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Say "insurance" to most people and auto, health, home, and life are the variants that spring to mind. But what if an illness or accident were to deprive you of your income? Even a temporary setback could create havoc with your financial affairs. Statistics show your chances of being disabled for three months or longer between ages 35 and 65 are almost twice those of dying during the same period.

Yet people with financial savvy often overlook disability insurance. Perhaps they feel adequately covered through their job benefits. However, such coverage can be woefully inadequate. The fact is, most individuals should consider disability insurance in their financial planning. When considering disability insurance, think in terms of long term and short term. Many employers provide long-term disability coverage for all employees. Find out if your employer does. If you have long-term disability insurance, you need to consider short-term coverage to supplement during the period of disability before your long-term coverage begins. To get the right coverage for you, take the following steps:

Scrutinize key policy terms. First, ask how "disability" is defined. Some policies use "any occupation" to determine if you are fit for work following an illness or accident. A better definition is "own occupation," whereby you receive benefits when you cannot perform the job you held at the time you became disabled.

Check the benefit period. Ideally, your policy should cover disabilities until you'll be eligible for Medicare and Social Security.

Determine how much coverage you need. Tally the after-tax income you would have from all sources during a period of disability and subtract this sum from your minimum needs.

Decide what you can afford. Disability insurance is not inexpensive. Plan to forgo riders and options that boost premiums significantly. If your budget won't support the ideal benefit payment, consider lengthening the elimination period (but be sure that accumulated sick leave, savings, etc., will carry you until the benefits kick in).

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Should you pay for your child's college education? Or should your child find the financing? There are compelling arguments for both sides, but ultimately, your family needs to do what's best for your financial situation. Most families find that a combination of both works the best.

Parents should pay.

Arguments in favor of shelling out your hard-earned cash for a son's or daughter's higher education can be compelling. For one thing, college is a very expensive proposition these days. A year of undergraduate study at a private university can easily top $30,000 and public in-state schools can run over $12,000. Of course, if your student decides to get an advanced degree or go to medical or law school, he or she can run up a bill exceeding the cost of your home mortgage. Advocates of this point of view ask, "Do you really want to saddle your kid with that kind of debt so early in life?"

They add that if your child ends up working to pay for college, that's less time available for study and making friends. And, of course, friendships built in college can generate a wealth of opportunities for a future career. Also, by investing in tax-deferred 529 plans, parents can withdraw funds free from federal and some state income taxes when it's time for college.

The child should take the responsibility.

Others argue that covering the cost of your child's college education should not be your priority. After all, they reason, your kid has a lifetime to pay back student loans, and making loan payments can generate a positive credit history. Advocates of this position also argue that kids who have to pay for their own tuition, books, and living expenses learn responsibility and value the investment that college represents. They also point to available tuition reimbursement plans provided by some companies or the military service option as a way to get a college education without breaking the bank.

Those on this side of the debate often argue that 529 plans are overrated as a savings vehicle because investment options can be limited and tax rules are likely to change, undermining future tax benefits. Finally, they reason that a parent's own retirement savings should take precedence over saving for a child's education.

Making the decision.

Of course, your family's dynamics, the importance you place on a college education, and your personal financial priorities will factor into this decision. If you'd like help looking at the pros and cons of this important issue, give us a call.

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Whether your firm has been operating for years, or you decided over last night's coffee to start a new venture, you're sure to face the need for business credit. Entrepreneurs often ask friends and family to invest in their start-up businesses, and many draw on personal funds to launch new firms. But to address ongoing business needs – such as requirements for inventory, equipment, and real estate – most firms seek additional help from credit card companies and banks.

Unfortunately, today financial institutions are more wary than they used to be about extending credit to small companies. And with many business revenues faltering because of market pressures, even well-established companies have found it difficult to obtain loans.

As a result, establishing good business credit has become more important than ever. To convince a lender that your company represents a good risk, you should first prepare a well-written business plan. It need not be as long as a Tolstoy novel, but should lay out in some detail your products, pricing, estimates, competition, and basis for cash flow projections. A clearly defined business plan will convince potential lenders that you've addressed the greatest obstacles to your firm's success. Before approaching lenders, consider your business structure as well. For example, a limited liability company or corporation may be seen as less risky than a sole proprietorship. The goal is to present a professional image to convince the lender that your company will prosper in good times and bad.

To establish good business credit, you'll also want to make sure all required licenses are current and your firm is registered with the major business credit reporting bureaus such as Experian and Equifax. Work with vendors who report to these bureaus so that your on-time payments are tracked.

Of course, the key to building good business credit is making all your payments on time. As with personal credit, your business credit score will climb as managers prove their skill at monitoring the firm's cash flow and their commitment to honoring the firm's obligations.

Also consider having our office review your financial statements before you send them to the bank. If you need assistance with this or other business concerns, give us a call.

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Many taxpayers have questions after they file their tax returns. The IRS provides answers to many of them. These are a few of the most common.

How can I check the status of my refund?
You can go online to check on your refund if it has been 24 hours since the IRS would have received your e-filed tax return or four weeks after you mailed your paper return. Go to www.irs.gov and click on "Where's My Refund?" You will need your Social Security number, your filing status, and the amount of your tax refund.

