What’s Your Chance of an IRS Audit?

The IRS publishes statistics regarding the percentage of returns that have been examined by type of return. Not surprisingly, some taxpayers have a greater chance of being audited than others according to the latest statistics. Let’s take a look at some stats:

The majority of audits, 74.8%, were conducted via correspondence, and the remaining 25.2% were conducted in the field.

Overall audit rate: The overall audit rate is .5%, but the audit rate of individual returns is .6%.

Corporate audit rates:

.9% for all corporate returns, excluding s-corporations

8.1% for large corporations with assets of $10M or more

.2% for s-corp returns

Individual audit rates:

2.4% for returns with business income and gross receipts of $100,000 to $200,000

3.2% for returns with positive income of $1M or more

.2% for returns with income lower than $200,000, no Earned Income Tax Credit, no business income or rental income.

If you read the footnotes of the statistics, it appears that 37% of individual returns that were selected for examination were due to a taxpayer claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Also, the statistics do not include several million CP2000 notices that are sent to taxpayers each year when there is a mismatch between what is reported on their tax return and what is reported to the IRS. If those notices were included, then the audit rate would be much higher.

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Instead of Taking out More Debt, Do This Instead

One of the first ways most people try to cover a financial shortfall is to incur more debt. Whether this is to support a struggling business or even on a personal level. This may be a solution in some cases or may be used in conjunction with other financial methods. However, there is another solution that may work to solve your shortfall.

Reason for shortfall: Simply put, there will be a shortfall when your income is less than your expenses. Sometimes this is temporary or seasonal and you may be able to predict a shortfall based on business patterns.

The debt solution: Usually, most businesses turn to debt to smooth out the shortfalls. While this may be a viable solution, it should be well though-out and other options should be explored.

Alternative solutions: Aside from needing funds to support a large purchase, if your income is not enough to cover your expenses then instead of first choosing debt, here are a few other options:

Sales: Focus on increasing your sales. An increase in sales will help to increase your bottom line results. Will your expenses increase as a result? Most likely yes, but so should your profit. Aside from industries that have a poor cash conversion cycle, which is a topic all by itself, the additional business activity should help to offset your financial shortfalls.

Expenses: Small businesses should always be conscious of what they are spending their money on. Based on observation, small businesses do not usually spend their money excessively, but they may spend allocate it to areas of their business that do not generate a benefit, such as poorly spent advertising dollars.

Profitability by service/product/client: It may come as a surprise, but most likely there are several aspects of your business that are really not that profitable or may not be profitable at all. If that is the case, then by eliminating these activities your profits will increase as you can focus on increasing sales of higher profit services.

Don’t always go for the “easy” solution, but perhaps a simple, more sweat-producing, long-term solution to help the finances of your business.

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Use the Snowball Effect to Get Better Financial Results

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a snowball effect is a situation in which something increases in size or importance at a faster and faster rate. It sounds too simple and general, but it is a useful principle that can be used to achieve significant results over time. Practical examples of this are as follows, along with how the opposite can also be true:

Savings/Investments: Do you find it hard to save or invest? Start with saving just the smallest amount possible and then build upon there. For example, if you start with a small percentage, such as 2% and increase it by 2% each year, then within 5 years you will be investing 10% of your income. If you are unable to save at all, then you need to either increase your income, decrease your expenses, or possibly do both.

Paying off debt: Want to pay off your personal and business debts quickly? Allocate a small percentage of your income towards paying off your balances, starting with the smallest balance first. Once you have paid off the smallest balance, then use those payments towards the next largest balance. If you start with the largest balance then you will lose the moment due to a lack of sense of achievement.

Increasing your income:  If you increase your income by 10% per year, then it will double in about 7 years and in approximately 5 years if you increase it by 15% per year. Even more modest increases can make an impact over time. Small actions, such as allocating a consistent amount of your time and resources to increase your business volume will add up significantly over time. For example, that one extra phone call (made or received), blog post, additional employee hired, etc. matters. For a multitude of tips, search prior blog posts.

Avoid this approach: Most people want instant results and because of this they either stop too soon or start too strong in an unsustainable manner. There is nothing wrong with strong approaches, but it must be sustainable over the long-term. All you have to do is apply this approach to weight loss and fitness and see how many of your friends and family start an exercise program and eat extremely healthy and then stop after a few months. It is hard to go from no exercise to spending an hour and a half 5 days a week exercising.

Over time your results will get better and better, but give it time to be productive. Think of your actions as planting a fruit tree, as it will take time to bear fruit.

