Category Archives: Tax Advice

How to Choose the Best Tax Advisor

It’s only mid-way through the fall but it’s not too early to be thinking about your tax returns for next year.

In fact, now is the time to be thinking about your personal and business tax returns especially if you have had issues in the past and want to do it right or better this time. Your tax records and tax filings are too important to be done just by anyone, including yourself, who is unfamiliar with tax laws, deadlines and forms. It could be a serious financial and legal mistake to do it on your own without any advice.

So as the holidays draw closer, begin the search for a tax advisor. Here are Five Things to Consider When Choosing a Tax Advisor:

  1. Relevant Industry Experience: No tax advisor can know everything about every industry. Make sure you are comfortable with the amount of experience the tax advisor has with your industry. Don’t be afraid to ask the advisor if he has other clients in your industry and how long he has been doing work for them. The accounting firm partners should be able to tell you if they have enough experience to handle your case. If not, ask them to send you to a firm that can do it.
  2. Five-year Minimum experience: The senior member should have at least five to ten years of experience in completing business tax returns. Also, better to find a larger accounting firm with a variety of tax advisors. This means that the accountants have had diverse experiences with a variety of industries.
  3. Certified Public Accountant (“CPA”) Designation: As a business owner, your tax advisor should be a CPA at a minimum.  You can also choose an Atty/CPA as your tax advisor.  An Atty/CPA is a dually designated individual who is both an Attorney and a CPA and is generally more knowledgeable than an advisor who is just a CPA.  Either way make sure you have one or the other.  As a business owner you cannot afford not to.
  4. Audit Representation: IRS audits are a fact of life. Even though IRS audits are down recently, you never know and cannot control whether they will audit you next. Even the most honest among us have had to go through the stress and endure the headache of having an IRS auditor reviewing our tax returns. It is, then, crucial for your tax advisor to agree to represent you during any and all audits. They can answer questions, find documents and, most importantly, advise you on any issues druing the audit. You do not want to go through an audit alone. Make sure your tax advisor is there every plodding step of the way.
  5. Fees and Fee Structure: Before you sign up with any tax advisor, find out what they charge for their services. Make sure that you are comfortable with how and what they charge. Being organized with your business records can help prevent your Accounting Bill from getting out of control.  Quicken, Quickbooks, Mint or other accounting programs can help maintain your records in reasonable workable shape. Any paper documents should be organized by type and date. Avoid the “shoebox style of organization” which forces advisors to spend hours (and your money) trying to put it all together. You will save a lot on time and fees (and bad will) by organizing your documents.
  6. Location: With the advent of the internet and the 21st century, your tax advisor does not have to be a few blocks down the road, though being local saves on expenses, especially if you are audited. They can be in another city or state. However, if you have multiple businesses that require a lot of attention from professionals, then you will probably be better served by having someone local who can drop by and advise you on a more frequent basis and keep abreast of your local issues as well.

Yes, it seems too early to be talking about tax advisors, but you may already be rethinking that after reading this blog. That’s good because the next quarterly filing is coming up in January. Don’t go it alone. Find a licensed and experienced tax advisor today.

A.K. Burton, PC has experienced and licensed tax advisors on staff. If you need more advice on business and individual tax planning, contact us at (301) 365-1974 for more information or email us at info@cpa-maryland.com.

What to do if Investment Losses Hurt Your Finances

“Buy low, sell high.”

It’s a tried and true investment philosophy. Every stockbroker and financial advisor proclaims it.

Unfortunately, investing in the stock market also means losing money-real money. Every honest stockbroker and financial advisor also tells their clients to be prepared for it, no matter what the insiders say or who is in the presidency or congress. Losses happen.

financial losses A. K. Burton, PC

So, how can you handle investment losses? Does it spell financial ruin? Sell it all to recoup your losses? Stop investing entirely and move to Costa Rica?

No, that is desperate and rarely smart. Here are Five Tips to Handle Investment Losses that Could Hurt Your Finances: 

  1. Accept that investment is a risk: Your stockbroker or financial advisor does not control the market. It is completely out of their hands and quite unpredictable. So, accept that any investment you make is a risk. You will win and lose. If you cannot accept that truth, don’t get involved in it as it will only bring disappointment.
  2. Claim your investment loss as a “Realized Loss”: This happens when you sell an investment at a lower price than you paid for it. For instance, you may make $1,000 in capital gains but lose $4,000. You may not pay taxes on the $1,000 but your net loss may be used to offset income and you may be able to claim it this year and future years as a loss. (See your licensed financial or tax advisor for more details.)
  3. Avoid making a “Wash Sale”: If you sell a stock at a loss, only to buy that exact stock back during a 30-day period, it is considered a “wash sale”. If you do that, you may lose the tax benefits of it. Badly-performing stocks you’d like to sell for tax purposes but own again later, you should wait until the wash-sale period ends before buying them back. Bottom line: Cut your losses and move on. Your losses will lower your tax burden and can be carried forward for gains and income in the future.
  4. Investment in Bankrupt Companies: This one is easy-well, sort of. If you invested in a company that has filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors, you can claim a total capital loss on your tax returns. However, the IRS will need documentation from you on why the stock is now considered worthless. So, make sure you have documents on when it became worthless and that it is of zero value.
  5. Be efficient in taking losses: Do your best to document and take your investment losses in the most efficient and ethical way possible. The IRS knows and accepts tax losses as a part of doing business in the fickle world of tax investments. Your tax bracket also is a factor in taking losses. For instance, if you are in the 10% or 15% tax bracket, you are not liable for any losses. The main point here is this: keep accurate documentation of all losses so you and your tax advisor have all the information they need to take advantage of all tax benefits coming to you when your risk goes awry. (Please refer to www.irs.gov)

