A business owner quandary: cash or accrual?

Financial statements are one of the most powerful and least utilized business tools. Small business owners need to master financial statements if they hope to work not just in their business, but on their business. And yet, I see all too often just how little time business owners spend exploring them. In my experience the bookkeeping burden doesn’t excite us into spending time on financials beyond tax preparation. In this discussion, basic features of cash and accrual financial accounting are presented with the goal of demystifying them and providing an opportunity for exploration.

One of the first decisions when starting a business is to determine the most appropriate accounting method for the business and for tax filings (the two most common are cash and accrual).

The cash method accounts for revenue when the money is received and for expenses when the money is paid out. It is useful for tracking monthly cash flow since it works just like a checkbook and the balance sheet appears like a checkbook register. Unfortunately, it can convey the wrong message regarding the long-term well-being of a company.

The accrual method of accounting provides a better picture of company profits during an accounting period by recording revenues when they are earned and expenses when incurred but it is not intuitive since the financials do not represent day-to-day accounts. Accrual accounting instead provides a view on long-term financial well-being.

So, what does the IRS require?

The IRS in 2001 relaxed prior requirements that forced many small businesses to use accrual accounting. To reduce the accounting burden on small businesses the current rules allow firms with under $5M in revenue to use cash basis accounting, unless they are an inventory based business.

For tax purposes, the accounting method is locked-in with the first business tax filing. After the initial year, a business uses the same accounting method unless it receives prior approval from the IRS.

It has been my experience that cash and accrual accounting are often misunderstood. It is important that small business owners address with their accountant, bookkeeper, and tax preparer how these two accounting methods will be implemented. The key is to be consistent in applying the rules.

What are some of the problems that may surprise you?

To cite an unusual example, a client sent you a check (on December 30, 2016) for interior decorating services you provided to her and you received the check on January 2, 2017.  Small businesses using cash accounting might be surprised that the IRS expects you to apply this check as income received in 2016. Strictly speaking, the rules require you to observe ‘constructive receipt’. Meaning, the money is available to you and under your control, whether or not you have taken actual possession of it. The fact that you haven’t deposited the check is strictly speaking a moot point as far as the IRS is concerned. Adhering to this ideal is a burden on small businesses. It’s our observation that accountants for small businesses operating on a cash basis consequently define constructive receipt as earnings and expenses in the register by December 31.

Constructive receipt argues against some commonly employed practices, such as delaying the deposit of income or the acceleration of expenses for the sole purpose of avoiding taxes. On the other hand, delaying invoicing does seem to be a more acceptable practice. It is generally more common for cash basis businesses to delay invoicing rather than delay cashing a check received so as not to run “afoul” of the constructive receipt rule.

To be clear, there is a large difference between the unintended receipt of a delayed payment (typically due to a tardy customer payment or a receivable that is in the mail) and deliberate manipulation. Here’s an example of a practice that is clearly not allowed. A small business owner is entitled to receive $20,000 on a contract completed in 2016. The owner contacts the client requesting that the payment not be made until January 2017. That’s not acceptable per published IRS rules.

On the other hand, IRS rules can sometimes be too onerous for a small business. For example, if you pay $2,000 in 2016 for an insurance policy effective for one year beginning July 1, you should deduct $1,000 in 2016 and $1,000 in 2017. It is my experience that this is seldom the practice for small business owners who without intending to avoid payment of tax, will register payment in the year paid without an evaluation of when the benefit will be derived.

Though few use the accrual method of accounting, its purpose is to match income and expenses in the same year. It is therefore critical to choose the year well – when there is any doubt on which year to choose, the decision is made on when ‘economic benefit’ was attained. This can be burdensome to small business owners since the assessment of ‘economic benefit’ is sometimes quite difficult to ascertain.

Under an accrual method, you generally include an amount in your gross income for the tax year in which all events that fix your right to receive the income have occurred and you can determine the amount with reasonable accuracy. As an example, you sold a computer on December 28, 2016 and billed the customer the first week of January 2017, but did not receive payment until February 2017. Using the accrual method, you must include the amount received for the computer with your 2016 income because ‘economic benefit’ was obtained when the computer was sold. Obviously, tracking and attribution requires a lot more work on the part of the small business owner using the accrual accounting method.

As part of learning to work on your business, not just in your business, it is important that you first develop confidence that your financial statements (Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow statements) accurately represent your financial activity. It can take time to develop a reliable and consistent system. Once you have confidence in your financial statements you should address deriving more from them than just how to handle business tax liability.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

 

Retirement Income Planning – Spend early or make it last?

