Richard A. Lindsey, CPA

Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants

  • 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.

  • Jan 20

    In the book Masters of Networking, Don Morgan asserts that there are three ways to increase the power of your network and improve its ability to help you achieve goals. Fortunately, he says, anyone can create this leverage by understanding three fundamental characteristics of human nature. However, he goes on, only those dedicated to becoming master networkers will commit to mastering the arts of friendship, generosity, and character. The person who creates this trilogy of leverage will be on the road to unlocking the full power of networks.

    Friends like to help friends. And at some point in your life, you’ve probably helped a good friend do something that you might not have enjoyed doing— painting a room, helping out with the move–just because he was your friend. You really couldn’t avoid it. If you make good friends of your networking associates, you gain the same kind of leverage.

    How do you turn networking associates into good friends? There’s nothing complicated or mysterious about it, Morgan says. Think back how you and your best friend became friends. You went places together, did things together, talked about things, and one day you realize that you have been best friends for some time without even realizing it.

    That’s what you do with your networking partners. Go places with them, do things with them, help them when they need help. Soon you’ll discover that associates have become good friends. Not all of them, of course, but the more effort you put into it, the more friends you’ll make. And the more powerful your network will be in helping you achieve goals.

    You’re at a party. You’re given several presents. You don’t have anything to give in return. How do you feel? A little less than wonderful, right? It’s human nature to want to give a gift in return.

    The same holds true in networking circles, when you give something to a networking associate- a business referral, emotional support- she’ll want to give you something in return. Perhaps you won’t get a return gift immediately. However, the more you give your networking partners, the more inclined they will be to reciprocate.

    A true gift is an unconditional gift; you give without expecting anything in return. However, usually you get something back anyway. First, you gain the satisfaction of helping a friend. Second, human nature dictates that you will get something in return. When you least expect it, you may receive a gift worth far more to you than the time and effort you expended.

    The most lasting impression others have of you is the first impression: the way you looked and behaved when they first met you. If that’s a bad impression, it may take a long time to overcome and others may be reluctant to get involved with you. A master networker understands this and puts a lot of effort into creating a good first impression by dressing and behaving appropriately at all times.

    However, your long-term image goes well beyond how you look at first glance. Equal in importance, according to Morgan, are three character attributes: responsibility, reliability, and readiness. The group needs some tasks done or problem handled, do you take responsibility? Can you be counted on to come through when the need arises? Are you quick to volunteer your services?

    Above and beyond the first visual impression you make, your responsibility for, reliability within, and readiness to participate in group activities become the most important aspects of your image in the long run. If the group sees you as an asset by virtue of your character, individuals in the group will trust you, rely on you, and enjoy associating with you. And they will feel more comfortable referring their friends and associates to you— and your business.

    In the end, this trilogy of networking leverage comes down to an old principle, known in some parts of the world as the “Golden Rule”. In BNI we just phrase it a little differently: “Givers Gain.”

    To find a BNI chapter near you, visit BNI.com.

  • Oct 28

    In what may come as a shock to many of you, the country is broke and is looking for additional revenues. You should know, it will be looking in every nook and cranny to replenish the federal coffers. What you may not know is the Internal Revenue Service seems already to be engaged in revenue-finding-missions. Among the objects of their affection – in the tax audit – are sole proprietors filing Schedule C, and substantiation requirements for every possible deduction.

    The IRS now views the Schedule C as the repository of all manner of evil taxpayer intentions to reduce their tax liabilities (and, from the perspective of the IRS, federal revenues). IRS agents are reportedly beating the bushes of sole proprietors primarily to reduce, or eliminate, claimed deductions as unsubstantiated to increase both income and self-employment tax liabilities.

    All deductions are a matter of legislative grace, and that grace comes with a price: at a minimum to maintain books and records to support the expenditure, and, in many cases, to meet more exacting substantiation standards than the Code imposes as a condition to deductibility in various circumstances. One might not think of charitable contributions as a source of major contention with the IRS, but in the case of non-cash contributions, the taxpayer is technically required to establish, both the fair market value of the property and the property’s adjusted basis. In some cases, the Code requires an appraisal of property (where the value exceeds $5,000) contributed to a charity.

