Category Archives: Education

The Best Sources for Accountants & Bookkeepers on How to Use QuickBooks

Great, short article chock-full of recommendations, well-organized (Intuit Resources, Third-Party Resources & User Groups/Social Media), and written by one of my favorite colleagues, Stacy Kildal (who also runs a great program for training professional QB folks).

The only two resources I’d make sure to add on top of the ones she mentions are QuickBooks Power Hour (run by Hector Garcia & Michelle Long), as well as Hector’s own free video series, on QB Desktop, QB Online, and especially the Advanced Topics courses.  I believe his entire collection is organized here, though subscribing to his YouTube channel gets you updated videos as they’re released.

Source: The 12 Absolute Best Sources on How to Use QuickBooks Online

2017 Scaling New Heights Conference

A year ago, I attended my first Woodard Scaling New Heights conference. This is one of the three conferences that accounting technology geeks like me get really excited about — the other two being Accountex (formerly Sleeter Technology) and QB Connect (which I’ll be attending later this year for my first time). I absolutely loved it. I’d been to Sleeter for two years in a row, and as much as I enjoyed attending, one of their successes was helping me realize that I really want to be a QuickBooks-centric practice… I’m not interested in branching out into non-QB accounting options such as Xero, Wave, Zoho, etc. I only know this because of excellent presentations such as Greg Lam and Michelle Long‘s overviews — so I’m indebted to them — but colleagues there suggested that maybe SNH was a better choice for me, since it’s more QB-centric. (They were right.)

One problem remains. I’m not one for motivational speeches. I run my own CPA firm, so if I’m going to take time off work and pay for conference fees, travel & lodging, I’d better be spending that time and money learning something that will help me when I get back to the office — measurable results, real-life advice, tips & tricks that I can put into action to improve my clients’ lives and make me more efficient. Motivational speeches and entertainment just aren’t “worth” my time — I sit through them wishing I’d spent the time doing almost anything else. While we’re at it: I also can’t stand sales pitches. Nor information that is so general, I feel I’ve heard it all before. Finding the right conferences can be a bit of a challenge.

I was a little disappointed in the last Sleeter Technology Conference (now Accountex) I attended. In my opinion, there are too many “keynote” sessions… ones that are meant to “fire up” the audience and get us excited, or big names that we can brag about having seen in-person. These sessions are the only ones that are not concurrent with other learning sessions, meaning that 1) there’s nothing else to do during these sessions, and yet 2) there are so many concurrent sessions that I can’t attend because — well, they’re simultaneous. I wish they’d offer some of those during the keynotes so that I don’t miss the chance to go to more of them.

Yes, I know I can play “hooky” during these sessions — as my colleagues regularly remind me — but honestly, come on: I’m paying to be there. Ideally, the entire conference would be so amazing that I never want to skip out on it (though it is challenging, since they’re always held in interesting places). It might be different if my boss paid my way, but I am the boss! I can’t do billable work while I’m in sessions, so I’m effectively giving up my salary for the entire trip; plus, all of the costs are coming out of my own pocket. I’m not inclined to cheat myself out of much-valued education.

Furthermore, the breakout sessions offered by vendor-partners (presenters that are also at the conference expo, hawking their wares to us) are too often — as mentioned above — 1) either a sales pitch, which is no fun at all and just fosters resentment, or 2) more likely, the vendor has been threatened so hard NOT to make it a sales pitch, that they only offer extremely general “insights” into the industry that motivated them to create a solution. Except… see, we’re already aware of these “insights” — that’s why we attended the session in the first place: to find solutions to the problems we’re already aware exist. What we want when we attend these vendor-presented sessions is in-between these angles: a brief description of the industry issues, and then a specific explanation of how they attempted to solve these issues, and a demo of how it works. That’s not sales — that’s education on a particular piece of software, which allows us to evaluate programs based on how they work, not based on a marketing team’s list of bullet points. (I especially love vendor sessions that are on one particular topic and invite more than one vendor to illustrate their solution to it. That way we get a side-by-side, and can ask questions candidly.)

