Updated for 2016!
Tiny business owners, you know who you are: you’re a single member LLC or sole proprietor, or maybe you’re in business with your spouse. You might even have an employee or two, but that’s about it. When Congress passes laws to help “small business” they don’t mean us. This post is for you. If you have a Sub-chapter S corporation, I’ve got some different tips here: Tax Tips for Sub-chapter S Corporations
Number 1: If you’re going to be in the red for this year, you don’t really need to worry about reducing your business tax, right? Your negative business income will help offset your other income (if you’re lucky enough to have some). You can devote your energy to being profitable next year.
Number 2: If your business is in the black, congratulations! You’re going to want to look at cash flow and make sure you’re got enough cash to pay your upcoming expenses (like payroll and payroll tax if you’ve got it), but let’s look at some ways to reduce your excess income before the year is out.
Hire your kids: If you’ve got kids under the age of 18, you can hire then without having to pay FICA. It used to be if you had an LLC, you paid FICA for your kids but that changed in 2011 so even if you have an LLC, you don’t pay FICA on your children’s wages. There are rules that have to be followed, but if you could use a little help at work this time of year you’d at least be keeping the money in the family. For more information check this: Hire Your Kids
Pre-pay business expenses: Most tiny business owners use something called “cash basis accounting”, basically, you’re taxed on what comes in versus what goes out. If you are cash heavy, you can pre-pay some of your business expenses for up to twelve months. For example: I lease my office space, I’ve got a one year contract so I know that I’m going to have that monthly expense for the rest of the year. If I were cash heavy (in my dreams) I could prepay my rent for the next year and write it off on this year’s taxes. But you see how you can play with that? While I won’t be paying a full year of rent in advance, I did pay a few January bills early.
Delay invoices: Remember, this only works if you’re cash flush. Let’s say you did a job and a client owes you $1000 and you normally would send out the bill with a due date of December 30th. Change to due date to January 15th—you’re pushing that income ahead to next year. Besides, your client might just appreciate the break at Christmastime. I set up a billing schedule for a client that didn’t start until January and I used “I thought you could use a little Christmas break.” She was thrilled and I delayed the income—talk about a perfect win/win situation.
Credit card purchases: According to IRS rules, if you buy something with a credit card, you’ve bought it now. So, let’s say you’re a little cash poor right now but you’ll have the revenues next month to cover your expenses. Pay expenses with your credit card and it will count as having been paid when charged. I always like to be cautious about credit card spending–hate those bills, but it’s a good solution for some businesses.
This one I don’t like to say, but buy equipment: If you need it. I almost hate to list this as advice because it’s the standard that everybody says every year. One of my clients fired his old accountant for saying it. Like he said, “I know what I do need and don’t need to run my business and I don’t need any more equipment. What other ideas you got?” Here’s my advice, “Don’t buy crap you don’t need.” If you do need equipment, and you’re profit heavy, it’s better to buy in December than in January. But buy what makes sense for the business.
Get your retirement plan in place: If you’re just investing in an IRA, you don’t need to worry about that yet, you’ve got until April to do that. If you’ve been wanting to set up a SEP or a 401(k), you need to get that done by December 31st. Contact your financial advisor about setting up your business retirement plan.
Last, because this isn’t really business: charitable contributions. If you’re a sole proprietor, your charitable contributions do not count as business expenses. So if you give money to the Salvation Army, that’s a personal deduction, not a business deduction. Every year, I see a lot of people trying to claim their charitable contributions as business expenses and it won’t fly with the IRS. Even if you pay a charity from your business bank account, it’s not allowed as a business expense. Charitable contributions won’t help reduce your self-employment taxes. Please give to charities and give generously, but know that it’s a personal deduction, not a business one.