During our working years we plan for retirement or financial independence in part by saving maximally and investing in assets that are likely to appreciate.  While we are working and saving for retirement we are in the accumulation phase. As we approach retirement (within about 5 years) we continue accumulating assets and begin the process of distributing those assets to sustain our chosen lifestyle throughout retirement. When we use an income stream from our assets we have entered the distribution phase.

During the accumulation phase we all focus on portfolio returns and tolerate some volatility. We can weather market fluctuations and lack of liquidity since we are not dependent on the portfolio and have our earnings to support our lifestyle. The main objective is to pay required taxes, support our lifestyle, save, and establish a life that encourages us to flourish.

As we approach the time when our assets alone will be used to support our lives, it becomes essential that we address the nuances of how the assets will be deployed – this is termed Retirement Income Planning.

Retirement Income Planning addresses in a pro-active manner how to create a stream of income for our remaining days (using accumulated assets) once our income from work no longer fully supports our lifestyle. Since the retirement time horizon is unknown, we must marry wishes for early retirement or plans for having larger income distributions with having assets last through an unknowable lifespan.

Running out of money is never an option in retirement but leaving money behind is also not acceptable, if it limits your lifestyle. This balance becomes a challenge as lifespans extend and health preservation becomes more successful and expensive. The latest survey shows that couples aged 65 have more than half probability (56%) of at least one spouse living to age 92. Despite these findings many feel they will not live past 80 and yet, if healthy and productive, they might feel very differently once they reach 90. Planning effectively for longevity is essential and must be weighed against the benefits of early spending.

For Retirement Income Planning, we also need to manage tax liability since we want to be sure that assets last as long as possible, particularly tax-deferred assets that are taxed at ordinary tax rates on withdrawal.

A market downturn can more greatly impact a portfolio early in retirement or just before the distribution phase. In retirement, unlike in the accumulation phase, it is much more difficult for the portfolio to recover from a market downturn. A robust retirement income plan must include ways to deliver the needed income regardless of market behavior.

The new reverse mortgages are income distribution tools that retirees can use to access home equity as part of a retirement income plan. For some, they provide at least three advantages early in retirement: reduced tax liability, longer investment time for the portfolio, and enjoyment of their home until retirees are ready to downsize.

For all retirees preserving their purchasing power (not just preserving the dollar amount) is an essential part of an income plan. Failure to include inflation protection is evident when retirees hold little to no significant equity portfolio and the consequences are dire. Though annuity and pensions are useful income distribution tools they fail unless combined with a strategy that protects against inflation. Sustaining purchasing power is even more significant when considering healthcare expenses. Keep in mind that healthcare costs grow due to inflation and also as a percent of annual spending as we age.

Scenarios that use all available tools to address how to best deploy retirement income will provide each retiring person with confidence to spend early and throughout retirement without fear of outlasting their assets.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Should you be a landlord in retirement?

As you would expect, we often think about ways to supplement client retirement income and diversify a client’s finances beyond their market portfolio.

Owning one or more rental properties (commercial real estate) can provide a steady source of income and cash flow during retirement, with the added advantage of building owner equity (owner wealth). Once established, rental properties can also be a great resource to meet both planned and unexpected life events. And since they can be depreciated on your income tax, rental properties can provide a significant tax advantage while the asset actually gains in value. All this said, owning a rental property, let alone more than one, is not for the faint of heart. Without regular attention and constant re-appraisal, they can become a major headache and a huge liability.

The path to becoming a commercial real estate investor (a fancy way of saying “landlord”) often begins, innocently enough, with owning a single family home and then, for whatever reason, deciding to convert it to a rental. In this case, the property may need to be adapted in some fashion to accommodate renters. Others will approach a real estate agent with the deliberate intention of purchasing a rental property, in which case the property may be “turn key,” requiring little, if any, alteration. Whichever way you start out, the following are just some of the things you need to take into account before you commit to becoming a landlord in your golden years.

Commercial real estate requires at least 20%-30% down payment and an ongoing source of cash flow to fund expected and unexpected expenses. This means your equity will be locked in your property and only available through the available cash flow stream.

Real estate can be a great addition to an investment strategy, but rarely prudent as a sole investment. Unlike your portfolio, which will have fixed expenses, be liquid and globally diversified, your real estate will be impacted by local conditions with unexpected expenses and periods of poor liquidity. Expenses that are predictable include mortgage, taxes, landlord-specific insurance policies (both property and liability). Less predictable expenses are maintenance and repair costs as well as tenant related expenses. For those in control of their family cash flow, it is this difference that makes rentals a good consideration as a secondary investment and as part of their financial plan.

