Thursday, December 14, 2017

Make New Year’s resolutions to improve profitability


Many people scoff at New Year’s resolutions. It’s no mystery why — these self-directed promises to visit the gym regularly or read a book a month tend to quickly fade once the unavoidable busyness of life sets in.

But, for business owners, the phrase “New Year’s resolutions” is just a different way of saying “strategic plans.” And these are nothing to scoff at. In fact, now is the perfect time to take a critical look at your company and make some earnest promises about improving profitability in 2018.

Ask tough questions

Begin by asking some tough questions. For example: How satisfied are you with the status quo of your business? Are you happy with your profitability or had you anticipated a much stronger bottom line at this point in your company’s existence? If you were to sell tomorrow, would you get a fair return based on what you’ve invested in effort and money?

If your answers to these questions leave you more dissatisfied than pleased, your New Year’s resolutions may have to be bold. This doesn’t mean you should do something rash. But there’s no harm in envisioning next year as the greatest 12 months in the history of your business and then trying to figure out how you might get there.

Rate your profitability

To assess your company’s financial status, begin by honestly gauging your current performance. Rate your profitability on a scale of 1 to 10, where adequate working capital, long-term employees and customers, consistent growth in revenues and profit, and smooth operations equal a 10.

Many business owners will apply numbers somewhere between a 5 and a 7 to these categories. If you rate your business a 6, for example, this means your company isn’t tapping into 40% of its profit-generating capacity. Consider the level of improvement you would realize by moving up just one notch — to a 7.

Identify areas for improvement

One way to discover your company’s unrealized profit enhancement opportunities is to ask your customers and employees. They know firsthand what you are good at, as well as what needs improvement.

For instance, years ago, when the American auto industry was taking its biggest hits from foreign imports, one of the Big Three manufacturers was experiencing significant customer complaints about poor paint jobs. An upper-level executive visited the paint shop in one of its factories and asked an employee about the source of the problem. The worker replied, “I thought you’d never ask,” and proceeded to explain in detail what was wrong and how to solve it.

Get ready for change

If you have a few New Year’s resolutions in mind but aren’t sure how to implement these ideas or how financially feasible they might be, please contact our firm. We can work with you to identify areas of your business ready for change and help you attain a higher level of success next year.

© 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What you need to know about year-end charitable giving in 2017


Charitable giving can be a powerful tax-saving strategy: Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and you have complete control over when and how much you give. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind this year to ensure you receive the tax benefits you desire.

Delivery date

To be deductible on your 2017 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2017. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?

The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Check. The date you mail it.

Credit card. The date you make the charge.

Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

Qualified charity status

To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Potential impact of tax reform

The charitable donation deduction isn’t among the deductions that have been proposed for elimination or reduction under tax reform. In fact, income-based limits on how much can be deducted in a particular year might be expanded, which will benefit higher-income taxpayers who make substantial charitable gifts.

However, for many taxpayers, accelerating into this year donations that they might normally give next year may make sense for a couple of tax-reform-related reasons:

  1. If your tax rate goes down for 2018, then 2017 donations will save you more tax because deductions are more powerful when rates are higher.
  2. If the standard deduction is raised significantly and many itemized deductions are eliminated or reduced, then it may not make sense for you to itemize deductions in 2018, in which case you wouldn’t benefit from charitable donation deduction next year.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making — or the potential impact of tax reform on your charitable giving plans.

© 2017

Should you buy a business vehicle before year end?


One way to reduce your 2017 tax bill is to buy a business vehicle before year end. But don’t make a purchase without first looking at what your 2017 deduction would be and whether tax reform legislation could affect the tax benefit of a 2017 vs. 2018 purchase.

Your 2017 deduction

Business-related purchases of new or used vehicles may be eligible for Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate over a period of years, some or all of the vehicle’s cost. But the size of your 2017 deduction will depend on several factors. One is the gross vehicle weight rating.

The normal Sec. 179 expensing limit generally applies to vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 14,000 pounds. The limit for 2017 is $510,000, and the break begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.03 million.

But a $25,000 limit applies to SUVs rated at more than 6,000 pounds but no more than 14,000 pounds. Vehicles rated at 6,000 pounds or less are subject to the passenger automobile limits. For 2017, under current law, the depreciation limit is $3,160. And the amount that may be deducted under the combination of Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) depreciation and Sec. 179 for the first year is limited under the luxury auto rules to $11,160.

In addition, if a vehicle is used for business and personal purposes, the associated expenses, including depreciation, must be allocated between deductible business use and nondeductible personal use. The depreciation limit is reduced if the business use is less than 100%. If the business use is 50% or less, you can’t use Sec. 179 expensing or the accelerated regular MACRS; you must use the straight-line method.

Factoring in tax reform

If tax reform legislation is signed into law and it will cause your marginal rate to go down in 2018, then purchasing a vehicle by December 31, 2017, could save you more tax than waiting until 2018. Why? Tax deductions are more powerful when rates are higher. But if your 2017 Sec. 179 expense deduction would be reduced or eliminated because of the asset acquisition phaseout, then you might be better off waiting until 2018 to buy.

Also be aware that tax reform legislation could affect the depreciation limits for passenger vehicles, even if purchased in 2017.

These are just a few factors to look at. Many additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So if you’re considering a business vehicle purchase, contact us to discuss whether it would make more tax sense to buy this year or next.

© 2017

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Get smart: How AI can help your business


The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution isn’t coming — it’s here. While AI’s potential for your company might not seem immediately obvious, this technology is capable of helping businesses of all shapes and sizes “get smart.”

