Running a business is hard enough without adding the complexity of filing taxes each year. The key, experts say, is to work with your accountant throughout the year, not just when you prepare your tax return. Making financial decisions without consulting an accountant or financial adviser can put you at risk and cost you more money in the long run, says John Blake, CPA, in Hamilton, N.J.
Here are nine best practices for small business when it comes to tax preparation and small business accounting, and working with an accountant or financial advisor.
1. Hire the right accountant
Your accountant should offer to do more than just prepare financial statements and do your taxes, says Chandra Bhansali, co-founder and CEO of Accountants World. If that’s all they offer to do, then they aren’t the right accountant for a small business, Bhansali says.
Your accountant should work with you throughout the year to track income and spending, to make sure you don't have a cash flow problem, and to monitor your gross and net profits, Bhansali says. Work with your accountant from day one of opening your business, not just in March and April for tax season. "Most small businesses don't understand the importance of accounting for the survival and growth of their businesses," he says.
2. Claim all income that is reported to the IRS
The IRS gets a copy of the 1099-MISC forms you receive so they can match the income you've reported against what they know you've received. Make sure the income you report to the IRS matches the amount of income reported in the 1099s you received, Blake says. Not doing so is a red flag for the IRS. Even if a client doesn't send out a 1099, you still need to report that income. The same rules apply with state taxes, he says.
3. Keep adequate records
Keeping thorough and accurate records throughout the year will ensure your tax return is correct. With inadequate record keeping, Blake says, you could be leaving deductions on the table or, worse, you could be putting yourself at risk for an audit. Blake recommends every business invest in a basic version of an accounting software because it is user friendly, inexpensive, and helps you keep track of all your income and expenses.
4. Separate business from personal expenses
If the IRS audits your business and finds personal expenses mixed with business expenses, regardless of whether you reported business expenses correctly, the IRS could start looking at your personal accounts because of commingled money, Blake says. Always get a separate bank account and credit card for your business and run only business expenses through those accounts.
5. Understand the difference between net and gross income
If your product costs more money to make than you charge for it, you will lose money regardless of how many units you sell. Small business owners often forget to take into account the difference between their net and gross income, Bhansali says.
For instance, if it costs $100 to make your product and you sell it for $150, your gross income is $50. But, he says, after you deduct your expenses, your net income might drop to $10. "It's important to know what your gross and net profits are so you can be more profitable and grow your business," Bhansali says.
6. Correctly classify your business
Failing to properly classify your business could result in overpaying taxes, Blake says. Deciding whether to classify your company as either a C Corporation, S Corporation, Limited Liability Partnership, Limited Liability Company, Single Member LLC or Sole Proprietor will have a different effect on your taxes. It's important that small businesses consult with an attorney and accountant to determine how their businesses should be classified.
7. Manage payroll
Blake recommends hiring a company to assist with payroll - but be sure that the company is reputable. To save money, some business owners will hire a lesser-known payroll service, only to find out later the service wasn't remitting payroll taxes for the company. If that happens, Blake says, the business owners are on the hook for the payroll taxes. The IRS typically checks every quarter to see if payroll taxes have been paid.
8. Seek your accountant’s advice on your business plan
A good accountant gives you advice on how to grow your business, Bhansali says. Seek their advice to determine how much to contribute to your retirement fund and whether you should take a bonus or delay it a year. Your accountant can tell you if buying a small space for your store or business - rather than renting - could save you money.
9. Take advantage of capitalization rules
If you acquire a tangible piece of property or equipment for your business, you may be able to take a significant deduction. Make sure your accountant understands the rules around capitalization.
Visit the Small Business section of the Nationwide Learning Center for more resources for your small business from Nationwide, the No. 1 total small-business insurer* in the country.
*Conning, 2014; Conning Strategic Study: The Small Business Sector for Property-Casualty Insurance: Market Shift Coming.