But the best sessions of all are offered by independent practitioners showing us how they use these various products to solve real-life problems that they’ve come across in their own practices. And that is what I got at last year’s Woodard “Scaling New Heights” conference.

Yes, as with their big competing conference, there were too many keynote “general sessions”. In fact, Joe Woodard’s initial presentation about how Poseidon was going to flood the room (but it’s okay… because he had a “magical force field around us” ???) — was so bad that I was terrified I’d made a serious mistake in attending. (To reiterate: I desperately wish they’d offer an alternative to the general sessions for those of us who prefer to focus on specific learning.)

But — WOW — did they make up for these with some of the best breakout sessions I’ve ever attended. Hector Garcia’s Quickbooks sessions were all incredible, with real-life tips and best practices. I passed the QBO certification with flying colors, no doubt in part to his training. Will English, who I initially met at Sleeter (and who writes for Intuitive Accountant), gave an insightful session on POS solutions — specifically ones that work for retail inventory maanagement. Norman Axelman did a couple great sessions on Excel tricks — he was very generous with his time and eager to solve everyone’s issues. Stacy Kildal was one of my favorite presenters, as she nailed the two-prong approach that most appeals to me: 1) new technologies 2) applied in real-life situations. Her session on QBO apps was insightful and inspiring, and I wish there were a three-hour-long session where I could just watch her work. David Leary from Intuit was one of the most sincere “big-deal” presenters I’ve ever seen; to some extent he restored some of my trust in QB. His eagerness to answer questions and explain the “why” behind big-company decisions was refreshing.

One recommendation to organizers (and DIY attendees) — I always go through the directory of exhibitors and sort them by type of solution: financial analysis, business management/workflow, inventory, publications, POS systems, payroll, 1099/W-2 prep, etc. So it certainly would be helpful if the exhibitors were color-coded by industry, to help us decide who to visit in our limited time away from sessions.

I’m headed back there this week, eager to soak up as much information as I can, and to avoid as many references to the “Yeti” of our practice challenges that we all have to face. (I’m not kidding; that’s the theme.) And if that turns you off as much as it does me, please reconsider, because there are 98 pages of training session information — and I’m just talking about the summaries of the sessions, not the handouts. Plenty of non-Yeti material for us all.

Stacey Byrne will be offering Restaurant Industry Tips & Tricks; MB Raimondi will be teaching the QB Desktop Advanced ProAdvisor Certification Exam Prep; Michelle Long is teaching Apps 101; and Stacy Kildal and Ingrid Edstrom are teaching the session that most interests me: a People’s Choice Peer-Led Apps Training that compares Fathom and LivePlan.

I hope to see you at Scaling New Heights!

Source: 2017 Scaling New Heights Schedule – Woodard

Upcoming Webinar on Internal Controls Self-Assessment

The National Society of Accountants for Cooperatives is offering a webinar on Monday, June 19 entitled “Internal Controls Self-Assessment: How to recognize warning signs and prevent potentially problematic situations”.  This short webinar promises to be useful and informative not just for cooperatives and their accountants, but for any business that may have as-yet unidentified risks inherent in their internal controls.

It’s being presented by Bill Judd and Jim Halvorsen of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP — I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jim at a couple of the National Cooperative Business Association’s “Co-op Professionals Conference” get-togethers, and I’m sure they’ll do a great job with this topic.  Jim will be presenting later this year at the NSAC Tax, Accounting & Finance for Cooperatives conference as well.

Source: NSAC Cooperative Learning Network – Internal Controls Self-Assessment-How to recognize warning signs and prevent potentially problematic situations

Best Small Business Blogs of 2017

I’m proud to announce that once again this blog was chosen as one of FitSmallBusiness.com‘s Best Accounting Blogs of 2017.  This year, they took all their “best of” blogs for small businesses and sub-divided them into fields, such as accounting, retail, finance, marketing, e-commerce, tech, insurance, real estate, legal, etc.  It’s solid one-stop shopping for the entrepreneur wanting to research topics that affect them.

As was the case last year, I’m especially pleased to be included in such impressive company, such as The Accountex Report (formerly the Sleeter Technology blog) and StacyK Academy (a favorite resource and speaker).

