Experience is the Difference®

It’s a smaller business world after all. With the ease and popularity of e-commerce, as well as the incredible efficiency of many supply chains, companies of all sorts are finding it easier than ever to widen their markets. Doing so has become so much more feasible that many businesses quickly find themselves crossing state lines.

But therein lies a risk: Operating in another state means possibly being subject to taxation in that state. The resulting liability can, in some cases, inhibit profitability. But sometimes it can produce tax savings.

Do you have “nexus”?

Essentially, “nexus” means a business presence in a given state that’s substantial enough to trigger that state’s tax rules and obligations.

Precisely what activates nexus in a given state depends on that state’s chosen criteria. Triggers can vary but common criteria include:

  • Employing workers in the state,
  • Owning (or, in some cases even leasing) property there,
  • Marketing your products or services in the state,
  • Maintaining a substantial amount of inventory there, and
  • Using a local telephone number.

Then again, one generally can’t say that nexus has a “hair trigger.” A minimal amount of business activity in a given state probably won’t create tax liability there. For example, an HVAC company that makes a few tech calls a year across state lines probably wouldn’t be taxed in that state. Or let’s say you ask a salesperson to travel to another state to establish relationships or gauge interest. As long as he or she doesn’t close any sales, and you have no other activity in the state, you likely won’t have nexus.

Strategic moves

If your company already operates in another state and you’re unsure of your tax liabilities there — or if you’re thinking about starting up operations in another state — consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematic approach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activities may expose you.

Keep in mind that the results of a nexus study may not be negative. You might find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboring state. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state (if you don’t already have it) by, say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocate some income to that state and lower your tax bill.

The complexity of state tax laws offers both risk and opportunity. Contact us for help ensuring your business comes out on the winning end of a move across state lines.

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Many business owners use a calendar year as their company’s tax year. It’s intuitive and aligns with most owners’ personal returns, making it about as simple as anything involving taxes can be. But for some businesses, choosing a fiscal tax year can make more sense.

What’s a fiscal tax year?

A fiscal tax year consists of 12 consecutive months that don’t begin on January 1 or end on December 31 — for example, July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The year doesn’t necessarily need to end on the last day of a month. It might end on the same day each year, such as the last Friday in March.

Flow-through entities (partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies) using a fiscal tax year must file their return by the 15th day of the third month following the close of their fiscal year. So, if their fiscal year ends on March 31, they would need to file their return by June 15. (Fiscal-year C corporations generally must file their return by the 15th day of the fourth month following the fiscal year close.)

When a fiscal year makes sense

A key factor to consider is that if you adopt a fiscal tax year you must use the same time period in maintaining your books and reporting income and expenses. For many seasonal businesses, a fiscal year can present a more accurate picture of the company’s performance.

For example, a snowplowing business might make the bulk of its revenue between November and March. Splitting the revenue between December and January to adhere to a calendar year end would make obtaining a solid picture of performance over a single season difficult.

In addition, if many businesses within your industry use a fiscal year end and you want to compare your performance to your peers, you’ll probably achieve a more accurate comparison if you’re using the same fiscal year.

Before deciding to change your fiscal year, be aware that the IRS requires businesses that don’t keep books and have no annual accounting period, as well as most sole proprietorships, to use a calendar year.

It can make a difference

If your company decides to change its tax year, you’ll need to obtain permission from the IRS. The change also will likely create a one-time “short tax year” — a tax year that’s less than 12 months. In this case, your income tax typically will be based on annualized income and expenses. But you might be able to use a relief procedure under Section 443(b)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code to reduce your tax bill.

Although choosing a tax year may seem like a minor administrative matter, it can have an impact on how and when a company pays taxes. We can help you determine whether a calendar or fiscal year makes more sense for your business.

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Picking someone to lead your company after you step down is probably among the hardest aspects of retiring (or otherwise moving on). Sure, there are some business owners who have a ready-made successor waiting in the wings at a moment’s notice. But many have a few viable candidates to consider — others have too few.

When looking for a successor, for best results, keep an open mind. Don’t assume you have to pick any one person — look everywhere. Here are three hot spots to consider.

1. Your family. If yours is a family-owned business, this is a natural place to first look for a successor. Yet, because of the relationships and emotions involved, finding a successor in the family can be particularly complex. Make absolutely sure a son, daughter or other family member really wants to succeed you. But also keep in mind that desire isn’t enough. The loved one must also have the proper qualifications, as well as experience inside and, ideally, outside the company.

