Anderson ZurMuehlen Blog

Tax Document Retention Guidelines for Small Businesses

You may have breathed a sigh of relief after filing your 2017 income tax return (or requesting an extension). But if your office is strewn with reams of paper consisting of years’ worth of tax returns, receipts, canceled checks and other financial records (or your computer desktop is filled with a multitude of digital tax-related files), you probably want to get rid of what you can. Follow these retention guidelines as you clean up.

General rules

Retain records that support items shown on your tax return at least until the statute of limitations runs out — generally three years from the due date of the return or the date you filed, whichever is later. That means you can now potentially throw out records for the 2014 tax year if you filed the return for that year by the regular filing deadline. But some records should be kept longer.

For example, there’s no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return or file a fraudulent one. So you’ll generally want to keep copies of your returns themselves permanently, so you can show that you did file a legitimate return.

Also bear in mind that, if you understate your adjusted gross income by more than 25%, the statute of limitations period is six years.

Some specifics for businesses

Records substantiating costs and deductions associated with business property are necessary to determine the basis and any gain or loss when the property is sold. According to IRS guidelines, you should keep these for as long as you own the property, plus seven years.

The IRS recommends keeping employee records for three years after an employee has been terminated. In addition, you should maintain records that support employee earnings for at least four years. (This timeframe generally will cover varying state and federal requirements.) Also keep employment tax records for four years from the date the tax was due or the date it was paid, whichever is longer.

For travel and transportation expenses supported by mileage logs and other receipts, keep supporting documents for the three-year statute of limitations period.

Regulations for sales tax returns vary by state. Check the rules for the states where you file sales tax returns. Retention periods typically range from three to six years.

When in doubt, don’t throw it out

It’s easy to accumulate a mountain of paperwork (physical or digital) from years of filing tax returns. If you’re unsure whether you should retain a document, a good rule of thumb is to hold on to it for at least six years or, for property-related records, at least seven years after you dispose of the property. But, again, you should keep tax returns themselves permanently, and other rules or guidelines might apply in certain situations. Please contact us with any questions.

© 2018

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Blockchain May Soon Drive Business Worldwide

“Blockchain” may sound like something that goes on a vehicle’s tires in icy weather or that perhaps is part of that vehicle’s engine. Indeed it is a type of technology that may help drive business worldwide at some point soon — but digitally, not physically. No matter what your industry, now’s a good time to start learning about blockchain.

Secure structure

Blockchain is sometimes also called “distributed ledger technology.” It was introduced in 2009 to support digital “cryptocurrencies” such as bitcoin. Entries in each digital ledger are stored in blocks, with each block containing a timestamp and providing a link to the previous block.

Typically, a blockchain is managed on a secure peer-to-peer network with protocols for validating blocks. Once data is recorded, no one can change it without altering all other blocks — which requires approval by most network participants. Blockchain proponents argue that this process essentially authenticates all information entered.

Various uses

The financial industry led the way in recognizing blockchain’s potential, foreseeing that users could execute transactions without relying on banks and other third parties. Another potential application is in the M&A sphere. Buyers and sellers could shift due diligence documentation to blockchain, so financial and legal advisors wouldn’t have to spend as much time poring over so many different and disparate records. The M&A process could thereby be completed more quickly.

There are also many industries that could employ blockchain technology to conduct quicker and more secure transactions or simply track data more efficiently.

Take manufacturers, as well as virtually any supply chain business: Blockchain could provide safeguards against errors, fraud or tampering. This functionality could bolster trust among supply chain partners. Over the long run, blockchain may even eliminate the need for third-party payment processors.

Another example: the health care industry. Blockchain could be used to better secure electronic health information, improve billing and claims processing, and enhance the integrity of the prescription drug supply chain. All of this could positively impact the health care insurance market for every employer.

Ahead of the curve

Most business owners don’t need to scramble to incorporate blockchain-related technology right this minute. But you might want to get ahead of the curve by learning more about it now and pondering some ways that blockchain could affect your company. Let us know if you need further information or other ideas on the future of business.

© 2018

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A Joint Home Purchase Can Ease Estate Tax Liability

If you’re planning on buying a home that you one day wish to pass on to your adult children, a joint purchase can reduce estate tax liability, provided the children have sufficient funds to finance their portion of the purchase. With the gift and estate tax exemption now set at an inflation-adjusted $10 million thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, federal estate taxes are less of a concern for most families. However, the high exemption amount is only temporary, and there’s state estate tax risk to consider.

Current and remainder interests

The joint purchase technique is based on the concept that property can be divided not only into pieces, but also over time: One person (typically of an older generation) buys a current interest in the property and the other person (typically of a younger generation) buys the remainder interest.

A remainder interest is simply the right to enjoy the property after the current interest ends. If the current interest is a life interest, the remainder interest begins when the owner of the current interest dies.

