Is a business valuation useful? Yes!

For many business owners, a business appraisal or “valuation” can furnish vital planning information and help mitigate risk. Consider the following:

* Establishing a verifiable value for your business can show whether assets have appreciated at a reasonable rate. If not, the firm’s strategy may need to be adjusted.

* Business valuations furnish documentation to support new financing. Lenders need strong evidence that their loans are properly secured, and a business appraisal can supply that evidence. An independent evaluation of business assets also may encourage lenders to offer favorable interest rates.

* If you decide to sell the business, a valuation can help you establish a reasonable selling price. Without a detailed and defensible appraisal, owners sometimes entertain unreasonably low offers. On the other hand, a valuation can keep owners from overpricing the firm and thus discouraging potential buyers.

* What happens if one owner dies or otherwise leaves his or her share of the business to others? In some cases, litigation follows. To ensure that the remaining owners’ interests are protected, the business needs to be appraised beforehand.

* A valuation can also support proper estate planning. If the estate is audited, the IRS is more likely to accept valuations that include a clear and reasoned appraisal. In fact, if discounts are adequately supported by an appraisal, estate taxes may be reduced.

* Business appraisals are also useful when it’s time to figure capital gains. For example, if you inherit a business from your father and decide to sell it, the business can be valued as of the date of your father’s death. A good appraisal can help establish a supportable value for the business and may result in lower capital gains taxes.

For assistance with valuing your business, contact our office.

Should you incorporate your business?

One of the first decisions you face as a new business owner is whether or not to incorporate the business. The biggest advantage of incorporating is limitation of your liability. Your responsibility for debts and other liabilities incurred by a corporation is generally limited to the assets of the business. Your personal assets are not usually at risk, although there can be exceptions to this general rule. The trade-off is that there is a cost to incorporate and, in some cases, tax consequences.

Should you incorporate? You might not need to incorporate. Depending on the size and type of your business, liability may not be an issue or can be covered by insurance. If so, you could join millions of other business owners and operate as an unincorporated sole proprietor.

If you do decide to incorporate, you’ll face a choice of corporate forms. All offer limitation of your liability, but there are differences in tax and other issues.

C corporation. The traditional form of corporation is the C corporation. C corporations have the most flexibility in structuring ownership and benefits, and most large companies operate in this form. The biggest drawback is double taxation. First the corporation pays tax on its profits; then the profits are taxed again as they’re paid to individual shareholders as dividends.

S corporation and LLCs. Two other forms of corporation avoid this double taxation: S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs). Both of these are called “pass-through” entities because there’s no taxation at the corporate level. Instead, profits or losses are passed through to the shareholders and reported on their individual tax returns.

S corporations have some ownership limitations. There can only be one class of stock and there can’t be more than 100 shareholders, none of whom can be foreigners. State registered LLCs have become a popular choice for many businesses. They offer more flexible ownership than S corporations and certain tax advantages.

Whether you’re already in business or just starting out, choosing the right form of business is important. Even established businesses change from one form to another during their lifetime. Some companies use more than one type of corporation – for example, an LLC to hold the business’s real estate and an S corporation for other operations.

Consult our office and your attorney for guidance in selecting the form that is best for your business.

A vital business document: the buy/sell agreement

COMPLETE ARTICLE:
Every business should give serious consideration to how the company would deal with the death, disability, or departure of one of the owners.

Like a will, a buy/sell agreement (also known as a business continuity contract) spells out how assets and other business interests will be distributed should an owner quit, become disabled, or die.

Without such an agreement, complications arising from ownership succession may capsize an otherwise thriving company. The remaining owners might be forced to share management and profits with unskilled or contentious outsiders. They may be embroiled in legal disputes over business assets and liabilities. A firm’s internal squabbles may spill over to customer service, resulting in lost sales. If the firm’s ownership seems doubtful or its future uncertain, creditors might accelerate collection efforts, bringing unwanted pressure on company resources.

