Category Archives: Business Resources

Protect yourself from identity theft

As if you don’t have enough to worry about as an entrepreneur this tax season, there is one more thing you need to be very aware of: identify theft.

If you are a sole proprietor, everything about your business is tied back to you. Your livelihood not only depends on your good work habits, but on safeguarding your information — your clients’ information and your own. And as we slide into the middle of FY2016 tax season, you should also do what you can do to ensure your private information isn’t stolen and used to steal your tax return right out from underneath you.

The first thing to consider, if you haven’t already, is getting an Employee Identification Number (EIN). As a sole proprietor, you’re not legally required to get an EIN. But in addition to protecting your personal assets in the event your business hits a few bumps, having an EIN can also help protect your identity. With an EIN, you will not have to use your social security number for any business-related tax forms or credit or loan applications.

The best part about it is this: it doesn’t cost you anything.

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

Watch what you throw away.

The easiest and most common method thieves use to steal someone’s identity is simply going through their garbage. Be very careful about what you throw away. Just because you tie up your garbage bag and have a secure lid on your can or dumpster doesn’t mean you are being as careful as you could be. It wouldn’t hurt to invest in a paper shredder to ensure that any documents with potentially useful information for identity thieves are unusable.

(Here’s a little side tip if you also garden: depending on how much paper you shred and what kind of paper it is you can add shredded paper to compost.)

Watch where you handle financial matters

One of the big draws about being a freelancer or owning your own business is that, depending on what you do, you can literally take your business anywhere. We’ve all seen the gig economy articles with pictures of satisfied looking semi-professionally dressed people sipping a latte in some generic coffee shop while working on a laptop.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to doing your taxes, it’s a good idea to avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots for filing digitally. You should also avoid publicly accessible hotspots at hotels and fast food restaurants, even if it’s a secure spot that requires a password. Your best bet for filing digitally is to file from home or your business office, using a hardline connection or a secured connection where you control access.

Also, if you’re using a tax app on your smart phone that requires you to take a picture of your W-2, be sure to delete the photo after you’ve sent it.

Beware phone and email scams.

The IRS always sends documentation if there is an issue with your tax return. If you haven’t received any documentation, but are receiving phone calls and emails claiming you owe the IRS an excess of back taxes, be extremely cautious. They will sometimes give you fictitious but very real sounding badge or employee numbers. Sometimes they even know the last four digits of your social security number. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to represent the IRS, immediately hang up and contact the IRS. If you receive an email, you can forward the IRS the email, but if possible, you should not open it as it may be part of a different phishing scam to install malware on your computer.

If you don’t prepare your own taxes, make sure you find someone trustworthy.

If your tax preparer asks you to sign a blank return, run – don’t walk – the other direction.

There are other ways to protect yourself

If you decide that protecting your identity is also a worthwhile financial investment, there are several programs available.

  • LegalShield © has a service called IDShield ©. They offer this in addition to other legal services for small businesses.
  • AAA also has two identity theft services they provide for members: ProtectMyID Essential and ProtectMyID Deluxe.

Self Care: The Self-Employment Tax

If you work for yourself, it doesn’t take you long to figure out that the American Dream has a few strings attached. One aspect of self-employment that people hardly ever talk about is the self-employment tax. Yes, you already pay income taxes, and depending on how you structure your business, you may be paying them quarterly.

But what about FICA? It’s not the government’s job to make sure that you, as a self-employed individual, are paying the proper amount into Social Security and Medicare.

That’s part of your job.

This is what we mean by the self-employment tax. According to the IRS , the self-employment tax “is a tax consisting of Social Security and Medicare taxes primarily who work for themselves.”

The first thing to remember that unless you make more than $400 in a year, you’re not required to pay the any self-employment taxes.  You’ll notice that the threshold for requiring to pay is lower than the amount required for a client to provide you a 1099.


You’ll also notice that there are two options for figuring your earnings to base your tax payment on: one for farmers and one for other kinds of self-employed individuals (the nonfarm optional method). The nonfarm optional method can be used if net profits are less than $5,457 and also less than 72.189% of gross nonfarm income, but you had net earnings from self-employment of at least $400 in two of the prior three years.

Please keep in mind, however, that the nonfarm income optional method can only be used five times by a self-employed individual.

