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Monthly Archives: November 2018

2018 Tax Changes: Frequently Asked Questions

 

As we move closer to the tax filing season, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has raised many questions in regards to tax preparation for Milwaukee taxpayers. Below are answers to some of them.

Do I need to adjust my withholding allowances, given that tax brackets have changed?

You may notice a change in your net paycheck as a result of the tax law, which alters tax rates, brackets, and other items that affect how much tax is withheld from your pay. The IRS has already issued new withholding tables, and your employer should adjust its withholding without requiring any action on your part. But you may want to take the opportunity to make sure you are claiming the appropriate number of withholding allowances by filling out IRS Form W-4. This form is used to determine your withholding based on your filing status and other information. The IRS suggests that you consider completing a new Form W-4 each year and when your personal or financial situation changes.

Can I take advantage of the new deduction for pass-through business income?

The new rules for owners of pass-through entities — partnerships, limited liability companies, S corporations, and sole proprietorships — allow them to deduct 20% of their business pass-through income. The 20% deduction is available to owners of almost any type of trade or business whose taxable income does not exceed $315,000 (joint return) or $157,500 (other returns). Above those amounts, the deduction is subject to certain limitations based on business assets and wages. Different deduction restrictions apply to individuals in specified service businesses (e.g., law, medicine, and accounting).

Can I still deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes paid on a second home?

Yes, but the new rules limit these deductions. The deduction for total mortgage interest is limited to the amount paid on underlying debt of up to $750,000 ($375,000 for married individuals filing separately). Previously, the limit was $1 million. Note that the new restriction will not apply to taxpayers with home acquisition debt incurred on or before December 15, 2017. Additionally, the deduction for interest on home equity loans (new and existing) is suspended and will not be available for tax years 2018-2025.

Note that the law also establishes a $10,000 limit on the combined total deduction for state and local income (or sales) taxes, real estate taxes, and personal property taxes. As a result, your ability to deduct real estate taxes may be limited.

Are there any changes to capital gains rates and rules that I should know about?

The rules concerning how capital gains are determined and taxed remain essentially unchanged. But since short-term gains (for assets held one year or less) are taxed as ordinary income, they will be taxed at the new ordinary income rates and brackets. Net long-term gains will still be taxed at rates of 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your taxable income. And the 3.8% net investment income tax that applies to certain high earners will still apply for both types of capital gains.

2018 Long-Term Capital Gains Breakpoints

Rate Single Filers Joint Filers Head of Household Married Filing Separately
0% Below $38,600 Below $77,200 Below $51,700 Below $38,600
15% $38,600-$425,799 $77,200-$478,999 $51,700-$452,399 $38,600-$239,499
20% $425,800 and above $479,000 and above $452,400 and above $239,500 and above

Can I still deduct my student loan interest?

Yes. Although some earlier versions of the tax bill disallowed the deduction, the final law left it intact. That means that student loan borrowers will still be able to deduct up to $2,500 of the interest they paid during the year on a qualified student loan. The deduction is gradually reduced and eventually eliminated when modified adjusted gross income reaches $80,000 for those whose filing status is single or head of household, and over $165,000 for those filing a joint return.

I have a large family and formerly got to take an exemption for each member. Is there anything in the new law that compensates for the loss of these exemptions?

The new law suspends exemptions for you, your spouse, and dependents. In 2017, each full exemption translated into a $4,050 deduction from taxable income which, for large families, added up. Compensating for this loss, the new law almost doubles the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers. Additionally, the child tax credit is doubled to $2,000 per child, and the income levels at which the credit phases out are significantly increased. Depending on your situation, these new provisions could potentially offset the suspension of personal exemptions.

I have been gifting friends and relatives $14,000 per year to reduce my taxable estate. Can I still do this?

Yes, you may still make an annual gift of up to $15,000 in 2018 (increased from $14,000 in 2017) to as many people as you want without triggering gift tax reporting or using any of your federal estate and gift tax exemption. But TCJA also doubles the exemption to an estimated $11.2 million ($22.4 million for married couples) in 2018. So anyone who anticipates having a taxable estate lower than these thresholds may be able to gift above the annual $15,000 per-recipient limit and ultimately not incur any federal estate or gift tax. Note, however, that the higher exemption amount and many of TCJA’s other changes to personal taxes are scheduled to expire after 2025, unless Congress acts to extend them.

This communication is not intended to be tax advice and should not be treated as such. Each individual’s tax circumstances are different. You should contact your tax professional to discuss your personal situation.

Take Advantage of Your Financial Statements

finanicial-statements

Financial statement information is most useful if owners and managers can use it to improve their company’s profitability, cash flow, and value. Getting the most mileage from financial statement data requires some analysis. It is important that business owners understand what their financial statement actually means.

Ratio analysis looks at the relationships between key numbers on a company’s financial statements. After the ratios are calculated, they can be compared to industry standards — and the company’s past results, projections, and goals — to highlight trends and identify strengths and weaknesses.

The hypothetical situations that follow illustrate how ratio analysis can give company decision-makers valuable feedback.

Rising Sales, Rising Profits?

The recent increases in Company A’s sales figures have been impressive. But the owners aren’t certain that the additional revenues are being translated into profits. Net profit margin measures the proportion of each sales dollar that represents a profit after taking into account all expenses. If Company A’s margins aren’t holding up during growth periods, a hard look at overhead expenses may be in order.

