Sunday, August 19, 2012

Equine Accounting and Tax - Who Gets the House?

When an asset owned by a spouse is transferred as a result of divorce, there are no immediate tax consequences to either spouse. The one transferring title to the other spouse does not recognize any gain, even if the home may have appreciated in value since it was purchased. LIkewise, the spouse receiving the home does not recognize any income either. However, the spouse who obtains title to the home steps into the shoes of the other person when it comes to basis (generally the amount of your investment in a property for tax purposes). In effect, the spouse who winds up with the home also winds up with a potential tax bill. When the spouse that has received title to the house later sells the house, the gain on the sale (prior to exclusions) will be calculated using the original basis of the house, not including any payments that you made to your spouse as part of obtaining title. That can mean a hefty tax bill for you.
For example, Mary and John Smith buy a farm during their marriage for $600,000. At the time of divorce, the fair market value of the house is $800,000. Mary pays John $200,000 to obtain sole ownership of the property. Years later, she sells the property for $950,000. She has assumed that she will owe taxes (subject to other tax exclusions) on $150K ($950K less $600K original basis less $200K that she paid to John). Wrong! The $200K that she paid to John is not included in the tax basis of the property so she will owe taxes on $350K.
The "payment" does not just include money that you pay to your spouse. If you agree to receive the farm in the settlement and in exchange your spouse will be allowed to maintain ownership of $200K in a joint bank account, that would treated by the IRS as a payment by you to your spouse. And there are other similar situations that would be treated as a payment by you subsequent to a divorce that would not be included in the basis of the property for purposes of calculating a gain.
What does that mean to you? Your tax professional or attorney needs to make an educated guess at what your future tax liability would be on any payments you make to your spouse in the settlement and include that in the negotiations.
How you plan now can make a big difference to your wallet down the road.

5 Minute Fixes

Tax season was very busy for me this year and there were times that I felt that I didn't have time to breathe. Riding was out of the question and even routine tasks such as grocery shopping and cleaning the house seemed out of reach. One day, I was sitting at my desk daydreaming about what I wish I could be doing (how much time did you waste daydreaming you may well ask!) and I thought about an email newsletter that I get on a regular basis, called the "Profitable Horseman", written by Doug Emerson. At the top, he includes the amount of seconds it's going to take to read the newsletter (always less than a minute). I ALWAYS read his newsletter because I always have at least 42 seconds to spare in my day. 42 seconds later, I have learned something and feel that I've accomplished something worthwhile.
So I applied the same principle to my problem of feeling overwhelmed. What could I do in a relatively short period of time, that wouldn't take unnecessary time out of my schedule or put me further behind and that would give me some feeling of satisfaction? Into my life came the "5 Minute Fix". I started keeping a list of things that I could accomplish in five minutes. It might not be a completed task but a portion of a task that I could accomplish in 5 minutes. Pretty soon, I was using my travel time or time in the grocery store line (I did get there eventually!) to mentally construct this list and to figure out how to break up large tasks into manageable pieces.
People with equine businesses typically spend so much time working at their business that they aren't able to spend a lot of time working on their business. There are things on your business to-do list that you KNOW you should be working on but you just don't have the time. Try the 5 Minute Fix. Here are some tasks that may be on your list that will take no more than 5 minutes to accomplish. Add whatever else is on your list. Once you get started, you'll find creative ways to make even the biggest tasks less imposing.
  1. Go to the IRS website ( and sign up for an EIN (employer identification number). If you are using your Social Security number as the tax identification number for your business, you should get an EIN to limit accessibility to your SS #.
  2. Email a client to let them know how much you enjoyed working with them today or a new contact how much you enjoyed meeting them.
  3. Post a success story/photo on Facebook. It's great advertising for your business and a morale builder for current clients or employees.
  4. Grab all your cc receipts for business expenses for this week/month and write a short description on the back of what the expense is for. This is especially true for meals and entertainment or gift expenses. If you are audited years after you incur the expense, you will probably not remember what the receipt represents and that expense could be disallowed by the IRS.
  5. Find a Youtube video that is less than 5 minutes that covers a business topic that will help your business grow - anything from using QuickBooks to Social Media marketing.
  6. Go to the website for your state Farm Bureau, Horseman's Council or Ag Dept - always a good source of information for horse businesses.
My first "fix" was to vacuum a small rug in my hallway - just the rug! No more than 5 minutes including getting the vacuum out and putting it away again. Not a huge deal in the scheme of life but it was something that I accomplished in the time that I had.
This article was mostly written in 5 minute fix fashion (which I hope doesn't dissuade from giving the idea a try).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Good clients = Good business!

