Posted on Jul 11, 2016

SB Blog Cover 1200pxNumerous tax breaks have been retroactively expanded for 2015 and beyond — or, in some cases, been made permanent — under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. Now that the dust from the new law has settled, small business owners can plan ahead with these 5 mid-year tax strategies inspired by the recent legislation.

5 Tax Breaks for Small Businesses

1. Buy equipment. The PATH Act preserves both the generous limits for the Section 179 expensing election and the availability of bonus depreciation. These breaks generally apply to qualified fixed assets, including equipment or machinery, placed in service during the year. For 2016, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $500,000, subject to a $2,010,000 phaseout threshold. Without the PATH Act, the 2016 limits would have been $25,000 and $200,000, respectively. The higher amounts are now permanent and subject to inflation indexing.

Additionally, for 2016 and 2017, your business may be able to claim 50% bonus depreciation for qualified costs in excess of what you expense under Sec. 179. Bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019 before it expires on December 31, 2019.

2. Improve your premises. Traditionally, businesses must recover the cost of building improvements straight-line over 39 years. But the recovery period has been reduced to 15 years for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements, and qualified retail improvements. This tax break was reinstated and made permanent by the PATH Act.

If you qualify and your premises need remodeling, you can recoup the costs much faster than you could without this special provision. Keep in mind that some of these expenses might be eligible for bonus depreciation.

3. Ramp up research activities. After years of uncertainty, the research credit has been made permanent under the PATH Act. For qualified research expenses, the credit is generally equal to 20% of expenses over a base amount that’s essentially determined using a historical average of research expenses as a percentage of revenues. There’s also an alternative computation for companies that haven’t increased their research expenses substantially over their historical base amounts.

Research activities must meet these criteria to be considered “qualified”:

  • The purpose must be to create new (or improve existing) functionality, performance, reliability or quality of a product, process, technique, invention, formula or computer software that will be sold or used in your trade or business.
  • There must be an intention to eliminate uncertainty.
  • There must be a process of experimentation. In other words, there must be a trial and error process.
  • The process of experimentation must fundamentally rely on principles of physical or biological science, engineering or computer science.

Effective starting in 2016, a small business with $50 million or less in gross receipts may claim the credit against its alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability. In addition, a start-up company with less than $5 million in gross receipts may claim the credit against up to $250,000 in employer Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes.

4. Issue more stock. Does your business need an influx of capital? If so, consider issuing qualified small business stock (QSBS). As long as certain requirements are met (for example, at least 80% of your corporate assets must be actively used for business purposes) and the investor holds the stock for at least five years, 100% of the gain from a subsequent sale of QSBS will be tax-free to the investor — making such stock an attractive investment opportunity. The PATH Act lifted the QSBS acquisition deadline (December 31, 2014) for this tax break, essentially making the break permanent.

5. Hire workers from certain “target groups.” Your business may claim the Work Opportunity credit for hiring a worker from one of several “target groups,” such as food stamp recipients and certain veterans. The PATH Act revives the credit and extends it through 2019. It also adds a new category: long-term unemployment recipients.

Generally, the maximum Work Opportunity credit is $2,400 per worker, but it’s higher for workers from certain target groups. In addition, an employer may qualify for a special credit, with a maximum of up to $1,200 per worker for 2016, for employing disadvantaged youths from Empowerment Zones or Enterprise Communities in the summer.

New transitional rules give an employer until June 30, 2016, to claim the Work Opportunity credit for applicable wages paid in 2015.

Midyear Small Business Tax Planning Meeting

We’re almost half way through the tax year. Summer is a great time for small businesses to get a jump start on tax planning. Contact your Cornwell Jackson tax adviser to estimate your expected tax liability based on year-to-date taxable income and devise ways to reduce your tax bill in 2016 and beyond.

Posted on Jun 9, 2016


When starting a small business, taking the time to set up your recordkeeping system properly, right from the beginning, will save you time and money down the road — and could make the difference between success and failure.

Certified public accountants (CPAs) are experts in small business finance including taxes, financial reporting, business advisory, personal financial planning as well as bookkeeping and payroll processing.

