Posts by Lesley Mast, CPA, Director of Tax Services:
- Do: Go simple – Unless someone besides your spouse will own the business with you, you don’t need anything other than a simple limited liability company. It offers you liability protection while minimizing your tax filing requirements. Being the sole owner and having this sort of entity allows you to file you business’s activity on a Schedule C on your Form 1040. Until the business grows and is successful, this entity type will likely be sufficient for your small start-up.
- Don’t: Go cheap – Small business owners tend to think they can or should do everything themselves. A lot of sweat equity goes into starting a new business, but be smart and humble enough to know the difference between what you can do and what you should do. It’s OK to ask for help!
- Do: Involve professionals – This is an area where new business owners tend to want to go cheap. No one likes paying attorneys and folks don’t know they need a tax professional sometimes until it’s too late. Getting set up with the proper legal documents is a critical first step, and it’s one that new business owners like to try to tackle on their own. I know from experience that a good attorney is worth the expense. Don’t know who to ask? Start asking other established business owners who they use.
- Don’t: Do payroll yourself (unless you have experience) – Some of the heftiest penalties the IRS assesses involves payroll taxes. They don’t mess around when it comes to properly assessing and remitting payroll taxes and paying your employees. Even one slip up can set a business back several thousand dollars. The issues continue to compound if they are not properly taken care of, so don’t ignore this extremely important aspect of your business. Unless you have prior experience with payroll or you hire someone with experience, this is an area where you should seek professional help.
- Do: Consult your local Chamber of Commerce – Chambers of Commerce exist to assist businesses in a multitude of ways. Our local Chamber offers Small Business Counseling classes that are meant for new business owners who are just starting up a business. These classes include counseling, training and assistance for start-up businesses. This local resource can be invaluable if you choose to utilize it.
- You must file a 2012 federal income tax return to claim your refund. The IRS needs to make sure you don’t owe any federal or state taxes for 2013 or 2014 as well, so if you haven’t filed those returns yet, the IRS may hold your refund to satisfy any tax debts that are owed as well as any past due child support or federal debts, such as student loans.
- To claim your refund, you must properly address, mail and postmark your tax return no later than this year’s tax deadline (April 18, 2016).
- Be sure to collect any and all necessary forms and include them with your return, including Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498. If you are missing a form or two, you can request copies from your employer (current and/or previous), your bank or another payer.
Starting your own business and becoming a small business owner is part of many Americans’ dreams. For some though, it can become a nightmare. There are definitely some right ways and wrong ways to approach starting your own business. Over my tenure as an experienced business advisor, I have seen plenty of heartache and additional expense along the way. Here are some of Do’s and Don’ts to consider if you want to start your own business:
Starting a new business is a brave and exciting endeavor. Avoid common slip-ups by following the advice above and you’ll be well on your way to a successful start.
Around the same time you start your business, you’ll also want to consider your business’s growth strategy. Lee Beall, CPA, CEO at Rea & Associates, covered this topic in a podcast episode on unsuitable on Rea Radio. Check it out to learn what you need to do to establish or strengthen your business’s strategic plan.
By Lesley Mast, CPA, MAcc – Taxation (Wooster office)
Time’s Running Out To Claim 2012 Refund Checks
If you are one of the nearly one million taxpayers who didn’t file a tax return in 2012, you may be eligible to receive an additional refund check from Uncle Sam. But if you don’t act fast you will miss your chance to claim your portion of the $950 million.
Funds that are not claimed by April 18, 2016 will become the property of the U.S. Treasury.
Were you a student in 2012 or was your income such that you weren’t legally required to file a 2012 tax return? It’s possible that, at that time, you had too much withheld from your wages (or paid higher quarterly estimated payments) than was actually necessary. And now the government owes you a refund. Additionally, depending on your particular circumstances, you could have also been eligible to claim certain tax credits, which are also just sitting there … waiting for somebody to claim them.
According to IRS estimates, half the potential refunds are for more than $715. Unfortunately, if you don’t claim this money now, you never will. Taxpayers have three years to file a claim for a tax refund. Funds not claimed in time will become government property.
Here are a few other points to remember if you plan on claiming your share of unclaimed funds.
If you didn’t file a 2012 tax return and think the government owes you money, you have no time to waste. The IRS provides taxpayers with current and prior year tax forms and instructions on its website or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676). You can find additional help, such as tax calculators, refund tracker, record retention schedule and more in the financial resources section of the Rea & Associates website. Check it out!
By Lesley Mast, CPA, MAcc-Taxation (Wooster office)
Check out these articles for more last-minute tax help?