If you own a business, EVERY decision you make impacts your bottom line – whether it be how many employees you have, who designs your website or where your business is located. But one of the most important factors that contribute to the success of your business is your clients. Good clients = Good business! Basically, a good client adds to the process of earning money, helping you achieve your goals and making your job enjoyable for you. So you need to be able to identify and attract good clients. If you are the client, you need to understand that time is your trainer/instructor/barn owner’s livelihood and need to be respectful of that. Make your expectations clear from the beginning and ask if the professional is agreeable to them. If you need to discuss something with the professional, schedule a time to do so. Your professional will enjoy working with you if you make it easier for them to do their job successfully.
So what makes a good client?
A good client is a person who is looking for someone with skills that you have. A hunter jumper rider looking for an instructor is not a good client for a dressage instructor. That example may be obvious but there are some situations that are less obvious but the same principle holds true. Preferences such as working with adults vs. children, amateurs vs. professionals, show competitors vs. those who prefer not to show, focus on the horse vs. the rider, etc. are all factors that need to be considered when matching your skill set to the needs of a client.
Beyond your skills, you need to ask some questions of the client to see if your method of operating is a compatible with the clients’ wishes. Does your client need someone to be proactive for them in arranging their show schedule, vet visits and other details of owning a horse or do they like to do it themselves? If you are a trainer, does your client expect a progress report after each training session or is checking in just once a week OK with them?
Are your fees well within the reach of this client? If not, you will be struggling each month to collect what is due to you or your client may be resentful toward you for charging what they consider to be “expensive” rates.
There are many more dimensions that should be considered in this matching process, depending on the services you offer. But make sure you discuss with each client at least the following subjects - expectations about price, availability, level of service and level of personal involvement.
No one can be all things to all people and especially when you are just starting your business or times are tough, you may be tempted to take on a client who you think may not be a good fit for you. Don’t do it! You will be investing your time (which in many cases = your money) in a relationship that has little chance of succeeding. You run the risk of creating bad will with the client who feels dissatisfied that they didn’t get what they expected out of the relationship. And nothing travels faster in the horse world that someone’s bad opinion.
If you are the client, you need to understand that time is your trainer/instructor/barn owner’s livelihood and need to be respectful of that. Make your expectations clear from the beginning and ask if the professional is agreeable to them. If you need to discuss something with the professional, schedule a time to do so. Your professional will enjoy working with you if you make it easier for them to do their job successfully.
So how do you attract good clients? There are lots of avenues for marketing your business but whatever you choose, be clear about who you are and what you have to offer. When meeting with a prospective client, ask all the questions you need to find out if there is a high probability of success for the relationship or whether the client needs to look elsewhere. If the match doesn’t seem like it’s made in heaven, suggest other professionals that they can contact who you know might better suit their needs. In doing so, you are building good will with that person for the future and with the professional to whom you refer them.
Good clients = Good business!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

What's too much and what's not enough?

Most people are happy to hear that they are receiving a refund on their tax returns. But when is a refund too much?

If you had unexpected expenses or had less income than you anticipated, you may receive a refund larger than expected. But if year after year, you are receiving what you would consider a "significant" refund, that's too much. By having excess income tax withheld from your paycheck or making excessive estimated payments, you are, in effect, making an interest free loan to Uncle Sam.

Some people do this intentionally. It's their method of putting money away on a regular basis. If that's your reason, ask your employer or bank if it is possible to set up periodic withdrawals from your paycheck or checking account to be transferred to a savings account or Christmas Club type account. The money will be earning interest (however minimal lately!) and will be accessible to you in case of emergency.

Speak to your Personnel Department or tax preparer and ask about increasing the number of your allowances or decreasing the amount of your estimated payments.

Conversely, when are your tax payments not enough?

If you had an unexpected windfall or your expenses were not what you anticipated, you may end up owing on your tax return. And if the amount of payments that you have made through December 31 are below a certain threshold, you may end up also owing interest and penalty. Again, if this happens infrequently, it's not a big problem. But if year after year, you are accruing interest and penalty, you need to take action. Speak to your Personnel Department or tax preparer and ask about decreasing your allowances or having an additional amount withheld or having the amount of your estimated payments increased.

If your current year payments reach the safe haven threshold compared to your prior year tax liability (that is how much tax was due in total over the course of the year, NOT how much was due with your return), in most cases, you will not incur any penalty or interest on your tax due. Safe haven thresholds vary with your level of income so consult your tax preparer for specific information.

Remember that income taxes are on a pay-as-you-go system. If you won the lottery in January, you can't wait until December to pay taxes on your winnings. If you do, you could owe interest and penalty on that income.

The rules for paying estimated taxes are different for farmers and fishermen than for most businesses so be sure to take those into account.

 What could you do what the extra money that you are loaning to Uncle Sam or that you are paying in interest and penalty?

Tax credit vs Tax deduction...

What's a tax credit? What's a tax deduction? Which is "better"?

