Tax season can be daunting for anyone -- especially small business owners. The truth is that filing your taxes doesn't need to be stressful and the IRS is not the boogie man; a few organizational tricks and some pre-planning during the year can save filers a lot of time and make for smooth sailing come tax season.
Find a filing system that works for you
Receipts are your audit protection and it's important to keep them organized year round, regardless of the system you use. “While some may stuff receipts in old shoeboxes, scanning receipts at the end of the month and storing them on a computer is a great way to stay organized and decluttered. Organizing receipts by date and expense type can also help you avoid a panicked last minute tax rush. There are also apps that let you categorize your expenditure electronically, and if you want to take it one step further, you can create a separate bank account for your business transactions," says certified public accountant (CPA) and Taxfyle CEO, Richard Lavina.
Keep a separate bank account and a separate credit card for personal and business purposes.
Make use of technology
If excel works for you, that is fine. “If not, consider using an accounting program such as QuickBooks. There are many apps available that let you scan and categorize receipts, log business miles, take notes, bill clients online, and so on. Consider now what you can do to make the process easier for next year," says Eisele.
Start getting your tax documents together early
This way you can chip away at what you need to gather, and you will have plenty time to get documents you are missing, says Eisele.
“Read as much as possible about changes coming from the new administration. Lower tax rates may mean you want to defer income to 2017 if possible, or take the deductions available, such as expensing equipment purchases, in 2016," says Eisele.
Dig up every legitimate deduction you can think of
Include business gifts, meals and entertainment, home office deductions, cell phone, vehicle expenses for business use, equipment purchases, home internet cost, education cost and periodicals, and interest expense on business credit cards. Calculate both the standard and actual business mileage expense method to see which gives you the biggest deduction, suggests Eisele.
Consider contributing to a retirement plan such as SEP IRAs, Simple IRAs, or a Solo 401k.
Start to make monthly contributions to a plan if that would make it more manageable, says Eisele.
Mark important tax dates on your calendar
While April 18th is the biggest deadline this year, other important tax due dates are constantly changing and it's important to stay on top of them. “This year, small business owners should be aware that the deadline for C-Corporations (Form 1120) were pushed back a month from March 15 to April 15. Likewise, the due dates for Partnerships (Form 1120) and S-Corporations (Form 1120-S) were pushed forward from April 15 to March 15," says Lavina.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
Staying organized is only half of the battle. Come spring, everyone is looking for the highest possible tax refunds, but not everyone can be a expert. “Fortunately, it's never been easier to connect with tax professionals who know the ins and outs of tax law. Tools like Taxfyle offer affordable and convenient counsel from highly-skilled tax experts to help you reap the rewards of all of your hard work," says Lavina.
Folders, people, we need folders
You can label them with a pen but looking at a professional label gives each one weight and importance, so go ahead and invest in a label-maker. “Remember, this machine will come in handy when you want to identify your luggage from that of other travelers and sugar in a glass container from flour in the same glass container, so this tax season, treat yourself to a household of neatly identified items. For now, though, label your folders with, "Charitable Contributions" "Business Use Of Home & Car" "Business Travel" "Business Entertainment" "Casually, Disaster and Theft Loses." Now, it's time to head online to those credit card statements, scan each one with your eyes and print it when an expense will fit into the folders you've labeled. Highlight and tuck, highlight and tuck, highlight and tuck into the folders until you're good. You'll do the same with bank statements - your checkbook will help," says Brett Graff, The Home Economist a financial and lifestyle expert. You may this month have to invest a bit of time but the good news is you're ready for next year.
Tax season can be overwhelming and confusing
Thanks to technology, there are several smartphone apps that can help us stay organized. “IRS2Go delivers daily tax tips in easy to read English, you can also check the status of your refund, among other things. MileIQ is a convenient mileage tracker to easily record tax-deductible business travel. The app automatically detects your drives and logs the miles. Users can also create custom drive and vehicle categories and set drive times to work hours only. If you travel a lot for business, Expensify makes tracking expense reports easily by keeping note meals, and other tax deductible expenses. And, if you lost your receipt, Expensify can sync your credit card to pull up a list of purchases that can be categorized! “says Amy Rice, Gadget Expert for Gazelle.
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019