Richard A. Lindsey, CPA

Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants

  • Nov 22

    Most of our clients have never received that dreadful notice from the IRS, initiating an audit — or, much worse, the KNOCK on the door! If you never have, you might not keep much financial documentation.

    If you have, you are probably terrified to part with a single receipt.

    But remember, either way, we’re in your corner.

    However, the IRS is one of the few courts where failure to produce proof of your claims results in the assumption that you are guilty of tax fraud.

    (This is part of the reason why you ALWAYS want a professional on your side in these matters. Would you go to court without an advocate? Would you go before a court with a software-generated defense? “Your honor, here is my lawyer, Siri.”)

    It’s imperative that you are able to protect yourself. And, as great as we are — some of this still does fall in your court. That’s why you must save all the financial documents used to create your tax returns in order to defend yourself in the case of an audit.

    Firstly (and perhaps this goes without saying), retain a paper copy or receipt of any tax-relevant transaction. Scan these documents and archive them electronically, or acquire them in an electronic format. If the purchase has a manual or warranty, store all the documents in the same electronic and physical location.

    Sadly, the IRS has ruled bank or credit card records to be insufficient documentation. As a result, just keep your statements long enough to reconcile your account.

    If the purchase was a business or tax-deductible expense, record the expense and why it justifies the deduction. Store this information with, or on, the receipts.

    Second, keep brokerage statements indefinitely for taxable accounts. You are responsible for reporting the cost basis of any security you sell to calculate the capital gains tax. For a mutual fund with 30 years of reinvested dividends, each dividend payment is part of the cost basis. As a result, the cost basis can sometimes be computed only if you have the complete transaction history.

    Without knowing the cost basis, the IRS could argue that the entire value of the investment be treated as gain.

    If you have lost the record of how much you originally paid for an investment, instead of selling and paying 15% or more of the value in taxes, you can use that investment as part of your charitable giving. Gifting appreciated stock avoids the tax owed and still qualifies for a full deduction. Oddly enough, the IRS still asks for the original purchase date and price for gifted securities, but leaving these blank has no effect on your tax owed.

    Many custodians keep several years of electronic copies of brokerage statements available. And they are now required to send any known cost basis electronically when you transfer securities to a new custodian. If your current custodian has the correct cost basis of your securities, you probably no longer need to keep brokerage statements. However, an approach of “better safe than sorry” is always advisable with the IRS.

    Third, keep IRA nondeductible contribution records forever. You may need those records every year that you withdraw money in retirement to show that a portion of the withdrawal is not tax deductible.

    Or to avoid the hassle, clear out nondeductible IRA contributions by converting all of your IRA accounts to Roth accounts.

    Fourth, keep partnership documents, contracts, commission, or royalty structures forever. This includes property records, deeds and titles, especially those relating to intellectual property. It also includes any transfers of value for estate planning purposes.

    Finally, save all of your tax returns. After you file, save the paper, and/or electronic, copies with the rest of that year’s financial documents.

    Tax returns and all the supporting documentation must be kept at least seven years. The IRS can audit your return for up to three years from your filing date. However, the three-year limit only applies to good-faith errors.

    If the IRS suspects you underreported your gross income by 25% or more, they have up to six years to challenge your return. And because you may file for an extension and then file your return at the October 15 deadline, you must keep your records for at least seven years.

    Regardless of those rules, though, if the IRS suspects you filed a fraudulent return, no statute of limitations applies. Because the IRS is run and organized by fallible people (with all of their attendant biases, emotions, etc.), we suggest keeping your tax returns and documents forever.

    Unfortunately, whenever the IRS challenges you, the burden of producing evidence that your claims are true rests entirely with you, so you had better have your documentation in order.

    Taxpayers collectively spend six billion hours, or 8,758 lifetimes, annually trying to comply with the tax code. Fortunately, as I previously mentioned, YOU don’t have to be the one to do all the heavy lifting. We are on your side…

    “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” – John Wooden

  • Nov 10

    I know in polite company and business communications you’re not supposed to talk politics and religion, but I am SO tired of talking to business owners whose religion is…

    Price.

    At least that’s what some of you believe. Based on your actions – the only way you ever talk about your product or service is that you are the cheapest provider in the city/area/community/street/block — you believe you SHOULD BE and CAN BE the low price leader in your category. Don’t you know you are worshiping at the altar of shortsightedness?

    Yes, there is a place for the lowest cost provider, but that place is fraught with peril. The margins there are razor thin; you must be ever vigilant to honor the gods of cost cutting and pray that someone more committed (or with deeper pockets) than you doesn’t step into your marketplace and undercut your price by a penny.