2. Nonfamily employees. Keep an eye out for company “stars” who are still early in their careers, regardless of their functional or geographic area. Start developing their leadership skills as early as possible and put them to the test regularly. For example, as time goes on, continually create new projects or positions that give them responsibility for increasingly larger and more complex profit centers to see how they’ll measure up.

3. The wide, wide world. If a family member or current employee just isn’t feasible, you can always look externally. A good way to start is simply by networking with people in your industry, former employees and professional advisors. You can also try placing an ad in a newspaper or trade publication, or on an Internet job site. Don’t forget executive search firms either; they’ll help screen candidates and conduct interviews.

At the end of the day, any successor — whether family member, employee or external candidate — must have the right stuff. Please contact our firm for help setting up an effective succession plan.

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Hallway lined with doors, man opening one and looking in.  Wilmington Delaware AccounantIt’s easy to think of lenders as doing your company a favor. But business financing relationships are just that: relationships. Yes, a lender has the working capital you need to grow. But a stable, successful business represents an enormously beneficial opportunity for the lender as well. So you should be just as picky with your lender as it is with your financials.

Where to start

If you indeed have a long-standing relationship with a local bank, make that your first call. There’s no understating the importance of familiarity, good communication and an amicable rapport when negotiating terms, making payments and dealing with whatever business complications may come up.

But should your local bank not offer the size or scope of financing needed, or if you’d just like to get an idea of what else is out there, don’t hesitate to shop around. Look for a lender with multiple loan products, so you have a better chance at structuring one to your liking. And get some referrals regarding the strength of service and support.

Other alternatives

If yours is a small business, check into the availability of Small Business Administration or other government-backed loan programs. These are often designed to boost local economies, so you may be able to get favorable terms and rates.

Last, but not least, don’t limit yourself to traditional lenders. Today’s lending environment is competitive and technology driven. So businesses have a wide variety of alternatives, many of which are just a few clicks away. These include angel investors, online peer-to-peer lending networks and crowdsourcing.

Best results

Many, if not most, companies can’t grow without taking on some debt. But precisely how you go about using debt to your advantage depends largely on the lenders with which you choose to do business. Let us play matchmaker and help you find the ideal partner. We can also offer assistance in structuring and presenting your financial statements for best results.

Corporate taxpayers that retain earnings in excess of the reasonable needs of their business rather than pay such earnings as dividends to shareholders are at risk for the accumulated earnings tax (AET). The AET is primarily an issue for closely-held companies because closely-held companies are more likely to have dividend policy influenced by a single shareholder or a small group of shareholders.

“Reasonable needs of the business” include, among other business needs, working capital, planned expansion or acquisitions, and replacement of facilities and equipment. Whether planned business needs are considered reasonable for accumulated earnings tax purposes depends upon facts and circumstances that are unique to each business. 

We believe that a review and analysis of your overall situation will help determine how to best utilize the profits from your growing business without running afoul of the prohibition on accumulating earnings. Please call our office to discuss strategies to retain your corporation's earnings and profits. 

 

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Small business owner working in a warehouseMany small business owners share one problem, especially in their early days. It's being over-reliant on a single customer or supplier for much of their business. If you're in that position, your business is operating with higher risk. Just as with investments, you don't want all your eggs in one basket. Your goal should be a well-diversified portfolio of customers and suppliers.

That's in an ideal world. In the real world you may have to live with the situation, at least short-term. But there are steps you can take to understand your risk and, over time, to change it.

Measure the problem. Work with your managers and accountant to quantify how your sales break out by customer. You only need do this for the top five or ten customers to see whether you have an over-reliance problem. If you're a manufacturer or retailer, take a similar look at your principal suppliers. Quantify how dependent you are on the top few.

Understand the risks. List the factors that could jeopardize your business with your chief customer or supplier. These will vary with your specific circumstances. They might include a natural disaster that interrupts your customer's business or that prevents you from shipping or receiving goods. It could be a change in the marketplace or a new technology that cuts demand for your product. It could be actions by your competitors. It might even be problems in your own operation, such as a drop in quality, delays in shipping, or poor inventory control. The list may be daunting, but until you understand the risks, you can't develop solutions.

Look for ways to minimize your risks. Brainstorm with your managers on long-term steps to reduce each risk. It might be to enter new markets or to tweak your product design. Think through contingency plans to address possible disasters or find alternative suppliers. Discuss how you would respond to changes in the marketplace. Try to set measurable goals for change and clearly assign responsibility. Changing the situation won't be simple, and it may take a long time. But that's what strategic business management is all about.