According to CPAs, good recordkeeping preparation and planning can:

  • Make tax preparation easier. Back-up documentation may save you taxes, interest charges and penalties if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ever questions your return.
  • Allow you to comply with multi-state taxes, such as sales taxes (including internet sales) and payroll taxes.
  • Give you a better handle on your overall financial position, how your business is performing and help your CPA identify financial and tax planning opportunities.
  • Create efficiencies throughout the business by spending less time locating documents and information.
  • Provide your successor with a roadmap to your financial affairs if you die or become incapacitated.


One of the first things you will need to determine is whether to use a traditional paper filing system, an electronic filing system or a combination of the two. You should carefully consider the pros and cons of each type of system in light of your business needs and resources.


To keep up with your recordkeeping, it’s important to build a system that is convenient. Electronic records are very easy to transport. You can move the equivalent of boxes of paper documents with the click of a mouse via encrypted email or a secure portal. When stored in the Cloud or a secure portal, you can work on them from home, the airport or the beach. CPAs work with both electronic and physical records, but your CPA will have specific recommendations due to the requirements for business recordkeeping in your state and/or within your industry. Be sure to consult with your CPA to find the recordkeeping system that best suits your needs.


Paper files are extremely reliable, provided you follow documented protocols for setting up and maintaining them. They are not susceptible to server failures or power outages. Nor are they dependent on the ongoing support of a systems vendor. Paper files, however, are susceptible to floods, fires and other natural disasters. It’s difficult and costly to maintain redundant backups of paper records. Although electronic media can also be easily damaged or destroyed, redundant backups are generally easily made and recovered.


Identity theft, fraud, privacy law violations and numerous other crimes have been enabled by electronic recordkeeping systems. Even some of the most sophisticated electronic security systems have been compromised. As a business owner you have a responsibility under multiple laws and regulatory bodies to protect the confidentiality and security of your customer’s records. Electronic records can be kept secure when proper measures are taken to protect privacy, but this is an entirely different process from keeping filing cabinets locked and installing an office security system. Because you are legally responsible for your data, you should NOT depend solely on your electronic recordkeeping systems vendor to ensure the security of your electronic records.


When it comes to storage, electronic files clearly have the advantage. The longer you’re in business and the more you grow, the more burdensome the space requirements for paper records. Many businesses resort to offsite records storage both to save space and to mitigate the risk of records being destroyed. At some point, paper records typically need to be shredded, which is labor intensive and costly.


The cost of electronic record storage has become highly affordable compared to traditional paper-based systems. Some original documents should still be kept in paper copies, but the vast majority can be digitized.


Although your filing system will need to be tailored to meet the needs of your specific business, the following elements can help you avoid common pitfalls.


When it comes to filing, almost everyone has his or her own ideas about how they’d like to see the files organized. If left unchecked, one person’s innovation soon becomes another’s frustration. Set a standard protocol for every type of file, then teach, monitor and enforce it.

CENTRAL LOCATION For security and emergency purposes, keep all files in one central location that can easily be accessed without being dependent on a single person. The same principle applies to electronic files, which should be kept on a shared server or Cloud provider’s system rather than on an individual’s PC workstation.


Access to files should be limited to only those who have a specific business purpose for doing so and security protocols should be set up accordingly. An advantage to most electronic recordkeeping systems is that a date and time stamp log is automatically generated each time a user accesses a file. If you implement an electronic system, you should periodically review access logs and follow-up on any unusual activity.


Documents that are difficult or costly to replace should be kept in a safe deposit box. Your safe deposit box should hold any records of ownership such as deeds and titles and original business documents such as articles of incorporation, corporate resolutions, bylaws, partnership agreement, minutes from annual meetings, loan documents and so on. Because access to your safe deposit box could be delayed in emergency situations, keep copies in a clearly marked paper or electronic file. Additional copies should be held by your attorney.


With your recordkeeping system in place, prepare a procedures manual explaining it for employee training purposes and in case someone outside the business needs access due to a long-term illness or other emergency. Be sure to include the location of important documents as well as insurance policy information. You should also list bank and investment accounts, as well as all credit accounts with account numbers. Also, you should list information on other debts, including mortgages and loan documents. Give a copy of this manual to trusted family members, your attorney, CPA and trustees, if any.

