Friday, August 13, 2010

You are what you speak.

Dear Indies,

I think you all know that I don't applaud tax pros who speak a specialized tax jargon that leaves the indie puzzled and frustrated. Or as a Russian friend used to say: "Lost in a dark forest."

Well, it's not just tax pros who are guilty of using goobledygook that is meaningless and incomprehensible to the layman. What follows is my response to an email I received from Rackspace. Rackspace is what I use to get my email smoothly moving in and out. It's my host but what else it does exactly I am not sure.

It is obvious from Rackspace's emailed announcement that it wants to tell the world about its new accomplishment. The problem is that I, and my guess most other non-IT indies, don't even know what that accomplishment is or what it means to me.

Here's what I wrote to Rackspace. The original email from Rackspace is below my response. Please let me know if you'd like to see Rackspace's reply.

Hello Rackspace,
I am a layman. Well, a layman re web-tech stuff, however I am a tax expert. Am I, as a layman, supposed to understand the meaning of the announcement emailed to me from the Rackspace CEO?

Here are some examples:
-- open source cloud platform
-- cloud interoperability
-- drive a deployable totally open cloud solution through this project
-- proprietary or closed platforms that create lock-in and make migration difficult

You posit: What does this mean for our customers?

"Customer" that would be me, a Rackspace user, right? Well, I don't have a clue what the following bullet points mean.
** No fear of lock-in.
** Flexibility in deployment for a highly elastic commodity cloud.
** A bigger, more robust ecosystem for more tools, better capabilities and a stronger platform.
** Freedom to decide how you want your cloud. (Freedom. Oh, wow! I can't wait.)

I write about taxes. My job is to make complex tax regulation understandable to self-employed IT people, for example.

Did any of you guys ever write for the general public? I use different jargon when speaking with fellow tax pros than I do when talking taxes with my clients. Careful I'll throw some tax terminology at you and you won't have a clue. Then you'll understand what I'm talking about.

I am copying this to some tech people who work for me. One of whom recommended Rackspace. Pass the word that it's important to be able to speak the language of your customers.

Best regards,
June Walker

Dear June,
Today is a big day for Rackspace® Hosting. We announced a new project that we believe will change the way the cloud is developed and it's called OpenStack™ – an open source cloud platform designed to foster the emergence of technology standards and cloud interoperability. In short, we will be opening code on our cloud infrastructure for public use.

The initial components being released through this project include the code that powers our Cloud Files (available today) and Cloud Servers (expected available late 2010). This project will also incorporate technology provided by other open-source projects. We expect to be joined by leaders in the technology industry and others to drive a deployable totally open cloud solution through this project.

Why are we doing this? Historically, most cloud offerings have been built on proprietary or closed platforms that create lock-in and make migration difficult. With OpenStack, any interested party – including our peers, Solution Partners and customers – will be able to collaborate with us to author, improve and expand OpenStack technologies.
What does this mean for our customers and Solution Partners?

No fear of lock-in
Flexibility in deployment for a highly elastic commodity cloud
A bigger, more robust ecosystem for more tools, better capabilities and a stronger platform
Freedom to decide how you want your cloud

OpenStack is an innovative, open-source cloud computing solution for creating, managing and deploying scalable elastic cloud services. Through the ongoing development of this project, we will be able to drive greater industry standards and help increase the speed of cloud innovation. As the leading specialist in the hosting industry, it is simply our responsibility.

In addition, we look forward to bringing enhancements made to the OpenStack project to our own product offerings in the future.

We are excited about this new chapter in Rackspace history and even more thrilled that you are able to share it with us. If you have any questions, please contact us

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Don't abandon sole proprietorship. There are many benefits.

June --

I am a Computer IT consultant 4 years. Just came back to being a contractor again after several years of W2. I have a TIN and a name but never did the LLC. At age 60 I am most interested in what structure will allow me to put away the most retirements money and allow me to deduct my HUGE monthly health insurance premiums.

Eden Prairie, MN

Dear Jeri,

You have a "TIN." For the acronym-averse, that a Tax Identification Number. Also known as an Employer Identification Number [EIN] or Federal Identification Number. They all refer to a business's identification number, similar to a person's social security number. [There are other purposes for an EIN.] More on tax ID numbers here EIN-employer identification # .

An LLC is a Limited Liability Company. There's a lot of info on LLCs right here business entity -- LLC. Did I say a lot? Well, yes, really a lot. Read those posts. In them you will learn that an LLC is a legal way of forming your business. An LLC does not determine tax structure as does a corporation or a partnership or a sole proprietorship.

