Companies are following your every move. When you have a cell phone, they are tracking what apps you use, where you go, who you talk to and more! Other smart devices listen to your conversations in your home, keep track of what you view on your TV, and report where you visit and what routes you take to get there. Even worse, the more you share the greater the chance a hacker gets this information.
Consider these tips to more actively protect yourself and your information.
The power of the opt out
Apple recently introduced an opt out feature on their iPhones. Historically, when you download a new app onto an iPhone, you have to manually opt out of sharing your device’s data. Now when you download a new app on your iPhone, you’ll be asked whether you want to opt in and allow the app to have access to your information.
So if you are an iPhone user, start with the opt out and then deliberately select who you wish to give access to your information. And opt out does not have to be global. For instance, a direction function needs your location when you use it. But it does not need to be turned on all the time.
Leave opt-out as default on iPhones and set default to opt-out on other mobile phone brands.
Review all apps and turn off tracking and data sharing.
Actively turn off your phone if you do not wish to be tracked.
Review all smart devices and select your opt out options. Include TVs and personal assistants in your review.
Protect your web browsing
Companies love to keep tabs on your browsing habits. And it is not just limited to their own sites. They might spy on ALL your activity. They see every website you visit, monitor all your clicks, and track all social media likes and videos you view. They then use this information to determine what you see and read. In short, they control your world view, both in content and in what ads you see.
Actively use ad blockers such as AdBlock and uBlock.
Turn off cookies and periodically empty your cache.
Avoid downloading any and all extensions unless absolutely required.
Use best data protection practices
As the internet and smart devices evolve, so do the thieves that wish to steal your identity and your financial resources. So keep up-to-date on best data protection practices.
Vary passwords and user IDs. Keep track of them outside of your computer.
Keep operating systems and software up-to-date.
Encrypt your emails and computer hard drive.
Keep banking information off your cell phone.
Back up all your devices remotely.
Use current antivirus software.
Monitor your credit reports for any suspicious activity.
Confirm before opening suspicious emails or attachments.
Most importantly, stay informed. In the end, the burden of protecting your data always falls on you.
Tracking your miles whenever you drive somewhere for your business can get pretty tedious, but remember that properly tracking your vehicle expenses and miles driven can lead to a significant reduction in your taxes.
Here are some tips to make the most of your vehicle expense deduction.
Keep track of both mileage and actual expenses. The IRS generally lets you use one of two different methods to track vehicle expenses – the standard mileage rate method or the actual expense method. One year the mileage method may result in a higher deduction, while the actual expense method may be higher in a subsequent year. But you won’t know which method results in a higher deduction unless you track both your mileage and actual expenses.
Consider using standard mileage the first year a vehicle is in service. If you use standard mileage the first year your car is placed in service, you can then choose which expense tracking method to use in subsequent years. If you initially use the actual expense method the first year your car is placed in service, you’re locked in to using actual expenses for the duration of using that car in your business. For a car you lease, you must use the standard mileage rate method for the entire lease period (including renewals) if you choose the standard mileage rate the first year.
Don’t forget about depreciation! Depreciation can significantly increase your deduction if you use the actual expense method. For heavy SUVs, trucks, and vans with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating above 6,000 pounds, 100% bonus depreciation is available through the end of the 2022 tax year if the vehicle is used more than 50% for business purposes. Regular depreciation is available for vehicles under 6,000 pounds with annual limits applied.
Don’t slack on recordkeeping. The IRS mandates that you track your vehicle expenses as they happen (this is called contemporaneous recordkeeping). You’re not allowed to wait until right before filing your tax return to compile all the necessary information needed to claim a vehicle deduction. Whether it’s a physical notebook you stick in your glove compartment or a mobile phone app, pick a method to track your mileage and actual expenses that’s most convenient for you.
The first advance payment from the newly expanded child tax credit was recently sent out by the IRS. Payments are scheduled to be made on the 15th of each month through December.
Here’s what you need to know about the child tax credit and the advance payments.
For the 2021 tax year, an expanded child tax credit reduces your tax bill by $3,600 if you have a qualifying child that’s age 5 or under, or by $3,000 if you have a qualifying child from age 6 to 17.
If the total amount of the child tax credit for your family exceeds the total taxes you owe, you’ll receive the amount of the credit as a refund.
Child tax credit advance payments
Instead of waiting to file your tax return to receive the entire amount of your child tax credit, the IRS is directed by Congress to send 50% of the credit to you in six monthly payments beginning in July 2021.