Setting Up Your Bookkeeping System

Your instinct may be to just set up bookkeeping system “from a box” of purchased software or from the Cloud. However, before you set up your system, you’ll want to talk to our team of CPAs about purchasing software that is right for your type of business and easy to use.

Your CJ CPA can help you design the proper chart of accounts that will give you key information on your business and will save you time in the long run. If you plan to manage your books in-house, making the investment in a system that works with that of your CPA could prove to be more strategic when seeking advice and easier when it comes to closing the year end, generating financial reports and filing income tax returns.

SB Recordkeeping CoverGuide to Small Business Recordkeeping

To download the Guide to Small Business Recordkeeping, which includes a list of what documents your business must keep and for how long, click here.

Posted on May 16, 2016

Checklist 1200

Sound planning is one of the most critical factors to the success of your business. Before you started your business, you likely put together a plan for your start-up expenses and projected monthly revenues and expenses. Now that your business is up and running, your plan will need to be adjusted regularly to match your actual performance.

If you’re like most small business owners, time is your most scarce resource. Conducting a monthly or quarterly financial health checkup with your local certified public accountant (CPA) can provide a substantial return on your financial planning time because it allows you to leverage the expert training and experience of a CPA who advises many small business owners.

By reviewing the following aspects of your business, your CPA team at Cornwell Jackson can help you identify and correct problem areas before they become crises.

Small Business Check-in List

Here are some of the things you need to think about when you conduct a periodic checkup on your business:

KPIs vary for each type of business. Your CPA can help you develop KPIs most relevant to your business, formulate them into a dashboard and review them with you on a regular basis. Most CPAs can also provide you with comparative data based on their extensive experience with other businesses as well as other industry sources.

Small owners don’t have the luxury of a strategic planning department, and daily operations consume most of your time. Your CPA can serve as your strategy adviser and help you boil your strategy down into measurable goals and review your progress on a regular basis.

In the beginning, your sales forecast was based on market research, your sales and marketing plan and your best estimates based on experience in your industry. Even the best start-up sales forecasts need to be reworked in light of new information you’ve learned from actual operating performance. Because your CPA advises many small businesses, he has extensive experience with sales forecasts and can perform a periodic checkup to see whether your sales forecast is realistic in light of your specific circumstances.

Amid frequently changing costs and pressure to make sales, many small business owners find it challenging to keep up with whether they’re maintaining adequate profit margins to sustain their business. Your CPA can help you calculate and track gross margins by product or service, by customer (or customer group) or by job. Most importantly, your CPA can help you identify causes of margin erosion and recommend changes you can make to get your margins back on track.

Cash flow management makes the difference between success and failure for most businesses. Your CPA can provide you with the kind of professional cash flow forecasts an in-house finance department would provide to management in a larger business. Your CPA can help you answer the questions: What will our cash balance look like during our slow season? Will we need to borrow to cover shortfalls? Do we have a large enough line of credit?

Accounts receivable can be difficult to forecast until you have enough history to identify trends. In many cases your CPA has access to trend and benchmark data for other businesses similar to yours and can help you forecast seasonal fluctuations and compare your A/R performance to industry benchmarks. Your CPA can also help you identify needed adjustments to your credit and collection policies. Here are some of the things you need to think about when you conduct a periodic checkup on your business: 3

Sometimes an accounts payable problem arises suddenly. But more often problems develop over time and can be corrected before they become crises. Your CPA can review your accounts payable and help you develop a plan to resolve payment issues and prevent them from occurring.

For many businesses, inventory is a major draw on operating capital and cash flow. If your business has seasonal fluctuations, inventory forecasting can be difficult. Your CPA can help you forecast your inventory needs and evaluate inventory financing options from suppliers, local banks and commercial lenders.

For most businesses, payroll is a major expense. Your CPA can help you locate industry benchmarks and develop a scorecard for you to monitor. CPAs can also provide an objective checkup on your health care expenses, retirement plan and other employee benefits. If you need specific benefits help, your CPA can provide you with a referral to a specialist.