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5 Ways Your Calendar Will Help You to Work Less Hours

Are you using your calendar as a tool to be as productive as possible? Most people do not use their calendar in a way to maximize its effectiveness, but if used properly, it can help you to reduce the amount of hours you work. Here are 5 ways your calendar can help you to work less:

Scheduled tasks get done: When a task is scheduled there is a high probability that it will get worked on. Have you ever had the feeling that you did not get anything accomplished on a particular day? The main cause is most likely due to not having tasks scheduled.

Allocation of time: How much time should you allocate for a specific task or meeting? By allocating specific time slots and durations, this will help to alleviate the open-endedness of meetings and tasks. Parkinson’s Law states “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Batching of activities: Similar activities may benefit by scheduling them close together or within the same day(s). For example, new clients or patients may need a much longer time slot for an appointment, which can all be scheduled on a specific day.

Schedule key tasks early on: Important, but usually not urgent tasks, should be scheduled first thing in the morning or early in the week. There is a constant pull for your time and if you do not focus on important items first, then you may never get to them.

Long-term planning: A calendar can include tasks that are several weeks or months in the future. This can include both tasks and meetings. If you can plan your vacation months in advance, which is very important, then you can and should plan business tasks well in advance also.

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Beware of These 3 Conflicts Between Husbands and Wives When Both Work, Which Lead to Marital Tensions

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 61.1% of both parents work in families that have children under 18 years of age.  It seems to make economic sense to have both parents working nowadays, but it can create underlying tensions, which you should be aware of:

Independence vs. interdependence: Spouses are interdependent upon one another, but with both spouses working, this can create a lack of unity. Problems may arise by simply and innocently having separate checking accounts for each spouse. The problem is that this can create disunity and a lack of joint decisions regarding financial matters versus working together to make decisions jointly.

Income comparisons: When there is a large disparity of income, which there commonly is, one spouse may look down upon the other spouse as not contributing enough financially to the household. There may also ensue an unspoken, unhealthy competition between each spouse whereas they focus too much effort on who makes more money.

Importance comparisons: Everyone wants to believe that their job is more demanding, more stressful, and harder than others, whether this is real or perceived. Even so, comparisons to your spouse’s job are not going to make for a pleasant conversation at dinnertime.

There are many more, but they are just variations of the overall theme of comparisons and a lack of working together. Can you imagine what a comparison-free, working-together household would look like?

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What Should You Do When You Receive a Notice from the IRS?

Did you notice that the title states “when” and not “if” you receive a notice? The volume of notices received from the IRS, along with those from the states, has steadily increased over the years, which means that the odds of you receiving a notice are pretty high. What are some of the steps you should take?

Don’t ignore the notice: This may sound basic, but do not ignore the notice. Usually, there is a deadline for your response, and if you do not respond then the issue may get worse and more complicated. If you do not understand the notice or have an accountant, then quickly send the notice to him/her.

Make sure it belongs to you: Sometimes, the notice may not even be yours. Sometimes the IRS or the states have an old address on file, which happens to now be yours. If the notice does not belong to you then ask the post office to return to sender. That is an easy fix, but not as common as one could hope for.

Time period and type of tax: The notice should show what periods and type of tax the notice relates to. Common notices are for Form 1040 (individual taxes), Form 941 (payroll taxes), and various states’ sales and payroll taxes.

What is the notice asking for: A commonly received notice from New Jersey and New York is one requesting additional information to process a refund after filing your tax return. You should provide the information requested and send a cover letter via certified mail. Other common notices state that there was additional income that was not reported, such as stock sales or pension income, and now there is a proposed change to your tax return. The scariest notices are levy notices or lien notices, which are supposed to come after no action has been taken on previous notices.

Compare the notice to your records: In many cases you want to verify the validity of the notice and should compare the information in the notice to your own records. It is possible that the notice may be incorrect or only partly correct.

Always respond timely: Make sure to always adhere to the timeline of the notice and to send any correspondence by certified mail as timely proof of a response. Even though you may respond timely this does not mean that the IRS or states will respond timely to you, and you may have to be patient.

As a warning, the IRS will never email you nor will they ask you to purchase prepaid gift cards from CVS to provide to them. Also, they will not threaten to deport you or throw you in jail. If you did something criminal then they will just show up at your house at 6 AM or possibly 5 AM, and I am sure that you already know why they are there.