What records should I keep?
Keep receipts, canceled checks, or other substantiation for any deductions or credits you claimed. Also keep records that verify other items on your tax return (W-2s, 1099s, etc.). Keep a copy of the tax return, along with the supporting records, for seven years.

What if I discover that I made a mistake on my return?
If you discover that you failed to report some income or claim a deduction or tax credit to which you are entitled, you can correct the error by filing an amended tax return using Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

What if my address changes after I file?
If you move or have an address change after filing your return, send Form 8822, Change of Address, to the IRS. You should also notify the Postal Service of your new address so that you'll receive any refund you're due or any notices sent by the IRS.

For answers to other tax questions you may have, give us a call.

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Your role as an executor or personal administrator of an estate involves a number of responsibilities. Did you know that part of your responsibility involves making sure the necessary tax returns are filed? And there might be more of those than you expect.

Here's an overview:

  • Personal income tax. You may need to file a federal income tax return for the decedent for the prior year as well as the year of death. Both are due by April 15 of the following year, even if the amount of time covered is less than a full year. You can request a six-month extension if you need additional time to gather information.
  • Gift tax. If the individual whose estate you're administering made gifts in excess of the annual exclusion ($14,000 per person for 2017), a gift tax payment may be required. Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, is due April 15 of the year following the gift. The filing date can be extended six months.
  • Estate income tax. Income earned after death, such as interest on estate assets, is reported on Form 1041, Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts. You'll generally need to file if the estate's gross income is $600 or more, or if any beneficiary is a nonresident alien. For estates with a December 31 year-end, Form 1041 is due April 15 of the following year.
  • Estate tax. An estate tax return, Form 706, United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, is required when the fair market value of all estate assets exceeds $5,490,000 (in 2017). One thing to watch for: Spouses can transfer unused portions of the $5,490,000 exemption to each other. This is called the "portability" election. To benefit, you will need to file Form 706 when the total value of the estate is lower than the exemption.
  • Form 706 is due nine months after the date of death. You can request a six-month extension of time to file.

Give us a call if you need more information about administering an estate. We're here to help make your task less stressful.

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Running a business is like going on a road trip — and a detailed business plan that includes a set of pro forma financials can serve as a road map or GPS app that improves your odds of arriving on time and on budget. If your plan doesn’t cover the prospective quantitative details in pro formas, expect to hit some bumps along the road to achieving your strategic goals.

What to include

Investors and lenders may require business plans from companies that are starting up, seeking additional funding, or restructuring to avoid bankruptcy. Beyond all of the verbiage in the executive summary, business description and market analysis, comprehensive business plans include at least three years of pro forma:

  • Balance sheets (projecting assets, liabilities and equity),
  • Income statements (projecting expected revenue, expenses, gains, losses and net profits), and
  • Cash flow statements (highlighting sources and uses of cash from operating, financing and investing activities).

Pro forma financial statements are the quantitative details that back up the qualitative portions of your business plan. Pro formas tell stakeholders that management is aware of when cash flow and capacity shortages are likely to occur and how sensitive the results are to changes in the underlying assumptions.

How to crunch the numbers

Unless you’re launching a start-up, historical financial statements are the usual starting point for pro forma financials. Historical statements tell where the company is now. The next step is to ask, “Where do we want to be in three, five or 10 years?” Long-term goals fuel the assumptions that, in turn, drive the pro formas.

For example, suppose a company with $5 million in sales wants that figure to double over a three-year period. How will it get from Point A ($5 million in 2016) to Point B ($10 million in 2019)? Many roads lead to the desired destination.

Management could, for example, hire new salespeople, acquire the assets of a bankrupt competitor, build a new plant or launch a new product line. Attach a “statement of assumptions” to your pro forma financials, which shows how you plan to achieve your goals and how the changes will flow through the financial statements.

Need help?

Running a company following a business plan that doesn’t include pro forma financials is like going on a road trip with an unreliable GPS app or a bad map: Pro formas help you monitor where you are, what alternate routes or side trips exist along the way, and how close you are to the final destination. We can help you prepare pro forma financial statements, compare expected to actual results and adjust your assumptions as needed.

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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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Each year, millions of taxpayers claim an income tax refund. To be sure, receiving a payment from the IRS for a few thousand dollars can be a pleasant influx of cash. But it means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan for close to a year, which isn’t the best use of your money.

Fortunately, there is a way to begin collecting your 2017 refund now: You can review the amounts you’re having withheld and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making, and adjust them to keep more money in your pocket during the year.

Reasons to modify amounts

It’s particularly important to check your withholding and/or estimated tax payments if:

  • You received an especially large 2016 refund,
  • You’ve gotten married or divorced or added a dependent,
  • You’ve purchased a home,
  • You’ve started or lost a job, or
  • Your investment income has changed significantly.

Even if you haven’t encountered any major life changes during the past year, changes in the tax law may affect withholding levels, making it worthwhile to double-check your withholding or estimated tax payments.

Making a change

You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even several times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.

While reducing withholdings or estimated tax payments will, indeed, put more money in your pocket now, you also need to be careful that you don’t reduce them too much. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you file your return, even if you pay your outstanding tax liability by the April 2018 deadline.

If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the rest of the year, please contact us.

 

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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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