Like all investments it takes time and due diligence to generate a stable positive cash flow from rental properties – luck alone will not suffice. The price you set for rent is all important as are the expenses you incur. You need to be sure to cover your operating expenses which can include mortgage, property tax, insurance, maintenance, bookkeeping and accounting fees, utilities and if you use a management company you must also include their fee. In addition, the rent must provide you with a reasonable return based on cash flow, not just property appreciation, since you can’t sell the property to pay for ongoing expenses. The property must remain competitive with the local rental market and your cash flow able to cover expenses that may not be deductible in the year they are spent (a roof is an example of an expense that is depreciated and not deductible).

In addition to the financial considerations cited above, you will have legal obligations that are based on local laws and regulations pertaining to rental housing. A broken water pipe, furnace or refrigerator? Round-the-clock availability for emergencies is your responsibility. You can, of course, assign or pay for someone to take care of such things, but the legal responsibility will still be yours (always have sufficient liability and property replacement insurance). You are likely to be held liable for tenant or visitor injuries if due to unsafe conditions, especially in the common areas. Safety and habitability is paramount. On a regular basis, you must make sure structural elements are safe, the electrical, potable and wastewater infrastructure is sound, that trash containers are provided, that any known or potential toxins (such as mold or asbestos) are properly managed, that rodents or other vermin are kept clear off the premises.

However you come by your rental property, you will have to choose whether you should be your own property manager (directly overseeing and paying for maintenance yourself) or to take a more arms-length approach by contracting with a property management firm. Some clients hand these tasks to a family member who wishes to work part-time while others hand it over to a professional. A property manager can help those who wish to limit their day-to-day responsibilities, especially if you aren’t the handy sort or aren’t physically up to the task, but then you will have to cover the additional expense. Property managers, in simple terms, are hired to find tenants, maintain the property, create budgets, and collect rents. You will want to hire someone who knows about advertising, marketing, tenant relationships, collecting rent, maintenance, plus local and state laws in the location that you have the property. As the property owner, you can be held liable for the acts of your manager. It’s prudent, therefore, to hold the rental property in an entity that can provide some legal protection. Costs for contracting a property manager will usually run about 8% of rental income for management and about the same for engaging new tenants—this can eliminate your profit but if properly priced will provide you with a sustainable model well into retirement.

Finding reliable tenants is always a challenge, even if you employ a property manager. Tenants need to be able to pay their monthly rent, keep the property in good condition, and follow policies in the lease or rental agreement. You’ll find it easier to find good tenants if you select a property in an area experiencing low vacancies and high demand. Unfortunately, this means the property will also cost you more.

You should be prepared to have to deal with (or have someone deal with) evictions, wear and tear on your investment, unauthorized sub-lets, termination without proper notice, smoking, illicit drugs, pet odor and damage, parking and waste management issues, advertising, noise (including sometimes difficult neighbor relations), and other eventualities. Or, you can get lucky and find perfect long-term tenants! Realistically, as you age these tasks may become too stressful, eventually requiring you to hire a property management company or engage a (younger) interested and motivated loved one to take on this role. Either way, you must put this in writing as part of your purchase plan—including when you want this to happen, who this person should be, and finally, when the property should be sold.

During retirement some will love the ability to work part-time at managing their properties (even if only in a limited manner) whereas others will find it too complicated for their ideal retirement life. Invariably a well-managed property can generate ongoing income and create owner equity that will be a godsend in retirement or as an alternative to your market portfolio. Unfortunately for some, the process can become too complicated and stressful. So much so, that they avoid the tough decisions and derail their entire retirement plan. Being a landlord is very much an individual decision.

The bottom line is that rental property cash flow can generate a stable income during retirement, and can provide needed equity to fund contingency plans (such as disability, long-term care, health care needs, legacy) but profiting requires planning and annual review. It is a business that needs your ongoing attention or it will become a major liability. Even with the help of a property management firm, you may wonder in what way you can really consider yourself “retired” owning and managing rental properties.

Like any other financial investment, do your homework, and moreover, make sure it fits with your long-term financial goals and vision for a rewarding life.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

The skateboard champion and other stories

As a way to put money away and save on taxes we often think of retirement accounts for the self-employed that include a simplified employee pension plan (SEP), an individual 401K-profit sharing plan (401K-PSP), or Defined Benefit (DB) plan. DB plans are the least used and yet the most powerful at reducing tax liability and quickly increasing your tax-deferred savings. To illustrate how DB plans can be used, I want to share with you how creative individuals were able to leverage their DB plan to save maximally and retire early.

