Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Can friendship survive in a business partnership?

Planning to start a business partnership with a friend? Prudence demands looking at the pitfalls - as well as the potential strengths - of such relationships. Here are a few questions to consider.

* What will my friend contribute to the business? Does he or she have strengths that will clearly enhance the business - abilities, knowledge, or resources that you don't possess or aren't willing to acquire by other means? Say, for example, you're a crackerjack salesman, but not too good with numbers. If your friend loves details and is clever with records, the partnership may make sense. If, on the other hand, your pal really can't offer something that would round out the business or make it more profitable, you might want to consider partnering with someone else. Or you might consider just hiring the talent you need.

* Are you willing to lose the friendship? This is a tough question, but one that's critical to consider. After all, you and your friend will be working together, day in and day out, to make the business succeed. Such relationships can bring out the best - and worst - in people. If maintaining your friendship is one of your highest priorities, partnering with someone else may be a better choice.

* What's expected from each partner? Developing a profitable business is hard and often unrewarding work. You and any potential business partner should honestly discuss expected work hours, contributions, and responsibilities. Resentment can creep into any business relationship when partners feel that workloads and rewards aren't fairly distributed.

* Can you communicate effectively? Like a good marriage, a long-term business partnership takes honest communication to succeed. Ask yourself, for example, whether you can handle constructive criticism from your friend/business partner. Even the closest business partners don't always see eye to eye, so it's important to take an honest look at how you both handle disagreements. Will you work through difficulties for the firm's sake, or bury your head in the sand and hope for the best? Answering this question is crucial to the success of your partnership.

Friends can be great business partners, but it's wise to proceed with caution. If you'd like help assessing potential business partnerships, give us a call.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Good debt or bad debt: What do you have?

You’ve got debt! The question is, do you have good debt or bad debt? Even more important, how do you tell the difference before you take on any more? Here are two questions to ask before incurring any debt.

1. What are the benefits of taking on this debt? Avoiding all debt seems like good advice. But good debt can enhance your financial situation. For instance, loans that fund a college or graduate degree may result in a higher salary. That’s debt with a lasting, tangible benefit.

Likewise, a mortgage for a home or rental property can increase your wealth by providing the opportunity for growth of capital and income.

Good debt can also have secondary advantages, such as the potential for tax deductibility of interest on student loans a
nd home mortgages.

Bad debt, on the other hand, generally strains your cash flow without providing an offsetting advantage.

2. Does the cost exceed the benefit? As a general rule, good debt provides a return that’s greater than the total amount you’ll end up paying. Caution: Remember that your total outlay will be the stated price plus finance charges.

For example, suppose you need to buy a car. A moderately priced vehicle financed with a short-term loan can still have value when the payments end. That falls within the definition of good debt. But with today’s longer terms of five to eight years, your loan might outlast the car. High interest rates and the longer payback period on "stretch" loans can bump your total outlay into bad debt territory.

Credit card debt poses the same peril. Charges you intend to pay back in full at the end of the month may not be a problem. But a restaurant meal, a vacation, or a Christmas splurge can get very expensive once you include the interest charged when you carry a balance on your credit card.

Good debt or bad? Recognizing the difference can lead to better money management – something you need if you want to improve your financial situation.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Customer Service Tip: How to keep your customers coming back

Every successful business relies on a core group of customers who keep coming back on a regular basis. Sure, you're always trying to find new customers and expand your market. But chances are that it's the "regulars" who provide the bulk of your revenues. It's important not to forget this group.

Three fundamental principles hold true whether your business is retail, manufacturing, or services. Customers want to be recognized, they want to receive good service, and they want their loyalty to be appreciated. Most companies strive to provide good service. Unfortunately, it's easy to overlook the other two principles.

One other factor is important - you'll need to train your employees in these areas. Although some employees are naturals when dealing with customers, others will need guidance and reminders. So you should make customer treatment a major focus for all employees who interact with customers.

Here are some tips for providing customer recognition and appreciation. You can customize these to fit the circumstances of your particular business.