Getting Paid

Company B extends credit to the majority of its customers. The firm keeps a close watch on outstanding accounts so that slow payers can be contacted. From a broader perspective, knowing the company’s average collection period would be useful. In general, the faster Company B can collect money from its customers, the better its cash flow will be. But Company B’s management should also be aware that if credit and collection policies are too restrictive, potential customers may decide to take their business elsewhere.

Inventory Management

Company C has several product lines. Inventory turnover measures the speed at which inventories are sold. A slow turnover ratio relative to industry standards may indicate that stock levels are excessive. The excess money tied up in inventories could be used for other purposes. Or it could be that inventories simply aren’t moving, and that could lead to cash problems. In contrast, a high turnover ratio is usually a good sign — unless quantities aren’t sufficient to fulfill customer orders in a timely way.

These are just examples of ratios that may be meaningful. Once key ratios are identified, they can be tracked on a regular basis.

Milwaukee small business accounting specialist, Hammernik & Associates, helps small business owners in Wisconsin understand their financial statements to maintain profitability and reduce tax burdens. Please contact our office to let us review your prior financial statements to make sure you are on the right track.

7 Best Practices for QuickBooks Online

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Even if you’ve been using QuickBooks Online for a long time, it’s good to step back and evaluate your actions.

Milwaukee small businesses have many different ways in which they keep track of their accounting. It typically depends on how the business owner prefers to operate. QuickBooks Online is the present and the future of bookkeeping. It allows a business owner to track their financial statements in real time, while also giving their accountant access to reconcile everything.

“Best practices” aren’t enforceable rules. They’re simply guidelines businesses commonly follow in one area or another. If you’re in retail, for example, one best practice might be to always ask customers checking out if they found everything they were looking for. This serves two purposes: It conveys a feeling of concern for the customer’s shopping experience, and it may also lead to increased sales.

QuickBooks Online has many best practices, some of which may serve multiple purposes, including these:

    • They keep your company data safe and clean.
    • They provide insight on your financial status.
    • They save time.
    • They can lead you to better relationships with customers and vendors.

Are any or all the following common practices for your business?

Reconcile accounts regularly.

One of QuickBooks Online’s most useful features is its ability to connect to your financial institution’s websites and download cleared transactions. QuickBooks Online also offers tools to help you keep your accounts reconciled online, like you used to do every month when your paper statement came. Reconciling accounts can help you uncover errors. It gives you a truer picture of your cash flow, and it improves the accuracy and timeliness of some reports.

It’s not a particularly pleasant process, but you should be reconciling your accounts regularly in QuickBooks Online. We can help.

Clean up your lists.

Some lists in QuickBooks Online aren’t overly long. You don’t have to worry about, for example, Payment Methods, Terms, or Classes. Your lists of customers and vendors, products, and services, on the other hand, can grow unwieldy over the years. This means it can take more time than it should to scroll through lists when you’re using those entities in transactions. It also puts unnecessary stress on your company file. If you can’t delete any, at least make them inactive.

Never leave QuickBooks Online open when you leave your work area.

This goes for everyone, even people who work alone and don’t access their company files away from their work areas. The obvious reason is to keep someone else from getting in and authorizing payments, for example, or otherwise compromising your financial information. It also protects the integrity of your data file in case your internet connection suffers some kind of outage.

Keep track of 1099 vendors.

Whether your company uses 10 vendors or a hundred or more, you may have to supply at least some of them with an IRS Form 1099 at about the same time you’re preparing W-2s for employees. Your 1099-related tasks will be much easier if those individuals and/or companies are earmarked. If you think vendors might need 1099s when you create their records in QuickBooks Online, click in the box to the left of Track payments for 1099 in the lower right corner. Not sure? Ask us.

Classify everything with care.

Every time you have to create a record or transaction where categories are involved (i.e., Classes, Customers and Vendors, Territories), check and double-check that you’ve assigned them the correct classification. Errors here can result not only in problems with daily workflow, but your reports will not be accurate. A related best practice: Create a meaningful group of Classes, and use them faithfully. They’ll help you make better business decisions.

To create your list of Classes, click the gear icon in the upper right and select All Lists | Classes | New.

View reports on a regular basis.

There are some advanced financial reports in QuickBooks Online that we should be creating for you on a regular basis, either monthly or quarterly. These include Profit and Loss, Balance Sheet, and Statement of Cash Flows. The mechanics of creating them aren’t difficult, but analyzing them is. You should be running reports on your own at frequencies that you think would be helpful, like A/R Aging Detail, Unpaid Bills, and Sales by Class Detail.

If you’ve been using QuickBooks Online for a while, you could probably come up with your own list of best practices. If you’re new to the site, consider scheduling some time with us to go over more of them. Develop good habits from the start, and there won’t be nearly as much need for troubleshooting down the road.

Hammernik & Associates has a certified QuickBooks Pro Adviser on staff to help you keep your QuickBooks accurate and compliant. We also are able to get subscriptions at a discounted wholesale rate. Please contact our office if you need help cleaning up your QuickBooks or if you are interested in converting to QuickBooks. Milwaukee small business accounting and QuickBooks Online go hand in hand.