If there's one thing harder than filling in every last box on every last form to complete your taxes error-free, it's keeping up with changes in the tax laws. With a million and one things to do every day, how can you stay abreast of tax news that affects your business' coffers?
We've asked KPMG partner Becky Younger to help you sort through some of the changes that will affect your 2000 taxes, as well as how you can stay current with new changes in the coming years.
Entrepreneur.com: How can small-business owners best keep up with tax law changes? Is this something they should rely on their tax professional for?
Becky Younger: Many significant tax law changes are covered in newspapers and business publications. I think anyone in business should have a regular source of news-like the Wall Street Journal and their local newspaper-which includes some tax news. The tax authorities communicate changes that affect how and when certain forms have to be filed and taxes paid. I'd advise business owners to carefully read any correspondence they receive directly from a tax authority. I do think that a tax advisor, when properly engaged, should communicate changes that provide deduction opportunities for their clients or have a significant impact on the tax liability of the company and/or the owners.
Entrepreneur.com: Many business owners are now doing their own taxes using tax software. Is this advisable?
Younger: It depends on the complexity of the business and the sophistication of the owner in the area of taxes. Also, it depends on how much time the business owner wants to devote to this project. The cost of having a tax return prepared professionally may be small compared to the opportunity cost of having your attention diverted to understanding the tax laws.
Entrepreneur.com: Is a tax professional who would advise a business owner different from a CPA? How often does a business owner need to be in contact with his or her tax professional?
Younger: Many "accountants" are capable of providing good tax advice. Many are not. It depends on their backgrounds and level of interest in the subject. So it's important for small-business owners to choose their advisors carefully. Get references, meet with them more than once, ask hard questions. Unless the accountant's sole responsibility is to maintain books and records, they should be a Certified Public Accountant with a current license to practice in the state where the main office of the entrepreneur's business is located. Once chosen, the advisor should be in contact on an "as needed" basis. If the business is profitable, the owner should get input at least quarterly about making estimated payments for income taxes. Informal meetings are also helpful to keep the advisor aware of current developments in the business owner's company and the owner's objectives. The advisor should be contacted immediately if any significant transaction is being considered.
Entrepreneur.com: How does the repeal of the Installment Method Accounting change affect small businesses?
Younger: Accrual basis taxpayers were restricted from using the installment method based on a change in the law that was originally effective for transactions after December 16, 1999. At the end of December, that change was repealed retroactively, so that accrual method taxpayers may use the installment method for transactions that would have qualified under prior law. Small-business owners who were contemplating making sales, but were concerned about having the cash to pay taxes on the full amount of the gain without receiving all the cash proceeds, may want to reconsider those transactions. If a sale occurred and either: 1) the installment method wasn't used to report the taxable gain in a tax return that has already been filed, or 2) the installment method wasn't used when calculating the amount of estimated payments to make, the returns should be amended and future estimated payments adjusted to reflect any benefit of the installment sale rules. If using the installment method would create a negative result, it may be advisable to not use that method.
Entrepreneur.com: Are there any new deduction changes that small-business owners should be aware of?
Younger: The calculation of tax benefits associated with making foreign sales has changed significantly. The standard mileage rate has moved from 31 cents for 1999 to 32.5 cents for 2000. Although there were interesting legislative changes proposed last year, not much was actually passed.