For example, say you have three kids, ages 10, 12 and 16. Also assume your income is not too high and your children meet the IRS definition of a qualifying child. Instead of waiting until 2022 when you file your 2021 tax return to receive the entire $9,000 child tax credit, you can get paid half of the child tax credit amount, or $4,500, in 2021.
The advance payments began July 15 and continue for six months until December 15. The family in this example would receive six payments of $750 starting July 15, for a total of $4,500.
What you need to know
The monthly payments are automatic. You’ll automatically receive advance payments if:
You filed a 2019 or 2020 tax return and claimed the credit, OR
You gave information in 2020 to receive the Economic Impact Payment using the IRS non-filer tool, AND
The IRS thinks you are eligible, AND
You did not opt-out of the early payments.
Register with the IRS. If you didn’t file a 2019 or 2020 tax return but are otherwise eligible for the child tax credit, you’ll need to register with the IRS to receive the child tax credit. Click here to visit the IRS website to find out if you need to register.
Consider if you should opt out of the advance payments. Getting half of your child tax credit ahead of time may not be the right move for everyone. For example, if your 2021 income ends up higher than expected, you may need to pay back the advance payments when you file your tax return. To opt out, click here to visit the IRS’s child tax credit update portal.
As a small business, once you decide to extend credit to a customer, you now have a financial stake in continuing that relationship even if you suspect there might be trouble brewing. While you don’t want to crack down on a good customer too hard, too soon, you also don’t want to be taken advantage of by a customer who has become unable or unwilling to pay. Here are some ideas to help you manage this risk.
Develop a rating system. Score each customer with a number. The number represents to whom you will sell on credit and how much risk you are willing to take. Also have scores that represent customers you will not bill and those who you will no longer take orders from because of credit risk. Develop a system to objectively assign the score. Payment history and external credit scoring reports are both good indicators of whether a particular customer will be an acceptable credit risk.
Consider credit applications. Create a simple credit application. The application should be signed by the responsible party to pay the bill. If large credit amounts are expected, get a person to take personal responsibility to pay the bill. This will provide an additional means to collect your money should the company fail to pay. You will need this signed document if you wish to use a collection agency to collect delinquent accounts.
Look at history. Those to whom you provide a credit line must have their payment history monitored. If they are habitually late payers, reduce their credit line. If they frequently miss payments, move them to prepay only.
Create a notes section on your customer records. Use this to record what a late paying customer tells you. Over time, this will reveal the customers who are honest and the customers who fail that test. This idea also provides continuity of communication for the customer that tries to tell different employees different stories.
Develop a collection system. The best credit rating system starts with a receivable aging report run once a month. This will quickly show you current trouble customers and potential trouble customers. When a bill ages through the report, know what you are going to do to collect bills at 30 days, 60 days, 90 days and anything older than that.
Look for other signs of trouble. Train your team to be on alert for:
Customers paying smaller invoices while larger invoices go unpaid.
The customer fails to return your phone calls or shows annoyance at your inquiries.
Your requests for information, such as updated financial statements, are ignored.
The customer places multiple, large orders and presses you for a higher credit limit.
The customer tries to coax you into providing a good credit report to another supplier.
You get word that the customer’s credit rating has been downgraded.
Remember, great customers can have sincere problems paying a bill. By having a good credit rating system, you can more readily identify the customers you want to accommodate to pay their bills and those customers whose activity should be suspended because they are truly problem accounts.
As always, should you have any questions or concerns regarding your tax situation please feel free to call.
You may recognize the name Bitcoin and maybe even Ethereum, but what about Litecoin, Dogecoin or Ripple?
These are just some of the more than 4,500 cryptocurrencies available today. There are hidden tax complications, however, associated with every cryptocurrency transaction. Here’s what you need to know.
Every transaction has a tax consequence. The IRS treats cryptocurrency as investment property, like stock, and taxes every transaction as a capital gain or loss. When you pay for something in the traditional manner with U.S. dollars, the IRS doesn’t care what the value of the dollar is at the time of the transaction. For virtual currency purposes, however, the value matters. For example, assume you buy Bitcoin for $10 and two months later the market value of that Bitcoin grows to $15 and you spend that $15 worth of Bitcoin to buy something, you’ll have a $5 taxable short-term gain that needs to be reported on your tax return. If you spend a lot of cryptocurrency, tracking the gains and losses can be very complicated.
