Sunday, November 21, 2010

Have you prepared your 2010 taxes yet?

Even though there is more than a month left in 2010 and tax deadlines are well in the future, it is not too soon to get started cleaning up your books and preparing to file your taxes. Getting started now can help you by reducing the amount that you spend on bookkeeping, accounting, and tax services, and it could reduce the size of your tax bill. If you begin reviewing your tax situation now, you will also have some time for last minute tax planning for 2010.

Getting started
The first thing you need to do is to get your books in order. Whether you have a full-time bookkeeper or simply save everything in a shoebox for your CPA, a little organizing can go a long way. If you need more guidance than this brief article provides, contact your bookkeeper or CPA. They will be happy to tell you how to improve the way you organize your records. What you pay for an hour or two of consulting will be more than offset by the money that you can save by being organized. Your CPA or bookkeeper might even provide the consultation for free. You may even decide that working more closely with your professional accountant will give you more time to spend on the rest of your business.

Separate business and personal
Make sure that your personal and business lives are separate. This seems obvious, but every year small business owners or employees with unreimbursed expenses turn over business records comingled with personal records. It may be too late for 2010, however you should make sure that you have different bank accounts and credit cards for your business and personal lives. You may not need special business accounts, but you should make certain that they are separate.

Get your books in order
There are a couple of important parts to this step. The first step is to organize your records the way that CPAs and bookkeepers do. Figure out all of your sources of income and group them into logical categories. Then organize all of your expense. Business owners tend to focus on expenses because they worry about cash flow. However most people used to working with money are accustomed to seeing revenue, then expense, then net income. It is not a bad idea for you to think in that order also. If you think about it, the success of your business depends on money coming in the door, not just your ability to control expenses. Income and expense groupings are not just for business. If you organize your personal records this way, you will find your personal record keeping easier. An added bonus to organizing your records this way is that bankers also expect to see your financial statements in this order. If you ever need to complete a credit application, it will be easier for you to find the information that you need.

Once you have grouped your records into the two large categories of income and expense, further categorize the records by type. How you do this will depend on the type of business you own. If you have W-2 income then keep that apart from business income. You will want to group business income by whether it was for services or goods. A quick note about employee business expenses is in order at this point. If you are organizing your records because you have employee business expenses, you will want to sort out any payments that you received for expenses by whether they were taxable or nontaxable. Your employer should be able to tell you this.

After you have categorized your income, do the same with your expenses. If you already have a bookkeeping system with a set of accounts, then simply use those accounts. This is a good time to review your chart of accounts for completeness and accuracy. If you do not already have a way to categorize your expenses, take a look at your previous tax returns and see how your CPA divided up your expenses. Your CPA may even have a tax organizer that you can use. Depending on the arrangement that you have with your bookkeeper of CPA, this process could be as simple as organizing your receipts and statements, or it could include entering the expenses into your bookkeeping system. If all of this is getting unwieldy for you, then this is a good time to talk to your CPA or bookkeeper about how they can help you manage your books.

What about records that you do not yet have?
You will not receive some statements or reports until the end of the year or even until January or February. No problem. Set up folders for the statements or reports that you expect to receive later. Then when you receive them, simply add them to the appropriate folder.

How this helps
This may seem like a lot of work that could just as easily wait until later. However, by beginning now, you will be more likely to have everything you need later when you take your files to your CPA. In addition, having complete and well organized records makes your CPA’s task easier so that he or she can work faster. That will save you money. In addition, complete and well organized records will make it less likely that your CPA will miss something, and in the event that your return is selected to be audited, good documentation will make the audit much easier for you.

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