Fear is the most powerful weapon in war. Hitler deployed buzz bombs against London in an attempt to destroy resolve and heighten fear during World War II. It nearly worked, if not for the even greater resolve of the British people and their leader, Winston Churchill. 

Fear is such a powerful weapon that nations will go to great lengths in war to manipulate the news reaching the people. During World War I, only Spain had a reliable free press reporting the deadly flu ravaging troops and populations. No army wanted the world to know they were taking heavy causalities from what would later be called the Spanish Flu. Yet every nation, on the battlefield and at home, were taking a hard hit from the disease. The U.S. was particularly hard hit. But when the absence of daily news on the deadly flu was only to be found in Spain, it was felt it the virus originating there. The truth was far from it.

Today we are facing a similar, though less deadly, threat, and the disinformation machine is in high gear. This time the media seems to want fear cranked to the highest level.

 

Washing your hands with soapy water for 20 seconds or longer is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the flu virus, even better than hand sanitizers.

 

Since I have no formal medical training I will leave the medical advice to those qualified to give it. What I can do, as an accountant, is reveal the truth behind the never-ending statistics and how they have been manipulated to scare us at the highest level. COVID-19 is a serious health issue without a doubt. It spreads easy and fast with a heightened risk of death. These simple facts make it easy to scare people into clearing their savings account to stock up on toilet paper and other essentials. 

The level of fear has filled my email box from clients and readers worried about the state of affairs and how it will affect their finances. I have worked hard on social media to provide a steady voice in the whirlwind of conflicting data. It is time I issued a formalized response here to the elevated levels of fear people are experiencing and the risks people face with their investments and personal finances.

Understand, this post is not about specific advice: buy this, sell that. Rather, my goal is to help you control your emotions and control your response to fear mongering and market unrest. That is where real wealth creation finds a home. Buying the right investment does no good if you panic sell before value has been realized. Buying high to sell at a panic low is the surest path to poverty. With new feeds bloated with coronavirus articles it is easy to start thinking the world is about to end. I will show you below, nothing is further from the truth. This has happened before and we know how it ends. (SPOILER ALERT: It will pass and most people will be unharmed. Even the economic damage will be less than expected and will return to normal in a matter of time. It will later be determined that fear caused more damage than COVID-19 did.)

 

A Short History of Pandemics

Human history is filled with pandemics. Until modern times, diseases ran their course with little effective intervention from doctors. Illnesses ran their course and eventually died out. 

The common cold, flu and similar illnesses are also common throughout history. The 1918-19 Spanish Flu was a particularly nasty one. As many as 50 million people died. 

Things were different in 1918-19. World War I was coming to an end. Governments involved in The War to End All Wars kept the flu numbers a secret so as not to encourage the enemy or demoralize their soldiers in the field and the folks back home. Only the free press in Spain reported on the people getting sick and the number dying. That is why some thought it started in Spain, hence the Spanish Flu designation. (It didn’t. It probably started in northern China in 1917.) 

Pandemics of the past, even those from less than 100 years ago, had less economic impact than today. Supply chains now span the globe. Never before have businesses been so integrated and international in scope. Pandemics of the past killed and sickened people; COVID-19 is also wrecking havoc on the world economy.

Until recently, a nasty flu season was the only way anyone knew something was afoot. Modern medicine gives us a jump start on what to expect. We knew COVID-19 was headed our way because China alerted the world to the pending virus. SARS, the Swine Flu and the H1N1 variety of flu in 2009 are modern examples of pandemic scares. Most of these viruses never circumnavigated the globe, dying somewhere along the way.

And we come back to the Spanish Flu. Somewhere between 20 – 50 million people died from that flu. It came in three waves with the second being the worst. Then it just disappeared. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but the flu virus probably mutated again to a less deadly form. Doctors didn’t discover a cure, social distancing wasn’t a thing and unless you were sick in a hospital it was unlikely you were even quarantined.

The Spanish Flu did have one nasty trait that put it into the history books. Normally the seasonal flu kills the old, very young and those with a compromised immune system. The Spanish Flu killed adults in their prime; the people who usually get sick for a week or so at worst during flu season, but almost always recover. 

And that is the first problem with the fear surrounding COVID-19: it generally kills older people, similar to the normal seasonal flu. The very young are spared with only a few healthy adults susceptible. Those over age 60 are at most risk.

 

Unfounded Fears?

COVID-19 is a nasty flu bug for sure. It spreads very easy and has managed to circle the globe rather quickly. It also makes people very sick that normally only get mildly sick from the flu. Older people face a very high risk of death if they contract COVID-19.

The fears are not unfounded, but are exaggerated. The response has been way overblown compared to the risk profile of the disease. Let’s place this into perspective:

As of this writing, 7,158 have died with COVID-19. Read that last sentence very closely as it will be important in a bit. Here are the current numbers

No one is advocating clearing the roads due to the risks of driving. Many still smoke tobacco and eat an unhealthy diet that increases the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Yet, one of the smallest risks of dying to-date is causing a panic.

HIV/AIDS caused fear, but no panic. All the mortality risks listed above are a concern, but not at a level that should be disruptive. So what is causing COVID-19 to create such disruptive panic?

First, when the seasonal flu is with us every year and tens of thousand die from it we adjust to the risk as a normal part of life. COVID-19 is new, novel. Novel in this case means people do not have a natural immunity to the virus yet. 

Second, COVID-19 spreads fast and very easy. People have not had time to adjust.

Third, people who normally do not die from the flu are. Not like the Spanish Flu, but an elevated percentage of healthy middle age people are dying from COVID-19. 

All three combined has caused rampant fear. New, fast and potentially deadly to people who normally do not fear the flu has generated panic. Then people extrapolate the numbers to the entire world population and get dizzy. Except it is a massive misrepresentation of the facts.

 

Misleading Numbers

News reports and press releases from world health organizations are very careful how they word their press releases. Mortality rates are extrapolated by the public from the fancy representation of the numbers, but the extrapolations are far from truth. 

People dying with COVID-19 are reportedly as high as 3.84%. When people read this they think it is the mortality rate. It isn’t.

Not everyone is tested for the virus. Those most ill are more likely to be tested and all people who are reported to have died with COVOD-19 have been tested. (Otherwise how would they know they died with the virus?) This leads to a misrepresentation. If only sick, or potentially sick, people are tested, the number that die from the virus is pulled from a population likely to have contracted the disease. That is like using a test from people likely to have cancer as a representation of the entire population’s cancer mortality risk. The mortality rate for COVID-19 is likely under 1% and even lower for the population at large. Only time will give us an exact, or close to exact, number. Using the data available, COVID-19 is more deadly that the seasonal flu most years, but not anywhere near as deadly as the Spanish Flu.

Another misleading statistic comes from the wording in news reports and press releases from health organizations. They are careful to say someone has died “with” COVID-19 rather than “from” or “because of” COVID-19. This is a serious reporting issue.

Think of it this way. If someone is healthy and contracts COVID-19 they might have mild or no symptoms. But if they die in a car accident before the virus is cleared from their body they died “with” COVID-19. The virus had nothing to do with the death, but is recorded as a disease that the person had when they died. 

It is not uncommon for someone to have several contributing factors to their death. Rarely, if ever, do we medically say someone dies of old age. Instead, we list a variety of ailments that contribute to the final cause of death. Cancer and pneumonia  are common causes of death in people over 80. The flu is also a big contributor. Somehow we can’t bring ourselves to say they just got old and died. We need a reason. And that can lead to problems at times like these.

This counting of every death where COVID-19 is present misrepresents the full facts. The patient may have died from other causes at the same relative time anyway. This happens when people get old, and COVID-19 strikes hard at the old, as do many flu strains. This misrepresentation allows for an inflation of the COVID-19 numbers which heightens public fears.

 

Emotions in Check

People at risk need to take precautions. Because young people can carry COVID-19 without getting seriously ill, it is important to take steps to prevent the virus from infecting older family members inadvertently. That is the real risk with COVID-19; the unknown causing fear.

It is proper to take a break from all but necessary gatherings. The economy will take a short-term hit. It is scary, but not as bad as the media would have us believe. Social media blows it up even worse that the traditional press. Shame on us!

In the modern world this means supply chains will be disrupted. Business will slow and some industries will be very hard hit. The stock market is predicting a doomsday scenario.  It isn’t that bad! For those who are patient and control their emotions, now and in the near future is a good time to increase equity holdings. Keep adding to your retirement plan at work. Dollar cost averaging only works if you keep the regular investments going when the market is down, too.

I know it looks bad right now. Not everyone will contract COVID-19. Most who do will only experience mild illness. The older you are the more important it is to seek medical attention as your mortality risk increases rapidly with age. 

The way the numbers are playing out the number of deaths from COVID-19 will be somewhat higher than a normal flu season. However, the fear it induces will keep more people at home and off the road. It is possible the fewer number of people who die in road accidents as a result may be more than all the deaths attributable to COVID-19. 

That would make this the first flu strain to reduce the number of deaths by a greater number from other causes than those who die from the virus. Technically, a negative death rate. Again, technically, all factors combined, it could be the least deadly flu strain since the invention of the automobile.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

 


 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Guest posts are always difficult. Too often the material that crosses my desk is of very low quality or thinly disguised ads, usually both. I pass faster than a speeding bullet. 

Then there are people I know that I would love to have write a guest post. They are articulate and care about the reader. Unfortunately, they are also busy. However!!! Through good fortune I was able to convince one of these people to to write down her wisdom for you, kind readers.

Debbie Todd has followed this blog for a long time and is a recommended tax pro on the Find a Local Tax Pro page of this blog. Seeing Debbie work with clients on social media has left no doubt in my mind of her level of knowledge, experience and willingness to serve her clients at the highest level possible. 

This post started over a discussion on Facebook. Debbie left a comment and I said I would love to hear all the details about it, preferably as a guest post. It was a lot of work, but she complied. As a result, you get to pull back the curtain and see how things run in a smooth operating tax office that serves clients like royalty and how you can get the same results with your tax pro. I wish I always lived up to those high levels.

Be sure to read to the end. I will copy Debbie’s contact information from the Finding a Local Tax pro page to the end of this post, along with a link to a worksheet you can download. You want that worksheet!

Thank you for the post, Debbie. It will help readers and me alike.

 

Guest post: Debbie Todd of iCompass Compliance Solutions, LLC

 

SECRET INSIDER Bean-Counter Chat Alert – Earlier this year, the Wealthy Accountant and I chatted online about what CPAs and Enrolled Agents like to talk about — innovative ways to serve, educate — and yes, sometimes even boot our clients in their business behind — while keeping our sanity and a semblance of family balance.

