National Small Business Week 2013

There are so many elements involved in operating a successful business, only some of which are controllable by the owner.  You need a good business plan, adequate capital investment, not to mention an excellent product or service.  You also need to figure out how you’re going to market that product or service.  Of course, it helps if you have a head for business; some people just seem to “get it.”  But even these measures do not ensure success because so much depends on timing and luck.

One element that people tend to overlook when they start a business is the tax consequences and requirements.  No luck involved here.  And, thankfully, you don’t really need to have a knack for numbers or a specialized knowledge of tax laws to make sure the tax aspects of your business are in order.  What you do need is a basic understanding of what tax requirements apply to your business and where to go for answers.

Some small business owners consult with a tax accountant or a tax attorney in the opening and operating of their business.  But if you’re not in a position to hire a tax professional, there are still excellent resources at the IRS, especially this week.

It is National Small Business Week 2013 and the IRS is offering two free webinars, one on June 18th and one on June 20th.  The June 18th webinar is entitled “Small Business Owners: Get All the Tax Benefits You Deserve” and the June 20th webinar will cover the topic of “common mistakes.”  If you don’t have a chance to register and watch live, the IRS will be archiving both webinars on the IRS Video Portal.

Interested in hearing President Obama’s self-congratulatory introduction to National Small Business Week?  In a minute and a half he lists everything his administration is doing to help small businesses succeed.  Me neither.  But here’s the link anyways:

Abel Maldonado’s Tax Controversy

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In California, Abel Maldonado is a familiar name.  He’s the former lieutenant governor and he’s currently running for Senate in the new Central Coast district.  Maldonado is also in the news because of his serious tax problems.

As far as the IRS is concerned, one of the worst things a business owner can do is make personal expenditures out of the business funds and try to write them off as legitimate business expenses.  The only reason anyone would attempt this is to make it appear that the income is lower because, if the income is lower, the tax bill is also lower.

This is at the center of the controversy between the Maldonado family farming business (Agro-Jal) and the Internal Revenue Service.  The IRS has billed them for $3.6 million and Maldonado refuses to pay.  These are some of the expenditures that the government contends had no legitimate business purpose:

  1. renovations to Maldonado’s residences
  2. fundraiser for his campaign for Senate
  3. unspecified catering expenses
  4. personal use of company vehicles
  5. golf club memberships
  6. horses

This certainly does not good for Maldonado’s campaign, even if he has legitimate arguments in tax court — it’s the perception that counts.  But maybe the IRS should give them the horses; seems like a farming expense to me!

Weed Wars in Oakland, CA

Oakland’s Harborside pot dispensary has a nifty slogan: “Out of the Shadows, Into the Light.” It’s actually a pretty good description of what the Internal Revenue Service has done with their tax returns recently.

Ever since California legalized marijuana for medical purposes, pot shops here are thriving . . . but not if the IRS can help it. The IRS recently audited the 2007 and 2008 returns of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center and hit them with a $2.4 million tax bill. It sounds like a lot of money, but Harborside’s is a huge dispensary with 84 full-time employees and gross revenues of $22 million a year. And what really inflated the tax bill is the IRS’s disallowance of their business expenses. Well, the IRS did allow them to deduct the cost of “medicine” purchased (that’s what Harborside calls it on their website), but nothing more. The IRS’s position is based on an old rule forbidding business expense deductions for operations that traffic in illegal drugs.

I have no idea why the IRS would question the legitimacy of this joint knowing they are the official 1st place winner of the coveted 2011 High Times Medical Cannabis Cup.

Harborside is fighting the audit and publicizing their good deeds, like the fact that they are pumping all kinds of money into the local economy. On Friday, September 30th, Harborside made a ceremony out of its $360,000 city tax payment as if it were some kind of voluntary contribution.

** I can’t take credit for the clever title of this blog post. The Discovery Channel will be airing a reality show based on the Harborside drama called “Weed Wars.”