Most lenders include certain loan covenants in their lending agreements such as a requirement to maintain certain types of insurance coverage, to meet a certain debt to income ratio and so on. Failure to maintain these requirements could result in penalties or even worse — having your loan called. Your CPA can help you develop a scorecard to monitor and stress-test your loan covenants in light of your financial forecasts. If a loan covenant breach is likely, your CPA can help you develop a plan to bring your business back into compliance or to renegotiate covenant requirements with the lender.

You don’t want a big surprise tax bill when you file your annual return, but you don’t want to tie up more capital than necessary in your estimated quarterly tax payments. Your CPA can check your performance and projections against your estimated tax payments to help you avoid surprises at tax time.

Laws, regulations and financial reporting standards change frequently. Failure to comply can result in costly penalties from state and federal authorities or place you in technical default of loan covenants with your bank. Your CPA can help you identify regulatory changes that could impact your business and assist you with compliance.

Preventing emergencies is one of the benefits of scheduling regular checkups with your CPA. But you can’t predict some situations such as the loss of a major customer, a lender unexpectedly calling a loan, a personal health problem or other unpredictable event. When you’ve been meeting with your CPA on a regular basis, your CPA knows your business and is in a better position to help you when an emergency arises. Because your CPA is specially trained and advises many small businesses, your CPA is uniquely qualified to advise you on your financial options in a crisis situation.

SB Quarterly Pulse Check Cover

To download this checklist from the AICPA, click here.

In this guide, we cover:

  • Strategy and Planning
  • Cash FLow Forecasting
  • Gross Profit Margins
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • and more!
Posted on May 9, 2016

Startup Financing

It’s no secret that you will need capital to launch your new business. Many entrepreneurs struggle to get their businesses off the ground because they’re unable to secure adequate funding. The good news is that billions of dollars are available to fund small business ventures like yours.

Before you begin the process of securing capital, you will need a written business plan that defines your business, management team, market, products and services, competitive advantage and the financial forecast and analysis that determines the proper amount and type of financing.

Determine Capital Needed for Fixed Assets

As you prepare the financial part of your business plan, you’ll need to provide a detailed list of your capital needs separated into the following categories that correspond to common asset categories and specific types of business loans. Consider the following as you create your list of capital needs.

  • Location — Will you buy, build or lease? What kind of materials and labor might you need to build out the space?
  • Equipment — List every major piece of equipment you will need and provide the cost for each and consider options for a capital lease versus making a purchase.
  • Technology — Divide your list into hardware and software. Don’t include software, data storage or website hosting that will be acquired on a subscription basis. Those services generally should be listed as operating expenses.
  • Furniture and fixtures — List the quantity and prices from major distributors for desks, file cabinets, tables, chairs, shelving, displays, cubicles and so on.
  • Vehicles — List cars and trucks essential to the operation of your business, such as delivery or service vehicles. Fleet vehicles may also be leased.

Evaluating Types of Working Capital Financing

The types and terms of working capital loans vary significantly depending on their intended purpose and corresponding risk. The following are some of the more common ones.

Lines of Credit

Lines of credit are common sources of short-term working capital financing. often, a business is approved for a line of credit up to a certain amount — much like a credit card — and the line can be used for fluctuations in accounts receivable, inventory and seasonal business cycles. Many banks won’t extend a line of credit until your business has been operating for 12 months. Generally, you will pay interest on your outstanding balance on a monthly basis. The principal of your loan is “callable” by the bank subject to the notification requirement of the note. Lines of credit typically are secured by accounts receivable and inventory and can also be required to be personally guaranteed by the business owner and subject to restrictive covenants.

Trade Credit

As your business begins to grow, establishing trade credit with your primary suppliers will help you finance your growth — often at no cost to you. Trade terms usually are 30 days, but in some industries (retail for example), you can negotiate substantially longer terms once you’ve established a relationship with a supplier. The key to establishing trade credit is “ask,” and when terms are extended to you always pay on time. Your first trade account will serve as a credit reference for your next and so on.