    Remember a few years ago when Apple® released their newest (at the time) iPhones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. To say there was a lot of hoopla would be an understatement, right? Apple® released the new and improved phones on Friday, September 19th and by Monday they had sold 10 million units, one million more than the first week of the 5s and 5c the year before.

    Despite the “bad” economy. Despite losing its visionary co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs. Despite my belief that 10 million people can’t NEED a new Apple® phone. Despite that Apple® products are rarely, if ever, cheaper than the competition.

    Apple® has achieved what every business owner dreams of: the ability to charge premium prices and still attract business. Apple® has successfully refused to bow at the altar of low price—and your business can too. Here are four ways Apple® has accomplished this…

    Can you apply these principles to your business?

    1. POWERFUL BRANDING. Thanks to a well executed branding campaign, Apple® has built a brand that is trendy, cool, and technologically advanced. The iPhone, in particular, has become a status symbol for many.
    2. STRATEGIC MARKETING. Every time a new product is launched, customers line up for hours (if not days) outside Apple® retail locations. And every time, a product shortage prompts anxiety and even desperation from customers who were unable to get their hands on the product. The result is a palpable feeling of scarcity and value—customers feel privileged to fork over $200-300 for the latest model or closer to $650-750 if their plan isn’t eligible for an upgrade! While Apple® won’t admit that they intentionally create product shortages in order to create a buzz, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t be able to meet everyone’s demand on day one if they wanted to.
    3. EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE. Apple Care, the company’s warranty and customer care program, provides a level of service that is unparalleled in the electronics industry. The peace of mind that comes from knowing that expert help is a phone call away is a big part of the value Apple® provides.
    4. THE PRODUCT THAT DOESN’T DISAPPOINT. Branding, marketing, and customer service don’t mean anything if the product is disappointing. Apple® doesn’t cut corners and doesn’t make promises that its products can’t keep—resulting in customers that are consistently thrilled with their purchase. At the end of the day, if a product can’t live up to the expectations set by its marketing; it won’t be successful in the long-term.

    Apple® doesn’t compete on price—and your business doesn’t have to, either. Apply these lessons… and you’ll find that you have the ability to charge premium prices and still win the business!

  • Oct 27

    Business people seem quite willing to throw lots of money at the newest, unproven tactic for acquiring new customers/clients/patients when they would be better off plugging the holes in their existing processes that are leaking profits…

    Often right into their competitors’ pockets.

    Here are a couple of areas where you could quickly seal the holes and perhaps, double your profits.

    Probably the biggest area of opportunity for most people is following up with non-buyers. Often there is none. No systematized, automated strategy to follow up with prospects to turn them into customers.

    Of course, you have to capture the prospect’s information first and that’s another possible leak. But, if you’ve done something to capture their name and address or email, then you have the ability to stay in touch and perhaps move them from simply interested to paying customer. The higher the cost of your product or service, the more important this is.

    Capturing prospect’s information is an absolute must! It can be done online or offline, in-person, or by phone. Even though it’s easier than ever, many make no attempt whatsoever and it’s costing them thousands and thousands of dollars.

    Most business owners, when asked where their best leads come from, invariably say it’s a referral from an existing or past customer/client/patient. Yet most stumble across these referrals by chance. Almost none have a systematic approach to generating a steady stream of referrals.

    What if you weekly, monthly, or even just quarterly provided your referral sources with the tools they needed to refer others to you, such as useful reports, newsletters, emails, and instructions on your ideal customer and how to introduce others to you. You could create an “unpaid sales army.” By the way, your best referral sources might not ever have been customers. There are others who might champion your product or service. It’s not about who you know, it’s about how well you know them. If you’re curious, look up BNI.com

    Plugging holes in your leaky profit bucket is often all you need to do to provide for all the growth you can handle. It just takes a commitment on your part.

  • Aug 3

    In the flurry of launching a new business, filing your taxes may well be one of the last things on your mind. But, you don’t want to wait until the last minute to figure things out. At best, you could leave money on the table – at worst, suffer penalties or other legal ramifications.

    Avoiding these common startup bloopers can ensure your new business is on the right track to handling its tax obligations properly.

    1. Not keeping track of all of your expenses
    From the moment you launch a business, you can deduct “all ordinary and necessary” business expenses such as office supplies, professional fees, and business mileage. Your biggest mistake is not keeping track of these expenses throughout the year, and trying to gather every receipt when it’s time to file. The bottom line is you can’t deduct what you can’t document, and failing to record as you go most likely means you’re forgetting expenses and leaving money on the table.

