Category Archives: Finance

Right SBA Loan for Your Small Business

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy: According to data from the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 27.9 million small businesses registered in the United States, employing 120 million people — almost half of the nation’s workforce.

Part of what the Small Business Administration (SBA) does is help America’s small businesses secure the funding they need to operate and grow. As a federal government agency, the SBA does not lend small businesses money directly. Instead, it sets guidelines for loans that are made by its partners, which include banks, credit unions, community development organizations and microlending institutions. The SBA guarantees a portion of these loans granted by these institutions will be repaid, eliminating some of the risk for lenders.

Kale Gaston, head of the SBA Lending Group for TD Bank in Greenville, S.C., said SBA loans “do a great job of helping lenders say ‘yes’ to borrowers.” He also noted that SBA programs provide better access to capital and credit enhancement for small business owners. For example, since the SBA guaranty lowers the risk in case of a loan default, lenders are able to provide funding when the down payment available is too low or the business’s cash flow is not high enough for traditional options.

SBA lenders can provide longer terms as well. Instead of five or 10 years for a real estate purchase with a balloon payment at the end, the lender can give terms for 25 years, eliminating the balloon (i.e., final payment) or need to refinance every few years, Gaston said. For shorter-term assets, like equipment, terms could go to 10 years instead of the usual three to five years.

SBA loan programs
The SBA’s loan programs are designed specifically for small business owners who don’t have access to other reasonably termed financing. There are four main types of loan programs:

7(a) loan program: This is the SBA’s primary program to help startups and existing small businesses obtain financing. 7(a) loans are the most basic and most commonly used type of loan, as well as the most flexible. The money can be used for a variety of general business purposes, including working capital, machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures, purchasing or renovating land and buildings, leasehold improvements and debt refinancing. Loan maturity is up to 10 years for working capital and generally up to 25 years for fixed assets. Borrowers can apply through a participating lender institution.

CDC/504 loan program: This program provides businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing for major assets, such as land and buildings. The loans are typically structured with the SBA providing 40 percent of the total project costs, a participating lender covering up to 50 percent and the borrower putting up the remaining 10 percent. Funds from a 504 loan can be used to purchase existing buildings, land or machinery, and to construct or renovate facilities. These loans cannot be used for working capital or inventory. Under the 504 program, a business qualifies if it has a tangible net worth of less than $15 million and an average net income of $5 million or less after federal income taxes for the two years before application. The maximum amount of a 504 loan is $5 million.

Microloan program: This program offers very small loans to startups, or newly established or growing small businesses. The loans can be used for working capital or the purchase of inventory, supplies, furniture, fixtures, machinery or equipment. The SBA makes funds available to specially designated intermediary lenders, which are nonprofit organizations with experience in lending and technical assistance. Those intermediaries then make loans of up to $50,000, with the average loan being about $13,000. The loan cannot be used to pay existing debts or to purchase real estate.

Disaster loans: The SBA offers this option to businesses that have been affected by a declared disaster. These low-interest loans can be used to repair or replace damaged real estate, personal property, machinery, equipment, inventory and business assets.

Further details on each type of loan program can be found on the SBA’s website.

What you’ll need to apply
When applying for an SBA loan, you’ll need to fill out forms and documents for the specific loan you’re trying to get. The SBA also encourages borrowers to gather some basic information that all lenders will ask for, regardless of the loan type. The following items are usually required:

Personal background and financial statements
Business financial statements
Profit-and-loss statement (three years)
Current within the last six months
List of debts
Projected financial statements
Business certificate/license
Income tax returns
Résumés for key team members
Business overview and history
Business lease
The SBA also advises small businesses applying for a loan to be prepared to answer several 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?
Why your business plan matters
Whether you’re a new startup or an established company, the key to a successful application is a well-written business plan.

“The business plan not only is the road map that will guide the business from planning to startup to (hopefully) success, but also will show any potential lender that the potential business owner does have a clear view and understanding of the business, how to run it and, most importantly, how the loan will be repaid,” David Hall, a public affairs specialist with the SBA in Washington, D.C., said in an email interview with Business News Daily.