The pension laws were changed a while back so that now a sole proprietor has more of a choice on pension structure than does an employee. For instance, you may choose a Defined Benefit pension, that will allow you to contribute enormous amounts to your pension. Example: $100,000 contribution on $350,000 net self-employed income. A more modest and more flexible plan is a UNI-k. Think of it as a one-person 401-k.

Health insurance premiums are deductible as an adjustment to income whether you are a sole-proprietor, partnership, or S-corporation. Deducting them as a C-corporation is a bit different.

Think things through carefully, and get as much accurate information as you can before you abandon the advantages of self-employment for a different structure.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tax & Marriage

Hi June,

I attended your session at CFC last year. I'm a Chicago graphic designer (sole prop) and have been in business for 10 years. I recently got married and am wondering if you have any specific advice regarding how to approach taxes now that I'm married (I checked your website but didn't see anything relating exactly).

Thanks for any insight you can offer!

Hello Lidia,

First, let me wish you joy and happiness and good wishes on your marriage.

Assuming you and your husband do not work together in your design business then marriage has no impact on your sole proprietorship graphic design business tax, per se.

However, being married may have a profound impact on your overall tax. For instance, a married couple with taxable income of $100,000 will pay less tax than a single person with $100,000 taxable income. Yet, two single people each with $50,000 taxable income may pay less tax than a married couple with $100,000 taxable income.

As I explained here Taxes: Which ones and how much do I pay? and here Estimated Taxes your tax is based on yours and your husband's entire income and deductions. That includes earned income, investment income, medical deductions, etc.

-- June

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sales tax regulations vary by state.

Hello June -

Robert from Sir Roberts Furniture Restoration,Repair and Design, Stow Ohio.

I am on your e-mail monthly list and appreciate all the information you provide.

My question, I restore antique pcs. build and repair furniture. What is the rule on charging sales tax and or reporting sales tax. Why for the question. I network with several upholsters in when they provide services they do not charge me sales tax on the work they complete. What is the rule for charging sales tax when completing work to a customer. Thanks for your time.

Dear Robert,

Happy to know my information is helpful to you. Thanks.

Every state has unique sales tax regulations. Some states have no sales tax. Others have a gross receipts tax. In New Mexico the rate changes depending on where you live.

Some charge for out-of-state purchases. Some do not.

Get the idea. No state is the same. You need to contact your state, county, city. And make sure you do. Since all the governments are hurting for money many are enforcing payment regulations with a vengeance. Be careful.

BTW -- the same applies to licensing and zoning laws.

-- June

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sometimes it takes a while to get it.

Alana from Oakland, CA in commenting on Tax Savvy Indie Saves $850 Because Of Reimbursed Expenses On Her 1099 said:
Nice! Thanks again for the helpful posts that led me to that. I dropped my amended return in the mail last week, so I think I'm all set. Hopefully my story in turn helps a few others. Sometimes you have to hit people over the head with 10 examples of the same principle before they get it. :)
thanks June!

You're welcome, Alana, and thanks for getting back to me. You'll see from my blog that my schedule has been wicked so apologies for my late response.

I think that when something comes at you from an alien field -- maybe, financial jargon to an artist or tech talk to a plumber or explanation of a painting's composition to a realtor -- it takes a while to grasp. Reimbursed expenses are a good example. Of all the questions I get it's that topic that currently heads the list of most frequently queried.

Often something must be explained several times in different ways in order to be really understood. That's the job of the teacher -- to be understood. The student must keep on asking questions until he or she understands. Doesn't matter if the teacher is the one you had in third grade, or your physician or your tax pro.

Thanks again for the update.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Oh, the hype ... lies ... and edited video tapes

June --

I am a writer that is still having a time finding a tax person with your indie point of view. But the good bookkeeping I have learned from you has been a plus. Can I get your updated version of biz expenses?

Also, I am hearing that massive tax increases are coming in January 2011. Can you please post what these tax increases are on your blog as you can? This would really help in my monthly bookkeeping.

Thank you, Donna
Lakewood, NM

Hello Donna,

Thanks for letting me know that my advice is a help. Expense list sent a while ago so on to your question.

So many indies write me and say that they heard such-and-such but they don't tell me where they heard such-and-such. Aunt Tillie? A CPA? The yoga teacher's husband?

And I must tell you that just about all the such-and-such is hogwash. As is what you heard.

Anecdotally, I have seen taxes go down for my clients. The refundable and non-refundable credits available have increased. The reading I must do to keep up on the new tax breaks is daunting.

And, it's not just my experience. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that: "This is the second-lowest percentage in the past 50 years."

I am so pleased that you asked before acting. And, as my husband the former reporter always says: Check your sources then check them again.