I promised to share a couple of strategic tips and a tool I developed that transformed not only my own business, but also generated amazing results for my firm’s clients. Then unexpectedly, LIFE got in the way of delivering on that promise — until now.

I lost two long-term step-parents within 3 months and then both my brothers had major cardiac events. Experiencing sudden and profound change, loss and grief sure puts things in perspective. Not an excuse — but I hope you can relate. Life throws unexpected curve balls which get in the way of best laid plans for your business, your personal life and even your legacy. Decisions matter! Adjust, breathe and take the next step. And the next…

Just as Summer gave way to Fall — and now as our lungs are filled with the brisk air of Winter — know that Spring 2020 is just around the corner. A new season, a new decade and untapped new opportunities await.

Read on to learn how…

 

David or Goliath – What Mattered Most?

The log in the fire is crackling, casting a rosy glow of warmth on the stockings, the twinkling tree and the ribbon-wrapped presents… 

As happens so often during the holiday season, I spend time reflecting on what worked well (and didn’t) with my beloved clients. I muse on the opportunities and challenges they faced in growing their business this year, adapting to new tax rules, employee issues, as well as several experiencing traumatic family events, which suddenly altered some of their best-laid plans.

What tips and tools could I share to allow them to be more successful in 2020 and beyond? I’m their CPA, their trusted financial coach and I take that privilege seriously. So do most of my amazing bean-counter friends.

Whether you are a large international company, a locally owned small business entrepreneur or a trendy global digital nomad, having rock-solid business goals and smart financial processes behind you is critical for your success. It’s not your size — it’s your heart, purpose and willingness to take action. Like David. . . 

Let’s face it, you’re toast without it… and often sooner rather than later.

 

Seizing a New Decade of Opportunities

As I gaze thoughtfully into the log’s dancing flames and scratch our aging Labrador’s graying ears, I realize that in just a matter of days, we will usher in a brand new decade…and brand new opportunities.

With last year’s tax law changes, a plethora of retirement planning opportunities (the SECURE Act, for example), combined with continuing economic growth, this reflection seems more weighty, more impactful and infinitely more exciting than prior years.

So, as a seasoned tax and financial strategy practitioner, I regularly share updates on these opportunities with my clients via email and during our quarterly meetings — but, how do we address (get to know) new businesses who want to join our cherished client family?

 

Communications and our Beloved NCO Triage

Like the log’s embers keep the fire going, providing both light and warmth, having a foundation of trust, clearly stated goals and objectives fueled by open communication, regular review and adjustments — translates to success on both sides of our client relationships.

Think about when you go to the doctor or the emergency room. You want the professionals taking care of you to listen and understand what is going on with you so you can get the correct diagnosis and treatment, right? Well the same holds true for your business or family financial health.

Over the last several years, I have developed what we call our NCO Triage, or New Client Onboarding Triage. It has blossomed to over 7 pages – and NO, this is NOT like your tax organizer. It’s a strategic financial life goals framework that helps me help you turn your dreams from vision into reality.

Yes, it asks questions about your business like what kind it is, what state(s) you operate in, your revenues, status of tax filings, who does what in the finance functions, etc, but also covers key details like a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).

Next, we learn about your life goals… not just for your business, but how your business fuels your life’s passions and dreams. 1, 3, 5, 10 and even 20 years. After all, that IS why you are working, right? Finally, we discuss your communication styles and preferences so we are both comfortable with how we will play together going forward. Ninety-five percent of preventable challenges stem from miscommunication.

So, WHY is this Important?

Keeping an eye on the fire is important. Left unattended, the fire eventually dies out and the cold will seep in. A few strategically placed money tips will keep your financial fireplace warm and toasty.

As stated earlier and without sounding too cheeky (okay maybe just a little) — your cash flows, financial foundations and habits are the lifeblood of your business. Your goals and vision sets the heartbeat and pace with which you operate. Slow and steady wins the race.

Wanna know something cool? Meeting with your CPA or EA can actually be FUN! Seriously…

I just wrapped up Q4-2019 meetings with many of my clients. Most calls start out something like this… ”Hey Deb, I’d like to meet with you for an hour this time. Let’s talk about our financials and the tax items for the first 30 minutes or so. Then I have a couple of ideas I want to run by you, so put on your counselor hat for the rest of the call, OK??” What an honor to help them explore possibilities that will improve their lives. After all, wouldn’t you rather be helping transform your client’s future with smart financial tips and tools as opposed to simply fixing and filing their historical transactions? Seriously, I get just as jazzed up as they do — and LOVE to see their dreams become reality.

 

Key Takeaways and Next Steps for Caring Pros and Smart Clients

Mylie, our Lab, is looking at me with that “Mom, it’s time for bed” look. I get up, turn the Christmas tree lights off and add an all-nighter log to the fire — so it will have energy to burn, keeping our house toasty warm while we sleep and dream.

Fellow Tax and Financial Pros — Key Thoughts AND A GIFT

  1. Proactive Planning with Forward Focus: Understand that your best value as a passionate and knowledgeable financial professional lies in proactively helping your clients achieve their dreams and life goals. Right, wrong or sideways, you can only fix and file past transactions. Instead, help your clients avoid those mistakes in the first place while providing tools to make their future dreams a reality. (Hint: Start on page 4 of the NCO!) Leverage this mindset into your practice’s core values and I believe you’ll both be happier as a result. 
  2. It’s NOT about the Money: This is a lesson I learned the hard way. Don’t compete strictly on price – EVER. Not everyone needs to be your client. Read that again. It took you YEARS of training, countless exams and ongoing research every single year to do what you do and do it well. It’s about VALUE: The amount of money I save clients each year far supersedes their invoice amount. Don’t sell yourself short – your knowledge is worth it.
  3. Equip Your Clients: Many clients are NOT money gurus – they are great artisans in their own field, but need your financial expertise so their business can thrive and grow. Offering monthly or quarterly meetings, a Q4 tuneup and emails of key tips are simple ways you can help your clients go to the next level. Plus, it provides a reasonable revenue stream outside of tax season!
  4. The GIFT: You can download a copy of my NCO and adapt it for your firm’s use. The fun part starts on page 4! Understand, I am NOT giving tax or legal advice and this document does not replace your well-crafted Engagement Letter or professional due diligence procedures. Use the following link:

2019 NCO – New Client Onboarding Triage Initial Questionnaire Template

Smart Clients Wanting to Up their Game (It’s OK if you read the Tax pros list above too)

  1. Identify Your Goals and Vision: As 2020 begins, what do you want to accomplish in the next year or the next decade? Seriously, a little dreaming and planning can make a HUGE difference! Feel free to download the last four pages of the NCO, dream and jot down your thoughts (crackling fire and aging Labrador optional, but highly recommended)!
  2. Plan With Your Tax/Money Pro: If you are not planning with your tax pro outside of annually filing your taxes, you are missing out on a golden opportunity to make small (or even large), consistent improvements to your financial bottom line throughout the entire year. Yes, you should pay them for these meetings too – unless they are already on retainer.
  3. Execute, Review, Adjust, Repeat: Dreams and vision are great, but it’s ACTION that wins the race…100% of the time. I’d rather see imperfect action (within legal bounds of course) than a perfectly procrastinated idea. As part of your meetings, you can set timelines, deliverables, checkpoints and get objective feedback and insights to adjust course, as needed. Then repeat!

I, for one, am truly excited about spending quality time with loved ones and enjoying Christmas – celebrating Jesus and all the wonders we have been blessed with – and those opportunities which await. [Editor’s note: Debbie delivered this to me December 23rd. Your lazy editor didn’t get to it until after the 1st of the year.]

Wishing each of you a joyous, happy and safe Christmas and New Year – AND a next decade that blesses your family and business beyond measure!

Debbie Todd

Your Friend in Financial Wellness, Debbie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact Information

iCompass Compliance Solutions, LLC, dba 1 Hour Impact Firm #5917

Locations we prefer to serve: SW WA or Portland, OR Area. WBE certified in both OR and WA

Contact: Easiest to reach me via email or https://www.facebook.com/TheSpunkyCPA/

Email: deborah.todd.cpa@gmail.com

Areas of practice: Federal and state personal and small biz taxes, Non-Profit – 990s, IRS compliance and remediation, divorce and estates, also small biz startup strategy. Niche expertise in small business interactions with State and Federal Government Contracting.

In person or fully digital capabilities.

Areas of practice you don’t handle: Ex-Pat, valuation disputes, M&A.

Bio: You can learn more here, including govt background- http://1hourimpact.com/about-us/

Interesting tidbit: Special passion for teaching smart early childhood financial literacy using engaging, interactive theater.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

On a sunny spring weekend in Seattle nearly five years ago I attended a conference. In the audience was Pete Adeney, aka, Mr. Money Mustache (MMM). 

MMM took to my message immediately, interrupting my presentation to inform me I was his new accountant. I took it in stride. My gift to gab exceeded my surprise.

What caught the ear of MMM was a strategy I have used for decades to save business clients money: the S corporation.

The beauty of the S corporation is that some of the profits flow through to the owner outside self employment or FICA taxes. At 15.3% for many, it is a meaningful savings.

Not everyone should use an S corporation (or LLC electing to be treated as such).  Side hustles frequently do not have enough profit to make it work. Profits under $30,000 are best left as a sole proprietorship or partnership, without consideration for legal and other matters. Between $30,000 and $50,000 it is time to start running the numbers and once profits exceed $50,000, and are likely to continue to do so, you need to get serious about an S corporation.

Many factors come into play. The previous paragraph is only a suggestion and not hard and fast tax advice. I have S corporations in my office with less than $30,000 in profits and businesses with over $50,000 in profits still waiting for the S corporation to benefit them.

That presentation in Seattle five years ago was the spur for me to start this blog and is one of my first posts. It also prompted MMM to publish on the topic as well

And now the advice is all wrong.

 

More than One Flavor of Corporation

Corporations come in two flavors: the regular, or C, corporation and the S corporation. Small businesses are familiar with the S corporation because it was designed for them. Profits flow to the owners because the S corporation rarely pays income taxes. 

Regular corporations are generally larger due to tax issues. Most stocks listed on U.S. exchanges are C corporations. 

