7 Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions

One of the biggest hurdles you’ll face in running your own business is staying on top of your numerous obligations to federal, state, and local tax agencies. Tax codes seem to be in a constant state of flux making the Internal Revenue Code barely understandable to most people.

The old legal saying that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is perhaps most often applied in tax settings and it is safe to assume that a tax auditor presenting an assessment of additional taxes, penalties, and interest will not look kindly on an “I didn’t know I was required to do that” claim. On the flip side, it is surprising how many small businesses actually overpay their taxes, neglecting to take deductions they’re legally entitled to that can help them lower their tax bill.

Preparing your taxes and strategizing as to how to keep more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year. Your best course of action to save time, frustration, money, and an auditor knocking on your door, is to have a professional accountant handle your taxes.

Tax professionals have years of experience with tax preparation, religiously attend tax seminars, read scores of journals, magazines, and monthly tax tips, among other things, to correctly interpret the changing tax code.

When it comes to tax planning for small businesses, the complexity of tax law generates a lot of folklore and misinformation that also leads to costly mistakes. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the more common small business tax misperceptions.

1. All Start-Up Costs Are Immediately Deductible

Business start-up costs refer to expenses incurred before you actually begin operating your business. Business start-up costs include both start up and organizational costs and vary depending on the type of business. Examples of these types of costs include advertising, travel, surveys, and training. These start up and organizational costs are generally called capital expenditures.

Costs for a particular asset (such as machinery or office equipment) are recovered through depreciation or Section 179 expensing. When you start a business, you can elect to deduct or amortize certain business start-up costs.

Business start-up and organizational costs are generally capital expenditures. However, you can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs paid or incurred after October 22, 2004. The $5,000 deduction is reduced (but not below zero) by the amount your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized.

2. Overpaying The IRS Makes You “Audit Proof”

The IRS doesn’t care if you pay the right amount of taxes or overpay your taxes. They do care if you pay less than you owe and you can’t substantiate your deductions. Even if you overpay in one area, the IRS will still hit you with interest and penalties if you underpay in another. It is never a good idea to knowingly or unknowingly overpay the IRS. The best way to “Audit Proof” yourself is to properly document your expenses and make sure you are getting good advice from your tax accountant.

3. Being incorporated enables you to take more deductions.

Self-employed individuals (sole proprietors and S Corps) qualify for many of the same deductions that incorporated businesses do, and for many small businesses, being incorporated is an unnecessary expense and burden. Start-ups can spend thousands of dollars in legal and accounting fees to set up a corporation, only to discover soon thereafter that they need to change their name or move the company in a different direction. In addition, plenty of small business owners who incorporate don’t make money for the first few years and find themselves saddled with minimum corporate tax payments and no income.

4. The home office deduction is a red flag for an audit.

While it used to be a red flag, this is no longer true–as long as you keep excellent records that satisfy IRS requirements. In fact, so many people now have home-based businesses that in 2013, the IRS rolled out the new simplified home office deduction, which makes it even easier to claim the home office deduction (as long as it can be substantiated).

Because of the proliferation of home offices, tax officials cannot possibly audit all tax returns containing the home office deduction. In other words, there is no need to fear an audit just because you take the home office deduction. A high deduction-to-income ratio however, may raise a red flag and lead to an audit.

5. If you don’t take the home office deduction, business expenses are not deductible.

You are still eligible to take deductions for business supplies, business-related phone bills, travel expenses, printing, wages paid to employees or contract workers, depreciation of equipment used for your business, and other expenses related to running a home-based business, whether or not you take the home office deduction.

6. Requesting an extension on your taxes is an extension to pay taxes.

Extensions enable you to extend your filing date only. Penalties and interest begin accruing from the date your taxes are due.

7. Part-time business owners cannot set up self-employed pensions.

If you start up a company while you have a salaried position complete with a 401K plan, you can still set up a SEP-IRA for your business and take the deduction.

A tax headache is only one mistake away, be it a missed payment or filing deadline, an improperly claimed deduction, or incomplete records and understanding how the tax system works is beneficial to any business owner, whether you run a small to medium sized business or are a sole proprietor.

And, even if you delegate the tax preparation to someone else, you are still liable for the accuracy of your tax returns. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call today. We’re here to assist you.

Small Business Owners Feeling More Optimistic in 2013

Small business owners are feeling more optimistic as 2013 begins after the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index dropped to the most pessimistic level in two years in November.

The January index improved 20 points to positive 9 in January 2013, up from negative 11 in November 2012, indicating an improvement in optimism since the November elections. Key drivers of this improvement in the survey, conducted Jan. 7-11, 2013, include increased business owner optimism about revenues, capital spending, and jobs over the past 12 months and more optimism about their overall financial situation, revenues, cash flow, and jobs over the next 12 months. A year ago, in January 2012, the index was at positive 15.