3 Tips For Taxpayers Who Haven’t Filed Yet
Did you know that according to the IRS 20-25 percent of Americans wait till the last two weeks to file their taxes?! The thought alone is enough to make even the most experienced accountant nervous.
If you’re a last-minute filer, here are some tips to help you (and your accountant) get through the 2016 tax deadline unscathed.
- The Truth About Tax Extensions Unfortunately, there are some pretty nasty rumors going around about tax extensions. Hopefully, I will be able to debunk some common tax extension myths while helping those who opted to extend their deadline sleep a little better tonight. Check out the slideshow and get the facts about tax extensions!
- How To Pay Your Tax Bill In 6 Easy Steps Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Direct Pay has proven to be a popular choice among Americans who are looking for a quick and easy option for settling their tax balances. Want to learn more about the benefits of Direct Pay, just click here.
- Breaking The Tax Bracket Myth Myths and misconceptions about the tax code are rampant and clients frequently express their concerns about a variety of tax-related issues. One topic that comes up frequently is our federal government’s graduated tax bracket system. Oftentimes, people worry that if they make “too much” money, their entire income will be taxed at a higher rate – a worry that has kept countless hard-working taxpayers up at night. But are these concerns valid? Find out.
Don’t wait much longer to file your taxes or request an extension, April 18 will be here before you know it.
Don’t want to go through the mad rush again next year? We like to encourage our clients to think about taxes all year long – not just the first four months of the year. Sign up for our bi-weekly digital newsletter to for tax tips and business advice guaranteed to keep you motivated and tax-time ready all year long. And, of course, you can always email Rea & Associates for help along the way.
Your holiday decorations have been tucked away, subzero temperatures have found their way to your neighborhood and your W-2’s are in the mail … tax season is upon us once again!
This year, don’t let the hunt for tax forms, pay stubs and receipts stress you out. Instead, take a few minutes to brush up on some of our best tax season tips and avoid becoming a victim of the last-minute filing chaos that ultimately ensues in April.
Top 5 Tax Season Planning Tools
- File Faster With This Tax Prep Checklist: It’s that time of year again – time to gather your information and prepare to file your tax return. You may be surprised how fast the entire filing process goes if you spend a little time preparing before you make your appointment with the tax preparer. Get your tax prep checklist here to avoid missing the filing deadline.
- From Toddler To Teen And Beyond: Tax Breaks For Families: With parenthood comes many rewarding experiences – and expenses. You hear about how expensive it is to raise a child, but you never really know what to expect until that little bundle of joy enters your life. From diapers, pre-school, extracurricular activities and saving for college, the costs of raising kids adds up fast. Read on to discover what tax breaks are available to families?
- How To Win Tax Season: By mid-January, statistically, most Americans have already abandoned their New Year’s resolutions – those promises you make to yourself to hit the gym, get more sleep or become more organized. But hopefully, you’re not like most Americans – especially if better organization is the goal. Today I want to urge you not to give up at least not until April 15. Keep reading to find out how you can win tax season with these four tax prep tips.
- Taxes Are Like Fishing: Are you wondering where I’m going with this, wonder no more. You are sure to find a lot of valuable insight in this episode of unsuitable on Rea Radio. Episode 9, Taxes Are Like Fishing, features Melane Howell, CPA, a tax manager at Rea, talking about the importance of strategic preparation, just in time for tax season. Listen now for great insight and sound tax tips that are sure to make this tax season the easiest one yet!
- The Truth About Tax Extensions: While the first four months of the year is a busy time for accountants, we know that things don’t always go according to plan. But instead of enduring penalties for filing a late return, you may find that filing a tax extension is a better option. Contrary to popular belief, tax extensions aren’t as bad as you may have heard. Read on to learn the truth about tax extensions, and don’t forget to check out the slideshow.
Tax season doesn’t have to be the stuff nightmares are made of. Believe it or not, it can be a smooth, uneventful process. Just remember, preparation is the key to tax season success.
Need help filing your individual or business tax return? Email Rea & Associates for help. Our team of tax advisors can help you change your perspective of tax season into one that is more positive for everyone.
Check out these articles for more helpful tips for individuals:
Drivers were able to get a little more money back for every mile driven in 2015, but next year’s road map tells a different story.
The IRS announced that most of the 2016 optimal standard mileage rates would either remain the same or would be lowered going in to 2016. Among the rates seeing a decrease, were the standard mileage rates for business use of a vehicle, which were reduced to 54 cents per mile – a decrease of 3.5 cents over 2015’s rate of 57.5 cents per mile.
