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Five smart steps to ease tax preparation.

When do you start thinking about taxes? Be honest.

If you're like many small-business owners, you put taxes out of your mind until tax time. That's simply too late. Once the calendar year comes to an end, many options to materially affect the net income of your business have vanished for that tax year.

What follows are five steps you can take to make the tax process work better for you and your franchise business.

MAKING THE TAX PROCESS WORK FOR YOU

Schedule estimated tax payments. The IRS expects small-business owners to pay their tax liability as they make profits throughout the year. Many small-business owners do not make these crucial estimated tax payments. That failure can result in a large balance due and underpayment penalties. Small-business owners should meet with their tax professional throughout the year to assess their tax situation, ensure they are making the proper amount of estimated payments, and discuss strategies that can lower tax liability.

Maximize deductions. Every year, business owners miss out on deductions or credits that can help reduce their tax liability. According to internal data from ADP, at least 3,000 federal and state incentives are available, but 50 percent go unclaimed. That amounts to tens of billions of dollars that business owners are leaving on the table. Some purposely forgo the incentives, claiming the rules that go along with them are too complex or cumbersome. The complaint is valid; however, complexities in the tax code should not stop a business owner from investigating all the tax breaks available to him, then making a determination about which ones are best for the business to pursue.

The biggest obstacle this year may be Congress. Late last year, the president signed the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014. The act extended several tax breaks that had expired, but the law applied only to the 2014 tax year. It's up to the current Congress to decide if the tax breaks should become permanent, be eliminated or be altered. Two such breaks are the Section 179 deduction and bonus depreciation. Those breaks and others are explained below.

* Section 179. The Section 179 deduction can be used for qualifying business property placed into service in a given year. The deduction allows a business to recover all or the greater part of the cost than depreciation allows. Qualifying property includes property purchased for use in your trade or business and property used more than 50 percent for business in the year placed in service. Before the Tax Increase Prevention Act was passed, the Section 179 deduction was set to drop to $25,000. The late legislation left the deduction at up to $500,000 for 2014.

* Bonus depreciation. This tax break allows businesses to deduct 50 percent of their costs for computers and other new capital equipment purchases in the year in which they were purchased, instead of over several years. There is no doubt that bonus depreciation helps small businesses that take advantage of this deduction. It has provided billions in tax relief each year.

* Business use of car. Businesses can deduct actual expenses, including gas or oil, insurance, licenses and registration, interest on a non-lease auto loan, lease payments, parking fees, repairs, garage rental space and more. Or they may choose to deduct using the standard rate for miles driven. When using the standard mileage rate, businesses may also include fees for parking and tolls. For 2015, the rate is 57.5 cents per mile. Whichever method your business uses, it is essential that you maintain a mileage log.

* Meals/Entertainment: Businesses may deduct 50 percent of business-related meals and entertainment expenses, including: travel away from home on business; entertaining customers at a restaurant or other location; and attending a business convention or business meeting.

* Advertising expenses: The following costs count as advertising expenses: business cards, newspaper ads, greeting cards sent to customers and sales literature.

* Other deductible business expenses: These include, but are not limited to commissions and fees, product liability insurance, insurance licenses, supplies, business telephone, interest on business loans, office expenses, gifts limited to $25 per person/calendar year, rent on business property, repairs and maintenance on office equipment, business and professional dues and trade publications and preferred customer programs.

Access health insurance. In 2016, Affordable Care Act rules for businesses with 50-99 employees goes into effect. That means those employers will have to provide health insurance coverage for their full-time equivalent employees or they may face a penalty. Now is the time for small-business owners to begin researching and evaluating health insurance plans to determine which plans may be the best for their employees and their bottom line. Some things to consider about ACA:

* The Health Insurance Marketplace offers options for coverage for individuals and their families. If you obtain coverage in the Marketplace, annual income from your business will be tightly coupled with your monthly premium costs. Changes in your net income from business could cause an increase or decrease in your monthly premiums.

* Businesses with fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees have options for affordable coverage for their employees. They may be eligible for the Credit for Small Employer Health Insurance Premiums.

* Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees can take advantage of the Small Business Health Options Program. Currently, small businesses pay on average 18 percent more than larger businesses for health insurance. The SHOP Marketplace offers small employers increased purchasing power so they can obtain higher-quality coverage at a lower cost.

* Businesses with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees need to begin planning for the employer mandate and other reporting requirements associated with ACA.

Recordkeeping matters. Without good records, you open your business to cash flow issues and tax woes. Last year we introduced a tool to help small-business owners keep track of what they owe and who owes them. The double-entry cloud-based accounting software allows users to access it anywhere. The software won't replace a financial adviser, but it will help business owners keep records organized and in order. One plus with double-entry bookkeeping software is that for each credit you input, the software automatically includes the corresponding debit, and vice versa. The result is an accurate picture of your profits and loss.

Talk with your tax adviser. There's not much more to add here. Your tax adviser is the person who best understands the tax code and how it may affect your business. It's important to have an ongoing dialogue with your tax adviser so you can be sure you maximize deductions and take advantage of tax savings that will help improve your bottom line. Your tax professional can help you establish a plan and structure for keeping business records. He should encourage you not to mix business and personal financial records and to establish a separate business bank account or bank card. One of the first things the IRS will look at in a business audit is bank records, so it's important not to have muddied waters. Separate accounts will also help during tax time. Your tax professional will be able to review the business account and help properly classify expenses and income on your tax return.

John Hewitt is the bunder and CEO of Liberty Tax Service, a fax preparation franchise firm. Find him at Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.
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Title Annotation:MANAGEMENT & OPERATIONS
Comment:Five smart steps to ease tax preparation.(MANAGEMENT & OPERATIONS)
Author:Hewitt, John
Publication:Franchising World
Date:Mar 1, 2015
Words:1218
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