Gaston agreed, noting that lenders want to know how knowledgeable you are about your business and the competitive market.

“The concept may be great, but what the lender is looking for is that the individual is driven, capable and determined,” Gaston said. “You really need to understand what you are doing every step of the way and be able to convey that to the lender during the application process.”

Hall also recommended that business owners take full advantage of the business planning resources offered by the SBA and its partners, such as SCORE, SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers) and WBCs (Women Business Centers).

Finding a lender
While Gaston acknowledged that applying for an SBA loan is a process, she said working with a lender that has experience can make that process a lot easier. To find experienced SBA lenders in your area, he suggested talking to folks locally in the market and looking for a lender that is part of the SBA’s Preferred Lender program. This program gives thousands of lenders per year delegated authority to approve loans based on certain criteria, shortening the time period between application and approval.

You can find SBA lenders by going online at sba.gov, contacting local accountants and attorneys, and looking for lenders with a large local presence. SBDCs also provide document support and lender referrals.

“The SBA program drives a tremendous amount of value in the economy, lending approximately $30 billion to small businesses annually,” Gaston said. “It takes businesses to the next level, is appropriately structured and enables them to be successful.”

Let’s Learn About Smart Budgeting Tips

If you run a small business, it’s likely that you’re operating on a relatively limited budget. Whether you bootstrapped your business or are trying to pay back loans you took out to cover your startup costs, it’s in your best interest to conserve money wherever you can.

Without a thorough budget plan, however, it can be difficult to track and manage your finances. This is especially true for any unexpected business expenses that may come up, as they often do. A 2015 survey by small business credit provider Headway Capital found that although 57 percent of small business owners anticipated growth this year, nearly 19 percent were concerned about how unexpected expenses would impact their business.

If you want to keep your business operating in the black, you’ll need to account for both fixed and unplanned costs, and then create — and stick to — a solid budget. Experts offered their advice for small business owners looking to keep their finances in order.

Define and understand your risks
Every business venture has a certain degree of risk involved, and all of those risks have the potential for a financial impact on your company. Paul Cho, managing director of Headway Capital, said that small business owners need to consider their long- and short-term risks to accurately plan for their financial future.

“How will changes in minimum wage or health care requirements impact your workforce?” Cho said. “Do you operate in a geography at high risk of a natural disaster? Do you rely heavily on seasonal workers? Understanding the potential risks facing you on a short- and long-term basis is important for all small businesses. Once you’ve mapped out the threats to productivity, a clearer picture can be built around emergency planning, insurance needs, etc.”

Overestimate your expenses
If your business operates on a project-to-project basis, you know that every client is different and no two projects will turn out exactly the same. This means that often, you can’t predict when something is going to go over budget.

“Every project seems to have a one-time cost that was never anticipated,” said James Ontra, CEO of presentation management company Shufflrr. “It usually is that one unique extra item [that is] necessary to the job, but [was] not anticipated when bidding the job.”

For this reason, Ontra advised budgeting slightly above your anticipated line-item costs, no matter what, so that if you do go over, you won’t be fully unprepared.

“I go by the cost-moon-stars theory,” he said. “If you think it will cost the moon, expect to pay the stars.”

Pay attention to your sales cycle
Many businesses go through busy and slow periods over the course of the year. If your company has an “off-season,” you’ll need to account for your expenses during that time. Cho also suggested using your slower periods to think of ways to plan ahead for your next sales boom.

“There is much to be learned from your sales cycles,” he said. “Use your downtime to ramp up your marketing efforts while preventing profit generation from screeching to a halt. In order to keep your company thriving and the revenue coming in, you will have to identify how to market to your customers in new and creative ways.”

Plan for large purchases carefully and early
Some large business expenses occur when you least expect them — a piece of equipment breaks and needs to be replaced or your delivery van needs a costly repair, for instance. However, planned expenses like store renovations or a new software system should be carefully timed and budgeted to avoid a huge financial burden on your business.

