Tax Season Sale on Bookkeeping Workshops

Hilliard Management, the company that runs the awesome small business bookkeeping and Quickbooks workshops I’ve taken is offering them at a discount during tax season.  Normally $179 for a six-hour industry-specific class, the workshops are just $99 until April 15th.  I’m a little annoyed I wasn’t privy to these prices when I took my workshop a couple of weeks ago but at least you can benefit from my bad timing.

Do I Need an Accountant?

Maybe TurboTax isn’t as easy as it looked.  Maybe you’re seduced by H&R Block’s claims that they save the average tax payer $1800.  Maybe you just don’t know how categorize that shoebox of receipts you keep under your desk, but chances are, you’ve wondered whether you should hire professional help.

This tax season I bit the bullet and hired an accountant.  I hired a guy who is both an accountant and a lawyer, and I figured that he would know enough loopholes and secret deductions to more than make up for his $375 price tag (for comparison purposes, H&R Block charges about $300 in San Francisco).  That did not turn out to be the case, but I’m still glad I hired him.

It turns out, partially due to the research I’ve done for this blog, that I would have paid the right amount of taxes had I filed them myself.  This meant, however, that I did not have a lot to explain to my accountant during our one-hour session and got to spend most of my time asking questions and receiving advice.  Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Unless you run a business that is really open to litigation, you may want to think twice before changing your sole proprietorship to an LLC.  LLCs require a lot of paperwork and things like officers and meetings.  Also, in California, the annual filing fee is $800, which is a lot more than your typical liability insurance premiums, so you’re better off just getting insured.
  • Watch your inventory.  You can only deduct the cost of inventory you sold last year, not all the inventory you bought.
  • Always look out for standard deductions (like 48.5 cents/mile for car costs) and compare them to your itemized deductions.  Very often one will be much higher than the other.
  • If you use bookkeeping software like QuickBooks (which works great with TurboTax), file your taxes according to cash accounting reports, not accrual accounting reports.
  • Gifts under $12,000 are always tax free for the recipient, so that birthday check from Grandma is not taxable income.
  • You can’t deduct your home office if your self-employment income does not exceed your expenses, but the deductions keep carrying over from year to year until you post a profit, so keep track of them as they pile up.

In the end, the knowledge I gained from my meeting was well worth the expense.  I am new to self-employment, and I liked having the peace of mind that I had prepared things correctly. Since next year will be my first year of inventory, I will probably hire my accountant one more time.  In my third year of business, however, I am aiming to strike out on my own and file my taxes by myself.

Business Credit Cards

When I signed up for my WaMu business credit card, I regretted it. It’s got a pretty high interest rate and gives me no rewards of any kind. I just signed up for it because I was already at the bank and my accounting seminar instructor said it’s much easier to keep track of your finances with a credit card than with a debit card (this is true — especially if you use Quickbooks).

This week I got an offer in the mail from Citibank, so I figured it was time to switch. They wanted me to apply for their CitiBusiness Card with Thank You Network. It seemed like a pretty good deal. When you wade through the point nonsense, you essentially get 3% back on “qualified business purchases,” which they define as “purchases at certain office supply merchants, and on professional services,” and 1% on everything else you buy. You can also transfer your balance from another credit card and get 0% APR on it until May. Still, I thought I might be able to do better.

I did most of my research at CreditCards.com. This site is basically just a list of rewards cards. They don’t provide much specific information about any of them. For that you need to visit the card provider’s web site and read the terms and conditions. You really need to read the fine print carefully, because there is some weird stuff in there. For example, I got pretty excited about the Chase Business Cash Rewards Card, because it advertises in HUGE type that you can get 5% cash back with every business purchase. When you read the fine print, however, you discover that this only happens when you spend exactly between $2,000 and $2,500 every month. This is clearly a rule that was written just to screw the undiscerning applicant, since there is no logical reason whatsoever to encourage people to spend within that precise $500 range. The American Express Blue card has similar bizarre restrictions.

Other hidden rules have to with sliding rewards scales.  You can theoretically earn 3-5% cash back on lots of cards, but if you spend, say, less than $1,500 a month, you’ll only get 0.25% back. This makes more sense from a business perspective (after all, the more you borrow, the more interest you might have to pay), but it’s still kind of sleazy.

In the end, it came down to the CitiBusiness Visa and the Amex SimplyCash.  The CitiBusiness Visa was tempting because of the huge signing bonus (10,000 frequent flyer miles when you first enter the site, 15,000 when you’re trying to leave it), but Citibank web sites are extremely slow and unreliable on my computer.  I’ve also heard some not nice things about Citicorp as a company.  So I went with the Amex, because the rewards were simple, high (5% on business purchases, 1% on everything else), and never expire.  As an added bonus, Amex will also give you discounts at lots of major companies through their “Open” business network, like Delta, Hertz and FedEx Kinkos.  The discounts average 3-5% and it’s automatically deducted from your credit card statement, so you don’t have to remember to show or mention anything at checkout.

If I were just starting out, I might sign up for both cards, since some retailers don’t accept American Express.  I’m just going to keep my WaMu business Visa for now, though.  It may not give me any rewards or cash back, but it has an awesome online module to track my credit profile (including free FICO score tracking!).  WaMu websites are the best in banking, in my opinion.  They’re simple, fast and provide all of the information I need in a format that makes sense.