I started this blog as a space to store and index my research on various client accounting and tax issues somewhere within reach and easy-to-find, where others in my situation might also benefit from it.  I had no idea it would develop such a following.  The best part about the information age is being able to share our knowledge and experiences with each other — thanks for contributing!

Source: The Best Small Business Blogs of 2017

Taxing the Sharing & Freelance Economies – 4/12 FREE Webinar

One of my absolute favorite sources for continuing education — CPAAcademy.org — is back with a FREE session on “Taxing the Sharing & Freelance Economies”, this upcoming Wednesday, April 12th.

Millions of Americans earn money through the sharing and freelance economies, and the number of participants in those economies is expected to grow. The lack of automatic tax withholding from many of the participants in these new economies, along with novel compensation arrangements, has given rise to significant compliance issues for the Treasury. Further, the lack of IRS guidance to participants in the sharing economy has increased compliance risk and has also failed to inform market participants of potential tax benefits to which they may be entitled. This presentation will discuss the potential tax pitfalls and tax benefits for participants in the sharing and freelance economies.

If it weren’t six days before my biggest deadline of the year, I’d be right there with you. Crossing my fingers that they archive it.  If you attend, please share what you learned in the comments section below!

Source: CPA Academy

Coordinating 529/ESA Plan Withdrawals With Education Expense Benefits

I’m seeing some confusion about this from tax clients this season, so I realized it’s worth explaining a few of the basics regarding education expenses, 529 college savings plan/ Coverdell ESA distributions, and tax credits and deductions.

There are five main tax benefits used to defray the cost of education:

  1. American Opportunity Tax Credit
  2. Lifetime Learning Credit
  3. Deduction for Qualified Education Expenses
  4. Student Loan Interest Deduction
  5. 529 or Coverdell Plan Contributions and Distributions

The American Opportunity Tax Credit reduces your federal tax bill by up to $2,500 per year for each eligible college student for whom you pay qualified tuition expenses. It can be claimed on behalf of an undergraduate for four years. And if you have more than one child in college at the same time, you can claim for each eligible child. The amount of the credit is calculated as 100% of the first $2,000 in qualified tuition and fees costs paid, plus 25% of the next $2,000 paid for such fees. For lower income taxpayers who don’t owe $2,500 in tax, up to $1,000 of the credit is refundable. Source: Coordinating 529 Plan Withdrawals With The American Opportunity Tax Credit

But there are limitations here: The credit phases out if you make too much money, you can’t claim any portion that was already paid with Pell Grant money, and you cannot claim the AOTC (or any of the education benefits) based on expenses that were also used to calculate the tax-free portion of a distribution from a 529 college savings or prepaid plan, or a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA).

The Lifetime Learning Credit is nonrefundable but can reduce the amount of tax you owe by up to $2,000. There is no limit to the number of years this credit can be claimed, but eligible expenses are only those charged by the school for attendance that were not paid for with the Pell Grant or 529 college savings or Coverdell ESAs.  Source: http://finance.zacks.com/can-claim-education-tax-deduction-used-pell-grant-pay-5114.html

The Tuition and Fees Tax Deduction is not allowable if you take one of the educational credits — and it’s usually not as good a deal. But if you don’t qualify for one of the credits (which frequently happens, if your income is too high or you’re not able to take your dependent as an exemption), this deduction can be used to lower your taxable income by up to $4,000. You do not have to itemize deductions to get this deduction; instead, it adjusts your reported income.  Obviously, lowering your income is not as good as reducing your tax with a credit, but it’s still a nice benefit.  As with the others, the deduction is limited to the portion of expenses not paid for with the Pell Grant or 529 college savings or Coverdell ESAs.  Source: http://finance.zacks.com/can-claim-education-tax-deduction-used-pell-grant-pay-5114.html

