Time to begin year-end tax work

Too early to suggest working on your taxes? Absolutely not!

Once Thanksgiving hits, the rush to year-end becomes more hectic.
Start organizing your records now. Pull together and sort income and expense documentation – whether stored digitally or physically. Evaluate 2018 deductions before it’s too late. Tax questions? Call your accountant or tax preparer in the next two weeks before they’re buried by work.

To help you get started, here are some tips from the experts:

Tax preparation checklists are available from a number of public sources, including Nerd Wallet, H&R Block, TurboTax and others. The best come from your accountant or tax preparer. In either case, rely only on credible sources. For example, avoid irs.com. Remember: all government websites use the suffix .org.

Taking small steps now will ease the pain of tax return preparation later. Open your calendar and find 30 or 60 minute appointment blocks for specific tax-related tasks, like gathering records, sorting records, scanning receipts, or calling about your tax questions. You’ll be glad you did.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2018]

Get Your Financial House in Order Now

thFor the last few years I’ve shared an
annual tradition with you: getting financial records organized for year-end.

This entails gathering up receipts, identifying deductible expenses, updating your accounts, running reports, and possibly pre-paying some 2017 bills.  Whew!

Fight the Urge to Procrastinate

With all the responsibilities that vie for our attention this time of year, it’s easy to push aside the task of gathering, organizing, and updating financial records.  Don’t succumb!

Getting organized for year-end is an absolute necessity – especially for the sole practitioner.

Step 1: Get Started

If needed, begin with a little background reading from the experts:

General Tips on Tax Preparation

Tax Deductions FOR SOLOS AND HOME-BASED LAW PRACTICES

Step 2: Learn How to Organize Tax Records

Step 3:  Begin the Process by Chipping Away at Organization and Prep

I don’t recommend a marathon session of tax organization and prep.  The only time it makes sense to do this is if you’ve procrastinated and you’re up against a filing deadline. The point here is to avoid that.  It’s too stressful!  And as we all know: when you’re up against a deadline the odds of making a mistake rise exponentially.  Let’s not go there.

Instead, open your calendar and schedule some dates to start gathering and organizing records.  30 or 60 minute appointments will allow you to chip away and make progress:

First appointment

Assuming your accounts are reasonably up to date (income and expense entries are current), do a quick check. Does it make sense to pre-pay 2017 expenses [bar dues, professional liability coverage, rent] or contribute to your IRA/retirement fund? Make this assessment early to take advantage of 2016 deductions.

Second appointment

Prepare to organize your records.  Physically gather receipts.  If necessary, schedule follow-up appointments to finish the process.  If your records are digital, use this time to pull all receipts into one 2016 expense folder.  If you have unscanned receipts, catch up on your scanning.

Third appointment

If you are paper-based, label a manila envelope “Personal Expenses.” Start sorting your paper receipts.  For now, anything that is a personal expense goes into the “Personal Expenses” envelope to be dealt with later.  If your records are digital, create a file folder labeled “2016 Personal Expenses” and segregate personal receipts.  Once you’ve achieved this basic separation, start organizing your business expenses.  This can be done a variety of ways – see the reading above.  While date order is good, it is preferable to sort by expense category first, then by date.  If necessary, schedule follow-up appointments to finish the process.

Future appointments

You get the drift. Even the most robust procrastinator can generally commit to increments of 30 or 60 minute appointments.  Keep moving.  Anything you do helps advance the cause.

Step 4: Jumping Ahead to the CPA

If you already work with a CPA, hallelujah!  If your CPA is like mine, he or she will automatically send you a tax organization packet, which will go a long way toward helping with the steps above.

You Do your own taxes?

I know some of you are stubbornly independent, as I once was, and you prepare your own taxes, as I once did.  Please: at least contact a CPA for a ballpark estimate of what it would cost to delegate this task.  What can it hurt?  You can still prepare your own taxes if you prefer.

But my taxes are simple!

Kudos! Guess what?  The cost to prepare your return will be nominal.  If your taxes are complex, anything you pay a CPA will be well worth it.

I have used CPAs for business, personal, and trust-related tax preparation and have never been sorry I did.  The prep work is enough for me!  Try it at least once and see what you think.  I’ll bet you free admission to one of my future CLEs that you won’t go back to doing your own tax returns.  Select the Contact page on the menu above to take me up on this offer.