Preparing for Requests and Questions from Potential Lenders

While every loan program has specific forms you need to submit, you will likely need to provide much of the same information to each of the lenders for different loans. These documents include:

  • Personal Background
  • Resumes
  • Business Plan
  • Personal Credit Report
  • Business Credit Report
  • Income Tax Returns
  • Financial Statements
  • Bank Statements
  • Collateral
  • Personal Guarantee
  • Additional Legal Documents

For a detailed list of the documents that each lender will likely request, download the Guide to Acquiring Startup Financing, which includes a comprehensive Business Loan Application Checklist.

In addition to providing the above documentation for your new business, be prepared for lenders who will likely ask the following questions.

  • Why are you applying for this loan?
  • How will the loan proceeds be used?
  • What assets need to be purchased, and who are your suppliers?
  • What other business debt do you have, and who are your creditors?
  • Who are the members of your management team and what are their qualifications?
  • Why do you think this business will be successful?

As you make your way through the financing process and begin evaluating your funding options, keep in mind that your local CPA can be your most trusted professional business adviser. Your local CPA already advises other small businesses in your area and has relationships with local banks, insurance agents, attorneys, investors, municipal and county regulatory officials and more. Your CPA can be an important ally in helping you determine how much capital you need, evaluate available funding options and choose the ones that best meet your needs.

SB Startup Financing Guide CoverFor the complete guide on how to acquire startup financing for your small business, click here to download. In this guide, certified public accountants (CPAs) offer their most helpful tips on the following topics.

  • Forecasting revenue, expenses, and operating capital requirements
  • Types of working capital financing
  • Determining capital needs for fixed assets
  • List your personal assets and liabilities
  • Identify potential funding sources
  • Financing package development
  • Business loan application checklist
Posted on Aug 18, 2015

Need a Loan for Your Business? As a company grows, inevitably it will need to partner with a bank to provide long-term financing and additional working capital. Over the years, I have been involved with many clients that struggle to get traditional financing. The response that my clients usually get upon applying for credit is “we like the business model, but it is just ‘not’ the right fit for the bank.” After applying to five different banks, it is quite possible to receive five different reasons for not being a good fit. Maybe it was a ratio, type of industry, or the type of collateral that triggered the rejection. Whatever it may be, the bank says to come back in six months and we can look at it again; the only problem is that many small businesses might not have six months to wait and reapply.

There is a solution for companies that are operating at a profit but don’t have a significant amount of equity built up. Recently, I have worked with a client that is being forced out of bank. While they are current on the payment terms for loans outstanding at his bank, the business incurred some significant losses in 2013 due to a change in the business model that would allow the company to make more money in the future. The company funded the losses by a loan provided by a minority investor. Despite the fact that the minority investor with deep pockets guaranteed the loan, the bank downgraded the loan internally, froze the line of credit, and required the owners to pay down the line of credit by 40%. From that point, the bank was unsure of its next step, since the client’s company started making money in 2014 and is doing fantastic in 2015. So my client and I kept meeting with his banker on a quarterly basis for a quarterly renewal/extension of the loan. Each meeting they just nicely asked for us to pay down the line of credit more and more to squeeze as much cash out of the company as possible. The main problem with that was he was growing and his inventory and receivables were going up which required more cash.

No problem, right? Just go down the street to a new bank and get the better treatment that your company deserves. The only problem with my client was he did not fit in the “traditional lending” platform primarily for not having two full years of net income. For most banks, if you’re not in the black for two years it is difficult to pass the loan committee review.

So who did we turn to for help? Believe it or not- our very own government. Most people don’t know that the Small Business Administration was established to assist small business owners by providing resources and programs to benefit the community. They have a loan program called the SBA 7(a) loan that, in certain cases, makes securing a loan a lot easier for qualifying businesses. Qualifying businesses vary by industry and may be defined as a small business based on either revenue size or the number of employees.

The SBA 7(a) loan program is not a loan directly from the SBA. Instead, the SBA guarantees loans underwritten by traditional lenders. Lenders have to qualify with the SBA to provide these loans and there a several types of certified lending programs they fall under depending on the circumstances of the applicant. These programs vary slightly, however, under the standard 7(a) process lenders submit a full application package to the SBA when they request an SBA guaranty. The SBA confirms the originating lender’s credit decision with its own analysis of the application, which typically takes five to ten business days.