Simply, a tax deduction reduces your taxable income. A tax credit reduces your tax liability. Let's use a simple example to see the effect of each. In our example, your total income for the year is $80,000. That includes, but isn't limited to, income such as wages, interest and dividends, business income, capital gains and pensions. You are then allowed to take a standard deduction (the amount is determined by your filing status - single, married filing jointly, etc) or itemize your deductions. Common itemized deductions include mortgage interest, charitable contributions and real estate taxes. In our example, your itemized deductions are $12,000. You are then allowed another deduction, in this case called an exemption - also based on your filing status and your tax is calculated based on all of these adjustments.

Total income: $80,000
Itemized Deductions: (12,000)
Subtotal: 68,000
Exemption: ( 3,700)
Taxable Income: 64,300

Using a sample tax rate of 20%, your tax liability would be $12860.

But instead of $12,000,what if your itemized deductions were $15,000? In that case, $80,000 - $15,000 - $3,700 (exemption) = $61,300 taxable income and at 20%, your tax would now be $12260. That additional $3,000 in itemized deductions saved you $600 on your taxes. So a tax deductions reduces your taxable income, which is the basis for calculating what you owe.

A tax credit reduces the tax itself. So in our example of a tax liability of $12860, if you had a tax credit of $500, you would then owe $12360. Common tax credits include the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit.

The reason that I've dragged you kicking and screaming through this process is because I want you to understand that large tax deductions don't translate into equally large decreases in your taxes. So if you are considering making a large charitable contribution, have your tax preparer crunch the numbers so that you know what effect this will have on your tax liability. This is especially important if you are considering the decision between donating your horse and selling it at a price well below the appraised value.

Before you make any big decisions about discretionary actions that will effect your taxes, be sure to consult with your tax preparer. It's part of their job to help you make the best choices based on your particular circumstances.

Tax Tips for the Self Employed

This is taken from the IRS website and provides answers to questions that I'm asked on a routine basis. My only addition would be that in #3, many of you may be eligible to file a Schedule F for farmers, rather than a Schedule C.

IRS Tax Tip 2012-16, January 25, 2012

There are many benefits that come from being your own boss. If you work for yourself, as an independent contractor, or you carry on a trade or business as a sole proprietor, you are generally considered to be self-employed.

Here are six key points the IRS would like you to know about self-employment and self- employment taxes:

1.Self-employment can include work in addition to your regular full-time business activities, such as part-time work you do at home or in addition to your regular job.

2.If you are self-employed you generally have to pay self-employment tax as well as income tax. Self-employment tax is a Social Security and Medicare tax primarily for individuals who work for themselves. It is similar to the Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from the pay of most wage earners. You figure self-employment tax using a Form 1040 Schedule SE. Also, you can deduct half of your self-employment tax in figuring your adjusted gross income.

3.You file an IRS Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, or C-EZ, Net Profit from Business, with your Form 1040.

4.If you are self-employed you may have to make estimated tax payments. This applies even if you also have a full-time or part-time job and your employer withholds taxes from your wages. Estimated tax is the method used to pay tax on income that is not subject to withholding. If you fail to make quarterly payments you may be penalized for underpayment at the end of the tax year.

5.You can deduct the costs of running your business. These costs are known as business expenses. These are costs you do not have to capitalize or include in the cost of goods sold but can deduct in the current year.

6.To be deductible, a business expense must be both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your field of business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your business. An expense does not have to be indispensable to be considered necessary.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Year End Checklist

1. Get together all of your receipts. Organize them by type of expense - feed and grain, farrier, etc. Compare them against your checking and credit card accounts to make sure that you haven't missed any deductible expenses.
2. Balance your checkbook. There might be checks or deposits that cleared the bank that you have omitted from your checkbook.
3. Are there any customers that owe you money at year end? How old are the balances? Are they still collectible? Contact the customer and remind them of any overdue balances. Negotiate for partial or periodic payments if possible.
4. If you purchased anything using a loan, be sure to include the basic loan information in the documents you give to your tax preparer.
5. Are there any bills that you owe that aren't recorded?
6. When you have your preliminary financials ready, compare them to 2010 for reasonableness. Do they make sense, knowing what you know about your business?
7. Have there been any major changes to your life in 2011 - gotten married, had a baby, lost a job? Will there be any major changes for you in 2012? Be sure to share that information with your tax preparer.
8. Make a list now of topics that you want to discuss when you speak with your tax preparer - retirement planning, funds for your child's education, paying off your mortgage, etc.

Preparing your return is something you have to have done every year. Use it as an opportunity to know and grow your business. During the year, you are "in the trenches" day after day. But getting ready for your tax return gives you a chance to step back and give your business a more objective, global examination. Maybe you'll need to make changes, maybe things are great as is. But by taking a long, hard look, you'll know.