  • The Skateboard Champion – A 30-year-old skateboarder plans ahead and saves $130K per year from winnings and endorsements. He will have saved $2.6M by the time he turns 50 (without considering any market growth).
  • The Lobster Fisherman – A 61-year-old fisherman from Maine pays himself $35K in payroll from his C Corporation and saves $60K per year for the last five years before retiring. His reward: an estimated $300K in accumulated additional savings for his retirement.
  • The Clothing Store Sales Rep – At 57 years of age the rep contributes $150K per year for herself and $12K for her young assistant until retirement at age 65. She accumulates another $1.2M not including growth.
  • The Lobbyist from Virginia – Beginning at age 48, the lobbyist contributes $145K/year for 7 years saving just over $1M by age 55.
  • The University Professor & Guest Speaker – Starting at age 54, the Prof contributes $42K per year from guest speaking engagements. He does this for 12 years and adds $502K in savings (excluding growth) to his already substantial university benefit plans.

DB plans provide the highest contribution amounts particularly when combined with a 401K. To take full advantage of this type of plan, a business must have sufficient profit and cash flow. DB plans, like a 401k, must be established in the same year and have specific requirements including annual tax filings. DB plans are not limited by the fixed maximum contribution found in SEP or 401K plans but instead are based on age, payroll and future benefit. This year, the maximum annual future benefit is up to $210K (this can amount to substantially more than a $210K contribution in any one year).

If you have a side business or are starting your own full time business consider the DB plan. Even though these are powerful, the best type of retirement savings plan for you is dependent on your business’ current and projected cash flow. As you can tell from the stories above, a well-designed DB Plan is not just for those over 50 or those with large earnings. It can be a very smart way to defer taxes today and provide for your lifestyle in the future.

Defined Benefit plans are not appropriate for everyone but I’ve seen them work for so many different people in unexpected situations that I thought I’d share some success stories with you.

Converting Sweat Equity to Personal Wealth

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If you are a small business owner, you’re probably familiar with the term “sweat equity.” Essentially, sweat equity is a measure of the added interest or increased value that you’ve created in your business through plain hard work (that is to say, through physical labor and intellectual effort). Typically, business owners just starting out don’t have the necessary capital or don’t want to hire a large staff to run the business or to purchase high-tech, so they put in untold extra hours, do much of the work themselves and try to “think smart” in terms of marketing or production. They often use this opportunity to develop a clientele and a business process they enjoy. If well designed it can be profitable, but at some point the owner must put in place strategies that can convert business profit into personal wealth.

In other words, to be considered a truly viable business, at least two things must happen (there are others, but for the purposes of this article we’ll just focus on two). One, you must evolve the business to the point where it is sustainable with only the amount of personal labor you want to dedicate and in a way that allows you to maximally build Owner Wealth while covering business cash flow needs. Moreover, the goal is a process that gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This is what we call a “life-style” business. Or two, you must organize and prepare the business to a degree or footing that it can be sold for a profit, at least enough and in a manner that will allow you to retain the profit as personal or “Owner Wealth.”

I should note, for those who are not self-employed, that employees can also generate sweat equity for their firm by creating additional ways to increase the bottom line. For startups, you may defer your vacation and even put off earnings. All these things add value to the company, but employees will expect to receive some form of compensation either in the form of existing benefits (bonus, parental leave, or nonqualified plans) or in shares of company value.
As a business owner, the first question you must ask yourself is “What do I want my life to look like while I’m creating this equity, and what do I want to accomplish in the long term?” Once you answer this question, and only then, can we come up with a proper plan to support your direction.

It is our experience that business owners without such a plan likely encounter challenges that can undermine their ability to convert their equity to personal wealth. These challenges come either in terms of selling the business or ensuring that the life-style business is sustainable. For instance, there is a good chance that instead of generating wealth to your maximum potential, you’ll be funding Uncle Sam (and the California Franchise Tax Board) and coping with cash flow problems.

Presupposing your business is already generating profits, a well-tailored plan can (at least potentially) make a big difference in terms of retaining or accumulating Owner Wealth. Aside from using earnings to support current lifestyle, your business can create benefits that permit the owner to retain earnings for future use and reduce current tax liability, particularly important in California, where the tax liability on business owners with profitable business can exceed 50% of their business profit.

For example, a business owner with sweat equity from their start-up or life-style business that yields around $500K per year (after business expenses) might have a tax liability of $110K (IRS only) or $155K in California (see table below). Using available benefit tools/strategy an owner can (in this scenario) build wealth annually of about $230K. Much of their wealth is built from deferring taxable income and lowering their tax liability to $45K (or $70K within California).

table

Allowed to grow over 5, 10, or 20 years this strategy could (at a conservative 5% annual return) yield wealth of $1.3M, $2.9M and $7M respectively for the business owner. On its own, tax and benefit planning can yield a high conversion of sweat equity to Owner Wealth.