Small business owners: deduct all your child care expenses. New tax laws have made it easier for owners to deduct personal tax-free benefits. #ICHRA #HRA #QSEHRA #Fringebenefits #employeebenefits #childcare #deductionsBoth flavors of corporation can be organized in one of two ways. The first is to organize as a corporation and the other is to organize an LLC and elect to be treated as a corporation for tax purposes. You can then elect S status, if desired.

The S corporation avoids double taxation on dividends paid out of profits. The drawback is that C corporations can provide more benefits to owners without restrictions. The dreaded “except for 2% shareholders” phrase in the tax code limits the advantages of the S corporation. In the past C corporations faced a higher income tax rate compared to tax rates for individuals. 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) changed all that.

Regular corporations prior to the TCJA had a graduated tax rate on profits that started at 15% and climbed to 35%. C corporations now pay a flat 21% income tax rate. Individual tax rates (the rate profits from an S corporation are taxed at as they flow to the owners) top out at 37%.

Instead of profits flowing to the owners on a K-1 annually, a regular corporation pays taxes on its income and pays dividends from the remaining profits. The dividend can be qualified, but multiple additional issues abound with dividends paid from a closely held C corporation we will not be able to address in this post. (The link is to an old article from the AICPA which is still relevant today.)

C corporation dividends are NOT deductible by the corporation, but are taxable to the recipient, hence the double taxation since the corporation already paid income tax on the profits. The corporation paid income tax on the profits at 21% and the owners pay tax again at the rate for dividends (qualified or non-qualified). 

Up to this point it still looks like the S corporation is the way to go for virtually all small businesses and you would be right. However, for fringe benefit purposes, an S corporation is treated as a partnership, and a greater than 2% shareholder is treated as a partner rather than as an employee. To reiterate, this is for fringe benefit purposes only. And it makes all the difference.

 

No Simple Choices

S corporation owners still enjoys access to all the retirement plans of a regular corporation with some modifications. Health insurance premiums (IRC Secs. 105 and 106) are generally added to wages and then deducted on the personal return (Rev. Rul. 91-26). The same applies to group life insurance up to $50,000 (IRC Sec. 79) and meals and lodging for the employer’s convenience (IRC Sec. 119).

Get the most out of your tax-free fringe benefits as a small business owner. #fringebenefits #businessowner #smallbusiness #employeeawards #watch #ICHRA #QSEHRAThis is where the choice is less clear than in the past. The above fringe benefits still have value to the owner of an S corporation as long as a few hoops are jumped through. The benefits are available to C corporation owners as well, just with fewer hoops to jump through.

Numerous benefits available tax-free to employees do not apply to 2% shareholders of an S corporation. With the C corporation tax rate at a low 21% and dividends likely qualified (taxed on the personal return at the long-term capital gains (LTCG) rate), double taxes may no longer be the issue it once was. 

For some individuals, the LTCG tax rate can be 0%. This stops double taxation of dividends in its tracks. Even if dividends are taxed it is at the lower LTCG rate rather than at ordinary income rates. The top LTCG rate is currently 20%, however, there is a small (on percentage terms) additional tax on higher incomes that could push the effective LTCG rate to 23.9%.

But the benefits are the real prize. How many fringe benefits you give the owners will determine if the C corporation is better for you. Some of these benefits are massive, allowing for 5-figure deductions. Something you can’t do with an S corporation.

 

Deducting Fringe Benefits

We will touch on the most common and valuable fringe benefits you can deduct with a C corporation as an owner where it isn’t allowed as a 2% or greater shareholder in an S corporation in most cases.

 

Flexible Spending Account (FSA): This is the “use-it-or-lose-it” account you might be familiar with. Employees are allowed to withhold from their wages or salary up to $2,700 (for 2019) per year for medical expenses. If married, a spouse can do the same. 

The FSA does take planning. If the employer plan allows, up to $500 can be carried over to the next year OR up to a 2 1/2 month grace period allowed to use the money in the HSA. 

The FSA is a salary deferral; a deduction is not allowed since it is already excluded from income.

You can use FSA funds for uninsured health costs, such as: eyeglasses and exams or a gym membership or message therapy with a doctor’s prescription.

You can read more about the FSA here.

There is also a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA) where employees can elect to exclude up to $5,000 from income for dependent care expenses. The employer can also provide some or all of this amount as a tax-free fringe benefit. FICA and FUTA are also avoided. 

There are several opportunities with a Dependent Care Assistance program (IRC Sec. 129) and a credit for employers covering qualified child care expenses (IRC Sec. 45F). You can read details here.

 

Deduct all your health insurance premiums and medical care costs tax-free. #healthinsurance #benefits #employee benefits #healthinsurancepremiums #medicalcosts #deductiblemedicalcosts Deductibleinsurance #HRA #QSEHRA #ICHRAHealth Reimbursement Accounts (HRA): This might be the number one reason a small business owner may choose the C over the S corporation. 

Once again we have two choices. The Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) and the Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangement (ICHRA). The ICHRA is available starting January 1, 2020; the QSEHRA is currently available.

The QSEHRA allows a tax-free benefit to individuals of $5,150 and $10,450 for families in 2019 for medical expenses, including insurance premiums (though the Premium Tax Credit (PTC) is reduced by the amount of the benefit, if claimed). The employer pays this benefit. The employee has nothing to report on her return with the exception of the adjustment to the PTC.

The new ICHRA has no annual cap. Yes, you can deduct a lot under the ICHRA! There are some differences, however. If you receive any benefit under an ICHRA you cannot get any Premium Tax Credit. 

It should be noted that the QSEHRA and ICHRA are for employers without group health insurance. Employees with individual insurance is allowed and what these plans are designed for.

There are several considerations with HRAs. Here is a good chart comparing the two.

 

Employer Provided Vehicle: An S corporation can provide the same benefit, but it is cleaner and easier with a C corporation. The vehicle can be used by the employee for business or personal purposes and, depending on the facts and circumstances, may be tax-free to the employee.

There are a lot of moving parts to the employer provided vehicle. Discuss this option with your tax professional to determine if it is of value for you.

 

Employee Achievement Awards (EAA) (IRC Sec. 274(j): If you have a written plan it is a qualified plan. The qualified plan can offer awards up to $1,600; $400 if not a qualified plan.

The TCJA changed the rules a bit for the EAA. Cash and equivalents are not allowed: cash, gift cards, gift coupons, gift certificates, vacations, meals, lodging, event tickets, stocks, bonds or securities. Only arrangements that confer the right to select and receive tangible personal property (a watch or plaque, for example) from a limited assortment of items preselected or preapproved by the employer are allowed. (IRC Sec. 274(j)(3). The award must not appear as disguised compensation. There are additional limitations.

 

The Best Route

There are many more fringe benefits to consider. To keep this post brief I will punt on the other tax-free fringe benefits. It is recommended you review these issues with your tax professional as there are significant opportunities to reduce taxes with these strategies.

Now you need to determine if the S corporation is best for you. It boils down to the fringe benefits. The lower flat tax rate for C corporations are a consideration and your personal tax rate on dividends from your corporation will play a role, too.

However, the biggest determinant will be tax-free fringe benefits. And when it comes to benefits the HRA will top the list. Large deductions allowed with a C corporation can remove enough income from the taxable column to create an overall tax for the C corporation lower than the S corporation. It does take planning to determine this.

The QSEHRA is a powerful tool under the TCJA personal and corporate tax rates. The new ICHRA is something you must examine. With virtually unlimited deductions for health related expenses and insurance premiums, the ICHRA will make the C corporation more valuable to small business owners than ever before.

There is no shortcut. You have to put pencil to paper or have a tax professional do it for you. It might be worth paying a seasoned tax pro to help you determine the best route. Every step inserts additional tax considerations tax professional should be familiar with that a novice may not. Investing in your business can pay hansom rewards.

 

Caveats

Tax are never easy. All the good ideas in this post still need a warning label.

If you are an LLC electing to be treated as an S corporation you can elect at any time to become a regular corporation (terminate the S election). However, you cannot elect to be an S corporation for at least five years, even if circumstances (or the tax code) change.

Also, if you are a C corporation with accumulated earnings that elects S status your tax return becomes much more complicated and probably more expensive to prepare. There are additional risks for an S corporation that spent any time as a C corporation; you should discuss these potential issues with a tax professional. The risks could subject the S corporation to additional taxes. Get all the facts before jumping.

Finally, in 2025 the tax code reverts back to 2017 rules for individuals if Congress doesn’t act. Corporate changes were permanent. One more thing to consider before you make a decision.

 

A small business should hire a competent tax professional to deal with the considerations put forth in this post. Too many variables can intercede.

This post allows you to ask good questions of your tax professional. A small investment with the taxguy should pay you back in multitudes of order compared to the fee invoiced. 

Don’t accept the S corporation as the default for small businesses anymore. The C corporation might save you more money.

Print this post out and/or send a copy to your tax professional and ask if this is something that could benefit you. Pay the nice tax professional. She will earn her keep on this one and it is well worth it to you. 

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Commingling of funds (mixing business and personal funds) is one of the riskiest things you can do, causing serious legal and tax problems. 

The issue is less acute from a legal standpoint if you are a non-LLC sole proprietor. There are still plenty of tax issues, however.

LLCs and corporations are at extraordinary risk when funds are commingled. Treating your business as a personal fiefdom instead of a separate entity—which it is—can cause serious legal and tax issues down the road. We will deal with both issues in this post.

 

Legal Issues When Commingling

The real reason you should incorporate or organize an LLC is for legal purposes. Taxes come along for the ride. 

The tax code treats certain incorporated businesses punitively: notably attorneys, accountants and doctors. When people in these professions want the liability protection of a corporation they are considered a personal service corporation (PSC). 

Commingling money can cost you big in taxes. The best tax professionals refuse to work with clients who commingle. Don't overpay your taxes. Never commingle! #commingling #comingling #taxes #taxplanning #IRS #sidehustle #smallbusiness #businessA PSC is not entitled to the graduated tax rates of regular corporations and therefore pay tax at the top corporate rate on all profits. New tax laws lessen the tax issues a bit now that the top corporate tax rate is a flat 21%, but other issues still abound. 

For these reasons we saw large partnerships form for doctors, attorneys and accountants. (Making partner is something every CPA and attorney aspired to.) 

The problem with large partnerships is that legal liability can be massive in these professions. The tax hit was so large that insurance was a cheaper route than the higher taxes of a corporation, However, it was a serious disadvantage.

And with attorneys taking the hit it was only a matter of time before a solution was devised. (The first LLC was allowed in 1977 in Wyoming when the state passed legislation allowing limited liability companies.) The limited liability corporation (or partnership) was created. 