    Find a method for documenting expenses that works for you. An accounting program, such as QuickBooks®, will let you record and manage revenue and expenses. In addition, there are dedicated apps such as Expensify for tracking expenses, MileBug for recording mileage, or Shoeboxed for capturing paper receipts. The best method is whichever one you will consistently use.

    2. Mixing personal and business
    New startups and small business owners often invest so much of themselves, their time and their money, into their new company that it’s hard to separate them. But separate them you must! The mixing of business and personal funds makes it extremely difficult to make sure you deduct all of your business expenses and only your business expenses. At the very least, you must have separate business and personal checking accounts. Just imagine the look on an IRS auditor’s face when she finds out you can’t tell your business and personal expenses apart.

    3. Choosing the wrong legal entity
    Your business’ legal structure affects how you report your taxes and how much you pay, so it’s important to choose the right entity. For example, many start out as a sole proprietor or partnership because it’s easiest, but soon find themselves paying way too much in self-employment taxes. Creating a corporation can help lower their tax bill significantly.

    4. Mixing equipment and supplies
    Both first-time and experienced business owners get tripped up by what is considered equipment versus supplies. Equipment are often higher value items that will typically last longer than one year, while supplies are generally things that you use up during the year.

    When it comes to equipment, there are a couple of approaches: 1) You can recover a portion of the cost each year, or 2) you may qualify to write-off the full amount in the year of purchase. There are, naturally, some restrictions on the ability to deduct the full amount. Be sure you talk to us first to find out if you qualify.

    If you mistakenly deduct your equipment or other capital item as an operating expense such as supplies, the IRS could determine that you’re not entitled to any deduction.

    5. Not sending Forms 1099
    When you pay any freelancer, contractor, attorney or other non-corporate entity $600 or more for services over the course of the year, you’re required to issue Form 1099-MISC and send copies to both the entity (business, contractor, individual, etc.) and the IRS. If you fail to do so on time the penalty can be as high as $520 per occurrence.

    6. Deducting too much for gifts
    Maybe you sent some of your best clients a holiday present, or sent them a closing gift after a large purchase, or sent a colleague a thank you gift for an especially nice referral. Great! Business gifts are deductible, but there’s a big catch. You can only deduct $25 per gift. So, if you send Paula a $150 fruit basket, you only get to deduct $25 for it.

    Documentation is going to be important. If you report $2,500 in business gifts, you need to be able to have documentation that shows you gave gifts to 100 different people.

    7. Not making estimated tax payments
    If your business is any legal form other than a C corporation you are personally going to be liable for paying taxes on the profits you earn. Business owners are required to pay in sufficient taxes to cover their expected tax obligations. Those payments can be in the form of payroll withholding – if you or someone in your household qualifies – or through quarterly estimated tax payments. Even if it wasn’t required, it is generally easier to make smaller payments on a quarterly basis than to have to pay the entire bill at year end.

    The best way to stay on top of your estimated tax payments is to get into the habit of setting aside a percentage of your revenue on a regular basis. Then, on a quarterly basis, review your revenue and expenses, calculate your tax liability, and make the appropriate payments.

  • Jun 9

    Congress recently enacted significant changes to partnership audit and adjustment rules. The changes are expected to dramatically increase the audit rates for partnerships, and will require partners to carefully review, if not revise, their partnership’s operating agreement.

    The new rules generally apply to partnership returns filed after 2018, but careful planning today will help mitigate any unfavorable consequences.

    Important new provisions that may impact you:

    • The IRS may collect any additional tax, interest, and penalty directly from the partnership rather than from the partners (the tax could be collected at the highest individual tax rate).
    • Current partners could be responsible for tax liabilities of prior partners.
    • New elections and opt-outs will be available and your agreement may need revision to specify who makes these decisions.
    • There are many new tax terms and concepts that will likely require you to adjust your partnership’s operating agreement.

    Particularly, the new term “partnership representative” replaces the prior “tax matters partner.” The partnership representative is critical; they will act as the single point of contact between the IRS and the partnership and will have full authority to bind the partnership and the partners during an audit.

    Potential opportunities and the need for planning today

    Certain partnerships with 100 or fewer partners may elect out of the provisions. To do so, the partnership may make an annual “opt-out” election with their timely filed tax return (Form 1065).

  • May 24

    They played baseball together for ten years, and it happened so often, Franklin P. Adams, a New York Evening Mail columnist, wrote an eight-line poem about it. Originally published under the title “That Double Play Again,” it is better known as “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” or simply as “Tinkers to Evers to Chance.”