“Substantial business changes need to be timed carefully, balancing the risk with the reward and done with a full understanding of the financial landscape you’re operating within,” Cho told Business News Daily. “An up-to-date budget and data-driven financial projections are important components that help guide when to make large investments in your business.”

Remember that time is money, too
One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make is forgetting to incorporate their time into a budget plan. Ontra reminded business owners that time is money, especially when working with people who are paid for their time.

“Timing underestimation directly increases costs,” Ontra said. “For us, the biggest underestimation is allotting time for client feedback. It is a Herculean effort sometimes to meet a deadline with lots of people focused on a single task. Then, the client needs to give feedback for us to proceed. If the client is distracted with other issues, feedback planned for a three-day turnaround, can become a week or longer. Not only do you start to lose time to the delivery schedule, your team also loses momentum as their collective thought shifts focus to another project.”

Ontra recommended treating your time like your money, and set external deadlines later than when you think the project will actually be done.

“If you believe the project will finish on Friday, promise delivery on Monday,” he said. “So, if you finish on Friday, deliver the work early and become a star. If for some reason time runs over, deliver on Monday and you are still a success.”

Constantly revisit your budget
Your budget will never be static or consistent — it will change and evolve along with your business, and you’ll need to keep adjusting it based on your growth and profit patterns. Cho suggested revising your monthly and annual budgets regularly to get a clearer, updated picture of your business finances.

“Regularly revisiting your budget will help you better control financial decisions because you will know exactly what you can afford to spend versus how much you are projecting to make,” Cho said. “Take into account market trends from the previous year to help you determine what this year may look like. Once you have a clear understanding of your business’s budgetary needs, you can accurately forecast what can be set aside for an emergency fund or unexpected costs.”

All About Accounting

Accounting is vital to a strong company, keeping track of the business’s finances and its continued profitability. Without accounting, a business owner would not know what money was coming in or going out, or how to plan for the future. The actions taken by accounting professionals — from bookkeepers to certified public accountants (CPAs) — make it possible to monitor the company’s financial status and provide reports and projections that affect the organization’s decisions.

What do accountants do?
The American Accounting Association defines accounting as “the process of identifying, measuring and communicating economic information to permit informed judgments and decisions by users of the information.” This is often done by logging a business’s accounts payable, accounts receivable and other financial transactions, typically using accounting software.

While bookkeepers tend to focus on the details, recording transactions in an efficient and organized manner, they may or may not see the overall picture like accountants do, said CPA Stan Snyder.

“Accountants use the work done by bookkeepers to produce and analyze financial reports,” Snyder said. “Although accounting follows the same principles and rules as bookkeeping, an accountant can design a system that will capture all of the details necessary to satisfy the needs of the business — managerial, financial reporting, projection, analysis and tax reporting.”

One part of accounting focuses on presenting the company’s financial information in the required ways to those outside of the company. In order to present this information in a format everyone can understand, accountants follow a set of guidelines. In the United States, most accountants abide by the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. There are different sets of accounting standards for companies that operate overseas, as well as for local and state government entities.

CPA Harold Averkamp said accounts also provide a company’s internal management team with the information it needs to keep the business financially healthy. Some of the information will originate from the recorded transactions, while some will consist of estimates and projections based on various assumptions, he said.

To come up with a company’s status and projections, accountants rely on various formulas. Accounting ratios help uncover conditions and trends that are difficult to find by inspecting individual components that make up the ratio. Accounting ratios are divided into five main categories:

Liquidity ratios measure the liquid assets of the company versus its liabilities.

Profitability ratios measure the organization’s ability to turn a profit after paying expenses.
Leverage ratios measure total debt versus total assets, and gauge equity.

Turnover ratios measure efficiency by comparing the cost of goods sold over a period of time against the amount of inventory that was on hand during that same time.
Market-value ratios measure the company’s economic status compared with others in the industry.

