Rising Health Care Costs and What to do About It

It’s not great news for business owners or households around healthcare costs.

A recent report by Kaiser/HRET Employer Health Benefits forecasts that the average family health care plan will cost $18,142, up 3.4% from 2015.

A recent ccn.com story went on to share that overall workers are paying more for healthcare deductibles with single coverage health insurance plan carriers paying $1000 or more in deductibles costs. This represents a 31% increase from 2011.

The big news in 2016 was that Americans are paying more for insurance, pharmaceuticals and doctor appointments. The increased costs late in 2016 represented the biggest increase since 1984.

Until lawmakers and the health industry can work together to create a plan to slow down increasing costs and charges, businesses and individuals will need to plan the best they can for healthcare.

Now is a good time to plan for the year ahead. Our office is happy to meet and discuss strategies for your household or your business. Give us a call.

Tax Season is Here

The first day of the 2017 tax season has come and gone. There are a few subtle changes around the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) identity verification process. The changes are in place to reduce fraud and we will help walk you through how or if this affects you this year.

Federal and California state tax filing is due on April 18.

Please go ahead and get scheduled to see us.

Our team is ready and able to update you about any of your questions including:
• Are social security benefits taxable?
• New requirements regarding identity and the IRS
• Tax benefits for parents
• Everything you need to know about child tax credit

 

Identity Theft: How to be on the Lookout

Hopefully, your bank and credit card companies have a system in place to alert you about possible fraudulent charges on your accounts. However, there are other warning signs that you may be a victim of identity theft including:

  • Credit card or telephone bills do not arrive when you generally expect them
  • Replacement cards have not been received prior to the expiration dates on existing cards
  • Calls from creditors or potential creditors about suspicious accounts. Beware of phone or email solicitations asking you for information about your accounts as well. These can be well disguised inquiries and look very official. When in doubt call your bank or creditors directly (use a number you have on file, not one provided to you in the email, etc.)
  • Check your credit report occasionally and look for information on the report regarding accounts you never opened
  • Unauthorized withdrawals from your account(s)

If you are a victim of identity theft you will have a number of steps you will need to take and you have certain rights afforded you by law. Our office has a complete checklist we are happy to provide to you including phone numbers and other important contact information (you can also download it here: www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/victim-checklist. This checklist also provides sample letters you can use to report fraudulent account activity).

What Makes a CPA Professional a Professional

Do you know how CPA’s differ from other financial professionals?  CPA’s generally begin their careers with years of college and graduate education. To become licensed, CPA’s take a demanding exam testing expertise on a wide range of business topics. Additionally, CPA’s have to meet an experience requirement and then be licensed by a state board of accountancy to practice. Once licensed to practice, CPA’s must earn continuing education hours demonstrating current knowledge of new business developments.  Additionally CPA’s commit to a strict code of ethical standards. And did you know CPA’s have full rights to represent you in front of the IRS?

Our office is here year round to help individuals, businesses and special districts to address their unique challenges.

As the year draws to a close……. take a little time to reduce tax season stress. Plan to get organized early. Pull materials together in a folder (charitable donations, health and medical bills, bank info, employer statements). Then call us to meet. We can review your current information and last year’s tax return. This will avoid any surprises and potentially help to minimize tax obligations as well as to plan for the best possible financial position.

Fall Planning Could Mean Saving Money Later

We all have heard of spring cleaning but I want to encourage you to take a little time this fall to do some fall planning that could make a big difference for your 2016 taxes. A quick check in with your CPA can make sure you are taking advantage of all opportunities to minimize your tax bill. You may want to fine tune charitable contribution planning, retirement investment or other business investments that could positively impact your 2016 tax return AND your company or organization’s bottom line this year. Our team is constantly reviewing tax code and opportunities to make sure you can take maximum allowable expenses. Is some instances there are additional write offs available after you hit your maximum. There are also opportunities around health benefits and office equipment. Taking time now to review your expenses to date around business travel, Bank, ATM, credit card fees, professional development, books, workshops, conferences, association memberships will save time and hopefully money during tax season.

Our office is always ready to meet with you and review your current financials to help forecast for next year’s tax return, it’s one of the benefits of having a CPA as your business partner.