Big gains mean big taxes, but big losses may be limited. In classic IRS form, there is no cap on the amount of taxes you might owe in a single year for gains on the value of cryptocurrencies you sell, while losses might take many years to recoup because of the annual $3,000 loss limit against income. Adding to the complexity, virtual currencies have dramatic valuation changes…much more so than most traditional investment securities. So you will need to budget appropriately for the taxes you’ll owe whenever you use or sell cryptocurrencies.
Cryptocurrency puts you on the IRS’s radar. Being relatively new, virtual currency has caused the IRS to become very concerned about potential mistakes and fraud related to how cryptocurrency is reported on tax returns. The IRS is so concerned about you not reporting cryptocurrency activity that the very first question of your tax return, right beneath where you put your name and address, asks if you took part in any virtual currency transactions over the past year.
You are responsible for bookkeeping. With the IRS watching so closely, it’s important to be accurate with your recordkeeping so you can properly report all virtual currency gains and losses on your tax return and substantiate all your transactions in the event of an audit.
Tax and financial planning is a year-round proposition. In fact, you can benefit personally from a continuous, 12-month rolling forecast, much like a business does.
What is a rolling forecast?
Rolling forecasts let you continuously plan with a constant number of periods 12 months into the future. For example, on January 1, you would plan what your financial picture looks like each month through January 1 of the following year. When February 1 rolls around, you would then drop the beginning month and add a forecast month at the end of the 12-month period. In this case, you add February of the next year into your 12-month forecast.
The month you add at the end of the 12 months uses the finished month as a starting point. You then make adjustments based on what you think might happen one year from now. For example, if you know you are going to get a raise at the end of the year, your next-year February forecast would reflect this change.
How to take advantage of a rolling forecast
By doing tax and financial planning in rolling 12-month increments, you may find yourself in position to cash in on tax- and money-saving opportunities within the next 12 months. Here are several strategies to consider:
Plan your personal budget. Will you need to put a new roof on your house? How about getting a new vehicle? Do you need to start saving for your kids’ college education? A rolling 12-month forecast can help you plan for these expenses throughout the year.
Plan your healthcare expenses. If you have a flexible spending account (FSA) for healthcare or dependent care expenses, forecast the amount you should contribute for the calendar year. Although unused FSA amounts are normally forfeited at year-end, your employer may permit a 12-month grace period (up from 2½ months) for 2021. This means that you could potentially roll over your entire unused FSA balance from 2021 to 2022. Your forecast can help you see the impact of this change.
Plan your contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA). When an HSA is paired with a high-deductible health insurance plan, you can take distributions to pay qualified healthcare expenses without owing any tax on the payouts. For 2021, the contribution limit is $3,600 for an individual and $7,200 for family coverage. In this case, you can forecast an increase in contributions and double-check to ensure you have enough money on hand to pay future bills.
Plan your estimated tax payments. This is often significant for self-employed individuals and retirees with investment earnings. The quarterly due dates for paying federal and state tax liabilities are April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year (or the next business day if the deadline falls on a holiday or weekend). So if your personal income is seeing a recovery from the pandemic, your rolling forecast will show this and allow you to plan for the estimated tax payments.
Plan your retirement contributions. If you participate in your company’s 401(k) plan, you can defer up to $19,500 to your account in 2021 ($26,000 if you’re 50 or over). Contributions and earnings compound tax-deferred. As the year winds down, you might boost your deferral to save even more for retirement.
While initially setting up a rolling 12-month forecast can be a bit of a pain, once established, it is pretty easy to keep up-to-date as you are simply rolling forward last month into the future. A well-planned system can often be the first sign of future challenges or potential windfalls!
Summer’s almost here, and soon most children will be on their long-awaited summer vacation. If you own or manage a business, have you thought of hiring your children, nieces, or nephews for a summer job?
If you do it right, it can be a win-win situation for everyone.
The kids will earn some money and gain valuable real-life experience in the workplace while your business will have some extra help during summer months when other staff may be on vacation. If it’s a family business, there might even be some tax advantages as well.
If your child is doing a valid job and the pay is reasonable for the work, your business can generally claim a normal tax expense for wages paid. Your child will probably pay no or very little income tax on the wages they earned. And if the child is under age 18 and your business is unincorporated, neither your child nor your business will have to pay Social Security or Medicare payroll taxes in most cases.