    However, the property’s adjusted basis comes into question in two cases: first in most cases where the property is inventory in the hands of the donor, and secondly, if tangible personal property that is unrelated to the charity’s exempt function, the amount of the contribution is limited to the donor’s adjusted basis in the property. For example, if a taxpayer donates used clothing to a charity that does not distribute them to poor or indigent individuals, the deduction is limited to the lesser of your basis or fair market value. Now, it may seem like common sense that the current value of almost all used clothing is less than what was paid for it but technically, a claim for a deduction of such items requires some proof of both the fair market value and the cost basis of the property.

    And such was the case I recently read about in Surgent’s Tax Issues Newsletter where a taxpayer was denied a claimed $850 deduction for clothing donated to charity. Yes $850! The return was under audit and the taxpayer submitted photographs of all the clothing donated and matched them up to the current list of retail prices published by The Salvation Army and recognized by the IRS– but that wasn’t enough. The auditor wanted purchase receipts of each item to establish the cost basis. Even if the taxpayer was in the 35 percent tax bracket, the amount of tax at issue was only $298. The IRS correctly assumed the taxpayer would throw in the towel rather than incur additional time, effort and costs to substantiate the deduction. So, the IRS pressed the issue hard enough to deny any deduction. Hooray, the deficit was reduced $300!

    From a practical standpoint, trying to establish the cost of most any item of personal property even shortly after its purchase, much less a couple of years down the road, is extremely difficult. So, nothing prevents the IRS from using similar audit strategies where larger sums of money are involved.

    Echoing the motivation Willie Sutton once famously gave for robbing banks, the Internal Revenue Service knows where the money is.

  • Jul 8

    I recently read about a show on CNBC that was described as a cross between Shark Tank and Top Chef. (Seriously… Can’t you see that producer walking into a meeting with CNBC and pitching it exactly that way.) The show was called Restaurant Startup and I just had to check it out.

    The setup is that there are two teams of restaurant owners who approach the “sharks” with their concepts. In one episode there was a married couple who ran a Lebanese-themed deli in Oklahoma City that wanted to expand into a sit down restaurant, and the pair of good ol’ boys with a southern comfort food joint in Kingsport, Tennessee who wanted to open a second location in Knoxville. The sharks sample some dishes and quiz the competitors on their operations. They pick one and give them 36 hours and $7,500 to show off their food and their skills. After that “opening night,” they decide whether to invest their own money in the concept.

    Early in the show, the good ol’ boys serve the sharks some dishes prepared from the owner’s grandma’s recipe book. And the shrimp and grits did look mighty tasty. One shark asked the chef how much the owner currently charges for it in Kingsport, and learned it was $12. Then he asked how much the average check was, and learned it was just $13. “This is a $20 dish in Knoxville,” he said, pointing down at the grits. “You need a $35 average check to make it work there.”

    The chef did not want to hear that he had to raise prices, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. He objected that diners in his town wouldn’t pay that much for the food. His grandmother who came up with the recipe wouldn’t want him charging that much for the food. And he wanted everybody to be able to afford to eat at his restaurant and enjoy his grandmother’s great dishes.

    (Does any of this sound familiar? I can just hear some of you saying “my customers won’t pay any more!”)

    The sharks agreed that it would be a big jump to raise prices to those levels, but they insisted that the point of running a restaurant isn’t just to share grandma’s southern comfort. It is to make money—and making money, in this case, would require higher prices.

    The sharks chose the good ol’ boys for the test kitchen, and set them up with a local consultant to help walk them through the process. Once again, pricing came up. The owner said flat out “I don’t want to serve a $19 piece of fish.” The consultant explained the restaurant isn’t just serving a piece of fish, it’s serving an experience— then proceeded to show the owner how he could garnish and plate the fish to look like it’s worth the price he had to ask diners to pay.

    At that point you could almost see the light bulb go on over his head. He readily agreed to raise his prices, and the pop-up restaurant opened for business. Diners who filed in that night loved the food. Unfortunately for our good ol’ boys, service and management weren’t as good as they should have been and the sharks declined to fund the concept. It was a hard lesson for them to take home to Tennessee.

