How to Find a Good Tax Adviser
Many unlicensed tax preparers with questionable credentials set up shop during income-tax season. Some disappear after the April 15 filing date, leaving you to deal with the IRS if there’s a problem with your return. The IRS recently cracked down on such rogue tax preparers by, among other things, contacting those whose returns have frequently shown to have errors. Plus, it is instituting stricter rules for anyone who charges a fee to prepare a tax return. See the IRS’s fact sheets about the new requirements for tax-return preparers. Most of the new rules do not take effect until the 2011 tax season, so taxpayers still need to be vigilant when hiring a tax preparer or adviser this year
One good approach is to look for an enrolled agent. Enrolled agents are tax experts who must pass a rigorous test, meet annual continuing-education requirements, and who are licensed to represent clients in front of the IRS. Enrolled agents can prepare your income-tax return, and some provide tax-planning advice. You can also contact an enrolled agent if you need help after receiving a penalty letter from the IRS.
Enrolled agents work in a variety of settings: Some have their own firms, some work for tax-preparation chains, and some are also certified public accountants or certified financial planners. You can find an enrolled agent through the National Association of Enrolled Agents, at www.naea.org. They usually charge by the tax form to prepare a return (so the more complicated your return, the more you’ll pay) and by the hour for tax planning.
If you’re looking for help with financial planning as well as taxes, CPAs who are also personal financial specialists (CPA/PFS) can help integrate tax planning with investing, retirement-planning and estate issues
MAJOR DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TAX FILING AND TAX PLANNING
Just like there’s a really, really big difference between tax avoidance (lessening tax liability and legal) and tax evasion (the deliberate under- or nonpayment of taxes and criminal), there’s a big distinction between tax planning and tax filing. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, it’s a distinction you’re not all that familiar with
It’s a popular myth that there are over 70,000 pages in the tax code, but the true number is still well over 4,000 pages. Is it any wonder no business person has the time to read it? Luckily, tax pros like CPAs, accountants, and bookkeepers do stay current with new and updated tax codes, making them well prepared to help you understand these three major differences between planning and filing
Each of these taxes is based on different criteria and has distinct filing requirements. With income taxes, for example, partnerships, sole proprietorships, S-corps, and LLCs show their next profit on personal income tax forms. C-Corps, on the other hand, pay corporate taxes. And don’t forget about state, city, and county taxes!
Tax planning is more long-term.
Good tax planning looks far into the future and helps you better plan and benefit from existing tax rules. It’s a time-consuming process that requires a high level of knowledge and engagement. You may find it tedious work, but a good tax planner will always be excited about helping you save money on your next return
HOW A BOOKKEEPER HELPS WITH BOTH TAX PLANNING AND FILING
An experienced, qualified bookkeeper is your perfect year-round partner in tax planning and filing. Tasks like paying bills, invoicing customers, and entering transactions are done on a consistent basis. Employee payroll, bank reconciliations, and entry adjustments keep your business operating smoothly. And monthly Profit & Loss reports, Accounts Receivable (AR) and Accounts Payable (AP) aging schedules, and balance sheets get you geared up for tax time. Come tax time, all that information can be used to quickly and easily file your various federal, state, and local tax returns, including payroll, sales, and income tax. You’ll also get all the W2s and 1099s you’re required to issue.
Now that tax season has ended, it’s time to start thinking about your taxes
Some of the most generous tax-sheltering opportunities involve retirement plans. Workers with earnings usually can opt for a choice of programs, including 401(k)-style plans and Individual Retirement Accounts, of either the traditional or Roth varieties. What these accounts have in common is their ability to allow investment earnings to grow tax-sheltered until money is withdrawn
It’s also natural to delay thinking about charitable contributions until the waning weeks of the calendar year, when a large amount of donations are made. But there are good reasons to spread your giving throughout the year.
Charity donations, like many other expenses, can be deducted on federal returns only by people who itemize. Yet tax reform increased the standard deduction, thereby reducing the number of taxpayers who would gain from itemizing
Now that you have all your tax-related receipts and statements handy, make an effort to file them in a way that makes sense for you, then keep the process going as more paperwork comes in.
Now that you have your tax returns and other paperwork within reach, it’s time to decide what to keep.
Tax Planning For Small Business Owners
Many small business owners ignore tax planning. They don’t even think about their taxes until it’s time to meet with their accountants, but tax planning is an ongoing process and good tax advice is a valuable commodity.
Tax Planning is the process of looking at various tax options in order to determine when, whether, and how to conduct business and personal transactions to reduce or eliminate tax liability. Many small business owners ignore tax planning. They don’t even think about their taxes until it’s time to meet with their accountants, but tax planning is an ongoing process and good tax advice is a valuable commodity. It is to your benefit to review your income and expenses monthly and meet with your CPA or tax advisor quarterly to analyze how you can take full advantage of the provisions, credits, and deductions that are legally available to you.
Tax Planning Strategies
Countless tax planning strategies are available to small business owners. Some are aimed at the owner’s individual tax situation and some at the business itself, but regardless of how simple or how complex a tax strategy is, it will be based on structuring the strategy to accomplish one or more of these often overlapping goals
Maximizing Business Entertainment Expenses
Entertainment expenses are legitimate deductions that can lower your tax bill and save you money, provided you follow certain guidelines. In order to qualify as a deduction, a business must be discussed before, during, or after the meal and the surroundings must be conducive to a business discussion. For instance, a small, quiet restaurant would be an ideal location for a business dinner. A nightclub would not. Be careful of locations that include ongoing floor shows or other distracting events that inhibit business discussions. Prime distractions are theater locations, ski trips, golf courses, sports events, and hunting trips
Important Business Automobile Deductions
If you use your car for business such as visiting clients or going to business meetings away from your regular workplace you may be able to take certain deductions for the cost of operating and maintaining your vehicle. You can deduct car expenses by taking either the standard mileage rate or using actual expenses.
Tax Tips for People Who Are Self-Employed
Estimate your business income
It’s absolutely essential that you find out where you stand tax-wise – before you start taking other tax planning steps. You don’t want to make expenditures, for example, in a year when you don’t need the deduction. If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket this year or next, you’ll want to take as many deductions as possible in the year you are subject to the highest tax rate
Time your income
You can’t postpone income simply by not cashing checks that come to you, or by telling customers not to pay you until after the end of the year. Income is generally taxable when it is available to you. However, you can time billing near the end of the year to your advantage. You certainly can sell assets at a gain before or after the end of the year, depending on your tax situation.
Time your expenditures
There’s always a surge in business equipment sales at the end of the year – and it’s not entirely because computers and printers are a popular holiday gift. If you buy business assets by December 31, you can start depreciating them this tax year. You may even be able to take a Section 179 deduction and expense the entire cost of the asset in one year.
Make the most of medical insurance deductions
You can deduct health insurance premiums for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents as an adjustment to income. This includes premiums for long-term care insurance. The policy does not need to be in the business name – it’s deductible even if it’s in your name.
Keep the form of your company simple
Unless you need to form a partnership or a corporation for some reason, stick with a Schedule C, Sole Proprietorship. It’s the simplest way to file, and there’s nothing you have to disband if you move on to something else. If you’re looking for legal protection, get liability insurance (and consult your lawyer).