Corpcentre's Blog

May 11, 2010

What Happens if I Get Audited?!

It’s certainly not a campfire horror story but many Canadians fear that they may be subjected to a tax audit. Is there basis to that fear?

The truth is that, for most personal tax returns, the chances of an audit are slim. The vast majority of Canadians, more than 90%, completes their tax returns accurately and files them on time. Of more than 26 million personal and corporate returns filed annually, the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) audits less than 2%. Most personal returns are accurate as the bulk of personal income is recorded on T4 slips. However, returns from small and medium sized businesses may be prone to error or may be fraudulent. As such, most CRA audits are directed at the business community.

This is not to say that you should assume that whatever you include in your personal return will slide through unnoticed. For example, if you live in a neighbourhood of stately, expensive homes, yet your income is barely above minimum wage, you may expect to be queried by the CRA as to other sources of income to support your lifestyle.

Should you be chosen for a tax audit, it is wrong to assume that the CRA is searching for criminal activity. A tax audit is conducted to ensure compliance with the Income Tax Act. An auditor may actually discover that you overpaid taxes and a refund is due. In any event, don’t be confrontational. Cooperate with the tax auditor and make all your records available. It is possible that you made an honest error and you have the opportunity to discuss this with the auditor. The auditor is also well versed in tax issues and may be able to offer helpful advice in your tax matters.

Overall, be prepared. Keep careful records and don’t discard them immediately after filing your return. If the tax auditor knocks at your door, be ready and be helpful.

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May 9, 2010

How to Master Canadian Taxes Before Next Year

If you compiled a list of Canada’s greatest complexities, chances are very good that the Canadian Income Tax Act would command a respectable spot on that list. In recent years, it has expanded incredibly, becoming a quagmire of confusion to the average citizen. It is no wonder that more than half of all Canadians now secure professional help to prepare and file their tax returns.

Have you tried to hold a conversation with a tax preparer during tax season? It is limited to several words as most tax professionals literally work around the clock to prepare as many returns as possible. If you are one of the clients, appreciate that your expectations are linked directly to your level of cooperation. In other words, your accountant cannot use information, sometimes basic and crucial, if you don’t supply it. Due to the tremendous workload and seasonal pressure, the accountant may not ask every question. Therefore, be prepared to supply certain information, along with your receipts and T4’s or T5’s.

The amount of tax you pay depends on a number of key facts that your accountant should know. Marital status and exact age are crucial as these affect possible tax credits or deductions. Your children, depending on their ages, create numerous tax credits and deductible expenses. Accuracy is essential; there is no room for approximation.

If you were employed at several jobs, be sure that each employer is listed in your return, even if you did not receive a T4. You are responsible for paying taxes on earned income and your accountant must be aware of every dollar that you earned.

If you own a business, compile a detailed list of every possible expense and revenue. Your accountant can decide which are not relevant, if any. Don’t make assumptions by yourself; let the professional decide.

List all your financial holdings, including any overseas investments. With all the pertinent information available, your accountant can determine your tax liabilities. Similarly, don’t forget to list “non-employment” income such as rental income, capital gains from sale of property, etc.

Finally, don’t forget medical expenses. Keep all your receipts for treatments, medications, insurance, etc. You paid dearly for your health and some of the expenses may return to you.

Spend some time researching tax credits and benefits. If you’re not sure whether you are eligible, ask your accountant. It is better to err on the side of caution. It’s easier to remove some numbers but much harder to add them if they were never included.

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May 5, 2010

How Can I Find a Good Accountant?

May 2010; the tax season is behind us for another year. If you are like almost half the Canadian population, you prepare your own taxes each year. But, as the Canadian tax code is growing increasingly more complex, a greater number of Canadians are seeking professional assistance from accountants in order to reduce the risk of paying unnecessary taxes.