There are some advantages for banks to lend under the 7(a) loan program:

  1. It helps banks serve customers that don’t meet the standards of a conventional loan, which allows them to generate new revenues they wouldn’t otherwise be able to generate.
  2. It reduces the bank’s portfolio risks due to the SBA guaranty
  3. Due to the SBA guaranty, it lowers a lender’s risk weighting for meeting capital requirements.

The SBA 7(a) loan program provides an 85% guaranty for loans of $150,000 or less and a 7% guarantee for larger loans. The amount of the guaranty is reduced to 75% as the size of the loans decreases. The maximum SBA 7(a) loan amount is $5 million.

In addition to the revenue and/or employee headcount guidelines, there are additional eligibility requirements for businesses applying for loans under these programs such as:

  1. Operate for profit
  2. Be engaged in, or propose to do business in, the United States or its possessions
  3. Have reasonably invested equity
  4. Use alternative financial resources, including personal assets, before seeking financial assistance
  5. Use the funds for a sound business purpose
  6. Not be delinquent on any existing debt obligations to the U.S. government

There are certain business types that are ineligible because of the activities they conduct such as:

  1. Lenders such as banks and finance companies
  2. Real estate development
  3. Life insurance companies
  4. Multi-level marketing companies
  5. Government owned entities
  6. Churches
  7. Promotion of sexually oriented products or services
  8. Oil and gas exploration

The SBA 7(a) program was established to encourage longer term financing. There are various factors to the actual term assigned to a loan, however, maximum loan maturities have been established: 25 years for real estate, up to 10 years for equipment, and generally 7 years for working capital. Applicants can request interest-only payments during the start-up and expansion phases to allow the business time to generate income before it starts making full loan payments.

The SBA expects every 7(a) loan to be fully secured, but may not decline a request to guarantee a loan if the only unfavorable factor is insufficient collateral, provided all available collateral is offered.

There are two types of costs related to 7(a) loans. These are loan origination fees and interest charges. The loan origination fees vary based on the size of the loan and range from 0.25% of the guaranteed portion of the loan to 3.5% on loans of more than $700,000. There is also an additional fee of 0.25% on any guaranteed portion of more than $1 million.

All interest rates vary depending on the negotiations between the bank and the applicant, however, the rates are subject to the SBA maximums. The rates can also be either fixed or variable. The maximum rate is composed of a base rate and an allowable spread which will be no more than 2.25% for loans with a maturity less than 7 years. For loans longer than 7 years, the maximum rate will be 2.75%.

Like most other traditional loans, there is a loan application checklist that is very thorough which tends to be one of the slightly negative elements of an SBA 7(a) loan. One of the most common challenges an applicant may face is the ability to provide financial statements that are current within 90 days of the application ‘and’ 3 years of historical financial statements. In addition, an applicant is required to provide a 2 year cash flow projection with an attached written explanation as to how you expect to achieve this projection.  From my experience and from conversions with SBA lenders, this is one of the most common pitfalls an applicant may face when trying to get SBA loans. The most likely cause of the lack of reliable financial information is due to the owner being more focused on growing the business than on the quality of the financial statement preparation. They typically rely on a back office that is spread too thin with administrative duties and getting their billings out on time.

That is where can help. Not only can we help you produce timely and accurate financial information, we can help increase the value of your company by helping you improve your core administrative process. The first step is to begin automating your processes. You also need to develop processes to make your business smarter and more efficient to reduce costs and increase productivity. Here are some examples:

  • Eliminate cumbersome and time consuming manual tasks such as: data entry, envelope stuffing, filing and check runs
  • Pay bills online at a fraction of the time it takes to process and sign checks
  • Automate customer collections
  • Stop opening mail by having the vendor emails sent directly into the accounting software
  • Reduce human error and increase accuracy with automated software
  • Improve internal controls to reduce the risk of fraud
  • Improve timely reporting of financial results
  • Improve collaboration of your limited resources

Free up your resources to focus on your team and customers which will ultimately help you grow the company and have the peace of mind that your company is operating in a smarter and more profitable way. Go and Grow can help you put the processes in place and become your back office at a much lower cost with better controls.

Blog post written by: Scott Bates, Audit and Business Services Partner