Based on a study of the fixed and variable costs associated with operating an automobile, the standard mileage rates take into consideration vehicle depreciation, insurance, repairs, maintenance, gas, etc. However, if you don’t intend on tracking your mileage, you also have the option of claiming deductions based on the actual costs of using your own vehicle rather than the standard mileage rates. Just be aware that you will not be allowed to claim both.
For example, if you have plans of claiming an accelerated depreciation on your vehicle, then you will not be able to claim the business standard mileage rate as well. If you are a business owner, you should also note that the standard rate is not available to fleet owners, or those who use more than four vehicles simultaneously. Additional details and rules can be found in Revenue Procedure 2010-51.
Different Rules For Different Road Trips
Here are some of the other common rates drivers should be aware of:
- The miles you drive for medical or moving purposes will be calculated at 19 cents per mile driven.
- Those driving their vehicles as a service to charitable organizations may calculate their deductions at 14 cents per mile driven.
- The portion of your business standard mileage rate that will receive depreciation treatment in 2016 will continue to be 24 cents.
Also in its announcement, the IRS noted an adjustment to the standard automobile cost allowable under the fixed and variable rate (FAVR) plan, which considers the costs taxpayers incur by driving their own vehicles for work-related purposes. In 2015, standard automobile costs may not exceed $28,000 (not including trucks and vans), which is a decrease of $200 from 2015. The maximum standard automobile cost for trucks and vans, however, is $31,000 – an increase of $200 over the 2015 rates).
Travel For Tax Savings
If you use your vehicle for business don’t forget to track your mileage. Every mile you travel is an opportunity to realize real tax savings. A financial advisor can help you find these opportunities as well as many others.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)
Are you looking for ways to help you plan for the upcoming tax season? Check out these articles for some great tips:
In just a few days … this year will be history. And while you may have run out of time to wrap up (or start, let’s face it …) last year’s resolutions, it’s not too late to tap in to some last-minute tax saving strategies to help reduce your tax bill. Actually, there are quite a few things you can do to before the ball drops to secure some valuable savings.
We’ve Done The Research For You
There’s no doubt about it, this time of year is busy! Family gatherings, shopping, decorating, cooking … sitting down at the computer to research tax deductions are probably isn’t ranking too high on your priority list. Happily, we’ve done the work for you. Check out the four articles below for some great tips, deductions and insight that will help you keep more of your hard-earned money in your bank account.
- What companies can do now to get ready for tax season: Are you willing to accept a larger-than-expected tax bill simply because you didn’t make time to touch base with your financial advisor before the end of the year? Well, if you failed to let your CPA know about any significant changes that occurred over the last year, you could miss a valuable opportunity. Read on to learn more.
- 5 Tax Deductions To Ease Your Business’s Tax Burden: From claiming the Ohio small business deduction to taking a personal vehicle deduction, these frequently overlooked deductions can result in real savings. Read on to learn more.
- Should I Make a Big Purchase to Cut Taxes?: Maybe you’ve been toying with the idea of buying a big piece of machinery for your business for a while now, but you haven’t really been sure if it’s the right move. A call to your tax advisor could help point the right direction. Oftentimes, business owners can realize some really great savings opportunities just by spending a little bit more. That’s right, you get the upgrade you’ve been wanting AND the tax deduction. Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it too?!
- Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late! Year-End Tax Planning Tips: Business owners aren’t the only ones who are able to tap into last-minute tax savings. There are ways individuals can make the most of the month of December too. From paying state & local tax estimates by the end of the year to prepaying your real estate taxes, taking a little time to plan ahead can help put more money in your pocket.
Do you think you can benefit from any of these tips? Email a tax expert at Rea & Associates to discuss what you should do before year-end to take advantage of major tax savings opportunities you may have missed in the past.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster Office)
Want more? Here are more tips to help you start the year off on the right foot.
Is it just me, or can you feel the magic in the air this time of year? Even though the days are colder and the nights are longer, the holidays seem to bring out the best of humanity; and, having worked with many not-for-profit organizations over the course of my career, I have the pleasure of seeing some of the best of humanity first hand.
Listen now: The Warm Glowing of Giving
People choose to make donations to organizations and initiatives for many reasons. We learned in episode 11 of our podcast: “The Warm Glow of Giving,” that charitable donations are primarily guided by the heart and that 87 percent of all donations are made by individuals. That being the case, I still believe individuals – as well as businesses – should embrace strategy (the head) when it comes to writing checks to a worthy cause. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when writing your check to charity.
- Do your research. Make sure you learn all you can about the organization you are donating to. You want to make sure you are donating to a worthy cause and not a fake charity.