The good news is that LLCs are superior to corporations in many respects. Organizing as an LLC and then electing to be treated as a regular or S corporation is quite common. 

Before I outline how dangerous commingling of business and personal funds are, let me first outline the legal difference between an LLC and corporation.

Legal Difference Between an LLC and Corporation

LLCs and corporations are organized at the state level so the rules can vary between state. I practice as a tax professional (enrolled agent) so what I am about to share is how I understand the difference between LLCs and corporations as told to me by attorneys. Always consult a competent legal professional prior to organizing a legal entity (LLC or corporation).

This is the one difference, of many, between the LLC and corporation I consider the most important. It is best illustrated by using two almost identical firms facing a legal challenge.

Example

Two groups of twenty doctors join together to start a practice. The first group of doctors organizes as a corporation. It does not matter if they are a regular or S corporation as those are tax designations and we are only considering legal protection in this example. The second groups of doctors organizes as an LLC. They can elect to be treated as an S corporation, but they are still legally an LLC.

A doctor from each practice face a lawsuit. In the corporation practice all doctors are liable for the acts of each other doctor (all-acts). The doctor sued in the LLC is the only doctor liable; the other doctors are not liable for the acts of other doctors in the LLC (own-acts).

 

This is a huge advantage to businesses with multiple owners. Not only is there a legal wall between your business and personal wealth; there is a wall between you and the other LLC members and their actions!

Serve yourself a big, juicy tax cut by never commingling. Lower your taxes and reach financial independence sooner by following this one simple rule. #taxcut #commingling #financial #financialindependence #retirement #business #smallbusinessEach state has their own laws governing how this will work in their state. The state you organize in is the state laws you follow. (You can organize an entity in any state even if you don’t do business there.) 

Limited liability, whether from an LLC or corporation, can be pierced. You may have heard the term “piercing the corporate veil”. What that means is certain actions can cause your personal belongings and wealth to be at risk even though you have the protective entity structure.

 

I don’t know if I can shout this loud enough. If you commingle personal and business funds you almost certainly lose all the asset legal protections provided by the LLC or corporation!

 

So, when you commingle you lose the single greatest advantage to having the entity structure.

Here are two simple rules to consider when contemplating commingling:

Rule 1. Commingling invalidates your LLC and all your personal assets are at risk: lake house, mountain retreat, boat, kids college fund etc are at risk in a lawsuit or asset seizure. 

Rule 2. No commingling. If confused, see rule 1.

But it gets worse!

 

Tax Issues When Commingling

Losing all your legal protection is a disaster, but then you face tax issues.

Commingling is the bane of every tax professional. Poor recordkeeping is time consuming to fix when time is at a premium during tax season. Bad records are so common virtually all accountants charge more to deal with poor, incomplete or missing records when preparing a tax return.

An informal survey on social media shows many tax professionals refuse to take clients with poor records and even break the engagement if poor records are turned in more than a few years. (It’s low margin work with lots of stress when time is in short supply. Top level tax professionals don’t have time for this foolishness.) The author has disengaged many clients over the years due to commingling.

Cathy Bryant, a former IRS revenue agent told me, “The fastest way to get into tax and money problems is to commingle funds.”

What does Bryant mean by this? Well, when you commingle funds you really have no idea what your real income and expenses are. The mixing of business and personal funds means the IRS can run over you, causing you to pay more taxes, and you have no recourse because you have no idea what your numbers really are. 

If you are a corporation or partnership (or LLC treated as such) you have the added issue of basis. There is no room in this post for a detailed review of basis, but know this: If you don’t know your basis there can be some very nasty tax surprises in your future.

Also, the IRS can revoke your S election if you commingle funds because you are not treating the S corporation like a separate entity. This means you could face serious additional taxes in an audit without recourse. Re-read this paragraph again S corp owners until this sinks in. If the IRS discovers commingling in an audit it could bankrupt you!

 

Avoiding Commingling

I hope I put the fear of God in you with the warnings above. Every tax professional should keep this post and show it to clients who commingle or are contemplating it. Remind the client the next step is ending the engagement. (Most tax professionals require an engagement letter be signed prior to working on an account. The engagement letter outlines the services provided and fees.)

Your legal protection is gone when you commingle. 

The IRS has you when you commingle. The IRS auditor will assess more tax and get away with it due to your poor records and commingling of personal and business funds. Revocation of your S election will be a financial disaster.

Avoiding commingling is actually very easy. If you don’t want to handle the bookkeeping yourself, hire it out. It is cheaper than overpaying your taxes and losing legal protections

Here are the rules you should follow when you have a business, no matter how small. Even a side hustle treated as a sole proprietorship should follow these rules.

 

Rule 1: Use separate bank accounts and records. The easiest way to keep personal and business monies separate is to have separate bank accounts for business use only and records dedicated to the business. Use any bookkeeping software you want, even an Excel file works.

When the business needs money you can invest money into your company by moving money from your personal account to the business account. This will show on your Balance Sheet equity accounts as a contribution or investment. It will add to equity basis for tax purposes; a good thing, especially for S corporations.

Once your business is profitable you can distribute money to the owner: you. Record the transaction as a distribution. You may also have a wage from your business if you are an S corporation. The distribution is the profits paid you (think of it as a dividend on your invested capital) after your wage is paid.

 

Rule 2: Treat the business like the separate entity it is. If you were the CEO of Apple you would not mix your personal funds with the corporations. I know, I know! You are not Apple. But you should still treat the business, even if 100% owned by you, as a separate entity (which it is).

There is no problem with you investing in your business or distributing excess funds. To do this you just transfer money into or out of the business account. The transaction is recorded on the books of the business accordingly.

Never deposit a business check to your personal account! The business should never pay your personal bills, either! (Transfer the money from the business to your personal account if you need business funds for personal expenses. This will leave a clean paper trail sure to please your tax professional and thwart a zealous IRS auditor.)

 

Rule 3: Consider a loan to/from shareholder account.  You can also lend money to and from your business.

When you have a small business it is hard to always separate all expenses. For example: you might have one mobile phone for business and personal. Having two phone would not make sense for such a small business. Since the phone is in your name you can pay the bill and have your business reimburse you for the business portion, currently a 60% safe harbor.

The same applies to mileage, meals or any other hard to separate business expenses. Your business can reimburse you for personal payment of business expenses. This is called an accountable plan and acceptable to the IRS (and distinguished tax professionals everywhere).  

Don't let the IRS tax your credit card rewards. If you commingle business or side hustle money with personal funds the IRS can tax some or all of your credit card rewards. #creditcardrewards #rewards #creditcard #taxes #IRS #comminglingI understand many small businesses frequently transact funds with an owner. Rather than record each of these transfers in an equity account, consider using a loan to or from shareholder account. If you take many distributions during the year treat it as a loan to shareholder. On the last day of the year convert the loan to a distribution. It is cleaner than running numerous transactions through equity accounts.

Credit card rewards also cause many business owners to commingle funds. I understand you want the most cash back so you want to run personal and business on one card. 

This isn’t a problem as long as it is one card and not credit card churning. If you want to churn, don’t involve the business; it becomes a mess really fast with the legal and tax consequences listed above.

However, you can have one credit card for business and personal. Reconcile the business portion of expenses on the card. If you pay with a business check make sure you list the personal spending as a loan to shareholder. If you pay the credit card bill with a personal check either get a reimbursement from the business or record as a loan from shareholder.

 

Commingling is the bane of the accounting, bookkeeping and tax preparation businesses of the world. Keep business accounts and spending separate. 

Good tax professionals will either charge for fixing your books during tax season and are likely to disengage. Then you are left with a second tier professional, if you can even find one willing to deal with such a mess.

In a tax audit you don’t want a revenue agent to see you commingled funds. They will have a field day with you if you have. 

Most of all, you want clean books so you know where your business stands financially and can make better business decisions. 

And if your tax professional asked you to read this it means you either comply or are gone. Life is too short and tax professionals are under a lot of stress. Help them help you pay less tax. Never commingle funds.

Ever!

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

One of the most powerful tax strategies a small business owner has is the S corporation. Under most circumstances when a small business has grown beyond $30,000 to $50,000 of annual profits it is time to consider organizing as an S corporation or LLC electing to be treated as an S corporation for tax purposes. 

The tax savings can be significant. A sole proprietorship is taxed at ordinary rates, plus self-employment tax. For 2019 the SE tax is 15.3% of the first $132,900 of partnership and/or sole proprietorship profits. (If you have wages from other sources this is included in the $132,900. Once you exceed that limit from all these sources combined the SE tax declines to 2.9%.) Partnerships pass profits to the owners where they pay the SE tax along with income tax. For partnerships, guaranteed payments to partners and profits are both subject to the SE tax. 

An S corporation does not pay income tax. Instead, all the profits are passed-through to the owners of the entity and taxed as ordinary income only; SE tax does not apply to profits passed to owners of an S corporation. Owners of an S corporation are required to be paid reasonable compensation. The remaining profits avoid payroll taxes (FICA and FUTA) and SE tax. 

Small business owners usually want some legal protections as well. The corporate or LLC structure is available to accomplish these goals. The LLC is more flexible with additional legal advantages than straight corporate entities.

Once organized, the LLC can then elect to take on the characteristics of other types of entities for tax purposes. The LLC does NOT have a tax form at the IRS. The LLC either defaults to a disregarded entity (sole proprietorship or partnership if more than one owner) or elects to be treated as a corporation. The LLC can elect S status if they inform the IRS they want to be treated as a corporation. These are two separate elections: electing to be treated as a corporation (Form 8832) and then electing to be treated as an S corporation (Form 2553).

I discussed these advantages in greater detail in the past.

 

Proper Allocation of Assets

If you had an attorney handle your LLC set-up and a qualified tax professional handle the structuring of assets inside and outside of the business you already know the S corporation rarely, if ever, has real estate inside it. 

The proper structure of a business where the owners also control the real estate is to organize the business LLC, treated as an S corporation, to hold the business only and a separate LLC, defaulting to a disregarded entity, for the real estate. The business LLC then pays rent to the LLC holding the real estate. 

Recently a reader on this blog asked why this is important:

Comment from Hobo Millionaire:

Keith, would you mind explaining the benefit of you renting to your business vs your business buying the building and paying a note over time. Is there a tax issue with the depreciation? You can depreciate/offset your taxes and the business can’t? A specific post on this setup, showing actual numbers, would be great.

We will discuss why you never want to own real estate inside an S corporation or an LLC treated as such. 