The Real Truth About Success

I just finished reading a book by Garrison Wynn, The Truth about Success.  His book builds a case that success is not the result of repeating positive affirmations to yourself each day or by meditating about it. His book is full of honest statements that take us back to the basics of business, planning and networking. He builds a case for that fact that circumstances do not create the quality of your life but rather your actions create the quality of your life. Here are a few of my favorite points from his book (most of this is verbatim from the author):

Approach life talent first. Find or create your own personal advantage.

You might not have innate advantages. The truth is you can create your own advantage. The top 1% of industry leaders we interviewed have discovered innate secret advantages and created new ones, you can too. What is your unique, distinctive edge? It might be your look, your personality, a character trait, your demeanor, the people you know, the resources you possess, or even a well-crafted plan to bolster your popularity in the workplace. Finding that edge and using it effectively is what separates the top 1 percent from the remaining 99 percent.

Knowledge is not power; implementation is power  

Can you step back and look beyond the conventional business culture? Are you willing to take a chance? Chan you create plan for yourself? Can you adapt your beliefs in order to utilize your advantage? Knowing something and doing something have very little in common.

I have always observed that those people who DO something (anything) get a lot further in life and those are the people who can make business grow.

Long-Term Success is the Result of Relationships Built on a Foundation of Trust. People get More Value from those they Trust

The truth about success—being the best versus being consistently chosen as the best—is that a lot of people are good at what they do and have talent. But to be consistently chosen, there are specific things you need to do…..all had achieved a degree of trust, clarity and comfort with the people they worked with and had built that trust on a foundation of two things: compassion and competence.

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We have been fortunate to have very long term clients (some for the entire lifetime of a business) and we like to think it’s because we have built those relationships built on trust and competence, taking action and helping to identify the talent in a business or an individual.

Business Manager or CPA? You be the Judge

As a real estate agent you are busy wearing a multitude of hats, from home and neighborhood expert, to chief marketing officer, market analyst and therapist. You cannot expect to know the ins and outs of tax codes and deductions and other tax related obligations. As an entrepreneur you want to be able to manage your finances efficiently, retaining as much profit as possible. You may not have thought of a CPA as one of your best financial partners but a CPA can offer insight to your business structure, help provide protection from financial and tax obligations. In some cases CPA’s can even help you manage your own real estate investments.

Investing in a CPA is one of the best business decisions you can make. It will relieve you of unnecessary stress and worry. They can partner with you as a business manager helping you manage payroll and your tax obligations.

You should spend some time to interview CPA’s to find the best match for you and your business. Be ready with a handful of questions:

  • What type of accounting do you specialize in? Who are some of your current clients? How long have your clients stayed with you?
  • Do you offer tax preparation?
  • How often are you available to meet or talk with me? How can I best reach you?
  • Can you assist in various phases of real estate investment, acquisition or sale of property?
  • What advice do you have for my business bookkeeping?
  • What is your fee structure?

CPA’s and Realtors: A Match Made in Heaven

As a CPA, I work with all kinds of business clients helping with both tax preparation, tax planning and identifying how to maximize tax benefits. Over the years, we have also had great success in working with real estate agents and their business planning.

A solid business plan will include a strategy around taxes keeping you in compliance and in good financial health. A CPA can demystify the current rules and guidelines for state and federal taxes. When you are working in a commission only industry and not enjoying an employer handling details around tax withholding it’s a great benefit to have someone provide insight about the best way to make sure you don’t get caught by surprise. If you are in business for yourself, you are an independent contractor and have the ability to claim business deductions on your tax return but this will involve planning and the tracking of allowable expenses.

We also work with our clients to analyze their overall financial picture. A financial review will offer insight to monthly expenses and opportunities for business deductions. We have helped figure out reserve accounts and know how to find ways to save on future obligations. There are a myriad of business discounts afforded to you as a realtor from car insurance, to office tools, technology and marketing services. We can offer decades of experience in helping you develop a solid financial business plan. It’s true that taking the time to write a plan and then following it is not always the most exciting part of owning your own business, however it is the critical component to your business that every successful realtor will tell you to include in your business.

