8 Core Tax Concepts Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know
Of the many virtues that entrepreneurs have, one such virtue is the desire and ability to get as much information and knowledge as they can by reading books, attending speaking events, researching on the internet, etc. However, ‘taxes’ aren’t one of the topics entrepreneurs seek out, and it’s for a justifiable reason.
Many believe the topic of taxes to be either too boring or overly complicated, and it typically is when presented improperly. Yet, so many business owners are starving and anxious to learn tax and legal principles. Inspired by those teachers of tax and legal topics that make it truly interesting, I have tried to summarize in this article the top 8 Core Tax Concepts that every entrepreneur needs to know:
- The IRS treats different types income VERY differently. This principle is at the CORE of so much of our advising. For example, income you make in your operational business is NOT taxed the same as income you make in your rental real estate “business”. So as you read books, attend speaking events, etc., keep in mind that the principles taught (and the advice if you’re talking to your tax professional) are going to depend in large part on the TYPE of income.
- Corporate Income Tax versus Pass-through Entities i.e. LLC’s, S-corps, Sole Props, Partnerships. A pass-through entity is a business entity that does NOT pay income tax at the “entity” level but rather, the income tax liability is passed-through to the owner(s) of the business (hence avoiding the double taxation that is often associated with c-corporations). In other words, the manner in which income generated by an LLC taxed as a sole proprietorship or partnership is very different than a c-corporation. There are a lot of false assumptions that entrepreneurs have about their tax situation and a lot of that comes from internet research – not because the article was bad, but because they simply misapplied it to their situation. For example, if an entrepreneur whose business is taxed as a partnership comes across an article about business taxes is going to become very confused if the articles is referring to corporate income taxation, unless they REALIZE the article is not referring to “pass-through entities” such as theirs. The result would be that if that entrepreneur tried to apply the principles in that article to their business, it would be confusing and likely not helpful.
- There are all sorts of taxes – It’s important to keep them straight. If you regularly read books, attend speaking events, listen to podcasts, etc., and you hear taxes, don’t assume it’s ALWAYS about income taxes. For example, technically, self-employment taxes, which is discussed frequently, is different than income tax. And when you’re in the world of small business, real estate, estate planning, etc., trying to get as much “self-learning” as you can, there’s even more types of tax out there which may or may not apply to you. For example, there’s income tax, self-employment tax, estate tax, property tax, gift tax, payroll tax, sales tax, and many more. So always make sure you’re aware of which type of tax that author, or speaker, etc., is referring to.
- Generally, a tax-write off is whatever costs and expenses are customary and appropriate in your industry and helpful to your business. Actually, the verbiage in the tax code is “ordinary” and “necessary”, but thanks to the courts, those words have been defined to mean “customary” and “appropriate”. So if you’re a house flipper out genuinely trying to make money in your business and you have costs and expenses along the way, you’ll typically be able to write off any and all expenses that are customary and appropriate for someone in the house flipping business.
- Some business “write-off’s” must be amortized over time. With some exception, when you/your business buys equipment or assets, generally that cost IS deductible BUT will have to be spread out or amortized over multiple tax years based on the IRS schedule for that particular asset/equipment.
- Basis. One of the core principles of taxation is that your cost to acquire an asset is called your basis, and that’s important because when you decide to sell that asset, the tax consequences of that transaction will be determined “based” (bad pun) on the selling price of the asset/equipment over and above the basis (note: by the time you sell that asset, the basis will have adjusted and so it’s referred to as your “adjusted basis”). That excess amount, if any, is a capital gain and is typically taxed differently than your “ordinary” business income. Selling an asset in your business (or the business itself) can become quite complicated, but so long as you remember this core tax concept, it will help you when discussing transactions with your tax professional(s).
- Most tax deductions are “entity-agnostic”. Most of the tax write-off’s that a typical entrepreneur are going to have will be available to them regardless of whether they operate as a sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation. For example, if you’re trying to claim expenses associated with your business that you incur in the course of traveling, meeting with clients, etc., those costs will generally be deductible regardless of whether you operate your business as a sole proprietor, partnership, s-corporation, or c-corporation.
- Don’t let the “tax tail wag the dog”. I’m not suggesting your business is a “dog”, but if your business doesn’t need a certain expense or you wouldn’t buy a certain expense otherwise, it usually doesn’t make sense to incur such an expense simply to claim another tax write-off. For example, it’s exciting when you read a book or attend a speaking event that mentions a certain tax write-off, but if you don’t need that expensive new piece of equipment, particularly if you’re just starting out in your business, that huge expense, notwithstanding the fact that it is deductible, could run your business into the ground.
In sum, keep reading, attending speaking events, listening to podcasts, but if you will keep these core principles in mind you’ll have much better success in implementing some of the strategies you read/learn about. This article is not intended as legal or tax advice. If you’re an entrepreneur or potential entrepreneur and have tax and legal questions, please contact our office.