Most of the time it is a mild inconvenience only. Then there are instances where the legal and tax problems are significant and serious.

Every issue surrounding separating the business entity from the real estate holding entity are easily remedied. 

 

Legal Problems

There is no law requiring you to separate the business from the real estate. However, the LLC is a legal structure designed to protect the LLC owners. If the real estate and business are held within one LLC, the real estate is at risk if the business gets sued. Depending on the industry, this can be a serious issue or a low-risk probability.

Separating business from real estate also makes it easier to sell fractional ownership of each easier. If the real estate is held inside the business LLC it is impossible to sell the real estate (or business) without selling the same fraction of the other at the same time. 

Example: If you sell 10% of the business LLC and the real estate is held within that LLC, you have sold 10% of the business and real estate. 

Held separately you can sell all or a fraction of either the business or real estate in any fraction you want. You can also add another member (or have fewer members) to the real estate investment without also including the individual in the business side of the equation. 

Once real estate is inside an S corporation there is no easy solution to removing it. Tax issues of holding real estate with a business inside the same LLC can be significant. 

Removing real estate from an LLC is deemed a sale of the real estate for tax purposes. This means all the gains and recapture of depreciation are currently reported and taxed accordingly. Even if you are a 100% owner of the LLC and remove the real estate from the LLC to your name only (ownership really hasn’t changed, now has it?) you will be taxed on the gains! 

Therefore, if you have real estate inside an S corporation it might be better to keep it there even though it isn’t an ideal situation. You should consult a qualified attorney and/or tax professional with experience in this area of practice to avoid making a bad situation worse.

 

Serious Tax Issues

S corporations are not taxed except in a few situations. In each situation where an S corporation does pay tax the S corporation was a C corporation first for a period of time. (Electing S status at the time the corporation is organized means there was no time when the company functioned as a regular (C) corporation.) 

Holding real estate inside an S corporation with accumulated earning and profits (AE&P) from when it was a C corporation has tax consequences. 

S corporations are subject to tax on Excess Net Passive Income (ENPI) when :

  1. The S corporation’s passive investment income is more than 25% of gross receipts, and
  2. At the end of the year the S corporation has AE&P from when it was a regular corporation.

The ENPI tax rate is 35%! Lets look at an example of where an S corporation might pay the ENPI tax.

XYZ Corp elects to be an S corporation with AE&P. XYZ has $100,000 of gross receipts this year. Of the $100,000 of gross receipts, $40,000 is passive investment income (dividends, interest, rents, royalties and annuities). Directly connected expenses to the production of the passive investment income  is $10,000.

The net passive income is: $40,000 – $10,000 = $30,000

25% of gross receipts are: $100,000 x 25% = $25,000

The amount by which passive investment income exceeds 25% of gross receipts is $15,000 ($40,000 net passive income – $25,000 25% of gross receipts).

ENPI calculation: $15,000 / $40,000 x $30,000 = $11,250.

XYZ as an S corporation with AE&P pays a passive investment income tax of $3,938 ($11,250 x 35%)

 

Easy Tax Problems to Fix

The good news is that all deductions related to real estate ownership remain intact even when you separate the business entity from the real estate entity. You can still borrow against the building and deduct the interest on the real estate holding LLC tax return, as well as, depreciation and other expenses paid and related to the property. 

You can still have a triple-net lease between the real estate LLC and the business LLC. This means the business LLC can still pay and deduct insurance costs, repairs and maintenance, property taxes, utilities and so forth. Only the interest and depreciation goes with the real estate LLC. Rent is paid by the business LLC and deducted; the rent is claimed as income by the real estate LLC. 

There are times where the real estate LLC might show a large loss due to a cost segregation study or some other tax strategy. This means your business might be earning a large profit while the real estate LLC gets a special tax benefit that allows a massive deduction which causes that LLC to show a loss.

Passive activity rules tell us we are limited in some instances, especially when our income climbs above $100,000. This is easily solved with a simple election on the individual’s tax return. (The LLCs don’t make the election. It is taken on the personal tax return level.) Having a large loss on the real estate LLC if you are a high earner would be a problem if there were no outs. 

The good news, again, is you can group the activities. By grouping the real estate LLC and business LLC activities you are allowed all the deductions as if they were one entity on the personal tax return. This resolved the passive activity rule issues.

 

Final Notes

There are no drawbacks to separating the real estate and business into separate LLCs that I’m aware of. Every attorney I’ve ever spoken with agrees with me on this. Real estate should never be held inside an S corporation or LLC treated as such. Any tax negatives are easily resolved with elections.

The issues involved with combining real estate and a business under a single S corporation are many. Legally you limit your options and put assets unnecessarily at risk. The tax problems are hard or impossible to resolve without inflicting additional tax pain.

Structured properly your business and assets can enjoy legal protections while basking in the light of lower taxes.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Do what this man did to become a millionaire by 32, starting from nothing. This man's story of growth is moving as we went from poverty in a rural area to massive wealth in a few short years. See what he did to accumulate his massive wealth and become a millionaire.The news feeds seem to be filled with story after story of people retiring at a very young age and how they did it. Most of the stories are very similar and goal always seems to be retirement and world travel. 

But what about the rest of us who want to continue making a difference in the world and refuse to bow to hedonism? 

Most people, I think, are unhappy doing nothing for long periods of time. Travel is fun until it becomes your full-time job. 

There are the hyper performers — the Steve Jobs’, Elon Musks’ and Warren Buffetts’ of the world — who never stop working and then there are the folks we see in the news feeds looking to check out at the earliest date. 

Most folks, however, are somewhere in the middle. They want financial independence for the freedom and security, but enjoy the social and productive nature of gainful employment. These people might work a traditional job, run their own business, consult or volunteer. 

That is what this story is about: How I reached Financial Independence (FI) by age 32, defined as net worth north of $1 million, and the steps I took to get there while retaining a happy and productive life.

The finish line will not include exotic travel. Instead, I focused on what I considered important: family and community. I still run the same business I did back then and I’m married to the same woman (31 years and counting and it just keeps getting better!). I’m most proud of my successful and happy marriage, though that doesn’t seem to sell considering the number of stories on long and happy marriages in the news feeds. 

So this is my story of how I accidentally discovered I was a millionaire.

 

Humble Beginnings

I never inherited a penny in my life and if I am so blessed in the future it will make no difference in my lifestyle. Born to a poor family in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin, I learned of family and hard work from little on. When Vince Lombardi said “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”, he gave my dad the adage, “Family isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

And good thing, too! When you live on a farm in the middle of nowhere there are not many folks to socialize with other than family.

We never had much money growing up is what I’m saying. We always had food on the table, but I remember when I was very young my dad put a piece of plywood across two sawhorses as our kitchen table. (Well, it seemed like luxury living to me!) We were happy because the outside world had not yet crept in to educate us to how backward we were.

Somewhere in this utopia I decided I wanted to be rich some day. It was probably the outside world sneaking in and corrupting a certain accountant in the room, but I had to be receptive to be tainted.

But there was trouble in paradise. The late 1970s were a difficult time for farmers. By 1982 when I graduated high school the writing was on the wall and I was oblivious. 

Less than six months out from graduation the farm was gone. I had no skills to sell in a world not hiring. In 1982 no employer was hiring in the county I lived in. It was so bad employers no longer kept up the illusion and didn’t waste paper giving you an application. The answer was NO!

I managed to save a bit in this environment. I turned 18 with a couple thousand to my name and no debt. 

 

Budding Entrepreneur

The money I had came from a variety of sources, a common theme in my rise to FI. In high school I got up every morning to milk cows at 4 a.m. After school I started milking cows again for 4 hours. I pulled a lot of teats, folks. You might laugh at that, but you would lose that grin if you were there.

For 56 hours per week I milked cows, plus other farm chores, and was paid $40 per month for the effort. I spent nothing! Not because I was smart, but because there was no place to go to spend the money. Town was a long walk and there weren’t many stores in the closest towns.

My freshman year of high school I joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA). To raise money members of FFA sold light bulbs. (Back then we only had the incandescent bulb which burned out a lot.)

I took to selling like a duck to water. I talked to everyone in town and every farmer within a day’s drive (I might be stretching the truth a bit). And when the light bulb drive was over I had sold more light bulbs than anyone in FFA history by a very large margin. 

I could sell. That is an important trait other articles on FI don’t mention. Working a job with good wages and benefits and living a frugal lifestyle has several glaring problems.

First, you might not have a high paying job. Minimum wage is not going to get you there by age 32.

Second, you might live in a high cost area of the country. 

Third, formal education and high IQ — and EQ — also make a difference

Forth, it assumes you are in good health.

Fifth, that you never lose that high-paying job while running for FI.

I certainly wasn’t connected and let me be honest here. I, ah, ahem, don’t have a college degree either. {cough} 

You heard me! I did take some college courses, but not enough credits or the right combination for even an Associates. And here I am with my enrolled agent license (the EA is a licence, not a degree) teaching other tax professionals and hiring highly educated people, some of whom have moved on and work for the IRS now.

Not being the smartest guy in the room or with the right education (or pedigree, I might add), I wasn’t on anyone’s radar as Most Likely to Succeed. So what did I do to reach FI so young?

 

3 Steps to Financial Freedom

From graduation day to my 22nd birthday I put those selling skills to work and managed to accumulate a $200,000 nest egg. And remember, this was back in 1986 when $200,000 was serious money. A $10 an hour job was good money in those days. (And I walked up hill to school (both ways) in snow all year around. Just sayin’.)

FFA decided to expand their light bulb fundraising to include garden seeds. There were no records to break as it was the first year offered. Needless to say, I sold a lot of seeds too. (Would you like some light bulbs with those seeds, sir?)

Ditch the job and start living. No more daily grind for the man. Instead, use these 3 steps you build your fortune. #retirement #job #finance #work #wealth I bowed out of selling for the school my junior year and started selling imported goods wholesale to retailers (and anyone else who would buy). I got my supply from a company called Specialty Merchandising Corporation (SMC). Oh yeah, those were the days. And, oh what a lesson I learned.

You see, people will buy over-priced cookies from young girls when it feeds corporate headquarters of a non-profit. But start selling stuff to line your own pocket and the number of “yeses” to “nos” changes radically!

So I improved my skill sets.

By the time I reached the age of majority I accumulated more experience than wealth. Sure, I had some money, but I wasn’t flush. The family farm was gone and that avenue of gainful employment with it.