    These are the saddest of all possible words:
    “Tinkers to Evers to Chance.”
    Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
    Tinker and Evers and Chance.
    Ruthlessly picking our gonfalon bubble,
    Making a Giant hit into a double—
    Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
    “Tinkers to Evers to Chance.”

    A little background: Back when the Chicago Cubs were a dynasty they won the National League pennants in 1906, ’07, ’08, and ’10 and the World Series in 1907 and ’08. Anchoring their infield were shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance -the best
    double play combination of the day.

    Adams considered the poem a throwaway when he wrote it. He simply wanted to get out to the ballpark and watch the game. But those three may still be the best known Cubs of all time.

    But, it didn’t happen by chance. (Did you see what I did there?) It happened by teamwork. It happened because they practiced. It happened because Tinkers and Evers and Chance developed a special relationship with one another unlike most others. The same is true if you’re trying to grow your business by word-of-mouth. You can’t expect people to shout your praises and send you referrals just because you showed up at the ballpark. It takes a relationship to make it work. Referral relationships work just like other relationships work.

    Think about the relationships you have with your neighbors. How willing would they be to help you out if your car broke down? Depending on your relationship, they might each respond differently. One might outright refuse to help. Another might share the name of his favorite mechanic. Another might be willing to take you or pick you up at the garage. Still another might insist on fixing it for you at no cost. Each of your neighbors may display a different willingness to help. And naturally, your willingness to help them would probably differ as well. Even your requests for help would be dependent on your history with each of them.

    Great referrals don’t happen just because you ask. At some level of consciousness, people who are good salespeople know this. Yes, sometimes, just asking for referrals will work, but more often, asking someone with whom you haven’t yet developed a relationship, may sour them forever.

    Like a great double play combination, it may look easy, but it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to make it happen. Getting ideal referrals with strong introductions from influential people involves planning, preparation, and practice. It involves developing that special relationship.

  • May 12

    I’ve written before about what a good tax planning technique hiring your children can be. (See “Hiring Your Children for the Summer: The Job of Last Resort or Just Good Tax Planning,” Taxing Times, June 2015.) It can be an effective way of shifting income from your high rate to as low as zero percent! It can also be good for the kids. However, as a recent tax court decision demonstrates, it’s important to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

    The case involved Lisa Fisher, a New York attorney, faced with a common dilemma to find summer care for her children, all under the age of nine. So, during the summer, she brought them into her office two or three days a week where they shredded waste, mailed letters, answered phones, greeted clients, and copied documents.

    Fisher took deductions for the $28,770 in wages she paid her kids over a three year period. But, she didn’t keep any payroll files or issue any W-2s. She didn’t keep any records substantiating the work they did or establishing that she paid “reasonable compensation” for the work performed. Nor could she present any documentary evidence, such as cancelled checks or bank statements, to verify that she actually paid them the wages she deducted.

    You know where this is headed. The IRS disallowed the deductions for the children’s wages and imposed an accuracy related penalty. The Tax Court affirmed that decision.

    Bottom line: Hiring your children to work for your business, or rental properties, can be perfectly legal tax planning. But, you have to follow the rules and document everything in order to protect the benefits.

  • Apr 27

    In business, doing what others don’t do can often give you an edge. It can position you head and shoulders above your competition. It helps you stand out in a positive way, and when you do, people are attracted to you and your business, and your success grows stronger, deeper, and more durable.

    Asking for feedback is a simple way to gather information for improving our businesses, but many of us never take the time to ask. We get so wrapped up in the day-to-day running of the business that we fail to pause and ask people, “How are we doing?” Others are simply intimidated by the process – and afraid of what they’ll hear.

    According to the book The 29% Solution by Ivan Misner and Michelle R. Donovan there are five main reasons why we don’t ask for feedback: (1) we’re afraid the response will be negative; (2) we don’t know who to ask; (3) we don’t know when to ask; (4) we don’t know how to ask; (5) we don’t want to take up other people’s time. With all these objections, the thought of asking for feedback can give us heartburn, but it’s worth the pain; the potential for growth can be tremendous.

    Whether positive or negative, feedback should be considered constructive, because it helps our business develop new products, improve existing services, and sometimes adopt a whole new approach.

    Fear of a negative response may be what keeps many of us from asking for feedback. Nobody is eager to be criticized. But, as difficult as it to receive, negative feedback is actually a gift. It’s a reality check; it reminds us that no matter how good we are, we can always improve. It’s also a reminder that we can never make everyone happy. If you’re willing to ask for feedback, you’re going to get some negative feedback along the way. It’s your attitude toward it that will turn that negative feedback into an opportunity. Don’t ask for feedback unless you’re ready to hear it – and respond to it constructively.