When starting a business, the last thing we ever think about is how we’ll exit from it and collect on all the hard-earned sweat equity we’ve invested. We’re usually focused on creating value and determining how we can generate sufficient earnings. Yet for some businesses it is only from a well-designed and planned sale that the owner will realize any personal wealth from their risk and hard work. For the owner of a life-style business, selling your firm may seem akin to selling off your first-born, but there comes a time in all our lives when such decisions are unavoidable, even advantageous. At the very least, it may be worth considering selling part interest in the business as a way of reducing workload and simultaneously augmenting Owner Wealth.

As an owner ready to sell you will want to be confident that you are choosing the right time, securing the best price, and structuring the transaction wisely. You’d be well advised to seek expertise in selling your business (particularly new entrepreneurs), and give plenty of thought to how it will impact Owner Wealth, which is all too often overlooked.

When considering how to exit from their business, entrepreneurs need to at least follow these 7 steps to maximize Owner Wealth.

  1. Plan your exit well in advance since the best fit team and solution may take time to identify and develop.
  2. Understand and acknowledge your emotional connection to the business. It can be deeply personal and leave you unsatisfied if not fully addressed – regardless of profit.
  3. Prepare the business for the sale so that it is financially attractive to the financial advisors of potential buyers.
  4. Choose experienced individuals in your specific type of business to guide you through the process of selling your business BUT include your personal advisor to ensure that the best exit also meets with your personal financial goals. Again, building a team that is right for you.
  5. Think clearly about family succession – don’t make assumptions on how your family or key employees feel about the business.
  6. Gauge the interest for a friendly buyer from co-owners, family, employees, vendors, and even customers.
  7. Develop a thorough wealth strategy plan. The wealth strategy plan should NOT be just about the business but should address how your efforts will be used to build your personal wealth and meet your personal goals.

Take the time to know yourself, know your goals and make absolutely sure your financial advisor has a clear picture of your objectives. Together, your plan will convert all that valuable sweat equity into wealth to fuel your dreams.

When does it make sense to payoff your mortgage before retirement?

It is relatively easy to make paying off your mortgage a goal, largely because you think it will “feel good” or because you imagine that it will be “liberating” to throw a mortgage burning party. But be careful that you are not mixing a critical financial decision with an emotional reaction. It may seem illogical, but there are many reasons why it is sometimes a better financial decision not to pay off your mortgage. That said, there are also some very good reasons for paying off your mortgage prior to retirement. The balance is often tipped by the amount the client spends on their lifestyle budget, the amount they have saved in available non-home assets, their tax liability, the source of the money used to pay off the mortgage and what they have decided to do for unexpected expenses.

For most of our clients, a mortgage on their principal residence is a low-rate loan that can be used (since 1997) to reduced tax liability (usual tax refunds drop the effective mortgage interest rate by as much as 1-3% for our clients). A mortgage repayment is stretched out (amortized) over a long period of time (15 or 30 years are common) with most of the interest paid during the first 2/3rds of the amortized period. When combined with inflation and a healthy appreciation in real estate valuations, a mortgage provides the buyer an opportunity to expense a very low cost loan while building equity in the home with money that would otherwise (at least in part) go toward rent. A mortgage loan can also be used to maximize and grow savings pre-retirement, obviously freeing clients to use these savings later while in retirement. The argument can also be made that a diversified portfolio started with assets that might have been used to pay off a mortgage (though not guaranteed) can yield a rolling average of 6-9% (with a margin of safety) and provide assets that grow above the mortgage rate and that are available for use outside of the home asset.

Many of our clients will have reduced or no earned corporate income during their retirement years, and plan to rely primarily on portfolio, pension, and social security to support them for 30-40 years. During this time they might have lower taxable income, but that is only true if their lifestyle expenses are low enough (something that is difficult to do in the Bay Area). If not, they might increase their taxable income to support their lifestyle and would benefit from available tax deductions (including mortgage interest). Most of our clients would like to remain in their homes throughout retirement, but this adds a further complication if they do not have enough non-home assets to support their annual budget. We find that home owners are surprised that they can’t tap most of their home equity (at reasonable costs) until they sell their home.

