The IRS Is Not Always Right

The IRS Is Not Always Right

A letter in the mailbox with the IRS as the return address is sure to raise your blood pressure. Here are some tips for handling the situation if this happens to you:

Business Advice: Every Impression Matters

Business Advice: Every Impression Matters

With competition abounding for virtually every product or service, businesses need to hone every advantage available to them. One of the ways you can set your business apart from the pack is to create an awesome customer experience starting with the first interaction that continues through the entirety of the relationship. How does one foster this level of customer service? Here are four steps to help you get there:

  1. Make a great first impression. The first impression a potential customer gets about your business can come from many different avenues. Strive to make all of them impressive. Is your website fresh? Are your customer service reps easy to talk to on the phone? Does your social media offer timely, relevant information? Is your lobby clean and organized? All details matter. A poor initial impression may drive your potential customer to the competition without a second thought.
  2. Manage the outcome. With every customer interaction, there are three potential outcomes: positive, negative and neutral. In all cases, your goal must be to leave them feeling positive about your business. Unfortunately, many businesses limit themselves by removing the positive outcome right off the bat. For example, assume you receive a call from a customer looking to hear about a new service. The employee that handles the service is not available and you are limited in your knowledge. The worst thing you can say is, “I’m sorry, the person responsible for the service is not here at the moment.” In the customer’s mind, you immediately removed the possibility of a positive outcome! Instead, engage the customer to hear about their needs, gather as much information as possible and commit to finding the answers for them and calling them back immediately.
  3. Search for useful feedback. No matter how well you strive to offer top-notch customer service, there will always be some instances that are less than favorable. Oftentimes, customers are more than willing to tell you about it, but you need to have a system in place if you want to hear the story in a helpful way. This can be as simple as response cards at the front desk or an automated email campaign looking for feedback. Encourage loyal customers to let you know how you are doing so you get a holistic view of your performance.
  4. Turn problems into opportunities. Knowing your strengths can reaffirm your approach and help you set customer service performance goals. On the other hand, learning about a bad experience from a customer’s perspective will give you great insight into how you can improve. Use these problems to focus your activity. Over time the results of this continual improvement can have a tremendous impact on your business.

Creating a culture that excels at customer service is attainable if you put in the effort to know your customer’s needs and understand that every impression matters!

Reminder: Time to Start the Financial Aid Process.

Reminder: Time to Start the Financial Aid Process.

If you have a child in college or entering college during the next school year, you need to read this. You can now fill out your required Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) for the next school year.

FAFSA application timeframe

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process opened on Oct. 1.

The time to file is now

The earlier you file your application, the earlier you will receive aid packages from most participating schools. The application is used to receive grants, federal loans and work study awards. Here are some hints to ensure the application process works in your favor:

  • Create your FSA ID. If you have not already done so, both the student and a parent will need to set up a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID (username and password) within the FAFSA system. You cannot submit the FAFSA form without first doing this.
  • File the FAFSA early! As soon as possible, fill out and submit your FAFSA. Filing early maximizes your chances of receiving aid. It also minimizes your chances of missing an unknown application deadline.
  • Use your tax records. Because the year is not yet over, you can use last year’s (2018) tax information when filling out the application. There are IRS tax return data retrieval tools within the online application to automate this process.
  • Talk to your advisors. If you have a child ready to attend college, stay in touch with both your financial advisor and your school advisor. A financial advisor is used to help manage your assets to present a good financial picture starts before your student’s junior year in high school. The school advisor is a great resource to help you find potential sources of money.
  • Collect the right info.To fill out a FAFSA you will need the following:
    • Social Security number
    • Alien registration number (if not a U.S. citizen)
    • Federal tax information
    • Record of any nontaxable income (excluding retirement account balances)
    • Balances of the following:
      • Cash, savings and checking accounts
      • Investment asset balances
      • Other assets
      • FSA ID

Filling out the form can be a daunting task for the uninitiated, but with proper preparation you can get your form done in quick order.

No Excuses. Time to Lower Your Tax Bill

No Excuses. Time to Lower Your Tax Bill

It’s easy to push tax planning to the sidelines when tax laws are ever-changing and hard to understand. Here are some common (but often unfounded) reasons for avoiding tax situations, plus tips to help get past them and start paying less tax this year:

  • It doesn’t make a difference. This point of view is especially problematic in years with unique situations. Even in uneventful years, external forces like new tax laws can be managed if planned for in advance.
    • Selling a house? You can avoid taxes if primary residence requirements are met.
    • Starting a business? Choosing the correct entity can save you a bunch of taxes.
    • Getting ready to retire? Properly balancing the different revenue streams (part-time wages, Social Security benefits, IRA distributions and more) has a huge impact on your tax liability.
  • It’s out of your control. Timing is important when it comes to minimizing taxes, and the timing is often in your control. Bundling multiple years of donations into one to get a deduction, holding investments over one year to get a lower tax rate, and making efficient retirement withdrawals are just some examples of prudent tax strategies that you control.
  • There’s not enough money. There are tax strategies to be implemented at all income levels, not just those at the top of the tax bracket. Tax deductions are available for student loan interest, IRA contributions and others even if you claim the standard deduction. Certain tax credits (called refundable credits) will increase your refund even if you don’t owe taxes. Missing any of these tax breaks can unnecessarily increase your taxes.
  • I only need help at tax time. When the standard deduction doubled in 2018, many people assumed they could kick their feet up and wait for a big refund. That assumption proved to be false for a large number of taxpayers when their refunds came in lower than expected or turned into a tax bill. Don’t let this happen to you! Every year has it’s own set of changes and challenges that you should plan for well before tax time rolls around.
  • It’s too overwhelming. Tax planning is often as simple as looking for ways to reduce taxable income, delay a tax bill, increase tax deductions, and take advantage of all available tax credits. The best place to start is to bolster your level of tax knowledge by picking up the phone and asking for assistance.

Thankfully, it’s not too late to get on track for 2019. If you haven’t scheduled a tax-planning meeting, now is a great time to do so.

Cash Flow Concepts That Can Save Your Business

Cash Flow Concepts That Can Save Your Business

A sad and oft-repeated truth is that half of all new businesses fail within the first five years. Although many factors contribute to business failure, a common culprit is poor cash management. All businesses, large and small, must deal with the uncertainty of fluctuating sales, inventories and expenses. Follow these practices to moderate the ebb and flow of cash in your business:

  • Analyze cash flow. If you don’t know it’s broken, you can’t fix it. The starting point for any meaningful action to control cash is discovering where the money’s coming from and where it’s going. Get a handle on cash by monitoring your bank accounts for at least one complete business cycle; then use that information to establish a realistic forecast. This should be done throughout the year to help you understand your seasonal cash needs.
  • Monitor receivables. Extending credit to risky customers, failing to identify late payers, refusing to collect payment on a timely basis — these practices amplify cash flow problems. Mitigate receivable fluctuations by generating aging reports. Use the report to follow up when payments are late. You may even wish to offer discounts to customers who pay early.
  • Slow down payments. Prudent cash flow management dictates that you retain cash as long as possible. So pay your vendors on time — not too early. Of course, if suppliers offer discounts for early payment, take advantage of cost savings whenever possible. Also consider negotiating with suppliers to extend payment terms.
  • Time large expenses. If you know a property tax payment is due in May, start setting aside money in a separate fund in October. The same holds true for any large payment that comes due during the year. If your equipment is nearing the end of its useful life or your roof is showing signs of wear, start saving now. Don’t let big expenditures catch you by surprise.

By taking these steps and endeavoring to smooth out cash fluctuations, proficient managers keep their companies strong throughout the business cycle.