    Whom should you ask for feedback? One answer is everybody. Ask your coworkers, supervisors, subordinates, partners, customers.

    When is the best time to ask for feedback? That depends. A professional development trainer might ask for feedback several times. During a session, so it can be tailored, the end of a session, and three or four months afterwards. She’ll ask different questions at different times. Someone selling a product might need to give the customer time to use it, or might not. Someone selling professional services might want to ask shortly after the services have been delivered.

    What if you don’t know how to ask for feedback? The easiest, and most logical, way is make it part of your sales process. Many companies use a questionnaire; some hand it out upon completion of the assignment, some e-mail it afterward, and some mail it as a follow-up in a few weeks. How you choose to do it depends on your customer base.

    The last reservation that a lot of us have is that we are reluctant to take someone else’s time by asking for feedback. What a cop-out. Adults have the option of saying no. It’s our responsibility to ask. Increase the likelihood that you’ll get useful feedback by making the request simple and timely. If it’s too complicated, or if you set a hurry-up deadline, your requests may end up in the circular file. Make the deadline too far off, and people will set it aside and forget it.

    I dare you – do something few others do. Stand out from the crowd. Ask for feedback. And be ready to turn it into opportunities for your business.

  • Mar 3

    Current research suggests that we are bombarded with between 300 and 700 marketing messages per day. Current research also indicates that we take note of less than half of those messages, and far fewer make a strong enough impact to be recalled, make an impression, or make a sale.

    Here’s a tried and true strategy for connecting with your customers and prospects. Legendary copywriter, Robert Collier, pioneered and perfected an effective strategy he called “entering the conversation already occurring in the prospect’s mind.” Instead of going straight into your pitch marketing message and being ignored like everyone else, do something different. After all, if you do what everyone else does, shouldn’t you expect the same mediocre results?

    Instead of hitting your prospects over the head with your message, first capture your prospects attention by using something they are already thinking about as the hook. Then, make a smooth transition into the marketing message. This strategy has been proven to work over and over again. There are several ways to implement this strategy. One is by using holidays.

    Holidays are always on people’s minds. For instance, right now people are thinking about what they are going to do for the upcoming holidays. Where are we going for Christmas or Hanukkah? Where’s the New Year’s Eve party? Am I going to make (and keep) any New Year’s resolutions? Where should I take my sweetheart for Valentine’s Day? Where’s the best place to go for some corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day?

    And on and on. Those are just the major holidays in the next four months. There’s a major holiday almost every month. There are also obscure holidays you probably never heard of nearly every day of the year. You did know that December 25th is also National Pumpkin Pie Day, didn’t you? So, why not make a connection with your prospect by “entering the conversation already occurring in the prospect’s mind” by relating your message to the approaching holiday?

    You have to make a reasonable connection between the holiday and your offer. Otherwise, the prospect will feel like you tried to trick them and that’s no way to get them to know, like, and trust you, let alone buy something from you. It’s really not that hard. You can probably come up with several ideas if you just sit down and think about it.

    New Year’s Day is easy. Think about tying your message to something new or to a New Year’s resolution. Health clubs and gyms do it every January. The air waves and ads talk about the most common New Year’s resolution around – losing weight. With the promise that this year — you can do it… you can have that new body, the new you — with our help.

    And, of course, you can have a “sweetheart” deal for Valentine’s Day.

    This is a powerful, tried and true marketing strategy. And the best part is… if it works this year, you can recycle it again next year!

  • Feb 17

    New January 31 Deadline for Employers

    Employers are now required to file their copies of Form W-2, submitted to the Social Security Administration by January 31.

    The new deadline also applies to Forms 1099-MISC reporting non-employee compensation, such as payments to independent contractors.

    In the past, employers typically had until the end of February if filing on paper, or the end of March if filing electronically, to submit copies of these forms.

    The new accelerated deadline will make it easier for the IRS to spot errors and verify the legitimacy of tax returns and properly issue refunds to eligible taxpayers. Penalties for late filing can be exorbitant! For example, if a business fails to file Form 1099-MISC or furnish a copy to the payee on time the penalty can be as high as $520 per occurrence.

    New March 15 Deadline for Partnerships and LLCs

    Partnership tax returns are now due March 15, NOT April 15 as in the past.

    S corporation tax returns due date remains unchanged at March 15.

    New April 15 Deadline for C Corporations

    C corporation tax returns are now due April 15, NOT March 15.