Our firm has helped to navigate and align all the components of planning your business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.) to your internal processes of budgeting and planning (startup costs, operational costs, stabilizing your personal income and more). CPA’s can help you plan for cash flow bringing stability and growth to your business. Invite your CPA to help you develop your real estate business plan. You will soon realize it’s one of the most important and affordable investments you can make.

2016 Finance Planning – 3 Challenges to Local Fire and Water Districts

Just because you cannot control Mother Nature or bureaucratic red tape doesn’t mean you cannot control your fiscal planning. A CPA just might be the secret to helping you manage through the current conditions in the state of California.

Challenge #1 The Drought

It goes without saying, California needs water! Thankfully this year we are seeing storm systems pass through but we are a long way from being out of a drought. Through my audit work this year, I saw the tough realities of the drought, cost of water, reduced revenues, crops that cannot be planted because there is not enough water. These are all actual factors that must be worked through in order to successfully financially manage local services. Our firm works closely with its small district clients all year long. We work together to forecast best and worst case, looking at all the financial angles for the district to create a workable and successful plan.

Challenge #2 Benefits and Pensions

In 1999 Governor Davis was informed by CalPERS that increases in income would not pose any problems for the long term when it came to retirement, pensions and benefits. Well, looking in the rear view mirror, we know that revenue has not kept up and now tough discussions have become the norm across the state.

Many special districts have had to take on long term debt and issue bonds to cover current benefits. Adding pressure to the situation is the strength of the labor unions and their need to continue benefits at the same level for their members. All of this ends up in a very serious discussion about government being able to fund nothing other than benefits and no longer be able to fund basic public infrastructure like parks and potholes.

The media often exacerbates the situation by accusing government of being secret organizations, behaving in a non-transparent manner and behaving in an unregulated manner.

And sometimes it’s true. Some cities are paying outrageous salaries but what is more often the case is that for every city out of bounds on salary, there is a dozen small communities trying to make things work with volunteer elected officials working for the public good with no health or pension benefits. Adding complexity to the matter is sometimes state oversight is involved adding costs to the bottom line.

Challenge #3 LAFCo (Local Agency Formation Commission)

The broad goals of the Commission’s directive in 1963 to ensure the orderly formation of local governmental agencies and consolidate services was a great goal at the time but the recent work to further consolidate has the potential to ruin a true democratic process making it difficult for people to get involved through service by getting involved in boards and commissions. There are looming discussions around fire departments and other first responder services like ambulances. The consolidations and planning obviously impact the finances of special districts.

There is HOPE!

A beginning point to solve all of these challenges is financial reporting. Financial reporting should not be an annual event, it should occur all year long. There should be quarterly reviews. Boards should have regular access to accurate financial statements that include a discussion about the current rates and service costs, cash on hand in the bank, pending costs of benefits and infrastructure upgrades. Many of our counties have overwhelming challenges in front of them but the first step to solving them is by confronting the true financial picture. It boils down to the simple principles of planning and not being afraid to tackle the issues.

CPA’s are a great resource to give insight to the true financial picture and offer ideas and fresh perspectives.

 

Don’t Let Your Accountant Get Lonely

Hopefully you hired a CPA whose business arrangement with you offers you the opportunity to call whenever you want. Your CPA should not be someone you see once a year as you drop of a box of receipts and copies of your ledger sheets. Don’t let him get lonely! The two of you should be checking in throughout the year, making sure that you know everything about your business fiscal health. You should be able to see monthly financials helping you to forecast revenue and your accountant will help you make sure you are making full use of any tax advantages. Your accountant can help you see trends in your business.

Bob Johnson and his team is always available for any kind of inquiry. Many clients also take advantage of Bob’s willingness to train you and your staff to demystify accounting terms and actually reveal new ways to make your company run better. This is all covered in your existing fees. The firm is designed around service and is affordable.

Look at what one of Bob’s clients has to say:

Before meeting Bob we were involved with a few different CPA firms, so I speak from experience when I say he is more than just a CPA. Other companies were more interested in keeping the secrets to the “magic” of the accounting world a secret to the mere mortals and charge based on 15 minute increments! Bobs philosophy is to “Teach” his clients as much as they want to learn about the numbers and where they come from. As a business owner I didn’t have time to go to school, but needed to learn to keep my business alive.
– William Buxton, Jr., Buxton Transportation