To make the arrangement work, follow the following guidelines:
Ensure it’s a real job. It could be a simple job, such as office filing, packing orders, or simple production activities. But it needs to be an actual job.
Treat your child like any other employee. Expect your child to work regular hours and exhibit appropriate behavior. Don’t show favoritism or you risk upsetting regular employees.
Keep proper documentation. Keep records of hours worked just as you would for any employee. If possible, pay your child using your normal payroll system and procedures.
Avoid family disputes. If the arrangement is not working, or is disrupting the business, help your child find a summer job at another business.
Knowing your net worth and understanding how it is changing over time is one of the most important financial concepts that everyone needs to understand. This number is used by banks, mortgage companies, insurance companies and you! Your net worth impacts your credit score, which in turn impacts your interest rates and things as mundane as the amount you pay for auto insurance.
A simple definition
Net worth is the result of taking all the things you own (assets) minus what you owe others (debts and liabilities).
Assets include cash, bank account balances, investments, your home, vehicles or anything else that you could sell today for cash. Assets also include any businesses or business interests you own.
Liabilities are what you owe others, such as a mortgage or car loan, and any other debt, like credit card or student loan debt.
Your net worth changes over time, reflecting how you spend your money. For example, if you have tons of bills and spend more than you bring in, your bank account balances will be lower. If you spend a lot on your credit cards, your debt will go up. The net effect is a lower net worth.
Everyone has a net worth
Yes, everyone. Even a 6-year-old with money in their piggy bank has a net worth. If your child is saving up for a bike, they will convert one asset (cash) into another asset (their new bike)!
Calculating your net worth
Step one. Reconcile your bank accounts and loans. Try doing this every month, as these are the easiest parts of your net worth to track and calculate.
Step two. Calculate the value of all your remaining assets. For some of your assets, such as stocks, you can go online and find the current value of the stocks you own. For other assets, you’ll have to estimate what you could sell that asset for today.
Step three. Add up all your asset values, then subtract all your debts. What you’re left with is your net worth (and yes, your number could be negative)!
Why you should know your net worth
Knowing your net worth contributes to the big picture of your financial circumstances. Here’s why it’s beneficial to know your net worth:
You want to apply for student loans. You’ll likely need to submit an application that details all your cash and other assets when applying for student loans. If your net worth is high enough, you may have to foot some of the tuition bill yourself.
You want to get insurance. Some types of insurance use your credit score as part of the calculation for determining your premium payments. Knowing if you have a high net worth may help in obtaining a favorable premium amount.
You want to diversify your investments. Certain investments are available only to individuals who have a high enough net worth.
You want to buy a home. Banks want to see that you have plenty of cash when compared to your debts. If you have too much debt, you may need to either pay down the debt or increase your down payment.
Knowing your net worth and how to calculate it can help you achieve some of your financial goals. Please call if you’d like help calculating and understanding your net worth.
The best way to weather a storm is often by being prepared before the storm hits. In the case of small businesses, this means building a fortress balance sheet.
What is a fortress balance sheet?
This long-standing idea means taking steps to make your balance sheet shockproof by building liquidity. Like a frontier outpost or an ancient walled city, businesses that prepare for a siege—in the form of a recession, natural disaster, pandemic, or adverse regulatory change—can often hold out until the crisis passes or the cavalry arrives.
Building a fortress balance sheet isn’t just a good idea for mitigating risk. Healthy cash reserves can also enable your firm to capitalize on opportunities, expand locations, or introduce new products.
Consider these suggestions for building your own fortress balance sheet.
Control inventory and receivables. These two asset accounts often directly impact cash reserves. For example, carrying excess inventories can deplete cash because the company must continue to insure, store, and manage items that aren’t generating a profit. Also take a hard look at customer payment trends. Clients who are behind on payments can squeeze a firm’s cash flow quickly, especially if they purchase significant levels of goods and services—and then fail to pay.
Keep a tight rein on debt. In general, a company should use debt financing for capital items such as plant and equipment, computers, and fixtures that will be used for several years. By incurring debt for such items, especially when interest rates are low, a firm can direct more cash towards day-to-day operations and new opportunities. Two rules of thumb for taking on debt are don’t borrow more than 75 percent of what an asset is worth, and aim for loan terms that don’t exceed the useful life of the underlying asset. A fortress balance sheet also means that debt as a percent of equity should be as low as possible. So total up your debt, equity and retained earnings. If debt is less than 50% of the total, you are on your way to building a stronger foundation for your balance sheet.