Investment losses can be painful and heartbreaking. However, it does not mean bankruptcy nor does it mean that you depart the investment world. A smart investment loss strategy that you can develop with your financial and tax advisors makes all the difference and will help in the short- and long-term.

Tax and investment advice is one of the many services we offer our clients at A.K. Burton, PC. (http://cpa-maryland.com/services/accounting-services/) Our experienced and licensed staff can help you, your family and your business make smart tax and investment decisions. Call us at (301) 365-1974 for more information or email us at info@cpa-maryland.co

Tax Write-offs that Require More Scrutiny

There is a “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer kept advising Jerry that he can use his personal expenses as “write-offs”. Finally Jerry, after hearing Kramer talk off the top of his head about taxes and obviously not actually understanding the topic, says credulously, “You don’t even know what write-offs are, do you Kramer?” Kramer then looks down, sheepishly, and nods his head “no”.

Kramer’s reaction is actually pretty typical. Most people, even though well meaning, have no idea what is a “tax write-off” and what isn’t. They may think something, such as a business meal or an office equipment purchase, are tax write-offs and thus it means they will pay less in business income taxes. But, that may a mistake…a very costly mistake.

Kramer and Seinfeld

So, to keep expectations down, help you to make better small business buying choices and to keep the IRS off your back, here are Five Tax Write-Offs that Require More Scrutiny:

  1. Business Clothing: Generally, to be deductible, clothing must be required for work and not appropriate for every day wear. Uniforms required for work and protective clothing are obvious examples.  Less obvious are items such as polo branded shirts with the Company Logo which may be considered company “uniforms” and deductible as such.  Clothing such as blue jeans even though functional as work clothes are not deductible since they are not part of a uniform and are appropriate for every day wear.
  2. Business Meals & Entertainment with Clients: This one is the most-abused and most misunderstood. Business meals or an entertainment event are tax-deductible if – (i) you are meeting with a client or potential client and (ii) business is discussed before, during or after the meal or entertainment event.  More over only 50% of the expense is allowable as a deduction.
  3. Cell Phone Expense: This one seems to be a definite tax write-off to many small business owners. How can it not be, right? Well, the IRS considers cell phones to be both business and personal use. Only the business part of the expense can be written off, so you have to calculate the percentage of business calls and deduct only that cost.  There is also an alternative view – if a cell phone is an absolute necessity to your business – then having the phone could be considered an ordinary and necessary business expense for your business – and the deminimus personal use considered an inconsequential working fringe.
  4. Business Vehicle Use: Many small business owners use their personal vehicle for meeting clients, traveling to job sites and attending company meetings. A vehicle can be used for thousands of miles in a fiscal year. However, only the business mileage can be deducted. If you have your office outside of your home, commuting to work is considered personal mileage and not deductible. It is a good idea to keep a mileage log for every business trip so you can be accurate in your business expense records. (There are several apps that can be used for just such record keeping.)
  5. Charitable Organizations: Unfortunately, not all non-profits are equal. That is, they have not been designated by the IRS as a “tax-exempt organization”. (We covered how an organization can become tax-exempt in a previous blog.) There are some social and civic charities which are not 501 c (3), for whatever reason, so any donation to them is only out of your generosity and cannot be counted as a tax write-off. Be sure to check that the organization is tax-exempt before donating to them. Most national charities are known by their brands and are tax-exempt (i.e. The Salvation Army, March of Dimes, etc.) but you can find out on their website or by checking at charitycheck101.org.

There are even more supposed “tax write-offs” we can cover in another blog. Just be sure to call a licensed tax professional or do your own research before assuming your small business expense is going to save you money on your next year’s tax returns. You may be making a serious and expensive mistake.

For more information and experienced business and personal tax advice, contact our professionals at A. K. Burton, PC, at (301) 365-1974 for more information or email us at info@cpa-maryland.com.