* Encourage your employees to greet customers by name whenever possible.

* Set standards for how incoming telephone calls are handled. Train the staff at your reception desk to be warm and friendly with visitors.

* Encourage retail sales staff to read the names on customers' credit cards and use them during the transaction.

* If appropriate, maintain a database on regular customers and their preferences.

* Attempt to make all customers feel that they're known and liked by your employees.


* Make sure you specifically thank customers for their business at the time of the order or sale. This applies whether it's a retail sale or a salesperson taking a telephone order.

* Track your regular customers, and send them a note or make a call just to thank them for their business. This is also a great opportunity to ask for feedback on service or other issues.

* Consider throwing a customer appreciation event for your regular customers. This could be an informal social event or a special sale, depending on your business.

Brainstorm with your salespeople on how to apply these ideas to your company. Remember that a customer who feels recognized and appreciated will keep coming back.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What investment expenses are deductible?

Whether you're a stock market bull or bear, you have investment expenses - and you may be wondering if they're deductible on your federal income tax return.

Here's a quick review.

* What are investment expenses? Investment expenses are amounts you pay to produce or collect taxable income, or to manage, conserve, or maintain your investments.

Professional investment advice or financial newspaper subscriptions are examples of deductible items, as is safe deposit box rent when you use the box to store investment papers. You can also claim fees you incur for replacing stock certificates.

* How much is deductible? Investment expenses are miscellaneous itemized deductions, meaning your total costs generally have to be greater than 2% of your adjusted gross income before you benefit. Other limits may also apply.

* What isn't deductible? Some investment costs, such as broker's commissions for buying and selling stocks, are considered part of your basis and affect your gain or loss when you sell the investment instead of being currently deductible.

Travel and fees you pay to attend se
minars, conventions, or other meetings - including stockholder meetings - are not deductible, nor are expenses related to tax-exempt income.

Other rules govern certain costs related to your investments, such as interest paid on money you borrow to buy stocks.

Please give us a call to discuss investment-related expenses. We'll be happy to help you get the greatest benefit.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A job change can change your taxes

Planning to change employers this year? As you look forward to starting your new job, you're probably not thinking about taxes. But actions you take now can have an impact next April - and beyond.

Here are three tax-smart tips:

* Roll your retirement plan. You may be tempted to cash out the balance in your employer-sponsored plan, such as a 401(k). But remember that distributions from these plans are generally taxable.

Instead, ask your plan administrator to make a direct rollover to your IRA or another qualified plan. If you're under age 59½, this decision also avoids the additional 10% penalty on early distributions. Bonus: Your retirement money will continue to grow tax-deferred.

* Adjust your withholding. Assess your overall tax situation before you complete Form W-4 for your new employer. Did you receive severance pay, unemployment compensation, or other taxable income? You might need to increase your withholding to avoid an unexpected tax bill when you file your return.

* Keep track of your job-related expenses. Unreimbursed employment agency fees, résumé preparation costs, and certain travel expenses can be claimed as itemized deductions.

Are you moving at least 50 miles to your new job? You may be able to reduce your income even if you don't itemize. Eligible moving expenses are an above-the-line deduction.

More tax issues to consider when you change jobs include stock options, employment-related educational expenses, and the sale of your home. Give us a call. We'll be happy to help you implement tax-saving strategies.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Avoid growing pains in your business

One way to kill your business is to grow it too fast. Many profitable small businesses have expanded at the wrong time and at the wrong level of increased costs. The result is that they never again make a profit. How does this happen?

A given amount of building, equipment, employees, and the associated maintenance, insurance, and taxes will allow your business to operate at a certain maximum sales volume. If you want to grow, say double or triple your current sales, you will need more of all the above items. When you commit to that new larger building with more equipment and employees, you have increased your "breakeven point" (the level of sales you need at which you make your first dollar of profit).