Monitor credit. A strong relationship with your banker can help keep the business afloat if the economy takes a nosedive. Monitor your business credit rating regularly and investigate all questionable transactions that appear on your credit report. As with personal credit, your business credit score will climb as the firm makes good on its obligations.
Reconcile balance sheet accounts quarterly. It’s crucial to reconcile asset and liability accounts at least every quarter. A well-supported balance sheet can guide decisions about cash reserves, debt financing, inventory management, receivables, payables, and property. Regular monitoring can highlight vulnerabilities in your fortress, providing time for corrective action.
Get rid of non-performing assets. Maybe you own a store across town that’s losing money or have a warehouse with a lot of obsolete inventory. Consider getting rid of these and other useless assets in exchange for cash.
Calculate ratios. Know how your bank calculates the lending strength of businesses. Then calculate them for your own business. For example, banks want to know your debt service coverage. Do you have enough cash to adequately handle principal and interest payments? Now work your cash flow to provide plenty of room to service this debt AND any future debt! But don’t forget other ratios like liquidity and working capital ratios. The key? Improve these ratios over time.
Remember, the best time to get money from a bank is when it looks like you don’t need it. You do this by creating a fortress balance sheet!
Understanding how our tax system works can be tricky for anyone. Whether you’re an adult who never paid much attention to the taxes being withheld from your paycheck or a kid who just got his or her first job, understanding the basics can help refine and define questions you may have.
Many schools don’t teach these tax lessons. This results in many people entering life with a pretty incomplete picture of how taxes work, unless someone else takes the time to explain these tax concepts. Here are some pointers to help you or someone you know navigate our tax maze.
Taxes are mandatory!
While we can have a debate about how much each person should pay, there’s no debating that local, state and federal governments need tax revenue to run the country. These funds are used to build roads, support education, help those who need financial assistance, pay interest on our national debt and defend the country.
There are many types of taxes
When you think of taxes, most think of the income tax, which is a tax on business and personal income you earn from performing a job. But there are also other types of taxes. Here are some of the most common.
Payroll taxes. While income taxes can be used to pay for pretty much anything the government needs money for, payroll taxes are earmarked to pay for Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Property taxes. These are taxes levied on property you own. The most common example of this is the property tax on a home or vacation property.
Sales tax. These are taxes placed on goods and services you purchase. While most of this tax is applied at the state and local levels, there are also federal sales taxes on items like gasoline.
Capital gains taxes. If you sell an investment or an asset for a profit, you may owe capital gains taxes. The most common example of this is when you sell stock for a gain. Capital gains taxes could also come into play with other assets, such as a rental property you sell for a profit.
Estate taxes. This tax is applied to assets in your estate after you pass away.
Not all income is subject to tax
Most, but not all, of your income is subject to tax.
While your paycheck is subject to tax, interest earned from certain municipal bonds is not. And the government often excludes things like benefits from the tax man.
Capital gains taxes have exclusions for gains on the sale of your home and donated stock.
Estate taxes have an exclusion, so only estates in excess of the exclusion are taxed.
This is why having someone in the know can be really helpful in navigating these rules.
The progressive nature of income tax
When it comes to income taxes, the government gets to take the first bite. The question is how BIG of a bite the government gets to take.
For example, if you only have one chocolate chip cookie, the government’s bite is really, really small. If you have 1,000 chocolate chip cookies, the government takes a small bite from the first 100 cookies, a larger bite from the next 100 cookies, and an even larger bite from the remaining 800 cookies.
This is called a progressive tax rate system. For example, if you’re considered single for tax purposes in 2021, the first $9,950 of taxable money you earn gets taxed at 10%. The next $30,575 you earn gets taxed at 12%. The next $45,850 gets taxed at 22%. Money you earn above this point will get taxed at either 24%, 32%, 35% or 37%.
Understanding the progressive nature of our tax system is a key concept in managing the size of the bite the government takes. That is why tax planning is so important!
Deductions can decrease the government’s tax bite
The progressive tax system is complex because it is manipulated in a big way by our elected officials. This is typically done through credits, deductions and phaseouts of tax benefits.
For example, there is a fairly complex deduction for families with children, and the earned income tax credit is an added tax cut for those in the lower end of the progressive income tax base. There are also credits and deductions for businesses, homeowners, education and many more types of taxpayers.
As you can imagine, the U.S. tax system is very complex with many nuances. Please seek help if you have further questions or are facing a complicated taxable transaction.