Am I Personally Protected if my Business is Incorporated?

             One of the main advantages to incorporation of your business is that you can protect your personal assets from business creditors.  This protection however, is not absolute. Here are a few additional tips to about what you can do to protect your personal assets:


  1. Sign All Bills and Contracts as the Business Owner.  Too often business owners get in the habit of just signing their name to contracts, bills and other legal documents.  They assume that because the contract is with the business this means they are protected.  This is not necessarily the case.  There have been situations where the Courts have allowed a creditor to sue the owner personally when the owner signed the agreement without making it clear they were signing in their capacity as the business owner.  For this reason I tell all my clients to 1) make sure the contract clearly states it is with your business and not you and 2) get in the habit of adding your corporate title right after your name (i.e. President, Manager, etc.).
  2. Avoid Signing Personal Guarantees.    Often contracts have a provision in the body of the contract or at the end of the contract that is called a “personal guarantee.” If you sign a contract with this provision you have agreed that you will be personally liable for the debt.  For this reason it is very important to read what you are signing BEFORE you sign it.  Many times the other party will agree to delete that provision from the contract if they want to do business with you badly enough.
  3. Keep Your Business Assets and Accounts Separate From Your Personal Accounts.  Courts will only treat a corporation as a separate entity if you yourself treat it like one.  You need to keep your books and bank accounts separate.  If you use your company bank account to buy your groceries and pay your personal bills and your company is sued, there is chance the Court could “pierce the corporate veil” and allow the person suing you to reach your personal assets.  The same is true if you use your corporation to commit a fraud.  The moral of the story is to keep separate books and make sure you use your corporate debit and credit card for true corporate expenses.

Kimberley Baer, Baer Law Office, 3835 University Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa (515)279-2000.  www.baerlawoffice.com

Introducing Michelle Swanson with InFocus

I’m happy to introduce Michelle Swanson as our guest blogger and hopefully future full-time blogger of human resource topics with the business Warriors.  Michelle is originally from Des Moines. After graduating form University of Iowa, she joined Hewitt & Associates in Chicago as a Business Analyst.  Now with InFocus Partners, she provides services in the following areas:  payroll, Employee Benefits and Human Resources Administration.  The goal is to let businesses focus on their business while leaving the back office HR details to her and the InFocus team. 

Michelle strives to grow professionally, earning the Distinguished Toastmasters Award in 2009 and graduating from the West Des Moines Leadership Academy in 2011. 

We welcome your questions and feedback to her blog.  WELCOME, Michelle!
Posted by 
Mary Anne Kennedy
Primary Source, Inc.
and The Business Warriors Promotional Products / Marketing Contributor      

Tax Strategies to Help Your Business

As you recall, last month I shared several tips to help you with your personal year-end tax planning, which I hope you found helpful.  This month, I want to discuss smart tax planning strategies for your business.  Following are a few tax tips to consider before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st.

Retirement plans for your business – Employer contributions to retirement plans are deductible from the employer’s income, employee contributions are not taxed until distributed to the employee (for plans other than Roths) and investments in the program grow tax-free or tax-deferred.  Further, the tax law offers a small incentive of a $500-per-year tax credit for the first three years of a new SEP, SIMPLE or other retirement plan to cover the initial setup expenses.  It’s a win-win for all!

Depreciation – Certain enhancements to business depreciation provisions are scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2011, although President Obama has proposed an extension through 2012.


  • Section 179 – A $500,000 expensing election limit applies to qualifying property purchased and placed in service during 2011.  As a result, many businesses will receive an immediate tax write-off for the cost of most new and used tangible personal property.  Unless Congress acts to further extend the higher limit, it will drop to about $134,000 in 2012.
  • Bonus depreciation – Property that does not qualify for an immediate tax write-offunder the expensing election may qualify for an increased first-year depreciation deduction under bonus depreciation rules.  Unlike the Section 179 deduction, there are no restrictions on the amount of qualifying property and there is no taxable income limit.  The deduction is 100 percent of the cost for new property purchased and placed in service during 2011.  Unless Congress acts to extend the bonus depreciation (now proposed by the President), it will not be available for 2012.
Health insurance tax credit – To encourage smaller businesses to offer medical insurance coverage for their employees, the law offers a tax credit to offset all or part of the cost.  If your business qualifies as a small employer, meaning fewer than 25 employees and average annual wages of less than $50,000, you are eligible for a credit of up to 35 percent of non-elective contributions you make on behalf of your employees for medical insurance premiums.