When determining your income, make sure to clearly delineate between what you’re paid as a self-employed individual and any money you earn as the result of investing in something else – especially if the business you end up investing in is in a similar line to what you do. You also need to be aware of the IRS and court rulings regarding monies paid out as retirement. Retirement is just taxable income (depending if from a tax-deferred vehicle) not self-employment, and no FICA or medicare is taken out, just income tax based on your tax bracket.

Even if you’re not bringing in a lot of money yet as a self-employed trailblazer, you may want to consider going ahead and paying some self-employment tax voluntarily. Although you may not be legally required to pay, there is an advantage. You will be able to earn Social Security credits, which translate into higher benefit when you retire.

To LLC or not to LLC: that is the question

Being an artist or working in a creative industry as a freelancer isn’t always easy. Unless you’re fortunate enough to find steady clients and gigs, you feel like your professional life is forever going in a circle of feast and famine.  And, if you have worked as an artist of a creative freelancer, you know that being talented at what you do isn’t enough. That myth of the carefree artist with his head in the clouds and no notion of how the business world works is simply that – a myth. Being a great artist goes hand-in-hand with being a savvy businessperson, because as much as you love your art, you need to eat and keep the lights on, too.

One thing every entrepreneur thinks about eventually is whether to operate as a Sole Proprietorship or to form a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC).

In most cases, you’re probably going to start with and stay with a Sole Proprietorship. This is the easiest business to start because there isn’t much set up required. Although you may be required to get a business license, there isn’t any paperwork you need file unless you choose to “Do Business As” (DBA) a name besides your own. You may also want to consider going ahead and applying for an EIN (Employer Identification Number. While it’s not necessary for a Sole Proprietorship, it will help protect your social security number. It also legitimizes that what you are doing is more than a hobby. You report your earnings annually and you are responsible for paying self-employment taxes as well as covering contributions to Social Security and Medicare.

If you’re fine with all of that, and you’re careful with your accounting practices, then you will probably want to form a Sole Proprietorship.

Keep in mind though, that if your business should ever be sued, then you are personally liable for everything. And if you should lose, your house, your property, and other assets will be at risk.

Forming an LLC takes some legwork, preparation, and money. After you chose a name and make sure it’s not already being used, it’s time to file articles of corporation. Depending on the state you live in, expect to pay between $100 and $800. In Kentucky if you forgo the ease of having someone else do the heavy lifting for you, it will only cost you a $49 fee paid to the State Treasurer to file your articles of corporation.

Some states also require an operating agreement that outlines how your business is run; Kentucky, however, does not. You’ll then need to get an EIN (Employer Identification Number), which is free and can be obtained online at the IRS website. Keep in mind though, that you can only register for one EIN at a time. At this point, you can separate your personal and business assets. This is the main advantage for forming an LLC as an artist or freelancer.

Finally, you’ll need to register for state tax and unemployment insurance. Even if you happen to be your only “employee” you will still need to do these things in order to be in compliance of state law.

Depending on the nature of your work, forming an LLC might be overkill. Many artists and members in what is termed the “creative class” keep it simple. And, unless the kind of work you do expands to the point that you need to bring in extra help, you will want to seriously consider keeping your work life as least complicated as possible.

If you’re reading this and your business or business concept doesn’t fall under the umbrella of the “gig economy” or you don’t identify as part of “the creative class,” keep in mind that every entrepreneur has to make the decision at some point whether to operate as a Sole Proprietorship or as an LLC.

Marbles and monkeys: tracking your hours and expenses

Even though Richard Florida’s 2004 brain child, “the creative class”,  has come under fire in the last few years, many cities trying to redefine themselves in the wake of an increasingly dominant technological economy have still spent considerable time and capital trying to accommodate young urban creatives – freelance writers, graphic designers, computer programmers, artists, and media workers, as well as people working in healthcare, business and finance, the legal sector, and education.  As a matter of fact, a 2010 report predicted 40% of American workers will be earning their living as part of the “gig economy” by 2020.

 The next few blog posts will be focusing on accounting issues and challenges that face entrepreneurs whose work falls under the category of “the creative class” in a “gig economy.”

So either you’ve been sucked in by allure of being your own boss or you’re unable to find a single, stable job in your chosen career field. Now here you are. You are part of the gig economy. You have several clients with rotating deadlines, or you have a slew of single-project clients.  You get to work from home. You get to work in your pajamas. Sometimes you can grab your laptop and go to your favorite coffee shop and work. You might even be able to work from the beach! You have more control over your schedule than your parents did. And it’s awesome being your own boss.