A Quick Thought About Apps

The tech-savvy among may you may be curious about apps, so here are two suggestions: 7 of the Best Apps to Scan, Track, & Manage Receipts and Best Free Finance Apps for the iPhone and iPad.  (The latter is my list of favorites.)

Parting Thoughts

Get started now by scheduling those appointments on your calendar!  I promise you that doing a bit here and there makes the process less overwhelming.  Good luck!

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2016]

Should You Barter Your Legal Services?

Bartering is “… A method of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money.” [Wikipedia].

For a lawyer, bartering might consist of swapping services with someone like a Web designer. In exchange for setting up a business entity, you receive a new Website.

What are the Ethical Implications of Bartering?

When a lawyer accepts in-kind payment for legal services, whether the payment consists of the client providing services to the lawyer or an ownership interest in the client’s business, the lawyer is going beyond simply establishing a contract for legal services, and instead is doing business with a client. When entering into a business transaction with a client, lawyers must follow the requirements of RPC 1.8(a).  [Excerpted from Alternative Pricing Models: What’s in a Fee?]

This means:

  • The terms of the agreement must be reasonable and fair.
  • Your fee agreement must be in writing.
  • You must obtain the informed consent of your client to proceed (usually contained within the fee agreement).
  • You must recommend that the client consult with another attorney in deciding whether consent should be given.
  • You must fully disclose the details of the business transaction and each party’s role (part of informed consent).

Bartering and Professional Liability Exposure

Prior to 2016, Oregon lawyers were required to provide the Professional Liability Fund [PLF] with copies of business transaction disclosure letters or risk exclusion of coverage. The reporting requirement to the PLF has been removed for plan year 2016. Lawyers are no longer required to provide the PLF with copies of disclosure and consent letters when engaging in business transactions with clients.  As a courtesy, the PLF continues to offer a sample disclosure letter on its Website.

Beyond the Obvious Ethical Traps and Liability Exposure

Barter exchanges have practical implications.  Ask yourself:

  • If you do not complete the work for the client, how will you “refund” a portion of your “fee?”
  • Are you prepared to keep the proper records?
  • Do you understand the tax requirements for barter exchanges and the penalties for failure to report?

If you plan to barter with a client in exchange for legal services, be prepared:

  1. Read Alternative Pricing Models: What’s in a Fee? by Helen Hierschbiel.
  2. Obtain a copy of the sample disclosure letter on the PLF Website.
  3. Understand how your professional liability coverage works.  The PLF Primary and Excess Plans are available on the PLF Website.  Call the PLF with coverage questions: 530-639-6911 or 800-452-1639 (Toll-Free in Oregon.)
  4. If you’re still foggy on the ethics, contact Oregon State Bar General Counsel.
  5. If you need help with tax-related recordkeeping and reporting, speak with your accountant or a tax lawyer.
  6. Learn the ins and outs of bartering – if you are trading legal services for a new Website, verify that your potential client can do the job.  Check out these informative sites and posts: BarterQuest – when, where, and how to barter; How to Barter AnythingHow to Barter for Goods & Services – Tips and Methods to Trade; and Barter 101: Trading For Services.

Nothing prohibits bartering with a client for legal services, but like so many alternative fee approaches, be sure you know what you are doing before you enter into an agreement you might regret.

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]

Postscript

For more on the topic of engaging in business with clients, see Too Good to Be True: The Ethics of Business Transactions With Clients.

February is Finance Month

February 2016 is finance month at Oregon Law Practice Management.  We are going to revisit and update some “oldie but goodie” posts on law firm finances: money-tree

  • How to get paid
  • Bartering for legal services
  • Adding surcharges if the client fails to pay
  • The seven golden rules of collection
  • The five C’s of hybrid fee agreements

We start off tomorrow with Four Sure-Fire Ways to Get Paid in 2016.

See you on February 1!

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]

 

Get Organized for Year End

Wthith all the demands on our time during the holiday season it’s easy to push aside the
task of getting records organized for year-end.  But doing so is an absolute necessity – especially for the sole practitioner.  Here is some solid advice from the experts:

Get started today. By beginning the process before year-end you will have a better sense of where you stand financially.  You may find it makes sense to pre-pay 2016 expenses [bar dues, professional liability coverage, rent] or make a contribution to your IRA or other retirement fund.  Wait until January 1 and it will be too late for some of these tax-saving steps.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2015]