Credit for hiring new employees – Businesses that hire workers who are members of certain target groups, such as disabled veterans, food stamp recipients and ex-felons, can claim a credit of up to 40 percent of the first $6,000 of wages paid to each such employee.

Losses from pass-through entities – If you are an owner of a pass-through business entity (e.g. LLC, S Corporation or Partnership), and the business will incur a loss in 2011, make sure you take advantage of that loss on your personal tax return.

Paying corporate dividends – Did you know profits of traditional C Corporations are taxed twice: once when earned by the corporation and again when distributed as a dividend to the shareholders?  Many have seen the current 15 percent tax reate on qualified dividends as an opportunity to pay out accumulated earnings at relatively low tax rates.  It is likely that the tax rate on dividends will increase in the future, so you may wish to proactively distribute profits to lock in the current 15 percent rate.

Research and development tax credit – Many business owners in nearly every industry are unaware that federal and state research and development (R&D) tax credit programs exist that may reward their day-to-day efforts aimed at producing an improved product.  This credit is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2011.

Because this list is certainly not all-inclusive regarding year-end tax planning tips for your business, I invite you to give me a call today to schedule a meeting to help minimize your tax liability.  The clock is ticking and soon we will be saying goodbye to 2011 and hello to 2012.


Kathi Koenig, CPA
Partner – McGowen, Hurst, Clark & Smith, P.C.

Going into the New Year with Momentum

Where did your bookkeeping needs fall through the cracks this year? Did you work on it monthly, quarterly, not-at-all?

As with anything the first step is admitting it, right! Easier said than done, so let’s see if any of these scenarios ring true with you, and if so, then you are taking the first step.
    



  • Do you know enough to know that you don’t know anything about doing accounting?    



  • Do you know that your time is best utilized selling your product or providing your service instead of doing bookkeeping?

 



  • Do you know how, but have no time to even consider scheduling time to work on accounting regularly?

 



  • Do you know how  to do your bookkeeping, but you don’t schedule appropriate time to work on it, so it never gets done?

 



So if you answered YES to any of those questions, you admit it! Bookkeeping doesn’t make it to the top of your list. We all have some pitfalls and if bookkeeping isn’t your thing, you aren’t alone. 

The second step is figuring out what to do about it. While admitting it can be difficult, trying to determine how to handle the results, can be even more complex and stressful. Allowing and trusting someone else to handle the bookkeeping can be the hardest thing to do. But it doesn’t have to be. In taking this step, the impact on your business growth next year can be dramatic. You will free-up time to do what you got into business to do, sell your product or provide your service to your customers and clients.  Most people don’t get into business to do bookkeeping
There are many options available determing the right path for your needs.

Making a plan today to discuss your bookkeeping struggles or areas of concern, will take you into the year 2012 with momentum. By implementing processes now, you have time to work-out the details. When 2012 arrives, you will have a big load off your to-do list and will be on the road to greater success.

Looking for assistance with bookkeeping, you can look locally to find someone that will work with your needs. 

Here are three questions that need answer.
    1. What do you want to focus on?
    2. What degree does your business need someone to be involved in the books?
    3. What is your budget?


I work closely with my clients. Together we customize a solution to maximize the benefits. 

Contact me today for moving into the New Year with momentum!

Tammy Stifel
Owner of  Organizerforu

Bookkeeping and Processing Organizing
Small Businesses and Individuals



Year End Flex/HSA Spending

It’s December…. do you know what your Flexible Spending Account balance is that you budgeted last January?  What if you have a Health Savings Account?  Which do I HAVE TO spend?

A Flexible Medical Spending Account is typically handled through an employer benefits plan.  An employee will ‘budget’ an annual amount that is taken divided per pay period, pre-tax, during the year to pay mainly for medical expenses within the health plan (deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, prescription drug, etc…), vision expenses (glasses, contacts, supplies and exams) and dental expenses (routine visits and all the stuff we shudder to goto the dentist for).  If there is any money left in the Flexible Spending Account at the end of the year, the employee ‘loses’ it back to the employer.  So how do we spend it at the end of the year?