The Student Loan Interest Deduction is something that may be a benefit in future years — but be careful: predatory for-profit colleges and universities are constantly touting this benefit as a reason to take out large loans, but the benefits often do not come to fruition.  For one, there’s a pretty low limit as to how much you can deduct each year — only $2,500 — and if you exceed that limit, the balance does not carry forward.  That college probably also promised you that getting a degree would make you much more valuable to society, and your income would skyrocket — but the loan interest deduction phases out pretty quickly as your income rises, so chances are, if they’re right… most of this interest will not end up being deductible.  Source: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc456.html

529 College Savings Plans and Coverdell Educational Savings Accounts are both great vehicles to saving for college.  Similar to a Roth IRA, these contributions are not deductible at the federal level, but all of the principal, as well as the interest, dividends and capital gains — all growth — is non-taxable upon distribution if used for qualified education expenses.  (This is pretty fantastic.)  Add to it that most states will allow a deduction for contributions, and you’ve got a no-brainer for college savings.  The important bits to remember here are: each state has pretty strict rules about what qualifies as a plan; each state decides whether the withdrawal is free of income tax or simply deductible from income; and — here’s the theme of my post — if you take a distribution to pay for educational expenses, you may not also take one of the other educational tax benefits above.  529 plans and ESAs are pretty complicated; make sure to compare and contrast, and understand the potential penalties, before signing up.  Source: http://www.360financialliteracy.org/Topics/Paying-for-Education/College-Savings-Options/529-Plans-vs.-Coverdell-Education-Savings-Accounts

I want to recommend two websites with excellent examples of how to combine these plans to get the best overall tax benefits.  Scroll part-way through to see the “example” sections, and see if any of these scenarios come close to matching your own situation.  Have fun!

IRS Data Retrieval Tool for FAFSA Will Be Unavailable For “Several Weeks” — What Are The Alternatives?

Important news from the IRS and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid:

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool on fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov is currently unavailable. We are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. However, at this time, the IRS anticipates the online data tool will be unavailable for several weeks.

The online FAFSA and IDR application tool itself remains operational — it’s just the IRS’s DRT portion, which provides tax data that automatically fills in some of the financial information on the application.  The income information needed to complete the FAFSA form and apply for an IDR plan can be found on your tax return.  If you didn’t keep a copy of your tax return, you may be able to access the tax software you used to prepare your return or contact your tax preparer to obtain a copy (please note that many preparers charge a small fee for a copy, since you should be saving the pdf they send you in a safe, easily retrievable place).

If you are unable to get a copy of your tax return, visit www.irs.gov/transcript to view and download a summary of your tax return, called a tax transcript, at Get Transcript Online.  You must verify your identity to use this tool — review the rigorous identity authentication requirements for Secure Access before attempting to register.  You also may use Get Transcript by Mail or call 1-800-908-9946, and a transcript will be delivered to your address of record within five to 10 days.

While the Data Retrieval Tool is offline, the IRS offers other ways for students and families to find the tax information they need to complete student financial aid applications.

As part of a wider, ongoing effort at the IRS to protect the security of data, the IRS decided to temporarily suspend the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.

Source: Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) Statement‎ about the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT)

Webinar: Organizing & Operating a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit

CPA Academy is one of my favorite sources for topic-specific accounting education, and even better — their webinars are free.  Here’s one on a topic I’ve been asked about frequently: how to organize and operate a non-profit.  Jairo Cano, a tax attorney with Agostino Law, will be teaching this 1.5-hour webinar on Monday, March 13 and again on Monday, May 1.  Here’s a summary of the course:

In 2013, the IRS reported that tax exempt organizations held over $3.5 trillion in assets and received more than $1.8 trillion in gross receipts. Given the amount of money that passes through nonprofit organizations, it is not surprising that the IRS has increased its focus on these organizations. This webinar, offered by a leading tax controversy attorney will introduce attendees to:

  • The procedures to request and receive Section 501(c)(3) tax exempt status.
  • The requirement that the organization be organized for an exempt purpose and that it operate exclusively for exempt purposes. This discussion will include an analysis of the restrictions related to the organization’s ability to engage in for-profit activities.
  • The requirement that the organization not operate in a manner that results in providing private inurement to shareholders or a prohibited private benefit. This discussion will include an analysis on how the IRS evaluates compensation and payments for goods and services.
  • The Unrelated Business Income Tax, when it is required and how it is calculated.
  • The procedures to challenge a denial or revocation of exempt status at the administrative level as well as in Tax Court​.

