Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5 Tax Organization Tips

If you're getting ready to work with a CPA, or do your business taxes by yourself (which I don't recommend), here are a few things you'll want to start gathering and organizing to make the process easier.  Disclaimer: I'm not a CPA, just a small business owner who pays taxes every year. Always take final consultation from a professional CPA with regard to your situation.

1. Do you have an assistant or contractor you paid over $600 total last year?
If they aren't on payroll as an employee, and have been working as an independent contractor, you'll likely need to send them a W-9 form request for their tax filing information and then a 1099 Misc. form with the total fees you paid them during the year.  This information needs to be gathered and shared with your contractors before January 31 to allow them proper filing time as well (you can still file late, you just pay an additional fee).  This helps you legitimize the expense for the independent contractor and it helps them document received income from your business.  If you paid them via an online service like PayPal or Venmo, you can likely easily search all payments made to an individual according to year.
Official IRS information on documenting independent contractor payments:
https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/forms-and-associated-taxes-for-independent-contractors

2. Did you travel to any of your jobs or clients last year?
If you're an on-location photographer, you likely traveled for almost all of your jobs.  The good news is that you most likely can expense that cost to your business.  If you took Taxis, Uber, Lyft, Car Rentals, or Airlines - you likely have records of all those purchases in your bank accounts or in the apps you used.  If you don't claim a car as a business asset & expense because you also use it regularly for personal and family travel, you can still claim the mileage you drove to meet and serve clients as well as any parking fees incurred during the job.  If you weren't tracking this all along with an app like Expensify, perhaps you have the addresses on your contracts or in your calendar that can help you determine the mileage you traveled for each business meeting, job, networking event, or on-site project, coupled with any debit card records made to parking structures.
Official IRS information on documenting & expensing Business Travel: https://www.irs.gov/publications/p463/ch01.html#en_US_2016_publink100033773

3. Did you entertain or buy meals during business meetings or travel?
If your work required you to eat away from your home office location, or if you bought meals for clients, vendors, or contractors while doing business,  you may be able to deduct those as well.  This is generally only a 50% tax deduction, even if it was a 100% expense to your business, so it would be best to talk to your CPA with regard to what is considered a Meals & Entertainment expense.  If you usually use a debit or credit card for these transactions, you likely have evidence in your monthly statements of what you've purchased by date while on a job or meeting.  If you haven't been tracking it all along and need to do it retroactively, an online financial organizer like FreshBooks or Mint can help you pull multiple credit and debit cards together in the same place to organize expenses.
Official IRS information on documenting & expensing Meals & Entertainment:
https://www.irs.gov/publications/p463/ch02.html#en_US_2016_publink100033862

4. Did you buy equipment for your business last year?
New computer?  New software?  Online services?  Cloud storage?  Paper and ink to print contracts on?  Office desk & chair?  Currently, the IRS allows $500,000 in business equipment deductions, up from $25,000 in previous years.  For many freelancers, the overhead expenses of keeping equipment updated are often the sleeper costs that surprise them year to year, so it's important to consult on which business expenses are considered deductible.
Official IRS information on documenting Equipment Expenses:
https://www.irs.gov/publications/p946/ch02.html

5. Did you use any home utilities or home office space to run your business?
You probably needed a faster than normal internet connection to deal with all of those file uploads and deliveries to clients.  You probably needed a cell phone and/or business line to manage phone calls with clients who panicked at the last minute about their project.  You probably needed electricity to charge your phone and keep your computer running to deliver projects to your clients.  All of these things can be considered in the appropriate percentage for how they are used for business versus personal use.  Make sure you're keeping tabs on all of these expenses as they apply to your business so that you can properly deduct what's used to keep your business running.
Official IRS information on documenting Home Office expenses:
https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/home-office-deduction

Again - always consult with your local CPA to make sure your record keeping and tax deductions are relevant to your situation.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. She has been a small business owner since 2004 working as a photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors. She spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

How to find a great CPA

After moving my business several times, I've had a lot of experience looking for a CPA to help with my business and personal filing, and whenever I found a great one, it often took me a while before I was willing to move on and find another one in my new state after moving.  Hopefully sharing this wisdom will help speed up your search!

1. Start Searching Locally
The importance of having a CPA you can sit face to face with is very important if you ever need to work on a complicated tax situation or work through an audit together.  Likewise, the ability to enjoy working with your CPA is huge when it comes to something that may be stressful or difficult.  All of my favorite CPAs have a sense of humor and lightness about difficult tax situations that have helped ease my concerns, while still remaining professional and demonstrating that they will get the job done.  You only get to see this lighthearted but professional approach by meeting in person.
- Personal Referrals: 
The best places to begin your search are with personal recommendations from other small business owners.  Even better if they have a similar business model to you and can share what they love about working with their CPA and how long they've been with them.
- Local Chamber of Commerce Website:
Next best place to search is your local Chamber of Commerce website, where they will likely have a directory of CPAs looking for business.  The people who work for the Chamber can tell you if they know the CPA personally or anyone who has worked with them as well for additional referral information.
- Business Networking Group: 
Third best place to search is a local business networking group - BNI is one of the more famous ones, but ask around and see what is available in your area.  Rotary may be the second most common networking group for business owners, while it has more of a philanthropy mission than a networking one, it's a group of people who believe in giving back to the community.

2. Define Your Tax Situation
Being able to describe your tax situation will help you with the phone screening process before setting up a meeting.  For example, here are a few ways you may want to practice describing your tax situation over the phone before deciding who you'd like to meet with in person:
- Personal Tax Situation:
Married?  Single?  Dependents?  Live-in parents?  Investments?  Multiple homes?  Personal property in multiple countries?  Inheritance?  Haven't paid taxes in 10 years and may need a payment plan?  Need to figure out if it's better to file separately or jointly with spouse?
- Business Tax Situation:
LLC?  Sole-Proprietor?  Corp?  Employees?  Health Benefits?  Online business?  Out of country sales  to manage?  Import/export business?  State to state sales tax transactions?

3. Create a List of 3-5 Places to Call
If making phone calls is scary to you because you prefer email - I suggest practicing the questions you'll be asking on the phone and preparing your statement about your situation.  A phone call can really help you rule out a company you don't want to meet with.  Was it easy to get the answers you needed in a timely way?  Were they sloppy and unprofessional in how they managed your phone call?  Do they have an office with multiple people and an admin to help them manage their clients?  You don't get to learn these things when emailing- only when calling on the phone.
Things you need to ask:
- Do you have a Certified Public Accountant in your office?  Will they be handling the return, or will it be a tax preparer?  Who would I be meeting with for the first time?
- Do you have experience with clients in my situation?  (State the personal and business situations you have.)
- When can I come in and speak with someone in person?  What should I bring with me?  Is there any fee for an introductory meeting?  What would someone with my situation expect to pay for their tax filings?

4. Meet at Least Two Different CPAs
If you only meet with one, you'll have nothing to compare the experience to.  If you only have time to meet with two about your situation, than meet with two.  If you can meet with three or more, great!  The more info you have, the more you can find the right person to work with.  Remember that investing more time into this choice up front means that you're less likely to need to invest that time again later because you'll feel comfortable knowing you made the best choice for you and your situation.  A great CPA relationship can be one you can carry well into the future of your business, so it's worth every bit of time you invest up front to find someone you enjoy working with and feel you can trust.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. She has been a small business owner since 2004 working as a photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors. She spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

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