Joint purchases offer several advantages. The older owner enjoys the property for life, and his or her purchase price is reduced by the value of the remainder interest. The younger owner pays only a fraction of the property’s current value and receives the entire property when the older owner dies.

Best of all, if both owners pay fair market value for their respective interests, the transfer from one generation to the next should be free of gift and estate taxes.

The relative values of the life and remainder interests are determined using IRS tables that take into account the age of the life-interest holder and the applicable federal rate (the Section 7520 rate), which is set monthly by the federal government.

Consider the downsides

The younger owner must buy the remainder interest with his or her own funds. Also, while the tax basis of inherited property is “stepped up” to its date-of-death value, a remainder interest holder’s basis is equal to his or her purchase price. This step-up in basis allows the heir to avoid capital gains tax on appreciation that occurred while the deceased held the property.

But, in most cases where estate tax is a concern, the estate tax savings will far outweigh any capital gains tax liability. That’s because the highest capital gains rate generally is significantly lower than the highest estate tax rate.

Keep it simple

In a world where many estate planning techniques can be complicated, a joint purchase isn’t. Contact us with any questions.

© 2018

Could Your Next Business Loan Get “Ratio’d”?

We live and work in an era of big data. Banks are active participants, keeping a keen eye on metrics that help them accurately estimate risk of default.

As you look for a loan, try to find out how each bank will evaluate your default probability. Many do so using spreadsheets that track multiple financial ratios. When one of these key ratios goes askew, a red flag goes up on their end — and the loan may be denied.

Common metrics

To avoid getting “ratio’d” in this manner, business owners should familiarize themselves with some of the more common metrics that banks use to gauge creditworthiness.

For example, banks will compare cash and receivables to current liabilities. If this ratio starts slipping, you’ll likely need to push accounts receivable so money comes in more quickly or better manage inventory to keep cash flow moving. Other examples of financial benchmarks include:

• Gross margin [(revenue – cost of sales) / revenue],
• Current ratio (current assets / current liabilities),
• Total asset turnover ratio (annual revenue / total assets), and
• Interest coverage ratio (earnings before interest and taxes / interest expense).

Some banks may also calculate company- or industry-specific performance metrics. For instance, a warehouse might report daily shipments or inventory turnover, not just total asset turnover. Meanwhile, a retailer might provide sales graphs that highlight product mixes, sales rep performance, daily units sold and variances over the same week’s sales from the previous year.

Other methods

Bear in mind that not every bank uses ratios to evaluate performance, or they may combine ratio analysis with other benchmarking tools. Some use community-based scoring, by which a selected group of finance professionals rate and review companies based on their payment histories. Others use proprietary commercial-scoring models that use creditor reports to develop credit scores for businesses.

Preventing disappointment

When a strategic initiative fails to launch because your business can’t obtain financing, it can be crushing. To prevent such disappointment, have your financials in order and target as many common ratios as possible. Please contact our firm for help evaluating your performance and determining where you may need to improve to obtain a loan.

© 2018

Feeling Lucky? How to Find a Pot of Gold in Your Financials

 

Every business experiences occasional cash shortages. When this happens, owners often assume they should go out and sell more. But this strategy can sometimes compound money troubles over the short run. Why? The answer lies in a concept known as the “cash gap.” Understanding this concept can help your business generate extra cash to meet working capital needs. Here’s how.

Focus on the balance sheet

The cash gap is a function of the timing difference between 1) when companies order materials and pay suppliers, and 2) when they receive payment from their customers. This difference can lead to cash shortages if the company doesn’t have extra savings, doesn’t qualify for additional bank financing or doesn’t want to draw on a line of credit. It’s also important to keep in mind that cash gaps funded by bank financing incur interest costs.

Boosting sales generally isn’t the solution, because, when cash is tight, selling more will often widen the cash gap. That’s because the company will need to front the incremental cost of sales while new orders are fulfilled, invoices are sent and customers remit payment. This concept explains why start-ups and high growth companies tend to experience cash shortages.

Finding hidden treasures 

If the company finances its cash gap, shaving a day or two off the gap could save thousands of dollars in interest expense over the course of a year. Minimizing the cash gap requires you to focus on its underlying variables:

Inventory. There are numerous ways to minimize your investment in inventory. For instance, you might search the warehouse for slow-moving items and then either return stale items for credit, trade them with another supplier or competitor, or sell the items for scrap.

You can also revise your company’s purchasing policies. For example, some materials and parts suppliers may agree to discounted bill-and-ship or consignment arrangements in exchange for exclusive or long-term contracts.

Receivables. The faster a company can get money in the door, the smaller its cash gap will be. Your business can encourage faster payments from customers by sending out past-due reminder letters and following up with phone calls. Also evaluate invoicing procedures to minimize the days in receivables. Poor communication among billing, sales and production staff can cause invoicing delays.

