NEW YORK - The end of June and beginning of July is an important time for savvy small-business owners, who’ll be assessing their companies’ finances and thinking about strategies for the second half of 2008. A midyear checkup is even more important than usual this year, given the uncertainty of the business climate.
Accountants and other tax professionals say business owners should consider steps to lower their energy bills, not just for this year, but the long term. And the government has made some recent changes to the tax laws that owners should take into consideration.
KEY IRS CHANGE
The newest change takes place Tuesday, when the IRS increases the mileage deduction for vehicles used for business purposes, to 58.5 cents from 50.5 cents. The increase reflects the spike in gasoline prices, now averaging $4 a gallon nationally and likely to stay quite high for the rest of the year; the new rate applies for the second half of the year only.
And the economic stimulus package that has given millions of taxpayers rebate checks also contained two provisions that benefit small businesses. The first is a near doubling, to $250,000, of what’s known as the Section 179 deduction.
The second is a bonus depreciation allowance under which businesses of any size can depreciate 50 percent of the cost of equipment bought and placed into service this year.
The first step in a midyear financial checkup should be an appointment with an accountant or other financial professional. Jeff Berdahl, a certified public accountant with Berdahl & Co. in Center Valley, Pa., noted that “a year or two ago, top-line revenue was pretty good, but now a lot of businesses are flat, so you need to look at all areas” in your company.
For example, you might be more concerned now about your receivables than you were a year ago — if your customers are behind in payments, your accountant can suggest ways to improve your cash flow. Berdahl also suggested trying to restructure your company’s debt while interest rates are relatively low.
Soaring energy costs should also be more of a consideration in a midyear checkup than they were in the past.
Leon Dutkiewicz, a certified public accountant with Margolis & Co. in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., recommends business owners look at their heating and cooling systems to be sure they’re running efficiently. He also suggests owners think about replacing older, wasteful units with ones using less energy.
“A little bit more money up front could save you big dollars over the long term,” he said.
And if you decide you need to switch from an SUV to a smaller, cheaper model, don’t be quick to just trade it in, said Mark Toolan, a certified public accountant in Exton, Pa.
With demand for SUVs dwindling, you might end up selling it at a loss, something that can help lower your taxes.
“You won’t be able to take advantage of that loss if you trade it in,” Toolan said.
There are also some issues to consider at midyear that come up in any economy, good or bad.
If you haven’t set up a retirement plan for your employees, or want to change the type of plan you have, the sooner you do it, the better. Keep in mind that a popular retirement plan for small businesses, the SIMPLE, or Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees, must under federal tax laws be set up by Oct. 1.
This is also the time to be thinking about buying equipment and making other capital expenditures — remembering that you stand to get a bigger tax break under the new Section 179 and bonus depreciation provisions. But, as always, tax savings shouldn’t be the only factor when you’re considering a major purchase — it should also make sense for your business as a whole.
If you do decide to take advantage of the deduction, be aware that it can be used only for certain types of equipment, such as cars, computers or manufacturing machinery.
Air-conditioning or heating units, or structural parts of a building like windows, are among the items that cannot be deducted up front under Section 179, although they can be depreciated over time. And you must buy the equipment and place it in service by Dec. 31, but you don’t have to pay for it by year’s end.
A midyear checkup should also mean checking in with clients and customers. Berdahl suggests owners increase their marketing efforts not just to prospective customers, but to established ones as well.
“Whether it be meals or a goodwill visit or what have you, stay in touch,” he said.