  • Pre-pay Orthodontia care that you may have a payment plan for a child.
  • Purchase contacts, supplies or a new pair of glasses
  • Schedule routine Dental visits during kids’ breaks from school.
  • Over the Counter (OTC) medications were ruled ineligible in January 2011.  You can, however, contact your Doctor to write a prescription for cold medication, aspirin, etc… and take it to the pharmacy.  The key is if your Doctor will do that for OTC medication
  • Weight loss programs are deductible if a doctor writes a script with a specific condition listed for treatment.
  • Want to stop smoking?  Cessation plans (patches, etc… ) are eligible along with the Rx medications.
  • Been wanting Lasik surgery?  It’s not covered under the medical plan – considered cosmetic, but it IS allowable to be paid through Flex and Health Savings Accounts.



Find more detailed information at the IRS website for Flexible Spending Accounts at http://www.irs.gov/irs/article/0,,id=227301,00.html

Health Savings Accounts have the same rules on what is allowable, however does NOT have the ‘use it or lose it’ clause.  See rules for HSAs at www.hsaed.com

Janis Van Ahn, owner Health Insurance Advisor, LLC an independent agent specializing in Individual/Family Health Insurance, Medicare Coverage and Small Employer Group Benefits.
jvanahn@heartland-insgroup.com

Looking for Ways to Motivate Employees? Five Categories…

Thank you to Mary Anne Kennedy for inviting me to blog for The Business Warriors!  My work at InFocus partners in helping to drive small businesses decisions and maintain momentum.
Human Resources is a big part of that so I want to highlight points made by John Amato, who says there are Five Basic Ways to Keep Employees Motivated.  He suggests the following five categories:
1. Flexibility
2. Food
3. Acknowledgement
4. The Healthy Approach
5. The Environment

To dig deeper, here’s a a summary of each point….
–  Point One highlights the value of time and how creative programs with flex time can increase the value an employee feels in a company.  This is a great way to establish additional benefits to an employee benefits package.
 – Point two indicates employees like onsite and healthy food options at work.  Also, when companies are able to do so, some form of free snacks and/or beverages makes employees feel
appreciated.
 – Point three illustrates a phrase John Amato mentions very clearly. 
Random Acts of Kindness make a huge difference!  Typically rewards can be gift cards or paid time off, but simple words of encouragement and thanks will increase employee morale, contribution to the team and motivation for continued great work.
 – Point four discusses the significance of employers who encourage healthy lifestyles with their staff.  Offering discounts on gym memberships or possible flex-time for employees to use a gym or workout facility is a great bonus.  This helps create a balanced approach to work and life.
 – Finally, point five suggests increasing awareness of the workplace environment and its affect each day.  Not only the physical surroundings, but the social environment.  That is, employees are motivated more in transparent, open and honest organizations. 
As a result, creativity and productivity increase!

Do you have specific human resource or payroll administration questions? Please pose them to me and watch for the monthly blog topic!  If you’d like to concentrate more on your business and less time on the administration of payroll, employee benefits and HR, contact the experts at InFocus Partners!
Michelle Swanson   MSwanson@infocus-partners.com
Infocus Partners 

2012 is coming soon. Are you ready?

Ok, in case you haven’t really looked at the calendar and fully absorbed what date it is, let me tell you it is NOVEMBER! Not quite as stressful or shocking as those that say the world is coming to an end (why would someone even try to predict that?) but still many things that need to be done over the next 2 months.

You need to gather receipts, determine deductions and the necessary paperwork to go with it, and decorate, bake, entertain, attend events, volunteer and shop for Christmas!

As Business Owners, you need to be sure your bookkeeping is in order, so when it arrives on the CPA’s  or your tax preparers desk, they can work efficiently and effectively to process your business finances into IRS terms. 

Tired yet? It doesn’t have to be that way, you are in control of what controls you.