But unlike the days of The Organization Man, you also have to shoulder the responsibility for tracking your hours and being more aware of your expenses. Even though sources like Forbes Magazine and Investopedia praise the gig economy and the idea of a mobile creative class, you know there’s a large part of your job that isn’t creative even if it is mobile.

Depending on the client, you will charge for your time differently: by the hour, by the project, or even by the word if you are a copy editor/copy writer. There are a lot of marbles to keep track of when you work for yourself. Different hours worked on different projects on any given day. Different hourly rates for different clients. Record keeping is essential. If you’re good with spreadsheets, that’s helpful. If not, consider finding some accounting software, cloud accounting, or — if you have a large enough client base – find an accountant to take the guess work out.

Not only do you want to keep a precise record of your work hours so you can bill your clients correctly, you also want to keep track of any taxes you will be required to pay. Why? Because now you’re now your own boss, without anyone in human resources or payroll to arrange for deductions. You are responsible for making sure Uncle Sam gets his cut. With all the joys and challenges of being your own boss in the “gig economy,” you don’t want that big angry monkey on your back weighing down your success.

Help your accountant, help yourself: a few tips for home-based entrepreneurs

 

A 2013 article from Small Business Trends stated that 69% of entrepreneurs in the United States start their businesses at home. This makes perfect sense. Many new businesses are in part or entirely operated online. As people buy more and more goods and services online, there’s less need to take the expensive risk of investing in a brick and mortar business. Moreover, if you know what you’re doing, you can help yourself – and your accountant – come tax season.

Although it takes additional time and a few extra steps, you can really help yourself by understanding the upside of claiming a deduction.

First if all, you know need to know what you can and can’t deduct. It’s a good idea to check with the IRS regularly to see if these things change, but here are a few things you can deduct.

The cost of a home office

In order for this deduction to pass any potential audit, you need to make sure the space you call your home office is a separate space or separated and dedicated space in your home. It doesn’t have to be its own room, but it can’t be a multipurpose space, either. For example, many people use an empty additional bedroom as a home office. Others have a separate studio or redesigned barn they use for a home office. If you are using a corner of your basement, that’s fine, too. Your home office doesn’t have to have four walls and a door.

But you can’t set up computer desk in the corner of a guest bedroom or nursery and call it your home office. The key here is that it must be a regular and exclusive space you use to run your business.

You must also be able to show that your office is the principle place of your business. Even if you meet clients other places, you need to be able to show that you do the majority of your work in your home office.

Keep in mind that the IRS only allows up to 300 square feet. But they do allow for $5 for every square foot up to 300.

Technology and technology purposes

It’ll be a hard sell to convince anyone that if you have one computer that you are only using it for business purposes. If you do that, though, you can deduct the cost of depreciation.

If you decide to purchase a dedicated business computer, you can write the cost of it off. After that, you can write off the cost of depreciation. You can even deduct based on the percentage of use. TurboTax is very helpful with this.

You can also write off the cost of a dedicated phone, whether it’s a cell or landline.

It’s worth the hassle

When you’re starting a new business, whether you operate it out of your home or not, every penny counts. Staying on top of and taking advantage of tax laws can help turn a slow first year into a much better second year.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that keeping track of all your expenses, and keeping all of your business receipts will make it easier in your end of year accounting and tax preparation. You will save yourself and your accounant time, money, and headache down the road.

Backing up your backups: Hemingway’s suitcase and cloud accounting

Record keeping is the key to any successful business. But it’s not just about crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s. It’s not just about making sure all your columns add up. With tax season coming, we will all be soon inundated with images of people trying to compile paper work dig through files and battle computer viruses that suspiciously only attack business and tax records.

But like any other business activity, record keeping is all about planning, which is why, if you haven’t looked into backing your data up in the cloud, now is as good a time as ever.

If you’re unfamiliar with cloud storage, it’s actually pretty simple. It’s a service that enables you to store records on remote servers. Unlike archival storage, having your data in the cloud means not only is it safe – because most cloud services use basic file encryption – but you can have access to it anywhere you are. This is especially helpful if your business requires you to travel. Rather than having to carry copies of client paperwork – which no one really does anymore anyway, I know – or having to rely solely on your laptop — you can streamline your business packing even further by saving copies of your files in the cloud.

