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small business

Early Retirement, Lifestyle, Small Business

Inflection Point

The past week has been an interesting one around the Wealthy Accountant world and all I can think of to explain it is. . .

Put up or shut up.

The best way to tell this story is to go back to the beginning.

Long time readers know I opened shop without knowing I opened shop in 1982. I prepared my first tax returns that year because I wanted the money and it seemed like easy work. It took until the 1989 tax season to realize this is something I could do for a living and still appear as a hard working, up standing (that illusion wore off fast) young man supporting his new wife.

The world was a different place back then. The local newspaper had two and a half pages of business card sized ads during tax season for tax preparation services. I was one of those ads. There hasn’t been an ad in that newspaper offering tax services in 15 years.




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Forensic Accounting: The High Paying Part-Time Business

Fifteen years ago a client who has since passed away had a complaint. He explained his uncle had died and the family was having a difficult time finding his money. The family knew his uncle had money, but he hid it everywhere, kept no records and refused to reveal his secrets to anyone.

The family decided to hire a forensic accountant who took six months to find around $280,000. My client’s complaint was they knew the uncle had a lot more than $280,000, but had no idea where to start looking.

This was during the my early days as a hedge fund manager. The hedge fund didn’t buy stocks or businesses; we bought charge-off receivables and collected on the debt.

When banks have bad loans on the books they sell them for a fraction of the face value. (Banks never really lose. It blows the mind how they every have financial trouble. It takes a new level of stupid to fail as a bank.) Once we took possession of the accounts we sent our legal teams around the country to locate and collect, even in court if necessary. (I authorized over 22,000 suits over the years. Yeah, I was one of those a-holes. But I was good at it. Stick with me here. This is all going to work to your advantage this time.)

Running the type of hedge fund I did (I eventually was hired to run two) provided me with the resources, connections and experience in finding people and their hidden stash. Finding money is something I got really good at.

My client was awed when I started to explain how I would have handled the case versus the forensic account they hired. In 30 seconds I gave them one piece of advice and found over $300,000 more than the forensic account they hired did in six months. Before I was done we collected seven figures of cash from around the United States and even found an account with serious cash tucked away in Ireland.

The family promptly hired me.




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Meet Mister Cohan: The Client Who Never Keeps Tax Records

George M. Cohan

Today I have a very special guest I would like you to meet: George M. Cohan. George has been a regular fixture of my practice from nearly the first day. But he has one serious problem; he hates keeping business records.

There is a very good reason why Cohan doesn’t keep good records of his business expenses. He is a very famous Broadway actor. He also likes to enjoy his fame.

Well, the IRS came knocking and since most of his receipts were missing the expenses were disallowed. Cohan might be lax when it comes to keeping business records, but he can fight like a pit bull in the hot sun after a pair of double espressos. Our good friend was headed to court.

The IRS felt they had it in the bag. Unfortunately, the IRS had an education coming. The 2nd Circuit US Court of Appeals settled the case in our good friend’s favor. The court said when receipts are absent it would be impossible to get a perfectly accurate number. However, the court continued, allowing nothing is inconsistent when it is obvious there were expenses.

This court ruling happened March 3, 1930 and my office has never been the same.




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The Mistake Obama and Trump Both Made

Eight years ago Barack Obama was hitting full stride in his first term as President. The economy was in tatters. The banking industry was only beginning to come to terms with the level of bad loans they had on their books. The largest insurance company (AIG) required a bailout to survive; the largest domestic automakers needed a bailout to preserve jobs; nearly every bank required assistance and every money center bank actually took assistance to weather the storm. This easily could have been another Great Depression.

So what did President Obama do in this desperate environment? Why, tackle health care reform, of course.

Every President has a short window of opportunity to build a coalition at the beginning of their Presidency to pass a key piece—or if lucky, several pieces—of legislation. These are the tough issues, things like major infrastructure investments and tax reform.

President Obama chose health care reform. The country needed, and still needs, major health care reform. The country also needed economic stimulus. Badly! Unemployment was high, income inequality was expanding at a rapid pace, while the nation’s bridges, roads, sewer lines and water works crumbled.

It was an honorable effort, but a tactical error that prevented any additional large, and necessary, legislation. (Yes, I am aware banking reform was passed along with other legislation. This will all become clear in a minute as I illustrate why the most pressing legislation never happened.)

And President Trump is making the exact same mistake.



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How Long Should You Keep Your Records and Tax Return

A common question around the office involves records retention. Many people think they need to keep their tax returns for seven years, others think it is three; both are wrong.

