You’re working at the office, getting stuff done around the house, or hanging out with family when – wham! – a phone call, email or text alerts you that something is wrong with your finances. When a negative financial event hits, don’t let it take you down. Here are some common mistakes and steps to remedy each situation:
You overdraw your bank account. First, stop using the account to avoid additional overdraft fees. Next, manually balance your account by reviewing all posted transactions. Look for unexpected items and fraudulent activity. Then, call your bank to explain the situation and ask that all fees be refunded. Banks are not obligated to refund fees, but often times they will. The next steps vary based on the reason for the overdraft, but ultimately your goal is to bring your account back to a positive balance as soon as possible.
You miss a credit card payment. Make as big a payment as possible as soon as you realize you missed it. Time is of the essence with late credit card payments – the longer it goes, the more serious the consequences. Then call the credit card company to discuss the missed payment. You might be able to get a refund of the late fees, and perhaps a reversal of the interest charge.
You forget to file a tax return. Gather all your tax documents as soon as possible, and file the tax return even if you can’t pay the taxes owed. This will stop your account from gathering additional penalties. You can then work with the IRS on a payment plan if need be. The sooner you file, the sooner the money will be in your bank account if you’re due a refund. If you wait too long (three years or more), any potential refunds will be gone forever.
You lose your wallet. Start by calling all of your debit card providers, then your bank and the credit card companies. Next, set up fraud alerts with the major credit reporting companies and get a new driver’s license. Finally, if you think it was stolen, file a report with the police.
You miss an estimated tax payment. Estimated payments are due in April, June, September and January each year. If you are required to make estimated payments and miss a due date, don’t simply wait until the next due date. Pay it as soon as possible to avoid further penalties. If you have a legitimate reason for missing the payment, such as a casualty or disaster loss, you might be able to reduce your penalty.
Remember, mistakes happen. When they do, stay calm and walk through the steps to correct the situation as soon as possible
Too many people downplay the threat of identity theft because it hasn’t been witnessed or experienced firsthand. This false sense of security can leave you exposed, especially during tax season. Here are some tips to keep your identity safe from scammers:
Be naturally suspicious. Understand that there are people out there trying to get your information, and others willing to pay for it. With that knowledge, be suspicious of anyone asking for personal information – especially your Social Security number (SSN). Even when a known vendor asks for your SSN, ask what they will be using it for and refuse most requests unless you deem it necessary.
File your tax return as soon as possible. A popular tax scam is to file a fake tax return and deposit the refund into the thief’s account, all before you get the chance to file your own return. You close the door on scammers once your tax return is filed with the IRS.
Shred (don’t just crumple) your documents. Get in the habit of shredding all paperwork before it’s thrown out to keep personal information from falling into the wrong hands. If you don’t own a shredder, contact your bank or other local community services as they often offer free shredding services on specific days.
Keep your Social Security card safe. Only carry your Social Security card with you when it’s needed for a specific purpose. Your wallet or purse is not a good permanent spot for your card. Any criminal would have a treasure trove of personal data if it were to get lost or stolen along with your driver’s license and credit cards.
Periodically check your credit reports. The three major collection agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) are legally required to provide you with a free credit report each year. Take advantage of this service and review the reports. Correct any errors and use this report to monitor your accounts for any potential identity theft.
Be smart when handling your personal information. Don’t get caught off guard by identity theft, especially by being careless. If you think you are a victim of a tax scam, alert the IRS right away and go to identitytheft.gov for more information.
Focusing solely on sales and profits can create a surprise for any business when there is not enough cash to pay the bills. Here are five key principals to improve your cash management.
Create a cash flow statement and analyze it monthly. The primary objective of a cash flow statement is to help you budget for future periods and identify potential financial problems before they get out of hand. This doesn’t have to be a complicated procedure. Simply prepare a schedule that shows the cash balance at the beginning of the month and add cash you receive (from things like cash sales, collections on receivables, and asset dispositions). Then subtract cash you spend to calculate the ending cash balance. If your cash balance is decreasing month to month, you have negative cash flow and you may need to make adjustments to your operations. If it’s climbing, your cash flow is positive.
Bonus tip: Once you have a cash flow statement that works for you, try to automate the report in your accounting system. Or even better, create a more traditional cash flow statement that begins with your net income, then make adjustments for non-cash items and changes in your balance sheet accounts.
Create a history of your cash flow. Build a cash flow history by using historical financial records over the course of the past couple of years. This will help you understand which months need more attention.
Forecast your cash flow needs. Use your historic cash flow and project the next 12 to 24 months. This process will help identify how much excess cash is required in the good months to cover payroll costs and other expenses during the low-cash months. To smooth out cash flow, you might consider establishing a line of credit that can be paid back as cash becomes available.
Implement ideas to improve cash flow. Now that you know your cash needs, consider ideas to help improve your cash position. Some ideas include:
Reduce the lag time between shipping and invoicing.
Re-examine credit and collection policies.
Consider offering discounts for early payment.
Charge interest on delinquent balances.
Convert excess and unsold inventory back into cash.
Manage your growth. Take care when expanding into new markets, developing new product lines, hiring employees, or ramping up your marketing budget. All require cash. Don’t travel too far down that road before generating accurate cash forecasts. And always ask for help when needed.
Understanding your cash flow needs is one of the key success factors in all businesses. If your business is in need of tighter cash management practices, now is the perfect time to get your cash flow plan in order.