    And here’s our lesson for the day. If you’re like most small business owners I know, you at least profess to want to run your business to make money. You may think your customers won’t pay more— but you’re probably wrong. You may think that your mentor, or the person you bought your business from (who didn’t charge enough himself) would disapprove— but it’s your business, not theirs. And you may really want everyone in town to be able to enjoy your great product or service—but can you really make the kind of money you deserve if you price yourself into bankruptcy?

  • Mar 4

    Many years ago, Folgers® coffee scored big with a series of ads taking the viewer inside various gourmet restaurants while an announcer whispered “we’re here at such-and-such snooty restaurant, where we’ve secretly replaced the fine coffee they usually serve with Folgers® crystals. Let’s see if anyone can tell the difference.” And they interviewed diners, who expressed shock, and I’m sure no small amount of embarrassment, when they discovered how much they liked the cheap Folgers® Instant instead of the “gourmet” brand they expected. (This was way before Starbucks® elevated our palates and made us all coffee connoisseurs.)

    A few years ago, Walmart® shamelessly ripped off paid homage to Folgers® with their own ad promoting-believe it or not-Walmart® steaks. “We’re here at the famous Golden Ox Steakhouse in Kansas City, where we switched their steak, with Walmart’s choice premium steak…”

    Now, I can’t vouch for the quality of Walmart’s meats, but let me make two points about Walmart® steaks, with lessons for your own business.

    There is a placebo effect. Diners who gear up for a big night out at a fine steakhouse are primed for a great meal. They expect choice ingredients everywhere, and select service from a well-trained staff. And they’ll probably be pretty happy, even if the experience isn’t “objectively” all that great.

    This effect has been proven time and time again. Researchers at Stanford University used MRIs to study Caltech grad students’ brains as they swallowed five red wines priced at $5, $10, $35, $45, and $90 per bottle. They found that as the price of the wine rose, so did the activity in the subjects’ medial orbitofrontal cortices. (Apparently this is the part of the brain that experiences pleasure.) The “catch,” of course, is that the subjects didn’t drink five different wines-they drank three. The wine presented as costing $45 per bottle was really the one costing $5-and the wine presented as costing $90 per bottle really cost just $10.

    The placebo effect won’t work just anywhere. Diners have to really expect a great meal for it to work. Nobody who shows up at the squat-and-gobble all you can eat buffet expects a world-class steak. They are just happy they don’t see marks from where the jockey was hitting it.

    There is also a Walmart® effect. I understand Walmart® steaks are actually perfectly fine beef. They’re USDA “choice,” which is the same cut you find it mid-priced steakhouses like Outback® or Longhorn®. (The top 3% of beef, with the most marbling is graded “prime.” That’s the stuff you’ll find “dry-aged” at elite steakhouses, often drenched with butter, and sometimes served with a side of Lipitor®. The next 55%, with “slightly abundant marbling,” is graded “choice.” That’s the stuff you grill at home, and it’s really pretty good. Finally, there’s USDA “select,” which usually winds up ground into hamburgers.)

    The problem, of course, is that Walmart® has positioned itself as being the home of discount prices (cheap). And nobody associates “cheap” with “good.” Nobody expects good steaks at Walmart®. So how does Walmart® get around our prejudice?

    Well, here they resort to a classic “dramatic demonstration.” Showing happy diners enjoying Walmart® steaks is a lot like H&R Block® ads showing a stage full of happy clients stepping up to claim surprise refunds. It’s just like “Vince from ShamWow®” telling the camera guy to follow him as his miracle chamois soaks up a spill.

    The downside of this approach is that while Walmart® tells us their steaks are “surprisingly good,” at least some of us still focus on the “surprise” more than the “good.”

    To sum up: 1) the “placebo effect” actually lets us sell downscale stuff at an upscale price; however, 2) the “Walmart® effect” actually keeps us from selling upscale stuff in the downscale environment.

    Still skeptical? Ask yourself this-would you have nearly as hard a time believing steaks from Target® are good?

    The bottom line for your business is this: if you position yourself as a premium provider, clients may not even realize if you occasionally drop the ball. But, if you position yourself as a discounter-if you give yourself a reputation for being cheap-clients will have a hard time believing you’re good!

    You probably didn’t go into business to be the Walmart® of your profession. Let Walmart’s challenge in selling steaks remind you why you should position yourself as high up the food chain as you can!