Locating accountants is relatively easy. Finding the accountant suitable for your specific needs is far more difficult. Canada boasts three professional accounting bodies whose members are certified to serve the accounting needs of the nation. However, each organization has different standards and requirements for membership. Therefore, if you are shopping for an accountant, it’s best to decide precisely what your needs are and interview prospective accountants carefully.

By far, Chartered Accountants (CA’s) are the best trained accounting professionals. Only CA’s can audit and sign financial statements. Roughly 40% of CA’s in Canada work with the public, while the remainder is employed in the private sector, government, or education. Although advertisements for CA’s will make many claims, it is wise to get several references.

In addition to CA’s, Canada also has 37,000 Certified Management Accountants (CMA’s). Generally, CMA’s do not have private practices but, rather, work in large organizations, monitoring and interpreting operating results to help management develop operating strategies. Nonetheless, a CMA should have adequate training to help a small business or a self-employed individual with basic tax management and preparation.

Finally, Certified General Accountants (CGA’s) offer a little something for everybody, working both in private practice as well as corporate or government settings.

Whomever you choose, your best bet is to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations. Also, take the time to interview at least three prospective candidates. Be sure that the chemistry is right between you. But, as much as possible, try to be your own accountant. A wealth of information is available online today. If you can’t do it yourself, gather as much information as possible so you know what to request of your accountant. By learning to prepare your own taxes, you’ll gain valuable insight into managing your everyday financial affairs.

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May 4, 2010

How to Make Yourself Invaluable to the Customers

Let’s face the facts. If you ever believed that attracting new customers was your biggest business challenge, you were sorely mistaken. Winning customers is less than half the battle. The bigger challenge, most business owners would agree, is how to keep them. After all, if you devoted most of your energy in trying to attract a customer to you, logic dictates that someone else is also trying. Therefore, you have to work extra hard to retain that customer, rather than their moving to the competition.

But, how do you put that theory into actual practice? If you have developed a successful service or product, chances are very good that your competitor is working on an improved version. And, the improved version just may sway the customer from you to the competition.

The human aspect is a vital component of success. You have to create an environment that a customer will regret leaving. Certainly, business is about sales and strategies, finance and finesse. It’s also all about people. Becoming more than a supplier of goods and services is the secret link. Learn to appreciate that your customer has needs outside of normal office hours. Be ready to go the distance for your customers and they will remember. Make their concerns your concerns, even at the risk of having a major headache. Also, think outside the box. How can you help your client’s business, above and beyond what you already supply? Work hard to make yourself an extension of your client’s enterprise. The customer should know and feel that you can always be counted on, no matter what or when, even if they only need advice. True, talk is cheap but it can be an investment with a fantastic return.

From the first time a new customer comes through your door, approach the moment as the start of a long term relationship. If you proceed along those lines, you will have laid the foundation for a bright future.

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May 2, 2010

The Key to Customer Relations

Here’s a timely riddle. What is the definition of a terrific sale with no customers? The answer is – Useless.

The dust has not yet settled on the recent recession yet tomes have been written, countless lectures have been delivered, and editorials that can bring a tear to your eye have become the fashion. Yet, when all is said and done, pointing fingers and laying blame will change little. Unless we walk away from the financial warfare having learned how to prepare for the next time, all will have been for naught.

A common misconception was that retail failures were due to customers not shopping. That is not exactly correct. While true that consumer spending was reduced, it did not stop. There is always a need to purchase. However, shoppers became far more particular about what they purchased and where.

A secret to retail success lies in the relationship between the vendor and the customer. Consumers are far more likely to continue supporting a particular establishment when they feel an emotional tie. As such, building a strong bond with your customers is your best strategy. They will be far less likely to abandon you, even when times are bad.

It is a mistake to think that “the sale of the century” will drive traffic your way. Certainly, you may encounter a one-time success. But, after the sale ends, customers are far more likely to return to the friendly merchant who places an emphasis on efficient, courteous service. Customers prefer to frequent establishments where they feel like someone, not something. If you always stand behind your products and services, people realize that you are providing true value. Keeping your customers satisfied – no matter how difficult that may sometimes be – is the key to customer longevity. And, at the end of the day, that puts money in the bank.