AI generally refers to the use of computer systems to perform tasks commonly thought to require human intelligence. Examples include image perception, voice recognition, problem solving and decision making. AI includes machine learning, an iterative process where machines improve their performance over time based on examples and structured feedback rather than explicit programming.

3 applications to consider

Businesses can use AI to improve a variety of functions. Three specific applications to consider are:

1. Sales and marketing. You might already use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, but introducing AI to it can really put the pedal to the metal. AI can go much further — and much faster — than traditional CRM.

For example, AI is able to analyze buyer behavior and consumer sentiments across a range of media, including recorded phone conversations, email, social media and reviews. AI also can, in a relative blink of the eye, process consumer and market data from a far wider range of sources than previously thought possible. And it can automate the repetitive tasks that eat up your sales or marketing team’s time.

All of this results in quicker generation of qualified leads. With AI, you can deploy your sales force and marketing resources more efficiently and effectively, reducing your cost of customer acquisition along the way.

2. Customer service. Keeping customers satisfied is the key to retaining them. But customers don’t always tell you when they’re unhappy. AI can pick up on negative signals and find correlations to behavior in customer data, empowering you to save important relationships.

You can integrate AI into your customer support function, too. By leaving tasks such as classifying tickets and routing calls to AI, you’ll reduce wait times and free up representatives to focus on customers who need the human touch.

3. Competitive intelligence. Imagine knowing your competitors’ strategies and moves almost as well as your own. AI-based competitive analysis tools will track other companies’ activities across different channels, noting pricing and product changes and subtle shifts in messaging. They can highlight competitors’ strengths and weaknesses that will help you plot your own course.

The future is now

AI isn’t a fad; it’s becoming more and more entrenched in our business and personal lives. Companies that recognize this sea change and jump on board now can save time, cut costs and develop a clear competitive edge. We can assist you in determining how technology investments like AI should fit into your overall plans for investing in your business.

© 2017

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

7 last-minute tax-saving tips


The year is quickly drawing to a close, but there’s still time to take steps to reduce your 2017 tax liability — you just must act by December 31:

  1. Pay your 2017 property tax bill that’s due in early 2018.
  2. Make your January 1 mortgage payment.
  3. Incur deductible medical expenses (if your deductible medical expenses for the year already exceed the 10% of adjusted gross income floor).
  4. Pay tuition for academic periods that will begin in January, February or March of 2018 (if it will make you eligible for a tax credit on your 2017 return).
  5. Donate to your favorite charities.
  6. Sell investments at a loss to offset capital gains you’ve recognized this year.
  7. Ask your employer if your bonus can be deferred until January.

Many of these strategies could be particularly beneficial if tax reform is signed into law this year that, beginning in 2018, reduces tax rates and limits or eliminates certain deductions (such as property tax, mortgage interest and medical expense deductions — though the Senate bill would actually reduce the medical expense deduction AGI floor to 7.5% for 2017 and 2018, potentially allowing more taxpayers to qualify for the deduction in these years and to enjoy a larger deduction).

Keep in mind, however, that in certain situations these strategies might not make sense. For example, if you’ll be subject to the alternative minimum tax this year or be in a higher tax bracket next year, taking some of these steps could have undesirable results. (Even with tax reform legislation, some taxpayers might find themselves in higher brackets next year.)

If you’re unsure whether these steps are right for you, consult us before taking action.

© 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

2018 Q1 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers


Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

January 31

  • File 2017 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • Provide copies of 2017 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
  • File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS.
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2017. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2017. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2017 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.

February 28

  • File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is April 2.)

March 15

  • If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2017 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2017 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
© 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cutting costs when you’ve gone over budget


Year end can’t get here soon enough for some business owners — especially those whose companies have exceeded their annual budgets. If you find yourself in this unenviable position, you can still cut costs to either improve this year’s financial picture or put yourself in a better position for next year.

Tackle staffing issues

It’s easy to put off tough staffing decisions, but those issues may represent an unnecessary drain on your finances. If you have employees who don’t have enough work to keep busy, think about restructuring jobs so everyone’s productive. You might let go of extra staff, or, alternatively, offer mostly idle workers unpaid time off during slow periods.

You also need to face the hard facts about underperforming workers. Few business owners enjoy firing anyone, but it makes little sense to continue to pay poor performers.

Take control of purchasing

Are you getting the most out of your company’s combined purchasing power? You may have different departments independently buying the same supplies or services (for example, paper, computers, photocopying). By consolidating such purchases, you might be able to negotiate reduced prices.

To strengthen your bargaining power with suppliers when seeking discounts, pay your bills promptly. Even if it doesn’t help you land reduced prices, you’ll avoid late payment fees and credit card interest charges.

But don’t just continue to pay bills mindlessly. Review all of your service invoices — especially those that are automatically deducted from your bank accounts or charged to credit cards — to confirm you’re actually using the services. Consider canceling any services you haven’t used in 90 days.

Redirect your marketing efforts

Advertising costs can take a significant bite out of your budget, and the priciest efforts often have the lowest returns on investment. Cut programs and initiatives that haven’t clearly paid off, and move your marketing to social media and other more cost-efficient avenues — at least temporarily. A single, positively received tweet may reach exponentially more people than a costly directory listing, print ad or trade show booth.

A caveat

Resist the urge to solve your budget shortfalls with one dramatic cut — the risks are simply too high. The better approach is to execute a combination of incremental actions that will add up to savings. Contact us for a full assessment of your company’s budget.

© 2017