  • Feb 19

    Like Bama’s win over Clemson – you expected it to happen, but they waited until the last minute to make it happen – Congress has once again extended the “extenders”- a varied assortment of more than 50 individual and business tax deductions, tax credits, and other tax saving laws which have been on the books for years, but which technically are temporary because they have a specific end date. This package of tax breaks has repeatedly been temporarily extended for short periods of time (e.g., one or two years), which is why they are referred to as “extenders.”

    Most of the tax breaks expired at the end of 2014. Now, in legislation passed just before the Congressional Christmas break, the extenders have been revived and extended once again, but this time Congress has taken a new tack. Instead of just rolling the package of provisions over for a year or two, it actually made some of the provisions permanent and extended the remaining provisions for either two or five years, while making significant modifications to several of the provisions.

    Key tax breaks for individuals that were made permanent by the new law include:

    • Tax credits for low to middle income earners that were originally enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and were slated to expire at the end of 2017: (1) the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides up to $2,500 in partially refundable tax credits for post secondary education, (2) eased rules for qualifying for the refundable child credit, and (3) various earned income tax credit (EITC) changes;
    • the $250 above-the-line deduction for teachers and other school professionals for expenses paid or incurred for books, certain supplies, equipment, and supplementary material used by the educator in the classroom; also modified, beginning in 2016, to index the $250 to inflation and include professional development expenses;
    • parity for the exclusions for employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits;
    • the option to take an itemized deduction for state and local general sales taxes instead of the itemized deduction permitted for state and local income taxes;
    • increased contribution limits and carry forward period for contributions of appreciated real property (including partial interests in real property) for conservation purposes; the new law also extends the enhanced deduction for certain farmers and ranchers; and,
    • the provision that permits tax-free distributions to charity from an individual retirement account (IRA) of up to $100,000 per taxpayer per tax year, by taxpayers age 70 ½ or older.

    Key tax breaks for individuals that were extended by the new law include:

    • the exclusion of up to $2 million ($1 million if married filing separately) of discharged principal residence indebtedness from gross income; extended through 2016; the new law also modifies the exclusion to apply to qualified principal residence indebtedness that is discharged in 2017, if the discharge is pursuant to a binding written agreement entered into in 2016;
    • the credit for energy-efficient improvements to principal residence extended through 2016;
    • the deduction for mortgage insurance premiums deductible as qualified residence interest; extended through 2016; and
    • the $4,000 above the line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses; extended through 2016.

    Key tax breaks affecting businesses that were extended by the new law include:

    • The Work Opportunity Tax Credit was extended through 2019; the new law also modifies the credit beginning in 2016 to apply to employers who hire qualified long-term unemployed individuals (i.e., those who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more) and increases the credit with respect to such long-term unemployed individuals to 50% of the first $6,000 of wages;
    • 15 year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements, and qualified retail improvements were made permanent;
    • 50% bonus depreciation was extended for property placed in service during 2015 through 2019; the 50% rate is phased down to 40% for property placed in service during 2018 and 30% for property placed in service during 2019;
    • previously increased first-year depreciation cap on trucks and vans not weighing over 6,000 lbs. has been extended through 2017; the increased first year depreciation is lowered for 2018 and 2019 and disappears in 2020; and
    • increase in Section 179 elective business expensing (up to $500,000 annual write-off of eligible business property costs that is phased out as those cost exceed $2 million for the year) is made permanent; also made permanent is the allowance of expensing for computer software and qualified real property.

    Caution: This article contains a general overview of selected tax provisions contained in the PATH Act and does not address all tax provisions contained in the Act. Tax law is constantly changing due to new legislation, cases, regulations, and IRS rulings. Please contact us if you’re interested in a tax topic that is not discussed in this article.

  • Jan 8

    There are seven critical areas of marketing every business must have in place to be balanced. These seven spokes must be in place for the “wheel” of your business to run smoother, be less stressful, and less time consuming.