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April 28, 2010

Business Plan: Change As Needed

A business plan is a vital management tool. It allows you to create a road map of your business and look ahead while, at the same time, plot the necessary steps to achieve your goals. However, paraphrasing the poet Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice and men often go askew. How true in business.

The world has learned much from the recent recession. One of the more important business lessons that the recession has taught us is that nothing is guaranteed. How many of us watched as financial giants, titans of the business world, tumbled like a house of cards? Who would have envisioned the swift changes that changed the way we live, not over a generation but over the course of a year or two?

Change is the key. The businesses that best survived the recession were those that understood the necessity of change. A business plan is not set in stone. Rather, as a useful management tool, it should not be allowed to gather dust. Just the opposite. It should be, and can be, changed. Business, like life itself, is a rollercoaster. Even if some of the ride is scary, you can’t get off in the middle. You need to be flexible and allow yourself to adapt to new situations.

If you see a new business opportunity, change your business plan to incorporate it. Allow yourself the flexibility to explore new options. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas. Sometimes, even bad situations can create new opportunities. If your plan went awry when the markets went in a different direction, turn everything around to incorporate the new reality. You may wake up one day and realize that your goals are no longer attainable. Don’t try to change the world to meet your goals. Change your goals to accommodate the world. The most successful entrepreneurs have learned that opportunities present themselves and the winners are those who seize those opportunities. Always use the situation at hand to your best advantage.

Try business plan software to help you get organized!

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April 27, 2010

If You Fail, Try, Try Again!

Filed under: American business,business culture,Canadian,failure,recession,success,U.S. — corpcentre @ 12:59 am

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” While the coach may have been an inspiration to his players, was he also stating a mantra for everyday life?

As children, we often were told by parents and teachers to learn from our mistakes. Would that life were so easy to enable us to succeed after every failed attempt. Anyone who has ever established a business will attest to the fact that the goal of success is not always realistic. Business is a mélange of so many details; many of which are beyond our control yet have a direct influence on our business. The fact is that winning all the time simply is not possible (with all due respect to Coach Lombardi). The question is what you do with the failure. Perhaps it is better to quote from the Coach who also said, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”

Canadians often compare themselves to their neighbours to the south. Yet, despite the many similarities, Canadians and Americans differ greatly in their respective business cultures. In both Canada and the U.S., for each business success story, there are dozens of failures. In either culture, entrepreneurs prepare and plan, hoping that they will be the next Fortune 500 leader or, at the minimum, establish a profitable business. Some succeed, some don’t. The different reactions, though, are startling. Canadians tend to view a business failure as the end of the road. Americans, on the other hand, accept failure as part of the learning cycle and build upon the knowledge gained. The Canadian accepts his fate and the American drives forward.

Canada may be recovering well from the recession. Yet, it seems there is still much that can be learned from the American business community.

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April 25, 2010

Canadian Tax Deductions to Keep in Mind

Get ready, Canada – April 30th is rapidly approaching. As most Canadians are aware, this auspicious date heralds the end of the tax season for the previous year. It is your last opportunity to make any adjustments to your taxable income and, hopefully, reduce the tax due.

Tax deductions exist within the legal system to allow a degree of parity amongst taxpayers and create a balance between earned income and the relevant taxes. However, as most accountants will point out, although the government will allow you legal deductions on your tax return, they will not contact you to point out possible deductions that you missed claiming. Therefore, research and consulting may be worth money in your pocket.

Here are a few sample deductions you may have missed:

Certain adult family members living at home can reduce your taxable income. If you have a relative over 18 with a physical or mental disability, and they live with you, you can deduct more than $4,000 of your taxable income for the expenses incurred for them.