Payables. Think of trade payables as a form of interest-free financing. But, beware, there are limits to how far a company can extend its payables. Slow-paying businesses may forgo early-bird discounts or receive less favorable treatment from suppliers, such as slower delivery, higher rates or cash-on-delivery terms. Delayed payments can also harm a company’s credit rating, as well as its reputation among its pool of eligible suppliers.

Put it to work for you

The cash gap can be a helpful management tool, because it pinpoints hidden treasures in your balance sheet. Put simply, companies with shorter cash gaps tend to experience fewer cash shortages and rely less on bank financing. Contact us for help measuring your cash gap and using it to manage working capital more efficiently.

© 2018

7 Ways to Prepare Your Business for Sale

For some business owners, succession planning is a complex and delicate matter involving family members and a long, gradual transition out of the company. Others simply sell the business and move on. There are many variations in between, of course, but if you’re leaning toward a business sale, here are seven ways to prepare:

1. Develop or renew your business plan. Identify the challenges and opportunities of your company and explain how and why it’s ready for a sale. Address what distinguishes your business from the competition, and include a viable strategy that speaks to sustainable growth.

2. Ensure you have a solid management team. You should have a management team in place that’s, essentially, a redundancy of you. Your leaders should have the vision and know-how to keep the company moving forward without disruption during and after a sale.

3. Upgrade your technology. Buyers will look much more favorably on a business with up-to-date, reliable and cost-effective IT systems. This may mean investing in upgrades that make your company a “plug and play” proposition for a new owner.

4. Estimate the true value of your business. Obtaining a realistic, carefully calculated business appraisal will lessen the likelihood that you’ll leave money on the table. A professional valuator can calculate a defensible, marketable value estimate.

5. Optimize balance sheet structure. Value can be added by removing nonoperating assets that aren’t part of normal operations, minimizing inventory levels, and evaluating the condition of capital equipment and debt-financing levels.

6. Minimize tax liability. Seek tax advice early in the sale process — before you make any major changes or investments. Recent tax law changes may significantly affect a business owner’s tax position.

7. Assemble all applicable paperwork. Gather and update all account statements and agreements such as contracts, leases, insurance policies, customer/supplier lists and tax filings. Prospective buyers will request these documents as part of their due diligence.

Succession planning should play a role in every business owner’s long-term goals. Selling the business may be the simplest option, though there are many other ways to transition ownership. Please contact our firm for further ideas and information.

© 2018

 

 

IRS Warns TaxPayers About Scam Groups Masquerading as Charitable Organizations

The IRS is warning taxpayers against scam groups masquerading as charitable organizations. The phony charities attempt to attract donations from unsuspecting taxpayers, using a charitable reason and the promise of a tax deduction as bait. The fraudsters often use names similar to those of nationally known organizations. Fake charities are one of the IRS’s “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for the 2018 filing season. To help ensure you can make tax deductible donations, use the IRS’s Select Check tool (http://bit.ly/2eYYTR0) to find legitimate, qualified charities.

 

Contact us today with questions

How to Classify Shareholder Advances

Owners of closely held businesses sometimes need to advance their companies money to bridge a temporary downturn or provide extra cash flow for an expansion, a major expense or other purposes. Should you categorize those advances as bona fide debt, additional paid-in capital or something in between? Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the answer depends on the facts and circumstances of the transaction.

Debt vs. equity

The proper classification of shareholder advances is especially important when a company has more than one shareholder or unsecured bank loans. It’s also relevant for tax purposes, because advances that are classified as debt typically require imputed interest charges. However, the tax rules may not always sync with GAAP.

To further complicate matters, shareholders sometimes forgive loans or convert them to equity. Reporting these types of transactions can become complex when the fair value of the equity differs from the carrying value of the debt.

Relevant factors

When deciding how to classify shareholder advances, it’s important to consider the economic substance of the transaction over its form. Some factors to consider when classifying these transactions include:

Intent to repay. Open-ended understandings between related parties about repayment imply that an advance is a form of equity. For example, an advance may be classified as a capital contribution if it was extended to save the business from imminent failure and no attempts at repayment have ever been made.

Loan terms. An advance is more likely to be treated as bona fide debt if the parties have signed a written promissory note that bears reasonable interest, has a fixed maturity date and a history of periodic loan repayments, and includes some form of collateral. If an advance is subordinate to bank debt and other creditors, it’s more likely to qualify as equity, however.

Ability to repay. This includes the company’s historic and future debt service capacity, as well as its credit standing and ability to secure other forms of financing. The stronger these factors are, the more appropriate it may be to classify the shareholder advance as debt.

Third-party reporting. Consistently treating an advance as debt (or equity) on tax returns can provide additional insight into its proper classification.