Paying off a mortgage is sometimes worth considering when the client has sufficient assets to support retirement outside of (i.e., above and beyond) their home. As an example, consider someone with a lifestyle expense in retirement of $100K annually (after social security). We can roughly estimate that they will need about $3M in portfolio assets to support their lifestyle and to ensure that they will not be forced to sell their home to support themselves. This $3M is only an estimate since it may not be sufficient if there is no supporting plan to cover unexpected expenses. But assuming there is sufficient savings and buffer, paying off the mortgage becomes a viable option which would reduce lifestyle budget (since there should be no mortgage payments) and tax liability.

Since several clients would like to hear scenarios that highlight the advantages of paying off their mortgage prior to retirement I’ve outlined two below:

1)  When a client plans to live in a mortgaged home until they need care, have low lifestyle expenses AND enough money outside of their home asset to support their lifestyle budget, including maintenance of their home. In this situation (particularly when their tax rate will not benefit greatly from remaining Schedule A deductions) the reduced expense derived from not paying a mortgage provides measurable benefit and real financial freedom. In addition, leaving a home with little or no mortgage is popular with those who wish to provide a legacy. However, clients have to be prepared for a potential increase in taxes in retirement particularly if they need to draw more from their portfolios. There is also the possibility that they may need to sell their home to unlock equity to cover unexpected expenses.

2)  Another scenario that encourages paying off the mortgage pre-retirement applies to clients with a low taxable income, sufficient non-home assets to support their lifestyle expenses and a sudden influx of cash to cover their mortgage (this cash must be more than the amount they can contribute in a tax advantageous manner and not needed to support their lifestyle).

It has been clearly demonstrated that anyone with a fully diversified portfolio benefits most from maximizing tax-advantaged savings prior to retirement. Usage of funds that could be contributed to these types of accounts to pay off a mortgage often results in too much home and not enough cash (house rich, cash poor, as the saying goes). This is particularly the case in areas where home appreciation is high and home equity grows, but can’t be accessed cost effectively. A misconception is that a large mortgage is the best way to reduce taxes because you can minimize them through Schedule A deductions. This is patently not true. The best way to minimize your taxes is through tax-deferred savings, not deductions. Do note that in retirement, neither tax deferral nor the option to obtain a mortgage at a reasonable rate may be available.

Each person needs to consider the best way to manage their mortgage payments in retirement. In this article, I have sought to help you recognize some of the key components that factor into whether it makes sense to pay off your mortgage prior to retirement. It is important that you realize that there is no single answer for everyone and that we must balance your budget, taxable income, amortization period and plan to cover contingencies during retirement before making this decision.

Retirement Plans for the Self-Employed – An introduction to reducing taxes by increasing retirement savings

The self-employed small business owner has at least three ways to save for retirement while saving on current taxes. The best known is the simplified employee pension plan (SEP). Not quite as well known, is the individual 401K-profit sharing plan (401K-PSP). And definitely least known is the Defined Benefit (DB) plan. Your choice should not be based on familiarity but on your retirement needs, current cash flow, and tax liability. Without planning the choices are limited to a SEP IRA or other IRAs. SEPIRAs can be created any time prior to tax filing but the contributions can only be as much as 20-25% of net earnings from self-employment (up to $52K).

A 401K-PSP, on the other hand, must be created in the same year (meaning that if it is used for 2014 contributions it must be created before Dec 31 of 2014). Ideally the contributions are made by December 31st for employee deferred compensation but employer contributions are made later, prior to tax filing. Employee deferral limits this year are $17.5K (plus an additional $5.5K after 50) or to the maximum earned, whichever is less. Profit sharing contributions can top up to $52K (plus an additional $5.5K after 50). Tax filings for the plan are required once the total assets exceed $250K. For most small business owners the 401K-PSP allows for higher annual contributions (than the SEP) and therefore lower tax liability.

DB plans are the least used by self-employed and yet the most powerful at reducing tax liability by allowing very high tax-deferred contributions. A business must have sufficient profit and cash flow to take full advantage of this type of plan. DB plans, like 401k, must be established in the same year and have specific requirements including annual tax filings. These types of plans are not limited by the fixed maximum contribution of $52K but instead on annually calculated contributions based on a future benefit. The maximum annual benefit is up to $210K this year. DB plans provide the highest contribution amounts particularly when combined with a 401K-PSP.

The best type of retirement savings plan for you, as a self-employed individual, is partially dependent on your business’s current and projected cash flow. Ideally you will match the features in all available plans with your retirement needs, selecting the plan that maximizes your retirement savings while reducing your current tax liability.

The key is to plan ahead with someone that knows the self-employed plan options and your personal and business finances. Working together you can provide for your future while reducing your tax liability today.

Business Entities: Business for profit, nonprofit or a bit of both?