I worked a short time in my dad’s agricultural repair business. It was tough sledding for dad back then, too. He’s doing well now, but in 1982 it wasn’t a pretty sight.

While working for dad earning a meager wage (money was preserved to pay other employees and to get the business profitable enough to feed a family of four) I worked 80 or more hours per week (record week on the job: 122 hours). I supplemented my income preparing taxes in the winter months. 

Before we knit our eyebrows in dad’s direction, understand it was survival back then. I worked long hours 7 to 9 months of the year (depending on the weather); January and February were light so I had time to prepare taxes. Late May got really busy and for the rest of summer and autumn. So I could earn more in a few months doing 50 or so tax returns than I could working day and night the rest of the year.

To be fair, dad paid me $40 per week, if memory serves, and later, $100 per week. (After I got a raise I quit. Ungrateful kid.)

Readers quick at math will realize this doesn’t add up to $200,000 in 4 years. And that is where we begin our journey of Steps to FI:

 

Step 1:

Unless you make a lot of money at your traditional job you will need multiple sources of income

Let’s count where all my money came from. 1.) Dad was paying me $160 a month, 2.) I was still selling SMC and profits were growing, 3.) I was preparing a small number of tax returns with virtually no expenses (gross margins approached 100%!) and, 4.) interest and dividends.

Interest rates were sky high in the early 1980s. Passbook savings accounts (remember those) paid a minimum of 5%, but most bank products yielded near or over 10%.

While bank interest was guaranteed and the rates mouth-watering, I decided I wanted to own a piece of America by owning stocks. I fondly remember one of my first purchases, a company called, ah, what was that now, oh, Phillip Morris (MO). And I owned a piece of Wrigley, too, until Warren Buffett screwed it up by funding the buyout of Wriggly by Mars, Incorporated for cash. 

I still own those shares of Big MO, now called Altria. The dividends were and are a growing part of my income and don’t think for a moment I didn’t realized the value of getting paid for not working; just for own a piece of a business.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have more than one source of income. If all your income sources are in one basket and that basket withers you are screwed. You might put all your eggs in one basket with a business since each client is a separate income stream, but relying on one traditional job as your only financial resource is problematic. A simple layoff can destroy all your plans.

 

Step 2:

A few years later I got it in my head I would invest in real estate (RE) and go full-time as a tax professional. SMC died on the vine as I focused on building my practice and managing my RE investments.

Which leads to the second step I took toward FI: I owned income producing things (RE and the business) that I had a reasonable amount of control over. 

A job can disappear just like that through no fault of your own. The company can go belly up, the economy can slow, or your job gets outsourced.

Business and real estate have plenty of risk, but it was risk I could control. The Tax Code is never going away and when people try to stop paying less in tax I’m in trouble. Until then I’m golden. 

RE is also risky and comes with a mortgage to increase the incentive to get those units rented. Doing proper research before buying and joining your local apartment association (as I did) and applying some sweat equity increases your chances of success.

I used Step 1 above in RE as well. One vacant unit, if that is all you own, is a 100% vacancy rate. I bought several properties fairly quickly because I knew a few vacancies would only be a nuisance then rather than a catastrophe. 

I worked hard at my businesses. There was no free ride for this backwoods boy. Sometimes it hurt, a lot. There were times I didn’t know what to do. But I never stopped learning and never backed away from labor: manual or desk work.

In Step 2 I structured several income streams into something I had at least some control over.

 

Step 3:

You would think after my business was profitable and the rentals started throwing off reasonable income I could lean back and enjoy the ride. And if you think that you are wrong!

Retire early with these 3 steps used by a wealthy accountant to retire at 32. Early retirement can happen if you follow the simple steps this man used. #FIRE #financiallindependence #money #wealth #earlyretirement Before it was made popular by the tech industry, I always pushed my business into new territory. My goal was to create the company that would replace my business before competitors do.

I was the first in my community to offer free electronic filing. That might not seem like much now, but back then it caused my tax practice to grow explosively. When Wisconsin offered e-filing I was first on the list because the state knew I offered it for free and had no fraud cases. In other words, I could offer State of Wisconsin e-filing in my Wisconsin community for free before competitors could even offer the service. By the time e-filing was rolled out for all I had a commanding lead.

I also sold life insurance in the business for a while. I was never big on traditional life insurance, but key-man and for buy-sell agreements it made sense.

I was also a stock broker for a number of years before I realized I’m a tax guy first and hawking high-fee investments rubbed me wrong.

You can read this blog and see example after example of things I tried. Some ideas worked great; others I’d rather not mention (but share anyway so you benefit from my experience). 

And that is Step 3: Try an idea. If it doesn’t work, step back and reevaluate, then try again until it works. Never over-commit. Test small before jumping in with both feet. You don’t want to do something that destroys what you’ve built to-date. Once you determine you have a winner you can expand. Remember, most ideas don’t work! Trying a lot of ideas to see what works best before committing serious resources is a better way to reach FI at a young age.

 

Accidentally Get Rich

Of course, you need to avoid debt as much as possible and pay it down quickly when it arrives. You also must spend less than you earn if you are ever to build real wealth. You’ve heard it all before. It’s really simple. Spend less than your earn; invest in index funds; wait. If you want faster you better be good at sales or business; preferably both.

And this is where it gets interesting and how I discovered I blew past a $1 million net worth without even knowing it!

From age 22 to 32 a lot happened. My business grew and I got married. (Marriage brings in additional considerations.) Mrs. Accountant was open-minded, allowing me to funnel excess cash into investments rather than a higher lifestyle. I went from around $200,000 in cash to $1.2 million.

Remember the real estate investments I had? Well, eventually my dad, brother and I started a partnership with one-third ownership each. We bought a lot more properties. 

The bank that funded our RE holdings required we provide a personal financial statement every year or so even if we were not borrowing more money.

So I sat down to figure out what I was worth. I valued all RE holdings at what we paid for them rather than what I thought they were worth minus mortgages. I added retirement and non-qualified accounts. I valued my tax practice at zero and the practice had no debt (I only had real estate debt at the time).

As I added the values of all the accounts it started to dawn on me I might be a millionaire. I had a good idea what my share of the mortgages were and the assets were climbing too far above $1 million to drop below that level once mortgages were subtracted. 

When I struck the double lines below the bottom number it was clear I surpassed $1 million by a large enough margin to say I was a millionaire. 

Mrs. Accountant was in the dining room clipping coupons. I shared the good news. All she said was, “That’s nice,” and kept clipping coupons.

You see, I was more important to her than any amount of money. She lives frugally as I do and enjoys every day we are together. She saw, better than I, what was really important.

It was a let down in so many ways. Mrs. Accountant wasn’t excited about the money! I didn’t feel different either. I missed the big day when I crossed that magical seven-figure number. There was no bump or turbulence to indicate I crossed into another zone of existence. In reality nothing had changed; only my mindset.

Once I digested that it was only a number I decided to do what I always did. I tried lots more things, grew my business and expand my sources of income, much of it passive.

You see, I learned the most important step of all: It’s the journey that matters, not the destination. And I had the best mate in the world along for the ride.

It was that day when I was a 32 year old man that I learned to live life for the first time. Live, for Real. 

And I discovered I was always wealthy as long as I had my family.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

It was late May of 2015 when a wayward accountant from the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin traveled to Cascadia. Tucked away in the Washington State foothills stood the Rainbow Lodge where a nondescript gathering of devoted followers of the emerging Mustachian movement were preparing for Camp Mustache II. This was our hero’s destination.

The goal of our accountant was to meet the Great One, Mr. Money Mustache himself, Pete Adeney, and present him with a business offer. 

The wayward accountant had a game plan. Since Pete had no idea who this crazy guy was he needed to build rapport before springing his devious plan on the unsuspecting celebrity. He had four days to build this rapport, present his offer and seal the deal. The pressure was on!

Since our hero was already attending the event he figured he could volunteer to give a short tax presentation. And wouldn’t you know it, the Big Guy attended the session and sat right in front of him, no more than five feet away!

Oh, well, figured our country boy. He went ahead with his tax strategy presentation. No more than ten minutes into the presentation and Pete interrupted, saying, “You’re my new tax guy.”

Gulp!

Cool as a cucumber, our backwoods accountant never missed a beat as he finished his session. When the session ended Pete introduced himself to the accountant and said, “When I say something I mean it. You are my accountant.”

 

Pressure

You would think the pressure would be off at this point. Mr. Backwoods Accountant had his foot in the door three days early. Not only did he have his coveted rapport, he had a new client; Mr. Money Mustache himself! (Can I squeal like a girl in delight now?)

But there was one problem. Mr. Accountant wasn’t looking for new clients. He had a business proposition to make and he had to figure out how to present it.

Honesty is the only way. Later the same day our hero pulled Pete off to the side and spilled the beans on why he was there.

He admitted to Pete he wanted to offer his DIY online tax software service, using MMM as the platform. Pete didn’t care for the idea. (Disappointment.) But he would be happy to mention the project on the MMM blog without strings attached. (Glee!)

But there was still one overwhelming problem.

 

Honesty

The story to this point is public information. I’ve shared this story in the past and many are aware of it.

What is not publicly known is why I wanted to make the business offer to Pete in the first place.

Sometimes getting fired is the best thing that can happen to you. The loss of a job or client opens the door for new opportunities. You can only grow when you deny the past and embrace the future.

Sometimes getting fired is the best thing that can happen to you.

The reason for the DIY tax software project was because I was ready to take a step back and start living the MMM lifestyle. Now that I ended up with a very visible new tax client that dream fell to dust. 

The DIY tax program is alive and well, thanks to the extra push Pete gave it in February 2016. However, the idea of slowing down and focusing on teaching the next generation of tax professionals had to be put on hold. 

The phone and email server started to smoke the traffic was so heavy. Mr. Money Mustache gets close to 10 million page views per month and his readers are devoted. They all wanted the same taxguy Pete had. This wasn’t going to work.

At its peak I was receiving over 300 emails a day that tax season just from the MMM blog alone. Just saying “No” to each request was a strain on resources. And these weren’t the simple returns either. These fine people took serious advantage of the tax code.

Instead of slowing down I was winding up at a rapid clip and it was wearing my team and me out. It took a few years to adjust to the New World Order. I had to learn to say “No” at a level I never imagined before. 

Employees were crushed by the onslaught. I still don’t understand how I survived the transition. Stress was higher than at any other time in my career. 

Let’s be clear. None of this was Pete’s fault. He had no idea what was about to hit me. Every action Pete took was to help someone he admired and liked. Pete and I became friends. And he empathized with my situation. He offered to break the links on his blog, but I begged him to keep them up. My ego was the only thing enjoying the ride.