What have you done in the last 10 months to prepare for the year-end process, in your business or as individuals? This question can sometimes lead to more thoughts than you want to deal with right now. Simply because it requires you to start thinking about areas of your life that are unorganized, and WHO wants to deal with that issue ALONG with all you have coming up and going on in the next two months!

Let me remind you, the longer you avoid that thought, the more congested your life will be and the SNOWball (oh, sorry, I know we aren’t ready to hear that four letter word yet!) will grow bigger. Bottom-line, the less efficient and effective you will be in your life. What you need to get organized can be big or it can be small, paper, items, processes, corresponding, etc. What do you need to get organized? (Short of being to the other extreme, another topic for another day.)

All that being said, never fear or procrastinate the beginning. With some simple steps, you can start today and be ready for the holidays, the year-end processes, and everything after that! Sounds freeing doesn’t it!

Start here;

Three things you need to confront;

    * Why do I feel disorganized?

    *How is being disorganized affecting my life and others around me?

    *What am I going to do differently today to take control my schedule and life and stop allowing my disorganized areas to be in control ?

Whether it be in your work or in personal life, you need to either deal with it or get rid of it. Once you can answer those three questions you will be prepared to move forward.
I found this book to be very useful for many of you, in helping to determine if organizing will help or if even that just isn’t enough.  
  
SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life; A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck, by Julie Morgenstern.

 I have worked with many individuals and business owners to work through those questions and find simple, effective and efficient solutions. Customizing the solution is key to being successful. Make the commitment today, to be more efficient tomorrow! Call me and we can talk about solutions for you!

Happy Thanksgiving and remember to be truly Thankful for your blessings. They are a gift.

Tammy Stifel
OrganizerForU    

Human Resource Reminders for Year End


The following are reminders for making certain you have fulfilled your obligations for year-end responsibilities.  Ideally you should be accomplishing these in November or early December.




MEDICAL
:  Will you have any changes to your plan (s)?  Determine those.  What will be the new employee contribution rates?  These should all be determined by November 1 or as close to that as possible.



Create a hand-out of explanations of all changes and schedule informational meetings.



PERFORMANCE REVIEWS:  I am hopeful, but would not bet the farm that most small companies do performance reviews of their employees.  Not doing reviews is like burning a good portion of your salary dollars up in flames, when you never coach or tell employees what they are doing well and what they can improve.  How will they know if you don’t tell them?



Money for salary reviews may be scant, but you have the tools to acknowledge your good employees’ contributions to your firm.  We work for money one day a year…when we get our salary reviews.  Tell them you appreciate them and how they can do better the next 364 days per year.



Please email me at jvanahn@hotmail.com if you would like a specially developed (and not time- consuming) performance appraisal form for small employers.




HANDBOOK REVIEW:
 Should you be so fortunate to have developed an employee handbook, it’s good to review it every couple of years.  Form a committee of employees from various parts of the company to review it.  Are you still following the policies outlined?  Add new policies you are using and delete old ones not being used.




REVIEW FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) CLASSIFICATION OF EMPLOYEES:
  Many employers believe it is within their discretion to make an employee exempt (salaried) from overtime.  It is not.  The job determines that.  Your exempt employees must have considerable decision-making power in their job duties, supervisor others, or the job must require a four year degree. 



Should you have classified a job as exempt and it is not, all it takes is one employee to report you to the FLSA (usually an unhappy one on his/her way out).  A good percentage of all FLSA audits develop from these circumstances.  In the end you could owe two years’ worth of overtime pay for every employee in an exempt position which was really






nonexempt (hourly).  If the FLSA thinks you should have known better and did it anyway, they can also assign huge punitive damages.



You may ask how would the employee even know how much overtime was owed him or her?  Believe me, they’re keeping track.



For VERY GOOD INFORMATION without a chance of them ever knowing who your company is and coming back on you, call the Department of Labor:  515-284-4625 and they will answer your questions. At this stage, they just want to help employers follow the law.




ONE LAST THING ON FLSA
:  Employers are under the mistaken misconception that they MUST give a break every four hours and that they MUST offer a lunch period.  Not true.  The FLSA rules on overtime only.  If an employee who is nonexempt (hourly) works more than 40 hours in one week (you determine the “week”) you must pay them time and ½ for over the 40 hours worked.




