1. "I can do it myself." "Most small business owners do not have the tax knowledge they need to stay out of trouble, but they won't pay for planning," says Botkin. "They're cheap so they use TurboTax. But TurboTax won't represent them if they get into trouble." Sure, as a member of the profession, Botkin has a vested interest in recommending that you hire a CPA. Maybe you really are capable of doing your own tax planning. Maybe you can also rewire your office, build your own website, and represent yourself in court. That doesn't mean you should. Just sayin'.
2. "I keep my receipts so I don't need a tax diary." Every small business owner must keep an accurate tax organizer, says Botkin, and it's not the same thing as an expense log. "A tax organizer has all the questions that the IRS requires you to answer about travel, entertainment, and other expenses. It will bulletproof your records and eliminate procrastination, and if you're audited, it shifts the burden of proof to the IRS," he says. Anything that allows you to feel smug in the presence of an auditor has got to be worth its price, which is not cheap in this case. You'll spend over $100 for a decent tax organizer/diary.
3. "Yay! A big fat refund." Many people are thrilled when they get a big check from the IRS. Wrong reaction, says Botkin. "A refund means you've given the government interest-free money for a long time," he says. "If you have withholding, you want to adjust it to the point where you get very little refund."
4. "I'll just borrow a little from employee withholding." When they're short on cash, it's often tempting for small business owners to dip into the trust fund that's used for employee withholding and Social Security. "Many employers think ' this is my money,'" says Botkin. "It isn't. If they borrow from withholding or Social Security, they are personally liable, with huge potential penalties."
5. "Let's make everyone an independent contractor." Employees are expensive. Independent contractors, not so much. So why not make everyone independent contractor? It's not that easy, says Botkin. "If you're going to designate a worker as independent you have to treat him as independent," say Botkin. Typically, independent contractors can make their own hours and have control over where, when, and how work is completed. If the IRS determines that you incorrectly designated an employee as independent, you may be subject to penalties for not collecting Social Security taxes, and for more than 40% of workers compensation for the specified time period.
6. "I can pay myself whatever I please." If you're incorporated, not really. Say you typically pay yourself $100,000 a year. After a good year, you decide to increase that to $300,000. "You have to substantiate a reason for the increase, or part of the money can be disallowed by the IRS as unreasonable compensation," says Botkin. "Then it can be taxed at the corporate level, and distributed as a dividend. And then you'll pay tax on the dividend." Ouch!
7. "My bookkeeper would never steal from me." "It's vital for every small business person to have one person who writes the checks and another person doing the accounting, and never the two shall meet," says Botkin. He says that he's met hundreds of small business owners who have had their bank accounts cleaned out by embezzlers. So unless you have a trusted family member handling all your finances, make sure that you have different people handling accounting and accounts payable. Nope, this isn't a tax tip per se, but drop the ball on this one and you won't have to worry about paying taxes because you may not have a business.
8. "That can't possibly be deductible." Not so fast! The dry cleaning for the suits you wore at that business conference in Duluth? If you were away overnight, it's deductible, says Botkin. A movie and dinner with friends, with whom you also talked business? Also deductible he says, even if your business discussion didn't occur at dinner, but within the same 24-hour period as the social engagement. Just make sure it's all documented in your tax diary (see #2). Educate yourself on all the juicy deductions you may be missing out on.
9. "This isn't a hobby, it's a business." Say the "business" you started, selling seashell picture frames online, consistently loses money (those trips to Cape Cod are expensive, after all). The IRS may decide that you don't have a business at all, but merely a hobby. In that case, you'll no longer be entitled to the same deductions. "They'll also disallow your losses," says Botkin. "The government is the biggest bookie -- they'll subsidize your losses, but they want part of your profits."
10. "I can't afford to hire my kids." Well, sure you can. Especially your kids who are in college. Pay them a reasonable
wage for the work they perform (Botkin paid his daughter to build and maintain his
website, for instance), and you'll be able to deduct their wages as a business expense.
Then, suggests Botkin, have them use the wages to pay for college. Voila! You've just
made college tuition deductible. Also, remember that up to $5,800 in income is tax-free
for your children.
A home-based business can be anything from a single programmer or consultant who virtually hangs a shingle to a vintage clothing company, jewelry maker, window washer, or cupcake baker. These are the 5 tips to keep your home-based business legal:
1. Pick the right business name. Make sure you do a search for your businesses' name, and clear the trademark. "Check first with your Secretary of State's Office for the use of your businesses' name in the state and county, and then do a national trademark search," says Akalp, whose company provides free name searches. "If you find someone else using the name, consider paying a service for a comprehensive name search to make sure you're not going to impinge on another company's trademark--the last thing you want to do is to have to change your business name after you've starting doing business."
2. Pick the appropriate business structure. Consult with a tax professional before you determine your businesses' legal structure. While you can start doing business as a sole practitioner today, there can be tax advantages to forming an LLC or an S-Corporation. Additionally, having a corporation can provide you with an air of legitimacy--you're no longer "some dude working out of his basement."The decision to form an LLC or a Chapter s corporation can also be based on your comfort with formality. "An LLC provides maximum legal protection with minimum paperwork," says Akalp. "An S-Corporation is good for a company who can handle the paperwork and you can qualify to be on the payroll as an owner. If you're not ready to incorporate, create a fictitious business name, also known as a "DBA" or Doing Business As name."
3. Get a tax ID. While a sole proprietor can give a social security number to vendors or customers for their records, it is best to get a tax ID, also know as an EIN, which issued by the IRS. "You don't want your Social Security number floating everywhere," Akalp states. It is also more professional to have an EIN. These are required for an LLC or Corporation.
4. Obtain a registered agent. If you're working from home, you may not want clients to know it. Since the legal address for your corporation is made part of the public record, you may want business and legal notices to be delivered someplace other than your home. For an LLC or S-corporation, a registered agent's address is substituted for yours for purpose of public notices. Additionally, says Akalp, if you're not incorporating, you can get a P.O. Box or use a mailing company for a DBA entity.
5. Get permits or licenses. As home-based business owner, it is your job to check on local permits. You may need a business license. A cupcake baker may have to undergo a health inspection, and there may be zoning rules as well. Akalp advises, "Handle them from the start rather than dealing with it after the fact, as you may have back payments or penalties for ignoring the rules."Will you be starting a home-based business this year? Have you benefited from other advice about home-based business creation? Please share what you've learned in the comments section or ask any questions.
(Article based in a publication from Inc Magazine)