 

Hell

My descent into hell was complete. I was adding new clients, but couldn’t keep up with the pace. The first tax season (spring of 2016) was non-stop triage. It wasn’t good at all.

The quality of my work suffered and I was exhausted. And my attitude started to show it.

This was NOT what I had planned. I couldn’t even dream something like this would happen. We’re country folk and live a fairly secluded life. More people contacted my office that year than there are people in the county I live in! Think about that for a moment.

The next tax season (2017) was better, but not my much. I wanted to help all these people and I still fantasized I could. I was saying “No” more, but still held myself open to more clients. It was a round robin at this point. When I said “Yes” to one new client I would lose another. And all the while Pete watched patiently.

Pete knew I was struggling no matter how brave a face I put on. He offered helpful guidance and even mentioned on several occasion I was working too hard. But I kept thinking, “This is Pete! He thinks everyone works too hard. I’m a Wisconsin boy. I can take it.” 

But I couldn’t and I knew it. 

I might be slow, but I ain’t dumb. (No comments from the back row.) Last tax season (the third since that fateful day at the Rainbow Lodge) I was starting to adjust to my new situation. I slowed the pace of client growth (I actually orchestrated a small decline) to a manageable pace.

 

Back on Track

The saving grace of this whole ordeal was automation. I was forced to think in ways I never had to before. 

My team did not fare so well. Every employee I had at the start is now gone. The last one left late last year, burnt out from the experience. My senior employee is now three years with me. It is hard sometimes to see how I could rebuild, but rebuild I did with my original goal back on track.

It could have been worse. You could have kept your job. Sometimes losing your job is the best thing that can happen to you. You now have the freedom to choose the path you want going forward.I’m one ornery backwoods Wisconsin coot that refuses to give up! I had a plan and it got detoured. Nothing more. 

After three plus decades in the tax industry my value wasn’t best utilized serving one client at a time. Yes, this blog does help spread the word and teach others. This blog isn’t enough, however.

With headcount lower and the door closed to virtually all new clients, I was able to focus on the original goals. 

To accomplish these goals I needed to focus on what I was good at: tax. I outsourced all payroll. Except Pete. Pete was my friend. I couldn’t do that to him. 

Bookkeeping—a low margin service—was curtailed to just those clients needing the service as it related to their tax situation. Automation and outsourcing did the rest

Last tax season was at least reasonable. Even my senior employee, Dawn, with me three years, noted the difference. Things were looking up.

Then I made a serious decision. It was time to explain to my friend, Pete, that he needed to have his payroll handled elsewhere and I facilitated the transfer to the service I use in my office. Pete contemplated doing it himself, but decided to take my direction.

Then I got the email.

 

You’re Fired

Pete saw the handwriting on the wall even if I wasn’t totally honest with him. He knew I was under tremendous pressure and was putting on a brave face for the world. I was the only one fooled into thinking nobody knew what was happening behind closed doors.

Pete is one of the smartest. most common sense, guys you’ll meet. His email was titled: Continued Collaboration Plans. Yeah, I can see a pink slip when I see one.

I wasn’t really fired (or is that FIREd) and it wasn’t a surprise. Discussions in our conference room at the office centered several times around the Pete issue: Should we continue doing his taxes? The discussion revolved around how narrow the office demographic had become. We wanted to return to a more traditional tax office. My teams—what was left of them—knew I still wanted to work out of the traditional tax environment and start preparing the next generation of tax professionals.

Pete had no idea. In truth, we never would have turned Pete away: he is too much a friend; I admire him and his work too much. Still, it wasn’t the right thing and apparently Pete knew it too.

Pete made very clear in his email how happy he and Simi were with my work. I responded I wasn’t as thrilled with my performance as he was. I knew where I dropped the ball. Stress and taking on too much are not valid excuses.

Then Pete said he wanted my blessing for a new tax accountant he found, saying,

But at the same time, I’d love to continue collaborating with you on whatever you see fit, whether it is talking about life, blogs, tax strategies, sending folks your way, or whatever.

Pete is all class, as if you guys didn’t know that already.

Pete finished his email with,

So my own taxes are just a footnote – I feel with your firm being so busy already, I’d rather not be a burden myself, and I also don’t feel comfortable sending too many additional customers at you, because you are all so busy already! As stated earlier, I want to be able to bring in more new firms to the fold so we can help more people.

Like I said, all class.

 

Overjoyed

(Don’t bail on me yet, kind readers. The best part is still coming!)

I shouldn’t feel such relief that the ordeal is over, but I do. Serving a very visible client is distracting at best. But the change will serve Pete, his readers, and even you, kind readers, better than ever!

I did something horrible, however. When Pete sent the email I could tell it was hard for him to write it. I waited almost a week to respond, though I saw it the moment it hit my mailbox. My response, you see, was equally difficult to write.

Pete gave some sage advice in his original email:

. . . your teachings through both the Wealthy Accountant blog and the in-person seminars have helped tens of thousands of people – or more. So I want to continue all of this! 

How could I let my friend down. He wanted me to realize my goal from five years back when we first met. You have no idea how humbled I am by his encouragement. 

I finally was able to write back what I wanted to say. Now Pete was overjoyed.

I wrote in my email:

Pete, I can only imagine the apprehension you had writing this to me. Understand I think your proposal is a good one so no worries. 

Rather than just assigning 2018 to his firm, let’s do this as a full transition to the new accountant. If he has difficulties I am available to consult; if he doesn’t live up to your standards I can always step in again.

I made it clear to Pete I was still on his team. His new accountant is close to his home and I am certain will do an awesome job. Because of the new tax law changes I will reach out to the new accountant (name undisclosed at this time for reasons obvious in above writings) to make sure he understands how this will affect Pete. That 199A thing is really important. I can provide guidance (my true value) and he can perform the application.

So you understand how overjoyed Pete was I didn’t take it personally, he started his response:

WOW, thanks so much for that helpful response! You are right that I was nervous that you’d take my request the wrong way. But as I said, it just seems like a win/win for everyone, so why not!?

I agree.

There is one more morsel to share later. You want to stick around.

 

Now for Something You’ll Really Love

While all this was happening, a certain accountant from the boondocks of Wisconsin was still planning and working hard toward his goals of serving his people better than ever before.

Outsourcing and downsizing certainly made a difference in the office environment. With new processes in place working and Pete doing what I should have presented long ago, I have been able to focus on things you, kind readers, have been asking for. And so far this has been the best tax season in well over a decade.

The best boss sees your potential and pushes you to reach for it. The best leaders bring the best out of others.

The best boss sees your potential and pushes you to reach for it.

Camp Accountant is now almost certain to happen. Before it was just too much to fit into an already crowded schedule. The new world order turns this into a real possibility.

Camp Accountant is tentatively planned for late summer this year in beautiful West Bend, Wisconsin. Attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents will earn continuing professional education (CPE) credits for attending. No other camp has ever done that!

And I have another secret no one reading this will know.

This blog has been growing thanks to training courses I’ve taken. The best course by far is Moolah Marketing. Highly recommended.

The Moolah course, by the way, is remarkable in more than just driving traffic. Rachel Miller, the wonderful woman running the course, hammers first on identifying who your fans are. This is important as I’ll now illustrate.

When I started the Moolah course Rachel kept asking who my fans were and I kept saying the FIRE community. She kept telling me I was wrong. I finally figured out the FIRE community is only a small part of my demographic, but tax professionals scream for more of my work. The tax pros are my people!

What Rachel instilled in me is a new path for this blog, my work and fulfilling my original goal back in May 2015. Several courses in this vein will be produced by this blog or are in the works!

Rachel invited me on a Facebook Live and asked her people if they would like a course from me on 30 Tax Tips for Solopreneures. She said if 50 people were willing to pre-order I was obligated to create the course. It took less than 5 minutes!

So I need to be committed, ah, I’m committed to creating the course. Now I need to set up the order form (a future post will list details and how to order) and create the course. Due date is May. (This year!)

Here are a few more courses in development:

  • 20 Tips to Avoid Taxes When Investing in Real Estate
  • Build a Million Dollar Tax Practice
  • Investing For Dummies (May need to change the name due to copyright.)
  • Bookkeeping for Profit

We are floating more ideas.

This means I will be teaching more than ever. In the past I was locked into serving one client at a time. Now I will serve thousands at a time! If you have a topic you want my team to consider be sure to let me know.

Finally, you may have noticed a new feature here. I started a Find a Local Tax Pro page! (This might be what triggered Pete to email me. A few weeks after I launched I heard from Pete.)

If you need a tax professional, this is the place to look. If you are a tax pro willing to add more clients to your book and follow The Wealthy Accountant tax principles, allow me to add your name to the list. If your tax pro is awesome, be sure to point her to this resource. It is free and you can change or delete your listing anytime your situation changes with no fee. This is for the people of this community. 

 

Did Pete Finally Get Something Wrong?

I’ve known Pete for about 5 years now. The one thing you quickly notice is his clarity of thinking. Anytime I’ve asked for his advice or he just gave it because he saw I was in desperate need, he has always hit the nail on the head.

Pete gave me this final warning:

I’m not sure if I’d post the MMM new accountant thing just yet (and of course you never have to, I can always explain if ever needed that we still work together and collaborate) – but I’ll leave it up to you. In general, I find it’s good not to stoke the gossip engine, because people always get stuff wrong!

I feel this post is about more than Pete using a new tax professional. I covered a lot of material today that will serve your needs, kind reader, for a long time to come. 

I can’t be a mini-Pete forever; I need to strike out on my own in a direction I feel best serves my people, you.

Pete is right. People tend to get it wrong. Many will read the title and no further, building their entire opinion on those few incomplete words meant to drive traffic more than anything else. (Gotta get ya to read it before I can help you.) 

Just this one time can we prove Pete wrong. He is a good man. He’ll be happy to be proven wrong on this. This is a major step forward for this community and desperately needed. We need more qualified tax professionals and this is a serious first step. 

Now if you’ll forgive me, I need to find my handkerchief. I was just FIREd.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Finding the right price to charge for your product or service will determine the success of your business. Learn how successful businesses find the price that maximizes profits.

Finding the right price to charge for your product or service will determine the success of your business. Learn how successful businesses find the price that maximizes profits.

“Start a side hustle or small business” is a common refrain when working to reduce debt or retirement planning is involved. It all sounds easy on paper until you realize most businesses fail within a year or so.