For assistance with this issue or with any of your business concerns, give us a call.

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Every week reporters publish stories about companies that have lost thousands, even millions of dollars because of fraud. They recount the dreadful details of business owners who learned – too late – that a lack of basic controls left their companies vulnerable to pilferage, embezzlement, and other types of misappropriation.

How do these lessons apply to small businesses? After all, small firms generally can't afford to hire internal auditors or set up separate divisions to break up incompatible duties. While it's true that a small company can't always protect itself in ways larger firms might, management can establish controls in certain high-risk areas, such as the following:

Cash disbursements. If at all possible, the owner/manager should sign checks. This control has a dual purpose: management sees how the company is spending its money, and the cash disbursement function is kept separate from bookkeeping or accounting. If the same person signs checks and enters disbursement transactions in the accounting records, embezzlement is harder to prevent. Requiring two signatures on checks above a certain amount also provides greater control.

Customer collections. Consider having the owner/manager open the mail, especially if customer collections are a regular part of your business. Alternatively, you might ask someone separate from the accounting function to open the mail and prepare the deposit slip. Of course, the practice of making daily deposits is also a good control.

Personnel practices. By taking care to perform background checks before hiring key employees, especially those who will be handling cash or other high-risk assets, you can prevent problems later on. Of course, financial pressures, addictions, and other factors can corrupt even good employees. That's why managers might consider discreetly monitoring employee lifestyles (without invading anyone's privacy, of course). An observant manager might note that certain lower-level employees are living well beyond their means, or that warehouse staff are carrying off company materials to remodel personal residences.

Perhaps a small business's greatest control is the "tone at the top." If management sets a high standard, employees generally follow. However, if a manager is perceived as lax – for example, he or she doesn't respond quickly when evidence of misappropriation surfaces – employees might conclude that theft isn't such a big deal.

Remember this: A company that fails to establish minimum controls is providing a golden opportunity for fraud. If you'd like help reviewing your firm's controls, give us a call.

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The new IRS regulations on capitalization vs expensing are complex. But the part of the regulations that concerns most small businesses makes it easier for them to comply.

Here's an overview of the safe harbor rules for small businesses. If your average annual gross sales are $10 million or less, you may choose to write off the cost of improvements made to an "eligible building." An "eligible building" is one that is owned or leased by the qualifying taxpayer and the unadjusted basis of the building is $1,000,000 or less. Also, to be able to deduct the expenditures on your current-year's tax return, the yearly total paid for repairs, maintenance, and improvements cannot exceed the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the building's unadjusted basis.

As with any part of the tax law, there are many details to be followed for the best tax treatment. Please contact us at 302-225-5000 or info@gunnip.com if you would like more information on these new tax regulations.

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bank statement Many small start-up businesses are off-and-running before any record system has been set up. There is money deposited into the new business checking account, some from invested funds and some from sales. There has been money paid out for equipment, supplies, etc., some by check and some by cash out of pocket or from sales receipts.

This informal method of cash receipts and disbursements needs to be formalized. The bookkeeping system does not need to be complicated. In most cases, you can continue to operate much as you have. You just need to do it in a way that leaves a few more tracks.

For example, make all purchases by check. The small miscellaneous cash paid-outs from your pocket (or the petty cash box) are reimbursed by a check with a listing of the expense codes. All your cash receipts are deposited into the bank. No more taking cash from the till for lunches, supplies, etc.

If all the money received by the business is deposited into the bank and all expenses are paid by a company check, the proper journal entries are easy to create from the bank statement.

If you are starting a new business, don't wait until the end of the year and surprise your accountant with a box of miscellaneous receipts. That is the most expensive and least effective use of your accounting information. In addition to setting up the proper record system, your accountant will provide you with guidance on other business, financial, and tax due dates and obligations.

 

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The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to prevent the so-called fiscal cliff on January 1, 2013 sending the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (HR 8, as amended by the Senate) to the House, where it was likewise approved on January 1, 2013.  The American Taxpayer Relief Act allows the Bush-era tax rates to sunset after 2012 for individuals with incomes over $400,000 and families with incomes over $450,000; permanently patches the alternative minimum tax (AMT); revives many now-expired tax extenders, including the research tax credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit and for a maximum estate tax of 40 percent with a $5 million exclusion. The bill also delays the mandatory across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.  President Obama said that he will sign this legislation as soon as it reaches his desk. For detailed information, read the full American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 Tax Briefing.

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