Thinking to start your own business? Or maybe your business is growing and some form of reorganization is necessary to manage it all? If you are engaged in the sale of a product or service commercial law pretty much governs your options for setting up and administering your business. These entities include corporations, cooperatives, partnerships, sole proprietors, limited liability companies and others.

So, which type of business structure is right for you? The answer depends on the type of business you run, how many owners it has, and the overarching financial situation. Some of the most important factors to consider, include:

  • the potential risks and liabilities of your business
  • the formalities and expenses involved in the various business
  • structures
  • the motivation behind the venture (profit, social, or charitable)
  • your income tax situation
  • your investment needs, and
  • the sources of revenue.

In large part, the best ownership structure for your business depends on the type of service or product it provides and the sources of revenue. Often the ownership structure is ruled only by tax and risk questions but there are many other reasons. I will highlight legal, tax and motivational reasons that are associated with specific business structures and in particular provide information on two new entities.

If your business engages in what most people would consider “risky activities” you ought to consider a business entity that provides some personal liability protection (such as a limited liability company, or LLC), which shields, to a certain degree, your personal assets from business debts. Note that I said it offers some personal liability protection.

Under a traditional corporate structure, corporate directors have a fiduciary duty to exercise business judgment with the goal of maximizing profits. In fact, corporate officers and directors can be held legally liable to shareholders if they do not maximize profits to the exclusion of other goals.

New to the mix are benefit corporations (sometimes informally called a “B Corp,” not to be confused with a certified “B Corp”). Benefit corporations don’t follow the traditional profits-only model. Instead, these have a dual purpose, to generate some type of public benefit while creating value for their stakeholders. For example, if the charter of a benefit corporation makes it clear that it is organized to build affordable housing, officers and directors are therefore held accountable to achieve both this objective and a profit. Legally this means benefit corporations are shielded from lawsuits by shareholders who argue that the corporation has diluted their stock by putting social objectives over profit.

Of course there is also the full non-profit corporation where the social mandate is the only mandate and large profits are not permitted. Most nonprofits are known by their 501 tax-exempt status. Owners of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs (LLC for tax purposes) all pay taxes on business profits in the same way. These three business types are “pass-through” tax entities, which means that all of the profits and losses pass through the business to the owners, who report profits (or deduct their share of losses) on their personal income tax returns. Therefore, sole proprietors, partners, and LLC owners can count on similar tax complexity, paperwork, and costs. Owners of these unincorporated businesses must pay income taxes on all net profits of the business, regardless of how much they actually take out of the business each year. That said, LLCs do have the option to file as a corporation for tax and benefit purposes.

In contrast, the owners of a corporation do not report their share of corporate profits on personal tax returns. Owners pay taxes only on profits they actually receive in the form of salaries, bonuses, and dividends. The corporation itself pays taxes, at special corporate tax rates on any profits that are left in the company from year-to-year (called “retained earnings”). Corporations also have to pay taxes on dividends paid out to shareholders, but this rarely affects small corporations, which seldom pay dividends. A double taxation occurs when the corporation pays taxes on its profits AND the owners pay taxes on the dividends. Subchapter corporations (S Corp) are popular with professional services businesses primarily for tax reasons.

Unlike other business forms, corporations can sell ownership shares in the company through stock offerings. This makes it easier to attract investment capital and to hire and retain key employees. But for businesses that don’t need to issue stock options and will never “go public,” forming a corporation may not warrant the added administration and expense. If it’s limited liability that you want, an LLC provides the same protection as a corporation. If it is ease of use, then sole proprietorship or partnership may be the most appropriate. Moreover, the simplicity and flexibility of LLCs and sole proprietorships can offer a clear advantage over corporations.

An L3C is a new variation on the LLC. What sets it apart from regular LLCs and other for-profit entities is its ability to pursue charitable, educational or socially beneficial objectives. Although the L3C can also pursue profit oriented objectives, they are secondary to its social goals. The L3C is a hybrid entity taking on the flexible characteristics of an LLC in combination with a low-profit socially beneficial objective. The verdict is still out on their usefulness and whether or not these business entities will endure, but they are currently an option in some states, including Hawaii and California. For social and community conscious business ventures to succeed, they need a flexible, lightly regulated business structure that allows access to investment capital.

The L3C format was designed to satisfy this need. Before you can decide how you want to structure your business, you’ll need to review your vision for the business against all the available structures. Here’s a brief rundown on the most common ways to organize a business:

  1. sole proprietorship
  2. partnership
  3. limited partnership
  4. limited liability company (LLC – profit mandate)
  5. low profit limited liability company (L3C- profit & social/community mandate)
  6. corporation — usually C or S Corp (for-profit mandate)
  7. benefit corporation (profit & social/community mandate)
  8. nonprofit corporation (not-for-profit or 501 firms), and
  9. co-operatives

If you are contemplating a new business or thinking to restructure an existing one, you should seek both legal and tax professional advice. Aikapa can help integrate this advice with your vision.