    Successful and wealthy business owners consistently have each of these seven critical marketing areas working at their maximum potential. These seven spokes on the marketing wheel are:

    1. A market that is hungry to consume your message… and able to pay for your product or service.
    2. A marketing message that grabs your prospects and draws them into your ad, sales letter, emails, or other marketing pieces.
    3. A system for increasing the lifetime customer value of each customer, client, or patient.
    4. A system for reaching more affluent customers who don’t make purchasing decisions based on price.
    5. A lead generation machine that works so smoothly you never have to wonder where your next customer is coming from.
    6. Strategies for getting your marketing message in front of your customers offline.
    7. Strategies for siphoning more leads to your business online.

    Take a minute to rate yourself on each spoke of your marketing wheel – with 1 being non-existent and 5 being outstanding. This will help you determine where you are the weakest and need the most improvement. It will also show you if you are balanced. As an example, if you rate yourself a 5 on offline strategies but a 1 on online strategies, it’s tough to have a thriving business.

    Make all of your spokes strong in each of these seven areas, and you will have a thriving business that provides you with the income that allows you the freedom from worry.

  • Oct 15

    It didn’t take long for her business to fold.

    She was 22 years old, passionate, excited and a first time business owner.

    Why was she forced to close the doors?

    Not the reason you might expect: lack of sales.

    She went out of business because she didn’t keep good records. Records for taxes, budgeting, and cash flow.

    Depending on your personal experience, it may or may not surprise you that poor recordkeeping is one of the top reasons for business failure.

    Taking care of billing, tracking your expenses, taxes, and other financial housekeeping can seem overwhelming, stressful, or just plain boring for new business owners.

    Even for those who’ve been in business a while it is often one of their least favorite things to do. So it’s easy to coast along thinking everything is hunky dory – that’s a technical term – until WHAM! All of a sudden you discover sales are down by 20 percent and expenses are up by 15.

    Getting and keeping your financial house in order makes things not only less stressful, but can help ensure that you don’t overspend and that you have enough money for your savings, investments and retirement.

    Here are five tips for getting your financial house in order.

     

    1. Get some advice. I know, I know, it sounds self serving but, if you’ve never been in business for yourself, or if you struggle with managing your finances, get some advice. It could be the smartest investment you make in your business, and one that could prove crucial to your survival.
    2. Create a budget. Yes, I know it’s not exciting or sexy. You want to get out there and sell, do, or make whatever you started your business to do. But, IT IS NECESSARY! Be very conservative. Plan for the worst case scenario, not the best.
    3. Track everything. Keeping track of income, expenses, invoices, past due customers, estimated taxes, payroll, etc. can feel daunting at times; however, not doing it can lead to financial ruin or legal hot water. There are plenty of financial tools out there. The QuickBooks you’re already using can be used as a dashboard if you keep it up to date.
    4. Put aside money with every deposit. Put aside a portion of every deposit you make for savings, taxes, and charitable contributions. There are more reasons than I have room to address for why you should save for a rainy day. Included are some real psychological benefits for doing so.
    5. Plan for your retirement. When you are a small business owner, there is no one else to fund your retirement. Even if you’re 22 years old and passionate when you start, that’s not necessarily going to provide you retirement funds when you’re 72. Setting up a retirement plan can also shelter some of your business profits. Start with an IRA then graduate to a SIMPLE plan or Keogh.

     

    Integrate these tips into your business and you’ll find it easier to get and keep your financial house in order; therefore making your business less stressful.

  • Sep 18

    For some reason, Congress just loves to cram things into highway spending bills.

    That’s exactly what happened with this update. H.R. 3236, popularly known as “The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015” (yes, that’s how these things are named) brought some tax-law-related changes.

    Regular individual tax returns are still due on April 15th — and a six month extension period is still available. But …

    * Partnership tax returns are due March 15, NOT April 15 as in the past. If your partnership isn’t on a calendar year, the return is due on the 15th day of the third month following the close of your tax year.

    * C corporation tax returns are due April 15, NOT March 15. For non-calendar years, it is due on the 15th day of the fourth month following the close of the tax year.

    * S corporation tax returns remain unchanged–they are still due March 15, or the third month following the close of the taxable year.

    The changes came about because, under the current due dates, information needed from a flow-through business, such as a partnership, is not available before the taxpayer’s income tax return is due; thus resulting in insufficient time for taxpayers and practitioners to prepare returns in a timely fashion.