FORGET THOSE THREATENING SOLICITATIONS TO SELL YOU EEO POSTERS
:  Iowa Workforce Development offers a free Labor/Employment law Poster to all employers. You may order them by contacting their website at  www.iowaworkforce.org.  I have also provided The Business Warrior with a cache of posters.  Contact one of them to receive one for free.




JOB DESCRIPTION UPDATES:  You may say, “What job descriptions?”  While small employers may not develop job descriptions to the degree large companies do, it makes sense to jot down your expectations in the job.  You list the job objective and five or six responsibilities that are critical to the success of that job and minimum qualifications.  It’s extremely helpful for the trainee and is a guide for you to determine if the employee is successfully completing the job duties.




What if you have nothing now?
  Start this project very simply by asking the person or persons doing the job to come up with their description of what they do.  Then you can  add to it, refine and develop one you all like.  For a simple job description format, please email me at jvanahn@hotmail.com.


Hopefully this has been helpful to you.  I did include some advice you may do at any time, not necessarily at year-end. 

What can a dog do for your business?

Over half the people in the U.S own a pet (or more than one pet!) and pet owners pamper their pets more than ever.  They love it when others pay attention & oogle over their little Murphy or big Champ.  They also love it when a marketing promotion is a gift for their pet!.  It’s the same warm, fuzzy feeling as when you compliment their children or present them with a gift.  So if you need to get your products or services known to the wide demographic of pet owners – appeal to the pets!

This is not a tip solely for the pet supply store or local vet.  A construction company had great referrals from a pet bandana promotion.  They gave them out at an event taking place at a dog park.  Of course, the company truck with their logo was parked for everyone to see.  But the take-away was a doggie bandana with a catchy slogan & the construction company information – the calls came in!

At a festival where pet attendance was approved, an insurance business gave out reflective pet tags that had a spot for the pet owner’s name & phone number.  The tag was creatively attached to a postcard with company information/website plus helpful tips on keeping everyone if the family – including the furry ones – safe!  You can bet that was one of the few handouts that was actually read when the festival  was over.

It’s evident how successful events for pets are  – did you see the Halloween Costume Contest for dogs?  Now, just go and get the owners to think about you after the event.  A promotion for their pet is sure to be used & appreciated!

For pet-related promotions customized to market YOUR business, contact:
PRIMARY SOURCE, Promotional Products with a Purpose!
Mary Anne Kennedy  515-727-8774
Maryanne@PrimarySourcePromotion.com     www.PrimarySourcePromotion.com



AEP and $$ for Medicare for 2012

Annual Enrollment Period is for Medicare Beneficiaries who have a Prescription Drug Plan or a Medicare Advantage plan currently in place.  From October 15 – December 7 beneficiaries may review their current plan, other options from their carrier or other carriers.  If a change is made to another plan or carrier it will be effective January 1, 2012 for the calendar year.


Along with this enrollment period, the Federal Government recently released some 2012 details for Medicare beneficiaries.
    
                    Part B Premium for ALL eligible will be $99.90 beginning 1/1/2012

                    All those receiving Social Security will enjoy a 3.6% increase          
                                    Look for that to begin 1/1/2012 as well

I am a licensed agent, apppointed with A rated carriers for the lines of Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans in the state of Iowa.  My goal is to ‘educate Medicare beneficiaries to make informed choices’.  If you haven’t met with an agent recently are are confused about Medicare and what is available, let’s find a mutually convenient time to meet.

Janis Van Ahn
Health Insurance Advisor, LLC

7 Tips to Help with Personal Year-end Tax Planning

It’s that time of the year when thoughts quickly turn to turkeys roasting, pumpkin pies baking and families gathering.  And goodness knows there is plenty to do as your list grows long.  But wait, there is one more item that needs to be added to your “To Do” list and that is year end tax planning.  Just a little planning before the end of the year can minimize your tax liability and maximize your benefits.

Here are a few tax tips to help you with your year-end planning.

Personal Strategy:


  1. Tax Credits for Home Improvements: A tax credit for qualifying home improvements may be available for improvements placed in service during 2011, but not in 2012.  The credit applies to energy-efficient improvements such as insulation, exterior windows, and heating and cooling systems.  You will need to complete your purchase by December 31 to qualify for the credit in 2011.