Accounting careers
Many accountants within the industry choose to become CPAs, a title they achieve by passing an exam and getting work experience. According to the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants, CPAs audit financial statements of public and private companies; serve as consultants in many areas, including tax, accounting and financial planning; and are well-respected strategic business advisors and decision-makers. Their roles range from accountants to controllers and from chief financial officers of Fortune 500 companies to advisors for small neighborhood businesses.

According to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Career Center, there are countless other jobs that require accounting proficiency, including auditor, financial investment analyst, claims adjustor, loan administrator, tax lawyer, underwriter and stockbroker.

Best Tax Apps for Small Businesses

Although you know when tax season is coming, you may not always be prepared for it. If you’re a brand new business or have a limited budget, you may not be able to afford accountant, which means you may be stuck doing your taxes on your own.

Thankfully, with your smart phone or tablet — and the right apps — tax season doesn’t have to be a headache. Here are seven free mobile apps to help you stop stressing and start filing.

1. IRS2Go (iOS, Android)
This is the official mobile app of the IRS and is great for new business owners who want verified and expert tax advice right from the source. With IRS2Go, you can check the status of your federal income tax refund, make a payment on any taxes that you end up owing, and get free tax preparation assistance from an IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistant in your area. You can also request tax return information and account transcripts through the app.

2. H&R Block Mobile (iOS, Android)
The H&R Block mobile app connects you directly to tax professionals to make the filing process easier. You can take a picture of your W-2 and the app will instantly import your information. You can upload any other documents and send them to a tax pro. The app can also created a personalized checklist of required documents, and lets you view tax returns from previous years. In addition, the app lets you check the status of your federal tax return, and estimate the amount of your return with a built-in calculator. If you are constantly switching between devices throughout your day, this app lets you go from your phone or tablet to your computer and back again with ease.

3. TurboTax (iOS, Android)
Intuit’s TurboTax walks you through the process of filing your taxes. You snap a photo of your tax documents and the app coaches you through every step of the filing process, double-checking to ensure that you have entered all information correctly. You can be connected with an expert live and on-screen to get answers as soon as you need them and when you input all of your information, it is saved with secure encryption and always password protected. TurboTax also checks for deductions and credits, and once your return arrives, it gets stored in the TurboTax Cloud. TurboTax is free to download, but there are costs for federal and state filing.

4. TaxCaster (iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
This income tax calculator by Intuit allows you to accurately forecast your federal income taxes before you file to see how much you may get back, or how much you may owe. Just enter the basic information about your lifestyle and business, and TaxCaster will make the estimations based on that information. Since this is an Intuit product, the app uses the same tax calculator you’ll find in the desktop version of TurboTax to provide the estimates. Based on the information you provide, it can also recommend a product to help you complete the filing process.

5. Shoeboxed (iOS, Android)
With Shoeboxed, keeping your receipts, bills, and other financial documents organized is as easy as taking a picture. Once you upload your document in the app, it automatically spots the important information, such as vendor, date, total and payment type. This then creates a fully searchable digital database of your transactions. For small business owners, Shoeboxed will pay off at tax time. The app can save you time and money by managing your paper documents for you, as opposed to needing to hire someone else to do it.

6. Evernote (iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
Evernote is more than just your run-of-the-mill note-taking tool. It also offers a way to manage the documents you’ll need to file your taxes. Because Evernote lets you easily store and organize images, you can scan in your receipts and then trash them, and since the app can read printed text, it’s easy to search for a specific receipt. To get your receipts into Evernote, there are two options: The ScanSnap scanner is the pricier option, but it is made by the Evernote developer, so it will directly scan high-quality images and automatically uploads them to your Evernote account. For a cheaper option, there is the DocScanner app for iOS and Android, which you can use to “scan” in receipts by snapping a photo with your smartphone or tablet.

7. iDonatedIt (iOS)
Charitable donations are tax-deductible expenses and can reduce your taxable income to ultimately lower your tax bill. Tracking your donations throughout the year can be a hassle, but apps like iDonatedIt are there to help. The app streamlines the process by helping you document your donations quickly and easily. Whenever you donate a non-cash item to charity, use the app to track the donation date, the charity you donated to and the fair-market value of the item. By tax day, you will have a complete and permanent record of donated items that meets IRS compliance requirements. You can also attach photos of donated items and email the detailed donation report to yourself, or an accountant.