Why should I store my important files in some cloud?

Let me answer this with a little anecdote. This story is primarily apocryphal… it gets told and retold, though no one ever seems to have a basis for it. It gets retold because the point of the story is sound regardless of whether it’s factually true.

Before Ernest Hemingway was a famous writer, he was a news stringer in Paris for American newspapers. Once he decided to leave Paris, he packed up all of his creative writing – years’ worth, including all of his carbon copies – in one suitcase. He packed up his wife and infant son, along with some clothes, a few possessions, and that one suitcase. They went down to the street to wait on a cab, but Hemingway ran back up because he forgot something – his favorite pen maybe.

When he made it back to the street, his wife greeted him with the news that one of their suitcases had been stolen. Which suitcase? Just the one that had all of his writing in it – years of work. All the drafts. All the carbon copies.  Gone.

Lucky for Hemingway, he embraced the setback and immediately after wrote The Sun Also Rises, the book that made his career.

My point is this: it’s unwise to keep all of your files and all of your copied, digital or otherwise, in a single place.  Computers, like anything else, can break and wear down. If you are a large business and can maintain your own servers, maybe you don’t think you need cloud storage. But if you are a small business or a sole proprietor, it’s important that you stay as lean and flexible as possible.

No-cost or low cost cloud storage could save you time, money. It can also help you communicate with clients and employees. As the account owner, you can allow or revoke access to partners, employees, and freelancers to suit your needs. There is no more effective way to transfer files too large for most email systems than a cloud service.

The cloud is great for accounting, too!

Stay connected to your business… from anywhere!

Many people who use cloud storage use it as a safe and affordable way to archive large files they don’t want to keep on local hard drives to improve computer performance. But did you know that as a small business owner you can also use cloud accounting to make your life a little easier?

Like with cloud based storage and file-sharing, you have several options. With Zoho, for example, not only can you maintain your books, but you can collaborate with clients directly via the client portal, pay out and get paid faster, track inventory and cash flow in real time, and be able to create the detailed kinds of reports any smart business owner needs.

Ok! So how do I go about getting started?

 There are many ways to go about doing it, and depending on your needs, cloud storage doesn’t have to add to your business’s bottom line. Zoho offers several plans starting at $9 per month. QuickBooks Accounting Software has cloud-based capabilities, but it comes at QuickBooks prices. Oracle’s NetSuite also gets good reviews, but you need to contact them through their website to get a tour and cost break down.

If you’re looking for something you can start using with low-cost and high value, though, something like Zoho is your best bet. You will thank yourself for making your business life go that much smoother.

Most cloud storage services – such as Google Docs, OneDrive (for Microsoft Office users), ICloud (predominately Apple users), and Dropbox, just to name a few – offer up to 5GB of storage for free. There are larger accounts for monthly or annual fees.

Signing up for an account is easy. Your User ID is your email address; your password can be as simple or as complex as you like it, within the parameters set by each site.

Please have a safe and happy New Year!

Make The Holidays Count!

My favorite time of the year is upon us… the season of thanksgiving and bestowing gifts upon others. It all starts with reflecting how grateful we are for our many blessings and successes over the past year. Whether these accomplishments were made through businesses endeavors or simply through our personal sweat-equity, we are grateful for those opportunities. We can profit from the many benefits that come from having a grateful heart such as improving our physical and psychological health. Gratitude also enhances empathy and reduces aggression and it can help people sleep better too. These are just a few good reasons how feeling grateful can improve our bottom line which allows for the next step.

Being grateful is only half of what stands out during the holiday season. As soon as the dishes have been cleared from the Thanksgiving feast, we are reminded that, “Hey, “Black Friday” is only a few hours away!!” In an instant, our thoughts go from being “grateful” to thinking about gifting and sharing with others. We can all understand how giving to others is good for our community and the world, but giving can also reap huge benefits in our own lives as well. Did you know that giving to others lowers our blood pressure and stress levels? This, alone, will help each one of us live longer and happier lives.

So, in honor of the season, I have put together a few examples where you can reach out to the community and show your gratitude by giving back.

For Businesses:

  • Choose a local Charity Event that is relevant to you and your business and donate money, be a sponsor or volunteer your time.
  • Encourage your business team to get involved in a fundraising event such as Toys-For-Tots.
  • If your company has a budget for donations, provide a Turkey Give Away program for families in need.