- Know where your money is going. Find out how the organization will use your donation. It is OK to ask prior to your donation.
- Understand how this will affect your taxes. Most people know that making a donation can lead to a tax deduction, but do you know how much you can claim? If not, this is something your Rea advisor can help you understand.
- Get documentation. Any donation of $250 or more requires documentation if you are going to use it as a tax deduction. A cancelled check, receipt, etc. all work as documentation to include with your tax return.
- Give away appreciated assets, such as stocks. When doing this you get a deduction for the full value in most cases and you escape the capital gains on the appreciation.
- Expect a gift in return for your donation. That’s not the true meaning of a donation. Also, to be deductible, a gift cannot be received when making the donation, including a meal. If the donation was made at a dinner event, the cost of the meal must be subtracted from the donation amount.
- Pay with cash. For tracking and to prevent fraudulent activity, paying by check or credit card is usually the best option.
- Give randomly. Do your homework when donating, you won’t regret it. Make sure your money is going to a good cause and being used properly.
- Give more than you can afford. We all want to help, but donating more money than you can afford just creates more problems for you. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are giving away more money than you can afford.
- Give away assets that have declined in value. Doing this will waster the capital loss opportunity for you.
Around 358 billion dollars are donated to not-for-profit organizations every year and these organizations turn around and do amazing things with your gift. From feeding the hungry, providing support to veterans and ensuring that others get the health, monetary or education assistance they need, nonprofits are an critical component of our society and you can be sure that the money you donate to any one of these types of organizations is appreciated. But you should still make sure you are using your head when making a donation to ensure that your money is being used in the best way possible. Want to learn more about how to choose the right not-for-profit organization for your tax-deductible donation? Listen to episode 11 of our podcast, Unsuitable on Rea Radio. You can also email Rea & Associates to get answers to your specific questions..
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)
Learn more about the benefits of donating to charity. Check out these blogs posts:
Phishing Scam Targets Tax Preparers To Get To Taxpayers
Fraudsters don’t take holidays. In fact, they tend to be more active this time of year because they believe we are more likely to let our guards down. Instead, I don’t intend on falling for any of their traps, and I encourage you to do the same.
It’s A Trap
We recently published a blog post with tips to help online shoppers protect themselves against some of the more common tactics used by cyber criminals. From click bait to phishing emails, every link, sponsored post and flashing banner ad is a potential threat and we encourage you to protect yourself at all costs.
For example, you likely receive regular electronic correspondence from companies, organizations, groups and other reputable groups. In fact, you probably willingly provided them with your email address. You may even trust these contacts so much that you never thinking twice about whether their email is valid, and that’s what criminals are counting on. Nobody is immune.
Read Also: Who Is That Email Really From?
A current scam finding its way into inboxes across the country is targeting tax preparers. The email, which is supposedly being sent by the IRS, looks legit and includes the agency’s letterhead, logo and copyright language, among other information designed to add credibility to the piece. But there’s a problem – this email is not official IRS correspondence. Instead, it’s being sent by cyber criminals who are looking to capture usernames and passwords to gain access to taxpayers’ sensitive data.
We’re Not Falling For It
The American Institute of CPAs reached out to the IRS to verify whether the email in question is, indeed, a phishing scam. The government agency confirmed that the email was a scam and were quick to advise recipients to delete the message immediately.
This is just one example of a phishing scam in action. Emails like these are distributed every day and, oftentimes, they come from trusted businesses, organizations or people. As cyber threats continue to be rampant in our society, we must never allow ourselves to become complacent.
What You Can Do
Here are some tips to help keep you safe.
- Do It Yourself – Never click on hyperlinks found within the body text of the email – especially if you received the message from an unknown sender. If you do want to check the validity of an offer or content, manually type the URL into your web browser. Same results, less risk.
- ‘S’ For Safety – If confidential information is being traded, take a look at your address bar to make sure it reads “https” rather than the standard “http” to be sure the web page you are visiting is, indeed, secure.
- If It Pops, Run – Sometimes, the best and easiest strategy you can take to protect yourself from scammers is to configure your computer’s settings and buy and install the proper tools. We recommend disabling all popups, keeping an updated antivirus, use anti-spam and anti-spy software and install and maintain a firewall. Cyber criminals are always looking for ways to get around these measures, but they still provide you with a great first defense.
- Watch Your Back With A Backup – We keep a lot of irreplaceable items on our computers and, to many, the thought of permanently losing their data, photos and other documents is terrifying. One way to take the power away from the scammers is to create and maintain a backup of your data – especially when considering the very real threat of ransomware. That way, if something were to happen, you wouldn’t lose these vital items.
