increase on January 1, 2014. There was no increase in our dental insurance. If we stayed on these plans, our monthly insurance cost would have increased $275, from $875 to $1,100 a month. Son of a Ouch indeed!

Back to insurance from an employer. Late last year, my husband did take a position with an employer that offered health benefits. Yes, he is certainly taking one for the family team in some respects because it is a typical 8am to5pm position. But, overall this job has been a great blessing for our family. (Yay, John!). After the required waiting period of 90 days, our cost was $700. We recently qualified for the wellness discount offered which dropped it down to $580 per month. Not as great as the $300 a month we were paying back in Ohio, but my husband had crazy, great benefits at his last employer that we probably won’t experience again. Besides, that’s not really our game plan. We think it is wiser to grow our income enough so that we can more easily cover the associated costs of being self employed.

100% tax free. I do want to point out that there are extra “savings” with our insurance being through my husband’s employer. The premiums come out before taxes under a Sec 125 plan, tax free, so that’s really another $50 savings per month. Under the self-employed health insurance plan, we could take a deduction on our tax return for the premiums (reduction in federal and state income taxes), but there was no break on FICA. Be careful if you are an employee of your S Corporation and a greater than 2% shareholder. While you can get the deduction on your tax return, you cannot run it through a Sec 125 plan and get it tax free like a regular employee of your company.

TIPS

Know your options before you quit. It’s amazing how knowledge is the greatest defense of fear. You may find out your fears were unnecessary, and you can qualify for a good policy. If there is an issue, it is always best to know what you are jumping into before you quit. Squash the fear of the unknown by being informed.

Find out the rules for your state. I was personally in more of a pickle because we moved from one state to another. I wasn’t in my home state any longer so I didn’t qualify there for certain health insurance options. Oklahoma offered some great options for those at “high risk” but I needed to be a resident for twelve months to qualify.

Get major medical. I don’t personally have anything against the AFLAC duck, but supplemental coverage should not be your first concern (if ever). Make sure you have major medical. Without your self-employed health insurance plan covering major medical expenses, you could be one serious car accident away from bankruptcy.

Find a better half and get on their plan. I almost hesitated to even put that because I know for some people it is not an option. BUT, if it is, you should take full advantage of it while it’s available. Don’t forget about running as many expenses through a Section 125 plan if is offered.

Resources:

Healthcare.gov – Open enrollment is closed for 2014, but small businesses may apply any time

Health Care Sharing Options – Alternative options to health insurance, Health Care Sharing and Medi-Share

 

30-Day Guide to Get Control of your Business Finances

charts-925810_1920

You’ve decided you are in business. Now what? What needs to be done to put the financial side of your business in order so you can truly focus on your business? From letting the IRS know your business exists (they would find out anyway) to figuring out what to do with your Starbucks receipt from yesterday, our 30-Day Guide to Get Control of your Business Finances will help show you the way.

There are five sets of tasks that every business owner should address as soon as possible”“ entity selection, smart bank accounts, simple bookkeeping software, paperless filing system and government reporting. I give you step-by-step instructions and a handy checklist, to make sure you hit every point. If you power through one set of tasks each week, your business finances will be set up and running smoothly within 30 days.

The goal here is to hit ALL of these over the next 30 days. There is no higher authority requiring you to do them within 30 days. Rather, it’s a commitment you make to yourself as a very responsible (or soon to be responsible) business owner. Those who choose to tackle these nitty gritty financial tasks up front get it done, but those without a clear deadline meander along until they’ve created a financial mess of their businesses. Let’s choose not to do that, okay?

As you read through the checklist, you might identify some tasks you already know you’ll want outside help to accomplish. Go ahead and schedule the appointments (like talking with an attorney), so you don’t end up stuck waiting for a meeting. No matter what happens just don’t be overwhelmed. These items can be accomplished within 30 days. Trust me, you will be downright giddy with yourself for taking care of them from the start. Get to it!

Get your copy of the 30-Day Checklist