For Individuals:

  • Have a garage sale in your neighborhood and donate the profits to charity.
  • The local homeless shelter or soup kitchen could always use a helping hand.
  • Provide care-packages for people in need; For example… the troops, seniors, kids and teens in group homes, the homeless
  • Let us help our planet by recycling! The proceeds can once again go to a charity.

With all of the wonderful benefits that go along with being thankful and giving back, let’s make a difference in our communities through our valued time and efforts this holiday season.

Spring Cleaning For Your Finances

OK, now breathe! That’s it, take a deep breath in and slowly release it… tax day is over, spring is in the air and summer is just around the corner. LIFE IS GOOD!

That is until you take a good look at the mess around your computer… the strewn trash piles along with the old financial records and leftover coffee cups and who knows how long that box of chow mein noodles has been siting there… right?!

But remember, it’s SPRING and what better time than to get started on a bit of spring cleaning? I’m not just talking about cleaning up from your deadline with the IRS or cleaning out the closets and under your bed, I’m talking about your financial spring cleaning.

Now, don’t get me wrong, spring cleaning your house goes a long way in helping you spring clean your finances too. By organizing your home, you are much more likely to know what you need to buy and may prevent you from purchasing something that you don’t need, simply because you misplaced it. Listed below are a few other ways that you can spring clean your finances:

  • Check Your Credit Score – Is there any incorrect or misleading information about you that could hurt your score? What can you do to improve your score?
  • Organize and/or Shred Old Financial Documents – Clean up your files and shred any old or no longer needed information.
  • Re-balance and Diversify Your Investment and Retirement Accounts – How are your investments doing? Are you on tract with your retirement goals?
  • Review Your Insurance Coverage – has there been any life event changes? Do you need any additional coverage or is any coverage obsolete?
  • Review Your Expenses and shop for better rates – Can you pay less if you switching to a different company? Are you using what you paid for like that gym membership?
  • Set up Automatic Bill Pay – Late fees undermine your financial goals, therefore put regular payments on automatic bill pay so this doesn’t happen.
  • Save without Thinking – How is your emergency fund? Are you saving enough each month?
  • Revisit Your Budget – Once you have reviewed your finances ensure that the new numbers are worked into your budget.
  • Record Your Financial Passwords and Store Records in a Safe Place – Or better yet, use a trusted online password storage system and be sure to use a different password for each of your financial sites changing the password on a quarterly bases.

Knowing where you stand with your finances will better enable you to make wise and prudent money choices and as a result, you will be better prepared for your next tax deadline in 2017.

Be Prepared

According to Money Magazine, 78% of Americans will have a major negative financial event in any given 10-year period such as:

  • You are unexpectedly laid off from your job
  • You owe a bigger tax bill than you had anticipated
  • Your car is totaled in an accident
  • You are hospitalized from a devastating illness
  • Your apartment is burglarized of most of your possessions that are uninsured

These are just a few of the myriad of possibilities that can wreak havoc with your life making it next to impossible to recover financially without an emergency fund. Even worse if you should have to file for bankruptcy… making your credit worthiness a moot point.

In order to prevent a financial disaster in the making, commit to having a 3-6 months’ worth of savings in a separate account. A savings account may be too easily accessible which would be tempting to take money out so be sure to find an account where you can easily obtain your money within 24 to 48 hours. Your financial consultant would be able to help you find an account that would work best in your situation.

Now that you have seen some very important reasons of why you need an emergency fund, let’s look at a few ways to get started.

  1. Determine your monthly expenses and multiply by either 3 months or 6 months, whichever you prefer or start out with a goal of 3 months and once you met that goal repeat it for another 3 months.
  2. Calculate how much you can put away each month and then treat it like a bill by making regular monthly payments.
  3. Find creative ways to add money to your emergency fund:
    1. Did you get a tax refund?
    2. How about that Holiday bonus?
    3. Do some freelance work
    4. What about those bottles of pennies or coins? These can really add up!
    5. Be committed to creatively save each and every day!

Once you get started, you will be amazed at how easy it is to build your emergency fund; all you need is a strategy and an objective to meet your goal for financial freedom.

Make it a great day!
Marla J. Blanchard
MJB’s Bookkeeping Solutions

Don’t keep me a secret, if you know someone who could use a bit of Bookkeeping TLC let them know that they are not alone and have them call me 805-764-1MJB (1652).

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