With shareholder advances, disclosures are key. Under GAAP, you’re required to describe any related-party transactions, including the magnitude and specific line items in the financial statements that are affected. Numerous related-party transactions may necessitate the use of a tabular format to make the footnotes to the financial statements reader friendly.

Need help?

Shareholder advances present financial reporting challenges that can’t be fixed with a one-size-fits-all solution. We can help you address the challenges based on the nature of your transactions and adequately disclose these transactions in your financial statement footnotes.

© 2018

What is Job Cost Reporting?

 

Custom jobs require ongoing supervision to achieve the best financial results. Whether you’re a general contractor constructing a strip mall, a manufacturer building made-to-order parts or an architect drawing up blueprints, once a project is underway it’s easy to focus on getting the job done, rather than on the resources that are being consumed.

That’s why job cost reporting — the process of coding and allocating project expenses to track financial efficiency and profitability — is a mission-critical activity. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind.

Smart estimates

Proper job cost reporting begins with solid cost estimates. Start each job by arranging the estimates in the same cost categories that will be used to accumulate the actual job cost information. This will enable you to effectively manage contract activities. And you’ll be better able to compare the actual job costs to estimated costs.

The proper format often depends on how many job-costing levels were used in the estimate. For instance, larger jobs may require phase, activity or even unit costing. For smaller jobs, totals for, say, materials, labor and subcontracts are sufficient. If you perform service-type work, your cost information needs may include just job totals by labor, materials and other direct costs.

Information needs

What kinds of cost information do you need during and after the job? These requirements depend on the time span of that job and the nature of the work.

Jobs that will be completed over several months lend themselves to more-detailed reporting. The size and scope of the particular job, as well as the software and people available to process and monitor job cost information, also affect the amount of detail you can include.

Progress reports

Cost reporting during the job is critical to controlling costs. Monitoring actual progress to date compared with planned progress to date determines where the job is at a particular time.

Keep in mind that you can’t take corrective action until you know something is deviating from the plan. That’s why executing continuous job cost reporting from the estimate to completion is so important. But jobs completed within a few days or weeks may not benefit from detailed cost reporting because time constraints make it difficult to identify problems early enough to take effective corrective action.

Also remember, as experienced as you might be, gut feelings regarding how costs are running compared with how they were estimated are usually insufficient. You must obtain facts about the cost activities from jobs-in-process reports. Even if your “intuition” turns out to be correct, it may come too late for you to head off a major problem.

Worth the effort

Proper job cost reporting takes persistence and, ideally, a good software system. The truth is that better numbers will lead to better results in the form of less costly, more profitable projects. Need help designing an effective job cost system? Our accounting professionals can help you select software and implement a costing system that’s right for you.

© 2018

Fixed vs. Variable Costs: How to Compute Breakeven

Breakeven analysis can be useful when investing in new equipment, launching a new product or analyzing the effects of a cost reduction plan. The breakeven point is fairly easy to calculate using information from your company’s income statement. Here are the details.

Analyzing your costs

Breakeven can be explained in a few different ways. It’s the point at which total sales are equal to total expenses. More specifically, it’s where net income is equal to zero and sales are equal to variable costs plus fixed costs.

To calculate your breakeven point, you need to understand a few terms:

Fixed expenses. These are the expenses that remain relatively unchanged with changes in your business volume. Examples: property taxes, salaries, insurance and depreciation.

Variable/semi-fixed expenses. Your sales volume determines the ebb and flow of these expenses. If you had no sales revenue, you’d have no variable expenses and your semifixed expenses would be lower. Examples: shipping costs, materials, supplies, advertising and training.

Applying the breakeven formula

The basic formula for calculating the breakeven point is:

Breakeven = fixed expenses / 1 – (variable expenses / sales).

Breakeven can be computed on various levels: It can be estimated for the company overall or by product line or division, as long as you have requisite sales and cost data broken down. For example, let’s suppose Division A generates $12 million in revenue, has fixed costs of $1 million and variable costs of $10.8 million. Here’s how those numbers fit into the breakeven formula:

Annual breakeven = $1 million / 1 – ($10.8 million / $12 million) = $10 million

Monthly breakeven = $10 million / 12 = $833,333

As long as expenses stay within budget, the breakeven point will be reliable. In the example, variable expenses must remain at 90% of revenue and fixed expenses must stay at $1 million. If either of these variables changes, the breakeven point will change.

Real-world applications


Many companies use breakeven point to set revenue goals and prepare budgets. In addition, breakeven analysis can tell you the amount of incremental sales you need to recoup an investment, such as buying a new machine or hiring a new salesperson. Alternatively, breakeven can help gauge the effects of cost reduction plans. Contact us if you have questions or need help working through the calculations.

© 2018