Tax Planning

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Tax planning is a systematic analysis of differing tax options aimed at the minimization of tax liability in current and future tax periods. Whether to file jointly or separately, the timing of a sale of an asset, ascertaining over how many years to withdraw retirement funds, when to receive income, when to pay expenditures, the timing and amounts of gifts to be made, and Estate Planning are examples of tax planning. 
Tax planning involves conceiving of and implementing various strategies in order to minimize the amount of taxes paid for a given period. For a small business, minimizing the tax liability can provide more money for expenses, investment, or growth. In this way, tax planning can be a source of working capital. According to The Entrepreneur Magazine Small Business Advisor, two basic rules apply to tax planning. First, a small business should never incur additional expenses only to gain a tax deduction. While purchasing necessary equipment prior to the end of the tax year can be a valuable tax planning strategy, making unnecessary purchases is not recommended. Second, a small business should always attempt to defer taxes when possible. Deferring taxes enables the business to use that money interest-free, and sometimes even earn interest on it, until the next time taxes are due.
Experts recommend that entrepreneurs and small business owners conduct formal tax planning sessions in the middle of each tax year. This approach will give them time to apply their strategies to the current year as well as allow them to get a jump on the following year. It is important for small business owners to maintain a personal awareness of tax planning issues in order to save money. Even if they employ a professional bookkeeper or accountant, small business owners should keep careful tabs on their own tax preparation in order to take advantage of all possible opportunities for deductions and tax savings. "Whether or not you enlist the aid of an outsider, you should understand the basic provisions of the tax code," Albert B. Ellentuck wrote in the Laventhol and Horwath Small Business Tax Planning Guide. "Just as you would not turn over the management of your money to another person, you should not blindly allow someone else to take complete charge of your tax paying responsibilities." In addition, as Frederick W. Dailey wrote in his book Tax Savvy for Small Business, "Tax knowledge has powerful profit potential. Knowing what the tax law has to offer can give you a far better bottom line than your competitors who don't bother to learn."
General Areas of Tax Planning
There are several general areas of tax planning that apply to all sorts of small businesses. These areas include the choice of accounting and inventory-valuation methods, the timing of equipment purchases, the spreading of business income among family members, and the selection of tax-favored benefit plans and investments. There are also some areas of tax planning that are specific to certain business forms--i.e., sole proprietorships, partnerships, C corporations, and S corporations. Some of the general tax planning strategies are described below:
ACCOUNTING METHODS. Accounting methods refer to the basic rules and guidelines under which businesses keep their financial records and prepare their financial reports. There are two main accounting methods used for record-keeping: the cash basis and the accrual basis. Small business owners must decide which method to use depending on the legal form of the business, its sales volume, whether it extends credit to customers, and the tax requirements set forth by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The choice of accounting method is an issue in tax planning, as it can affect the amount of taxes owed by a small business in a given year.
Accounting records prepared using the cash basis recognize income and expenses according to real-time cash flow. Income is recorded upon receipt of funds, rather than based upon when it is actually earned, and expenses are recorded as they are paid, rather than as they are actually incurred. Under this accounting method, therefore, it is possible to defer taxable income by delaying billing so that payment is not received in the current year. Likewise, it is possible to accelerate expenses by paying them as soon as the bills are received, in advance of the due date. The cash method is simpler than the accrual method, it provides a more accurate picture of cash flow, and income is not subject to taxation until the money is actually received.
In contrast, the accrual basis makes a greater effort to recognize income and expenses in the period to which they apply, regardless of whether or not money has changed hands. Under this system, revenue is recorded when it is earned, rather than when payment is received, and expenses recorded when they are incurred, rather than when payment is made. The main advantage of the accrual method is that it provides a more accurate picture of how a business is performing over the long-term than the cash method. The main disadvantages are that it is more complex than the cash basis, and that income taxes may be owed on revenue before payment is actually received. However, the accrual basis may yield favorable tax results for companies that have few receivables and large current liabilities.
Under generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), the accrual basis of accounting is required for all businesses that handle inventory, from small retailers to large manufacturers. It is also required for corporations and partnerships that have gross sales over $5 million per year, though there are exceptions for farming businesses and qualified personal service corporations--such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, and consultants. Other businesses generally can decide which accounting method to use based on the relative tax savings it provides.
INVENTORY VALUATION METHODS. The method a small business chooses for inventory valuation can also lead to substantial tax savings. Inventory valuation is important because businesses are required to reduce the amount they deduct for inventory purchases over the course of a year by the amount remaining in inventory at the end of the year. For example, a business that purchased $10,000 in inventory during the year but had $6,000 remaining in inventory at the end of the year could only count $4,000 as an expense for inventory purchases, even though the actual cash outlay was much larger. Valuing the remaining inventory differently could increase the amount deducted from income and thus reduce the amount of tax owed by the business.
The tax law provides two possible methods for inventory valuation: the first-in, first-out method (FIFO); and the last-in, first-out method (LIFO). As the names suggest, these inventory methods differ in the assumption they make about the way items are sold from inventory. FIFO assumes that the items purchased the earliest are the first to be removed from inventory, while LIFO assumes that the items purchased most recently are the first to be removed from inventory. In this way, FIFO values the remaining inventory at the most current cost, while LIFO values the remaining inventory at the earliest cost paid that year.


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