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Do This to Avoid a Big Tax Surprise

If there is one recurring theme from this tax season that caused the biggest tax surprise it is this:

Double-check your withholdings: The withholding tables were revised and many taxpayers were under withheld, which caused them to owe taxes versus receiving a refund. The easiest way to correct this is to see how much you owed and then divide it by the number of paychecks left in the year. Then, either ask your employer to withhold this extra amount or complete a new Form W-4 to request this additional amount to be withheld from your paycheck.

Remember, a lower refund does not mean a lower tax liability. A refund is a function of your withholdings and estimated tax payments versus your tax liability.

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The Instructions Said 20 – 25 Minutes

Recently, I purchased a bed from Wayfair that had to be assembled from four large boxes that it was delivered in. I waited until the weekend to assemble it and learned a few things:

After spending hours and hours assembling and completing the bed, I took a look at the assembly time to see if I was in line with how long it should take to assemble. Over the years I have, or at least I thought I have, become proficient with assembling toys, bikes, trampolines, furniture, and just about everything else. However, the instructions said that it should take 20 – 25 minutes for two people to assemble the bed. It took about that long just to take the pieces out of the box. This made me realize either: I assemble way too slowly (hope this isn’t true, but it is humbling), the time on the instructions apply to professionals who assemble beds on a daily basis, and most importantly, you can’t believe everything that you read.

To apply this in business (hopefully you are not putting together a bed when you should be working), are you spending the proper amount of time on the right activities and minimizing or eliminating tasks that you should not be doing? Are you seeking the help of professionals when necessary? Are you seeking the correct information to determine what you need to do to succeed?

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Business Lessons from a Paperboy

I was a paperboy when I was a kid and I also mowed some of my neighbors’ lawns. These are two activities that have become extinct in modern times. I was fortunate to learn some good business lessons from these entrepreneurial endeavors.

The value of money : If I worked not only hard, but did a good job then I made more money. I learned the value of money, how to save up for larger purchases, spending money wisely, and also saving for the future. Unfortunately, kids and adults nowadays tend to ignore these basic financial principals and choose impulsive, debt-incurring decisions.

Customers are interesting: Each customer is unique and interesting. Some more than others, but if you take the time to learn about your customers then you will find out about their lives, families, interests, personalities, and unique characteristics. Positive interactions create a wonderful experience and help to make your job or business responsibilities easier to handle, especially on a rainy day.

Responsibility: Take responsibility for your actions. There are many things that are out of your control, but many things that are. Be accountable to yourself and others even when it is the hard thing to do.

Sometimes bad stuff just happens: The owners of the newspaper I delivered newspaper for decided to replace us all with adults. I believe we had some notice of the transition, but we had no control. It was just like a corporate layoff or having your largest customer go bankrupt.

I could probably list another dozen or two lessons from my experience as a paperboy, which have stayed with me through all these years.

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Should You Market to Existing Customers or Search for New Ones?

Much of the marketing advice today focuses on marketing to obtain new customers, which is full of excitement and challenges. While you should always be seeking new customers, what about your existing ones? What is most effective?

New customers: It is especially important to market to new customers when you are just starting up and also when trying to grow your business. The benefits are new customers to develop and grow your customer base, to replace ex-customers (there is always natural attrition that is not your fault), and increase cash flows.

There are also several downsides to marketing to new customers. The first downside is that it is much more expensive and time-consuming to obtain new customers. Some studies show that it is about five times more expensive to obtain a new customer than to retain an existing customer. Additionally, depending upon your business, a new customer may be less profitable than an existing customer, which means that your profits will not keep up with your sales growth.

Existing: There are two types of marketing that should be performed for your existing customers. The first should be to develop stronger relationships, loyalty, and ultimately higher customer retention. Unfortunately, many small businesses and professionals greatly lack a plan to keep in touch with their customers and wait until they are contacted by their customers for an urgent need. The second type of marketing should be to increase sales of existing products or services, and also to provide additional products and services to their existing customer base. Studies also show that existing customers are much more likely to purchase from you vs. new customers.

When I was in high school I learned this lesson from my dad after finding out that I needed to sell magazines as a fundraiser. He told me to go see the customers from my old paper route that I had several years back, which I reluctantly did even though I thought that he was wrong. It turns out that I was the one who was wrong and met the sales quota with very little effort.

Hybrid: The older and greyer I become I realize that most things in life are not either or, but are a combination of both. The wisest approach is to market to new customers, make efforts to retain your existing customers, and to offer new products or services to your existing customers.

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