How insiders can legally profit from insider information

 Insight on how company insiders can still profit from insider information
By Edi Alvarez, MS, CFP

Despite efforts by the Senate and president to reduce profiting from inside information there remain loopholds for corporate insiders that may be useful to those who are observant. Corporate insiders whose companies are about to be bought by rivals are forbidden from buying shares ahead of time to profit from the price jumps that takeover announcements often bring. But they accumulate plenty of shares just the same.
That’s because company managers are often paid partly in stock. Many sell these shares at regular intervals, whether to use the cash for other purposes or to keep their personal assets from becoming too concentrated in a single stock.
For this reason, managers who decline to buy their companies’ shares ahead of takeovers may nonetheless accumulate them if they also halt their typical selling.

Anup Agrawal of the University of Alabama and Tareque Nasser of Kansas State University studied 3,700 takeovers announced between 1988 and 2006. They compared trading in the year before takeover announcements (the “informed period”) with the year before that (the “control period”).  They found that insiders tended to reduce their buying during the informed period, but they reduced their selling even more. The result was an increase in net buying. Over the six months prior to deal announcements, the dollar amount of net purchases for officers and directors at target firms rose 50% relative to ordinary net purchase levels.

This “passive insider trading,” as the authors call it, is legal. But it is profitable? Agrawal and Nasser didn’t look at returns, but a study published a year ago in the Journal of Multinational Financial Management offers clues. Researchers from Australia’s Commonwealth Bank and Deakin University looked at U.S. takeovers between 2001 and 2006. They found that shares of target firms tended to outperform by nearly seven percentage points during the 50 trading days preceding deal announcements.

Nothing illegal in these situation just good old fashion financial planning can yield a net gain if properly structured.

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Inspired by article in SmartMoney on March 23, 2012 – An Insider Trading Loophole Congress Didn’t Close By Jack Hough | SmartMoney

2012 -0213 Obama’s budget today

Obama’s budget announcement today – not a surprise

Proposed 2013 budget would reduce dividend tax break, impose new rules, and raise top marginal rate to almost 40%

The $3.8 trillion budget that President Barack Obama proposed today for 2013 would generate $1.4 trillion in new taxes for the wealthy.

Perhaps the only surprising element of the proposal puts dividends paid by high-income Americans at ordinary income, boosting the rate paid to 39.6% from a current rate of 15%.

The higher rates would apply to couples making $250,000 or more and individuals making $200,000 or more IF they earn significant income from dividends.

Originally, the president had supported continuing to tax dividends at a favorable rate, but administration officials said Mr. Obama decided the nation couldn’t afford it.

“We don’t need to be providing additional tax cuts for folks who are doing really, really, really well,” Obama said today in a speech at Northern Virginia Community College.

This is not news, in 2003, dividends were taxed as ordinary income.

Not surprisingly, Republicans in Congress immediately criticized the president’s budget and predicted failure for the tax increases wanted by the White House. .

The change in dividend taxation would raise $206.4 billion over a decade, according to the administration, which has said the wealthy need to pay more to help the nation control its deficit and spur economic growth.

The president’s proposal would end the Bush era tax cuts and limit tax deductions to 28% for wealthy Americans, again defined as those couples earning $250,000 and individuals making at least $200,000.  Limits them to 28% but does not eliminate them. These high-income earners already were set to take a hit in next year when a provision of the 2010 health care law kicks in that will tax their unearned income at 3.8%.

The administration’s proposed budget also would boost the top capital gains tax rate to 20% from today’s top rate of 15% and the income tax rate would max out at 39.6% in 2013 (increased from 35%). As expected, the plan also would tax private-equity managers’ profits-based compensation at ordinary income rates (which it is) instead of the 15% current capital gains rate.

The president’s budget also sets a new rule called the “Buffett rule,” that would set a 30% minimum tax for individuals with $1 million or more of annual income, a proposal that’s been discussed since last year after billionaire Warren E. Buffett said the wealthy weren’t paying enough in taxes. That tax would replace the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which the White House contends hits the middle class instead of its goal of keeping the richest Americans from paying too little.  It is great if it replaces AMT.

Republicans do control the House and wield significant influence in the Senate so it’s unlikely that Obama’s budget will make it out of Congress but only time will tell.