Do you work from home in your rented apartment? If you have dedicated workspace at home, and work there at least 50% of your time, a portion of your rent and maintenance expenses may qualify as a tax deduction

If you are required to use your own car for business purposes, and do not receive a nontaxable allowance from your employer, you can deduct a portion of your auto expenses including lease payment, loan interest, maintenance, licence and repairs.

Who ever thought that your hobby may be tax deductible? If you earn some side income from your hobby and travel in order to do so, a portion of the travel expenses can be claimed against your taxable income.

A person who drives for a living can claim a portion of their food expenses while traveling. Similarly, when you travel for work, it is expected that you need lodging and showers. These, too, are deductible expenses.

If you are filing a simple return, it may not be necessary for you to incur the expense of a professional tax preparer. The Canada Revenue Agency maintains a highly informative website. On the other hand, if you feel you may be missing something, consult with a professional. After all, as honest hardworking Canadians, we all pay our taxes. But, we wouldn’t mind paying just a little less.

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April 22, 2010

Customer Red Flags to Watch Out for

If you are in business, you know that you have to constantly be on alert on all fronts. You try as hard as you can to plan and operate your business with clear guidelines. Sometimes, though, all the planning cannot prevent the unexpected. Many business leaders will tell you that the problems from outside are the biggest challenge.

In order for you to operate, you count on suppliers for goods and services. Your cash flow is dependant on timely payment by your customers. Any disruption from your suppliers or customers can be harmful to your operations. Continued disruption can become fatal. However, by being vigilant and spotting the early warning signs of potential problems, you can avoid trouble before it happens.

Keep abreast of a customer’s payments. If the payments start becoming delinquent on a regular basis, they may be in trouble. Don’t wait, though, until they stop paying. Open up a dialogue early to help you collect payments while their doors are still open.

Another warning sign is commonly known as nit-picking. You owe a customer a small credit and they refuse to pay their large bill until the credit is received. This stalling tactic should indicate to you that all is not well, as they could obviously just deduct the credit and send the balance. Perhaps, the customer suddenly begins sending you the balance in several payments, without consulting with you. Your early warning signal should be blaring loudly.

Have you noticed that there has been a large turnover of employees at your customer or supplier? Is this a sign that the passengers are jumping ship before it sinks? When you called to speak to someone over there, the usual perky, friendly reception was replaced by a rather laconic, curt reply or a disinterested, half-hearted response. Be on the alert and assess the situation carefully. You need to protect your interests.

Keeping one step ahead of the storm can be your best insurance plan.

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April 21, 2010

Keeping a Handle on Your Business

Operating a business successfully has often been compared to a high-speed train. When it runs at peak performance, it arrives at its destination on time. However, if it sits unused in the station, or is not maintained properly, it will cease running well and ultimately break down and fail completely.

Studies have shown that more than half of large business failures result from poorly designed business strategies. Many business leaders have the drive and desire but fail to properly assess the market or their abilities. It is not uncommon for a thriving business to adopt a new idea on the assumption that their notoriety alone will make it happen. “Biting off more than one can chew” has led to the downfall of many business giants.

Another common, and sometimes fatal, error is operating without any accountability. Even the boss has to answer to the board. When decisions are accountable, it makes them open to review by others and allows other sets of eyes to detect possible flaws. The smallest of companies – even one-person operations – should consult with someone else on major decisions. After all, none of us is perfect.

Sometimes change is necessary. Companies that have dominated certain markets have to change with the times or market conditions if they want to maintain their position. Failure to adapt can be suicidal, as there is always someone waiting in the wings to pick up the slack.

Leadership is a 24/7 position. Your employees look up to you and receive their inspiration from the top. A strong leader motivates by example. Failure to convey positive attitudes and emotions can lead to the downfall of your business. Even if your business takes a downturn, you need to continue inspiring your employees to work together with you to overcome. If you appear downtrodden, you can’t expect your team to pick you up. The ship will go down with its captain.

Keep a handle on your business by charting your goals and progress. By maintaining control of a situation, rather than it’s controlling you, your train will speed forward to its next destination.

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