Tax returns are not the only records you need to consider when building a record retention policy in your business and personal life. Some items can safely be disposed after one year; some items need to be kept forever—your estate can handle disposal.

Record retention in the past required filing cabinets filled with papers. The filing cabinets can be—and should be—replaced by digital storage. A fire, theft or weather damage put irreplaceable documents at risk when stored in a filing cabinet. A better solution is to scan all documents into a digital filing cabinet and store a backup copy offsite.

Most banks already provide digital copies of statements and your tax preparer should have no problem providing a digital copy of your return. Your tax preparer is required to provide you with a copy of your tax return and it can be a digital copy. Have your accountant email you a copy or bring a flash drive to their office. Also, many accountants have secure drop boxes built into their website now. For security reasons you may wish to use this method over less secure email. Plus, emails are easier to subpoena for court proceeding.

Security is the biggest concern when storing records. The amount of documentation held by a business is huge. Even a modest household can accumulate a serious amount of paperwork they must retain. Digitizing data is fast and simple. Security of this “fast and simple” data is important because it is just as “fast” and “easy” to steal it. Storing data at home or business should be secure behind adequate firewalls, encrypted and password protected. Offsite storage must be with a reputable firm safeguarding your data. The cost of storing data is cheaper than ever so there is no reason not to keep all required documentation and store these records safely.

Below is a handy guide for determining how long you need to keep records. I have added a few notes after some items to clarify certain requirements. It would be a good idea to bookmark this page for future reference. I list personal requirements separately from business requirements. To simplify your search I have listed items by 1 year, 3 years, 6 years, forever, and special circumstances.

It should be noted state requirements can differ from federal requirements. I follow the records retention list with special rules affecting certain states. People filing a tax return, conducting business or own property in these states will need to consider additional records retention issues.




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The Fastest Way to Grow Your Net Worth

Ever since I disclosed my net worth broke eight figures strange emails have been coming in. Another milestone was passed without fanfare. Past experience had me used to the lack of excitement financial milestones caused.

A theme among many emails revolved around my rate of return. I never really thought of it that way. It was just a thing that happened because I saved a large percentage of my income and invested the bulk of my excess money in index funds. One commenter said he was impressed because my rate of return over the last 20 years was 11% while the S&P rose only 8.5% per year on average. I don’t know if it’s true; I never broke the numbers down that way. All I care is that it grew to a lot.

What the emails and comments forget when they calculate my rate of return is that I added funds over the last 20 years. If I reached my million dollar goal when I was 32 and never dropped another dime in the kitty my internal rate of return would be impressive. Instead, I added excess funds every year. If I analyzed my real return including the additional invested fund my internal rate of return would be less impressive.




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Why You Need to Go to the Office

Many accountants will not work with doctors. Doctors as a group can be difficult in the best of times, demanding an instant response to their every whim. I disagree completely.

My firm has serviced accounts for doctors nearly from day one. The value doctors provide society is vital and I have always felt they deserve extra latitude. The stress level doctors face daily supersedes anything I deal with. If I make a mistake, money is at risk; when a doctor makes a decision, lives are at risk.

My personality meshed well with the mindset doctors have. As a result, I have been a value added service to my doctor clients. Many hair-raising situations were resolved successfully because I understood the doctor’s situation and was able to integrate their issue into the problem solving formulas of my firm. It also allowed my doctor clients to get very rich.





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You’re Using the Wrong Definition for Retirement

Students are ready.

Old dogs can learn new tricks. Preconceived notions are not reality or facts.

Several years ago life was going fine for me. Business was good, the sky was sunny and I thought I had a firm grasp on how the world worked. An avid reader, I chanced across a blog that pulled me in deeper than any before. Normally I read several blogs with no blog standing out from the crowd. I digest what I can and move on. Then along came Mr. Money Mustache.

Some blogs are better than others. Quality is frequently an issue, but personal taste is too. To make matters worse, this Mustache guy had a serious following. High quality suited to my tastes with a massive audience started me questioning some of those preconceived notions.

Most issues I was in complete agreement with. There was one stand-out: retirement and what the word meant. At first I had an identity crisis. Was I really retired all along and didn’t know it? Is it wrong to have gainful employment?

The only way to figure this thing out was to attend personal finance conferences with like-minded people. That was two years ago. In the beginning it made the confusion worse and the crisis more acute. Then I developed my own definition of retirement to suit my needs. Finally, last weekend, I made what I feel is the final leap in my evolution toward a retirement definition I can use in my personal life.




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