The possible death of an owner isn’t the only reason to prepare a buy/sell agreement. Sometimes an owner voluntarily decides to leave a company. He or she may want to pursue another business opportunity, a change of climate, a different professional relationship, or a well-earned retirement. By providing a mechanism for assessing a firm’s value and ensuring that all parties are treated equitably, a carefully crafted buy/sell agreement will facilitate that kind of transition as well.

At a minimum, a buy/sell agreement should cover the following:

* Triggering events. What happens if an owner dies, becomes disabled, or leaves the company? What happens if he or she files for divorce or is caught skimming profits? The buy/sell agreement should spell out the company’s response to such events, including how assets will be transferred, stock ownership controlled, and voting rights secured by the remaining owners.

* Valuation. The agreement should lay out how the business will be valued should a triggering event occur. For example, it might include a specific price for an owner’s interest or specify a formula for determining the company’s value. It might even name a specific firm to conduct the valuation. If the triggering event is the death of an owner, the buy/sell agreement might also guarantee a specific lump sum to be paid to the deceased owner’s estate.

* Buyout method. If one owner leaves the firm, becomes disabled, or dies, the buy/sell agreement should contain provisions specifying how remaining owners will buy out the interest of that partner. (In many cases, owners use life or disability insurance proceeds to fund a buyout.)

To ensure that the buy/sell agreement remains relevant and up to date, owners should review it periodically and revise it as needed. If you need help preparing or reviewing a buy/sell agreement for your company, contact us and your attorney.

Don’t pay tax on nontaxable income

There are several sources of revenue that are not subject to income tax.

Here are the most common sources of money that are not taxed on your federal income tax return:

* Borrowed money, such as from banks or personal loans.

* Money received as a gift or inheritance from family or friends.

* Money paid on your behalf directly to a school or medical facility.

* Most life insurance proceeds.

* Cash rebates from businesses when you buy an item.

* Child support payments.

* Money you receive for sustaining an injury.

* Scholarships for tuition and books.

* Disability insurance proceeds from a policy purchased with after-tax dollars.

* Up to $500,000 of profit for a married couple selling their personal residence.

* Interest received on municipal bonds.

If you have included any of these as taxable income on your income tax return for the past three years, you can amend your return for a tax refund.

If you would like assistance in determining what to include on your income tax return, please contact us. We are here to help you.

Do you need life insurance on your children?

Ask whether you should carry life insurance on your children and you’ll receive a variety of answers. Here’s a look at the arguments for and against.

* Financial security. Traditionally, you take out life insurance to provide for the financial security of dependents. The policy should provide funds to replace the insured’s income and to pay off debts. Neither of these reasons applies to young children. They don’t generally have any significant income, and they don’t usually have any debts. Some parents might want to carry a modest amount of insurance to cover funeral costs for their children in case the unthinkable happens.

* Insurability. Another argument is that by taking out a policy at a young age, you help to guarantee insurability as the child grows older. This could be important if the child develops a major illness later in life. The problem is that if the child does develop a serious illness, insurance could then become very expensive or limited in amount.

* Insurance as an investment. Some advisors suggest that parents should take out a whole life policy on their children. These policies include a savings component to build up cash value in the policy. You could then use that value for education expenses or other needs. But others say that there are cheaper and more efficient ways to save than by using life insurance. For example, putting money into a tax-advantaged Section 529 plan might be a better way to save for college tuition costs.

* The bottom line. Although a majority of financial advisors might argue against life insurance for children, there may be some situations when it makes sense. One thing is clear. You shouldn’t take out a policy just because it is offered to you or because others are doing it. Insure your kids only if you’ve done your homework and know exactly why you need the insurance.

Please contact our office if you’d like help reviewing the advantages and disadvantages as they apply to your particular situation.

Notify the IRS about name changes

If you or a dependent had a name change last year, notify the Social Security Administration before you file your 2013 tax return with the IRS. Why? If the name on your tax return does not match SSA records, the IRS is likely to notify you about the mismatch. Any refund you expected could be delayed. So if marriage, divorce, or child adoption resulted in a name change, file “Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card” with the SSA to inform them of the change.