- Education Is Power – These criminals are slick and they are always finding new ways to take what belongs to you. So, one of the absolute best ways to guard against an attack is to educate yourself on current cybercrimes, identity theft trends and tactics being used by fraudsters.
Want to know more about what other threats are out there? Check out these articles:
Just when you thought it was safe to let your guard down, cyber-criminals have blindsided us again. This time they’ve used the Internal Revenue Service’s “Get Transcript” application to gain access to approximately 100,000 taxpayer accounts.
The IRS released a statement Tuesday stating the government agency is “working aggressively to protect affected taxpayers and strengthen [their] protocols even further going forward,” after learning that hackers used “non-IRS sources” to access data, including Social Security information, dates of birth and street addresses associated with the accounts of nearly 100,000 taxpayers. The IRS said the security breach occurred when criminals gained access to its online Get Transcript application, which has since been shut down pending a full investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
According to the IRS, “the online application will remain disabled until the IRS makes modifications and further strengthens security for it.”
The data breach was limited to the Get Transcript application, said an IRS representative. The main IRS computer system that manages tax filing submissions was not affected and remains secure.
Reports state that the criminals were able to gain access to the accounts by obtaining information specific to the certain taxpayers, which allowed them to navigate the Get Transcript authentication process, which includes asking the user to answer several personal questions to confirm their identity. The IRS said, since February, there have been about 200,000 attempts to access taxpayer’s Get Transcript accounts from “questionable email domains – of which, about 100,000 were successful.
Expect to receive a letter in the mail if your account was one of the 200,000 accounts targeted. And if your account was one of those that were compromised, your letter will provide additional information, including specific instructions to access free credit monitoring services that will be provided by the IRS to ensure your data is not being used in other financially damaging ways. According to the IRS, the letters started going out this week.
Concerned about identity theft as a result of this breach? Click here to learn what to do if your identity is stolen or if your personal information is compromised.
If you are a business owner, do you have protocols in place to protect your business from a cybercriminal?Email Rea & Associates to learn how you can protect your business from a cyberattack. You can also get some useful tips and information in the related articles below.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported earlier this month that nearly 59 million 2014 federal tax returns have been filed so far this filing season. While that may sound like a lot, there’s still a ways to go as, according to IRS estimates, three of five taxpayers are still waiting to file. For those of you still working on your tax prep, there is still time to claim some valuable deductions. Here are five deduction options to help small businesses make the most of the 2015 filing season:
1. Ohio Small Business Deduction
Many small business owners in Ohio are eligible to receive help from the state on their 2014 tax returns through the Ohio Small Business Deduction. Initiated by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and considered to be “the largest overall tax reduction in the country,” the deduction allows eligible small businesses to take a 50 percent tax deduction on their first $250,000 of business income. However, for the 2014 taxable year only, that percentage was increased to become a 75 percent deduction of “net business income from an individual’s adjusted gross income reported on their Ohio personal income tax return.” Your financial advisor can help you learn more about the Ohio Small Business deduction and help you take your business strategy to the next level.
2. Section 179 Deduction
When Congress voted in favor of the Tax Extenders Act late last year, among the many tax incentives that were extended included an action to retroactively reinstate the $500,000 depreciation limit on the Section 179 deduction as well as the 50 percent bonus depreciation. Together, these tax incentives have the potential to save you and your company hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment purchases. Limits and restrictions do apply, however, so make sure to work with a trusted advisor who can make sure your purchases actually qualify.
3. Personal Vehicle Deduction
If you drive your personal vehicle for business, then you may be able to deduct the expenses related to your car or truck as long as the vehicle was actually used for business purposes and not just commuting. A professional advisor can help you determine if you qualify to claim the deduction and can help determine which deduction method is the best one to use given your personal circumstances.
4. Stock Gains Deduction
Some qualified businesses may also be able to exclude the gains generated by qualified small business stock per provision IRC Sec. 1202. Originally passed by Congress in the 1990s, this provision was designed to help reinvigorate the importance of continued investment into our country’s small business infrastructure. This incentive is a little more difficult than some of the others, but if you qualify, you could realize significant savings. Because of the complicated nature of this particular provision, it is essential that you work with a tax advisor to find out if you qualify.
5. Charitable Giving Deduction
If you make a donation to a nonprofit organization during the year, it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to deduct at least a portion of your contribution from your income. But there are rules that need to be adhered to. A good financial advisor can help you get the maximum benefit for every dollar donated.
For more information related to specific tax and deduction questions related to your business, email Rea & Associates.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)