How to avoid refiling your taxes within your first year of business
This post is a personal lesson that we hope to share with other young entrepreneurs heading into their first year of business. For other great material on Public Relations, please find more great blogs below. For those interested in hearing about my first year of taxes as a business owner, read on.
By Melissa A Vitale
I had been operating my business for about four months in 2017 when another new business owner asked me for my expertise on how to handle taxes. The conversation was winded, because it wasn’t easy to explain that frankly, I didn’t know what I was doing, nor was it a priority as it probably should have been. When I started my PR Firm, I was more concerned about clients and revenue than business expenses and taxes.
“Don’t take my advice,” I finally told her. “If I earn enough that I need to worry about taxes this year, I will… but 2017-Melissa will bring in the revenue and 2018-Melissa will worry about the taxes.”
In the meantime, when it came to taxes, everyone, or so it seemed, had advice for me.
My friends have never been in the position of investing their savings, and launching a business with little planning, direction, or resources would chide early on to be sure that I saved 30 percent of all revenue for taxes.
“If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to eat,” I coldly responded in the first months of business.
Like that unsolicited advice, I ignored the concept of taxes for most of 2017 and focused on one thing: building my business, Melissa A Vitale Public Relations, from the foundation up.
In my mind, I could either worry about taxes or worry about generating revenue; without money coming in, I wouldn’t need to worry about paying Uncle Sam anyway. I looked at the opportunity cost and decided what was more beneficial overall and made a note to ask around for CPAs come 2018 while my business continued to grow.
Well, 2018 came…and January passed…then February. In early March, I started calling Certified Public Accountants. Most laughed at my attempt to hire an accountant so close to April 15! Luckily, one angel (referred to me by la famiglia, so my Italian upbringing approved!) accepted the project that my taxes became.
I hadn’t been using any business tools at first, but six months or so in, I luckily adopted QuickBooks for my invoices. While my invoices were half-tracked, my expenses were only kept in my bank statements. Long story short, my CPA was in for a hell of a time.
She tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade me to report exactly all my expenses, but the idea of perusing multiple statements across 12 months seemed impossible.
I asked every CPA I ran into if I could estimate my expenses until I found one who declared, “Absolutely.”
As you can expect: Worst. Advice. Ever.
With this misinformation, I used everything I could, calendars, emails and agendas, all my written records except my bank statements, to estimate my overall expenses for 2017, with the promise to be much more diligent for 2018
Still evolving from employee to business owner, I approached taxes the way I had most school exams: prepare a little, wing it, and hope for the best. As you can guess by the headline, things didn’t turn out the best they could have, not without a refile that is.
I finished my taxes and owed what I felt was a fair amount. If my revenue had been a salary, I would have been taxed nearly triple the amount my CPA came up with, so to me, the first-year owner of an LLC, I thought that was just fine.
While I was setting up a payment plan with my CPA to start paying my year-end taxes without losing a lump sum, I kept my promise for tax diligence and began entering expenses from January to April 2018 into QuickBooks. Once I started entering my expenses, I realized that technology had made things so easy for business owners, and I didn’t even take the time to notice.
My CPA began sending me emails about the estimated taxes I owed for the first quarter of 2018. Suddenly, what I thought was reasonable was no longer sustainable with a new business.
I looked at my actual expenses for the year and realized, I may have made a big enough mistake to actually impact my finances, and therefore business capabilities for the following year.
I did a bit of research on my own about tax laws and got myself up to shape. I inserted all my expenses that I had (because credit card statements expire 12 months retroactively, I lost the first six statements of 2017 by the time I sat down to refile) into QuickBooks, and realized I made a paramount mistake: I underclaimed close to $25,000 in expenses.
I called new CPAs, ones that specialized in startups and small businesses and decided to refile with one who comprehended my financial situation, experience and goals.
My new CPA laughed at the difference of expenses and informed me that not only did I owe the IRS less, I probably deserved a refund.
I went from struggling to pay my taxes to sending out one, simple check, but again, it wasn’t without a refile. While I was able to condense that story into under 1000 words, the actual 6-month timeframe included months of calls between two CPAs, hours on the phone with banks, weekends pouring over invoices and expenses and a lot of tears and sweat to be able to get a letter from the IRS in the mail without anxiety.
I realize that a lot of business owners will read all this and roll their eyes. “Stupid Millennial, no shit you have to track all your expenses.”
You’re right. Most business owners know this. However, there are more new, young business owners everyday, all wondering the same thing: do I need to worry about taxes my first year of business?
Not only did I learn that lesson, I made the mistakes so others can avoid it.
I want to own my mistakes as a young business owner, because I want others to learn from them the same way I did.
My QuickBooks is now impeccable. I update my information faster than my CPA can check in on it, and I would never have that diligence if I didn’t go through almost of year of Refile-hell.
So take it from me: don’t estimate your expenses. Brew some coffee. Roll something fat. Turn on your hustle music. Hunker down and do whatever you need to do to focus because when it comes to taxes, no matter how young your business is, you need to be accurate.
If my mistake can help one person avoid the same trial, sharing this tale will all be worth it.
Sometimes we business owners want to save time to focus on the important things: namely, bringing in revenue. Taxes are one of those compulsory things that, if not given the proper time or attention the first time, can become even more costly.
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Melissa A Vitale Public Relations
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups in artificial intelligence, sexual wellness and legal cannabis.