Every small business should establish controls

Every week reporters publish stories about companies that have lost thousands, even millions of dollars because of fraud. They recount the dreadful details of business owners who learned – too late – that a lack of basic controls left their companies vulnerable to pilferage, embezzlement, and other types of misappropriation.

How do these lessons apply to small businesses? After all, small firms generally can’t afford to hire internal auditors or set up separate divisions to break up incompatible duties. While it’s true that a small company can’t always protect itself in ways larger firms might, management can establish controls in certain high-risk areas, such as the following:

Cash disbursements. If at all possible, the owner/manager should sign checks. This control has a dual purpose: management sees how the company is spending its money, and the cash disbursement function is kept separate from bookkeeping or accounting. If the same person signs checks and enters disbursement transactions in the accounting records, embezzlement is harder to prevent. Requiring two signatures on checks above a certain amount also provides greater control.

Customer collections. Consider having the owner/manager open the mail, especially if customer collections are a regular part of your business. Alternatively, you might ask someone separate from the accounting function to open the mail and prepare the deposit slip. Of course, the practice of making daily deposits is also a good control.

Personnel practices. By taking care to perform background checks before hiring key employees, especially those who will be handling cash or other high-risk assets, you can prevent problems later on. Of course, financial pressures, addictions, and other factors can corrupt even good employees. That’s why managers might consider discreetly monitoring employee lifestyles (without invading anyone’s privacy, of course). An observant manager might note that certain lower-level employees are living well beyond their means, or that warehouse staff are carrying off company materials to remodel personal residences.

Perhaps a small business’s greatest control is the “tone at the top.” If management sets a high standard, employees generally follow. However, if a manager is perceived as lax – for example, he or she doesn’t respond quickly when evidence of misappropriation surfaces – employees might conclude that theft isn’t such a big deal.

Remember this: A company that fails to establish minimum controls is providing a golden opportunity for fraud. If you’d like help reviewing your firm’s controls, give us a call.

Equipment write-off decreases for 2014

In recent years, businesses could expense up to $500,000 of equipment purchases in the year of purchase, with a $2,000,000 annual purchase limit. In addition, bonus depreciation was allowed for new equipment purchases.

Because Congress did not extend these provisions for 2014, businesses can now only expense $25,000 of new or used equipment purchases. The deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar when total asset purchases for 2014 exceed $200,000. Also, the 50% bonus depreciation that applied in 2013 is no longer available.

Congress may extend these provisions, or they may not. Check with us for the latest when you’re making equipment purchasing decisions this year.

IRS announces new FSA rule

Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) allow taxpayers to set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. The drawback has been the fact that unused amounts each year are forfeited. Plans could provide a 2½ month grace period to use up unspent set-asides.

Now a change announced by the IRS adds more flexibility to these accounts. Plans can be modified by employers to allow up to $500 of unused amounts to be carried over into the following year. Health FSAs cannot have both the old 2½ month grace period and the $500 carryover; they can have one or the other (or neither).

Are disability insurance benefits taxable?

ave you decided to include disability insurance as part of your financial plan? If so, the next decision is how to pay the premiums. Here’s why: The choice you make now can affect the taxability of the benefits received later.

For example, say your employer offers disability insurance as part of a cafeteria plan. When you sign up, the premiums are deducted from your paycheck before taxes. You’re getting a current break in the form of excluding the premiums from income, and later payouts of policy benefits are generally taxable to you.

What if you pay part of the premium with after-tax income and your employer pays the rest? In that case, policy benefits are split into taxable and nontaxable portions.

Illustration: You pay 40% of the premium and your employer pays 60%. Benefits are 60% taxable.

If you opt to buy a policy yourself, premiums are not deductible on your personal tax return, and benefits you collect are not taxable.

Like other aspects of financial planning, choosing insurance involves weighing your alternatives and selecting what’s most suitable for achieving your goal of protecting and growing assets. Give us a call. We’ll help ensure that your financial plan remains on track.