While optimism improved from the fourth quarter, the survey paints a mixed picture with respect to jobs and hiring. More business owners (71 percent) expect the number of jobs at their companies to stay the same over the next 12 months, and business owners planning to add jobs during the same period remained unchanged at 17 percent. Among those who hired new employees the past 12 months, 35 percent of owners are hiring fewer employees than they need, up from 29 percent in January 2012, but below the 42 percent of November 2010.

“At a time when news headlines report mixed economic news and uncertainty in Washington, our survey shows the volatility of business owner sentiment today,” said Doug Case, small business segment manager for Wells Fargo, in a statement. “Business owners are feeling a bit more positive at the beginning of the year, but they also express concern about the operating environment that could impact future business decisions, such as hiring new employees.”

This quarter, the Index survey included additional questions on hiring and jobs. When small business owners who are not hiring were asked for the reason, the top responses were:

• Don’t need additional employees at this time (81 percent)
• Worried about the revenues and sales to justify new employees (74 percent)
• Concerned about the status of the U.S. economy (66 percent)
• Worried about the potential cost of health care (61 percent)

The number of small business owners saying they are not hiring for fear they may no longer be in business in 12 months increased to 30 percent in January, up from 24 percent from one year ago.

The top reasons small business owners said they are hiring include increased consumer or business demand (70 percent) and expanding their business operations (68 percent).

When looking for new employees, 63 percent of the small business owners polled report using word-of-mouth and 47 percent employee referrals. Twenty-three percent of owners say it is very difficult and another 30 percent say it is somewhat difficult to find qualified employees—about the same as in January 2012. Twenty-seven percent of owners say the difficulty of finding qualified employees has hurt their business over the past 12 months, up from 21 percent a year ago.

Forty percent of owners said they would look for temporary or contract workers when hiring while 36 percent say they would seek part-time employees, and 22 percent full-time employees. When they can’t afford to hire new employees, 28 percent of owners say they turn to their spouse for unpaid help, 14 percent turn to their children, 13 percent to a friend, 7 percent to another relative, and 6 percent to a student.

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Small Business Groups Urge Tax Reform Instead of Tax Hikes from Fiscal Cliff

A group of business trade associations have sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to reject President Obama’s call for higher marginal tax rates on main street employers.

A total of 42 business organizations employing tens of millions of workers sent the letter to Capitol Hill urging Congress to avert tax hikes and instead pursue comprehensive tax and entitlement reform.

“[W]e strongly urge Congress to pursue comprehensive tax reform that lowers rates on all forms of business income while enacting significant entitlement reforms that put the federal budget on a sustainable fiscal path, they wrote. “[W]e call on Congress to avoid raising marginal tax rates on employers, either as part of negotiations over the fiscal cliff, or as part of larger effort to reform the tax code. Instead, Congress should seek to enact comprehensive tax reform that simplifies the tax code and encourages economic growth for both pass-through businesses and corporations.”

The small business groups cited a recent economic report from the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation that nearly 1 million businesses and more than half of all small business income earned will be hit by the tax hikes. A recent Congressional Budget Office report confirms that if those same tax rates rise, hundreds of thousands of jobs could disappear.

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Congress Passes JOBS Act for Small Business

Congress approved legislation intended to spur investment in small businesses and help them access the capital markets, despite criticisms that it would weaken audit safeguards and investor protections.

The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act received strong bipartisan support and backing from the Obama administration as a way to improve job creation at small businesses. The measure passed the House for the second time on Tuesday, this time by a vote of 380-41. After the House passed the legislation earlier this month, the Senate took it up and approved an amendment intended to add some protections for investors in so-called “crowdfunding” ventures. The Senate then passed the JOBS Act last week by a vote of 73-26 and sent it back to the House. The bill will now go to President Obama for his signature.

The legislation unites a variety of bills that had made progress in Congress in the past, but until now had not been signed into law. Among them, the bill aims to reduce the costs of going public by giving companies a temporary reprieve from certain Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, phasing in the regulations over five years to allow smaller companies to go public sooner. The bill would also create a new category of issuers called emerging growth companies, which would retain that status for five years or until they exceed $1 billion in annual gross revenue or become large accelerated filers. Another provision would remove an SEC regulatory ban preventing small businesses from using advertisements to solicit investors. The bill also removes SEC restrictions on “crowdfunding” so entrepreneurs can raise equity capital from a large pool of small investors who may or may not be considered “accredited” by the SEC. Companies would be able to pool up to $1 million from investors without registering with the SEC, or up to $2 million if the company provides the SEC with audited financial statements.

 

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