How to Get Tax-Exempt Status as a Nonprofit, Part 2

In our previous blog we covered a number of steps you can take to get tax-exemption for your non-profit that you have just created. There are quite a few steps to take so we had to split the blog up into two. charity a k burton

Anyway, let’s continue, here are the next Steps to take to get Tax-Exempt Status for your Non-Profit, Part 2:  

  1. List of directors and employees and compensation: You will have manager(s) of your charitable organization and the IRS wants to their names and how much they will be paid by the charity. Your list should include: initial or starter directors, starter officers (executive director, financial officer, chief executive officer, secretary and others); trustees; top five employees who make more than $50,000 a year and any independent contractors which make $50,000 per year.
  2. List of beneficiaries of your charitable organization: Your non-profit serves a specific population (i.e. homeless, elderly, youth, religious group, etc.) and the IRS wants to see that specific list to make sure that you are legitimate. Your population served is a crucial part of your underwriting. (Researching the local, state of national population is helpful and having that on hand to submit to IRS should they ask is wise to do.)
  3. Description of your non-profit activities: Provide a complete narrative of all that you do and plan to do with your charity. It should include step-by-step workflow (without including every detail, that may be too much) of your activities and how you plan to do it with your staff. Make sure the pieces fit. In other words, there is no waste in your processes and the staff members all have a role. (Political activity and gambling are prohibited. Be sure to research that or consult a licensed tax advisor.)
  4. Data on finances: Any 501 C 3 must provide its last five years of financial records to the IRS for review. Other groups have to show finances for all years they have been in existence for three to four years and in good faith for future years depending on the history of the organization. (For more details check with your tax advisor about Form 1023 and IRS non-profit requirements.)
  5. Are you a “Private Foundation” or a “Public Charity”?: Typically churches, temples, hospitals, schools, etc. are categorized as “public charities” whereas “private foundations” may be organizations that exist to donate money to causes, individuals and others (i.e. Gates Foundation, Kiwanis Foundation, etc.). There are specific rules, of course, for these too so please consult your licensed tax advisor.
  6. IRS Fee: You didn’t think you could do this for free with the IRS, did you? They do charge certain fees and there is a list of those fees available online and with your tax advisor. Be sure to include the fee payment with your filing or it will be delayed.

Yes, anything worthwhile takes work, sometimes a lot of work. But, if you follow these steps you may be able to get your non-profit organization up and running.

Contact us if you need personal or professional counseling, from tax planning, to payroll to Business/Financial Entity planning and many other services, A. K. Burton, PC, can meet all your personal and business accounting needs. Call us at (301) 365-1974 for more information.

How to Get Tax-Exempt Status as a Nonprofit: Part 1

There are many intimidating processes in the world of charitable causes. Sometimes, they change over time due to new laws passed by Congress and enforced by the IRS.

It can be difficult keeping track. Your accountant should always be up-to-date on these changes, for sure. community volunteers A K Burton

However, when it comes to tax-exemption, once your charitable organization has incorporated, it is fairly cut-and-dry, as they say. But, for a review, here is some guidance from a tax advisor on How to Get Your Non-Profit Tax Exemption, Part 1: 

  1. Complete IRS Form 1023 Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code: Ironically, this first step may be the most difficult. This form has a number of legal and tax-related technical prose within it, making it a laborious venture. You may want to seek advice from your accountant as you embark on this first part.
  2. File for Non-exempt Status within 27 months of Articles of Incorporation: When you file during this time period, your charitable organization’s tax exemption will take effect on the date you filed for incorporation. When you do that, then all donations received will be tax-deductible. However, should you delay incorporating during this 27-month period without a “reasonable cause”, then your non-profit’s tax-exempt status starts the date of the postmark on the IRS Form 1023 application.
  3. Form 1023 Completion: This long form has eleven parts to it. If you have a smaller non-profit, then you may want to do the 1023 EZ Form Streamlined Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It is quite evident how this form is so much easier for smaller non-profits so go the IRS website and see if your non-profit is eligible.
  4. Applicant Identification: This is all basic information about your non-profit organization. Your organization needs an EIN (federal employee identification number). Don’t use the old one when you began this process. Request a new on from the IRS as you start this process. It’s actually pretty easy and they send one fairly quickly.
  5. Structure of the Organization: You need to attach a copy of articles of incorporation and your bylaws. (Just an FYI: If your non-profit is a LLC, unincorporated association or non-profit trust, please contact your tax lawyer. It gets very complicated if you have those designations.)
  6. Organizational Document’s Required Provisions: You need to add certain clauses to get your 501(c)(3) exemption: a clause stating that your corporation was formed for a recognized 501(c)(3) tax-exempt purpose and a clause stating that that any assets of the nonprofit that remain after the entity dissolves will be distributed to another 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit or to a federal, state, or local government for a public purpose.

There are several more steps and we will cover those in our next blog. If you need assistance with your non-profit’s tax-exempt status, we can take you through the entire process (and help reduce the stress).

Call us at if you need personal or professional counseling, from tax planning, to payroll to choice of Business/Financial Entity planning and many other services, A. K. Burton, PC, can meet all your private and business accounting needs. Call us at (301) 365-1974 for more information.