Take this example. Assume that you are a local carpet store. You occupy a 4,000 square foot building. You have a fairly fixed amount of inventory, equipment, and employees. Let's say you are doing $1 million in sales, your gross profit is $300,000, and your fixed costs (building, etc.) are $250,000 with a net profit of $50,000. Since you have an established local customer base, you are convinced that a shop three times this size would make you even more money. Here is what to look out for.

Let's assume that your new 12,000 square foot building and associated higher expenses have raised your fixed costs to $650,000. If you double your sales to $2 million, your gross profit will be $600,000. That leaves you $50,000 in the hole for the year. You would need sales of $2.3 million to get back to the same net profit you had before you tripled your floor space.

Before you go down a permanent road of no return, play a few games of "what if."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Identify types of income to end up with lower 2013 taxes

Act now to identify ways to minimize your 2013 taxes. Start by estimating your 2013 income, sorting it into categories such as wages, investments, passive income, retirement plan distributions, and active business income. Different tax rules apply to different kinds of income, and rules differ at various income thresholds. If you act now rather than later in the year, you'll have time to identify and put tax-saving options to work for you.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A tax travel tip

If you are planning a summer business trip, you and your spouse may be able to travel for little more than you would have paid on your own. For example, if a double hotel room costs $250 and a single room costs $200, you can still deduct $200 as a business expense, even if the two of you get the double.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Combine business and pleasure this summer

You might want to combine a little pleasure with one of your business trips this summer -and save some taxes, too. Within the U.S., if the primary purpose of the trip is business and you add on a side trip or an extra few days for pleasure, you can deduct all the travel costs to and from your business destination and all other
business-related costs. You can't deduct costs related to the pleasure portion.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Make the most of your professional advisors

Who's on your team? No, not your sports or reality-show dancing team, your business team, that group of professional advisors who are ready and willing to help you tackle tough financial decisions.

Those decisions can have an effect on your taxes this year as well as in the future, so you want to be sure your advisors know each other - and are working together for your benefit.

As you begin your midyear planning review, here are three areas where coordinating the advice you receive can pay off.

* Investments. Capital gains and losses from sales of your securities affect your taxes, of course, but the kind of investments you make can also have an impact. For instance, buying municipal bonds to generate tax-free interest may result in the unintended outcome of creating income subject to the alternative minimum tax.

* Insurance. The type of health insurance plan you select can have tax implications. An example: A Health Savings Account (HSA), used in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan, can save premium and tax dollars. You fund an HSA with pre-tax cash and take tax-free withdrawals to pay medical expenses.

* Estate planning. Wills, trusts, and beneficiary designations provide the framework for carrying out your wishes after your death. Communication between your tax and legal advisors helps ensure that these documents offer the greatest protection for your heirs while minimizing estate tax consequences.

Please call us to schedule a comprehensive review of your goals. We're delighted to be part of your professional team.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Involve your children in family finances

Many people feel uncomfortable discussing family finances with their children. However, sharing some information with your grown children can make things more comfortable for everyone.

Discuss your financial goals with your adult children, and let them know your plans for your retirement years. It's often a good idea to involve adult children in some or all aspects of your estate planning. Your particular family situation should dictate how much information you share and with whom.

If you would like assistance with your financial planning or discussing finances with your children, please call. We're here to help.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What are your audit odds?

Do you wonder what your odds are of being selected for an IRS audit? Statistics just released for tax returns filed in 2011 and audited in 2012 show a 1% audit rate for individual tax returns. About 3.6% of business returns with income under $200,000 were audited; returns with income over $200,000 were audited at a 3.4% rate. Large corporations had a 17.8% audit rate, while small corporations had a 1.1% rate.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Take an energy credit

The IRS reminds taxpayers that certain energy credits are still available. If you haven't already taken advantage of them, this may be the year to make energy-efficient improvements to your home. You may be entitled to a credit of 10% of the cost of certain energy-saving improvements such as insulation, windows, doors, skylights, and roofs. The credit has a maximum lifetime limit of $500; the credit for windows is limited to $200. Not all energy improvements qualify, the IRS cautions taxpayers, so be sure you have the manufacturer's credit certification statement (usually available with the product's packaging or on the manufacturer's website).