  2. Capital Gains and Losses:


    • Long term capital gains from the sales of assets with a holding period greater than one year are taxed at 15 percent.
    • Short term capital gains are taxed as high as 35 percent.
    • Consider any capital loss carry-forward that may be available to you in 2011.
    • Zero percent tax rate on capital gains for those who meet income requirements.


  3. Credit Card Payments: Paying tax-deductible expenditures – including charitable contributions – with a credit card secures the deduction, even if you do not actually pay the credit card company until the following year.


  4. Appreciated Assets Contributed to Charity: Consider fulfilling your charitable goals by contributing appreciated assets instead of cash.  You can deduct the fair market value of property contributed to charity and you avoid paying taxes on the appreciation.


  5. Retirement Plan: To qualify for a deduction in 2011, your retirement plan must be in place before the end of the year.  Exceptions are IRA and SEP (simplified employee pension) plans, which generally must be funded by April 15, 2012.


  6. Roth IRA Conversions: Roth IRAs have a number of advantages over traditional IRAs, including no tax when the money is withdrawn.


  7. Saver’s Credit: If you or your working children contribute to a retirement plan at work and your income is less than $56,500 for married couples and $28,250 for single filers you may qualify for the saver’s credit.
While this list is certainly not all-inclusive of year-end tax planning strategies available, I invite you to give me a call today to schedule a meeting to review your particular situation.  A little planning can go a long way in helping you save money.  Look for next month’s blog on business tax strategies.


Kathi Koenig, CPA
Partner – McGowen, Hurst, Clark & Smith, P.C.

It’s not everyone who, in their work, truly cares about clients as Janis Van Ahn does. She deserved to be honored…

Janis Van Ahn of Health Insurance Advisor, LLC in Urbandale recently received statewide recognition from Group Benefits Ltd. as a 2011 Top Health Insurance Agent based on her work with the individual insurance market and also with employer group benefits.

Janis has been in the insurance industry for the past 18 years.  Fifteen of those years were in support roles while she honed her service skills and product knowledge.  Two years ago, Janis became the owner and sole producer at Health Insurance Advisor, LLC.  She focuses on educating individuals and Medicare consumers to make informed choices.  She helps them truly understand their health insurance choices so that they can be covered & confident in their decisions.

If you know Janis, you know she has the utmost integrity and clients’ best in mind.  If you know her, give her a pat on the back.  If you don’t know her, look for her as the shining star that GBL chose from among 1000 agents in Iowa. 
Congratulations, Janis, from your fellow Business Warriors!

Meet Janis Van Ahn, Health Insurance Advisor, LLC

I don’t like insurance, but I know I have to have it….” In the last 16 years I have heard that statement many times.

After graduating from Wartburg College in 1991 and a stint at a restaurant chain, I found where I belonged working in health insurance.  Working for various agents and agencies honed my presentation skills and product knowledge.  Throughit all, I knew that SERVICE was the key to my success.

Late 2007 was a life changing time where I found myself without a job.  After some deep soul searching and personal cheerleading – I decided it was time to work for me.  

Health Insurance Advisor is an independent health insurance agency, specializing in Under 65 individual/family coverage, small group employer plans and all lines of  supplemental  Medicare coverage.

By the time someone has met with me and I have educated them to make informed choice, they may still not like insurance, but they have a better understanding of what they have and why it is beneficial.

Janis VanAhn
Health Insurance Advisor, LLC
   

Five Steps to a Strong Succession Plan

More than 90% of businesses in the United States are family-owned, but fewer than 30% make it to the second generation.  And less than 12% make it to the third generation.  The key reason cited for failure of businesses to transition to the next generation is simply because no business succession plan is in place. In fact, recent surveys show that only 30% of business owners have a succession plan.

Whether your business has been in the family for years or you are building it from the ground up, it is critical you develop a succession plan.  Most experts agree that succession planning should begin anywhere from 10 to 15 years before retirement. Even if you are one of those people who believe you never will retire, a succession plan is still needed in the event something unforeseen happens to you, such as a serious illness, disability or even death.


Here are the five key steps to succession planning:


Identify what