The problems with starting a business are myriad. Most businesses fail because they either have too little or too much business and the problems begin with the price or fee charged the customer.

Yes, some businesses fail over financing and other financial issues, but price frequently is the destroyer of small businesses. Charge too little and you end up with too much work and no profits to show for the effort; charge too much and nobody will even waste their time kicking the tires to see how good you really are.

The type of business also plays a role in pricing. A cheap attorney or doctor (or accountant!) is never a good idea. Even if it is a good deal you are unlikely to trust a cheap attorney. But what if you have a side hustle dog sitting? Is cheaper better then?

Then we get the loss leaders. Using our dog sitting example, do you offer a free trial to get clients in the door? It might work, but it costs the business owner money and time to promote in such a fashion. Research also indicates it is a poor way to promote your business.

Too Good a Deal

When I started my practice in the 1980s I subscribed to the “cheap is better” promotional school of thought. I was the first guy in town offering free e-filing for federal and was the only guy who could offer state e-filing the first year it was available because Wisconsin wanted to test their program with firms that offered the service for free and had no fraud cases. I fit the bill and the rest is history.

The free e-filing is a good example of giving something for free to grow your business. I still was paid for preparation services; only the e-filing was free. The benefit cost me nothing and saved time. My software provider only charged me a dollar and I saved that in toner and paper not printing copies to send to the government. This also saved time so I was a net winner. The best deal around town outside my office was $25 for e-filing. By the time other firms caught on it was too late. I was well established and well known for my progressive business ideas.

There was still one small problem. I prepared tax returns for a low fee. The goal was to grow the business fast and large. This is a massive problem when the service provided frequently required I personally work on or review most tax returns. I was providing value added service but not charging for it. That led to long hours and lower profits. Something had to change.

Quality or price, you can't have both. When you provide high quality service you deserve a higher price. See how professionals set price to maximize profits.

Quality or price, you can’t have both. When you provide high quality service you deserve a higher price. See how professionals set price to maximize profits.

By the time my practice reached 2,000 returns I was exhausted. Sure, anyone in the office can prepare a return. So can any other tax office. But not many can reduce a clients tax liability legally the way I can. That takes experience, skill, research, and most of all, time.

Around the year 2000 I was preparing about 1,600 individual returns  with another 400 business returns, amended returns and returns from prior tax years. Many clients walked in the door when I was giving my services away and I wasn’t bringing their fee to a reasonable level fast enough to regain my sanity. That, and attempts to increase prices brought loud complaints. It was exhausting. People wanted more and more without paying for it. Worse, clients didn’t take my advice seriously! What was it worth anyway? I gave the consulting away for fee and clients treated it as worth exactly that much.

The first year I decided to make a draconian cut. The tax software I use allows me to pull reports based on time spent preparing the return and the fee charged. I ran a report showing the least profitable to most profitable clients. To my surprise I had almost 400 clients that were money losing accounts! (I know, I know. I’m not proud of it either.) Those 400 clients were send a letter kindly asking them to leave.

That was the best tax season in years. Prices were not increased much, but the money losing accounts were out so I had time to breath and profits actually climbed because expenses dropped faster than revenue.

The next year I raised fees significantly. My real clients stayed. Fewer people left than I anticipated. Something else also started to happen. Clients, especially business clients, started saying it was about time I raised my fees so people would start respecting my work. Clients saw what I was blind to! People actually wanted to pay me more because they saw value and all the bottom feeders were sucking me dry, hurting the serious clients. In hindsight, I’m feel great gratitude these clients were willing to wait until I regained my sanity.

Perceptions of Value

How much do you value the endless supply of news online? Do you trust it? What if you pay for a newspaper? If you are like most people, paying for something causes you to value it more. It may have something to do with the sunk-cost fallacy businesses fall prey too. Regardless, we understand “free” does not bring out the best. A free report is valued lower than a report you pay for and for good reason. When a payment is made/received all parties expect a certain level of value to be provided.

But free works so well! But not really. In my line of work I see plenty of businesses. I know what does and does not work. The “free” thing has been done to death. The philosophy has destroyed more businesses than any other policy I know of. Free meals mean nothing to a restaurant if the food is no good. All free does is sink your boat faster.

Back to our dog sitting example. Giving away a free day when you have no way of creating more time is a rabbit hole you do not want to fall down. Instead, a free doggie treat might be a better way to promote the business. You still charge your regular fee, but you give something extra of value. The perception of value remains intact. The people who would turn their pet over to a free service are not the kinds of clients (and dogs) you want.

 

Finding the Right Price

Over the years I tried many methods of pricing my services. Checking the competition and pricing comparatively is the most common method of pricing I see and used it myself in the early days. It’s also the worst, except for the free or super cheap thing we talked about above.

Setting your prices/fees similar to or a nickle below competitors means you get paid nothing for any added value you provide. Here we are again at the trough of free stuff. If you charge what the other guys charge what is the incentive to use your product or service? If you provide greater value there is a reason to patronize your business, but you don’t get paid for the superior product if your only pricing method is to undercut competitors.

All these pricing issues lead to two problems: 1.) you are either too busy (or people don’t trust you’ll do a good job) due to your under-priced goods and services which leads to poorer quality as you are run raged, or 2.) your fee becomes over-priced compared to what competitors are selling due to market changes before you differentiate your product.

You can’t win if you do not differentiate your product or service. The differentiation is where the value is created and where clients are happy to pay your fee even if it is high.

There is a better way and I learned this trick from two men I highly admire: Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss. Seth Godin is well known from his numerous best-selling books; Tim Ferriss from his books and podcast.

Recently Tim invited Seth to join him on his podcast. It may have been the most important podcast I ever listened to.

Seth shared his method for setting prices for his speaking engagements. He said he only has two prices: free and full price. If Godin really wants to do the gig and if it is for a good cause he will sometimes do it for free. Otherwise his fee is full price, no discounts.

Wonderful! But how does Seth Godin find his price? Simple. He started by setting his price so a few people would hire him. Once someone—anyone—offered him more that was his new price. As simple as that.

However, this is simple theory, difficult in practice. Godin admits it’s tempting to take a gig when your calendar is empty. It takes time to learn the skill of saying “no” when you have lots of white space on your calendar. But if you don’t stick to your principles you dive head first down the aforementioned rabbit hole. And it is going to hurt really bad.

Higher is Better for Everyone

It may sound crazy, but a higher price is frequently better for the business and the customer! People will pay for quality and those who will not are not the kinds of people you want to serve. Remember, you’re a business, not a slave! You solve problems, fill a need. And do it well! You should get paid for that and paid well. If you don’t it is only a matter of time before you either quit or sacrifice your ethics and provide cut-rate products and services.

The fear business owners have when raising fees is the worry clients will leave. Well, I hope so!

Not everyone wants or needs the higher level of service and quality. Your choice is to produce crap and sell a manure spreader load full of it or to sell a respectable amount you can comfortably provide  at the highest quality money can buy. Either way is fine. But, crap gets old fast while quality instills pride and that carries you a lifetime and makes you feel proud of the work you do.*

Last year my small tax firm prepared around 550 tax returns in total. This is a long fall from the heady days of 2,000+ returns annually. It was the best tax season in years as I worked hard to adjust to my new worldview of a tax office with national exposure. This is easily the most difficult transition I ever went through. There were times I didn’t know if the firm would survive.

Here it is mid-January and I’m nervous. One of my preparers thinks I committed to around 650 returns for this tax season. (Was it that may?) If it’s true I have a real problem. I spent heavily on increased automation and productivity enhancements. However, the clients I serve now are of a different caliber than of the past. These are large returns with serious issues and I’m one guy. (Yes, my team does most of the heavy lifting, but I need to be in the final review process for virtually all returns so clients get maximum value.)

Finding the right price to charge is as important as the service you provide.

Finding the right price to charge is as important as the service you provide.

Fees have steadily climbed. As fees climbed some clients left. Revenue still climbs because fewer people leave than the fee increases. The higher fee allows me to add more value to each return. This means lower taxes for clients so my fee is really free after tax savings are included. But, Dawn, my ace tax preparer, and I will sit with every client this year. The last few years we allowed other team members to handle this. I hated it because I need to know my client better and the new system will allow for it as long as I don’t grow the business too large. (Clients living further away will have more phone time with us.)

The goal is to always provide a better experience for the client. Quality is important as long as the client feels respected. Doing the best work and ignoring the client is still bad form.

And don’t worry about losing all your clients. I’ve experienced that emotion all too often. Let me sooth your nerves with a story: This blog has produced an excessive flow of consulting clients. I love the work and with rare exception the client walks away from the consulting session with thousands or even tens of thousands in tax savings. There is a reason for the high demand.

I consult with new clients from June to December on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The max, I discovered, is two consulting sessions a day. Any more and the research and face time exhausts me too much. (Regular clients can have consulting sessions any time of year, even tax season.)

The past year I charged $275 an hour. When the new consulting season starts in June the fee is $350 per hour. Still a good value when thousands in taxes are saved.

You would think the fee increase would slow things down. It didn’t. June is already filling up six month in advance! Kind readers, please understand. People are hungry for top-quality service and products! They are sick and tired of junk. The more I raise my fee the more people know I’m focusing on increasing the value even more. And they want this even higher value product more!

Let me make one thing clear as we wrap this up. This is not about bilking the client. This is about serving the client at the highest level possible and pushing higher from there. You are good today; you’ll be even better tomorrow as you learn and accumulate more experience. People want that!

The increased consulting fee means I will work slightly fewer hours and, of course, will make more. But cutting the hours just a bit allows me to learn and grow more as I have the time to research ideas and strategies. This makes every hour of my time purchased worth significantly more.

Tax preparation fees are the same. Cheap is NOT better. Cheap means a shortcut was taken. You can’t do it profitably any other way. What you save in accounting fees is lost to your least favorite uncle in Washington. I’m not close to the cheapest. I played that game before. I’m embarrassed to say it because that means my clients were screwed by my lack of experience in those days. If I’d have raised priced I might have done a better job earlier in my career.

As for the dog sitting side hustle: People love their pets and want the best for them. Charge more and include a doggie massage and doggie treats. The dog and the human will thank you for such kind consideration.

As a bonus, you’ll have a profitable and successful business you enjoy running ever day. No retirement for you; you’re already living the dream.

 

* If you work at a job and hate it there is a good chance you work for a company peddling as much crap as they can flush out the door. People who work for companies that provide high quality products or services are almost always a pleasure to work for also.

 

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