Know More About Audited

For many businesses, the end of the calendar year means the beginning of tax season. As you prepare your receipts, invoices and other financial documents from the past 12 months, you may be concerned about the possibility of a dreaded tax audit.

As stressful and overwhelming as an audit may seem, there’s no need to panic. It does need to be taken seriously, but audits often deal with simple data or reporting errors that the IRS suspects may have occurred, said Frank Pohl, an attorney at Gunster law firm. He reminded business owners that not all tax audits end adversely for taxpayers.

If you do receive an audit notice, here’s what to do to make the process go as smoothly as possible, and to minimize any negative impact on your business. [See Related Story: 5 Tax Deductions That Could Get You Audited]

1. Review the audit letter carefully.
Open the letter promptly, and understand what information the IRS needs from you, Pohl said. If you don’t have a designated financial adviser, hire an accountant or tax attorney to help you go through the audit letter and identify the issues the IRS has flagged. Pohl also warned not to delay action or ignore the letter.

“The IRS will not go away, and not acting promptly may only make the auditor suspicious or antagonistic,” he said.

For security purposes, if you are being audited, you will receive a mailed letter, Pohl said. Scammers will often masquerade as the IRS by sending emails or leaving phone messages in an attempt to get your personal data, but the real IRS does not communicate with taxpayers in these ways, Pohl said.

2. Get your records organized.
Before you and your tax professional respond to the IRS and/or meet with an auditor, take the time to dig up and organize all of your business records from the past tax year, said Kimberly Foss, a certified financial planner (CFP) and author of “Wealthy by Design” (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013). This includes receipts and invoices for income and expenses, bank statements and canceled checks, accounting books and ledgers, hard copies of tax-prep data, and leases or titles for business property, she said. If the IRS has requested specific documents to review, be sure you have those readily accessible as well.

3. Answer the auditor’s questions (and that’s it).
When you sit down with the auditor, you’ll be asked numerous questions about the information reported on your tax return. Our expert sources agreed that you should not volunteer any information you are not required to give.

“Just respond with the information [that is] requested,” Pohl told Business News Daily. “Providing unneeded or unasked-for information may lead to more questions … and additional issues.”

“Be straightforward in responding to questions, but don’t manufacture excuses,” Foss added.

Similarly, an article on NOLO.com advises not to bring or discuss any documents from previous tax years unless asked: “Don’t give copies of other years’ tax returns to the auditor. In fact, don’t bring … any documents that do not pertain to the year under audit or were not specifically requested by the audit notice,” said the article.

Keeping your tax professional involved
Dealing with the IRS can be stressful, and if you’re concerned about what you might say, it’s wise to let your tax professional do the talking for you. Sandy Gohlke, a CPA, chartered global management accountant and principal at Rehmann financial services company, advised giving the IRS a signed power-of-attorney agreement that will allow the IRS to deal directly with your tax professional. That takes you out of the loop and puts them in, she said.

Pohl agreed, and said that even if your tax professional doesn’t have power of attorney, you should still have him or her present when you meet with an IRS auditor. He also advised business owners not to get defensive or hostile during the interview.

“The auditor … cannot and will not forgive and tax debt or mistakes, and any admissions you make can be used against you,” Pohl said. “Adopting an antagonistic attitude risks alienating the auditor, [which] will not be in your best interest.”

Avoiding future audits
Gohlke reminded business owners that audits are generally random, and you can’t prevent them entirely. However, some companies are selected because of certain “red flag” expenses — either amounts or types — that are out of the ordinary and would cause a second look, she said.

Foss noted that bank transfers and other financial records beyond your receipts should be tracked, and anything that can’t be explained on the standard IRS form should be explained on paper. She also advised double-checking all of your math before filing.

“Keep proper documentation, and only deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses that are allowed by the IRS,” Gohlke added. “Even if you are selected for an audit, you will know you have nothing to worry about.”