This short, valuable webinar is appropriate for bookkeepers, accountants, controllers, and other non-profit professionals — as well as those looking to enter the industry or volunteer as a board member.

Source: CPA Academy

What Trump’s Executive Orders Could Mean For Taxes

Excellent, objective analysis from the most recent issue of Accounting Today on the challenges faced by preparers and tax planners — and their clients, American taxpayers — due to recent executive orders.

In rushing to get out executive orders in the first week in office to help fulfill campaign promises, the Trump administration has often acted without sufficient forethought and before Trump’s entire team has been approved by the Senate and taken their posts. Hopefully, as the Secretary of the Treasury and other key policy positions in the Treasury take their places, there will be a more careful review of how these executive orders and memoranda should apply in the tax context, with adjustments made accordingly. In the meantime, taxpayers and tax return preparers should probably assume that they will have no effect on 2016 tax return preparation. With respect to 2017, however, we will all have to stay tuned.

Read the full article here: Tax Strategy: What Trump’s executive orders could mean for taxes.

Credit Card Processing Guide for Small Businesses

(In case you know what you came here for, and don’t want to read my long-winded intro, here’s a link to the article you really want to read: Credit Card Processing Guide for Small Businesses – The Simple Dollar.)

I get contacted pretty often by companies asking if they can submit to my blog, or if I’d be willing to tout their product, website, app, etc.  Generally, the answer is “no” — I started this blog as a sort of collection of searchable bookmarks for myself, to save the research and resources that I’ve found helpful in my own practice and for clients; not as a marketing tool, and certainly not as a platform for folks to sell their solutions.

However, once-in-a-while, the information that I’m sent is so valuable and useful that… well, it fits all my criteria for bookmarking and sharing, and I feel lucky that the resource landed in my lap.  This is one of those posts.

I have mixed feelings about personal finance site The Simple Dollar — though much of the content is excellent, some of it is oversimplified, and certain articles seem to encourage readers to believe they can handle challenging financial situations without the advice of a professional.

But this article is the best I’ve ever seen on the topic of credit card processing for small businesses.  If you are starting a small business and haven’t yet made the decision about whether or not to accept credit cards; or if you’re at the point in your business’ development where it’s time to make the leap, but you’re not sure in which direction; or if you’re already accepting cards but are worried you’re paying too much: read it.  It’s comprehensive, full of information and examples, and if you’re willing to take the time to study it and take notes, you will not regret the investment.  In fact, it will likely save you time — and definitely money — in the long run.

“Due to the lack of transparency and hidden fees scattered throughout the credit card processing industry, there is a gross misconception of how debit and credit card processing work. This creates a challenge for many small business owners because making an uneducated decision could cost time and money.  For this reason, The Simple Dollar has developed a guide that aims to help small businesses gain in-depth knowledge about credit card payment processing, along with practical strategies to manage their fees and get the most out of their services.”

They offer advice on how to find the lowest possible credit card processing cost:

  • Isolate the markup
  • Choose a pricing model (pass-through pricing is cheapest)
  • Compare multiple processors with fees up-front and in writing
  • Calculate the total cost
  • Negotiate favorable terms (they even offer a list of terms they specifically recommend working on)

As well as suggestions on how to keep costs low, including tips for avoiding punitive interchange rates:

  • Track the processor’s fees
  • Interchange optimization
  • Avoid — Processing expired credit cards, Duplicating transactions, Setting a minimum or maximum limit on your transactions, Charging a usage fee for credit card transactions, Displaying full account numbers on your receipts, Processing Internet transactions with your retail merchant account, Running your personal card through your merchant account, and Splitting one transaction into several smaller transactions

So, give it a read, and share it with others you think might find it useful.  There simply aren’t many guides out there on this topic that are as worthwhile as this one: Credit Card Processing Guide for Small Businesses – The Simple Dollar.