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Draw Up--and Get to Work On--a List of Year-End Tax-Related Issues

November 15, 2000|JOYCE M. ROSENBERG | ASSOCIATED PRESS

It's time to start thinking about Christmas and New Year's--and maybe even graduation day.

Everyone gets busy at the end of the year, especially someone who's running a small business with little or no help. And there are plenty of year-end chores you'll find yourself scrambling to deal with--unless you get started on them now.

Some of the items on your to-do list are tax-related. Should you be thinking about buying that computer you need and getting some extra deductions?

Other chores have to do with hiring. Are you planning to recruit a June college graduate to work with your company? If so, have you signed up with college placement offices in your area?

"December's pretty frantic," said Tom Bargsley, a certified public accountant and head of the firm Bargsley & Associates in Austin, Texas. "People are busy doing what they want to do--and then they say, 'The year's going to end in two weeks and I should have done that deal on that piece of equipment.' "

If you deal now with the tasks you usually leave until mid-December, you'll save money, not to mention your stomach lining.

Bargsley said businesses need to look at their capital expenditure budgets for the year and see what money is available. They should think about equipment purchases they need to make, and start working on them now.

The primary benefit of making a purchase before the end of 2000 is the tax deduction your business will get from what's known as first-year expensing. Under Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code, you can deduct up to $20,000 of the cost of equipment during the year it is bought (but not necessarily paid for) and placed in service.

There's an important caveat in the code: "Placed in service" means the equipment must have been delivered and is able to be used. If you order equipment in December and it doesn't arrive until January, you've lost the right to take that deduction. So it pays to make those capital expenditures early.

Moreover, leaving a purchase until the last minute encourages desperation shopping, and it means you might not have the time or the leverage to get the right piece of equipment or to negotiate a better price. So even if you've gotten that deduction, the tax money you save could be eaten up by your having spent too much.

Bargsley also recommended companies think now about raises or bonuses for key employees. That compensation is also deductible, provided your company, like many small businesses, operates on a cash-accounting basis. Under a cash basis, income is reported for the year it is received and expenses are reported for the year they are paid.

This is also a good time to be thinking about how much you're going to pay into your employee retirement plan--or, if you don't have one, to set one up.

Bargsley noted that contributions for the 2000 tax year don't have to be made by Dec. 31--although they must be made by the time your business tax return is filed--but it's a good idea to look at your cash flow now and determine how much you'll be contributing.

Another tax deduction you should think about now is for business gifts. Just as you should buy equipment now and not when time is running short, don't put off buying gifts for customers and then rush out and grab something that costs more than you want to spend.

Taxes aren't the only aspect of your business you should be thinking about before it's deep into December. If you're in the market for a June college graduate to fill a position in your company, you should already be doing campus interviews.

With changes in the economy and the arrival of the Internet, on-campus recruiting has changed in recent years.

Many schools have recruiting year-round, and many run cooperative education programs that allow students to work during the school year with a potentially permanent employer.

So call the placement office at your local college or university--now.

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